Champions League: Real Madrid force Bayern Munich to leverage the value of home field

2 Comments

The quarterfinals were a reminder about the importance of home field. All of Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and Real Madrid performed dramatically better in their own friendly confines, so much so that a 1-0 loss on the road in UEFA Champions League’s semifinals wouldn’t have held up after leg one. Having learned nothing from the last round, we’ve come to see Real Madrid’s one-goal win in leg one of the team’s semifinal with Bayern as reason to doubt the holders. In reality, a one-goal deficit may still leave Bayern in pole position.

Chelsea turned around a 3-1 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain to reach the semifinals. Atlético were held at the Nou Camp before winning leg two against Barça. Bayern were held at Old Trafford before, after a scare, knocking off Manchester United at the Allianz. Real Madrid built up enough of a lead on Borussia Dortmund to withstand the Germans’ assault in Westphalia. All four quarterfinalists met some level of resistance on the road. All four overcame it to win their quarterfinals.

Why should these semifinals be any different? In theory, as the tournament moves on, teams paired against each other should be more evenly matched, making dramatic swings in either direction less likely. In practice, home field advantage has made a difference; at least of late. Over the last two years — four semifinals — teams returning home for their second legs have improved on their leg one performances Even Barcelona, last year, “improved” on a 4-0 loss at Bayern Munich with a 3-0 defeat at home.

Those results aren’t enough to say Bayern Munich will turn around the 1-0 deficit they were handed at the Santiago Bernabéu, but it’s a note of caution. While Real Madrid looked strong in their home leg — earning an early one-goal lead over the Champions League holders before conceding two good chances late — it would be foolish to think El Real’s success necessarily translates onto its second leg. Their semifinal match in Munich could be completely different.

“We are playing against a great team with a small advantage, so we are not that stupid as to think we have already qualified,” Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It’s going to be really hard.”

If the teams’ 2013-14 performance is any indication, there may be something to the home field advantage angle. Though in league (where the sample sizes are much greater), Bayern has shown little difference between home and road performances, Real Madrid has been noticeably worse away from the Bernabéau. Whereas the Merengues have gone 15-0-2 (W-D-L) at home, los Blancos have posted a 14-4-2 record on the road. Their goal difference is +44 on home soil; +22 abroad.

Overall, it hints that Bayern’s dogmatic, imposing style came be imposed onto any environment, something that makes sense given the extreme, outlying nature of their approach. When you employ a system that’s so obsessed with ball retention, it should mitigate some of the differences in performance away from home. There are no adjustments to be made.

source: APFor a team like Real Madrid, however, there may not be enough stylistic differentiation to make them immune to home-road splits. Though they are obviously better and more talented than your typical European team, their style may not be so different that we have reason to think they can overcome the broader statistical evidence. They may be worse away from home.

On Tuesday, Ancelotti’s task is to transcend that. He’ll have a fully healthy Cristiano Ronaldo at his disposal; a fully healthy Gareth Bale. For the first time since Ronaldo was injured in early April, the Real Madrid head coach will have his full team at his disposal. Whereas in leg one Bale was restricted to a substitute’s role, Tuesday will see Real Madrid at full pomp.

Whether that matters, however, may be less up to Real Madrid than its hosts. Also having all its main weapons at its disposal, Bayern Munich will be facing the same question it’s been asked all season: If we don’t care about scoring, can you break us down? 

For most of the year, it’s a question that’s been asked by inferior opposition ready to settle of a draw. On Tuesday, it’s one of the most talented sides in the world ready to settle for a draw.

“They will seek to defend their advantage for 90 minutes,” Guardiola said, “but I’m not sure how. We were desperate to score an away goal. Now we have to attack even more – we have no other option. I’m convinced they’ll want to play as well.”

If Bayern can’t break through, it will be less about Real Madrid than themselves. The team’s had eight months to prepare for this moment: a team willing to forgo everything to keep them off the scoresheet. If Pep Guardiola’s team can’t overcome that approach, it will speak volumes about Ancelotti’s Champions League’s prowess as well as Bayern’s lack of progress since the former Barça boss took over.

“We cannot do it by ourselves tomorrow …,” Guardiola said. “The team want it, I want it, the fans want it, and together we can achieve it.”

Report: Mourinho to get bumper $89 million extension at Man Utd

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho is in the third month of his second season in charge of Manchester United, and may join Antonio Conte as men to get a second contract early in his term.

Goal.com says Paris Saint-Germain’s interest in Mourinho will spur United chairman Ed Woodward into action.

Unlike Conte, who received improved terms and the same length at Chelsea, the report says Mourinho will get a new five-year deal.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to NYCFC? ]

The report says Mourinho’s terms would be worth almost $89 million over the length of the deal, close to $18 million per season.

The 54-year-old has never spent more than four years at a club, his longest stay as an assistant as Barcelona. Last season, he won the Europa League and League Cup for United while finishing sixth in the Premier League.

This season, United is off to a second-place start, leading Spurs on goal differential following a first loss of the season Saturday at Huddersfield Town.

This is about money and security for Mourinho who, let’s face it, probably won’t stay at United for five seasons. It would go against his record, and it’s difficult to imagine he’ll buck his career trend and make it five years. The new deal would be a raise, keep him from PSG for now, and probably will do the trick.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Report: Yaya Toure lined up by New York City FC

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There are few details, but a report tabbed as exclusive by The Manchester Evening News says a new midfield force could be headed to Major League Soccer.

Yaya Toure’s resurgent 2016-17 has not been followed by a busy 2017-18, at least not yet, as the report says Yaya is set to head to New York City FC following the departure of Andrea Pirlo.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Toure, who turns 35 in May, has regularly been on the subs bench for Pep Guardiola this season after signing a one-year contract. He’s played 29 minutes as a sub over the last two Premier League matches, and his lone start came in a League Cup win over West Brom, where he captained City.

Toure has 59 goals and 33 assists in 222 Premier League matches.

The Ivorian is not a pace monger, but neither were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and both were effective when healthy in MLS. Toure’s powerful presence in the midfield could be worth the wage packet and headache, but we’d pay a penny for Patrick Vieira’s thoughts.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Italy’s once-vaunted ‘BBC’ defense is showing its age

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Image
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) With a combined age of 99, Italy’s once vaunted “BBC” defensive trio is showing its years.

The Azzurri will still rely on Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup playoff against Sweden next month but the signs in Serie A lately have not been encouraging.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Bonucci’s red card with AC Milan over the weekend was the latest in a series of poor performances after his high-profile transfer from Juventus made him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Chiellini and Barzagli were beaten for goals twice by Ciro Immobile in Juventus’ 2-1 home loss to Lazio less than 10 days ago, and Chiellini was again off form in the Bianconeri’s 6-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday.

Chiellini was fooled by Stipe Perica for Udinese’s first goal and then left Danilo unmarked to head in another as he appealed for an offside call that never came.

Bonucci is 30, Chiellini is 33 and Barzagli is 36.

While Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has shown interest in developing new talent, he has shown no indication that he plans to cast aside the “BBC” when it counts.

After all, Italy has historically been slow to incorporate younger players, especially defenders.

[ MORE: MLS Playoff Bracket set ]

That means the likes of Daniele Rugani (who plays for Juventus), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan) or Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – who are all in their 20s – may have to wait for their chances with the Azzurri.

But Ventura would do well to remember how Marcello Lippi kept Fabio Cannavaro and other veterans in the lineup at the 2010 World Cup only to acknowledge after the first-round exit that he made a mistake and was overly influenced by the older players’ performance en route to the title four years earlier.

From Franco Baresi to Giuseppe Bergomi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro and the “BBC,” strong center backs have been a source of uninterrupted pride for the Azzurri for decades.

Gianluigi Buffon in goal has also provided a security blanket for nearly 20 years but he, too, is approaching the end of his career and will likely retire after this season – or after his record sixth World Cup if Italy qualifies.

Italy’s hopes of avoiding the playoffs were dashed with a debilitating 3-0 loss in Spain last month that offered a first hint of defensive problems. The defeat ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships.

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The Azzurri attributed the loss to Spain on Sept. 2 to a lack of physical condition so early in the season.

Bonucci, it was figured, just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan.

In July, Bonucci completed a surprise transfer from Juventus, where he clashed with coach Massimiliano Allegri last season and was memorably left in the tribune for a Champions League match at Porto.

The transfer fee topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million) and Bonucci signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season. He was also made captain before he ever wore a Milan shirt.

When Milan started to falter a month ago, physical trainer Emanuele Marra was fired – reportedly in large part because Bonucci demanded better fitness preparation.

But Bonucci was out run by Mauro Icardi on Inter Milan’s first goal when the striker scored a hat trick in a 3-2 derby win eight days ago. He was also to blame for the second, failing to mark Icardi in the area.

Things got even worse for Bonucci when he was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

[ LIGUE 1: Neymar sent off ]

Bonucci will likely be given a multiple-match ban, which would exclude him from facing Juventus next Sunday and could affect his form for the Nov. 10 and 13 playoffs.

“Leo is a champion,” Buffon said. “He’ll become decisive again. But it makes me feel calmer knowing that we won’t have to face him on Saturday.”

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

MLS Playoff bracket, dates set: Chicago, Vancouver host Tues.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Major League Soccer’s playoff bracket is set. Our staff predictions are coming Tuesday before the first round match-ups, but here’s what we’ll be watching…

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The chase begins with Chicago and the Red Bulls, and San Jose heading to Vancouver. The Quakes drew the ‘Caps just over a week ago, on Oct. 15.

First round
(E3) Chicago vs. (E6) New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(W3) Vancouver vs. (W6) San Jose — 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(E4) Atlanta vs. (E5) Columbus — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday
(W4) Houston vs. (W5) Sporting KC — 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Conference semifinals
(W1) Portland vs.  San Jose, Houston, or Sporting KC
(W2) Seattle vs. Houston, Sporting KC, or Vancouver
(E1) Toronto vs. New York Red Bulls, Atlanta, or Columbus
(E2) New York City vs. Atlanta, Columbus, or Chicago

Conference finals
Eastern Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 or 29
Western Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 30

MLS Cup Final
At finalist with best record — 4 p.m. ET Dec. 9

Follow @NicholasMendola