Champions League final preview: A bitter rivalry with much higher stakes

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When Bayern Munich face Borussia Dortmund tomorrow at 2:45 ET at Wembley, they won’t be playing for a ticket into the elite. They won’t be playing for the right to be recognized as permanent contenders. They’ve already done both of those.

The path each of these bitter German rivals took to get to the final already showed the world they can play with the big boys, and probably will for a while. What they will be playing for is the ability to validate each of their enormous semifinal victories.

Oh yea, and a whole lot of pride. And a big shiny trophy. And a moment their players and fans will never forget.

But that’s much more to it than that.

When Bayern Munich shocked the world by torching tiki-taka and sending Barcelona (and quite frankly, the rest of the soccer community) home shaking their heads, they made fans question, “have we just witnessed a changing of the guard?” It’s obvious Bayern is going to be around for a while – you don’t just beat the best 7-0 and evaporate the next season. But they need this win, they need it to validate (there’s that word) their victory against Barcelona. Heck, Bayern’s been to the Champions League final two of the last three years, but haven’t hoisted the trophy since 2001 when they beat Valencia. How can they claim to be top of the mountain if they can’t finish the deal?

They can’t. And they know it. Thomas Mueller knows they can win all the Bundesliga titles in the world by 100 points, and it won’t matter if they can’t finish on the world’s biggest stage. “We have to win,” he told The Independent. “If you lose three finals in four seasons you are going to be labelled chokers. We could win a lot in London but we could lose a lot, too.”

Then there’s last year’s final they need to erase. The gut-wrenching, heart-deflating loss to Chelsea when it should have been theirs. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation, about how Bayern can’t seem to close the deal anymore. We should be talking about how they are trying to win back-to-back Champions League titles; we should be talking about how the 7-0 crushing of Barcelona was the nail in the coffin, not the firing of the first shots.

Mueller said after last year’s final, he was so crushed, so dejected, if “a ball had fallen at my feet, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it.” Think he wants to feel that again? When asked to pick one word to describe the feeling after the defeat, he selected “pleite.” German for “bankrupt.” If Bayern do end up with yet another loss, they would have the most Champions League finals losses of any club – 6.

Then there’s Dortmund. They beat Real Madrid in the semis in a completely different fashion, but it had the same impact. After losing the first leg to Dortmund 4-1, Los Blancos didn’t wither like a dandelion hit with Round Up, much like their Catalan counterparts did. Madrid fought, clawed, and battled in the second leg, but Dortmund gained world respect by holding it off. Madrid won the second leg 2-0, but it was too little too late, and Borussia Dortmund claimed the trip to the final.

Dortmund’s been here before. They lifted the Champions League trophy after beating Juventus in 1997. But since, they’ve always been second-tier to Bayern. Never mind they won the Bundesliga the previous two seasons, a fantastic accomplishment considering their banishment to midtable finished before Jurgen Klopp took charge five years ago. In the international eye, Bayern Munich has been number one. This season has especially been tough. If seeing their rivals win the league by 25 points wasn’t enough, the Bavarians defeated Dortmund in both their meetings this season with a trophy on the line – the Supercup and the DFB-Pokal.

If that’s not enough, their young star Mario Gotze has made a switch – no, a defection – to Bayern Munich. FC Hollywood activated the 20-year-old sensation’s release clause in his contract, meaning there’s literally nothing Dortmund can do to stop him from leaving. Oh yeah, and he’s hurt and can’t play in the finals. Think fans would like nothing more than to send him off with a doubt in his mind about whether he’s made the right decision?

It’s a heck of a mountain for Dortmund to climb, as they come into Wembley pretty banged up. Along with Gotze’s injury, Lukasz Piszczek will play but needs hip surgery at the end of the season, and Mats Hummels will also walk wounded as he looks to shake off a recent ankle tweak.

Ultimately for Borussia Dortmund though, this match is also about that word – validation. Sure, they fought a great semifinal fight and probably cemented Jose Mourinho’s departure from Real Madrid. But if they again find themselves second-fiddle to their most hated foe, will the world remember the heights they’ve climbed the past few seasons?

On the line is a chance to climb out of German greatness, which both these clubs have achieved over the last decade, and into the group of international stars. Whether it’s Bayern Munich looking to become the new “best” in many people’s eyes, or Borussia Dortmund trying to remove the shackles of the Bundesliga and enter themselves into the conversation of Europe’s best clubs, this is a lot more than just the 96th meeting between the two German giants. It’s the first with so much on the line.

Report: Tottenham prepare $70 million summer bid for Zaha

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In a statement of intent, Tottenham is reportedly preparing to bring in one of the Premier League’s most electrifying wingers.

The Times in London reports that Spurs are set to offer Crystal Palace a $70 million transfer fee to sign Wilfried Zaha, bringing the Ivory Coast international back to a big six club for the first time since 2014. Zaha famously was the last signing of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but by the time the now-25-year-old arrived, David Moyes was the manager and Zaha never found a place in the Man United first team.

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Since returning, Zaha has found his form and this season has four goals and an assist for Crystal Palace in 20 Premier League matches as the club is now treading water above the relegation zone. Last season, Zaha scored seven goals and dished out nine assists in 34 starts in the league.

Zaha’s potential signing likely means either a change in formation or the departure of either or both Son Heung-min and Erik Lamela, both who play on Zaha’s preferred left side regularly.

The report states that the signing could be a way to galvanize some of the supporters for next season in which the club will play in the re-built White Hart Lane.

Sargent signs first professional contract on his 18th birthday

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Josh Sargent’s 18th birthday is one he’ll never forget.

The young American phenom was finally able to sign his first professional contract on Tuesday after turning 18-years old, passing the FIFA threshold for when a foreigner can sign a pro contract. Sargent has been training with Werder Bremen’s youth teams for the last few months and has even trained with the first team and featured for the Werder Bremen U23s.

“We’ve gone over all the formalities and Josh signed his professional contract with us earlier,” Bremen sporting director Frank Baumann said on Tuesday afternoon. “Again, we’re delighted he decided to join us. He’s settled in brilliantly since the turn of the year.”

[READ: UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas]

Sargent will continue to train with the youth teams and reserves, and will be eligible to feature for the Werder Bremen first team for the 2018-2019 season.

Orlando City sign defender Sane from Werder Bremen

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After making a number of moves to improve its attack this offseason, Orlando City SC is now splashing the cash to improve its backline.

The club announced on Tuesday the signing of veteran centerback Lamine Sane from Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga on a permanent deal. It appears that with less than six months left on his contract and Sane not in Werder Bremen manager Florian Kohfeldt’s plans, he was allowed to leave on a free transfer.

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“Lamine will significantly strengthen our back line,” Orlando City general manager Niki Budalic said in a statement. “He brings tremendous experience at the highest levels of European football and we believe he will fit right in with what we’re trying to build in Orlando.”

Sane started 27 times for Werder Bremen during a struggling 2016-2017 season, but had made just 11 appearances this season for the Bundesliga side. He’s also made 25 caps for Senegal, but the French-born defender hasn’t appeared for them since 2015. Perhaps a good start to the season in MLS could get him a surprise spot in the World Cup squad.

The 30-year-old joins a rebuilt starting lineup featuring other veterans as Orlando City looks to win in the near term, after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs.

While the team lost Cyle Larin and Kaka in the offseason, Jason Kreis and co. brought in Dom Dwyer late in the 2017 season, Justin Meram, Josue Colman, Uri Rosell and Sacha Kljestan in the offseason.  Along with a couple of new outside backs, Sane is the first signing to shore up the leaky middle of the park for Orlando, one that the club’s fans hope will lead Orlando City to a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference in the least in 2018.

Report: Barcelona agree nearly $50 million deal for Brazilian starlet Arthur

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Barcelona has again beaten out its league and global rivals for the next up and coming Brazilian star.

According to a report from Brazilian publication Globo Esporte, Barcelona has agreed with Gremio on a $49.4 million transfer fee for midfielder Arthur. The deal would see 60 percent of the fee go to Gremio and the rest to agents and the owners of part of the player’s rights.

[READ: Spurs ‘have capacity’ to win Champions League]

The 21-year-old’s deal is still subject to the standard medical tests, and wouldn’t go through until January 2019.

Arthur broke onto the scene as a permanent member of the Gremio first team in 2017, starting 27 league matches and nine times in the Copa Libertadores as a dominant holding midfielder.

Barcelona will likely look for him to play a similar role to countryman Paulinho or Sergio Busquets, controlling the tempo of the game with passing but also being able to quickly snuff out an attack.

Arthur created controversy in December when he was photographed wearing a Barcelona shirt. It was around then that news began to leak that Barcelona began negotiations for his services. According to other news reports, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Inter Milan were also interested in Arthur’s services.