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Real Madrid provides BVB’s next big test – UEFA Champions League Group D preview

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In a group with three stand out teams, one squad will always get a relative “week off,” though that doesn’t guarantee points. On Tuesday, Juventus squandered their break in Copenhagen, dropping points against Nordsjaelland. Today, Manchester City will try to avoid the same end on their trip to Amsterdam.

Meanwhile in Germany, Real Madrid has a chance to put Group D under their thumb. A win over Dortmund will not only see them sweep their first three games, it will also give last year’s semifinalists at least a four-point lead on the rest of the group. If Manchester City slip, the lead could be five.

Borussia Dortmund (Germany) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)

Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

We all know what to expect from Real Madrid: The steadiness of Iker Casillas in goal; The potency of Cristiano Ronaldo in attack; The steal that head coach José Mourinho injects into each of this players. Los Merengues are as good as any team in the world.

Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, is less of a certainty. Consider their last two big games. Three weeks ago, BVB went to the Etihad Stadium and had a break through against Manchester City, giving their best European under Jurgen Klopp. This weekend, however, Dortmund lost at home to Schalke, not only dropping a derbybut also losing more ground on Bayern Munich.

This is the point where we’d usually discuss which BVB is most likely to show up, but there’s no telling how they’ll respond against Real Madrid until Wednesday night’s kickoff. Can Robert Lewandowki, Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Jakub Błaszczykowski succeed against a Real Madrid defense that has contained some of the world’s the best attacks. Can Lukasz Piszczek hold off Ronaldo while Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic play mistake-free soccer against Karim Benzema? Who knows?

As successful as Borussia Dortmund have been over the last two years, we’re not close to answering these are questions. On Wednesday, we start gathering information.

From Borussia Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp:

“They were tactically disciplined, quick, showed anticipation, pressed and counterattacked while playing football of a high technical standard. That left quite an impression.”

From Real Madrid head coach José Mourinho:

” We know how dynamic they are, how gifted and how quick they play, but they do have little weaknesses which we plan to exploit.”

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Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Manchester City (England)

Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Ajax is the fourth of three in a group of death that’s not, but with Manchester City visiting the Amersterdam ArenA, the Dutch champions presented with one of their few chances to have an impact on the group. Ajax aren’t strong enough to do damage away from home, and last round they were reminded Real Madrid can still have their way in the Netherlands. But hosting Manchester City? Or Borussia Dortmund? With those teams still maturing into European powers, points might be there for the taking.

This all assumes Ajax can actually play well, something that hasn’t been a given in recent weeks. Back-to-back Eredivisie draws have Frank de Boer’s team five points off FC Twente’s pace. Though they’ve yet to lose in league, Ajax has only won four of nine matches. It’s hardly the type of record that portends an ability to compete with England’s champions.

Manchester City, for all the critiques that can be made about their performance in Champions League, has actually been somewhat consistent in the eight group stage games they played over the last two tournaments. They’re able to compete with the teams that are threats to get out of the group (Bayern and Napoli last year, Real Madrid and Dortmund this year) but take care of business against the weakest link. City picked up six points from Villarreal last year, outscoring the Yellow Submarine 6-1.
In theory, the results indicate of a level of play right below that of a tournament contender. While that’s a very high standard, it’s below Manchester City’s aspirations. It’s also consistent with a rather comfortable victory today.

If Ajax is the Villarreal of this year’s toughest group, Manchester City probably won’t have a problem.

From Ajax head coach Frank de Boer:

If we want to survive in Europe we need a result from this match and that’s our goal … Our team is learning so let’s hope they are quick students.

From Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini

“” We don’t have experience as a club but all our players have experience in the Champions League. Maybe as a club we need to get experience in the Champions League, but we have players with that experience.”

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New St. Louis stadium plan calls for state land contribution

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has made it clear he’s opposed to state funding for stadiums, yet a revised proposal for a $200 million soccer stadium in St. Louis calls for the state to contribute land that’s potentially worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a city aldermanic committee delayed a vote Thursday to advance a measure putting the proposal, which also requires city voters to approve $60 million in funding, on the April ballot.

[ MORE: Galaxy adds Portugal CM ]

The investor group SC STL’s proposal calls for a 22,000-seat stadium near Interstate 64 and Union Station, a key component in the group’s effort to lure a Major League Soccer expansion team. MLS officials have expressed strong interest in St. Louis, but only if a stadium is built.

Time is of the essence: The league is expected to award two new expansion teams in the fall, with play starting in 2020.

St. Louis’ project was on life support after Greitens, a Republican who took office this month, said repeatedly that he opposed taxpayer funding for stadiums, calling it “welfare for millionaires.” SC STL had been seeking $40 million in state tax credits.

But a provision of SC STL’s revised financing plan, presented at Thursday’s meeting at City Hall, says the state would contribute the majority of the 24-acre project site, which is currently owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation, and perform some site clearing and infrastructure work.

The value is still being appraised, but given its location and the amount of land, it likely is worth several million dollars.

Greitens spokesman Parker Briden told The Associated Press in a statement that the governor “remains opposed to state funding to build the soccer stadium.” He did not immediately respond to a question about how the potential donation of land doesn’t conflict with Greitens’ hard-line stance.

[ MORE: Jones labels Howard’s comments “dangerous” ]

The first hint of compromise with the governor came in an email from SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock late Wednesday, when he wrote that a “path forward” had been reached after two weeks of meetings.

“Gov. Greitens has made it clear to us that he is very supportive of adding a new professional sports franchise to the State of Missouri, and that’s a sentiment we wholeheartedly share,” the statement said.

The stadium project also requires taxpayer help from the city. The city Ways and Means Committee heard from SC STL officials Thursday, but no vote was taken on whether to ask the full Board of Aldermen to place the issue on the April ballot. The committee is expected to reconsider the measure Monday.

SC STL would be responsible for at least $95 million of the project cost, the entire $150 million expansion fee and all maintenance costs going forward.

Bundesliga returns: Will Bayern hold off competition again?

MUNICH, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 05: Sebastian Rudy of TSG Hoffenheim is challenged by Douglas Costa of FC Bayern Muenchen during the Bundesliga match between Bayern Muenchen and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at Allianz Arena on November 5, 2016 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images)
Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images
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Germany’s top flight returns to action Friday when Bayern Munich travels to Freiburg in an attempt to keep the pressure on new boys RB Leipzig.

[ MORE: Galaxy adds Portugal CM ]

For those who haven’t paid a ton of attention to the Bundesliga this season or need a bit of a refresher after several weeks away, here’s what to monitor over the next several months.

Really Big surprise Leipzig looks to keep title race going

Formed in 2009, RB Leipzig is a lot of German fans’ least favorite club after cash infusions caused a rapid rise into the top flight.

The new club is looking down at most of the haters, however. League leaders for much of the first half, Leipzig is three points shy of league leading Bayern Munich.

Bayern waxed Leipzig 3-0 before the holiday break, and the two sides won’t meet again until May 13. How long can the new boys keep up the show?

Historic relegation candidates

What does USMNT strikers Bobby Wood and Aron Johannsson share besides a national team? Both are on sides that have been in Germany’s top tier longer than the players have been alive.

Wood’s Hamburg has six national titles and hasn’t seen the second tier in 54 years. That’s the longest stretch in the league, two more seasons than Bayern Munich. Hamburg is a currently third-bottom, which would force them into a relegation-promotion playoff against the third-placed team in 2.Bundesliga.

As for Johannsson, his Werder Bremen side is just three points ahead of Hamburg. Bremen has been in the top flight for 36 seasons.

Chasing the Golden Boot

Robert Lewandowski has scored the most goals in two of the past three seasons, with Alexander Meier of Eintracht Frankfurt seizing the honor in 2014-15.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is leading the pack by three goals, but is with Gabon at the Africa Cup of Nations to help open the door for the rest of the bunch.

Koln’s Anthony Modeste is second with 13, while Lewandowski has 12. Two players, Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) and Sandro Wagner (Hoffenheim), have nine.

Can surprise Europe-chasers hold up?

Hertha Berlin was in 2.Bundesliga a few seasons ago, while Eintracht Frankfurt was there a season prior to that. RB Leipzig, as mentioned earlier, wasn’t even a club until 2009.

Eintracht made a Europa League run one year later, but neither was expected to be competing for a spot in Europe this season. As it stands, all three are in the mix.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 16 12 3 1 38 9 29 7-2-0 5-1-1 39
 RB Leipzig 16 11 3 2 31 15 16 6-1-0 5-2-2 36
 Hertha BSC Berlin 16 9 3 4 24 16 8 7-0-1 2-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 16 8 5 3 22 12 10 5-3-0 3-2-3 29
 1899 Hoffenheim 16 6 10 0 28 17 11 4-5-0 2-5-0 28
 Borussia Dortmund 16 7 6 3 35 19 16 5-3-0 2-3-3 27
 1. FC Köln 16 6 7 3 21 15 6 4-4-0 2-3-3 25

Report: El Tri’s Chicharito to LAFC in 2018

Bayer Leverkusen's Javier Hernandez, left, and Atletico Mineiro's Mattheus Rolden fight for possession of the ball during the first half of a Florida Cup soccer match, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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It makes a lot of sense, you know?

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will turn 30 in 2018, not a spring chicken for a striker but still plenty productive if healthy.

His national team, Mexico, will likely be revving its engines for the World Cup, and won’t be upset to have the forward playing a bit less soccer and a lot closer to home.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines ]

And Los Angeles FC will want to make a massive mark as it seeks to butt its head into a market dominated by the LA Galaxy (and, perhaps still then, Mexico national teamer Giovani Dos Santos).

So, tell us more, Steve Brisendine of MLSSoccer.com:

“[LAFC] are going to do everything possible to sign the current Bayer Leverkusen player, whose contract ends in 2018 and could therefore leave for a reduced fee. That’s what AS.com has confirmed with sources close to the project. LAFC hope to announce their new manager this spring and dream, a little later, to do the same with Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito.”

Make it happen. Make. It. Happen. We’re already reserving his spot on our MLS fantasy teams.

Transfer rumor roundup: Jagielka, Begovic, Berahino, Zarate

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Saido Berahino of West Brom challenges for the ball with Phil Jagielka of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Everton at The Hawthorns on September 13, 2014 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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There’s action all over England, from those defending the goal mouth to others striving to conquer it.

[ MORE: More transfer gossip ]

— Bournemouth wants an upgrade on Artur Boruc, according to The Telegraph, and that could come in the form of Chelsea backstop Asmir Begovic.

The Cherries reportedly had a $12.5 million bid turned down by Antonio Conte, who has Thibaut Courtois in the No. 1 seat and Portugal national team backup Eduardo in the ranks (along with three keepers on loan and young goalie Mitchell Beanie).

— Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger shut the door on acquiring West Ham wantaway Dimitri Payet according to Sky Sports’ Transfer Centre:

“We have many players offensively who can play in this position. You are interested by the quality of the player but there needs to be a need as well, and we have no need in this domain.”

— Clubs in need of experienced Premier League backs need look no further than Everton, where manager Ronald Koeman has admitted that England international Phil Jagielka could leave Goodison Park. The 34-year-old center back has 40 caps for England and has made 337 appearances for Everton. He could be a massive upgrade for Sunderland if David Moyes is up for a reunion.

— Stoke City chairman Peter Coates says a purchase of Saido Berahino from West Brom is not contingent on a sale of Bojan Krkic. The latter has been linked to Middlesbrough.

— Mauro Zarate may be returning the Premier League. Watford boss Walter Mazzarri has been largely let down by his strike corps as Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have taken steps back this season. Could $4 be enough to bring the ex-West Ham and QPR man from Fiorentina to Vicarage Road? Zarate has four goals in nine matches for La Viola, and has nine goals in 40 Premier League matches.