Champions League Final: Key battles for Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich

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With just over 24 hours until billions across the world switch their attention to Wembley Stadium, players of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are keying themselves up for what could be the biggest game of their careers.

Players form both sides have won trophies, played in finals and tasted the big occasion before. But this has extra-spice to it.

Two German teams. Two bitter rivals. Two teams high in confidence after dismantling two Spanish giants in the semifinals.

Throw Mario Götze’s transfer from Dortmund to Bayern in the mix — Munich paid the near $60 million release clause for Borussia’s star player and academy product to become theirs, just hours before Dortmund’s crucial semifinal game against Real Madrid — and we are going to have one heck of a humdinger in North London on Saturday afternoon.

(More: Champions League Final infographic, Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich)

Individual battles will crop up all over the pitch, with both sets of players extremely familiar with each other after years of battling it out on the Bundesliga stage. Götze is out injured which is a huge blow for Dortmund, with the 20-year-old key to their attacking impetus. However his absence will have spared him an awkward battle before he joins up with his new Bayern teammates this summer.

They’re probably sick of the sight of one another. That cranks the intensity up even higher. Let’s see which key battle will determine which German side will be victorious.

DANTE v ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

Brazilian Dante has become a key member of Bayern’s backline since arriving from Borussia Monchengladbach last summer. They conceded just 18 goals in 34 games. 21 goals less than any other German defense. They also equaled a club record of 20 clean sheets. Dante will have to keep his composure to stop the towering Lewandowski, who smashed in all four goals to defeat Real Madrid in their semi-final first leg win at the Westfalenstadion.

The big Polish striker could be on the move to some of the Europe’s biggest teams. It would be a great sendoff if he could seal the UCL trophy for Dortmund.

MARIO MANDZUKIC v NEVEN SUBOTIC

At the other end of the pitch another massive battle will take place between two giants.

Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic has hammered home 20 goals this season for Bayern, but just two in UCL action. His strike-partner Thomas Muller has scored eight as Mandzukic’s tireless work rate and clever runs often opens up space for others to exploit. Serbian international, Neven Subotic, is given the task to keep him quiet. With US soccer fans knowing the massive defender only too well after he represented the US as a youth international and played at the University of South Florida before switching his allegiance to Serbia and moved to the Bundesliga.

This will be a mammoth battle with elbows and heads flying everywhere.

BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER v SVEN BENDER

It feels like Schweinsteiger has been around for decades. Because he has. But he’s only 28 and is the heart and soul of Bayern’s midfield. The German international will be looking to lift the UCL title after twice missing out to Inter Milan and Chelsea in recent seasons. That will drive all the Munich players on.

Schweinsteiger will break up player and get attacks going, as he looks to dominate the midfield. However that won’t be easy with Sven Bender around. The 24-year-old holding midfielder has been solid as a rock in the holding role and if he plays well and breaks up Bayern’s offensive fluidity, Dortmund has a big chance of winning the Champions League crown for just the second time in their history.

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 17

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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.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.