Bundesliga Wrap: Bayern Munich could clinch title this month

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With their win over Bayer Leverkusen, combined with Dortmund’s loss to Gladbach, Bayern Munich now have a 23-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table. That means the Bavarian giants could find themselves crowned champions before the month is even out.

And considering Saturday’s win marks Bayern’s 50th straight unbeaten game in the league, well…it might just be simpler to hand them the trophy right now.

Although that doesn’t mean the rest of the Bundesliga can’t throw up some surprises now and then:

Friday results

Augsburg 1-2 Schalke
The hosts got off to a fantastic start when Tobias Werner scored after just five minutes. But Schalke, mindful of losing out on third after fighting so hard to reach the Champions League places, came roaring back. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had his side even before the break, and then put in the winner shortly after the restart.

Saturday results

Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Borussia Mönchengladbach
It’s Gladbach’s first win of 2014 and what a win to get – victory over their rivals, currently in second place. The Foals did do their best to throw away yet another lead, playing down a man for 25 minutes after Havard Nordtveit got sent off, and allowing a goal from Miloš Jojić. But in the end, goals from Raffael and Max Kruse – and an impressive performance from Patrick Herrmann – got Gladbach all three points.

Braunschweig 1-1 Wolfsburg
Bottom-side Braunschweig continue trying to pull their way up, point by point, and it continues making little difference. But the equalizer from Karim Bellarabi was better than letting Luis Gustavo’s goal go unanswered, even if Braunschweig remain dead last.

Hertha Berlin 0-3 Hannover
Hertha continue their slide down the table, letting Hannover run roughshod over them. Lars Stindl, Jan Schlaudraff and Szabolcs Huszti all scored for the visitors, who are now three in a row unbeaten.

Hoffenheim 2-4 Mainz
Sejad Salihović missed a penalty for Hoffenheim in the fifth minute, which rather set the tone for the rest of the match. The hosts bounced back and, thanks to goals from Eugen Polanski and Roberto Firmino, were up 2-0 by the 52nd minute. But Mainz took less than 25 minutes to turn things around. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting starting things off, with Benedikt Saller scoring five minutes later. Shinji Okazaki followed up with a header before grabbing his second in stoppage time. Mainz are now fifth, and are closing in on Leverkusen for a Champions League spot.

Werder Bremen 1-1 Stuttgart 
The point keeps Stuttgart out of the danger zone, but only just – and if Hamburg or Freiburg win on Sunday, they may slip down into the bottom three. Stuttgart, too, managed to miss a penalty, attempted by Martin Harnik. They took the lead in the second half through a goal from Georg Niedermeier, but a direct free kick from Aaron Hunt ensured Werder Bremen got a share of the spoils.

Bayern Munich 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
At least Leverkusen tried to make things interesting – but the stoppage time goal from Stefan Kießling proved too little, too late. Mario Mandžukić had headed home to close the first half, and a Bastian Schweinsteiger free kick doubled the hosts’ lead early in the second. Now Leverkusen are down in fourth, and could very well find themselves losing out on Champions League play next season.

Sunday fixtures

Hamburg vs. Nurnberg
Are Hamburg really set to go down for the first time in their history? If they can’t get a result against Nurnberg, just three points above them in the table, that just might be the case. But the visitors have lost their last two while Hamburg came back to draw Frankfurt last weekend, so the advantage might be to the hosts.

Frankfurt vs. Freiburg
Freiburg will be hoping to pull themselves out of the relegation zone with a win over Frankfurt, but their current form -without a win in their last six – suggests that’s unlikely to be the case. The hosts, meanwhile, have had a bit of an up-and-down season, but are certainly capable of beating weaker sides.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

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Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.