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Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win vs. Bayern Munich

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Following Real Madrid’s 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League semifinal on Wednesday, some key factors shaped the game.

Real, reluctant to breakout from their ultra-defensive approach, did a job on Bayern, as the reigning European champions were frustrated and locked out in and around the box.

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Bayern are lucky to still be in with a shout of making the UCL final, as both Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria missed gilt-edged chances in the first half to add to the Spanish giants’ lead.

Here are three things which stood out as Real take a slender advantage to the Allianz Arena with them next Tuesday.

Real too quick on the counter for Bayern

In the last few rounds of this competition, Manchester United and Arsenal both exposed Bayern Munich’s Achilles heel: pace on the counter. Danny Welbeck tore Bayern apart at Old Trafford, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sanogo had a good go at it for the Gunners. On Wednesday night Bayern were again left exposed on the break, as Real pounced with impressive speed on the transition to take the lead. In the 18th minute Karim Benzema won the ball, held it up and played it to the left, where Cristiano Ronaldo slotted an inch-perfect pass forward to the onrushing Fabio Coentrao who crossed to the back post for Benzema to tap home. As simple as that. Despite Bayern dominating possession for the opening stages, Real hit them square between the eyes early on as Carlo Ancelotti had clearly done his homework. Time and time again Real broke with efficiency on the break and they should have Gareth Bale at their disposal from the start in the return leg to further bolster their speedy breakaways. Be afraid Bayern, very afraid.

Tiki-Taka tedious when nobody wants to get in the box

The possession stats were ugly for Real Madrid fans for most of the match (Bayern had 72 percent possession on the night) yet if you’re a Bayern supporter and your team had that much of the ball, how do you not carve out a clear cut opportunity until the 83rd minute? Predictable, tentative and at times repetitive, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern side were too easy to predict at the Santiago Bernabeu. With Toni Kroos allowed to spray the ball on a sixpence out to Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben at will, what happened next was the issue. Robben and Ribery were shackled superbly by Real’s full backs Daniel Carvajal and Coentrao, as the wingers were either shown the outside and unable to get around their marker, or shown inside where Xabi Alonso or Luka Modric would slide over and break up the play and Bayern’s momentum. There was no panache, devilment or ingenuity about Bayern’s play on Wednesday as Mario Mandzukic was often the only man in the box. The only time they got in behind was when Muller cut the ball back to Mario Gotze in the 83rd minute, but the German youngster fluffed his lines as Iker Casillas saved well.

Madrid could’ve been home and dry

Real Madrid will take a 1-0 win at home against the reigning European championship all day long. No doubt. Yet it could’ve been so much better for Los Blancos. Real are the top scorers in the UCL, with 33 goals to their name at an average of over 3.2 per game. They should have had three on Wednesday, as Carlo Ancelotti’s scythed their way through Bayern’s defense with ease. Superstar attacker Ronaldo, returning from injury, missed a massive chance just after Real took the lead as a bouncing ball found him unmarked in the center of the goal, 10-yards out, but the FIFA World Player of the Year side-footed his effort over. Then later in the second half Di Maria rifled an effort over the bar from close range as Real may live to rue their wastefulness. Surely in less than a week in Bavaria Real will not miss chances like that? That is the worrying factor for Bayern Munich, as they know Real will always create chances, especially away from hom where their counter-attacking style.

Brazilian midfielder Fred has doping ban extended to club, out until June

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 19:  Fred of Donetsk goes for a header during the UEFA Champions League: Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between SK Rapid Vienna and FC Shakhtar Donetsk on August 19, 2015 in Vienna, Austria.  (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
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Shakhtar Donetsk striker Fred, a regular for the Brazilian national team, has seen his CONMEBOL doping ban extended worldwide to all competitions.

A FIFA disciplinary committee announced that Fred’s suspension now covers “all types of matches, including domestic, international, friendly and official fixtures.”

The 22-year-old tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide during last summer’s Copa America, and has not played for the Brazilian national team since, having been banned for a year by CONMEBOL. He had been playing for his Ukranian club while FIFA was reviewing the case, making 12 appearances in league play and scoring two goals. He also played six times in the Champions League without scoring a goal.

The one-year ban is back-dated to Fred’s last international squad appearance, when he was on the bench for the Copa America quarterfinals on June 27 of last summer. That date will allow Fred to be eligible for the Rio Olympics, which start August 5.

Men In Blazers podcast: Irvine Welsh Pod Special

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog talks with “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh about his new novel “A Decent Ride,” unconventional career arc, and love for West Ham United/Hibernian.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?