Germany: Continuity the difference early between Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich

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Alex Ferguson’s retirement from Manchester United is supposed to provide a good test for managerial influence. David Moyes, carrying a well-estbalished track record at a very stable, consistent club, inherited a winning team from Ferguson, one that undertook very few changes. Other factors will have a say in the Red Devils’ 2013-14 results, but the changes we see in Manchester United’s performance will likely have fewer confounding factors. Ambition, resources, personnel have all maintained their same level. The change from Ferguson to Moyes is the big one.

Bayern Munich has undertaken a similar experiment, though with Borussia Dortmund close on their heals, they’ve been forced to buy to keep ahead of Germany and Europe’s runners up. That buying’s included Mario Gotze (from Dortmund) and Thiago Alcantara (Barcelona), but also Pep Guardiola, the renown former Barça boss taking over for the retired Jupp Heynckes. With him he’s brought different preferences, a new style, and a formation tweak, the switch from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 sure to be debated throughout the season.

It’s one reason why Guardiola’s standard will be different than Moyes. Whereas the new United boss will always be judged against his competitor, Guardiola’s will be measured against his ability to stay ahead of Borussia Dortmund. Hold them off for the league and out-perform them in Europe, you’re fine. Fall behind, and even if the quality of his team is better than Heynckes’s, Guardiola will be judged harshly.

In that way, the Bayern versus Dortmund dynamic becomes a battle of ambition versus continuity, even though Dortmund’s been forced to undergo their own changes this summer. But they’ve kept Jurgen Klopp, the coach who has harnessed BVB’s potential and made them a European elite. While Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now play where others once were, the philosophies that underpin the team’s style remain. Not so at Bayern.

To this point, continuity is winning out, if barely. Through five rounds, Dortmund is the league’s only perfect team, with Saturday’s 6-2 demolition over visiting Hamburg notable for who contributed to the rout. Saint-Etienne import Aubameyang scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season. Former Shakhtar midfielder Mkhitaryan got on the scoresheet again. Robert Lewandowski, somebody who had been relatively quiet this year (by his standards), scored twice and set up another, while Marco Reus, the other of BVB’s attacking four, also got on the scoresheet.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U01XIVHKsCI]

With Gotze gone, it was thought Reus would have to step up. Or, he’d have the opportunity to shine brighter (six of one half, etc.). But Klopp hasn’t needed more from him, nor has he needed a healthy Ilkay Gündogen or Lukasz Piszczek. The speculation that Dortmund could push on from the team that nearly won last year’s European title is starting to play out. Early in the season, BVB have a more ruthless side, leaving them with a +11 goal difference after a month’s games.

Bayern Munich, on the other hand — a team that finished with a +80 difference last season — have taken a step back, seemingly sacrificing dominance for greater control. That tradeoff saw them drop two points before the international break, Freiburg catching them with a late counter attack, but it also saw them ease to a 2-0 win this weekend against visiting Hannover. Like all other Bayern games, they dominated possession (68 percent) and shots on goal (eight to two) but didn’t see that reflected on the scoreboard. With second half goals, Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribéry pushed Bayern to 13 points through five games.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egklr4ERqsc]

There’s a good chance that FCB, continuing to acclimate to Guardiola’s approach will become the juggernaut his Barcelona teams once were. There’s also a chance that the ways to slow down Barcelona are now being applied in Germany, and the scores will stay down. In stronger, more athletic league, that may lead to a greater percentage of points dropped, leaving Bayern more likely to give the title back to Dortmund.

The head-to-head battles will have a lot to say about that. In the German Super Cup, BVB scored four times on Bayern, a result that’s unlikely to be replicated in a game that matters. The threat, however, is made clear every time Dortmund kicks off. They are clearly as, if not more, dangerous than last year. We’ve yet to see if Bayern can keep up.

source: Getty Images
Stefan Keißling (right) is not longer making himself available for Germany, but the Bayer forward is still an international-caliber talent. His third and fourth goals of the season helped Bayer to their fourth win in five. (Source: Getty Images.)

Elsewhere in Germany: Bayer Leverkusen sit third, recovering from their first loss of the season with a 3-1 win over visiting Wolfsburg. Stefan Keißling scored twice … Kevin Prince-Boateng made his first major contribution for Schalke, scoring the only goal in Schalke’s 1-0 win at fifth-place Mainz. Schalke’s won two in a row … Augsburg ran their winning streak to three as second half goals from Halil Altintop and Tobias Werner reversed a 1-0 deficit, handing visiting Freiburg a 2-1 loss … The shootout-to-be between Hoffenheim and Borussia Mönchengladbach didn’t quite come off, but goals by Anthony Modeste and Kevin Volland still gave Hoffenheim a 2-1 win … Franco Di Santo was sent off in the 26th minute as newly-signed Vaclav Kadlec, with a goal on either side of the dismissal, helped Eintracht Frankfurt to a 3-0 win at Werder Bremen, who’ve lost three straight … Timmy Chandler was back in the XI for Nurnberg as FCN took a point at Braunschweig, 1-1.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.