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Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC, HOU play to 1-1 draw… in Connecticut

Photo credit: New York City FC / @NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less more): New York City FC entered the weekend having dropped just 12 points (two losses, three draws) at home all season. That, of course, is their record within the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, the third-year MLS club’s temporary home for the foreseeable future. In truth, it was a minor miracle NYCFC hadn’t been forced from their home in the Bronx before Saturday’s clash with the Houston Dynamo, which ended a 1-1 draw at Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn. Attendance suffered, rightfully so. With the Yankees scheduled to play a make-up game Monday night, NYCFC were made to work out alternative stadium arrangements due to the amount of time required to convert Yankee Stadium into a baseball field once again. Anyway, Maxi Moralez and Mauro Manotas scored the goals, each inside the game’s opening 16 minutes. The point does very little for NYCFC (52 points), who remain 10 points off the pace of Eastern Conference- and Supporters’ Shield-leading Toronto FC, and just four points clear of third-place Chicago Fire; Houston (39) are buoyed a bit more, as they move ahead of Real Salt Lake for the Western Conference’s sixth and final playoff place (for the time being).

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Moralez rises up, heads NYCFC ahead — Chances are, when the shortest player on the field scores from a header, somebody missed their marking assignment.

16′ — Manotas beats Johnson off the quick FK — Chances are, when the opponent scores from a quick free kick, somebody fell asleep and wasn’t paying attention.

89′ — Deric protects the upper-90 to preserve a point — Jack Harrison probably thought he’d beaten Tyler Deric into the upper-90, but the Dynamo goalkeeper kept his side level with a stunning Save of the Week nominee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tyler Deric

Goalscorers: Moralez (6′), Manotas (16′)

PL Sunday preview: Newcastle shoot for top-4 place at Brighton

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures offers up a meeting of two newly promoted sides in the only game of the day.

[ PL roundup: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Newcastle’s return to the PL had all the makings of another spectacular flame-out and an immediate return to the Championship — owner Mike Ashley promised manager Rafa Benitez a busy summer of signings, but that never materialized; Benitez’s discontent was widely reported, some going so far as to say he had considered stepping down; the Magpies lost their first two games of the season, failing to score in either — until Jamaal Lascelles decided he was having no more of it.

Lascelles, Newcastle’s 23-year-old captain and star center back, has helped Benitez’s boys to three straight victories, in which they’ve conceded just one goal (in last week’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City), has united a group of players which seemed headed for self-destruction just four short weeks ago. The key, according to Lascelles, is accountability evenly shared by every player in the dressing room.

[ MORE: Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“A couple of seasons back, we’d go a goal down or concede a goal and heads would drop,” Lascelles said. “We’d be looking at each other like, ‘who’s going to step up?’ But everyone steps up, the 11 of us. This group of boys are excellent, we just keep going.”

Three points on Sunday would see Newcastle leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, two sides level on 11 points and presently fighting over fourth place, to finish the weekend in the PL’s final Champions League place (after six of 38 games, of course).

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

As for Brighton, returning home to Falmer Stadium is a welcome development after losing twice at Bournemouth (first in the PL, then in the League Cup) in the span of four days. In charge of Brighton is another former Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton, who guided his new club to promotion from the Championship last season (just as he did for Newcastle in 2010). Brighton held the league lead heading into the season’s final days before the Seagulls faltered and Newcastle pounced, but Hughton says there isn’t any ill will onto which to be held.

“There shouldn’t be, because they deserved it,” Hughton said. “We had opportunities in the last three games to clinch the title and we weren’t good enough at that particular moment to do that. All credit goes to Newcastle for doing it and certainly there’s no revenge. We are up against a good team that’s in good form at the moment.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Izzy Brown (hamstring) | Newcastle — OUT: Aleksandar Mitrovic (suspended), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Florian Lejeune (ankle), Karl Darlow (ankle)

Klopp, Henderson: Coutinho shows he’s “highest quality player”

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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As it turns out, it was with good reason that Liverpool refused to lose superstar midfielder Philippe Coutinho this summer, despite big-money advances from Barcelona, and the player’s admission that he himself wanted to make the move.

[ PL roundup: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

On Saturday, the 25-year-old Brazilian made his second straight in Premier League play, and reminded everyone just why a club like Barcelona would pursue him with unrelenting vigor. He started with an assist to Mohamed Salah for the game’s opening goal, and chipped in a score of his own, a stunning free kick (WATCH HERE), to double the lead a few minutes later. The Reds would hang (just barely) for a 3-2 win away to Leicester City.

Following the game, Liverpool manager was full of praise for Coutinho, calling him “the highest quality player,” which is something he believes was never in doubt — quotes from the BBC:

“Nobody was in doubt about this. It is clear he is the highest quality player. We are happy to have him around.”

As for the performance overall, Klopp was largely pleased, even if being so required him to completely ignore the (continued) defensive frailties of his side:

“It is not a time to be completely cool but overall I was happy with our performance. The boys deserved the three points. The free kick for the first goal was not a free-kick and it was a foul on Simon [for the second goal].

“At the start of the second half we played the same football like Leicester — kind of hectic. Simon saved the penalty and then I think we really deserved the win.

“I really thought in a moment like this so many things are positive. The three points are the proof for the public that we are still here, everything is good. Let’s make the next step together.”

Captain Jordan Henderson joined Klopp in his praise for Coutinho, echoing similar sentiments about the best player employed at Anfield since the departure of Luis Suarez:

“Coutinho is a fantastic player. He produces magical things at crucial times of the game. This will give us good confidence going forward.”

Bundesliga wrap: BVB stays red hot, Hoffenheim goes second (video)

Bernd Thissen/dpa via AP
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Borussia Dortmund is alone atop the Bundesliga table with 16 points and a plus-18 goal differential, while Hoffenheim moved ahead of Bayern Munich for second place on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]


Borussia Dortmund 6-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

It wasn’t the Christian Pulisic show this time, as star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged a hat trick, Maximilian Philipp added two goals, and Julian Weigl’s knuckling shot from distance rounded out the scoring. Lars Stindl scored for the visitors.

Pulisic went 64 minutes for the hosts.

Hoffenheim 2-0 Schalke

A second-straight start for American central midfielder Weston McKennie unfortunately yieled a second-successive loss, as Dennis Geiger scored in the 13th minute and Lukas Rupp salted away the win in the 90th. McKennie went 74 minutes, won seven tackles, and covered 9.47 kilometers in the loss.

RB Leipzig 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

Jean-Kevin Augustin and Timo Werner gave last season’s upstarts a 2-0 before Ante Rebic set the stage for a promising final quarter hour with a 77th minute tally.

Elsewhere
Bayern Munich 2-2 Wolfsburg — Friday
Stuttgart 0-0 Augsburg
Mainz 1-0 Hertha Berlin
Werder Bremen 0-0 Freiburg
Hannover vs. Koln — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hamburg — Noon ET