Let's take a look at what we learned (aside from "fear the rise of Germany") from four matches in which we certainly learned to fear the rise of Germany.
Life After Gotze
Borussia Dortmund midfielder (and soon to be Bayern Munich player) Mario Gotze was subbed off after less than 20 minutes of their second-leg match at the Bernabeu with a suspected hamstring tear. His removal had a rather negative effect. Kevin Grosskreutz, who by the standards of German midfielders is an elderly 24, came on for Gotze. Marco Reus, who started the match in a roving left winger role, shifted into a more central position, more advanced than where Gotze had been playing. Grosskreutz tucked in on the left.
While his positioning and tracking were acceptable, Grosskreutz's touch and decision-making were not. Too frequently play broke down as balls were funneled in his direction. Grosskreutz is a very good player to have as your first choice off the bench in the Bundesliga; he is not up to the standards of starting in the midfield for a Champions League finalist.
Gotze is a unique talent, but he will have to be replaced with someone capable of creating alongside Reus. Problem is, Dortmund already lost that player. His name is Shinji Kagawa and he plays for Manchester United now.
In case you were busy having an adorable cat on your chest and being unable to move, or breathe, or — hey, this cat's trying to kill me! — here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
We're headed back to Boston after the Celtics held on for a 92-86 win over the New York Knicks, forcing a Game 6 in their first-round playoff matchup. Kevin Garnett fueled the Celtics with a vintage 16-point, 18-rebound performance. "Man, that takes me back," Garnett said wistfully after his double-double. "Remember when I was crushing it up in Minnesota. Just me and Terrell Brandon. So young, so naive. Maybe I could get that TV show about my posse off the ground now. Do you think the breakthrough success of Entourage makes it more or less likely? I mean, it was gonna be The Monkees meets The Beverly Hillbillies. I guess it could be reality. That's basically what Carmelo's wife has going on. Nah, TV is a young man's game. I was just born too young."
Despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins took care of business by thrashing the New York Islanders 5-0 in Pittsburgh. "Oh man, that'll teach us to come on the mainland," Islanders captain Mark Streit said after the loss. "It's weird here. First of all, not everyone takes boats to get places. Also weird, the lack of nautically themed dining establishments. I'm starving for some fried calamari down by a marina; I can't find that in Pittsburgh at all. Total nightmare. They told me, 'Go to a river.' I told them to go up a river, with dumb advice like that. A butt river. Man, I'm hungry."
In case you were busy mixing up Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone, much to your own embarrassment and chagrin, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors, powered by Stephen Curry's 30 points, beat the Denver Nuggets, 131-117, to even up their first-round playoff series at a game apiece. Curry, who fought through a twisted ankle in the third quarter, said after the game, "Of course I overcame a twisted ankle. I'm Steph Curry. A twisted ankle to me is just an ankle. A sprained ankle for me feels like a twisted ankle for you. I need to have my entire foot removed from my shin at this point to be fazed by my ankle."
Despite a night that many would say was quiet by his standards, LeBron James and the Miami Heat used a strong fourth quarter to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-86. "Sometimes you have to be subtle, understated," James said after the game. "You can't just score 40 every night; you have to treat each game like it's a snowflake. Sometimes you have to be gentle with it. Let it know you care, that you see its unique qualities. And then some snowflakes you drop 60 on because that's what that snowflake wants. Tonight wasn't about that. Tonight was about the velvet touch."
In Joe Posnanski's recent profile of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, there's a quote from Bob Spear, Pop's old coach from his playing days at Air Force: "A team could do anything as long as the players just kept moving." The theory is the same in football: create and exploit space through motion, disrupt another team through pressing. Can Borussia Dortmund move enough so as to level themselves with comparably trained sides who also have effectively unlimited bank rolls? Is there room for a working-class Champions League winner in modern football? Or will Real Madrid's well-funded talent prove to be too much in the Champions League semifinal?
The UEFA Champions League is home to the highest caliber of football in the world. This is not about that. Welcome to the worst blunders of the round in the UEFA Champions League. Presented to you with animated GIFs.
4. The Card
Let's start with the most controversial decision of the round, referee Cuneyt Cakir's red card to Manchester United winger Nani for his high boot to the side of Real Madrid's Alvaro Arbeloa. Most believe Nani was too harshly penalized for what looked like unintentional contact. Others have said it was an obvious red card because of the height of the contact, and that Nani shouldn't have given Cakir the chance to book him at such a pivotal moment in the match.
In case you were busy dealing with your body shutting down all systems unrelated to the production of mucus, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Dwight Howard scored 39 points as he led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 106-96 win over the Magic in Orlando, where he played the first eight seasons of his career. Howard was met with a chorus of boos, or as he calls them, "Laughs, right? Cause that's the typical reaction to my hilarious antics. That and guffaws. Kobe's a big guffawer. Let me show you what I mean." Howard then stared at the assembled press and did a throat slash gesture, before adding, "Oh, man, that guy can't get enough of me."
Valparaiso beat Wright State, 62-54, to win the Horizon League championship and qualify for the NCAA tournament. "Bryce Drew isn't walking through that door, so it's time to write your own destiny," said Valparaiso legend and current head coach Bryce Drew after the game, before adding, "Well, he is. He did. I mean, I is — I did. I meant, as a player, you're gonna have to create your own legend. But he will be attending the game. I mean, I will. You don't have to worry about that."
In case you were busy winding down all of your Italian business interests, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Trevor Mbakwe and the Minnesota Golden Gophers upset top-ranked Indiana, 77-73 in Minneapolis. Mbakwe, who started his college career playing for Indiana head coach Tom Crean at Marquette, said, "Something about Crean brings out the best in me. Maybe it's his smile that says at once, 'I care,' and 'I know this isn't forever.' Maybe it's that 'come-hither' stare, in which worlds are created and destroyed in his irises every time he blinks behind his wire-framed glasses. Maybe it's his lyrical name, 'Tom Crean.' All I know is, when I see his face, I'm compelled to be at once my best and worst self."
In case you were out learning that what you thought was Oscar Fever is actually just an untreated strep infection, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
In their first game since the death of longtime team owner Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics, 113-99, at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant, who led a ceremony in Buss's honor before the game, was somber afterward, saying, "He's not gone, man. You can't just get rid of a guy like him. He's still here, with us, in this locker room. In fact, he's in my locker right now, waiting to scare me, like I'm a fool. But I'm not a fool. He's the fool, and he's way out of line." Dwight Howard then emerged sheepishly from Bryant's locker holding a blonde wig and a Jerry Buss mask.
James Harden had a career night against his former team, scoring 46 points as the Houston Rockets edged the Oklahoma City Thunder, 122-119. After the game, Kevin Durant was distraught in the locker room, telling coach Scott Brooks, "He was my best friend. Now he moves away, and he acts like he doesn't even know me. This is your fault! We never should've let him move! It's not fair!" Brooks nodded gently, before saying, "Do I feel guilty, Kevin? A little. Honestly, I do. I didn't want you two to have to be apart. But sometimes decisions are made, and while they hurt, they're right decisions in the long run. Plus, you like hanging out with Kevin [Martin], don't you?" Durant shook his head, fighting back the tears. "I hate Kevin! I hate everyone!" Brooks scowled at his forward, "You don't mean that, Kevin. Tell Kevin you're sorry." Durant looked at his teammate, as his lower lip started to quiver. "I'm sorry, Kevin. I like you. It's another Kevin that I don't like right now: me." Martin patted his teammate on the back, "I get it, man. The trade wasn't easy for me either. And, hey, [Thunder Assistant Coach] Mo Cheeks is gonna take me out for ice cream later. You wanna come?" Durant couldn't help but let himself smile. "Ice cream with Mo? Yeah, man. I'll be there."
In case you were out waiting for your turn to sing “Manic Monday” at your local karaoke bar, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Alabama hammered Notre Dame, 42-14, in the BCS championship to secure their third college football championship in the past four years. It was reported that the amount of self-satisfied nodding by middle-aged men wearing crimson polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts skyrocketed to dangerous levels by the end of the first quarter. Observers feared that Alabama's exploits could lead to a superstorm of smugness in SEC country, but, fortunately, the thrashing Alabama delivered was so severe, the insufferable nodding quickly gave way to stoic close-lipped grinning, and potential disaster was averted as the Tide cruised to victory.
Despite their BCS Championship loss, Notre Dame fans had something to cheer about, as their men's basketball team topped Cincinnati, 66-60. "We're all just so happy to get a huge Big East win," said smiling Notre Dame sophomore Alison Whitner as her facial muscles started to twitch. "Sure, that football game wasn't the best, but my classmates and I are all totally satisfied getting one out of two. Football? Basketball? All the same to us here at Notre Dame. All the same to us All All " Whitner then fell deathly silent as a trickle of blood rolled down from her right nostril.
The Boston Celtics, led by a vintage performance from Paul Pierce, won a hard-fought battle with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-96. After the game, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who committed a technical foul in the fourth quarter in an altercation with Kevin Garnett, reportedly continued harassing Garnett in the bowels of the arena. Garnett, for his part, denied the altercation occurred, as he was embarrassed that he fell for the oldest trick in the book: the misdirection. See, while Anthony had Garnett distracted outside the locker room, former Celtic Rasheed Wallace, cannily disguised in his old uniform, snuck into the Boston locker room and stole Garnett's prized stuffed elephant, Trunky. Expect the situation to escalate the next time these two teams meet.
Here's a video of Lionel Messi scoring 86 goals in the year of our Maradona, 2012, breaking Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals for club and country in a calendar year.
It's hard to pick just one. There was the cheeky chip against Valencia, a shooting-star free kick against Atletico Madrid, the time he froze the Bayer Leverkusen backline in carbonite like a bunch of German Han Solos, and when he invented the geometry of the future against Granada. I liked when he backed a pickup truck into a compact parking spot on the roof of Zaragoza's keeper's garage, and when he made Philippe Senderos look like Lennie from Of Mice and Men against Switzerland. I loved the free kicks against Uruguay and Real Madrid, and the snapshot against Deportivo La Coruña. Nobody's better at their chosen sport than Lionel Messi is at football, right now. Watching him score 86 goals, either during the games, or in YouTube compilations, for Barcelona or for Argentina, was one of the greatest gifts we received this year. He'll be justly rewarded for these accomplishments with trophies and silverware, but I just wanted to give him my thanks. Watching him play is one of the best things I did with my time this year. — Chris Ryan
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Randy Foye hit five 3-pointers to lead the Jazz to a 95-86 win over the Lakers, who are now 1-4 on the year. After the loss, Dwight Howard embraced head coach Mike Brown in the locker room and gave him some words of encouragement. "I appreciate that, Dwight," said a clearly moved Brown, who then walked to the media room with a bull's-eye taped to his back.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Ozzie Guillen was fired as manager of the Miami Marlins, and team officials say his positive remarks about Fidel Castro played a contributing role. As he retreated from Miami into the remote Everglades of central Florida with only a small loyal band of 19 followers (including his brother Raul Guillen and Hanley "Che" Ramirez), Guillen vowed that his fight to dominate the Florida sports scene had only just begun. He was given a hero's greeting by the Everglade peasants, and immediately set up a pirate radio station to broadcast his message into the homes of the people.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Roger Clemens, 50 years old and pitching for the first time in five years, threw 3.1 scoreless innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent Athletic League. Afterward, when the Skeeters owner found Clemens in the locker room and tried to give him his check, Clemens just shook his head. "Forget the money," he said. "I just want 10 minutes alone in Sugar Land. No cameras, no security guards, no judgment. Just me and that sugar paradise for 10 glorious, weird minutes." The man tried to explain that Sugar Land was just a town name, but Clemens had already slipped into a drooling trance.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency will ban Lance Armstrong for life and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles after Armstrong elected to stop fighting what he called an "unconstitutional witch hunt." Late last night, witnesses reported seeing Armstrong deep in the woods with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, uttering strange rhymes about the body parts of dead animals and placing objects into a smoking black cauldron.