Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund: Nit-pick if you want, they’re perfect through two rounds

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We’ve never stopped to consider the standard of soccer Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund left us with in last year’s UEFA Champions League final. We need to talk about this. Not only was that one of the most well-played Champions League finals in the tournament’s (admittedly short) history, but it gave us two-and-a-half months to dwell. And with each side going out and adding to their squad this summer, we’ve been left to imagine their potential heights.

Bayern not only added Mario Götze and Thiago Alcantera, they also lured Pep Guardiola out of his New York hiatus. Yet we seem to be over it. If the Miami Heat replaced Eric Spoelstra with Phil Jackson, we’d stop talking about that … ever?

And while BVB lost Götze and Felipe Santana, they added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (hat trick, opening day), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (tons of goals for Shakhtar Donetsk), and will have a full year from recent Bundesliga Player of the Year Nuri Sahin. Seriously, why aren’t we still talking about this? It wasn’t unreasonable to think either (or both) of these teams could improve on last year’s quality, even if regression makes that unlikely.

Allow me to answer my own question. Why aren’t we talking about how good Bayern and Dortmund are? Because seeing them actually play is kind of important, and through two rounds of the German season, amazing hasn’t happened,

Even though both are perfect through two rounds, we’ve yet to see either team fire on all cylinders. Yes, from a certain perspective, Bayern Munich’s 1-0, Saturday win at Eintracht Frankfurt was convincing, controlling 70 percent of possession and more than doubling their hosts’ shots on goal (7-3). But there was also a feeling that they could find the second goal they (ultimately never) needed to kill off the game. Fortunately for them, Mario Mandzukic’s 13th minute opener held up, but the 2012-13 Bayern Munich is not impressed.

Borussia Dortmund played a similar game — a dominating performance that sent Braunschweig home with a 2-1 loss — but held without a goal for 75 minutes, they hardly overwhelmed a team that spent last year in the second division. Without Ilkay Gundogan, one of the league’s best players who was injured mid-week while on duty with German, BVB often lacked an element of decisiveness in possession. Keeping dynamo Marco Reus out for an hour didn’t help. After he came on for Jakub Blaszczykowski and Jonas Hofmann was brought on for Aubamenyang (15 minutes later), BVB scored twice in the final half hour.

It says something for the heights these clubs have attained that even winning performances can elicit curiosity. It’s not enough that they win. It’s not enough that they do so convincingly. As is the case when Real Madrid aren’t in high gear or Chelsea’s performance is merely controlling, not dominant, Bayern and BVB’s imperfections give us pause. Even though we know every match can’t end 7-0, but we’re left wondering why these engines aren’t purring.

Step back, look a the bigger picture, and you see Borussia Dortmund’s at the top of the league. Imperfections and all. Bayern, also 2-0-0, is only two spots behind them. Bayer Leverkusen, who used a Daniel Schwaab own goal to post a 1-0 win at Stuttgart, sits in between, while Mainz (2-1 win at Freiburg) and Werder Bremen (1-0 win vs. Augsburg) are the Bundesliga’s other perfect teams.

So they’ll be fine. In all likelihood, one of Dortmund and Bayern will win the league, and we’ll again be wondering the extent to which these two clubs have distanced themselves from the pack (save us, Sami Hyypia!). For now, however, we nit-pick.

Of particular note: Hamburg’s off to another bad start, with one point and a -4 goal difference through two games. This week, however, the implications of their 5-1 home loss will be overshadowed by Firmino, a 21-year-old attacker who played a part of Hoffenheim’s five goals.

Here is the Brazilian scoring Hoffenheim’s first and last while setting up the middle three, with only Rafael van der Vaart’s early conversion from the spot breaking up his (and Hoffenheim’s) perfect day:

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

[Update: The Croatia FA confirmed the decision, releasing this statement from Dalic. “During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinić was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half. However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.