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.

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.