Preview: Bayern Munich on guard ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League visit

Leave a comment

Though last season’s Champions League is a distant memory, in some ways, little has changed for Bayern Munich and Arsenal ahead of the second leg of the teams’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup. When the Gunners visited Allianz Arena last March, they were a top four team in the Premier League that had little hope of winning the league title. They were down two goals before landing in Bavaria to face a team that had become Champions League favorites. Bayern, running away with the Bundesliga, merely needed to hold serve at home to reach the quarterfinals.

What followed was a result that’s given Arsenal hope ahead of Tuesday’s kickoff. Posting a surprise 2-0 win at the Allianz, the Gunners forced the away goals tiebreaker into play, with Bayern’s 3-1 win in North London allowing the eventual champions to go through.

It’s one of only two losses the European Champions have suffered in the last year, with Manchester City, in this year’s group stage, also taking advantage of Bayern team. In both cases, though, the huge advantage the Bavarians took into the game forgave their lackluster performance. Whereas the team had a two-goal edge on Arsenal ahead of the Gunners’ late charge, only a lopsided win by City in the final round of group play would have allowed the Citizens to claim first place. Like Arsenal, they would come up one goal short.

Pep Guardiola, at Bayern’s helm for the City (but not the Arsenal) result, is wary of history repeating itself, using Monday’s press conference to emphasize the need to stay aggressive.

“We have to win this game,” the two-time Champions League-winning coach said, “it doesn’t matter what we did in the first leg. This is what we have to concentrate on.”

The year’s results speak to what a focused Bayern can do. In league, Bayern have a 20-point lead on second place Borussia Dortmund after 24 rounds, having outscored their opponents 72-11. In Champions League, the Bavarians have won six of seven games, their lapse against City their only blemish. After a 2-0 win at Arsenal to open their Round of 16, Guardiola’s team are heavy favorites to claim a second-straight title.

“Well, of course 2-0 was a good result for us,” Guardiola said. “Though it is dangerous … We have to bring our ideas to fruition. The Champions League is more important than the Bundesliga and we have to do our best.”

That best will be more than enough against an Arsenal team missing a number of key components. First-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will be suspended after seeing red in game one. Theo Walcott is out, injured, as are Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshire, and both of the team’s regular left backs: Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal. Though stars like playmaker Mesut Ozil, attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla, and striker Olivier Giroud will be available, Arsenal will be severely shorthanded in Munich.

“Tomorrow we will have four German players, [Serge] Gnabry included,” Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger explained on Monday. “[Lukas] Podolski is in good shape again, [Per] Mertesacker has become a great player in England and [Mesut] Özil is a great talent, as he will show tomorrow.”

Contrast Wenger’s plight that with a Bayern team that has only one absence: Holger Badstuder, who has been gone all season. The likes of Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos will all be available, with Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, and Thiago Alcantara also among Guardiola’s potential starters. All of them are capable of starting for Arsenal. Only six of them can get the call.

They’re the players who’ll provide the forward push for the best team in the world. Against an injured and trailing Arsenal squad, Bayern shouldn’t have any problems. While we would have said the same thing last year, memories of that disappointment will keep the Bavarians on their guard. Arsène Wenger’s unlikely to take his hosts by surprise this time around.

(MORE: Atlético Madrid back on track before Champions League visit from goal-shy Milan)

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

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

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Leave a comment

Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
1 Comment

At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
1 Comment

The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).