Benzema goal holds up as Real Madrid claim 1-0 lead over Bayern Munich

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Playing out as a treatise against the primacy of possession, Real Madrid willingly and victoriously ceded control of the home leg of its UEFA Champions League semifinal. Instead, hosting defending champions Bayern Munich, Carlo Anelotti’s side made the most of the few counter attack chances it was able to muster, defending a Karim Benzema opener for 71 minutes en route to a 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéú.

The match’s only goal came with the game’s first true chance, with a counter down the home team’s left producing a ball fed into the Bayern area for Fabio Coentrão. The Ballon d’Or winner’s pass across Manuel Neuer’s six-yard box ended with Benzema’s uncontested finish, giving the nine-time champions an early lead. Despite late chances for Thomas Müller and Mario Götze, the advantage held up through Howard Webb’s final whistle, inching  Ancelotti’s team closer to the club’s coveted decima.

(MORE: Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win vs. Bayern Munich)

Bayern would finish the match holding 72 percent of the possession, out-passing the Merengues 667-256 while only putting four shots on Iker Casillas. Real Madrid, in contrast, tested Neuer five times, proving more dangerous with the limited possession sought.

The same dynamic iss likely to play out next Tuesday at the Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich, trying to become the first back-to-back European Cup winners in 24 years, will need the goal it couldn’t craft at the Bernabéu. Real Madrid, seeking the club’s 10th European championship, will hope Benzema’s goal will help them avoid a fourth straight exit at the semifinal round.

Opening the match by dominating 80 percent of the ball — a rate that would persist through halftime — Bayern Munich assumed its expected control of the match, even if that control failed to translate into chances. Instead, it was Real Madrid the produced the night’s first true opportunity – a counterattack that led to Coentrão on the ball, approaching the byline. Drawing both Munchen central defenders wide, the Real left back was able to roll a ball across the top of the six-yard box to Benzema at the far post, with Manuel Neuer unable to get across to prevent an easy 19th minute finish.

Though Bayern continued monopolizing the ball over the next 26 minutes, all the chances fell to the hosts. In the 27th minute, a ball crossed from the left by Benzema took a subtle, unfortunate bounce on Ronaldo when the team’s leading scorer tried to one-time it near the penalty spot. In the 41st, Ángel Di María  volleyed another ball crossed from the left over Neuer’s cross-bar, leaving the teams to go into halftime at 1-0.

Within minutes of the second half kickoff, Real Madrid was testing Neuer again, with a sharp angle shot from Ronaldo forcing Neuer to ground to protect his far post.  Mid-way through the half, Ronaldo would have another chance from the left of the penalty area, one Neuer was able to push out for a corner. As Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola started making changes, the limited possession Real Madrid was electing to keep started to fade, with the Merengues left of hold out per the match’s final 10 minutes.

That spell produced a chance for Müller from just outside the area, though the German international left his shot just outside Casillas’s right post. In the 86th minute, Bayern’s best chance of the game fell to Götze, 10 yards out at the right post, though his attempt to go across goal was hit right at Casillas. A late penalty appeal from Müller was ignored by Webb, who eventually blew the whistle on El Real‘s first leg shutout.

It was the type of defensive performance which, if replicated next week, will see the Merengues to Lisbon – into the European final the squad could never reach under José Mourinho. Beyond those three years, though, Real Madrid’s Wednesday performance puts the club 90 minutes closer to easing angst 12 years in the making. Another showing like tonight’s in Germany, and the kings of Europe will get their change to reclaim their crown.

Azpilicueta: Biggest thing is “we haven’t conceded goals” since 3-4-3 switch

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea and Modou Barrow of Swansea City chase the ball during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has been called a mastermind in the past for his unconventional tactics. Now, it’s those same tactics that are making him look the part of a genius yet again at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Is 2016/17 the closest Premier League title race ever? ]

Since changing his system to a 3-4-3 following Chelsea’s gutting 3-0 defeat against Arsenal last month, the Blues have gone on to win three straight Premier League matches, including a recent 4-0 drubbing of Manchester United on Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge.

As important as the results are for Chelsea at the moment, the even more impressive aspect is the way that the Blues are winning matches. In their three consecutive victories, Conte’s side has failed to concede a goal, which has helped bring Chelsea to within a point at the summit of the PL.

Not only do the supporters appreciate Conte’s willingness to adapt and build a team that plays up to its greatest potential, but defender Cesar Azpilicueta is one of the many players that have uttered similar sentiments about the Italian’s tactics.

“I find it good. The most important thing for me is the team and since we changed the system we haven’t conceded goals in the Premier League,” he told Sky Sports.

“I try to play my part in the team. The most important part of the system is the spirit of the team and the way we work. The tactics make a difference but what was most pleasing was the way the team work made it happen. Some players have different roles now but we have all week to work on that and we have a very clear idea what to do in the game. We have different options from the attacking fullbacks now.”

[ MORE Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve” at City ]

Azpilicueta has been one of three key figures for Chelsea at the back since Conte made the switch defensively, joining Gary Cahill and David Luiz in a partnership that looks hard to crack at the moment.

Report: Mexico open to hosting 2026 World Cup despite potential joint bid with U.S., Canada

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 09:  Chicharito #14 of Mexico celebrates after his goal in front of Andre Blake #1 of Jamaica to take a 1-0 lead during Copa America Centenario at the Rose Bowl on June 9, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Despite some talks linking a possible two or even three nation bid for the 2026 World Cup, Mexico has opened the door for El Tri to host the world’s biggest football competition for a record third time.

[ MORE: Liverpool reaches summit of latest PST Premier League Power Rankings ]

Mexico Football Federation president Decio de Maria recently told ESPN that he and his country are prepared to go ahead with a bid for the 2026 edition of the tournament with or without any hypothetically joint bid.

“I don’t know [whether we would pursue a joint bid] but the rules are already open to it,” De Maria said. “What was agreed upon makes the path perfectly clear.

“Mexico will be in the hunt to host the 2026 World Cup.”

In addition to Mexico, the United States has been considered an early favorite to be named hosts in 2026 after losing out to Qatar for the 2022 competition. The U.S., Mexico and Canada have also been linked with a joint bid between the three CONCACAF nations, as the region looks to bring the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994 (when the U.S. hosted).

Mexico previously hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986, and is one of four nations to have held the tournament on home soil more than once.

Report: Barcelona eyeing Nathaniel Clyne to fill right back gap

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool clears the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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When Dani Alves left Barcelona to join Juventus over the summer, the Blaugrana appeared to have the right back vacancy covered.

[ MORE: Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve”

However, manager Luis Enrique appears to be turning his attention to the Premier League in order to replace the versatile Brazilian defender.

[ MORE: Tony Pulis extends contract with West Brom ]

According to SunSport, Barcelona is prepared to approach Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne during the winter transfer window as the Spanish giants look to lock down the right back position.

The 25-year-old is reportedly seen as a significant upgrade from Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal, both of whom have been tabbed as starters this season for Barcelona.

Clyne has appeared in 12 matches this PL season for the Reds, who currently sit tied atop the Premier League with Manchester City and Arsenal on points.

In addition to Clyne, SunSport reports that Glen Johnson is also a consideration for the Blaugrana, however, the 32-year-old is certainly not a first option for Enrique and Barcelona given his age and drop in form.

MLS Conference Semis preview: Compelling match-ups all around

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 23:  Landon Donovan of the United States celebrates with team mate Tim Howard after victory that sends the USA through to the second round during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 23, 2010 in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
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One of Major League Soccer’s most wide open new rivalries headlines a glorious quartet of first legs when the Conference Semifinals get going on Sunday.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule ]

Toronto FC and New York City FC have squared off five times in a nascent rivalry which has seen plenty of thrills, including a 4-4 draw in NYC last season.

TFC has three draws but is yet to top NYCFC. There are so many reasons to love this match-up: the tactical face-off between Patrick Vieira of NYC and Greg Vanney of Toronto; the combined firepower of David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Andrea Pirlo.

Aside from the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium for the second leg, almost everything about this is wonderful.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Khiry Shelton #19 of New York City FC carries the ball against Marco Delgado #18 and Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

[ MORE: JPW talks with USL commish Edwards ]

The other Eastern Conference semi sees the Montreal Impact building off its upset of DC United with a pair of matches against high-flying New York Red Bulls.

The first match is in Montreal, and the Stade Saputo is a big, loud place. Didier Drogba is no longer featuring for the hosts, but Ignacio Piatti has been as good as any players in the league (He deserves MVP consideration but it seems politically difficult to imagine it will go anywhere besides a New York team or Giovinco).

The Red Bulls haven’t lost since July 3, and feature a dominant group up the middle which includes Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestand, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. This, too, shall be fun.

Over in the West, we see suddenly starring Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy opening up against surprising Colorado Rapids.

A Donovan vs. Tim Howard match-up is in some ways an Evertonian and USMNT fan’s dream, but this will be more about whether Colorado’s “no-name” — outside of Howard and Jermaine Jones — team can stare down the star power of the Galaxy. Look for sneaky star Shkelzen Gashi to make his name known a bit more for the Rapids.

[ MORE: Spain may recall David Villa ]

Finally we’ve got the hottest team in the West, Seattle Sounders, duking it out with Supporters’ Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner FC Dallas.

The playoffs find Seattle as a minor favorite since FCD star Mauro Diaz went out for the year and Fabian Castillo skipped town for Turkey. But ruling out Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, and head coach Oscar Pareja is something you’d do at your own peril.

For Seattle, there’s new star Nicolas Lodeiro and striker Jordan Morris, the latter who is delivering at an unreal level (even for a rookie as hyped as the Stanford man).

All of these matches have the potential for special soccer. Bring on Sunday.