Bayern shouldn’t be judged, but worrisome signs from Guardiola’s early days

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It’s too early to be pass judgment on anybody, but with each moment a team’s on the field gives us chance to consider implications, should a team’s form persist. Particularly when a club has a new player, coach, or way of playing, these moments carry considerable weight, often giving us reason to doubt past performance. It’s always important not to read too much into August results, but it may also be vital to note where and how a team are showing themselves vulnerable.

Which, of course, brings us to the new Bayern Munich, a team that won today’s UEFA Super Cup after defeating Chelsea on penalty kicks in Prague. It was the first silverware of the Pep Guardiola era, yet the performance should also give Bayern fans pause. In the reticent, stalwart approach Chelsea took to the European champions, the Blues showed the formula which often frustrated Guardiola’s Barcelona teams may see similar success against München.

As they did when facing Barcelona in Champions League two years ago — or, as José Mourinho’s Internazionale team did against Barça two years before that — Chelsea showed little appetite for the ball. Instead, their primary concern was maintaining their shape defensively, allowing their midfield block to be pushed to the edge of the penalty area as they sacrificed control and territory for organization.

Their final possession number, 26 percent, was indicative of their willingness to cede, but although Chelsea were outshot 41-14 (10-6, shots on goal), Bayern’s advantage in opportunities wasn’t built until Mourinho’s side took an early lead in extra time. Until Eden Hazard’s 92nd minute tally, Chelsea’s threat on the counter had matched Bayern chance-for-chance. Bayern’s huge edge in possession failed to produce an advantage on the scoreboard, let alone in actual chances.

The exact same thing could be said for Chelsea’s battle against Barcelona two years ago. It also applies to Inter’s win over Barça in 2010 as well as Chelsea’s dramatic loss to Barcelona in 2009, the year Andres Iniesta’s late goal at Stamford Bridge sent the visiting Blaugrana into the final. We saw José Mourinho’s Real Madrid team have success during his first year in Spain employing a similar approach, while Rubin Kazan used the tactic go 1-1-2 (W-L-T) against Guardiola over two Champions League campaigns.

And in the year since Guardiola’s left Barcelona, with the Catalans still employing the approach he instilled when he took over for Frank Rijkaard, Barcelona’s been troubled by the lopsided approaches Celtic, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and now Atlético Madrid. The plan doesn’t work every time, with a serious of lower level teams failing to hold off Guardiola’s teams, but when you have enough talent to matchup against his teams’ attackers, the tactics we saw today can offset the stylistic advantage.

source: APThere is an important caveat to this critique, though. A vast majority of the time, Guardiola’s teams simply blow through teams that try to employ conservative approaches. Yes, his Barcelona had trouble against good teams, but who doesn’t have trouble against talented squads? somebody Even elite teams play better against bad teams, worse against good ones. That’s the nature of competition.

But that caveat’s too simple. It’s too reductive. Guaridola’s approach allowed a team like Rubin Kazan — a squad with far less talent than those Barça teams — to be more competitive than they should have been. The philosophy that favors quick, skilled talent over players more likely to win one-on-one physical challenges allowed players like Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Motta and Javier Zanetti to be disproportionately important in 2010. And it also allowed lesser talented sides like Celtic, Milan, and Atlético Madrid to use basic organization and counterattacking guile to give their teams a betterchance against Barcelona last season.

None of this is original thought, but it’s worth repeating in the wake of what we’re seeing from Bayern Munich. In the Bundesliga, against lesser teams, Bayern is controlling an inordinate amount of possession, even though they’ve yet to post a result in proportion to that dominance. The outscored their opponents 6-1 through three rounds, but on Tuesday, they also lost their perfect record, Freiburg getting an 86th minute goal from Nicolas Höfler to earn a 1-1 result.  Add in today’s result and the 4-2 Super Cup loss to Dortmund and Bayern have a series of decent yet concerning results. After all, this is a team that posted a +80 goal difference in last year’s Bundesliga.

At that really is the point. Bayern are clearly a very good team. You have to be to claim a Super Cup over Chelsea. But are they better than last year’s team, a squad that won three trophies during one of the most dominant club seasons in history? Has Pep Guardiola broken something that didn’t need fixing? Because with one of the most talented teams in Europe, there is one more than one way to this team can win games. Why has Guardiola elected to move away from the won that worked?

Don’t answer that question yet. As noted at the outset, it’s too early to pass judgment on any team. These are, however, those series of moments that allow us to consider implications. And given there was already a formula in place to slow down a Guardiola approach we’re seeing move from Barcelona to Munich, those implications are not positive. At least, they’re not positive compared to last season.

MLS at Week 29: NYCFC looks to clinch vs. Houston, Atlanta hosts Impact

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Five weeks remain in the MLS regular season, and the playoff picture in both conferences are still quite murky despite time running out ahead of the postseason.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

While the playoff situation in the Western Conference likely won’t be settled until the final week or two, another team in the East can lock up a spot in the postseason this weekend with a victory.

New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo

New York City FC has struggled a bit as of late with injuries and are also winless in their last two matches, but Patrick Vieira’s side has the opportunity to clinch its place in the East playoffs and potentially draw one step closer to locking up the second seed.

Vieira’s boys have scored just two goals in their last three outings (1-1-1 in that span), but the good news for NYCFC is that David Villa is expected to return to the starting XI on Saturday. MLS’ leading goalscorer has racked up an impressive 19 goals this season, and the Spaniard looks on pace to capture another MLS MVP award in 2017.

They’ll face the Dynamo in a “home” match in Hartford, Connecticut after the game was moved from Yankee Stadium due to a stadium conflict with the Yankees. The fixture still bodes well though for NYCFC, as the Dynamo boast one of the worst road records in MLS this season, at 1-9-5.


Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact

Tata Martino’s side continues to benefit from playing at their new venue, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Atlanta will have the opportunity to put on another show on Sunday against the Impact.

Atlanta has leapt all the way up to fourth in the Eastern Conference and could potentially go third this weekend with a victory. Over the team’s last four matches, Atlanta has scored an astounding 17 goals, putting the rest of MLS on watch over the club’s potent attack.

For the Impact, they are in desperate need of a victory after picking up three points against Toronto on Wednesday. Mauro Biello’s side is on the outside looking in with five matches remaining, and the Impact are still three points behind the New York Red Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East.


Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders

Even if the Claret and Cobalt don’t qualify for the playoffs, Mike Petke has done a really special coaching job this season in Salt Lake City. RSL holds the final playoff spot out West for the time being, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve risen in the table given their form.

Since July 4, RSL is unbeaten in nine of its 11 matches, including six victories during that span. Unfortunately for Petke and Co., they have to play the Sounders this weekend — who haven’t lost June 17 at NYCFC.

The Sounders have drawn four in a row, but their unbeaten streak has extended to an MLS-best 13 matches as of late, putting them within a point of the Western Conference lead.


Here’s a look at the full rundown of the weekend’s action around MLS.

Saturday

New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo — 3 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC — 5 p.m. ET
D.C. United vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. FC Dallas — 8 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders — 9:30 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET

Sunday

Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy — 2 p.m. ET
Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact — 5 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City — 8 p.m. ET

Liverpool’s Joel Matip: “I have no doubt about our way of playing”

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LIVERPOOL — Joel Matip is often a busy man in the heart of Liverpool’s defense.

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Yet, he certainly doesn’t resemble someone who is usually frantically scrambling to keep out opposition forwards.

Ahead of schedule for our chat he was relaxed as he leaned back in his chair at Liverpool’s Melwood training center, occasionally scratching his chin.

Part of a Liverpool team brimming with attacking talents and packed with goals from Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, defense is often an afterthought for the Reds.

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After conceding sloppy goals against Watford and Burnley in the Premier League this season, plus a demolition at Manchester City, a draw against Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League group stage and a defeat at Leicester City in the League Cup in midweek, many armchair analysts and pundits are calling for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp to alter his high-pressing approach and set up his defense differently.

You won’t find Matip doing that.

Quite clearly Liverpool’s most consistent defender since he arrived in the Premier League last summer, Matip doesn’t believe he and his teammates need to change to a more defensive style to keep winning games.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Matip was adamant that the players, both attackers and defenders, must stay true to themselves.

“Both parts only work together. I cannot stand at the back and our attackers go forward and there is so much big space. We all have to fit together. It is not always easy but this is our way of play but I think that is a good way of playing,” Matip said. “Everything has its positive and negative sides but I have no doubt about our way of playing.”

The 6-foot 5-inch center back arrived from Schalke on a free transfer last summer and has settled in impressively in his first 12 months in England, establishing himself as Liverpool’s first-choice center back.

His strong aerial ability and calmness to make key challenges and blocks around the box have particularly impressed.

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How does he assess their start to the season which sees them in eighth place in the Premier League after two wins, two draws and a defeat in their opening five games?

“We have had our good moments and also our not so good moments. We were punished for these and it was ruthless, the first few games, but we have to carry on,” Matip said. “I am not in doubt about the quality in our team and I am looking forward to the next game and I’m positive still.”

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That next game comes against Leicester, who beat Liverpool 2-0 to on Tuesday in the League Cup third round after Klopp made multiple changes to his starting lineup — including a rest for Matip and usual center back partner Dejan Lovren — and the Reds failed to take many clear cut chances (a reoccurring theme) in a first half they dominated.

Matip, a late injury concern ahead of the clash at the King Power Stadium, believes Liverpool can take plenty of positives from their defeat at Leicester earlier in the week.

“The game on Saturday will be a completely different game,” Matip said. “You cannot compare these two games. I think we did it very well in the first half [on Tuesday] and we will try to copy this, maybe with a bit more luck upfront, but we are in a good way if we score then keep a clean sheet and don’t concede many goals. I am looking forward to it and I think we can win.”

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Looking back at his first 12 months in England the German born defender, who represented Cameroon at international level from 2010-15, is enjoying life in the Premier League.

Smiling and laughing often as we chat at Melwood, the languid center back is in his full tracksuit and is getting ready for an afternoon training session ahead of the Leicester game.

“It was a long year but I enjoyed this year, with all the ups and downs. It is a pleasure and an honor to play for Liverpool in the Premier League,” Matip said. “I try to do my best and help all of my teammates and my teammates also help me, so we have to help each other. Everybody helps each other and that’s the only way to go.”

At Liverpool the weight of past success, particularly in Europe, often sits heavy with five European Cups in the trophy cabinet and the Reds now back in the Champions League for the first time since 2014.

Does extra pressure come from Liverpool’s illustrious history as the fans demand more success in Europe?

“I think pressure, that would not be right. There is an opportunity,” Matip said. “We worked hard for this opportunity. Pressure is the wrong word because Liverpool has this great past but we only try to do our best and use this opportunity and try to enjoy.”

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Special European nights at Anfield are something Matip clearly cherishes.

“They are tough games but everyone is happy we have the opportunity to play in the Champions League. Every football player wants to play in these games. It is always a special night [at Anfield] and always special to play against the biggest teams in Europe. These are special nights to play against these international teams and these are the nights when you are really small, what you dreamed of,” Matip added, smiling.

What has been the main difference of moving to the Premier League from the Bundesliga?

“Physically and sometimes the pace,” Matip said. “It’s going up and down, up and down. In Germany it is often a little more tactical I would say. It is not going down from the one goal to the other goal. That would be the main difference.”

Matip worked hard over the offseason to prepare his body for those differences and for his second grueling campaign in England.

He admitted he can improve in many areas and said it is “a pleasure” to work with Klopp who “tries to improve me every day” and is “enjoying” the experience of working for his countryman as he makes the necessary adjustments.

“For me it was really important to make the whole preparation. For me last season was not easy with all the injuries but injuries belong to football. You cannot always do something against that. I hope preparation will help me a lot to get a good fitness level but there are a lot of points to work hard on. I have to improve a lot of things. It would be better to list all the things I don’t have to improve!” Matip chuckled. “I don’t know things on this list. I have to improve at everything and get better to help the team.”

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In terms of how the team plays and how Klopp asked his defenders to defend, has Matip worked on positioning and other specifics since making the move to England?

“This depends on the way you play. When Klopp was a coach in Germany he also had his center backs to play in a similar ways. I would say psychically because you play against a striker who are really strong in the air and bring a lot of body weight into the game,” said Matip, laughing out loud. “Also the pace. If you go directly from offense to defense, offense to defense, that’s something different to get used to.”

Should Liverpool switch to a back three to give them extra numbers in central defense and in the central attacking areas?

“It is different but it is not all about the system. It is not always easy for us against deep, defending teams with many lads in the back,” Matip said. “Sometimes they manage really good but we are always trying and because of this, in the end, we will have the luck because we work really hard for this.”

Matip has always worked hard to reach the top but it certainly helped being from a soccer mad family as his father, Jean, was a footballer and his older brother, Marvin, still plays for Ingolstadt in Germany’s second-tier. His cousin is also Joseph-Desire Job, the former Middlesbrough striker, so soccer was always in his blood.

“My older brother was my biggest role model. He was a few years older and I always looked up to him. Our family growing up, there was a lot of football,” Matip smiled. “It is a pleasure but there was no pressure from my family. I could do anything I wanted and they always support me.”

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Matip’s parents are both qualified doctors and the German-born, Cameroon international gives thoughtful, insightful answers when considering questions.

He owes plenty to his education in both life and soccer via an esteemed academy at Schalke. He graduated from the now famous Gesamtschule Berger Feld school which has German internationals Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler, Manuel Neuer and Benedikt Howedes among their alumni.

“The school was not the only part. The work they did at Schalke at youth level, there was a brilliant coach at U-19, [Norbert] Elgert. Every former player if you call and ask about him would say he was a fantastic coach and is still a fantastic coach,” Matip said. “Everybody is really thankful for him and he did a great job with the connection with the school. Everything there was a good start for every football player.”

After leaving for a new experience and a new country Matip is settling into life in England’s north west. Last summer he moved away from home for the first time at the age of 25 and Matip is enjoying life on Merseyside. Even if he is yet to perfect his Scouse accent…

“I am still struggling with most of the dialect,” Matip laughed. “The language is not easy but you start talking and you are getting better and better. I am still fighting and when they use the Scouse accent I am always like ‘what!?’ I need one, two, three or maybe four tries to understand it but I am in a good way. Maybe it will take a while to understand the Scouse but I am still happy to be here.”

Always smiling, always peaceful, Matip is ready to continue leading Liverpool’s defense as they aim to win their first trophy in over five years.

“Of course, everyone wants to win trophies but this will not happen from one day to the other,” Matip said. “But we work hard to improve ourselves and achieve something.”

Man United announces $787 million record revenue for 2016/17

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Whoa, that’s a lot of dough.

With the record television deals in place for the Premier League, there’s no wonder top clubs are doing so well financially.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January ]

Manchester United is right at the front of that, with the club posting a record revenue figure for the 2016/17 year.

The Old Trafford side has announced that it generated over $787 million during last season, after signing the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

The Red Devils also won three trophies — UEFA Europa League, League Cup and Community Shield — which certainly helped boost the club’s morale as well.

“We concluded a successful 2016-17 season with a total of three trophies [including the Community Shield] and a return to Champions League football,” said United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

“The year saw us set record revenues of over £581m and achieve a record EBITDA [Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization] of £199.8m. We are pleased with the investment in our squad and look forward to an exciting season.”

Overall, United has reportedly netted a profit of roughly $53 million, before taxes, and the club’s net debt has been reduced to around $288 million.

Woodward has estimated that United will generate in the range of $770 to $790 million for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Report: Chelsea, Everton target disgruntled PSG striker Cavani

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Sunday’s 2-0 victory was anything but conventional for Paris Saint-Germain, and now, it’s become quite clear that one of its stars isn’t happy at the Parc des Princes.

[ MORE: Spurs meet Hammers, Chelsea takes on Everton in League Cup ]

Edinson Cavani’s on-field disagreements with Neymar were documented over the weekend, with the Uruguayan forward clearly disgruntled over the fact that he had a free kick taken away from him and a separate occasion where the Brazilian wanted to take a penalty kick as well.

The Daily Mail is reporting that Chelsea and Everton have expressed their interest in the 30-year-old striker following the incidents that occurred against Lyon.

Everton is certainly in the market for a striker at this point, after heavily struggling in the attacking third during the opening month-plus of the Premier League season, while Chelsea would likely want someone to provide depth for them up front in support of summer signing Alvaro Morata.

However, the big concern over Cavani is not only his age, but his salary as well. For the sort of money that he’d likely command, a team like Chelsea would surely only play the Uruguayan on rare occasions given Morata and Michy Batshuayi‘s presence.