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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.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.