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Champions League: Real Madrid returns the favor, takes 3-0 lead on Borussia Dortmund

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Real Madrid has taken the first step toward avenging last year’s UEFA Champions League semifinal loss, adopting Borussia Dortmund’s formula while doing so. Whereas last year’s final four meeting between the clubs opened with a 4-1 win for BVB in Germany, this year’s quarterfinal saw an equally lopsided result in leg one at the Santiago Bernabéu. With goals from Gareth Bale, Isco, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the nine-time champions earned a 3-0 win over last year’s finalists, taking a potentially decisive lead into next week’s leg in Westphalia.

Bale opened the scoring after only two minutes, poking a Daniel Carvajal pass beyond Roman Weidenfeller from close range. Isco, starting in place of Ángel Di María, doubled the Merengues lead in the 27th minute, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s 14th goal of the tournament early in the second half allowed the hosts to cruise through the final whistle.

Borussia Dortmund, decimated by injuries for most of the season, where without six of their would be starters, absences reflected in El Real’s dominance from the opening whistle. Though BVB beat Real Madrid 4-3 over two legs in last season’s final four, the team has already conceded as many goals at halftime this year, with the Spaniards putting 11 shots on target to Dortmund’s two over 90 minutes in Madrid.

After holding 61 percent of the match’s possession, Real Madrid is on the verge of its fourth straight semifinal, though the club has not reached a final since 2002 – the year it won its ninth European title. After today’s lopsided result, the club is one step closer to its coveted decima, hoping to become the first team to claim 10 UEFA continental crowns.

(MORE: Paris Saint-Germain crush Chelsea in absorbing Champions League clash)

Bale opened the scoring almost immediately when a run through the middle of the penalty area left him with a chance in front of Weidenfeller’s net. Beating defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos to a ball played in front of goal, Bale poked his shot past Weidenfeller and into an empty net, giving the hosts an early lead.

After controlling play over the next 24 minutes, Real Madrid broke through with a second goal just before the half hour-mark. From just beyond the penalty area, Isco, starting in place of the ill Di María, finished into the left of goal, giving the hosts a reward for a dominant opening 27 minutes.

In the second half, a third score mitigated any damage a potential Dortmund away goal might have, with Luka Modric’s piercing attacking on the BVB defense producing Ronaldo’s score. Dribbling through the middle for the park, the Croatian midfielder danced around multiple defenders before laying off to Ronaldo, who moved around is own defender before an easy left-footed finish from the middle of the box. With his competition-leading 14th score of the tournament, Ronaldo helped reverse the deficit Real Madrid carried out of the Westfalenstadion last season.

source: AP
Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored Real Madrid’s third goal, left the game late with an apparent foot injury. (Photo credit: AP Photos.)

All was not good for Ronaldo, though. In the 81st minute, Spain’s leading goal scorer went to ground with what appeared to be a foot injury. Substituted for Casemiro, the Ballon d’Or winner left under his own power, but his departure marked the latest in a series of first leg injuries during the quarterfinals.

(Injuries: Piqué | Costa | Ibrahimovic)

Real Madrid’s occasionally shaky defense gave Dortmund multiple chances at an away goal, the best of which game near the hour mark. Then, Marco Reus, moving in from the right flank, put a ball cross the face of goal, on which Iker Casillas weakly pushed toward the middle of the box. Attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan was there and attempted to fire Dortmund’s opener in from nine yards out. Pepe, however, leapt from this right-center back position to block the shot, preserving his team’s clean sheet.

Carrying the same feeling last year’s meeting had while moving from Germany to Spain, the teams’ quarterfinal resumes next week in Westphalia, with Dortmund left to deal with the same three-goal deficit they handed Real Madrid. In last year’s second leg, the Merengues managed to make it close, scoring twice before BVB was able to bleed out the match.

Without an away goal, however, Dortmund’s task is slightly more difficult. Whereas a third goal last year would have earned Real Madrid a place in the semifinals, a 3-0 win would only force extra time, leaving BVB with a massive hole coming out of leg one.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.