Dominant Bayern Munich expose gap between themselves, Juventus

Leave a comment

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.

Chicharito says Mexican team “always feels welcome” in the United States

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mexico will take on Wales on Monday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA as they warm up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Playing in the United States is nothing new for the USMNT’s southern neighbors, and it doesn’t phase them. In fact, they love it.

Star striker Chicharito told reporters that he and the rest of the squad is more than happy playing north of the border, because according to him, apart from a pair of venues, they can’t even tell they’re on the road.

“We always feel welcome here,” Chicharito said. “It’s like our second country, if we can say that, apart from Columbus [Ohio] and apart from the stadium in Miami when we played Colombia…those two stadiums, that’s the only time I’ve felt that we were the away team.”

Chicharito knows that the high population of his countrymen and women in the United States helps the Mexican team feel close to home when they play over the border. He’s all for the melting pot of the US.

“We feel at home [in the United States],” Chicharito said. “We have plenty of Mexicans here, so I don’t know what else to tell you, we feel welcome, we feel glad, happy to be in touch with those people here. They are sacrificing a lot of things, and they are all enjoying their lives that they decide to live in the USA…it’s great. It’s great when you come to another country and you feel like you are home. You see all the stadium green, shouting and screaming your names, screaming your goals, so yeah, it’s great.”

Mexico will play Wales on Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET, and will return home to take on Scotland at Azteca on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

England international Delph expecting child in middle of World Cup

Getty Images
Leave a comment

England international Fabian Delph could face quite the dilemma if England advances past the group stage of the World Cup.

Delph’s wife Natalie is expecting the couple’s third child on June 30, which is two days after their pivotal group stage match against Belgium, and two days before the squad would take the field July 1 for its Round of 16 game should they win Group G. If they finish second in the group, they would play their Round of 16 game on July 3.

When asked what his plans are, Delph joked that his wife would manage on her own. “She’s tough, she’s a Yorkshire lass so she’ll deal with it,” Delph said with a smile.

He then coughed up the truth: they’re not quite sure what the plan is.

“We’re not 100% certain, with a game on the 28th there might be an opportunity to fly back and then get back fast,” he said. “[England manager] Gareth [Southgate] has been fantastic. There’s nothing more important than family to me – family always comes first and always will.”

There’s another dilemma that Southgate must navigate involving Delph. The 28-year-old is a natural winger, but played wing-back in Pep Guardiola‘s title-winning system for much of the year and saw a massive uptick in form in the new role, playing in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy. Southgate must decide where he wants to deploy Delph – if at all – and if he wishes to fit his formation and tactics to mold Delph’s season under Guardiola.

Authorities drop assault charges against Hope Solo

Getty Images
Leave a comment

KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) — Prosecutors in Washington state have dropped domestic violence charges against former U.S. national team star goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Solo was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault in 2014 after police said she assaulted two family members at a home in Kirkland, east of Seattle. The case was delayed by appeals.

KING-TV reports that city prosecutors dropped the charges Wednesday, saying the witnesses in the case wanted to move on with their lives and did not want to participate in a trial. An attorney for Kirkland, Melissa Osman, wrote in court documents that the circumstances were unlikely to be repeated.

The longtime national team goalkeeper and two-time Olympic gold medalist recently ran unsuccessfully for president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. She has called for equal pay and equal treatment for the U.S. women’s team.

Mark Hughes signs new long-term contract at Southampton

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mark Hughes has gone from Stoke City outcast to Southampton savior in little under six months time.

The Welsh boss was let go from Stoke City with the Potters 18th in the table and headed towards eventual relegation, but he was picked up by fellow relegation candidates Southampton after the departure of Mauricio Pellegrino. He steered the club to safety, finishing three points above the drop in 17th.

With the Saints in the top flight for another season, the club has announced the signing of Hughes to a new three-year contract.

“Mark, Eddie and I are thrilled to have signed long-term contracts with the club. It was the only option we considered, having spent the last eight weeks with the club,” Hughes said of himself and his assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. “Now it is vital that we take the unbelievable support we received from the fans during the last few games into next season. The staff and the players will work hard every day to deliver the success this club deserves, and with everyone pulling together we will achieve our goals.”

Hughes guided Stoke City to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, the highest the club had ever finished in the English top flight, but they finished 13th last year and regressed even further this campaign. The sale of playmaker Marko Arnautovic was particularly damaging, and the club scored just 35 goals in 38 games as a result.

At Southampton, Hughes took over a club that sat in 17th with just eight matches to go. He lost three Premier League games in a row to start his tenure and only won two league matches with Saints the rest of the way, but managed to keep the club barely afloat.