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Bayern Munich’s surge continues with 4-1 dispatching of Hannover in German Cup (Video)

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The big criticism throughout Pep Guardiola’s first months in Munich as been the way Bayern’s won. Particularly compared with last year, when the Germans steamrolled the rest of the Bundesliga, Bayern’s results have lack decisiveness. Though it’s a problem most teams would love to have, FCB hadn’t won any of their first five league matches by more than two goals, and although it was a relative issue, the result were still indicative of the ongoing reset taking place under Guardiola.

Then Champions League happened. Or, more readily, their performance in Champions League on Sept. 17. Against visiting Russian champions CSKA Moscow, Bayern finally dominated both on the ball and the scoresheet, posting a 3-0 win. That they followed it with a 4-0 win on the road at Schalke, a fellow Champions League team, hints something may have clicked in München.

Wednesday provided more evidence of the same. Against visiting Hannover in German Cup play, Bayern went into half up 2-1, a redirection by Thomas Müller and headed cross by Claudio Pizarro preceding Didier Ya Konan’s response, cutting FCB’s lead in half before intermission. Müller completed his brace just after the hour, with a goal from Franck Ribéry off Bayern’s bench giving the holders a 4-1 win.

Highlights:

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

It was what we’ve come to expect from Guardiola’s Bayern. Perhaps his approach lacks the swashbuckling edge Jupp Heynckes’s team rode to league, cup, and European titles, but the team’s exerting a disturbing amount of control on each of their matches. Today’s goal was only the eighth they’ve allowed in 11 “competitive” matches – competitive in quotes because we’re counting the meaningless games against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in the German and UEFA Super Cups. Take those out, and Bayern’s only conceded five in nine games, a testament to the paucity off opportunities Guardiola’s possession-heavy scheme is giving up.

It’s worth mentioning Bayern only gave up 18 goals in 34 league games last year. During their successful Cup run, they only concede three in six games. So it’s unclear Guardiola’s increased control has actual led to a better defense. Even if it hasn’t, it’s interesting to see Bayern’s end results returning to last year’s standards. It’s almost as if the specific system for team of this talent is important as we thought – that this group of players can adapt and dominate provided a minimally effective scheme and a boss who knows how to play it.

Regardless, Bayern’s on the ascent, and if we were to go back to the hypothetical European Power Rankings we alluded to in yesterday’s Dortmund post, the current European champions would almost certainly be number one. Since last week’s Champions League opener, they’ve been on the rise, while their rivals at the Westfalenstadion have been dealt their season’s first setbacks.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET