Bundesliga roundup: Schalke’s terrible, horrible, completely understandable bad week

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Schalke just completed the most understandably horrible week in the short history of modern soccer, a pair games that left one of the most affluent clubs in Europe on the wrong end of a 11-2 scoreline over their last 180 minute. Perhaps the Miners aren’t in the same spending category as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, its opponents over the last four days, but regularly ranked among the 12-20 most valuable clubs in the world, Schalke’s plight highlights the ever-growing divide between Europe’s elite and the merely enviably huge.

Real Madrid’s 6-1 win in the team’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 opener was the low point – los Blancos putting up six goals in Gelsenkirchen before Jens Keller’s team got Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s spectacular consolation. On Saturday, however, the Schalke boss had the misfortune of seeing his team move from Europe’s second-best team to its defending champions. Bayern Munich, having lost only once since Pep Guariola took over, welcomed the Blues on the Allianz Arena.

The result, superficially, wasn’t as embarrassing as their loss at the Veltins Arena, but after giving up four goals in the match’s first 29 minutes, the disappointment was far more swift. David Alaba, Arjen Robben, Mario Mandzukic, and a second from Robben had Bayern up 4-0 before Schalke even registered a shot, let alone an attempt on target. An own goal from Rafinha eventually provided the visitors some consolation, but when Robben completed his hat trick with a 77th minute penalty conversion, the Bundesliga’s leaders completed their 5-1 demolition of the league’s fourth place club.

Yet as disheartening as the last four days have been for Keller’s club, they’ll likely prove irrelevant to the team’s ultimately goal – getting back into Champions League. So Schalke can’t compete with Bayern or Real? That’s not exactly an above-the-fold revelation. The fact that they were so far behind Europe’s two best teams only amplifies something that wasn’t news in the first place. Schalke, despite their nine-goal deficit over the last 180 minutes, is still a team that should be favored to grab Germany’s final Champions League spot. Their horrible week was completely understandable.

Bayern, however, did offer us something interesting in Saturday’s game. If Real Madrid’s mid-week rout was a message to Europe, Bayern Munich’s first half hour at the Allianz was a rebuttal. Four goals and no shots allowed may not have led to a more lopsided final, but in its own way, it was more remarkable.

There’s still no doubt. Bayern is the best team in Europe.

Elsewhere

  • Hertha Berlin 0, Freiburg 0 – Admir Medmedi peppered the hosts’ goal with four shots on target, but thanks to five saves from Thomas Kraft, Freiburg stays in the drop.
  • Borussia Dortmund 3, Nurnberg 0 – BVB recovers from last weekend’s embarrassment in Hamburg with a second half outburst, with Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan allowing Dortmund to claim second place.
  • Werder Bremen 1, Hamburg 0 – Whatever momentum HSV garnered from last week’s win was left at the Imtech Arena, with Werder extending their unbeaten streak to three thanks to a Zlatko Junuzovic’s 19th minute winner.
  • Augsburg 1, Hannover 1 – Mame Biram Diouf’s 21st minute opener allowed Hannover to end their three-game losing streak, with a second half response from Ragnar Klavan salvaging a point for the hosts.
  • Braunschweig 1, Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 – An own goal from Marc-André ter Stegen cancelled out Raffael’s opener, sending previously Champions League-competing Gladbach to seventh.
  • Bayer Leverkusen 0, Mainz 1 – Sami Hyypia’s team ran their losing streak to four, giving up second place in the process. Thanks to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s first half winner, Bayer now have to worry about their top-four survival, with fifth place Wolfsburg only four points back.

Sunday
Hoffenheim vs. Wolfsburg
Einfracht Frankfurt vs. Stuttgart

Others
Bayern Munich 5, Schalke 1

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 23 21 2 0 66 10 56 12-0-0 9-2-0 65
Borussia Dortmund 23 14 3 6 54 27 27 8-1-3 6-2-3 45
Bayer Leverkusen 23 14 1 8 39 26 13 8-1-3 6-0-5 43
FC Schalke 04 23 12 5 6 42 35 7 7-2-2 5-3-4 41
VfL Wolfsburg 22 12 3 7 38 26 12 8-1-2 4-2-5 39
FSV Mainz 05 23 11 4 8 32 35 -3 6-2-3 5-2-5 37
Mönchen 23 10 6 7 40 29 11 8-2-2 2-4-5 36
Hertha BSC Berlin 23 10 5 8 34 27 7 5-2-5 5-3-3 35
FC Augsburg 23 10 5 8 35 33 2 6-2-3 4-3-5 35
1899 Hoffenheim 22 6 8 8 46 46 0 3-5-3 3-3-5 26
Hannover 96 23 7 4 12 30 42 -12 6-3-2 1-1-10 25
Werder Bremen 23 6 7 10 26 46 -20 4-4-4 2-3-6 25
1. FC Nürnberg 23 4 11 8 27 40 -13 2-5-4 2-6-4 23
Eintracht Frankfurt 22 5 7 10 24 38 -14 2-5-4 3-2-6 22
VfB Stuttgart 22 5 4 13 35 47 -12 2-3-6 3-1-7 19
Hamburger SV 23 5 4 14 38 52 -14 3-1-7 2-3-7 19
SC Freiburg 23 4 7 12 22 44 -22 2-4-5 2-3-7 19
Eintracht Braunschweig 23 4 4 15 17 42 -25 3-2-7 1-2-8 16

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly.

Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United. “Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?”

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.