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Letters from London: Friday’s Calm Before the Storm

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LONDON – Yesterday we speculated the Robin van Persie transfer may wake London from its post-Olympics slumber. No luck. On the day before the Premier League starts, the capital remains relatively dormant. Perhaps there are a few more soccer shirts walking London’s streets than were seen mid-week, but the chatter’s still at a whisper. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear a random thought on the Gunners or Hammers, but even after the pubs opened up early evening, it was difficult to see any excitement for tomorrow’s openers.

England’s sports scene has been quiet since Sunday, when it closed the Summer Olympics. Since, they’ve been on vacation, an elite athlete relaxing after a draining championship campaign, with today the last day of that sojourn.

It’s as if fans are in their last hours of Greek vacation. They’ve checked all the touristy activities off their to-do lists, and with their last moments, they’re laying out on a Mediterranean beach, mentally preparing for their return to normal life. For now, though, they’re not talking about it. There are still a few more hours of sun.

London’s sun may have been part of the reason Premier League buzz spent another day in the shadows. A beautiful day saw people in parks, packing cafés at lunch, enjoying the refreshingly mild weather. Located on the River Thames, London’s summers are normally humid, a quality that tried to emerge during the week. But Friday cooperated, stayed cool, and gave Londoners little reason to head indoors (in pubs) and begin transition into their soccer season.

Now, with time having run out, that transition’s going to be abrupt. Fans in London will wake up Saturday morning to their their last hours of summer break. By mid-day, the mechanics of the season will begin. Fans of Arsenal, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United (all hosting 3:30 p.m. kickoffs in London) will jump on buses and the underground to raid the north, west, and east of the city. A few will head out early to get a couple of pints before going to the park. Afterward, they’ll regress to the pub, to celebrate or commiserate, keeping half an eye on the day’s last match in Newcastle.

By then, the curious transition between Olympics and Premier League will be forgotten, which is a shame. The process hints at facet of sport that’s often ignored, particularly by those of us who mistakenly believe it’s at the center of our worlds. For Londoners – the casual fans, the obsessed, the ones who consume everything as well as those who only like their soccer- sports obsession had a breaking point. After two weeks of being shown almost every sport humanity has have ever conceived, the city said “you know, we’re going to take some time for ourselves.” They had reached their limit. The part of their souls that absorbs sport was full. Fans needed a little time in the sun, away from it all.

Not even the Premier League’s buildup could tempt them back. Robin van Persie to Manchester United? Alex Song out and Nuri Sahin in? Luka Modric finally going to Real Madrid? Tell us about it on Saturday. Until then, we don’t need sport. Not the Premier League. Not England-South Africa test cricket. Nothing.

It’s a state with which sports fans in the States can empathize. We consider ourselves sports mad, but when the National Football League, National Basketball Association, or Major League Baseball has a work stoppage, we miraculously survive, despite talk radio caller panic and Sportscenter features heightening the impact of the absences. Turns out when our favorite teams aren’t around, we have other things to do – things we often like. It’s enough to make you wonder if we’re missing more glorious Fridays in the sun.

Sports, no matter how passionate we are about them, occupy only one compartment of our lives. That compartment is larger in some people than others, but it never has to define us. There will always be a point where the rest of life looks like a nice respite from the games. There will always be something that puts our fandom into perspective.

Lewandowski’s agent confirms talks with Bayern over new contract

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 21:  Robert Lewandowski of FC Bayern Muenchen in action during the international friendly match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan of the Audi Football Summit 2015 at Shanghai Stadium on July 21, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Robert Lewandowski’s stellar season has seen the striker linked with all the top clubs in Europe, but he could be staying put at Bayern Munich.

The Bundesliga’s second-leading goalscorer has been tipped for big-money moves to Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain this year, but his agent Cezary Kucharski said “there is no need to change anything.”

[ MORE: Barca unbeaten in 28 ]

Speaking to Polish news outlet Polsat Sport, Kucharski said that he has started talking with Bayern about a contract extension and denied speaking with other clubs.

Yes, we’ve started talking [to Bayern]. I can confirm this.

I won’t talk about specifics, because it’s confidential. Real have not conducted talks over a transfer. It’s just speculation. Rumours around Robert show what a player he is. He’s known not only in Poland or Germany, but throughout Europe.

There are no talks with PSG. The English write about English clubs, the French about PSG, the Spaniards Real Madrid, and Juventus in Italy. In each country a great club is linked with Robert.

But Lewandowski is at a team that suits him, and there is no need to change anything. I know [Bayern chairman] Rummenigge is aware that Lewy is a great player, who has great value for Bayern, and how such a boy should be rewarded.

Lewandowski has scored 19 goals in 19 Bundesliga appearances this season for Bayern, as the German giants hold an eight-point lead at the top of the table. Overall, Lewandowski has scored 27 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions.

[ RELATED: Alexandre Pato eager to make his mark at Chelsea ]

In the midst of the best season of his career, the 27-year-old Polish international could move to any club and be the star player, where at Bayern he is just one of many stars. However, with the amount of success he is having at Munich, there is no reason to leave.

VIDEO: John Terry says he made it “very clear” he wanted to stay at Chelsea

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John Terry will leave Chelsea at the end of this season, although it may be against his will.

The Blues’ captain announced earlier this year that he would not be given a new contract and will move on after 18 years with the club.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Speaking after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Sunday, Terry said he has had no communication with the club about the possibility of signing a new deal, although he made it “very clear” that he never intended on leaving.

The club is the most important thing.

There’s no communication between myself and the club at this minute. I said what I had to say, that’s how it was.

I made it very clear that I wanted to stay.

Chelsea has a policy of giving older players one-year contracts, and one would assume Terry could still help the club on the pitch for another season. However, with the captain saying there has been no communication about even the possibility of signing a new deal, it looks like he is being forced out.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Manchester United ]

With more than 700 appearances for Chelsea and one of the club’s iconic figures, it looks like the end of Terry’s run at Stamford Bridge could be a bit messy. Hopefully, the club can patch this situation so Terry gets the send-off he deserves.

VIDEO: Louis van Gaal destroys journalist for questioning his Manchester United future

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Louis Van Gaal isn’t happy about reports that Manchester United is speaking with Jose Mourinho.

He also isn’t happy about reporters asking about it. In fact, it makes him quite angry.

[ RELATED: Aging giants show familiar deficiencies in Stamford Bridge draw ]

The Dutchman went after a journalist following United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea for asking a question about the potential of a managerial change. The journalist actually phrased his question more in the form of an olive branch, but Van Gaal still took exception.

[ RECAP: Overview of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea ]

Should the club actually be talking with a manager while still employing another, it would be quite controversial move. Van Gaal turned the situation on the journalist, asking if he could make up a story about the journalist being fired, and what he would tell his family.

Ailing giants showcase obvious deficiencies as Chelsea, Man United draw

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LONDON — Despite Jesse Lingard‘s stunning strike and Diego Costa’s dramatic stoppage time equalizer on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, the cracks could not be papered over fully during the 1-1 draw.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Both Chelsea and Manchester United have many deficiencies and are a long way from past glories. Both clubs are in a state of flux with future’s uncertain as rumors continue about Louis Van Gaal being replaced and Chelsea to welcome a new manager this summer.

Chelsea’s slide to mediocrity, as has been well documented, has been dramatic. The defending Premier League champions looked wary of springing too many attacks and their midfield creators were too eager to look back and sideways rather than take a chance. With Guus Hiddink in charge on an interim basis and the long-term direction of the club unclear, it’s easy to understand why Chelsea’s players seem unable to click into top gear. Since Jose Mourinho was fired in December they’ve gone 10 games unbeaten in all competitions but have drawn six of those.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea-United ]

As for United, they’ve come through a rough stretch of not scoring goals and despite letting three points slip late on Van Gaal will be heartened that his side created numerous chances. Anthony Martial looked unplayable at times. Lingard’s goal and overall play was hugely impressive and Wayne Rooney seemed to be in the groove, chipping over and having an acrobatic effort squirm just wide.

That said, the same deficiencies which have held back two giants of the Premier League all season surfaced once again.

Chelsea started slowly and were over-cautious in attack. They looked nervous in possession of the ball and United’s central midfield trio of Michael Carrick, Juan Mata and Maroune Fellaini overran Chelsea’s midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and John Obi Mikel. Chelsea finally equalized but slow build up play has been a regular theme of their season — with multiple demoralizing defeats during Mourinho’s final months in charge taking its toll — and United dealt with plenty of their attackers far too easily.

ProSoccerTalk asked Hiddink after the game if he felt his team was being too cautious.

“I think in the first part you have to say Manchester United stretched us out, they did well and they have good players. But when you have the reaction that is a little bit insecure to drop back then you are in trouble,” Hiddink said. “If one or two players drop back then you are in trouble. You have to do it collectively, which I don’t like, but I like when they go collectively forward which we tried to initiate a bit after a period. Then you see that go we go into the duels and we win it, then we got the chances from there.”

United’s main deficiency this season has been giving up costly goals at pivotal times. They simply don’t score enough to be able to leak goals as they have done in recent encounters. In three of their last five PL outings — a 3-3 draw with Newcastle, a 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton and the 1-1 draw with Chelsea — they’ve conceded late goals to cost them a total of five points.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Van Gaal knows that can’t continue if they’re going to finish in the top four.

“That’s why I am frustrated and my players are frustrated. When you are playing like we have played today and you are not making the gap smaller. You can say its misfortune but it’s not the first time that is overcoming us. For example Newcastle United scored in extra time. We have to do that better, improve in that way. I am happy with the performance. It was not a boring match so for the third time in the row it was sparkling. I hope to get the support of the media this week.”

There’s not much chance of that. Even if Van Gaal’s side showed more attacking intent, similar problems in defense stopped them from closing the gap on the top four as they’re now six points off fourth-placed Manchester City.

The main thing we learned from Stamford Bridge on Sunday was that two giants are treading water and their futures remain uncertain.