Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Three key battles in the UEFA Champions League Final

Leave a comment

Real Madrid aims for its third UEFA Champions League crown in four seasons on Saturday when it takes the pitch at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for a showdown with Juventus.

Real is the winningest team in UCL Final history, going 11-3 in the marquee match of the club football season.

[ MORE: PL payments revealed ]

2015 is the only final Real hasn’t qualified for, and that’s when Juventus fell to Barcelona. In fact, Juve has lost more UCL finals than any club (2-6). Juve is also one of only eight teams to contest six or more UCL finals.

So what will tip the scales between the two titans which have split 18 matches to the tune of 8-2-8? In our opinion, these three battles:

1) Juve: Simply stop Ronaldo and win?

Follow me here, because this isn’t simply us regurgitating the easiest answer on Earth.

Real and Juve have matched up four times since the start of the the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League, and Real has only won one of those matches. That affair saw Juve sink to 10 men in a group stage loss.

Juve has not kept a clean sheet in any of those matches, allowing six goals. One came from Gareth Bale and the other five came from Cristiano Ronaldo. Two were penalty kicks, but there’s little denying that Juve’s stingy defense has been able to deal with much of what Real has to offer.

CR7 is a different animal altogether.

2) Dani Alves’ crosses versus Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Alves plays further up the flank than you remember from his time at Barcelona, and Juve has used Mario Mandzukic on the left wing to give a pair of big targets.

Ramos will likely see himself drawn into several tricky situations when Alves either works past left back Marcelo or takes advantage of the marauder. Varane won’t often match up directly with Alves, but both he and Ramos will likely have to deal with the Brazilian’s pinpoint crosses and creative passes.

3) Will Real’s overlooked weapon dominate Dybala?

Casemiro is about as important a piece to Real’s mix as anyone not named Ronaldo, though he rarely gets deserved credit for his work in the center of the park.

He’s the reason Ramos and Varane don’t have to deal with as much as most center backs, and has the potential to neutralize any attacker.

Dybala, the slippery 23-year-old Argentine, has 19 goals and nine assists in all competitions this season and a solid connection with center forward Gonzalo Higuain (not to mention Alves).

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”

USMNT’s Wood extends Hamburg contract through 2021

Photo credit: Hamburg / Twitter: @HSV
Leave a comment

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) American forward Bobby Wood extended his contract with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV on Saturday to 2021.

Wood, who joined Hamburg from second-tier Union Berlin, scored five goals and set up two more in 28 Bundesliga games. He had 17 goals in 31 second-division games for Union the season before.

“Not only his goals count for us, but his readiness to run and challenge,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “Bobby is a key player for our offense and a real team player.”

Wood has eight goals in 32 appearances for the United States.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.