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Lewandowski’s brace helps Bayern rescue opening-day draw (video)

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BERLIN (AP) Amid reports that Brazilian winger Philippe Coutinho was to join the club, Bayern Munich was held to 2-2 by Hertha Berlin in the opening game of the Bundesliga on Friday.

[ MORE: Barcelona, Bayern Munich agree deal to loan Philippe Coutinho ]

Robert Lewandowski scored twice for the seven-time defending champion, but Bayern failed to make the most of its chances and will rue the setback after Hertha capitalized on two mistakes to score twice in a three-minute period.

Bayern coach Niko Kovac congratulated counterpart Ante Covic after making his league debut in charge of the visitors.

Lewandowski did not have to wait long before opening his league account in the 24th minute, sliding in to convert Serge Gnabry‘s cross after Joshua Kimmich was given plenty of space to surge through the middle.

A rout looked possible as Hertha’s defense continued to look shaky, but Dodi Lukebakio struck against the run of play in the 36th for the visitors, the Belgian’s shot from distance taking a big deflection off Vedad Ibisevic’s back to give Manuel Neuer no chance.

Marko Grujic stunned the home fans when he made it 2-1 three minutes later, winning a duel against Benjamin Pavard before running onto a through ball from Ibisevic and rounding Neuer to score.

“A bit surprising,” Germany coach Joachim Low said of the halftime scoreline.

Bayern started the second half as it had the first, before VAR intervened after Grujic dragged Lewandowski’s shirt from behind and the striker fell.

Lewandowski dusted himself off to equalize from the spot on the hour-mark.

Barcelona, Bayern Munich agree deal to loan Coutinho

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Barcelona and Bayern Munich are nearing the completion of a loan deal that will see midfielder Philippe Coutinho move from Spain to Germany, according to a Barcelona spokesperson on Friday.

[ MORE: Who are the top contenders in this season’s Champions League? ]

Barcelona spokesperson Guillermo Amor confirmed the progress of negotiations on Friday:

“We can confirm that there is an agreement in principle for the loan of Coutinho to Bayern and we just have to finalize the deal”

According to Mundo Deportivo and Sport, Bayern will pay between $16 million and $22 million for this season’s loan, with an option to make the deal permanent for $133 million. Coutinho was left out of Barcelona’s squad for Friday’s La Liga opener against Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona have spent the entire summer shopping Coutinho to most of the biggest clubs across Europe, desperate to unburden themselves of the 27-year-old Brazilian’s lucrative contract and recoup a sizable chunk of the (up to) $192 million they paid to acquire him from Liverpool barely 18 months ago. Tottenham Hotspur were briefly linked with Coutinho prior to the English transfer window closing on Aug. 8, but those reports were quickly shot down.

Who are the top contenders in the UEFA Champions League?

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What good are we, on this platform, if we don’t allow ourselves the chance to be very, very wrong now and again?

While the start of the Premier League season is certainly what drives us forward, this weekend’s opening of both the Bundesliga and La Liga has us even more fired up for the season ahead.

It got us thinking about those Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the winter and spring, and that late May date in Istanbul; Who is going to claim the UEFA Champions League?

Much like our 50 Fearful Predictions for the Premier League season — one’s been proven wrong, another on the path to right — we’re going to go out on a ledge regarding the strength of the big boys’ campaigns for the glory in Turkey.

It’s not all about squad depth in these competitions thanks to the ability of superstars to take over the show, but it sure does matter a great deal (Look at what Liverpool did to Barcelona last season, which was certainly not about the individual talents you’d choose from between the two sides).

Things may change over the next two weeks with the transfer window still open outside of England, but hey, that only means we could look even sillier come May.

Let’s give it a go.

Bonus 1: Red Bull Salzburg — I’m going to be honest, the Austrians should be below about 5-10 more teams after selling Hannes Wolf and Munas Dabbur but I had to include the lone club in the tournament with an American boss. Good luck, Jesse Marsch.

Bonus 2: Ajax — It would be stunning if Ajax overcame selling Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, and who knows how many other top talents, but they were semi-finalists last year so they get a mention.

Tier 6 — Not quite there

Whether they sold too bright of a star or too many of them, these teams will need to overcome significant wattage issues.

20. Bayer Leverkusen
19. Atalanta
18. Lille
17. Lyon
16. RB Leipzig

Tier 5 — Not Quite Upper Echelon, But Dangerous

You wouldn’t want to draw a single one of these teams in a knockout round, but also wouldn’t bet on them outlasting a series of giants to reach Istanbul.

15. Valencia
14. Galatasaray
13. Chelsea
12. Borussia Dortmund

Tier 4 — Tier 5, But Managed by Royalty

Ancelotti. Conte. Simeone. Capable of anything.

11. Napoli
10. Inter Milan
9. Atletico Madrid

Tier 3 — The Suitably Haunted

Mental hurdles are real.

Every one of these teams probably has better top-to-bottom depth in talent than the clubs we’ve ranked above them, but has faltered in big ways and carries ghosts. Barcelona and Juventus, for example, have the two best players in the world but have puked on the big stage for consecutive seasons.

PSG and Man City are waiting for their breakthrough, and Bayern has won eight-straight Bundesliga crowns but also counts itself losers of four semifinals in five seasons (all to Spanish sides).

8. Bayern Munich
7. Paris Saint-Germain
6. Barcelona
5. Juventus
4. Manchester City

Tier 2 — See Tier 3, Only With Less Haunting

And in this case, maybe a little less depth.

3. Spurs

Tier 1 — Champs

The Reds won it all last year and the entire club seems to celebrate this competition more than the league. I’ll be honest with you: If you took the entire Liverpool team and trotted it out in different jerseys, I’d say they need a place around No. 9. But this is Liverpool and the European Cup.

Not to mention this tournament crowns winners off of much smaller sample sizes (See Liverpool’s 2017-18 final run, aside from the walloping of Man City). And Real under Zidane has the fire power and history to show up and show out.

2. Real Madrid
1. Liverpool

Bundesliga season preview: Bayern aims for No. 30

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Bayern Munich’s got another fight on its hands when it comes to the Bundesliga.

Sounds insane, we know; The eight-time defending league champions have seen five teams finish runner-up in Germany’s top flight, and shook off a quality challenge from Borussia Dortmund — the last team to win the league — last season to claim its 29th title.

Niko Kovac is back in the fold, as are the top stars of the team, but it’s still going to be feel a bit different with Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Mats Hummels leaving town and a pair of World Cup winners — Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard — arriving at the Allianz Arena.

Robert Lewandowski is still there, as is Joshua Kimmich, and most of the club’s top minute eaters from last season’s title run. Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka, and Kinglsey Coman will play even bigger roles, the club has quality young hotshots like Canadian teen Alphonso Davies, and Thiago Alcantara will be the straw that stirs the drink for young and old alike.

But BVB.

Dortmund has only lost Christian Pulisic, who’s headed “back” to Chelsea, and has again claimed an impressive summer haul (even if we knew a lot of the names prior to the end of the season).

Hummels is back, and Paco Alcacer’s loan has been made permanent. Oddly enough, those two moves might be the least impactful of the handful, with Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt and Gladbach’s Thorgan Hazard true difference makers in the midfield and Nico Schulz (Hoffenheim) a true hope for the back line.

Dortmund also added U.S. youth wunderkind Giovanni Reyna, though it’ll take time for the 16-year-old to run through the ranks.

The bookies think BVB is the only club with a prayer of claiming the title in place of Bayern, as reflected by 3/10 odds to the holders and 4/1 to the runners-up.

Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig are 33/1 odds, but that feels a little too much considering the additions of Ademola Lookman and Christopher Nkunku to go with Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu and Red Bull Salzburg star Hannes Wolf.

Bayer is a distant fourth, and has to hope that Kerem Demirbay’s move from Hoffenheim helps offset the loss of Brandt to BVB.

From Bayer on-down there’s a lot of uncertainty, as seemingly everyone lost a star of three. Eintracht Frankfurt sold Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller and is hoping Dejan Jovelijc turns out to be their next big capture from Serbia. Hoffenheim sold Demirbay, Schulz and Joelinton (Newcastle) and is yet to really address the goals aside from lower league scorer Sargis Adamyan.

Gladbach sold Hazard and is betting on a breakthrough from Schalke purchase and former next big thing Breel Embolo. Speaking of Schalke, they could be in trouble again and will need a big show from U.S. international Weston McKennie.

All of this stands to claim the following: Though surprises are possible, the league is downright unpredictable heading into the season aside from spots 1, 2, and maybe 3.

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Americans Abroad: John Brooks will lead Wolfsburg’s back line, the aformentioned McKennie is going to be terribly important to Schalke’s hopes, and Tyler Adams returns for a first full season at RB Leipzig.

Josh Sargent is hopeful to make himself a league mainstay with Werder Bremen, and

Timothy Chandler’s still on the books at Eintracht Frankfurt, Fabian Johnson remains at ‘Gladbach, and Alfredo Morales is still at Fortuna Dusseldorf along with Man City loanee and USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

German born U.S. U-20 defender Lennard Maloney has been promoted with FC Union Berlin, while former NYCFC striker Khiry Shelton is with fellow new boys Paderborn.

And there’s an MLS connection to join Adams, Davies and Shelton: Augsburg has added FC Dallas playmaker Carlos Gruezo.

The new boys: Union Berlin has bought enough talent to rise up the table a bit, while Paderborn and Koln have more questions than Union but still some guile in their ranks. Koln in particular might have the best shot to stay up on pedigree alone.

USMNT left back prospect Gloster chooses Eredivisie path

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The United States men’s national team record with left backs is not ideal. One of its top hopes to flip the script has just found a new home.

Chris Gloster is moving from Hannover 96 to PSV Eindhoven, trading the second team of a 2.Bundesliga side for the U-21 outfit of one of the Dutch powers.

[ MORE: USSF promotes Stewart, hires USWNT GM ]

Gloster, 19, joins fellow American youth national teamer Richie Ledesma and also proffers plenty of shade to the clubs back home. From PSV.nl:

“I have chosen to continue my career in Europe because the clubs give more opportunities to the younger players, whereas in the USA they look for experienced and physically strong players. Age is not an issue in Europe. When you are a good player, it does not matter how young you are.”

Gloster debuted in USL at age 16 for the New York Red Bulls II and headed to Hannover in 2018.

He played 16 teams for Hannover 96’s second team, recording three assists and raising his profile at the U-20 World Cup. He played five times for the U-20s on the opposite side of Sergino Dest, who is oddly enough a right back at Ajax.

Dest, 18, made his Eredivisie debut this weekend, playing 36 minutes off the bench (He can also play left back).

The path for Gloster will take a bit more work, as Czech international Michal Sadilek has played nearly every minute of PSV’s season at left back. Sadilek is just 20, young like Valencia loanee Toni Lato and summer purchase Oliver Boscagli, formerly of OGC Nice, who are also above Gloster on the depth chart.