Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at Real Madrid 1, Manchester United 1

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When Alex Ferguson’s starting XI was announced, many assumed Manchester United was trying to outgun Real Madrid. A lineup featuring all of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck would certainly attack, it was thought. It was also destined to leave United too exposed to a Merengues attack that would take them apart. If points were awarded before kickoff, El Real would have claimed all three.

But while United proved potent throughout the match, the team Ferguson selected were ultimately capable of playing exactly as many expected. In the pre-XI buildup, most assumed Manchester United would play cautiously and be content to leave the Santiago Bernabeu within striking distance of their opponents. Thanks to an early goal from Danny Welback and some standout goalkeeping from former Atlético Madrid netminder David de Gea, the Red Devils are closer than mere striking distance. Taking a 1-1 result out of the Bernabeu, United has an away goals lead ahead of March 5’s second leg.

The result leaves both teams reason to be encouraged. For Real Madrid, they can reasonably feel they were the better team, giving a performance that would win on most nights. The success they had down the flanks — Cristiano Ronaldo on Rafael and Angel Di Maria against Patrice Evra — is something that can be replicated in Manchester. The Red Devils have less reason to believe all of Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and de Gea will meet today’s high standards.

But United have reason to think they can win even if their defense doesn’t replicate Wednesday’s performance. Today’s goal was containment, yet they still were able to generate a number of opportunities. Robin van Persie had two chances to steal a late victory. If United ends up tasked with scoring goals at home (something they won’t need to do at kickoff two weeks from now), they can believe their clinical finishing combined with a more ambitious style will sink Real Madrid.

Man of the Match: Only one or two of the saves that David de Gea (right) made couldn’t have been made by another goalkeeper (how many players are going to make a hockey-style kick save?), but like Gianluigi Buffon yesterday, much of de Gea’s value was in what he didn’t do. On a series of hard, well placed shots, de Gea consistently pushed balls into touch or innocuous areas that prevented Real Madrid from building on their pressure. Once the ball was out for corner kicks, United used their aerial superiority to defuse any danger.

source: Getty ImagesThe English media has derided de Gea for his trouble coming out for crosses, a criticism that makes sense given the emphasis English soccer has traditionally put on wide play and crossing for target strikers. But some time ago, that derision crossed the line and started depicting de Gea as a much worse keeper than he actually is. Today may help correct the record.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Manchester United’s central defense continues to improve – We talked about it this weekend, but after another strong performance, it bears repeating: If Manchester United’s problems in central defense are solved, the team has little worry about over the rest of the season. They’ll continue cruising away from England, and they’ll be a dark horse contender to win Champions League.

Rio Ferdinand got the call along side Jonny Evans today, and thanks to help from de Gea and the midfield-deployed Phil Jones, the duo managed to withstand constant pressure from the Merengues. Whether it was dealing with Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín or having to contain Cristiano Ronaldo on those occasions the Real winger cut insider Ferdinand and Evans were up to the challenge, winning their battles against Real’s No. 9s while forcing Ronaldo toward the byline and limiting him to crosses.

The difference a healthy Ferdinand offers is striking. Organization we rarely an issue, and Ferdinand still possessions great judgment choosing when to come out of defense to challenge in midfield.

Unfortunately, he’s rarely healthy, but if he can stay fit for the next four months, United could have their strongest team since Moscow.

A lot of chances, just not the right ones – From their final third to the edge of the penalty area, Real Madrid’s attackers (particularly Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria) were given room to run at the defense, an approach that resulted in a number of long distance shots, many of which were blocked. United’s defenders kept play in front of them an absorbed attacks rather than challenge for the ball and potentially leave themselves exposed.

The results were huge deficits in possession (61-39) and total shots (28-13) but few danger moments for de Gea and, for a road team, a relatively competitive difference in shots on target (8-6).

Real Madrid needed to be more patient. Particularly given the way de Gea was managing the shots that got through on goal, they needed to craft something more dangerous.

Because the little through balls they’re used to playing were unavailable against United, los Blancos may have elected to try and burn the Red Devils from distance. But it didn’t work, and unless they get a deflection or a hand ball call in the second leg, it’s unlikely to work at Old Trafford.

The value of Phil Jones – It’s easy for a defense to look good when somebody like Phil Jones is protecting them.

On Sunday, Jones was tasked with marking Marouane Fellaini, an approach that helped United keep a clean sheet against Everton. Today, Jones was a wrecking ball in front of the United defense. Late in the match, his experience at center half came into play as he dropped deeper and to help the Red Devils bleed out the draw.

Because of his versatility (able to play center half, right back, and defensive midfield) it’s been difficult to say United have missed Jones in any particular role, but with the former Blackburn prospect injured for much of the season, the Red Devils certainly have missed him to come degree. It’s games like Wednesday’s that illustrate how much.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Whenever there’s a job to do wide, Wayne Rooney gets the call. Today in United’s defensive phase, Rooney often played on the right of a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape and helped shield right back Rafael. His usage was reminiscent of five years ago when Ferguson temporarily converted used Rooney  as a left winger.
  • In attack, United tried to get Danny Welbeck forward from the left as Rooney and Kagawa operated behind him and van Persie. With so little meaningful possession, it was difficult to tell how well it worked.
  • With United electing to absorb so much of Real Madrid’s attack, the Merengues would have really used somebody capable of driving forward from midfield to help create isolated advantages along the defense. Sami Khedira sometimes does this, while Xabi Alonso’s out of his element too close to the box. This game might have needed more Kaká.
  • Pepe was back from injury and saw some late time, coming in late when José Mourinho decided to guard against a second United goal. Iker Casillas was injured and failed to make Real Madrid’s bench.

Premier League awards: End-of-season finalists announced

Premier League awards
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The Premier League announced its end-of-season awards finalists in four categories on Friday, with voting set to remain open through 1 pm ET on Monday, Aug. 10.

[ MORE: League One, League Two clubs vote to introduce salary cap ]

Here’s a look at the finalists for the four key awards, and a prediction of who will take home each one…

Premier League Player of the Season – VOTE HERE

Finalists: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), Jordan Henderson (Liveprool), Danny Ings (Southampton), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Nick Pope (Burnley), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

Who will win? First things first, Footballer of the Year — which was won by Henderson, according to the Football Writers’ Association — and Player of the Season are very different awards. FotY awards have typically gone to the individual deemed most important to the title-winning team; PotS generally goes to the most outstanding individual performer. Thus, De Bruyne should receive somewhere between 96 and 98 percent of the vote. The Belgian’s 20 assists tied the PL record (Thierry Henry, 2002-03) and he chipped in with another baker’s dozen goals. No one else’s numbers even approach that level of absurdity, so let’s just pause for a moment and consider how far City would have finished the season behind Liverpool without De Bruyne going superhuman.

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

Premier League Young Player of the Season – VOTE HERE

Finalists: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Mason Greenwood (Man United), Dean Henderson (Sheffield United), Anthony Martial (Man United), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Marcus Rashford (Man United)

Who will win? It goes without saying the Pulisic takes this award for the post-Project Restart period of the season, but did he do enough over the course of the entire season to edge out, say, Alexander-Arnold, who was a genuine difference maker for not only the league champions, but also one of the most dominant sides in PL history? Probably not. Plus, how rare is it that a defender — let alone a full back — gets his due credit when the awards are handed out? It takes a truly special player to put forth a truly special season to earn that kind of recognition as a full back, and Alexander-Arnold checked both of those boxes in 2019-20.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Premier League Manager of the Season – VOTE HERE

Finalists: Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City), Chris Wilder (Sheffield United)

Who will win? Through 30 games played, Sheffield United sat seventh in the table and were just two points out of fifth place — at the time, thought to be a Champions League place with Man City’s impending, but since-lifted, European ban — which probably made Chris Wilder the slight favorite for Manager of the Season. Unfortunately, the Blades lost four of their final eight games and slipped to ninth — still a remarkable first season in the PL, but just far enough outside of Europe — and many, many months ago — that most voters will likely forget their brilliant start to the season. Frank Lampard will likely receive a fair share of the vote given Chelsea’s transfer ban, the exceedingly youthful nature of the Chelsea squad and qualifying for Champions League — and rightly so — but there remains one likely, and perhaps runaway, winner: Klopp. Call it a “career achievement” award if you must, but anyone who considers the state of Liverpool when Klopp took over in 2015, and compares that to where they are now, will vote for Klopp in the blink of an eye.

[ MORE: Champions League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions ]

Premier League Goal of the Season – VOTE HEREWATCH HERE

Finalists: Harvey Barnes (Leicester City), Moussa Djenepo (Southampton), Matthew Longstaff (Newcastle United), Kevin De Bruyne no. 1, v. Newcastle (Man City), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Brighton & Hove Albion), Matej Vydra (Burnley), Bruno Fernandes (Man United), Kevin De Bruyne no. 2, v. Norwich City (Man City)

Hit the link above and watch all the goals, then let’s have a debate in the comments.

Who will win? Given his otherworldly popularity back home in South Korea, it’s easy to see the votes flooding in for Son, whose solo goal against Burnley was spectacular from the first yard all the way to the 75th. That’s the easy and obvious answer, but if you’re looking for something of a dark-horse candidate, De Bruyne’s blast against Newcastle, due to not only the chest control but also the height at which he strikes the ball and bangs it off the underside of the crossbar, is the likely first runner-up.

League One, League Two clubs vote to introduce salary cap

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Clubs in League One and League Two have voted to introduce a salary cap, “effectively immediately.”

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

Under the agreed proposal, clubs in England’s third tier, League One, will be allowed to spend up to $3.25 million (£2.5 million) per season on player salaries, while League Two sides will be limited at $2 million (£1.5 million).

The salary cap is, at least in theory, expected to create greater sustainability for lower-division clubs after a number of sides recently relegated from the Premier League and/or the Championship have endured great financial hardship and, in some cases, received hefty punishments for failing to maintain certain financial standards.

According to Sky Sports, discussions about a potential salary cap began back in March, prior to the shutdown, and canceling of the remainder, of the League One and League Two seasons due to COVID-19.

When calculating total salary spending, the salary cap will include not only weekly wages paid to players, but also bonuses, agent fees and image rights, among other mechanisms by which clubs have spent and — again, in far too many cases — lost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in recent years.

Per the English Football League, “any contract entered into on or prior to today’s vote will be capped at an agreed divisional average until that contract expires,” meaning clubs will not be forced to immediately shed contracts in order to comply with the newly implemented rule.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

From the EFL’s statement, which can be read in full here, released shortly after the vote:

“The term ‘salary cap’ is an emotive one, creating the impression of a restrictive measure but we are clear in our view that this is neither the objective nor the likely effect of these changes to EFL Regulations. The financial impact of COVID-19 will be profound for EFL Clubs and today’s vote will help ensure Clubs cannot extend themselves to the point that could cause financial instability.

“Over the last two weeks the discussions amongst Clubs in both Leagues One and Two have been healthy and constructive, allowing us to reach a clear consensus today and I am pleased that the Clubs have determined to adopt the new approach. We will now work with all Clubs, the PFA and, where appropriate, other stakeholders to implement the new rules and continue our efforts to bring long-term sustainability to the EFL.

MLS is Back: Orlando City advances to final on Nani brace (video)

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Nani scored a pair of first-half goals and Orlando City advanced to the MLS is Back tournament title match with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota United on Thursday night.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Orlando will play the Portland Timbers, who defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the other semifinal on Wednesday night, in the championship game on Tuesday.

Mason Toye pulled Minnesota within 2-1 with his first goal of the season in the 83rd minute, but the Lions withstood United’s attack down the stretch before Benji Michel’s goal late in stoppage time for the final margin.

“It was very satisfying for us because we worked the whole week just working as a team, making sure all the pieces were put together,” Michel said. “For us to be able to get the win was very, very good for us.”

Minnesota’s Chase Gasper had an early attempted that was pushed over the goal by Pedro Gallese. On the other end, Tesho Akindele’s chance off a cross from Ruan just barely sailed over the crossbar.

Nani gave Orlando the lead in the 36th minute, taking a long ball from Robin Jansson and shaking off defender Hassani Dotson before beating Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

Some seven minutes later, the Portuguese winger who played for Manchester United made it 2-0 with a goal from distance.

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

There was some shoving between the two teams in the 73rd minute when Junior Urso’s foul resulted in a Minnesota free kick. Gallese came up big for the Lions, leaping to stop Raheem Edwards’ attempt.

“I thought we rushed everything,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. “After the first 15 minutes, where we started the game really well, we needed an extra pass in the final third and we rushed it, we crossed it when there wasn’t anyone in the box. We made a lot of wrong choices in the final third tonight and that’s probably cost us dearly, I think.”

Heath was coach of Orlando City for four seasons before the team joined Major League Soccer in 2015. Heath led the Lions until July 2016, when he was fired.

Heath had not lost against his former club. The Lions are now led by Pareja.

Orlando finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season with just nine wins.

“We have worked hard, and it has been, so far, difficult times for us. But the players just put all the excuses away, and then just kept going and going,” Pareja said. “And I think they’re happy. They’re playing with confidence and they accept each other and they understand this is day-by day. The guys who came from different countries, different clubs. They help us as well to gel.”

[ MORE: Champions League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions ]

Minnesota’s Romain Metanire and Kevin Molino both had hamstring injuries and were on the bench to start the game. United centerback Ike Opara – the reigning MLS Defender of the Year – did not join the team in Orlando because of a pre-existing condition.

Orlando’s Chris Mueller, whose arm in a sling after the team advanced on penalties following a scoreless draw against LAFC in the quarterfinals, was in the starting lineup.

Lions striker Dom Dwyer had surgery last week on his left knee as is expected to be out for up to six months.

The monthlong World Cup-style tournament has been played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World. Players have been sequestered at a pair of Disney resorts.

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

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week 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 and Chelsea 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.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

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: Round of 16 at home venues; 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

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)