Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
HEADLINE | Monday was the final day for transfers between clubs in Europe's biggest leagues, leading to a host of big-money movement that came down to the final hours of the day. The biggest transfer of the weekend was the long-rumored deal that sent Tottenham winger Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for - depending on who you believe - as much as $130 million. The move broke (or just failed to break, again given on who you believe) the world record for largest transfer fee ever paid for a player, which had previously been Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Madrid from Manchester United, which cost $125 million in 2009.
Monday, though, saw the most movement. Madrid, no doubt looking to fund its Bale purchase, sent German attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil to Arsenal for $66 million, far and away the record signing for the famously cheap London club. The Spanish giants also sold Brazilian midfielder Kaka back to AC Milan, where the 31-year-old appeared 193 times from 2003-2009. Manchester United had a bid for Atletico Bilbao's Ander Herrera fall through, but did sign Everton's Marouane Fellani for $43 million, so things aren't all so bad in Manchester, either.
The biggest surprise might have been that United forward Wayne Rooney stayed put. A move to Chelsea had been the subject of so much public speculation - much of it from Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who seemed unconcerned about unsettling a player at another team - that it had started to seem like a given. But, come deadline day, it just didn't happen.
PREMIER LEAGUE | Who'd have ever thought that Arsenal and Liverpool could both win at home, and it would feel like an upsetting of the natural order of things? That's what happened Sunday, though, as both won 1-0 at home - Liverpool over Manchester United, Arsenal over North London rivals Tottenham - and declared that the Premier League may not be the already-decided horse race that it had been made out to be.
Liverpool are thus left as the only Premier League team that's perfect through three games. Arsenal, given up as fourth-place hopefuls at best, showed they won't relinquish the North London crown they've held for 18 years quite so easily. Meanwhile, new Manchester United manager David Moyes is starting to hear a few rumblings from supporters that did not expect only one win out of three matches, and Tottenham are forced to deal with the fact that, for all their summer purchases, they haven't scored a goal in three games that didn't come from the penalty spot.
Of course, three games do not a season make. But for now, the natural order of things won't be quite so settled. And with an international break upcoming and no more Premier League fixtures until September 14, all involved will have a few moments to stew in what's happened so far.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE | The play-off round to determine the final 10 clubs in the 32-team Champions League group stage finished up last week, highlighted by Celtic's epic 3-0 win over Kazakh side Shakter Karagandy, which gave the Scottish champions a 3-2 win on aggregate and sent them through into the next round. AC Milan (4-1 over PSV Eindhoven) and Arsenal (5-0 over Fenerbahce) were among the other qualifiers.
With the teams set, UEFA set the eight groups for the group stage, which begins the first week of October. Celtic and AC Milan got the worst of things, as they were drawn into Group H with Barcelona and Ajax. Arsenal ended up with no picnic either, in group F with Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, and Napoli. Meanwhile, Chelsea got the most favorable road, with a group including FC Basel, Schalke 04, and Steaua Bucharest.
Analysis of all eight groups can be found here. Two teams from each group qualify for the knockout round.
WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS | It's a big week for internationals, as World Cup qualifying resumes this week. The US national team heads to Costa Rica on Friday (9pm, on the beIN Sport channel, if you can find it), then plays Mexico in Columbus the following Tuesday (7pm, ESPN). Two wins for the United States would officially wrap up qualification for next year's World Cup in Brazil. On the flip side, a win for Costa Rica would knock the USA down to the second spot in the standings, and I hardly need explain the importance of the USA-Mexico match, the battle between CONCACAF's greatest rivals.
Surprisingly, it's also a key week for Mexico, which sits in third place, the last spot for automatic qualification. The Mexicans have scored just three goals in six qualifying matches, leading to one win and five draws, including two consecutive scoreless draws. If they lose at home to Honduras on Friday, they'll relinquish third place - and be facing an uphill battle to make the World Cup.
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