What we learned from Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League romp past Zenit

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  • Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski remain a pleasure to watch

Among the most regrettable things about Lewandowski’s impending move to Bayern Munich is his separation from Reus, who only joined Borussia Dortmund last season. Even then, with so much focus was placed on the now departed Mario Götze, we didn’t get a chance to appreciate how beautifully these two starts complement each other.

On Tuesday, however, playing in an early game that gave Dortmund center stage, Reus and Lewandowski stole the show. Reus played the major part in the team’s first two goals, his dash beyond Cristian Ansaldi setting up the first while a clinical volley doubled BVB’s lead a minute later. All the while, Lewandowski was maintaining a threat that occupied both central defenders, giving Zenit’s Argentine left back little help with one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.

In the second half, it was Lewandowski’s turn, with his nearly unmatched movement along the line creating the openings that produced Dortmund’s third and fourth goals. On BVB’s final tally, Reus carried the ball until the Zenit defense was forced to engage him before laying off to for Lewandowski. The Poland international proceeded to beat Yuri Lodygin far post to restore Dortmund’s two-goal lead.

The goal highlighted the sense Lewandowski uses to take advantage of a threat like Reus’s, just as the game’s first goal showed how Reus can exploit his speed and technique to beat a left back while a left-center half is occupied by Lewandowski. It’s the same threat that’s existed since Reus was bought from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2012, but against Zenit, that threat helped defined the game.

Lewandowski leaves for Bayern in less than four months. One day, Reus may also make the step up to a club that can pay Bayern-eque wages. But for this two-year span, we’ve been able to enjoy a pair with a rarely seen set of elite, complementary skills. The result helped produce four road goals in Champions League on Tuesday.

(MORE: Borussia Dortmund punish slack Zenit Saint Petersburg in 4-2 Champions League win)

  • source: APLuciano Spalletti’s era has run its course in St. Petersburg

Zenit stumbled to second in last year’s Russian Liga, and before the circuit went on its break in December, the league’s most affluent club had been pulled back by Lokomotiv at the top of the table. Where Zenit’s spending at one time threatened to separate the St. Petersburg club from the rest of their league, now it provides the fuel for unfulfilled expectations. Zenit was supposed to be beyond this, by now.

Tuesday represented Luciano Spalletti’s latest chance to transcend that disappointment, but after seeing his team give up two goals in the first five minutes, the former Roma boss will feel more heat on his job with Zenit. Even when his team was able to reduce two-goal leads to one in the 57th and 69th minutes, Dortmund was able to quickly restore their margin, portraying a confidence Zenit was never able to dissuade. For all of the skill players like Hulk and Axel Witsel bring to the field, Spalletti’s been unable to craft a team that has met Zenit’s goals.

The question is how long this will be allowed to persist. Perhaps they can reverse their deficit to Dortmund or hold of Loko in Russia, but that would also involve overcoming growing doubts. Entering his fourth year with Russia’s premier club, Spalletti’s time to take Zenit to the next level may be running out.

  • Borussia Dortmund impressive, but clearly flawed

Mats Hummels didn’t play, and Neven Subotic is out for the season. Jürgen Klopp’s team has its excuses for conceding twice. Still, BVB remains a team whose strength rests in its abilities going forward – whose best defensive displays often coincide with a want to sit back and use its attacking threat on the counter. While the mistakes that led to today’s goals are less frequent when BVB’s lead defenders are healthy, they’re also not unheard of.

All of which is a minor quibble in a BVB armor that’s hammered out most of the chinks. Despite the absences of Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gündogen, Sven Bender, Hummels and Subotic, Dortmund had a relatively easy time of it on the road in a Champions League knockout round. Even the two goals they gave up had a disputed elements to them.

But for a team that went to last year’s final, you can’t help but image them against other finals-caliber competition. In that sense, Tuesday’s performance may not have been good enough, even though they did score four goals in St. Petersburg.

Then again, Dortmund were almost eliminated by Málaga in last year’s quarterfinals before going on to trounce Real Madrid in the semis. A hiccup at this stage does not preclude success further town the road.

Serie A roundup: Lazio hand 10-man Juventus first loss (video)

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Lazio’s triumphant victory over league favorites Juventus highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 3-1 Juventus

Juventus are no longer unbeaten in Serie A play under Maurizio Sarri, losing 3-1 to Simone Inzaghi’s inspired Lazio.

Luiz Felipe, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Felipe Caicedo scored for the home side, who are now three points behind second-place Juventus and five behind top-of-the-table Inter Milan.

Scoreless from open play since October, Cristiano Ronaldo found the back of the net in the 25th minute to put the Old Lady in front after tapping in Federico Bernardeschi’s well-placed pass inside the box.

It was Juventus’ game to lose, which they went on to do after a series of defensive and cognitive mishaps.

Tied after Felipe’s goal right before the break, Milinkovic-Savic scored in the 74th minute. The Serbian’s goal came after Juan Cuadrado was sent off for his reckless tackle on last-man Manuel Lazzari in the 69th. Milinkovic-Savic was set up by Luis Alberto‘s assist over the Juventus defense and scored with a low shot past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Ciro Immobile had a clear-cut chance to widen his red-hot goalscoring form, but the striker was denied by Szczesny from the spot. Juventus’ goalkeeper saved Immobile’s initial blistering strike, and his following second chance.

In stoppage time, however, Felipe Caicedo’s second-chance strike was too much for the Polish ‘keeper.

Juventus will have to quickly turn the page as they face Bayer Leverkusen midweek in their final match of the Champions League group stage, while Lazio travel to France to take on Rennes in their Europa League group stage finale.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Atalanta 3-2 Hellas Verona

Udinese 1-1 Napoli

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”