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.

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

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Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.

Zlatan posts comeback vow; Mata nears return

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One of the more unique personalities in the sports world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has released comments and a leggy photo following news that he’ll need ACL and PCL surgery.

The Swedish star was injured in stoppage time of Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal win over Anderlecht, and tests revealed the injury was serious.

Ibrahimovic, 35, had not signed his contract extension with United, but it seemed more likely as time wore on. He finishes his first season with 28 goals and 10 assists, an unfettered success in his Premier League bow.

Despite the severe nature of his injury, Ibrahimovic vowed to return by posting a picture of his massive, uncovered legs in front of a fireplace (See full Instagram message at bottom).

“One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”

One of United’s locker room leaders is backing him. Ander Herrera told a Swedish outlet that Ibrahimovic spoke to the team and wished them luck with the rest of the season.

“But he did not say much, really. He wished us only good luck with the rest of the season. He has an incredible mentality and a great physique, I have never seen such a good football body.”

I don’t think anyone doubts that Ibrahimovic will come back and play at a high level, but a starring role in the Premier League is a big ask. Because of that, will he be more motivated to reprove himself with United and less motivated to test out MLS or another league?

There is some good news for United, as Juan Mata says he hopes to be back with the team soon.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

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Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

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Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

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PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.