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Fear grips Swedish soccer as virus delays start of season

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Saturday was supposed to mark the beginning of a new soccer season in Sweden, fuelled by the prospect of big broadcasting revenues from a new domestic TV deal and expectations of another tight title race to match last year’s dramatic finale.

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Then, in two months’ time, Sweden’s national team was supposed to be playing in the European Championship, with confidence high two years after a run to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1994.

Instead, the rapidly spreading coronavirus has forced a two-month delay to the Allsvenskan campaign – the “early June” start date will now be viewed as optimistic by many – the cancellation of the Euros, and led to some Swedish clubs fearing they might soon go out of business.

A bleak picture is being painted by members of Sweden’s top league, the starkest coming this week from Helsingborg.

“The truth is,” the southern club’s president, Krister Azelius, said, “that the effects of the coronavirus have hit us so hard that we have to question our future existence.”

While a big debate has recently broken out in England about the extent to which players should be giving up some of their wages during the pandemic, many of their Swedish counterparts on much lower salaries have already been put on leave and/or received pay cuts.

A suspension of the league beyond June doesn’t really bear thinking about.

“It’s a worry – this is not just a ‘press pause’ situation,” Kevin Walker, a midfielder for defending champion Djurgarden, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

“The clubs were looking at pretty good times ahead, where we are getting in more money and we could attract better players. Swedish football was on the rise … hopefully as soon as this storm passes, we can get going again.”

Walker said Djurgarden was actually in good shape to withstand the initial brunt of this crisis, because of last year’s title triumph and having sold captain Marcus Danielson to Chinese club Dalian for a reported fee of more than 50 million kronor ($4.8 million) in February.

Indeed, the biggest blow to the Stockholm-based club might come in a sporting sense. Djurgarden, domestic champion for the first time since 2005 after beating Malmo and Hammarby to the title

They were supposed to be competing in the Champions League qualifying rounds this summer for the chance to reach the glamorous and lucrative group stage, thereby earning a minimum 165 million kronor ($16.2 million) plus a share of TV money. Now there’s uncertainty when those matches will take place.

For Djurgarden’s rivals across Sweden, the pain is very much financial.

Elfsborg’s players and coaches have had to take pay cuts. AIK, IFK Gothenburg, Ostersund, Orebro, Hacken, Kalmar and IFK Norrkoping have implemented short-term leave while Malmo has laid off staff.

All this at a time when Swedish clubs should really be feeling the rewards of the first year of a six-year TV deal with Discovery-owned Eurosport, reportedly worth 540 million kronor ($52 million) per year – supposedly doubling the amount clubs were bringing in from the last broadcast deal.

Now, the clubs are getting advance payment of this sponsorship money just to survive during what Swedish Elite Football – the body that oversees the top divisions – has described as an “extraordinary and difficult situation.”

Azelius has calculated that even if the season begins in June, Helsingborg will still have lost 17 million kronor ($1.6 million) of equity and therefore have gone back into the red. Having that debt, in turn, leaves the club in danger of losing its elite license to play in Allsvenskan.

“Many clubs are on their knees,” said Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist, a defender for Helsingborg, “waiting for news from various quarters about what help they can get.”

Sweden might be in a better position to restart than other countries in Europe, even if that means playing in empty stadiums to begin with.

On the continent and beyond, so much so that clubs can now hold training matches – provided the number of people attending does not exceed 50.

Walker said he and his teammates have been back in training since Monday, making sure they are “well-prepared for when the season does kick back in.”

A June start will necessitate the season running into December for the first time, by which time many parts of Sweden – like Ostersund, the northernmost team in Allsvenskan – are usually under snow. The fact that many teams have synthetic pitches because of the country’s climate could be a savior in that regard, while Djurgarden’s Tele2 Arena has a sliding roof and can therefore stage games “indoors.”

Until then, players, clubs and fans can only wait, keeping their fingers crossed that play does resume on schedule.

“When this clears up,” said Walker, trying to stay positive, “there will be a massive demand to go to see sports live, to go out and get back our normal routines.

“You just see the emptiness without sports. It’s unbelievable.”

PSG’s Mbappe praises Klopp, Liverpool in recent interview

Kylian Mbappe Liverpool
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This is going to delight the Anfield set.

Paris Saint-Germain mega striker Kylian Mbappe has admitted admiration for the way Liverpool plays, as conversations continue regarding his future.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Mbappe, 21, may be the most valuable commodity in the world given his position, accomplishments, and skill set. For France, he has a World Cup to go with 34 caps, 13 goals, and 10 assists. For PSG and Monaco combined, he’s scored 117 goals and 65 assists in 180 appearances.

He doesn’t turn 22 until December.

But there’s long been a thought that the World Cup winner will eventually have to leave PSG to cement his legacy given the relatively shallow competition in the league.

“This season, Liverpool have been a machine in the Premier League,” he told The Mirror. “They have made winning look easy but the truth is that it is never easy. Performances like they have been having don’t just happen.

“To be as ruthless as they have been would come from lots of hard work in training and from having a very good manager.”

Liverpool fans will be nodding along, beckoning the center forward with arms extended and hands waving him to them.

Real Madrid has often been the rumored destination, and we’ve argued that there’s no fee too high for this player considering how many years he has ahead of him.

With transfer fees possibly ducking low this summer after a wake-up call from the coronavirus, could Liverpool upgrade its dangerous front three with one of the top center forwards in the game?

The fact that the Reds reportedly negotiated a percentage of jersey sales into their new apparel deal could help, because it’s easy to imagine red Mbappe jerseys all around the world.

Canada’s Davies shines again as Muller brands him Roadrunner (video)

Alphonso Davies
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Alphonso Davies sees your expectations and he moves past them with vigor.

The Canadian phenom again took the international spotlight and ran with it, past it, and over it on Tuesday as Bayern Munich put one hand on its eighth-straight Bundesliga title with a 1-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

We’ll get to the stats and the style in a bit, but let’s start with some video that showcases the elite physical package he’s built.

Davies isn’t grinding here and he’s actually a bit slow to recognize the danger as Erling Haaland works over David Alaba.

Haaland isn’t at top speed and balance, too, but it doesn’t matter. Davies is there in a hurry. And it’s also about what he does when he get there. There are plenty of speed merchants in the game, not all of them can tackle Erling Haaland.

[ RELATED: Real Madrid targeting Davies as Marcelo replacement ]

That’s why this viral soundbite from Thomas Muller is gaining a lot of traction (also because it’s funny).

The roadrunner quip is the main attraction, but hidden in it is the implication that Davies has these elite make-up skills but is only going to get better with experience and awareness. He’s cutting out Haaland a minute earlier.

Before you watch that, though, here’s what Davies said on the play.

“Obviously being a young player I get caught out of position a lot and I’m happy to have the speed I have. That’s a factor in my game that I use very well, but I think over the years going forward with this team I will definitely learn more about my position, better positioning so it doesn’t look like I’m out of position just running back as fast as I can to catch up.”

Davies moved from Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern just last year, but is already the undisputed best player for the Canadian national team with five goals and eight assists in 17 caps.

His 54 tackles are tied for 16th amongst Bundesliga players (Remember: He’s 19).

His 72 dribbles are top in the league (Again: 19).

Only three players have won more duels than his 180 (Not 20 until November).

And his two professional matches of left back experience before October were with Bayern II in 3.Liga this Fall. That’s bonkers.

Meep-meep.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayer, Gladbach wobble; USMNT back is Eintracht hero

Bundesliga wrap
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Second-half goal explosions led to excitement in two of three late Bundesliga kickoffs on Tuesday, with an American making a super sub impact in Frankfurt.

Bayern won 1-0 at Dortmund earlier in the day, opening the door for a challenge on second. Bayer and Gladbach both declined to enter.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

A loss for the former and draw from the latter all make this an absolutely wonderful day for the seven-time reigning champs in Bavaria.

Bayer Leverkusen 1-4 Wolfsburg

A Maximilian Arnold set piece star show saw the German behind three goals as Wolfsburg firmed up its top six credentials with a big win against red-hot Bayer.

Marin Pongracic headed two of Arnold’s free kicks home with a third taking a turn off the wall to give Arnold a goal of his own. Renato Steffen also scored in the win.

Julian Baumgartlinger scored very late for Bayer, who sinks fifth with 53 points.

Wolfsburg’s win gives them 42 points, four more than seventh-place Freiburg.

Wolfsburg had the two best chances of the first quarter-hour and it could’ve easily been 1-0 or 2-0 if not for a crucial blocked from Bayer defender Edmond Tapsoba and a fine save from Tomas Hradecky minutes later.

Bayer found some footing in the latter stages of the first half, forcing a save out of Koen Casteels before Kai Havertz tempted the frame with a header off a set piece.

The visitors’ breakthrough came before halftime, as ex-Salzburg defender Pongracic rose high to meet a terrific Arnold free kick from the right side to make it 1-0.

Wolfsburg had two quick chances to start the second half, Hradecky making a right arm save and a second chanced missed by the visitors.

Arnold’s 65th-minute free kick then took a hard turn off Kai Havertz inside the Bayer wall en route to defying Hradecky for 2-0.

The third goal arrived in short order, smallish Steffen outleaping Wendell to a Joao Victor cross and heading home.

American defender John Brooks subbed off in the 82nd minute with Wolfsburg holding a 4-0 lead and Havertz in the midst of one of his worst matches in a while.

Brooks posted six clearances, three interceptions, and a tackle and had a rough passing day by his very high standards. Brooks completed 70 percent of his passes, including four-of-eight long balls (Sofascore).

USMNT teen Ulysses Llanez made the bench for Wolfsburg but was an unused sub despite the big score line.

https://twitter.com/FOXSoccer/status/1265372544305168389

Werder Bremen 0-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

The hosts built on a weekend win by going toe-to-toe with a still out-of-sorts Gladbach on Tuesday at the Weserstadion.

Gladbach moves fourth, level on points with Bayer Leverkusen but ahead on goal differential after the latter’s blowout.

Bremen is still 17th after gaining its 22nd point, two points back of 16th and five back of 15th.

Gladbach had the first half edge in possession and shots but could not break down Bremen, who matched them chance-for-chance on the day.

USMNT youngster Josh Sargent earned another start for Bremen, going 74 minutes with 26 touches, a clearance, an interception, and two fouls drawn. He wasn’t at his best in duels but, again, Bremen’s system puts center forwards on an island and you get the feeling Florian Kohfeldt designed for defense against powerful Gladbach.

Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 Freiburg

USMNT back Timothy Chandler scored with his first touch of the game to complete a thrilling comeback for Eintracht in a 3-3 draw.

Chandler subbed into the game in the 81st minute and deposited Filip Kostic’s handiwork in the 82nd, three minutes after Daichi Kamada had pulled the hosts to within one.

Eintracht showed a lot of heart in the comeback, out-attempting Freiburg 34-10. The point moves Eintracht five points clear of the bottom three and seven ahead of the automatic relegation places.

Freiburg remains seventh, now four points back of Wolfsburg and capable of finishing the midweek as low as ninth.

Vincenzo Grifo scored a goal and later set up another for Freiburg, with Nils Petersen and Lucas Holer also finding the back of the net.

Grifo’s third goal of the season gave the visitors a 28th-minute lead that would last only seven minutes.

Andre Silva answered with his 10 goal in all comps for Eintracht on loan from Milan, and it was 1-1 at the break.

Freiburg scored in the 67th and 69th to take a lead and, seemingly, another step toward the Europa League.

Instead, it was Eintracht who firmed up their footing at the other end of the table.

Here’s Chandler’s equalizer, a nice feat of power and coordination.

Wednesday

12:30 p.m. ET: RB Leipzig v. Hertha Berlin
2:30 p.m. ET: Augsburg v. Paderborn
2:30 p.m. ET: Union Berlin v. Mainz
2:30 p.m. ET: Hoffenheim v. Cologne
2:30 p.m. ET: Fortuna Dusseldorf v. Schalke

Kimmich reacts to thrilling winner for Bayern in Der Klassiker

Joshua Kimmich
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Joshua Kimmich isn’t an out-and-out scorer, but he looked the part after his heroics led Bayern Munich to a huge victory.

Ask him about his stunning chip over Borussia Dortmund in Tuesday’s Klassiker, and the Bayern Munich midfielder doesn’t tone it down.

“The best goal in my career,” the German midfielder said, via Bayern Munich. “It was very important.”

Kimmich has 28 senior goals between club and country, and this one was a beauty. Kimmich took a lay-off from Kingsley Coman and spun a ball over the flailing Roman Burki.

[ 3 THINGS: Dortmund 0-1 Bayern ]

Burki is a fine keeper and Dortmund had only allowed one goal in his last six outings before the derby. It was going to take something special to beat him.

Kimmich says that Hansi Flick’s staff had prepared the Bayern players for the habits of the strong and aggressive goalkeeper.

“We were previously informed that Bürki is always relatively high.”