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Youngsters Havertz, Brandt leading Leverkusen revival

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BERLIN (AP) Two young German national team players are leading Bayer Leverkusen’s revival under new coach Peter Bosz.

Kai Havertz, still only 19, has made himself an indispensable part of the squad and is getting better with each game, while 22-year-old Julian Brandt produced a man-of-the-match performance against Mainz on Friday.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ] 

Brandt, who had already been entrusted with the No. 10 jersey by Germany coach Joachim Loew following Mesut Ozil’s premature retirement, showed he is determined to keep it after scoring two goals and setting up two more in Leverkusen’s 5-1 win.

“If a No. 10 is needed and the coach thinks we don’t have any in the squad, then I think I have the quality for it,” Brandt said.

Havertz, his midfield partner and the only player to have started every league game for Leverkusen this season, scored his eighth goal of the season against Mainz and is displaying a maturity well beyond his years.

Havertz has already scored more goals than in the previous two seasons since he first broke into the senior team.

The ambidextrous midfielder can play all across midfield, winning tackles in defense, switching play and launching attacks with his quick eye for movement, coupled with his anticipation and then precision when delivering the final pass. Havertz has been involved in 17 goals in his 27 games in all competitions this season.

Havertz’s importance to Leverkusen was underlined by the club’s concern over the hip injury he picked up in the 3-1 win over Bayern Munich on Feb. 2. He missed the German Cup loss to second-division club Heidenheim three days later, but the injury was not as serious an initially feared and he returned to start in Mainz to help Leverkusen claim its third straight win.

Bosz, a former Borussia Dortmund coach, took over from Heiko Herrlich in time for the second half of the season. He appears to have stabilized the team after an inconsistent first half. The Dutch coach has given free rein to both Brandt and Havertz in the center and the decision has paid off with marked improvement since the league resumed.

Brandt had been playing on the wing under Herrlich.

“When you play on the wing you’re tied to the position and don’t have as much room,” Brandt said. “So now I can run around with freedom. I feel very comfortable in the position.”

Bosz’s reasoning for Brandt’s position switch is simple.

“He is a very good player and you have to give good players the ball. He was outstanding today and always there at the right time,” Bosz said after the win in Mainz, where Brandt scored twice in a game for the first time.

Back on track in the Bundesliga – Leverkusen is up to sixth, good enough for Europa League qualification, five points behind Leipzig in the last place for Champions League qualification – Bosz’s team next travels to Russia to face Krasnodar in the Europa League.

Bosz previously led Ajax to the Europa League final in 2017.

“We don’t want to go at it like in the German Cup,” Brandt said, referring to the slip-up in Heidenheim. “We’ve learned from that.”

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Video shows Lazio fans’ racist chants aimed at Chelsea loanee Bakayoko

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ROME (AP) A video has emerged of Lazio fans directing a racist chant at AC Milan midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.

The video posted on the Gazzetta dello Sport website shows fans singing, “This banana is for Bakayoko,” during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Udinese at the Stadio Olimpico.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

It was an apparent response to Bakayoko and Milan teammate Franck Kessie waving the shirt of Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi in front of their supporters like a trophy after a 1-0 win on Saturday.

Bakayoko, who is black, is on loan from Chelsea.

Lazio fans have a long history of racist and anti-Semitic episodes.

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

Chelsea, Pulisic may tour U.S. in 2020

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Chelsea has announced intent to visit the United States in the Summer of 2020.

Blues chairman Bruce Buck says the club “has work to do in Middle America” as it’s built up what he believes to be significant support on the coasts of the United States.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

Chelsea will be in Boston next month to play MLS side New England Revolution in a friendly billed “The Final Whistle on Hate.”

But Buck knows that Americans have plenty of interest in new signing Christian Pulisic, who will still be with Borussia Dortmund when Chelsea visits the U.S. in May.

“He’s a personable boy. He’s well-liked in this country,” Buck told the Associated Press. “So of course I would expect him when we come here and play some friendly matches, which is what our objective is in the summer of 2020. Then, yes, I think he will be helpful.”

American fans have been skeptical about how much of Chelsea’s interest in Pulisic was based on potential for stardom versus potential for marketing appeal in the States, but it’s important to note that this article could’ve been written about signing a top Mexican player and touring Mexico, or a Japanese star and heading to Asia.

The morning after: Pochettino on returning home, Kane recovery

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Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur flew back to North London after Wednesday’s memorable triumph in the UEFA Champions League, a few days before the club will make the same trip to visit Manchester City in the Premier League.

“We are tired after an amazing and crazy and unbelievable night,” Pochettino said, via the BBC. “We flew late and didn’t sleep too much, but the happiness made us feel strong and with energy. We need to forget the Champions League now and be ready for Saturday, for a battle.”

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Good luck on the forgetting part, Poch. The advancement past Man City over two legs came after VAR correctly ripped a stoppage time City goal off the board and plunged Spurs from despair into euphoria.

And now they go again.

Pochettino said he elected to bring the team back to London to sleep in their own beds and recover at their own facilities.

It also allows Spurs to keep a close eye on Harry Kane, who missed the second leg and has been expected to miss most if not all of the season with an ankle injury.

“We are not optimistic but you know Harry Kane and with Harry Kane all is possible,” Pochettino said. “We are not going to say he is not going to play again or not. We will assess him day by day.”

We have to imagine that Spurs going from, “Can we beat City and stay in the Top Four without Harry?” to “We are three wins from a Champions League title” might help Kane heal a bit faster (and he’s already a bit of a specimen when it comes to that.

Barton “emphatically denies” attacking fellow League One manager

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It seems like there is much more to the incident reportedly involving Joey Barton and a fellow League One manager.

Barnsley launched a complaint after Fleetwood Town manager Barton allegedly attacked his counterpart Daniel Stendel after a match on Saturday.

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Police stopped Barton from leaving the stadium after the match, and Barnsley player Cauley Woodrow has now taken down a Tweet saying that Stendel was left with “blood pouring down his face.”

Now Barton is denying allegations that he attacked Stendel, and is expected to be in the dugout for the Fishermen, who sit 11th in League One.

From FleetwoodTownFC.com:

“With regards to the alleged incident on Saturday following our game against Barnsley, I emphatically deny the allegations made. Given this matter has not been formally closed, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.”

Barton’s checkered past is well-documented, but this tale continues to develop in fascinating ways.