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

1 Comment

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.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

Getty Images
1 Comment

The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]