Champions League preview: Borussia Dortmund will not face the same Real Madrid

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Wednesday’s match at the Westfalenstadion marks the third of four times Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid will meet this season – exactly four times more than the reigning Bundesliga and La Liga champions usually meet each year. Before meeting in group stage, the two clubs hadn’t played a competitive match since 2003, when a 1-1 draw in Dortmund allowed the Merengues to move past BVB and into the Champions League quarterfinals.

This latest meeting is the first leg of the teams’ UEFA Champions League semifinal, a match set to build on the two games the sides played in group stage. Taking four points from Real Madrid, BVB used the Spanish titans to establish their Champions League bonafides, putting last year’s disappointment behind them as they claimed first in the group.

Unfortunately for Jurgen Klopp’s team, a number of things have changed since the teams met last fall, none of which augur well for his young team’s chances:

Real Madrid rebuilt

Looking back on the fall, Real Madrid seemed like a team that needed a rest. Playing below expectations both domestically and in Europe, los Blancos were putting their boss’s job in jeopardy. José Mourinho needed to shake things up.

What followed were two months of The Special One challenging Madrid player power. Conflicts with Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos saw the captain dropped and the defense’s leader temporarily lose time, with Mourinho throwing Real’s dressing room into upheaval. When the team was reformed, Diego Lopez was in goal, Raphael Varane was getting some of Pepe’s time in defense, and Real Madrid had a team capable of eliminating Manchester United in the quarters.

They’re much stronger now than when the teams last met: a 2-2 draw on Nov. 6 at the Bernabeu.

“The four goals we conceded against Dortmund in the group stage were all our mistakes,” Mourinho explained on Tuesday. “Should we concede again in these two games, I hope it would be because of fantastic and unstoppable goals, not ones created by our mistakes.”

Dortmund’s close call

BVB needed one of the biggest Champions League comebacks ever to make it to the semifinals, with two-second leg stoppage time goals allowing them to eliminate Málaga. Against an experienced coach employing a pragmatic approach, Dortmund nearly allowed themselves to be eliminated on home soil, and while those descriptions also apply to José Mourinho’s team, Málaga aren’t Real Madrid. They’re nowhere near their level.

There are two ways to interpret what happened in the quarterfinals:

  • One: BVB still have a lot to learn on their way to being European elite. Málaga’s performance illustrated just how far they have to go.
  • Two: The close call will serve as a type of end of innocence, educating Klopp’s side to the commitment required to navigate Champions League.

Option two seems much more likely. Borussia Dortmund have to know they can’t play as bad as they did against Málaga and expect to eliminate Real Madrid. Whether they truly realize the task at hand, however, is another question entirely.

source: Getty ImagesMario Gotze: Distraction

Borussia Dortmund tried to keep Götze’s impending move under wraps, but when German outlet Bild learned the news, BVB had to fess up. One day before their first leg against Madrid, the club was forced to confirm their best player would be leaving for a rival on July 1.

“On a scale of one to ten [news of Götze’s transfer on the eve of the game] would be a nine,” Klopp admitted on Tuesday. “The only way the timing could have been worse would have been if it came four hours before the match.”

There’s no way this isn’t a major distraction. Klopp’s conceding as much. The Götze affair can be overcome or put into perspective, but a team doesn’t learn about the departure of a key talent and just set that aside. You can’t just pretend that doesn’t exist.

For a squad of players who’ve never been this far in Champions League, this is another obstacle that could potentially derail them. Klopp:

Everyone should support the team tomorrow, no matter what – Real Madrid cannot capitalise on this. If someone does not understand how much heart has gone into getting this far, they should not come. Those who understand will support the team unconditionally. Our fans have reacted extremely well in extreme situations in the past. I think that will be the case again.

Now or never for Real

Mourinho was brought in to win the decima – Real Madrid’s 10th European title – and with it all but guaranteed he’ll move on after this season, it’s now or never for this group of players. They either claim the title and bring to fruition the hopes Florentino Perez fostered when he started spending four years ago, or they fall and light the fuse on a project that will be blown up.

All of which is to say the stakes are much higher now than they were in November. Then, Real Madrid knew they would get through group stage one way or another, and having taken two teams from second place group finishes to Champions League titles (Porto 2003-04, Internazionale 2009-10), José Mourinho knows early stage stumbles don’t have to derail a campaign.

He also knows when to have his team turn it up. With his time at Real Madrid to be defined by these next three Champions League matches, the Merengues will be at their best.

“When I joined this club, it was already very successful,” Mourinho explained, “but we were not among the top seeds. The club has been developed. Madrid are one of those clubs where finishing second counts for nothing – so we have to reach the final and win.”

Notes

  • Real Madrid come into the match off a 3-1 Saturday win over visiting Real Betis.
  • Dortmund led the entire way against visiting Mainz, a first minute goal from Marco Reus spurring BVB to a 2-0 win.
  • Neither team has any injury concerns that will affect their starting XIs, with the only absence likely to be on the Real Madrid side. Alvaro Arbeloa is suspended after picking up a late yellow card in the second leg against Galatasaray.
  • Robert Lewandowski extended his club record scoring streak on Saturday, recording a goal in his 12th straight Bundesliga match.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo comes into the game as the competition’s leading scorer with 11 goals in 10 games. His 50 all-competition goals mark the third straight year the Portuguese has hit the half-century mark.

Possible lineups

Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Weindenfeller; Marcel Schmeltzer, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Pisczcek; Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender; Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Jakub Blaszczykowski.

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego Lopez; Fabio Coentrao, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Michael Essien; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria; Karim Benzema.

Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29

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The return of German soccer has been hugely successful and the Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29 is locked and loaded.

Dust off your lederhosen, fill that stein to the brim and make sure you know which young American stars to keep an eye on. Live sports is back.

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Bayern Munich are top of the table with a seven-point lead after their big win at Borussia Dortmund, while RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach have all dropped points as their title bids have faltered.

Given that Bayern look likely to secure an eighth-straight title, there is an epic scramble for European qualification. The top four in Germany qualify automatically for the UEFA Champions League group stage and that means one of the five teams mentioned above as title contenders will miss out, while Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin are surging and Schalke and Freiburg have struggled in the Europa League spot.

Below is the full Bundesliga schedule for this week, as the fourth round of games to restart the campaign is a beauty.

Bundesliga schedule

Friday, May 29

2:30 p.m. ET: Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen

Saturday, May 30

9:30 a.m. ET: Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg
9:30 a.m. ET: Mainz v. Hoffenheim
9:30 a.m. ET: Schalke v. Werder Bremen
9:30 a.m. ET: Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt
12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf

Sunday, May 31

9:30 a.m. ET: Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin
12 p.m. ET: Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund

Monday, June 1

2:30 p.m. ET: Cologne v. RB Leipzig

Barcelona ready to sell six players this summer

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According to the latest news out of Barcelona, the Catalan giants are ready to rework their squad and want to sell up to six players to fuel their transfer plans.

Those players being sold are Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets… just kidding. Of course not.

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According to a report from the Daily Mirror, Barca have made Rafinha, Arturo Vidal, Jean-Clair Todibo, Nelson Semedo, Junior Firpo and Moussa Wague available for permanent transfers. Wague is currently on loan at Nice, while Todibo is on loan at Schalke and Rafinha at Celta Vigo. Ousmane Dembele is another player who has been consistently linked with a move away from the Nou Camp too, as he continues to be hampered by injuries.

Why the huge exodus? It is believed Barcelona want to sign Lautaro Martinez from Inter Milan and Miralem Pjanic from Juventus to spruce up their squad under relatively new manager Quique Setien, who only arrived in mid-January.

It is believed Inter boss Antonio Conte is a big fan of Vidal, but any deal for the Chilean midfielder would reportedly be separate for a deal for Martinez. The Argentine striker has been sensational for the Italian giants so far this season and is said to have been in close contact with Messi about a move to Barcelona.

As for Pjanic’s potential arrival, what does that mean for Ivan Rakitic? He has just one year left on his current Barcelona contract and seems relaxed about his future but Pjanic plays in a very similar position to the Croatian playmaker.

One thing is for sure, Barcelona need to freshen up this squad and there is plenty of transfer news floating around when it comes to ins and outs. They are just ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and Real have certainly had a huge overhaul over the last 12 months with Vinicius Jr., Eden Hazard, Brahim Diaz, Ferland Mendy, Rodrygo and Luka Jovic all arriving at different times.

Barcelona’s old guard remains intact with Messi, Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba as instrumental as ever but there’s no doubt Setien will want to strengthen his squad as they aim for Spanish and European glory next season and beyond.

With plenty of talk about Barcelona’s financial situation and the huge contracts that Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann in particular have, offloading this many players suggests they have to cut their cloth accordingly in order to bring in top talent.

Setien will be hoping he can offload as many players as possible reshape this Barcelona squad which is still incredibly talented but has a few glaring needs.

Premier League to restart on June 17

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Our partners in the UK, Sky Sports, have confirmed that the 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17.

The Premier League is holding in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs on Thursday to determine the potential restart date, among many other matters, and June 17 has emerged as the date games will return.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

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Multiple reports claim that clubs and the league have agreed that from June 17 games can resume, which is five days later than the original placeholder date suggested last month. It has been reported the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, could be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played, then the rest of the games would kick off on June 19-21.

It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

Other reports suggest that a sticking point remains neutral stadiums as police forces in the UK want certain high-profile games to be played at neutral stadiums over fears of fans congregating outside home stadiums. However, it is believed the majority of games could be played at home stadiums as normal.

More details will no doubt filter out in the coming hours, while the meeting is also set to discuss the plan for possible curtailment if playing the remaining games of the 2019-20 season is not possible. The schedule for how games will be played will also be discussed, with five games back-to-back on both Saturday and Sunday reported as a possibility.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, with contact training now allowed after a return to small-group training was a success.

The third round of COVID-19 testing saw a slight rise in positive tests compared to the last, as a total of 2,752 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out on Premier League players and staff with a total of 12 positive results.

All 20 Premier League clubs have agreed to return to contact training in stage two of the ‘Project Restart’ plan, as the Premier League’s main focus is to agree on a restart date that managers and players can now focus on.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith’s father dies of COVID-19

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Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has lost his father, Ron, who died at the age of 79 after contracting COVID-19.

Ron Smith was a lifelong Aston Villa fan who worked at Villa Park as a steward and passed on his love of the club to Dean and the rest of his family.

The Premier League club released the following statement honoring Smith.

“The Aston Villa Family are saddened to announce that Ron Smith, the father of our current head coach Dean, has passed away at the age of 79.

“Ron, who had recently been living in a care home after being diagnosed with dementia six years ago, contracted coronavirus four weeks ago and after a short spell in hospital passed away with his family at his side.

“A lifelong supporter, Ron was a steward at Villa Park for many years and passed on his love of the club down to his children. As well as being a regular at home games, Ron was also there to witness that greatest of days in May 1982 when Villa lifted the European Cup in Rotterdam.

“The thoughts of everyone at the football club are currently with Dean and his family at this most distressing of times and would kindly ask for the family’s privacy to be respected.”

Dean Smith is a hardcore Aston Villa fan and the fact he joined them midway through last season and got them promoted back to the Premier League via the playoffs was a hugely emotional moment for the former Walsall and Brentford manager.

He has spoken candidly in the past about his close relationship with his father and the impact dementia had on his dad. Last summer Dean Smith revealed this story before he led their beloved Aston Villa to promotion back to the Premier League.

“I went to see my old man on Friday and I managed to get his eyes open for two minutes and I said to him ‘next time you see me I’m going to be a Premier League manager’,” Smith said. “He smiled and nodded, for me that’s enough.”

Man City manager Pep Guardiola lost his mother to the coronavirus pandemic and the Premier League rallied around the Spanish coach. They will do the same for Smith who has lost the man who introduced him to the beautiful game in the first place.