Sports

Mar 172016
 
Arsenal went out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the sixth consecutive season

Barcelona have “two or three players who transform normal life into art”, says Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

The Gunners went out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the sixth straight season after a 5-1 aggregate loss against Barcelona.

The La Liga side’s front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez were all on target.

“In the final third, Barcelona’s passing accuracy and creativity is exceptional,” said Wenger.

Relive Barcelona’s victory here

Match report: Classy Barca too good for Barca

‘At 1-1, Barca were wobbling’

Arsenal’s Champions League exits in the past six seasons have come against Barcelona twice, Bayern Munich twice, Monaco and AC Milan

Arsenal missed numerous chances in the game, with Danny Welbeck hitting the woodwork and Alexis Sanchez twice coming close.

Having also gone out of the FA Cup in a shock defeat against Watford last weekend, the Premier League is Arsenal’s only hope of a trophy this season. They are currently 11 points behind leaders Leicester with a game in hand.

Wenger feels the result could have been different if they managed to add to Mohamed Elneny’s crisp effort in the second half.

“I felt, at 1-1, they were wobbling and insecure,” said Wenger. “We could not take our chance to score the second goal to put ourselves in a good position.

“We created plenty of dangerous situations and the quality of our game was good. When we lost the second goal, we lost the edge.”

‘Pleasure for others, suffering for me’

Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored 111 goals between them this season

Messi’s delightful dinked finish took his tally to 37 for the season in all competitions, while Neymar netted his 28th and Suarez now has 46 after his superb volley against the Gunners.

“We played against a team who has the best strikers I have seen,” added Wenger. “The three together are absolutely exceptional.

“From nothing, they can create a chance, especially Messi. He didn’t miss a first touch, no matter where the ball came from.

“At some stage in our sport, we must admire art and they have two or three players who transform normal life into art. I respect that and I believe it is pleasure as well. For me, is it suffering.”

How Arsenal’s season has unravelled

Back in early January, Arsenal fans were dreaming of a trophy-laden season.

The Gunners were top of the Premier League, safely into the Champions League last 16 and making progress into the FA Cup fourth round.

But conceding a late leveller at Liverpool on 13 January proved the catalyst for a dreadful run of form.

Wenger’s men have managed to win just two of their nine Premier League matches since, leaving them well adrift of leaders Leicester.

If falling away in the title race is not hard enough for Gunners fans to take, their misery has been compounded by a double cup exit in the space of four days.

Failing to overcome a two-goal deficit against Barcelona may not have been a surprise. But, following Sunday’s home quarter-final defeat against Watford, it has done little to ease mounting pressure on Wenger.

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Mar 172016
 
Bayern are unbeaten in their last 10 home European games

Bayern Munich fought back from two goals down to beat Juventus in extra time, dramatically progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals.

With the tie poised at 2-2 after the first leg, Paul Pogba and Juan Cuadrado scored to put Juve in command.

Robert Lewandowski’s header gave Bayern hope but Juve looked to have seen them off until Thomas Muller’s 90th-minute goal forced the match into extra time.

And a buoyed Bayern finished in style through Thiago and Kingsley Coman.

The hosts – who had dominated possession to little effect in normal time – played with more urgency after Muller’s lifeline, with the introduction of substitutes Coman and Thiago playing a key part in the turnaround.

Juventus will not only have to come to terms with falling so close to the finishing line, but the pill will be even more bitter knowing that the player who inflicted the killer blow was Coman, a talented teenager on long-term loan at Bayern from the Bianconeri.

The 19-year-old Frenchman made three assists in Bayern’s 5-0 thumping of Werder Bremen in the league at the weekend and was once again influential when he replaced the ineffective Xabi Alonso after an hour.

Classy Barca too good for Arsenal

Juve perfection – but not for the full 90

Juventus have won all but one of their last 19 Serie A games and not conceded in the league for nearly two months, but despite such impressive form Massimiliano Allegri maintained his team would have to enjoy the “perfect game” to beat opponents who had won their last nine European home games by an aggregate score of 36-4.

For the majority of the match they met Allegri’s demands. They pressed Bayern high up the pitch, forcing the home defence into rushed, uncharacteristic errors.

Paul Pogba scores for Juventus

Even in the face of wave after wave of red-shirted attacks in the final 15 minutes, the Bianconeri’s defence seemed to have enough knowhow to carry the team home, restricting the hosts to hopeful shots.

But Muller struck after a fine Coman cross to give an enthralling match an added twist. Coman played a part in Bayern’s opener, too – his dash to the byline prevented the ball from going out and he then fed Douglas Costa, whose drifted cross towards the far post found the clinical Lewandowski.

Bayern rattled, Juve in control

Last year’s runners up showed remarkable resistance in coming back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in the first leg – Bayern boss Pep Guardiola said his respect for the Italians was even greater as a result – and they had clearly learned from the mistakes of Turin.

On a number of occasions Juve were able to bisect Bayern’s defence with one pass. Manuel Neuer, in particular, looked harassed by Juve’s high-tempo style. He gambled and lost early on, rushing off his line and allowing Stephan Lichtsteiner’s shot to ricochet off him into the path of Pogba, who side-footed home into an unmanned net.

Bayern are the only team to score against Juventus in the last two months

The offside flag then came to the German goalkeeper’s rescue. Alvaro Morata put the ball in the net after a poor clearance from Neuer, and replays would later show that disallowing the goal was the wrong decision.

But the visitors did double their advantage and did so with panache. The impressive Morata sashayed through the middle, beating a host of defenders and unselfishly feeding Cuadrado, who jinked inside the box before arrowing the ball in at the near post.

The Italians were dominant and on course to knock Bayern out in Guardiola’s final season in charge, but then the Catalan made substitutions which changed the course of the match.

A dream ending for Guardiola?

Guardiola has won three successive Bundesliga titles and are two-points ahead in the league this season, but defeat in the last 16 on his last hurrah would have been regarded as a failure.

Winning the Champions League with Bayern for the first time would complete his legacy with the Germans before his departure to Manchester City in the summer.

But his men were below par for the majority of this match and will have to improve if the Spaniard is to secure the send-off he craves.

The quarter-final draw will be made on Friday and Guardiola has the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain and future employers City as potential last-eight opponents.

Bayern have made it to the semi-finals in five of the last six seasons

‘Win welds us together’

Bayern boss Pep Guardiola: “To score four times against an Italian team when you trail 2-0 is a big deal. It was a great game for everyone. We played last season’s finalists and we knew they are a great team.”

Bayern captain Philipp Lahm: “This win brings us closer together, it welds us together. It was important to see that everyone, everyone on the bench was pushing us. We need the whole squad, every player of the team, if we are to be successful.”

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri: “We played a great game against a team that has extraordinary players. We played with a lot of personality and should have made it 3-0 when we had the chance.

“We should have been more careful with those last crosses but I am proud of my players.”

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Mar 172016
 
Who would you have as your ‘six-month manager’?

Imagine a world in which Sir Alex Ferguson never became an Old Trafford legend?

Or one where Arsene Wenger was released by Arsenal before people stopped asking “Arsene who?”

This all could have been a reality had managers been hired on only six-month deals. According to Barcelona boss Luis Enrique it would make financial sense for clubs to offer short-term deals, thereby avoiding the need for massive pay-offs for sacked managers.

So if we were to judge managers purely after a six-month stint, would football really look that different?

Leaving a legacy

Bet they’re glad they stuck with him – Sir Alex Ferguson (right with Bryan Robson) here starts the ball rolling by helping Manchester United win the 1990 FA Cup

It famously took Ferguson a while to get going at Manchester United. Surely he wouldn’t have got a new deal with a win percentage of 42.9% after his first six months.

By the time his trophy-laden dynasty was at an end, that winning record had risen to 60.4%. Maybe a youthful Louis van Gaal would have arrived at Old Trafford earlier in his career, and David Moyes would definitely have known he was on the clock.