Offshore Drilling, UEFA Champions League: Juventus 3, at Celtic 0

1 Comment

An early defensive blunder from center half Efe Ambrose gifted Juventus a third minute lead, leaving Celtic 87 minutes to try and salvage a result in the home leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup. Never able to breach goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Celtic were ultimately handed a humbling 3-0 deficit, with late goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic putting this tie to rest after only 90 minutes.

Celtic fans may be able to convince themselves they had the better of play for most of the night, but when you give up a goal to Juventus so early in the match, the game’s bound to look lopsided. Particularly in a competition where road goals are so valuable, Juventus is content to sit back and wait for you to over-extend.

After Alessandro Matri’s early goal, that’s exactly what Juve elected to do, a decision that proved prudent as the home side continuously failed to put a credible threat on Buffon. Lacking the ingenuity to match their industry, Celtic allowed Buffon to rack up seven saves without every truly being tested.

(MORE: PSG wins in Spain, loses Zlatan.)

Conversely, Juventus put only four shots on Frazier Forester. Three ended up in the back of his net, the product of a game that was destined to wage Juventus’s counter against Celtic’s creativity. It was never a fair fight.

So the Glaswegians were left to rue their early, match-defining mistake – a long ball out of Juve’s end from Federico Peluso that was misjudged by Ambrose. Forester compounded the mistake by putting himself in no man’s land on the resulting bouncer, with Matri able to get his shot just over the line before Kelvin Wilson could defend the empty net.

In the 77th minute, Matri set up Claudio Marchisio for Juventus’s final goal, his one-touch pass behind a tracking Scott Brown allowing the Italian international to cut back onto his right before doubling Juve’ s lead. Six minutes later, Vucinic capped the lopsided result.

The match was typical Juventus, a team whose success over the last two years has been predicated on taking advantage of others’ mistakes. Their ability to do makes them one of the best teams in Europe and in a different class from Celtic.

The Scottish champions knew about that disparity going into the match, yet their group stage success against Barcelona gave them reason to think their approach could neutralize better sides. On Tuesday, it didn’t come close.

(MORE: Did Ibrahimovic deserve his red card?)

Man of the Match: When you sit on your heels for most of the match, few players get a chance to give Man of the Match-caliber performances, but with some late, confident grabs of Charles Mulgrew and Kris Commons crosses, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon proved Juve’s most valuable player. While none of his seven saves were difficult, Buffon did well to prevent opportunities for followup shots. He also made some astute reads on shots that went just wide of goal, giving his team possession instead of conceding dangerous corner kicks.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Somebody needs to ask about Efe Ambrose – It’s too much to say Neil Lennon made a bad choice in going with Ambrose over sliding Charles Mulgrew into central defense (or starting Adam Matthews and moving Mikael Lustig in from right back). Ambrose played in Sunday’s Cup of Nations final. Asking him to report for 90 minutes in Glasgow 48 hours later may have been too much. But we don’t see Mulgrew and Matthews in training, nor do we know how Ambrose felt when he came back. All we can do is ask questions, but it’s possible Lennon deduced a sub-par Ambrose was still his best option.

Matri’s hard work pays off – The third minute confusion wasn’t the only time Alessandro Matri’s willingness to challenge Celtic defenders was a factor. Multiple times in the first half, Matri’s ability to match Ambrose physically allowed Juventus to play long balls out of the back while still challenging for possession. Given how much of the game Juve had given to Celtic (and how deep into their own end that had pushed them), the tactic proved a nice way to relieve pressure. Matri’s goal and assist may overshadow his more subtle efforts, but some of the Juve striker’s best contributions weren’t recorded on the scoresheet.

Celtic couldn’t play their game – In fairness, we don’t know that Celtic were going to approach this game the same way they did Barcelona. Juventus is a completely different team, one that doesn’t need possession to be effective. Yet there was still an assumption that the underlying philosophy would be the same: Defend, take few chances, and wait for opportunities. It’s a lot like Juventus’s approach, and since Celtic made the first mistake, we never got to see if their plan would have worked. It’s difficult to see how a conservative approach would have led to anything but a boring game, but down 1-0 in after three minutes, Celtic had to play into Juventus’s hands.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Because of the way this one played out, we didn’t learn much about Juventus. There are still questions about where, in the European pecking order, we should slot this Juve team, mostly because they didn’t compete in last year’s Champions League. After today’s result, we’re no closer to answers. Early goals make games aberrational.
  • Martin Caceras, in at left-central defender for the injured Giorgio Chiellini, was one of Juventus’s most effective players. Along with Buffon and Matri, he had a Man of the Match claim.
  • Celtic went with a 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 formation that set up Commons, Gary Hooper and James Forrest to press Juve’s back three man-for-man. Unfortunately, because of the early goal, we didn’t get a chance to see how the approach would have worked. Still, it was a minor surprise from a Celtic team many assumed would play closer to a 4-5-1. It also casts doubts on whether Celtic was ever going to be as deferential and defensive as we saw against Barcelona.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Champions League odds
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

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


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.