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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.

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

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Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”