Robben dominance, Malanda miss give Bayern opening match win over Wolfsburg

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For the first 90 minutes of the new Bundesliga season, the 2013-14 version of Bayern Munich was alive and well. Dominant, sometimes oppressive in their control, the reigning German champions seemed a step better than visiting Wolfsburg, yet with one spectacularly flubbed chance late in the second half, the Wolves had a an opportunity to steal a shock point. When woodwork and a shanked rebound intervened, Bayern was left with the 2-1 win and an unduly close call.

As with so many nights before, the star man was Arjen Robben, whose dismantling of Wolfsburg left back Ricardo Rodríguez created the opening goal for Thomas Müller in the 37th minute. Just over a minute into the second half, Robben doubled that lead, converting from the middle of the penalty area for the game’s winning goal. Near full-time the cross bar prevented Robben from adding a second, but the damage had already been done.

Still, that damage nearly proved too little, starting with Ivica Olic’s response to Robben. Cutting across the field, just inside the penalty area in the 52nd minute, Olic launched a looping, left-footed shot over Manuel Neuer – a spectacular conversion that pulled Wolfsburg within one with its second shot on target. With Wolfsburg able to maintain their share of the ball (finishing the match with 45 pct. possession), Bayern looked vulnerable.

That vulnerability set the stage for the match’s defining moment, an unfortunate one for Wolfsburg’s Junior Malanda. Graced on goal by a beautiful cross, the Belgian midfielder put his initial shot off the Neuer and onto the crossbar. The follow-up has set Twitter ablaze:

The would-be equalizer was a wakeup call for Bayern, who nearly found insurance though Robben, Müller, Sebastian Rode and Juan Bernat in the match’s final moments. Even without that insurance, Bayern had enough to secure its opening game win.

With only 55 percent possession, and putting only three shots on target (to Wolfsburg’s four), there were aspects of the opener that were much different from Bayern’s oppressing performances we saw during year one under Pep Guardiola. The scoreline, and how it transpired, was very familiar.

Held early, Bayern broke through, looked in control, but ultimately left the door open. Were it not for Malanda’s vine-worthy miss, Wolfsburg may have claimed an early, eye-opening result.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.