UCL Preview: Manchester United, Bayern Munich look to improve on leg one

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Two years ago, an FC Basel went to the Allianz Arena with a 1-0 lead, having upset Bayern Munich in the first leg of the teams’ Round of 16 UEFA Champions League matchup. The Swiss champions had already played David in group stage, forcing previous year’s finalists Manchester United into Europa League. After knocking off Bayern a St. Jakob Park, another upset seemed less miraculous than an actual possibility. Perhaps Basel had quietly built a team that could compete with some of Europe’s elites.

That thought lasted expired by halftime at the Allianz, with Bayern eventually winning, 7-0. Mario Gomez scored four times. Arjen Robben added another two. By the time Jupp Heynckes’s team met Chelsea in the final, the Basel loss was an afterthought.

As if yesterday’s games weren’t caution enough, Bayern’s path to the 2012 final reminds us: There’s a reason they play two legs. Teams are naturally predisposed to playing better at home. While leg one may show two relatively evenly matched sides, that may also be one team’s best case scenario and another’s worst.

(MORE: Manchester United hold Bayern Munich, keep UEFA Champions League hopes alive)

Calling Manchester United’s 1-1 against Bayern Munich a best case scenario doesn’t sound too far off base. Nobody was expected the Red Devils to pull off an upset, which gave their draw against the Champions League’s holders a sense of accomplishment. While they had to spend most of their night on the edge of the their own penalty area, the Red Devils were arguably the more dangerous side last Tuesday, with opportunities missed by Danny Welbeck giving the team a chance to finish leg one on top.

Though that didn’t happen, but United did establish a reasonable way of limiting damage. The only problem now is that away goal. If Bayern wants to, they can pass the ball around the park on Wednesday, wait for the Red Devils take it of them, and settle for a 0-0 if United never comes out of their crouch. It would be unpopular, and the Allianz might whistle come the 75th minute, but it’s a option Bayern earned at Old Trafford. Having taken an away goal, FCB’s not obliged to score at home.

One-all is a risky scoreline, we could not win in Manchester,” Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola lamented on Tuesday. “But I am sure we will go through. We need a good performance and we want to win the game.”

(MORE: David Moyes hails Manchester United, looks ahead to Bayern Munich clash)

The fact that they don’t need to puts last week’s result in perspective. Though the draw been hailed as one of Manchester United’s best performances of the season, that’s relative praise. After giving up an away goal, the team finished last Tuesday worse than it started. United may have exceeded expectations, but that doesn’t mean it made progress toward the next round.

I expect us to play better than in the first leg – and I believe we can,” Moyes said. “To get through, we’ll have to. My focus is on getting through. The players are ready and focused. We’re relishing it.”

The Red Devils will still be without Robin van Persie (knee) and Juan Mata (cup tied). Although Bayern will be without Javi Martínez, Bastian Schweinsteiger (suspensions), and Thiago Alcántara (knee), they’ll still have Franck Ríbery. They’ll still have Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, and most of the pieces that allowed them to clinch the Bundesliga with seven games to play. And even through the midfield is hit hard by injuries, Pep Guardiola will still have Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, and Mario Götze at his disposal.

(MORE, Champions League: Barcelona hope to tip the scales against Atlético Madrid)

On Wednesday, however, Manchester United is only one goal away. They’re a set piece, a penalty kick, a blown call away from one of the bigger upsets in recent memory.

While that’s still unlikely to happen, Manchester United’ given itself a shot.

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.

Podolski goes out with super goal; Germany tops England

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The highlight of Wednesday’s international friendly docket was Lukas Podolski‘s final match for Germany, and the former Arsenal man did not disappoint his crowd.

But first, Canada plays its first match since unveiling new coach Octavio Zambrano.

[ MORE: Zlatan still bitter with Guardiola ]

Scotland 1-1 Canada

Zambrano saw plenty to like from his new side, as Canada went ahead early with a goal from former Scottish youth Fraser Aird. Toronto-born, the ex-Rangers and current Falkirk man got his first Canadian goal against the team he represented at U-17 and U-19 levels.

Norwich City’s Steven Naismith redirected Tom Cairney‘s shot to make it 1-1 before the break, but Scotland never found its way back into Canada’s net.

Germany 1-0 England

Lukas Podolski scored his 49th international goal in his final cap for Germany, and it was spectacular.

Joe Hart didn’t stand a chance.

The match saw big stops from both ‘keepers, as Hart thwarted Leroy Sane on a second half break after Marc-Andre Ter Stegen defied Dele Alli in the opening 45.

Podolski subbed off in the 84th minute to wild applause, but it must sting slightly to know you finished an illustrious career one goal short of a nice, round 50. We guess he’ll have to rest on his millions and millions of earnings and loads of on-field honors.

Elsewhere
Vietnam 1-1 Chinese Taipei
Philippines 0-0 Malaysia
Cyprus 3-1 Kazakhstan
Yemen 0-1 Palestine
Cambodia 2-3 India

McClean to wear No. 5 in honor of deceased ex-teammate

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James McClean is a colorful personality who doesn’t shy away from strong opinions — he once called Jurgen Klopp “a bit of an idiot” — and the West Brom man is using the big stage of World Cup qualifying to proudly honor a deceased ex-teammate.

McClean has long before friends with Derry City captain Ryan McBride, who shockingly died hours after leading his side to a league win this weekend. Given his age (27), few saw it coming even after McBride admitted to feeling ill after the match.

[ MORE: Zlatan still bitter with Guardiola ]

McBride and McClean played together at Derry, and the latter was excused from Republic of Ireland training to attend funeral services this week.

He’s still expected to play a role in Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Wales on Friday, and McClean will don the No. 5 of McBride. Irish defender Richard Keogh usually wears the number and agreed to the change.