Gareth Bale

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UCL preview: Leicester, Bayern have deficits to overturn vs. two Madrids

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Previewing Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League fixtures, in which two European giants (or newcomers) will book their places in the 2016-17 semifinals…

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Leicester City (0) vs. (1) Atletico Madrid1ST LEG RECAP

Leicester weren’t supposed to be here — not here, potentially 90 minutes away from a Champions League semifinal — heck, they almost weren’t even in the Premier League at the start of last season, yet they went on to defy 5,000-to-1 odds and claim the league title. This year, they were supposed to come crashing back down to the Earth, and they have — in the PL, that is.

In the CL, though, they’ve been nearly unbeatable. They cruised through the group stage and finished top, ahead of a trio of established European sides — Porto, Copenhagen and Brugge. The Foxes lost the first leg of their round-of-16 tie against Sevilla, but overturned the deficit in their home leg and advanced, 3-2 on aggregate.

On Tuesday, they’ll have to do the same against another Spanish side, Atletico Madrid, at the King Power Stadium in order to keep the impossible fairytale alive. Having recently (presumably) secured their PL status for another season, Craig Shakespeare’s side can focus every ounce of energy and fight they have left on securing yet another historic result on Tuesday, and perhaps beyond.


Real Madrid (2) vs. (1) Bayern Munich1ST LEG RECAP

In the other quarterfinal, Bayern find themselves in the same position as Leicester — only, they’re much worse off, having lost their home leg to Real Madrid and conceded not one, but two away goals.

To make things worse, Madrid have only lost at home once all season — to Celta Vigo, in the Copa del Rey (Zinedine Zidane’s side has also drawn just four times at home this season). A bit of positive news for Bayern: all three of Gareth Bale, Pepe and Raphael Varane will miss Tuesday’s second leg due to injuries. Inversely, Bayern will be without hugely influential midfielder/defender Javi Martinez after the Spaniard was booked twice in the first leg. Bayern do expect star striker Robert Lewandowski to be available after missing the first leg with a shoulder injury.

Cristiano Ronaldo could reach the century mark in Champions League play with a hat trick, having already become the first player to reach 100 goals scored in European club competition last Wednesday.

Real Madrid named opponent for 2017 All-Star Game in Chicago

Photo credit: Major League Soccer
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We already knew Real Madrid would be making their way to North America this summer, as the first-ever meeting between the 42-time Spanish first-division champions and arch rival Barcelona, 24-time winners themselves, on non-European soil was announced last month.

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Another date on Los Blancos‘ preseason has been officially added and formally announced, as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and the rest of Zinedine Zidane’s superstar-laden squad will take on the MLS All-Stars at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., on Aug. 2.

Madrid will be the first Spanish side to face the MLS All-Stars, who have previously taken on various clubs from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, Scottish Premier League, and Liga MX.

[ MORE: David Villa scores from midfield | Tim Howard suspended 3 games ]

“It is an honor to represent Major League Soccer and to work with our League’s great players in a match against one of the top clubs in the word,” said Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic. “I know how special it is to compete against Real Madrid and I think our players and fans will also enjoy the experience.”

UCL: Real Madrid come back to edge 10-man Bayern in QF leg 1

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The comeback only saw Real Madrid come back from 1-0 down to grab a 2-1 win — courtesy of a second-half brace from Cristiano Ronaldo — at the Allianz Arena, but on the whole, Zinedine Zidane’s side overcame a massive gulf in the run of play from the opening 45 minutes to the second half.

[ MORE: Monaco win first leg, 3-2, on tough night for Dortmund players ]

Bayern Munich went a goal ahead through Arturo Vidal in the 25th minute, and Madrid barely looked to be in the game. Vidal and Thiago Alcantara ran the game from midfield, so badly outplaying Madrid’s trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro.

Just before halftime, Madrid dodged the most dangerous of bullets, and justly so. Dani Carvajal was deemed to have handled the ball inside the penalty area — though replays showed the ball clearly hit his chest — but the ball refused to lie, as Vidal skied the ensuing penalty kick, easily 20 rows into the stands. Bayern would be made to pay for it, dearly so.

[ MORE: Real Madrid come back to edge 10-man Bayern ]

Ronaldo pulled Madrid back to level terms in the 47th minute, though, undoing that disastrous first half which could have seen the tie signed, sealed and delivered. Carvajal got down the right flank and hit a knee-high ball toward the penalty spot, where Ronaldo was waiting. The Portuguese superstar is now four goals from becoming the first player to reach the century mark in Champions League play.

The momentum swing continued well in Madrid’s favor, as Gareth Bale forced Manuel Neuer into a save from point-blank range 10 minutes into the second half. Nine minutes after that, Javi Martinez was sent off after receiving his second yellow card in the span of three minutes.

The man advantage eventually paid off for Los Blancos, as Ronaldo completed the comeback at 2-1 in the 77th minute. Marco Asensio played the perfect floated ball from midfield to Ronaldo, again not far from the penalty spot. The shot was uninspiring and right at Neuer, but the goalkeeping was calamitous as the ball squirted through his legs.

LIVE – UCL quarterfinals: Atletico v Leicester; Bayern v Real

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Two more UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first legs are coming your way on Wednesday and they promise to be two absolute beauties.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Leicester City, the only remaining Premier League side, are in the Spanish capital to face Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone’s side will provide the Foxes with their toughest test in the UCL to date as the runners up in two of the past three seasons will look to put the tie to bed in the first leg with Antoine Griezmann their main man. Can Jamie Vardy and Co. grab a vital away goal and create a cauldron of noise at the King Power Stadium in the second leg next week?

In the other quarterfinal two giants collide as German champs Bayern Munich host Real Madrid with plenty of crossovers between playing staff and managers. Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti won the UCL trophy at Real in 2014 and his then assistant, Zinedine Zidane, is now the manager at Real and led them to the UCL crown last season. With Robert Lewandowski out of the game for Bayern, Ancelotti knows he must keep things tight and hope for a winner-takes-all clash at the Santiago Bernabeu next week. With Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema around, Real seem to be the favorites.

Click the link above for live play-by-play, stats and more, while we will have reaction and analysis right here on Pro Soccer Talk on both games.

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s clashes.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Atletico Madrid vs. Leicester – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Premier League Playback: Dele Alli the next great star

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ALLI A BEAST

Dele Alli‘s doesn’t do Sophomore slumps. His form this season destroys their notion entirely.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Alli, who turns 21 on Tuesday, scored a stunner in Tottenham’s 4-0 demolition of Watford at White Hart Lane on Saturday as Spurs continue to pile the pressure on Chelsea.

Tottenham remain seven points behind Chelsea with seven games to go but with Alli in this kind of form you can’t blame Spurs for believing they still have a chance of winning the title. He has now scored 19 goals in all competitions this season, adding five assists for Spurs. Last season, his first in the Premier League after moving up from League One MK Dons, Alli scored 10 goals and added 11 assists.

Alli has it all and his stunning curling goal to set Spurs up for their latest win showed his class.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

His only weakness remains his penchant for wanting to get involved in spats with opposition players who target him, which happened again at the weekend. He may always have that streak but he must curb it.

Still, focusing on the positives, of which there are many when it comes to Alli, the stat below reinforces what a special talent he is.

Asked about Alli’s impressive numbers following the win against Watford, Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t hide his surprise and believes he is working with one of the best young players in Europe.

“Wow. That’s unbelievable. He’s green but he’s great. First of all, he’s a great kid, a lovely, lovely person. And then he is a great player,” Pochettino said. “I think today, his age and with his stats, I think so. If not he’s the best, he’s one of the best for sure. He is so young, he can improve a lot, learn a lot, his potential is massive. Every day he’s improving, and getting more mature. He’s improving in his skills but in his character as well. He’s special. He’s different from all the players who play now at his age. He’s so experienced. His energy, his character, his quality. He is a unique player.”

With Harry Kane returning from injury earlier than expected to lead the line for the run-in (Heung-Min Son has scored seven goals in his last five games, doing a fine job in Kane’s absence) Spurs aren’t giving up hope of catching Chelsea for the title.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Even if they don’t catch Chelsea this season, the strength in depth of their young squad suggests Pochettino’s boys will be in many a title race for the next decade to come.

Alli will be the man leading those challenges if the likes of Real Madrid don’t pry him away form White Hart Lane just like they did with Gareth Bale once his star power became apparent.

Among all of the Europe’s brightest young talents — the likes of Paulo Dybala at Juventus, Leroy Sane at Manchester City, Marcus Rashford at Manchester United, Christian Pulisic at Borrusia Dortmund and spring to the mind — Alli is light years ahead of the rest.

A new superstar has been born and is now established in the Premier League.


COSTA CONUNDRUM

Diego Costa is an angry man at the best of times.

Right now he looks exasperated and as if he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Chelsea’s win

During Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth, a result which saw them regain their seven-point lead atop the Premier League following Spurs’ win earlier on Saturday, Costa toiled to no avail.

Chelsea’s first goal was initially credited to him (he did superbly to turn and bring the ball under control) but replays showed he clearly shanked his effort off target as the ball deflected off Adam Smith and in. The goal was later credited to Smith as an own goal which just about sums up Costa’s recent form in front of goal.

You can never accuse Costa of a lack of effort but at times his focus appeared to be off with a bad miss at the near post from Marcos Alonso‘s pinpoint cross at the start of the second half, plus his manager Antonio Conte looked to the heavens in disbelief on each of the occasions Costa surrendered possession easily or crashed to the ground without drawing a foul.

[ MORE: Conte thriving on pressure from Spurs ]

Pro Soccer Talk, on location at the Vitality Stadium, asked Conte after the victory if he was happy with Costa’s display.

“I’m happy for his performance. Yes, at this moment Diego is not scoring but he is totally involved in the team and our idea of football,” Conte said. “The first goal, he provided the first goal. He must continue to work in this way, with a great commitment and desire and great work rate. I’m sure he can score in every game.”

Costa’s record suggests he can indeed score in every game. He has 49 goals in 83 appearances in the Premier League but has just four goals in his last 14 appearances for Chelsea in all competitions. For a side on the cusp of clinching the title and in an FA Cup semifinal, their star striker is hardly spearheading their final push.

In the early months of the campaign Costa was a beast as Conte looked to have shackled his mean streak and channeled it perfectly. However, since reports of the back injury, a potential training ground bust up and links to a big move to the Chinese Super League in late January, Costa looks like he did for most of last season.

The Spanish international is laboring through games, grumbling away at officials and snatching at chances whenever they come his way. With Eden Hazard and others stepping up in recent games to soften the blow of Costa’s cold spell in front of goal, the former Atletico Madrid forward will likely win his second PL title in three seasons at Chelsea and he’ll be top scorers in each of those campaigns.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Yet, ask Chelsea’s fans if they want Costa to stick around next season and you’ll likely get a lukewarm response.

Costa’s cold streak continues and despite Conte’s comments you get the sense that if he can bring in Alvaro Morata, Antoine Griezmann or Alexis Sanchez this summer, Chelsea will jump at the chance to ship out Costa and move on. He’d probably do the same.


TOUGH LOVE FROM JOSE GETTING RESULTS?

Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Manchester United’s youngsters, especially Luke Shaw, has divided opinion in recent weeks.

Most agree that Mourinho’s constant bashing of Shaw, 21, crossed the line, but is it working?

On Sunday United brushed aside hapless Sunderland 3-0 with Shaw starting and playing 60 minutes, recording an assist in a solid outing which garnered a hug from Mourinho when he was subbed out in anticipation for their UEFA Europa League quarterfinal first leg against Anderlecht on Thursday.

[ MORE: Premier League stats

Shaw has had fitness issues with a double leg fracture at the start of the 2015-16 campaign giving him a pass for many, but looking past that he had similar issues under Louis Van Gaal and at Southampton before he became the most expensive teenager in world soccer in the summer of 2014. Shaw has been a rising star for five or six years, coveted by Arsenal and Chelsea before he broke into Southampton’s first team and became a regular in the Premier League at the age of 17.

Now, Mourinho has never been known as one to nurture young talent. It’s a fact.

Over the years there have been a few exceptions (Mario Balotelli and Raphael Varane stick out) but at United he now has a crop of youngsters who he must rely on. Shaw, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are among them and that trio have all been criticized at different times this season. Mourinho is treating them the way he believes will help them best develop and with Rashford’s goal this weekend and improved performances of late, plus Shaw’s display, shows it may just be doing the trick.

Even if Mourinho’s tactics of criticizing youngsters in public may not be liked by many, it appears to be working. At least for now. Since when has he ever cared about what others think? Never, is the answer. The fact that Mourinho lambasted Shaw then started him and publicly showed his appreciation is all part of his plan to get the best of his young players. It may not be liked but there’s a hint of Sir Alex Ferguson, the master of mind games with players, about this tactic.


RELEGATION PICTURE CLEARER

And then there were three.

This weekend the relegation picture became a lot clearer. Sunderland and Middlesbrough need a miracle to survive as the former are 10 points from safety and the latter are six points from Hull in 17th and Boro haven’t won since mid-December.

So, it seems like one from Swansea City, Hull City and Crystal Palace will slide down into the second-tier alongside Sunderland and Boro.

Who has the form out of those three? Hull, clearly. Although Palace went to Chelsea and won 2-1 last weekend and have won four of their last five, Sam Allardyce‘s men have a horrendous run of games coming up with five of the top six to play in their remaining eight games. That’s not what you need when you have to get another eight or nine points to secure safety.

Hull have a much easier schedule, on paper, with Tottenham Hotspur on the final day their toughest remaining challenge. The May 13 clash between Palace and Hull at Selhurst Park already has the stench of a relegation decider in the penultimate week of the season.

For Swansea, their worrying trend over the past month has continued with Paul Clement‘s initial impact wearing off fast as the Welsh outfit have lost four of their last five to slip back into the relegation zone. Things are extremely tight and that was evident in Swansea’s 1-0 defeat at West Ham on Saturday which all but secured the Hammers’ safety in the PL as Slaven Bilic‘s side slipped towards the bottom three with five-straight defeats. That’s how fine the margins are at this point of the season.

Swansea still have to play Everton and Manchester United, while goals have dried up for Clement’s side (just two goals in their last five games) with Fernando Llorente nursing an injury and Gylfi Sigurdsson going cold. Form means everything right now and one big result can spark a survival charge.

The relegation race is on and Palace, Hull and Swansea certainly know that.


CAMERON ON FORM

In each of Stoke’s last two games they’ve suffered 2-1 defeats to two top four teams, Chelsea and Liverpool. In both of those games USMNT star Geoff Cameron has been named man of the match for his superb displays in central midfield.

Since Cameron returned to the holding midfield role for the Potters in late February, following a four-month layoff with a knee injury, he’s been hugely impressive. That’s great news for the U.S. national team. Yes, he will likely stay at center back with John Brooks for the big World Cup qualifiers this summer and perhaps even the Gold Cup in July, but Cameron is a great option for Bruce Arena in central midfield.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Cameron, in his fourth season in the Premier League with Stoke, is producing his best form. At the age of 31, he’s bang in his prime and his ability to play right back, center back and center midfield with consummate ease make him a valuable commodity. Expect the Potters to be pushing away offers for Cameron this summer with his contract running until the summer of 2018 at the bet365 Stadium.

Under the radar throughout his career, the U.S. international is grinding out gutsy displays as he tries to drive Stoke on to a fourth-straight top 10 finish.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here