What we learned as Real Madrid eliminated Manchester United

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What was a captivating game between two of the worlds biggest clubs became controversial the minute Nani’s boot met Álvaro Arbeloa’s chest. But before the foul, we had one of the more interesting matches of the Champions League season, one where Sir Alex Ferguson’s tactics had put Manchester United on the cusp of the quarterfinals.

And the decisions that enabled those tactics started with Manchester United’s starting XI:

  • Wayne Rooney misses out on the starting  XI – What was Alex Ferguson thinking, sitting one of his two cornerstone players? Thankfully, a few scribes caught up to him prematch and got his thoughts. He wanted Ryan Giggs on the right to help against Cristiano Ronaldo (where Rooney had failed in leg one), and he liked Danny Welbeck as his best defender against Xabi Alonso in the middle. Why Rooney didn’t get the start on the left of United’s 4-4-2, I’m not sure, but there was at least some method to the madness.
  • And the madness worked – Welbeck silenced Alonso, forcing Sergio Ramos and Sami Khedira to spend more time with the ball at their feet. Giggs was much better along the right than Rooney had been at the Bernabeu, perhaps forcing José Mourinho to flip Ronaldo to the right flank in the eighth minute. Before Nani’s sending off, Real Madrid scarcely threatened David de Gea.
  • Sergio Ramos held Real Madrid together – The 48th minute own goal was ironic, a ball sent through the six by Nani that went off Ramos’s right leg and in. Until that point of the match, Ramos had clearly been the match’s best player, not only performing admirably defensively against a United side that used Welbeck’s speed to threaten on the counter but also stepping into midfield to play the ball while Alonso was marked out of the game. Replace Ramos with a normal defender and Real Madrid may not have been within one when Nani’s seen off.
  • Did I mention Nani was sent off? – Of course I did. Here’s one view, Steve’s counter point, and some analysis from Graham Poll that highlights the fissures in the controversy.
  • United had a bad 10 minutes – Given how Ferguson set up his team, United could have held on for the last 32 minutes. But the red card was a controversial, contentious event. It’s not surprising United may have lost focus. Luka Modric scored about five minutes after play resumed. Cristiano Ronaldo scored two minutes later, after which United reasserted control. But by then, it was too late.
  • Diego López’s contributions will be forgotten – Even down a man, United had a number of chances to pull even. Yes, they would have needed another goal, but if it weren’t for Diego López, United may have been able to build that momentum. The January buy of the former Villarreal No. 1 paid off today.

What now for both of these teams?

It’s tough for Manchester United to move on, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. They got a tough Round of 16 draw, had to face one of the tournament’s best teams, yet were arguably the better side. José Mourinho admitted as much after the game.

For the second time in four years, United’s dealt a bitter knockout round exit, but coming off a disappointing 2011-12 tournament, the Red Devils affirmed their place as one of the world’s elites. The team can be proud.

And credit Real Madrid for getting through them, particularly having to win a second leg at Old Trafford. For Mourinho, it’s the second time in his career he’s done so, though this time he needed some help from one of his countrymen.

Unable to consistently generate chances against United, it’s difficult to see Real Madrid as being on Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund’s level. But between their talent and their coach, they have a chance at that decima. That’s all that matters.

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)