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Borussia Dortmund struggling, coach Favre under pressure

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BERLIN (AP) — Borussia Dortmund’s declaration of a challenge for the Bundesliga title is not exactly being backed up on the field.

The team was fortunate to emerge with a 0-0 draw from the Ruhr derby on Saturday and has only won two of its last eight games in all competitions.

“We have to do more going forward, we have to invest more. You can see we’re not relaxed, that we’re missing this ease of playing that normally sets us apart,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus said after the lackluster performance in Gelsenkirchen.

Schalke hit the post and the crossbar and clearly had the better chances, while Dortmund barely threatened at all, with only Jadon Sancho going close for the visitors.

“It was difficult for the Dortmunders to score a goal because none of them were in the box, because none of them wanted to be in the box,” Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nubel said.

It was the second consecutive game in which Dortmund failed to score after its meek performance in the 2-0 loss at Inter Milan on Wednesday, and it increases the pressure on coach Lucien Favre, who was already fending off questions about his future before the Ruhr derby.

“That’s how it is these days. What can you do?” Favre said. “I think there’s hyperbole on one side when things are going well, but there’s also hyperbole when things are not going so well. I understand people have to write things or there will be nothing to read. That’s how it is, but it goes too far.”

Adding to the pressure was the significance of Dortmund’s bitter rivalry with Schalke. Dortmund has now won only one of the last eight Ruhr derbies.

“We had been hoping for more beforehand, but now we can accept the result,” Favre said.

Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc backed the under-fire coach, but didn’t absolve the Swiss tactician of all blame.

“We’re not having a discussion about the coach, we’re simply not having it,” Zorc told Sky. “Of course he has something to do with it, it’s obvious. But it’s not like we’re facing relegation. All our targets for the season are still reachable.”

Dortmund is three points behind Bundesliga leader Borussia Monchengladbach, which will present a tough challenge in the second round of the German Cup on Wednesday.

“We need to rediscover our natural way of playing. Everything seems a bit forced at the moment,” Zorc said. “We’ll make a fresh start on Wednesday.”

The next four games could determine Favre’s future at Dortmund. Wednesday’s game against Gladblach – his former team – kicks off a tough series, including games against Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga on Saturday, Inter Milan again the following Tuesday, then a visit to seven-time defending champion Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.

Luckily for Dortmund, Paco Alcacer returned to training on Sunday after missing five games with an Achilles issue followed by calf problems. For fans – and Favre – the Spanish striker cannot come back too soon.

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension
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Manchester United has picked up a two-year option on Eric Bailly‘s contract, according to Sky Sports.

The Red Devils now have the giant 25-year-old center back under wraps through the 2021/22 season.

Bailly is nearing full fitness after his latest injury setback, knee and ankle injuries costing him dozens of matches since arriving from Villarreal in 2016. He underwent knee surgery in late July.

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There’s little reason for United not to pick up the option, as Bailly could’ve left for free in the summer and the extension allows for a possible transfer fee.

That said, Bailly has been very good with healthy and in-form, especially in an exceptional debut season at Old Trafford. He has 34 caps for the Ivory Coast, and is nearing the prime age for a center back.

United visits Liverpool at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, and Bailly is not expected to play.

The center back may get a chance to get to know Bruno Fernandes, who is being tipped for a $77 million transfer. He likely won’t see Ashley Young, who’s arrived in Milan ahead of a transfer to Inter.

Report: Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United after Lisbon Derby

Manchester United lands Bruno Fernandes
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Bruno Fernandes may get his move.

The 25-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder wants a move to Manchester United, and Sky Sports is reporting that the two clubs are close to agreeing on a fee.

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The move will cost $56 million and could escalate to $77 million with incentives, and that it could happen as soon as the end of Friday’s derby between Sporting and Benfica.

From Sky Sports:

Part of the negotiations over a deal for Fernandes included Manchester United not wanting him to play in Friday’s game but the player and Sporting insist that he was going to play in order to say a proper goodbye to the club and the supporters.

United will be crossing its fingers over Fernandes’ health during the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff is Lisbon.

Sporting is already 12 points off the Champions League places, and 16 off Benfica’s title pace.

Fernandes has been red hot for Sporting, notching 15 goals and 13 assists in 25 appearances, including five and three in five Europa League outings.

He scored 32 times with 18 assists in 2018/19, and could take United’s Top Four push to a whole new level.

Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

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The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards
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LONDON (AP) The Premier League has advised its referees to use sideline monitors to make a final ruling on red card decisions.

Through 22 rounds of the first Premier League season with video review, referees have not gone over to the screens at any point to watch replays after being told to use them sparingly. Instead, referees have been relying on feedback from the video assistant referee in a London control room.

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But officials were reminded at a meeting of Premier League referees this week that they should go over to what is known as the “referee review area” when VAR suggests upgrading a yellow card to a red or downgrading a red to a yellow.

It has been a more familiar sight at games in other European competitions, like the Champions League, to see referees watching replays in the stadium.

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