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Dortmund’s title hopes suddenly shaky as Leverkusen visit

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BERLIN (AP) With Borussia Dortmund’s lead shrinking, one of its former coaches could deliver another blow to the team’s Bundesliga title chances.

Peter Bosz will take his Bayer Leverkusen team to Dortmund on Sunday. If Bayern Munich wins on Saturday and Dortmund loses the next day, the two teams will be tied at the top of the standings.

Six-time defending champion Bayern, which trailed by nine points a few weeks ago, has won three straight and hosts Hertha Berlin.

Despite his dismissal in December 2017, Bosz is fondly remembered in Dortmund, where he can be sure of a warm welcome on his return.

“Peter is a very fine guy, and an outstanding coach,” said Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, who regretted having to let the Dutch coach go after eight competitive games without a win.

“You have such situations. But that has nothing to do with the regard we have for each other, rather that our team wasn’t optimal for him and his philosophy.”

Leverkusen started with a loss in Bosz’s first game in charge but has been the best team in the Bundesliga since the winter break, racking up wins over Wolfsburg (3-0), Bayern (3-1), Mainz (5-1) and Fortuna Duesseldorf (2-0).

Bosz took over at Leverkusen from Heiko Herrlich in time for the second half of the season. Under him, Leverkusen produced 1,053 passes in the win over Duesseldorf on Sunday, a number not seen since Pep Guardiola coached Bayern against Hertha in March 2014 and produced 1,078 passes.

The outstanding Kai Havertz has been one of those to benefit.

“Of course its more fun to have possession than to run around after the ball. There are many things that are different, many positive changes. You can see that from game to game,” the 19-year-old midfielder said.

“We’re aware that we’re not perfect yet. We’ve only been together two months. But we’re getting better from game to game and that’s showing in the results, too.”

Dortmund has been held to draws by Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim (conceding three late goals after leading 3-0) and most recently last-place Nuremberg, a team they had beaten 7-0 earlier in the season.

Watzke maintains he isn’t worried by the lack of form.

“Since summer and the rebuilding we’ve been repeating ad nauseam that this young team would suffer setbacks. It’s totally normal,” Watzke told the Bild tabloid on Wednesday. “Just the drop-off is big because of the strong performances in the first half of the season – we’re aware of that.”

Dortmund hasn’t been helped by Marco Reus’ absence. The team captain injured his thigh in the German Cup loss to Werder Bremen on Feb. 5. However, Manuel Akanji is on the verge of making his comeback. The Swiss central defender hasn’t played since Dec. 18.

Watzke pointed out that Dortmund has lost only once in 22 league games, and said he was unconcerned about Bayern’s resurgence.

“They weren’t our issue, they are not our issue and they will not be our issue,” Watzke said. “We’re quietly concentrating on ourselves, to cut out mistakes and to quickly get back on track with this young team.”

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

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The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Man United

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Manchester United travels to Monlieux to take on their boogy team as Wolverhampton Wanderers look to make it four straight without a loss against the Red Devils across all competitions (Watch live, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The last time Manchester United beat Wolves was in 2012 when they won 5-0 at Monlieux in a season that saw Wolves eventually relegated. They were winless in all three matches against Wolves last season, including two in Premier League action and one in domestic cup play. To end that drought, they’ll need to break a Wolves streak of eight consecutive top-flight matches unbeaten at home, making their midlands ground a fortress of late.

WATCH WOLVES v. MAN UNITED LIVE ONLINE HERE

To help snap the streak, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has handed winger Daniel James a full debut, coming into the side in place of Andreas Pereira as the only change from the team that topped Chelsea 4-0 to begin the season. Juan Mata stays stuck on the bench, while Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial all spearhead the attack alongside James. Paul Pogba again partners with Scott McTominay in midfield to reprise a duo that was fabulous against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez remains out of the squad, although Solskjaer confirmed he is “close” to a return.

For Wolves, they deploy an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Leicester City. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are back leading the lines after being rested midweek for their Europa League win over Pyunik. Nuno again deploys a 5-3-2, with wingers Johnny and Matt Doherty serving as wing-backs along the three central defenders in Connor Coady, Wily Boly, and Ryan Bennett.


LINEUPS

Wolves XI: Patricio; Doherty, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho; Jota, Jimenez.
Subs: Ruddy, Neto, Cutrone, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Vinagre, Traore.

Man United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Mata, Matic, Greenwood.

Sokratis calls it “easier” to defend Liverpool than Burnley

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Arsenal has not fared well at Anfield the last few years, not at all. In fact, the Gunners haven’t shown up against the Reds at all the past two seasons, shipping 13 goals in their last four meetings with Liverpool, and 15 goals in their last four trips to Anfield.

Which made the words out of the mouth of Arsenal defender Sokratis about defending Liverpool even more surprising.

Following 2-1 win over Burnley this past weekend, Sokratis compared playing the Clarets to playing defending Champions League winners Liverpool, whom Arsenal visits this coming weekend. “It is a different game,” Sokratis said. “Maybe it is more easy, because you don’t have to fight a lot, but they also play football.”

Play football they certainly do. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have all scored each of the last two times the Gunners visited Anfield, resulting in 5-1 and 4-0 drubbings. So…how does that figure to “more easy?”

“If they are on good day and you are having a bad day, it is hard,” Sokratis admitted. “In the end, we know that it is difficult and we respect Liverpool a lot. But I think the best [way] is to go and play our style of game. We will see what happens.”

When asked specifically about last season’s lopsided result, Sokratis believes that was a rare occurance. “The 5-1 last season…it was not the game to take five goals – [there was] the penalty kicks, we made mistakes,” he said. “I think this year will be different, but we have to improve of course from the work we do with the coach and his staff.”

Arsenal will have to avoid the mistakes this time around if they want to find an important three points. Even a draw would be helpful in the Gunners’ quest to attain Champions League qualification for the first time in four years. Sokratis would be wise not to take the Reds lightly.