Champions League Preview: Málaga’s one advantage over Borussia Dortmund

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Manuel Pellegrini has been here before: Seven years ago, when the current Málaga boss was leading another tournament debutant to a surprise Champions League run. Back in 2006 the debutant was Villarreal, with the Yellow Submarine tasked with derailing a characteristically talented Internazionale in the quarterfinal round. Turning around a 2-1 first leg loss at the San Siro, Villarreal used Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s looping 56th minute free kick and a clean sheet upset the Nerazzurri, launching the upstart Valencians into an improbable Champions League semifinal.

Squint until you can’t see the details, and Pellegrini’s current team looks awfully similar. This is Málaga’s club first appearance in Champions League, and like that Villarreal team, a star playmaker is at the center of its success: Juan Roman Riquelme back then; 20-year-old Isco now. With the likes of Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal and Solamon Rondón having departed over the last year, Málaga’s resembles the solid but superstar-light club team that eventually lost to Arsenal. And just as this Málaga team has Isco heading the underrated contributions of Willy Caballero, Jeremy Toulálán, and Weligton, Villarreal had only Riquelme and Diego Forlán to claim as star attractions.

But whether he’s had them or not, Pellegrini’s never needed those star attractions to have success. At Villarreal, Real Madrid, Málaga or his various stops in South America before jumping to Europe, Pellegrini’s teams have always been built on the same principles. Strong in possession but conservative with their chances, the Chilean’s teams have typically waited for opportunities present themselves. When they do, his sides act directly and with confidence. In that way, most of Pellegrini’s tactics are worked out on the training ground, his methods eschewing constant tweaks and adjustments in favor of a consistency that’s regularly produced competitive sides.

(MORE, from Tuesday: PSG-Barça inconclusive | Bayern illustrates the gap to Juventus.)

It’s why Pellegrini has won titles in three different leagues with four different clubs. It’s why his teams have always competed near the top of La Liga, even when his Villarreal and Málaga teams have been outgunned by their competition. It’s why former Chile international produced a then-club record 96-point season during his only campaign with Real Madrid.

It’s also why people may be taking his current team for granted in their quarterfinal with Borussia Dortmund, a tie that kicks of Wednesday in Spain. And given the three-year buildup that’s gone into this Dortmund team, it’s understandable. BVB has one of the most talented teams in Europe, and after two straight titles in Germany, there is a sense that the team’s Champions League time is now. Unless their opponent has the name value of Real, Barcelona, or Bayern, Dortmund is going to be favored to go through.

But that’s where Pellegrini’s experience matters, the Málaga coach having previous defied the odds. In 2006, his Yellow Submarine went up against a team with Adriano, Luis Figo, Esteban Cambiasso, Juan Sebastian Veron, Javier Zanetti, Marco Materazzi, Walter Samuel, and Julio Cruz. And he managed to move past them.

source: Getty ImagesSo Dortmund have Robert Lewandowski (right), who has scored 12 goals in his last 12 appearances. They have Mario Gotze and Marco Reus behind him, Ilkay Gundogan in midfield, with Neven Subotic and Lukasz Piszczek in defense. At almost every position, they have players who would best their Málaga counterparts.

But none of that guarantees Dortmund will go through. Between two teams with little Champions League experience in their squads, Málaga has one thing that BVB lacks: Someone who has been here before.

(MORE, Highlights: PSG-Barcelona | Bayern-Juventus.)

Notes

  • Borussia Dortmund will be without Mats Hummels, the central defender having yet to recover from his ankle injury. Felipe Santana will start along side Subotic.
  • Jakub Blaszczykowski could already return, the winger having been held out of Saturday’s game at Stuttgart after picking up an injury while with Poland.
  • Marcel Schmelzer and Sebastian Kehl should also be available despite knocks. Each with in the team on Saturday.
  • After Juventus lost on Tuesday, Dortmund are the only team without a loss in the year’s Champions League. Málaga have only lost once: Last round at Porto.
  • On Saturday, Pellegrini started Julio Baptista alone up top at Rayo Vallecano, hinting Roque Santa Cruz could get the call on Wednesday.
  • With only 28 goals allowed, Málaga have the second-best defensive record in Spain. In five matches at home in this year’s Champions League, Pellegrini’s side has kept four clean sheets.

(MORE: Gala looks for breakthrough at Real Madrid.)

Possible lineups

Málaga (4-4-2): Willy Caballero; Antunes, Weligton, Martín Demichelis, Jesús Gamez; Isco, Iturra, Jeremey Toulálán; Javier Saviola, Roque Santa Cruz.

Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Weidenfeller; Marcel Schmelzer, Felipe Santan, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek; Ilkay Gudongan, Sebastian Kehl; Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Jakub Blaszczykowski; Robert Lewandowski.

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

Premier League social media
@Wolves
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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.