Three things we learned from Manchester United and Bayern Munich’s draw

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Manchester United and Bayern went toe-to-toe on Tuesday at Old Trafford, as the tie is level at the halfway point. A pulsating first leg saw United stun everyone, as the Red Devils gave Munich a real scare after a dogged and determined display.

(MORE: Man United hold Bayern Munich, keep Champions League hopes alive)

Yes, Bayern dominated possession, but United looked dangerous throughout and if they’d been more clinical they could well be taking a lead to Bavaria with him.

It certainly wasn’t the huge one-sided affair everyone was predicting, as United battled courageously against the favorites for the UEFA Champions League.

What did we learn from a 1-1 draw in the first leg?

  • Possession isn’t everything

After the first 45 minutes, Bayern had 78 percent of possession and the soccer purists were having a field day. But the most important stat at half time: 0-0. At the end of the game the possession stats stood at 74 percent in favor of Bayern, but again the most important stat line was the goals: 1-1. United absorbed the pressure superbly and frustrated Bayern with their makeshift defense. Alexander Buttner at left back, Phil Jones at right back, and the aging duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic cranked out a top display as a back four, while David De Gea stopped Arjen Robben superbly in the first half and looked solid throughout. United knew their limitations going into the game and set out their stall accordingly. The only minor blip was not tracking Bastian Schweinsteiger for his equalizer, but a realization of where they’re at as team, and not trying to be something they’re not, helped United thwart the reigning European champions. In the past Bayern have struggled against English teams defending with power and pace; see the UCL final 2012 against Chelsea. United must follow that blueprint, as the last four times English teams have played at the Allianz, they haven’t lost.

source: AP
Can United make the most of Schweinsteiger absence in the second leg?
  • United’s counter-attacks cause havoc

As we’ve mentioned, for most of the game United sat back and stopped Bayern. But when the Red Devils did surge forward, they did it ever so well. Danny Welbeck was a menace and ran himself into the ground. Often chasing his own flicks ons and making superb runs in the channels. The Englishman, who sports a devine flattop haircut, put in his best display of the season. That said, he was unlucky to not have scored twice. Early on, he flicked the ball over Javi Martinez and rifled his effort into the top corner. But referee Carlos Velasco Carballo said Welbeck had a high foot and harshly chalked it out.

(MORE: Moyes – “We’ve given ourselves a great opportunity” as Man United dig in)

Then in the 39th minute Wayne Rooney slotted Welbeck in, but instead of placing the ball either side of Manuel Neuer, he opted for a cheeky dink and the German ‘keeper kept the ball out. Early long balls in behind Bayern’s defense made the Bundesliga champions nervous all evening, and United should replicate that in Bavaria next Wednesday.

  • Schweinsteiger, Martinez missing… United have a big chance at the Allianz

Okay, so Bayern are stacked with talent in midfield, we all know that. But if you take the experience of Schweinsteiger out of any team, it makes them weaker. The German midfielder, 29, slid into a tackle on Rooney in the final few minutes at Old Trafford and timed it wrong. The referee brandished a second yellow and a subsequent red card for Schweinsteiger, and he will now sit out the second leg. Incensed by what he thought was a dive by Rooney, Bayern’s heartbeat in midfield lost his cool. Earlier, Martinez had also picked up a yellow, as his accumulation of cards means he’ll sit out the return leg. Yes, Dante will return from suspension, but United have a chance to get at Bayern’s core at the Allianz. Mario Gotze will likely step in for Schweinsteiger, but you can’t underestimate that Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick will fancy their chances of getting at Gotze. United hassled and harried Bayern all night long, and they got under the skins of the German powerhouse. Another 90 minutes of doing that, against all the odds, David Moyes’ side could be in the semifinals.

It’s all to play for.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.