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Three things we learned from Netherlands-Argentina

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After going scoreless across 90 minutes plus 30 minutes of extra time, Argentina will be joining Germany in the 2014 World Cup final after winning on penalties, 4-2.

It was hardly a classic but the match did provide a number of talking points.

Here are the three biggest ones, as we had them.

Is Louis van Gaal the Dutch Jose Mourinho? 

If we’re kind, we’ll call it practical. Or pragmatic. If we’re realistic, it was anti-football in it’s purest sense, dropping 10 men behind the ball to prevent Argentina from generating any sort of rhythm. How audacious of Louis van Gaal, forcing Robin van Persie to defend like that! But he did and perhaps it’s something that we should’ve seen coming, a ramped-up version of his side’s tactics against Costa Rica.

But why? Why force the ‘total football’ Dutch into such a putrid style?

Because with the exception of Wesley Sneijder, Holland’s starting midfield lacked the technical ability to play quality football. Georgino Wijnaldum? An outside player too often caught in the middle. Nigel de Jong? He simply lacks the wherewithal to possess around the Lucas Biglia’s and Javier Mascherano’s of the world. For 61 minutes, it was brutal to watch and, dare we say, a bit reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s tactics at Chelsea.

But then something changed – Jordy Claise came on for De Jong and suddenly the skies opened up. Was this Van Gaal’s plan? To defend for 60 minutes, tire out the Argentine’s and then use Claise’s skill to possess the ball, spread the field and try a new approach? If so it seemed to be working because with De Jong off the pitch, the Dutch looked much more like the Dutch. And that’s a huge plus for Manchester United fans.

Lionel Messi slept through prom night

It was set up to be a career defining match for Lionel Messi. If he could compel his side through this match the one trophy that has thus-far evaded him would be at his feet: the World Cup. Holland’s tactics didn’t make things easy on him, especially Van Gaal’s decision to start De Jong, but even with things packed tight Messi didn’t demand enough of the ball. Too often he was seen standing on defenders, comfortable knowing that his mere presence in taking them away from teammates was doing enough. But it wasn’t.

Argentina needed more out of Messi, they needed a hero to step forward. In the first half a few tough but legal tackles had him looking frustrated and his only chance – a free-kick from 20 yards out – was put directly into the hands of the Dutch keeper. He wasn’t finding any space through the middle so in the second half he went wide only to once again find slim pickings. Despite what the announcers said, Messi did not provide Higuain with the service that saw him nearly score (that was Enzo Perez) although he did slip a probing ball to Sergio Aguero, who was in on goal but had his shot blocked. In extra-time he popped up once, crossing the ball to Maxi Rodriguez who’s shot was handled easily by Cillessen.

Yes, he did well to score his penalty. But on what should’ve been the biggest night of his career, Messi went missing.

With offense on ice, Javier Mascherano and Ron Vlaar were absolute monsters

For as drab a match as it was both defenses were incredible and in particular, Javier Mascherano and Ron Vlaar. Both are players of decent notoriety, the former more so than the latter, but this night each enjoyed the best match of his career. Mascherano was everywhere, an endless tank of energy, helping settle his side into possession moving forward and getting back to make some crucial tackles, a number of which were on the slippery Robben. Vlaar held the back line like a tugboat anchor, keeping fellow center-backs in shape and making a number of brilliant diving slide tackles on Lionel Messi. Yes, the Villa man missed his penalty but what was Van Gaal thinking having a defender lead the kicks in the first place?

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Shaw in betting investigation ]

Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

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The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.