Marko Grujic

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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.

Liverpool ready to part ways with seven including Mignolet, Ings

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Liverpool has spent a lot of money since January, and is looking to bring some back to Anfield.

The Reds have splashed major dough on Virgil Van Dijk, Naby Keita, Alisson, Fabinho, and Xherdan Shaqiri, the outlay surpassing what came in for Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho, and Danny Ward.

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Now, reports, Liverpool is planning to part ways with seven senior players.

The list includes Divock Origi, Simon Mignolet, and Danny Ings, with Lazar Markovic and Pedro Chirivella also on the block.

The report says Jurgen Klopp would like to sign Marko Grujic to a new deal before a season-long loan to Cardiff City, but that would make a sixth departure. The seventh is Sheyi Ojo, who could be a sale or loan.

Getting rid of both Origi and Ings might seem risky at first glance, but the Reds have depth behind Roberto Firmino that goes further than Dominic Solanke and Daniel Sturridge. Youngsters Rhian Brewster and Ben Woodburn could have a chance to make a dent in Klopp’s First Team plans, though both are candidates for loans.

Tactics Session: Liverpool’s midfield to blame for poor defending, too

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Here’s something said by anyone and everyone who’s watched an hour of the Premier League over the last 24 months: Liverpool won’t win the PL title until Jurgen Klopp sorts out that shambolic defense.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

Well, duh, and thanks for really going out on a limb with that one.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle went error-by-error in picking apart one of the Reds’ many defensive breakdowns (above video) during last weekend’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur. In short, Dejan Lovern, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Simon Mignolet were all guilty of critical errors as Harry Kane opened the scoring after just four minutes. There’s another group of players, though, which is worth considering as opponents continue to pick Liverpool apart on a near-weekly basis.

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Theory: it’s actually Liverpool’s midfield which is most responsible for this season’s repeated disasters at the back. The results are as poor as they’ve ever been under Klopp — they had the worst defensive record of the PL’s “big six” sides during Klopp’s first (partial) season at Anfield, followed by the second-worst of the six last season, and are sixth out of six thus far in 2017-18 — with little reason to expect significant change as the defensive characters remain the same. When called upon in 2016-17, again, it was simply more of the same.

The key difference being: they were better protected, thus forced into action less frequently, in the past. Whether by design or happenstance, the midfield and forward lines aren’t disrupting possession and winning the ball back as consistently as previous iterations of Klopp’s old gegenpress system. Most notably, it’s the early moments (first five seconds, or three passes) of opposition possession which haven’t been challenged with that familiar urgency.

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Take, for instance, that loss to Tottenham — while Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Emre Can are probably the three most “defensive” midfield options in Klopp’s squad, they’re also the three least mobile and press-suited. Georginio Wijnaldum is often labeled an “attacking” midfielder, that what makes him perfectly suited for the transition from pressing to attacking. The same goes for Adam Lallana, who’s currently injured and gutting this side through his absence. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, should he ultimately end up in central midfield, is very similar in that regard. Marko Grujic, while still a relative PL unknown, profiles better as a central midfielder than the three who started at Wembley Stadium.

Without that constant on-ball pressure, Mauricio Pochettino was inspired in his tactical tweak to feature Harry Winks, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli in a pass-heavy midfield-three, as the three on-ball technicians were able to play through the middle third of the field with very little resistance and get at the likes of Lovren, Matip and Gomez more directly. The return of starting right back Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring), who hasn’t played a minute this season, will undoubtedly add a bit more mobility and athleticism to an otherwise plodding rearguard.

It’s a trend that, should it continue, will result in more and more — and easier and easier — goals conceded by the Reds.

Liverpool torches Fleetwood Town, remains perfect in preseason

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Liverpool is gearing up for the upcoming Premier League season in fine form.

Roberto Firmino scored twice and 20-year-old Marko Grujic scored a goal in his first minutes as a Red in a 5-0 win over League One side Fleetwood Town at Highbury Stadium.

Grujic got things started by winning a penalty that Danny Ings missed, and the young Serbian midfielder found the back of the net to open the scoring on 18 minutes. Obviously still being preseason, expectations are tempered, but the solid performance for the man on loan at Red Star Belgrade last season left a mark on the observing journalists.

18-year-old Ben Woodburn scored to give Liverpool its second seven minutes into the second half. Firmino scored both his goals in the second half – the second in injury time – and that’s where manager Jurgen Klopp took the most positives.

“I saw a few good things, chances we created and a few good defensive actions, and good individual performances from one or two players. In the first half especially, I was not happy with the team play,” Klopp told the official team website. “Because we could have done better and we should try to do better. In a game like this, if the only situations you have are because of the individual quality of the player then something is wrong. Like we scored the goals in the second half – it was a nice pass, a good run, another nice pass and an easy goal. That’s how football should work. We did better in the second half.”

The win leaves Liverpool perfect through two preseason matches, having blanked Tranmere Rovers 1-0 in their first outing. It’s a long preseason to go for Klopp and company, with friendlies against Wigan and Huddersfield Town before a pair against Chelsea and AC Milan as part of the International Champions Cup in the United States. The Reds open Premier League play against Arsenal on August 14 at the Emirates.

Liverpool set to announce signing of Serbian teen Marko Grujic

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The ongoing rumors look to be true, as Liverpool is set to announce the signing of Marko Grujic from Red Star Belgrade.

The 19-year-old midfielder had been linked with a move to Anfield for some time now, although his father threatened to keep his passport and block a potential transfer earlier this month.

However, the player published a post on his Facebook page today stating, “On 4th January I will become a Liverpool player.”

[ MORE: Sunday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup ]

Grujic will become Jurgen Klopp‘s first signing at Liverpool, as the Reds will reportedly pay $7.6 million for the midfielder. However, according to his club Red Star, he will stay in Serbia on loan for the rest of the season.

The teen has helped Red Star to a 25-point lead at the top of the SuperLiga, and was a member of the Serbian national team that won the FIFA U20 World Cup earlier this summer.