Pep Guardiola facing a potentially trecherous road at Bayern Munich

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When Pep Guardiola takes over Bayern Munich this summer, he’ll be inheriting a Ferrari of a football squad. And while managing what is arguably the world’s best team is an honor that most managers can only dream of, the road ahead will be anything but easy for the Spaniard.

One of the biggest issues Guardiola will confront is what to do about Bayern’s style of play. Naturally, most would reply: Nothing. After all, the idea of tinkering with a squad that is but two matches away from a fantastic treble seems audacious.

While possessing the talent capable of playing in a number of styles, Bayern typically favor a possession-based approach that infuses a high intensity press in both defense and counter-attacks. Their full-backs stay true to their primary job of defending yet love to burst forward into the attack. The midfield is highly skilled yet ensures the back four is supported with cover before pressing forward and creatively interweaving themselves into attack. It’s a conservative yet brave style that emphasizes awareness while allowing players to express themselves.

Although it’s hardly a new style for the Bavarian giant (it has carried them to the Champions League semi-finals in three of the past four years), it is only now being recognized as the most dominant style in Europe. For the previous five years (or arguably more), the stylistic gold standard was the one that Guardiola brought to prominence at Barcelona, the famed tiki-taka.

In tiki-taka, possession is everything. It is death by a thousand cuts, a game requiring triangles inside of triangles and pass completion rates of over 90 per cent. When performed correctly, it is breathtaking and virtually unstoppable. But is Guardiola so attached to this style that he’s willing to undue Bayern’s current method of football?

Judging the Spaniards character, most likely no. At least not right away. To come into his new club and risk the wrath of the owners, players and fans by introducing a different style – and one that was born in bred in Spain – would reek of arrogance. But over time it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a more calculating approach is infused into Munich’s play.

A second issue Guardiola faces at Bayern concerns personnel decisions. Will Pep seek to rebuild the squad that already sits upon football’s Iron Throne?

As of now that answer seems to be yes. Last week Guardiola made what was effectively his first major signing when Bayern activated the €37m release clause of Borussia Dortmund playmaker Mario Gotze. The coup represented the second-highest transfer fee in Bundesliga history and earned Munich an attacking midfielder who is one of the most gifted players of his generation. Some even claim Gotze represents Guardiola’s new Lionel Messi, more fodder for the argument that Guardiola could be set to install a system that replicates tiki-taka.

One player who appears set to move on is Arjen Robben, who Guardiola has reportedly made available for transfer this summer. It’s believed that Pep has not been impressed by the winger’s one dimensional attacking play, where he starts on the right before cutting in and shooting with his left. In fairness, ridding Bayern of Robben seems like an obvious decision as doing so removes a potentially cancerous ego from the dressing room.

But will others follow?

Rumors of Bayern’s desire to bring a striker into the fold are rampant – with Luis Suarez and Radamel Falcao being the most widely mentioned – and it is believed that Mario Gomez may be the fall-guy. After a fantastic 2011-12 Bundesliga season saw him haul 26 goals in 33 matches, this season has seen the German behemoth score only 10 times after falling behind Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic (15 goals, 22 league appearances) in the pecking order.

What other signings might Guardiola make? It wouldn’t be a shock if he discarded Daniel van Buyten or Holger Badstuber to bring in a new center-back to provide competition to Dante and Jerome Boateng. With a reported war chest of £240m at his disposal, anything is possible.

But despite the envious position he is poised to assume, the decisions won’t come easy for Pep as he looks to navigate the potentially treacherous new roads at Bayern Munich.

Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.

World Cup hopes back on track: What next for USMNT?

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After a four-point haul over the past week in their two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. national team is back on track and heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Bruce Arena led the USMNT to a thumping 6-0 win over Honduras last Friday and then a gutsy 1-1 draw in Panama on Tuesday in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, as the Hexagonal standings will now look a lot better to U.S. fans who saw their team sitting bottom of the pile for the past four months following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

So, the “Road to Russia” is looking a little less daunting for the U.S. but there are still tough tests ahead in the months to come.

First let’s look at the standings in the Hex. Ah, that’s better but things are now very tight aside from Mexico running away with things.

With six games to go the U.S. currently occupies the play-off spot as the top three teams in the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the World Cup and the fourth-place team has to play against the fifth-place team from qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation region.


Mexico — 10 points (+4 GD)
Costa Rica — 7 points (+4)
Panama — 5 points (0)
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USA — 4 points (+1)
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Honduras — 4 points (-5)
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points (-4)


And these are the USA’s six remaining qualifiers as they aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

June 8: vs. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: at Mexico
September 1: vs. Costa Rica
September 5: at Honduras
October 6: vs. Panama
October 10: at Trinidad and Tobago

The first three games at crucial. If the U.S. manages to get seven points from those three matches, that’s magical. Even six points by beating T&T and Costa Rica on home soil would be superb. Yet, if the U.S. drops points to one or both of T&T and Costa Rica, that puts so much pressure on themselves to pick up wins on the road at Honduras and T&T in two of their final three qualifiers. That would not be an ideal scenario.

Still, heading into the past week the aim for the U.S. was to get back on track in qualifying and give themselves a chance of making the 2018 World Cup. They’ve done that. Now, the hard work begins.

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.