Nov 27 2014
It wasn't vintage Real Madrid, but the European champions did enough to make it five wins from five in the group stages, secure top spot and equal a club record 15 straight victories in all competitions as they came through a tricky test in Switzerland.
Cristiano Ronaldo netted the winner in the first half, his 26th of the season, to see off a well-organised Basel side at St Jakob Park and keep Carlo Ancelotti's winning machine in motion. Their current record-equalling run started against the Swiss champions so it was apt the Italian levelled a record set by Jose Mourinho and Miguel Munoz against Paulo Sousa's side.
Basel had not conceded in their previous four games and had not lost in their last six, and that form showed for the first half hour as Madrid chugged through in third gear. The moment of magic came from an in-form Karim Benzema, celebrating his 50th Champions League start for the club, as he burst down the left and cut back for Ronaldo to score the winner.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- The Costa Rican was a somewhat surprise starter in place of Iker Casillas, who would have moved level with Xavi as the player with most appearances in the competition had he played tonight, but he enjoyed a solid Champions League debut. Navas was a spectator for much of the first half but had to remain alert to produce a brilliant save to deny the lively Breel Embolo with 20 minutes to go.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- The reliable Frenchman replaced Pepe at the heart of the Madrid defence and looked the more senior centre-back alongside Sergio Ramos despite his age and experience. He saved his captain's bacon on a few occasions and looked ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
MADRID -- A trio of observations on Atletico Madrid's 4-0 win vs. Olympiakos in the UEFA Champions League.
1. Mandzukic not better or worse than Costa, just different
This time last year Atletico were Champions League dark horses, seen as a team with potential but not enough experience to really challenge. Diego Simeone's side made such predictions look silly as they steamrollered giants including Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea and then almost saw off Real Madrid in the final.
This year, with key players including Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis having moved on, it seemed that Simeone's side would find it difficult to repeat those heroics, especially when they were beaten 3-2 at Olympiakos on the opening day.
But since then Atletico have roared back by winning four straight games -- scoring 12 times without conceding even once -- and this time around nobody will be underestimating Los Colchoneros when the knockout games start.
The result on Wednesday was never in any doubt, which left time to look at the difference between Atletico now and 12 months ago. Given the one-sided nature of this game, it was hard to judge the level of the new players further back, but up front we saw the pros and cons of having replaced Diego Costa with Mario Mandzukic.
One early sign was not so good. Atletico broke quickly and Mandzukic was sent straight through, with no defender between him and the goal. There were 50 yards of space though, and the Croatian decided to check back, knowing he did not have the pace to make it. That was something the lightning-quick Costa would never have thought of.
But moments later we saw another element of Mandzukic's game: His poacher's instinct around the box was razor sharp as he capitalised on Alberto Botia's mistake to score his first of the ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
LONDON -- A trio of observations on Arsenal's 2-0 win versus Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League.
1. Gunners find cheer
After Alexis Sanchez scored Arsenal's second goal, a gleeful Arsene Wenger made his way to the touchline. The Gunners' two goal scorers against Borussia Dortmund were both vindicators: Yaya Sanogo's first for the club is hoped to be the first of many, while Sanchez has been worth every penny of the 35 million pounds paid for him.
Bright spots in a bad spell, these were reasons to be cheerful. Another is Arsenal's qualification from the group stage to continue an unbroken sequence since 1999.
This was a victory over an opponent who have caused them trouble in recent years and completed with an injury list that added Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny on Saturday. Emiliano Martinez, a third-choice goalkeeper, looked safe and untroubled throughout.
And for Wenger, there was the pleasure of beating a manager with whom the two-plus-two merchants have been replacing him while he undergoes his latest crisis.
Jurgen Klopp stood on the sidelines throughout, hands thrust deep in pockets, as he barked instructions at a team badly struggling to carry his fading philosophy onward. His high-water mark now looks to have been the three years from 2010 to 2013, during which time his team won the Bundesliga twice and reached the Champions League final.
Arsenal, a team hardly recognised for strength of psyche, played Klopp's team as if unafraid and were allowed to play their own way in a manner few Premier League opponents have permitted this season.
The next issue is what this victory actually means for Arsenal. Spirits will be lifted, surely, but this was a fixture in which little pressure was actually on them. They had needed just a point against an opponent already qualified and now needing to concentrate ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
At long last, Juventus managed an away win in Europe, defeating Malmo 2-0 to increase their chances of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages.
The Bianconeri certainly don't like making things easy for themselves. Despite the beauty of their domestic game in which they rotate the ball with exceptional elegance, creating an abundance of opportunities on goal, in Europe, Juventus fans are regularly subjected to terrible performances. Ungraceful, erroneous and imprecise, it belies belief how differently the Italian champions play when facing foreign opposition.
Malmo were feisty and certainly determined to make an impression, but they lacked quality and the ability to play as a unit. Not only were they incapable of establishing a rhythm in their own home or of sacrificing themselves for a united cause, but each player marched to the beat of his own drum; each pass overcooked, each decision poor. They may not be the most talented of squads but they are usually more organised and cohesive. Having not played since early November, they were more reckless than fluid in their performance.
However, the one thing they did do right was frustrate the Old Lady in the first half. Adopting a physical approach to the game, they pressed high up the pitch and tried to stop Juventus from playing the ball out from the back with relative ease. Once possession was gained, neither side could keep it for long enough to establish a rhythm.
The pitch hardly helped, at times encouraging players to give the ball away cheaply. Malmo often attempted to exploit these mistakes with their pace, looking to counter-attack and catch the Bianconeri out of position. Yet their inability to opt for simplicity, often choosing to complicate matters, robbed them of the opportunity to score.
Thankfully, Allegri did just enough at halftime to ensure a much improved second-half ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
Frank Lampard believes the rest of the Manchester City players have to relieve the goalscoring burden on Sergio Aguero.
However, the veteran midfielder feels Aguero relishes the responsibility of being the man charged with supplying the goals for the Premier League champions.
Aguero's hat trick against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday took his tally for the season to 17 in 18 games, and he has scored 14 of City's last 23 goals.
And Lampard told reporters: "I think people need to chip in at all times, but great strikers love the burden.
"They want the burden of scoring goals and I am sure he is as happy after the Bayern game as he will ever be that he is scoring goals and winning games.
"With the ability we have got in the squad, I think we will improve from here. We make no bones about not being on top, top form but we are still in the hunt and that is what good teams do -- they stay in the hunt. We'll try to step up and do the job in Rome."
Lampard feels Aguero is one of the finest forwards in the global game and, while the Argentine has always shied away from comparisons with his close friend Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the former England midfielder added: "He is in that bracket.
He's top of the world football strikers. We're fortunate in the Premier League; last year we had Luis Suarez and now, not to discount anyone, we are looking at Aguero and Diego Costa as the two in-form strikers in world football.
"Obviously [they have] different styles, the pair of them. They are fantastic players -- and Sergio won us the game against Bayern."
Lampard thinks his long-time Chelsea teammate Didier Drogba is the best striker he has played with, but said he ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
Arsenal have suffered their second midfield injury blow in a week after Mikel Arteta picked up a calf problem that manager Arsene Wenger said "looks quite serious."
Club captain Arteta, 32, had returned from a short spell on the sidelines to play in the weekend's 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United.
That game saw England international Jack Wilshere sustain an ankle injury that will keep him sidelined until the New Year and may require surgery.
Arteta was substituted midway through the second half of the Gunners' 2-0 Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund at Emirates Stadium on Wendesday.
The victory meant the Londoners reached the knockout phase of the competition for the 15th consecutive year, but Wenger's joy was dampened by news of injuries to Arteta and striker Yaya Sanogo, who scored the opener.
"Mikel Arteta doesn't look good -- it's a calf," the Arsenal boss told reporters after the match. "I think he will be out for a while.
"The injuries are difficult to take on the chin. We go into many games, and we need as many people as possible available.
"The injury situation is a problem -- we lost two players tonight. We lost Sanogo as well on a hamstring problem."
Goalkeeping duo Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina, defender Mathieu Debuchy, attacking midfielder pair Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott and striker Danny Welbeck are all currently sidelined for Arsenal.
The Gunners travel to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday before hosting Southampton, who are currently second in the Premier League.
Losing someone of Philipp Lahm's caliber would be a crushing blow to every single club on the planet. Even to this buoyant Bayern Munich side, unbeaten in all competitions this season, losing their skipper and talisman is more than a slight inconvenience.
The 31-year-old went under the knife on Thursday morning after his untimely ankle fracture suffered in training on Tuesday which will rule him out for three months. He will spend a few days in hospital after having a surgical plate and screw inserted. All being well, "Lahm the Leader" will be back for the Champions League last 16 tie in February next year.
Bayern have coped splendidly with such injuries all season, so now is not the time to sink into depression and feel like the world owes them a break. Pardon the pun. This is exactly where that star-studded squad comes in handy (especially domestically) -- starting with the weekend Bundesliga clash against Hoffenheim.
The visitors have lost two in a row (conceding seven goals) and have never beaten Bayern in twelve attempts. However, Markus Gisdol's side did manage to pick up a point in March on their last trip to Munich during an entertaining 3-3 draw. This was the day that Thiago (and Tom Starke) last played for the club in the Bundesliga after the Spain international picked up an injury. The Bavarians have won their last eight games at home in all competitions (with a goal difference of 23-2), so the Reds should go marching on at the top.
One special player to watch out for in the opposition lineup is Roberto Firmino, who recently made his debut for Brazil. Firmino, an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, is destined for the very top -- probably not while he is with his current employer though.
While the skipper's injury ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
Following yet another seemingly endless international break, Cules are counting the very few hours left until the ball starts rolling again at the Camp Nou. After a fortnight in which the media has been firmly focused on off-the-pitch issues, manager Luis Enrique will certainly be delighted to have the chance to take another step forward towards refining his team in the hope of silencing his growing number of critics.
The most heated talking point ahead of the home match against Sevilla on Saturday has been the unexpected doubts that Lionel Messi has cast over his Barca future as a result of these surprising words while on international duty with Argentina. While the Rosario-born forward started his interview by expressing his loyalty to the club he joined over 14 years ago as a teenager, he then went on to show his discontent with the way the club is currently handled and even left the door open for a move elsewhere in the future.
Messi's poor relationship with the current board has been common knowledge for several months now, especially since publicly discrediting current first vice-president Javier Faus last December. His words "Faus knows nothing about football" could have been louder, but certainly not clearer. The initially half-hearted support from club directors when Messi's tax scandal exploded, despite the passing of several months, is likely still as fresh as ever in the footballer's head.
Things aren't looking too bright form a sporting perspective either. Due to Neymar's unstoppable progression and the arrival of Luis Suarez following his infamous ban, coach Enrique is faced with the difficult dilemma of whether to continue to play his No.10 as a false striker or move him away from rival centre backs by placing him deeper into midfield, or even as a right winger with freedom to cut towards a ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
The international break is over, but Dortmund's crisis is not.
The win against Borussia Monchengladbach propelled the Black and Yellows only as far as 15th, still 10 points off the desired Champions League qualification spot. Next up on schedule is SC Paderborn, and in the context of Dortmund's precarious situation, it's the mother of all must-wins.
The two-week pause was worth the wait, as Marco Reus had enough time to recover from his ankle injury and will be fit to play against the newly promoted side. It's a big sigh of relief for Jurgen Klopp, who is aware of the big test that lies ahead.
"We know about the difficulty of the game, but we also see the chance it possesses," he said. "Paderborn is a good example that you can achieve something in football with little money. You need a good idea and make a lot of right decisions. I have the highest respect for everything that is happening over at Paderborn."
On paper, BVB are obviously the favourite, but a closer look reveals that SC Paderborn are not the newly promoted pushover that Greuther Furth or Eintracht Braunschweig were last season. Manager Andre Breitenreiter has instilled a great range of tactical utility in his side. Paderborn can easily switch from deep-lying, counterattacking football to proactive gegenpressing within a game. Whatever they do, they manage to play coherent football, making the pitch appear very small for their opponent.
But it's not only tactical discipline that got the Bundesliga rookies up to ninth place. They made clever decisions in the transfer market over the summer, and with players like Moritz Stoppelkamp, Elias Kachunga and Stefan Kutschke, they got great value for their money. Breitenreiter managed to build a low-budget team into a harmonised unit.
Although there aren't any high-profile players in the squad, Dortmund fans will ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)
Bayern Munich have been quick to deny a Spanish media report claiming that Real Madrid's Sami Khedira is set to join the Bundesliga champions in the summer of 2015.
On Thursday, Spanish radio station Cedena SER reported that Khedira, 27 -- who has yet to renew his contract at Real Madrid beyond 2015 -- has reached an agreement with Bayern and is set to join the Bundesliga side on a free transfer next summer.
However, Bayern media director Markus Horwick is quoted by kicker as saying: "There is nothing to those reports."
Khedira has made a total of 150 appearances for Los Blancos since joining from Stuttgart in 2010, but missed large parts of last season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered in November 2013.
He returned to action in time for the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid and the 2014 World Cup, where he was part of the triumphant Germany squad.
In late August, Khedira suffered an injury setback, and having only returned to the pitch recently, he is set to replace the injured Luka Modric in the Real's starting XI.
The 27-year-old only recently told German football magazine kicker that he is not ruling out staying at the Bernabeu beyond 2015, saying: "I see no reason to leave the club in the winter."
Los Blancos coach Carlos Ancelotti has also recently stated that he wants the midfielder to stay, adding: "We consider him a reliable player, who is serious and professional."
Khedira had already been linked to Bayern in the summer following the injuries of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, but the Bundesliga champions instead convinced 32-year-old Real midfielder Xabi Alonso to join Pep Guardiola's side.
At that time, Guardiola said that Khedira's playing style does not fit into the Bayern system, and there had also been reports of a rift between the Germany midfielder ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)