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Bundesliga

This weekend in European soccer: Previews, predictions for 5 must-see games

Every week, theScore will pick out the standout matches to watch across Europe. This weekend’s slate features a heated London rivalry and the big Serie A kickoff.

Premier League

Arsenal vs. Chelsea

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

When: Sunday, Aug. 22 (11:30 a.m. ET)
Where: Emirates Stadium

“Yes, I have the No. 9. I am happy and fortunate to be in this situation,” Romelu Lukaku said at his official unveiling, no doubt feeling the weight of expectation after luminaries such as Mateja Kezman and Khalid Boulahrouz wore the same digit at Chelsea this millennium.

Jokes aside, the Blues have brokered the return of a player who, in his words, is “more complete” – and that’s a frightening proposition for title rivals. Lukaku was criminally underrated when he left for Italy in 2019 after 113 goals over 252 Premier League appearances. In Serie A, he scored 47 times in 72 outings and helped fire Inter Milan to their first Scudetto in 11 years.

The timing of Lukaku’s expected debut couldn’t be worse for Arsenal. Ben White’s £50-million price tag was already under scrutiny before he was overpowered in aerial duels during last week’s defeat at Brentford, and Pablo Mari struggled throughout that match under the weight of a high press.

Things could soon look very ugly for Gunners boss Mikel Arteta. A season-opening loss to the Bees and this Sunday’s daunting visit from Chelsea is followed by next weekend’s trip to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City.

Prediction: Chelsea make things worse for their London rivals

Serie A

Inter Milan vs. Genoa

Mattia Ozbot – Inter / FC Internazionale / Getty

When: Saturday, Aug. 21 (12:30 p.m. ET)
Where: San Siro

Antonio Conte and Lukaku, the most important figures of last season’s Scudetto success, are gone. The excellent defensive trio of Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij, and Alessandro Bastoni remain, but otherwise new boss Simone Inzaghi is navigating a turbulent period that is unlikely to end with back-to-back titles for Inter

That doesn’t make the Nerazzurri’s latest campaign any less intriguing for onlookers, though.

Denzel Dumfries’ stock is high after his excellent displays for the Netherlands at Euro 2020, and he could prove a sensible replacement at right wing-back for Achraf Hakimi. It will also be interesting to see if Inzaghi can get the best out of Hakan Calhanoglu, who was often a frustration for AC Milan fans, and if Edin Dzeko can still be a reliable source of goals at 35.

Inter have won each of their past six league meetings with Genoa, scoring 21 and conceding none.

Prediction: Narrow win for Inter

Roma vs. Fiorentina

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When: Sunday, Aug. 22 (2:45 p.m. ET)
Where: Stadio Olimpico

Jose Mourinho’s second stint in Italian football officially begins this weekend as he makes his league debut on the Roma touchline.

The Giallorossi kick off their new season by welcoming Fiorentina to the capital. On paper, the fixture is easily the most intriguing of Serie A’s opening weekend. There are certainly compelling storylines to follow with the Tuscan club going into the campaign – Dusan Vlahovic’s continued rise, assuming he stays put, is chief among them – but let’s be honest, we’re all here for Mourinho and his antics.

History, and Roma’s explosive preseason, suggest the bombastic Portuguese bench boss will once again be entertaining, even if his shtick has lost its freshness over the years.

Roma have been involved in multiple brawls during preseason – one of them was instigated by Porto madman Pepe, in fairness – and had three players sent off in a 5-2 loss to Real Betis. Fireworks follow Mourinho everywhere. He’ll be hoping new signing Tammy Abraham, brought aboard as the replacement for Edin Dzeko, and a fully fit Nicolo Zaniolo can provide pyrotechnics on the pitch this season as Roma look to improve on last season’s seventh-place finish.

Prediction: Slim win for Roma

Ligue 1

Nice vs. Marseille

PASCAL GUYOT / AFP / Getty

When: Sunday, Aug. 22 (2:45 p.m. ET)
Where: Stade de Nice

Marseille have surprised many with their aggressive approach in the transfer market. Their summer outlay is already close to exceeding their spend from the previous two seasons combined as president Pablo Longoria invests in the work of animated coach Jorge Sampaoli.

The shrewder acquisitions have been most impressive so far. On-loan Roma attacker Cengiz Under has scored twice in two appearances on the right flank and American youngster Konrad de la Fuente, a bargain buy from Barcelona’s backup team, has been electrifying down the left.

Longtime OM favorite Dimitri Payet, now 34, continues to be influential, too, with his precise manipulation of the ball and a confidence which borders on arrogance.

Nice can test whether Marseille are for real. Christophe Galtier’s side hasn’t conceded in its opening two matches and Amine Gouiri, 21, could be set for an explosive campaign after his unheralded excellence for much of last season.

Prediction: Entertaining draw

Bundesliga

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Monchengladbach

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

When: Saturday, Aug. 21 (12:30 p.m. ET)
Where: BayArena

Get ready for some goals.

Whenever Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach face off, they entertain; the two Bundesliga stalwarts have combined for 261 goals in 78 league meetings, good enough for an average of 3.3 tallies per game. Here’s hoping they maintain that pace on Saturday.

Leverkusen will rely primarily on Euro 2020 star Patrik Schick, who settled proceedings the last time the two clubs met in March. Teen phenom Florian Wirtz may also be available after dealing with a groin injury to start the season.

Monchengladbach, meanwhile, will look to build on last week’s solid draw against reigning champions Bayern Munich and have a multitude of scoring options. Watch out for Patrick Herrmann, in particular; the German winger has scored more goals against Leverkusen (six) than any other team and will likely see action off the bench at some point in the contest.

Prediction: High-scoring draw

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Bundesliga

4 possible landing spots for Ronaldo amid transfer speculation

Here we go again.

For the second consecutive summer, Cristiano Ronaldo is attempting to engineer a transfer. Having bolted from Italy to rejoin Manchester United just one year ago, the Portuguese star is now reportedly looking to leave Old Trafford after a disappointing campaign in which the Red Devils failed to secure Champions League football.

The timing of his request isn’t particularly helpful – United could have done with a couple extra months to sanction a sale and seek a replacement – but his departure could end up being a blessing for all parties involved. Ronaldo’s fit within the squad has been a point of extreme contention since his return, and a rebuilding team under new manager Erik ten Hag would probably benefit from a more holistic approach instead of relying on an aging Ronaldo to be the focal point of an attack that needs rejuvenation.

Publicly, both the club and manager remain adamant United won’t sell the 37-year-old. Privately, though, the message is likely very different.

Some of the rumored destinations for Ronaldo have serious flaws for various reasons: He will almost certainly not join Napoli or Roma, return to Sporting CP, or move to Major League Soccer. Meanwhile, Manchester City – who were linked to Ronaldo last year – now have Erling Haaland. With that in mind, here are four other landing spots that could make sense if the decorated forward gets his desired transfer before the Sept. 1 deadline.

Chelsea

GLYN KIRK / AFP / Getty

If he really is going to leave Manchester United – don’t count out a change of heart just yet – this seems like the most likely option at the moment, regardless of Chelsea’s impending deal for Raheem Sterling.

Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s renowned agent, is making the rounds to convince one of Europe’s top clubs to sign his client. Mendes reportedly met with new Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly last month to discuss the prospect of Ronaldo swapping Manchester for London. Boehly, temporarily in charge of the Blues’ transfer dealings amid organizational changes at Stamford Bridge, would surely be tempted to make an enormous statement signing early in his tenure. And from a PR perspective – although perhaps not from an on-pitch performance one – they don’t get much bigger than this.

Chelsea have serious defensive issues to address right now in the wake of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen departing for La Liga. Once they fill the glaring hole in central defense – seemingly with Kalidou Koulibaly – attention can return to the attack. And with it, possibly to Ronaldo.

Paris Saint-Germain

Let’s get wild.

One of the great inhibitors in the Ronaldo sweepstakes is, quite simply, cash flow. At most, only a handful of clubs can realistically afford to handle his gargantuan wages even if the Portugal captain is willing to reduce his salary to facilitate a transfer, as he’s suggested.

That’s the primary reason why Italy – and the likes of Napoli and Roma – can’t be considered legitimate suitors. While amid their Serie A dominance, even Juventus felt the strain of paying Ronaldo and balancing that responsibility with other squad-building needs. The other clubs in Italy, then, don’t really have the means to make the numbers work.

At Paris Saint-Germain, however, there are no such issues. Financial Fair Play (FFP) has failed to curb the exorbitant spending of state-backs clubs, thus allowing the game’s wealthiest teams to largely do as they please in the recruitment space. Financially, PSG has the muscle to pull this off.

Whether it would actually make sense on the pitch and in the locker room is another matter entirely. PSG have reportedly turned down Mendes’ advances over concerns about the former.

A veritable pantheon of excellent football minds have tried and failed to get PSG over the Champions League hump in recent years, with Mauricio Pochettino the latest to endure an unceremonious exit. Something is clearly amiss at the Parc des Princes. For so many respected managers to be chewed up and spit out, despite all having an absurd crop of talent at their disposal, suggests something is broken at the core of the club.

Aside from the hilarious tactical imbalance it would create, adding Ronaldo would surely just exasperate that existing issue. Then again, seeing him alongside Lionel Messi on the same team would, of course, be a fitting culmination to their era of dominance.

Bayern Munich

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

This is all dependent on Robert Lewandowski’s future, really. If the prolific Pole stays put, adding Ronaldo is a non-starter.

“As highly as I rate Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the greatest, a transfer wouldn’t be a fit with our philosophy,” Bayern Munich CEO Oliver Kahn recently told German magazine Kicker, as translated by ESPN.

It’s always good practice to be at least a little skeptical of executives when they’re discussing transfer matters, but when Kahn says Ronaldo doesn’t fit with the club’s ethos of signing young talent, he’s not lying.

Sadio Mane’s addition this summer was the exception rather than the rule. Excluding free transfers and loans, Bayern simply don’t allocate transfer capital to outfield players who are 30 or older. Before the Senegalese star, the last signing who fit that bill was Sandro Wagner – that was five years ago. The likes of Ivan Perisic, Douglas Costa, and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting all arrived at the Allianz Arena either on a temporary basis or via free transfer in recent seasons.

But, again, that all came with the huge caveat that Bayern already employed world football’s preeminent goalscorer. If Lewandowski leaves, especially late in the window, perhaps Ronaldo enters the equation.

Barcelona

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It’s wildly unlikely, but this is, objectively, the most amusing option for a multitude of reasons.

The Messi connection is obvious, but more entertaining would be seeing Barcelona try to concoct a way to make the numbers work on any deal as they, quite literally, mortgage their future to bring in new players while apparently trying to avoid honoring deferred wages to current stars. Serious mental gymnastics is happening at the Camp Nou right now.

Also, seeing Ronaldo wearing a Blaugrana kit would just be surreal.

The aforementioned Lewandowski domino looms large here, too. Outspoken Barca president Joan Laporta is very publicly courting the Bayern Munich striker, who himself is seeking a new adventure after eight years in Bavaria.

If Barca – clearly willing to pull every economic lever there is to sign new players, consequences be damned – truly think they can sign Lewandowski, it’s not a crazy leap to think they’d view Ronaldo as a realistic option in the event they miss out on Bayern’s talisman.

For all our sakes, let’s hope this happens.

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Bundesliga

Rangers stun RB Leipzig to face Frankfurt in Europa League final

Eintracht Frankfurt hadn’t played in a European final in 42 years. Rangers slipped into administration a short decade ago.

Both are now back in the big time.

Frankfurt and Rangers booked their places in the Europa League final after winning their semifinal matchups on Thursday. Frankfurt shut out 10-man West Ham United to advance 3-1 on aggregate, and Rangers overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit with a thundering 3-1 victory at home to RB Leipzig.

The final will take place at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on May 18.

Aaron Cresswell’s red card in the 18th minute all but ended West Ham’s hopes of a comeback. The Hammers trailed 2-1 on aggregate after losing the first leg at home and needed to win by two goals on Thursday to progress without the help of penalties. But Frankfurt scored instead, adding insurance with Rafael Borre’s strike in the 26th minute.

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Rangers captain James Tavernier sparked scenes of jubilation in the 19th minute at Ibrox when he buried his Europa League-leading seventh goal of the campaign. Minutes later, Glen Kamara arrowed an accurate left-footed shot into the bottom corner to double the advantage. Rangers held Leipzig goalless until the 71st minute when Christopher Nkunku leveled the tie with a cushioned volley from close range.

But the Scottish side fired back in the 81st minute. As Leipzig scrambled to clear the area, midfielder John Lundstram pounced on the loose ball and slotted it home.

Rangers can now look forward to their first European final since 2008 when they lost to Zenit St. Petersburg in the former UEFA Cup.

Both finalists navigated tough roads to reach the showpiece event. Frankfurt beat Real Betis in the round of 16 before famously eliminating Barcelona in the quarterfinals with a memorable 3-2 win at Camp Nou.

Rangers advanced to the knockout round as the worst of the second-place teams from the group stage. After collecting just eight points from six round-robin matches, the Gers knocked out Borussia Dortmund in the playoffs before beating Red Star Belgrade in the round of 16 and Braga in the quarterfinals.

Steven Gerrard also left the club midway through the campaign, leaving Giovanni van Bronckhorst to take the reins. The Dutchman has compiled a 25-7-6 record since replacing Gerrard in November.

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Bundesliga

5 biggest storylines from the World Cup draw

The stage is set for the 2022 World Cup. Below, we examine the five most compelling storylines from Friday’s draw.

No definitive Group of Death in Qatar

When Lothar Matthaus plucked Germany out of Pot 2 during Friday’s draw in Doha, Qatar, it seemed like he had just set up his country to fail at the 2022 World Cup. Already in the same group as Spain, Germany also faced the possibility of being matched with Africa Cup of Nations champion Senegal and Canada, which finished atop the standings in CONCACAF qualifying.

Germany understands more than most nations the perils of taking the group stage lightly. Losses to Mexico and South Korea eliminated the then-defending World Cup champion in the round robin in 2018, setting into motion a period of soul-searching and uncertainty for Die Mannschaft.

Alexander Hassenstein – FIFA / FIFA / Getty

But the rest of the draw went smoothly. Japan – far from the team Keisuke Honda led to the round of 16 in 2010 and 2018 – brings relief as the third team in Group E, and the winner of the intercontinental playoff between Costa Rica and New Zealand will round out the quartet in June.

Spain and Germany will still contest the most exciting match of the group stage, but apart from that, qualifying for the knockout round should be a straightforward assignment for two of Europe’s powerhouse nations.

The rest of the groups look fairly balanced. The weakest is undoubtedly Group A, with Qatar and Ecuador likely to serve as cannon fodder to Senegal and the Netherlands. Group H, with Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea, and Ghana, could end up being the Group of Life, as every team has a realistic shot of advancing.

U.S. and England renew old hostilities

The United States will face England on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, in a rematch of the 1-1 draw between the two rivals in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. It’s also a match that carries political and socioeconomic undertones. The U.S., after all, supplanted Great Britain as a world economic power during the 20th century, and it has since sent many of its sports franchises to the U.K. as a marketing and expansion exercise. But England has always maintained superiority on the pitch.

Martin Rickett – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

“English encounters with the U.S. are freighted with a strange tension, a superiority complex masking deep-rooted anxiety, because if America ever overtakes us in football, then what, as a country, do we have left?” The Guardian’s Tom Dart wrote in 2019.

There’s also some history to explore. At the 1950 World Cup, the U.S. – then composed of amateur players who worked mainly as dishwashers, mailmen, and hearse drivers – upset 3-1 favorite England. The shocking 1-0 win barely made a dent in the American public’s consciousness – The New York Times devoted just two paragraphs to the game – but it stung the English psyche. Bert Williams, England’s goalkeeper for the match, told The Associated Press that it took “a lot of forgetting.”

That remains the U.S.’ only competitive win over England. It now has a chance to reopen old wounds.

Ghana seeking vengeance

Ghana’s out for revenge against Uruguay – and rightfully so. Back in 2010, it was vying to become the first African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals when Luis Suarez swatted away what would’ve been the winning goal in the 120th minute of play. Although Suarez was sent off for that deliberate handball, Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty kick, and Uruguay won the ensuing shootout, earning social-pariah status as the team that knocked out Africa’s only remaining hope in the first World Cup to ever take place in the continent.

Michael Steele / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“We thought we had clearly won that particular game but for that save from Suarez,” Kurt Okraku, president of Ghana’s football association, told BBC Sport Africa on Friday. “It is very interesting for us to pitch against them again, obviously with fond memories (this time around).

“It is important that we all set the record straight.”

After that match, Suarez reportedly told the media “the hand of God belongs to me,” referencing Diego Maradona’s goal against England at the 1986 World Cup.

Canada has upset potential

Canada was arguably the toughest team to come out of Pot 4. Only a loss to Panama on Wednesday – with a heavily rotated starting lineup – denied the Canadians a place in Pot 3. Given the U.S. and Mexico, two of the eight teams in Pot 2, each lost to their northern rivals in CONCACAF qualifying, Canada could’ve claimed an even higher place in the draw.

This group of players, led by striker Jonathan David and the omnipresent Alphonso Davies, has the talent and willpower to cause an upset in Qatar. That’s especially true in Group F, which is more manageable than it looks. Belgium and Croatia will enter as the favorites to advance, but despite holding the No. 1 ranking for much of the past two years, the Belgians remain an aging group that mainly feasts on European minnows.

The same goes for Croatia, which is far from the team that made the 2018 World Cup final. Captain Luka Modric continues to anchor the squad at 36 years old, but without Mario Mandzukic – who retired in 2021 – or Ante Rebic – in exile after a spat with head coach Zlatko Dalic – the national team is entering its endgame.

Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“Canada, for us, was always a hidden threat,” Belgium’s head coach, Roberto Martinez, told TSN’s Matthew Scianitti after the draw.

Martinez added: “It’s been very impressive to see this Canadian team with the consistency, with the energy, with the youth, with the team spirit that they have. … We know that we’ll be facing a team that is together.”

Morocco has some star power – full-back Achraf Hakimi plays for Paris Saint-Germain, and goalscorer Youssef En-Nesyri leads the line for Sevilla, La Liga’s second-placed team – but its recent results don’t instill much fear. It recently lost to Egypt – which didn’t even qualify for the World Cup – and managed most of its wins against the likes of Sudan and Guinea-Bissau.

Juicy quarterfinal matchups on tap

If things go to plan, the quarterfinals could pit England against France, the Netherlands against Argentina, and Spain against Brazil. That would put six of the top eight betting favorites in an early bind and potentially open a path to the semifinals for Portugal, which could avoid some of the mayhem at the top of the knockout bracket if it finishes atop Group H and enters the bottom half. Portugal would then face either Switzerland or Serbia in the round of 16 before meeting Belgium or Germany. Even then, it’s not much of a consolation.

Potential matchups

The quarterfinals four years ago were fairly underwhelming: France beat Uruguay, Belgium upset Brazil, Croatia edged out Russia, and England knocked off Sweden. The prospects are much more tantalizing this time around. Can Lionel Messi avoid disappointment in what is likely to be his last World Cup appearance? Will Brazil be eliminated in the quarterfinals for the fourth time in five tournaments? And is England ready to take the next step?

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