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.

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.