Borussia Dortmund punish slack Zenit Saint Petersburg in 4-2 Champions League win

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Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund traveled to Russia and came back with a massive 4-2 win in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie with Zenit Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

Dortmund struck twice through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus in the first five minutes to stun Zenit, but the Russian team fought back in the second half as Oleg Shatov pulled a goal back to make it 2-1. But less than five minutes later Robert Lewandowski punished some slack marking to make it 3-1, however a penalty kick from Hulk in the 68th minute made it 3-2 in an enthralling contest at the Petrovosky stadium.

However just when you thought Zenit were about to clinch an unlikely draw to take with them to Germany next month, Lewandowski popped up to make it 4-2 and clinch a crucial away win for last season’s Champions League finalists. The win means that out of five UCL last 16 games played so far, the away side has won on every occasion.

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In the third minute Dortmund went ahead as Reus ran past Zenit defender Lombaerts in the box and instead of going down the German international squared the ball to Mkhitaryan who slotted home to make it 1-0.

Then just 70 seconds later Dortmund went 2-0 up as Italian left back Domenico Criscito was caught of position and Reus punished him with a low strike into the bottom corner to stun the home crowd. With the Russian league on a winter break, Zenit have been without a competitive game since December and that showed early on with some lackluster defending.

source: AP
Zenit battled hard, but Dortmund always had the edge.

That trend continued throughout the first half as in the 18th minute Robert Lewnadowski raced clear but saw his shot saved by Lodygin as Dortmund threatened to increase their lead before the break. In the 29th minute Reus worked some room on the edge of the box and clipped a right footed shot just wide of the far post.

Zenit did rally and steadied the ship slightly after that disastrous start which saw them go 2-0 down within the opening five minutes, but Dortmund went in 2-0 up at the interval without having to force the issue at all.

After the break Zenit, predictably, improved as Brazilian striker Hulk tried twice to get in behind with clever runs across the defense. In the 56th minute Zenit were back in the game as Hulk’s run opened up the chance for Rondo to shoot twice and his second effort cannoned off the post but fell straight to Shatov who hammed the ball home to make it 2-1.

But less than five minutes later Dortmund regained their two-goal advantage as Lewandowski played a great one-two with Tomasz Piszczek and the Polish international swept home to make it 3-1 to the away side.

However just when Zenit looked to be down and out, they were handed a lifeline as Viktor Faizulin was brought down in the box and Hulk smashed in the penalty kick to make it 3-2 in the 68th minute. But just two minutes later Zenit switched off again as Tymoshchuk gave the ball away and Lewandowski was played in to hammer home his second and Dortmund’s fourth to make it 4-2.

The rest of the  game played out with Zenit trying to get back into the match, but Dortmund held firm and now take a 4-2 advantage into their second-leg at the Westfalenstadion in March.

LINEUPS

Zenit Saint Petersburg: Lodygin; Criscito, Lombaerts, Luis Neto, Anyukov (Smolnikov, 82) Fayzulin (Kerzhakov, 84), Witsel; Arshavin (Tymoshchuk, 15), Shatov, Hulk; Rondon

Goal: Shatov (56′), Hulk (68′)

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Sokratis, Friedrich, Schmelzer; Kehl, Sahin; Grosskreutz (Durm, 90), Mkhitaryan (Aubameyang, 70), Reus (Hofmann, 85); Lewandowski

Goals: Mkhitaryan (3′), Reus (4′), Lewandowski (61′ & 71′)

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

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After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

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Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

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“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.