Nuremberg's Mike Frantz, right, and Bayern's Mario Goetze challenge for the ball during a German first division Bundesliga soccer match between 1.FC Nuremberg and Bayern Munich in Nuremberg, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Bundesliga Wrap: Bottom sides failing to pull themselves up

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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.

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

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Speaking to ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

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Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.