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.

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.

Heynckes squashes Lewandowski rumors after Premier League rumors

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The English media – mainly the tabloids – has had a field day over the last 24 hours with rumors of a Robert Lewandowski move to the Premier League claiming, but the Bayern Munich manager is having none of it.

Jupp Heynckes told the German press during his pre-match press conference on Friday ahead of the club’s Saturday match against Hertha Berlin, “I can’t imagine there is a chance [the club executives] will sell Lewandowski.”

“Bayern is not a selling club,” Heynckes went on to proclaim. “They want to, and always will want to, keep their top players.”

The reports stated that Lewandowski was “flirting” with a move to the Premier League, and that while Manchester City and Chelsea were the more logical destination, Liverpool was actually the preferred landing spot as the Polish international was open to a reunification with former boss Jurgen Klopp, whom he worked with at Borussia Dortmund before his switch to Allianz Arena. Lewandowski’s contract at Bayern Munich currently runs through 2021, leaving the player with little say over his future.

While the rumors seem like a long shot, what does make sense is that, at 29 years old, Lewandowski doesn’t a ton of time left to convince a Premier League club he’s worth a heavy investment for the next couple of years. Many top teams – most notably Arsenal – are hesitant to sign players over 30 years old, and would be even less inclined to pay a hefty transfer fee for a player without a long future ahead of them. Manchester United just paid a cut-rate price for Alexis Sanchez, and while that was largely due to Arsenal’s position of weakness regarding the expiry of Sanchez’s contract, Sanchez’s age also partially contributed to that knocked down transfer rate.

Nonetheless, Bayern’s sale history is minimal, having only offloaded surplus players, such as defender Medhi Benatia this past summer, Mario Gotze back to Borussia Dortmund the summer before, and Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City in 2015.