Bundesliga Wrap: Bottom sides failing to pull themselves up

Leave a comment

With the Bundesliga title pretty much all sewn up (Bayern Munich are likely planning their parade route already), attention focuses on two places in Germany: the race for Europe and the struggle to avoid the drop. Both are pretty tight, but with none of the bottom three able to get a point this weekend, it’s starting to look like we already know who’s headed down.

Friday’s Results

Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen
That’s three losses in a row for Gladbach, and five games without a win, with the Champions League is looking but a distant dream now. Meanwhile, Leverkusen look content in second – with Bayern 13 points ahead, there’s no need to fight for first, while Dortmund’s struggles probably give Leverkusen more comfort than the four-point cushion should provide.

Saturday’s Results

Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 Braunschweig
Frankfurt hardly played nice with the Bundesliga’s bottom side, but when you’re starting the day just a couple points above the drop, it’s likely emphatic wins are exactly what you’re after. Johannes Flum opened the scoring after just seven minutes, with Alexander Meier and and Stefan Aigner adding two more before the first half finished.

Freiburg 1-1 Hoffenheim
Freiburg, now a point above the relegation places, must’ve been devastated when Anthony Modesto got on the end of a ball from Sven Schipplock. The 85th minute equalizer canceled out Jonathan Schmid’s 68th minute opener. Hoffenheim’s point makes little difference, as they remain in 11th.

Nurnberg 0-2 Bayern Munich
USMNT defender Timothy Chandler left the match early with a suspected hamstring injury, with forward Daniel Ginczek following barely ten minutes later. In that context, it’s remarkable that relegation-threatened Nurnberg held on as long as they could against table-toppers Bayern. Mario Mandžukić scored between the injuries, but Nurnberg looked like they just might get back in it – until Philipp Lahm doubled Bayern’s lead early in the second half.

Werder Bremen 1-5 Borussia Dortmund
Well. If ever there’s a way to break out of your slump, scoring five goals is it. Dortmund had just one win in their five previous matches and went to Werder Bremen just two points above Schalke, three above rivals Gladbach. Then Robert Lewandowski happened. And Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Both scored a goal apiece in each half. They were also kind enough to give a goal to Manuel Friedrich, a defender signed in November to provide cover for Dortmund’s many injuries. Werder did manage to get a goal in the 89th minute, but Levent Aycicek’s shot was nothing but a consolation.

Wolfsburg 3-0 Mainz
The two sides started Saturday even on points, but Wolfsburg’s stronger squad ran out the winners, keeping them in Germany’s final Europa league position. Ricardo Rodriguez started the scoring in the 59th minute by converting a penalty. Bas Dost put in another seven minutes later, and Luiz Gustavo finished it all up with a header from close range.

Hamburg 0-3 Hertha Berlin
Hertha will be thrilled to finally secure another win, after a string of poor results saw them slip out of the European spots. Now they’re knocking on the door of sixth again, thanks mostly to Adrián Ramos who, despite having a penalty saved, scored two and provide the assist to Sami Allagui, who opened the scoring in the 15th minute.

Sunday’s Fixtures

Stuttgart vs. Augsburg
Stuttgart may be playing Europa League football, but they’ve lost their last four in a row, and are sitting just two points above the relegation zone. Augsburg, meanwhile, look like they’re considering making a late play for the European positions, with an unbeaten run of seven, including four wins.

Schalke vs. Hannover
The week ends with Schalke trying to re-close the gap on Dortmund, but with Hannover having won their last two matches 3-1, it might not be so easy to inch closer to third. Still, the hosts are undefeated through four and don’t have to worry about the Champions League for another couple of weeks, so it should be a routine home victory for them.

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

Twitter/AC Milan
Leave a comment

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

Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea FC will have another Spanish international leading the front line, with Diego Costa likely on his way out of town.

The club announced that Alvaro Morata has completed a transfer from Real Madrid, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. The BBC reports the transfer fee at nearly $78 million.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“I am so happy to be here,” Morata said in a statement. “It’s an incredible emotion to be part of this big club. I am looking to work hard, score as many goals as I can and to win as many trophies as possible.”

Morata emerged as an option to replace Costa after Romelu Lukaku decided on joining Manchester United over his former club Chelsea. Morata, who was a Manchester United target at first, then turned his sights on London after becoming disillusioned in Madrid, playing second-fiddle to Karim Benzema.

Despite not being first-choice up top, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga games and another three in the UEFA Champions League, which Real Madrid went on to win over Morata’s former club Juventus. Morata started for Juventus the last time the club had been in the Champions League final.

Despite being just 24, Morata is emerging as one of the world’s top forwards. He has nine goals in 19 games for the Spanish National Team and now is the right time for him to experience the challenge of the Premier League, where the games come thick and fast and the pace of the game is a step up from what he’s experienced in Spain and Italy.

However, the tactical knowledge he’s learned in both places should help him in England, where he can position himself between the opposing centerbacks.