Bundesliga review: Kießling’s national team case continues to grow

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What will it take for Stefan Kießling to get a look in the German national team?

The question, one that’s persisted all season, became even more pertinent after the 29-year-old Bayer Leverkusen (far right) forward scored his 15th goal of the season today against visiting Augsburg. With the 2-1 win, Bayer opened a four-point lead on fourth place Eintracht Frankfurt and look a strong bet to return to Champions League after a one-year hiatus. More relevant to Kießling’s nationalmannschaft cause, the Leverkusen No. 9 is now tied with Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic for most goals in this year’s Bundesliga.

It’s the second season in a row Kießling’s hit at least 15 goals. With 12 matches left in the campaign, he’ll likely far exceed last year’s total: 16. At his current pace, Kießling will finish with 23 goals, two-more than the career high 21 that earned him a spot in the national team ahead of South Africa 2010.

Since then, Kießling’s had trouble getting a look from Joachim Löw, a situation that began with a drop in production post-World Cup. That was compounded by a surplus of talent that’s emerged at Germany’s attacking positions. When Kießling drew Löw‘s attention pre-South Africa, players like Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, and André Schürrle had yet to establish their places in the team (Kroos was selected for the squad, albeit with only four caps headed into the tournament). A poor 2010-11 season cost him his spot, and with talents like Julian Draxler and Lewis Holtby also pressing for places among the national team’s attacking four, Kießling’s career-best form may not be enough to crack the team.

“I don’t care (if Löw was watching),” Kießling said earlier this year. “[A]ll I can do is to perform well.”

Germany’s recent dalliance with some striker-less looks may not help, though Kießling has the talent to play wide as well as in his more customary central position. That may not matter. Löw sees him as a No. 9, a position where the national team boss already has two stable choices: Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klöse. Kießling may have the type of versatility that could prove valuable in Germany’s 4-2-3-1 system, but with the glut of talent at Löw’s disposal (and the huge substitute’s bench you’re allowed in international match), versatility may not count for much.

“Stefan Kiessling has a tremendous quality in front of goal,” Löw said about Kießling’s possible selection. “[H]e was there in 2010 at the World Cup.

“When I [fill] the position … I see Miroslav Klose in a superior form, if he’s healthy – and also Mario Gomez is just a tad bit before Kießling. But Stefan Kießling is Kießling an alternative.”

For whatever reason, that alternative has never been a factor in the national team. Even when the aging Klöse’s struggled with fitness, Kießling hasn’t been called in. Between the coach’s evaluation and the competition for spots,Kießling’ may not improve on his seven caps any time soon – goals be damned. If scoring was enough to impress Löw, Gomez would have locked down a starting spot long ago.

The big beneficiary of all this is Bayer. They have one of the best attackers in Germany all to themselves. They don’t have to share him with the national team. If that means Leverkusen is more likely to return to the world’s top club competition, Sami Hyypïa should be happy Kießling’s undervalued by Löw.

Here’s Kießbling’s Saturday effort, beating his man on a restart to head home Leverkusen’s opening goal:

Elsewhere in Germany

  • Already missing the suspended Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund played 59 minutes with 10-men after Julian Schieber earned a second yellow card. By that time, Reus had them up 2-0. The German international’s second half goal gave him a hat trick and BVB an easy 3-0 victory over visiting Frankfurt.
  • The win kept Dortmund within 15 points of first place Bayern (I can’t type that without laughing). FCB took care of business on Friday with a 2-0 victory, giving the kind of controlling performance that’s come to characterize their season. Bayern have not allowed a goal in league since Dec. 12 against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
  • With their loss, Frankfurt’s fourth place cushion’s reduced to three points, with Freiburg (3-2 winners at Werder Bremen) and Hamburg (1-0 victors over Gladbach) now within striking distance.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”