Mario Gomez, Ragnar Klavan

Bundesliga giving more room to Bayern Munich

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It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see a race in the Bundlesliga.

Bayern Munich came into the weekend with an 11-point lead after being drawn at home last week by the defending champions Borussia Dortmund, and although they’ll finished the weekend’s 16th round with the same lead, slips by two of their potential challengers gave Munchen an even greater grip on the title.

In Dortmund, a 35th minute sending off of defender Marcel Schmelzer allowed Wolfsburg’s Diego to equalize from the spot. BVB was even, 1-1, but left to play the rest of the match with 10 men. Six minutes later, Naldo put Wolfsburg ahead, and although Jakub Blaszczykowski pulled Dortmund even near the hour mark, Bas Dost’s seventh league goal gave Wolfsburg the upset.

After the match, referee Wolfgang Stark conceded that upset should have never happened. Or, more readily, he conceded the game shouldn’t have played out the way it did, admitting that he erroneously sent off Schmelzer for a hand ball on the goal line when replays showed the ball hit his leg.

“I’ve looked at it again later and unfortunately it was an error of perception on my part,” Stark said.

“I’m sorry, that should not happen. The penalty and the red card were a mistake on my part. That’s annoying.”

Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp’s assessment was less forgiving.

“We were 1-0 ahead and Wolfsburg had no chance and then comes the game-winning move. It was a brutal decision.”

Another potential title dark horse, Schalke, was undone by their own red card, though when Jermaine Jones got himself sent off, the Miners were already down two. Vedad Ibisevic’s hat trick gave Stuttgart a 3-1 win and dropped Schalke to fifth place, winless in league since Oct. 11.

“Things are going wrong for us,” Schalke defender Benedikt Hoewedes said post-match. “We dropped an early goal. We were then the better team but lacked ideas after conceding the second goal.”

After Bayern Munich’s 2-0 win at Augsburg, Schalke is 16 points back of Munchen. Dortmund trails by 14. In between them and Bayern is second place Bayer Leverkusen, but even they are 11 points out.

All it takes is one bad Bayern run for Leverkusen to make up some of that distance, but there’s little hint Munchen’s going to allow that. After today’s win, they’re 13-1-2, have a +37 goal difference, and have only allow six goals. For there to be a race in the Bundesliga, Bayern will have to descend to a level of performance we’ve yet to see.

We discussed it earlier this year, but for the second time in three seasons, it appears Germany’s title race will be over before winter break. Two years ago, it was Dortmund lapping the field, and although Jurgen Klopp’s team regressed in the second half of the season, there was little drama in the title race. Bayern has been even more dominant than Dortmund was in 2010-11.

With all of Germany’s teams still alive in Champions and Europa League, there’s plenty of drama left in the season for a Bundesliga fan. In league, however, the only drama will be the fight for Champions League spots. Today, Schalke’s out of the top four, but most would assume Huub Stevens’ team will correct course and pass Eintracht Frankfurt at some point (even if Stevens isn’t around to see it). Bayer has shown enough quality to make a top four finish probable, while it would be a major upset if Dortmund, a team that’s shown so well in this year’s Champions League, fails to finish in the top four.

All that’s left in Germany is to play out those Champions League races and to see how good Bayern can be. They’re on pace to set records for points and goals allowed. They even have some room for regression in their current pace. But although we all can admire greatness, are those records enough to maintain interest in this Bundesliga season? Especially as teams start to drop out of European competition?

Report: French outfit Nice interested in adding Liverpool’s Balotelli

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 14:  Mario Balotelli of AC Milan looks on during the Serie A match between AC Milan and AS Roma at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 14, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
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Mario Balotelli could soon have a new home, according to the BBC’s Phil McNulty.

The mercurial Italian striker, 26, has one league goal in each of his last two seasons (spent between Liverpool and AC Milan).

Jurgen Klopp is ready for Balotelli to find a home away from Anfield and McNulty says that place could be OGC Nice, where he’d join newly-signed ex-Bayern man Dante. Balotelli also had talks with Sion in Switzerland, according to the report.

The striker was a blazing hot commodity after scoring 17 goals for Manchester City in 2011-12, and again after netting 18 for AC Milan in 2013-14.

Balotelli has 13 goals in 33 caps for Italy, but hasn’t appeared for the national team since 2014.

Report: West Ham lands Zaza from Juventus for $32 million

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Simone Zaza of Juventus in action during the Pre-Season Friendly between West Ham United and Juventus at The Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
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After months and months of trying to land a big name striker, it seems West Ham has done just that.

David Amoyal of DiMarzio says that Juventus striker Simone Zaza is on his way to the London Stadium for a medical which will seal a $32 million transfer to West Ham.

[ MORE: Chelsea adds EURO champion ]

Zaza, 25, made his name as Sassuolo before moving to Juve last season, and forced his way into the national team. He has 14 caps with one goal, but is perhaps better remembered at this point for missing a penalty — with a creative run-up —  in Italy’s final EURO game.

The striker had been linked with West Ham as far back as this time last season.

This move should help insure the Hammers avoid too many goalless outcome moving forward, even with Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew out for a while.

That’ll be music to Slaven Bilic‘s ears. The manager said, “The disappointment is massive” after his side couldn’t break down Astra Giurgiu and dropped out of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

Chelsea adds No. 2 goalkeeper from Portugal’s EURO winning squad

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 11: Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo  during the meeting with the countries President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for the Portugal Euro 2016 Victory ceremonies at Lisbon on July 11, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images
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Chelsea have added some depth at the very back.

Eduardo’s the name, and the 33-year-old Portuguese backstop arrives at Stamford Bridge with a decent resume, having been on the roster for his country’s EURO 2016 triumph.

[ MORE: Stambouli, Bentaleb reunited ]

USMNT fans will remember him from his time between the sticks for Portugal at the 2014 World Cup. He has 35 caps, and has been with Dinamo Zagreb since 2014.

From ChelseaFC.com:

‘All the colleagues I have always say the dream is to come to the Premier League, where there are the best clubs and the best players, and the opportunity to come here arrived at this moment.

‘I am happy to be here and I hope I meet the expectations people have for me.’

Eduardo certainly won’t be taking over for Thibaut Courtois, but will definitely provide competition for No. 2 Asmir Begovic.

UEFA Europa roundup: West Ham bounced by Astra Giurgiu; Genk, Gent, Anderlecht roll on

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Angelo Ogbonna of West Ham and Takayuki Seto of FC Astra Giurgiu battle for possesion during the UEFA Europa League match between West Ham United and FC Astra Giurgiu at the Olympic Stadium on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images
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West Ham dominated the game but not the score line against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu, who advanced to the UEFA Europa League group stage with a 1-0 win at London Stadium on Thursday.

Well-traveled French midfielder Filipe Teixeira did the damage for Astra Giurgiu, as the former West Brom and Barnsley man scored in the 45th minute to give the visitors a 2-1 lead on aggregate after the sides went 1-1 in Romania last week.

The Irons carried possession and a wealth of shots, but couldn’t find their way past Romanian international goalkeeper Silviu Lung, Jr.

[ MORE: Stambouli, Bentaleb reunited at Schalke ]

Sassuolo star Domenico Berardi scored in a 1-1 draw with Red Star Belgrade, completing a 4-1 score line.

Elsewhere, a hat trick from Slovan Liberec’s Jan Sykora led the Czech side to a 3-0 second leg win, and 4-0 aggregate defeat of Cypriot side AEK Larnaca.

Gent got a pair of goals from giant Malian striker Kalifa Coulibaly as the Belgians completed a 6-1 aggregate win over Shkendija.

Full scoreboard
West Ham United 0-1 (agg. 1-2) Astra Giurgiu
Astana 2-2 (agg. 4-2) BATE Borisov
Arouca 1-2 (agg. 1-3) Olympiacos
Midtjylland 0-3 (agg. 0-4) Osmanlispor
Trencin 2-0 (agg. 0-4) Rapid Wien
Lokomotiva 0-2 (agg. 2-4) Genk
AEK Larnaca 0-3 (agg. 0-4) Slovan Liberec
Dinamo Tbilisi 0-2 (agg. 0-5) PAOK
Austria Wien 2-1 (agg. 4-2) Rosenborg
Beitar Jerusalem 0-0 (agg. 1-2) Saint-Etienne
Vojvodina 0-0 (agg. 0-3) AZ Alkmaar
Gabala 0-1 (agg. 3-2) Maribor
Slavia Prague 0-3 (agg. 0-6) Anderlecht
Fenerbahce 2-0 (agg. 3-0) Grasshopper
Panathinaikos 1-1 (agg. 4-1) Brondby
Krasnodar 0-0 (agg. 4-0) Partizani Tirana
Gent 4-0 (agg. 6-1) Shkendija
Istanbul Basaksehir 0-2 (agg. 1-4) Shakhtar Donetsk
SonderjyskE 2-3 (agg. 2-3) Sparta Prague
Sassuolo 1-1 (agg. 4-1) Red Star Belgrade
Goteborg 0-3 (agg. 1-3) Qarabag
Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-2 (agg. 3-3) Hajduk Split