Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Football Americana Week 28: Columbus cross the line

A little later than usual, here is your weekly Major League Soccer roundup. It was a great weekend for the Crew while many around them floundered. It's getting mighty exciting on the other side of the Atlantic and the play-offs are fast approaching. So with LA, Seattle and DC all tripping up, here's the lowdown:

It was a tale of two spot kicks at Dick's Sporting Goods Park last Wednesday. Colorado Rapids created all the chances but fell behind when Chris Wondolowski fired his 67th minute penalty for San Jose Earthquakes into the roof of the net. The Rapids couldn't apply the finishing touch until Omar Cummings was tripped in the 92nd minute and Conor Casey coolly placed the penalty - Joe Cannon will be happy not to face a stoppage time Casey penalty again for a while.

Los Angeles Galaxy had to travel to Columbus Crew without David Beckham (achilles injury) and the champions, themselves resting key players for an important CONCACAF Champions League game in midweek, took full advantage. Eddie Gaven headed the Crew in front in the first half and Steven Lenhart pounced on a Donovan Ricketts fumble to double the lead just before the hour.

Stumbling Seattle Sounders headed to New England Revolution and dropped more points. It started well for the Sounders, who led after six minutes thanks to a freakish goal from Fredy Montero, who picked up the ball on the halfway line, skinned Wells Thompson and unleashed a shot from distance which completely fooled Matt Reis and dipped in off the bar.

The Revs were awarded a penalty just after half time and Shalrie Joseph drilled the ball past Kasey Keller for 1-0. And Joseph earned the Revolution a much-needed win late on with a well-taken header having broken the offside trap - maybe.

In their second game of the week, Colorado Rapids battled out a goalless draw with Kansas City Wizards at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. The Wizards missed the two best chances of the game in the last ten minutes.

FC Dallas picked up another high-scoring win, this time truimphing 3-0 at home to Real Salt Lake. Jeff Cunningham bagged his 14th of the season in the fifth minute, volleying in to tidy up a spot of goalmouth pinball. David Ferreira's skillful poke made it 2-0 with just ten minutes gone, and Cunningham moved onto 15, thrashing in FCD's third off the post in the 87th minute.

Chicago Fire had to settle for another 2-2 draw at Toyota Park, this time against Toronto FC. Dwayne De Rosario put TFC ahead in the sixth minute, sweeping in after an error in the Chicago defence. The Fire were level eight minutes later thanks to a Nick Garcia own goal.

DeRo found Chad Barrett with a lovely cross in the first minute of the second half and Barrett applied a simple finish for 2-1, but Brian McBride saved Chicago's blushes with twelve minutes to go, heading in a pinpoint cross from Justin Mapp.

And the points were also shared at Home Depot Center, where Chivas USA led after 64 minutes with a dipping 25-yarder from Sacha Kljestan. With six minutes to go Juan Pablo Angel thought he'd earned a point for New York Red Bulls by heading in the equaliser, but Chivas were awarded a stoppage time penalty, missed by Kljestan to rob his team of the win.

On Sunday night, desperate DC United hosted San Jose Earthquakes. Jaime Moreno put them ahead, finding the net after receiving a cross from Chris Pontius, but they were ultimately made to pay for poor finishing. The Quakes had a goal disallowed but Ramon Sanchez scored a free kick after United lost goalkeeper Josh Wicks to a dislocated shoulder and Ryan Johnson won it with 17 minutes left, heading in after the ball came back off Milos Kocic's crossbar.

The Crew's win over the Galaxy secures their playoff spot and puts them in the driving seat for Supporters' Shield. Houston Dynamo, the Galaxy and Chicago currently hold the next three automatic places, followed by Colorado, Chivas, Seattle and New England in the wildcard spots. Stay tuned next week for more exciting MLS action!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bundesbag Week 7: Hamburg stake their claim | Favre pays the price

There is something reassuring about a 1-0 win, particularly in top of the table clashes. 1-0 says a keenly-contested game between two well-matched teams. 1-0 says attrition, tension, hard work and good defending. 1-0 says a hard-fought, well-earned win. Unlike your 4-3 which says knockabout hi-jinks and grown men wearing party hats.

And so it was, last Saturday evening, the Bundesliga's top club Hamburg faced their stiffest test of the season so far as they welcomed Bayern Munich to the Nordbank Arena. Down the years, this is the moment when the upstart pretender is brought back to Earth by the moustache-twirling Bavarians who gleefully put them back in their place. But that was the Bayern of old. The new Bayern are like Liverpool in the early 90's, a diminished force trading on past glories with a dodgy back four.

You'll gather from the preceding paragraphs that events did not go too well for Bayern and you'd be right. Hamburg won the match, you guessed it, 1-0 thanks to a second half goal from Croatian international striker Mladen Petric. Having said that, if the Bayern coach hadn't dropped goalkeeper Michael Rensing earlier in the season, the result could have been more like 6-0. Thankfully for the Munich club, Hans Jorge Butt is made of stronger stuff and made some big saves in the match.

For Hamburg, who have struggled in recent Cup fixtures, the result is a clear marker. The season is beginning to take shape and Hamburg have beaten Wolfsburg and now Bayern. Bruno Labbadia has placed the club flag in the centre circle and declared their intention to win the League and it's too late to take it back now.

Keeping pace with Hamburg at the top are Bayer Leverkusen. They also won their weekend game 1-0. While their opponents were the less illustrious Koln, this fixture is a keenly contested derby match and was settled by Leverkusen's captain Simon Rolfes. To combine the Koln fans misery, they also had to watch their Portuguese playmaker Maniche get sent off for stamping on Arturo Vidal's goolies.

Meanwhile, further up the Rhine, the big Ruhr Derby took place at the Westfalon between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04. BVB have had a poor start to the season with some of the new signings not settling in too well, one of them being Lucas Barrios. The Argentine had thought that he'd finally got off the mark for his new club against the best possible time with a shot from distance which rebounded off the crossbar and across the line. Unfortunately the linesman was not up with the ball and the goal never stood. To make matters worse for BVB and better for Schalke, Jefferson Farfan (a player rejuvenated under new boss Felix Magath) popped up to score the game's only goal.

While we're here, we may as well wrap up the 1-0 scorelines with an excellent win for Bochum on Friday at Nurnberg. Diego Klimovicz scored the goal on 7 minutes and his team mates held on to give interim coach Frank Heinemann his first win in his first Bundesliga match.

Elsewhere, champions Wolfsburg warmed up for their visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday with a 4-2 victory over Hannover. Claudio Pizzaro was on the mark twice for Werder Bremen as they beat Mainz 3-0. Eintracht Frankfurt's unbeaten run came to an end at home to Stuttgart, two goals from the young forward Julian Scheiber plus one from Thomas Hitzlsperger doing the damage. Freiburg beat 'Gladbach by the same scoreline which keeps them comfortably in mid-table for now.

In Hoffenheim it was a day of great joy and sorrow. The Hoff's Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic has been waiting to get back on the scoresheet after missing half of last season with injury. On Sunday, the floodgates opened and he scored a whizz hat-trick as the home side destroyed Hertha 5-1. The result proved to be too much for the Berliners who decided to sack their coach Lucien Favre on Monday.

Favre had led his team to fourth place last season and could still have won the title on the penultimate game. However, the sale of Josep Simunic to Hoffenheim and the failure to retain Andrey Voronin for another season clearly left a gaping hole in the side. Hertha have conceded eleven goals in the last three Bundesliga matches and were knocked out of the German Cup by 1860 Munich. It's hard to see any manager recovering from such a mauling, frankly. To make matters worse, Lothar Matthaus is tipped to replace Favre.

It's not all doom and gloom in the capital. While the top club in the city may be about to become the biggest car crash of the season, down the road at Stadion An Der Forestei, Union Berlin keep on winning in 2. Bundesliga. Their latest victory was against Rot Weiss Ahlen puts them second in the table. Kaiserlautern are top on goal difference after beating Karlsruhe 2-0.

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

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sound Of Football Podcast 8

A little earlier than usual to accommodate the West Ham game tonight. This week we look back on the high scoring Premier League weekend and marvel at the exploits of Fernando Torres and Darren Bent.

We also take a moment to tip our hats to Wigan and their superb victory while wondering if Petr Cech was a shade unlucky to be sent off.

Then we look ahead to the Champions League and ask who exactly is playing Lyon in a couple of weeks time.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. Or if you right click on the link, you can download the mp3. Alternatively, you can subscribe via the your reader of choice or via iTunes.

Midweek TV Preview: 28 September - 1 October 2009

(All times - UK)

Monday 28th September

20:00 Manchester City v West Ham Utd, Barclays Premier League, ESPN & HD

One of the games of the weekend. City are through to the next round of the Cup and will be anxious to continue their programme for World Domination (local derbies not withstanding). West Ham are much better than their league position suggests but they are not too good to go down.

Tuesday 29th September

17:30 Rubin Kazan v Inter Milan, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports 2/HD2

Matchday 1 in the Champions League was not a vintage round for the Russian clubs. The current league leaders were disappointing on their CL debut in Kiev. Now they must face the Italian champions who will want to build on their point earned against Barcelona.

19:45 Debrecen v Lyon, UEFA Champions League Group E, Sky Sports Red Button
After the runaround they gave Liverpool, the Magyars should be bullish about their chances on their home turf assuming they can adjust their tactics. One suspects that a heavy beating could be on the cards by an ultra quick OL team hitting Debrecen on the break.

19:45 Fiorentina v Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Group E, Sky Sports 2/HD1
Expect the goal crazy Reds to take a more conservative approach in Florence. Serie A may not be what it was but only a fool travels to Italy and goes all out for goals. One for students of the tactical game this. Not much else for the neutral.

19:45 Barcelona v Dinamo Kiev, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports Red Button
Kiev have three points under their belt and enter the Nou Camp as group leaders. Whether they leave as such is another matter.

19:45 Rangers v Sevilla, UEFA Champions League Group G, Sky Sports 3/HD2
Expect dogged resistance from the Scots only to fall to heroic defeat, probably by Luis Fabiano taking advantage of a defensive blunder.

19:45 Unirea Urziceni v Stuttgart, UEFA Champions League, Group G, Sky Sports Red Button
The Romanians are the minnows so have nothing to lose. Stuttgart are not convincing anyone right now but need three points to have any chance of leaving this group through the correct exit. Possible upset on the cards if you can call it that.

19:45 Arsenal v Olympiacos, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports Xtra/HD3
The Greeks haven't lost a competitve fixture this season (including four Champions League qualifiers). Having said that, getting a draw against any Premier League side isn't an option at the moment and an away win is stretching things a bit. It won't be easy, but The Gunners should pull through.

19:45 AZ Alkmaar v Standard Liege, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports Red Button
A fixture that is already shaping up to be a play-off for third.

Wednesday 30th September

17:30 CSKA Moscow v Besiktas, UEFA Champions League Group B, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Another early fixture gives those without the red button a chance to see two teams who would be beyond their reach unless they were playing a British team. CSKA will have been stung by their defeat to Wolfsburg while Besitkas can take some encouragement from their performance against Manchester United. Both will feel that they can still claim that second spot ahead of the Germans.

19:45 Manchester Utd v Wolfsburg, UEFA Champions League Group B, ITV1/HD
A potentially exciting fixture assuming Dzeko and Grafite rise to the occassion. On a bad day, Wolfsburg can concede three or four goals so they'll need their record-breaking strike partnership on their mettle to have any chance of outscoring the opposition. Yep, this could be a cracker.

19:45 Bayern Munich v Juventus, UEFA Champions League Group A, Sky Sports Red Button
Two giants of the European stage clash. In Ribery, Gomez, Olic, Robben, Klose, Schweinsteiger and Luca Toni, Bayern have an embarrasment of riches up front. Unfortunately their defence is another sort of embarrasment - the bad sort. Juve haven't lost this season but are turning into draw specialists. Mind you, if former Bremen midfilder Diego plays he could tear Bayern a new one.

19:45 Bordeaux v Maccabi Haifa, UEFA Champions League Group A, Sky Sports Red Button
The French were impressive against Juve and should have too much for Haifa.

19:45 AC Milan v FC Zurich, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports Red Button
Milan are moribund and Zurich are... well Swiss. Avoid.

19:45 Real Madrid v Marseille, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports Xtra & HD3
A concerted effort by Marseille may yield a return against Real's suspect defence. Not that it will do them much good, mind.

19:45 APOEL Nicosia v Chelsea, UEFA Champions League Group D, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
The DVD of the Wigan game is on its way to Nicosia as we speak. To say that Carlo Ancelotti will be demanding a response from his player is a colossal understatement.

19:45 Porto v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Champions League Group D, Sky Sports Red Button
Atletico are literally taking the season one point at a time. Four of their last five games have been drawn. Porto go into this game on the back of a good win against Sporting.

Thursday 1st October

18:00 TBC, UEFA Europa League, ITV4

I'm going to come right out and say it: I quite like the new Europa League.

18:00 Bate Borisov v Everton, UEFA Europa League Group I, ESPN
OK, so the new format looks even more ungainly than the old UEFA Cup group stages but if you think about it, while there are more groups in the competition, there are less fixtures in the groups. Surely this takes a little pressure off the clubs?

20:05 Celtic v Rapid Vienna, UEFA Europa League Group C, Five
Besides, I like to see clubs from the other regions of Europe that don't have the TV money, horrendous bank loans, Russian oligarchs or Middle Eastern oil sheikhs buying their way into permanent residence in the Champions League. For instance, Fenerbache v FC Twente in the last round was a cracking game.

20:05 Fulham v FC Basel, UEFA Europa League Group E, ITV4
I realise that the new competition is just another attempt to make sense of the senseless, but I reckon that every round will throw up an intriguing fixture.

20:05 Valencia v Genoa, UEFA Europa League Group B, ESPN
Like this one for instance.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekend TV Preview 25 - 27 September 2009

(All times - UK)

Before we start, Some People Are On The Pitch would like to direct your attention to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt which began on Thursday. All the matches are being screened live on Eurosport. Given the lack of any genuinely eye catching fixtures this weekend, discerning football fans may want to have a look. The TV Preview will probably pick up the story a little later in the competition after we've watched a few games ourselves.

Friday 25th September

19:30 FC Nurnberg v VfL Bochum, Bundesliga, ESPN

Bochum have a new coach. His name is Frank Heinemann and to be accurate he is an interim coach. Given that Bochum don't have a receptacle in which to store liquid waste it is fairly likely that the "interim" tag will disappear once it's been established that things can't get any worse under him. A point at struggling Nurnberg would probably be enough.

Saturday 26th September


12:30 St Mirren v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, ESPN & HD
Despite ESPN's attempts to generate interest for the neutral, a slip up at St Mirren is most likely not on the cards for Celtic who have only dropped two points in their last five games.

12:45 Portsmouth v Everton, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
I'm actually looking forward to watching Portsmouth. That is, I'm looking forward to it in the way I look forward to watching "World's Worst Train Wrecks". Chris Nee on the Twofootedtackle podcast reckoned that Portsmouth were so bad, they could be relegated from the Championship.

17:30 Fulham v Arsenal, Barclays Premier League, ESPN & HD
Nice cozy London Derby for you on a Saturday afternoon. The home side won this fixture last season but are not quite as good this time out. Arsenal are fresh from their annual ego massage and life affirmation session with Wigan and will be full of beans. Arsene would do well to check for banana skins at the Cottage. Personally I think that Hamburg v Bayern would have been a better choice of game, but there it is.

17:30 Ipswich Town v Newcastle Utd, Championship, BBC2
Now that "Strictly" is underway, the Beeb have moved this Championship game from BBC1 to BBC2 so as to avoid any unforeseen delays and mess with their precious schedule. We can't have X Factor hogging all the audience can we?

00:30 Columbus v LA Galaxy, MLS, ESPN
Both teams are more or less through to the Post Season which is when the league really gets interesting.

Sunday 27th September

11:30 Ajax v ADO Den Haag, Eredivisie, ESPN
Ajax start to the season have only lost one game yet find themselves third behind PSV and FC Twente. Nevertheless, they are usually the masters of this fixture and should expect a relatively straightforward three points.

13:15 Plymouth Argyle v Nottingham Forest, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Plymouth are the Portsmouth of the Championship. Forest are the Fulham.

14:30 Freiburg v Monchengladbach, Bundesliga, ESPN
Freiburg thumped Hertha 4-0 last week while 'Gladbach threw away a 2-0 lead against Hoffenheim and lost 4-2. Should be some goals then...

16:00 Sunderland v Wolves, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Mick McCarthy returns to the Stadium Of Light to pick up some CDs and a pair of old socks he left in his locker.

16:30 Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin, Bundesliga, ESPN
The Hoff scored four goals last week while Hertha conceded 4. Got 0-0 written all over it.

18:00 Zaragoza v Getafe, La Liga, Sky Sports Red Button & Sky Sports Xtra
OK so here's a chance for English football fans to have a look at Jermaine Pennant, assuming he turns out for Zaragoza. Meanwhile, Getafe can be reasonably pleased with their start to the season.

19:45 AC Milan v Bari, Serie A, ESPN
Eleventh meet twelfth at the San Siro. Bari have only lost once so far and have made a good start. Milan have lost twice and made a terrible start. Things could unravel pretty quickly for Leonardo.

20:00 Deportivo v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
The table still has that early season topsy turvy look about it. Depor are seventh and Villareal are third... from bottom.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #132

Unknown territory
The 12 Current Football League Clubs That Have Never Reached The Fourth Round Of The League Cup

1. Accrington Stanley
2. Aldershot
3. Barnet
4. Burton Albion
5. Cheltenham Town
6. Crewe Alexandra
7. Dagenham & Redbridge
8. Hereford United
9. Macclesfield Town
10. Morecambe
11. Torquay United
12. Yeovil Town

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bundesbag Extra: Hamburg and Leverkusen crash out of Cup

Cup Fever gripped Germany this week as the Second Round of the DFB Pokal took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. The first round saw a few Bundesliga scalps claimed and a managerial casualty to boot. While it is unlikely that any coaches will be tugging nervously at their collars today, there are a few Bundesliga clubs who have a little more time on their hands thanks to dramatic defeats at the hands of lower division teams.

The biggest shock of the round was at the Osnatel-Arena, home to Vfl Osnabruck of the third division. There, the home team beat Bundesliga leaders Hamburg in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. The home side opened the scoring with a goal from Niels Hansen. His team-mate Benjamin Siegart doubled their lead and an upset was very much on the cards, however, Bruno Labbadia's men struck back with Mladen Petric and Piotr Trachowski drawing the northern giants level.

The game went into extra time and it looked as though the dream was over for the Lilywhites when Guy Demel put Hamburg 3-2 up. However, Henning Grieneisen equalised and forced the tie to penalties.

The shoot-out was a foregone conclusion. After all, Osnabruck had far more Germans in their team. They won 4-2. Mladen Petric missed the deciding spot kick, covered his face with shame and pandemonium ensued as the Osnabruck fans celebrated a famous Cup victory.

But Hamburg won't be the only team going to the Pub Quiz during Cup nights. Bayer Leverkusen, placed second in the Bundesliga, are also out. Their conquerors were none other than Kaiserslautern, the Bundesliga team of the 90's, now wallowing in the 2 Bundesliga. Sidney Sam and Erik Jenrisek were the goal heroes at the Fritz Walter Stadion.

The other two upsets are perhaps less surprising. 'Gladbach suffered an embarrassing 1-0 defeat at Borussia Park thanks to a last minute winner from Kristoffer Andersen. Hertha's atrocious form continued in Munich as they went 2-0 down to 1860 Munich. The Berliners pulled themselves together and bounced back with two goals. However, they too fell foul of the dreaded penalties and 1860 advanced to the Third Round.

There was an upset of sorts as Koln beat Bundesliga champions Wolsfburg 3-2. Judging by the reaction of both teams, the Cup obviously means a great deal to these players and their managers. Wolsfburg coach Armin Vey stormed off down the tunnel after the final whistle. Clearly a very unhappy man.

Kudos also to Lubeck who so very nearly beat Stuttgart only to lose out in extra time, 3-1.

It was an emotional night of Cup football. My thanks to the Bundesbag's good friend The Third Half who was providing Twitter commentary of the events in Germany. The Third Round takes place at the end of October. Click here to see all the results.

Jeu Du Jour Week 6: Montpellier's bubble bursts

After a sensational run of five league games unbeaten, newly-promoted Montpellier were finally put to the sword in a comprehensive 4-2 defeat away to a virtually full-strength Marseille side on Saturday.

And the good news for Didier Deschamps was that he finally got to see a return on the €18 million invested in Argentinean playmaker Lucho Gonzalez. The former Porto man has been absent for much of the season with a collar bone injury since joining Marseille in the summer but was on hand with the first goal in an eight-minute spell just after the half-hour mark. Mamadou Niang and Edouard Cisse joined him on the teamsheet, and when Souleymane Diawara did the same after 51 minutes, Montpellier looked dead and buried.

René Girard's men did finally rally, pulling two goals back in the last fifteen minutes, but by then the damage had been well and truly done. That result means a first defeat of the season for Montpellier who slip to sixth while Marseille keep the pressure on leaders Bordeaux who did their own demolition job on one of Ligue 1's newcomers.

Boulogne were the hosts as Laurent Blanc and his team returned from an admirable draw against Juventus last week in the Champions League. The difference in quality was very apparent at the Stade de la Libération as Bordeaux dominated much of the game, and indeed they could have won by a greater margin. In the end, they had to settle for two thanks to Yoan Gouffran who picked up his second goal in two matches and an own goal by Boulogne's Yoann Lachor.

With that, Bordeaux extended their lead at the top to two points after Lyon lost ground with a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Paris Saint-Germain. Three former Lyon players were on show for the hosts including goalkeeper Gregory Coupet who valiantly stopped his previous employers from getting on the scoresheet for much of the game.

Another former Lyon man, Ludovic Giuly, gave PSG the lead on 29 minutes having breached a shaky-looking Lyon defence and his side looked likely to hold out for all three points until Bafetimbi Gomis grabbed an equaliser five minutes from time.

Lyon therefore hold onto their run of nine games unbeaten in all competitions and stay second in the table as Rennes now join them in the top four. Outside of the 'Big Three', they're the only other unbeaten team in the league following a 4-0 demolition away to sorry Grenoble.

Grenoble, without a win in all six Ligue 1 matches, were 1-0 down within 19 seconds thanks to Asamoah Gyan, and it was he who popped up with the last goal from a penalty just after an hour of play. Sadly, the match was overshadowed by violence on the terraces as Grenoble's frustrated fans threw objects including smoke bombs onto the pitch, causing the match to be stopped twice by the referee. Matters weren't helped by the coinciding 15th anniversary of the creation of Red Kaos 94, the ultra wing of Grenoble's fanbase. Troubled times look set to continue for the alpine club.

Elsewhere, Valenciennes enjoyed their first win at Sochaux for thirty years after an entertaining 5-2 victory at the Stade Bonal. Valenciennes were twice behind in the match but an impressive second half performance brought about four goals, two of which came from Gregory Pujol, to maintain their push up towards mid-table safety.

At the bottom, however, the misery continues for Saint Etienne who could only draw 1-1 against fellow strugglers Auxerre. Both teams have won just one game so far this season and remain in the bottom five while another team languishing at the wrong end are Nice who lost 3-1 at home to Monaco. Nice were another team to witness crowd trouble after their fans barracked club officials inside the VIP area of the stadium. A fourth straight defeat means they now lie 19th in the table.

Dropping like a stone are Nancy whose last win in the league was on August 15th. Their 3-1 defeat away to Lorient sees them drop to 12th while Toulouse finally appear to have replicated their decent European form with a 2-0 win at home to Le Mans. The visitors notched up their 12th straight match without a clean sheet after goals from Etienne Didot and Moussa Sissoko earned Toulouse only their second win of the season.

The Derby du Nord finished all square at 1-1 but only thanks to a goal three minutes into stoppage time for Adil Rami. Razak Boukari gave Lens the lead after 58 minutes in an even contest, but Lille had to wait until the bitter end for their equaliser to grab a vital point as they attempt to pull away from the stragglers at the bottom of the table.

And that's just about all for this week. Results and tables here. Until next time, it's à bientôt!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bundesbag Week 6: Koller gets his cards

When Thomas Tuchel took charge of Mainz on the eve of the Bundesliga season, eyebrows were raised and concerns expressed. What chance would a newly promoted club have? What chaos must they be in to change managers before a ball is kicked? Well, it looks as though we needn't have worried. Tuchel seems to have things under control and in the 18-year-old Andre Schurlle, they may have uncovered a gem.

The German Under-19 international forward was promoted from the second team for this season and has played in every game so far. On Saturday Schurlle scored his first goals of the campaign at Bochum. The first was to draw his side level after going 2-1 down from strikes by Mimoun Azaouagh and Diego Klimowicz for the home team. He scored once again to clinch three valuable points on the road. The value of the win can't be understated. A good season for Mainz would still see them not far off the relegation zone. So an away win at Bochum would be seen as priceless when you consider that their opponents are a familiar fixture in the Bundesliga's nether regions.

Unfortunately, the Bochum board arrived at the same conclusion and consequently sacked their coach Marcel Koller. "We owe Marcel Koller a lot," said club sports director Thomas Ernst "We are in our fourth consecutive year in the top flight under him and that had not happened since our first relegation in 1993. We wish him all the best." Unfortunately, the draft press release to be used in the event that the board decided to sack him after their meeting on Sunday was published a day early on the official website. Koller didn't know about it but it's still a shitty way to treat someone. Needless to say the club were embarrassed and apologised. Let's hope Koller finds another job soon but it should be said that from what I've seen of Bochum this season, they are rubbish and will struggle to stay up.

The result put Mainz in sixth place, level on points with Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich. The Hoff are back in the groove and came back from 2-0 down away from home to win 4-2 with goals from Sejad Salihovic, Maicosuel, Denbar Ba and Chinedu Obasi. Their opponents? Who else but 'Gladbach.

Bayern faced local rivals Nurnburg who were buoyant after their first win of the season, last week. However, goals from Ivica Olic and Daniel van Buyten saw off their neighbours in a workmanlike performance.

Elsewhere, Hannover seem to be shoring themselves up defensively under new coach Andreas Bergmann. They managed a 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund who just can't seem to get going this season. Frankfurt are at it again. This time thwarting leaders Hamburg with a 1-1 draw. Wolsfburg carried on after their stout work in the Champions League and beat Schalke. Edin Dzeko scored both goals in a 2-1 win at Gelsenkirchen, much to Felix Magath's chagrin. Bayer Leverkusen v Werder Bremen promised goals goals goals on Sunday but delivered zzz as the game ended 0-0. Hertha are in trouble, Freiburg are in dreamland. The Bundesliga new boys thrashed the Berliners at the Olympic Stadium 4-0. A brilliant result for Robin Dutta's men but wither Berlin? A dreadful result.

Koln were clearly stung by the Bundesbag's scathing criticism and responded with a 2-0 win at Stuttgart. Sebastian Freis and Wilfried Sanou scored the goals. Sanou's came courtesy of a moment of colossal clownary by Jens Lehmann. The Stuttgart keeper took possession of the ball and decided to advance up the field with it in order to launch the ball deeper into the Koln half. Only problem was that he was not aware of the presence of Sanou behind him. Sanou promptly took the ball off him and stroked it into an empty net from 25 yards. Presumably there was no call from Lehmann's team mates which tells you something. The former Arsenal man was so miffed that he decided to drown his sorrows in Munich at the Oktoberfest. Unfortunately for him, he did so without the club's permission and has been disciplined and dropped. One suspects that communication should be top of Marcus Babbel's ever growing list of things to do.

In 2.Bundesliga, Union Berlin are back on top of the table after a sensational 5-4 victory against Paderborn at An der alten Försterei. The Iron Union are still unbeaten after six games.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Football Americana Week 27: A point gained or two dropped?

Another action-packed weekend of Major League Soccer action saw a few draws which helped neither side in their attempts to reach the all-important post-season playoffs.

New England Revolution headed to New Jersey on Friday evening hoping to pick up three valuable points against New York Red Bulls, and it looked for a while like they might succeed. Some great fancy footwork by Sainey Nyassi took him into the RBNY box and he thrashed the finish into the top corner. But John Wolyniec tapped in Dane Richards' cross to equalise.

And it was nice to see the Jets logo on the endzones for the first time this season - makes Giants Stadium just look a little more inviting, doesn't it?

In retrospect, it was certainly a point gained for Colorado Rapids who needed a penalty deep in stoppage time to earn a draw at Buck Shaw despite testing goalkeeper Joe Cannon several times in the second half. San Jose Earthquakes went ahead early thanks to Ryan Johnson who headed in Brandon McDonald's long throw. The penalty was given in he 93rd minute during a goalmouth scramble, and Conor Casey beat Cannon from the spot - just.

Seattle Sounders came up goalless against Chivas USA, a result which does neither side any good (and we heard you booing, Seattle fans!). Chivas goalkeeper Zach Thornton was in breathtaking form, pulling off a string of saves to foil Seattle. Marcelo Saragosa was sent off for Chivas with 20 minutes left for a vicious flying kick to the face of a fully-upright Fredy Montero. People have been thrown out of WWE for less - it was a truly horrible attack.

If the nets went untroubled at Qwest, they got a good workout at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, where Kansas City Wizards eventually won a changeable encounter with FC Dallas. Santiago Hirsig put the Wizards ahead with a header in the ninth minute, but FCD scored either side of the break to lead 2-1, the goals coming from Dax McCarty and Jeff Cunningham.

Josh Wolff equalised for the Wizards, claiming the goal after turning in Zoltan's thunderous volley from a corner in the 77th minute. The winner came a couple of minutes later as Jimmy Conrad, caught out for FCD's second goal, stooped to nod in for 3-2.

It was the same scoreline at Robertson Stadium, where Houston Dynamo ran out winners against Real Salt Lake. Brian Ching put the Dynamo ahead in the second minute and three minutes later it was 2-0 thanks to Geoff Cameron who helped Houston to a second set piece goal.

In the 27th minute Kyle Beckerman pulled one back for RSL, but the game quickly went the Dynamo's way again when Jamison Olave was dismissed for an over-the-ball tackle in the 32nd. Yura Movsisyan drew the ten men level with a clever goal on the hour but it wasn't to be for RSL. Brad Davis thumped in a deserved third for Houston, who were soon down to ten themselves thanks to Brian Ching's cynical body check and the red card which resulted.

No such trouble for LA Galaxy, steered to a 2-0 home win over Toronto FC by David Beckham. Beckham opened the scoring very early on, squeezing the ball home after a one-two with none other than Chris Birchall. And he put the seal on a losing Toronto debut for Julian de Guzman by brilliantly picking out Landon Donovan, who hit a stunning first-time pass to Edson Buddle who found the net with ease.

And on Sunday evening Chicago Fire looked to be heading for a home win against Columbus Crew only to be pegged back for a draw. Peter Lowry hit a clean half volley and a low drive to put the Fire up at the break, but Guillermo Barros Schelotto's simple header and a somewhat fortunate penalty levelled the game.

Great news, MLS fans! Major League Soccer has brought in its Playoff Standings, meaning we can now see how the land lies without having to engage our brains. Crew and Fire are the top pairing in the East, Houston and LA lead in the West. Behind them, Seattle, Colorado, Chivas USA and DC United occupy the four wildcard slots at present.

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

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Sound Of Football Podcast 7

The Sound Of Football Podcast returns for another edition. This week Chris Oakley and Terry Duffelen discuss last Sunday's Manchester Derby at length. Topics of conversation range from the madness of Rio Ferdinand, the frailties of the Man City back four, the flawed genius of Craig Bellamy and time as a linear concept.

After that, the chaps have a quick chat about the bottom of the Premier League and wonder out loud as to whether all three promoted clubs might stay up this season.

Then we take a moment to reflect on the legacy of Sir Bobby Robson on the day of his Memorial Service at Durham Cathedral.

As always you can download or listen to the podcast via the SoundCloud widget below. Alternatively, you can subscribe via your reader of choice or via iTunes.
Sound Of Football Podcast 7 by soundoffootball

Midweek TV Preview: 21 - 24 September 2009

(All times - UK)

Monday 21st September

19:45 Cliftonville v Linfield, IFA Premiership, Sky Sports 1
We start this week with another all-too-rare dipping of the toes into the world of Northern Irish football. You have to go back almost exactly three years for the last time Cliftonville beat Linfield in a league fixture and on current form fourth-placed Linfield should beat their opponents three places below them again.

Tuesday 22nd September

19:45 Leeds Utd v Liverpool, Carling Cup 3rd Round, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Two teams in stonking good form in their respective divisions. Leeds currently top League One having dropped just two points from their opening eight games while Liverpool, after a slow start, are now manoeuvering into their familiar top four position in the Prem. The last time Leeds lost a home game was on January 10th this year, so Rafa's men will find them a tough nut to crack here.

Wednesday 23rd September

19:35 Queen of the South v Rangers, CIS Cup 3rd Round, BBC1 Scotland
North of the border, meanwhile, the League Cup continues apace with the top two in the Scottish Prem struggling to assert their superiority. Tonight we get to see whether Rangers have what it takes to end a run of three draws against The Doonhamers who already look like promotion contenders in Division One.

19:45 Manchester Utd v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Carling Cup 3rd Round, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Man United's ability to generate copious amounts of injury time in their home matches really is an Onion Bag article waiting to be written (if it hasn't already). Think we'll go off and write it now, actually...

19:45 Inter Milan v Napoli, Serie A, ESPN
Diego Milito's definitely the man to watch here. Four goals in Inter's first four league games this season (including two on Sunday against Cagliari) mean he'll be a marked man when the Neapolitans drop by. Should be a comfortable win for the Nerazzurri.

Thursday 24th September

19:00 Egypt v Trinidad and Tobago, FIFA U20 World Cup Group A, British Eurosport
Where midweek football's concerned, it's feast or famine these days and as this week falls into the latter category, we thought it'd be an idea to include this match as a bonus item. The Under-20 World Cup gets underway in Egypt today and to answer your next question, yes - England *did* qualify. They're in the prepostorously eclectic Group D along with Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Ghana, and their first match is against the Uruguayans next Saturday.

19:45 Genoa v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN
Genoa have made a cracking start to this campaign, although a weekend defeat to Chievo has taken some of the shine off it. To potentially derail their progress further still, they face a Juve side who have won all four of their games so far and look like they mean business again this season. Should be an entertaining match.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The best team in London

Come the revolution, the Premier League will be no more – of that you can be certain. As clubs attempt to regain control of their upwardly spiralling finances, the top flight will break up into smaller regionalised leagues, thereby reinforcing the weakening notion of local derbies and local rivalries. Well at least that's the vision I saw before the medication wore off.

But imagine if someone decided to scrap the Premier League and start all over again, redistributing its top stars into regionalised zones based on their place of birth. Imagine a London Premier League, if you will, featuring four teams representing North, South, East and West London. Which team would win?

We have the answer. It'd be the team from East London, and we can assure you of that based on the fact that none of the other London teams would be able to field enough players to form a decent starting XI.

Using a map of London roughly divided into four geographic quarters, we've ascertained that East London has provided more current top-flight players (and top-quality ones at that) than all the other three areas put together.

So who would be in this champion team from East London? Well in goal, you'd have Manchester City's Stuart Taylor. He was born in Romford. In defence, there'd be Nicky Shorey (also from Romford), Glen Johnson (born in Greenwich), Ashley Cole (Stepney), John Terry (from my home town, Barking) and Ledley King (born in Bow). The midfield would boast Frank Lampard (another talent from Romford), Shaun Wright-Philips (Greenwich), and Lee Bowyer (from Canning Town). Up front, there'd be Jermain Defoe (Beckton) and Bobby Zamora (from Barking).

There'd even be surplus talent available on the bench including Paul Konchesky (Barking again), Liam Ridgewell (Bexley), Mark Noble (Canning Town), Kieran Richardson (Greenwich) and Jimmy Bullard (Newham).

Yes, in the event of a barely conceivable restructuring of Premier League football in the capital, East London would win out easily. South London would be able to put out a seven-a-side team (albeit one without a goalkeeper). It'd feature, amongst others, the defensive brothers Ferdinand from Peckham, Carlton Cole from Croydon up front and Scott Parker (Lambeth) and Nigel Reo-Coker (Croydon) in midfield.

West London has even fewer notable talents in its 'team' although Darren Bent (Wandsworth) and Marcus Bent (Hammersmith) partnering Theo Walcott (Stanmore) would be an impressive attacking triumvirate. And the phrase 'it's grim up North' wasn't created by accident. It must be a reference to the dearth of talent from that part of London. All we could find was Marlon Harewood (Hampstead) and Joe Cole (Islington). Perhaps one could play in goal and one up front. We'll leave you to work out which one should do which.

So there it is – extensive proof that East London practically owns most of the top footballing talent in the capital while the other regions trail woefully in their wake.

Some People Are On The Pitch – philosophising on the irrelevant issues of world football so you don't have to.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 18 - 20 September 2009

(All times - UK)

Friday 18th September

19:30 Schalke 04 v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga, ESPN

Buoyed by their debut Champions League victory, Wolfsburg travel to Gelsenkirchen hoping to turn around a bad league run. Schalke have had a decent start to the season and will prove tough opponents for the Wolves.

19:45 Sheffield Utd v Sheffield Wed, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
It's Big City Derby Weekend starting with a Friday night ding-dong in the Steel City. Let's hope the two sets of supporters haven't been hitting the bevvy too hard. Promises to be a physical classically Championship encounter, if you like that sort of thing.

04:00 San Jose v Colorado, MLS, ESPN (Saturday morning)
Colorado put a hundred down and buy a car to San Jose. The Rapids have a bit to do if they want to make it to the play offs. San Jose on the other hand have nothing. Nice of ESPN to show an MLS match without himself stinking the place out.

Saturday 19th September

12:30 Kilmarnock v Rangers, Scottish Premier League ESPN & ESPN HD

Killie have lost their last three games, Rangers have not. However, with Madjid Bougherra in the Rangers back line, anything can happen. What am I saying? Away win.

12:45 Burnley v Sunderland, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Intriguing match. Sunderland are much more interesting under Steve Bruce and Burnley will be great value all season long.

17:30 West Ham Utd v Liverpool, Barclays Premier League, ESPN & HD
To Upton Park then and the visit of the conquerors of Debreceni. Liverpool have put seven goals past the Hammers in the last three games without reply. Time for Carlton Cole to step up and break that duck. Just keep an eye on the clock, CC.

19:00 Osasuna v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 3 & HD3
Osasuna seek their first win of the season against a team that they don't usually get much joy from. That would be an away win, then.

19:45 Juventus v Livorno, Serie A ESPN

Not sure if Diego will be fit for this one. Not that it will make that much difference. Juve own this fixture.

21:00 Barcelona v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 3 & HD3
Following Zlatan Ibrahimovic's characteristic big match choke against Inter on Tuesday, what odds will you get on him scoring a hat trick on Saturday, I wonder?

Sunday 20th September

11:00 CSKA Moscow v Dinamo Moscow, Russian Premier League, ESPN
Some People Are On The Pitch strongly advises its readers to get involved in the final few months of the Russian season. It's tasty stuff and what better way to start than with a full blooded Moscow Derby. Enjoy.

13:30 Manchester Utd v Manchester City, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Of all the big city derbies, this is probably the tastiest. City's big club status has got Sir Alex all worked up and some snide remarks have been exchanged at coaching level. If City had a fit or otherwise eligible forward line, this could be a close one. But they don't so it won't be.

13:30 Feyenoord v PSV Eindhoven, Eredivisie, ESPN
Blimey, they keep coming don't they? Always an exciting match between these two great rivals. Both teams occupy the top two in the Eredivisie and are unbeaten in five. Such a shame it's on during the Manchester Derby.

16:00 Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
The Big City Derby Weekend ends in the capital. There is no love lost between the two sets of supporters and the intensity of this fixture can surprise the unwary. Spurs' surrender at Old Trafford notwithstanding, this game finds both teams in good nick.

16:30 Bayer Leverkusen v Bremen, Bundesliga, ESPN
At last, the chance to see the joint league leaders in action. Look out for Leverkusen's Stefan Kiesling and Bremen's Mesut Ozil. Both teams laugh in the face of defence so a high scoring game is on the cards.

18:00 Real Madrid v Xerez, La Liga, Sky Sports Red Button & Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Definite whiff of Killie v Rangers about this fixture. However, it does allow us to include king of the keywords Cristiano Ronaldo in this post.

19:45 Roma v Fiorentina, Serie A, ESPN
You'll have read of the return of the Tinkerman in Just One Scudetto. Claudio Ranieri replaced Luciano Spaletti at Roma and it will be intriguing to see how his players respond against a good Fiorentina. Its good to have Serie A back on UK TV screens isn't it?

20:00 Valencia v Sporting Gijon, La Liga, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Last knockings of a fantastic weekend of football. Gijon can take encouragement from their defeat of Almeria but will find the going tough against Valencia who still manage to compete despite their parlous financial situation. Go figure.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #131

Our Friends in the North
The 11 Most Northerly Top Flight Football Teams In The World

1. Tromsø (Norway) 69° 38' 56" N
2. Bodø/Glimt (Norway) 67° 16' 39"N
3. RoPS (Finland) 66° 29' 59" N
4. KR (Iceland) 64° 8' 44" N
5. Þróttur (Iceland) 64° 8' 36" N
6. Fjölnir (Iceland) 64° 8' 18" N
7. Valur (Iceland) 64° 7' 58" N
8. Fylkir (Iceland) 64° 6' 48" N
9. Breiðablik (Iceland) 64° 6' 15" N
10. Stjarnan (Iceland) 64° 5' 14" N
11. FH (Iceland) 64° 4' 13" N

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jeu du Jour Week 5: Déjà vu, Grenoble

You know what they say about title-challenging teams: if you can play badly and still win, you've got what it takes to be the champions. The question is, does the reverse apply for relegation-threatened teams?

Grenoble are challenging the theory at the moment, that's for sure. Having played five and lost five so far this season, they've played well more often than not and yet still won nothing for their efforts. Their latest opponents, champions Bordeaux, had a decidedly off day on Saturday as they aimed to maintain an unbeaten run that goes back over six months, but still beat the tenacious Grenoble who, some say, deserved at least a point from the game.

Yoan Goufrann's 18th-minute goal proved to be the sum total Bordeaux's efforts on the day, but despite Laurent Blanc's acknowledgement of a poor performance, it means Bordeaux stay top of the table and Grenoble remain bottom.

Joining Mehmed Baždarević's team at the wrong end of things are Saint Etienne who have won only one of their five games, and it was against... Grenoble. Predictable really, wasn't it? This week, they lost by a single goal away to Rennes who maintain their unbeaten start to the season, moving up to sixth in the table as they do so.

One place above them are PSG whose unbeaten run came to a crashing end against Monaco on Sunday. With five minutes remaining, the match looked to be heading for a goalless draw but up popped Chu-Young Park and Nenê to smash and grab all three points for the Principality. To make matters worse, PSG had Benin midfielder Stephane Sessegnon sent off in injury time as the team from the capital lost ground on Bordeaux at the top.

Marseille and Lyon continue their own hot pursuit of Bordeaux with a win each at the weekend. Marseille faced tough opposition in the form of a Le Mans side who gave as good as they got at the Stade Léon-Bollée. Mamadou Niang put L'OM in front early on, but Le Mans pushed hard for an equaliser with Anthony Le Tallec (yes, him again) going close on several occasions.

Eventually the home side got their goal through a lovely overhead kick from Modibo Maiga just after the hour mark, but their lead lasted only eight minutes courtesy of Marseille's Brazilian striker Brandão. He headed in unmarked from a free kick to ensure his side stay in the top four.

Another Brazilian making his mark was Michel Bastos who picked up his second goal of the season in Lyon's 1-0 win over Lorient. It came in the final third of a game that saw Lyon playing with an unfamiliar formation following the absence through injury of Lisandro Lopez. It took them a while to get going against a tame Lorient, but by the second half they had their opponents on the back foot and eventually got their goal through Lyon's summer signing from Lille 18 minutes from time.



Still the undoubted Wild Card in the pack is Montpellier who rise to third in the table following a scrappy 1-0 over the team that pipped them to the Ligue 2 title last season, Lens. Alberto Costa's 39th-minute penalty was the only difference between the two battling teams and proved enough to maintain Montpellier's unbeaten start to the season.

At the other end of the table, Nice slipped into the bottom three after handing their hosts, Auxerre, their first win of the season. A goal in either half saw Auxerre climb out of the relegation zone for the first time in this campaign – no doubt a psychological boost for the team that can claim never to have been relegated from the top flight.

Also picking up their first win (and about time too) were Lille after a 1-0 home win over Sochaux that lacked much for the connoisseur to enthuse over. At this rate, Sochaux look likely to finish in 14th spot for the third season running while Lille will now be hoping to return to the top end of the table they so often occupy.

Out tip for greatness in 2009/10, Toulouse, are finding it all a bit of a struggle this season. They endured their third game in a row without a win after a goalless draw away to Nancy, but it wasn't for the want of trying. Star player André-Pierre Gignac dominated the match with a raft of chances including two that hit the bar in the second half, but the luck just wasn't with Toulouse on the day.

The game ended spectacularly when Nancy midfielder Silva André Luiz was sent off for headbutting Etienne Didot, but it did nothing to alter the result. Both teams now occupy a middle-third spot now but are patently capable of improving that by the end of the season.

Finally, a mention for plucky Boulogne who refuse to be overawed in this, their first ever Ligue 1 showing. They extended their current unbeaten run to four after a 1-1 draw at home to Valenciennes who themselves seem to have turned a corner at last. Boulogne, rather admirably, occupy eight spot in the table now while Valenciennes climb up to 15th.

Boulogne's first big test of the season comes this weekend as they play host to Bordeaux while Montpellier travel to Marseille. At the bottom end, there's a six-pointeur between Auxerre and Saint Etienne to whet the appetite, so why not join us next week to see how those games and the seven others in Ligue 1 pan out.

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

Just One Scudetto: Matchday 3 - Return of the Tinkerman

Lots to catch up on with two rounds of fixtures in Serie A, the start of the Champions League and of course the Azzuri in World Cup qualification action. So no messing around - let's get straight to it. Avanti!

Since my last update, Luciano Spalletti has parted company with Roma to be replaced by Claudio Ranieri, following a home defeat to the Tinkerman's former club Juventus. Juve have got off to a fantastic start with three wins from three, adding another win in the eternal city against Lazio (locals will be hoping the visitors didn't throw some spare euros in the Trevi). Diego seems to be proving himself the signing of the summer for Juve, already looking set to more than justify the €24.5 million they paid Bremen for his services. As for Ranieri, he's made an immediate impact, overseeing Roma's first win of the season away to Siena thanks to a last-minute goal from John Arne Riise.

Juve are joined at the top of the table by the two teams from Genoa. Adding to first day wins, both teams won by the single goal in games at Atalanta (three defeats from three for them), Sampdoria also beating a decidedly shaky looking Udinese, and Genoa coming out 4-1 winners over Napoli in an interestingly officiated tie that saw three red cards and two penalties. Stats fans will be interested to know that table toppers and leading scorers Genoa have got their eight goals from eight different players.

Spreading the goals around is something Udinese haven't achieved, with six of their seven coming from just one man, Antonio Di Natale. He pulled them back from behind for the second time this season scoring a hat-trick in the 4-2 home win against Catania. Napoli's goals have been shared between Marek Hamsik, who's scored in every game, and new signing Fabio Quagliarella - who scored twice in the 3-1 home win over Livorno. One win from three however hasn't gone much way to convince anyone about Donadoni's managerial capabilities.

Fiorentina are still unbeaten following up their opening day draw with two 1-0 home wins against Palermo and Cagliari. Cagliari have yet to add to their solitary point having lost 3-1 at home to Siena. Chievo have chalked up their first win with a 2-0 win at struggling Bologna, a very good result following their previous match - being beaten 2-1 at home to Lazio, from a goal up and the visitors playing the last half hour with ten men.

Of course the biggest match so far this season has been the Milan derby in which Inter (as the away side) ran out 4-0 winners. The result, though, said more about how much Leonardo has to learn rather than how good Inter are. The key moment of the game was Gatusso's dismissal and the events surrounding it. Severely exposed in midfield, Gatusso was clearly carrying an injury, however in the time it took Clarence Seedorf to get it together to put his boots on to replace him, Gatusso commited a second bookable offence and was off - already two goals down there was no way back for the Rossaneri.

Inter followed this result with a 2-0 home win against Parma. It wasn't straightforward for Mourinho's men as Parma held their nerve for 70 minutes looking to emulate Bari's opening day draw at the San Siro. In the end, tiredness got the better of them and they were fortunate not to be on the end of a bigger (if undeserving) scoreline. Inter's goals came from Eto'o and Milito (I may be using this line a lot this season). Milan, however, could only battle out a goalless draw against the other promoted side Livorno.

Parma became the first of the new boys to register a win with their 2-1 win over bottom placed club Catania who remain pointless. Bari are still unbeaten haven't picked up draws against Bologna and at Palermo to add to their opening day heroics.

A ray of brightness has come Milan's way though in the shape of the Champions League; in a replay of the 1993 final, Pippo Inzaghi (who else) scored twice to beat Marseille 2-1. This tie was just one part of an Italy v France extravaganza in the Champions League - Fiorentina going down by the single goal at Lyon and Juventus drawing 1-1 at home to in-form Bordeaux. Match of the day should have been Inter v Barcelona - but in the end, though, it turned into what it always was: an early stage league fixture with either side so eager to show that they got the better end of the Eto'o/Ibrahimovic deal they forgot to go about winning the thing. A tame 0-0 resulted. Lazio, Roma and Genoa are in Europa League action tonight.

On the international stage, the World Cup holders were eased towards qualification by two goals from a Milan defender. However the defender in question was Kakha Kaladze playing for Georgia and putting it past his own goalkeeper twice in the space of 12 minutes to hand the tie 2-0 to the visitors. Italy relied on their own players for the same scoreline at home to Bulgaria four days later - Juve's Grosso and Iaquinta on the scoresheet there. Just a point from their next game away to the Republic of Ireland on October 9 will be enough to see them through as winners of Group 8.

Well I'm off to Italy myself for a week so by the time I write my next update there will have been three rounds of fixtures including a rare midweek card. The nearest match to me will be Bari v Cagliari next Wednesday - given that neither side have won yet and only managed three goals in their six so far it hasn't really filled me with enthusiasm to drag Mrs. S the 80-odd km to watch a game from behind a running track. I'm sure a local bar will be carrying something more entertaining.

A più tardi!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bundesbag Week 5 and Champions League Update - Two and a half out of three

Public displays of fake unity are never entirely convincing. Take Brown and Blair in the 2005 election campaign or Ritchie and Madonna in the final days of their marriage. However, the post-goal celebration between Franck Ribery and his boss Louis van Gaal was positively coital in its intensity. It had been suggested that the pair had been at odds but all that was put to one side as Franck, a second half substitute in Bayern Munich's game at Dortmund, scored from a magnificent free kick and ran into the arms of his beloved coach. Were the majority of the 80,000 spectators at Dortmund's Westfalon Stadion not so miserable they would have turned away in mild embarrassment.

The match ended 5-1 and put the cap on what has been a largely miserable weekend for yours truly. But while Franck stole the headlines, the match should also be remembered for two fantastic goals by Thomas Muller, making only his 9th Bundesliga appearance for Bayern. Muller turned 20 only last Monday and added to his tally on Tuesday against Haifa in the Champions League. The Bundesbag advises the discerning to keep a close eye on the young Muller.

With Bayern, seemingly back in business (although I'm far from convinced by their defence) the current champions Wolfsburg are having a decidedly mixed time of things. They welcomed joint table-toppers Leverkusen to the VW Arena hoping to end their run of two defeats. After half an hour, the Wolves had their keeper Diego Benaglio sent off for a professional foul. Things went downhill from there as the Bayer club took full opportunity of the man advantage with two goals from Rolfes (one being a harsh penalty in my view) and a third from Kiesling.

However, the Champions recovered themselves and scored two in reply. While they still lost the game 3-2, they remain unbowed. They can console themselves with their maiden Champions League win on their first ever appearance in that competition. Grafite was the hat trick hero as they beat CSKA Moscow 3-1. An impressive result. It also represent coach Armin Vey's first win at that level after his dismal run with Stuttgart a couple of seasons back.

Stuttgart are the Bundesliga's other Champions League team. Their preparation could have been better after going down 3-1 to the league's other leaders Hamburg. Coach Bruno Labbadia had some bad news after the World Cup qualifying weekend as Paulo Guerrero and Colin Benjamin returned with long term injuries. Fortunately, his squad is deep and goals from Mladen Petric, Eljero Elia and the excellent Ze Roberto sealed the win for the northerners. Russian international striker Pavel Pogrebnyak scored Stuttgart's consolation goal. He scored once again in the Champions League against Rangers. The game finished 1-1 and capped off an unbeaten start for the German clubs, although you suspect that Stuttgart will be dissappointed with a point.

Elsewhere, Frankfurt's decent start to the season continued at Freiburg with a 2-0 win to take them to fourth in the table. Berlin's wretched start to the season continued at Mainz with a 2-1 defeat. Hoffenheim's Vedad Ibisevic has yet to score since his return from injury but that's OK because the rest of his chums seem happy to fill in for him. Hoff beat Bochum 3-0. Nurnberg are finally off the mark thanks to a 1-0 home win against 'Gladbach. Bremen encountered stiff opposition against Hannover and had to settle for a point in a goal less draw.

Rooted to the bottom are Koln who will need to improve massively if they plan on being anywhere else. While Lucas Podolski equalised after Jefferson Farfan's 2nd minute opener, the German international looked wayward and undisciplined in attack. The two midfielders Petit and Maniche look unfit and more concerned with trying to win free kicks (although they can both play when they want to). To be blunt, they seem short of answers and deserved to lose 2-1 after Kobiashvili scored the winner. There is much work for their coach Zvonimir Soldo to do, unless of course, he is part of the problem.

Meanwhile, the .2 Bundesliga top spot is being shared by two of the coolest clubs in Europe, Union Berlin and FC St Pauli. Union shared 9 (nine) goals at the weekend with Paderborn at An der alten Försterei. It finished 5-4 to the Berliners.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Football Americana Week 26: Galaxy hit for six

Week 26, and Columbus Crew have finally reached the summit. DC United had a mixed week, while LA Galaxy and New England Revolution stumbled unexpectedly.

The action got underway on Wednesday. DC United hosted Kansas City Wizards and picked up a slightly fortunate 1-0 win courtesy of Luciano Emilio, who found an empty net after a Chris Pontius header had beaten Kevin Hartman but cannoned off the post. Chance Myers was dismissed late on for two bookable offences within a few minutes.

United were at home again on Saturday, this time facing a much stiffer challenge in the shape of Sigi Schmid's Seattle Sounders. It was a productive night for the youngsters, beginning with Steve Zakuani's fifth minute opener for Seattle. Rodney Wallace equalised in the 54th, but Fredy Montero nicked it for Seattle late on, his shot deflected by Julius James into Josh Wicks' top corner.

Earlier, Toronto FC had stepped up their hunt for a playoff place ahead of United by beating Colorado Rapids 3-2 at BMO Field. Dwayne DeRosario fired TFC ahead on the turn in the 19th minute and Colorado couldn't equalise until the second half, when Conor Casey made his height count to head home.

O'Brian White lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper to make it 2-1 to Toronto, and Nana Attakora headed in a corner three minutes later to put TFC 3-1 in front. Michael Holody got a consolation for the Rapids in the last minute.

There was little excitement to be had from watching the Wizards's second game of the week, but they picked up a welcome victory at New York Red Bulls. The only goal of the game came in the tenth minute, when Claudio Lopez forced the goalkeeper to save on the edge of his area and his parry fell to Josh Wolff, who stroked the ball in first time from 30 yards.

Honours were even at Rio Tinto, where Chicago Fire missed the chance to strengthen their playoff hopes. They led Real Salt Lake at half time after Marco Pappa had set up Chris Rolfe's sixth of the season, but Jamison Olave scored his third with just under 20 minutes left to ensure RSL took a share of the points.

Game of the week and possibly game of the season took place in Carson, where FC Dallas hit four late goals to record a 6-3 victory over LA Galaxy. Dave van den Bergh's deflected free kick put FCD in front in the 8th minute, and Jeff Cunningham's 115th MLS goal made it two in the 25th.

AJ DeLaGarza thought he'd pulled one back a minute later thanks to a fortunate ricochet which was deemed to be an own goal, but he made sure the equaliser in the 41st minute had his name on it. But in the 71st minute Dax McCarty kicked off the slaughter, with Atiba Harris and David Ferreira putting the game beyond the Galaxy in the 82nd and 83rd minutes.

In the 86th, Brek Shea's perfect layoff found Cunningham who hit a low rocket to make it six. LA got a last-minute consolation, Edson Buddle heading in his fourth of the season from a David Beckham corner. There were ugly scenes afterwards, with words exchanged presumably about FCD's exuberant goal celebrations and on-field showboating.

On Sunday, Chivas USA put a dent in the play-off hopes of New England Revolution. Edgaras Jankauskas of the Revs and opponent Carey Talley both saw red for violent conduct after 70 minutes with the score at 1-0 thanks to Chivas' Maicon Santos. Sacha Kljestan added some gloss from the spot deep into injury time.

And in the showdown between the league leaders, Columbus Crew defeated Houston Dynamo 2-1. Frankie Hejduk opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, nodding in Gino Padula's cross. Cam Weaver levelled for the Dynamo with just ten minutes left after a terrible miss by Brian Ching minutes earlier, and then it all kicked off in a big way.

Crew's Adam Moffat was dismissed for serious foul play after a challenge on Rico Clark, whose reaction earned him the same punishment. But there was still a sting in the tail, as Eddie Gaven coolly rolled in a stoppage time spot kick to win it for the Crew.

So Columbus go top and continue to lead the East, three points ahead of Chicago. Houston lead the West with 40 from LA with 38. The next four spots are held by Seattle, Colorado, Chivas and DC.

No place like home?

It's ironic that at a time when the 'grow your own' movement has never been more popular (at least amongst gardeners), the Premier League have decided to impose strict new rules on its clubs to ensure they, too, use home-grown produce. Sorry - 'talent'.

All very noble too, except when you look into the make-up of most Premier League clubs, you'll find they're already largely abiding by the rules anyway.

According to Premier League chief Richard Scudamore, all clubs from the 2010-11 season onwards should have at least eight 'home-grown' players in a squad of 25. And by 'home-grown', that means a player who, between the ages of 16 and 21, have been registered for at least three years with an English or Welsh club.

A big shift in the way Premier League teams will line up? Not necessarily. Here's how the Arsenal team would look using players that already fall into line with the new rules.

Many familiar names are present, so much so that you'd be hard pushed to notice any major difference with the teams Arsenal put out at present anyway.

So is this the latest example of the powers-that-be tinkering unnecessarily with the beautiful game, or is it the work of a bunch of visionaries?

Your thoughts, as ever, are most welcome...

The Sound Of Football Podcast 6

The latest edition of The Sound Of Football Podcast is now available.

This week, the chaps revel in the glory of England's qualification for the 2010 World Cup, discuss the rightness of UEFA's decision to overturn Eduardo's ban and ponder the absurdity of Emmanuel Adebayor's relationship with his old Arsenal chums.

You can download or listen to the podcast via the SoundCloud widget below. Alternatively, you can subscribe via the your reader of choice or via iTunes.
Sound Of Football Episode 6 by soundoffootball

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