Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jeu du Jour Week 30: Bordeaux bulldozed

To say that this hasn’t been the best week in Bordeaux’s recent history is something of an understatement. It began on Saturday as Les Girondins faced Marseille in the 16th Coupe de la Ligue Final at the Stade de France in Paris. Bordeaux, holders of the cup going into the match, were up against Didier Deschamps’ side who hadn’t won a single trophy since 1993 when Deschamps himself lifted the European Cup as club captain. For them, the long wait was about to end, but for Bordeaux, a tough week was about to begin.

In 2009, Bordeaux faced little-known Ligue 2 side Vannes and won the Final at a canter, 4-0. This time, Marseille would prove altogether tougher opponents. That said, Bordeaux were the happier team going in at half time with the score at 0-0. Laurent Blanc’s men had the better of the exchanges in the first 45 minutes, but that soon changed just after the hour mark when Mathieu Valbuena – on for injured Marseille skipper Mamadou Niang – crossed for Souleymane Diawara who duly headed in.

Six minutes later, Valbuena got his own name on the scoresheet with a shot that put Marseille 2-0 up before completing a memorable performance as his free kick was deflected in by Mathieu Chalmé to make it three. Seven minutes from time, Bordeaux pulled one back through Ludovic Sané, but by then it was all over. Deschamps had guided his team to a rare moment of glory, and if this performance is anything to go by, Marseille may yet come back to haunt Bordeaux in the remaining weeks of the league season.

While all the attention was on the Coupe de la Ligue Final, Lyon were busy trying to salvage something from the wreckage of their own league campaign. They played bottom club Grenoble on Saturday – under sufferance too following Bordeaux’s request to the LFP that Lyon’s game be moved from Friday to ensure both teams got the same number of days’ rest before their Champions League quarter final three days later. In the end, it would prove futile as Lyon comfortably ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Michel Bastos and Cesar Delgado – a psychological advantage gained before the Champions League circus rolled into town.

Six matches took place on Sunday, chief among which was the battle between Lille – freed from the distraction of the Europa League – and Montpellier – hoping to overtake Bordeaux at the top of the table. The result was a surprise to say the least: 4-1 to Lille, a result which slightly flattered the home side given Montpellier’s battle to equalise following Gervinho’s 17th minute opener. Souleymane Camara did the necessary for Rene Girard’s team, but they were on level terms for only seven second half minutes before the flood gates opened and Lille began the rout.

Montpellier remain in second on 56 points, but they now have Auxerre for company on the same total as well as Bordeaux. AJA’s goalless draw against Monaco on Monday night means all three teams are level, although Bordeaux now have two games in hand. Lille and Lyon are fourth and fifth respectively on 54 points followed by Marseille on 53, but like Bordeaux they also have two games in hand.

So just three points cover the top six teams, and they could soon be joined by a seventh as Rennes continue their charge up the table with a fourth consecutive win. Their 3-1 win at lowly Le Mans means they’re just four points behind Marseille and a victory over Lyon at home this weekend could put them even closer in touch with the leaders yet.

At the foot of the table, Nice continue to pull away from danger with a third consecutive win under caretaker coach Eric Roy. A 2-0 win at Toulouse puts Nice on 35 points, twelve clear of Boulogne in 18th and now level on points with Lens in 15th who went down 5-1 to Nancy.

Saint Etienne remain anchored in 17th spot after their 4-0 thumping by Lorient left them without a win in five league games. As it is, they remain safe for another week thanks to Boulogne losing again – their two game winning run coming to an end with a 3-0 loss at PSG.

All of which left us waiting for the mouthwatering prospect that was Lyon v Bordeaux in the Champions League on Tuesday, and here’s where Bordeaux’s week was officially confirmed as ‘very poor’.

In front of a home crowd, Lyon got off to a flyer when Lisandro Lopez capitalised on a mistake by Michael Ciani with only 10 minutes on the clock. Four minutes later, Marouane Chamakh was Johnny-on-the-Spot once again when he headed in from a Yoann Gourcuff cross to make it 1-1, but 13 minutes before the break, Michel Bastos smashed in an effort from a narrow angle to give Lyon the lead at half time.

Bordeaux needed a quick boost at the start of the second half and nearly got it as Wendel, Gourcuff, Plasil and Chamakh all came close with their own efforts. But it was to be Lyon who’d prove the stronger as Lopez got his second and Lyon’s third from the penalty spot in the 77th minute to seal a valuable first leg victory.

It’ll be all back to the Stade Chaban-Delmas next Wednesday for the second leg, by which time Laurent Blanc will have hopefully worked out where it all went wrong for his team this week, but the damage may already be done for Bordeaux in what’s proving to be a gruelling season all round.

That’s all for now, until next week’s Jeu Du Jour, it’s à bientôt...

Full results and standings available here

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Football Americana Week 1: Seattle win prevents Philly flyer

Worry ye not, Major League Soccer fans, for the soccerball has returned for season numero 15 and there's not a work stoppage in sight. Opening weekend didn't disappoint - unless you're me, which you're not (unless you are) - and there were some cracking goals scored, some excellent debuts and several statements of intent. I'm looking at you, Salt Lake. Here's what happened during week one.

"Smash the Union" read the Seattle Sounders supporters' tifo on Thursday night at Qwest Field, and they got their wish. Debut club Philadelphia Union found themselves 2-0 down by half time.

Brad Evans slotted home neatly in the 11th minute after neat play between Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani, and the Colombian youngster doubled Seattle's lead just before half time with a stooping header from a set piece. Four minutes earlier, he'd been lying helpless on the ground after the second bookable challenge by Toni Stahl. Piotr Nowak, Philly's coach, spoke out in the aftermath against Seattle's histrionics - in truth, the Sounders were comfortable enough to do without them.

On Friday, Chivas USA hosted Colorado Rapids but could not make the most of home advantage. Chivas had their chances but were unable to beat the magnificently bearded Matt Pickens, and Omar Cummings curled in the winner ten minutes after half time. He benefited from a fortunate ricochet but finished brilliantly.

Preki's Toronto FC faced a tough trip to Columbus Crew on opening day and it was the Crew who got off to the perfect start. Guillermo Barros Schelotto set up English defender Andy Iro to head them into the lead and Schelotto made it two to secure three points against a dangerous looking TFC side.

In Texas it was Houston Dynamo who drew first blood on the Lonestar State derby against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park. An even first half hour was goalless but Mike Chabala gave the Dynamo the lead with a neat finish from the edge of the penalty area with ten minutes to go before half time. But the lead didn't last long, and Atiba Harris swept inside the full back before unleashing a wonderful shot past Pat Onstad to level the game.

FCD had a goal correctly disallowed just after the hour mark and it was the beginning of a string of opportunities for Jeff Cunningham, but his radar was just slightly off-kilter. Neither side was satisfied with the draw and both attacked with intent but no real success. 1-1 at full time, and bad news afterwards for FCD's Kyle Davies, who was confirmed to have broken his arm and dislocated his elbow during the game.

With the Union's first game out of the way, much of the weekend buzz was around the first league game at the fantastic Red Bull Arena. New York Red Bulls came out on top against Chicago Fire thanks to a blistering volley by Joel Lindpere. The Fire created chances of their own but were foiled by the woodwork.

CommunityAmerica Ballpark's five-a-side pitch is now in numbered days in MLS and played host to Kansas City Wizards versus DC United. The Wizards took just 8 minutes to break the deadlock. Londoner Ryan Smith drew two early saves from Troy Perkins, who could only parry the second for an unmarked Kei Kamara to tap it home. The wet conditions certainly didn't help his handling.

Smith was again the key in the 35th minute, controlling a long ball and laying it off to Davy Arnaud who drilled the ball past Perkins for 2-0. Smith himself bagged the third, rolling the ball in after it squirmed out of the hands of Perkins from a low cross less than ten minutes into the second half. With 20 minutes left, a Dejan Jakovic handball gave the Wizards a penalty and Jack Jewsbury ensured that a bad result became an embarrassment for DC.

Reigning champions Real Salt Lake got off to a flying start in California. Javier Morales took just 13 minutes to fire a 30-yard thunderbolt past San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Fabian Espindola doubled the lead with a lovely lob from the edge of the area, and with 52 minutes gone the Quakes lost Chris Leitch to a red card for a professional foul. Just to rub salt into the wound, Morales found the net with a world class finish from the free kick to make it 3-0.

In the final game of the weekend, New England Revolution headed for Carson to play LA Galaxy. An early Landon Donovan free kick found Edson Buddle who stood firm under pressure to head home the only goal of the game.

There's not too much to worry about in terms of the league table(s) at this stage, but there were some special goals scored Stateside at the weekend and you can see them all here.

Sound Of Football Podcast 33: The Premier League

This week, the chaps return to English domestic matters and discuss the title challenge at the top of the Premier League before evaluating the tribulations of West Ham and setting up the Jimmy Bullard fan club.

We apologise for the poor sound quality on this week's edition.

You can listen to the podcast here or if you right click on that link, you can download the MP3. Alternatively, you can subscribe via the your reader of choice or via our iTunes feed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

MIdweek TV Preview: 29 March - 1 April 2010

Monday 29 March

19.45 Newcastle United v Nottingham Forest, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
After the distraction of Andy Carroll having an almighty punch-up with team-mate Steven Taylor, Newcastle won't want us or anybody else bringing up the issue as they continue their relentless pursuit of automatic promotion. So no jokes about boxing, no pugilistic references, no nothing. It just remains to say this is a match between the teams currently sitting first and third in the table which is sure to be a real knock-out. Bugger.

20.00 Man City v Wigan Athletic, Premier League, ESPN/HD
A second north-west derby in the space of three days for ESPN, and this one might be more of a contest than the formality that was 'Bolton v Man U'.

Tuesday 30 March

19.45 Bayern Munich v Man Utd, Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2
As Terry reported earlier in Bundesbag, Louis Van Gaal initially left Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on the bench for Bayern’s match against Stuttgart at the weekend, but having gone 1-0 down, both were sent into battle whereby the latter promptly picked up a calf strain. Though Ribery returns for Bayern, Robben looks set to sit this one out – a weakness that could be exposed as Sir Alex welcomes back Wayne Rooney to the fold.

19.45 Lyon v Bordeaux, Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Much credit has been given to both these teams for putting French football back in the spotlight once again, and rightly so. Their European campaigns this season (if not their domestic ones) have been near flawless, but the key question is “who will win out of these two?” Bordeaux lost 3-1 to Marseille in the French League Cup Final at the weekend while Lyon beat bottom club Grenoble 2-0, which, quite honestly, is our oblique way of saying “we’re not sure”.

Wednesday 31 March

11.00 FC Tokyo v Nagoya Grampus, J League Cup, British Eurosport 2
Both teams have made solid enough starts to their J League campaigns, particularly the current J League Cup champions FC Tokyo who will aim to be one of the two qualifiers for the semis from this group, Group A.

14.00 Bunyodkor v Zobahan, AFC Champions League Group Stage, British Eurosport 2
‘Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Bunyodkor’, no less, and mighty champions of the Uzbek League. They’re up against the runners-up in last year’s Iranian Pro League, but hey, we’re just trotting out the stuff you already know here.

19.45 Inter v CSKA Moscow, Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Not exactly the tie of the round, but an interesting one on account of CSKA being the first Russian team to reach the Champions League quarter finals in 14 years. A very real threat and a big challenge for The Special One to overcome if they intend to reach the last four.

19.45 Arsenal v Barcelona, Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, ITV1/HD
Cesc Fabregas is a doubt for The Gunners following the knee injury he picked up against Birmingham at the weekend. Arsenal are also without Nasri, Diaby and Arshavin while Barcelona will have to do without Iniesta after a hamstring injury put paid to his involvement. Despite such big-name absentees, this should be an absolute corker of a match between two teams that love to play football the way it should be played.

Thursday 1 April

20.05 Valencia v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Europa League Quarter Final 1st Leg, ITV4
Atletico beat Valencia 4-1 in the league back in February – a fact that will remind Unai Emery of the need to tighten up his defence, if only to deny Atletico a valuable away goal.

20.05 Benfica v Liverpool, UEFA Europa League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Five
Time for The Reds to show how serious they are about winning some European silverware. A decent 3-0 win over Sunderland bodes well for Rafa and his men, but some say Sunderland were so bad that Liverpool should have won by more than double the eventual scoreline. We won’t expect too much against Benfica, then.

20.05 Fulham v Wolfsburg, UEFA Europa League Quarter Final 1st Leg, ESPN
The return of the conquering heroes. Roy Hodgson’s brilliant mastery of the previous tie against Juventus shows he has the wherewithal to guide his team to victory against anyone (except Hull, possibly). Wolfsburg are there for the taking, but in Edin Dzeko and Grafite, Wolfsburg have plenty of ammunition to repel Fulham’s advances – if they’re up to the challenge...

Bundesbag Week 28 - Kuranyi catches the eye

If I'd eventually got round to writing a Bundesbag last week the theme would have been on missed opportunities after Bayern Munich's defeat at Frankfurt. While the leaders unbeaten run was coming to a halt, the door was open for Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke to walk through. As it happened they both declined. This week they were given another chance by Bayern which one of them grabbed with both hands. Consequently the Bundesliga has a new leader.

Louis van Gaal took a risk by keeping Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery on the bench for the game against in-form Stuttgart at the Allianz. Bayern's best forwards are injury prone and van Gaal clearly feels that the Champions League game against Manchester United should take precedent over a League match. At first it looked like his gamble would pay off after Ivica Olic put the home side ahead. However it all started to go wrong for the Bundesliga leaders just before half time when a shot from distance by Christian Trasch was deflected into the back of the net to level the score.

At half time, van Gaal lost his nerve and stuck Robben and Ribery on. But Stuttgart had their tails up and went looking for a second goal. They didn't have to wait long. In the 50th minute Cacau crossed the ball over to an unmarked Cyprian Marica at the far post. The Bayern defence mistakenly thought that the ball had gone out of play. They were wrong and their error cost them the game. No matter how hard they tried, they could not break down Stuttgart who claimed their first win in Munich since 1999.

The result may have cost more than three points for the Munich club as it looks likely that Robben will have to miss the game against Manchester United with a calf strain. Without his attacking prowess and given the situation with Bayern's defence it would be a major surprise to find the Bavarians in the semi-final of the Champions League.

So once again, the opportunity to capitalise fell to the two other title challengers Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen who played each other, coincidentally, at the Bayarena. While the home side had most of the possession they fell victim to a classic away performance inspired by Jefferson Farfan and Kevin Kuranyi. Farfan's running and pass to Benedict Howedes set up the cross for Kuranyi to score Schalke's first goal after 11 minutes. The Peruvian claimed the assist for the second goal with a sweet cross again to Kuranyi who is being talked up in the German media for a possible return to the German national squad. The game ended 2-0. Leverkusen are dispirited and Schalke are top of the League. With six games left they are tantalisingly close to the title and their fixture against Bayern next week couldn't be better timed. Could this finally be Schalke's year? We'll have a better idea next Saturday.

Elsewhere, Wolfsburg made up for their humiliating defeat at home to Hertha last week with an impressive 2-0 win at Mainz. Edin Dzeko supplied the goals with two beautifully taken strikes. Fulham manager Roy Hodgson will need to instruct his defenders to pay particular attention to both Dzeko and Grafite this Thursday when the two meet in the Europa League (a tie that either side can win). Meanwhile Hertha followed up on their win at Wolfsburg with a creditable draw with Borussia Dortmund. Eintracht Frankfurt polished off Bochum 2-1. Freiburg's 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim will not help them ease their relegation strife. However, Koln's 4-1 demolition of Hannover certainly will. Fellow strugglers, Nurnberg thought they might get a point at Werder Bremen after pulling a 3-0 lead back to 3-2. Unfortunately for them they conceded a fourth in the dying seconds after their goalkeeper Raphael Schafer went up front for a set piece.

Finally, it's all going very wrong for Hamburg. They had no answer to Borussia Monchengladbach's 43rd minute goal by Roel Brouwers. 'Gladbach coach Michael Frontzeck has drilled his defence well and when the Hamburg attack did find a way through they were either found wanting or were thwarted by an over eager linesman. Paolo Guerrero came on as a sub with 25 minutes to go and will give coach Bruno Labbadia options for the remainder of the season. However, he chose to use the Peruvian as a substitute for Ruud van Nistelrooy who looked far from happy with the decision and headed straight for the tunnel. The defeat puts Hamburg sixth, out of the European places and Labbadia in hot water if they finish the season like that. Questions will almost certainly be asked about his tactics and man management skills. For 'Gladbach it was a well deserved win and should see them safe for another season.

That's it. Results and table here. Follow the Bundesbag on Twitter here. I hope you are enjoy the Bundesliga preview vodcasts. There will be another one on Friday morning.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nine Top Football Theme Tunes

We here at Some People Are On The Pitch love an arbitrary list. In fact we have made Friday a special day for such lists of little or no consequence.

In that spirit we've put together a line up of that most esoteric of topics, the football theme tune. Below is a selection of cracking choons that we've been able to find on YouTube that were used to herald some of the best football TV and radio shows.

(Please note that we intend to explore World Cup themes at a later date.)

The Daddy

Match Of The Day, BBC Television. 'Offside' - Barry Stoller

Synonymous with Saturday nights (or Sunday mornings if your partner doesn't like football), this rousing anthem is an example of classic BBC post-war consensus building. Shorn of military overtures so familiar with older sports themes, the Match Of The Day theme is a celebration of peace and civilisation through the medium of blaring horns. It's happy, it's rousing and endures to this day.

The Grandaddy

Sports Report, BBC Radio 2 and Radio Five Live, 'Out Of The Blue' - Hubert Bath

An example of the militaristic. Hubert Bath's piece evokes images of marching bands performing in rusty grandstands in front of a barely attentive audience of three. This tune is played every Saturday at around 5pm on Radio Five Live to herald the scores round-up. It's a particular familiar sound if you're walking back from a match while cars pass you by. Perhaps not as immediately familiar as MOTD but by gad you'd know about it if it were to be replaced by Kasabian.

The Kitchen Sink

Champions League, 'UEFA Champions League Anthem', Tony Britten.

An adaptation of Handel's "Zadok the Priest", this theme exemplifies corporate excess and self- importance. Taking a theme composed for a coronation and using it for football. This is your ruler now... this and its many generous sponsors. The tune itself is suitably rousing but the arrangement lacks depth and it sounds like it was recorded in a basement in Thames Ditton. Cheap, ostentatious and overbearing. Just like the Champions League itself.

The Not Technically Football But Still Gets A Mention (I)

Sportsnight, BBC Television. 'Sportsnight' -Tony Hatch

The long-since defunct Sportsnight was always blessed by having one of the masters of the genre compose its theme. The fact that this high energy tour de force is not in use on another programme is a scandal of 6Music proportions if you ask me. Tony Hatch also composed the music for "Crossroads", "Emmerdale" and the sublime "Man Alive". His delicate counterpoints and sensitive melodies have added weight and substance to some of the worst TV shows ever made. Sportsnight is among one of his best.

The 25-35 ABC1s

Gillette Soccer Saturday and Sky Sports News. 'Requiem For A Tower Movement II-IV' - Clint Mansell

Sky are too busy chasing demographs to commission any seriously good football music. This thundering piece is one of the less nauseating examples of evidence that Sky lacks any sort of soul. It's a fine piece of music but wholly inappropriate for a sports infotainment channel that only really comes to life on Saturday afternoon when Jeff and the boys turn up for Soccer Saturday. Something far more whimsical and light-hearted would work so much better. Mind you, football's a serious business these days. This particular theme has been dropped recently in favour of an original piece, no doubt thrown together in a basement in Isleworth.

The Eighties Anthem

The Big Match, London Weekend Television, 'Jubilation' - Jeff Wayne

OK, you could argue that there are better Big Match themes. But those always get trotted out on nostalgia compilations. Jubilation was doing the rounds in the years when ITV were swapping Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons with MOTD. This comtemporary tune was the perfect antidote to the traditional BBC. The middle eight is a gorgeous floaty melody that transported the Den to the clouds for before bringing you back with a determined electronica. Fun yet purposeful. ITV have never commissioned anything as good since. Although they have come close.

The Modern

Gazzetta Football Italia, Channel 4. 'I'm Stronger Now' - Definitive Two

The tune that launched a thousand Saturday morning hangovers. To hear this tune is to recall James Richardson when he had hair, Kenneth Wolstenholme and last night's Guinness repeating on you. Channel 4 were never going to follow the same path as the Beeb and ITV when they first took up football in the wake of Italia 90. And this tune from definitive two set a new precedent in football presentation. Check out the full version here.

The Post-Modern

Football Italiano, Channel Five, 'Phantom Part II' - Justice

This shit-kicking dance classic was just about the only thing Five got right in its season-long dalliance with Serie A in 2007. An uber-modern theme but very much a proper football theme. It's jolly, dynamic and energising.

The Not Technically Football But Still Gets A Mention (II)

The Danny Baker Show, Radio Five Live, 'Hoedown' - Emerson Lake And Palmer

Between, Posh the Skelington, demolishing football grounds, reading the class register and horses in houses, Radio 5 Live's Danny Baker Show is holding onto its sport remit by its fingernails. However, Baker's legendary ear for the right tune at the right time has uncovered a gem, albeit one hiding in plain sight. This track by Seventies rock gods ELP is the perfect sports theme and contains all the ingredients that I've referred to above. Moreover, it's proto-modern dance beats and use of electronic keyboards make it sound, in places, like a 90's techno anthem. It could be the Chemical Brothers. Or it could be what Kraftwerk may have sounded like if they'd come from Todmorden.

Over to you!

No doubt you're seething at the glaring omissions from this list. Let us know your favorite football themes. There must be some classic regional sports themes that we Londoners have never heard of. Overseas readers - tell us about some classic football themes from your country. Chuck some links our way if you can.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bundesbag Vodcast - Week 28 Preview

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #157

Few and far between
The 9 Players Who Scored During The Premier League's Lowest Scoring Weekend Of November 24th/25th 2001

1. Les Ferdinand (for Tottenham v West Ham)
2. Thierry Henry (2 goals for Arsenal v Man United)
3. Emile Heskey (for Liverpool v Sunderland)
4. Hassan Kachloul (for Aston Villa v Leeds)
5. Freddie Ljungberg (for Arsenal v Man United)
6. Marian Pahars (for Southampton v Charlton)
7. Paul Scholes (for Man United v Arsenal)
8. Alan Shearer (for Newcastle v Derby)
9. Alan Smith (for Leeds v Aston Villa)

The weekend of November 24th and 25th saw only ten goals scored in the Premier League. The results were as follows:

Bolton 0 Fulham 0; Chelsea 0 Blackburn 0; Leicester 0 Everton 0; Newcastle 1 Derby 0; Southampton 1 Charlton 0; West Ham 0 Tottenham 1; Arsenal 3 Man United 1; Leeds 1 Aston Villa 1; Liverpool 1 Sunderland 0; Middlesbrough 0 Ipswich 0.

Weekend TV Preview: 26 -28 March 2010

Friday 26th March

19:30 Bochum v Eintracht Frankfurt, Bundesliga, ESPN
Frankfurt's faint hopes of a Europa League spot were rekindled after beating Bayern last week (which you would have read about in the Bundesbag this week if I'd organised my life better and actually written it). However, consistency is the key to success and I'd say there was a fair chance that Eintracht will slip up, even against a struggling Bochum side.

Saturday 27th March

12:45 Crystal Palace v Cardiff City, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Palace started March in positive form with a home win against Sheffield United under new coach Paul Hart. But the Eagles have not won a game since and now look vulnerable in the bottom three of the Championship. Cardiff are hanging on to the final play-off place and will be eager for the points before they face two tough games against Leicester and Swansea.

17:30 Bolton Wanderers v Manchester United, Barclays Premier League, ESPN/HD
United remind me of a 6-year-old who is running ahead of themselves. They're going ever so well but you can't help but think that they'll be grazing their knees on the concrete 'ere long.

19:00 Mallorca v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
The Messi roadshow continues as an extra box of tissues is ordered for the Sky commentary team. Seriously, the wee man is on fire and should be enjoyed while he lasts.

21:00 Zaragoza v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
Meanwhile, Valencia roll into Zaragoza only a week after Barca left an horrendous mess.

Sunday 28th March

12:00 Burnley v Blackburn Rovers, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
If watching two dads fight at a wedding is your thing then you'll love this deeply felt derby game. If not, then there's bound to be some IPL on ITV4.

13:30 Carlisle Utd v Southampton, Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The Saints will be clear favorites in the old Associate Member's Cup. Alan Pardew has assembled a team fit for the Championship and a piece of minor silverware will be the perfect tonic for their war-weary supporters.

16:00 Liverpool v Sunderland, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Lock up your beach balls, Sunderland are coming to town. Rafa's men desperately need to go on a run if they hope to pressurise Tottenham for that fourth spot. Unfortunately, for them, the Black Cats are back in the groove.

16:30 Monchengladbach v Hamburg, Bundesliga, ESPN
Hmm. 'Gladbach are poor value to be frank. They were dreadful against Koln last Friday and I cannot in good conscience recommend them to any one. Hamburg are pretty good though.

18:00 Villarreal v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Managerless Sevilla try to regain some momentum after their surprising exit to CSKA in the Champions League against a ho-hum Villareal side. This is an appetiser for the main event.

20:00 Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Gotta love these city derbies. Not Real's greatest enemy but not far off. Should be a belter.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jeu du Jour Week 29: Dimanche Superbe

‘Dimanche Superbe’. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as ‘Super Sunday’, does it? Even the Germans get ‘SuperSonntag’ but the French, it seems, must settle for something altogether less enticing. That aside, it was certainly a Dimanche that threw up superbe results for Bordeaux, Montpellier and Marseille, and somewhat derailed the challenge of Lyon and Lille.

Four of France’s finest clubs were pitted against each other last weekend in a battle royal for top spot in the league, and it was Bordeaux that emerged victorious. Last Sunday they faced a Lille side that were still reeling from their Europa League exit the previous week at the hands of Liverpool - a tie they lost 3-1 on aggregate having been 1-0 up after the first leg.

Indeed the likelihood of Bordeaux suffering from Lille’s intent to make amends looked all the more likely after 23 minutes when Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard scored his fifth of the season. Little did Lille know it was to be their only decent chance of the game and one which woke Bordeaux from their long slumber.

Shortly before half time, Bordeaux defender Michaël Ciani volleyed in to equalise for the home side before Jussiê put them in front from the penalty spot mid-way through the second half. The penalty itself came about after Ricardo Costa had fouled Marouane Chamakh thus earning him a second yellow card and consequent dismissal. Had Graham Poll been officiating, Costa might have stood a chance, but alas he wasn’t that lucky.

Taking full advantage of their numerical superiority, Bordeaux finished the game as a contest ten minutes later through Yoann Gorucuff and with it retained their top billing in the table. They still haven’t shaken off Montpellier, however, after Valenciennes were beaten 2-1. Rene Girard’s men avoided a third straight draw thanks to Victor Hugo Montano (picking up his first goal for a month) and a deflected free kick from Joris Marveaux. In a close encounter, Valenciennes deservedly picked up a consolation goal courtesy of Tunisian Ben Khalfallah, but with 20 minutes remaining, an equaliser couldn’t be found.

So Montpellier stay level on points at the top with Les Girondins, but the latter have a game in hand and thirteen more goals in the ‘GD’ column. Auxerre also kept the heat on with a 2-1 win over Le Mans, and it was man of the moment Ireneusz Jelen who popped up again to help AJA on their way.

The Pole, scoring his tenth goal of the season, was guilty of not making more of the many chances he had in the game. It was therefore perhaps fortunate for him and his team that Benoit Pedretti was able to see off a strong Le Mans fightback with a 90th minute winner which, if only for a few hours, put Auxerre top of Ligue 1 on Saturday night. As it is, they return to third place, just a point behind the top two and having played a game more than Bordeaux (as most teams have).

The other big showdown last Sunday saw Lyon and Marseille face each other at the Stade Vélodrome with many fans only too happy to recall the 5-5 draw which ensued the last time they faced each other last November. There was to be no repeat this time, unsurprisingly, but at least we had an outright winner in the shape of Didier Deschamps’ Marseille.

After a goalless first half in which Lyon exerted some early pressure and even hit a post, Marseille fought their way back and took the lead after 67 minutes through a deflected Charles Kabore shot. Lyon didn’t equalise until ten minutes from the end when Kim Kallstrom’s free kick was headed in by Bafetimbi Gomis, but there was still time for Marseille to get a second decisive goal when Taye Taiwo took two attempts to put the ball past Hugo Lloris in the Lyon goal.

That 2-1 win puts Marseille up to fourth in the table, three points behind Bordeaux with a game in hand and crucially a goal difference that’s only three less than the leaders. If Marseille ever get round to playing that game in hand they’ve had practically all season, we may yet see some fireworks.

Lyon, meanwhile, slip to sixth – not the first time they’ve slipped so low this season – and were it not for a decent chance to reach the Champions League Final, they’d be possibly looking at a campaign which sees them fail to qualify for Europe in 2010/11. They still have the chance to gain something from this season, however, beginning with the visit of bottom club Grenoble this weekend, but there’s much hard work to be done for Claude Puel and his team.

At the other end of the table, Boulogne doubled their pleasure by following up last week’s all too rare win with another – this time at home to Lorient. Damien Marcq scored for the strugglers and with the added assistance of an own goal by Laurent Koscielny, they ran out 2-0 victors to go above Le Mans into 18th place.

Nice also bagged three points to pull further away from the teams at the bottom, winning 1-0 at home to PSG. Eric Roy can now claim to have guided his team to two wins in his first two games since taking over from Didier Ollé-Nicolle, and better still he’s built up a nine point gap between his team and Boulogne.

Elsewhere, Saint Etienne seem content to remain one place above the bottom three, this week getting a third consecutive draw 0-0 against Nancy. Lens made it six on-the-trot unbeaten with a goalless draw against Sochaux, while Rennes are up to seventh on the strength of a third straight win - 4-1 over Toulouse, featuring two goals from Asamoah Gyan.

And that’s about it for this week. Next weekend sees Bordeaux keep their hopes of winning a triple alive when they play Marseille in the Final of the Coupe de la Ligue, so don’t be surprised if Montpellier or Auxerre take their chance to go top for a week. The former faces Lille in the top league game of the weekend, so expect to hear news of that and the League Cup Final in next week’s Jeu Du Jour.

Until then, it’s à bientôt...

Full results and standings available here

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Dundee Dilemma

There is perhaps some comfort to be had for Tony Mowbray as his Celtic side continues their at-first-glance pointless chase of runaway leaders Rangers.

Most pundits will have told him that trailing the Ibrox side by 10 points and with 10 more games till the end of the season, the chances of overhauling that lead is nigh-on impossible. But Mowbray - and indeed Walter Smith - need only look 90-odd miles east to see that sometimes even the largest leads have a habit of disappearing like snow before the sun.

Depending on results, we could have a new leader in the Scottish First Division as long time front runners Dundee have somehow managed to fritter away an 11 point lead. In a story laced with irony, the Dens Park outfit have led the table since the beginning of December, when a 1-0 win over Ross County in faraway Dingwall saw Jocky Scott's men overtake Queen of the South (ironic moment #1) to take up pole position. It's a lead they hung on to through an amazing 13-game unbeaten streak, and which saw many blogs declaring the First Division race well and truly over.

Dundee seemed unstoppable, both on and off the park. Supported by the millions of club director Calum Melville, Scott was able to bring some of the top talent to Tayside, talent such as Gary Harkins and Leigh Griffiths (between them good for some 21 goals between them this season), Richie Hart, Bob Malcolm and Maros Klimpl.

The club won the Challenge Cup in November (beating Inverness Caley in the Final) and managed to make it to the quarter final of the Scottish League Cup where they were knocked out by Rangers, but having beaten SPL side Aberdeen along the way (ironic moment #2, director Melville being an Aberdeen fan and ironic moment #3, Jocky Scott a former Aberdeen co-manager).

But by the time Dundee had been knocked out of the Scottish Cup by fellow First Division side Raith Rovers, the wheels had started to come off the wagon. Their blistering form deserted them from the beginning of the new year where they picked up only 8 points from a possible eighteen, beginning and ending with (irony #4) defeats against bottom side Airdrie United. Having only managed to lose 1 game in 19 and looking certain for promotion, it was suddenly losing three games in eight and the possibility of SPL football next season that led to the club stepping in and sacking of Jocky Scott.

The club wasted no time in appointing Scott's replacement. Having flirted with Partick Thistle manager Ian McCall, who demanded a £200,000 compensation deal, Dundee turned to Queen of the South manager Gordon Chisholm, who as a player won promotion with Dundee back in 1992 and will be the first man ever to manage both Dundee clubs during his career. He'll be assisted by Billy Dodds.

The challenge facing the dream-team of Chisholm and Dodds is turning around a bad run of form to secure promotion to the SPL. With a pretty tricky schedule and under fire from the Dundee support, the task will certainly not be easy. And what better way to start the final push than a home game against (ironic moment #5) Queen of the South! The Doonhamers, lying 10 points behind Dundee are probably out of the running for promotion, but given the fixture list to come and with all the possible permutations, every point can have a pivotal outcome on the league.

With the First Division being as tight as it is, who are the main challengers, and how do we see this going?

The current league leaders are struggling of late. They're under new management which can have both good and bad effects, but you've got to question the timing. If nothing else, sacking Scott at this stage of the season may well be moment at which they secured First Division football next season. Chisholm is an experienced SFL manager. If he can get the team scoring again in the way they did earlier on in the season, they'll be fine. If not, the Dee are in trouble.
Key games: Tonight's game against Queen of the South. A must-win game to get the season back on track. Other than that, their next two games see them taking to the road as they face two of their main challengers in a short three day period: Ross County (27.03) and Dunfermline (30.03). Depending on results, the final game of the season sees them up in Inverness for what could well be the title decider.
Final Position: 2nd. I think the managerial change was a mistake, one which will cost them.

Inverness Caley Thistle
Caley are battling hard to get back into the SPL, hoping to overcome the disappointment of relegation on the final day of the season. Terry Butcher's men are unbeaten in the First Division since last December and in the Irish trio of Rooney, Jonny Hayes and Richie Foran they've one of the most exciting teams in the Division.
Key games: Dundee on the final day, obviously. Otherwise, another derby against Ross County at home at the end of this month could be a potential banana skin considering the last encounter between the two sides.
Final Position: League winners. I think they'll pip Dundee at the final post, probably (sorry, hopefully) on the final day, just to keep the interest going. Imagine if Celtic do what Caley did and bring the season down to the final game on the final day? Who says Scottish football is not exciting?

Dunfermline Athletic
Dunfermline have moved themselves back into promotion contention following their fifth victory in six games when they beat Scottish Cup quarter-finalist Raith Rovers at the weekend. Results elsewhere helped them get there (Thistle losing, and Caley and Ross County sharing the points), but nevertheless, they've as good a chance as any of the other teams at the top.
Key games: The Pars are well positioned to keep up the challenge, but having played more games than the other teams around them, there's not enough games, plus too much depends on the other teams around them.
Final Position: 3rd.

Ross County
Ross County might well be distracted by the Scottish Cup campaign. For Derek Adams, he's got a decision to make. They're in with a reasonable chance of getting past Hibs, but you can't see them getting past Celtic to reach the final. On the other hand, they're in with an outside chance of making promotion, so which competition to do you focus on. Over 6,000 attended Saturday's derby with Caley Thistle, suggesting interest in SPL football is in abundance, so perhaps that is where the short-term focus should lie.
Key games: The game against Hibernian tonight in the Scottish Cup replay. A victory there will set up another money-spinning but distracting fixture against Celtic. County will play all top-four sides in the next four weeks, but after that it's a reasonably doable run-in.
Final Position: 4th. Much as though I'd like to have Ross County in the SPL to fly the flag for the north of Scotland, I can't help but feel they'll struggle there. They've enough games to make up the difference, including two games in hand over Caley and Dundee and three over Dunfermline, so who knows.

Outside chances go to Queen of the South, who, like Ross County have quite a few games in hand, most of those against bottom half opposition. They're only 10 points behind Dundee, but I think the gap is too far to bridge. They're under new management also, a shocked Kenny Brannigan taking over. One point behind them is Partick Thistle - early challenges who fell away - are another side for whom the gap is too far. They've got eight games left this season, five of which are against the top-half of the table.

So, all in all plenty to keep us entertained. What do you lot think? Do let us know!

Sound of Football Episode 32 - Ligue 1 and Bundesliga

In a change to our usual programming, Graham's absence gives us an excuse to round up the comings and goings in the Bundesliga and Ligue 1.

We very much welcome your views and ask you to contribute to the podcast. As ever, we invite you to have a listen and let us know what you think.

You can catch the podcast here or if you right-click on that link, you can download the MP3. Alternatively, you can subscribe via the your reader of choice or via our iTunes feed.

32 For 2010: Uruguay

"Other countries have their history, it is said, while Uruguay has its football."
Tim Vickery
It is almost impossible not to become misty eyed with romanticism when it comes to Uruguay. After winning gold in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, Uruguay were rewarded by becoming hosts of the first ever World Cup in 1930. The de facto world champions claimed the official crown beneath the tower of the magnificent Estadio Centenario by beating Argentina 4-2.

Fast forward to October 2009 in the same stadium and the Uruguayans are struggling to fall over the line in a qualifying campaign that saw them finish fifth in the qualification group and have to face Costa Rica over two legs. Having won 1-0 in San Jose, the scene was set for a nervous second leg in Montevideo. And so it proved to be. Eventually, Sebastián Abreu scored for the home side causing pandemonium in the crowd. Minutes later however, Costa Rica equalised and the tension was restored to the Centenario.

But an upset was never really likely thanks to Uruguay's away goal and the first team to win the World Cup became the last team to qualify for the 2010 tournament in South Africa. That they took such a convoluted path is a reflection of the relative decline of Uruguayan football since those heady days before and after the war where they set the standard for the game and in shattering Brazilian hopes in 1950 (where they caused one of the great upsets in world football by beating the host to the Cup in the final match) they helped redefine the Brazilian game.

Uruguay failed to qualify for the World Cup in Germany 2006. They didn't make it past Round 1 in 2002 and were absent in France '98 and USA '94. As the continent's traditional lesser lights such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile improve, the Uruguayans will only find the road to future World Cups an even harder one to travel, particularly when you take into account the country's modest population.

Nevertheless, Uruguay are travelling to South Africa and were drawn in Group A with hosts South Africa, plus Mexico and France. The presence of the hosts as seeds hands a significant advantage to the rest of the group. Mexico will be familiar opponents as they regularly participate in the Copa America with Mexican clubs playing in the Copa Libatadores. France will almost certainly be favorites but remain something of an enigma under their eccentric coach Raymond Domenech.

The head coach of the Uruguayan national team is Oscar Tabarez (or El Maestro, as he is known). He previously coached the team in Italia '90. As for the players, Diego Forlan requires little introduction. The Atletico Madrid player won the Pichichi Trophy at his former club Villareal and is one of the hottest talents in La Liga. He is also Uruguay's 8th most capped player and the joint sixth all-time top scorer with twenty three goals, eight less that the great Hector Scarone.

However, this does not make Forlan the top scorer in the current squad. That honour goes to the aforementioned Sebastián Abreu of Botafogo in Brazil. He is only three goals behind Scarone's record and may conceivably break that record by the end of Uruguay's involvement in South Africa 2010. Having said that, Tobarez has preferred Ajax forward Luis Suarez in recent games. The 23 year old has scored 27 goals this season and will form a potent threat alongside Forlan this summer.

That, coupled with a favourable draw makes Uruguay a genuine barrier to Mexico and France in Group A and could themselves slip into the Second Round. For the future there are potentially exciting times. The proposal that Uruguay bid to co-host the 2030 Centenary World Cup with Argentina is already gathering momentum. The prospect of the World Cup Final taking place once again at the Estadio Centenario is too exciting for a world football fan. The prospect would re-energise the nation and hopefully provide much needed focus and vigour for one of the greatest, yet smallest footballing nations.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Football Americana's Major League Soccer 2010 Season Preview

It's been an intriguing close-season in the USA and that's more to do with non-playing matters than drafts, trades or coaching changes. USSF settled a fiery dispute between USL-1 and the "returning" NASL, sanctioning a hybrid second division. From SPAOTP Towers it seems inevitable that NASL will become the nation's de facto second division. And then, as they say on da streetz, it's on. Major League Soccer could face a significant challenge in the next ten years.

Not that it's been breezing through its own business even in 2010. The league's collective bargaining agreement with its players, signed in 2004, expired on January 31st before two extensions allowed negotiations to continue and blocked the very real possibility of a lockout. The players returned to work in early February and the pre-season began in enthusiastic fashion. But even into the middle of the month the deal hadn't been thrashed out and the threat of a delayed season loomed large.

But Football Americana is a slave to no labour dispute, and has been working feverishly reading a bit since Real Salt Lake's MLS Cup victory in November in order to bring you its 2010 season preview for Major League Soccer. Play ball! Sorry... that was condescending.

Collective Bargaining Agreement dispute threatens 2010 season

The deadline for CBA renewal passed on 31st January and was extended to 12th February and then again to the final week of the month. From the information leaked into the soccerball community, it was clear that the three main sticking points were the level of the league's salary cap and the negotiations over free agency and guaranteed contracts for players. We talk a lot about player power in Europe, but it's a term which carries less weight in MLS. Players aren't especially well paid and the lack of guaranteed contracts and free agency in the 2004 CBA essentially gave clubs the right to cut players loose at the drop of a hat, or control their registration even after the end of their contracts.

The negotiations entered mediation in the second week of March but no agreement was made and talk of a strike began to dominate the MLS headlines. Having authorised a strike should agreement not be reached by Monday 22nd March, the players finally came to an agreement with the owners last Saturday. The conference call which announced the deal revealed few details, but it's clear that concessions were made by both parties. The new CBA will expire on December 31st 2014 and supporters will be hoping for a speedier resolution on that occasion, but for now it appears that the players will at least have better salaries - some will have guaranteed contracts.

They may also benefit from a re-entry draft, which should prevent out-of-contract players from being controlled by their club even after expiry. It's not freedom of movement, exactly, but it will help players back onto the field more easily.

Talking points

Defending MLS Cup this year, reigning champions Real Salt Lake will have their work cut out. They snuck into the 2009 play-offs with a sub .500 record - the first team to do so - thanks to a late, late goal conceded by DC United on a bizarre final weekend of the regular season. But they suddenly became indestructible, seeing off Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire before triumphing over LA Galaxy in an epic battle of wills in Seattle in November. A repeat of RSL's remarkable success under Jason Kreis in 2009 is impossible to imagine as the new season gets underway, but the beauty of MLS is that whoever gets into the playoffs has a chance. RSL grabbed it with both hands.

It won't be quite so easy to get to those playoffs in 2010. Whereas 2009 saw eight out of 15 teams progress to the post-season, half of a league of 16 will fail to do so in 2010. The expansion club this year is Philadelphia Union, a franchise established with no little help from a supporters' group which existed even without a team. Experienced MLS coach Peter Nowak's off-season business for the Union, most notably in the expansion draft, has been wily rather than spectacular.

Stefani Miglioranzi (LA Galaxy), Alejandro Moreno (Columbus Crew) and Sebastian Le Toux (Seattle Sounders) are particularly astute signings, while the likes of Andrew Jacobson (DC United) and Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes) have their best years ahead of them but plenty to prove. It should be a hungry squad, and if the 2010 rookie class is anything like as good as 2009's, Nowak will benefit - he picked up the highly-rated Oregon State University prospect Danny Mwanga with the overall first pick in the 2010 Superdraft. It's highly unlikely that Philly will have anything like the impact made by Seattle last year, but if they have a great first season they might well trouble the playoff positions.

Many of the existing clubs will be looking for a significant change in fortunes in 2010, none more than New York Red Bulls. They were abject in 2009, but 2010 should be a new start. The purpose-built Red Bull Arena opened last week and looks like a fantastic facility (and that's from a DC United fan, so it's difficult to congratulate them), and new coach Hans Backe will be looking to install a more positive atmosphere in Juan Carlos Osorio's absence. The only way is up for RBNY, so any kind of playoff challenge into late August or early September would probably be sufficient.

Of course, there will be downward mobility too. LA Galaxy will be without the injured David Beckham but Landon Donovan will remain at the club because of Everton's relatively meagre finances. More at risk of a hefty fall are Houston Dynamo. Although they're a solid team with a fantastic coach and a reliable game plan, their heart has been torn out. Eintracht Frankfurt's Ricardo Clark and Bolton Wanderers midfielder Stuart Holden are international quality midfielders and really made the Dynamo side tick.

Any team in MLS would find replacing them difficult. Having said that, Dominic Kinnear is no slouch and is more than capable of revitalising his midfield. Keep an eye on Geoff Cameron, who might be important there this season.

First Kick Fixtures

With the CBA sealed, we've got an exciting week of fixtures ahead of us. The league's two newest clubs kick off the season on Thursday, with Philly visiting Seattle for a noisy baptism into Major League Soccer. Colorado Rapids head to LA to face Chivas USA on Friday, before the action really gets underway on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Red Bull Arena debuts as the Red Bulls host Chicago Fire, while FC Dallas are at home to neighbours Houston Dynamo. Elsewhere, Toronto FC visit Columbus Crew, Kansas City Wizards are at home against DC United, the champions Real Salt Lake travel to San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy play New England Revolution at the Home Depot Center.

Predictions for 2010

I've made one or two bold predictions in this preview but I've decided to refrain from making a ridiculously ambitious prediction about the winners of MLS Cup 2010. I'll only end up with egg on my face when my pick fails to finish in the top half. My one wager is one of blind faith and misplaced optimism: I think DC United will make the playoffs.

But for now, what we really want is your 2010 MLS predictions... go.

MIdweek TV Preview: 22 - 25 March 2010

Monday 22 March

19.45 Leeds Utd v Millwall, League One, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A fixture to leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth of any fan of football, unless of course you have a misguided nostalgia for "firms" and British Rail football specials. Leeds have a cushion of 12 points in the automatic promotion spots, Millwall's hold on a play-off place is less secure but their form suggests they have what it takes. Should actually be a good game.

Tuesday 23 March

20.00 West Ham v Wolves, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
A week or so ago it was looking like anyone in the bottom half could be in danger of going down. Results since suggest that it's most likely to be from the current bottom three and these two. Given how bad the bottom three actually are, a win here will see another side almost safe.

Wednesday 24 March

10.00 Kashima Antlers v Persipura Jayapura, AFC Champions League Group F, British Eurosport 2
Persipura were embarrased 9-0 on matchday 2 and more humilation could be heaped on the Indonesians as they face an even better team here.

19.00 Barcelona v Osasuna, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Early evening action from Spain, sees Osasuna hoping that an unfamilar kick off time will somehow stop the inevitable happening. It won't.

19.45 Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham, FA Cup Quarter Final Replay, ITV1/ITV HD
A tasty fixture between two sides playing well and playing good football. Of course, ITV will have to hide their disappointment if Fulham beat Spurs and deny everyone the chance of seeing the Harry Redknapp semi-final in front of 30,000 bile-filled Portsmouth fans.

19.45 Dundee United v Rangers, Scottish FA Cup Quarter Final Replay, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Not the formality I eluded to in my preview from a week or so ago: United fighting back from two goals down to finish the game 3-3. A rare competitive offering from north of the border.

19.45 St Mirren v Celtic, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
However if the League's more your thing, there's a proper, normal foregone conclusion on the other side.

21.00 Valencia v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Can't really see beyond a comfortable home win here either. Valencia are stumbling their way to third place but, thanks to a lack of pressure from the chasing pack, should make it to the non-qualifying Champions League spot.

Thursday 25 March

19.45 Napoli v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN
The Old Lady's season goes from bad to worse. Last week's humbling at Fulham came on top of some woeful Serie A displays but Napoli's current form is even worse. What should be a tantalising encounter now just a desperate battle for a Europa League spot.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bundesbag Vodcast - Week 27 Preview

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #156

"Well they don't come much better than that..."
The 36 Winners Of The BBC's 'Goal Of The Season' Competition

1. Ernie Hunt (for Coventry City v Everton, 1970–71)
2. Ronnie Radford (for Hereford United v Newcastle United, 1971–72)
3. Peter Osgood (for Chelsea v Arsenal, 1972–73)
4. Alan Mullery (for Fulham v Leicester City, 1973–74)
5. Mickey Walsh (for Blackpool v Sunderland, 1974–75)
6. Gerry Francis (for Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool, 1975–76)
7. Terry McDermott (for Liverpool v Everton, 1976–77)
8. Archie Gemmill (for Nottingham Forest v Arsenal, 1977–78)
9. Ray Kennedy (for Liverpool v Derby County, 1978–79)
10. Justin Fashanu (for Norwich City v Liverpool, 1979–80)
11. Tony Morley (for Aston Villa v Everton, 1980–81)
12. Cyrille Regis (for West Bromwich Albion v Norwich City, 1981–82)
13. Kenny Dalglish (for Scotland v Belgium, 1982–83)
14. Danny Wallace (for Southampton v Liverpool, 1983–84)
15. Graeme Sharp (for Everton v Liverpool, 1984–85)
16. Bryan Robson (for England v Israel, 1985–86)
17. Keith Houchen (for Coventry City v Tottenham Hotspur, 1986–87)
18. John Aldridge (for Liverpool v Nottingham Forest, 1987–88)
19. John Aldridge (for Liverpool v Everton, 1988–89)
20. Ian Wright (for Crystal Palace v Manchester United, 1989–90)
21. Paul Gascoigne (for Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal, 1990–91)
22. Mickey Thomas (for Wrexham v Arsenal, 1991–92)
23. Dalian Atkinson (for Aston Villa v Wimbledon, 1992–93)
24. Rod Wallace (for Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur, 1993–94)
25. Matthew Le Tissier (for Southampton v Blackburn Rovers, 1994–95)
26. Tony Yeboah (for Leeds United v Wimbledon, 1995–96)
27. Trevor Sinclair (for Queens Park Rangers v Barnsley, 1996–97)
28. Dennis Bergkamp (for Arsenal v Leicester City, 1997–98)
29. Ryan Giggs (for Manchester United v Arsenal, 1998–99)
30. Paolo Di Canio (for West Ham United v Wimbledon, 1999–00)
31. Shaun Bartlett (for Charlton Athletic v Leicester City, 2000–01)
32. Wayne Rooney (for Manchester United v Middlesbrough, 2004–05)
33. Steven Gerrard (for Liverpool v West Ham United, 2005–06)
34. Wayne Rooney (for Manchester United v Bolton Wanderers, 2006–07)
35. Emmanuel Adebayor (for Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur, 2007–08)
36. Glen Johnson (for Portsmouth v Hull City, 2008–09)

Weekend TV Preview: 19 - 21 March 2010

Friday 19th March

11:00 UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Draw, Sky Sports News/British Eurosport
12:00 UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Draw, Sky Sports News/British Eurosport
Take your pick - it's either a stilted, lifeless draw live from UEFA headquarters on Eurosport or a self-satisfied, endless round of smug so-called analysis on Sky Sports News. John Logie Baird - you've got a lot to answer for.

19:30 FC Koln v Borussia Monchengladbach, Bundesliga, ESPN/HD
Koln have won only two of their last fifteen home games in the league. Monchengladbach have won just two of their last fourteen away games in the Bundesliga. Enjoy.

19:45 Portadown v Coleraine, Northern Ireland Premiership, Sky Sports 3
The last two league meetings between these sides resulted in a 4-0 win to Portadown last September and a 5-1 win for Coleraine in April 2008. Little to choose between the two sides, but current form suggests the home side might just shade it.

Saturday 20th March

08:00 Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory, A League, Sky Sports 3/HD3
The Grand Final. Both teams recently met in what proved to be a memorable Major Semi (write your own jokes for that one) which the Victory won 4-3 on aggregate. The defeat meant Sydney had to jump through hoops to reach the Grand Final, but having reached it, they'll no doubt be hell bent on exacting revenge.

12:15 Hearts v Hibernian, SPL, Sky Sports 3/HD3
The 39th SPL Edinburgh derby. Hibs are unbeaten in the last six and might extend the run to seven with Hearts entering the game on the back of two consecutive defeats.

12:45 Aston Villa v Wolves, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Wolves' last win over their Midland rivals was almost exactly thirty years ago to the day. Back in that 1979/80 season, Wolves finished one place above Villa in 6th. This season, Martin O'Neill's men must beat Wolves if they're serious about grabbing that valuable fourth spot.

17:20 Bristol City v Newcastle United, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
No manager, only one win their last five matches and about to face the runaway juggernaut that is Newcastle United. Keep your fingers crossed and hope The Robins are spared a particularly embarrassing run-out. Unless you're a Bristol Rovers supporter, of course.

17:30 Arsenal v West Ham, Premier League, ESPN/HD
West Ham did well to reach half time against Chelsea last weekend with the score at 1-1. The eventual 4-1 defeat, however, could be a foretaste of things to come against Arsenal, but the general consensus is that the scoreline will be a little more forgiving for Zola's Hammers. Not by much, mind.

19:00 Real Madrid v Sporting Gijon, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
An ideal opportunity for the home team to improve their goal difference over Barcelona. Oh, and pick up three points, of course.

19:45 Palermo v Inter Milan, Serie A, ESPN
Mourinho's two challenges here will be chiefly (a) beating a Palermo side who have worked their butts off to reach fourth in the table and (b) finding the motivation to beat a team that wears pink shirts.

21:00 Espanyol v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
Knocked out of the Champions League by CSKA Moscow and losing their footing in La Liga, Sevilla will be looking to nail all three points against an Espanyol side in equally abject form of late.

Sunday 21st March

11:45 Zenit St Petersburg v Spartak Moscow, Russian Premier League, ESPN
Gameweek 2 of the RPL and Spartak are still waiting for their first win of the season, unlike Zenit. Our guess is that they'll have to wait until Gameweek 3 at the earliest until they get it.

13:30 Man Utd v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Liverpool have won the last three meetings between these two giants of the English game, scoring eight and conceding only two. Could this be another win for Rafa's men? Lille's coach probably thinks so.

14:00 Leicester City v Coventry City, Championship, BBC1/BBC HD
Coventry's recent revival of sorts came to an end a couple of matches back, but it's still not too late for them to get into the play-off zone. Leicester, meanwhile, are already there and could shrink the gap between themselves and Forest in third with a win here today.

14:00 Milan v Napoli, Serie A, ESPN
Napoli are without a win in seven - which will suit Milan as they can go top with a victory of their own today in the San Siro.

15:00 St Mirren v Rangers, Co-operative Insurance Cup Final, BBC1 Scotland
St Mirren get a rare but well-deserved chance to bask in the spotlight as they face the mighty Gers in the League Cup Final - in association with the Caring Sharing Co-op.

16:00 Blackburn Rovers v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
If The Guardian this week was anything to go by, this could be one of your last chances to see the current Chelsea side in its present form. Abramovich will be splashing the cash this Summer (if they're to be believed) with Joe Cole and many others heading out the door, so settle down and enjoy the 2010 vintage while it lasts.

16:30 Wolfsburg v Hertha Berlin, Bundesliga, ESPN/HD
Bottom-of-the-table Hertha's only hope here is that Wolfsburg are still feeling the effects of a tiring Europa League tie against Rubin Kazan. Unlikely.

19:45 Sampdoria v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN
How Sampdoria must have been sniggering up their sleeves as Juve got a sound thrashing at Fulham. Whether it'll mean Alberto Zaccheroni sends out a more focused and determined squad for the trip down to the coast remains to be seen. For all we know, he might have lost his job by now.

19:00 Valencia v Almeria (2nd Half), La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
With any luck, Valencia's extraordinary 4-4 draw away to Werder Bremen this week might have woken them up in time to curtail their recent poor form against a very in-form Almeria. Just the sort of game you'd want to see the full 90 minutes of, but thanks to Sky, it ain't gonna happen.

20:00 Real Zaragoza v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Luckily for all you La Liga fans, Andy Gray's The Last Word won't interrupt your viewing pleasure this time as Barca set about dismantling a woeful Zaragoza side.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jeu du Jour Week 28: Bordeaux get away with it - again

We’d like to be able to tell you some exciting developments in the Ligue 1 title race this week, but truth be known, we can’t. Once again, the leaders Bordeaux have failed to win a match and once again their slip went largely unpunished.

Last weekend, Les Girondins travelled to Monaco in a bid to re-open the gap on the chasing pack and they could have done so had Laurent Blanc taken a slightly more courageous approach to his team selection. Actually we’re being a little cynical – Blanc was no doubt aware of the upcoming second leg of Bordeaux’s Champions League match against Olympiakos (taking place tonight), so the decision to leave Chamakh, Gourcuff and Chalmé was probably to be expected.

As it is, this was probably a good chance to gamble on resting some of Bordeaux’s better players as Monaco once again showed the sort of form that’s seen them score just one goal in their last four games. Even so, Blanc was unable to gain all three points despite bringing on his better players late on, so the points were shared.

Lucky for him that most of the teams just behind Bordeaux in the table also drew at the weekend (much like last week). Arguably the big game on Saturday was between the teams in second and third place, Montpellier and Auxerre, and the latter’s fine form against the top teams continued as this one finished 1-1.

After last week’s heroics against Bordeaux, Ireneusz Jelen failed to hit the back of the net against Montpellier, and heaven knows he had plenty of chances. Instead, it was down to the Kenyan Dennis Oliech to open the scoring just before the interval but the away side’s lead was to last little more than twenty minutes when Alberto Costa equalised half way through the second half.

Having already beaten Bordeaux 3-1 this season, Lyon would have been no more of a threat to Saint Etienne and so it proved when Christophe Galtier’s side earned a creditable 1-1 draw at the Stade Gerland. They even took the lead in the 38th minute through the 20-year-old starlet Emmanuel Rivière and held onto it until 11 minutes from time when Lisandro Lopez scored his third goal in four LIgue 1 games to equalise for Lyon.

Like Claude Puel’s team, Marseille dropped a place in the table because of their draw - another 1-1, this time away to Toulouse. On recent form, Didier Deschamps could have expected a win here, but the home side fair old threw everything but the kitchen sink at Marseille and were it not for their goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, the visitors might have gone home with nothing.

As it is, Marseille joined this week’s One Point Club – a not-so-select bunch of teams that Lille decided to have nothing to do with on account of their 1-0 win at home to bottom side Grenoble. That said, Lille had to rely on an own goal by Botjan Cesar to gain all three points, but it was enough to take the northerners up to fourth spot ahead of their do-or-die Europa League match against Liverpool tomorrow night.

Grenoble will rue their gifted goal after next-to-bottom club Boulogne FINALLY won another game to extend the gap between the two teams to six points. The win – 3-1 over Nancy - was only Boulogne’s fourth of the season and was their first in the league since December 6th. It was also their biggest win of the season, and one which takes them to within just one point of Le Mans who lost 1-0 to Nice.

All that relegation shenanigans means Le Mans, Boulogne and Grenoble remain in the bottom three – a common sight of late – with a seven-point gap to bridge before reaching Saint Etienne in 17th. Nice climb above them into 16th, a point ahead, then there’s a five-point gap before you get to Lens in 15th.

For the record, Lens, last year’s Ligue 2 champions, lost 1-0 to Lorient on Saturday while PSG thrashed Sochaux 4-1 and Rennes won 2-0 away to Valenciennes.

And that’s about all for this week’s Jeu Du Jour. Watch out for a couple of eye-catching matches at the top of the table next weekend as Bordeaux play host to Lille and Lyon travel to Marseille. Will there be more draws? Probably, and if there are, we’ll tell you all about them next time. For now though, it’s à bientôt...

Full results and standings available here


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