Souvenir Champions League final scarves are seen on sale at a stall near Trafalgar Square in central London

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.

England: Telegraph alleges Redknapp knew of players betting on matches

AMMAN, JORDAN- MARCH 22: Jordan's latest manager Harry Redknapp speaks during a joint press conference with the president of the Jordan Football Association, Prince Ali Bin Al Hueesin ahead their World Cup qualifiers on March 22, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. Redknapp, the former Tottenham manager has signed a two-game deal to take charge of Jordan's 2018 qualifying matches against Bangladesh on Thursday and Australia next week. (Photo by Jordan Pix/ Getty Images)
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In the wake of Sam Allardyce‘s firing from his post as England manager, the fallout continues to be immense.

[ MORE: Everton, Palace finish scoreless at Goodison Park ]

English media outlet The Telegraph released several details regarding Allardyce’s role in bribery and corruption that could be widespread amongst the English football community.

On Friday, the Telegraph again released information pertaining to another high-profile English manager, however, this time it’s Harry Redknapp that reportedly knew of illegal goings-on when he was managing in the Premier League.

The newspaper alleges that the 69-year-old was aware of his own players betting on matches, including those that they were involved in. Friday’s report reveals undercover journalists filming a conversation between Redknapp and agent Dax Price, as the two men discuss one match in particular that the players had told Price could be very profitable for him given the favorable odds.

From the Telegraph:

“[Player A from Redknapp’s team] phoned me and said remortgage your house ’cause the odds were mental, they were 5/2 at the time,” Price said.

“All my family lumped on, we lumped on, I phoned him after 15 minutes because you had put, you put a good, you put a great side out as well, you put the best side out, and, um, I spoke to [opposition player], he was sitting in the stand… and he went, ‘[Redknapp’s side] ain’t touched the ball yet, first 15 minutes’, and the game ended up [with Redknapp’s side winning].”

Under FA laws, Redknapp would have needed to notify the governing body regarding his players’ actions.

While the Telegraph has left out specific details in the investigation, including teams, player names and particular matches, the FA has reportedly asked that the newspaper hand over all of its information as the England’s football federation looks into the various allegations brought up by the outlet.

In addition to Redknapp’s reported knowledge of his players placing bets, the Englishman was also recorded in discussing third-party ownership of players, which is illegal under both FIFA and FA laws.

“Yeah, absolutely, any way I could help, you know,” Redknapp replied. “Listen I put my money where my mouth is and all you know, if you, if you’re gonna buy players, now, if I’m involved in picking the players then I don’t mind having an investment and having a little bit of a, you know, not a thing obviously but you know, I’d put a few quid in and take a chance with you. I need something to do with my money as well, don’t I? Can’t be fairer than that can you?”

 

 

Everton 1-1 Crystal Palace: Benteke finish keeps Eagles unbeaten in last five

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30:  Yannick Bolasie of Everton takes on Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Everton and Crystal Palace at Goodison Park on September 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Both clubs came into Friday’s meeting with a lot to play for, but finishes on both sides of halftime forced Everton and Crystal Palace to settle for a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Liverpool looks to remain hot on Saturday vs. Swansea ]

The visitors pulled level just five minutes after the halftime whistle as Christian Benteke rose to meet Joel Ward’s cross. The summer signing did well to generate enough power to nod the ball towards the far post, but Palace nearly took the lead just minutes later.

[ MORE: Chelsea travels to Hull as both clubs look to halt poor form ]

Ward was at it again down the right flank in the 56th minute, when he played in a perfect cross to Damien Delaney. Despite another timely header and finish, the goal was called back for offsides, keeping the two teams level once more.

Romelu Lukaku‘s first PL free kick goal gave the hosts a thrilling lead before halftime as the Belgian striker put Everton ahead in the 35th minute.

Palace wasn’t too thrilled with the decision to award the set piece after the half hour had gone, but Damien Delaney was the man called for the foul on Phil Jagielka just outside of the penalty area.

The Toffees move up to third place in the PL with Friday’s result, while Palace remain seventh on 11 points.

Watch: Palace levels match behind Benteke header

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It’s a battle of Belgian strikers at Goodison Park, and we’ve got an entertaining second half on our hands.

[ Watch: Lukaku’s free kick gives Everton halftime lead ]

Watch the video above, as Christian Benteke equalized for Crystal Palace in the 50th minute, building up enough power on his header to get the visitors onto the scoreboard.

Following Joel Ward’s superb in-swinging cross from the right wing, the 25-year-old Belgian leapt to meet the ball and powered it into the far corner past Maarten Stekelenburg.

Premier League preview: Hull City vs. Chelsea

HULL, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea (10) celebrates with Nemanja Matic (21) as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KC Stadium on March 22, 2015 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Hull has only won four matches vs. Chelsea (4-10-30)
  • Tigers have allowed nine goals in previous two PL matches
  • Chelsea looking to rebound following Arsenal blowout
  • Costa remains tied for league lead with five goals

Both Hull City and Chelsea come into the weekend on a poor run of form, giving both clubs plenty of incentive to push for a result.

The Tigers play host to Chelsea at the KC Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

Following a pair of impressive victories to open the Premier League season, Hull has come back down to earth as of late, losing three of its last five matches in all competitions. With nine goals allowed in its last two PL matches (losses to Liverpool and Arsenal), Chelsea enters the fray with another dangerous attack that the Tigers will have to be wary of.

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea have ironically enough seen their form dip at the hands of the Reds and Gunners, respectively, as well. Last Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium wasn’t ideal for a Blues side that expects to be amongst the top four at season’s end.

Meanwhile, Diego Costa will have to continue to find the back of the net for Chelsea on a regular basis, after netting five times in the club’s first six league matches. The Spaniard has accounted for half of the squad’s offensive output, making the 27-year-old vital up front along with the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian.

INJURIES: Hull — OUT: Alex Bruce (achilles), Allan McGregor (back), Moses Odubajo (knee), Michael Dawson (knee), Brian Lenihan (knee surgery) | Chelsea — OUT: John Terry (ankle), Kurt Zouma (fitness)

What they’re saying

Hull City manager Mike Phelan: “What needs to be resolved is the terms of the deal. It keeps changing. One minute I think I’ve got something and the club are happy with it and the next minute it changes. So it’s just a case of thinking about all these new changes that are on the table and making a decision.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “It’s important not to forget the past, because the past is very clear. We finished 10th last season and that means there were problems. We don’t have a magic wand to change the situation in a few months. We must work hard together and we are doing this. We must understand that only through hard work can we close the gap.”

Prediction

The Blues have struggled to play complete matches for much of the season, and this road fixture won’t make things easy for Conte and co. That said, Chelsea will surely be motivated to come out and give a strong performance following last week’s debacle against Arsenal. Hull 1-3 Chelsea