Bayern Munich brilliance, Joe Hart follies see Manchester City fall, 3-1

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We’ve seen Joe Hart make mistakes before. Of late, it’s happened so many times, people are starting to ask what has to happen for him to lose his job.

That sentiment may seem like hyperbole, but in terms of today’s match, it’s hard to imagine a more impactful, more preventable mistake. That it happened early against a team capable of keeping over 70 percent of the ball may have doomed whatever hopes Manchester City had of knocking off Bayern Munich. The holders would go on to win at the Etihad, cruising to a 3-1. And unfortunately for Hart, that seventh minute mistake wasn’t his only blunder.

Allowing Franck Ribéry’s opener was inexcusable, with a strong blast from well beyond the penalty area hopping over Hart’s outstretched arm to beat him near-post. Seven minutes in, Hart had already given a Pep Guardiola team license to hog the ball without pushing for goals. Though no Ribéry shot can be taken lightly, this was a stop you see average goalkeepers regularly parry with ease. On Tuesday, however, it became the latest example in a disturbing list of mistakes from the England No. 1.

Though Hart wasn’t as embarrassed on Bayern’s last two, they were stops other keepers would have made. In the 56th minute, after left back Gaël Clichy was badly beaten on a run from the right wing, Joe Hart had a chance to claim a ball that Thomas Müller’s attempted trap had put within reach. But Hart hesitated, allowed Müller to retain possession, and was helpless to stop a ball that was eventually put into an empty net.

The final goal gave Hart the rare indignity of having allowed a goal from an Arjen Robben right-footed shot. And given the way the play developed, he should have been in better positioned to stop it. In the 59th minute, Toni Kroos  stripped Fernandinho at the center line before feeding right to Robben. The Dutch international bore down on left-center half Matija Nastasic, with the Serbian international steering him to the right of goal (onto his weaker right foot). Robben’s one chance was near post, but Hart failed to get in position to protect his goal. The right-footed punch, flying well inside Hart’s post, went off the keeper, off the woodwork and in – Bayern’s third preventable goal.

A stellar finish from Álvaro Negredo would ruin Bayern’s cleansheet, the Spaniards left-footed curler eluding Jerome Boateng at the edge of the area – an unstoppable shot that moved outside then in off Manuel Neuer’s right post. But 11 minutes from time, the goal was pure consolation, even if Boateng would see a straight red in the 86th minute after Yaya Touré raced passed Dante to a ball put behind the defense.

source: AP
Bayern Munich, pictured here celebrating Thomas Müller’s goal, are perfect through two rounds of Champions League group play, posting a +5 goal difference in wins over CSKA Moscow and Manchester City. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Hart’s troubles shouldn’t overshadow the fact that City were decidedly second best, almost entirely through Bayern’s doing. Even in the few minutes before Ribéry’s opener, the holders looked set to make this into a typical München performance. Although the presence of central defender Vincent Kompany, coming into midfield to challenge early, and surprising right back selection Micah Richards provided a physical dimension that forced Bayern to adjust, that adjustment period didn’t take long. Were it not for the competition name and the expensive collection of talent in Sky Blue kits, you’d swear this we just another one-sided, controlling league affair from the best team in the world.

Per Opta, Bayern held 66 percent of the ball. For most of the game, it was above 70. They outshot their hosts 20-9, getting eight shots on target to City’s two. They hit the woodwork once (as did City) and forced the Sky Blues into six blocked shots. They had 719 passes to City’s 370, with nine of Bayern starters eclipsing Yaya Touré’s City-leading mark (43 passes).

And just like last round’s 3-0 win over CSKA, today’s win provided another illustration of what Guardiola’s tweaks are capable of producing. As great as last season was — so great that nobody dared imagine how it could be better — Bayern didn’t show this kind of strangling control. They were dominant, as their semifinal demolition of Barcelona showed, and they were successful, as any European Cup would affirm. But this type of start-to-finish, whistle-to-whistle suffocation wasn’t there.

Their style was marauding. The waves of their constant attacks were oppressive. The pressure Mario Mandzukic, Robben, Ribèry and Müller exerted prevented lesser competition from collecting hope. Their results (+80 goal difference in league) became embarrassing.

For some reason, Guardiola has decided to change that, and only against competition like CSKA or Manchester City have we seen the end game. Sacrificing the second deep midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for another player higher in a 4-1-4-1, Guardiola has dared to fuse the best of Bayern and Barcelona. He has the audacity to imagine Bayern’s oppression combined with Barcelona’s control.

Manchester City became the first team to see the dream. If Bayern can do this on a week-in, week-out basis, they have a chance to improve on last year’s squad, even if the stats will never reflect it.

Regardless, the defending champions have moved clear in Group D, having taken three points at the home of their stiffest competition.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.