Ronaldo is set to play in the Champions League final.

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.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.