Bayern Munich's Schweinsteiger and his teammates celebrate a goal against Borussia Dortmund during the German DFB Cup final soccer match in Berlin

Countdown to Champions League final: Looking at Bayern Munich, back to front

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They may be at home on Saturday, but when Bayern Munich kicks off their UEFA Champions League final with Chelsea, there’ll be a slightly unfamiliar feel about them. Three prominent suspensions will force a shake up in defense, with the implications of Jupp Heynckes’ reshuffle being felt all the way into attack.

They’ll still be favorites when the whistle blows, but facing the prospects of Didier Drogba matched up against a makeshift defense could cost a few Bayern coaches their Friday night’s sleep.

Looking at … defense: Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. A handful of people who take him over generally-recognized world best Iker Casillas (Real Madrid). I count myself among them. He’s the complete package: 6’4″, only 26 years old, commanding, confident, and quick. His penalty shootout performance in the semifinals at the Santiago Bernabeu (letting only one goal past him in the tiebreaker) pushed FCB into the final.

The rest of Saturday’s defense is a huge question mark. Superstar fullback Philipp Lahm is a constant, but Holger Badstuder and David Alaba – the normal left side of Bayern’s back four – are suspended, as is midfield destroyer Luiz Gustavo. Daniel van Buyten, out since January with a foot injury, is expected to start along side Jerome Boateng in the middle. Rafinha, who started 20 Bundesliga matches this season, could come in for Alaba (shifting Lahm to the left), while Bastian Schweinsteiger, normally the shuttler, could be asked to blow things up.

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (for van Buyten) and Diego Contento (for Rafinha) are also options. Given van Buyten’s tenuous health and Contento’s ability to play left back, don’t be surprised to see any of the four selected.

If the players perform to their potentials, Bayern’s defense will be fine. Their biggest problem beyond cohesion will be van Buyten. A physical match for Didier Drogba, van Buyten lacks the quickness to contend with Chelsea’s counter-attacking tendencies, though the suspension of Ramires will likely take much of the push out of Chelsea’s counter.

Looking at … midfield: Toni Kroos will drop back and play closer to Schweinsteiger in Bayern’s 4-2-3-1. In the previous round, the 22-year-old had been deployed higher, giving Bayern a 4-3-3 look. After Bayern accounts for their suspensions, Thomas Müller will assume that role.

Müller’s natural tendencies have him play higher up the pitch. Even if Jupp Heynckes’ tactics call for him to come deeper, Schweinsteiger and Kroos are often going to have to handle the job by themselves, potentially outnumbered at times by a Chelsea midfield expected to feature Juan Mata, Frank Lampard and (sitting) John Obi-Mikel.

If Mata’s pushed wide again (as he was against Barcelona), that means Michael Essien’s gotten a shock start. That won’t change the numbers game for Bayern.

Look at … attack: Right wing Arjen Robben is Bayern’s most dangerous player, but left wing Franck Ribery is not far off. Often the two will be seen on the same side of the pitch, with Ribery coming in to play off Robben while the duo is supported wide by Lahm. Ribery coming in could work well on Saturday, with Müller potentially providing a second penalty area threat along with Mario Gomez. Or, Bayern could flip flanks and (if Rafinha starts) have Ribery and Lahm working down the left against José Bosingwa and Salomon Kalou.

If Chelsea plays as deep as they’ve become accustomed to doing under Roberto di Matteo, Bayern could be served by having to sacrifice Gustavo for Müller. While the Brazilian would have been Bayern’s ideal answer to Chelsea’s counter attack, if München dominates possession, they’ll have both Kroos and Schweinsteiger positioned to pick apart the Blues defense, with Müller serving as an additional advanced option.

Likely Starting Lineup (alternate option)

G: Manuel Neuer
LB: Philipp Lahm (Diego Contento)
CB: Daniel van Buyten (Anatoliy Tymoshchuk)
CB: Jerome Boateng
RB: Rafinha (Philipp Lahm)
M: Bastian Schweinsteiger
M: Toni Kross
LW: Frank Ribery
AM: Thomas Müller
RW: Arjen Robben
F: Mario Gomez

Most dangerous player: Arjen Robben

Most likely to score: Mario Gomez

Best creator: Toni Kroos

Key defender: Daniel van Buyten

Most important: Bastian Schweinsteiger

Back to front: Chelsea

Why Arsenal can win the Premier League title

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LONDON — Before the 2015-16 Premier League season began, all of the momentum was behind Arsenal’s bid to win the Premier League title for the first time since 2003-04.

Eight weeks in, despite a topsy-turvy start to the season, the momentum is once again building behind Arsene Wenger‘s men as they rode a blistering start to seal a 3-0 win over fellow title contenders Manchester United on Sunday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Many would suggest United fell at their first major hurdle this season, with Arsenal’s fluid front three of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil ripping apart their makeshift backline. But what about the Gunners, can they kick on and sustain a lengthy title challenge?

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers fired ]

Manchester City is their biggest challenger, with the offensive power of Manuel Pellegrini‘s side making them the title favorites. However, considering how easily Arsenal brushed aside United thanks to their supreme attacking talents, Wenger’s men have supreme attackers of their own and sent out a message out to the rest of the PL. At least, that’s what striker Walcott had to say after he set up two goals and put in a dominant display.

“After the Olympiakos disappointment we started this game completely differently. We caught them on the break, we maybe eased off in the second half but the clean sheet was crucial for the whole team today,” Walcott said. “This game will send out a message to the Premier League that we are ready to have a go this season.”

So, according to Theo they are ready, but why can Arsenal win the title?


After his summer signing from Chelsea, the Czech Republic stopper has cemented himself as the undisputed No. 1 for the Gunners… no matter what Wenger says. The Arsenal manager was lambasted for leaving Cech out of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League defeat to Olympiakos last week, as his replacement, David Ospina, made a howler to hand the Greek side a 3-2 defeat, but Cech proved his importance to Arsenal once again on Sunday. Looking past his mistakes in the opening day defeat to West Ham United, Cech has already made several stop saves this season (hence the bemusement for him being left out of the UCL games) and although Arsenal led 3-0 after 19 minutes on Sunday he was called into action at pivotal stages.

Right on half time Anthony Martial got free in the box and Cech saved at close range, gobbling up the Frenchman’s low shot. Not long into the second half he showed great bravery to dive at the feet of Bastian Schweinsteiger and he was faultless throughout as he claimed high balls and marshaled Arsenal’s backline. Cech, 33, won everything possible with Chelsea, now he could be the key cog in Arsenal’s quest for glory.


Arsenal’s success on Sunday was largely down to having a settled front three who all knew their jobs and performed them with ruthless efficiency. With Walcott through the middle, Alexis Sanchez off to the left and Mesut Ozil off to the right, the Gunners possessed the perfect amount of creativity and pace. With Olivier Giroud up top, the Gunners are sometimes too reliant on knocking high balls up to the Frenchman and hoping for the best. With the Walcott-Sanchez-Ozil trio, United couldn’t deal with their movement in behind their backline.

It may have been Sanchez and Ozil who got the goals, but Wenger reserved special praise for Walcott after the game as his non-stop running saw the England international lauded by the home fans throughout.

“I hope and I believe it can,” Wenger said when asked if the trio is the answer. “I must say, Walcott had a hugely committed performance today and a very convincing one. He didn’t score but I like to praise the strikers when they don’t score but contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals and he showed that he can fight and commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining aspects of his game as a center forward and is improving.”


When you look at the rest of the Premier League, the title race doesn’t seem wide-open. Yes, United, City and Arsenal have all lost two of their opening eight games of the season, while Chelsea has lost four times, but when you look at it overall, only Arsenal and City have the credentials to challenge for the title. Given City’s tendency to blow hot and cold, there may have not been a better time for the Gunners to win the title in the past 10 seasons.

Arsenal have now faced Chelsea away and Manchester United at home, while their next six PL fixtures (trips to Watford, Swansea, West Brom and Norwich, plus home games against Tottenham and Everton) give them a chance to set up a battle with City for the top spot between now and the busy festive period. Wenger agreed with Walcott and believes his side sent out a statement to the rest of the PL as they thrashed United.

“To win in a big game is always a statement and we are in it, you know. We are two points off the leaders Manchester City,” Wenger said. “I hope that result today will give us belief and ambition to fight for it [the title], yes.”

Who next? Klopp, Ancelotti main contenders to take over at Liverpool

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With Brendan Rodgers fired by Liverpool on Sunday, the first question many are asking is: who is next?

Rodgers, 42, was sacked just eight games into his fourth season in charge at Anfield, as a poor start to the current campaign, coupled with spending over $280 million on largely under-performing new players in the past two summers, has seen the Northern Irishman lose his job.

[ MORE: Rodgers fired by Liverpool ]

Despite almost leading Liverpool to their first Premier League title in 2013-14, Rodgers’ side have been on a downward spiral ever since. With the likes of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling all leaving Anfield over the past 12 months, the pressure has been building on Rodgers as his new recruits haven’t been up to scratch.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rodgers getting sacked ]

The former Swansea City manager is famed for creating an attractive brand of soccer, but with talk surrounding a transfer committee making plenty of decisions on signing new players, his assistant coaches being fired in the summer and growing unrest as Liverpool have failed to win any silverware during his time in charge, it proved too much for Rodgers to withstand.

Let’s take a quick look at the main contenders to take over at Anfield:

  • Jurgen Klopp – The former Borussia Dortmund manager is the overwhelming favorite to take over. His passion and ability to reignite a sleeping giant with a large fanbase (see: Dortmund) will resonate strongly with Liverpool’s owners. He won two Bundesliga titles at Dortmund with a young, exciting team and also led them to the UEFA Champions League final in 2013. The German coach speaks very good English and is currently on a self-imposed sabbatical after leaving Dortmund at the end of last season. Klopp has been waiting for a chance to manage in England for quite some time. Now, it seems to have arrived.
  • Carlo Ancelotti – He delivered the Premier League during his two seasons at Chelsea, and Ancelotti is a man with an incredible resume when it comes to winning the biggest trophies at the biggest clubs in Europe. He led AC Milan to a Serie A title and two UEFA Champions League trophies, then led Real Madrid to Champions League glory in 2014 before leaving last summer. Many believe Ancelotti is a man you bring in to manage top class players, which Liverpool is lacking at this point in time. At 56, could this job be too late in his career to undertake?
  • Frank de Boer – A long shot, the Dutch manager has done exceptionally well with a small budget and a group of young players at Ajax. He has won four Dutch titles in five years as Ajax boss. This would be way out of left field if it happens, but de Boer has the pedigree from a fine playing career and has cultivated an exciting playing style in Amsterdam.
  • Walter Mazzarri – The former Napoli manager brought plenty of success to Stadio San Paolo as he brought an attacking brand of soccer in a 3-4-3 formation and took the Serie A side to the UEFA Champions League. He didn’t fare so well at Inter Milan, but Mazzarri has a track record of working with exciting attacking players such as Hamsik, Cavani and Lavezzi.
  • Who else? – That is the biggest question and perhaps points to why the decision to fire Rodgers is baffling, if Liverpool don’t have a replacement already lined up. Current PL managers such as Garry Monk and Ronald Koeman have been mentioned, as well as Zenit St Petersbug boss Andre Villas-Boas, but the truth of the matter is, outside of Klopp and Ancelotti, there doesn’t seem to be many managers capable of taking Liverpool to the next level of challenging for silverware and getting back into the UEFA Champions League.