Real rout Dortmund, as revenge tasted sweet for the Madrid club.

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

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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.

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.