Champions League Preview: Real Madrid looks to restore confidence against decimated Dortmund

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When Real Madrid drew Borussia Dortmund after UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, the pairing looked fortuitous pairing for the surging favorite. Back then, Carlo Ancelotti’s team appeared primed to be Bayern Munich’s main obstacle, with a rise to the top of La Liga showing its quality relative to fellow contenders Barcelona and Atlético Madrid.

Jump to the present, and an unexpected slide finds Real Madrid occupying the Primera’s third place once more. A disappointing home loss to Barcelona followed at an upset at Sevilla highlighted the team’s long-discussedfragility. For all the success los Blancos experienced this winter — as ascent that left all of fall’s questions in 2013’s distance — they were still sent spinning by a Lionel Messi hat trick, a Sergio Ramos red card, and the same misgivings that have kept the team’s current core from claiming the club’s long-sought decima.

It makes El Real’s pairing with Borussia Dortmund even more fortuitous. Had the nine-time champions been drawn with Bayern Munich or Barcelona in this round, the wounds they suffered in league may have sufficiently healed. But against a Dortmund team that has struggled all season with injuries, Real Madrid may be getting just the right level of opponent to ease them back toward their title-contending form.

“We have done well in the competition up until now,” Ancelotti reminded the media on Tuesday, “we are one of only two teams unbeaten. We are 100 percent ready for this match.”

(MORE: Real Madrid’s path: Landslide at Schalke | Finish the job at home)

In the last round, however, Jurgen Klopp’s team’s four-goal outburst in Russia reminded the field of Dortmund’s persisting danger, something the Merengues will remember from last year’s semifinals. But with up to seven first choice players set to be sidelined on Wednesday, Dortmund will look little like the team that routed Real Madrid in Germany last season.

Robert Lewandowskiwho posted four goals on El Real in last year’s first leg, is suspended for Wednesday’s match in Madrid. Though he’ll return for leg two, Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Sven Bender, Ilkay Gündogen and Jakub Blaszczykowski will not, with Lukacz Piszczek’s fitness concern potentially leaving the full back with his injured teammates. Dortmund is decimated.

But Dortmund has been decimated for most of the season. Yet they still won their Champions League group. They’re still in the tournament’s final eight. They still sit second in Germany, and they were still able to put their Round of 16 match against Zenit St. Petersburg away within 90 minutes. Those focusing on Borussia Dortmund’s misfortune usually overlook the fact that Klopp has made his adjustments.

“I’m not a magician but we have had to get over much adversity this season,” Klopp explained. “I have very good players and my duty is to make them better; so far we’ve done that very well.”

(MORE, Dortmund’s road to the quarters: Explosion in St. Petersburg | Struggles at home)

source: APThose duties leave summer buy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the likely starter up top. Marco Reus (right), capable of finding goals on his own (as he did three times this weekend), will star in an attacking line of three with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and (likely) Jonas Hoffman. The debilitated defense will rely on Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the middle beside Mats Hummels, with Kevin Großkreutz moved back on the right to play opposite left back Erik Durm. It’s a makeshift team, yet one which, thanks to players like Reus, can still pull off an upset.

It’s also a group that’s more capable than the Sevilla team that beat Real Madrid in the middle of last week, though that loss is likely to have served as a wake up call. If so, Borussia Dortmund’s hamstrung defense risks being overrun by Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, with a midfield trio of Luka Modric, Ángel Di María, and Xabi Alonso capable of dictating the affair. At home and carrying memories of last years’ first leg embarrassment, Real Madrid’s stars can be expected to try and post a decisive result.

(MORE: Mourinho, Chelsea stand in the way of PSG’s semifinal goal)

“Playing the second leg at home may be a slight advantage but I fear Madrid trying to settle the tie here,” according to Klopp. “I have seen many of their games and they never finish a match without one scoring opportunity. They have incredible quality and we can’t ignore that. If we play our game and keep our heads up, we will have chances.”

On Wednesday, Dortmund’s main goal has to be to survive until leg two. Then, they’ll have Lewandowski back. Piszczek might return. They’ll be at home, and they may be able to use that Real Madrid fragility in their favor. Dortmund could be the next team to draw a decisive Sergio Ramos red card.

They just need to survive the Bernabéu.

No clean sheet, no cake for Leicester at Rainieri’s birthday party

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Leicester City mascot Filbert Fox is seen prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace at The King Power Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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It’s a happy birthday celebration for Claudio Ranieri, though cake will be missing for Leicester City’s players.

The manager turned 65 on Thursday, and was ready to share some of his gigantic birthday cake with his players if they fulfilled his requirements on Saturday.

[ MORE: Match recap | Fuchs’ great goal ]

The Foxes picked up a comfortable-enough 3-1 win through Ahmed Musa, Christian Fuchs, and Shinji Okazaki, but Yohan Cabaye‘s late goal means no dessert.

“I said I would share my birthday cake in the dressing room if I got a clean sheet,” Ranieri joked to the BBC. “They clearly don’t want a piece.”

Ranieri also explained Jamie Vardy‘s bench place being down to squad rotation after a busy week — Leicester beat Copenhagen in the Champions League — and said Musa is about ready to kick on after an adjustment period in England.

Birthday-boy Wenger plans to drown sorrows after Arsenal draw

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger turned 67 on Saturday.

His Arsenal side didn’t reward him with the present of three wins as the Frenchman watched them labor to a 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough.

[ MORE: Bradley’s Swans solid ]

The Gunners thought they’d snatch victory at the death but Mesut Ozil’s goal was offside and although they dominated possession, Middlesbrough looked dangerous on the break with Adam Traore, Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez all going close.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Wenger thought his Arsenal side looked a little bit tired following their 6-0 win in the UEFA Champions League at home against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

“It is a game where you had a lot of possession but there were tired legs and you are prone to counter-attacks. You make it difficult for yourself. 75% possession but you could have lost the game, that is modern football.  When you are not sharp, you lack creativity in the final third. I must say, we gave everything but we did not have the legs today.

“The energy levels were a bit down but we were intelligent enough not to lose it. We were exposed at times. When you cannot win, you must not lose. They had chances but our goalkeeper saved us today. Petr Cech had a good performance in decisive phases. We tried. You don’t win on command though. We lacked our creative potential around the box. That is part of it.”

He was also asked if he plans to have a drink to celebrate his birthday. Wenger’s response was classic…

“At least you can have a drink on your birthday. When you win you deserve it. When you don’t you need it,” Wenger said with a smile.

Regardless of a small slip up and an end to their six-game winning streak, Arsenal sits top of the Premier League on Saturday after the 10 a.m. ET games.

Surely that’s reason enough to have a few glasses of Champagne, Arsene?

Christian Fuchs’ bullet a highlight for Leicester City (video)

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Leicester City showed the class of champions on Saturday, improving its Premier League standing with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.

The King Power Stadium saw some dicey late moments thanks to a Yohan Cabaye goal, but first got to celebrate an absolute stunner from an unlikely source.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

While Ahmed Musa and Shinji Okazaki goals are more encouraging signs for the Foxes’ attack, it was a scintillating bit of work from Christian Fuchs that really stoked the fire.

Fuchs came onto a ball with Leicester leading 2-0 and lashed his left football through the ball for a venomous volleyed goal.

Bob Bradley “disappointed” as solid Swansea fail to take chances

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 22:  Bob Bradley, Manager of Swansea City claps the fans prior to kick off during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Watford at the Liberty Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Bob Bradley got his first point as a Premier League manager on Saturday but the American coach knew it should’ve been more.

[ VIDEO: Pulisic’s late goal ]

Gylfi Sigurdsson hit the post and Mike Van der Hoorn produced a fine save from Hurelho Gomes as the Swans drew 0-0 with Watford at the Liberty Stadium in Bradley’s first home game in charge.

Making five changes to his Swansea City side which lost 3-2 at Arsenal last week, Bradley made the Swans much tougher to break down as Watford’s striking duo of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo barely had a sniff at goal.

Young center back Alfie Mawson impressed, as Bradley changed three of the back four who looked shaky at Arsenal last time out, and for most of the season.

Speaking to the BBC about the 0-0 draw, Bradley was happy with the second half display and Swansea’s first clean sheet in eight Premier League games.

“The second half was strong and we came out right from the beginning looking for a goal. It didn’t happen but there are a lot of positives. It was important to get a clean sheet and the play from our center halves was solid as Deeney and Ighalo are difficult to play against. This is a step we can build on,” Bradley said. “Alfie (Mawson) impressed and it is not a surprise when you see him day in, day out. He is strong, good in the air and I am very happy with him.”

“I think the team we picked today made sense, we had a solid game but we are disappointed. It is a home match so we want three points, but you see the chances we are creating and we can feel good and try to move in the right direction. There is disappointment for sure, but a shared feeling of an all-round good effort.”

If you look at the stats below, it suggests just how tight Bradley’s side was at the back, with the expected goals map showing a 0.4 rating for Watford.

We all know that Bradley will bring defensive solidity and improved organization but the fact that he has done it so quickly at Swansea will be a big bonus for the New Jersey native.

Bradley knows that the goals will come with Sigurdsson and Modou Barrow particularly dangerous, once again, but the main thing which will help the Swans climb up the table and away from the relegation zone is clean sheets and nicking wins.

With the next four games handing Bradley two tough matches and two winnable ones — they face Manchester United and Crystal Palace at home and Stoke City and Everton away — the Swans will look to keep it tight and take their chances when they come.

They didn’t do that on Saturday but the progress is clear for all to see. For a team who is without a win in eight PL games, they aren’t letting it impact their play as Bradley continues to whip them into shape.