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.

Russia regains FIFA Council seat after Mutko’s ouster

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GENEVA (AP) Russia has regained its place on the FIFA Council, six months after Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko was blocked from re-election.

UEFA member federations on Wednesday elected Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, by acclamation as one of their delegates to FIFA’s strategy-setting committee.

The seat, which runs through 2021, was vacant since May when Mutko was formally forced to step down.

Mutko’s candidacy was blocked by FIFA’s then governance committee chairman, Miguel Maduro, because of a conflict of interest with his government work. Maduro, who was ousted by FIFA weeks later, said last week that the world soccer body’s leaders put pressure on him to protect Mutko’s position.

Meeting with British lawmakers, Maduro said he was told that his ruling on Mutko’s eligibility could threaten FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s hold on power and “would be a disaster” for the World Cup.

Sorokin became the eighth of the nine European delegates on the 37-member FIFA Council. The ninth was left vacant in July when long-time Spanish soccer leader Angel Maria Villar resigned as a vice president of FIFA and UEFA after being arrested in a corruption investigation.

Villar was detained along with three other soccer officials, including his son, on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Interim replacements for Villar were to be confirmed later Wednesday at a meeting of the UEFA executive committee.

Predicting the FIFPro World XI for 2016-17

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With the World Players’ Union, FIFPro, releasing the 55 players who received the most votes from over 25,000 professional players from across the globe based on their play in 2016-17, plenty of usual suspects have been selected as the top players on the planet.

But who will make the final XI when it is announced in London on Oct. 23?

[ MORE: FIFPro nominees in full ]

With one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards selected by each professional surveyed, it is quite likely that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will make the team for the 10th straight season. Because, well, they’re Ronaldo and Messi.

Elsewhere there is plenty of debate as to who will make up the defense and midfield and even in goal.

Below I select my XI and I urge you to do the same in the comments section below.

Remember: we can’t always agree on everything but let’s get along…

JPW selects his FIFPro World 11

Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Manchester United)

Defenders: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Marcelo (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Forward: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Neymar JR (Paris Saint-Germain)

Karim Benzema signs new contract at Real Madrid

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Karim Benzema has signed a new four-year contract at Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Sargent to Werder Bremen

The French striker, 29, has become the latest star name to commit their future to the two-time reigning European champions with Marcelo, Isco and Dani Carvajal all signing new deals over the past week.

Benzema will now remain at Real until June 30, 2021, with the Frenchman scoring 181 goals in 371 appearances as well as winning two La Liga titles, three European Cups and two Copa del Rey trophies during his time in the Spanish capital.

It is believed this new deal has a release clause of over $1.35 billion as Spanish clubs are now becoming increasingly wary of losing their star players a la Neymar leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite his expulsion from the French national team for over 18 months due to his alleged involvement in a blackmail case involving a sex tape and former teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Benzema has been in fine form for Real since Zinedine Zidane took charge in 2015.

Benzema scored 19 goals in 48 games in all competitions last season and 28 in 36 games the season before that as his hold up play and ability to drift out wide or drop deeper crucial to getting the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Co.

That said, Benzema has scored just once in six appearances this season but Real are obviously happy with what he is producing aside from goals.

With question marks over the future of Bale at the Bernabeu, locking down Benzema shows just how important he is to Zidane’s attacking unit as they seek to seal a third-straight UEFA Champions League title.

FIFA open investigation into Chelsea’s youth transfer policy

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Chelsea could be in big trouble.

FIFA have confirmed they’re investigating Chelsea’s youth transfer policy yet again, specifically over the recruitment of foreign players under the age of 18.

What could the punishment be? The worst-case scenario is that Chelsea would be banned from signing any new players across its senior or youth levels but it is believed this situation isn’t as serious as previous investigations involving Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Via the Telegraph, FIFA had the following to say about the investigation: “As the investigation is ongoing, no further comment is possible for the time being.”

Chelsea released a short statement saying: “Chelsea FC complies with all FIFA Statutes and Regulations when recruiting players.”

It will be the third time in eight years that world soccer’s governing body have looked at Chelsea’s youth policy and back in 2009 they were handed a transfer ban for two transfer windows over the signing of French teenager Gael Kakuta from Lens in 2007 but that was later overturned after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

Chelsea were also investigated last year over the signing of Bertrand Traore after images emerged of him playing for the club as a 16-year-old, before international clearance had arrived.

Spanish clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have been found guilty after similar investigations took place with Barca banned from signing players for two transfer windows and the same happening to Atletico who can’t sign any new players until January 2018, while Real Madrid had their ban reduced to one window after an appeal.

In the UK both Liverpool and Manchester City have recently been handed fines and bans for not following rules over recruiting young players domestically.

For foreign players signing for a team in another country there are strict rules in place.

Their family must either be relocating for non soccer reasons to the country where the new club is based, they must live no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered with is within that 50km radius, or if they sign between the age of 16-18 the new club must provide them with housing, access to education and a soccer education.