John Heitinga

Bundesliga season preview: Bullet points you need to know before Bayern wins it all again

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Joking aside, it’s been a one-sided rivalry between Bayern Munich and the rest of the Bundesliga the past two seasons.

Pep Guardiola’s bunch may’ve not won the UEFA Champions League, but they’ve cruised through Germany’s top flight and appear poised to do so again this year.

[ LISTEN: Men in Blazers preview Bundesliga with Paul Kalkbrenner ]

But will it be that simple? Did they lose more than they gained in the offseason? Is Wolfsburg, Monchengladbach or Borussia Dortmund ready to take the next step in challenging for a crown? And how will the myriad USMNT players fare this season.

All that and more in quick tidbits here.

Who went down? Freiburg and Paderborn

Only two? Hamburger beat Kalrlsruher in the relegation/promotion playoff

Who came up? Ingolstadt and Darmstadt

New to the league: Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen), Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich), Francisco Rodriguez Araya (Wolfsburg), Charles Aranguiz (Bayer Leverkusen), Fabian Schar (Hoffenheim), Marko Maric (Hoffenheim), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz), Fabian Frei (Mainz), Mevlut Erdinc (Mainz), Emiliano Insua (Stuttgart), Albin Ekdal (Hamburger), Alfredo Morales (promoted with Ingolstadt), Mathew Leckie (promoted with Ingolstadt),

Gone from the league: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United), Tranquillo Barnetta (Philadelphia Union), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Timon Wellenreuther (Mallorca), Ciro Immobile (Sevilla), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Kevin Trapp (Paris Saint-Germain), Sebastian Prodl (Watford), Eljero Elia (Feyenoord), Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Kevin Wimmer (Tottenham Hotspur), Joselu (Stoke City), John Heitinga (Ajax), Valon Behrami (Watford), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Betis)

Old faces, new places: Max Kruse (Borussia Monchengladbach), Josip Drmic (Borussia Monchengladbach), Emir Spahic (Hamburger), Gonzalo Castro (Borussia Dortmund), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Bayer Leverkusen), Anthony Ujah (Werder Bremen), Lars Stindl (Monchengladbach), Anthony Ujah (Werder Bremen), Anthony Modeste (Koln), Junior Diaz (Darmstadt)

source:
Source: Werder Bremen

Americans Abroad: Johannsson (Werder Bremen), Fabian Johnson (Monchengladbach), Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Julian Green (Bayern Munich, but expected with reserves), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), David Yelldell (Bayer Leverkusen), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Jerome Kiesewetter (Stuttgart).

Yeah, but which ones will factor? Johnson, Brooks and Morales should play a lot. Chandler, too, but the USMNT defender has recently gotten some grief from Frankfurt’s manager Armin Veh. Johansson will get every chance to win playing time and goals for new team Werder Bremen.

Why will Bayern win? Schweinsteiger is gone, but fought fitness for the past few years. The defense is in tact, Manuel Neuer is still between the sticks and Arturo Vidal is in town to strengthen the already-frightening attack unit (Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, Mario Gotze, et. al).

Make me a case they don’t: Injuries could strike? Realistically, a bounce here or there against Bayern and a congested European schedule could help clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Leverkusen or Monchengladbach make a charge. But, really, Bayern finished with a plus-62 goal differential, allowing just 18, and they eased up on the Bundesliga slate once the 25th German title — 24th in the Bundesliga — was wrapped up.

Premier League Team of the Week: Coleman, Delph and Gerrard lead way

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Matchweek 30 produced a number of eye-raising results including Aston Villa dumping out leaders Chelsea, Arsenal beating rivals Spurs, and first time wins for new managers Felix Magath (Fulham over Newcastle) and Pepe Mel (West Bromwich Albion over Swansea City).

Producing those results required new heroes to emerge. Here is the Premier League Team of the Week:

Goalkeeper – David Marshall: The 29-year-old Scot was everywhere on Saturday, thwarting 19 attempts by Everton including brilliant efforts by Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku that looked destined for goal. The only way past the Cardiff keeper proved to be via a Gerard Deulofeu deflection and a fortuitous slice shot by Seamus Coleman.

Defender – Leandro Bacuna: The 22-year-old Dutchman was the lynchpin on the left side of Villa’s defense on Saturday, making five key tackles to stuff Chelsea’s offense while also pouring forward to manage two shots on goal.

Defender – John Heitinga: The Dutch defender is enjoying a nice spell to his career since leaving Everton and taking up a center-back place at Fulham. In Saturday’s win over Newcastle, Heitinga had two key blocks in the box to deny the Magpies efforts on goal while also producing a stunning shot that hit the underside of the bar only for HawkEye to rule out.

Defender – Seamus Coleman: Coleman’s incredible stamina was on display yet again on Saturday, covering the center-backs when needed while also pressing high up the pitch and taking on the opposition with speed and skill. His persistence paid off when he struck the 93rd minute winner, his sixth of the season, to hand Everton a 2-1 win over Cardiff.

Midfielder – Youssouf Mulumbu: He doesn’t score many goals but the one he notched Saturday was vital for West Brom’s chances of staying in the Premier League.

Midfielder – Steven Gerrard: Captain Fantastic did it again Sunday, converting two penalties to help condemn Manchester United to a 3-0 home loss at the hands of their rivals.

Midfielder – Fabian Delph: The Englishman continued his string of fine Premier League performances Saturday when his tireless engine drove him into Chelsea’s box late where he produced one of the finest finishes of the season – a left footed Cryuff shot from 10 yards out that went side-netting.

Midfielder – David Silva: The City midfielder has not had his best season but on Saturday he showed us he’s still capable of producing massive moments, and none was bigger than his left-footed curler that put 10-man City up 1-0 on Hull.

Forward – Peter Odemwingie: The controversial Stoke forward notched a brace on Saturday to help the Potters beat West Ham 3-1. His first came via a goal-line deflection on Peter Crouch’s side volley while the second was a roof-shattering blast to ensure Stoke all three points.

Forward – Jay Rodriguez: The 24-year-old forward continued his impressive season by notching his 12th goal of the season in Southampton’s 4-2 pounding of Norwich City. Will Roy Hodgson take notice?

Forward – Luis Suarez: What more is there to say about Luis Suarez? The man is simply sensational and on Sunday he capped Liverpool’s domination of Manchester United with a well-taken 84th minute strike, his 25th of the season.

Fulham manager says it can’t get any worse… but fixtures, odds say it can

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Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen says it can’t get any worse for his beleaguered club.

Their fourth manager in four years watched his club, sitting in 20th place in the Premier League with 14 matches to go, use its home FA Cup fourth-round replay with League One’s Sheffield United to throw up a 1-0 tournament exit.

“If you talk about this game and ask ‘Have we hit rock bottom?’, we probably have,” Meulensteen told British television network ITV4. “If you say that, then it cannot get any worse, it can only get better.”

Problem is: it can.

Fulham has 19 points through 24 rounds and even a shock win over Manchester United on the weekend would still have them in the relegation zone come next week. After rebounding from a 6-0 thrashing at Hull to beat West Ham on New Year’s Day, Fulham has lost four in Premier League succession.

Those games include three scoreless losses (Arsenal, Swansea, Southampton) and a 4-1 spanking from Sunderland.

“We could have played until next month and not scored a goal,” Meulensteen added. “I think the knocks we have picked up over the last couple of weeks have definitely had an influence on the confidence.

“When it happens, that is when you need to stick together. We know we only have ourselves to blame, we need to look in each other’s eyes and dig ourselves out of it.”

Fulham’s next eight dates include the aforementioned match against Manchester United in addition to visits from Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton and Newcastle, as well as a trip to Manchester City. It doesn’t look pretty for Fulham, who will also lose all-time leading scorer Clint Dempsey to the end of his loan deal soon (not that he’s done much of anything so far in a currently disappointing return to England).

But the Cottagers are coming off a seemingly successful transfer window that saw them pick up Lewis Holtby and John Heitinga on loan in addition to their big ticket acquisition of Kostas Mitroglou from Olympiacos.

The web site Sportsclubstats says Fulham have an 82 percent chance to get relegated and 50 percent chance to finish dead last in the PL. Does that feel about right to you, or can Rene pull his boys out of dangers against the odds?

Premier League Transfer Window Grade: Fulham

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Window Shopping: Heading into January Fulham were in precarious territory in 16th place, two points above the drop. Failing to earn a single league point throughout all of January the Cottagers now find themselves bottom of the table, four points adrift of safety.

The situation required Fulham to boost their striker ranks, add some creative midfielders and provide depth to the back line. And they managed to do so in purchasing Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou and bringing in a number of key loan deals in Clint Dempsey, William Kvist, Lewis Holtby and Johnny Heitinga.

Players In: Kostas Mitroglou (Olympiakos, £12m), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, Loan), William Kvist (Stuttgart, Loan), Lewis Holtby (Tottenham, Loan), John Heitinga (Everton, Loan), Ryan Tunnicliffe (Manchester United, Undisclosed), Larnell Cole (Manchester United, Undisclosed).

Players Out: Stephen Arthurworrey (Tranmere, Loan), Marcus Bettinelli (Accrington Stanley, Loan), Jack Grimmer (Port Vale, Loan), Bryan Ruiz (PSV Eindhoven, Loan), Aaron Hughes (QPR, Loan), Dimitar Berbatov (Monaco, Loan), Philipe Senderos (Valencia, Undisclosed).

RECAP: All the deals on deadline day

Grade: A-

New manager René Meulensteen had his work cut out for him entering January and arguably did more to change his side’s fate than any other manager in the Premier League. The acquisition of Mitroglou gives the Cottagers a proven, physically-imposing and skillful striker who looks tailor-made for the Premier League.

In Holtby, they’ve acquired a bright-spirited, creative midfielder who’s hungry to prove himself to both his parent club, Spurs, and his national team, Germany. The lanky William Kvist looks a real find as well while Dempsey provides experience and added depth, even if he looks off the pace so far. Heitinga provides depth to the back line although he’s not the kind of game-changing defender fans would’ve hope to bring in.

Meulensteen showed a keen eye for the future as well, signing Manchester United youngsters Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole. But perhaps the most important move the Dutch manager made was to rid his side of cancers, Adel Taraabt and Dimitar Berbatov. Both players, while talented, looked completely disinterested at Craven Cottage and had to go. Sending the underpeforming Bryan Ruiz out on loan was also a smart decision.

Talent-wise, there’s little question Fulham should stay up. Now fans have to hope Meulensteen has assembled the right cast of characters to keep the club in England’s top-flight.

Premier League Transfer Grade: Everton

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Window Shopping: Everton came into the January transfer window needing to add a striker and hoping to add additional punch in the midfield. A thin side by financial nature, the Toffees were also open to adding players in other positions to help the club reach its Top 4 aspirations.

Ivorian striker Lacina Traore was brought in on loan from Monaco after his transfer from Anzhi while pacey winger Aiden McGeady was signed from Spartak Moscow. The Toffees also added a fourth goalkeeper to their ranks in highly-rated Czech youth international, Yindrick Stanic.

Players In: Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow, £2.5m), Yindrick Stanic (Sparta Prague, £200,000), Lacina Traoré (Monaco, Loan).

Players Out: Tyias Browning (Wigan, Loan), Shane Duffy (Yeovil, Loan), Hallam Hope (Northampton, Loan), Matthew Kennedy (Tranmere, Loan), Chris Long (MK Dons, Loan), Matthew Pennington (Tranmere, Loan), Nikica Jelavic (Hull, £5.25m + £1m), John Heitinga (Fulham, Loan).

RECAP: All the deadline day deals

Grade: B

Everton manager Roberto Martinez checked all the boxes for his side’s needs but many fans felt let down at his failure to purchase a striker. Bringing in the 6′ 8″ Traore on a loan seems a good bit of business but with the sale of Nikica Jelavic to Hull City, the Toffees now boast two true strikers, both of whom are on loan.

The issue won’t be a problem this year but in terms of building for the future feels a bit short-sighted. Had Everton purchased a young striker he could have worked with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, giving him an invaluable experience entering the 2014/15 season. Instead, the Toffees will head into this summer with Arouna Kone, who’s coming off a major knee injury, the seldom-used Apostolos Vellios, and Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas, who can play the role despite not being true strikers.

The addition of McGeady was a welcome one and at £2.5m was good deal financially. The speedy Irishman will patrol the right wing, allowing Mirallas to take up more central roles. McGeady is now the fourth Republic of Ireland midfielder on the Toffees roster and early indications are that he loves the club and fits in well, although his on-field performances haven’t overwhelmed.

The loss of Bryan Oviedo to injury is a tough one for Everton after the Costa Rican made an impact at left-back and left midfield in the first half of the season. The failure to replace him and Johnny Heitinga with another defender could look an oversight although the rise of young John Stones should provide sufficient cover.