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Boca Juniors, Palmeiras provide rare Copa Libertadores group stage treat

In the last decade six teams have won Europe’s Champions League. And from a pool of 40, 15 clubs have made it through to the semifinals. wholesale nfl jerseys china This astonishing pattern would seem likely to be repeated this season, as Roma and Sevilla are the only ones who could add their name to the list of semifinalists, which seems unlikely after last week’s action.

The Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, are well placed to reach yet another semifinal — they have appeared in seven in the last 10 years. Bayern Munich, who have reached four of the last six years, also seem poised to get there once more.

No one has retained the Libertadores title since Argentine giants Boca Juniors managed the feat at the start of the century — a period when they had some epic duels with Palmeiras of Brazil.

Palmeiras were the 1999 champions. Boca beat them on penalties to win the title the following year, then beat them again — again on penalties — in the 2001 semifinal. They meet once more on Wednesday. The only Libertadores game to be played this week, it is a clash sufficiently glamorous to warrant the attention of the entire continent.

Boca Juniors are the only club to have reached the semifinals in three of the last 10 years — an achievement all the more impressive when their victory the previous season is factored in. They are the reigning Argentine champions, and with the domestic season coming to a close, are well set to retain their title.

Palmeiras have not always been so dominant, but the Sao Paulo club — like Boca a product of Italian immigration — have plenty of past tradition and many reasons for optimism. nfl jerseys wholesale china Their entirely rebuilt new stadium is generally considered to be the most impressive of all Brazil’s new grounds — and it is proving lucrative. Moreover, the club can count on a wealthy sponsor and has assembled a squad of enviable depth.

Champions League history is important… just ask Manchester City

There will be two answers to that question at Anfield on Wednesday when Liverpool face Manchester City in the first leg of their all-Premier League Champions League quarterfinal.

Put it to a Liverpudlian and it would be akin to asking a poet to reel off his favourite poem. There will be recollections of the heroics of former greats —cheap wholesale nfl jerseys from china  Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard — tales of glory in Rome, London, Paris and Istanbul, of Luis Garcia’s “ghost” goal against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, and countless memories of the five times that Liverpool were crowned champions of Europe.

Ask a City supporter and they will tell you that their club is now making history rather than wallowing in it. They have enjoyed taunting neighbours Manchester United about “living in the past” and, with Pep Guardiola’s team on the brink of clinching the club’s third Premier League title in six years, can rightly claim to be in the midst of their own historic period.

Yet as abstract as it may be in a football sense, history does matter in the Champions League.

You can’t buy it, touch it or devise a tactical plan to nullify it, but when Guardiola’s men stride onto the pitch at Anfield, and in the return leg at the Etihad next Tuesday, their toughest opponent might be history and the sheer weight of it against them.

A ball has not yet been kicked, but Liverpool vs. Manchester City is already a classic encounter between history and ambition.

It is the old guard against the new wave; empire against uprising. But City are not the first club to find themselves in the position of being wealthy outsiders attempting to gatecrash the elite.

Considering that Chelsea, City and PSG have spent close to £3 billion between them over the past 15 years,cheap nfl jersey wholesale it goes to show that old, accumulated wealth and history is still able to resist the power of new money.

But is there an intangible factor that makes it so much more difficult for the emerging clubs to succeed in the Champions League? Does the weight of history act as a crucial inspiration rather than a suffocating burden?

Mohamed Salah saves Liverpool after slack defence struggle at Palace

Liverpool pulled it out of the fire on a controversial lunchtime at Selhurst Park and in the process, made a giant step towards guaranteeing their place in the top four.

Mohamed Salah’s 37th goal of a campaign that defies description gave them a 2-1 win six minutes from time but Crystal Palace will wonder how on earth Sadio Mane,cheap nfl jerseys from china who equalised after Luka Milivojevic’s 12th minute penalty, was not sent off by referee Neil Swarbrick in the second half after one of the clearest second yellow card offences this season will produce.

Palace were within a whisker of opening the scoring eight minutes in. Wilfried Zaha, controlling a long James McArthur pass and holding off Trent Alexander-Arnold, found himself up against Loris Karius but the goalkeeper stood up superbly and deflected his shot over.

Four minutes later, a similar break brought greater reward. Zaha, running on to Christian Benteke’s flick at a slightly wider angle, knocked the ball past Karius but was brought down as the pair met. It was a clear penalty; Karius was booked and Milivojevic converted his ninth goal — and seventh penalty — of the season.

Liverpool controlled possession but openings were scarce. When Mane appealed for a penalty of his own after turning past McArthur, he was rightly booked for an obvious dive. Just before the half-hour he was frustrated again when his back-post header was ruled out for offside. By the interval the visitors were camped in Palace’s half but only another Mane header, tipped away by Wayne Hennessey, really threatened an equaliser.

It had been a forgettable half for Mane but four minutes after the break, he found his bearings. His finish from James Milner’s driven cross was sharp but from Palace’s perspective, all too simple. Liverpool continued to apply pressure; Salah looped a volley wide but when Palace did attack, they never looked secure.

That was summed up when Benteke missed two golden chances in quick succession, blazing horribly off target both times after Andros Townsend had twice exposed sloppy defensive play. Mane was then inexplicably not booked again nfl cheap jerseys after being penalised for grabbing the ball in search of a free kick, Karius compounding Palace’s frustration by saving Patrick van Aanholt’s set-piece.

Jurgen Klopp immediately moved to replace Mane with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was an end-to-end affair now but Liverpool’s 11 men found a winner. Salah, keeping his composure brilliantly after Andrew Robertson had drilled across goal, applied the finish and left Palace shaking their heads.

Arsenal need to prioritise signing a replacement for ageing Petr Cech

The sense that a parting of the ways may be the best way forward for both parties can also be sensed in the way Cech is being used. At a club like Arsenal, being the cup keeper is arguably the bigger prize than being the league keeper. nike nfl jersey cheap Forgetting, for a second, the greater prestige attached to the lustily-hyped Premier League, the league campaign is effectively doomed from the start. A club with Arsenal’s structural faults is just not equipped to win it; for this season and last season, they have not even been equipped to win a place in the top four.

Which means, despite his inferior squad status, reputation and pay, David Ospina has had the honour of performing on the biggest occasions: the Carabao Cup final last month and the FA Cup final win over Chelsea last season, as well as, presumably, the latter stages of the Europa League up to and including the final in Lyon if Arsenal make it.

Quite understandably it is a situation which appears to have irked Cech. Speaking as part of the BBC coverage for the FA Cup match between Leicester and his former club, Chelsea, on Sunday, he said: “I love this competition — to play FA Cup games makes it a bit more spicy and special. But you have to respect the manager. You can tell him you would prefer the other way, but the decision is his.”

If Wenger’s intention is to provide playing opportunities for both his goalkeepers, then it would be easy to achieve that while reflecting the changed priorities in Arsenal’s season by simply making Cech the keeper for Europe and starting to use Ospina in the league instead.

It is hardly a ridiculous notion given that the Europa League is not only the only chance of silverware, and pride — it is also the only realistic route back to the Champions League, making it a financial imperative as well as a sporting one. For all intents and purposes, the Europa League *is* the league, as far as Arsenal should be concerned.

And yet it was Ospina who lined up for both legs of the last-16 win over AC Milan. And Ospina is heavily expected to keep the gloves for the matchup with CSKA Moscow in the quarterfinals. Wenger is being consistent, cheap nfl jerseys china nike but it is also a revealing strategy: if all your hopes rest on one competition you aren’t going to leave out a player capable of making a huge difference. And Arsenal do not have a keeper with that ability, which is why you can expect the transfer talk to get a bit louder as the season winds down.

Sanchez, Kane, De Bruyne, Salah: Top players must have the ball to lose it

Football has always been about statistics. The concept of a top scorer, for example, has been established for decades and yet is essentially a statistical irrelevance, nfl jerseys cheap nike given it almost always has no bearing upon the destination of a league title. That example, though, proves the statistics debate is nuanced.

It’s not about whether or not you use figures, but about what you record and how you interpret the numbers. Even the now-established idea of the assist was only formally defined in the 1990s and reliable records in this area have only been available within the last decade. Advanced metrics are starting to become commonplace, but they’re increasingly misused.

An interesting case study in recent weeks has involved Alexis Sanchez. Opta figures suggest that he’s conceded possession over twice as frequently as any of his teammates — 247 times, compared to 143 by Ashley Young and 126 by Romelu Lukaku — since his switch to Manchester United, with those numbers used as an example of his failings. But while Sanchez has underperformed, these stats are largely irrelevant in terms of demonstrating why he has struggled.

The “conceded possession” concept itself is something of a hybrid, taking into account unsuccessful dribbles and passes, as well as passes played to a player in an offside position, loose touches and even foul throws. (The latter is unlikely to impact anyone’s figures significantly, with the honourable exception of Tottenham’s Serge Aurier, who managed three in one game recently!)

There’s nothing wrong with grouping these factors together but they are considerably different:nfl nike jerseys cheap Losing the ball when attempting to dribble past someone is obviously different from losing it when attempting to play a through pass. Moreover, neither necessarily implies a turnover of possession; after being tackled the ball can run to a teammate or, after an unsuccessful pass is half-intercepted, it might run to a colleague.

Marcus Rashford downs Liverpool as Man United thrive without Paul Pogba

1. Rashford exposes Liverpool’s flaws

Marcus Rashford marked his first Premier League start of 2018 with both goals as Manchester United punished the defensive mistakes of rivals Liverpool to seal a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

The victory, which lifts United five points clear of Jurgen Klopp’s team in second place, was sealed in the first half by Rashford’s two strikes.

But while the 20-year-old, impressing in front of England coach Gareth Southgate, took his goals in clinical fashion, the failure of Liverpool to defend both properly was a return to their early season failings.

And Dejan Lovren, who had a spectacularly bad performance during the 4-1 defeat at Tottenham, was at fault again for both of United’s goals.6

On both occasions, Lovren was beaten in the air by Romelu Lukaku in aerial challenges, with the United forward winning the flick-ons to tee up Rashford.

For the first goal, Rashford easily turned Trent Alexander-Arnold in the penalty area before beating goalkeeper Loris Karius with a powerful shot into the far corner.

And the second was another fine finish by Rashford, who scored after Juan Mata had latched on to Lukaku’s second flick.

Although Liverpool pulled one back with an Eric Bailly own goal in the second half, the visitors struggled to display their attacking flair at Old Trafford.

And United held on to claim the win that takes them one step closer to securing Champions League qualification and runners-up spot behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

2. Cut off supply line as you neutralise Liverpool

Before this game, Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane had scored 45 Premier League goals between them this season, so their threat to United was obvious.

To have any hope of winning this fixture, United simply had to find a way to keep them quiet — a task few clubs have managed this term.

But United found a way, and it was by cutting off the supply line to Salah, Firmino and Mane, with the Liverpool midfielders dominated by the hosts.

Liverpool’s much-vaunted forwards made it easy for United, though, because none of them was prepared to drop deep and go in search of the ball.

If it didn’t come to them, they were not willing to put the work in to bolster their midfield numbers, and that will be a concern to Klopp, especially if Liverpool have ambitions of making progress in the Champions League.

Top teams will have noted how United snuffed out the threat of Salah,nike nfl jersey differences Mane and Firmino, and they will copy the blueprint.

United also dropped deep, often defending their 18-yard line, to nullify the threat of Mane and Salah’s pace.

With so many teams focused only on attacking nowadays, Jose Mourinho’s approach was a reminder of the importance of a sound defensive plan, and the fact that Liverpool’s goal came from an Eric Bailly own goal underlines the success of United’s approach.

3. Pogba absence helps United

Paul Pogba’s absence from the Manchester United team due to an injury sustained in training on Friday could have been perceived as a negative by Mourinho, but the Frenchman’s absence ultimately worked in the home side’s favour.

Pogba has been out of form in recent weeks, and his performance at Crystal Palace on Monday was bad enough to warrant him being dropped for this game. But the £89M man is still a key man in Mourinho’s team, and it is difficult to envisage him being left out against nfl womens jerseys

But without him, United were a much better team — they were more organised and disciplined.

Scott McTominay’s emergence as a holding midfielder has given United balance and helped lift Nemanja Matic’s game, perhaps because the former Chelsea man knows that McTominay will not wander forward and abandon his defensive responsibilities as Pogba does when selected in that role.

Without Pogba, Mourinho is also able to accommodate Rashford and Juan Mata in the team, and both were crucial to this result.66

Rashford’s two goals from his left-sided attacking position — Pogba’s favoured role — justified his selection, while Mata was able to provide a link between midfield and attack in the absence of the roaming Pogba.

The debate over Pogba’s best position and his value to this United team will rage on, but when Mourinho’s team can play so well without him, it does not bode well for his future as a cornerstone of the side.