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.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.