Bundesliga Best XI
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Bundesliga: Takeaways from soccer’s return to Germany for Week 26

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The Bundesliga returned to screens this weekend, kickstarting the race to stop Bayern Munich’s quest for a eighth-straight league title.

The leaders kept up their winning ways, but Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach each made statements of intent in the fight for first while Bayer Leverkusen kept their slim hopes alive and RB Leipzig took a step back.

It was a fun weekend, albeit with an eerieness befitting what they call “ghost games” in Germany.

[ JPW: What did we learn from Bundesliga restart? ]

There was lots of entertainment and not much to dislike aside from American teenager Giovanni Reyna picking up an injury in warming up for his first Bundesliga start.

Remember: If you’re new to Germany’s top-flight, here’s a guide to help you pick a club to support.

Also, you can check out the full schedulestandings and find out how to watch the action, while we will have you covered right here on ProSoccerTalk with analysis, reaction and more.

[ MORE: How USMNT stars fared in Bundesliga returns ]

Now onto the spin around the league.

Havertz shines, makes history in front of a focused audience

There was only one match Monday, and fans across the world were trained on the Weserstadion. Most will have wondered about 20-year-old Bayer Leverkusen striker Kai Havertz, who has been linked with seemingly every big club under the sun.

Despite playing out-of-position at center forward, Havertz did not disappoint in the least (though he was helped by Bremen’s porous back line). A pair of well-directed headed goals in a six-minute first-half span put Bayer en route to a 4-1 win, making him the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score 30 goals.

The 6-foot-2 attacking midfielder had a slow start to the season after scoring 17 times last year, but he’s humming along now.

He’s now scored 40 times with 30 assists in 140 senior appearances, including nine goals and seven assists since Germany returned from Winterpause to kick off calendar year 2020. Havertz may start the next calendar year in the Premier League (though he may prefer Bayern Munich).

Hertha Berlin rises up

Sitting 16th when the calendar hit December, Hertha is now eight points clear of the relegation picture and a point ahead of rivals Union Berlin ahead of this Friday’s Berlin Derby.

The visitors won 3-0 away to Hoffenheim in keeping what’s only their second clean sheet of 2020. Led by hard-charging forward Vedad Ibisevic, Hertha played the role of enforcers and kept Hoffenheim on edge. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t supposed to be as Hertha committed 17 fouls and unleashed 77 long balls.

If that’s what it’s going to take to get the ambitious capital club to another transfer window and a chance to reboot the club, well, Hertha may have to consider that. There are still a lot of tough fixtures on the schedule and it may take grit to keep it sound.

Hertha’s on its third manager of the season in Bruno Labbadia, who debuted with a win. He’s been around the block in German football, and the 54-year-old set his side up for success.

Great in defeat

Austrian busybody Florian Grillitsch was a monster in the middle of the park during Hoffenheim’s 3-0 loss to Hertha Berlin.

Grillitsch made six tackles, three interceptions, and won 13 of 17 duels while completing all three dribbles and passing at 93 percent. He also drew four fouls and registered a key pass. He won’t have loved coming up short on charging to fill space on Hertha’s third goal, but the match was out-of-hand at that point.

Player of the Week

Dominating a Revierderby while showing so little rust is impressive enough that Dortmund had a lot of candidates for the Best XI. One man stood out from the pack.

Julian Brandt had two assists and three key passes in Dortmund’s four-star win, playing his first match since turning 24 earlier this month. Five tackles and perfect in take-ons, Brandt and Thorgan Hazard were wonderful underneath Erling Haaland.

This flick for the hockey assist… come on! Amazing burst by Haaland to finish, too.

BEST XI

Schwolow (Freiburg)

 Mbabu (Wolfsburg) — Bensebaini (Gladbach) — Pavard (Bayern) — Guerreiro (Dortmund)

 Kimmich (Bayern)

Brandt (Dortmund)* — Havertz (Bayer) — Diaby (Bayer)

Haaland (Dortmund) — Ibisevic (Hertha)

Notes

  • Havertz, as mentioned, played center forward but he’s an attacking mid or No. 10 at his best and looking at a 4-2-2-2 above was playing tricks on the eyes.
  • Alexander Schwolow made seven saves as Freiburg took a point from a 1-1 draw at RB Leipzig.
  • Mbabu, Bensebaini, Pavard, and Guerreiro are all right-side, or were this week, but two have plenty of CB experience so we’re cool with it.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

SCORES

Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Schalke — RECAP, VIDEO
Union Berlin 0-2 Bayern Munich — RECAP, VIDEO
RB Leipzig 1-1 Freiburg — RECAP, VIDEO
Koln 2-2 Mainz — RECAP, VIDEO
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-3 Borussia Monchengladbach — RECAP, VIDEO
Hoffenheim 0-3 Hertha Berlin — RECAP, VIDEO
Augsburg 1-2 Wolfsburg — RECAP
Fortuna Dusseldorf 0-0 Paderborn — RECAP

NEXT WEEK

Hertha Berlin v. Union Berlin — 2:30 p.m. ET Friday
Freiburg v. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Paderborn v. Hoffenheim — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Wolfsburg v. Borussia Dortmund — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Bayer Leverkusen — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Bayern Munich v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Schalke v. Augsburg — 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Mainz v. RB Leipzig — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Koln v. Fortuna Dusseldorf — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 26 18 4 4 75 26 49 9-2-2 9-2-2 58
 Borussia Dortmund 26 16 6 4 72 33 39 10-3-0 6-3-4 54
 Mönchengladbach 26 16 4 6 52 31 21 9-2-2 7-2-4 52
 RB Leipzig 26 14 9 3 63 27 36 7-5-1 7-4-2 51
 Bayer Leverkusen 26 15 5 6 49 31 18 7-4-2 8-1-4 50
 VfL Wolfsburg 26 10 9 7 36 31 5 4-6-3 6-3-4 39
 SC Freiburg 26 10 7 9 35 36 -1 6-2-4 4-5-5 37
 FC Schalke 04 26 9 10 7 33 40 -7 5-6-2 4-4-5 37
 1899 Hoffenheim 26 10 5 11 35 46 -11 5-1-8 5-4-3 35
 1. FC Köln 26 10 3 13 41 47 -6 6-2-5 4-1-8 33
 Hertha BSC Berlin 26 8 7 11 35 48 -13 3-3-7 5-4-4 31
 1. FC Union Berlin 26 9 3 14 32 43 -11 6-1-6 3-2-8 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 25 8 4 13 39 44 -5 6-3-4 2-1-9 28
 FC Augsburg 26 7 6 13 37 54 -17 5-3-5 2-3-8 27
 FSV Mainz 05 26 8 3 15 36 55 -19 4-2-7 4-1-8 27
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 26 5 8 13 27 50 -23 3-4-6 2-4-7 23
 Werder Bremen 25 4 6 15 28 59 -31 1-2-9 3-4-6 18
 SC Paderborn 26 4 5 17 30 54 -24 2-1-10 2-4-7 17

UK government gives PL green light for contact training

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The UK government has given the Premier League and the Championship the green light to resume contact training after publishing stage two of its return to training guidance.

This is a big boost for the Premier League ‘Project Restart’ plans ahead of a pivotal week of meeting and votes about playing the remaining 92 games of the 2019-20 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Since last week all 20 Premier League clubs have been taking part in small-group training at a social distance as clubs agreed unanimously to return to training as part of stage one of the protocols.

Late Sunday the UK government released guidelines on stage two of training for elite athletes as contact training is now permitted. Per the stage two guidelines, athletes are allowed to ‘opt out’ of training ‘without any resulting discrimination.’

It is not known whether or not players who contract COVID-19 while in stage two of training may have to quarantine for 14 days. That is said to be something which will be discussed in full detail in the coming days in the Premier League meetings, while below is a little more from the UK government explanation on stage two.

  • Stage Two training can be described as the resumption of close contact (interaction within the two metre social distancing boundary) training where pairs, small groups and/or teams will be able to interact in much closer contact (e.g. close quarters coaching, combat sports sparring, teams sports tackling, technical equipment sharing, etc).
  • The progression of training into Stage Two is vital to prepare fully for the return of competitive sporting fixtures in many sports. Close contact training is required to replicate match formations and conditions, so that the sport-specific demands can be placed on the body, mind and senses. Close contact training develops the sport-specific fitness which is an essential element for player safety and a reduced risk of injury during competition.
  • It is anticipated that engaging in this type of training would start with smaller ‘clusters’ of 2-3 athletes and eventually progress to larger groups of 4-12 athletes, and ultimately full team training, without social distancing possible at all times. Under Stage Two conditions, as per Stage One, social distancing will continue to be the expectation at all other times aside from technical training.

Speaking about the stage two guidelines, UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “This new guidance marks the latest phase of a carefully phased return to training process for elite athletes, designed to limit the risk of injury and protect the health and safety of all involved. We are absolutely clear that individual sports must review whether they have the appropriate carefully controlled medical conditions in place before they can proceed, and secure the confidence of athletes, coaches and support staff.

“Given the wide ranging input we have received from medical experts, we believe these pragmatic measures should provide further reassurance that a safe, competitive training environment can be delivered, as we work towards a restart of professional sport behind closed doors when it is safe to do so.”

Premier League clubs, players and managers will meet in the coming days to discuss the protocols in place around a return to contact training and clubs are due to vote on Wednesday whether or not to sanction the move to stage two.

This is a big boost for the Premier League and Championship as both had been waiting to get the green light from the government before their clubs could vote on the plan for a return to contract training.

All 20 Premier League clubs will meet on several video conference calls to discuss the protocols around a return to full-contact training as players, managers and the Premier League will discuss the details with medical experts. Several Premier League stars have revealed their angst about returning to training.

Per the guidelines, moving to stage two provides more risk of COVID-19 infection: “Due to the increased risk of transmission under Stage Two conditions, the COVID-19 officer must have a clear policy for managing a COVID-19 positive individual and abide by Government guidelines and reporting requirements.”

The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus. Two positive COVID-19 tests had arrived after 1,014 players and staff in the Championship were tested.

Premier League players will again be tested on Monday and Tuesday and the results of those tests will be key in seeing how the strict protocols at training grounds are working.

Now that the UK government has given clear guidance to the Premier League about how it can return to contact training, it is now down to clubs, medical experts, players and managers to all agree on the safest path forward.

There is still a long way to go until games return but this is another step on the path towards the 2019-20 season returning.

Transfer news: King to Man United; Tagliafico to Arsenal

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In the latest transfer news Josh King has been linked with a move to Man United this summer as several top clubs are circling, while Ajax and Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico could be heading to Arsenal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have a beauty of a report which states that four of the Premier League’s top six clubs want to sign Bournemouth striker Josh King.

King, 28, was the subject of a late bid form Man United in the January window but the Cherries turned it down as they needed him to help with their relegation battle. Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe admitted it was tough on King and the players also revealed he was it was tough to see the move blocked, as he came through Man United’s youth academy and the Norwegian international is close with Man United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. King has scored 46 goals in 154 Premier League appearances for Bournemouth and has been instrumental since they were promoted to the top-flight in 2015. King loves Man United and this would clearly be a good fit for all concerned.

Per the fresh report, Man United are keen on King because he can play centrally and wide and with Odion Ighalo’s future uncertain amid his loan move from Shanghai Shenhua, Solskjaer wants to add one more striker this summer. King has one year left on his contract and Bournemouth are expected to cash in on him but Chelsea are also said to be interested, as well as two other ‘top six’ clubs.

Bournemouth rejected a $25 million offer for King in January but they would snap anybody’s hand off for that this summer given the financial situation due to the coronavirus pandemic and the fact King will have just one year left on his current deal. Bournemouth have already been burned by not extending Ryan Fraser’s contract and he is set to be out of contract on July 1.

Tagliafico
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Heading from Manchester to London, Arsenal are said to be interested in Ajax and Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico.

The Gunners continue to be linked with plenty of defenders and even though it is believed Mikel Arteta will not have a big transfer budget in the upcoming transfer windows, Tagliafico for $25 million is a steal.

According to the Sun, Arsenal want the 27-year-old as Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar recently said that Tagliafico, Andre Onana and Donny van de Beek are free to leave this summer if their transfer value is met. Tagliafico is said to be keen on a fresh challenge and wants a move to the Premier League.

Do Arsenal need a left back? Teenage star Bukayo Saka has been splendid out of position at left back this season but both he and Arsenal are keen to move him back into his natural position as a left winger, while young Scottish left back Kieran Tierney has struggled with injuries throughout his debut campaign in the Premier League.

Tagliafico can also play as a left-sided center back and with the Gunners experimenting at times with a 3-4-3 formation, he would give them flexibility and defensive options. It is clear Arsenal need to improve defensively and Tagliafico is a very solid left back who is good on the ball and is also a goal threat at the other end of the pitch.

Cologne deny Fortuna with amazing late comeback (video)

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Relegation-threatened Fortuna Dusseldorf thought they had secured a massive win away at FC Cologne in the Rhine Derby on Sunday as Kenan Karaman and Erik Thommy struck in each half to put them 2-0 up, but the hosts struck twice late on to grab a dramatic 2-2 draw.

Anthony Modeste and Jhon Corodba were the heroes for Cologne, who blew a 2-0 lead last week to draw 2-2 at home with Mainz but this time out they were on the other end of a comeback.

It didn’t look like being Cologne’s day for vast swathes of the game as at 1-0 to Fortuna, Florian Kastenmeier saved Mark Uth’s penalty kick in what looked like a key moment for Uwe Rosler’s Fortuna who are embroiled in the Bundesliga relegation battle.

The draw sees Fortuna move onto 24 points as they sit in 16th place, which is the relegation playoff spot. After a big win for 17th place Werder Bremen this weekend, plus heavy defeats for Mainz, Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt above them, the Bundesliga relegation battle has become extremely intriguing. A note for USMNT fans: midfielder Alfredo Morales put in a tireless 90 minute shift in central midfield.

Cologne sit 10th on 34 points and are in the hunt for Europa League qualification.

Fortuna went ahead early on as Karaman found some space in the box and his shot deflected in as the away side led at the break.

Cologne were handed the perfect opportunity to get back into the game in the second half as Uth first hit the post, then was denied by Kastenmeier before he was scythed down in the box as a penalty kick was awarded.

Uth, who scored a penalty kick last week, appeared to take the ball off Cordoba and Kastenmeier produced a fine save down low as Fortuna celebrated wildly once the ball was cleared.

Buoyed by that penalty save, Fortuna went up the other end moments later and doubled their lead as the ball found Thommy at the back post and he curled a sumptuous effort into the far corner.

Fortuna believed they were home and dry.

With 88 minutes on the clock, the Cologne comeback began as Modeste headed home superbly to make it 2-1 and give his side hope of grabbing a point.

 

In the 91st minute the equalizer arrived in similar fashion.

Fortuna ran out of steam and another cross from the right found Cordoba who nodded home to snatch a point for the hosts.

The draw felt like a win for Cologne and it was a sickening blow for a Fortuna side who badly need all three points in their battle against the drop.

Crucial week ahead for the Premier League

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The upcoming week is a huge one for the Premier League as a key vote and serious talks are set to take place with regards to restarting the 2019-20 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

All 20 clubs will meet on several video conference calls to discuss the protocols around a return to full-contact training, subject to government approval, as players, managers and the Premier League will discuss the details with medical experts. The UK government have yet to release details about stage two of a return to training for professional athletes and several Premier League stars have revealed their angst about returning to training.

Clubs will then vote on a return to full-contact training on Wednesday and depending on the outcome of that vote, that will shape further talks. If full-contact training is given the thumbs up, it is expected that on Thursday clubs will then discuss the plan to either restart the season in mid-June or curtailment plans which would see the table potentially decided on a points-per-game basis.

The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus.

Players will again be tested on Monday and Tuesday and the results of those tests will be key in seeing how the strict protocols at training grounds are working.

All 20 clubs unanimously voted in favor of a return to small-group training and they are all said to be in favor of a return to action, although some have publicly aired reservations.

The next few days seem pivotal as to whether or not the final 92 games of the Premier League season will be played and all eyes will be on the vote on Wednesday, if the UK government can provide details on the new protocols.

With the Bundesliga off and running, La Liga set for a June 8 restart and Serie A planning for a mid-June restart, the Premier League are correctly being cautious when it comes to a restart. Sooner or later they need to vote on a path forward and this week will be crucial.