Champions League: Real Madrid force Bayern Munich to leverage the value of home field

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The quarterfinals were a reminder about the importance of home field. All of Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and Real Madrid performed dramatically better in their own friendly confines, so much so that a 1-0 loss on the road in UEFA Champions League’s semifinals wouldn’t have held up after leg one. Having learned nothing from the last round, we’ve come to see Real Madrid’s one-goal win in leg one of the team’s semifinal with Bayern as reason to doubt the holders. In reality, a one-goal deficit may still leave Bayern in pole position.

Chelsea turned around a 3-1 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain to reach the semifinals. Atlético were held at the Nou Camp before winning leg two against Barça. Bayern were held at Old Trafford before, after a scare, knocking off Manchester United at the Allianz. Real Madrid built up enough of a lead on Borussia Dortmund to withstand the Germans’ assault in Westphalia. All four quarterfinalists met some level of resistance on the road. All four overcame it to win their quarterfinals.

Why should these semifinals be any different? In theory, as the tournament moves on, teams paired against each other should be more evenly matched, making dramatic swings in either direction less likely. In practice, home field advantage has made a difference; at least of late. Over the last two years — four semifinals — teams returning home for their second legs have improved on their leg one performances Even Barcelona, last year, “improved” on a 4-0 loss at Bayern Munich with a 3-0 defeat at home.

Those results aren’t enough to say Bayern Munich will turn around the 1-0 deficit they were handed at the Santiago Bernabéu, but it’s a note of caution. While Real Madrid looked strong in their home leg — earning an early one-goal lead over the Champions League holders before conceding two good chances late — it would be foolish to think El Real’s success necessarily translates onto its second leg. Their semifinal match in Munich could be completely different.

“We are playing against a great team with a small advantage, so we are not that stupid as to think we have already qualified,” Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It’s going to be really hard.”

If the teams’ 2013-14 performance is any indication, there may be something to the home field advantage angle. Though in league (where the sample sizes are much greater), Bayern has shown little difference between home and road performances, Real Madrid has been noticeably worse away from the Bernabéau. Whereas the Merengues have gone 15-0-2 (W-D-L) at home, los Blancos have posted a 14-4-2 record on the road. Their goal difference is +44 on home soil; +22 abroad.

Overall, it hints that Bayern’s dogmatic, imposing style came be imposed onto any environment, something that makes sense given the extreme, outlying nature of their approach. When you employ a system that’s so obsessed with ball retention, it should mitigate some of the differences in performance away from home. There are no adjustments to be made.

source: APFor a team like Real Madrid, however, there may not be enough stylistic differentiation to make them immune to home-road splits. Though they are obviously better and more talented than your typical European team, their style may not be so different that we have reason to think they can overcome the broader statistical evidence. They may be worse away from home.

On Tuesday, Ancelotti’s task is to transcend that. He’ll have a fully healthy Cristiano Ronaldo at his disposal; a fully healthy Gareth Bale. For the first time since Ronaldo was injured in early April, the Real Madrid head coach will have his full team at his disposal. Whereas in leg one Bale was restricted to a substitute’s role, Tuesday will see Real Madrid at full pomp.

Whether that matters, however, may be less up to Real Madrid than its hosts. Also having all its main weapons at its disposal, Bayern Munich will be facing the same question it’s been asked all season: If we don’t care about scoring, can you break us down? 

For most of the year, it’s a question that’s been asked by inferior opposition ready to settle of a draw. On Tuesday, it’s one of the most talented sides in the world ready to settle for a draw.

“They will seek to defend their advantage for 90 minutes,” Guardiola said, “but I’m not sure how. We were desperate to score an away goal. Now we have to attack even more – we have no other option. I’m convinced they’ll want to play as well.”

If Bayern can’t break through, it will be less about Real Madrid than themselves. The team’s had eight months to prepare for this moment: a team willing to forgo everything to keep them off the scoresheet. If Pep Guardiola’s team can’t overcome that approach, it will speak volumes about Ancelotti’s Champions League’s prowess as well as Bayern’s lack of progress since the former Barça boss took over.

“We cannot do it by ourselves tomorrow …,” Guardiola said. “The team want it, I want it, the fans want it, and together we can achieve it.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

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“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.