Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s Champions League win

1 Comment

Real Madrid lifted their tenth UEFA Champions League title on Saturday, as they beat Atletico Madrid 4-1 at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.

Diego Godin’s header looked to be the difference for so long, as Iker Casillas misjudged a ball into the box in the first half and handed Atleti the lead. However Sergio Ramos equalized deep into second half stoppage time to send the game into extra time, and that is when Real’s star power shone through.

RECAP: Real Madrid win tenth Champions League title after rousing comeback

Carlo Ancelotti delivered the Champions League title at the first time of asking as the Italian manager saw his side get the better of their bitter crosstown rivals.

We learned many things from a tense final in Lisbon, here are three.

The big bucks makes the difference

Heading into extra time, there was only going to be one winner in Lisbon. Real pinned Atletico back just seconds before they were about to celebrate becoming European champions and Atleti’s illustrious neighbors grabbed their second chance with both hands. Their star power made a huge difference late on as the impressive midfield duo of Luke Modric and Angel Di Maria were tireless and ran themselves into the ground for the cause. Those two were terrific and then it was time for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to both get themselves on the scoresheet. It was a case of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” for both of the global superstars as after several misses Bale popped up to head home and make it 2-1, then Ronaldo scored his 17th and final UCL goal of the season to finish things off in style from the PK spot and hand Real the trophy. If you splash out over $240 million on two players, eventually they will make the difference.

Xabi Alonso’s absence, Khedira’s rustiness

In the 58th minute Sami Khedira was replaced by Isco and the German midfielder was put out of his misery after a UCL final to forget. Khedira has been out for over six months with a serious injury and has only played in two games at the end of the season. It showed. Booked in the first half for a lazy tackle, Khedira was not at his combative best and was poor in possession. He gave the ball away and dwelt on it on multiple occasions and Xabi Alonso’s presence in the center of midfield was badly missed, after he picked up a second yellow card in the semifinal win vs. Bayern Munich which ruled him out of the final. Alonso keeps Real ticking over with short passes in the middle and is their heartbeat. Khedira didn’t do well enough to step in for the Spanish international and the likes of Tiago, Koke and Raul Garcia took full advantage of that. The reason why it was such a struggle for Real to clinch the UCL crown was because Atletico dominated the midfield for large swathes of the final.

Set pieces prove pivotal

Atletico sent in an aerial bombardment that Real couldn’t deal with. The winning goal came from Godin’s header after a corner was half cleared and Khedira failed to jump higher than Godin, then Casillas was caught in no man’s land to see the ball loop over his head and over the line. Atleti had nine corners during the match and every time they looked to test Real with vicious deliveries and men crashing in on Casillas at every opportunity. Then Real got back into the game via set piece, as Modric whipped in a cross from the right which found Sergio Ramos to flick home his header into the far post and crush the dreams of Atletico’s fans, players and coaching staff. In a game where both teams matched up man for man across the pitch, set pieces situations proved pivotal in the outcome as the scores finished level through regulation. Real’s extra class from open play then shone through in the extra 30 minutes and that is why they are champions of Europe.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

Getty Images
Leave a comment

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

(more…)

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Shkodran Mustafi, Francis Coquelin, Per Mertesacker all in line for season debuts.
  • The game will likely come too soon for Alexis Sanchez, who is still working to get to match fitness.
  • Stoke City have lost only one of their last seven home matches against Arsenal (W3 D3 L1).
  • Stoke City forward Jese Rodriguez could make his debut following his season-long loan move from Paris Saint-Germain.
  • Alexandre Lacazette could become the first Arsenal player to score in both of his opening two PL appearances for the club.

Coming off an exciting 4-3 comeback victory at home against Leicester City, Arsenal travel to what’s been in the past a house of horrors, visiting the bet365 Stadium to face Stoke City. (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Three months ago, Arsenal ended some of the bad voodoo on them in Stoke with a 4-1 win on the road. This time around, the Gunners have even more firepower, with Alexandre Lacazette off to a strong start in the Premier League.

Stoke City, like Arsenal, are still getting comfortable in the in-vogue 3-4-3 formation, as well as getting used to life without Marko Arnautovic. Spanish forward Jese, a Real Madrid academy graduate, could make his season debut for Stoke on Saturday and summer signings Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will push American Geoff Cameron for a place in the team each week.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on last year’s win at Stoke: “We were well-organized, efficient and under pressure to win the game. We were on a strong run as well. We had a convincing win there and that should inspire us. Traditionally it’s always been a difficult place to go for everybody, but of course we continue in a strong way our start to the season.

“I don’t believe in bogey teams too much. What is important is the performance on the day. We had a good performance last season and we have to focus on that, just to deal with the same performance. Stoke have a good record at home against many teams and I’m convinced that if we play our game, we have a good chance of winning.”

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes on this season’s new signings: “We are hoping to involve all the guys we have signed this summer, some will be on the bench, others won’t. We are very excited by the group that we are assembling to be honest.”

“We always aim to be stronger at the end of the window than we were at the beginning, and I would argue that of all the players that have left only one would have been considered as a regular starter. We have replaced those guys with players who I see as potential regular starters.”

Video Preview

Prediction

Arsenal are clearly still a work in progress, but offensively they’re improved from a year ago. Stoke City on the other hand fell by a slim margin to Everton last week but have greatly improved defensively. We think it will be another defensive struggle, ending in a draw. Stoke City 1-1 Arsenal