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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.”

First-leg draw “not the worst, not a dream result” for Liverpool

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If indifference — and its inherent lack of feeling — could be classified a feeling, it’s the one most Liverpool players, and manager Jurgen Klopp, would use to describe their collective mood following Tuesday’s 0-0 home draw with Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

While the high-quality chances weren’t quite there for a meeting of two sides the magnitude of Liverpool and Bayern, the frenetic pace and end-to-end nature was still on display, which did plenty to keep a scoreless draw plenty entertaining for the neutral observers.

Speaking after the game, Klopp said it “wasn’t a dream result,” but also called it “a good one.” Wishy-washy — quotes from the BBC:

“From a result point of view, it’s OK. It’s not a dream result, but it’s a good one.”

“We made life more difficult with the last pass today – about 10 or 12 times a promising situation [fizzled out]. We can play better. We should play better.

“In the first half we had the bigger chances. I can’t remember any chances for either side in the second half. It wasn’t a Champions League night from that point of view.”

Midfielder and captain Jordan Henderson, who, it must be said, was a titan for the Reds on Tuesday, called it “not the worst result in the world.” Noncommittal.

“It’s not the worst result in the world. The performance level was good but we lacked that bit in the final third.”

“We’re disappointed not to score. But we kept a clean sheet and defended well. We had enough chances, especially in the first half.

“They’re a good team, they’re going to keep the ball. At times we found it frustrating. We were a bit unlucky in front of goal.

“It’s still alive. We’ve got games before the second leg. We’ve got to be confident still. It’ll be difficult but we have experience in the Champions League. We can go there and hurt them.”

In fairness, all of the above is true. The feeling of Liverpool having left so much on the table stems from how effervescent they were en route to reaching last season’s Champions League final. To see them struggle so early in the knockout rounds was, even after just one deep run a year ago, a bit jarring and unsettling.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

Take into consideration the 10 days they had to prepare between games, and you get the feeling that Klopp and Co., know they needed to do so much more to give themselves a better chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.

The second leg is set for the Allianz Arena on March 13.

Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw

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There was virtually nothing to separate Liverpool and Bayern Munich in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday, and the two sides will head to leg no. 2 (March 13) at the Allianz Arena with everything still to play for.

[ MORE: Spain revamps Super Cup (and others should follow suit) ]

0-0 was the final score at Anfield, and neither side will be thrilled with the result, nor will either side be devastated not to have found the back of the net.Control and momentum swung back and forth over the course of 90 minutes; the only thing missing was a goal to well and truly liven things up.

Liverpool, it should be noted, failed to pick up a single point away from home in the group stage, losing all three times on the continent.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson was called into action with barely 10 minutes on the clock, and perhaps the Brazilian knew nothing about the goal-saving block he made. Serge Gnabry crossed the ball into the box from the right wing, but Joel Matip stepped into the ball’s flight and booted it clear, only back toward his own goal. Fortunately for the Reds, Alisson was no more than two yards away and took the wayward clearance off his chest.

Liverpool’s first golden scoring chance came in the 33rd minute, when Naby Keita‘s shot from the edge of the box was blocked but fell ever so perfectly for an unmarked Sadio Mane 12 yards from goal. With Manuel Neuer all on his own and unable to close down the angles in such a rush, Mane let the six-time reigning Bundesliga champions off the hook by yanking his left-footed shot well wide of the post.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League returns with TFC, Houston ]

While the first half was quite open with end-to-end tendencies — particularly for a first leg — the second half was even more so, at least early on. Robert Lewandowski got on the end of a cross Gnabry into the six-yard box, but Fabinho, forced to play center back due to injuries and suspensions, made a brilliant tackle to poke the ball away. Liverpool raced to the other end through Andrew Robertson, who nearly scored an unlikely goal off Neuer’s clearance, but the ball fell to Mohamed Salah who wasn’t able to fire a cross or shot under immense pressure.

Down the other end, barely five minutes later, it was the constantly active and involved Gnabry who went inches high of scoring a stunner into the upper-90. The 23-year-old winger cut inside to and unleashed a blast with his left foot that Alisson was never going to get a hand to, but Georginio Wijnaldum did just enough to harry Gnabry and cause him to lift his shot over the crossbar.

UCL last 16, LIVE – Bayern visits Liverpool; Barca hosts Lyon

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Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah are the superstars in action as Liverpool and Barcelona start their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool looks for a first leg advantage despite the absence of its suspended all-world defender Virgil Van Dijk as well as injured Joe Gomez and unlikely-to-feature Joe Gomez.

The collective injuries could be a bridge-too-far even with the backing of Anfield, as Bayern is capable of bagging goals by the bunch.

Bayern is without Thomas Muller to a suspension, and also is waiting on the fitness of Leon Goretzka.

In the other match, tricky Lyon will look to score a notable upset of Barcelona.

Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay, and Moussa Dembele are amongst the many weapons Lyon will need beginning at 3 p.m. ET with the first leg in France.

Champions League preview: Bayern visit Anfield; Lyon v. Barcelona

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Liverpool and Bayern Munich are set to battle for 180 minutes beginning on Tuesday, when last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists host the reigning Bundesliga champions at Anfield, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is as anxious as anyone to watch the drama unfold.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

“It’s another one of those games I’m really happy to be involved in, and if I wasn’t involved, I would try and buy tickets,” Liverpool’s German manager said this week. “It’s a tough one against a really strong, experienced team, but we are strong as well. Only more stress [facing Bayern], because all the people wanted 600 extra interviews with German news.”

Liverpool will be fully prepared and well drilled after having no game during the most recent FA Cup weekend. By the time the referee’s whistle blows for kickoff at 3 p.m. ET, 10 days will have passed since the Reds thrashed Bournemouth in PL play.

Liverpool will definitely be without the trio of Virgil Van Dijk (suspension), Joe Gomez (leg) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), while Roberto Firmino (illness), Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Xherdan Shaqiri (abdominal strain) are questionable to varying degrees. Central midfielder Fabinho could be forced into central defense as a result. On the other side, Niko Kovac’s side will be without the services of Thomas Mueller (suspended), Jerome Boateng (illness), Corentin Tolisso (knee ligaments) and Arjen Robben (thigh). Kingsley Coman (ankle) is expected to be available for selection after picking up an injury over the weekend.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

Elsewhere in Europe, runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona will visit Ligue 1’s third-place side, Lyon. Though Lionel Messi and Co., head into Tuesday’s first leg as heavy favorites to reach the quarterfinals, Ernesto Valverde’s side has won just one of its last four games (all competitions).

They have, however, been nearly infallible in Europe competition this season, as they waltzed to the top spot in Group B, finishing a full six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. Even Messi has seen his form dip ever so slightly in recent weeks, as the Argentine magician has scored just once in his last three appearances (two starts). Those relative struggles comes on the heels of a nine-game goal streak which saw the 31-year-old score a dozen times. He has been his usually brilliant self this season, and will cause Lyon all kinds of problems from the outset.

Lyon will be without star attacker Nabil Fekir (suspension), which could prove a further crippling blow to their chances.