Reaction to the Champions League semifinals draw

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Any combination of the teams in today’s Champions League semi-finals draw would have produced exciting match-ups.

It’s easy to argue that Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona are Europe’s three best teams. Because they are. As for Borussia Dortmund, they’re a distant second to Bayern in the German league and have scant recent history of European success, but play in one of the continent’s most atmospheric stadiums, have been excellent in this season’s tournament and Robert Lewandowski is one of the planet’s hottest strikers, with 15 goals in all competitions in 2013.

Plus, there’s the intrigue that comes from two German clubs and two Spanish sides in the last four. It’s increasingly tough to dispute that these days the Bundesliga and La Liga produce Europe’s finest teams. So which nation, which league, will prevail?

The ball-plucking from UEFA’s big bowl at their Swiss HQ earlier today paired Barcelona with Bayern and Real with Dortmund. Bayern, let’s not forget, will be managed next season by former Barcelona head coach, Pep Guardiola.

“It will be a big challenge,” said Barcelona technical director Andoni Zubizarreta on UEFA.com. “We will focus on what we know and what we can do, and how much we let them play. “I think we will see a lot of good football; it will be a semi-final played with great intensity which we will approach full of respect for our opponents – but with confidence too.”

Dortmund’s general manager, Hans-Joachim Watzke, is pleased to have avoided Bayern. “We are happy with this draw – not because we think it’s an easy one, but because the Champions League is an international competition and we wanted an international game rather than a national tie against Bayern,” he said.  Dortmund and Real met in the group stages, with the Germans winning 2-1 at home and drawing 2-2 at the Bernabeu. “I don’t think Madrid will be afraid because of what happened in the group stage. They will respect us, just like we will respect them,” Watzke said.

After those results, Real club ambassador Emilio Butragueno is wary: “We have a lot of respect for Borussia Dortmund. We played them twice but didn’t manage to beat them. This time we hope it will different as we want to be in the final, that’s what we are all dreaming of.”

Remarkably considering they are two of Europe’s powerhouses, Bayern and Barcelona have rarely met. On the last occasion, in 2008-09, the sides drew 1-1 in Bavaria after a 4-0 win for the Catalans in the first leg of the quarter-finals.

“We played them in 2009 and received a real thumping. I remember that game well and I don’t really like to think about it, because it was quite painful to watch. However, it’s a wonderful opportunity to show that we have improved a lot since then,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told UEFA.com.

“I think playing at home first is a slight advantage, contrary to the popular belief that it’s a disadvantage. We saw that against Juventus, where people said that it might be a disadvantage. But we produced a great performance at home and that set the stage for the return leg and our progression into the semi-finals. I’m really excited that we will get to play the best team in Europe. I still feel Barcelona are the big favorites to win the Champions League.”

Forster stars as 10-man Celtic beat Rangers, claim 10th-straight trophy

Photo by Jeff Holmes/PA Images via Getty Images
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At some point, Rangers supporters will be forgiven for thinking Celtic doesn’t have all the luck in Scotland.

The Bhoys, second best for most of the day, scored a 60th minute goal and then overcame a red card three minutes later to claim their 10th successive piece of Scottish silverware with a 1-0 win the Scottish League Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Celtic’s Chris Jullien prodded home a free kick before 18-year-old Jeremie Frimpong was sent off, and Rangers had already controlled the proceedings before seeing a 16-5 edge in shot attempts at the final whistle.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, the former Saints and Newcastle man, was outstanding in the win, even stopping an Alfredo Morelos penalty as the Rangers star failed to deliver.

From the BBC:

“It was just one of them days, it went my way today. I’m buzzing. There’s been days when it’s not gone my way, today it has. I can’t say how much it means to me. I didn’t really think about the penalty to be honest. I picked the way it went. I’ll take it.

“That’s why I came back; to play in games like this, to win silverware, to play European football.”

Rodgers: “Historic day” as Leicester City extends win streak

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Of course it’s early, but it looks like Leicester City is the Premier League’s lone bright hope of challenging Liverpool for the title.

And yeah, that’s a big deal, even after the Foxes claimed the most inexplicable title in top flight history just four seasons ago.

[ RECAP: Villa 1-4 Leicester City ]

But the Foxes remain leery about embracing their title credentials, even after setting a club record by winning their eight-straight via a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.

“I thought they were amazing,” said Brendan Rodgers. “It is a historical day for the club and the performance warranted that. It really does mean something special, it puts the team in the history books of Leicester City.”

Okay, but… just a little bit about the title fight, Brendan? No?

Perhaps goal scoring defender Jonny Evans would take the bait.

“We are up there and it shows we are playing well. Our performance was good, against one of the best Villa teams I faced in years. It shows we are capable of coming away and getting results. It is nice people are talking about us, we’re enjoying it and there’s great spirit in the club.”

Leicester is eight points back of first, the only team within 10 points of Liverpool. Man City is 14 back and Chelsea 17.

The Foxes host Norwich City before its next stretch of proving ground arrives via a League Cup quarterfinal at Everton prefaces league matches versus Man City and Liverpool.

Scrappy Sheffield United comes back to win again

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George Baldock had a goal and an assist as Sheffield United came back to beat poor Norwich City at Carrow Road on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Enda Stevens also scored for the Blades, who got back in the win column after a loss to Newcastle at midweek. United is eighth, the top of three teams on 22 points.

Alex Tettey scored Norwich’s lone goal, the Canaries locked in 19th and four points back of safety.


Three things we learned

1. Baldock’s banner day: The Blades dangerous right back loves to whip in a cross, and it’s no surprise he got his assist that way. He’s been quite lively around the box this year, and his turn and fire to make it 2-1 was a fitting finish given the 26-year-old’s day.

2. Basham gets VAR reprieve: Sometimes it’s not black and white, and you go to VAR, and VAR decides the shades of gray. Chris Basham was sent off for a vicious tackle on Kenny McLean, but the Sheffield United man saw VAR decide it wasn’t quite so dastardly and Blades continued with 10 men. A tough one if you’re a Norwich supporter.

3. Buendia stays bright: Norwich playmaker Emiliano Buendia is keeping the Canaries in games, the proverbial don’t write it, don’t write it, don’t write it canary in a coal mine. Five more key passes for Buendia to accompany more fine dribbling and a surprisingly good battle for a player as skillful as the 22-year-old Argentine.

Man of the Match: Baldock.


The Canaries went in front through Tettey inside a half-hour of kickoff, a corner dealt with poorly from the Blades that the Norwegian struck well for 1-0.

Norwich was good money for its halftime lead, with an 8-4 edge in shots, 53 percent of the ball, and six corners to the Blades’ zero.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Blades leveled things through Stevens, who headed in a Baldock cross before the assister became the scorer. The goal was no small ask, Baldock navigating the 18 to get off his shot.

Vardy, Iheanacho power 4-star Foxes past Villa

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Kelechi Iheanacho again collected a goal and an assist and Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester City punished Aston Villa in an entertaining 4-1 at Villa Park on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jonny Evans also scored for the Foxes, who maintain their place eight points behind leaders Liverpool.

Jack Grealish scored for Aston Villa, which stays ahead of 18th place on Southampton on goal differential.

Leicester City hosts Liverpool on Boxing Day, a date to circle on the calendar.


Three things we learned

1. Iheanacho emergence a new wrinkle: Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho was always lurking as a possible star during his time at Man City, but couldn’t break through and transferred to the King Power Stadium. Life hadn’t been easy at his new home, but a goal and an assist in consecutive Premier League fixtures can make a difference as Leicester hopes to challenge Liverpool. Resting Jamie Vardy on occasion without a big drop-off would be a potentially monumental development.

2. Vardy’s party a record bash: The 15th and 16th goals of Vardy’s PL run put him on pace for 38. That would be six better than Mohamed Salah‘s 38-game record and four better than the 42-game mark shared by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. Even when he makes mistakes, he finishes.

3. Hobbled Mings a big worry: Villa star center back Tyrone Mings pulled up with an injury but attempted to fight through it. Full credit to him, as he’s been the easy star of the newly-promoted side’s start to life in the Premier League, but an absence or step back from the block and clearance machine will be a major blow to Dean Smith‘s side.

Man of the Match: It’s between Vardy and Iheanacho — James Maddison was also good — and we’ll choose Vardy because we gave it to Iheanacho at midweek.


Kelechi Iheanacho slipped Vardy through on goal, and the Foxes striker nearly blew his chance despite dribbling the keeper.

Ezri Konsa would’ve liked to challenge Vardy following the unusual mis-touch, but the defender was felled by his own sliding keeper.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

After Anwar El Ghazi just missed a promising bid to equalize, Villa’s Bjorn Engels slid to break up a Vardy pass to a wide open Iheanacho.

The Nigerian got his goal in the 41st, a James Maddison cross deflected goal ward and off his leg for 2-0.

Grealish bounced a shot through traffic and inside the far post after Vardy couldn’t clear a corner kick.

Leicester needed less than four second half minutes to restore its two-goal advantage, the unmarked Evans perfectly placing a back post header across goal off a corner kick.