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.

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.”