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.

Man United’s recruitment policy slammed

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Manchester United’s recruitment policy has been hammered by their former legendary player and current Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville who believes they need “five or six players” to become competitive.

Following United’s 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday, Neville responded by lashing out at the ownership of the club and issued a thinly-veiled attack on executive chairman Ed Woodward and the hierarchy.

Speaking to our partners Sky Sports, Neville let loose as the gulf in class between United’s performance and Liverpool’s was stark, aside from the spirit that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side showed throughout.

“Manchester United have to react fast. They need to make good decisions,” Neville said. “Over the last few years there is a frustration that Manchester United have been U-turning all over the place when it comes to strategy. They have made some terrible investments in terms of recruitment and it is all coming home to roost. This is going to get bad. The next six months are going to be really difficult.”

When you look at the more recent signings of Alexis Sanchez, Eric Bailly and Diogo Dalot, how much have they added to the team? With Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba out injured, for such an expensively assembled squad there really isn’t much depth.

Neville is right, there has been no real plan in place with recruitment because they’ve had four very different managers (David Moys, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and now Solskjaer) in the past six years and they have no sporting director or technical director making the recruitment decisions.

Instead, Woodward and businessmen at the top of the club are making soccer decisions and United continue to pay over the odds for players, even though the likes of Harry Magurie and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have improved their defensive unit.

“I can’t believe, with the investment that has been put into the squad over the last five or six years and you end up with that out on the pitch. I cannot believe it. I saw a statistic that Manchester United have the second highest wage bill in the world. And that is the squad they have got? It is unforgivable,” Neville continued.

“I can’t change the ownership of Manchester United, no-one can, but I am struggling to understand why the ownership has persisted in trusting that management team to oversee that investment. If you don’t lose your job for overseeing that investment, that wage bill and putting that team out on the pitch, something is really wrong.”

Does anybody have a problem with what Solskjaer said? Probably not.

Some might say that like Roy Keane, he may be trying to protect his former teammate, Solskjaer, but there’s no doubt United need to invest in midfielders, with a deal for Bruno Fernandes stalling, and at least one more center forward as they haven’t played Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez who both left in the summer.

Solskjaer’s side are currently in fifth and are only five points off the top four but injuries are piling up and although the plan is to play youngsters and give them chances to shine, the slapdash way United have built their squad will continue to hurt them.

Arteta: Arsenal’s game at Chelsea ‘must win’

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We are only in January, so is it too early to be talking about ‘must win’ games in the Premier League? It isn’t if you’re Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta talking about their top four hopes.

The Gunners head across London to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) knowing a win will not only boost their faint top four hopes but also put another sizable dent in Frank Lampard‘s hopes of leading the Blues to Champions League qualification.

Chelsea currently sit in fourth place, just five points ahead of Man United in fifth, while Arsenal are 10th and sit 10 points behind Chelsea.

Speaking to the media ahead of the short trip across England’s capital city, Arteta didn’t play down the importance of the clash when asked if it is vital for their top four aspirations.

“It’s really important. It’s very, very important for us to win this game to fight for that,” Arteta said. “Also, the game we played at home, it could have made a big difference and we were very close to it. Tomorrow we need to win. Everyone is having a lot of problems to put together back-to-back wins, the league has been very competitive this season and that is why the gaps aren’t that big. There are still four months to play and a lot of things can happen, a lot of games between the top teams as well so I think that will change.”

Arsenal started very well against Chelsea when they played them on Dec. 29, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave them an early lead but late goals from Jorginho and Tammy Abraham gave the Blues a comeback win.

The Gunners have started well and taken the lead in plenty of recent games but keep coughing up goals to drop points as the same defensive problems are cropping up for Arteta as they did for Unai Emery and Arsene Wenger before him.

That said, there is a different intensity to their play and they will go to Chelsea without star striker Aubameyang who is suspended, but with hope that they can catch out an inconsistent Chelsea who lost at Newcastle on Saturday despite dominating the game.

This London derby will not only be a tense battle over 90 minutes, it will also set the tone for how both teams will fare in the final months of the campaign.

Cavani linked with Man United, Spurs, Chelsea

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Edinson Cavani has handed in a transfer request at Paris Saint-Germain as he’s been linked with a move to Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea in the January window.

PSG sporting director Leonardo confirmed that PSG met with Atletico Madrid but that they couldn’t agree a deal with the Spanish club as Cavani’s contract runs out in the summer.

“We’ve always said the same thing. We were hoping he would stay with the club, but today (Sunday) he asked to leave. We’re studying the situation. We’ve had a proposal from Atletico Madrid, but that proposal was not commensurate with the player’s value,” Leonardo said.

Cavani, 32, has also been linked with a move to the LA Galaxy and Inter Miami in recent months as his hip injury in August and subsequent fitness problems has allowed Neymar, Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe to develop a devastating partnership up front for the French champions.

Tottenham’s need for a short-term solution up front is greater than any other club in the Premier League after Jose Mourinho lost Harry Kane until at least April with a serious hamstring injury. Spurs have been working hard to find a solution and Cavani, who turns 33 in February, would surely fit the bill as his characteristics as a player are very similar to Kane.

With Chelsea having Tammy Abraham as their main striker with Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi as back ups, providing competition for Abraham is clearly necessary as Chelsea continue to fire blanks despite dominating games. If they’re going to finish in the top four this season they need to be more clinical in the final third as they’ve now lost to West Ham, Bournemouth, Southampton and Newcastle without scoring.

Frank Lampard admitted that he admires Cavani and refused to rule out a move for the striker this month.

“He’s (Cavani) a great player – I played against him and I always loved his mentality and his attitude. His goal-scoring record speaks for itself. I’m not absolutely aware of what the situation is, so we’ll see,” Lampard said. “He’s an experienced player but so are many other players out there! We are young as a squad so the idea of bringing in experience is not something I’m looking away from. Sometimes the younger players need a bit of help.”

As for Man United, the news that star striker Marcus Rashford is set to be out for at least the next two months was a hammer blow to their top four hopes as they sit five points behind fourth-place Chelsea in the table. Mason Greenwood is their main back-up option but with Rashford out, Anthony Martial needs to step up to the plate and kick on to replicate his fine start to the season. He didn’t do that against Liverpool in the 2-0 defeat at Anfield and this is what Solskjaer had to say about signing a new striker.

“It might be because the window is open that we look at some short-term deals as well and that could take us through until the summer.”

Who needs Cavani more? There’s no doubt the Uruguayan striker would be a stop-gap signing for all three clubs but his quality is undoubted and his physically style of play would suit the Premier League well.

He is perhaps better suited to Tottenham and Chelsea’s style of play as both rely on a true target man to build off of, while at United their attacking unit is all about pace on the counter, something Cavani doesn’t possess much of any more, bless him. However, given how well Zlatan Ibrahimovic performed at United in 2016-17, maybe the Red Devils will be eager to put their Champions League hopes on the shoulders of another veteran striker from PSG?

Cavani’s record for Napoli and PSG proves he is a world-class striker and if one of Spurs, United or Chelsea sign him this month, their chances of finishing in the top four will sky rocket. That’s how pivotal he could be, if fully fit and ready to empty his tank in Europe for the next few years before heading to Major League Soccer.

Gio Reyna: “A dream came true”

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Gio Reyna, 17, became the youngest American to play in the Bundesliga as the central midfielder, son of USMNT legend Claudio, made his debut for Borussia Dortmund in their 5-3 win at Augsburg on Saturday.

Reyna came on as a sub after a fellow sub making his Dortmund debut, Erling Haaland, had scored a 20-minute hat trick to turn the game on its head as the German giants ended up winning after trailing 3-1.

Speaking about his debut in the professional game, the U.S. U20 captain was utterly delighted and summed it up quite simply.

“A dream came true,” Reyna said. “It was a great game for us. When the coach called my name I was so excited. I was nervous but the guys made me feel comfortable.”

The talented central midfielder was promoted to Dortmund’s first team earlier this month after impressing in training during the winter break and he’s only been at the club since last summer.

“What a night! Extremely happy to make my debut but even happier for the win,” Reyna added on social media.

Safe to say USMNT fans are delighted with the rise of Reyna, while other youngsters Tyler Adams, Lynden Gooch and Josh Sargent all continue to shine in Europe with positive showings over the weekend.

Folks within the Bundesliga aren’t lowering the expectations on Reyna’s shoulders either, as an article on the website focuses on Reyna’s ‘eerily similar path’ to Dortmund as Christian Pulisic, while Dortmund’s assistant coach Jorg Heinrich believes that Reyna has more potential than Pulisic. Think about that. Stop drooling, USMNT fans.

“Gio is a fantastic talent. He has loads of potential along with plenty of confidence. I think his talent is similar to Christian Pulisic, or maybe a little bit better. But we want to keep him grounded because we’ve seen what happens to a lot of the young players,” Heinrich told Goal recently.