Borussia Dortmund rout Real Madrid, continue Germany’s European ascent

1 Comment

On the shoulders of a 24-year-old Polish international, Germany reached the apex of European soccer, and while we’d normally wait until a country has actually claimed the trophy before entertaining such hasty conclusions, four goals from Robert Lewandowski force even the most ardent La Liga fan to face reality. After today’s 4-1 win over Real Madrid opened what’s now a dead semifinal, there’s no doubt one of Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich will claim this year’s title, with the clubs destined to meet at Wembley on May 25.

[MORE: Bayern Munich embarrass Barcelona]

After 45 minutes, today’s match looked like an actual contest, a refreshing change from yesterday’s 4-0 rout. BVB and Real Madrid started today’s second half tied at one, with an early goal from Lewandowski pulling his side even just before half time. With the visitors having deflated a soaring Dortmund start, Madrid looked well-position to survive the night.

But the second half was as lopsided as yesterday’s Bayern-Barça affair. Real Madrid never threatened, putting only two shots toward Roman Weidenfeller between the 46th and 88th minutes. In that time, Lewandowski scored three times and had a potential overall fifth goal denied by a diving Diego Lopez. By the time José Mourinho made his second half adjustments, the tie was over. Dortmund was up 4-1 in the 66th minute.

For a team that almost cut it too close in the quarterfinals, it was resounding evidence of a lesson learned. Today’s performance showed a group cognizant of the stakes, unwilling to let their Champions League inexperience lure them to an edge they’d already faced.

Dortmund crushed Real Madrid, and while the Merengues road goal leaves them with more life than their Spanish rivals, Real needs a category five storm to bring the sea change that will turn this match.

[MORE: Video of all four Robert Lewandowski goals]

Palpable power of the two attacks

From the opening kickoff, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s instantaneous dash down Real Madrid’s left flank, you sensed the power of two attacks – a force clumsily pried at with long-shanked screwdrivers before an explosive release. As Borussia Dortmund started their forays forward, you could imagine the exasperation a monstrous, athletic Madrid defense would feel after 90 minutes spent chasing BVB’s pacey attackers. And at the other end, you knew it was only a matter of time before a talented but mistake-prone Dortmund defense scuffed their flatheads and cracked themselves open.

But it was the home team that made their mark first. In the seventh minute, Marco Reus took the ball just inside his own half and turned toward an abandoned Real defense. In front of Madrid’s hasty retreat, Reus cut across Pepe and moved to the right of goal, forcing a diving save from Lopez. The keeper’s block sent the ball to the far post where Lewandowski, unable to temper his own momentum, overran the ball before sending it out for a goal kick.

It was a harbinger of what was to come. One minute later, Mario Götze’s cross from the left found the small, back post window where Lewandowski, at full extension, got his right foot beyond Pepe’s. Opening what was destined to be a historic day, Lewandowski deflected the ball inside Diego Lopez’s left post for the opener.

[MORE: Players, coaches react after Dortmund-Madrid]

source: Getty ImagesA period of calm and potential

If you stopped the clock at the eight-minute mark, you could have predicted the final score on form alone, yet over the course the half’s remaining 37 minutes, Real Madrid found a grasp on the game. After a couple of moments of consciously settling – passes along the back and through the middle establishing a modicum of control – the visitors started pushing the Dortmund defense, losing early challenges at the feet of a BVB phalanx entrenched at the edge of the penalty area.

The fouls came, leaving Real Madrid with set pieces and little else. Easy clearances of low percentage chances kept Dortmund in control.

Soon Dortmund found their counterattacking verve. In the 32nd minute, Jakub Blaszczykowski had a chance. Moments later, it was  Reus. Near the 40-minute mark, the roar of an appellate crowd begged that a non-foul from Raphael Varane be allowed to send the home side to the spot. It was waved off.

Moments later, Real Madrid were back in the game, and in predictable fashion. For as much acclaim as Mats Hummels has gained over the last three years, the German international remains remarkably mistake-prone for an elite defender. He’s pathetic backpass in the 43rd minute allowed Gonzalo Higuaín to go in alone on goal from 32 yards out. Drawing out Weidenfeller, the Argentine played across the area for Cristiano Ronaldo, creating the star’s 12th goal of the campaign.

[MORE: Highlights, Bayern-Barcelona]

Another wakeup call received

Just as their close call in the quarterfinals forced Borussia Dortmund to take inventory, Hummels’ mistake was a wakeup call. Halftime gave Jurgen Klopp’s side 15 minutes to answer, realizing the threat of goals was no good if they were still going to go to halftime tied 1-1. This was Málaga all over again.

In the 50th minute, a disorganized back line that saw Pepe late to push up allowed BVB to find Lewandowski onside nine yards from goal. Right foot trap, plant, turn, and Lewandowski had an easy finish from just outside Lopez’s six-yard box. Sergio Ramos immediately sprinted from his right back spot and appealed to the assistant, but it was no use. The flag stayed down (the right call), and Lewandowski had his second.

Five minutes later, Dortmund had another. A cross from the right was deflected through the box, allowing left back Marcel Schmelzer to blast a cross back into the area. A deflection slowed the ball down enough for Lewandoski to turn and finish into the top of Lopez’s net, making it 3-1.

With no letup from Dortmund, another goal seemed as inevitable as it was vital. With a two-goal lead going into the Bernabeu, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Real Madrid sending BVB out with a 2-0. A three-goal lead, however, feels different. A 3-0 loss is far more preventable.

That’s the result Real Madrid will need after their mistake gifted Lewandowski a record goal. In the 67th minute, Xabi Alonso blew threw the back of Reus as the BVB attacker waited in the right of the area to play a ball. The obvious penalty gave Lewandowski his fourth goal of the night, converting through the middle as Lopez dove to the right.

Nobody had ever scored four in a Champions League semifinal. Lewandowski did it in 66 minutes. Real Madrid had never given up that many to an opponent in European play. After tonight’s semifinal, Lewandowski stands alone in that record book.

[MORE: Players, coaches react after Bayern-Barcelona]

Changes that just didn’t work

Real Madrid were forced into two major changes, neither of which worked.

The suspension of Alvaro Arbeloa moved Sergio Ramos to right back, leaving Varane and Pepe to start in central defense. With Reus playing through the middle (while Götze went wide), Real Madrid’s fastest defender was unable to help against a pacey attacker who constantly broke down the Merengues defense. If you’re making a list of tactical battles won, the switch of Götze and Reus goes down in Klopp’s favor.

The insertion of Luka Modric also flopped. With Angel Di Maria out (having arrived late from Spain after he and his wife welcomed a child), José Mourinho elected to move Mesut Ozil wide and start Modric in the middle. The result decreased Ozil’s influence, exposed Modric’s defensive weaknesses, and left Ramos with little help on Götze.

As was the case yesterday, we’re left asking what more the Spanish team could have done. Perhaps Mourinho could have kept Ramos in the middle (starting Michael Essien) and chose Jose Callejon over Modric, but it’s hard to see those choices working any better. Dortmund’s advantages  – their speed, precision, and cohesion – transcended Mourinho’s countermeasures. They weren’t going to be stopped by Michael Essian or Jose Callejon. It was going to take a stellar performance from Real Madrid, and in the face of a standout effort from their hosts, the Merengues were left tamed, flustered, and all but eliminated.

Bundesliga preview, schedule, predictions: Week 28

Bundesliga preview and predictions
Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s a massive derby on Tuesday, with fans of drama likely rooting for a draw or Bayern Munich loss.

That’s because Bayern’s chase for an eighth-straight title was looking like a several horse race for a long time, as Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, and Borussia Monchengladbach all keeping first from the reigning champs at points this season.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Bayern has found its groove under Hansi Flick and now boasts a four-point lead on Tuesday hosts Dortmund, who have 57 points, and a seven-point advantage on the field.

The next three teams would all consider the title chance real with a Dortmund win or draw, as Leipzig, Gladbach, and Bayer Leverkusen are on 54, 53, and 52 points.

[ MORE: USMNT stars in Bundesliga midweek ]

Bayern still faces Gladbach and Bayer, so a loss really shakes things up.

Below is a look at the Bundesliga schedule for this week, as you can check out the full schedulestandings and find out how to watch the action.

Let’s get onto the predictions.

Tuesday

Borussia Dortmund v. Bayern Munich — 12:30 p.m. ET

Der Klassiker has been kind to the home sides in recent seasons and there’s no example more fitting than Bayern’s absolute demolition of Dortmund at the Allianz Arena in November.

That was Hansi Flick’s first time head-to-head with BVB and manager Lucien Favre, the 55-year-old’s only prior head coaching experience coming with Hoffenheim when the now-Bundesliga side was in the Oberliga and Regionalliga.

It went well.

The bad news for Dortmund in addition to the 4-0 hanging its rearview mirror is that this home match is behind closed doors and won’t have the magnificent Yellow Wall looming over the visitors.

BVB and Bayern have swapped wins over their last four outings, including the German Super Cup earlier this year. And no teams in the league can boast the successes of

Dortmund is 9W-1L since returning from Winterpause and Bayern’s fine form extends well beyond the calendar’s change. Flick’s men have 12 wins and a draw since back-to-back losses to Bayer and Gladbach.

Whether Dortmund can win this will depend a lot on who’s available for the Starting XI. Mats Hummels limped off at halftime at the weekend and is in contention to play. Even though his last derby was poor, Dortmund is better with him than without him. Jadon Sancho was a sub on Saturday and is possibly the most complete playmaker between the two rosters including Robert Lewandowski. Axel Witsel may also be ready.

If Sancho and either Hummels or Witsel can go, we’ll expect Dortmund to collect a thrilling 3-2 win. Bayern’s defending was unsatisfactory in a weekend win over Eintracht, especially on set piece, and Erling Haaland is better than anything Bayern saw on Sunday. Still with questions about Sancho’s fitness, we’ll pick an entertaining 2-2 draw.

As Bayern’s Thomas Muller and Dortmund’s Michael Zorc will tell you, there’s no one ignorant of the meaning of this rivalry and this match. We can hardly wait.

Werder Bremen v. Borussia Monchengladbach — 2:30 p.m. ET

Bremen’s terrible fixture run to end the season continues, but perhaps they’ve found some momentum in a VAR-aided win over scrappy Freiburg? USMNT forward Josh Sargent started that game and will hope for another run as his goal-shy side has only one player, Milot Rashica, with 10 or more goals. It’ll take more than one to get all the points against Gladbach, a potent offense even when it isn’t facing a defense like Bremen’s 59-goal conceders. 3-1 Gladbach.

Eintracht Frankfurt v. Freiburg — 2:30 p.m. ET

Eintracht found chances against Bayern; It just couldn’t stop the Bavarians. Tuesday’s hosts have now shipped 18 goals during a five-match losing streak and sit four points clear of the relegation danger, albeit with a match-in-hand. Freiburg is in the thick of the Europa League picture despite a letdown of a loss to Bremen. They may find the woes extend into Frankfurt, though, in a 1-0 Eintracht win.

Bayer Leverkusen v. Wolfsburg — 2:30 p.m. ET

The best of the late kickoffs has red-hot Kai Havertz and Bayer, who has scored seven goals in two matches since returning from the coronavirus pause. Havertz has four of those, and he’s been all over the final third in building up his resume. Wolfsburg slipped against Dortmund but a lot of teams do that. Bayer boss Peter Bosz will make a lot of believers if he delivers back-to-back wins over Gladbach and Wolfsburg, who sits sixth. He does, just. Bayer 2-1.

Bundesliga preview and predictions
Maximilian Arnold of Wolfsburg (front) and Havertz (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images)

Wednesday

RB Leipzig v. Hertha Berlin — 12:30 p.m. ET

Hertha built on its win over Hoffenheim by clobbering Union in the Berlin derby, as Bruno Labbadia has coaxed physical, advantageous performances out of his team against very different opponents. Leipzig is different gravy, though, having rebounded from a draw with Freiburg to bury Mainz 5-0. Dayot Upamecano has looked strong in returning from the coronavirus pause and Leipzig allows very little, anyway. On paper there aren’t any results you’d expect more than three points from the league’s third-place side. Leipzig 2-0.

Augsburg v. Paderborn — 2:30 p.m. ET

The hosts are riding high after moving six points clear of the bottom three and can essentially seal safety by beating 18th-place Paderborn. The basement dwellers have drawn both of their matches since returning and won’t be a pushover. Paderborn’s picked up away points six times compared to just four results at home. This one’s a toss-up. 1-1 draw.

Union Berlin v. Mainz — 2:30 p.m. ET

Expect ornery play from both sides as Union’s dreadful derby was met by Mainz allowing a quintet of goals to Leipzig. Union has dropped to within six points of the bottom three and Mainz can join their hosts on 30 points with a win. Mainz allows a ton of goals and Union’s amongst the Bundesliga’s worst at producing them. Both sides have fared well against fellow bottom sides of late. What’s going to give? Union gets by at home 2-1.

Hoffenheim v. Koln — 2:30 p.m. ET

The hosts have dropped back-to-back matches and now sit three points back of sixth while Koln have taken points from successive 2-2 draws and will feel momentum having scored twice late to grab a point from Fortuna Dusseldorf. Hoffenheim has just three points from its last 21 available to it and has lost eight times at home. Given their talent and reputation you’d say that indicates an end should be in sight. We’re not so sure. Koln 1-0.

Fortuna Dusseldorf v. Schalke — 2:30 p.m. ET

Schalke can’t win and doesn’t score. David Wagner’s men haven’t won since the first match after Winterpause, collecting just four points from nine outings and scoring twice. Wagner cannot find anyone to put the ball in the back of the goal yet somehow Schalke have only dropped two points back of sixth and are level on points with seventh-place Freiburg. Tuesday’s hosts thought they had a potentially season-saving win on Sunday but threw it away to draw 2-2. On the bright side, American midfielder Weston McKennie has been active and one of the club’s lone bright spots in twin blowout losses after the pause. He showed delightful vision and touch in particular on a long pass that could’ve set Rabbi Matondo up for glory against Augsburg. Maybe he’s a difference maker Tuesday and maybe we don’t want to predict any nil-nils. Schalke 1-0.

Americans Abroad
(Photo by Martin Meissner/Pool via Getty Images)

Bayern, Dortmund ready for monumental Klassiker

Der Klassiker preview
Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc is a living legend for the black and yellow side, a one-club man who’s distaste for Bayern runs deep.

Zorc knows Der Klassiker as well as anyone, and Tuesday’s 12:30 p.m. ET derby in Dortmund could be a veritable title decider.

While his league derby successes as a player weren’t many, Zorc was part of some of Dortmund’s most memorable Klassiker wins, including the 1998 Champions League quarterfinal, a German Cup, and a German Super Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news ]

And with so much of the world still in isolation, there’s a spotlight on this derby more than any other since Bayern beat Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League Final.

“Every football fan in Germany is looking forward to this match,” Zorc said of the occasion, later adding that “We must believe in ourselves and not make any cheap mistakes in possession. … We need to ride out the spells in which Bayern are dominant. We’ll need to defend very well together as a team and be aware of our own qualities going forward. We can always score goals against them. And we can beat them”

Bayern star Thomas Muller feels the import of the occasion and momentum for both clubs.

Experiencing a resurgent season with a league-best 17 league assists, Muller is aware that growing Bayern’s table advantage to seven with a win in Dortmund would put the Bavarians on the precipice of an eighth-straight Bundesliga crown.

“We are marching, Dortmund is marching, we can look forward to Tuesday,” Muller said, via Bild. “I hope that we can show what makes us strong and that in the end we will leave the Dortmund stadium with a smile. But it will be hard work.”

The last away win in this derby came seven matches ago, a 3-1 Bayern win at the Westfalenstadion on Nov. 4, 2017. Will Bayern do it again, taking a seven-point lead on all chasers regardless of what happens on Tuesday and Wednesday around the league?

Lyon asks French prime minister to reconsider early end of Ligue 1 season

Lyon Ligue 1
Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images
1 Comment

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas is asking French authorities to backpedal on their decision to end the football season prematurely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The men’s league was canceled four weeks ago with 10 rounds remaining, Paris Saint-Germain declared champion, and Lyon finished outside the European places in seventh.

In a letter on Monday to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, Aulas argued the premature conclusion of the season will have catastrophic consequences for French clubs, which could face losses of “700 to 900” million euros ($760 million to $980 million).

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Alongside Amiens and Toulouse – the two clubs demoted to the second division – Lyon took action against the league decision but their case was thrown out last week by a Paris administrative court. Lyon now wants France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, to issue a ruling on the matter.

In the letter, Aulas said the fact that the French league was the only one among the seven biggest European leagues to opt for an early end should convince authorities to reconsider their move.

In Europe, the Dutch and Belgian leagues have also ended their 2019-20 seasons early.

Aulas has argued for the French league to be given a chance to be completed by late August with a temporary playoff system, but with PSG staying the champion given its large lead before play was stopped.

“The Bundesliga resumed matches on May 16, Spain will resume matches on June 8. Italy, Russia and Portugal have resumed collective training and England is working on a resumption after June 19,” Aulas wrote. “How can France not be downgraded very quickly and see its professional football devalued?”

On June 2, the French government is expected to make further announcements related to France’s lockdown exit strategy.

“Many developments and hopes are expected on this date, so that France can gradually regain a good dynamic,” Aulas said. “Could we imagine that June 2 is also a great opportunity to rectify the mistake concerning French football and to allow, with a health protocol used everywhere, to give the starting point for a gradual resumption of training (in June) and, why not, a resumption of the 2019-2020 season over the months of July or August?”

Lyon, meanwhile, still hopes to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League after beating Italian champion Juventus 1-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 match on Feb. 26. The return leg in Turin was suspended.

Transfer news: Jimenez, Coutinho to Arsenal; Higuain to Wolves

Jimenez
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The latest transfer news has linked both Raul Jimenez and Phillipe Coutinho with moves to Arsenal, while Gonzalo Higuain has been linked with Wolves and Newcastle.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, Arsenal are once again front and center as Raul Jimenez has been linked with a move to the Gunners, as both Man United and Real Madrid are said to be chasing the Mexico star.

Per a report from Tuttosport in Italy, Jimenez is said to be valued at $70 million, which seems a little low even though he’s 29 years old. Juventus and Barcelona are also said to be interested in the Mexican striker but how could Arsenal afford him?

If they offload Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (who has one year left on his current contract) this summer then it’s possible. Add in that Alexandre Lacazette could also be leaving Arsenal and Mikel Arteta will have two big earners off the wage bill and will need some attacking reinfrocements.

Jimenez has said he’s happy at Wolves for now and even though he is a hero at Molineux with 39 goals in 88 games in all competitions over the last season, this summer would be the perfect time to cash in.

Talking about that, a report from the Daily Express claims that Wolves are interested in signing Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus.

Okay, Wolves fans probably aren’t going to be overjoyed with this given the fact that Higuain struggled badly during a loan spell at Chelsea. However, in the right system he can still deliver goals and the 32-year-old has scored 303 goals in 630 appearances throughout his career.

Higuain holding the ball up and getting on the end of crosses from Diogo Jota and Adama Traore makes sense. He’s similar to Jimenez, but less mobile, and even though Newcastle are said to be interested in Higuain, it appears Wolves would be the frontrunners for the Argentine striker and he would be a good back-up option to Jimenez if he does stay at Wolves. River Plate and a potential move to MLS are also options for Higuain.

Coutinho
Getty Images

Rounding off the transfer news, Arsenal are said to be in talks with the agent of Philippe Coutinho, Kai Joorabchian.

Coutinho, 27, is currently on loan at Bayern Munich from Barcelona but the Bavarian giants will not be spending big to sign him permanently. That is where Arsenal come in as a report from Le 10 Sport says that Mikel Arteta wants to add Coutinho on loan.

Per the report, Arteta is keen on Coutinho being central to his rebuild of the Gunners and if he’s available on loan, it may be his best option of regular minutes in the Premier League. A return to Liverpool seems very unlikely, while Chelsea are reportedly interested but they have a host of attacking options and Frank Lampard seems to prefer his younger stars.

If the finances align, Coutinho to Arsenal is a very good deal for everyone. He can rip it up in the Premier League and if it is a loan deal, what do Arsenal have to lose here?