Thiago Alcantara

Transfer rumor roundup
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Transfer rumor roundup: Celtic star to Spurs, Thiago to Man City

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On a day in which Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta highlighted the challenges of teams in the transfer market this summer/fall, we’ve got some very interesting new rumors.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Let’s continue with a North London note, and a big one at that.

Six-foot-five Celtic powerhouse Kristoffer Ajer is a target of Tottenham Hotspur, says Polish side Sporten.

Ajer claims his focus is on Celtic and acknowledged the two years left on his contract.

The towering center back has 14 caps at the age of 21 and has been an absolute force since dropping back from center mid, where he made his name in Norway with Start.

Ajer has chipped in five goals with three assists in 129 senior appearances for the Glaswegian set.

This could be a solid and shrewd move by Daniel Levy as Spurs bid to improve his defense while lowering the average age of the corps.

Man City’s in the news, too, as a potential reunion looms for Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

Thiago Alcantara has been with Guardiola at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and now could leave Bavaria for the Etihad Stadium according to Don Balon.

Thiago, 28, has three goals and two assists in 2500-plus minutes for Bayern this season and has won eight league titles between La Liga and the Bundesliga.

He has 37 caps with two goals for Spain, and would give incredible depth to City’s already strong midfield. But would he be willing to spend the end of his prime with a club likely not in the Champions League for at least one season?

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern wins, pulls within two points of BVB

AP Photo/Michael Probst
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The table is getting tighter as the Bundesliga moves to within a fortnight of the season’s first Der Klassiker between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Almiron to West Ham for $33m? ]


Borussia Dortmund 2-2 Hertha Berlin

Salomon Kalou twice answered Jadon Sancho goals as Hertha rescued a point at the Westfalenstadion thanks to a stoppage time penalty.

Achraf Hakimi and Mario Gotze assisted for BVB, who remains atop the Bundesliga by two points over victorious Bayern. Christian Pulisic played the final 18 minutes plus stoppage after starting midweek in the Champions League.

Mainz 1-2 Bayern Munich

The hosts threatened to nab a point when Jean-Paul Boetius scored early in the second half to level the score line after Leon Goretzka put Bayern ahead from a Joshua Kimmich feed.

Robert Lewandowski helped cue up Thiago Alcantara for the winner as the champions moved to within two points of Dortmund.

Elsewhere
Freiburg 3-1 Borussia Monchengladbach — Friday
Hannover 96 1-2 Augsburg
Fortuna Dusseldorf 0-3 Wolfsburg
Hoffenheim 4-0 Stuttgart
Nurnberg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday
RB Leipzig vs. Schalke — 10:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Werder Bremen vs. Bayer Leverkusen — 1 p.m. ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Borussia Dortmund 9 6 3 0 29 10 19 4-1-0 2-2-0 21
 Bayern Munich 9 6 1 2 17 10 7 2-1-1 4-0-1 19
 Mönchengladbach 9 5 2 2 20 12 8 4-0-0 1-2-2 17
 Werder Bremen 8 5 2 1 15 8 7 2-2-0 3-0-1 17
 Hertha BSC Berlin 9 4 4 1 15 10 5 3-1-0 1-3-1 16
 RB Leipzig 8 4 3 1 16 9 7 3-1-0 1-2-1 15
 Eintracht Frankfurt 8 4 1 3 19 12 7 2-1-1 2-0-2 13
 1899 Hoffenheim 9 4 1 4 18 13 5 2-1-2 2-0-2 13
 FC Augsburg 9 3 3 3 16 14 2 1-2-1 2-1-2 12
 VfL Wolfsburg 9 3 3 3 14 14 0 1-2-2 2-1-1 12
 SC Freiburg 9 3 3 3 13 15 -2 2-2-1 1-1-2 12
 FSV Mainz 05 9 2 3 4 5 10 -5 2-2-1 0-1-3 9
 Bayer Leverkusen 8 2 2 4 9 15 -6 1-1-2 1-1-2 8
 1. FC Nürnberg 8 2 2 4 8 19 -11 2-1-1 0-1-3 8
 FC Schalke 04 8 2 0 6 5 11 -6 1-0-3 1-0-3 6
 Hannover 96 9 1 3 5 11 18 -7 1-1-2 0-2-3 6
 VfB Stuttgart 9 1 2 6 6 21 -15 1-1-2 0-1-4 5
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 9 1 2 6 6 21 -15 1-0-4 0-2-2 5

Bayern 5-1 Arsenal: 10-min meltdown dooms Gunners

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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  • Alcantara bags brace
  • Lewandowski scores, assists
  • Robben scores stunner

Arsenal fell apart in a 10-minute span of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Bayern Munich, and their titles hopes hang by a thread after a 4-1 setback in Germany.

Thiago Alcantara scored twice and Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Muller also scored in the blowout. The second leg is March 7 at the Emirates Stadium.

Alexis Sanchez equalized after Robben’s opener, but the Gunners had precious few chances as Bayern overwhelmed the Premier League powers. The 5-1 scoreline matched the result when Arsenal visited Bayern in last season’s UCL group stage.

Arsenal has been dismissed from the UCL at the Round of 16 in each of the last six tournaments, and seven looks likely.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley opens up ]

Robben started the scoring when Arsenal allowed him to dribble toward the middle from the left.

The Gunners laid out the red carpet for Robben, and the Dutchman provided a show-stopper.

The Gunners have a valuable away goal thanks to a foul by Robert Lewandowski in the box, as Laurent Koscielny hit the deck hard after the forward missed a clearance.

Manuel Neuer parried Alexis’ penalty, but the Chilean forward scored on his third chance after his rebound was blocked as well.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Arsenal had a terrific spell to end the first half, but had bad news early in the second when Laurent Koscielny had to come off with injury. Lewandowski then made amends for conceding the penalty by rising over Shkrodan Mustafi to head Philipp Lahm’s cross home.

Alcantara then took advantage of Mustafi with a darting run, getting on the end of a cheeky flick by Lewandowski to beat Ospina. Later, Alcantara’s deflected shot left Ospina wrong-footed and it was 4-1.

Muller made it a four-goal gap when Alcantara deferred from a chance at a hat trick to find his goal-starved teammate. Muller took a step before belting a shot across goal and past Ospina.

Bayern takes control of Bundesliga with win over Leipzig

Associated Press
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Bayern Munich has snatched the top of the table from RB Leipzig just before Christmas with a comprehensive 3-0 win at Allianz Arena.

In the final match before the holiday break, Leipzig saw its table lead officially evaporate, going down a man after just 30 minutes after pulling down Philipp Lahm from behind. A man down and without their in-form creative force on the field, Leipzig had little to offer, finishing with just two shots on target, and none after Forsberg was given an early shower.

On the other side, the Bavarians showed their dominance throughout, going 2-0 up after just 25 minutes on its first two shots on target of the game via Thiago Alcantara and Xabi Alonso, and they capped it off just moments after halftime ended as Robert Lewandowski bagged one from the spot to send Bayern through.

It almost looked too easy at times for Bayern – obviously a bad sign for Leipzig – especially on the second goal as the Bayern players looked at ease passing through the box before Alonso eventually finished calmly from a relatively tight angle.

The win sent Bayern three points clear at the top, although they were already in first via goal difference before the match. It doesn’t get any easier for Leipzig in what now becomes a clear make-or-break stretch for their title hopes. They’re forced to sit on this loss all the way until January 21st when they take on 4th placed Eintract Frankfurt, 5th placed Hoffenheim, and 6th placed Dortmund all in a row. Bayern, meanwhile, doesn’t face a top-six team again until February 18th when they take on Hertha Berlin.

EURO 2016: Why’s Del Bosque not giving Spain’s youngsters many chances?

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SAINT-MARTIN-DE-RE, France (AP) The young players considered the future of Spanish soccer have not been getting many chances to show their potential at the European Championship.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO 2016 coverage ]

Coach Vicente Del Bosque has been revamping Spain after the debacle at the 2014 World Cup but has preferred to stick to more experienced players at Euro 2016.

Most of the youngsters he brought to France have not played a major role for the two-time defending champions so far, and it’s unlikely many will be on the field when Spain faces Italy in the tournament’s round of 16 on Monday at Stade de France.

Goalkeeper David De Gea and striker Alvaro Morata are the only “new generation” players to have started in the team’s first three matches. Of the other six players in the squad who are 25 or younger, only midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion got to play a few minutes off the bench. Yet to play are defenders Marc Bartra and Hector Bellerin, as well as forward Lucas Vazquez and third-string goalkeeper Sergio Rico.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 Best XI (so far) ]

“It hurts that I’m not able to use players such as Koke, Thiago and Bartra more often,” said Del Bosque, who has favored the veterans from Spain’s recent triumphs and older players who are relatively new to the national team but certainly aren’t part of the country’s new generation, including 31-year-old Juanfran Torres and 29-year-old Manuel “Nolito” Agudo.

The coach brought 14 players with less than 25 international appearances, but only five are younger than 25 years old.

Some of the main players of Spain’s highly successful generation from recent years have already retired from the national team, including Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and Xavi Hernandez. Some didn’t even make it to France, like striker Fernando Torres.

The fate of those still on the squad, like Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Iker Casillas, who are all 30 or older, is yet to be decided. The 35-year-old Casillas, Spain’s most experienced player with 167 caps, has already lost his starting position in goal.

[ MORE: Predicting the knockout rounds of EURO 2016 ]

“We used to have a team with a lot of quality players, and now we have one with other quality players,” defender Sergio Ramos said. “The goal is to keep winning, even if we have less experienced players.”

Many expected Del Bosque to give some of the youngsters a chance to play in last Tuesday’s game against Croatia, when Spain had already secured a spot in the knockout stage, but the coach fielded the same 11 from the first two games.

When he brought in players from the bench in the group stage matches, he favored older players such as 35-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz and 32-year-old midfielder Bruno Soriano.

Of the youngsters on the bench, Alcantara is the one with the most playing time. He came on as a substitute for 23 minutes in the 1-0 opening win against the Czech Republic, and for 10 minutes in the 2-1 loss to Croatia in the team’s third group match. Koke played 21 minutes in the 3-0 win over Turkey in the second match.

[ MORE: What does UK’s exit from EU mean for the Premier League? ]

Spain won the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, but is coming off early elimination in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which marked the first sign that its winning generation was starting to falter.

“What the youngsters bring to the team is quality,” Iniesta said. “That is what is important, regardless of their age. “There are always changes in a team, but you have to try to keep the winning mentality. We still have a great squad.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni