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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.

NYCFC’s Vieira blames derby loss on RBNY’s Marsch “crying all week”

New York City FC's head coach Patrick Vieira looks on from the sideline during the second half of an MLS soccer game against the Montreal Impact, in Montreal, Sunday, July 17, 2016. (Graham Hughes /The Canadian Press via AP)
Graham Hughes /The Canadian Press via AP
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Patrick Vieira is very mad, and with good reason, but he might want to reconsider where he directs his displeasure following the New York City FC’s latest embarrassment at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, 4-1 on Sunday .

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In Vieira’s estimation, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch and referee Mark Geiger were co-men of the match; Marsch for his pre-game comments — “crying,” in Vieira’s words — and Geiger for playing into Marsch’s devious, revolutionary plan.

Adults … they’re just like us!

In the two sides’ three meetings this season, the Red Bulls won twice and lost once, by a combined score of 11-3.

New York is red: BWP, Kljestan torture NYC in (another) blowout

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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New York Red Bulls rode a wave of first half goals to a heated and entertaining 4-1 win over New York City FC on Sunday at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.

Sacha Kljestan had two assists and converted a penalty, while Bradley Wright-Phillips netted a brace and Ronald Zubar (!!) also scored for RBNY. If you’re keeping score at home that’s a combined 11-1 score line for RBNY in home Derby games this season.

Tommy McNamara scored a gorgeous goal before halftime to give City life. Aside from McNamara cranking a second-half effort off the crossbar, the rest of the life came in the form of pushing, shoving and fouling. Frank Lampard mixed it up with Kljestan, while Ethan White took two yellows for a late red card.

[ MORE: A Pogba Primer ]

The win gives the Red Bulls bragging rights for at least the regular season, as RBNY won 2 of 3 season matches against its area rivals.

NYC remains atop the East, while the Red Bulls are five points back in fourth.

Here’s the goal that got us started, as Kljestan slipped through BWP for a finish he’ll rarely miss (even when ice-cold).

Zubar then headed in a Kljestan pass to make it 2-0 before a handball allowed Kljestan to collect a goal for himself.

BWP restored the three-goal lead with 20 minutes to play, as he won a 50-50 ball played over the top and had all day to toy with Josh Saunders en route to his 11th of the season.

WATCH: McNamara gives NYC some Derby life with laser blast

Tommy McNamara
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The New York Red Bulls were cruising at home, leading 3-0 in what looked like it could be another blowout New York Derby.

Enter Tommy Mac.

[ MORE: A Pogba Primer ]

The Clemson man and NYC fan favorite unleashed an absolute laser past Luis Robles to make it 3-1 and give City a look at a comeback.

The goal gives McNamara four to go with eight assists this season. Now can NYC keep the comeback working in the second half?

As Pogba bids creep over $130 mil, PST takes stock of the player

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 29:  Paul Pogba of France in action during the International Friendly match between France and Russia held at Stade de France on March 29, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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The new number is $133 million.

That’s what Manchester United has apparently offered in a total package to pry Paul Pogba from Juventus, where the Serie A club has been ready to hold out for more from the first moment the player and club were linked.

The latest story comes from Alan Smith and Fabrizio Romano of The Guardian, who say that Juve’s move for Gonzalo Higuain has not made the sale of Pogba a formality.

[ MORE: New contract for Ronaldo? ]

The thing with Pogba is that he doesn’t always pass the eye test, but statistically he’s close to flying colors. In some ways, he’s an analytics man’s conundrum.

Pogba’s 12 assists tied for the Serie A lead with Miralem Pjanic of Roma, and he tied for 20th in goals with eight while blasting the third-most shots in the league (123).

Further, his role in the Juventus system was second-to-none. Only Leonardo Bonucci took more touches than Pogba’s 2577, and he played 130 more minutes. Pogba’s 43 interceptions are 40th in Serie A, and his tackles put him 22nd.

Quite frankly, Pogba has nearly every tool in his locker and deploys most of them despite his relatively young 23 years. He plays on the edge, but rarely crosses it.

There are concerns: He needs a steady defensive midfielder with him, one who can allow him to take his risks. While he’s electric in attack and decent in defense, he won’t be a hero if expected to be the focal point of possession.

[ MORE: Messi back, blonde at Barca ]

This will be paramount in European competition, where Pogba can stand to grow his resume. Yet even this sees him as an instrumental figure in both Champions League and EURO runner-up finishes.

AL AIN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MAY 19: Roma's Miralem Pjanic during the international friendly match between AS Roma and Al Ahly on May 20, 2016 in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Whiteoak/Getty Images)
Pjanic (Photo by Chris Whiteoak/Getty Images)

The hope with Pogba is that he’ll continue his upward trend. To make Serie A comparisons, can he be Miralem Pjanic in three years, and Marek Hamsik in five?

Moreover, with the money Manchester United or Real Madrid would spend to get him, can he be better? Given Alex Ferguson’s legendary status and failure to keep him at Old Trafford, there will be a group of United fans who will review his matches more than any in ages.

There are three critical things to remember as Pogba Transfer Mania reaches critical mass (It has, actually, hasn’t it?):

  1. Juventus will sell him, as Pjanic is presently an upgrade.
  2. Despite the fee, no one should yet be legitimately comparing him to Ronaldo or Messi; Transfer records will be broken almost every year moving forward, it’s just a matter of who is for sale.
  3. Pogba is a brilliant fit for Jose Mourinho’s system. The sale wouldn’t make sense for every team.

We’d say that’s a pretty good primer for when the sale is announced, and I think it will be, in the next couple weeks. Good luck, Paul.