Christian Benteke hands in transfer request at Aston Villa: Let’s not act surprised

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In the face of speculation that their star striker would move during the summer window, a team that’s battled relegation for successive seasons has attempted to hold on to their contracted star. Now the standoff has reached a new level, with the young star handing in a transfer request, though it’s unclear the extent to which the club will honor it.

Keep that on file, swap in some proper nouns, and you’re not only well on your way to having your own transfer rumor blog – you’re also up-to-date on the latest Christian Benteke rumors. The Aston Villa striker, who scored 19 times in his Premier League debut, is said to have thought Villa was a London-based club when he initially moved from Genk last summer. Whether that anecdote’s apocryphal, it’s no surprise a 22-year-old Champions League-caliber talent wants to move to a Champions League-caliber team.

Benteke is said to have handed in his official request today. What exactly that formality means as it concerns compelling either side to action, I’m not sure anymore, but bere’s the club’s statement on the news, including speculation Benteke has refused to join the team for preseason preparations:

“In response to reports that Christian Benteke has not travelled to Germany with the club and has made a transfer request, we can confirm that both are accurate.

“For clarity’s sake, however, he had already been given extra time off until July 18 and was reminded that there are three years remaining on his contract.

“We consider him to be a Villa player and expect that he will be with us for the 2013-14 season.

“Having received his transfer request, we have also informed him that should we receive an offer within an appropriate timeframe during pre-season which meets our valuation we would act upon it. But he will remain a Villa player should this not happen.”

The biggest link has been to Tottenham Hotspur, where manager André Villas-Boas is said to covet the Belgian international, but while Spurs’ need for strikers may be greater than England’s other top four contenders, they’re not the only club that could use Benteke. If the interminable Gonzalo Higuaín transfer doesn’t end in Arsenal’s favor, the Gunners could be in the market. Chelsea and Manchester City both have too much money and too few quality striking options to not consider the Villa star. Even Manchester United could justify a move in terms of an upgrade over their current options, but if there’s one team that has enough current options, it’s the Red Devils.

So if Aston Villa really have a $37 million evaluation on their best attacker, it’s not impossible the pure market demand could see that price met, even if the availability of players like Higuaín, Roberto Soldado, Álvaro Negredo, and Luis Suárez creates a lot of supply. The bigger question is whether Villa would be willing to move off that price in the interest of resolving this quickly, acquiring another striker, and attempting to start the new season with as few conflicts as possible.

Manager Paul Lambert:

“While we’re hugely disappointed that Christian has put in a transfer request, it’s important that people appreciate we are trying to build something strong and vibrant here at the club, something this club demands and stands for, and we want Christian to be part of that.”

That sounds about right. Of course he’s not happy with the request — nobody wants their best player to leave — but for a club that’s trying to build into a new direction, one that leaves the post-Martin O’Neill descent in the past, there’s no room for people who aren’t on board. It’s just a shame Benteke may have never been truly on board.

Bundesliga preview, schedule, predictions: Week 28

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There’s a massive derby on Tuesday, with fans of drama likely rooting for a draw or Bayern Munich loss.

That’s because Bayern’s chase for an eighth-straight title was looking like a several horse race for a long time, as Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, and Borussia Monchengladbach all keeping first from the reigning champs at points this season.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Bayern has found its groove under Hansi Flick and now boasts a four-point lead on Tuesday hosts Dortmund, who have 57 points, and a seven-point advantage on the field.

The next three teams would all consider the title chance real with a Dortmund win or draw, as Leipzig, Gladbach, and Bayer Leverkusen are on 54, 53, and 52 points.

[ MORE: USMNT stars in Bundesliga midweek ]

Bayern still faces Gladbach and Bayer, so a loss really shakes things up.

Below is a look at the Bundesliga schedule for this week, as you can check out the full schedulestandings and find out how to watch the action.

Let’s get onto the predictions.

Tuesday

Borussia Dortmund v. Bayern Munich — 12:30 p.m. ET

Der Klassiker has been kind to the home sides in recent seasons and there’s no example more fitting than Bayern’s absolute demolition of Dortmund at the Allianz Arena in November.

That was Hansi Flick’s first time head-to-head with BVB and manager Lucien Favre, the 55-year-old’s only prior head coaching experience coming with Hoffenheim when the now-Bundesliga side was in the Oberliga and Regionalliga.

It went well.

The bad news for Dortmund in addition to the 4-0 hanging its rearview mirror is that this home match is behind closed doors and won’t have the magnificent Yellow Wall looming over the visitors.

BVB and Bayern have swapped wins over their last four outings, including the German Super Cup earlier this year. And no teams in the league can boast the successes of

Dortmund is 9W-1L since returning from Winterpause and Bayern’s fine form extends well beyond the calendar’s change. Flick’s men have 12 wins and a draw since back-to-back losses to Bayer and Gladbach.

Whether Dortmund can win this will depend a lot on who’s available for the Starting XI. Mats Hummels limped off at halftime at the weekend and is in contention to play. Even though his last derby was poor, Dortmund is better with him than without him. Jadon Sancho was a sub on Saturday and is possibly the most complete playmaker between the two rosters including Robert Lewandowski. Axel Witsel may also be ready.

If Sancho and either Hummels or Witsel can go, we’ll expect Dortmund to collect a thrilling 3-2 win. Bayern’s defending was unsatisfactory in a weekend win over Eintracht, especially on set piece, and Erling Haaland is better than anything Bayern saw on Sunday. Still with questions about Sancho’s fitness, we’ll pick an entertaining 2-2 draw.

As Bayern’s Thomas Muller and Dortmund’s Michael Zorc will tell you, there’s no one ignorant of the meaning of this rivalry and this match. We can hardly wait.

Werder Bremen v. Borussia Monchengladbach — 2:30 p.m. ET

Bremen’s terrible fixture run to end the season continues, but perhaps they’ve found some momentum in a VAR-aided win over scrappy Freiburg? USMNT forward Josh Sargent started that game and will hope for another run as his goal-shy side has only one player, Milot Rashica, with 10 or more goals. It’ll take more than one to get all the points against Gladbach, a potent offense even when it isn’t facing a defense like Bremen’s 59-goal conceders. 3-1 Gladbach.

Eintracht Frankfurt v. Freiburg — 2:30 p.m. ET

Eintracht found chances against Bayern; It just couldn’t stop the Bavarians. Tuesday’s hosts have now shipped 18 goals during a five-match losing streak and sit four points clear of the relegation danger, albeit with a match-in-hand. Freiburg is in the thick of the Europa League picture despite a letdown of a loss to Bremen. They may find the woes extend into Frankfurt, though, in a 1-0 Eintracht win.

Bayer Leverkusen v. Wolfsburg — 2:30 p.m. ET

The best of the late kickoffs has red-hot Kai Havertz and Bayer, who has scored seven goals in two matches since returning from the coronavirus pause. Havertz has four of those, and he’s been all over the final third in building up his resume. Wolfsburg slipped against Dortmund but a lot of teams do that. Bayer boss Peter Bosz will make a lot of believers if he delivers back-to-back wins over Gladbach and Wolfsburg, who sits sixth. He does, just. Bayer 2-1.

Bundesliga preview and predictions
Maximilian Arnold of Wolfsburg (front) and Havertz (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images)

Wednesday

RB Leipzig v. Hertha Berlin — 12:30 p.m. ET

Hertha built on its win over Hoffenheim by clobbering Union in the Berlin derby, as Bruno Labbadia has coaxed physical, advantageous performances out of his team against very different opponents. Leipzig is different gravy, though, having rebounded from a draw with Freiburg to bury Mainz 5-0. Dayot Upamecano has looked strong in returning from the coronavirus pause and Leipzig allows very little, anyway. On paper there aren’t any results you’d expect more than three points from the league’s third-place side. Leipzig 2-0.

Augsburg v. Paderborn — 2:30 p.m. ET

The hosts are riding high after moving six points clear of the bottom three and can essentially seal safety by beating 18th-place Paderborn. The basement dwellers have drawn both of their matches since returning and won’t be a pushover. Paderborn’s picked up away points six times compared to just four results at home. This one’s a toss-up. 1-1 draw.

Union Berlin v. Mainz — 2:30 p.m. ET

Expect ornery play from both sides as Union’s dreadful derby was met by Mainz allowing a quintet of goals to Leipzig. Union has dropped to within six points of the bottom three and Mainz can join their hosts on 30 points with a win. Mainz allows a ton of goals and Union’s amongst the Bundesliga’s worst at producing them. Both sides have fared well against fellow bottom sides of late. What’s going to give? Union gets by at home 2-1.

Hoffenheim v. Koln — 2:30 p.m. ET

The hosts have dropped back-to-back matches and now sit three points back of sixth while Koln have taken points from successive 2-2 draws and will feel momentum having scored twice late to grab a point from Fortuna Dusseldorf. Hoffenheim has just three points from its last 21 available to it and has lost eight times at home. Given their talent and reputation you’d say that indicates an end should be in sight. We’re not so sure. Koln 1-0.

Fortuna Dusseldorf v. Schalke — 2:30 p.m. ET

Schalke can’t win and doesn’t score. David Wagner’s men haven’t won since the first match after Winterpause, collecting just four points from nine outings and scoring twice. Wagner cannot find anyone to put the ball in the back of the goal yet somehow Schalke have only dropped two points back of sixth and are level on points with seventh-place Freiburg. Tuesday’s hosts thought they had a potentially season-saving win on Sunday but threw it away to draw 2-2. On the bright side, American midfielder Weston McKennie has been active and one of the club’s lone bright spots in twin blowout losses after the pause. He showed delightful vision and touch in particular on a long pass that could’ve set Rabbi Matondo up for glory against Augsburg. Maybe he’s a difference maker Tuesday and maybe we don’t want to predict any nil-nils. Schalke 1-0.

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Bayern, Dortmund ready for monumental Klassiker

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Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc is a living legend for the black and yellow side, a one-club man who’s distaste for Bayern runs deep.

Zorc knows Der Klassiker as well as anyone, and Tuesday’s 12:30 p.m. ET derby in Dortmund could be a veritable title decider.

While his league derby successes as a player weren’t many, Zorc was part of some of Dortmund’s most memorable Klassiker wins, including the 1998 Champions League quarterfinal, a German Cup, and a German Super Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news ]

And with so much of the world still in isolation, there’s a spotlight on this derby more than any other since Bayern beat Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League Final.

“Every football fan in Germany is looking forward to this match,” Zorc said of the occasion, later adding that “We must believe in ourselves and not make any cheap mistakes in possession. … We need to ride out the spells in which Bayern are dominant. We’ll need to defend very well together as a team and be aware of our own qualities going forward. We can always score goals against them. And we can beat them”

Bayern star Thomas Muller feels the import of the occasion and momentum for both clubs.

Experiencing a resurgent season with a league-best 17 league assists, Muller is aware that growing Bayern’s table advantage to seven with a win in Dortmund would put the Bavarians on the precipice of an eighth-straight Bundesliga crown.

“We are marching, Dortmund is marching, we can look forward to Tuesday,” Muller said, via Bild. “I hope that we can show what makes us strong and that in the end we will leave the Dortmund stadium with a smile. But it will be hard work.”

The last away win in this derby came seven matches ago, a 3-1 Bayern win at the Westfalenstadion on Nov. 4, 2017. Will Bayern do it again, taking a seven-point lead on all chasers regardless of what happens on Tuesday and Wednesday around the league?

Lyon asks French prime minister to reconsider early end of Ligue 1 season

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Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas is asking French authorities to backpedal on their decision to end the football season prematurely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The men’s league was canceled four weeks ago with 10 rounds remaining, Paris Saint-Germain declared champion, and Lyon finished outside the European places in seventh.

In a letter on Monday to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, Aulas argued the premature conclusion of the season will have catastrophic consequences for French clubs, which could face losses of “700 to 900” million euros ($760 million to $980 million).

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Alongside Amiens and Toulouse – the two clubs demoted to the second division – Lyon took action against the league decision but their case was thrown out last week by a Paris administrative court. Lyon now wants France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, to issue a ruling on the matter.

In the letter, Aulas said the fact that the French league was the only one among the seven biggest European leagues to opt for an early end should convince authorities to reconsider their move.

In Europe, the Dutch and Belgian leagues have also ended their 2019-20 seasons early.

Aulas has argued for the French league to be given a chance to be completed by late August with a temporary playoff system, but with PSG staying the champion given its large lead before play was stopped.

“The Bundesliga resumed matches on May 16, Spain will resume matches on June 8. Italy, Russia and Portugal have resumed collective training and England is working on a resumption after June 19,” Aulas wrote. “How can France not be downgraded very quickly and see its professional football devalued?”

On June 2, the French government is expected to make further announcements related to France’s lockdown exit strategy.

“Many developments and hopes are expected on this date, so that France can gradually regain a good dynamic,” Aulas said. “Could we imagine that June 2 is also a great opportunity to rectify the mistake concerning French football and to allow, with a health protocol used everywhere, to give the starting point for a gradual resumption of training (in June) and, why not, a resumption of the 2019-2020 season over the months of July or August?”

Lyon, meanwhile, still hopes to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League after beating Italian champion Juventus 1-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 match on Feb. 26. The return leg in Turin was suspended.

Transfer news: Jimenez, Coutinho to Arsenal; Higuain to Wolves

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The latest transfer news has linked both Raul Jimenez and Phillipe Coutinho with moves to Arsenal, while Gonzalo Higuain has been linked with Wolves and Newcastle.

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First up, Arsenal are once again front and center as Raul Jimenez has been linked with a move to the Gunners, as both Man United and Real Madrid are said to be chasing the Mexico star.

Per a report from Tuttosport in Italy, Jimenez is said to be valued at $70 million, which seems a little low even though he’s 29 years old. Juventus and Barcelona are also said to be interested in the Mexican striker but how could Arsenal afford him?

If they offload Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (who has one year left on his current contract) this summer then it’s possible. Add in that Alexandre Lacazette could also be leaving Arsenal and Mikel Arteta will have two big earners off the wage bill and will need some attacking reinfrocements.

Jimenez has said he’s happy at Wolves for now and even though he is a hero at Molineux with 39 goals in 88 games in all competitions over the last season, this summer would be the perfect time to cash in.

Talking about that, a report from the Daily Express claims that Wolves are interested in signing Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus.

Okay, Wolves fans probably aren’t going to be overjoyed with this given the fact that Higuain struggled badly during a loan spell at Chelsea. However, in the right system he can still deliver goals and the 32-year-old has scored 303 goals in 630 appearances throughout his career.

Higuain holding the ball up and getting on the end of crosses from Diogo Jota and Adama Traore makes sense. He’s similar to Jimenez, but less mobile, and even though Newcastle are said to be interested in Higuain, it appears Wolves would be the frontrunners for the Argentine striker and he would be a good back-up option to Jimenez if he does stay at Wolves. River Plate and a potential move to MLS are also options for Higuain.

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Rounding off the transfer news, Arsenal are said to be in talks with the agent of Philippe Coutinho, Kai Joorabchian.

Coutinho, 27, is currently on loan at Bayern Munich from Barcelona but the Bavarian giants will not be spending big to sign him permanently. That is where Arsenal come in as a report from Le 10 Sport says that Mikel Arteta wants to add Coutinho on loan.

Per the report, Arteta is keen on Coutinho being central to his rebuild of the Gunners and if he’s available on loan, it may be his best option of regular minutes in the Premier League. A return to Liverpool seems very unlikely, while Chelsea are reportedly interested but they have a host of attacking options and Frank Lampard seems to prefer his younger stars.

If the finances align, Coutinho to Arsenal is a very good deal for everyone. He can rip it up in the Premier League and if it is a loan deal, what do Arsenal have to lose here?