FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Dazzling Dortmund, Barcelona backbone and Liverpool's fantastic three

Axel Witsel is one of many young exciting talents at Dortmund. (AFP)
Updated 25 October 2018

FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Dazzling Dortmund, Barcelona backbone and Liverpool's fantastic three

  • Young German side lay down an early marker with 4-0 thrashing of Atletico.
  • Barca show there is more to them than just Lionel Messi

LONDON: Week three of the Champions League has been and gone and we are now halfway through the group stage. Here is what we learned from the latest round of matches.

BARCA ARE MORE THAN JUST MESSI

Lionel Messi is injured and out for several weeks. The world goes into despair and then wonders out aloud: “I wonder how Barcelona will do without him?” Well, looking at the Catalans’ 2-0 win over Inter Milan the answer to that teaser is: “Not bad at all.” Such is the attention, understandably, focused on the Argentine ace that it is sometimes easy to forget that Barca do have some other fairly useful players. We are, obviously, talking about Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic to name only three of many. Thanks to goals from Rafinha and Jordi Alba they cruised to victory over the Italian giants and are all but assured of a place in the second round now.

LIVERPOOL'S TERRIFIC TRIO

During the Reds’ easy 4-0 win over Red Star Belgrade, we once again got to enjoy the game’s finest front three — Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. The terrific trio scored all the goals (two for Salah), and while the Serbian side are not the best (they will do well to get another point in Europe this campaign) they looked a cut above any other attacking force we have seen so far this season. Liverpool got to the final last time around, with Salah and Co. in fine form they look good to go far this season as well.

DAZZLING DORTMUND CAN DOMINATE

There problem with German football, we are told, is that it is even worse than La Liga, where at least it is always a two-horse race between Barca and Real Madrid. In the Bundesliga it is simply a question of by how many points will Bayern Munich win the title. Not so this year, or at least we hope. Borussia Dortmund currently lie top of the table at home, are playing with a verve and attacking approach reminiscent of their days under Jurgen Klopp and on Wednesday showed why they could go far in Europe and achieve domestic glory at the same time. The Germans brushed aside Atletico Madrid 4-0 at home. It was the Spanish outfit’s heaviest defeat of the season so far — they have only conceded five goals in nine La Liga matches this season — and their worst in the Champions League with Diego Simeone as coach. Dortmund are definitely dark horses.

PSG UP AGAINST IT

For a proper, no need to keep up-to-date, one-horse race, look no further than France’s Ligue 1. So obvious is it that Paris Saint-Germain will be lifting the trophy come May that the title race has been reduced to being as predictable as a WWE fight. For PSG that has only added to the importance of success in Europe, which makes their stuttering start in this season’s Champions League all the more worrying. They needed a last-minute equalizer from Angel di Maria to avoid home defeat to Napoli — meaning they lie fourth in Group C with four points after three matches. They now have an away tie against the in-form Italians and defeat is not an option.


Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

Updated 11 April 2021

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

  • Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead

MADRID: Real Madrid continued its impressive run on Saturday, going top of the Spanish league with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in what may have been Lionel Messi’s last league clásico.
The victory in pouring rain in the Spanish capital left Madrid tied on points with Atlético Madrid, which on Sunday can return to the top when it visits sixth-place Real Betis. Madrid is ahead of its city rival on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead.
Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos scored first-half goals to give Madrid its sixth straight win in all competitions. The defending league champions were coming off a win over Liverpool in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday.
“It was a very important victory for us,” Madrid defender Nacho Fernández said. “It’s always special to win a clásico, and even more when we are so close together at the top in the fight for the title. You could say today was a final, but there is still a lot left in the league.”
Barcelona got on the board in the second half with a goal by Óscar Mingueza. It nearly equalized with a shot from young substitute Ilaix Moriba that struck the crossbar in the final play of the match.
“We tried until the end but it wasn’t possible. We almost had it in that final play,” Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto said. “We depended on our own results had we won, but now we need to hope that our rivals stumble. We will keep fighting until the very end.”
This was the first time Madrid has taken the league lead since the early rounds of the competition, and it trailed Atlético by 11 points at one stage.
The result ended Barcelona’s six-match winning streak in the league. It had won nine away matches in a row in the competition.
The 33-year-old Messi, who reached seven straight clásicos without a goal, has his contract with Barcelona ending this season. The Argentina star expressed his desire to leave the Catalan club last year but had the request denied.
One of his best chances was with a corner kick that curled across the area and hit Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ far post in first-half stoppage time. Messi’s free kick in second-half stoppage time was easily stopped by Courtois.
It was an even start at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in Madrid’s training center, but the hosts opened the scoring in the 13th minute with Benzema’s superb flicked shot from close range after a low cross by Lucas Vázquez.
The French striker, who has scored 10 goals in his last nine matches, got in front of Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo and flicked the ball toward the net with his back foot. He hadn’t scored against Barcelona in nine consecutive clásicos.
The Catalan club complained of a foul by Vázquez on Messi just moments before the opening goal.
Kroos added to the lead in the 28th from a free kick following a foul on Vinícius Júnior, who was coming off an outstanding performance in Madrid’s 3-1 win over Liverpool. Kroos shot from just outside the area and the ball deflected on American defender Sergiño Dest before going into the net.
Madrid almost added to the lead in the 34th when Federico Valverde hit the post after a breakaway led by Vinícius Júnior, who also hit the post in the second half. That was after Barcelona pulled one back in the 60th with a shot from inside the area by Mingueza after a low cross by Jordi Alba.
Madrid played the final minutes a man down after Casemiro was sent off with a second yellow card.
The visitors complained about being denied a penalty in the final minutes, with Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman saying it was “a clear penalty.”
“I don't know why there is VAR in Spain,” he said.
Madrid got the win despite a depleted defense — with the absences of central defenders Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. Barcelona was without the injured Gerard Piqué.
Right back Vázquez, who has been key for Madrid in recent games, had to be replaced due to an injury before halftime.
Barcelona’s next match is the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, while Madrid travels to England to play Liverpool again in the Champions League on Wednesday.


Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory

Updated 11 April 2021

Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory

  • 10-man Leeds stall runaway leaders Manchester City’s march with 2-1 victory

LONDON: Manchester City’s march to the Premier League title stalled on Saturday as 10-man Leeds beat the runaway leaders 2-1, while Liverpool climbed into fourth place after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s late strike sealed a 2-1 win against Aston Villa.

City are counting down to their third title in four seasons, but Stuart Dallas’s stoppage-time strike leaves them still needing 11 points from their last six games to clinch the crown.

Their first defeat in seven matches in all competitions came after Pep Guardiola made seven changes following their midweek Champions League quarterfinal first-leg win over Borussia Dortmund.

With Kevin De Bruyne on the bench at the Etihad Stadium, City were below their best against lively Leeds and now turn their attention to cup competitions next week.

They have a 2-1 lead to defend in the second leg at Dortmund on Wednesday before Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea at Wembley.

“We did not create enough for the forward. It is part of the game,” Guardiola said.

“When they defend in the way they were you have to stop them running and we did not do that. The best moment we had in the game we make a mistake behind and we tried but could not score.

“We are going to rest and prepare two days for the game in Dortmund and decide on how we are going to play.”

Liverpool are desperately trying to salvage their troubled campaign by qualifying for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish. Beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday, Jurgen Klopp’s side knocked West Ham out of fourth place in the most dramatic fashion at Anfield.

Liverpool had lost their previous six home league matches, but Alexander-Arnold clinched their first success in front of the Kop since December as the Reds avenged their humiliating 7-2 defeat at Villa in October.

Villa striker Ollie Watkins scored a hat-trick in that rout and he was back on the scoresheet after 43 minutes.


Rizwan steers Pakistan to their highest-winning T20 run chase

Updated 10 April 2021

Rizwan steers Pakistan to their highest-winning T20 run chase

  • Pakistan's previous highest T20 chase was 188 against Australia in Harare in 2018
  • Rizwan made an unbeaten 74 as Pakistan chased down a target of 189 with one ball to spare

JOHANNESBURG: Opening batsman Mohammad Rizwan steered Pakistan to their highest winning run chase as they beat South Africa by four wickets in the first Twenty20 international at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Rizwan made an unbeaten 74 as Pakistan chased down a target of 189 with one ball to spare.

Their previous highest T20 chase was 188 against Australia in Harare in 2018.

The match swung in the last four overs of the two innings.
South Africa could score only 29 in their last four overs, while Pakistan thrashed 52 off the last 3.5 overs

BRIEF SCORES

South Africa 188-6 in 20 overs (A. Markram 51, H. Klaasen 50; Mohammad Nawaz 2-21, Hasan Ali 2-28)

Pakistan 189-6 in 19.5 overs (Mohammad Rizwan 74 not out, Faheem Ashraf 30; B. Hendricks 3-32, T. Shamsi 2-29)

RESULT

Pakistan won by 4 wickets

Series: Pakistan lead the four-match series 1-0

Toss: South Africa


Zidane hopes there will be more Clasicos for Messi and Ramos

Updated 09 April 2021

Zidane hopes there will be more Clasicos for Messi and Ramos

  • Both players’ contracts are up at the end of the campaign

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane on Friday said that he hoped Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos won’t have played their last Clasicos come the end of the season, with doubts over the futures of the Barcelona and Real Madrid captains ahead of a huge La Liga encounter.
Both players’ contracts are up at the end of the campaign and Messi is yet to commit to a new deal with Barca after trying to force an exit last summer.
When asked if Saturday’s clash in the Spanish capital would be the last of the pair’s careers at Spain’s top two clubs, Madrid coach Zidane said: “I hope not.”
“Sergio is not going to play tomorrow. It’s sad, but I really hope that he will stay here,” the Frenchman added of the injured 35-year-old.
Zidane also said he hoped Messi would remain at Barca for the good of Spanish football, joking “let him stay at Barcelona — he’s doing very well there!“
Barca and reigning champions Madrid are both trying to chase down league leaders Atletico Madrid, whose defeat at Sevilla last Sunday allowed their rivals to move within touching distance of the summit.
Madrid are three points behind their city rivals in third, while second-placed Barca are a point closer, meaning whoever wins at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium will knock Atletico off the top for the first time since December after ruthlessly chipping away at what was a 10-point lead in February.
Zidane, whose team impressed in a 3-1 Champions League win over Liverpool this week, appeared confident ahead of a crucial fixture in his attempt to retain his team’s league title.
“We have been very good recently, consistent,” he said.
“And not just with the ball, we have improved defensively too. We know that regardless of what we have done up to now, we will have to play well tomorrow.”

'The best Messi'
Barca boss Ronald Koeman also wants Messi and Ramos to both stay, telling reporters “the best thing for La Liga is that the best players keep playing until the last possible moment.”
The 58-year-old said he was hoping for “the best Messi” as his team hope to extend a six-match league winning run which has come thanks in large part to the Argentine playmaker’s sparkling recent form.
The 33-year-old has scored 23 La Liga goals — 10 of those coming in his last eight appearances — and set up eight more this term to give Barca a fighting chance of finishing top of the pile after a troubled start to the season dominated by his efforts to leave and the club’s serious financial difficulties.
“We need the best Barca to win. We will have to do everything perfectly, the attack, our movement, our passing game, and for that you need Leo,” said the Dutch coach, whose team haven’t lost in La Liga since early December.
Koeman will be boosted by the return from injury of Spain defenders Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
“They are two important players, not only for their quality on the field but also for their personalities,” said Koeman.
“They lack a bit of rhythm, but they are strong physically and are keen to help the team.”


Masters leader Rose off to rocky round-two start

Updated 09 April 2021

Masters leader Rose off to rocky round-two start

AUGUSTA, US: Justin Rose opened with two bogeys in the first four holes and saw his lead shrink to three strokes early in Friday’s second round of the 85th Masters while Augusta National allowed a charge by rivals.

The 40-year-old Englishman fired his lowest Masters round in 59 trips with a 7-under par 65 on Thursday to lead by four, matching the largest 18-hole Masters lead since 1941.

Rose, a two-time Masters runner-up, equaled the record of Jack Nicklaus by leading the event for the fourth time after 18 holes.

Reigning Olympic champion Rose, whose only major title came at the 2013 US Open, made an early start Friday in cool and overcast conditions while most of his nearest rivals were among the afternoon starters.

After landing in trees to the right off the first tee Friday, Rose pitched back into the fairway and limited his damage to a bogey five.

At the 575-yard par-5 second, Rose found the fairway with a 3-wood, then was short of the left side of the green before chipping his third within three feet of the cup and rolling in the birdie putt.

Rose parred the fourth, then came up shy of the green at the par-3 fourth. His putt up a rise barely clung to the edge of the green and from there he putted to three feet and dropped a putt in the right side for bogey.

That left Rose on 6-under and three atop two early chargers.

Australia’s Marc Leishman opened with three straight birdies to share second on 3-under overall while Austrian Bernd Wiesberger opened with four birdies in the first five holes and added another at the par-5 eighth to join the pack at 3-under.

Only 12 players finished under par in the first round, with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and American Brian Harman sharing second on 69, both teeing off in the final five afternoon groups.

In the first round, Rose had bogeys at the first and seventh holes, then took apart a firm and fast Augusta National layout that humbled a world-class field.

His deft iron play and deadly accurate putting in a 10-hole run of an eagle and seven birdies from the eighth to 17th hole showed slow starts would not deter him.

“I putted the ball beautifully and read the greens unbelievably well,” Rose said. “If you had said to me walking up the eighth hole, I’d have said no chance, this course is playing a little too tricky for that.

“But it’s incredible. It’s a good reminder that you just never know what can happen out there, just to stick with it on the golf course.”

At 2-under were South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout and an American trio — Masters debutante Will Zalatoris, 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson and 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed.

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who snapped a four-year win drought last week in Texas, was on 71 despite a triple bogey at the ninth.

World No. 3 Jon Rahm, who only arrived at Augusta National on the eve of the event, was on 72. The Spaniard was with his wife Kelley, who gave birth to son Kepa on Saturday.

Top-ranked defending champion Dustin Johnson opened on 74, as did Brooks Koepka, a four-time major winner coming off right knee surgery last month.

Second-ranked Justin Thomas, who can overtake Johnson for world number one with a victory this week, was on 73, as was another American, 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa.

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