Hamburg show Borussia Dortmund have work to do before Champions League

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Borussia Dortmund’s 4-1 loss Saturday to Hamburg was the defending German champions’ worst home defeat since 2008, a shocking outcome for a team that was supposed to be gearing up for Champions League. If their mid-week opponents (Shakhtar Donetsk) happened to be watching, they’d take nothing but encouragement from a poor defensive performance from team that never recovered from a controversial sending off.

That incident happened in the 31st minute with Hamburg already up 2-1. Robert Lewandowski showed up Hamburg defender Hieko Westermann for a 17th minute opener only to see beautiful goals from Artjoms Rudnevs (a team effort) and Son Heung-Min (his own work) give the visitors the lead. Five minutes later, a late challenge that saw Lewandowski go foot-to-foot with on Hamburg midfielder Per Skjelbred earned the Polish international straight red, a punishment that arrived after Hamburg captain Rafael van der Vaart appeared to escalate the situation by hastily confronting Lewandowski before appealing for red after Sebastian Kehl shoved him to the ground.

Hamburg never took advantage of Dortmund’s shock, though. By the 59th minute, they were also reduced to 10 after defender Jeffrey Bruma saw straight red. The dismissal seemed to awaken Hamburg, who took advantage of uncharacteristically bad Dortmund defending to craft Rudnevs and Son’s second goals.

The doubles completed a banner day for Hamburg, one that moves them into fifth place in the Bundesliga. For team that started the season near the drop (after a 2011-12 campaign spent battling relegation), completing a double over the defending champions could prove a solidifying event. If there was any doubt  Hamburg would slip back into mediocrity, today’s result should placate it.

And the way they won should bring some deserved attention to one of the league’s best attacking tandems. In a time where the 4-2-3-1 formation has become a default, you don’t often see two forwards leading an attack. Yet thanks to the re-acquisition of van der Vaart, Rudnevs and Son having established themselves as a rare duel threat, Son’s ability to play wide complementing his Latvian partner. After today’s haul, the duo’s combined for 19 league goals.

Dortmund must now answer the question teams face whenever they’re handed an aberrational result: How much do you chalk up to a bad day, and how much hints at something that’s breaking down? Given defender Neven Subotic and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan were handed days off (Gundogan did come in late), head coach Jurgen Kloppp has reason to believe this is a one-off.

The disturbing part will be how Hamburg scored their goals: Long passes down the flanks and behind the fullbacks extending a defense that couldn’t adjust. Given how Shakhtar plays, it’s not difficult to see the Ukrainian champions using the same approach. With Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Ilsinho wide, Shakhtar can get behind Lukasz Pizszcek and Sven Bender. Fullbacks Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat have the experience and ability to find them, while striker Luiz Adriano and attacking midfielder Henrikh Wkhitaryan can mimic HSV’s goal scorers.

One-off or not, Hamburg exposed something in Dortmund that can taken advantage of. Klopp will have to solve the problem before re-starting BVB’s Champions League campaign.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdZPWGSg6Ec]

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”