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Preview: Bayern Munich on guard ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League visit

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Though last season’s Champions League is a distant memory, in some ways, little has changed for Bayern Munich and Arsenal ahead of the second leg of the teams’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup. When the Gunners visited Allianz Arena last March, they were a top four team in the Premier League that had little hope of winning the league title. They were down two goals before landing in Bavaria to face a team that had become Champions League favorites. Bayern, running away with the Bundesliga, merely needed to hold serve at home to reach the quarterfinals.

What followed was a result that’s given Arsenal hope ahead of Tuesday’s kickoff. Posting a surprise 2-0 win at the Allianz, the Gunners forced the away goals tiebreaker into play, with Bayern’s 3-1 win in North London allowing the eventual champions to go through.

It’s one of only two losses the European Champions have suffered in the last year, with Manchester City, in this year’s group stage, also taking advantage of Bayern team. In both cases, though, the huge advantage the Bavarians took into the game forgave their lackluster performance. Whereas the team had a two-goal edge on Arsenal ahead of the Gunners’ late charge, only a lopsided win by City in the final round of group play would have allowed the Citizens to claim first place. Like Arsenal, they would come up one goal short.

Pep Guardiola, at Bayern’s helm for the City (but not the Arsenal) result, is wary of history repeating itself, using Monday’s press conference to emphasize the need to stay aggressive.

“We have to win this game,” the two-time Champions League-winning coach said, “it doesn’t matter what we did in the first leg. This is what we have to concentrate on.”

The year’s results speak to what a focused Bayern can do. In league, Bayern have a 20-point lead on second place Borussia Dortmund after 24 rounds, having outscored their opponents 72-11. In Champions League, the Bavarians have won six of seven games, their lapse against City their only blemish. After a 2-0 win at Arsenal to open their Round of 16, Guardiola’s team are heavy favorites to claim a second-straight title.

“Well, of course 2-0 was a good result for us,” Guardiola said. “Though it is dangerous … We have to bring our ideas to fruition. The Champions League is more important than the Bundesliga and we have to do our best.”

That best will be more than enough against an Arsenal team missing a number of key components. First-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will be suspended after seeing red in game one. Theo Walcott is out, injured, as are Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshire, and both of the team’s regular left backs: Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal. Though stars like playmaker Mesut Ozil, attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla, and striker Olivier Giroud will be available, Arsenal will be severely shorthanded in Munich.

“Tomorrow we will have four German players, [Serge] Gnabry included,” Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger explained on Monday. “[Lukas] Podolski is in good shape again, [Per] Mertesacker has become a great player in England and [Mesut] Özil is a great talent, as he will show tomorrow.”

Contrast Wenger’s plight that with a Bayern team that has only one absence: Holger Badstuder, who has been gone all season. The likes of Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos will all be available, with Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, and Thiago Alcantara also among Guardiola’s potential starters. All of them are capable of starting for Arsenal. Only six of them can get the call.

They’re the players who’ll provide the forward push for the best team in the world. Against an injured and trailing Arsenal squad, Bayern shouldn’t have any problems. While we would have said the same thing last year, memories of that disappointment will keep the Bavarians on their guard. Arsène Wenger’s unlikely to take his hosts by surprise this time around.

(MORE: Atlético Madrid back on track before Champions League visit from goal-shy Milan)

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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