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UEFA Champions League Preview: Arsenal first in line to try and derail Bayern Munich

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Jonathan Wilson took a crack at trying to figure out Bayern Munich from Arsenal’s point of view, but while acknowledging the defending European champions’ tactically flexibility, The Guardian’s tactics specialist described the Gunners’ choices as a series of middling tradeoffs. Perhaps Arsène Wenger could switch to a 4-3-3 formation (from a 4-2-3-1) or make a concerted effort to limit the influence of Philipp Lahm, regardless of the position the Bayern captain plays. Ultimately, however, the intensity and efficiency with which Bayern plays gives Pep Guardiola’s team its greatest advantage. A change in formation won’t offset that edge.

So the question ahead of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League match in London — the first of two in the teams’ Round of 16 matchup — may be less how Arsenal can match up with Bayern than why this year’s meeting will be different from last’s. In the same round of last year’s competition, Bayern took a 3-1, first leg lead out of the Emirates. Three months later, the Bavarians claimed their fifth European title.

[MORE: Wenger, Arsenal intent on avoiding Champions League repeat against Bayern Munich]

Unfortunately for Arsenal, Bayern Munich are even stronger this year. Pep Guardiola has replaced Jupp Heynckes as head coach, bringing in a slightly different tactical approach as well as a new way to use players like Lahm (a fullback that’s been converted to defensive midfield). Mario Götze has joined from Borussia Dortmund, as has Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona. Attempting to improve on a team that dominated last year’s Bundesliga, Guardiola has crafted a crew that averages 70.4 percent possession and nearly 20 shots per match (19.2). They’ve become prohibitive favorites to be the first team since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan to claim consecutive European titles.

As hinted in Wilson’s piece, Arsenal do not match up well against Bayern, a deficiency that describes a Champions League failure that’s been present throughout most of the Arsène Wenger era. With a subtle layer of dogma to their approach, Arsenal’s spells of domestic success have been coupled with the feeling they play as an aesthetically superior game to their opponents. Tellingly, the one time they reached the Champions League final under Wenger, Arsenal lost to Barcelona, a rare club that’s more dogmatic in their aestheticists’ ethic than the Gunners.

[MORE: Respectful Bayern saying all the right things ahead of Champions League visit to Arsenal]

Wenger’s pursuit of such stylist values has waned in recent years, but this is still a team that doesn’t feature an elite presence in defensive midfield (even if Mathieu Flamini’s return has been a boost). The defense features a series of value buys, and their goalkeeper couples promising performances with ones that hint he’ll never be an elite keeper. The overall philosophy describes an approach that sees relatively little difference between elite defenders and ones which represent better value. While that may be an empirically justifiable view, it’s also one that highlights scrutiny when Arsenal fails.

One of those failures occurred 11 days ago at Anfield, when Arsenals’ decent-not-stellar defense was exposed by Liverpool. In the process, the lack of a strong defensive midfielder was evident (Mathieu Flamini was suspended) while the remainder of the midfield failed to match up against the upstart Reds. While Arsenal has since rebounded from that disappointment, a vulnerable defense led by Laurent Koscielny and Per Merstsacker will still be stressed to contain the reigning European Champions.

The task will be easier in the absence of Franck Ribery, with Bayern’s best attacker sidelined as he recovers from surgery. Unfortunately, Bayern’s depth means the team will still likely start Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Mario Götze and Arjen Robben – a quartet capable of replicating last year’s three-goal performance in North London. With Lahm in midfield and Bastian Schweinsteiger returning to health, Bayern have more than enough talent to compensate of the absence of their Ballon d’Or finalist.

The one saving grace Arsenal has is their performance in their last meeting against Bayern. Last March, Arsenal produced a 2-0 result at the Allianz Arena, pulling them even with the Germans in the teams’ Round of 16 match ups. Away goals eventually sent Bayern through, but for Arsenal, the result could help create some momentum to carry into Wednesday’s game.

But it’s going to take more than momentum to derail the consensus best team in Europe. With the addition of players like Mesut Özil, Arsenal is certainly better than last year. But that’s unlikely to be enough to overcome Bayern Munich’s quest for a second straight title.

Sturridge complains about playing out wide; Klopp responds

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06:  Substitute Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool walks to the bench past Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 6, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Daniel Sturridge isn’t too happy to be playing out wide.

[ MORE: Bravo signs for Man City ]

He’s said it many times in the past (most noticeably during his time at Chelsea) and the Liverpool forward said it again following their 5-0 win over Burton Albion in the EFL Cup in midweek.

Sturridge, 26, came on as a second half sub for Jurgen Klopp‘s side and scored twice.

[ MORE: Boufal to Saints ]

However, speaking to reporters after the game the man who usually plays as a central striker had the following to say about playing in a wide position.

“Of course it is more difficult for me to play wide,” Sturridge said. “I’m a center-forward. I have to do a job for the team. That’s not saying I am happy to do it. That’s saying I have got to do a job for the team. It’s a team game. If I am put in that position, I have to play there.”

Tell us how you really feel, Daniel.

Yet Klopp, speaking on Thursday in his press conference ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) effortlessly diffused what could’ve been a sticky situation for Sturridge.

“It wasn’t a fixed position. Daniel is a very smart player,” said Klopp. “He’s good at getting himself into positions where it’s not easy to defend. There is absolutely no problem.”

Okay, so everyone is cool. Fair enough.

You do get the lingering feeling that Klopp may have a quiet word with Sturridge behind closed doors in the next day or so as these kind of complaints from a star player should really go to the manager first before he speaks publicly about them.

Sturridge is a passionate player who can often be seen showing his frustration on the pitch as his winning desire sometimes gets the better of him.

That’s obviously the case for certain media interviews too.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Zaha to Spurs, Lucas to Arsenal

West Bromwich Albion v Crystal Palace - Premier League
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Sky Sports is reporting that Tottenham Hotspur have made a $21 million bid for Wilfried Zaha and are in talks with Crystal Palace.

Zaha, 23, is in his second spell with the Eagles after returning to Selhurst Park in 2015 following his $13 million move to Manchester United not working out.

[ MORE: Bravo signs for City ]

The pacey winger has reportedly told Alan Pardew he wants to leave Palace and is obviously keen on being part of Spurs’ squad which will take part in the UEFA Champions League group stages this season.

Productivity is the main issue with Zaha but he did score five goals and addes seven assists across 43 games in all competitions last season as Palace reached the FA Cup final and started brightly in the Premier League but then faded badly to just stave off relegation.

With Christian Benteke arriving for a club-record $41.5 million last week, Palace may be interested in getting some of that money back but Pardew has already sold Yannick Bolasie to Everton for $37.5 million this summer and although he has Andros Townsend around, he is unlikely to be happy about losing another pacey and direct winger who can provide crossed for Benteke to finish.

As for Spurs, Zaha would provide some much-needed pace out wide. In the current system Mauricio Pochettino has Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen in a two-man forward line with Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen breaking forward from midfield to support them. However talented those players are, Pochettino may be looking for extra pace on the break, especially late in games, and Zaha has that in abundance.


A battle is brewing for Deportivo La Coruna forward Lucas Perez Martinez.

The Spanish forward, 27, is reportedly subject to two bids from both Everton and Arsenal. The latter are said to be closing in on $22.5 million transfer, with the BBC reporting that Arsenal are deemed the favorites for his signature.

[ MORE: Solo ban about more than comments ]

Known simply as Lucas, the striker scored 17 goals in 36 La Liga appearances last season and could be the answer to Arsene Wenger‘s problems up top. Wenger has pursued Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette all summer long but the French club are demanding over $55 million from the Gunners. Lucas would be a much cheaper option and the journeyman (he’s spent time in Greece, Ukraine and Spain with five different teams) was prolific in a Deportivo team which finished in 15th place in Spain’s top-flight. Given service by Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, he could be deadly.


Joe Hart, 29, will not be moving to Everton according to Ronald Koeman.

Everton’s manager was asked about Hart’s availability on Thursday and the Dutchman emphatically denied reports linking the Manchester City goalkeeper with a loan move to Goodison Park.

“No interest,” was the blunt response from Koeman and after Hart played, captained and kept a clean sheet for City in their 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in their UCL second leg play-off game on Wednesday, it looks like he is now in an awkward situation.

Hart was lauded by City’s fans throughout the game but with Claudio Bravo arriving from Barcelona on Thursday it seems like England’s first-choice goalkeeper could now be third-choice at Man City after Pep Guardiola preferred veteran Willy Caballero to him.

With Everton no interested, plus reports of loan moves to Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund going quiet, it appears Hart’s options are limited. If he wants to stay in the PL, perhaps Liverpool is his only option among the clubs who are expected to be challenging for the top four and beyond.

Manchester City confirm $22.5 million signing of Claudio Bravo

FOXBORO, MA - JUNE 10:  Claudio Bravo #1 of Chile passes the ball during a 2016 Copa America Centenario Group D match between Chile and Bolivia in the first half at Gillette Stadium on June 10, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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It’s done.

Claudio Bravo, 33, has signed a four-year contract at Manchester City as the club announced his $22.5 million transfer from Barcelona on Thursday.

[ MORE: Saints close to Boufal deal ]

Bravo flew in to Manchester earlier this week and Pep Guardiola finally has the goalkeeper he’s been craving as he revealed the Chilean international is someone “he’s admired for a number of years.”

With Joe Hart given the cold shoulder and veteran Willy Caballero handed the starting spot in goal for City’s first two Premier League games of the season, it always seemed likely that a goalkeeper was lined up.

[ MORE: Solo ban about much more ]

Speaking to the club website about his move to City after spending the last two seasons at Barcelona, Bravo is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“I’m very proud to be joining Manchester City. I know the Club is building something very special and I hope I can be part of many successes in the coming years,” Bravo said. “I have followed City’s progress in recent years and obviously know some of my new team-mates from the Copa America.

“It is not easy to leave a club like Barcelona where I had two fantastic years, but the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola was too good to refuse. Now I will challenge the other great goalkeepers the Club has and together I hope we can win many trophies.”

So, now the picture is even clearer for Hart as despite Bravo claiming he is at the Etihad Stadium to “challenge the other great goalkeepers” they have, we all know he is the new numero uno. Hart will have to find a move elsewhere if he wants to play regularly but his options are running out with Everton’s manager Ronald Koeman saying they are no interested in signing Hart.

Over the last two seasons Bravo has split time with Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Barca but the man who has already made 100 appearances for Chile and has won back-to-back Copa America titles is now ready to be a bonafide star as he enters the prime of his career.

Comfortable with the ball at his feet and a sublime shot-stopper, Bravo’s acquisition is another key moment in Guardiola’s masterplan at City.

The Spanish coach has now spent $260 million on John Stones, Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Marlos Moreno, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Bravo this summer.

Four games into Pep’s tenure as City’s boss the Citizens are perfect with four wins as they’ve qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stages.

Drinkwater stays at champion Leicester, signs 5-year deal

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City is closed down by Bertrand Traore of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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LEICESTER, England (AP) Danny Drinkwater has become the latest Leicester player to commit his future to the English champions.

[ MORE: Solo ban about much more ]

Leicester said Thursday the midfielder has signed a new five-year contract. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have also penned new deals this summer.

Drinkwater, a former Manchester United player, was a regular for Leicester in its run to the Premier League title last season, helping him earn a call-up to the England squad.