Three takeaways from Real Madrid’s three-goal romp past Borussia Dortmund

Leave a comment

The team’s slipped to third in the Primera Division, but in light of the rest of this week’s results, Real Madrid may still be second favorites in Champions League. At least, if its 3-0 win on Wednesday over Borussia Dortmund is any indication, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has put its brief slump behind its, with goals from Gareth Bale, Isco, and Cristiano Ronaldo helping the team get some revenge for last year’s semifinal loss.

It was a near-perfect night for the home side, one that left only a few, thin misgivings. In the last 10 minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo had to leave the game with an apparent foot injury, with Real Madrid fans left hoping the move was merely precautionary. And in defense, the same, subtly erratic play that’s always characterized the Pepe-Sergio Ramos partnership was evident in small doses. Ahead of Roberto Lewandowski’s return, it’s something to think about.

(MORE: Real Madrid returns the favor, takes 3-0 lead on Borussia Dortmund)

It’s also part of our three observations after the first leg at the Bernabéu.

1. Confidence restored for Real Madrid – Two wins in a row put last week’s slump behind the Merengues, but whereas this weekend’s rout of Rayo Vallecano kept losses to Barcelona and Sevilla in the rearview, today’s romp post Borussia Dortmund put those slips over the horizon. At least in Champions League, Real Madrid is certainly back on track.

To Ancelotti’s credit, you saw the team’s restored confidence from the opening whistle. Not only did Gareth Bale put the team up within minutes, but the control Real Madrid exerted on the game spoke to a team with a purpose. It also portrayed a group that has, at least temporarily, buttressed the fragility that was exposed with the loss to Barcelona.

2. For whatever reason, Borussia Dortmund just wasn’t there tonight – Perhaps Dortmund played into Real Madrid’s resurgence a little, though it’s difficult to get into the mind of a team dealt such an early blow. Still, Jürgen Klopp’s team looked particularly flat on Wednesday, giving one of their worst European performances over the last two seasons. The energy and fight they’ve used to overcome a season of misfortune was never evident at the Bernabéu.

Maybe the team finally started believing the doubts. Throughout the season, player after player has gone down, yet Dortmund kept moving forward. In the face of constant questions as to whether it could push on, the team managed to do so. BVB won its Champions League group, reclaimed second in Germany, and had a relatively easy time in the Round of 16. Particularly going forward, the team looked nearly as capable as last year’s finalists.

On Wednesday, however, Dortmund played like a wounded team. Aside from a few forays from Marco Reus, none of the endeavor we usually see from BVB was there. Even by the standards of a depleted team, it was a drastically sub-par performance, as if it finally started to believe all the negative hype.

3. A defense that gives BVB hope – Next week, however, BVB gets Robert Lewandowski back, and while the 3-0 deficit it was handed on Wednesday looks almost insurmountable, last year’s results should give them hope. In the semifinals, Real Madrid’s leg one trip to Westphalia was met with a 4-1 loss, with Lewandowski scoring all four BVB goals.

With that in mind, the performance of Real Madrid’s defense has to give Klopp the thinnest of silver linings. Granted, El Real still kept a clean sheet (and got some great work from Pepe in the second half), but as is always the case with the Merenguesthere’s a sense that the back line is less than the sum of its parts. Both Pepe and Sergio Ramos are great on an individual basis, yet together, along with Daniel Carvajal and Fabio Coentrao o(two more quality players), the team still seemed vulnerable. Between Reus’s forays, Mkhitaryan’s near-goal in the second half, and Casillas’s near-assist, Real Madrid proved just as vulnerable as last year. BVB just wasn’t able to capitalize.

It’s never good when you have to rely on amazing to get you through, but as last year showed, Lewandowski is capable. And next Tuesday, he’ll be back in the team. It’s not enough to expect BVB to advance, but it is enough to give them a sliver of hope.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea have set up a tasty clash with Jose Mourinho next month.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in the completion since his debut in 2013.

The Frenchman is now pushing hard to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense (they are five points back with four games to go), will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact even if he doesn’t defeat his old foe Mourinho in the final next month.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.