Hertha Berlin 2 Bayern Munich 0: Champions stunned as Kovac suffers first defeat

Niko Kovac suffered his first loss in charge of Bayern Munich as the Bundesliga champions slipped to a concerning 2-0 loss away at Hertha Berlin on Friday.

Held to a 1-1 home draw by Augsburg in midweek, the return of Robert Lewandowski, James Rodriguez and a raft of regulars failed to prevent Bayern from dropping points for a second successive outing.

They were disjointed in defence and uncharacteristically wasteful in attack as Vedad Ibisevic’s 23rd-minute penalty and a shot from Ondrej Duda on the stroke of half-time gave the home side their first victory against the Bavarian giants in 15 league meetings.

It added up to a forgettable homecoming for former Hertha player Kovac, who will expect a response to this mini slump when Bayern host Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Recalled as one of seven changes, Jerome Boateng’s first major act was to nod a James corner agonisingly wide of the top corner.

His next, however, was a panicked challenge on Salomon Kalou that allowed Ibisevic to convert the opener, leaving Bayern rattled on the road.

Arjen Robben inexplicably turned David Alaba’s low cross over the bar at point-blank range and the miss was punished a minute before the break, Duda emphatically meeting Valentino Lazaro’s clever cut-back.

Boateng went close to reducing the deficit with another fine header beyond the hour but Thomas Kraft, deputising for the injured Rune Jarstein, reacted well to deny the Germany international.

Kovac threw on Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry and Sandro Wagner in an ultimately fruitless search for a way back into his most alarming match in charge.

What it means: Rotate with caution

Bayern had won four straight and scored 11 in the Bundesliga prior to Kovac’s decision to field a vastly altered side against Augsburg.

Held to a point on that occasion, they were defensively disorganised at Olympiastadion despite the return of their leading names, with the regular rotation at the back between Boateng, Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule doing no favours for any of the trio and potentially requiring a rethink, at least in the early part of the campaign.

Duda does the job

Slovakia international Duda, in tandem with the tireless Lazaro, was a persistent threat to Bayern, who usually do a better job in stifling their opponents.

It was Duda’s lovely turn and lofted pass that created Hertha’s opener, while the attacking midfielder exerted further match-winning influence with a well-timed run for his goal.

Robben off the pace

On target in midweek, Robben, now 34, perhaps should have been the one to sit out this encounter.

The decorated Netherlands international made a meal of his team’s best opportunity and was immediately punished at the other end. Unable to get on the same wavelength as Joshua Kimmich down Bayern’s right, the veteran was hooked seven minutes into the second half.

What’s next?

Bayern’s first task after Champions League duty is a home meeting with Borussia Monchengladbach next Saturday, as Hertha head to Mainz.

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‘Gazidis has a lot to answer for’ – Ramsey contract saga annoys Arsenal icon Wright

Aaron Ramsey’s contract saga at Arsenal should have been avoided, says Ian Wright, with former chief executive Ivan Gazidis having “a lot to answer for” after jumping ship to AC Milan.

The Gunners have seen expiring deals become an unwelcome distraction over recent years, with too many agreements with key men being allowed to dip below 12 months.

Mesut Ozil was eventually tied to fresh terms last season, but Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere have departed the club and the likes of Ramsey and Danny Welbeck are now heading towards free agency.

Arsenal legend Wright is disappointed to see history repeating itself in north London, with there being no excuse for experienced campaigners behind the scenes to be taking so many risks with on-field talent.

He told Sky Sports: “That Ozil situation has had a massive effect on what’s going on right now because Aaron Ramsey is captain material.

“It should have been done ages ago. Ivan Gazidis has got a lot to answer for for this to happen because Ramsey should be a focal point in the team. 

“He’s somebody who is the heartbeat of the team and when it’s going poorly or badly, he still shows for the ball and tries to play how he wants to play, tries to get in the box and des things.

“He’s somebody that I’d like to see stay because I think he is that player who is never afraid. He scores goals. 

“I like him simply because when he gets in there he will finish and he’s somebody that, given a run of games, he will do something because he’s not afraid. 

“He doesn’t hide. He’s somebody that if they can get it going, I’m desperate for him to stay but I do understand that Arsenal cannot continue to let players dictate like they are now. 

“If it’s going to happen, take the contract off the table, take your chances with it.”

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has been unable to offer any assurances regarding Ramsey’s future, with the Spaniard in the dark when it comes to discussions with the Wales international midfielder.

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‘Messi & Ronaldo the best but 2018 is Modric’s year’ – Dalic salutes Real Madrid star

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the two top players in the world but 2018 belongs to Luka Modric, according to Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic.

Modric collected the FIFA Best Men’s Player award this week to follow the Golden Ball he claimed at the World Cup for his inspirational performances in Croatia’s run to the final.

The Real Madrid midfielder pipped Ronaldo and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah to the Best award and is tipped to be a contender for the 2018 Ballon d’Or.

Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the honour in recent history, winning the last 10 between them, but Dalic suggested Modric could be the man to break their duopoly.

“He totally deserved it (the FIFA Best award). He was the best player at the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, and then he won the Champions League and took Croatia to second place at the World Cup, where he was the most outstanding player of the tournament,” Dalic said in a FIFA interview. 

“What more can you ask for? I know that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the best players in the world, but this is Luka Modric’s year.

“He’s our captain, the most important player in our team, and he’s won every trophy there is to win with Real Madrid. What he needed was a big result with the national team and he got it this year with that second place at the World Cup.

“He was the team’s leader, a real captain, giving his all the whole time. He deserves all the praise and awards that have come his way. He’s also a great person, a great professional and he’s in the form of his life.”

Luka Modric Zlatko Dalic Croatia World Cup 2018

Dalic was nominated for the FIFA Best Men’s Coach prize having led Croatia through to the Russia 2018 final.

But the 51-year-old coach feels there could be more to come from his team ahead of the European Championships in 2020.

“We went all the way and it will be difficult to top that, not least because there’s so much competition, both around the world and in Europe,” Dalic added.

“We’ll give it our best shot, though. Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure on Croatia. The fans expect more every time and I’ve got no idea how we’re going to go out and top this.

“I do feel, though, that this is a team that could do really well again at the next Euros. I know we can play well, be competitive and give the people of Croatia another reason to celebrate again.”

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Mane: Why I wanted Philippe Coutinho’s No.10 at Liverpool

Sadio Mane says he had no hesitation when the opportunity to replace Philippe Coutinho as Liverpool’s No.10 arose over the summer.

The Brazil international’s January move to Barcelona left the number vacant for the start of the 2018-19 campaign.

And having worn the shirt while at Red Bull Salzburg, Southampton and for his country Senegal, it was a natural switch for Mane.

“I was very happy to get it because I have always taken the No.10 everywhere I have gone,” he explained, according to the Liverpool Echo.

“When I first came to Liverpool, Philippe (Coutinho) had it so I was happy with my number 19.

“But when he left I thought: it is free, I want to take the number 10 because it has always been my favourite number.

“Everywhere I go, I wore No.10 and now I wear it for Liverpool.”

As well as inheriting Coutinho’s number, Mane has also taken on the responsibility of helping to fill the void left by the playmaker.

After helping Liverpool reach the Champions League final – scoring in the 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid – he has netted four goals already this term for the early Premier League leaders.

In what will represent the most significant test of Liverpool’s title credentials so far, Jurgen Klopp’s side put their 100% start to the campaign on the line on Saturday against a Chelsea side who are also unbeaten under new boss Maurizio Sarri.

But Mane says Liverpool’s six straight wins means they travel to West London under no pressure.

“Honestly, at the moment we have no pressure,” said the Reds winger. “I can say we have a good team, a big squad and we have got a good amount of points. So why create pressure?

“The confidence is here because we are playing well and winning games so we will try to take it game by game. It is early in the season, we are looking forward and we want to keep more focused than ever.

“This season we want to believe everything is possible. A team like Liverpool can do it, but it will not be easy. We have to believe in ourselves as a team.”

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‘Arsenal can’t afford to let Welbeck leave’ – Wright sees new contract as a top priority

Arsenal cannot afford to let Danny Welbeck walk away as a free agent, says club legend Ian Wright.

The England international is approaching the end of his current deal and has no extension in place as yet.

Such a situation has become all too familiar for the Gunners, with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez having seen contract discussions drag on last season – the latter of whom departed for Old Trafford in January.

Aaron Ramsey is also in the same position this term, with Arsenal having been unable to put fresh terms in place with experienced senior stars.

Wright believes they should be making talks with Welbeck a top priority, with the former Manchester United forward an important presence in the squad despite his form and fitness issues.

The Arsenal icon told Sky Sports when quizzed on whether the 27-year-old has a role to play under Unai Emery: “Yes I certainly do.

“Where he is right now, behind [Alexandre] Lacazette and [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, coming off the bench with his experience.

“And the fact that he is capable of scoring goals against all types of opposition.

“He’s someone that I think Arsenal should definitely try to sign up for the long term.

“He’s valuable to Arsenal. I think he’s got eight to 10 goals in him over the course of a season.

“In the current climate, I don’t think Arsenal can afford to let someone like that go.”

Welbeck, who is now into his fifth season in north London, has been restricted to just 118 appearances in total for the Gunners.

He has managed 31 goals across those outings, with four of those coming this season – including two in his most recent showing against Brentford in the Carabao Cup.

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