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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.

Too early for Guardiola to concede Premier League title?

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Pep Guardiola suffered his worst-ever league defeat as a manager on Sunday as Manchester City were hammered 4-0 at Everton in the Premier League.

Post-game he was understandably glum.

[ MORE: Klopp slams United ]

Guardiola even appeared to concede the Premier League title, as the preseason favorites for the crown have now fallen 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go.

When asked if City’s title hopes were over after a fifth defeat of the season, the Spaniard’s answer was emphatic.

“Yes. Ten is a lot of points,” Guardiola said. “The second one [Tottenham] is three points. We have to see. I spoke to my players the last three weeks or a month, forget about the table. Focus on the next game and try to do our best to win the games and after that at the end of the season we are going to evaluate how our level and performance was — how was the coach, how was the players and after we are going to decide.”

It seems like Guardiola has already decided that the title race is over for City, but has he thrown in the towel too early?

With just five points separating second-place Tottenham with sixth-place Manchester United, it appears City’s primary focus will now be to finish in the top four as a mammoth battle ensues in the final third of the season.

Yet, we have seen some miraculous comebacks from teams in the past to win the title. These stats could give Pep hope.

In the 1997-98 season, Arsenal were 12 points behind United after 21 games of the season (United had played a game more) but roared back to win the PL by one point. And of course, City’s two PL crowns came courtesy of stunning late surges in the season with thanks to Sergio Aguero’s magic on the final day in 2011-12 and then Liverpool’s collapse in the closing weeks of 2013-14.

Pep, don’t lost the faith. It can be done.

However, if City lose to Tottenham next weekend and Chelsea extend their lead over Pep’s boys to 13 points by beating Hull City, it is curtains.

Such is the dominance of the big boys this season, City pretty much have to go unbeaten for the rest of the season to have a shot at winning the PL. Given their recent defensive displays that seems unlikely.

We all know Pep is an idealist when it comes to how he wants his team to play but now we are seeing he is a realist too.

Conte urges players “money is not everything” amid Costa rumors

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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While new reports are suggesting that China will have to curb its massive spending, Antonio Conte has urged his players that they don’t have to be tempted by the Chinese Super League.

[ MORE: United, Liverpool finish level after late Ibrahimovic equalizer ]

Chelsea currently sits atop the Premier League — seven points clear of Tottenham and Liverpool — but the club has recently been at the center of controversy as star striker Diego Costa has been linked with a move away from the club.

[ MORE: CSL set to limit number of foreign players per team ]

Costa missed his side’s 3-0 win over Leicester City on Saturday after several outlets reported a rift between the Spaniard and Conte.

The Chelsea manager told reporters following the match that Costa wasn’t available due to a back injury he suffered in training, but there has been continued speculation that the 28-year-old could head to China.

Conte has made it clear to his squad though that the quality of competition in England supersedes the money offered abroad.

“The money is not everything,” Conte told reporters. “When you play for a great team like Chelsea, you must be pleased.

“I think we are a great club and it is a great honour to play for Chelsea. For this reason I don’t see [China] as a threat for my players.

The Blues have lost a number of high-profile players over recent seasons to the high spending of Chinese football, including Brazilian duo Oscar and Ramires, as well as John Obi Mikel.

Oscar departed Chelsea this month to join Shanghai SIPG for a reported $72 million.

“I have to look at the past,” Conte said. “Oscar played with us, had a good offer from China and he went.

“But this league is really competitive and every player wants to come and play in this league.

“This league is the first in the world because of a lot of positive things, so I don’t think these offers from China are a threat for our league.”

Report: Ian Harkes expected to sign with DC United

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D.C. United didn’t have a top 10 selection in the MLS SuperDraft, but the club is likely to end up with one of the most talented collegiate players in the game.

[ MORE: Robinson, Ebobisse headline latest U.S. U-20 roster ]

According to the Washington Post, D.C. United is expected to sign Wake Forest attacker Ian Harkes to a multi-year contract.

[ MORE: Galaxy keeper Rowe replaces Frei with USMNT ]

Harkes, 21, came up through D.C.’s academy system before playing all four years for the Demon Deacons. The midfielder has gained significant notoriety over his college career, which concluded with Hermann Trophy honors following his senior senior.

As a former member of the D.C. academy, Harkes didn’t have to declare for the SuperDraft and is expected to sign a Homegrown contract with D.C. United in the coming days.

Harkes has also been considering his options abroad, which included second-division sides in England, where he was born. Ian is the son of former U.S. Men’s National Team star John Harkes, who played both in the United States and England over his professional career.

Bayern Munich signs Suele and Rudy from Hoffenheim

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 15:  Sebastian Rudy of Germany controls the ball during the International Friendly Match between Italy and Germany at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on November 15, 2016 in Milan, .  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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MUNICH (AP) German champion Bayern Munich has signed center half Niklas Suele and central midfielder Sebastian Rudy from Hoffenheim, with both players due to complete the season with their current club before joining on July 1.

[ MORE: Ibrahimovic rescues draw for United against Liverpool ]

Bayern said Sunday on its website that Rudy – who is out of contract in the summer – has signed a three-year deal until 2020 while Suele has agreed a five-year deal until June 2022.

[ MORE: Morata to Chelsea? Dybala staying put? ]

“Signing two Germany internationals is an investment in FC Bayern’s future,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “Sebastian Rudy joins us on a free transfer. In the case of Niklas Suele we have reached a fair and serious agreement with Hoffenheim.”

The 26-year-old Rudy has played 177 league games for Hoffenheim since joining from Stuttgart in 2010, while the 21-year-old Suele is a homegrown talent and has made 90 league appearances with the club.

“In terms of it being a farewell I feel a little wistful,” Suele said on Bayern’s website, adding that the move gives him the chance of “maturing further with one of the best teams in the world.”

Suele’s signing appears to be linked to the form of long-serving Bayern defender Holger Badstuber, who has been sent on loan to Schalke to get more game time.

The long-serving center-back has struggled with injuries in recent years and is not in Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti’s plans, having played only three games this season, starting just once.