Brazil’s uneven semifinal run looms larger after disastrous result

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The questions seemed to weigh on Brazil’s defenders before the first half was even done. Increasingly confounded by failure after failure, allowing Germany to become the first semifinalist to score five goals in a half, the faces of David Luiz and Júlio César seemed desperate to figure out why this had happened. How did Brazil, a team that had only conceded four times in five games, allow itself to be down 5-0 in the 29th minute?

For the most soccer-crazed nation in the world, the post-mortem will be long and painful. In the past, government inquiries have been assembled to assess the team’s failures, though that probably won’t be required after such a clear, resounding result. From the midfield to the edge of César’s six-yard box, Brazil gave one of the tournament’s worst defensive performances. It was baddest of bad days.

[ MORE: Germany hammer hosts Brazil 7-1, yes 7-1, to make eighth World Cup final ]
[ MORE: Emotional captain David Luiz apologizes to the people of Brazil ]

It also highlighted the short-comings we saw in the build up. In Brazil’s opening game, a late, controversial penalty call have the pre-tournament favorites a go-ahead goal against Croatia. Against Mexico, the Selecao may have been the better side, but they weren’t playing up to the standards that made them favorites after last year’s Confederations Cup. The dominance Brazil showed in that tournament’s final against Spain never appeared at the World Cup.

In the knockout round, thing started to change. Brazil needed penalty kicks to beat Chile, by which time la Roja were a much-respected side. Advancing via a tiebreaker wasn’t ideal, but it was still viewed as progress. After a strong but volatile performance in the quarterfinals against Colombia, the question was less whether Brazil was headed in the right direction than whether their trajectory was steep enough.

Germany beats Brazil 7-1  |  How Brazil fell apart  |  Scolari takes blame  |  Luiz apologizes

Clearly, it wasn’t. If the first five games were the foundation, Brazil was on uneven ground. They’d yet to have a performance like Germany’s against France or Portugal, or the Netherlands’ against Spain or Chile. They had no proof of how good they were.

Add in the absences of Neymar and Thiago Silva, and the team was practically wounded. Perhaps today’s collapse was unpredictable, but after five matches that’d answered few questions, there was little reason beyond history and home field hope to believe in the Selecao.

That needed to be established before the semifinals. Over its first five games, Brazil needed to prove, to itself as much as everybody else, that the team could play at Germany’s level. But after the team fell behind in the first half, that belief wasn’t there.

Beating Colombia was something, but so was being drawn by Chile and Mexico. As Germany applied pressure with little regard for Brazil’s ability to pass through it, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team no longer had a proof of concept to fall back on. Paralyzed by disbelief, they were set up to be run over.

[ MORE: Embracing greatness; quiet stardom; the coming autopsy: Talking points after Germany’s rout of Brazil ]
[ MORE: Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari takes blame for huge defeat: “I am responsible” ]

Be it in sports, science, or socially, it takes a confluence of remarkable factors to create any outlying result. Today, Brazil was without its two best players and while facing one of the more talented teams in the world. The pressure on them was extreme, with the stakes of a World Cup compounding any anxiety they felt after conceding so early. By the middle of the first half, everything had snowballed.

Part of that snowball was the preparation – an initial five games where Brazil failed to show significant progress. While that’s not enough to say today’s result was foreseeable, it was a contributing factor. Come the semifinals, Brazil wasn’t prepared to match Germany’s level.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”