Pep Guardiola facing a potentially trecherous road at Bayern Munich

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When Pep Guardiola takes over Bayern Munich this summer, he’ll be inheriting a Ferrari of a football squad. And while managing what is arguably the world’s best team is an honor that most managers can only dream of, the road ahead will be anything but easy for the Spaniard.

One of the biggest issues Guardiola will confront is what to do about Bayern’s style of play. Naturally, most would reply: Nothing. After all, the idea of tinkering with a squad that is but two matches away from a fantastic treble seems audacious.

While possessing the talent capable of playing in a number of styles, Bayern typically favor a possession-based approach that infuses a high intensity press in both defense and counter-attacks. Their full-backs stay true to their primary job of defending yet love to burst forward into the attack. The midfield is highly skilled yet ensures the back four is supported with cover before pressing forward and creatively interweaving themselves into attack. It’s a conservative yet brave style that emphasizes awareness while allowing players to express themselves.

Although it’s hardly a new style for the Bavarian giant (it has carried them to the Champions League semi-finals in three of the past four years), it is only now being recognized as the most dominant style in Europe. For the previous five years (or arguably more), the stylistic gold standard was the one that Guardiola brought to prominence at Barcelona, the famed tiki-taka.

In tiki-taka, possession is everything. It is death by a thousand cuts, a game requiring triangles inside of triangles and pass completion rates of over 90 per cent. When performed correctly, it is breathtaking and virtually unstoppable. But is Guardiola so attached to this style that he’s willing to undue Bayern’s current method of football?

Judging the Spaniards character, most likely no. At least not right away. To come into his new club and risk the wrath of the owners, players and fans by introducing a different style – and one that was born in bred in Spain – would reek of arrogance. But over time it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a more calculating approach is infused into Munich’s play.

A second issue Guardiola faces at Bayern concerns personnel decisions. Will Pep seek to rebuild the squad that already sits upon football’s Iron Throne?

As of now that answer seems to be yes. Last week Guardiola made what was effectively his first major signing when Bayern activated the €37m release clause of Borussia Dortmund playmaker Mario Gotze. The coup represented the second-highest transfer fee in Bundesliga history and earned Munich an attacking midfielder who is one of the most gifted players of his generation. Some even claim Gotze represents Guardiola’s new Lionel Messi, more fodder for the argument that Guardiola could be set to install a system that replicates tiki-taka.

One player who appears set to move on is Arjen Robben, who Guardiola has reportedly made available for transfer this summer. It’s believed that Pep has not been impressed by the winger’s one dimensional attacking play, where he starts on the right before cutting in and shooting with his left. In fairness, ridding Bayern of Robben seems like an obvious decision as doing so removes a potentially cancerous ego from the dressing room.

But will others follow?

Rumors of Bayern’s desire to bring a striker into the fold are rampant – with Luis Suarez and Radamel Falcao being the most widely mentioned – and it is believed that Mario Gomez may be the fall-guy. After a fantastic 2011-12 Bundesliga season saw him haul 26 goals in 33 matches, this season has seen the German behemoth score only 10 times after falling behind Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic (15 goals, 22 league appearances) in the pecking order.

What other signings might Guardiola make? It wouldn’t be a shock if he discarded Daniel van Buyten or Holger Badstuber to bring in a new center-back to provide competition to Dante and Jerome Boateng. With a reported war chest of £240m at his disposal, anything is possible.

But despite the envious position he is poised to assume, the decisions won’t come easy for Pep as he looks to navigate the potentially treacherous new roads at Bayern Munich.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.