Dominant Bayern Munich expose gap between themselves, Juventus

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Perhaps we got a little too caught up in the Juventus mystique. Or maybe as fans who are used to a strong Serie A, we’re still coming to grips with Italy’s regression. A closer examination of Juve’s fixture list would have told us the Bianconeri had yet to be tested by a true Champions League-contender, yet we convinced ourselves: This one was going to be close.

Then again, Tuesday could have just been a bad day. And this tie is far from over. Yet after 90 minutes in Germany we’re at a loss, left to brainstorm possible for explanations after the Old Lady’s performance in Munich, a 2-0 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich that could have been much worse.

If Gianluigi Buffon wasn’t good for seven saves and some key decisions to clean up balls sent into his area, this would have ugly. And if Bayern had been more clinical with their myriad chances, this tie would be over. But as it stands, Juventus are fortunate to be heading back to Italy with their European hopes on life support.

(MORE: Messi injury leaves PSG-Barca open to interpretation.)

Worst start possible

All our pre-match talk about Bayern needing to execute went out the window within a minute. That’s when a shot from 30-plus yards beat one of the world’s best keepers, leaving us to debate how much blame Buffon should shoulder.

On one hand, there’s almost never a reason to allow a goal from that distance, particularly when you’re not screened. If the ball isn’t some kind of Roberto Carlos rocket, you’re out of excuses. From half way between the center line and the edge of the area, world-class goalkeepers should adjust to all but the most aberrational scenarios.

Yet when you see replays from behind the goal, David Alaba’s shot looks like an aberration. Though it wasn’t well hit, the Bayern defender’s shot was hit strangely, the ball buckling in mid-air before diving toward the lower right hand corner. By then, Buffon had already committed to a shot that looked to be headed to his right. Caught off-balance as the ball broke, Buffon couldn’t get back across goal.

source: Getty ImagesAt best, Buffon’s footwork should have been better. He shouldn’t have had so much of his weight over his right foot with the ball still so far out.

At worst, it’s one of the bigger howlers of his career, the timing of which allowed Bayern to take early control of the match.

(MORE: Highlights of Bayern’s cruis past Juve.)

Pressure, counter, threaten

That control allowed Bayern to play without the ball, rely their high pressure to disrupt Juventus, and try to beat the Old Lady on the counter – a plan that worked exquisitely. Juventus conductor Andrea Pirlo lacked his usual influence, meaning Claudio Marchisio, Fabio Quagliarella, and Alessandro Matri were kept out of the match. Forced into turnovers, Juve promoted Bayern’s counters, with Arjen Robben and Frank Ríbery constantly able to threaten when they got the ball behind the 3-5-2’s wingbacks.

As the match went on, Juve’s possession advantage faded. In addition to hogging chances, Bayern was starting to hog the ball. They finished with 55 percent possession after the Old Lady’s number had been around 60 for most of the first half. Bayern also held a 22-8 edge in shots and a 9-2 advantage in chances on goal.

And Bayern were able to accomplish this without arguably their best player. Early in the first half, attacking mifielder Toni Kroos left the game with what was later reported as multiple muscle tears in his left thigh. The midfielder’s season may be over.

In his place, Jupp Heynckes brought on Arjen Robben and moved Thomas Müller into the playmaker’s role in his 4-2-3-1, a move that only made things worse for Juventus. Müller gave Bayern another player who could play closer to goal, while Robben gave FCB a second pacey attacker to exploit the spaces left by the three-man defense. With Bastian Schweinsteiger capable of distributing from deep midfield, Bayern was setup to probe the weaknesses of Juve’s setup.

(MORE: Three goals in 15 minutes close PSG-Barça – Highlights)

Changes pay off for second goal

The benefits of Bayern’s changes were evident on their second goal. In the 63rd minute, Robben was able to gain territory down the right before pulling back and playing to Luiz Gustavo 22 yards out. The midfielder’s shot on goal was pushed to Mario Mandzukic, who played back across the six-yard box for Müller. The open net gave Bayern their much-needed second goal.

source: ReutersIf Müller were still wide, he might not have headed for the byline, as Robben is apt to do. Müller tends to cross from deeper, when he crosses at all. If he’d pulled up farther from the byline, Gustavo may not have had room in front of a collapsed midfield. Even if Gustavo did get a shot off, who would have been there to provide an option for Mandzukic?

Down the road, however, Kroos’s loss is sure to prove costly. Among the many strong seasons Bayern’s received from their stars, Kroos’s may have been the strongest. Though Müller can play behind the striker, he lacks Kroos’s playmaking abilities. He’s also less apt to drop back and help link play when another man’s needed deeper.

With eyes toward Italy

Juventus were the underdogs coming into the tie, but nobody expected the gap to be this large. Bayern could have easily put three or four on the Italian champions. That they didn’t is the only reason this tie’s left in doubt, because there was nothing in Juve’s Tuesday form that suggests they’ll have success next week.

But in that terrible display lies a grain of ironic hope. Juventus are not this bad, which makes today’s performance seem like an outlier. Given time to see what went wrong in Munich, they’re unlikely to be as inept in leg two. Perhaps Antonio Conte won’t be so bold as to play his whole team this weekend (as he did on Saturday in Milan). And maybe having been humbled by Bayern, Conte will less be convinced Juve’s modus operandi is good enough.

Expect to see changes next Tuesday, but until we know what those changes are, it’s difficult to assess how likely Juventus is to come back. But no team’s had any real success against Bayern this year. For Juventus to go from terrible to terrific in eight days will require something unpredictable.

Scottish manager reports himself for breaching gambling rules

Scottish manager breaches gambling rules
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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) A manager in Scotland’s top division reported himself to the country’s soccer federation for breaching gambling rules.

Hamilton Academical manager Brian Rice has struggled with a gambling addiction in the past, and said Monday: “My disease has returned.”

Rice was charged by the Scottish Football Association for breaching rules in each of the past five seasons and faces a hearing on Jan 30.

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“I have apologized to those at the club in whom I have sought counsel,” Rice said, “and I apologize today to the players, fans and colleagues I have let down through my gambling addiction.”

Rice, who has coached Hamilton since last January, said he reported himself “to remove the stigma attached to this horrible, isolating disease, in the hope that those involved in Scottish football who are similarly in its grasp feel they can seek help.”

“After committing to recovery, I cannot believe that I have found myself back in the grip of gambling addiction but this disease is not cured with a finite course of treatment,” he said. “You are an addict for life and through my commitment to the 12-step recovery program, I am confident I can stay on top of this disease one day at a time.”

Hamilton is in 11th place in the 12-team Scottish Premiership.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Aston Villa gets its man in prolific Tanzanian captain Samatta

Aston Villa signs Tanzanian captain
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Aston Villa has captured its center forward, signing Tanzanian national team captain Mbwana Samatta in its bid for Premier League safety.

Samatta turned 27 last month and has 51 caps with 18 goals for Tanzania. He’s ineligible to play for Villa when it hosts Watford on Tuesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online on NBCSports.com).

The fee is reported as $13 million.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“I’m so excited. It’s a huge step for me and my career. For all the people from Tanzania, it’s a big step for the country as well. Everybody is so on it, they are looking to see one Tanzanian guy who can play in the Premier League. Here today I’m him, and I’m so happy.”

The striker scored 26 times last season for Genk, and has 76 goals for the club since arriving in 2015. He scored against Liverpool and twice versus Red Bull Salzburg in this season’s Champions League group stage.

He spent time with Congolese club TP Mazembe and Tanzanian side Simba SC before that.

Villa’s 22 points are back of the Premier League’s safe spaces, and the Midlands club is a win away from the League Cup final. The semifinal second leg at Leicester City takes place Jan. 28.

Real Madrid adds Brazilian teen phenom Reinier Jesus

Real Madrid adds Reinier Jesus
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Barcelona and Real Madrid may be neck-and-neck in the short-term, but the Madrid side keeps landing stars for the bigger picture.

The latest add is Reinier Jesus, a $33 million price affixed to the teenage phenom from Brazilian side Flamengo. As Joel Soria wrote earlier this month, the victorious fee is around half of Reinier’s reported release clause.

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Marca brands the kid a physically-gifted player in the Kaka mold, which is lofty praise given the latter won a Ballon d’Or.

Reinier, an attacking midfielder, joins wingers Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior in forming a young Brazilian heart of the squad’s future.

Renieir, no relation to Man City forward Gabriel Jesus, turned 18 on Sunday. He is coming off six goals and two assists in 17 senior appearances for Flamengo and is expected to be one of the stars of Brazil’s Olympic qualifying fight, which is currently underway in Colombia.

That team, should they qualify, would be terrifying at full strength. Brazil could utilize Douglas Luiz, Rodrygo, Thiago Maia, Wendel, and Renan Lodi.

 

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Here are the latest Prince-Wright‘s Premier League picks ahead of Matchweek 24 in the Premier League, the midweek slate of games.

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If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

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With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Everton 2-0 Newcastle– (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 0-2 Watford – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 3-1 Norwich – (Wednesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Bournemouth 2-1 Brighton – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Leicester 1-1 West Ham – (Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Wolves 1-2 Liverpool – (Thursday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace 1-1 Southampton – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-2 Burnley – (Wednesday 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Sheffield United 2-1 Man City – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal – (Tuesday, 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM