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

Leave a comment

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.

UCL wrap: Napoli, Celtic win big; Nwakaeme volleys beauty (video)

Cesare Abbate/ANSA Via AP
Leave a comment

A day after three of five road sides felt good with their work in first legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round, it was the hosts time to celebrate good results.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL first legs ]

Home sides in Italy, Scotland, Greece, and Israel posted wins. Spanish side Sevilla did manage a road win.

Napoli 2-0 Nice

Chances and even possession was at a premium for the visitors, and Napoli found its breakthrough from one of the more overlooked gems in the world. Dries Mertens scored in the first half, his sixth career UCL goal, and Jorginho converted a second half penalty to give Napoli a foot in the group stage.

Adding insult was a pair of red cards in the 80th minute, the first to Vincent Koziello for a dangerous tackle (it was a harsh call) and Alassane Plea was given a second yellow for protesting the sending off.

Mertens’ goal was smooth as silk:

Celtic 5-0 Astana

A pair of Scott Sinclair goals joined an Astana own goal as the Bhoys went a long way towards avoiding the tight tie that made the last round tricky.

Olympiacos 2-1 Rijeka

Heber gave the visitors a halftime lead in the 42nd minute, but Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe equalized in the 66th minute to minimize the damage for Olympiacos, who would go on to win.

Istanbul Basaksehir 1-2 Sevilla

Remember Eljero Elia? The Dutchman’s on his eighth club and third since leaving Southampton after just a half season, but he’s given his Turkish side hope against mighty Sevilla after Sergio Escudero gave the Spanish side an early lead and Wissam Ben Yedder nabbed the winner.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-1 Maribor

Goals from Anthony Nwakaeme and Shir Tzedek boosted the Israeli hosts to a come-from-behind win.

In the case of the former, it was a beauty:

Brighton breaks transfer record (again) with Izquierdo (video)

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Brighton and Hove Albion have broken its transfer record.

A week after setting a new club standard with the signing of Davy Propper from PSV Eindhoven, the Gulls have signed electric Colombian attacker Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge for over $15 million.

[ MORE: Matuidi medical at Juve ]

Izquierdo averaged a goal every other match for Brugge last season and broke through to the Colombian national team with two caps this summer, scoring in a friendly against Cameroon.

With Propper and Izquierdo, manager Chris Hughton has two more playmakers who can better set the table for a strike corps that has been questioned at the Premier League level.

Brighton lost to Man City 2-0 on Saturday and next faces Leicester City at King Power Stadium.

Matuidi having a medical at Juventus ahead of move from PSG

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi was having a medical at Juventus on Wednesday ahead of a potential move to the Serie A club.

Juventus said that Matuidi arrived at Turin airport in the afternoon and was undergoing tests.

Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the 30-year-old Matuidi, who had a year left on his contract with the French club.

[ MORE: Wenger issues updates on Alexis, Ox, Wilshere ]

PSG, which is also trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros, could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

Matuidi played nearly 300 games for PSG in all competitions after joining from Saint-Etienne in 2011.

After a difficult first season, he quickly became an integral part of the team for successive managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

He flourished from a largely defensive midfielder to a robust, tireless runner with an eye for goal and an enormous work-rate.

Overcoming some technical deficiencies in his game, Matuidi gradually earned himself a place in the France lineup and became a key player at the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.

At the beginning of last season, after Blanc was fired and replaced by Unai Emery, he expressed a desire to leave PSG and already wanted to join Juventus. But the club blocked his move, considering him too important to leave, and he stayed for another season.

Altogether, Matuidi has scored 33 goals for PSG in 295 appearances, becoming a well-respected player among fans and teammates alike, often taking a public stance when others would not and when tensions arose within the club.

In all, Matuidi has won four league titles, three French Cups and four League Cups with PSG.

This story has been corrected to show that Neymar’s fee was 222 million euros, not 220 million euros.

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

Getty Images
4 Comments

Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”