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Retired Germany striker says Bundesliga is now best in Europe…but is it really?

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Former German international Oliver Bierhoff has told Kicker that he believes the Champions League final is a piece of proof that the German Bundesliga may be taking over as the best league in Europe.

Bierhoff said, “Of course, Bayern and Dortmund stand out particularly. However, if one compares all of the leagues, the Bundesliga is also in position one in terms of the quality of games. Investments that were made by the DFB 10 years ago, in infrastructure, in training the coach and the players, bear fruit on a wide scaleDespite the euphoria, I’m cautious, but it might be a spark, and perhaps the beginning of a changing of the guard.”

He also made reference to the consistency of Bayern in the European competition as a boasting point.  “The fact that Bayern Munich in the last four years have reached the final three times is no coincidence. Football [in Germany] has evolved continuously and on the international level. This must now be confirmed in the coming months and years, but I’m quite optimistic.”

Obviously Bierhoff is a touch biased, but is he right? It’s not an easily answered question, and often depends on whether you value top clubs or depth more.

The most sought-after club rankings, those done by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS), come out every February, so they’re not entirely up to date.  But those have 3 Spanish clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid) in the top 7.  You have to go down to #12 to find the next country with three clubs on the list, and that’s Brazil.  If depth is your calling card, the top 50 is quite well-distributed.  Spain has 6 clubs, England owns 5, Germany with 4, Italy with 4, and France has 3.

Some believe those rankings don’t take into consideration Europe’s dominance – at least in terms of worldwide exposure – so looking specifically at Europe, UEFA’s rankings offer another outlet, but it’s still a question of top-level vs. depth.  Plus, they use the last 5 seasons of coefficients to create the rank order.  Barcelona and Real Madrid are 1 and 3 in UEFA’s rankings, and England own the 4-6 spots with Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal.  Germany will be strutting Borussia Dortmund’s recent success as proof of their possible climb to the top, but due to the distance UEFA’s rankings date back to, Dortmund is a lowly 31st, 3rd in their country’s rankings behind Bayern at 2 and Schalke at 15.  UEFA’s top 50 are also quite evenly spread out: Spain and England have 7, while Germany, Italy, and France all place 5 clubs on the list.

And we all know rankings aren’t the only thing – watching the matches can help as well.  With the ever-changing environment of club soccer, it’s a question whose answer ebbs and flows with the tides of recent and past success, and time will tell what Dortmund and Bayern have to offer in terms of staying power. In the short term, Bierhoff can take solace in the fact that his idea of a “changing of the guard” is certainly one that we will see on display at Wembley in Europe’s most sought-after match.

Report: Chelsea making first waves in $88m Bernardo chase

MONACO - NOVEMBER 22:  Bernardo Silva of Monaco  during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC  at Louis II Stadium on November 22, 2016 in Monaco, .  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Monaco has slapped a massive price tag on Bernardo Silva, and The Times says that isn’t stopping Chelsea.

Antonio Conte is trying to land the 22-year-old Portuguese attacker according to the report, which says that the Blues are already chatting up the Ligue 1 outfit.

[ MORE: Wenger’s Sutton pitch worry ]

Silva has six goals and seven assists in France’s top flight this season, adding another three in the UEFA Champions League. He did not appear at EURO 2016 thanks to a hamstring injury, as Portugal won the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Chelsea is ready to spend $88 million on the right winger, who can also play in a attacking center mid role. From The Times:

Monaco would like to secure a minimum of €80m (£68.4m) for Bernardo, who is comfortable operating on either the left or right wing or as a number 10. With Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Manchester clubs also expressing their interest Monaco, who play Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday, believe a money-spinning auction may develop.

Transfer prices can be hard to predict, but is Silva the sort of talent that will tempt nine figures? We’ve been surprised before, and at his age it’s possible, but color us skeptical.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”