WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

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Raheem Sterling celebrates his winner on an up and down night for City at Schalke. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2019
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WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

  • Defences dominated free-scoring attacks on Tuesday.
  • Juventus finding life far more tough in Europe than at home.

All the Champions League second round first-leg matches are done and dusted so what better time to look back at the latest clashes and reveal what we learned from the titanic tussles…

DEFENCE BACK IN VOGUE

Who would have predicted that Tuesday night’s two clashes would return the miserly total of zero goals? If you say yes, there is a good chance you are either lying or able to see into the future. Liverpool (minus Virgil van Djik), Bayern Munich and Barcelona are all much better going forward than trying to keep a cleansheet and goals were surely guaranteed. But in both matches — Liverpool at home to Bayern, and Barca away at Lyon — the backlines held firm and Bayern’s performance in particular illustrated a defensive discipline that has been deemed out of fashion the past few seasons. The fullbacks Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba rarely went beyond the halfway line and Mats Hummels was immense in the middle. Likewise the Reds without their defensive rock also looked resolute and solid with their makeshift backline. Over the past few years the top teams, especially in Europe, have generally thrown caution to the wind. Tuesday’s matches were a bit of a throwback, but no less entertaining or enthralling for it.

The disciplined performance of David Alaba typified Bayern's match at Liverpool. (AFP) 

JUVE FINDING SERIE A TOO EASY?

The Turin club are once again strolling toward another domestic title. They are unbeaten and a mammoth 13 points ahead of second-placed Napoli, their eighth consecutive title is all but assured. In Europe, however, it is a different story as Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid illustrated. Already this season they have lost three of their seven Champions League matches and on now face a huge task to overturn the deficit in Turin on March 12. In four full seasons at Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri has led his team to four successive league and cup doubles and two Champions League finals. But he was out-thought by Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone. Of the result the Juve boss simply said “these things happen” but added: “They are more used playing games of this type than us” a tacit admission that the Spaniards face tougher games in La Liga than Juve do while strolling to wins week after week in Italy.

Ronaldo and Juve are coasting to yet another Serie A title but it's a different story in the Champions League. (AFP) 

CITY’S INCONSISTENCY CLEAR TO SEE

Before the turn of the year Manchester City lost in the Premier League to Crystal Palace and Leicester City and followed that up in January with a shock loss at Newcastle. For the first time in 18 months, domestically at least, you could no longer assume the Abu Dhabi-owned club would turn up, strut their stuff and claim an easy victory. In Europe so far this season they have only lost once in seven matches, on the face of it no problem. But the defeat at Lyon before the new year has been followed up with Wednesday’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Schalke, again, on the face of it OK, but worrying signs are there. The German outfit may lie 14th in the Bundesliga but for long periods looked more than a match for Pep Guardiola’s side — albeit one down to 10 men from the 69th minute. City could well win the second-leg in a similar manner to their 6-0 win over Chelsea in the league, but this match as much as anything will have perfectionist Guardiola worried. It was not for nothing that he said after the win: “we are still not ready to fight for the latter stages.”

City found the going tough against a resolute Schalke. (AFP)


Embiid returns to help 76ers beat Nets for 3-1 lead

Updated 21 April 2019
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Embiid returns to help 76ers beat Nets for 3-1 lead

  • The 76ers seized a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Nets

NEW YORK: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid returned from injury to score a game-high 31 points and grab 16 rebounds, powering the 76ers to a 112-108 NBA playoff victory at Brooklyn on Saturday.
Despite a third-quarter incident that saw two players ejected, the 76ers seized a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Nets and could advance in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven matchup with a home victory Tuesday.
In the other Eastern Conference game, Khris Middleton finished with 20 points and nine rebounds as the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks put the Detroit Pistons on the brink of elimination with a 119-103 win. The victory give the Bucks a 3-0 lead and they can wrap up the series with a win on the road in the Motor City on Monday.
Philadelphia, down by 10 points early in the third quarter, battled back most of the second half before taking the lead on a run of eight points by Embiid, who missed game three with a sore left knee.
A slam dunk and layup by Embiid gave the 76ers their first late lead at 102-101 but, after an exchange of layups and three-pointers as well as turnovers, fell behind 108-107 on a basket by Brooklyn’s Joe Harris with 25 seconds remaining.
On the next 76er possession, Embiid flipped the last of his seven assists to Mike Scott, whose corner three-pointer put Philadelphia ahead to stay 110-108 with 19 seconds remaining.
Australian Ben Simmons — who added 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the 76ers — stole the ball from Brooklyn’s Jarett Allen and Tobias Harris sank two free throws for the last of his 24 points to clinch the triumph.
Caris LeVert led the Nets with 25 points while Brooklyn had 21 points each from Allen and D’Angelo Russell.
Cameroon star center Embiid was issued a flagrant foul in touching off an altercation 4:18 into the third quarter that saw Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley ejected. Embiid, who had elbowed Allen in the face in game two, was whistled for a hard foul on Allen that prompted Dudley to rush at Embiid, taking down the Sixers big man. Butler swung his left arm at Dudley, who wound up in the front row seats with Simmons at one stage, to earn his ejection.
In Detroit, Brook Lopez tallied 19 points and had seven rebounds and five blocked shots and Eric Bledsoe scored 19 points for the Bucks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered 14 points and 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double in the series and Nikola Mirotic chipped in 12 points.
Detroit’s hobbled star Blake Griffin had 27 points in 31 minutes after he missed the first two games of the series with a sore knee.
Griffin was cleared with his leg heavily wrapped but it didn’t change the outcome.
The Pistons have now lost 13 straight playoff games dating back to 2008. In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets — led by game highs of 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists from Serbian playmaker Nikola Jokic — pulled level with San Antonio at 2-2 in their opening series with a 117-103 road triumph over the Spurs.