Lewandowski Named UEFA Men’s Player Of The Year

 

Robert Lewandowski was named UEFA Men’s Player of the Year on Thursday following a superb season in which he won the treble with Bayern Munich.

Lewandowski was at UEFA headquarters in Nyon in Switzerland to receive the award at the draw for the Champions League group stage, just weeks after Bayern won the 2019/20 edition of the competition.

The Poland striker scored 55 goals in 47 games as Bayern also won the Bundesliga and German Cup. He was the top scorer in the Champions League with 15 goals.

Lyon Hold Off Juventus To Reach Champions League Quarter-Finals

 

Lyon qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Friday despite losing 2-1 to Juventus in Turin.

A goal up after winning February’s first leg, French side Lyon will face Manchester City at the final tournament in Lisbon after drawing 2-2 on aggregate and going through on away goals.

Lyon squeezed past the Italian champions thanks to Memphis Depay’s 12th-minute penalty which put Rudi Garcia’s side two goals ahead in the tie and left Juve with a mountain to climb.

READ ALSO: Man City Pounce On Varane Mistakes To Dump Out Real Madrid

Needing to score three unanswered goals in order to go through, Cristiano Ronaldo tried his best to drag the Italian champions over the line.

He levelled the scores on the night with a penalty of his own with two minutes left in the opening period before crashing a second home on the hour mark.

However Juve performed poorly and Lyon managed to hold on to set up a clash with Pep Guardiola’s City, who put out 13-time winners Real Madrid, on August 15.

AFP

Man City Pounce On Varane Mistakes To Dump Out Real Madrid

 

Manchester City took advantage of two shocking mistakes by Raphael Varane to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Champions League last 16-second leg on Friday and advance to the quarter-finals as Pep Guardiola came out on top in his duel with Zinedine Zidane.

The Frenchman had never been knocked out of Europe’s elite club competition as Real coach, leading them to three consecutive victories between 2016 and 2018 in his first spell before returning to the job last year.

But Madrid had been left with a mountain to climb in this tie after throwing away the lead to lose 2-1 in the first leg in Spain in February, before the coronavirus forced the competition into hibernation.

An identical defeat at an empty Etihad Stadium means it is City who advance 4-2 on aggregate.

READ ALSO: Lyon Hold Off Juventus To Reach Champions League Quarter-Finals

Without Sergio Ramos due to suspension, Real were undone by mistakes by their other first-choice centre-back.

Varane was dispossessed inside the box in the ninth minute allowing Raheem Sterling to put City ahead, and his poor headed backpass attempt gifted Gabriel Jesus another goal midway through the second half.

Before that second goal the tie had been in the balance with the in-form Karim Benzema having scored for the visitors just before the half-hour mark.

The circumstances may be highly unusual, but this is still City’s finest Champions League result, their most significant victory in a knock-out tie.

Their best performance in the competition remains a run to the semi-finals in 2016, when they went out rather limply to Real.

Now they should very possibly be considered the favourites to win the competition in Lisbon on August 23.

If they do so, the victory would taste all the sweeter coming so soon after their successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport against a two-year ban from Europe handed down by UEFA for breaches of their Financial Fair Play rules.

They have already qualified for next season’s tournament after coming second in the Premier League but now they can look forward to facing Lyon in the quarter-finals next Saturday at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.

Real, meanwhile, will get over this.

They have dined out on success in the Champions League in recent years but their main objective after the coronavirus shutdown was to win La Liga and they did that.

Zidane’s team overhauled Barcelona thanks to 10 successive victories after La Liga returned in June but they were not especially prolific in front of goal during that run, despite Benzema’s fine form.

Uphill struggle

It was already going to be an uphill struggle for them in the absence of Ramos, sent off late in the first leg, and their task became even harder after they conceded an early opener.

City’s high pressing paid off as Varane was barged off the ball in his own area by Jesus, who squared for Sterling to roll in.

There was a response from the 13-time European champions, though, with Benzema and Eden Hazard both forcing saves from Ederson before their equaliser on the night arrived in the 28th minute.

A fine move ended with Benzema feeding Rodrygo and the young Brazilian clipping in a cross from the right for the Frenchman, who rose above Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho to head in from the edge of the six-yard box.

It was his 65th goal in the Champions League, putting him one clear of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski on the overall list and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.

Unfortunately for Real, Benzema was not able to add to that tally and this tie was effectively ended by another Varane blooper.

The Frenchman struggled with an awkward high ball downfield and his header back towards Thibaut Courtois was short, allowing Jesus to prod it beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.

Real will not return to Lisbon, where they won the Champions League in 2014, but the dream remains alive for Guardiola and City.

AFP

Neymar Criticises PSG Injury Handling After Dortmund Defeat

 

 

Neymar has criticised Paris Saint-Germain’s handling of his recent injury after scoring in the 2-1 defeat at Borussia Dortmund, which leaves the French club facing the prospect of another early Champions League exit.

After missing four games in the last fortnight with a rib injury, the Brazilian superstar looked short of match fitness in Tuesday’s last-16, first-leg, defeat at Dortmund.

Norwegian goal-machine Erling Braut Haaland scored twice to make him the Champions League joint top-scorer, but Neymar gave PSG a lifeline for the second leg in Paris on March 11.

He tapped home for what could prove a crucial away goal after being set up by France striker Kylian Mbappe in the second half.

READ ALSO: PSG Still ‘Dangerous’, Warns Record-Breaker Haaland

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, was critical of the French league champions for not letting him play more before Tuesday’s clash.

“It’s hard to go four games without playing,” said Neymar.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t my choice, it was the choice of the club, of the doctors, they made that decision, which I didn’t like.

“We had a lot of discussions about it because I wanted to play, I felt good, but the club was afraid and in the end it was me who suffered.”

Big-spending PSG are desperate to avoid exiting the Champions League at the first knockout round for a fourth season in a row.

“It was a tough game, but we have to do what we can in the return game,” Neymar, 28, told reporters.

“Playing now at home is the best thing in the world, we have 90 minutes to do something.

Five Ties To Watch In The Europa League This Week

 

 

The Europa League knockout phase begins on Thursday, with VAR being introduced to Europe’s secondary club competition for the first time out with the final for the last 32, first-leg ties. AFP Sport picks five games to watch this week:

Man Utd in Bruges

Manchester United’s Champions League aspirations have been given a major boost in recent days, first with the news of Manchester City’s two-year ban from the competition. Then, on Monday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side beat Chelsea 2-0 away to close to within three points of their opponents in fourth place in the Premier League.

Now they revert their focus to the Europa League, which could also offer them a ticket to next season’s Champions League if they reach the final in Gdansk in May and lift the trophy.

United head to Belgium to take on Club Brugge in the first leg of their tie. Beaten by Liverpool in two European finals in the 1970s, Club Brugge are not a side to be taken lightly. They dropped out of the Champions League group stage despite holding Real Madrid away, and are nine points clear atop the Belgian league.

Arsenal ‘deserve our respect’

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight games under Mikel Arteta, although the Gunners’ new Spanish boss could do with turning some of his team’s many draws into more victories.

Currently in mid-table in the Premier League, last season’s beaten finalists travel to face Olympiakos knowing this competition is surely their best bet if they are to return to the Champions League next term.

“They may not have started well in the Premier League this season, but they have great players, are dangerous and deserve our respect,” said Pedro Martins, the coach of Olympiakos.

The Greek league leaders dropped out of the Champions League group stage despite holding Tottenham Hotspur to a 2-2 draw in Piraeus.

Ajax set for battle in Spain

After enchanting Europe on their run to the Champions League semi-finals last year, Ajax were brought crashing back to earth when they were eliminated from this season’s competition in the group stage.

The Dutch champions were then handed a tough Europa League draw against a Getafe side who have been one of the stories of the season in Spain.

The unfashionable outfit from the working-class satellite town just south of Madrid finished fifth in La Liga last season and are currently third under Jose Bordalas, whose his idol as a youngster was Johan Cruyff.

“They are warriors. They fight for every ball and really give everything,” Ajax star Dusan Tadic told Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad. “They are physically very strong and go beyond the limits if necessary.”

It is Getafe’s first European knockout tie since they took Bayern Munich to extra time in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals in 2008.

Will Salzburg survive without Haaland?

Erling Braut Haaland’s eight goals were not enough for Salzburg to qualify from the Champions League group stage, and the Austrians have since lost their striker to Borussia Dortmund. Japanese winger Takumi Minamino also departed for Liverpool, leaving them looking seriously weakened for the second half of the season.

Salzburg did sign Swiss starlet Noah Okafor, but their first league game after a long winter break ended in a 3-2 home defeat by title rivals LASK Linz last weekend.

Now Salzburg face Eintracht Frankfurt, meaning a reunion with Adi Huetter, who coached Salzburg to a league and cup double in 2015.

Celtic fairytale in Copenhagen?

Celtic have been eliminated at this stage in the last two seasons but should fancy their chances against FC Copenhagen as they head to Denmark.

While Celtic have claimed nine straight wins this calendar year, Copenhagen’s first league game of 2020 ended in defeat last weekend.

Current Celtic manager Neil Lennon was a player when the Glasgow giants lost 3-1 on their last trip to Copenhagen in the Champions League in 2006.

His team qualified by topping their group, and of this tie he said: “It’s great to have European football after Christmas, and it’s a tough draw. It could have been tougher, but it could have been easier.”

PSG Still ‘Dangerous’, Warns Record-Breaker Haaland

 

Teenage record-breaker Erling Braut Haaland warned Borussia Dortmund still have it all to do to reach the Champions League quarter-finals even after his two goals sank Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain.

Haaland netted either side of a Neymar equaliser on Tuesday as the Brazilian superstar scored on his return from injury as the French champions crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Dortmund in the last 16, first leg, tie.

“We want to go through, it’s going to be a hard game,” Haaland said of the return leg in Paris on March 11, “but we are a good team.

“The result is quite a dangerous one, as Paris has a very strong team and can still go through in the return leg.”

Haaland’s team-mate Emre Can, who alongside Axel Witsel worked tirelessly in Dortmund’s midfield to contain Neymar and France striker Kylian Mbappe, said the home side’s defence had been key.

“It was a big statement from the team how we defended today. We know it’s not over — it’s just half-time,” said Can, whose permanent transfer from Juventus was confirmed Tuesday.

However, the night belonged Haaland who has 11 goals in his first seven games for Dortmund and warned there is more to come.

“I feel like I still can do a lot better,” said Haaland.

“I have to work hard to improve to play better at this level.”

Having also scored eight goals for Salzburg in the group stages before his 20 million-euro ($22 million) transfer to Dortmund, Haaland made Champions League history on Tuesday.

His tally of 10 goals in his first seven Champions League matches is now a new record in the competition and makes him the joint top-scorer alongside Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.

The teenage goal-machine has so far scored 39 times in 29 games this season for Salzburg and Dortmund.

The 19-year-old had already sent records tumbling since arriving in Dortmund last month when he became the first player to score a hat-trick off the bench on his Bundesliga debut.

His incredible strike for his second goal on Tuesday overshadowed Neymar’s return from a rib injury with PSG desperate to break their last 16 jinx having exited at this stage in the competition in each of the last three seasons.

‘Important Neymar goal’

Paris defender Marquinhos said Neymar’s away goal could prove crucial in the home leg.

“We weren’t intense enough with or without the ball and did a lot of things badly, however the goal we got is important for the second leg,” he said.

The presence of the world’s most expensive player was a major boost for his team, after Neymar missed last season’s surprise last-16 loss to Manchester United with a foot injury.

He also sat out the second leg of their defeat by Real Madrid at the same stage in 2018.

PSG’s German coach Thomas Tuchel admitted Neymar’s lack of match fitness had been a factor in the away defeat, but said his team still has time to find their form.

“Neymar hadn’t played for a fortnight, but he is very important for Kylian (Mbappe), there is harmony between them and if Neymar lacks rhythm, it’s immediately noticeable,” said Tuchel.

“We didn’t have enough possession, we made too many easy mistakes, we weren’t smart enough and we lost the ball too early.

“It’s difficult, but it’s 2-1 and we still have a few games left to get back into the rhythm.”

His counterpart Lucien Favre echoed Haaland’s insistence that the result gives Dortmund only a slender advantage with PSG’s passionate home fans set to get behind their team in the return leg.

“Of course it’s a dangerous result, but we played well in both defence and attack,” said Dortmund’s Swiss coach.

“However, as things stand it’s 2-1 to us.”

‘Welcome To Anfield’, Klopp Warns Atletico

 

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp expects a very different atmosphere at Anfield will help turn his side’s Champions League last 16 tie with Atletico Madrid around after a 1-0 first leg defeat in the Spanish capital on Tuesday.

Saul Niguez’s early strike inflicted just Liverpool’s second defeat of the season in all competitions with a senior team.

The holders were frustrated by the hosts’ playacting and Polish referee Szymon Marciniak’s performance as Atletico boss Diego Simeone whipped the Wanda Metropolitano crowd into a frenzy.

“Wow, that’s energy!” Klopp told BT Sport when asked about Simeone’s touchline antics.

“I don’t think I have to do that much to be honest (in the second leg), I hope I can be focused a little bit more on the game.

“Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield! It’s not over yet.”

Klopp replaced Sadio Mane at half-time with the Senegalese at risk of being sent-off as Atletico players surrounded Marciniak demanding a second yellow card for the African player of the year just before the break.

“He was targeted that was clear,” added Klopp.

“Sadio played a really good first half and they only thing they wanted is to make sure he gets a yellow card.

“For me we didn’t lose, it’s only half-time, the score is 1-0 that’s all. But you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere, that was obviously not easy.”

The visitors were also riled by the celebrations of Simeone and some of his players at full-time after they secured a victory that could kickstart at faltering season.

“They’ve celebrated as if they’ve won the tie after the game, so let’s see,” said left-back Andy Robertson.

“We’ve got a couple of weeks, Premier League business to take care of, and then we’re coming back to Anfield.

“We know our fans will be there, we’ll be there, so it’s up to them to come as well.”

Three Things We Learned From Atletico 1 Liverpool 0

 

Liverpool will need another second leg fightback against Spanish opposition at Anfield to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals after Saul Niguez’s early strike handed Atletico Madrid a 1-0 last 16, first-leg victory on Tuesday.

The European champions thrashed Barcelona 4-0 after losing the first leg of their semi-final 3-0 in Catalonia last season and do not need such a dramatic turn of events this time round.

However, after romping to a 25-point lead at the top of the Premier League, defeat was a really check for the Reds that they will not have it easy if they are to retain the Champions League.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned as Diego Simeone’s Atletico rolled back the years.

Atletico rise to the occasion

It was not just the holders’ relentless form in the Premier League that made Liverpool huge favourites to progress before the tie, but Atletico’s poor season so far that has seen Simeone’s future questioned for the first time in his eight-year reign.

However, on the big occasion, Atleti revelled in rolling back the years to play the role of underdogs to perfection.

Saul’s early strike provided the perfect platform for a classic Champions League performance from a Simeone side as the Spaniards soaked up Liverpool’s possession and pressure without Jan Oblak even being stretched to keep a clean sheet.

Another huge effort will be required to prevent another famous Anfield fightback on a European night in three week’s time.

A year ago, Atletico beat Juventus 2-0 at home in the first leg of their last 16 tie only to be eliminated by old foe Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick.

However, thanks to a raucous atmosphere with Simeone characteristically playing the role of conductor, they at least preserved a proud home record in European competition under the Argentine with now 37 wins and just three defeats in 46 games.

Better call Saul

Saul has been one of Atletico’s key players who has failed to match his normally high standards this season.

However, the Spanish international has a habit of coming up with big goals from midfield on Champions League nights.

He scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich that took Atleti to the final in 2016 and was on target in another semi-final win against Real Madrid a year later.

Saul’s first in the Champions League this season was far from his most spectacular in the competition as he slotted home from close range after Liverpool failed to clear a corner.

But it was more than good enough to give Atletico hope of pulling off a huge shock.

Liverpool’s travel sickness

Defeat may have been just Liverpool’s second with a senior team in all competitions this season, but both have come in the Champions League and follows a trend of difficult trips across the continent for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

The Reds have lost seven of their last 11 away Champions League games and are once again left relying on fortress Anfield to progress.

Despite enjoying nearly 70 percent possession, Liverpool did not manage a single shot on target against the mass ranks of Atletico defence on an off night for their two top scorers.

Sadio Mane was substituted at half-time as the Senegalese ran the risk of being sent-off before Mohamed Salah was also replaced by Klopp 20 minutes from time.