Bundesliga Wrap: Bayern Munich are in another class

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The Bundesliga returned after a month-long break and boy, did it do much to make fans of German football wonder how they survived those four weeks without the league.

While Bayern Munich impressed by barely allowing third-placed Gladbach a look at the ball in Friday night’s marquee matchup, the true fun this weekend came from the sides down at the bottom. Nurnberg, Freiburg and Frankfurt all grabbed three points — and beat some tough competition when doing so.

Friday

Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-2 Bayern Munich
It took just seven minutes for the visitors to assert their dominance. Just one minute after he hit the post, Gladbach allowed Mario Götze space to breathe once more, and the forward put Bayern Munich ahead. The visitors continued to control the game, dominating possession and generally reminding the world why they managed the quadruple last season. Early in the second half, a handball from Granit Xhaka gave Bayern a penalty, duly converted by Thomas Müller. With 24 shots, 64% possession and near-total dominance for the visitors, the scoreline actually flatters Gladbach a bit.

Saturday

Borussia Dortmund 2-2 Augsburg
Dortmund are falling further and further away from first, with this latest stumble keeping them 13 points behind Bayern Munich. Things got off to a lovely start when Sven Bender scored in the fifth minute – but then he had to go and score on the other end, too, leveling the scoreline in the 56th. Nuri Sahin put Dortmund back in front ten minutes later, but Dong-Won Ji grabbed a point for Augsburg with his header in the 72nd. To add to Dortmund’s misery, Jakub Blaszczykowski came off with injury early in the match, and it’s suspected the Pole has torn his ACL.

Freiburg 3-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Freiburg have pulled themselves out of the bottom three with a very surprising victory over second-place Leverkusen. Lars Bender went one better than his brother at Dortmund, putting his side ahead in the fourth minute (and not scoring an own goal, either). Admir Mehmedi put the hosts level, but Simon Rolfes gave Leverkusen the lead going into the interval. A free kick from Jonathan Schmid put Freiburg back in it, but it was his ball to Felix Klaus in the 90th minute that set up the hosts’ ultimate winning goal.

Nurnberg 4-0 Hoffenheim
Nurnberg pick up their first – yes, first – win of the season in a dramatic fashion, putting four goals past Hoffenheim. Timothy Chandler got the opener and Josip Drmic scored a brace around a goal from Daniel Ginczek. Hoffenheim are now just two points above the danger zone, but the win wasn’t enough to lift Nurnberg out of the bottom three. They’ll need to take a few more chances, rather than adding to their collection of eleven draws, for that to happen.

Stuttgart 1-2 Mainz
These two sides started the day off in 10th and 9th, respectively, but Mainz’s road win puts them up into 8th, while Stuttgart fall into 11th. The hosts very nearly managed to come away with a draw, holding on even after Shinji Okazaki canceled out Mohammed Abdellaoue’s opener. Then came an impressive goal from Benedikt Saller in the 87th minute to see Mainz trot out the victors.

Wolfsburg 1-3 Hannover
Wolfsburg really shouldn’t have dropped points at home to Hannover, but then again, this was a very strange weekend in the Bundesliga. The visitors got things started with a goal from Artjoms Rudnevs, but Ivica Olic had Wolfsburg level by the break. Shortly after the restart, Leonardo Bittencourt had Hannover in front once more, and his second goal put the game out of reach. Wolfsburg are now in danger of sliding into sixth, while Hannover leapfrog Stuttgart to reach 10th.

Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 Hertha Berlin
Saturday’s games ended in a rather boring fashion, with Alexander Meier scoring the only goal in a match that featured just 12 shots from both sides combined. Frankfurt move to two points above the relegation places, while Hertha are now in danger of falling out of the European positions.

Sunday

Werder Bremen vs. Braunschweig
With the way this weekend is going, Braunschweig just might get another away win – although even three points won’t be enough to do more than put them even with Nurnberg. The hosts, however, would quite like those three points as well, seeing as they’re just three points above the relegation places at the moment.

Hamburg vs. Schalke
The weekend closes with yet another relegation battle, as Hamburg find themselves in the bottom three after Freiburg’s win. But if Schalke want to keep alive the hope of another year of Champions League play, they’re going to need a win, as they’re currently five points away from fourth.

Mascherano still believes Neymar is “the future” of Barcelona

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The Neymar-to-PSG saga has escalated quickly, and signs of the Brazilian’s move to Paris are growing, but one Barcelona player remains confident that his compatriot will stay in Spain ahead of the new La Liga season.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

PSG has shown a willingness over recent days to meet Barca’s worldly $260 million transfer fee for the 25-year-old, while Neymar has reportedly alerted his teammates that he will in fact be heading to the Parc des Princes next month.

Veteran Barcelona midfielder/defender Javier Mascherano is one of the Blaugrana players that hopes Neymar will stick around and help anchor the La Liga giants for years to come despite a possible massive payday in store.

“Obviously he is young and I hope he’s here with Barcelona for many more years,” the Argentina defender said to ESPN.

“He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he’s the future of the club and we hope we can keep on counting on him.

“He’s accustomed to the pressure and people talking. There’s always going to be rumours and news around him.

“It’s really difficult to give advice. Firstly, I’m not anyone to be giving advice and secondly, I see him really happy here, really happy. [Barca] are a club that have made it possible for him to perform at his best. But after that, each person has to make their own decisions.”

If Neymar does bolt for Paris the complexion of the MSN-Barca attack changes drastically despite still boasting elite talents Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

[ MORE: Man United drops Man City in Houston “Manchester Derby” ]

Barca has done little in the transfer market this summer, only adding Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu and Nelson Semedo of Benfica. The club continues to pursue Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho, however, the Reds recently rejected a bid of $93 million.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

Vertonghen: “We need to level up” like rest of PL contenders

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Tottenham put up a heck of a title fight in 2016/17 as the club attempted to chase down Premier League champions Chelsea, but Spurs have been inactive this summer as Mauricio Pochettino‘s group gears up for next month.

[ MORE: Striker Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

The London side finished second in the PL a season ago — a record-high for the club during the modern Premier League Era.

[ VIDEO: History of the North London Derby ]

However, Pochettino and Co. have made no moves in the transfer market this summer, while its competitors — Chelsea, Manchester United, etc. — have all made significant roster additions to bolster their lineups.

Defender Jan Vertonghen says that Spurs must compete with the rest of the PL’s elite in the transfer market if the club is to finally realize its goal of finishing atop England’s top flight.

“The way our rivals are strengthening this season, we need to be aware of that and we need to level up as well,” Vertonghen told ESPN FC.

“I’m not saying with new players, but we need to take our levels up and I think we can. I’m the oldest outfield player in the team and I feel very fit. The younger guys can improve even more. It can definitely be our year and we want it to be our year.

“Luckily we almost kept everyone from this year. Obviously the window is not closed yet but if we can keep these guys, we can do the same thing again. It’ll be a bit harder because we play at Wembley! [The pitch] is a lot bigger but the training pitches have already been adapted.

While Spurs certainly benefit from having one of the strongest young groups of players in England, the club’s lack of spending is a bit concerning, especially after its recent loss of Kyle Walker — who joined Manchester City for a record fee.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.