Letters from London: Friday’s Calm Before the Storm

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LONDON – Yesterday we speculated the Robin van Persie transfer may wake London from its post-Olympics slumber. No luck. On the day before the Premier League starts, the capital remains relatively dormant. Perhaps there are a few more soccer shirts walking London’s streets than were seen mid-week, but the chatter’s still at a whisper. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear a random thought on the Gunners or Hammers, but even after the pubs opened up early evening, it was difficult to see any excitement for tomorrow’s openers.

England’s sports scene has been quiet since Sunday, when it closed the Summer Olympics. Since, they’ve been on vacation, an elite athlete relaxing after a draining championship campaign, with today the last day of that sojourn.

It’s as if fans are in their last hours of Greek vacation. They’ve checked all the touristy activities off their to-do lists, and with their last moments, they’re laying out on a Mediterranean beach, mentally preparing for their return to normal life. For now, though, they’re not talking about it. There are still a few more hours of sun.

London’s sun may have been part of the reason Premier League buzz spent another day in the shadows. A beautiful day saw people in parks, packing cafés at lunch, enjoying the refreshingly mild weather. Located on the River Thames, London’s summers are normally humid, a quality that tried to emerge during the week. But Friday cooperated, stayed cool, and gave Londoners little reason to head indoors (in pubs) and begin transition into their soccer season.

Now, with time having run out, that transition’s going to be abrupt. Fans in London will wake up Saturday morning to their their last hours of summer break. By mid-day, the mechanics of the season will begin. Fans of Arsenal, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United (all hosting 3:30 p.m. kickoffs in London) will jump on buses and the underground to raid the north, west, and east of the city. A few will head out early to get a couple of pints before going to the park. Afterward, they’ll regress to the pub, to celebrate or commiserate, keeping half an eye on the day’s last match in Newcastle.

By then, the curious transition between Olympics and Premier League will be forgotten, which is a shame. The process hints at facet of sport that’s often ignored, particularly by those of us who mistakenly believe it’s at the center of our worlds. For Londoners – the casual fans, the obsessed, the ones who consume everything as well as those who only like their soccer- sports obsession had a breaking point. After two weeks of being shown almost every sport humanity has have ever conceived, the city said “you know, we’re going to take some time for ourselves.” They had reached their limit. The part of their souls that absorbs sport was full. Fans needed a little time in the sun, away from it all.

Not even the Premier League’s buildup could tempt them back. Robin van Persie to Manchester United? Alex Song out and Nuri Sahin in? Luka Modric finally going to Real Madrid? Tell us about it on Saturday. Until then, we don’t need sport. Not the Premier League. Not England-South Africa test cricket. Nothing.

It’s a state with which sports fans in the States can empathize. We consider ourselves sports mad, but when the National Football League, National Basketball Association, or Major League Baseball has a work stoppage, we miraculously survive, despite talk radio caller panic and Sportscenter features heightening the impact of the absences. Turns out when our favorite teams aren’t around, we have other things to do – things we often like. It’s enough to make you wonder if we’re missing more glorious Fridays in the sun.

Sports, no matter how passionate we are about them, occupy only one compartment of our lives. That compartment is larger in some people than others, but it never has to define us. There will always be a point where the rest of life looks like a nice respite from the games. There will always be something that puts our fandom into perspective.

Dortmund hammer Freiburg but gain no ground on Bayern

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Borussia Dortmund moved back within one point of Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich with a 4-0 win against Freiburg on Sunday.

[ LA LIGA: Real Madrid win to stay within striking distance of 2nd ]

Dortmund went ahead in the 11th minute when 19-year-old Jadon Sancho scored from the six-yard box after a run by Marco Reus. It was Sancho’s 11th Bundesliga goal this season.

Dortmund added three after the interval with goals from Reus, Mario Gotze and Paco Alcacer with a penalty.

[ MORE: PSG crowned Ligue 1 champions with five games left ]

In the day’s other game, Hertha Berlin was held 0-0 at home by bottom side Hannover, which ended an eight-game losing streak.

On Saturday, Bayern beat Werder Bremen 1-0.

With four rounds left, Bayern leads with 70 points, Dortmund has 69 and Leipzig is third with 61.

La Liga: Real Madrid win to stay within striking distance of 2nd

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: PSG crowned Ligue 1 champions with five games left ]

Real Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao

Karim Benzema bagged a hat trick (WATCH HERE) — his 19th, 20th and 21st goals of the league season (second-most, 12 behind Lionel Messi) — to send Real Madrid to a comfortable victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu. The result also keeps Los Blancos within four points of capital rivals Atletico Madrid in something of a battle for second place behind runaway leaders Barcelona.

Benzema has scored 10 goals in his last seven La Liga appearances, a run in which Madrid have complied a 5W-1D-1L record. Benzema failed to score in Zinedine Zidane’s re-debut as Madrid manager, but has scored eight goals in five games since.

Sunday’s game marked the 300th league appearance for midfielder and 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric in a Real Madrid shirt.

Getafe 3-0 SevillaWATCH HIGHLIGHTS

Sevilla’s hopes of returning to the UEFA Champions League following a one-year hiatus took a serious hit on Sunday, as Pablo Machin’s side was hammered by Getafe, the side which now occupies fourth place, two points ahead of them. Getafe continue to enjoy their meteoric rise through the Spanish ranks, as they were competing in the second division this time two years ago.

Two of the three goals the scored on Sunday came from the penalty spot, as Jaime Mata and Jorge Molina converted in the 35th and 45th+4′, respectively. Molina completed the scoring eight minutes into the second half.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-2 Valencia
Levante 2-2 Espanyol
Villarreal 2-1 Leganes

PSG wins French league after 2nd-place Lille fails to win

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain clinched the French league title without kicking a ball as second-place Lille could only draw 0-0 at Toulouse on Sunday.

Lille had to win to have any chance of catching PSG, but PSG is now 16 points ahead of its only rival with five matches left after this weekend.

After failing to clinch the title in the past three matches, drawing one and losing two, PSG can celebrate the eighth title in its history ahead of its home game against Monaco later Sunday.

It is PSG’s sixth title in the last seven seasons, with only Monaco in 2017 breaking PSG’s dominance.

Although the title was long expected from a side scoring 92 goals in 32 games so far, it took longer than it should have.

PSG could have won it three games ago, but drew 2-2 at home to Strasbourg when a win would have clinched it.

Then PSG needed a draw at Lille last Sunday, only to lose 5-1 in the club’s heaviest defeat since Qatari investors QSI took charge of the club in June 2011.

A win away to Nantes would have sufficed, too, on Wednesday night only for PSG to lose 3-2 .

The 10 goals conceded in those three games made for PSG’s worst defensive record during a three-game spell since 1985.

Also Sunday, striker Kalifa Coulibaly scored twice as 13th-place Nantes beat 17th-place Amiens 3-2.

Later, Saint-Etienne needed a draw at Reims to move above Marseille and into fourth place.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Klopp hails Liverpool mettle in face of “proper banana skin”

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Jurgen Klopp knows that more than a few clubs would’ve slipped up Sunday at Cardiff City, given the hosts’ desperation and the visitors’ midweek triumph, but his Reds stood up to the test.

[ RECAP: Cardiff 0-2 Liverpool ]

Liverpool beat Cardiff City 2-0, scoring a pair of second half goals to go back atop the Premier League before Manchester City plays its final match-in-hand of the season in a midweek Manchester Derby.

“It was prepared to be a proper banana skin and we knew that, the boys were unbelievable,” Klopp said after his team kept a second consecutive clean sheet.

He insists that he’s not feeling pressure as Liverpool may need to win every one of its matches and get help to capture its first Premier League crown.

“I only know about me and I didn’t feel it (the pressure) we have to do it like we do it. We cannot change it. The boys try really with all they have, we only speak about the things we have to do. Their attitude is outstanding and it’s a tough season but a very positive one as well.”

Liverpool has two banana skins left, a visit from Huddersfield and trip to Newcastle, closing out the league slate with Wolves at Anfield.