Coach Jurgen Klopp and Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund during a training session in Amsterdam Arena stadium

Bayern, Dortmund may be at a strategic stalemate

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If you watched their meeting on Dec. 1, you might not be too excited about another Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund meeting.

That may overstate things. Who wouldn’t be excited about Bayern meeting Dortmund, a rivalry that’s quickly developing into a Champions League final-level matchup. If you can’t get excited about that, you’re probably making your last accidental visit to ProSoccerTalk.

But there are reasons to believe the rivalry’s matches have reached a type of strategic stalemate. Jurgen Klopp (above) has always had his team play on the counter against the Bavarian giants, but just over two weeks ago, the Dortmund boss took it to another level. BVB didn’t have their usual verve coming out of their own end, and while they recovered from a slow start to carry a large part of the second half’s action, the defending champions showed little of the nous that saw them rout Bayern 5-2 in last May’s German Cup final.

After this week’s results, the two Bundesliga titans have been drawn together in the quarterfinals of this year’s Cup, the rematch set for the last week in February. Slated to be played at Munich’s Allianz Arena, the game could end up a carbon copy of the cagey, disappointing affair that was played out at the beginning of the month. Both teams, having reason to think their approaches could be successful when reloaded, have little incentive to change tactics, and with the psychological stakes of the rivalry seemingly increasing with each meeting, neither side has an incentive to sacrifice risk aversion for entertainment. Bayern will play controlled if progressive. Dortmund will live on the counter.

source: APIn the recent past the approaches have produced great matches, but although the latest meeting was far from disappointing, something seems to have changed. For Dortmund, the now-departed Shinji Kagawa (below) was critical to Klopp’s approach against Bayern, so while the likes of Mario Götze and Marcos Reus are more than capable of making up from the Japanese international’s move to Manchester, Kagawa’s loss is disproportionately felt when facing Bayern. His influence in executing BVB’s counters is missed when Klopp chooses to live on the break. Combined with the reticence of a Bayern side that hasn’t won a competitive match against Dortmund since Sept. 2009 and you have a recipe for regression, at least as far as the entertainment value is concerned.

The situation is not unlike what we briefly saw recently from the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry in Spain, particularly during Jose Mourinho’s first year in La LigaWhile it’d be too lazy to map either Spanish team directly onto a German counterpart, the adjustments Mourinho made to Real Madrid’s normal approach when facing Barcelona can be likened to Dortmund’s against Bayern. El Real changes were far more extreme – Mourinho’s 2010-11 team employing a highly criticized defensive approach in his second Clasico – but the departure from their regular, progressive approach was not dissimilar to the compromises Klopp has made for Munchen.

Under normal circumstances, a Dortmund team with more talent than their Bundesliga opposition can dictate the game. They may also be capable of doing so against Bayern, but it would be with greater task and uncertain benefits. After all, playing on the counter has led Klopp to his recent dominance of Bayern. Why would he want to change that before it’s shown Bayern can beat them?

The only potential game-changer is a stocked Bayern team that possesses more options than Jupp Heynckes had last season. Theoretically, a team with this type of talent is capable of forcing adjustments from anybody.

But even if Bayern’s stocked squad can finally overcome Dortmund’s, that wouldn’t necessarily dictate a change from Klopp. After all, BVB could both lose to Bayern and be employing the strategy that gives them the best chance to win. If Bayern’s team is really talented enough to break Dortmund, Klopp may have to take solace in the best of bad options.

But ahead of February’s meeting, there is no reason for Klopp to change. Having already taken a point from the Allianz  this season, Dortmund maintains the psychological edge, leaving Germany’s best rivalry at a temporary point of diminishing returns. The meeting still has all the drama. The stakes, tied to the preeminent spot in Germany’s soccer landscape, continue to transcend the matches’ competition. And the quality of both squads continues to improve.

Yet if you look at the last meeting and evaluate the current state of German soccer, we’re likely to see less interesting chapters in the Bayern-Dortmund rivalry, at least in the show term. Something’s going to have to give before either team breaks from the Dec. 1 model.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.