Getty Images

For a change, defense could be key for Madrid’s UCL success

Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Real Madrid has relied on its attacking power to thrive in the Champions League in recent years.

Led by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Madrid won three of the last four titles in the elite club competition.

This time, though, the key to its success may depend on its defense.

Real Madrid will take on Paris Saint-Germain’s formidable attack in the tournament’s last 16, and for once it will face an opponent with an attack just as highly regarded as its own.

Beginning with Wednesday’s first leg at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the focus will be on stopping Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe.

“Like us, they have players capable of making a difference at key moments in the game,” Madrid defender Raphael Varane said. “We must defend all together. We will have to keep our focus at all times. Together we can stop PSG.”

Boosted by Neymar’s world-record transfer last year, PSG has scored a record 25 goals in the group stage this season.

“They’re a good team, difficult, but not only because of their forwards,” Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos said. “We’re not only coming up against three of the best forwards in the world, we’ll face one of the best goalkeepers, four of the best defenders, three of the best midfielders and three of the best forwards.”

The need to succeed defensively is even more important now considering that Madrid’s attack has been far from its best this season.

Ronaldo has had an up-and-down season – struggling in the Spanish league but scoring at will in the Champions League.

Bale has been marred by injuries and only now has been able to play regularly in the starting lineup.

Benzema played an important role in Madrid’s success in recent years, but he has been loudly criticized for his poor performances lately. The French forward has scored only one goal in his last 10 matches and has been often jeered by the Bernabeu crowd.

The Madrid defense has also struggled this season. The team kept a clean sheet only twice in its last 11 matches.

A series of injuries to regular starters prompted concerns for coach Zinedine Zidane.

But Sergio Ramos and Varane appear fit again and are set to start on Wednesday. The only problem will be the absence of right back Dani Carvajal because of a suspension for trying to clear his bookings in the group stage.

Carvajal will likely be missed, as he was highly successful defending Neymar when the Brazilian star played for Barcelona.

Carvajal’s substitute at right back is 19-year-old Achraf Hakimi, who didn’t perform too well when he got a chance to play recently. Zidane may pick central defender Nacho Fernandez to play in the position.

Finding a solution is imperative for Zidane, having publicly acknowledged that failure against the French club will likely mean the end of his coaching stint with the Spanish powerhouse.

The Champions League is the only competition Madrid can still realistically win this season. It trails Barcelona by 17 points in the Spanish league and it has already been eliminated from the Copa del Rey. Madrid won the Spanish Super Cup and the Club World Cup earlier in the season.

“This tie between Real Madrid and PSG,” Ronaldo said, “is one that could define the whole season.”

More AP Champions League coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/winter-2016-hair-color/
Leave a comment

MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”

Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City’s quest for the historic quadruple is over after Pep Guardiola‘s 10-man side was shocked by League One side Wigan Athletic in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the DW Stadium on Monday.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Will Grigg scored the game’s only goal, a late winner after the home side had been thoroughly outplayed and out-possessed for 78 minutes. With 45 places currently standing between them in the English football pyramid — and Man City garnering “best of all time” consideration — “upset” doesn’t even begin to describe Monday’s result.

On the other hand, City represent the third Premier League side knocked out of this season’s FA Cup at the hands of Wigan: Bournemouth, in the third round; followed by West Ham United, in the fourth.

City were reduced to 10 men during first-half stoppage time, when Fabian Delph went flying in on Max Power as the two contested a 50-50 ball inside Wigan’s defensive third. Referee Anthony Taylor initially withdrew his yellow card from his pocket, but protests from the aggrieved party appeared to change Taylor’s mind, and Delph was off.

Prior to Deplh’s dismissal, Wigan had done well  enoughto hold their own against the runaway PL leaders. The Latics had a pair of half-chances, most notably through Grigg in the 12th minute, that could have easily gone their way. Much of the play, though, as is to be expected, was controlled by City (first-half possession: 82 percent), though Guardiola’s men were unable to break through before going a man down.

Still, the share of possession remain unchanged throughout the entirety of the second half, as City patiently probed and used possession as their best means of defense… until the 79th minute arrived.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

The ball was played back to Kyle Walker, into space; rather than receiving the ball at first opportunity, Walker let it run on as he prepared to play it back to Claudio Bravo; Grigg saw his opening and pounced quickly; his first touch used his body to shield Walker from the ball, and his second set up the shot; Grigg went for the far post, curling the ball around Bravo and nestling it just inside the post.

Wigan will now host another PL side, Southampton, in the quarterfinals.

Barry Bennell jailed 30 years for abusing young players

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) A former English youth soccer coach was jailed Monday for 30 years for abusing 12 young footballers after the judge called him the “devil incarnate.”

Barry Bennell, a former coach at Crewe and scout for Manchester City, was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of 50 child sexual offenses committed between 1979 and 1991.

“Your behavior towards these boys in grooming and seducing them before subjecting them to, in some cases, the most most serious, degrading and humiliating abuse was sheer evil,” Judge Clement Goldstone told the 64-year-old Bennell.

Bennell looked at the floor and nodded as the judge sentenced him. Some members of the public began to applaud as he was sent down, but were stopped by the judge.

Goldstone said Bennell had appeared to his victims as a God.

“In reality, you were the devil incarnate,” the judge added. “You stole their childhoods and their innocence to satisfy your own perversion.”

Goldstone said Bennell’s abuse had destroyed the enthusiasm his victims had for playing football and had led to them suffering problems including suicidal thoughts, alcoholism and depression.

Bennell has already served three jail terms, totaling 15 years, for similar offenses involving 16 other victims in England and the United States.