Lyon, Marseille reclaim spotlight for one week in France

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The extent to which Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco dominated this summer’s Ligue 1 headlines meant the circuit’s former titans, Lyon and Marseille, were not only pushed out of the spotlight but off the stage entirely. An especially detailed mainstream account of Ligue 1’s state might allude to the battle for third, the league’s final UEFA Champions League spot, but unless you went to a France-dedicated blog or followed the right people on Twitter, you were unlikely to hear much talk of Lyon or Marseille.

Which, of course, is a shame. Marseille is one of (if not the) largest clubs in France, while Lyon won seven straight titles the last decade. From 2001 to 2011, at least one of the clubs finished in the league’s top two. Though it was Bordeaux that eventually broke Lyon’s title run in 2008-09, it was Marseille that was always considered the most likely usurper – the club with the history, prestige, and resources to make France a two-team league, if they got their act together.

Marseille eventually claimed a title in 2009-10, but fast-forward three years, and France is finally on the verge of becoming that two-horse race. Only now everybody’s focusing on PSG and Monaco, leaving those not so far off days of Lyon dominance and OM potential in another era.

For one weekend, however, OL and Marseille (who finished third and second last year, mind you) turned back the clock, posting convincing victories on Ligue 1’s opening weekend. While the results may not be enough to get people outside of France excited for something other than PSG dominance and Monaco intrigue, there may be no better time to convince potential fans there’s something beyond the league’s big two; particularly after a weekend where the Parisians disappointed and Monaco still looked within reach.

The round started Friday in Montpellier where the two latest champions met at the Stade de la Mosson. An early goal from Remy Cabella left PSG down at halftime, though a second half score from left back Maxwell (starting over big summer acquisition Lucas Digne) allowed the Parisians to salvage Laurent Blanc’s debut.

PSG started slow last year, with draws in their first three matches warning us against reading too much from their August results. (More on Blanc later tonight.)

On Saturday, while Monaco played out a convincing 2-0 win at Bordeaux, it was a former Girondins player that stole the show for Lyon. Yoann Gourcuff, who’s move to OL has seen random flashes dot a three years of bust-worthy performance, was the weekend’s best player. The France international set up two goals and did a Juninho impression on a third, leading Lyon to a 4-0 win over Nice. While the show only fueled speculation he could jump to Lorient to join his father (who coaches the team), it gave Lyon fans one night of joy in during this troublesome Gourcuff era.

On Sunday, Marseille looked set to best Lyon’s act, scoring twice at Guingamp in the first four minutes, three times by the 18th. André-Pierre Gignac, ready to affirm his last year under Didier Deschamps was indeed an aberrational one, scored in the second minute, while former Lille winger Dimitri Payet scored twice on his OM debut. Though Marseille created a couple other clear good chances in the first half, they eventually let off the gas, allowing their hosts a goal before going on to a 3-1 victory.

It’s worth remembering Marseille got off to a blistering start last year, too. Regardless, on Sunday this year’s squad proved as potent in real life as their attack implied on paper, with Payet’s presence balancing a group that already had André Ayew, Mathieu Valabuena, and “APG”. Though their defense looked generous on Mustapha Yatabaré’s  second half goal, Marseille have enough talents to make even the likes of Monaco slightly envious. And with players like Alexandre Lacazette, Clement Grenier, Maxime Gonalons and Gueïda Fofana, the same could be said for Lyon.

That, however, is unlikely to capture many imaginations when the big spenders bring in the likes of Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao, but until Monaco can show they’ve forged a team from their lavish parts, we may want to hold of ceding second place to the Red-Whites. At least, let’s wait until after Monaco visits Marseille on Sept. 1 before making the Big One (PSG) into a duopoly.

Report: Wenger, Arsenal agree to new two-year contract

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Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are said to have agreed a new two-year contract and the deal will be ratified by the board on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Huddersfield seal PL promotion

The Telegraph are reporting that Wenger has agreed to extend his stay at Arsenal to the summer of 2019 after meeting with majority shareholder Stan Kroenke on Monday and being offered the deal.

It is believed there will be an official announcement on Wednesday regarding Wenger’s future.

The 67-year-old Frenchman secured the FA Cup trophy on Saturday, beating Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley with a fine team performance as he became the most successful manager in FA Cup history with seven titles and Arsenal have now won 13 FA Cups, more than any other team.

Still, the failure to finish in the top four of the Premier League for the first time in 20 years has overshadowed the second half of the 2016-17 season and the club have

Wenger had previously knocked back the notion of having a “Director of Football” come in to help him with transfers and other organizational aspects and it is believed that will not happen at Arsenal despite Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis speaking about it in the past.

Instead, it is believed there will be restructuring behind-the-scenes and Wenger, along with Kroenke, will reveal their plan to have Arsenal challenging for the Premier League title in the next two seasons.

We all knew this was coming and perhaps now the “Wenger Out” brigade will finally have to accept that the Frenchman’s reign will go on into a 23rd season.

In the end, there were other options which became available at the 11th hour with Thomas Tuchel leaving Borussia Dortmund and Luciano Spalletti leaving AS Roma, but the easy option was always to keep Wenger on board as Arsenal’s hierarchy have clearly shown they are more than happy with his performance over the past five years.

Yes, finishing in the top four is a must for next season but after missing out on that target by just one point this season despite everything which happened following the embarrassing UEFA Champions League exit to Bayern Munich in early March, plus the contract saga around Wenger, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners aren’t far off where they want to be.

Top four. Nothing more. Therein lies the big problem as fans will hear about Wenger’s plan to get Arsenal back challenging for the Premier League title, but will they really believe they can do it?

Thomas Tuchel leaves Borussia Dortmund; Arsenal next?

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Thomas Tuchel has left his position as manager of Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Huddersfield seal PL promotion

Tuchel, 43, is considered as one of the brightest young managers in the German game but with Dortmund scrambling to a third-place finish this season and not showing real signs of progress from 2015-16, especially defensively, the club and Tuchel have agreed to mutually part ways.

In a statement Dortmund did not reveal the reason for Tuchel moving on, simply stating that they “went their separate ways” after two years together.

Dortmund did win the German cup, the DFB Pokal, at the weekend, beating Eintracht Frankfurt in the final, and over the past two seasons Tuchel has led BVB to second-place and third-place finishes in the Bundesliga, as well as appearing in the German cup final in both seasons.

He led Dortmund to the UEFA Europa League quarterfinal in 2015-16, where he lost to former Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, and Dortmund then lost to AS Monaco in the quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League this season following an attack on their team bus before the first leg which understandably shook his team.

Now that Tuchel has gone, many are suggesting that he could arrive in England at Arsenal with the Gunners previously linked to the German coach.

In the past Tuchel hasn’t exactly brushed off speculation about him heading to manage in England one day, playing it cool when asked in February about reports linking him to Arsenal: “You know more than I do,” was his response.

With Arsene Wenger’s future set to be announced publicly on Wednesday, following a board meeting on Tuesday, it appears that Wenger and Stan Kroenke have already made a decision about what the Frenchman does next.

It would appear a long-shot that Tuchel, a manager who was given plenty of resources at Dortmund but finished third this season, would get the job, especially after Wenger won the FA Cup and finished the season strongly with Arsenal despite failing to secure a place in the UEFA Champions League next season.

That said, Tuchel created a fast, young, attack-minded team at Dortmund which is something the Arsenal board may be impressed by.

Given the success of German managers in England over the past few years — Klopp at Liverpool and now Wagner at Huddersfield to name two men with previous connections to Dortmund — perhaps Arsenal now see this as the perfect time to go for Tuchel.

Wenger is still the favorite to be in charge of Arsenal on Aug. 12 when the 2017-18 kicks off, but maybe there’s a chance the Gunners take a chance on the highly-regarded Tuchel.

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.