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

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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.

Report: Earnie Stewart in negotiations for U.S. Soccer GM job

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Philadelphia Union sporting director and USMNT centurion Earnie Stewart is reportedly in negotiations to become the United States men’s national team general manager.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The report, from Metro NY reporter Kristian Dyer, says the Netherlands-born executive has the proverbial ball in his court.

Stewart, 49, racked up 103 caps and 18 goals for the Yanks and had a glittering playing career spent between Willem II, NAC Breda, and DC United.

He later had high-ranking positions with NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar.

Here’s Dyer, quoting a source:

The source, speaking to Metro on the condition of anonymity, said that Stewart is believed to be the frontrunner and is in negotiations for the position following an impressive showing during the interview process.

The club, when asked for a comment, told Metro that “Since Earnie’s first interview with U.S. Soccer, we have respected their process, and as such, we will decline further comment until a final decision has been made.”

Stewart scored against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and added markers in qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.

His familiarity with both MLS and European leagues would be a boon for the U.S., and Stewart’s Union has brought along a number of promising young players including Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry (the latter drafted out of Georgetown).

Carrick: Haven’t entertained possibility of Pogba leaving Man Utd

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Michael Carrick is hammering the idea of a Paul Pogba exit from Manchester United.

Pogba’s had his problems with manager Jose Mourinho, but recently praised the boss for the season’s education.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

But is an exit is just not going to happen, says Carrick as he heads toward a coaching role at Old Trafford.

From Sky Sports:

“Of course he’s got a future, he’s a big player for us, he’s a great age, he’s got his peak years ahead of him. It’s not even something I’d give a second thought to, to be honest.”

The retired midfielder also said he’s looking forward to working under Jose Mourinho, whom he calls “the best man to learn from.”

He also said United’s trophy-less season wasn’t ideal, but it’s more about them their competition.

“We’re not looking at City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, anyone. We’re looking at ourselves to improve, we believe we’re capable of improving a lot and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”