Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s mauling of Bayern Munich

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Following Real Madrid’s spanking of Bayern Munich on Tuesday night at the Allianz Arena, the reigning champions were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League at the semifinal stage.

Bayern were beaten heavily, as Pep Guardiola’s men rolled over against Real who finally made it to their first UCL final since 2002 after being knocked out at the semifinal stage during the last three seasons. The men from Madrid were long overdue.

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Real tore Bayern apart with three goals in the first 30 minutes putting the Spanish giants 4-0 ahead on aggregate… that was the way it remained until the last two minutes when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second and Real’s fourth to make it 5-0 to the Spanish giants on aggregate. You read that right. Real shut up shop to thwart the German side, as Bayern had over 60 percent of the possession on the night but that counted for nothing as the tiki-taka approach was ambushed by Real’s pacey and incisive attacks.

So, everyone’s favorites are out and Real are heading to Lisbon on May 24 for the UCL final. Here are three things that stood out in a clinical mauling, as one European powerhouse battered another.

Sergio Ramos and Pepe prevail

Within the first 20 minutes of Real Madrid’s win over Bayern, Sergio Ramos became the first defender to head home two goals in a UCL semifinal.  The Spaniard rose like a salmon above Dante on the first, then nipped in ahead of Mario Mandzukic on the second. That knocked the stuffing out of Bayern, who knew they must score four goals to go through. That soon became five after a devastating counter-attack between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (more on that soon) finished off the Bavarians in the first half. Try as they might Bayern couldn’t get back into the game as Ramos did his main job at the other end of the pitch superbly. Alongside Pepe, Real Madrid’s central defensive duo bossed Mandzukic as they headed and cleared away every dangerous ball that Bayern flung into the box. Carlo Ancelotti’s Real has a solid foundation about them this season, they have only conceded nine goals and have kept five clean sheets in their 12 UCL games. Everyone marvels about the attacking talents of Real, and rightly so, yet when Real raced through the door towards the Champions League final in Lisbon on May 24 thanks to their forwards, Pepe and Ramos made sure it slammed shut in Bayern’s face and there was no chance of a crazy comeback.

 

source: AP
Real’s central defensive duo battered Bayern at both ends of the pitch.

Substance over style: the end of tiki-taka?

Talking of comebacks, Spain put their pain behind them (well, Real did) last season after both Real and Barcelona were destroyed by German sides Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at the semifinal stage. Tearing Bayern apart on the counter-attack, Real used their solid defensive foundation wonderfully well on Tuesday. Soaking up Bayern pressure then hitting the German giants where it hurt, Real have now scored 36 goals and counting in this season’s Champions League. That is 11 more than their nearest rivals, Paris Saint-Germain, who were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage. When I say substance over style prevailing, I mean that instead of passing it for the sake of it, Real just went for goal. Pace, direct play and precision prevailed as Real broke time and time again to smash Bayern into submission. Ronaldo and Bale were just too good. Every time a ball was hooked out of defense, it seemed like a magnet was inserted into Karim Benzema’s foot as the Frenchman held the ball up, laid it back to Luka Modric or Xabi Alonso, who then clipped it forward to Bale or Ronaldo to turn on the afterburners. Sometimes, soccer is a simple game. Defend, hold the ball up, clip it in the channels and get speedy wingers on the end of it. Does this mark something more significant though? Direct soccer seems to be overtaking the tiki-taka approach, as Guardiola’s possession obsession bared no fruit against Real and their water-tight defense.

Bayern’s frail defense finally exposed

Bayern have only won four of their last 10 games in the last month since they won the Bundesliga title, as the reigning champions have eased into the final few months of the season. That showed on Tuesday as Bayern’s defense were slow, sluggish and something which has been brewing for a while happened: Munich’s defensive frailties were mercifully exposed. Brazilian central defender Dante is good on the ball and decent in the air, but he switched off for the first two goals and was caught by Bale and Ronaldo’s pace for the third. He earned himself a new contract earlier this year after being linked to Manchester United… looks like the Red Devils have dodged a bullet there. Speaking of United, Dante was unable to cope with the pace of Danny Welbeck in their quarterfinal win and Bale and Ronaldo tore him apart in the semis. Bayern’s defense just couldn’t handle the direct play of Real, as you could see in previous UCL games that the German champions were easily exposed by long balls over the top as Dante and Jerome Boateng struggle when being turned around and defending with their back to the play. After tasting defeat despite dominating possession over both legs, will Guardiola alter his style next season to get Bayern back to the summit of European soccer? He may have to, otherwise his defense will be exposed to pacey attackers who can make tiki-taka look lackadaisical and lackluster once more. A changing of the guard is occurring again in European soccer. Spanish pace, not German possession, rules the UCL this season.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

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3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.