Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund: Nit-pick if you want, they’re perfect through two rounds

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We’ve never stopped to consider the standard of soccer Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund left us with in last year’s UEFA Champions League final. We need to talk about this. Not only was that one of the most well-played Champions League finals in the tournament’s (admittedly short) history, but it gave us two-and-a-half months to dwell. And with each side going out and adding to their squad this summer, we’ve been left to imagine their potential heights.

Bayern not only added Mario Götze and Thiago Alcantera, they also lured Pep Guardiola out of his New York hiatus. Yet we seem to be over it. If the Miami Heat replaced Eric Spoelstra with Phil Jackson, we’d stop talking about that … ever?

And while BVB lost Götze and Felipe Santana, they added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (hat trick, opening day), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (tons of goals for Shakhtar Donetsk), and will have a full year from recent Bundesliga Player of the Year Nuri Sahin. Seriously, why aren’t we still talking about this? It wasn’t unreasonable to think either (or both) of these teams could improve on last year’s quality, even if regression makes that unlikely.

Allow me to answer my own question. Why aren’t we talking about how good Bayern and Dortmund are? Because seeing them actually play is kind of important, and through two rounds of the German season, amazing hasn’t happened,

Even though both are perfect through two rounds, we’ve yet to see either team fire on all cylinders. Yes, from a certain perspective, Bayern Munich’s 1-0, Saturday win at Eintracht Frankfurt was convincing, controlling 70 percent of possession and more than doubling their hosts’ shots on goal (7-3). But there was also a feeling that they could find the second goal they (ultimately never) needed to kill off the game. Fortunately for them, Mario Mandzukic’s 13th minute opener held up, but the 2012-13 Bayern Munich is not impressed.

Borussia Dortmund played a similar game — a dominating performance that sent Braunschweig home with a 2-1 loss — but held without a goal for 75 minutes, they hardly overwhelmed a team that spent last year in the second division. Without Ilkay Gundogan, one of the league’s best players who was injured mid-week while on duty with German, BVB often lacked an element of decisiveness in possession. Keeping dynamo Marco Reus out for an hour didn’t help. After he came on for Jakub Blaszczykowski and Jonas Hofmann was brought on for Aubamenyang (15 minutes later), BVB scored twice in the final half hour.

It says something for the heights these clubs have attained that even winning performances can elicit curiosity. It’s not enough that they win. It’s not enough that they do so convincingly. As is the case when Real Madrid aren’t in high gear or Chelsea’s performance is merely controlling, not dominant, Bayern and BVB’s imperfections give us pause. Even though we know every match can’t end 7-0, but we’re left wondering why these engines aren’t purring.

Step back, look a the bigger picture, and you see Borussia Dortmund’s at the top of the league. Imperfections and all. Bayern, also 2-0-0, is only two spots behind them. Bayer Leverkusen, who used a Daniel Schwaab own goal to post a 1-0 win at Stuttgart, sits in between, while Mainz (2-1 win at Freiburg) and Werder Bremen (1-0 win vs. Augsburg) are the Bundesliga’s other perfect teams.

So they’ll be fine. In all likelihood, one of Dortmund and Bayern will win the league, and we’ll again be wondering the extent to which these two clubs have distanced themselves from the pack (save us, Sami Hyypia!). For now, however, we nit-pick.

Of particular note: Hamburg’s off to another bad start, with one point and a -4 goal difference through two games. This week, however, the implications of their 5-1 home loss will be overshadowed by Firmino, a 21-year-old attacker who played a part of Hoffenheim’s five goals.

Here is the Brazilian scoring Hoffenheim’s first and last while setting up the middle three, with only Rafael van der Vaart’s early conversion from the spot breaking up his (and Hoffenheim’s) perfect day:

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”