Hamburg show Borussia Dortmund have work to do before Champions League

Leave a comment

Borussia Dortmund’s 4-1 loss Saturday to Hamburg was the defending German champions’ worst home defeat since 2008, a shocking outcome for a team that was supposed to be gearing up for Champions League. If their mid-week opponents (Shakhtar Donetsk) happened to be watching, they’d take nothing but encouragement from a poor defensive performance from team that never recovered from a controversial sending off.

That incident happened in the 31st minute with Hamburg already up 2-1. Robert Lewandowski showed up Hamburg defender Hieko Westermann for a 17th minute opener only to see beautiful goals from Artjoms Rudnevs (a team effort) and Son Heung-Min (his own work) give the visitors the lead. Five minutes later, a late challenge that saw Lewandowski go foot-to-foot with on Hamburg midfielder Per Skjelbred earned the Polish international straight red, a punishment that arrived after Hamburg captain Rafael van der Vaart appeared to escalate the situation by hastily confronting Lewandowski before appealing for red after Sebastian Kehl shoved him to the ground.

Hamburg never took advantage of Dortmund’s shock, though. By the 59th minute, they were also reduced to 10 after defender Jeffrey Bruma saw straight red. The dismissal seemed to awaken Hamburg, who took advantage of uncharacteristically bad Dortmund defending to craft Rudnevs and Son’s second goals.

The doubles completed a banner day for Hamburg, one that moves them into fifth place in the Bundesliga. For team that started the season near the drop (after a 2011-12 campaign spent battling relegation), completing a double over the defending champions could prove a solidifying event. If there was any doubt  Hamburg would slip back into mediocrity, today’s result should placate it.

And the way they won should bring some deserved attention to one of the league’s best attacking tandems. In a time where the 4-2-3-1 formation has become a default, you don’t often see two forwards leading an attack. Yet thanks to the re-acquisition of van der Vaart, Rudnevs and Son having established themselves as a rare duel threat, Son’s ability to play wide complementing his Latvian partner. After today’s haul, the duo’s combined for 19 league goals.

Dortmund must now answer the question teams face whenever they’re handed an aberrational result: How much do you chalk up to a bad day, and how much hints at something that’s breaking down? Given defender Neven Subotic and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan were handed days off (Gundogan did come in late), head coach Jurgen Kloppp has reason to believe this is a one-off.

The disturbing part will be how Hamburg scored their goals: Long passes down the flanks and behind the fullbacks extending a defense that couldn’t adjust. Given how Shakhtar plays, it’s not difficult to see the Ukrainian champions using the same approach. With Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Ilsinho wide, Shakhtar can get behind Lukasz Pizszcek and Sven Bender. Fullbacks Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat have the experience and ability to find them, while striker Luiz Adriano and attacking midfielder Henrikh Wkhitaryan can mimic HSV’s goal scorers.

One-off or not, Hamburg exposed something in Dortmund that can taken advantage of. Klopp will have to solve the problem before re-starting BVB’s Champions League campaign.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdZPWGSg6Ec]

Champions League: PSG ruin Atalanta fairytale with stoppage-time comeback

Champions League PSG
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Atalanta were within five minutes of knocking off PSG and reaching the Champions League semifinals, but those final five minutes were to be played after the proverbial midnight, and their carriage turned to a rotten pumpkin so very close to the final whistle.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

Paris Saint-Germain’s stoppage-time comeback brought about the harsh end to a fairytale run which had captured the hearts and minds of neutral fans the world over.

The three-time reigning Ligue 1 champions were quickest out of the starting blocks and jumped all over Atalanta with a flurry of early chances. They were, however, wasteful to an alarming degree — none more egregious and disappointing than Neymar’s one-on-one chance in the third minute.

Atalanta treaded water in those opening 25 minutes before hitting PSG with a blindside haymaker in the 26th. With three defenders surrounding — and winning — the ball atop their own penalty area, PSG were a bit unlucky to see it pinball into a patch of open space where Mario Pasalic was lurking completely unmarked. He still had plenty to do, though, and he left no doubt whatsoever with the left-footed finish.

Unfortunately for Neymar and PSG, his earlier blunder wasn’t his only shocking moment of the game. On most any other day, he scores one or two — maybe even all three — of these chances. It wasn’t his day, clearly.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Kylian Mbappe (ankle) was introduced as a substitute right on the hour mark, and the 21-year-old instantly threatened and gave PSG energy and life. His first great scoring chance — and PSG’s best chance since Neymar’s early miss — came in the 74th minute, but Marco Sportiello was up to the task of denying one of the world’s most expensive signing.

Six minutes later, it was the exact same story.

Finally, with 89:35 on the clock, Marquinhos broke through Atalanta’s stout defense and drew level. It was anything but pretty, which made it all the more painful for Atalanta.

Two minuets after drawing level, Mbappe teed up Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for the close-range winner that PSG largely deserved on the whole of their dominant performance.

Up next for Thomas Tuchel’s side is a semifinal clash with the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig.

Thiago to Liverpool: Bayern boss urges Premier League move

Thiago to Liverpool
Photo by A. Hassenstein/Getty Images for FC Bayern
Leave a comment

Thiago-to-Liverpool gaining momentum: Bayern munich manager Hansi Flick has taken the unexpected step of not only endorsing, but seemingly urging, Thiago Alcantara’s rumored transfer to Premier League champions Liverpool this summer.

[ MORE: Paul Pogba contract talks to begin after Man United season ends ]

Contract negotiations have stalled and perhaps reached an impasse with just 12 months remaining on Thiago’s contract, therefore the logical expectation is that he will leave the club in the coming weeks. Flick is fully understand, and accepting, of the situation — both from the standpoint of the club and that of the player — quotes from the Metro:

“As a person and as an athlete, I can understand him. Thiago played for Barcelona, and seven years for Bayern. Now he wants a new challenge, which in my opinion must be the Premier League.”

It has previously been reported that Liverpool had agreed personal terms with Thiago, but the two clubs are yet to agree a transfer fee as of yet.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Dembele to Man United; Promes to Arsenal ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright, on how Thiago-to-Liverpool might look on the field, from last week:

The deep-lying playmaker is a totally different central midfielder to what Liverpool currently have as Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are all hard-working more defensive minded players. And then there’s Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who provide a bit more attacking intent with forward runs from central midfield.

Thiago Alcantara would help Liverpool control games better when opponents sit back and don’t allow them space to operate in-behind. He is a silky pass-master who is wanted by PSG, Liverpool, Manchester United and others, but it appears he will be heading to Anfield to give Liverpool a totally new dimension to their play. If this happens, it will make an already strong Liverpool side stronger.

Pogba contract talks to begin after season ends

Pogba contract
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pogba contract update: For all the talk of Paul Pogba leaving Manchester United this summer, last summer and the summer before that one, the 27-year-old midfielder now appears ready to commit to the Red Devils for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Dembele to Man United; Promes to Arsenal ]

According to a report from Sky Sports, not only is Pogba happy at Man United these days, but he also expects negotiations over a new contract to begin after the club’s Europa League run ends. United are set to face Sevilla in the quarterfinals on Sunday, with the final looming large next Friday, Aug. 21.

“Pogba is happy at United and he’s expecting them to open contract talks once their Europa League campaign is over.

“His current deal runs out next summer but United always insert this year option so they don’t get caught out with free transfers.

“It should be said United are in a better position to negotiate with Pogba and the returning Dean Henderson, as it stands from Sheffield United, following the departure of Alexis Sanchez and all of the money his wages have now freed.

“There appears to be a willingness from all parties to get around the table as far as Pogba is concerned.”

The part of the report referring to Sanchez’s now-offloaded contract is of the utmost importance. Not only was the transfer itself — and the Chilean’s time at Old Trafford — an incredible flop, but his massive (reported) $500,000-per-week contract was a huge obstacle for the club when it came time to sign new players and/or negotiate new contracts with players already at the club.

[ MORE: Ranking new Premier League kits: 2020-21 ]

It’s not just the Pogba contract which needs resolving in the coming months, but budding superstar Mason Greenwood is almost certain to get another pay rise following his standout performances over the second half of the 2019-20 season. The 18-year-old signed a new contract back in October, but he will likely be rewarded — and locked down — with the longest possible terms as United move to fend off any interest from other clubs in the Premier League and around Europe. Without the Sanchez money off the books, taking care of such business would have been that much more difficult.

Key battles in Champions League quarterfinals

Champions League quarterfinals
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus intriguing ties between Atalanta and PSG, plus RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.

[ MORE: Man City beat Real Madrid ]

In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16. Bayern v. Barcelona should be all-out attack, while Atletico v. Leipzig will be full of grit and Atalanta and PSG could end up 6-5 to either team as two free-flowing attacks collide.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.

Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League quarterfinals

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Key battles

Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera

Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.

RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa

This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.

Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba

Barcelona - Bayern
Getty Images

Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.

Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay

Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.