Gareth Bale

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Three things we learned: Real Madrid v. Man City

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Man City beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg in the Santiago Bernabeu as Pep Guardiola‘s tactical masterclass left Zinedine Zidane scratching his head.

After Isco gave Real an undeserved lead, Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne struck late on to make it 2-1 as the reigning Premier League champions take a crucial lead back to Manchester for the second leg.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a superb away display from Man City as they sealed their first-ever win against Real Madrid.


GUARDIOLA’S BOLD CHOICE PAYS OFF

Sometimes it seems like Pep Guardiola is too smart for his own good but this is why they pay him the big bucks. Man City’s manager left the experienced trio of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Fernandinho on the bench alongside the fit-again Raheem Sterling and everyone was left scratching their heads with his team selection. Pep’s bold choice paid off. Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva operated as two false nines centrally, while Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus played out wide and did plenty of tracking back as they pinned back Real’s wingers and full backs.

Mahrez and Jesus would make runs in-behind Real’s defense whenever KDB and Bernardo got on the ball and it worked a treat. The only problem was that Mahrez and Jesus only took one of the big chances they were handed because they could have scored four or five. Guardiola’s side conceded after being undone by a sloppy defensive error which epitomizes their 2019-20 campaign but Pep’s bold choice paid off. Man City were the better, and more dangerous, team for vast swathes of this game and got the away win his ingenuity deserved. The decision to sacrifice the positioning of his two best playmakers in Bernardo and De Bruyne worked a treat as the displays of Mahrez and Jesus justified leaving Aguero and Sterling on the bench. Man City’s master tactician risked being ridiculed and labelled as an over-thinker once again. It was a risk which paid off.


REAL’S ATTACK ONE-DIMENSIONAL

Zinedine Zidane was without the injured Eden Hazard, while Gareth Bale started on the bench and there was a severe lack of creativity in the attacking third of the pitch. Karim Benzema lead the line and had one header on target in the first half but that was about it as he had 18 touches in the entire game. 18. Vinicius and Isco both failed to get the better of the Kyle Walker and Mendy respectively and without that extra spark Hazard or Bale could provide at the drop of a hat, Zidane’s side were predictable.

Real caused their own problems as Casemiro was the spare man and precision passing isn’t his best trait as City were dangerous on the counter. Real Madrid were timid and rigid and that isn’t something you’d expect from a Zinedine Zidane-side on a big European night like this. Zidane has made Real more pragmatic this season and Vinicius and Isco did make the most of a Man City defensive error to put the Spanish giants ahead before two late goals from Jesus and De Bruyne gave Man City the edge heading into the second leg. Real will need to take more chances at the Etihad and as their defensive display showed on Wednesday, they are not capable of shutting down City’s attack and Sergio Ramos will not play in the second leg due to his red card. Real are in big trouble and for once their failure to go all-out for the win cost them dear. That is very unlike Real.


DE BRUYNE LEADS DEFIANT CITY

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Kevin de Bruyne wore the captains armband with class in the Bernabeu and he was the beating heart and pulsating brain of this composed, yet brave, victory.

“We are only halfway there,” De Bruyne said afterwards.

With Aguero, David Silva and Raheem Sterling left on the bench, all eyes were on KDB and he delivered. He played as a false nine but instead of shrugging his shoulders playing in an unfamiliar role he embraced it and could be seen cajoling his teammates and demanding more in key moments.

De Bruyne’s display summed up his season so far: Brilliant.

His mood also summed up the defiance in Man City’s display as they lost Aymeric Laporte to injury and Fernandinho stepped in and made key blocks, while Ederson was also at his best as City’s defense only slipped up once. With a two-season European ban looming large, this City squad know this could be their last chance to win the European Cup until the summer 2023 when many of them won’t be around. Kevin de Bruyne would be coming up to 32 years of age then, if he is still at City. The defiance he and City’s squad played with proved they want to win the Champions League right now and put the UEFA ban to one side as their appeal is heard in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the coming months.

 

Aston Villa fuming after Saints defeat

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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints battered Aston Villa on Saturday and to make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ] 

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world. We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Here’s the scene from St Mary’s Stadium as Saints were relieved that they finally sealed the win in stoppage time, while Aston Villa were downbeat after another defeat and this time their manager Dean Smith was far from happy.


WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone, who turned 20 on Friday, made his Premier League debut and excelled in midfield with plenty of composed passes and he almost scored with a deflected shot which hit the post.

“Good celebration for my 20th birthday and then to get a start and a win today in the Premier League, yeah, it was good,” Smallbone said. “It was different. To play in the Premier League, it was a lot harder. I thought I handled it okay and did alright.”

Smallbone joins the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw in coming through their academy and being graduated to the first team.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special.”

Smallbone is a special player and slotted in seamlessly to Saints’ midfield on his debut and sprayed the ball around nicely.

Dean Smith, Aston Villa’s manager, was absolutely fuming..


MIXEDZONEOLOGY

Jack Grealish was downbeat as he got onto the Aston Villa team bus and his mood reflected that of every Villa player.

What was most surprising was that Grealish got off the team bus and went away in a private taxi after the game instead of going back with the rest of the players and coaching staff. John Terry appeared to do the same.

For most away games that happens and players make their own way home or visit other places for promotional events etc.

But given Smith’s strong words about Villa’s display, it was surprising to see Grealish leave his teammates for the trip home. Grealish and Pepe Reina looked very downbeat and those two are Villa’s only hopes of staying in the Premier League.


IN AND AROUND

Michal Obafemi and Nathan Redmond were hanging around the mixed zone and the likes of Conor Hourihane and Alex McCarthy were on their cell phones loitering around.

Southampton’s players were all very happy as this win all but secures their Premier League status for another season. Villa’s team bus was a pretty miserable place as Dean Smith got on with a look of despair. Next stop: League Cup final against Man City.

Report: Juventus ready to sell Aaron Ramsey after one season

Aaron Ramsey
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Could Aaron Ramsey be returning to England?

A report from Italy says Juventus is willing to sell the 29-year-old Welshman after an injury-riddle start to his time in Serie A.

Ramsey opted to sign with the Turin side on a free transfer, earning a rich deal from the serial Serie A champs.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Any exit carries a word of caution for those hoping he might their club: Ramsey’s had a reported salary of around $162,000 per week. He’d have to agree to a new deal, as few will be willing to pay that wage.

As we’ve seen with Gareth Bale, a club wanting to sell a big-wage player and the player willing to take a pay cut can be mutually exclusive concepts.

Who would have the money to meet his expectations? Would Mikel Arteta‘s return to Arsenal and new leadership move the meter? Arsenal was speaking about a new deal for the Welshman before a seeming change in attitude. Only Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang make more than Ramsey’s reported wage. PSG? Manchester United?

Ramsey has two goals in 19 matches for Juve, none since an early November goal at Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League.

His lack of playing time is certainly a concern for Wales, who is preparing for EURO 2020. Ramsey has 16 goals and seven assists in 60 caps.

Transfer rumors: Deadline Day drama

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The drama is coming thick and fast on transfer deadline day in the Premier League, as the latest transfer rumor roundup focuses on the deals

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

[ TRANSFER TRACKER: Full list of January PL deals ]

Here is a look at the deals unfolding with just a few hours of the transfer window to go, and we will have you covered with all the ins and outs throughout today here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Josh King was the subject of a cheeky bid from Manchester United but it looks like the Bournemouth striker will stay on the south coast. King, 28, came through United’s academy under the guidance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but it looks like their move for the Norwegian international came too late in the window for Eddie Howe‘s side to accept.

West Ham United are pushing hard to sign Hull City striker Jarrod Bowen, 23, for $26.3 million. Bowen has scored 17 times this season in the Championship and Crystal Palace were also said to be interested in the young attacker. The Hammers badly need some help in the goalscoring department and Bowen is a real fox in the box.

Tottenham will not be re-signing Gareth Bale as Zinedine Zidane confirms for the umpteenth time that the Welshman will be staying at Real Madrid. That sound you can hear is Spurs fans groaning in despair, once again, as they thought for a second Bale was returning to their half of north London.

It is the tale of one in and one out at Wolves as 17-year-old left back Luke Matheson could be joining them from Rochdale for $1.3 million, while they are willing to let center back Ryan Bennett join Leicester City on loan for the rest of the season.

Sheffield United are also closing in on a deal for Bayer Leverkusen’s young Greek defender Panagiotis Retsos, 21, who has reportedly passed a medical and is another signing for the future after adding Zivkovic.

Jose Mourinho and Spurs do not look like they will do any more business after signing Gedson Fernandes and Steven Bergwijn this month, as well as adding Giovani Lo Celso on a permanent deal. A deal for Willian Jose is off as Real Sociedad do not want to sell their Brazilian striker.

In terms of outgoings at Tottenham, Mourinho has admitted that Victor Wanyama could leave on loan with Celtic said to be interested in their former midfielder.

Ten possible transfers to monitor this week

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It’s been an active-enough transfer window from a wide perspective. Manchester United, Chelsea, and fans of other contenders may still be waiting for their breakthrough, but there’s been a lot to see world wide.

[ MORE: Deadline Day needs ]

Erling Haaland has a new home, and his housewarming party has been spectacular. Javier Hernandez headed from Sevilla to Major League Soccer.

Takumi Minamino joined Liverpool from Salzburg, and Gedson Fernandes found a home at Tottenham.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

So what’s still (possibly) to come before the transfer window slams shut at 6 p.m. ET Friday?

Aaron Long from New York Red Bulls to West HamA loan-to-buy bid’s been rejected, but could David Moyes skip the trial period. USMNT center back Long wants to go the Premier League, and RBNY are not in the CONCACAF Champions League so there’s time to replace him.

Antonee Robinson from Wigan Athletic to AC Milan — Speaking of USMNT-related transfers, could-be left back of the future has become a fixture at the DW Stadium but reports of his replacing Ricardo Rodriguez at Milan are many.

Paco Alcacer from Borussia Dortmund to Newcastle — The Magpies need another striker with Joelinton struggling to find form, and the BVB man is open to leaving on account of Haaland’s arrival.

Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United — A difference of $12 million seems likely to be made up by Friday.

Moussa Dembele from Lyon to Chelsea — He’s thrived at Fulham in the Championship, Celtic in the Scottish Premiership, and Lyon in Ligue 1, so the Premier League may finally get to see a mature Dembele. He made two appearances for Fulham in 2013/14.

Mykola Matviyenko from Shakhtar Donetsk to Arsenal — Twenty-two years old with 26 caps for Ukraine, reports of a try-it-before-you-buy-it with the Gunners seem very friendly to Arsenal.

Boubakary Soumare from Lille to Chelsea or Manchester United — Sixty-six senior appearances for a Ligue 1 side at age 20 is an eye-popper, and Soumare’s ceiling as a defensive midfielder is high.

Edinson Cavani from Paris Saint-Gerrmain to Atletico Madrid or Chelsea — The reports have all said Atleti is the front-runner, but the longer is takes the more you wonder…

Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli to Manchester United — Not in January with Napoli a month away from Barcelona in the UCL, right? Right?

Gareth Bale,  Krzysztof Piatek, Willian Jose, Mario Gotze, Steven Bergwijn, Alcacer, pretty much forward to Spurs — Self-explanatory. Spurs are transfer rumor bait as much as anyone not called Manchester United thanks to the injury to Harry Kane and the clear need for refreshment.

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.