Monday, August 31, 2009

Midweek TV Preview: 31 August 2009

(All times - UK)

The more observant amongst you will notice that this week's Midweek TV Preview is unnaturally short. We would like to point out that this is not because we forgot to write most of it - merely that next weekend's World Cup qualifiers have resulted in most domestic football being put on the back burner for a week.

Aside from the games below, we'd also like to point you in the direction of the UEFA Women's European Championships where England need to beat Sweden today to stand a chance of qualifying for the quarter finals. Full coverage is available via British Eurosport - check listings for details.

Monday 31st August

17:15 Peterborough Utd v Crystal Palace, Championship, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
It's the first time these two teams have met in the league since 1994 and they find themselves in the bottom six after four games. The difference is Palace appear to have the wherewithal to haul themselves up the table, based on their previous performances this season. Peterborough, despite knocking Ipswich out of the Carling Cup midweek, still look a little shaky. Darren Ferguson's men are still waiting for their first win of the season, but we don't think it'll come here.

19:45 Newcastle Utd v Leicester City, Championship, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
Leicester manager Nigel Pearson returns to St James' Park with his newly-promoted side doing very nicely, thank you very much. Unbeaten in four, they face a Newcastle side that have only conceded one goal in the same number of games. A game worthy of your undivided attention this Bank Holiday Monday - should be a cracker.

21:00 Barcelona v Sporting Gijon, La Liga, Sky Sports Red Button / Sky Sports 1
La Liga's underway and with Real beating Deportivo 3-2 at the weekend, it's now Barcelona's chance to show everyone what they can do. The last five league meetings between these two have seen Barca score nineteen goals compared to Gijon's four so it's fair to say there's only one likely outcome here. Pep Guardiola will be without Lionel Messi who's trotted back to the Argentine in preparation for their upcoming World Cup qualifier, but the good news is they'll have Zlatan Ibrahimovic ready to replace him. What a stroke of luck, Gijon fans?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 28 - 29 August 2009

(All times UK)

Friday 28th August

19:30 Borussia Monchengladbach v Mainz, Bundesliga, ESPN
Even after three games, 'Gladbach look woefully inconsistent. However, their mercurial if flighty forwards will fancy having a crack against newly promoted Mainz who may still have their heads turned after that fantastic victory over Bayern Munich last weekend.

19:45 Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk, UEFA Super Cup, Sky Sports 1, HD1 & ITV1
Barcelona's season gets off to a nightmare start as they go bottom of the League. Why? Because they're playing in an exhibition match laid on for the benefit of the great and the good at UEFA on their annual jolly to Monaco. Picture it, some of the world's greatest players performing like seals in front of fat, disinterested suits and their weasel faced PR flunkies. How humiliating. For those of you asking, why, if the game is so pointless, is it being screened on Sky and ITV? Well, both are Champions League broadcasters and are most likely obliged to screen the Super Cup as part of their contract with UEFA. Avoid.

Saturday 29th August (or Night Of The Big Ones, as we are calling it)

12:45 Chelsea v Burnley, Barclays Premier League, ESPN & ESPN HD
Given the form of both teams, this is a tasty appetiser ahead of the feast of football gluttony that lies ahead of us. No one will beat Chelsea at the Bridge in my opinion and I doubt Burnley will draw many games. Home win and a cracking fixture. Can't wait to get a good look at Wade Elliott.

17:15 Manchester Utd v Arsenal, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
The Big One. Not all Big Four fixtures are much cop to be frank; overhyped and under performing as the teams are often too tense to play at the peak. This time it will be different. Arsenal are off to a flyer but questions remain about how they will perform against the best teams. This will be the perfect opportunity to provide some answers. And United? Well they're off to their usual shaky start and could either collapse under pressure from the Gunners' forward line or trample over their back four. Not sure that the kick off time is wise.

17:30 Bayern Munich v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga, ESPN
Das Große. Both teams were stung by defeat last weekend. As painful as Bayern's defeat was against Mainz you can be certain that champions Wolfsburg will be furious after having surrendered their home record to Hamburg last week - especially after having come back from 2-0 down. The good news for Bundesliga fans is that a committed attacking football match is in store which Bayern will win by a one-goal margin. Arjen Robben is unlikely to feature.

19:00 Real Madrid v Deportivo La Coruna, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
And if you're curious to see Cristiano Ronaldo is his swanky new Real Madrid kit, then by all means check out the first half of this opening fixture of the La Liga season. But be sure to turn over at half time to...

19:45 AC Milan v Inter Milan, Serie A, ESPN
Quello Grande. I liked the cut of Milan's jib last weekend against Siena and think they have a chance against a moribund Inter. Unfortunately for them, I think they'll need more than a chance against Jose Mourinho's team who will be anxious to pacify their disgruntled manager. It's great to see the Serie A fixture computer getting some of the big games in early in the season and this blue riband encounter will be all the better for it.

21:00 Real Zaragoza v Tenerife, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
La Liga and Sky Sports go together like peaches and cream in the UK. The idea of Spanish football moving to another broadcaster is unthinkable right? Wrong! The UK broadcasting rights for this season were very keenly contested with ESPN and Sky were only able to announce their coverage earlier this week.

Sunday 30th August

12:30 Hibernian v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, ESPN & ESPN HD
There are only three teams on 100% records in the SPL. Two of them are playing in this fixture. History, form and culture suggest that Celtic will win. However, the last time they met at Easter Road, the game finished goalless.

13:30 Portsmouth v Manchester City, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
City will probably line up Emmanuel Adebayor while Pompey may give a debut to Tommy Smith. These two teams may occupy the same league but they live in different worlds.

16:00 Aston Villa v Fulham, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & Sky Sports HD1
Villa's win at Anfield bought Martin O'Neil three days of good will from the Villa fans. Their Europa League exit at the hands of Rapid Vienna has put the pressure back on him. Fulham have started the season in unspectacular fashion but Roy Hodgson's squad oozes stability and discipline. In truth there is not much here for the neutral. If you need to make some concessions in your household after having hogged the remote during the Night Of The Big Ones, this would be a good game to gracefully sacrifice for the benefit of domestic harmony.

17:00 Roma v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN
On the other hand you good wait an hour and watch this classic. Two great rivals clash with more at stake than three points. This is also the first opportunity for UK TV audiences to check out Diego in the black and white of Juve after his transfer from Werder Bremen.

18:00 Valencia v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
Valencia are now in the hands of the Local Government but still seem to be able to hang on to their top players. Such are the vagaries of Spanish football. Both teams are expected to challenge for a Champions League place this season.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #128

The Gentleman's Game
The 10 Principles Of FIFA's Fair Play Programme

1. Play fair
2. Play to win but accept defeat with dignity
3. Observe the laws of the game
4. Respect opponents, team-mates, referees, officials and spectators
5. Promote the interests of football
6. Honour those who defend football’s good reputation
7. Reject corruption, drugs, racism, violence, gambling and other dangers to our sport
8. Help others to resist corrupting pressures
9. Denounce those who attempt to discredit the sport
10. Use football to make a better world

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Just One Scudetto Week 1: Breaking away

Within days of the season's kick-off, the powers behind Italian football rubber stamped the establishment of their version of the Premier League, effectively separating the top two divisions from next season. The separation is hoped to stem the dwindling power of the League, an atrophy highlighted this summer with the departure of two of its biggest stars, Kaka and Ibrahimovic, to Spain. Serie A is in serious danger of slipping to fourth in the UEFA coefficients behind the Bundesliga, so they need a good season at home and abroad.

This season kicked off with six one-goal wins and four draws. All three newly promoted clubs stayed unbeaten... one wonders how often that will happen in the new regime.

Play-off winners Livorno held on for a goalless home draw against Cagliari, while it took a spectacular Di Natale turn and volley from the edge of the box to spare Udinese's blushes against Serie B runners-up Parma. It was the second time he equalised in the match following strikes from Paloschi and Lucarelli either side of the break.

But the performance of the week must go to Bari who had to face probably the toughest match in their whole season - away to Inter. For the home team, new signings Milito and Eto'o look pretty tasty already but squandered the opportunities presented to them, combining in a less a than satisfactory dive from the former and penalty conversion from the latter to provide their only goal. Kutuzov did well to control the ball for Bari's breakaway equaliser and in the end few would begrudge the Serie B champions their point.

In an opening day derby of sorts, Bologna took the lead mid-way through the first half against Fiorentina, Osvaldo left in hectares of space in the six yard box from a corner. Mutu (who else) got the equaliser with a wonderfully neat chip. He didn't celebrate too greatly - maybe because his goal bonus is hardly going to make much of a dent into that £15 million he owes Chelsea.

A Pato brace was enough for Milan in Siena. The Rossaneri made things far more complicated than they needed to be when Marco Storai tamely palmed a shot into the path of the onrushing Algeria forward Abdelkader Ghezzal to equalise. Milan's Brazilian class showed through in the end to provide Leonardo with a debut win.

Cassano pulled the strings in providing Sampdoria with an opening day victory, jinking through to lay up Pazzini's opener and creating a number of opportunites for himself. Catania equalised just before the break with Marimoto bursting through a static defence to poke home but Gastadello's last minute header (or more accurately noser) stole the points in the last minute.

A tough opener for Roma ended in defeat. A goalless first half in Genoa gave way to a feast in the second, Criscito tastily finishing a neat move to open the scoring against the visitors. The lead changed in 15 minutes, Totti instrumental in both goals, setting up the first and scoring the second. Their lead lasted just five minutes when Zapater delightfully curled one into the top near corner. The points stayed in Genoa after Roma failed to clear their lines from a wide free kick seven minutes before the end, Biava on hand to tuck in the rebound.

The fixtures were completed by three 1-0 home wins: Summer signing Diego had an instant impact for Juventus - his curling free-kick powerfully headed home by Iaquinta to beat Chievo; Tommaso Rocchi's first half goal was enough for Lazio to take full points against Atalanta; and Walter Zenga got a win in his first match in charge of Palermo against Napoli, but it certainly wasn't pretty - a rather unconvincing penalty giving the three points to the home side.

Well that's it for week one - a cagey start I'm sure you'll agree, but with the champions Inter already playing catch-up, it looks like we're in for an intriguing season. They could slip even further behind if they fail to beat their hometown rivals in the Derby della Madonnina this coming Saturday evening (Live on ESPN).

Results, fixtures and tables here...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jeu du Jour Week 3: Marseille Malaise

Of all the three main contenders for this season's Ligue 1 title, only champions Bordeaux now have a 100% record after three games following Marseille's 1-1 draw with Rennes last Saturday.

Didier Deschamps had made a great start to his new career at the Stade Vélodrome following wins over Grenoble and Lille, but Rennes are never the easiest of sides to beat - in fact the equivalent tie finished 4-4 last season.

As it was, Rennes were keen to retain their own unbeaten start to the season at home to Marseille and were the more threatening team in the opening exchanges. Guinean striker Ismael Bangoura almost picked up his second goal of the season early on when he chipped Steve Mandanda in the Marseille goal, but the crossbar intervened. The visitors were prompted to retaliate, but in truth they struggled to produce anything of note until Edouard Cisse headed over 15 minutes from the interval.

It was Rennes, however, that picked up the first goal and it came from the penalty spot after Souleymane Diawara handled the ball in his own area. Jerome Leroy converted the spot kick and Rennes started the second half 1-0 up, but Deschamps' men were soon back in the hunt when Mamadou Niang equalised after 52 minutes. Thereafter Marseille huffed and puffed, but the three points remained elusive - the result meaning they drop to fourth in the table.

Having started this season with a draw, Lyon have cleared their heads and are now ahead of Marseille on goal difference thanks to their second win of the season against an ever-faltering Auxerre. For the third match in succession, Jean Fernandez's side failed to pick up a point as Lyon moved up through the gears for what turned out to be an easy win. Jean-Alain Boumsong scored from close range on 31 minutes and before Auxerre knew where they were, Jean Makoun added a second as the first half closed.

With Auxerre forced to open up in the name of a reply, Lyon had to engage in a bitter battle but having weathered that, Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic put the game beyond doubt. A calmly taken shot from a César Delgado cross made it 3-0 and for a team that prides itself on never having been relegated from the top flight, Auxerre look ominously intent on rewriting the record books.

Bordeaux's title defence looks as solid as ever after their 4-0 walk in the park at home to Nice. After a promising start, The Eagles found themselves on a slippery slope when the wonderfully-named Jussiê scored with his head just before half-time. The second half only brought more misery when Yoann Gourcuff converted two well taken efforts, and by the time Alou Diarra added a fourth after 76 minutes, Nice were well and truly beaten.

So it's Bordeaux that top the table with nine points, Lyon second with seven, but between them and Marseille in fourth are Paris Saint-Germain who remain unbeaten after a 3-2 win against Valenciennes. It was an entertaining match by all accounts but it leaves Valenciennes without a win thus far.

Peggy Luyindula, Mevlud Erding and Christophe Jallet were the scorers for PSG and despite a second half fight-back by the home side, the team from the capital were able to celebrate their first win over their hosts in 32 years.

So far, so smug for us. We predicted last year's top three would be challenging near the top, we predicted PSG would be launching a stronger campaign to break into the top four and we suspected Valenciennes would be amongst the strugglers, but we haven't got it all right so far. New boys Boulogne are doing a Burnley thanks to a second win away to Saint Etienne and are now seventh.

Les Verts had plenty enough chances to win but failed to take any of them, unlike Alexandre Cuvillier who scored for Boulogne eight minutes before the break. Alain Perrin's position in charge of Saint-Etienne now looks somewhat tenuous following their last-gasp survival in Ligue 1 at the end of last season and their less than inspiring start to this one.

One place above Boulogne are fellow promotees and Ligue 2 champions Lens. They defeated another of our predicted relegation strugglers Grenoble 2-1 on Sunday to complete a healthy-looking table for the three promoted teams. Montpellier complete the line-up after they beat Sochaux 2-0 to rise to tenth.

Lille grabbed their first point of the season but remain in the bottom four after a 1-1 draw at home to an inconsistent Toulouse. They did at least beat Genk in the first leg of their Europa League tie last week and the second leg in France tomorrow night could be equally as interesting as Rudi Garcia's side struggle to match the standards of last season.

Elsewhere, Le Mans derailed Nancy's excellent start to the season with a 2-1 win which was credited in part to Anthony Le Tallec's decisive second goal. Le Mans now rise to 12th in the table, leapfrogging Lorient whose progress is heading in the opposite direction. They lost 2-0 to Monaco who bounced back well from their 4-0 defeat to Nancy last week to get a second win of their own.

That's all for now. Until next week, it's à bientôt. Results and tables here.

Football Americana Week 23: Lethal Dube fires Revs into contention

Another week in Major League Soccer, and yet more drama. The play-off picture is continuing to take shape, with one or two sides making a late run into the all-important wildcard spots. To top it off, the Red Bulls got a win!

Week 23 got going at Toyota Park last Wednesday, where LA Galaxy shrugged off the previous week's home defeat against Seattle to beat Chicago Fire. Jovan Kirovski took advantage after Logan Pause was dispossessed in midfield and found Mike Magee in the area. Magee turned his man and tucked in the 23rd minute opener. In the 54th minute Magee played Landon Donovan through on goal and the Galaxy forward fired the ball across Jon Busch for 2-0. LA goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts had to be stretchered off after a nasty collision with Stefan Dimitrov.

On Thursday, New England Revolution went to Qwest Field and picked up a surprise win over Seattle Sounders. Steve Ralston played Shalrie Joseph through on Kasey Keller, the goalkeeper was fooled by the big man's mis-hit and Joseph was able to tap home after losing his footing. The Sounders won a penalty just before half time only for Fredy Montero to smash the spot kick against the crossbar. The Revs defence held out well under second half pressure and gained a valuable three points.

There were no goals as DC United dropped yet more points, this time at RFK against LA Galaxy. The Galaxy had Beckham back in the side after suspension, and Ricketts recovered from his midweek injury in time for Saturday's trip to DC. United had an early Luciano Emilio goal chalked off for offside, and they just about edged the first half. They were arguably robbed of a second half penalty too, and with Jaime Moreno in your side that's a game-changing decision.

There was late drama at Buck Shaw Stadium where San Jose Earthquakes needed a 93rd minute winner from Chris Wondolowski to see off Kansas City Wizards. Cornell Glen had an early goal disallowed for a push but good form from Kevin Hartman prevented any more until stoppage time when a deep cross from Ramiro Corrales was met with a brave glancing header home by Wondolowski.

Saturday's final game took place at HDC where Toronto FC slumped to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Chivas USA. Sacha Kljestan tapped in his first goal of the season to put Chivas 1-0 up in the 32nd minute. After half time he got his second, a neat side-foot finish when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Toronto didn't come into the game until late on and were lucky to keep the score down to two.

Sunday was packed full of MLS action. New York Red Bulls started life after Juan Carlos Osorio with an unexpected win, defeating FC Dallas 3-2 at Giants Stadium. Juan Pablo Angel knocked a lovely lob over Dario Sala to open the scoring, only for Dax McCarty to head in a Jeff Cunningham cross to equalise fifteen minutes later. Dane Richards put RBNY back in front just before the half hour to give them a half time lead.

In the second half, Kevin Goldthwaite was sent off for New York after a nasty slap in the penalty area on the hour. Dave van den Bergh levelled again for FCD, cracking in a left-footed strike in the 72nd minute. But New York showed some all-too-rare character and it paid off when Sala spilled Mac Kandji's shot at the feet of Angel - not a good idea.

It was the same scoreline between Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids. After a goalless first half, a double from Omar Cummings in ten second half minutes put the Rapids 2-0 up at Toyota Park. Cuauhtemoc Blanco was felled in the box with 20 minutes left and knocked in the spot kick to begin the Fire's amazing comeback. Mike Banner got the equaliser from the edge of the box in the 85th minute and Dasan Robinson headed in a Justin Mapp cross in stoppage time to wrap up the three points, promptly removing his shirt to earn a second yellow card.

Kheli Dube stole the show as New England Revolution romped to a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake at Gillette Stadium. The Zimbabwean forward scored a hat-trick to put the Revs 3-0 up. A Darrius Barnes own goal late on was never going to be anything more than a compilation for RSL.

And there was another controversy between Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders at Robertson Stadium. Geoff Cameron put the Dynamo in front in the first half, heading in a Brad Davis free kick. And then Nate Jaqua thought he'd equalised, only to find that he was offside. The Sounders were not happy, but Jaqua did level the game in the 70th minute, squeezing in a volley off a Steve Zakuani assist.

23 weeks down, and Houston Dynamo continue to lead the West with 40 points, ahead of LA Galaxy with 35. Columbus Crew (39) and Chicago Fire (38) head the East. Currently occupying the next four slots are Seattle Sounders, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids and New England Revolution.

Full results and standings here.
For more great football writing by Chris Nee, visit

Bundesbag Week 3: Bayern stripped bare

Anybody who uses the phrase "Hat's off!" is my kind of fella. That's why I like Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel. Not only has he taken control of his squad with less than a week's notice prior to the start of the season following the dramatic dismissal of his predecessor, but when he masterminded his team's magnificent 2-1 victory over the mighty Bayern Munch at the weekend, he proudly uttered the words "Hats off to my team". I had no idea the expression had a place in the German language. I wonder how it translates?

As for Bayern: Epic FAIL! Louis Van Gaal talks big but has so for been unable to contrive a win. Now he and his club have been embarrased by a newly-promoted team managed by an eccentric who uses expressions like "Hats off"!

In fairness, Van Gaal cannot take all of the blame for Bayern's malaise. If you follow the Bundesbag on Twitter you may have picked up a couple of links to blog posts by a Bayern fan who spells out, in gruesome detail, the systematic failure in the club's recruitment and youth policy. Also, look at Bayern's defence which has gone from Massimo Oddo, Lucio, Martin Demichelis and Phillip Lahm to two Edson Braafheid, Holger Badstuber (both youngsters), Daniel Van Buyten and Lahm. Demichelis will be back from injury in due course but some will argue that he was part of their defensive problems last year.

Goalkeeper Michael Rensing it criticised for not instilling enough confidence in his team-mates and not saving enough goals. I'm told that Van Gaal's insistance on playing Bastien Schweinsteiger in the central attacking midfield position is just plain wrong. Ask a Bayern Munich fan about that position and the answer you'll get will be something along the lines of "We should have signed Diego instead of Gomez".

But where are my manners? Forget Bayern, what of Mainz? This was a magnificent victory and by the looks of things it was a joyous occassion. The home side took the lead thanks to a hideous goalkeeping error by Rensing who should have saved from Andreas Ivanschitz shot. Their second came from Aristede Bance who beat Van Buyten in the air to head home. The first half was all Mainz. The second was a different story. Young Thomas Muller was among the substitutes made by Van Gaal and he breathed some life back into the Bavarians. Their goal came from a Mainz player, Nikolce Noveski who out through his own net. It wasn't enough though and Thomas Tuchel's face on the final whistle was a sight to behold. Hats off to him.

Mainz' fellow promoted sides, Freiburg and Nurnberg are not finding the going so easy. Although in fairness, they had the disadvantage of having to play a good team (unlike Bayern) and a side that is celebrating the departure of their moribund coach (also unlike Bayern but you never know) respectively. Both teams went down to heavy home defeats. The heaviest being Freiburg's whose philosophy of attractive football is making them vulnerable it seems. They were thrashed 5-0 by Leverkusen. Tranquillo Barnetto was far from tranquil as he scored a brace which took the Bayer club to the top of the table. Nurnberg meanwhile also lost to Hannover... yes Hannover. Now free of their coach Dieter Hecking the squad could relax and play a bit of football. Czech striker Jiri Stajner scored both goals in his club's first win of the season.

Elsewhere, Felix Magath's unbeaten record at Schalke contuned thanks to a 0-0 snorefest at Hoffenheim. Frankfurt have a zero in their Loss Column to go with the one in their goalless draw with Koln who are struggling to get started. Bochum were victorious over Hertha who are in for the mother of all hangovers following their Voronin inspired heroics last season. Werder were impressive against 'Gladbach and won 3-0 thanks to goals from Naldo and new/old siging Claudio Pizzaro who is finally back on the payroll at Bremen. BVB licked their wounds after their 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Hamburg with a 1-1 draw with Stuttgart.

And it was another four star performance from Hamburg this weekend which has firmly established them as title contenders. They travelled to the champions Wolfsburg and returned with four goals and three points - the first team to do so in an age. The Wolves were a shade unlucky for the first two goals. Guerrero's shot hit the post and rebounded off Wolfsburg keeper Diego Benaglio and into the net. The second from Eljero Elia had a suspicion of offside in the build up. Nevertheless, it was be churlish to suggest that Hamburg did not deserve their half time lead. However, upon the restart, Wolfsburg showed the resiliance of champions as they clawed their way back to 2-2 with strikes from Misimovic and Martins. Hamburg were not to be denied though and Mladen Petric scored their third followed by a quite beautiful run and strike from Romeo Castelan.

In the 2 Bundesliga Union Berlin won again. This time against Rostock. John Jairo Mosquera scored the only goal at An der alten Försterei which was his second of the season. It's still early days but do we dare imagine a Berlin Derby in the 1 Bundesliga next season - assuming, of course, Hertha stay up?

That's it. Results and tables here. Follow the Bundesbag on Twitter and on Goalpostr.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Midweek TV Preview: 24 - 27 August 2009

(All times - UK)

Monday 24th August

19:45 Norwich City v Sunderland, Carling Cup 2nd Round, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
A tale of two managers to begin with. After their catastrophic start to the season, Norwich have replaced Bryan Gunn with Paul Lambert, the manager of the Colchester side that beat them 7-1 on the opening day of the Championship season, and to good effect. They picked up a morale-boosting first league win of the season at the weekend, beating Wycombe 5-2 - perfect timing as they welcome back Steve Bruce to Carrow Road. His Sunderland side are currently sixth in the Prem table and are playing some decent stuff at the moment. Should be a good match.

20:00 Liverpool v Aston Villa, Barclays Premier League, ESPN / ESPN HD
Two games played and two defeats for Villa so far this season, but just because they've lost Gareth Barry, doesn't mean they're a bad side all of a sudden, does it? More people might be saying it after tonight - the last time Villa beat Liverpool was in September 2001.

Tuesday 25th August

19:45 Anderlecht v Lyon, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
We're guessing you won't be bothering with this one after Lyon thrashed Anderlecht 5-1 in the first leg. Expect Lyon to park the bus in front of goal in this match and drive home jubilantly in it afterwards.

19:45 Atletico Madrid v Panathinaikos, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 2 / Sky Sports HD2
By all accounts, the first leg of this one was pretty good, finishing as it did 3-2 to Atletico. Full credit, then, to ITV for having the sheer cojones to show it on terrestrial telly last week instead of Coronation Street. Shame it only attracted 1.5 million viewers though...

19:45 Debreceni v Levski Sofia, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
Good news for Redduffman. After the shock revelation last week that he's a closet follower of Hungarian football, he'll be pleased to hear that Debreceni won the first leg in Sofia 2-1. Whether they'll play for the draw in this match we can only wonder.

19:45 FC Zurich v Ventspils, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
Advantage Zurich in this one - they lead 3-0 from the first leg. Ventspils have only lost two of their last ten games, but both were in the Champions League so for all you fans of Latvian football out there (anyone?) this might be a good night to take the dog out for a walk.

19:45 Maccabi Haifa v Salzburg, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
Red Bull's impressive start to the season was somewhat derailed in the first leg of this tie which the Israelis won 2-1. Those away goals will prove very handy here but we're expecting another close one so be sure to give this due consideration as your 'red button' option if you're a Sky Sports subscriber.

Wednesday 26th August

19:45 Apoel v Copenhagen, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
An early away goal for Copenhagen will steady the nerves and double their aggregate lead. Contender for least popular match on the red button tonight, yet there's the potential for an exciting outcome if you fancy giving it a try.

19:45 Arsenal v Celtic, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, ITV1/ITV4/ITV HD
Last week's win for Arsenal was relatively comfortable as European ties are concerned, but as many predicted, Tony Mowbray's side offered rather more resistance than David Moyes' did a few days before. If Arsenal score first (as is quite likely on current form), this'll be all over as a contest but at least it'll bring out the silkier skills of Wenger's men, and that can only be a good thing.

19:45 Fiorentina v Sporting Lisbon, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports HD2
If ever the term 'finely poised' was written for any match, this could be it. The first leg ended 2-2 so The Viola have away goal advantage, but both sides have strength in depth and are a good match for each other. Shame to think that one of these two will bite the dust after this match under the new free-for-all format of this year's Champions League qualifying rounds.

19:45 Olympiacos v Sheriff, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
The Milky Bars are on me! Any team with a sheriff's badge as their own club badge deserves every success on the European stage. Sadly they're 2-0 down in this tie and we may not see it for much longer in this season's Champions League. Shame.

19:45 Stuttgart v Timisoara, UEFA Champions League Play-off 2nd Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
Stuttgart are struggling to find form so far in the Bundesliga while Timisoara are unbeaten after four games in the Romanian Liga. The Germans lead 2-0 from their visit to Romania and as long as they don't do anything silly, they should be fine for a place in the next round.

Thursday 27th August

17:00 Sigma Olomouc v Everton UEFA Europa League Play-off 2nd Leg, Five
Some welcome respite for Everton against the team they beat 4-0 last week. Almost certainly no Joleon Lescott on show for this one, but if a player isn't in the right frame of mind to play football, it's not worth playing him. At least that was the conclusion David Moyes reached before sticking another pin in his Joleon Lescott voodoo doll.

19:35 Hearts v Dinamo Zagreb, UEFA Europa League Play-off 2nd Leg, BBC2 Scotland
Speaking of four-nils, Hearts have it all to do in this match as they were on the receiving end of a Croatian battering last week. A 2-1 defeat at home to Rangers on Sunday won't have put them in the best frame of mind, so perhaps pride restoration will be the order of the day here.

19:45 Aston Villa v Rapid Vienna, UEFA Europa League Play-off 2nd Leg, Five
A second billing for Villa here and with the tie delicately poised at 1-0 to the Austrians, there's all to play for. A win against Liverpool on Monday could be the spur they need to grab victory but the return of John Carew to the starting line-up could be vital if they're to succeed. Squeaky-bum time for Villa and no mistake.

20:00 Crystal Palace v Manchester City, Carling Cup 2nd Round, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
At least one-third of the regular SPAOTP writing team will be pleased tonight as Palace take on the Mark Hughes All Star XI. Neil Warnock will be pleased not to have had a slap on the wrist following his comments about Bristol City's dubious victory against The Eagles last weekend, and fair enough too. Sadly no news yet on whether Bristol City will be replacing their Subbuteo goal nets, but we can only keep our fingers crossed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 21 - 23 August 2009

(All times - UK)

Friday 21st August

19.30 Hoffenheim v Schalke 04, Bundesliga, ESPN

Hoff will be looking for their first win of the season against a Schalke team in bullish form. Hoff have only won twice in nine attempts in their new home, the Rhein-Neckar Arena, so Schalke will be looking to maintain their 100% start.

Saturday 22nd August

11.00 Match Day 23, J-League, British Eurosport 2
Table-toppers Antlers suffered a shock defeat to lowly Kobe midweek, Kawazaki Frontale failed to take advantage though, losing to mid-table Jubilo Iwata. Long way off きゅっと裏面 time, but Antlers still look odds on. While this game isn't confirmed as yet, the only 11am UK kick off is JEF United away to Omiya Ardija - a bottom-half scrap.

12.30 Falkirk v Hibernian, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/HD
Hibs finished a poor sixth last campaign only just escaping having to play out the Clausura against the relegation scrapers. Falkirk on the other hand chose the SPL's end-of-season runaround to produce some of their best results, escaping relegation on the final day. Hibs will need a good result today to convince people of their chances this season.

17.20 West Bromwich Albion v Ipswich Town, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Not the sort of place you want to go to get your first win of the season. Coverage will almost certainly be more focused on the bench rather than the pitch, with one manager building a solid reputation, the other still needing to live up to the hype.

19.45 Siena v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN
Italian football is back. Neither side have impressed in pre-season, so while Milan don't look great at the moment, Siena don't look as if they have enough to take advantage. The Rossaneri will certainly want to put in a good performance ahead of next week's Derby della Madonnina. Back in March, Milan romped to a 5-1 win here with braces from Pato and Inzaghi and a Pirlo penalty.

00.30 DC United v LA Galaxy, MLS, ESPN
DCU are in an awful slump at the moment, winning just one of their last seven MLS games - seeing the Eastern Conference's drawingest team (see, I know all the lingo) drop down to mid-table. Their poor form has transferred over to the CONCACAF Champions League (aww, bless 'em) losing their first game in the group stage in Honduras this week. David Beckham returns to Galaxy after serving his one-match ban and coughing up $250 for his red card against Seattle.

Sunday 23rd August

12.45 Hearts v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Hearts have to put Monday's defeat to third-spot rivals Dundee United firmly behind them. Another defeat to the champions today could see them playing catch up all season. A more disciplined performance is certainly called for.

13.15 Cardiff City v Bristol City, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Aside from the Ashtongategate furore, Gary Johnson's men have got off to a good start sitting with five other teams on seven points at the top of the table. Today's hosts are at the very top by virtue of all the goals they keep banging in. A good match to check the promotion credentials of either of these teams, both of whom promised much last season but missed out on the play-offs.

13.30 West Ham Utd v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, ESPN/HD
A double-header of proper London derbies starts with table-toppers Tottenham (*shudder*) taking 'Arry back to his old stomping ground. Spurs have got off to a very impressive start and the Hammers have struggled against them in recent years managing to pick up just a point in their last seven encounters. Baseless rumours of Zola walking out haven't seemed to dent their confidence, looking comfortable in their opening day win at Wolves. Should be a decent match.

16.00 Fulham v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Switch channels and to the other side of London. Fulham seem to have picked up where they left off last season but as for Chelsea, while still 100%, they haven't exactly convinced with their performances - coming back from a goal down in both their games so far.

17.00 Inter v Bari, Serie A, ESPN
The season kicks off with a battle of the champions as Inter meet the Serie B title holders. The last time Bari got promoted, back in 1998, they did the double over Inter. I wouldn't put a lot of money on them repeating that.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #127

Derby County fans - look away now...
15 Derby Matches Played Around The World

1. Basque Derby - Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao (Spain)
2. Borussen-Derby - Borussia Dortmund v Borussia Mönchengladbach (Germany)
3. The City Derby - Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory (Australia)
4. El Clásico de Clásicos - Club América v Guadalajara (Mexico)
5. Clássico dos Milhões - Vasco da Gama v Flamengo (Brazil)
6. Derby du Nord - Lens v Lille (France)
7. Eternal Derby - Dinamo Zagreb v Hajduk Split (Croatia)
8. Derby d'Italia - Juventus v Internazionale (Italy)
9. Lake Geneva Derby - Servette v Lausanne Sports (Switzerland)
10. Major Derby - Dynamo Kiev v Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
11. North-South Derby - Porto v Benfica (Portugal)
12. Superderby - Boca Juniors v River Plate (Argentina)
13. Superclásico - Peñarol v Nacional (Uruguay)
14. Tvillingderbyt (The twin derby) - AIK v Djurgardens (Sweden)
15. Tyne-Wear Derby - Newcastle United v Sunderland (England)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jeu du Jour Week 2: Vintage Bordeaux

Poor old Marouane Chamakh. He wants to move to a Premier League club, by God he does, but Bordeaux have slapped an enormous price tag on him which has ended the interest of Arsenal and countless other suitors. To his credit, however, Chamakh continues to bang in the goals and at this rate might attract the attentions of someone with rather more money sloshing around in the bank. That'll be Man City then.

Chamakh played a key part in helping Bordeaux maintain their 100% start to the season. He bagged an important brace on Saturday as the current champions defeated Sochaux 3-2, but new signing Charlie Davies was keen to share the headlines as he picked up a couple of goals for his new club too. Sadly for him, they came rather too late in a game that Bordeaux had the upper hand in from start to finish.

Chamakh headed in from a Gourcuff corner with just over half an hour gone and more goals looked on the cards for the visitors, however Sochaux's Ivan Stevanovic lent them a helping hand to turn the ball into his own net just before half time. That, though, was the stimulus for Francis Gillot to swap Stevanovic for the American and the change was noticeably swift in arriving.

Davies, who signed from Swedish club Hammarby a month ago, pulled a goal back for the home side just after the hour mark, but despite some encouraging play it was Bordeaux who scored the next and somewhat decisive goal, Chamakh once again converting from a corner. With the score at 3-1 ten minutes from time, Sochaux, to their credit, continued to search for goals and they were rewarded with a consolation when Davies pounced again from close range right at the death, but by then the damage had been done.

Bordeaux now have two wins out of two, but they were denied their place at the top of the table by Nancy who also have six points but have a far better goal difference thanks to their 4-0 trouncing of Monaco on Saturday. Many were predicting this to be a close tussle between the two mid-tablers but it was the home side that took their chances when they came along. Paul Alo'o Efoulou scored twice in the second half after Issiar Dia and André Luiz had set Nancy well on their way, and that means Pablo Correa's side lead after two games.

Marseille remain in the hunt in third place and with their own 100% record intact. They battled to a 1-0 win over 10-man Lille on Sunday, Marseille's goal coming from Brazilian striker Brandão. Mathieu Debuchy was sent off in the 64th minute for Lille and they're now in a bit of trouble having lost both their games thus far. Next up for them is a Europa League tie away to Belgian side Genk tonight and the only light on the horizon is that they've started their league season almost as badly as Lille have.

Lyon finally got their campaign off and running with a 1-0 win at home to Valenciennes. Though the former champions were dominant throughout, they were largely denied more goals thanks to Valenciennes 'keeper Jean-Louis Leca who pulled off several good saves. Lyon's breakthrough, however, came in the 36th minute when Bafetimbi Gomis got his first goal since moving from Saint-Etienne in the summer, a firm header into the top corner securing all three points for the home side.

Since then, Gomis has been on the scoresheet twice more thanks to a sterling performance in Lyon's 5-1 thrashing of Anderlecht in the Champions League last night. Further goals from Lisandro Lopez, Miralem Pjanić and Michel Bastos helped the French side all but secure their place in the next round prior to the second leg of the tie which takes place next Tuesday.

At the bottom of the table, there were second successive defeats for Grenoble, Auxerre and Saint-Etienne, as well as Lille and Valenciennes as we've just heard. Saint-Etienne were outclassed and outplayed by a Toulouse team looking for their first win of the season. Goals from Machado, Gignac and Sissoko showed the difference in class between the two sides and despite Emmanuel Riviere's equaliser when the score was at 1-1, Toulouse found it all too easy to wrap the game up with a 3-1 win.

Grenoble's defeat meant a first ever win in the top flight for Boulogne on Sunday. Two goals from Gregory Thil near the end of the first half put the newly-promoted side in a strong position, and their lead could have been more going into the interval had Thil not made more of his other chances. Grenoble came straight back out for the second half with a goal from Daniel Ljoboja and they dominated the second half action, but Boulogne held onto their victory despite a late disallowed goal from Nicolas Dieuze.

Auxerre's second defeat came at the hands of Ligue 2 champions Lens who put in a much improved performance compared to last weekend. Auxerre, lacking some of their best players, looked abject and were content to adopt a cautious counter-attacking approach, but the home side were solid and earned a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Kevin Monnet-Pacquet and Razak Boukari.

Elsewhere, Montpellier are still looking for their first win after a second successive draw, this time a 2-2 away to Lorient. They were 2-0 up with only a third of the game remaining but Kevin Gameiro pulled one back after 68 minutes and Laurent Koscielny got an equaliser at the very end to deny Montpellier all three points.

PSG finally got their opening week stutter behind them with a convincing 3-1 win over Le Mans. That said, they went 1-0 down after 22 minutes through Thorstein Helstad and had some help from a Frederic Thomas own goal, but coach Antoine Kambouare won't mind that as he gets his first win in charge of the team from the capital.

Finally, Rennes slipped to fourth in the table after their 1-1 draw away to Nice. Rennes lost Junichi Inamoto following a second yellow-card offence with thirteen minutes remaining, but by then they'd already equalised and were able to hold out for a point to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.

And that's all for now. Until next week, it's à bientôt. Results and tables here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bundesbag Week 2 - Hecking moves closer to the edge

OK so we're only two games in but could we be seeing the early signs of how the new Bundesliga season is going to shape up? At the end of last season, most pundits believed that Wolfsburg might dip somewhat following their magnificent success last season and the inevitable departure of their best forwards, not to mention that of Svengali coach Felix Magath. However, with Dzeko, Grafite and Misimovic safely in harness, the Wolves have picked up where they left off last season with two straight wins.

Their most recent triumph was at Koln. The home side played well and took the lead through Fabrice Ehret. The champions piled on the pressure in the second half and eventually Grafite scored the equaliser. Unwilling to leave it at that, Armin Veh's team pushed on and forced a ricket out of Koln midfielder Pierre Wome who's glancing header ended up in the back of his own net. New signing Obafemi Martins finished the job and flattened the partisan home support.

That's the sort of start that would have you sat proudly atop the fledgling league. However, Wolfsburg were to be denied that honour by their former coach, the aforementioned Felix Magath whose Schalke team beat local rivals Bochum 3-0. Magath has promoted a number of young players into the first team, presumably in the hope that it will change the dynamic in the dressing room. One of them is Christophe Moritz who scored a lovely goal to get things going. The other goals were scored by Heiko Westermann and Jefferson Farfan, both of whom seem much improved from the moribund days under Fred Rutten last season.

Missing from the top of the table are Bayern Munich. This time they were thwarted by a resilient Werder Bremen side still smarting from their home defeat to Frankfurt last week. Mesut Ozil seems to be slipping comfortably into Diego's shorts and put his team 1-0 up with a technically difficult shot in the penalty area. Franck Ribery started on the bench for Bayern and it took his guile to finally break down Werder's resolve. Mario Gomez scored his first league goal for his new club, from a Phillip Lahm cross, to level the game up. 1-1 was the final score.

Gomez' old side Stuttgart look like they'll do just fine without him. His replacement is Pavel Pogrebnyak and like Gomez, he scored his first goal on his home debut in his new club's 4-2 win over Freiburg. That's four goals conceded in two games though which suggests that Markus Babbel may need to swat up on defensive tactics while he is doing his coaching badges.

Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen returned to the new and improved Bayarena after a pretty disastrous half-season at Dusseldorf. They immediately made themselves comfortable with a handy 1-0 win over Hoffenheim. Stefan Kiessling had the honour of scoring the first league goal at the revamped stadium. Frankfurt's first home game wasn't quite as impressive as their win at Bremen but a 1-1 draw against a decent Nurnberg side keeps their unbeaten run going at least. Marcus Berg started paying back his record transfer fee by contributing to Hamburg's 4-1 demolition of BVB. 'Gladbach will win many friends with the attacking verve of Juan Arango and Karim Matmour. However, if the latter continues to go on the attack deep into injury time when his team are 2-1 up and he is handily placed near the corner flag they will certainly drop points over the course of the season. On this occasion no harm was done and 'Gladbach promise to be good value this season and not among the worst teams in the Bundesliga.

Unlike Hannover 96 who are pretty awful. Coach Dieter Hecking was under pressure before the 1-1 draw with Mainz. His position as coach is now under direct threat after the game. The club's board have publicly backed him, however if he comes through the next two fixtures at Nurnberg and at home to the Hoff without a decent points haul, he could be gone assuming he lasts that long.*

The official Bundesbag 2 Bundesliga Game Of The Week was the clash between the two new boys and top two teams in the division, Union Berlin and Fortuna Dusseldorf. There was a cracking atmosphere at An der alten Försterei which has been completely refurbished during the close season using labour and materials supplied entirely by the supporters. Their hard work and dedication was rewarded by a home win. Kenan Sahin was the scorer in Union's 1-0 victory. Hat's off to the Iron Union.

That's it. Results and tables here. Follow the Bundesbag on Twitter and on Goalpostr.

*Hannover 96 parted company with Dieter Hecking on Wednesday 19th August

Football Americana Week 22: Beckham sees red

Another Major League Soccer week, another unsavoury incident featuring David Beckham. After suggesting the former England captain would be good for MLS in the long-term despite the revelations made by Grant Wahl upon Beckham's return, it's disappointing to witness some of his more immature behaviour since heading back to LA from Italy in July. Still, it made for an exciting weekend so maybe it's not such a bad thing.

In the big clash in the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC had too much for DC United. United goalkeeper Josh Wicks again looked suspect throughout, allowing Dwayne DeRosario to score far too easily with a close-range header to put the Reds in front. O'Brian White scored to seal a 2-0 win for TFC, but in truth it their victory should have been by a much bigger margin.

Matters went from bad to...well, still bad for New York Red Bulls and under-fire head coach Juan Carlos Osorio. The first of five home games on the bounce ended in disappointment against Chivas USA. Chivas got off to a flying start despite the returning gridiron markings at Giants Stadium, Maykel Galindo breaking towards the endzone to score the first touchdown after just one quarter (of an hour). Eduardo Lillingston scored the second with a tap-in from the Red Bulls four in stoppage time, though RBNY will be as encouraged by the number of chances they created as they will about my promise not to do anymore American football gags.

Columbus Crew continued their excellent run with a win which ended a successful streak for FC Dallas. At Crew Stadium, Chad Marshall nodded in the opener in only the tenth minute. In the 83rd minute Marshall had another set piece header disallowed for offside, but it was ultimately to end 2-0 anyway thanks to Eddie Gaven, who ran past four players from the centre circle and passed in Crew's second goal.

There was plenty of action at Rio Tinto despite a goalless result between Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo. RSL's Clint Mathis was booked for a late tackle on Geoff Cameron in the fourth minute, and Dynamo's Andrew Hainault for a very cynical body/face check four minutes later. Sure enough, both would be sent off later in the match. Hainault was dismissed after 35 minutes after picking up a justified second yellow, while Mathis stupidly got himself sent off in first half stoppage time for running towards the assistant referee and slamming the ball to the ground after RSL were denied two penalty shouts in quick succession.

If you think Hainault and Mathis got sent off early, they've got nothing on David Beckham. A return to some sort of form for Seattle Sounders was overshadowed (and arguably facilitated) at the Home Depot Center by Beckham's 17th minute red card for LA Galaxy for a nasty studs-up challenge on former Galaxy colleague Peter Vagenas - a more justifiable dismissal you will never see. With Galaxy down to ten, Steve Zakuani turned the screw by tapping in to put Sounders 1-0 up in the 22nd.

Fredy Montero fired his tenth of the season into the roof of the net after a Seattle corner. With the score at 2-0, Tyrone Marshall gave Landon Donovan a healthy smack to the back of the head (it's good for swine flu, y'know) and picked up a yellow card, which turned to red ten minutes later when he checked Donovan as he raced towards goal. Not to be outdone, the Galaxy had another red up their sleeves. Eddie Lewis was sent off for a not-so-sly right jab during a tussle with full back James Riley.

The Sunday afternoon game took place between Kansas City Wizards and Chicago Fire. Chicago took an early goal thanks to Chris Rolfe, who played a clever one-two with Marco Pappa before thumping the ball past Kevin Hartman in the Wizards goal. There was late drama for the Wizards, as Hungarian debutant Zoltan scythed down Mike Banner with a nasty stamp on the back of the leg, picking up a straight red with five minutes to go. Banner's damage didn't last long: he beat Hartman low to score his first MLS goal three minutes later.

With that, Houston still lead the West with 39 points and Columbus the East with the same tally. Seattle (32) and Chicago (35) are their respective colleagues in second place. The next four overall are LA (31), Toronto (30), Colorado (30) and Chivas (30). DC United drop out of the playoff places.

Full results and standings here.

For more great football writing by Chris Nee, visit

The Sound Of Football - Podcast 2

Just a quick post to let you know that the second edition of The Sound Of Football is now available for your listening pleasure.

You can listen to or download the podcast by visiting its spanking new website:


Monday, August 17, 2009

Midweek TV Preview: 18 - 20 August 2009

(All Times - UK)

Monday 17th August

9:45 Dundee Utd v Hearts, Scottish Premier League, ESPN
Only Hamilton failed to score in the opening round of the SPL season. While the old firm tend to operate in a league of their own, the rest of the league is set to be pretty finely balanced this season. Football junkies could do worse than spend their Monday settling down to a keenly contested season opener.

Tuesday 18th August

19:45 Celtic v Arsenal, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2

Any question marks surrounding Tony Mowbray's managerial credentials have been laid to rest after Celtic's impressive defeat of Dinamo Moscow in the previous Champions League qualifying round. While Arsenal will be the bookies' favourites to progress, you can be certain that the Glasgow club will prove stiffer competition than the abysmal Everton on Saturday.

19:45 Copenhagen v Apoel, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
This fixture is one from the Champions Route that was introduced for this season's Champions League qualification, the idea being to allow champions of poorer leagues to avoid the runners-up of richer leagues in the hope that this provides a more balanced group stage. FCK are coming into this game off the back of a rare home defeat in the Superliga. The Cypriot domestic season is yet to get underway so there is no way of gauging their form. Let's just say it's going to be close.

19:45 Sheriff v Olympiacos, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
Sheriff did well to get past Slavia Prague in the last round and are tearing it up domestically. English football fans may be keen to learn what the situation is with Matt Derbyshire as he doesn't seem to have featured so far. Any Olympiakos fans reading this? Perhaps you could fill us in.

19:45 Sporting Lisbon v Fiorentina, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
So you see how it works? Either of these teams would fancy their chances against an FCK or a Sheriff but have to play each other to get through. Some may say that the new system stops the best teams from reaching the Champions League proper. Others would argue that teams from the emerging leagues now have a chance to benefit from the Champions League gravy train.

19:45 Timisoara v Stuttgart, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
Runners up in the Romanian League face the third-placed Bundesliga club from last season. Stuttgart have conceded four goals in the last two league games but will be hoping their scoring power will see them through. Timisoara squeezed past the UEFA Cup holders Shaktar Donetsk in the last round and shouldn't be under estimated by rookie manager Markus Babbel. Could be an upset here.

Wednesday 19th August

11:00 Match Day 22, J-League, British Eurosport 2

Eurosport continue their coverage of the J-League. Kashima Antlers are top by 8 points after 21 games.

19:45 Lyon v Anderlecht, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Odd to see Lyon having to slum it in the Play Offs. This will be a stiff test for them as the Belgian club have been knocking on the door of the Group Stage for a while now. Good choice as their main game by Sky.

19:45 Panathinaikos v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, ITV4/ITV1/ITV HD
As is this by ITV. Spanish clubs are always worth watching which is why their domestic TV rights are being so keenly contested by Sky and ESPN. A lively Greek crowd should make for a watchable game.

19:45 Levski Sofia v Debreceni, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
The Bulgarians are fairly recent Group Stage qualifiers. There has been no Hungarian team at the top level since 1995 I think? Is that right? Having a bit of a soft spot for Magyar football I'm hoping Debrecini can get the job done.

19:45 Salzburg v Maccabi Haifa, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports Red Button

Ah Red Bull. Hijackers of Football Clubs, thieves of football's identity and culture but say what you like about them, they are serious investors in sport and have pumped some fairly serious wedge into the club formerly known as Austria-Salzburg. The responsibility of stemming the corporate tide lies with Haifa.

19:45 Ventspils v FC Zurich, UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports Red Button
The Latvians conquered the amusingly named BATE in the last round and have scored 11 (eleven) goals in their last two league games to no reply. Zurich have had a more modest start to their league campaign so those hard core enough to select this match may be in for an interesting encounter.

Thursday 20th August

02:00 Chicago Fire v LA Galaxy, MLS, ESPN
ESPN's coverage of David Beckham's MLS may have to take a break if the anointed one is suspended. Still, Galaxy's 2-0 defeat to the Sounders in their last fixture aside, this remains a game between two teams in good touch.

20:00 Dinamo Zagreb v Hearts, UEFA Europa League Play-off, 1st Leg, BBC2 Scotland

The Stasi meet the Romanovs... sort of. Viewers in the rest of the UK should check their red buttons. They may find the game covered on interactive.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 15 - 16 August 2009

(All times - UK)

Saturday 15th August

12.45 Chelsea v Hull City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
The Premier League begins right here (as Sky are probably only too keen to remind you). Hull earned a creditable goalless draw here last season but few will predict anything similar this time around. Hull could give a first run-out to US star Jozy Altidore and Stephen Hunt, formerly of Reading. Chelsea on the other hand look like they'll be without new signing Yuri Zhirkov who has a slight knee problem. Three points to Ancelotti's men.

12.45 Aberdeen v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 3 / Sky Sports HD3
The SPL begins right here, etc, etc. Mark McGhee returns to The Dons with a reputation for doing well at new clubs in his first season (see Milwall, Brighton, Motherwell) but he'll have to work hard to gain three points here. Aberdeen have only beaten Celtic once in their last 19 Premier League meetings, so if anyone out there's still doing the football pools, don't bother putting your 'X' next to this one.

17:15 Rhyl v Carmarthen Town, Welsh Premier League, S4C
Never say we don't like to push back the boundaries of world soccer on SPAOTP. If you happen to be wandering past Sky Digital channel 134 around this time on Saturday, you can take in this first match of Rhyl's new campaign as they try to defend their 2008/09 title. Carmarthen finished fourth last season, but we don't expect many of their fans to be watching on account of the fact that they haven't beaten Rhyl in the league since December 2001.

17:20 Newcastle Utd v Reading, Championship, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
So Newcastle's first match wasn't the car crash we all thought it would be last weekend, thus proving football really is a funny old game. Steve Harper's back in goal for The Magpies following the blow to the head he received from Shola Ameobi's right boot, while Reading manager Brendan Rodgers looks set to give a day off to the welter of youngsters that earned Reading a 5-1 win over Burton Albion midweek.

17:30 Everton v Arsenal, Premier League, ESPN / ESPN HD
Here's your first chance to see how ESPN cope with Premier League football and if you're a fan of Ray Stubbs... you really should get out more. Arsenal will have the likes of Rosicky, Walcott and Nasri missing through injury, but Thomas Vermaelen should get his first start. Everton appear to be largely unchanged from the end of last season.

Sunday 16th August

11:30 PSV Eindhoven v Ajax, Eredivisie, ESPN
Martin Jol's working his magic once again as Ajax have a maximum six points from their first two games of the season. PSV, meanwhile, have drawn both their two games which makes Fred Rutten's move from Schalke last season look less well-judged than that of his counterpart today.

13:30 Manchester Utd v Birmingham City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
Birmingham might be adopting the role of lambs to the slaughter in this match, but Man United have started slowly over the last couple of seasons and without Cristiano Ronaldo, who knows what might happen? Actually we know what'll happen - Michael Owen will get injured at some point and that'll be that. Probably.

14:30 Borussia Monchengladbach v Hertha Berlin, Bundesliga, ESPN
As mentioned in Bundesbag earlier in the week, Borussia could only take a point against Bochum on Sunday having seen their 3-0 lead turn into a 3-3 draw. They'll be hoping for better against a useful Hertha side that have beaten Monchengladbach in eleven of the last twelve league meetings between the two teams.

16:00 Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
The last couple of seasons have seen Spurs make catastrophic starts that usually result in the current manager being sacked a few months into the campaign, only to be replaced by someone far more successful - until the end of the season. Whether the pattern repeats itself depends, today at least, on whether Steven Gerrard is fit to start. That said, Spurs do possess England's bright new hope for the future, Jermain Defoe.

16:30 Schalke v Bochum, Bundesliga, ESPN
A mini-derby of sorts and it could be a fair old ding-dong of a match. We've already-mentioned Bochum's ability to come back from the dead and they may need to repeat the same trick if Kevin Kuranyi can build on his two-goal haul against Nurnberg last week.

20:15 Benfica v Maritimo, Portuguese League, ESPN
Portuguese football is back on British screens, and just in time to see Benfica try again to regain the Champions League place that's eluded them for the last couple of seasons. Should be three points in the bag against the team from Madeira.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #126

I was the first...
32 Players Who Scored The First Goal For Their Club In The Premier League

1. Steve Bould (for Arsenal v Norwich, 1992)
2. Dalian Atkinson (for Aston Villa v Ipswich, 1992)
3. Stern John (for Birmingham v Everton, 2002)
4. Stuart Ripley (for Blackburn v Crystal Palace, 1992)
5. Alan Thompson (for Bolton v Wimbledon, 1995)
6. Mick Harford (for Chelsea v Oldham, 1992)
7. Mark Bright (for Crystal Palace v Blackburn, 1992)
8. Dean Sturridge (for Derby v Leeds, 1996)
9. Barry Horne (for Everton v Sheffield Wednesday, 1992)
10. Louis Saha (for Fulham v Manchester United, 2001)
11. Geovanni (for Hull v Fulham, 2008)
12. Julian Joachim (for Leicester v Newcastle, 1994)
13. Lee Chapman (for Leeds v Wimbledon, 1992)
14. Mark Walters (for Liverpool v Sheffield United, 1992)
15. David White (for Manchester City v QPR, 1992)
16. Mark Hughes (for Manchester United v Sheffield United, 1992)
17. Peter Atherton (for Newcastle v Coventry, 1993)
18. Mark Robins (for Norwich v Arsenal, 1992)
19. Teddy Sheringham (for Nottingham Forest v Liverpool, 1992, and for Portsmouth v Aston Villa, 2003)
20. Andy Sinton (for QPR v Manchester City, 1992)
21. Dave Kitson (for Reading v Middlesbrough, 2006)
22. Nigel Pearson (for Sheffield Wednesday v Everton, 1992)
23. Brian Deane (for Sheffield United v Manchester United, 1992) *
24. Matt Le Tissier (for Southampton v QPR, 1992)
25. Ricardo Fuller (for Stoke v Bolton, 2008)
26. Michael Gray (for Sunderland v Nottingham Forest, 1996)
27. Gordon Durie (for Tottenham v Crystal Palace, 1992)
28. Lee Marshall (for West Bromwich Albion v Leeds, 2002)
29. Dale Gordon (for West Ham v Coventry, 1993)
30. Jason Roberts (for Wigan v Sunderland, 2005)
31. Warren Barton (for Wimbledon v Leeds, 1992)
32. Steffen Iversen (for Wolves v Blackburn, 2003)

* First ever Premier League goal scorer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jeu du Jour Week 1: Plus ça change...

A new dawn may have risen on Ligue 1 but there was a definite air of 'as you were' about the opening weekend of fixtures in France.

Reigning champions Bordeaux (how nice it is to say that for a change) picked up from where they left off at the end of last season with a 4-1 drubbing of Lens. Laurent Blanc's side finished last season with eleven straight wins to clinch the title and set a new Ligue 1 record. As it is, their twelfth couldn't have been much easier against the reigning Ligue 2 champions who will be glad to get this one out of the way.

It didn't take long for Bordeaux to find the net. Brazilian Gerrardo Wendell opened the scoring with a delightful bending shot that eluded Vedran Runje in the Lens goal. The away side, for all their inability to get the ball in the first half, surprisingly struck back with an equaliser four minutes from the interval. Tunisian forward Issam Jemâa steered home a cross from Yohan Demont to square things up going into the second period.

Bordeaux were giving a run out to new signing Jaroslav Plasil as a partner for Fernando Cavenaghi up front but it was Ligue 1 Player of 2008/09 Yoan Gourcuff that put Bordeaux back in front. His deflected shot wrong-footed Runje and Les Girondins were 2-1 up within eight minutes of the restart.

With renewed confidence, Bordeaux were again the dominant team but they had to wait until the end of the match to seal their victory. Marouane Chamakh, who until today was a transfer target for Arsenal, tapped in a third a minute into stoppage time before cheekily back-heeling an assist for Gourcuff who made it four just moments before the final whistle.

Marseille, who bought and sold players during the summer with all the measured judgement of a bull in a china shop, showed they were still intent on matching Bordeaux game for game. With new coach Didier Deschamps at the helm for his first coaching job since 2007, OM got their new campaign off to a flying start against Grenoble thanks to Mamadou Niang's great run and shot which went in before two minutes were on the clock.

Grenoble, one of my tips for a relegation struggle, had a lot to contend with after the early goal but weren't intent on letting the game slip away. They could have even equalised on the hour mark when Daniel Lubjoja set up Nassim Akrour with a great chance to score, but new Marseille signing Gabriel Heinze was on hand to snuff out the danger in the nick of time.

Marseille turned out to be the ones struggling to assert their superiority on the game but they had to wait until nine minutes from time when Benoit Cheyrou (brother of former Liverpool player Bruno) wrapped up the game with a second goal to win it for the visitors.

And what of the once-mighty Lyon, you may ask? Well they also continued their end-of-last-season form with an unconvincing 2-2 draw at Le Mans. Were it not for Lisandro Lopez, Lyon's replacement for Karim Benzema, they may not have even picked up a point as the former Porto striker scored a 90th-minute equaliser in a match that saw the home side lead twice.

Le Mans looked well organised thanks to their coach, former assistant to Jose Mourinho, Paulo Duarte, and it reaped dividends when Madibo Maiga opened the scoring after 21 minutes. Lyon came back purposefully and it was Lopez who instigated Lyon' first equaliser when he set up Mathieu Bodmer seven minutes later.

Yet Lyon's first game of the season looked to be unravelling when their defender Cris brought down Maiga in the box prior to a penalty which Mathieu Coutadeur converted 13 minutes into the second half. Coutadeur, along with another former Liverpool stalwart, Anthony Le Tallec, were on fine form but a late substitution from Lyon swung the game back in the visitors' favour.

Bafetimbi Gomis came on for Sidney Govou with twelve minutes left and Lyon finally seemed to have found the winning combination up front. As the end of the game approached, Lyon were awarded a free kick from which the impressive Lopez scored from. Much relief for the visiting fans, but surely many smiling faces too at the prospect of seeing more of the influential Lopez in the weeks to come.

Elsewhere, newly-promoted Montpellier earned an unlikely but hard-earned 1-1 draw at home to a Paris Saint-Germain side that we're tipping for a Europa League spot this season. Montpellier's first match back in the top flight for five years took a turn for the worse when new signing Cyril Jeunechamp was sent off only a third of the way through the match. When Ludovic Giuly gave PSG the lead in the 71st minute, an away win looked on the cards but Bosnian Emir Spahic headed in from a corner at the very end to salvage a point in remarkable fashion.

Boulogne, playing their first ever Ligue 1 match, weren't so lucky as they crashed 3-0 away to the ever-dangerous Rennes. The debutantes looked a little out of their depth in all fairness, but an improved second half display will give them hope for their next match at home to Grenoble on Sunday.

Lille surprisingly took a tumble 2-1 at home to Lorient who scored all three goals in their tie. An Olivier Monterrubio own goal after 66 minutes almost undid the away side's efforts having already gone 2-0 up, but they held on for a creditable win which bodes well for the visit of Montpellier this Saturday.

Two of the favourites for relegation, Saint-Etienne and Valenciennes, both made bad starts to their new campaigns. Les Verts went down 2-0 at home to mid-tablers Nice while Valenciennes lost 3-1 at home to Nancy despite opening the scoring through Mamadou Samassa. Expect both of those two teams to continue heading in the same direction for the foreseeable future.

Finally, Monaco started well with a 1-0 win over last season's surprise package, Toulouse. Brazilian winger Nenê returned from a year on loan at Espanyol to score the winner just before half time, while at the Stade de l'Abbé, Auxerre were busy losing by the same margin to Sochaux. The visitors almost picked up a second when new signing Charlie Davies saw his well-taken shot saved late on, but the eventual 1-0 win was good enough to defeat Auxerre who travel to Lens this weekend.

Until next week, it's à bientôt. Results and tables here.


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