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United need Reus more than Arsenal do

Borussia Dortmund winger Marco Reus is in high demand after an impressive start to the new season, with the German club recently admitting that the attacker has a release clause in his contract. This has shortened the football betting odds on the talented forward making a move to the Premier League.

As such, both Arsenal and Manchester United have been linked with a move for the former Borussia Monchengladbach man, with his release clause thought to be in the £30 million region.

Arsenal’s link to the prodigious attacking midfielder is understandable, as Arsene Wenger has been steadily adding players from Germany to his squad over the last 12 months.

Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld and Mesut Ozil are all on the books of the north London club already.

Marco Reus

However, with the Gunners in real need of an out-and-out striker to take some of the load and responsibility away from Olivier Giroud, Wenger should have other priorities in the January transfer window.

Reus’ considerable abilities mean he would be an excellent addition to any squad, but given the presence of Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski and Ozil, another attacking midfielder is not necessarily what Arsenal need if they are to win silverware this term.

United on the other hand need a player of Reus’ ilk more than the Gunners do. The Premier League champions are over-reliant on Wayne Rooney to provide the craft and creativity to break teams down, while their wingers have been hit and miss over the last 12 months.

With the pursuit of a creative central midfielder falling flat, it has been up to Rooney to link United’s midfield and attack. The likes of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have failed to impress of late, while Shinji Kagawa has been limited in his chances to play.

Reus’ addition would be a real boost for the Premier League champions, as he would bring energy, guile and technical quality to Old Trafford. His tendency to cut inside off his wing and play intricate passes with his number ten, Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Dortmund, would be a key bonus of signing him, as he could link up with Rooney in a way that United’s current wingers do not.

Kagawa still has a lot to prove at Old Trafford, and offering him in part-exchange could well be a mistake. Alternatively, should United meet Reus’ release clause and bring him to Manchester, two former Dortmund stars on the flanks for the champions looks like a mouthwatering prospect.

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Manchester United, City and Chelsea’s hopes of landing Robert Lewandowski increased

Borussia Dortmund have this morning announced that contrary to assumption, Robert Lewandowski will not be sold to Bayern Munich this summer. Sporting Director Michael Zorc is quoted by German tabloid Kicker as saying ‘We have communicated to the player and his advisers that we will not agree to a transfer to FC Bayern this summer.’

Undoubtedly this stance was always what Dortmund wanted but will have been heightened after Bayern stole Mario Götze by activating the release clause in his contract. Lewandowski has intimated that he wants a new challenge and as he only has one year left on his contract he has forced Dortmund in to a position where they would have to sell him or face losing a £30m asset for free next summer. They would therefore surely be willing to agree to sell him to the Premier League rather than their main domestic rivals. Man United have long been linked with him, Chelsea desperately need a striker and Man City may feel it too good an opportunity to miss. So could he end up in England, and if so, where?

Robert Lewandowski

Chelsea would seem to be the most obvious landing spot for Lewandowski. Although they are thought to be deep in negotiations with Edinson Cavani of Napoli, Lewandowski is a player whose destructive capability Jose Mourinho has witnessed first hand. It was the Pole’s four goals against his Real Madrid side that elevated him in to the real upper echelon on a world stage. Cavani and Lewandowski are similar players. Both of them have wonderful technique, good pace and strength and are deadly and consistent finishers. The advantages of going for Lewandowski are the price, thought to be at most £30m rather than £52m, and the fact that he speaks fluent English and has played in a similarly physically demanding league with great success. He is used to the system and showed at Dortmund how good he can be with three attacking midfielders behind him which is exactly what Chelsea have. Chelsea also have the added bait of Romelu Lukaku who Dortmund are known to admire.

Man United is on the surface a less obvious fit but it makes a whole heap of sense. David Moyes has historically preferred a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system and if United do allow Wayne Rooney to leave they would need a world-class option to pair with Robin van Persie. Both he and Lewandowski would be comfortable roaming around out of the box if required and having to account for both of them would give most defences fits. Lewandowski is a very hard worker, which is a quality David Moyes admires and prises, and the lure of moving to the English champions should be strong for Lewandwoski.

Man City are the outsiders but shouldn’t be counted out. New manager Manuel Pellegrini is being given the playing staff to operate his preferred 4-2-3-1 but there is still room for another attacker. If they decide not to move for Isco they may well go for Lewandowski. That would allow Sergio Aguero to drop in to the number 10 role where he played at times last year and where he could be very dangerous running from deep. Lewandowski has the technical skill to work with the three men behind and the finishing ability to make the most of the chances they would create for him.

All three of the teams could afford the price and all three could very much use Lewandowksi in their sides. He would offer qualities that none of them have and allow others to be better maximised. Dortmund will not sell Lewandowski to Bayern and rather than losing him to them next summer for free they would be better trying to sell him now. The big three Premier League clubs should have the advantage over Monaco or PSG and with Real Madrid focusing their attention on Luis Suarez, we could be set for a top three battle to sign Robert Lewandowski.

Have Manchester United found their next Paul Scholes?

Much has been made of the lack of creativity in the centre of midfield for Manchester United since the ageing and initial retirement of Paul Scholes. An attempt to sign Wesley Sneijder was thought to have been made last summer, while countless deep-lying playmakers have been linked with a switch to Old Trafford since. However, could Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Gotze be the answer

The Germany international playmaker has been on the radar of top European clubs for a number of seasons now, but it appears that the wonderkid will be a major target for many this summer. Despite being tied down to a long-term contract to the Bundesliga champions currently, Gotze has recently admitted that a switch to a top European club, such as United, would be hard to resist.

“Clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United are attractive, other top leagues would dominate you and you could develop.”

United are by no means desperate for a central midfield maestro, given the passing ability of Michael Carrick and the clever footwork and industry of Tom Cleverley. That said, with Anderson ineffectual and seemingly on his way out of the club and continued doubts over Darren Fletcher’s fitness, Sir Alex Ferguson would be well advised to invest in someone to give the side a shot in the arm from the centre of the park.

Mario Gotze

Someone like Gotze would obviously provide that spark. At 20 years old the Memmingen-born player has the world at his feet, and is set to be an immense talent over the next decade, or longer. With 20 international caps in a top Germany team already under his belt it would be no surprise to see him make 100 appearances for his homeland before he finally hangs up his boots.

The fee to persuade Dortmund to sell would be considerable, plus the player has made no great shakes about leaving Signal Iduna Park. However, as good a side as Dortmund are, it is only natural that Gotze will want to play for one of Europe’s top historical sides if he progresses at his current rate, and the opportunity to move to Old Trafford would certainly appeal to him.

No Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or City: Champions League quarter-final preview

For the first time since 1996 there is no English representation in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Despite this, the draw has still thrown up some potentially exciting ties that are bound to produce plenty of goals and talking points.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund

Probably the least glamorous looking of the ties but has the potential to be one of the most entertaining. Both teams have been extremely impressive in getting this far. Malaga topped their group, remaining unbeaten, and finishing ahead of AC Milan and Zenit, before overturning a first-leg deficit against Porto in the last 16. Dortmund meanwhile were put in the so-called Group of Death alongside Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax. They too remained unbeaten though, and also finished first in their group before sweeping aside Shakhtar in the last 16.

Mario Gotze

While most people will look at Isco as Malaga’s main threat, the experience they possess with the likes of Joaquin, Toulalan, Saviola and Demichelis is not to be under-estimated though, and they will be prepared for the occasion. Dortmund’s youth and attacking style may just prove to be too much for the Spaniards however, and with the guaranteed goals and creativity of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski along with home advantage in the second leg, the Germans may well be a good outside bet to make it all the way to Wembley.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray

The second favourites meet the rank outsiders in this quarter-final tie. Madrid cruised through their group, even though they finished second to Dortmund, and then controversially saw off Manchester United over two tense games. Galatasaray just edged through their group ahead of CFR Cluj and their attacking prowess saw them score three in Germany to get past Schalke.

Didier Drogba

There is no doubting the Turkish side’s attacking options. Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder were the big name signings in January but they also boast the joint top scorer in the competition with Burak Yilmaz. Add to this the experience of Felipe Melo and Hamit Altintop in the midfield and they certainly have a strong core to their team. Over two games though it is hard to see a defence which has already conceded in all but one game in the competition so far this season containing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and company. Galatasaray do have the advantage of being at home for the second leg but they cannot afford to be more than a goal or two behind after their trip to the Bernabeu.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona

Undoubtedly the tie of the round, the big-spending French team against the side who have raised most of their players through their youth team. Despite a couple of wobbles along the way against Celtic and in the first leg against AC Milan, the Catalan giants still remain the team to beat. As they showed in the second leg against Milan they are still unstoppable when they are on form. PSG were very impressive in topping their group and despite a nervy second leg against Valencia they deservedly fought their way through.

Jordi Alba

The biggest problem for the French side in the first game will be the continued suspension of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To have any chance against Barcelona they will need their strongest team and it will be a big blow to not have their talisman. Not that PSG are a one-man team though. Ezequiel Lavezzi continues to show his talent with five goals in this tournament and they have the exciting young talents of Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. The problem they may find though is getting the ball to these players, but if they can there is no doubt they can cause Barcelona problems. It would be no surprise if Paris Saint-Germain got a positive result at home but as Milan found out in the last 16, it needs a big lead to take to the Nou Camp for the return game.

Bayern Munich v Juventus

The final tie pits together two of the heavyweights of European football over the years. Bayern have been very impressive to this stage and despite their second-leg defeat to Arsenal they still dominated in terms of attempts at goal and possession. Juventus came through a slow start to qualify first from a group containing Shakhtar and defending champions Chelsea, before brushing aside the challenge of Celtic.

Andrea Pirlo

Bayern will be determined to make amends for their final defeat to Chelsea last year and they certainly have a team who find it easy to create chances and, certainly at domestic level, score goals. They are coming up against a side though that is more of a stereotypical Italian team. Solid at the back and good in possession, Juve play the game at their own pace. They may be short of big names but they have an Italian core that are well drilled and know exactly what they are doing. This is probably the hardest of the quarter-finals to call, but it may well be that Bayern’s extra options in the attacking third will be enough to see them through; but only just.

By Chris Newman

Shinji Kagawa and a glimpse of things to come for Manchester United fans

When Shinji Kagawa joined Manchester United for an initial fee of £12million in the summer, many football observers were calling it a masterstroke.

After all, this was the player who ended his last season at Borussia Dortmund with 17 goals, 10 assists and both a Bundesliga and German Cup winner’s medal.

His partnership with Robert Lewandowski had helped turn Dortmund into the top team in German football, while his ball-control, vision and goal-scoring ability pointed to a 23-year-old who was exactly the kind of playmaker United were crying out for.

Fans frustrated at losing out on Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura could calm themselves in the knowledge that a quieter but no less impressive player was heading their way. And yet this season, the Japanese midfielder-cum-forward has shown only flickers of his undoubted ability.

Shinji Kagawa

That was until Saturday, when his hat-trick against Norwich City ended any doubts that he was cut out for the Premier League, or suited to any position besides that of a second striker.

While his first goal could be argued as a lucky one, his positioning was key, as was the confidence to take it on the outside of his right foot. But it was his second and third that should excite United fans the most.

The nonchalant side-foot finish for his second was that of a player whose thoughts are somehow quicker than the game he is caught up in. While his third saw his first touch dissect the Norwich defence and his second touch delicately chip the onrushing ‘keeper.

After each goal he celebrated only with a smile, as if he was used to it, or at least had been, and he was simply relieved it was happening once more.

One game does not make a player. Just ask Andrei Arshavin. But on Saturday, Kagawa showed what he is capable of. And the fans who have seen glimpses of his passing ability and ball-retention over the last six months, have now seen what he can do when he is fit and a little more used to his surroundings.

Ultimately, his best performances may come at Old Trafford, when opponents tire and the attacking intent of his teammates leads to holes for him to exploit. And certainly away against the top sides both domestically and in Europe his ability to keep the ball may prove more important than where he can put it. But for fans crying out for a creative, goal-scoring midfielder, Saturday may have seen him stake his first claim for the job.

The rumours continue that Kagawa’s former teammate Lewandowksi will be joining him at Old Trafford next season. Whether they need him is another matter. But with or without him, Kagawa has found his feet.

They are very special feet indeed. And by next season, they could have the beating of most.

Bayern Munich: The German giant rising from its slumber

On Wednesday evening, a team who have been all-but-invincible since August won arguably their biggest game of the season.

Despite being 17 points clear in the Bundesliga, qualifying from their Champions League group at a canter and already with one foot in the quarter-finals, it was a German Cup match against Borussia Dortmund that ended any doubt that Bayern Munich are, once again, back to their best.

The 1-0 win, courtesy of a first-half strike by Arjen Robben, finally ended Bayern’s three-year wait for a victory against the side who, in recent times, have replaced them as the top team in German football.

Arjen Robben celebrates against Borussia Dortmund

While Dortmund ended last season with a second successive league title, Bayern suffered a hat-trick of near-misses, finishing runners-up in the league, losing to Chelsea in Europe and being humiliated 5-2 by Dortmund in the German Cup final.

So to heal old wounds, it was the perfect competition to finally seal the win that ends an unwanted statistic and sees them one step closer to a potential double of their own.

Much has been said about Pep Guardiola’s imminent arrival at the Allianz Arena.  Hyperbole has it that he will single-handedly transform the Bundesliga into football’s hottest destination, and his new team into Barcelona Mark II.  But the truth is Bayern do not require transformation.

Under current manager Jupp Heynckes, they are on course for their most successful season in years. And there should be no doubt that the frustration of ending last year trophyless, particularly in the Champions League, makes them a very dangerous proposition.

In fact, events at Camp Nou pending, the Germans could go into the quarter-finals clear of two of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Come next season, Guardiola could be asked to continue, rather than reintroduce, success; because there is a very real chance that his new team could be the first German side to win the perfect treble, ending their three-year wait for a trophy in some style.

Having finally ended the hoodoo of Dortmund’s domestic and personal dominance, their fans may just see the club’s outstanding success of the mid-70s as a benchmark if not to be matched then certainly attempted.

Manchester United, City, Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham? Where will Robert Lewandowski end up?

One player that looks set to move to a top Premier League club this summer is Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski. The Polish frontman has impressed for the German champions over the last 18 months, but seems eager to take that next step. With a number of English clubs chasing the attacker, where will he end up?

Lewandowski has proven himself over the last year-and-a-half as a top striker, and deserves the plaudits and the transfer rumours of moves to big clubs. Initially it was something of a shock when the eastern European broke into the Signal Iduna Park line-up, displacing Lucas Barrios. However, Lewandowski has taken his opportunity with both hands, scoring on a regular basis and playing a big part in a domestic double for Jurgen Klopp’s men last term.

Robert Lewandowski

44 goals in 87 appearances for Dortmund mean that Lewandowski is an important player for the side, but his contract with the Bundesliga champions is expiring in June 2014. Dortmund director Michael Zorc has recently made it clear that the forward looks likely to search out a move to another club.

“Robert Lewandowski is not going to sign a new contract. We will have to see if he is going to be on the move in the summer.

“His contract runs until 2014. There are two options. Either he goes in June or he stays for another year.”

Manchester United are the favourites in the football betting stakes of the English sides linked with the forward, and it is fair to say that Lewandowski has the right blend of skills and eye for goal to be a hit at Old Trafford. However, with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa on their books, the current Premier League leaders look more than equipped in attack. That said, with Sir Alex Ferguson using Kagawa and Welbeck on the wings and Rooney dropping deeper each season, an out-and-out striker may well be of interest.

It has been well publicised that Manchester City are in the market for a new striker. Mario Balotelli has been sold, Edin Dzeko is out of favour and Carlos Tevez is temperamental; Sergio Aguero looks like the only one with a long-term future at the club. The Etihad Stadium outfit are said to be keeping tabs on Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao, but should a move for these two fail, Roberto Mancini may look to Lewandowski to bolster his attacking options.

Arsenal have struggled this season, with one of the main reasons being the sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Olivier Giroud has failed to find consistency in his first season in England, and the north London side are in real danger of missing out on Champions League football for next season. If bolstering is to be done in the summer a new big-name goalscorer will surely be one of the requirements; Lewandowski fits the bill. The Gunners have also a past record of signing players from Dortmund with Tomas Rosicky and Thomas Eisfeld joining from the German team.

Chelsea are certainly a club in transition, and it remains to be seen who the next Blues boss will be. Demba Ba has been signed to get goals for the club, with Fernando Torres continuing to flounder. The next boss may well say enough is enough and get rid of the misfiring Spaniard, and as such a new frontman could be on the cards for the Stamford Bridge side. Chelsea have been playing one up front with the likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard in support; Lewandowski is the perfect lone forward.

Finally, Tottenham are a team on the up and are closing in on a top four finish this term. With ambitions of keeping star players like Gareth Bale at the club and progressing to be a regular Champions League participant, the signing of one or two top players is needed. Spurs have been short up front at times this term, with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor the only recognised forwards at the club. A move for Lewandowski would be ambitious, but a major coup if it was to materialise.

All-in-all, Lewandowski is a top player, and a number of other leading teams on the continent will look to pry him away from Dortmund in the summer too. However, he has all the attributes to be a success in England, and no doubt a number of the top Premier League sides will be in the hunt for his signature.

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund: The game no one expected

When the draw for the group stage of the Champions League was first made, few would have imagined this being a second-round match.  But both clubs have reached the knock-out stage on merit and are more than capable of serving up a classic.

Drawn in what many called “the group of death”, Borussia Dortmund showed the rest of Europe what Bundesliga fans had grown accustomed to: topping the group unbeaten, taking four points off Real Madrid and consigning Manchester City to an early exit.

Jürgen Klopp’s team are fast becoming the talk of Europe, in no small part due to the number of their players regularly linked elsewhere.  But for now their squad remains intact and has every chance of making a real impact in this year’s competition.

Marco Reus

Currently 15 points behind Bayern Munich, Klopp will see Europe as more than an escape hatch from domestic inconsistency; he will see it as a chance to replicate the club’s 1997 Champions League success.  In what is likely to be Robert Lewandowski’s last season for the club, the Polish striker can punish a team with the second worst defensive record in the group stage.

But then you would also have said that of Chelsea, who lost 2-1 in the Ukraine and only won at Stamford Bridge after Victor Moses’ 94th-minute rescue act.

Shakhtar have been making steady progress in Europe since their 2009 Europa League success, and much like Dortmund, came through a tough group with aplomb.

Currently on a break from domestic competition, the Ukrainian champions and league leaders have been keeping match fit with a series of friendlies.  Whether that will be enough to keep out the likes of Lewandowski and Mario Götze, and find a way past the imposing defensive partnership of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotić, is another matter.

But having won all but one of their 18 league games so far, and having played their part in ousting reigning European champions Chelsea, Mircea Lucescu’s team will be confident of going further. With the creativity and goal scoring threat of Luiz Adriano, Alex Teixeira and Fernandinho, the dark horses could beat the other dark horses at their own game.

Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund: A must win for Mancini’s men?

Manchester City are back in Champions League action tonight against Borussia Dortmund, with Roberto Mancini’s men looking to open their European account for the season. However, after a disappointing group stage elimination last term and an opening day loss against Real Madrid this time round, pressure is starting to mount on the Etihad Stadium side.

Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal provided the `group of death’ opponents in 2011-12, but the Premier League champions have arguably been handed an even more daunting task this time round. Real Madrid, Dortmund and Ajax stand in the way of the Citizens in their quest to reach the knockout stages, in what is certainly the pool of the highest pedigree in this season’s competition.

The 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu was unfortunate in the fact that the English side conceded two late goals after dealing with wave after wave of Los Blancos attack for the majority of the game. Mancini and his men will be glad to have got the toughest game of the pool out of the way, and will now know that the clashes with Dortmund, both home and away, could well be the difference between qualification and elimination.

Last term Bayern ran away with the pool, and Madrid may well do the same this year. Villarreal were the whipping boys after their dramatic dip in form, and one thinks that Ajax will be the team that the other three look to get points from, both at home and in Holland. As such, Dortmund will provide a similar test to the Napoli side that ultimately cost City a place in the last 16 last term, after a draw in England and defeat in San Paolo.

Dortmund may not have started this term as impressively as they would have liked, with a seven-point gap between Jurgen Klopp’s men and Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga already after six games. However, the Signal Iduna Park side have the players to pose a real threat to City, and have a point to prove also; they have been German champions for the last two seasons, and after domestic glory making the knockout stages in Europe is the next logical progression.

A 5-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in their last outing showcased Dortmund’s calibre, and with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and a handful of others, the visitors are capable and talented opponents for City.

City’s form on the road this term has been questioned, but at fortress Etihad they have largely continued to win matches. The draw against Napoli last season in England proved costly; City will look to get all three points tonight to set them up for potential qualification this time round.

Super Mario: Bayern’s new star Mandzukic sends Munich to Super Cup victory

Bayern Munich finally ended the recent hex that Borussia Dortmund have over them on Sunday, with a 2-1 victory over their rivals in the German Super Cup. Although Thomas Muller scored the decisive goal for the Bavarian giants, Mario Mandzukic stood out in a commanding display in his first competitive game at the Allianz Arena.

Mandzukic’s rise to prominence over the last number of years has certainly been impressive; the 26-year-old has recorded lethal goalscoring tallies for NK Zagreb, Dinamo Zagreb and most recently Wolfsburg. Despite Croatia being eliminated in the group stages of Euro 2012, Mandzukic starred by scoring three goals in the absence of senior countryman Ivica Olic. Ironically, Mandzukic and Olic swapped clubs after the international tournament, with the 26-year-old earning his big move.

Bayern’s star-studded squad has lacked depth in the centre forward position over recent seasons, with Jupp Heynckes crying out for competition for Germany international Mario Gomez. Die Roten have addressed this concern ahead of the new season with the additions of Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro, but it appears that the Croat may well have a more important role to play than initially expected.

In Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 formation Gomez is the figurehead of the side’s attack, and Mandzukic himself admitted upon arriving in Bavaria that first-team opportunities may well be limited. However, with Gomez undergoing ankle surgery of late and set to be sidelined for the first part of the campaign, the new man has a chance to impose himself.

Mandzukic’s performance in the Super Cup will have impressed Heynckes and the club’s supporters. A delightful first touch and finish gave the hosts the lead early-on in the encounter, before an inch-perfect through ball set Arjen Robben free of the Dortmund defence in the build-up to the second goal. Mandzukic’s link-up play with his team-mates, ability to hold up the ball and tireless effort shone through in the victory.

The win ended five consecutive victories for Jurgen Klopp’s men over FCB, and last season’s runners-up were good value for the result. Despite Dortmund coming back into the game in the second half, Bayern deserved to triumph in an energetic and accurate display seldom seen in 2011-12.

The result is an early statement of intent by Jupp Heynckes’ men, who will fight tooth and nail to win their domestic crown back. Mandzukic’s part in that effort could well be telling, as the Croat looks to build on a mightily-impressive debut.

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