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)


Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

Updated 18 June 2019
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Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

  • The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay
  • Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time

SAO PAULO: Chile’s experienced Copa America team proved too good for Japan’s young squad.

The two-time defending champions opened their Copa America campaign with a 4-0 win over the Asian guests on Monday, with Eduardo Vargas scoring a pair of goals to become Chile’s all-time leading scorer in the South American competition.

Erick Pulgar and Alexis Sanchez also scored for the titleholders, which are trying to become the first nation to win three straight Copa titles since Argentina in the late 1940s. Vargas scored twice in the second half to reach 12 goals with Chile in the tournament, two more than Enrique Hormazabal.

The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay, which opened with a 4-0 win over Ecuador on Sunday.

“Chile has players who are very experienced, who know each other very well,” Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “The challenge today was to avoid a bad debut. We were humble and entered with our feet on the ground. We were playing against a team that was very competitive in all sectors.”

Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time, brought to Brazil a young squad focused on the Olympic tournament at home next year. The Japanese youngsters struggled against the veteran Chilean squad which was in control from the start at the Morumbi Stadium.

Chile won the last two editions of the Copa America, beating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the final both in 2015 and 2016. Argentina is the only team to have won three consecutive South American titles, from 1945-47.

Boosted by most of the 23,253 fans at the Morumbi, Chile created most of the significant chances.

After Pulgar headed in a corner-kick cross by Charles Aranguiz in the 41st minute, Vargas added to the lead with a shot from outside the area in the 54th after a pass by Mauricio Isla.

Sanchez found the net with a header in the 82nd, and Vargas closed the scoring about a minute later with a long lob shot over goalkeeper Keisuke Osako as he charged from his net.

It was a good opening match for Sanchez after a difficult season with Manchester United.

“I was coming off a difficult month-and-a-half,” said the 30-year-old Sanchez, who injured his ankle late in the season. “I struggled in the first 45 minutes, I felt tired, but I improved in the second half.”

Rueda, debuting with Chile in an official tournament, has been gradually revamping the squad since he took over in 2018. Among the veterans back from the team’s recent triumphs were Vargas, Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, who also had a good opener.

Japan last played in the Copa America in 1999, when it was eliminated in the group stage. Among the youngsters in Brazil was Takefusa Kubo, the 18-year-old who has joined Real Madrid’s “B” team for next season. He played from the start and was a threat for Japan in attack. He got an ovation from the crowd at the Morumbi after getting past a defender with a ball through his legs about 10 minutes into the match. He nearly scored after a nifty move past a defender inside the area in the 65th, but his shot hit the outside of the net. Japan had a few good chances to get on the board toward the end of the game but could not capitalize on them.