Bayern Munich 1 Real Madrid 2: Asensio seals smash-and-grab win for Zidane’s men

Marco Asensio’s half-time introduction proved decisive as Real Madrid pickpocketed a 2-1 win at Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Bayern overcame the early loss of Arjen Robben through injury to lead when Joshua Kimmich caught out Kaylor Navas with a rasping finish before the half-hour mark.

Zinedine Zidane’s European champions never truly recovered their defensive poise from that point, even after Marcelo clattered home a 44th-minute equaliser.

Full-backs were the heroes in both first-half goals, but an awful error by Bayern left-back Rafinha allowed Asensio, on for the struggling Isco, to hand Madrid a significant second away goal. 

Cristiano Ronaldo, who had scored in every match in this season’s competition, had a strike ruled out for handball – an advantage that would have further flattered Zidane’s men after a strangely error-strewn encounter at the Allianz Arena, where Robert Lewandowski’s pursuit of a 40th goal this season went awry in untimely fashion.

Thomas Muller was unable to contort himself to convert Lewandowski’s hooked cross during the opening minute, setting the tone for a frantic start that continued until Robben pulled up.

The Bayern winger made way due to a problem with his right leg and the pace of the game settled following Thiago Alcantara’s introduction.

The first clear chance fell Madrid’s way when Dani Carvajal darted in behind James Rodriguez – playing against his parent club – for Lucas Vazquez’s return flick and shot too close to Sven Ulreich.

There were questions over Ulreich’s opposite number Navas in the 28th minute when Kimmich latched on to James’ incisive pass and clattered past the Madrid goalkeeper at his near post.

Bayern then lost centre-back Jerome Boateng to a hamstring injury, but it was Madrid ailing in defence – Navas rushing out to deny Franck Ribery one-on-one as a heavy touch undermined the veteran Frenchman.

Muller had a shot deflected behind at close quarters by Sergio Ramos and Marcelo’s drive into the bottom-right corner after he seized upon the loose ball from Carvajal’s header certainly came against the run of play.

Lewandowski and Muller had further chances as Madrid floundered under set-pieces in first-half stoppage time and the latter was heroically denied in the goalmouth by a combination of Raphael Varane and Ramos in the 51st minute after Ribery twisted past Casemiro.

Zidane introducing Asensio in place of Isco put Madrid on a clear path of trying to exploit the counter-attack, but that tactic seemed questionable as Muller streamed into space behind Marcelo to cross and his defensive colleagues muddled clear from Lewandowski’s header.

However, the Madrid coach’s call soon looked inspired.

Rafinha’s dreadful pass across midfield set Asensio scampering into the Bayern half. Lucas’ return pass left him with work to do, but the 22-year-old clipped an assured finish beyond the advancing Ulreich.

Navas had responded well to his earlier setback and stood firm to deny Ribery in the 63rd minute.

Muller was unable to scramble home when Javi Martinez rose at the back post as another cross caused havoc in the Madrid box before the tireless Ribery had a drive deflected wide in the 70th minute.

Ronaldo then furiously patted his shoulder to protest after the officials spotted he used his arm to control a lofted pass before steering an effort past Ulreich, who denied substitute Karim Benzema with his boot inside the final 15 minutes.

Lewandowski clipped wide from 10 yards in the 88th minute, concluding an uncharacteristically wasteful outing that leaves Bayern facing elimination by Madrid for the third time in five seasons.


Wenger offers clarity over timing of Arsenal exit announcement

Arsene Wenger has insisted Arsenal were right to announce his departure as manager last Friday , despite earlier suggesting he disagreed with the decision.

The Gunners confirmed the surprise news with a statement just two days before the Premier League clash at home to West Ham and six before the first leg of the Europa League semi-final with Atletico Madrid.

Wenger told a news conference on Wednesday that it was not his call to go public about his exit in the build-up to his side’s most important match of the season.

However, he has since issued a statement in which he says Arsenal were right to make the announcement when they did.

“After reaching agreement about my departure, I was happy for the club to decide when to announce,” he said via Arsenal’s official Twitter account.

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“I wish to make it clear the timing of the announcement was right.”

Wenger’s initial comments appeared to add weight to reports that his decision to leave after 22 years at the club was not mutual.

Former striker Ian Wright said in a newspaper article that he was “convinced [Wenger] has been sacked and not resigned” as he still has a year left on his contract.

Gunners legend Pat Rice also claimed that Wenger would be “very hurt” at how an iconic 22-year reign at Arsenal has come to an end. 


Blows for Bayern as Robben and Boateng limp out of Real Madrid clash

Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng were both taken off in the first half against Real Madrid on Wednesday due to a muscle injuries. 

The Dutch winger pulled up just five minutes into the Champions League semi-final first leg at the Allianz Arena and after attempting to walk the injury off, he had to be removed from the game. 

Thiago Alcantara entered the match in Robben’s place, with Thomas Muller moving out wide from his central position. 

Just 25 minutes later, Boateng pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring injury after stretching out to reach the ball and overextending himself. 

Niklas Sule was quickly inserted into the match in place of his fellow Germany international. 

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Robben has struggled with injuries for much of his career but has been mostly healthy in 2017-18, scoring seven goals and adding 12 assists in all competitions.

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Boateng has also dealt with injury problems during his time in Munich, and has additionally found himself on the bench sporadically this season. 

Both players will now be a doubt for the second leg of the semi-final tie, which takes place in just six days’ time in Madrid. 

Robben’s contract expires at the end of the season, but Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic recently hinted he would be given a new deal along with fellow wideman Franck Ribery.


Simeone distances himself from replacing Wenger at Arsenal

Diego Simeone has not spoken to Arsenal about the prospect of replacing Arsene Wenger and insists he is happy at Atletico Madrid as the sides prepare for a keenly anticipated Europa League semi-final.

Wenger announced last Friday he would end a 22-year tenure as Arsenal manager and Simeone has been viewed as one of many names in the frame for the Emirates Stadium post.

But speaking at a pre-match news conference, the Argentine maintained such a move was not on the agenda and added his voice to numerous plaudits the 68-year-old Frenchman has enjoyed over recent days.

“No, I haven’t spoken with anyone at Arsenal,” he said. “I love it at Atletico.

“The first thing that comes to mind [regarding Wenger] is admiration. He’s had to reinvent himself.

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“I see myself as a young coach and I want to observe and learn from him. The position he has occupied in football is wonderful.”

Simeone has been handed a fitness boost from striker Diego Costa, who features in the Atleti squad after returning from a hamstring problem.

During his Chelsea days, Costa was regularly a thorn in the Gunners’ side, while Simeone has identified playmaker Mesut Ozil as a potential Arsenal dangerman.

“He has incredible vision,” he said. “He manages the speed of transitions at Arsenal – if he wants his team to play quickly he will get them playing quickly. 

“It’s up to us to make it the kind of game we want to have and be brave.”

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Atletico head into Thursday’s match on the back of no goals and a solitary point from the past two Liga outings.

“Since I arrived in Madrid the team has improved a great deal. The criticism has increased as we’ve raised the bar,” Simeone added.

“I’m happy where I am right now. I hope we can play with the mental freedom in a stadium where Arsenal are very strong. You need courage to get into a final.”


Arsenal’s Bellerin slams Daily Mail as ‘click baiters’

Hector Bellerin has hit out at the Daily Mail after the UK newspaper claimed the Arsenal defender was involved in a training ground bust-up with team-mate Alexandre Lacazette.

The Mail published an online article on Wednesday covering the Gunners’ open training session ahead of the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid.

The report suggested Bellerin and Lacazette “squared up to each other” having clashed when contesting a high ball and featured pictures of their apparent confrontation.

However, the Spain right-back tweeted to dismiss the notion of a rift between himself and the former Lyon striker and had little doubt over the newspaper’s motive.

“It’s called banter you click baiters,” Bellerin wrote in a tweet posting a link to the article.

It is not the first time the former Barcelona youngster has voiced objections to coverage of Arsenal during a turbulent campaign at Emirates Stadium.

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In February, Bellerin questioned the motivations of outspoken contributors to YouTube channel ArsenalFanTV.

“It’s so wrong for someone who claims to be a fan and their success is fed off a failure. How can that be a fan?” he said during an appearance at the Oxford Union.

“I think they’re just people hustling, trying to make money their way.”