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.

What’s next for Julian Green, and what’s gone wrong?

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Julian Green will have a new team again soon, in all likelihood.

A Stuttgart publication says Green is on the transfer market this month, just eight months after moving from Bayern Munich to the then-2.Bundesliga side for less than $500,000.

Now 22, Green is three and a half years removed from Jurgen Klinsmann’s long campaign to get him into a USMNT shirt. It’s been a little less time since he scored in extra time against Belgium in the World Cup, but also less than a year since he scored goals in consecutive USMNT matches. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Green scored one goal in 10 appearances for Stuttgart, who was promoted to the Bundesliga at the end of last season. He fell out of favor there, but was far from poor. Green completed 87 percent of his passes and averaged 1.3 dribbles per game (only four teammates had more, though 10 matches is a smaller sample size).

Before that, he spent parts of three seasons with Bayern Munich and made just four appearances, taking a loan to Hamburg in 2014-15 that saw him banished to Hamburg II after just five appearances.

What gives? Whether attitude or skill, Green has a lot of work to do to get back to a level where he’s a reasonable USMNT call-up (Green has a respectable three goals in eight call-ups, netting against Cuba and New Zealand in Oct. 2016). Still, it’s far from over for Green at 22.

There are legit questions here, as the list of not high-profile players Bayern Munich has used in its senior team at a young age and blossomed elsewhere isn’t necessarily impressive (at least relatively speaking). Nils Petersen, Thomas Kraft, and Sandro Wagner are exceptions to the rule. Better put: Bayern has a really good idea what it’s doing when it lets young players walk, and it begs discussion on the best path for Green.

It seems likely he could get a move to another 2.Bundesliga club, and there’s an outside shot he could get a look in the top flight. It would be interesting to know where the interest lies abroad. Would it be hard to acquire a work permit for France or Spain (England seems a hard sell)? Could a move to a free-flowing Eredivisie club work?

Obviously Major League Soccer clubs would welcome his talent and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t be a useful piece in the United States’ top tier, even if on a short-term move as he looks to regain confidence. Would Green see it as below him?

Arsenal’s Wilshere sent-off after brawling in U-23 match vs. Man City

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Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere isn’t standing around waiting for his next team, he’s fighting.

Period.

Wilshere got into with several members of Manchester City’s U-23 side in a match on Monday, with the English midfielder taking exception to a hockey-style hip check from City’s Matthew Smith.

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Shoving the 17-year-old Smith, Wilshere saw the City man take a tumble and stay prone. Still riled up, Wilshere tangled with City’s Tyreke Wilson.

Wilshere and Wilson were sent off.

Given his injury history, we’re not surprised Wilshere took exception to a hard and needless foul in a U-23 match.

The Arsenal man has been linked with moves to Newcastle, West Ham, AC Milan, and Sampdoria, but Arsene Wenger wants to keep Wilshere at the Emirates Stadium.

Report: PSG to dodge FFP by signing Mbappe on loan, sending Moura to Monaco

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fight to win a UEFA Champions League will receive a major boost from its main Ligue 1 rivals.

Reigning champions AS Monaco have been frustrated by phenomenal and combative forward Kylian Mbappe seeking a move to join Neymar at PSG. Mbappe was reportedly kicked out of Monaco training this week.

That move is very difficult for PSG to pull off thanks to Financial Fair Play; Les Parisiens spent more than $260 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona.

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The way around it? Sky Sports says Monaco will reportedly loan Mbappe to PSG with an agreement to sell the 18-year-old striker permanently after this season. PSG midfielder Lucas Moura would go the other way for this season.

If that rings a bit hollow to those who’d like to see FFP work against massive clubs stockpiling talent, it should; This is hardly any different from spending all the money in one window when considering that Mbappe would join Neymar and Edinson Cavani effective this season.

Incredibly, Sky also has the notion that PSG will bring Fabinho to the Parc des Princes (Yes, from Monaco).

If Mbappe ends up in Paris — forget Fabinho for a second — PSG would be favored to get past its UCL quarterfinals blockade (Les Parisiens were eliminated in the Round of 16 last season by Barcelona after four-straight quarterfinal ousters).

UEFA Champions League playoffs: Differing levels of comfort

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Only one of 20 playoff-contending clubs has a strong foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage with 10 second legs set for this week.

That’s Scottish champions Celtic, who took a 5-0 lead for manager Brendan Rodgers last week at Celtic Park and heads to the capital of Kazakhstan for a Tuesday date with Astana.

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As for the rest, there are varying levels of comfort. Napoli leads Nice 2-0 and didn’t concede an away goal to the French side, so the Serie A side has to feel pretty good. Liverpool edged Hoffenheim 2-1 in Germany and brings two goals home to Anfield. That, too, is confident footing.

Steaua Bucharest and Sporting CP are the only sides level, scoreless after a match in Portugal.

But Olympiacos is in Croatia and a goal away from being on the wrong foot after a 2-1 win at home to Rijeka, and Hapoel Be’er Sheva has the same situation in Slovenia against Maribor.

At risk? Three high-profile away trips and the same number of group stage home paydays. The losers drop into the Europa League group stage.

Tuesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Astana vs. Celtic (Celtic leads 5-0) — 11:30 a.m. ET
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1)
Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli leads 2-0)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel leads 2-1)

Wednesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Copenhagen vs. Qarabag (Qarabag leads 1-0)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA leads 1-0)
Slavia Prague vs. Apoel Nicosia (Apoel leads 2-0)
Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool leads 2-1)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting CP (First leg 0-0)