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 gives update on Ozil, Wilshere situation

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Arsene Wenger has given some intriguing updates on Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil, who are both out of contract at Arsenal on July 1, 2018.

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Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s clash against Newcastle United on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com), Wenger confirmed that there has been no interest from Manchester United in Ozil and contract talks will begin with Wilshere soon.

“We have never been approached by Man United in any way, so I don’t see why that came up and who found that, that’s always something that’s been created,” Wenger said of Ozil, before adding that the German playmaker will definitely stay until the end of the season.

Reports had been rife that Ozil would be the subject of a transfer bid from Manchester United in January, with Jose Mourinho eager to link up with Ozil once again after they worked together at Real Madrid. Ozil seems happy enough at Arsenal but the 29-year-old still hasn’t signed a new deal and time is ticking.

As for Wilshere (who started his first Premier League game for Arsenal in 577 days at West Ham on Wednesday) and his future at Arsenal, Wenger stated that contract talks will begin soon with the academy product who has suffered mightily with injuries over the past few years.

“I will talk to him. I said [I would] at the end of December,” Wenger said. “We are at the beginning of December so it’s true that it’s not far, but I wanted to see, as well, how much he can contribute and how he will last physically. It is, of course, for him to be happy to be here as well, that is important. I consider him as an Arsenal man and, for him, it’s important as well to feel happy here.”

Wenger added that Wilshere has done his chances of getting a new deal no harm at all and the Arsenal academy product has certainly impressed with his performances in the Europa League this season, and in flashes when he’s played in the PL.

Whether or not Wilshere, Ozil and, of course, Alexis Sanchez, will sign new deals in January and forfeit the chance to grab a huge signing-on fee in July when they’re free agents remains to be seen. It is unlikely Ozil and Sanchez will pass on that opportunity to test the open market.

However, Wilshere signing a new deal seems the most likely and it seems increasingly likely that Ozil and Sanchez will stay at Arsenal until the end of the season unless monster transfer offers arrive in January.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines: Week 18

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.