Real Madrid survives Reus, Borussia Dortmund, reaches fourth straight Champions League semifinal

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Real Madrid is through to a fourth straight UEFA Champions League semifinal, though after enduring 90 troubling minutes against a short-handed Borussia Dortmund, all of the team’s weaknesses have been further exposed in the process. Losing 2-0 in Westfalia, Carlo Ancelotti’s team still advances with a 3-2 (aggregate) win, but with an error-prone defense and a midfield incapable of slowing down the quicker Germans, the Merengues looked more like survivors than victors.

An early penalty kick awarded after a Lukasz Piszczek handball gave Ángel Di María a chance to cement El Real’s semifinal spot, but stepping up in wake of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, the Argentine was unable to beat Roman Weidenfeller in the 17th minute. Marco Reus soon made Real rue the missed opportunity, scoring twice before halftime, but when last year’s finalists were unable to convert their myriad second half chances, Real Madrid were allowed to claim another spot in the semifinals.

Having been eliminated in that round in each of the last three seasons, the nine-time champions will be hoping Ancelotti can guide them where José Mourinho never could. Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, will have to content itself with a commanding performance that left the team one goal short of prolonging its Champions League run.

Real Madrid’s passivity left the Merengues without early answers against Dortmund’s pressure, something that nearly rendered irrelevant when a cross from Fabio Coentrão met Piszczek’s extended left arm at the edge of the BVB penalty area. Though replays showed the Dortmund left back may have left from the box by the time he made contact with the ball, referee Damir Skomina pointed to the spot, giving Di María a chance to put the tie away.

Though the Argentine’s plant foot slipped as he met the ball, his shot still seemed destined for the right side netting. Thanks to  Weidenfeller, however, we’ll never know. Diving to save a knee-high shot headed, the Borussia Dortmund keeper prevented Real Madrid from claiming an early, crucial away goal.

In the 24th minute, after Real Madrid’s first major defensive error, Weidenfeller’s stop took on a whole new meaning, with Reus’s finish into a near-empty net bringing the hosts back into the tie. Intercepting a weak Pepe headed back pass after a long ball from Manuel Friedrich, Reus dribbled around Iker Casillas’s charge to the edge of the penalty area, leaving only Sergio Ramos to defend Real’s abandoned goal. Blasting his shot between the Spanish international’s legs, Reus cut the visitors’ lead to two, giving BVB a one-goal lead on the night.

In the 38th minute, a second inexcusable Real Madrid error put the team’s lead in further doubt, allowing BVB to carry a 2-0 lead into halftime. After terrible giveaway from Aiser Illarremendi at the edge of his defensive third, Reus was allowed to run at the Real Madrid defense, collapsing it before laying off left to Robert Lewandowski. The Polish striker’s shot was pushed onto the far post, but when the rebound came out to Reus, Ramos was again left watching a shot fly into an abandoned goal, bringing Dormtund within one, overall.

In the 60th minute, after showing little life through the second half’s first 15 minutes, Real Madrid finally awoke with a ball sent through the six-yard box by Gareth Bale. Eluding Weidenfeller, the pass was inches away from becoming Real Madrid’s decisive blow, with Karim Benzema failing to get to the ball before it rolled beyond the far post.

Moments later, when Benzema dribbled around Weidenfeller before a recovery from Mats Hummels saved a goal, the Real Madrid striker had seen his second close chance end without a shot on target. His team remained within one BVB goal of extra time.

source: AP
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (right) had there chances to provide Borussia Dortmund with an equalizer but was unable to build on Marco Reus’s two first half goals. (Photo credit: AP Photos.)

In the 64th minute, Dortmund was left regretting its own close call after Reus put Henrikh Mkhitaryan though on goal. After moving around an oncoming Casillas, the Armenian midfielder had a chance to make amends for a disappointing effort in the middle of the first half. Instead, faced with an empty goal, Mkhitaryan failed  to adjust for the speed he took toward the byline, nailing the near post with his shot.

Four minutes later, work from Reus and Lewandowski moving left-to-right in the penalty area left Mkhitaryan with another chance from the middle of the box. Finally getting a shot on target, the Dortmund midfielder fired straight at Casillas, who came up big on Kevin Großkreutz with a dive to his left minutes later.

Entering the final 15 minutes, the possession edge Real Madrid had carried out of halftime had completely evaporated. After playing on the counter throughout the first half, Borussia Dortmund were monopolizing play in the second. Their guests were quickly receding into two banks of four, with Xabi Alonso patrolling the space in between.

As the game approached full-time, Real Madrid crept deeper into its own end, though Dortmund’s increased pursuit meant the match’s final chances were El Real’s. Karim Benzema had an opportunity to ice the tie in the 80th minute with a chance near the edge of the box. Ten minutes later, his layoff into the right of the area left Weidenfeller diving in to prevent Bale from poking a decisive score into Dortmund’s goal.

When time ran out, Borussia Dortmund head coach Jürgen Klopp quickly went to shake Carlo Ancelotti’s hand, his lack of hesitation portraying a pride in his team’s performance. Down three goals coming into the day, BVB had done more than merely saved face. It’d left itself with a chance to win. Though, ultimately, Real Madrid survived into the competition’s next round, Klopp seemed content knowing his team leaves the tournament having put its best foot forward.

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

Wenger says schedule congestion catching up to Arsenal

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Much like their 3-1 loss to Manchester United, Arsenal dominated the chances but couldn’t find the back of the net enough to get three points.

Unlike that Red Devils defeat, however, the Gunners were stout at the back against a lively West Ham United and picked up an away point from a nil-nil draw on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-0 Arsenal ]

Wenger was content enough with the result, as he continued to be in the chorus of managers who lament the congested Premier League schedule around the holidays. From the BBC:

“We had so much of the ball, but it was very frustrating because we could even have lost it at the end. They’re happy to defend, they did that against Chelsea and Manchester City, so we couldn’t find the opening and the few chances we had we missed.

“When you play every three days, you lose your sharpness.”

That’s true, and to his credit Wenger didn’t try to say West Ham had one day’s more rest (which they did). As Man City runs away with the league and Manchester United doesn’t look fit to drop back to the back, the race for the final two Top Four spots is as congested as the schedule. Arsenal needs to turn some of its shot-heavy performances into goal-heavy cruises sometime soon.

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

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Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.