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Robben dominance, Malanda miss give Bayern opening match win over Wolfsburg

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For the first 90 minutes of the new Bundesliga season, the 2013-14 version of Bayern Munich was alive and well. Dominant, sometimes oppressive in their control, the reigning German champions seemed a step better than visiting Wolfsburg, yet with one spectacularly flubbed chance late in the second half, the Wolves had a an opportunity to steal a shock point. When woodwork and a shanked rebound intervened, Bayern was left with the 2-1 win and an unduly close call.

As with so many nights before, the star man was Arjen Robben, whose dismantling of Wolfsburg left back Ricardo Rodríguez created the opening goal for Thomas Müller in the 37th minute. Just over a minute into the second half, Robben doubled that lead, converting from the middle of the penalty area for the game’s winning goal. Near full-time the cross bar prevented Robben from adding a second, but the damage had already been done.

Still, that damage nearly proved too little, starting with Ivica Olic’s response to Robben. Cutting across the field, just inside the penalty area in the 52nd minute, Olic launched a looping, left-footed shot over Manuel Neuer – a spectacular conversion that pulled Wolfsburg within one with its second shot on target. With Wolfsburg able to maintain their share of the ball (finishing the match with 45 pct. possession), Bayern looked vulnerable.

That vulnerability set the stage for the match’s defining moment, an unfortunate one for Wolfsburg’s Junior Malanda. Graced on goal by a beautiful cross, the Belgian midfielder put his initial shot off the Neuer and onto the crossbar. The follow-up has set Twitter ablaze:

The would-be equalizer was a wakeup call for Bayern, who nearly found insurance though Robben, Müller, Sebastian Rode and Juan Bernat in the match’s final moments. Even without that insurance, Bayern had enough to secure its opening game win.

With only 55 percent possession, and putting only three shots on target (to Wolfsburg’s four), there were aspects of the opener that were much different from Bayern’s oppressing performances we saw during year one under Pep Guardiola. The scoreline, and how it transpired, was very familiar.

Held early, Bayern broke through, looked in control, but ultimately left the door open. Were it not for Malanda’s vine-worthy miss, Wolfsburg may have claimed an early, eye-opening result.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.

Emre Can back in the Liverpool side ahead of Europa clash vs. Villarreal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Emre Can of Liverpool battles for the ball with Idrissa Gana of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Emre Can has recovered from an ankle injury and will be in Liverpool’s squad for their Europa League semifinal against Villarreal on Thursday night.

The German international has not played since April 14 when he was forced off in the Reds’ wild 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool prepping for Villarreal ]

Giving his team update on Wednesday, manager Jurgen Klopp said Can is back in the team, although captain Jordan Henderson is still out. The Reds enter the second leg trailing 1-0 on aggregate.

Another positive note out of Melwood was the return of Danny Ings to first-team training. The 23-year-old striker signed with Liverpool last summer, but managed just eight appearances before having his season end to a torn ACL in October. Ings is still far away from his full return, but it was a good sight to see him back on the pitch and making progress in his recovery.

Disappointed Pellegrini rues lack of offense in Man City’s loss to Real

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images )
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Manchester City put in an uninspired performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, losing the match 1-0 and falling out of the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-0 Man City ]

The match was decided by just one goal, but the scoreline was flattering to City as they failed to create any kind of real chances at the Bernabeu. Over the two legs, City managed just two shots on target.

While City were wildly disappointing in the second leg, manager Manuel Pellegrini did not think the match was that one-sided, saying both teams struggled on the attack.

I am disappointed because I think that was a very close game with two teams who did not create many chances. The two teams were working with no-one making a difference.

It is not the best thing changing a defender very early but I don’t think we had any problems in defence, we had problems creating, same as Real Madrid. They did not create many chances.

Real Madrid was not in top form, but they still could have scored three or four goals on Wednesday. Joe Hart had to come up with some big saves to keep things close, as the England goalkeeper was by far City’s most valuable player throughout the tie.

[ MORE: Liverpool preparing for Europa League match vs. Villarreal ]

The absence of David Silva through injury certainly hurt City’s attack, but there was very little service moving forward from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure. The poor play in the midfield left Sergio Aguero stranded alone up top, nearly invisible in the second leg.

Without service, Aguero was forced to track back to try and find the ball himself, leaving City no options to hit on the counter. For a tie between two of the most expensive teams in the world, neither side was truly impressive, but City surely disappointing.