• Thursday, 31 December 2009


    While the leagues we cover are all on winter shutdown, we're all taking a well-earned breather until everyone kicks off again in mid-January. In the meantime, we'll be keeping out Twitter feed updated with news of moves as the transfer window creaks back open and any other newsworthy items.

    And a happy new year to all our readers.

    Thursday, 24 December 2009

    Lille emerge as contenders: Ligue 1 reviews

    Lens 1-0 St Etienne
    Sochaux 2-0 Rennes
    Marseille 0-2 Auxerre
    Lyon 1-2 Montpellier
    Lorient 3-2 Valenciennes
    Nice 2-2 Boulogne
    PSG 4-0 Grenoble
    Le Mans 1-1 Monaco
    Nancy 0-4 Lille
    Toulouse 1-2 Bordeaux

    While Bordeaux stretched their lead to nine points over the chasing pack ahead of the winter break, they cannot be considered the form horse of Ligue 1. That accolade falls to Lille who have now stuck 19 goals away in their last five league games, this week's tubbing of Nancy the fourth 4-0 win they've managed in that sequence. Home or away, they're playing with confidence and an attacking verve that few seem capable of matching, and that includes the runaway league leaders. Indeed, Laurent Blanc had lamented the lack of positivity around his team in recent weeks as they ground results out while all around were intent on blowing any challenge to their superiority. Were it not for Lille's bad start to the season, then we'd have a real tussle on, but they gave everybody a ten-point start before finally clicking in mid-October. Gervinho has emerged as the man for them and he stuck away goals number nine and ten as Nancy were brushed aside. Eden Hazard, the exciting young Belgian winger who was absent for the first dozen weeks of the season, opened the scoring just before the break and Gervinho's first doubled the lead shortly after it. Joel Sami was sent off on the hour for bringing down Pierre-Alain Frau in the box for a penalty which Frau converted - that's him on nine for the season - and Gervinho's second wrapped up yet another impressive win. LOSC are on the up.

    Bordeaux ground out three more points in Toulouse, coming from behind after Paulo Machado put Les Violets in front four minutes in, but Marouane Chamakh levelled just four minutes later. Cheikh M'Bengue was sent off for bringing down Chamakh on the edge of the box and Wendel, only ten minutes after coming off the bench, curled in the free-kick. Every other of the supposed front runners lost ground. Lyon went down at home to Montpellier who end the year in a more than creditable third place. Bafetimbi Gomis grabbed what looked to be an equaliser late on after Hugo Montano had put Montpellier in front, but Joris Marveaux struck even later to send Lyon crashing to their third home defeat of the season and on the precipice of a crisis. Marseille were beaten by Auxerre, Dennis Oliech with a double for AJA.

    Valenciennes blew a lead twice on Lorient, Morgan Amalfitano twice equalising for the Bretons before Franco Sosa won it for them. Monaco were held in Le Mans, Park Chu-Young equalising Anthony Le Tallec's opener and PSG won big, sticking four past Grenoble. Pegguy Luyindula and Sylvain Armand got early goals to set them on their way and the win was completed by Mevlut Erding and Christophe Jallet. Rennes lost ground, Asamoah Gyan sent off early on and Sochaux captialising through Stephane Dalmat and Edouard Butin.

    At the bottom, Nice had Mickael Poté to thank for twice rescuing them against Boulogne. Damien Perrinelle and Jérémy Blayac twice gave Boulogne the lead with Poté equalising both times, the second coming just four minutes from time. Lens left it even later to beat St Etienne who, again, had Jeremie Janot's fine form to thank for keeping them in a game they were second best in. They were looking good for a point, but Blaise Matuidi pulled down Tofilou Maoulida in the box in the last minute. Eduardo dos Santos stepped up and sank the penalty which leaves St Etienne in the drop zone at the end of the year.

    That's it from Ligue 1 until January 13 when the league resumes after the winter shutdown.

    Monday, 21 December 2009

    Bordeaux in total control: Ligue 1 reviews

    Grenoble 1-1 Nice
    Boulogne P-P Sochaux
    Valenciennes 0-0 Lens
    Bordeaux 4-1 Lorient
    Montpellier 0-2 Nancy
    Rennes 1-0 PSG
    St Etienne 0-0 Marseille
    Auxerre 1-1 Toulouse
    Lille 3-0 Le Mans
    Monaco 1-1 Lyon

    Bordeaux look set to end 2009 in complete control of Ligue 1, sitting a more than comfortable eight points clear at the top of the table. They won big on Saturday while all their nearest challengers dropped points leaving everyone else with a massive job to do to overhaul Laurent Blanc's side. Lorient made life tough for Les Girondins, but David Bellion struck against the run of play, nutmegging the keeper on the end of a fast break. He added a second before half-time and Fernando Cavenaghi made it three, second after Franco Sosa had missed a penalty at the other end. Yoann Gourcuff, almost inevitable, added a fourth before Kevin Gameiro got some consolation for the hard-working Lorient. Marseille were held by St Etienne despite Les Verts spending 82 minutes a man short after Efstathios Tavlaridis was sent off for a bad foul on Bakary Koné. Montpellier went down at home to Nancy, Djamel Bakar and Pascal Berenguer both striking in the first half to upset this season's surprise package, Lyon were held by Monaco for whom Park Chu-Young equalised Michel Bastos's opener, and Auxerre had Roy Contout to thank for saving a point against Toulouse. Luan had put Les Violets ahead halfway through the first half, but Etienne Didot was sent off with four minutes to go. Deep into stoppage time, Contout popped up to scrape a point for AJA.

    Lille move up to third with another big win, although just the three goals this week rather than the now traditional four. Aurélien Cedjou put them ahead just twelve minutes in and it was three by the time half an hour ticked round, Gervinho and Eden Hazard with the others. It could have been more had Florent Balmont not missed a penalty, but Lille continue their impressive run. Rennes halted their recent slide with a win over struggling PSG, Ismael Bangoura with the only goal of the game. Valenciennes lost ground on the front runners as they were held to a goalless draw at home to Lens and Grenoble ground out another point, though Nice had Chaouki Ben Saada's late goal to thank for their point. He struck six minutes from time after Nicolas Dieuze had put the Alpine club ahead.

    That game up in the hills was on, but Boulogne against Sochaux was called off due to a frozen pitch, the English Channel coast getting the same wintry conditions as the south-east of England.

    There's a full programme scheduled midweek, the final round before the league shuts down for winter:

    Lens v St Etienne
    PSG v Grenoble
    Le Mans v Monaco
    Nancy v Lille
    Sochaux v Rennes
    Marseille v Auxerre
    Lyon v Montpellier
    Lorient v Valenciennes
    Nice v Boulogne
    Toulouse v Bordeaux

    There are a number of games between contenders at the top, Lorient against Valenciennes, Lyon welcoming Montpellier to the Gerland and Marseille against Auxerre. Anyone who can force a win from those games will no doubt emerge as nearest challengers to Bordeaux. The leaders go to Toulouse having reversed a period of iffy form and nobody knows what sort of Toulouse side will turn up on any given day. Lille go to Nancy with bookmakers everywhere fretting that they'll pop another four away.

    PSG need points against Grenoble if rumblings about Antoine Kombouaré's tenure there are going to quiten down. Nice against Boulogne and St Etienne's trip to Lens will have big bearings on the shape of things down at the bottom. Le Mans will do well to get anything out of Monaco and there's amid-table clash between Rennes and Sochaux, the latter of which have seen two of their last three games postponed, so they should at least be fresh.

    Leverkusen end year on top: Bundesliga reviews

    Schalke 1-0 Mainz
    Leverkusen 3-2 Monchengladbach
    Bayern 5-2 Hertha
    Hannover 2-3 Bochum
    Dortmund 1-0 Freiburg
    Eintracht 2-2 Wolfsburg
    Stuttgart 3-1 Hoffenheim
    Hamburg 2-1 Bremen
    Cologne 3-0 Nurnberg

    The notional title of 'winter champions' goes to Leverkusen this year as they end 2009 top of the pile. This title, such as it is, can often be a curse - witness Hoffenheim's implosion a year ago - but with them not having lost this season to date, Leverkusen will be confident they can come through. They have drawn a lot though, which is why they lead by just a single point. Indeed, they were bumped off top spot briefly this weekend when Schalke beat Mainz on Friday night. Jefferson Farfan's early goal was enough, the Peruvian starting and finishing the move as Schalke worked it forward and Farfan beat the offside trap and the onrushing keeper to prod the ball home. Toni Kroos was the start for Leverkusen as they went back top on Saturday despite going behind to Gladbach. Kroos put his side ahead early on, driving the ball in through a real crowd scene, but Roel Brouwers headed Gladbach level and Danté bundled the ball in from a corner just after the break to put the visitors ahead. Eren Derdiyok was afforded too much time and space in the box as he levelled things up on the hour and Kroos popped up with the winner from the edge of the box twenty minutes from time.

    Bayern are in third after a big win at home over rock bottom Hertha. Daniel van Buyten has been in great goal-scoring form this term and the big Belgian defender set his side on their way on the quarter hour. Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben made it three by half-time and wunderkind Thomas Muller added a fourth five minutes into the second half. Gustavo Ramos pulled one back, but Ivica Olic notched Bayern's fifth shortly afterwards. Raffael got a second for Hertha in stoppage time. Bremen lost again, this time to near neighbours Hamburg who survived an hour with ten men. Joris Matijsen had put Hamburg ahead before Jerome Boateng was sent off after half an hour. Despite that, Marcell Janssen increased Hamburg's lead and they held Bremen out until Naldo got one back in second half stoppage time - too little, too late. Dortmund kept up their good run of results, Lucas Barrios with the only goal of the game against Freiburg while Wolfsburg were held by Eintracht. Maik Franz put the Frankfurters ahead, but Edin Dzeko and Josué put the champions into the lead with twenty minutes to go. Ten minutes from time, Alex Meier equalised to seal a point for Eintracht.

    A big win, a much needed one at that, came for Stuttgart at home to Hoffenheim. Maicosuel equalised for the Villagers on the stroke of half-time after Ciprian Marica's penalty had put Stuttgart ahead, but Luis Dias's red card shortly after the break hampered Hoffenheim. Cacau restored Stuttgart's lead and Sami Khedira made it safe late on. Bochum also won, coming from two down at Hannover. Jan Schlaudraff hit two in the first half to put Hannover ahead, but it was a complete turnaround after half-time, Paul Freier, Joel Epalle and, with four minutes to go, Christian Fuchs all on target for Bochum. Cologne also got a much-needed win, sticking three away past Nurnberg who finished with ten when Juri Judt was sent off late on. Pedro Geromel and two from Milivoje Novakovic had already helped Cologne into a comfortable lead by that point and Nurnberg finish the year second bottom, four points adrift of the clubs immediately above them.

    Weather wipes out Sunday: Eredivisie reviews

    Heracles 1-0 VVV Venlo
    AZ 3-0 Den Haag
    Feyenoord 1-0 Willem II
    Waalwijk 4-1 Sparta
    NEC P-P Vitesse
    Groningen P-P Heerenveen
    Utrecht P-P Twente
    NAC P-P Ajax
    Roda P-P PSV

    Only the ground in Breda where NAC were due to play Ajax was deemed unplayable on Sunday, but the whole schedule was called off by the KNVB due to travel problems. Heavy snowfall affected the whole country and an early decision was taken to cancel Sunday's proceedings entirely. That leaves Twente top by two from PSV with Ajax a further seven back as the league goes into hiatus until January 22.

    Friday and Saturday were relatively OK though, so we did at least get four matches played. Feyenoord moved to within a point of Ajax with single goal win over Willem II. Roy Makaay's ball forward for Sekou Cissé twelve minutes into the contest was inch-perfect and the Ivorian checked inside the last defender before tucking the ball just inside the post. Dick Advocaat was celebrating his first win in charge of AZ as they were comfortable winners against Den Haag. The champions were ahead inside ten minutes, Rasmus Elm eventually turning the ball in after Ari and Graziano Pelle had both spurned good chances. Ari and Jeremain Lens were both heavily involved in the second which came on the half hour, Lens providing a beautifully weighted drop-off for Sébastien Pocognoli who side-footed home. That was pretty much game over, but Maarten Martens added a third just before time, nutmegging the keeper as ADO were ripped open by a quick counter-attack.

    Waalwijk pulled themselves up to within a couple of points of safety with a thumping win over Sparta who have lost form dramatically. Having scored just twelve league goals prior to this game, RKC put four away in a great performance which belied their league standing. Derk Boerrigter got the first two, his first a touch fortuitous as the ball pinballed around the edge of the area before falling nicely to him, but the second was more orthodox, Charlison Benshop finiding him with a neat cut-back on the edge of the box. And it was 3-0 before half-time, Benshop this time setting up Kemy Agustien from 18 yards. Three minutes after the restart, Fred Benson headed in a fourth as Sparta were being run ragged, though they did have the final word through Darko Bodul who fired through a crowd of players after his initial free-kick was blocked. In the one remaining match, Heracles kept their push for European football going thanks to a 1-0 win over VVV Venlo, Everton with the only goal of the game ten minutes after the restart.

    Friday, 18 December 2009

    Bundesliga round 17

    Schalke v Mainz
    Bayern v Hertha
    Hannover v Bochum
    Dortmund v Freiburg
    Eintracht v Wolfsburg
    Leverkusen v Monchengladbach
    Stuttgart v Hoffenheim
    Hamburg v Bremen
    Cologne v Nurnberg

    This is the last round of Bundesliga fixtures before the winter break as Europe begins to shut down. The league will pick up on January 15, but first there's the small matter of round 17. Top game this week sees fourth-placed Bremen go to Hamburg in fifth and behind only by three goals. Hamburg refound their touch in front of goal last week thanks in no small part to the return of Dutch winger Eljero Elia and, while they're still missing a few out-and-out front men, he provides a focal point for the attack. Bremen are coming off just their second loss of the season and how they respond will be key to their season.

    Leverkusen's lead has been whittled away over the last few weeks, but they're still out in front and have Gladbach at home this week. It's unthinkable that Leverkusen will be as generous as Hannover were a week ago with the three own goals that helped Gladbach on their way. Schalke have kept it together despite off-field ructions and threats of points deductions. Felix Magath has even got Kevin Kuranyi going well and they will start favourites against Mainz in Gelsenkirchen. Bayern have got it together following their thumping win at Juventus in Europe a couple of weeks ago and have Franck Ribéry back on deck for the visit of rock bottom Hertha. Home win. Dortmund are on the up and are very short odds to beat Freiburg. There's often a club that emerges from the pack in winter to challenge - one thinks of Wolfsburg last year or Stuttgart before them - and it could well be Dortmund who return to the top table this year. Jurgen Klopp is mastered by few, tactically speaking, and his side play some exciting football.

    Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg are both on the fringes of things at the moment and can't let the top clubs get too far in front of them if either is to take anything tangible away from this season. Both are away this week, Hoffenheim at struggling Stuttgart and the champions at Eintracht. The Villagers ought to be beating Stuttgart, though Christian Gross has had time to get his ideas across now and they played well in Europe in his first game and would have beaten Mainz last week were it not for Jens Lehmann. This is a sterner test than either of those games though. If Wolfsburg can't beat Eintracht, then they can forget retaining the title. Eintracht have been proving hard to beat lately though and won't lie down for Wolfsburg, especially with that soft underbelly so savagely exposed by Dortmund a week ago.

    Down at the bottom, there are big games at Hannover and Cologne with Bochum and Nurnberg the visitors respectively. While neither game particularly excites the casual observer, should either produce a winner, the implications down at the foot of the league are big. Nurnberg and Bochum could end up being cut adrift, but should either win, then it's as wide open at the foot of the table as it is at the top. And that's why we love the Bundesliga.

    Eredivisie round 18

    Heracles v VVV Venlo
    AZ v Den Haag
    Feyenoord v Willem II
    Waalwijk v Sparta
    NEC v Vitesse
    Groningen v Heerenveen
    Utrecht v Twente
    NAC v Ajax
    Roda v PSV

    It's the last round of fixtures for 2009 in the Netherlands with the Eredivisie shutting down after this weekend until January 22. Whatever happens this week, 2010 will start with Twente and PSV with a healthy lead over the rest. It's merely a question of how big that lead is. Twente have their toughest task for a while this week, away at Utrecht who are a good side to watch and make light of their lack of stars with a keen work ethic. Still without defeat, Steve McClaren's side will start favourites, but if ever they were going to drop points, it could well be here. PSV are also unbeaten and are very short odds to emerge victorious in Kerkrade against Roda JC. Each week that goes by with these two rolling on serenely, the pressure ramps up the following week. Eventually, something will have to give, but it looks like we'll have to wait until after the enforced calendar change for that to happen.

    Ajax will be third after this round no matter what transpires and NAC are in the firing line for Europe's top scorers. Just as lonely in fourth are Feyenoord, at home to Willem II this week and for whom the veterans Jon Dahl Tomasson and Roy Makaay are still doing the business, even if they are costing the club a fortune.

    Waalwijk will end the year rock bottom, but they have been playing better week by week. Results haven't always shown that, but three wins at this stage is slightly better than it was looking after round ten. They face Sparta who are beginning to struggle. Waalwijk have yet to draw this season, but don't be surprised if they break that duck this week. NEC have slipped into the bottom three, but have a great chance to get out of it against the almost unreadable Vitesse who are equally capable of stuffing or getting stuffed. Den Haag are also down there and have a tough trip to Alkmaar to face the champions who have had a bit of time with Dick Advocaat now.

    Groningen against Heerenveen is a big game at the bottom end, but with so much riding on it and both teams in poor form, it doesn't whet the appetite unlike Heracles against VVV Venlo. On paper, this looks a cracking game. Heracles are going well and playing some nice football while we all know what VVV are capable of in the right mood. If both sides fire, this could be a mini-classic.

    Thursday, 17 December 2009

    Perrin out as St Etienne slip into bottom three: Ligue 1 reviews

    Valenciennes 0-0 Auxerre
    Monaco 1-0 Rennes
    Le Mans 1-0 Grenoble
    Lorient 1-2 Marseille
    Montpellier 0-1 Bordeaux
    Nancy 2-0 Nice
    Lyon 2-0 Boulogne
    PSG 1-1 Lens

    St Etienne weren't involved in this midweek round of games having played, and lost heavily to, Lille a week ago, but drop into the bottom three as other results went against them. As a result, Alain Perrin has been sacked. The 4-0 loss to Lille was followed up by a 3-0 loss against PSG and a win for Le Mans on Wednesday dropped them down into the relegation zone. Thorstein Helstad put Le Mans ahead early on against Grenoble with a terrific weaving run and that was enough. St Etienne are still the most successful side in French football with ten league titles, but those glory days seem a long way back and the latest chapter starts with a home game against Marseille.

    At the other end, Bordeaux opened up a six-point lead with a win over Montpellier, though manager Laurent Blanc was far from happy with the performance. Jussie grabbed the only goal of the game, firing in from a tight angle as Bordeaux did just enough to get by. They even had the luxury of a Yoan Gourcuff penalty miss. Marseille move up to second after coming from behind to beat Lorient who were ahead through Marama Vahirua's penalty shortly after the interval. Jordan Ayew equalised fifteen minutes later and Souleyman Diawara headed in a stoppage time winner to help OM past Montpellier and into second place, still with that game in hand. Lyon ended their miserable run with a comfortable 2-0 win over Boulogne. Miralem Pjanic and César Delgado, in the last minute, saw Les Gones home. Valenciennes and Auxerre held one another to a goalless draw, meaning they both lose ground on the front runners.

    A real collectors item at Parc des Princes: a Claude Makelele goal. And from open play at that. There were twenty minutes left when he put PSG ahead, but Toifilou Maoulida levelled it up for Lens four minutes later and that's how it ended. Monaco arrested their slide with a win over Rennes and, for a change, it wasn't Nene who scored. Instead, it was the South Korean Park Chu-Young with a neat back-post volley on twenty minutes. Nancy dropped Nice right back into the mixer down at the bottom with a 2-0 win over the Riviera club who failed to muster a single effort on goal. Julien Féret and Chris Malonga scored within two minutes of each other early in the second half.

    Packing in the fixtures ahead of the winter break, there's a full round of games on Saturday and Sunday:

    Valenciennes v Lens
    Bordeaux v Lorient
    Montpellier v Nancy
    Boulogne v Sochaux
    Rennes v PSG
    Grenoble v Nice
    St Etienne v Marseille
    Lille v Le Mans
    Auxerre v Toulouse
    Monaco v Lyon

    Bordeaux will have to play better than they have been recently to get the better of Lorient and they need the points to stay ahead of the chasing pack as both Montpellier and Marseille look favourites to win their games. How St Etienne respond to Perrin's dismissal will be key in that game, while Montpellier have bounced back from defeat once already this season and look in good shape to do so again against Nancy. Top game and one that really could define either participants season is in Monaco where Lyon are the visitors. Defeat for either would all but end hopes of a championship, especially for Monaco, while a win would put them very much back in the race.

    Big game at the bottom sees Nice go to Grenoble - another six-pointer and a vital one for the Alpine club. Even at this stage, time is against Grenoble. They've got to start picking up points and multiples of three against the other struggling clubs. I still maintain Boulogne are actually playing worse than Grenoble and they welcome Sochaux at the weekend. Rennes take on PSG with both clubs needing points to maintain any realistic push for Europe, same as it is for Toulouse and Auxerre who go up against each other and Valenciennes will look to get back to winning ways at home to lowly Lens.

    Monday, 14 December 2009

    Bordeaux cruise on: Ligue 1 reviews

    Lille 4-0 St Etienne
    Toulouse 2-0 Sochaux

    Le Mans 2-1 Valenciennes
    Nancy 1-2 Rennes
    Lens 2-0 Nice
    Marseille 2-0 Boulogne
    Lorient 0-0 Auxerre
    Sochaux 1-0 Grenoble
    Monaco 0-4 Lille
    PSG 3-0 St Etienne
    Toulouse 0-1 Montpellier
    Lyon 0-1 Bordeaux

    Eight goals in the week - indeed, 16 in four matches - for Lille has seen them surge up the table and emerge as challengers. After beating Valenciennes and Lyon in previous weeks, they stuck four past hapless St Etienne on Wednesday and repeated the trick in Monaco at the weekend, their opponents ending a man short each time. Pierre-Alain Frau set them on their way against Les Verts with a Yohan Cabaye penalty, Gervinho and Adil Rami's stunning free-kick following in the second half to round off another big win and they picked up exactly where they left off on Sunday. Tulio De Mele's double broke the backs of Monaco before Adriano was sent off and Cabaye converted the penalty. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the by now customary fourth as Lille move up to third.

    Montpellier still sit second, a fierce volley from Souleymane Camara enough to beat Toulouse who had beaten Sochaux in their round 17 clash earlier in the week (it's all to do with Europa League commitments) thanks to André-Pierre Gignac. But the leaders continue to be Bordeaux who go back out to a four-point lead and condemned Lyon to their lowest league placing in nine years. Marouane Chamakh's late, scrambled header won it for Les Girondins and leave Lyon without a win at home since September and the locals are getting restless. Marseille are up to fourth and still have games in hand. They beat Boulogne who are, on form, probably the worst side in the league right now, with Gabriel Heinze athletically heading OM in front and Taye Taiwo hitting the second from the penalty spot after Hatem Ben Arfa was tripped. Ben Arfa was on the wrong end of a shocking challenge from Adefemi Olubayo late on, for which the Nigerian defender was sent off, but no harm done to the Marseille midfielder who is on the charm offensive to try and restore himself in the affection of Didier Deschamps.

    Auxerre still haven't won since they hit top spot a few weeks back and were held 0-0 by Lorient this week, though were indebted to a superb goal-line clearance from Adama Coulibaly to keep it so. Rennes leapt ahead of a number of fringe contenders with a win over ten-man Nancy who also missed a penalty. Anthony Le Tallec scored a superb stoppage time free-kick to help Le Mans to a 2-1 win over Valenciennes who slip back and PSG got back to winning ways with a comfortable win over St Etienne. After Les Verts were so grateful to Jeremie Janot for keeping them in the game a week previously, he duly went and had a stinker in the capital, gifting the first and being shown up for the second. There was nothing he could do about Mevlut Erding's third though.

    Grenoble's winning run ends at one after defeat to Sochaux. Yassin Mikari put Sochaux ahead, but Grenoble spurned a great chance to pick up more points when Danijel Ljuboja missed a penalty. Lens plunged Nice back in trouble by beating them at the Felix-Bollaert, Kanga Akale and Toifilou Maoulida on target in the first half. Nice had Mamadou Bagayoko sent off early in the second period, making the task that much harder.

    We've the second part of round 17 this week:

    Valenciennes v Auxerre
    Monaco v Rennes
    Le Mans v Grenoble
    Lorient v Marseille
    Montpellier v Bordeaux
    Nancy v Nice
    Lyon v Boulogne
    PSG v Lens

    Big games at top and bottom with Grenoble really having to beat Le Mans if they've any chance of getting themselves out of trouble. Recent performances have been good, but the pressure is very much on this proverbial six-pointer. At the top, are Montpellier really challengers or just riding the crest of a wave which will shortly peter out? We'll see after they take on Bordeaux.

    Lyon face the terrible Boulogne at home in the unusual position of having to win it and win it well to silence those murmurings about the direction the club is going in under Claude Puel. There's a tasty clash in Paris where Lens are the visitors. There's little love lost between the clubs and it's usually a feisty occasion. Elsewhere, there are some good match-ups between clubs on the periphery of the title battle. Marseille will get a good test of their credentials up in Lorient, as will Rennes down in Monaco where the hosts will also want to get their faltering challenge back on track. Auxerre and Valenciennes both need points to keep pace at that end of the table while Nancy and Nice need them for very different reasons.

    Veh and Lehmann lose the plot: Bundesliga reviews

    Hertha 2-2 Leverkusen
    Freiburg 0-0 Cologne
    Hoffenheim 1-1 Frankfurt
    Nurnberg 0-4 Hamburg
    Bochum 1-5 Bayern
    Monchengladbach 5-3 Hannover
    Bremen 0-2 Schalke
    Mainz 1-1 Stuttgart
    Wolfsburg 1-3 Dortmund

    Life is never dull in the crazy world of Jens Lehmann and what a week it's been, even for him. Fined by the club for criticising the board over the sacking of Markus Babbel - a fine he subsequently refused to pay - he was also caught taking a surreptitious (he thought) toilet break behind an advertising hoarding in the Champions League game against Unirea. Then at the weekend, seeing his beleaguered side on the verge of taking their first league win in nine attempts, he simply had to act. Pavel Pogrebnyak had put Stuttgart ahead just ten minutes into their game at Mainz and they were good value to hang on and claim all three points as the clock ticked down. Step forward Agent Lehmann. Step forward right onto the foot of Aristide Bancé, Mainz's Burkina Faso international striker who, to be generous to him, has a very high centre of gravity and down he went. The two had been at it all game long, but it was Bancé who was laughing longest and loudest as Lehmann was sent off. Eugen Polanski stuck the penalty away and Stuttgart remain deep in the mire.

    But crazy behaviour is not restricted to bonkers goalkeepers. Managers are not immune from the brush of the idiot fairy's wand and the big recipient of that this week was Armin Veh. In any other week, he'd be headline news, but Crazy Jens has bumped him off top spot. His shambolic Wolfsburg side, who seem to have had their hearts replaced by a milk-based pudding since winning the title, contrived to let in Lucas Barrios for two embarrassingly easy goals inside the opening ten minutes of their game with Dortmund on Sunday. Veh's response was to haul off Marcel Schafer and Thomas Kahlenberg, the latter of whom was on full debut for the club. On went Fabian Johnson and Grafite with Veh presumably crossing everything in hope that he didn't pick up any injuries. But after Patrick Owomoyela had scored an equally embarrassingly easy third, Christian Gentner copped a boot to the head and had to go off, leaving Wolfsburg with just the eleven out there for the second half. Comedy fans were to be denied though, as no further mishap occurred, despite the petulant Zvjezdan Misimovic's best efforts, as Dortmund had pretty much put the cue back in the rack and only Grafite's consolation, such as it was, punctuated a (comparatively) dull second half.

    More comedy too in Monchengladbach where Hannover contrived to put three own goals away as they went down 5-3 in a ludicrous game. The first put Gladbach into the lead early on, Karim Haggui getting in the way of an attempted clearance from his goalkeeper. Rob Friend's thumping header extended the lead, but Hannover did pull one back before half-time, Didier Ya Konan scrambling the ball home after a corner was only half-cleared. The two-goal advantage was restored by the second own goal ten minutes after the break, the world's worst ever attempted back pass skewing off the outside of Constant Djakpa's boot and past the helpless Florian Fromlowitz. Michael Bradley thundered in a free-kick for 4-1 before Ya Konan first pulled one back despite the obvious use of an arm and was then sent off, picking up a second yellow for a knee-high lunge on Gladbach keeper Logan Bailly. That came with six minutes left, but Hannover pulled back another three minutes later, Christian Schulz sliding in to take the ball off a dithering defender's toes for 4-3. But in stoppage time, the game was made safe by Haggui's second own goal, his backpass completely wrong-footing Fromlowitz.

    Leverkusen drew for the third time in four games, but remain top. They were behind for a long time in the capital against Hertha after Adrian Ramos had given the bottom placed club an early lead. Toni Kroos levelled it 15 minutes from time and Gojko Kacar's second yellow for dissent soon followed, seemingly ending Hertha's hopes. That sense grew when Turkish debutant Burak Kaplan put Leverkusen in front in the last minute, but Ramos headed in a late, late equaliser to snatch a point. Schalke are up to second after seeing off an out-of sorts Bremen while Bayern's Champions League win in Turin seems to have sparked something. They stuffed Bochum 5-1, Ivica Olic scoring twice and big contributions coming from the previously misfiring Mario Gomez and Danijel Pranjic. Hamburg finally got back to winning ways thanks in no small part to the returning Eljero Elia who grabbed two of his sides four against Nurnberg. Hoffenheim were held by Eintracht, Pirmin Schwegler equalising Sejad Salihovic's early penalty, and Freiburg and Cologne fought out a predictably dull 0-0 draw.

    Top two march on: Eredivisie reviews

    Ajax 3-0 NEC
    VVV Venlo 3-0 Waalwijk
    Heerenveen 0-2 Feyenoord
    Twente 3-1 NAC
    PSV 1-0 AZ
    Den Haag 1-4 Heracles
    Vitesse 2-2 Utrecht
    Willem II 1-3 Roda
    Sparta 2-4 Groningen

    When oh when oh when will Twente or PSV start dropping points? No time soon as it looks at the moment. Both were winners yet again at the weekend and both look unstoppable. Miroslav Stoch is in sensational form and pretty much ran the show against NAC. He caused Breda problems from the off and it was just a matter of time as to when Twente would translate that dominance on the field onto the scoreboard. And yet they did have to come from behind. Stoch had a free-kick spectacularly saved by Jelle ten Rouwelaar and the Slovakian winger played in Blaise N'Kufo only for the big Swiss to be pulled down by Rob Penders. N'Kufo's penalty was weak though and ten Rouwelaar saved again. Just before the break, NAC finally broke away and Edwin de Graaf sprinted up the wing, cut along the byline and fired in from a tight angle. It was brief respite. After the break, Dwight Tiendalli won another penalty, Stoch this time taking responsibility and chipped cheekily down the middle for 1-1. The floodgates opened and Stoch's second came soon after, a stunning strike from the edge of the box. Bryan Ruiz was played in a deeper role, covering the absent Kenneth Perez, but popped up with a third in the dying moments to seal the win, punishing NAC's inability to clear. Meanwhile, PSV ground out a 1-0 win over AZ, Ola Toivonen with the winner four minutes from time coming after Mounir El Hamdaoui was sent off.

    Ajax won too, refinding their goal-scoring touch, but remain well adrift of the top two. Luis Suarez also got back in the goals, turning in a corner for the opener just before the break, despite NEC having at least as many decent early chances as their hosts. Suarez combined with Marko Pantelic to set up Siem de Jong for the second and Mitchell Donald made it three late on, again with Suarez involved. They'll be doing well to hold onto their inspirational Uruguayan captain come January. Feyenoord are still in a lonely fourth, Kevin Hofland and Jon Dahl Tomasson with the goals that saw off Heerenveen, as Utrecht dropped points at Vitesse. After going behind to Lasse Nilsson's penalty, Utrecht went ahead through Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Jacob Mulenga, two guys so impressive against Ajax the previous week, but Claudemir snatched a point at the death.

    Waalwijk remain bottom and are in danger of being cut adrift again as their mini-revival now looks well and truly over as they were well beaten by VVV. Adil Auassar and Micheal (sic) Timisela handed Venlo a two-goal half-time lead and Len Leemans made it three after the break to cap a pretty easy win. Den Haag slip back into the bottom three after a tubbing from the still impressive Heracles. Bas Dost's first half double put the Almelo side in control and, though a Mark Looms own goal gave ADO hope, late goals from Marko Vejinovic and Willy Overtoom sealed a big win. Willem II are ahead of ADO only goal difference after they were heavily beaten at home. Mads Junker put Roda ahead early on, but the Tilburgers were level moments later through Christophe Gregoire's penalty. Ruud Vormer and a second from Junker eased Roda through after the break. Sparta are starting to stutter and lost again, a Thomas Enevoldsen hat-trick seeing Groningen to the points. His first was cancelled out by Erik Falkenburg, but Groningen were back ahead within three minutes through Tim Matavz. Enevoldsen completed his treble before half-time and Sparta could only muster one goal in reply from Sander van Gessel and leaves them adrift in the race for Europe.

    Wednesday, 9 December 2009

    Ligue 1 week 17 (part 1) and Le Mans twitch first

    Lille v St Etienne
    Toulouse v Sochaux

    Two games in France on Thursday night form the start of an English week which won't be concluded until Wednesday December 16. Yes, it's classic FFF organisation once again - you should all be used to that by now. Two games this Thursday are followed by a full weekend round as usual (previews on Friday night) which itself is followed by eight games next Tuesday and Wednesday. Then comes another midweek round just before Christmas which precedes the winter break. Got that? There will be questions later...

    Lille won a thriller last weekend against Lyon, coming from 3-1 down to snatch a late win and recent form in Ligue 1 and in Europe has been much better. St Etienne, meanwhile, are grubbing around for points and were very fortunate to grab a point off Sochaux last Saturday. Fortunately for them, they're hard to break down and have a keeper, Jeremie Janot, in prime form. Given the disparity in recent form, it's hard to look past a Lille win, but not by more than a single goal. Both Sochaux and Toulouse are utterly unpredictable. Les Violets became the first side this season to go down to Grenoble, so that probably means they're due for a win here. Sochaux, meanwhile, hammered St Etienne last weekend but failed to find the breakthrough. The normally prolific Vaclav Sverkos has lost his touch recently and they'll need him to start finding the back of the net again if they're to keep themselves out of bother. It's got goalless draw written all over it.

    Elsewhere in the league, it's taken this long for a Ligue 1 manager to lose his job and it's Le Mans who have blinked first. Second-bottom with just nine points to their name, they wanted their Portuguese manager Paolo Duarte not to go to the African Nations Cup in his role as Burkina Faso boss in order that he concentrate on his club duties. Duarte refused and so has left the club. Arnaud Cormier, formerly Duarte's assistant, takes over, at least until the end of the season.

    Tuesday, 8 December 2009

    Advocaat replaces Koeman in Alkmaar

    Dutch champions AZ have moved quickly to replace Ronald Koeman, sacked at the weekend following defeat at home to Vitesse. In comes the vastly experienced Dick Advocaat who was first choice to succeed Bayern-bound Louis van Gaal in the summmer, but the former Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg boss had already agreed terms to become Belgium's gaffer.

    Sacked by Zenit after a run of poor results, Advocaat took up the Belgium job earlier than planned, but failed to take them to the World Cup finals. That means he'll only have friendlies to worry about on the international scene for the rest of the season which makes combining the roles significantly easier.

    Advocaat takes charge in Alkmaar for the rest of the current season. In a press conference, he said "We need to get European football at AZ. If we do not achieve this, then I will have done something wrong." That's setting your stall out early. AZ are currently six points off qualifying for the Europa League and seventeen from making it into second place and the qualifiers for the Champions League. He has the talent at the club, but he'll need far more luck than Koeman was afforded.

    Monday, 7 December 2009

    Toulouse become Grenoble's first victims: Ligue 1 reviews

    St Etienne 0-0 Sochaux
    Valenciennes 3-1 Monaco
    Montpellier 2-1 Le Mans
    Nice 1-3 Marseille
    Rennes 1-0 Lorient
    Bordeaux 1-0 PSG
    Boulogne 2-1 Lens
    Grenoble 1-0 Toulouse
    Auxerre 1-3 Nancy
    Lille 4-3 Lyon

    Grenoble's miserable season finally got a boost this weekend as their recent improved performances finally helped them to a win at the fifteenth time of asking. Ten minutes from time in a scrappy game, Grenoble got the goal that saw them double their points tally in one easy step. They'd had the better chances throughout and finally made the breakthrough when overworked TFC keeper Olivier Blondel couldn't hold Danijel Ljuboja's free-kick and Nicolas Dieuze was johnny-on-the-spot to prod in the loose ball and send the crowd up in the Alps wild.

    That result overshadows game of the weekend which came at Lille where the home side were on the wrong end of a Lisandro Lopez hat-trick before mounting a terrific fightback. The Argentine's first came in just the second minute, beating Mickael Landreau at his near-post and he added a penalty twenty minutes later. Hugo Lloris spilled Gervinho's shot right onto Pierre-Alain Frau's head as Lille pulled one back, but Lopez added his third before the break, cutting in off the left flank and firing home with his right. Eight minutes into the second half, Gervinho got on the scoresheet himself, tucking one in at the back post and a Yohan Cabaye penalty squared it up with twenty minutes to go. With seconds of stoppage time remaining, Gervinho got free in the box and tucked in a dramatic late winner from close range.

    Auxerre looka completely different side to the one that made it to the top of the league as they were humbled at home by Nancy. Andre Luiz put the Lorraine side in front, but they went into half-time level thanks to Valter Birsa. The second half was all Nancy, Abdeslam Ouaddou and Youssuf Hadji getting the goals their performance deserved, though Bocundji Ca's late dismissal spoiled it a little. With all others falling by the wayside, Bordeaux opened up a lead at the top by halting PSG's recent revival. Jaroslav Plasil nodded in the only goal of the game halfway through the first half as the champions opened up a four-point gap. That gap is now back to Montpellier who beat ten-man Le Mans. Karim Ait Fana put them in front before Mathieu Dossevi was sent off moments from half-time. Anthony Le Tallec equalised, but numerical superiority told with Lilian Compan grabbing the winner. Valenciennes are up to third thanks to their recent run. Late goals from Mamadou Samassa and Fahid Ben Khalfallah won it for VA after Nene's penalty had equalised David Ducourtioux's opener.

    Lorient also lost ground on the leaders, beaten by Moussa Sow's second minute strike, while Marseille got back to winning ways at Nice. Mamadou Niang is back and opened the scoring twenty minutes in. Kafoumba Coulibaly equalised, but Nice were reduced to ten men on the stroke of half-time, Onyekachi Apam sent off. Lucho Gonzalez eventually made the pressure count, volleying in from Niang's knock-down, and Bakary Koné made it safe in the dying moments. St Etienne had keeper Jeremie Janot to thank for a string of outstanding saves that kept Sochaux out at the Geoffroy-Guichard, earning Les Verts a valuable point while Boulogne ended a run of four straight defeats by overcoming the early dismissal of Mame N'Diaye to beat Lens. After N'Diaye picked up a second yellow card in just the 16th minute, Boulogne made their job more difficult by putting Lens in front, Bira Dembele heading past his own keeper. Ovidy Karuru equalised on 38 minutes and Lens returned an earlier favour on the stroke of half-time when Romain Sartre scoring an own goal as a free-kick pinballed round the area.

    Babbel out, Gross in: Bundesliga reviews

    Bayern 2-1 Monchengladbach
    Dortmund 4-0 Nurnberg
    Stuttgart 1-1 Bochum
    Hannover 0-0 Leverkusen
    Hamburg 0-0 Hoffenheim
    Wolfsburg 2-2 Freiburg
    Eintracht 2-0 Mainz
    Cologne 0-0 Bremen
    Schalke 2-0 Hertha

    A point against Bochum actually moved Stuttgart up a place on the league ladder, but they remain in the bottom three and that was enough for the board to sack Markus Babbel as manager. A year ago, he took over a shambles of a side after Armin Veh was dismissed and set about building an impressive unbeaten run that took the club to within an ace of winning the league. Mario Gomez was sold, but in his place came Pavel Pogrebnyak and Alex Hleb: the former simply hasn't settled while the latter embodies the old cliché about never going back. A dismal Champions League campaign also hasn't helped Babbel's cause and he's out with Christian Gross - who still somehow has a decent reputation in Germany - coming in. Serdar Tasci's goal on the hour looked to have won a valuable three points, especially when Diego Klimovic was sent off for Bochum with time running out. However, a stunning Christian Fuchs free-kick in the last minute rescued a point for fellow strugglers Bochum and sealed Babbel's fate.

    Draws were order of the day at the top end, Leverkusen held by Hannover for whom goalkeeper Florian Fromlowitz was outstanding, Cologne kept Bremen at bay, Hamburg and Hoffenheim failed to muster a goal and Wolfsburg were held by Freiburg. Freiburg were ahead twice through Mohamadou Idrissou and Ivica Banovic, but were pegged back twice, first by a terrible own goal from Feliz Bastians and later by Fabian Johnson, set up brilliantly by Zvejzdan Misimovic. Edin Dzeko looked to have won it late on when picked out six yards from goal by Misimovic, but a great save from Simon Pouplin secured a point for Freiburg.

    So anyone scoring a win at the top end made hay and two of them did: Bayern and Schalke. After a goalless first half, Schalke eventually got the reward that their dominance of the game against Hertha deserved. Kevin Kuranyi headed home their first on the hour from a suspiciously offside looking position and Hertha's task was made much harder when Christoph Janker was sent off for a second yellow. Rafinha added a penalty in the dying few moments to wrap it up leaving Hertha still further adrift at the bottom. Bayern looked to be heading for a draw in the Friday game at home to Gladbach, Roel Brouwers equalising Mario Gomez's opener, but a superb free-kick from Holger Badstuber found the inside of the far post to nick all three points.

    Dortmund won again and it's been ages since they last lost. They were three up by half time, Kevin Grosskreutz, Lucas Barrios and Mohamed Zidan sending BvB on their way. Mats Hummels added a fourth in the second half to send Dortmund up to seventh, just a point off the European places. Eintracht won the Rhein-Main derby with Maikl Franz reaching a deep cross at the back post to volley home on the half-hour. Mainz's Chadlj Amri was sent off after the break, his second yellow resulting in the inevitable red twenty minutes from time. Mainz battled hard, but Alex Meier was on the end of a quick break that had Eintracht four-on-two with seconds remaining to seal local bragging rights, for the time being at least.

    Koeman pays price for AZ struggles: Eredivisie reviews

    AZ 1-2 Vitesse
    Breda 2-2 Sparta
    Roda 1-1 Den Haag
    VVV Venlo 2-1 Willem II
    Utrecht 2-0 Ajax
    Feyenoord 3-1 Groningen
    Waalwijk 0-2 PSV
    NEC 3-4 Twente
    Heracles 3-1 Heerenveen

    A seventh defeat of the season was too much for the beleaguered AZ board who dispensed of the services of Ronald Koeman after Vitesse sprang a surprise with a win at the Almaaderhout. It left the champions seventh after the festive weekend (it was St Nicholas' Day on Saturday), fully 19 points adrift of the league lead. Koeman hasn't been able to replicate the form shown last season, although the loss of players of the calibre of Demy de Zeeuw didn't help. Neither has injuries to Moussa Dembele and Mounir El Hamdaoui who were so impressive last season. Moreover, the ongoing financial crisis which claimed their main sponsors and owners has severely hampered the club as it looks to move forward. However, push comes to shove at some point and a home defeat to Vitesse was enough for the board to push the button. Dembele was back in for this one and put the champions in front nine minutes in, but two goals in ten second half minutes turned the game on it's head, Lasse Nilsson and Dalibor Stevanovic giving the Arnhem side the lead. As tempers frayed, Dembele and Stevanovic were sent off following a scuffle and Vitesse almost made it three late on as AZ poured forward in search of an equaliser. Even if it had come, it would probably have been too late for Koeman.

    Ajax lost more ground on the leaders with not only a defeat in Utrecht, but also one in which they failed to score. The first half was one-way traffic with Ajax enjoying two-thirds of the possession and creating chance after chance. And yet they were indebted to Maarten Stekelenburg for keeping it level at the break as he pulled off a great reflex save from Ricky van Wolfswinkel on one of Utrecht's rare attacks. Three minutes after the break, Jacob Mulenga showed great strength to shrug off the attentions of Toby Alderweireld to score. After Marko Pantelic had wasted Ajax's best chance of the game, Jan Wuytens made it 2-0 and Ajax's afternoon was completed by Vurnon Anita's late dismissal. Later on Sunday, PSV and Ajax both won to leave Ajax nine points off the pace. It really is a two-horse race now. PSV had a comfortable afternoon in Waalwijk as RKC were brushed aside, Jonathan Reis putting his side ahead on the hour and Danko Lazovic making it safe eight minutes from time. Twente had Bryan Ruiz to thank for rescuing them against NEC who mounted a tremendous fightback in a crazy first 45. John Goossens put the Nijmegeners ahead on the quarter hour, Bjorn Vleminckx instigating a neat move which Goossens finished in style, but Twente weren't behind for long as Kenneth Perez's perfect free-kick to the top corner levelled it up three minutes later. A further seven minutes on and Ruiz set up Blaise N'Kufo to give Steve McClaren's side the lead and Miroslav Stoch made it three on the half-hour. Back came NEC with Vlemickx scoring twice before half-time, Goossens turning provider for the first and the burly Swede losing his man in the box for a simple tap-in to make it 3-3. He turned villain in the second half, sent off for kicking out at Douglas. They were looking good to hold out, but in the 89th minute, Ronnie Stam's cross was met by Ruiz and the Costa Rican headed in the winner.

    That defeat leaves NEC second-bottom on 13 points with four clubs sitting just a point above them. Two of those are Roda and Den Haag who drew 1-1 with one another on Friday. Mads Junker put Roda ahead only for Karim Soltani to level it and Roda were grateful for a point as they survived the last ten minutes a man short after Arnaud Djum was sent off. Willem II are another of those on 14 after they were denied by a late fightback from VVV Venlo. Arjan Swinkels put the Tilburgers ahead with a terrific, looping volley and, going into the last ten minutes, that looked like enough. Adil Auasser squared it up nine minutes from time and a stoppage time penalty from Keisuke Honda won it for VVV. Groningen are also on 14 and were soundly beaten by Feyenoord despite going ahead early through Koen van de Laak. Second half strikes from Stefan Babovic, Roy Makaay and Jon Dahl Tomasson eased Feyenoord to the win.

    Heracles move above AZ into sixth after a comfortable win over Heerenveen. Mark Looms and a Willy Overtoom penalty gave Heracles a first half lead. Oussama Assaidi pulled one back late on, but any thoughts of a comeback were scotched by Bas Dost. European hopefuls Sparta and NAC drew 2-2, Rydell Poepon grabbing an equaliser after Sparta had blown a lead. Erik Falkenburg put them ahead in the first half, but Leonardo and Patrick Zwaanswijk scored within three minutes of each other after the break to put NAC in front. The lead only lasted three minutes before Poepon struck and so it remained.

    Friday, 4 December 2009

    Ligue 1 week 15

    Valenciennes v Monaco
    Montpellier v Le Mans
    Nice v Marseille
    Rennes v Lorient
    St Etienne v Sochaux
    Bordeaux v PSG
    Grenoble v Toulouse
    Auxerre v Nancy
    Boulogne v Lens
    Lille v Lyon

    Top game this week sees PSG travel to leaders Bordeaux. A good week for the Parisians sees them travel in good spirits and they have players back on deck; Stephane Sessegnon back from suspension and Mamadou Sakho and Marcos Ceara from illness. Guillaume Hoarau and Gregory Coupet are out, the latter with a badly broken leg sustained in the win over Auxerre. Bordeaux have Yoann Gourcuff back in contention, but Brazilian duo Wendel and Fernando are both suspended. PSG may lie in seventh, but they're only six points off the top. A win for them here and they are suddenly contenders.

    Should Bordeaux trip up, Lyon can go ahead of them with a win over Lille. That won't be easy as Lille have come into some form in the league, though they were humped in the Europa League this week by Valencia. Auxerre, meanwhile, should return to winning ways against Nancy. Lorient have propelled themselves into fourth, just three points back from the summit. They have a tough game against Rennes this week which is a game between two well-matched outfits. Montpellier are still right in there and should be too good for Le Mans this week. Valenciennes's away form has seen them creep up the table. They're at home this week against Monaco who are also right in the mix. Marseille aren't a million miles away and still have that game in hand. They're away at Nice this week, a tough fixture at the best of times, and it should be fiery. It's all shaping up for a fascinating season.

    Grenoble's fruitless search for a win looks set to roll over to next week as they welcome Toulouse to Stade des Alpes and there's a huge game at the bottom between Boulogne and Lens. St Etienne are at home to Sochaux with both sides desperate for points to ease away from immediate danger.

    Bundesliga round 15

    Bayern v Monchengladbach
    Hannover v Leverkusen
    Hamburg v Hoffenheim
    Wolfsburg v Freiburg
    Dortmund v Nurnberg
    Stuttgart v Bochum
    Eintracht v Mainz
    Cologne v Bremen
    Schalke v Hertha

    It's derby time on the river Main where Mainz go to the Commerzbank Arena to take on Eintracht. After coming back up last season, Mainz have really made an impression this term and sit four points and four places above their big city neighbours. Indeed, they're above the champions, Wolfsburg, which they'd have taken in the blinking of an eye if offered. Not that Eintracht are doing badly. They were among many people's favourites for the drop, mainly because of the terrible, dull and negative play that marked out their 2008/9 season. That's not gone completely, but they're slightly more expansive and their improved showing reflects that. It should be a good one.

    Bayern take on Gladbach in the Friday game with Van Gaal set to name the same side that won last week at Hannover. That means a start for Mario Gomez alongside Ivica Olic. Gladbach have a tight defence which a Bayern attack without Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben only likely to get a few minutes at the end will have difficulty breaking down. There are a couple of top v bottom clashes as Bremen go to Cologne in good shape for the three points and Hertha are at Schalke. Hamburg are at home to Hoffenheim in what looks a good game. Leverkusen look good to keep their lead after the weekend as they go to Hannover. Wolfsburg need to pick up the pace and a home game with Freiburg is as good a place to start as any. Dortmund's decent recent form shouldn't be too stretched at home to Nurnberg and there's a big game at Stuttgart where Bochum are the visitors.

    Eredivisie round 16

    AZ v Vitesse
    NAC v Sparta
    Roda v Den Haag
    VVV Venlo v Willem II
    Utrecht v Ajax
    Feyenoord v Groningen
    Waalwijk v PSV
    NEC v Twente
    Heracles v Heerenveen

    The leading trio are all away from home this week in the Netherlands. The top two should still be OK for three more points and the preservation of their unbeaten records, but Ajax have a tough looking trip to Utrecht. NEC are in form that does the term patchy a disservice and Twente's ruthlessness shouldn't be tested too greatly. PSV, meanwhile, will be in Waalwijk. It's impossible to see a home win in that one. Should the top two win, then Utrecht can all but end Ajax's title hopes, but with Ajax still going goal crazy, you can expect entertainment. Ajax start favourites, but Utrecht are tough to beat, especially at the Galgewaard.

    Roda and Den Haag face off with both sides in the bottom three and a win for either will pull them well clear of immediate danger with a clutch of clubs just a point above them. Willem II, VVV Venlo, Vitesse and Groningen are all on 14 points and the first two of those go up against one another this week. That should be entertaining and, again, a win for either would be a huge result. Vitesse go to Alkmaar to face AZ who are just beginning to come together as a side, even if they are still without Mounir El Hamdaoui and Moussa Dembele. Groningen are at Feyenoord. Home win.

    Finally, there are a couple of intriguing clashes of the European hopefuls. Heerenveen may just be beginning to get going and take on Heracles who can play some really nice football. They're a hard side too who won't give the Friesians any time on the ball. Sparta go to Breda to take on NAC and, again, it should be a pretty good game.

    Thursday, 3 December 2009

    Auxerre's spell on top short-lived: Ligue 1 reviews

    Toulouse 1-0 Boulogne
    Lille 4-0 Valenciennes
    Sochaux 1-0 Nice
    Lorient 2-2 Grenoble
    PSG 1-0 Auxerre
    Lens 1-0 Marseille
    Nancy 0-3 Bordeaux
    Le Mans 1-1 St Etienne
    Lyon 1-1 Rennes
    Monaco P-P Montpellier
    Boulogne 2-5 PSG

    Playing twice in the week, it turned out to be a decent time for PSG with six points to show for it. That propels them up the table and back in the running for Europe as the rest of the top half dozen trip over themselves. They started by beating the new league leaders Auxerre at Parc des Princes thanks to a Jeremy Clément header half-way through the second half. That ended a very brief stay at the top for AJA who were, as they will be for a few weeks yet, their talisman, Ireneusz Jelen. The rearranged game with Boulogne followed, and they trailed at the break thanks to a thunderous strike from range from Guillaume Ducatel, but a second-half goal glut saw the Parisians romp to victory. Clément Chantome got round the back to volley in from a tight angle on the hour to square things up and they were in front two minutes later with a Pegguy Luyindula penalty. Mevlut Erding's double capped a great ten minutes for PSG, one a free header on the penalty spot, the second swept in left-footed from the edge of the box. Johan Ramare pulled one back with a penalty, but Jean-Eude Maurice embarrassed Jean-Francois Bedenik in the Boulogne goal who fumbled a tame shot over the line.

    Auxerre's slip gave Bordeaux the chance to return to the top and they took it, comfortably beating Nancy with Yoann Gouffran the star. He set up Fernando for the first and grabbed the third himself with Wendel getting the second after a weaving run through the Nancy rearguard. A point for Lyon was enough to see them back up to second, Lisandro Lopez equalising just before half-time after Asamoah Gyan had put Rennes ahead early on. Lorient missed the chance to improve their position further, though it could have been worse as they had to rely on a last-minute equaliser from Kevin Gameiro to snatch a point off improving Grenoble. Daisuke Matsui and Jimmy Juan had put Grenoble in front after Bostjan Cesar's penalty had initially handed Lorient the lead, but Gameiro denied Grenoble a first win of the season, stealing in after the keeper had come and got nowhere.

    A point for St Etienne means that the point for Grenoble still leaves them 11 adrift of safety. Aruajo Ilan put Les Verts ahead in Le Mans, but Anthony Le Tallec denied them a much-needed win. Lens won against Marseille - a huge result - thanks to a late, late goal from Eduardo dos Santos which pulls them away from immediate danger. Improving Lille were the big winners of the weekend, sticking four past Valenciennes, Gervinho with two of them. Toulouse snuck past Boulogne, making it a bad week for the north-coast side. Mohamed Fofana headed in midway through the first half to keep Les Violets moving in the right direction. Nice's recent revival was halted by a refreshed and rejuvenated Sochaux, Yassin Mikari with a neat first-half finish getting the only goal of the game.

    Monday, 30 November 2009

    Bayern paper over cracks while Leverkusen stroll on: Bundesliga reviews

    Bochum 0-0 Cologne
    Mainz 1-1 Hamburg
    Nurnberg 0-1 Freiburg
    Hoffenheim 1-2 Dortmund
    Hertha 1-3 Eintracht
    Bremen 2-2 Wolfsburg
    Monchengladbach 1-0 Schalke
    Leverkusen 4-0 Stuttgart
    Hannover 0-3 Bayern

    Stefan Kiessling often played second fiddle to Patrick Helmes since the younger man's arrival on the scene. With Helmes out injured long-term, Kiessling is relishing the added responsibility and a hat-trick this weekend helped his side to an easy win over Stuttgart, heaping yet more pressure onto Markus Babbel in the process, to consolidate Leverkusen's position at the top of the tree as their closest challengers all dropped points. He volleyed in the first from close range, bursting between static defenders at a set piece and Eren Derdiyok made it two at the break, again exploiting some terrible defending. Kiessling's second on the hour made it safe, Toni Kroos setting up the striker to finish from the edge of the box. The hat-trick was completed three minutes from time, Jens Lehmann hacking down the effervescent Kroos and Kiessling made no mistake.

    The contrast with Bayern's woes couldn't be sharper, though the Bavarians' win at Hannover papers over a few cracks. Luca Toni made the squad, but was an unused substitute, the new great hope of German centre forwards Thomas Muller getting the nod instead and rewarding his manager with the opener. Ivica Olic headed in a second just after the break and Mario Gomez wrapped it up in the last minute with a third. Bremen slipped back a bit after drawing with Wolfsburg for whom Edin Dzeko twice put them in front. Hugo Almeida eqaulised the first and Per Mertesacker bundled in a last minute equaliser for the point which briefly put Werder top. Schalke were beaten at Gladbach, Marco Reus with the only goal of the game. Hamburg continue to do it tough and January can't come quickly enough as they're desperately short of forwards now. Tunay put them ahead in Mainz early on, but Tim Hoogland grabbed a point six minutes from time. Hoffenheim gifted Dortmund an early goal, caught in possession deep in their own half and Jakub Blaszczykowski took the invitation. Demba Ba equalised just after the break, but Nuri Sahin's penalty won it, shortly before the Villagers were reduced to ten with Maicosuel dismissed late on.

    Freiburg grabbed a valuable win at Nurnberg, Stefan Reisinger with the only goal of the game, whereas Friday night's ambomination of a match in Bochum - Cologne the visitors - didn't muster anything much at all. Hertha went down again, losing 3-1 at home to Eintracht. A super pass picked out Patrick Ochs for the first, midway through the first half, and two quick-fire goals from Maik Franz and Alex Meier made the game safe. Gustavo Ramos pulled one back late on - too little, too late, which may end up being the motto of this wretched season in the capital.

    Half century up for Ajax: Eredivisie reviews

    Sparta 2-3 PSV
    AZ 2-0 VVV Venlo
    Heerenveen 3-1 Waalwijk
    Heracles 3-2 Roda
    Willem II 1-3 Twente
    Den Haag 0-2 Feyenoord
    Vitesse 1-5 Ajax
    Groningen 2-2 NEC
    Utrecht 3-1 NAC

    Another five goals for Ajax this week takes them to fifty for the season so far. Yes, fifty. Five-oh, blind fifty. In fifteen games. And yet they still remain six points off the lead of the Eredivisie. Vitesse were the victims this time and they committed a cardinal sin to prompt the onslaught - they went ahead early, Dalibor Stevanovic prodding home after a real to-do in the Ajax box. The lead lasted barely ten minutes when Marko Pantelic started his genuine hat-trick. The third was a great run onto a lovely weighted ball over the top followed by an authoritative finish. He's really settled in now and is producing. Kennedy Bakircioglu got the fourth, teed up by an unselfish Luis Suarez whose absence from the scoresheet was the most remarkable thing. Ismail Aissati curled in a beauty for the fifth to complete another rout.

    PSV and Twente are both still unbeaten and the Eindhoveners were briefly top of the league on Friday after a come-from-behind win over Sparta. Danko Lazovic put PSV ahead early on, but two Rydell Poepon goals put Sparta ahead ten minutes into the second half. Jonathan Reis equalised and Balazs Dzsudzsak fired in the winner with quarter of an hour to go. Their time at the top came to an end when Twente despatched Willem II in customary style. Wout Brama lashed in the opener from distance before Christophe Gregoire levelled it up from the penalty spot, Douglas with the clumsy challenge. It was brief resistance as Twente reasserted the dominance they showed almost throughout. The Tilburg goal frame got a pounding, Miroslav Stoch and Douglas both rattling the bar before Stoch found the back of the net from a tight angle. Bryan Ruiz made it safe after the break, waltzing through the defence and firing across goal inside the far post.

    Waalwijk couldn't force a third win, going down at Heerenveen for whom Viktor Elm scored twice and missed a penalty. Roda and Den Haag drop into the bottom three after defeats, Roda's comeback against Heracles being defeated by the clock. They were three down with quarter of an hour to go, but Mads Junker pulled one back on 82 minutes and Pa-Modou Kah another six minutes later, but the European hopefuls from Almelo hung on. Den Haag went down to Feyenoord, Ron Vlaar's thumping header putting the Rotterdammers on their way. There was a point apiece for NEC and Groningen, Nicklas Pedersen's last-minute strike snatching a point for the northerners. Bipolar VVV went down this week at the Almaarderhout, Jeremain Lens and Brett Holman putting the champions into a comfortable lead. VVV finished with ten, Sjors Verdellen sent off late on. Finally, Utrecht saw off NAC 3-1, all the goals coming after the break, Jacob Mulenga with a decisive late third for Utreg.

    Friday, 27 November 2009

    Best of the rest

    The shameful change of rules before the end of the European qualifying competition for the World Cup was widely reported as being designed to ensure the top names in the game made it to South Africa next year. Down the years, there have been plenty of top players that haven't played in the finals. George Weah for one, George Best, Alfredo di Stefano, Bernd Schuster and Liam Brady for a few others. And while Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry are going to be there, we can pick a pretty handy XI from the non-qualifying nations this time around.

    Goalkeeper: Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
    Only 23 and one of the best keepers in Europe, the CSKA stopper has been first choice at the Luzhniki since he was 17. Russia were the only unseeded side to bow out, beaten by Slovenia, not that Akinfeev could do anything about the crucial goal.

    Defence: Jan Vertonghen (Belgium), Thomas Vermaelen (Belgium), Brede Hangeland (Norway), Kakha Kaladze (Georgia)
    Vertonghen and Vermaelen formed a fearsome pairing on the right-hand side of the Ajax defence last season. Vermaelen has really kicked on since joining Arsenal while Vertonghen has revelled in the added responsibility since his buddy left Amsterdam. They've a cracking young squad have Belgium, but internal divisions once again proved the undoing. As the Francophone and Flemish speaking parts of the country seem determined to split, so it goes in the national team's dressing room.
    Hangeland's performances for Fulham saw him much in-demand recently from Europe's top players. If nothing else, he'd form a defensive pairing with Vermaelen that few would want to bump into down a dark alley. Norway were the European team that finished second in the group, behind the rampant Dutch, but failed to make the play-offs. Poor old Kaladze: national hero, classy defender and scorer of two calamitous own goals in the qualifier against Italy as Georgia - riven by war during the tournament, lest we forget - ended bottom of the group without a win. Frankly, the campaign faded into insignificance thanks to the domestic situation and ended with a whimper, a 6-2 defeat in Sofia.

    Midfield: Andrei Arshavin (Russia), Zvejzdan Misimovic (Bosnia), Anatoly Tymoschuk (Ukraine), Balázs Dzsudzsák (Hungary)
    Tymoschuk is a water-carrier par excellence. Although his club side, Bayern, are threatening to implode yet again, he does his job without fuss: sit in and spoil lest the opposition get anywhere near that flaky back four. He did the same job for Ukraine, but the rest of the side had little flair and they were undone by a workmanlike Greece in the play-offs. For Wolfsburg, Misimovic has Josué to do the Tymoschuk role and let him strut his stuff. For every dynamic playmaker, someone needs to mop up behind. Misimovic was instrumental in Bosnia's run to the play-offs where his injury in the second leg stymied the hope they took out of the first game.
    Dzsudzsák offers great width down the left and he's got bags of pace and a mean shot. Hungary started well in a tough group, but faded. It may well have been Dzsudzsák's best hope of making the finals. They are improving, but may rely on the luck of the draw to qualify. Arshavin. Quality. I think we all know that.

    Attack: Edin Dzeko (Bosnia), Fredi Kanouté (Mali)
    Dzeko is one of the most complete strikers I've seen at the age of 23. Maybe Marco van Basten, but evoking names like that show the regard he's widely held in. Pace, good in the air, strong... what else does a striker need? 14 goals in 22 internationals speaks volumes of his ability, especially when combined with long-time club-mate Misimovic. Kanouté has that classically languid Gallic style, but he's clinical in front of goal. Of all the players in the Primera Liga, he's right up there with David Villa as the most feared striker. Having been constantly overlooked by France, he declared for Mali who made it through to the final round of qualifying, finishing third in the group behind Ghana and Benin. Two wins from six just wasn't good enough.

    Honourable mentions: Lorik Cana (Albania), Petr Cech (Czech Republic), Marouane Chamakh (Morocco), Souleymane Diawara (Senegal), Richard Dunne (Ireland), Mounir El Hamdaoui (Morocco), Alex Hleb (Belarus), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica), Ze Kalanga (Angola), Mohamed Zidan (Egypt) and Ryan Giggs (Wales). Again.

    Ligue 1 round 14

    Lille v Valenciennes
    Sochaux v Nice
    Lorient v Grenoble
    PSG v Auxerre
    Toulouse v Boulogne
    Lens v Marseille
    Nancy v Bordeaux
    Le Mans v St Etienne
    Lyon v Rennes
    Monaco P-P Montpellier

    Boulogne v PSG

    The FFF are a cack-handed bunch. Faced with the postponement of the Marseille v PSG match, the way they're going about getting everyone back on track is perhaps the least logical possible. Surely, you'd just pick a week without cup or European complications and tell them to play it again on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. No, no, no. Too simple. Better to replay that game on a weekend, further postponing two other games and then replay those two in random midweeks. Hence, Boulogne v PSG and Sochaux v Marseille were both scheduled for next Tuesday, December 2 before the latter was further postponed in order that Marseille can be "in the best condition before their decisive [Champions League] game against Real Madrid". Oh for the love of all that's precious...

    More postponement news and it's swine flu again that's caused Monaco v Montpellier to be called off this week. It's the Montpellier camp that's been struck and, with three players infected, the camp has been quarantined. What wacky method can the Federation come up with to sort this one out, I wonder?

    New leaders Auxerre attempt to maintain their new-found lofty position without Ireneusz Jelen who suffered a thigh injury in training. He should only miss this week's trip to Paris and if AJA are to mount a serious challenge, they'll be hoping that is the case. Bordeaux and Lyon won't take this lying down and will pounce on any slip-ups. Bordeaux had a great win in the Champions League in midweek while Lyon went down to Fiorentina. The champions are in Nancy this week while Lyon face Rennes at the Gerland. Marseille face Lens, but are fuming about being ordered to play one game behind closed doors following yet another flare incident. The Federation's ruling says that this being the seventh time the club have been in bother for similar, it was the only recourse. And this is before the events surrounding that postponement against PSG is investigated.

    Le Mans v St Etienne is a crunch clash at the bottom which Les Verts will not only fancy winning, but probably feel they must. Toulouse are pushing upwards and face Boulogne who have a tough week with those two matches - the last thing a side in freefall really needs. Grenoble are on a roll - two draws from their last two games - but will struggle to get a first win, on the road in Lorient, Sochaux host Nice and Lille have a visit from Valenciennes.

    Bundesliga round 14

    Bochum v Cologne
    Mainz v Hamburg
    Nurnberg v Freiburg
    Hoffenheim v Dortmund
    Hertha v Eintracht
    Bremen v Wolfsburg
    Monchengladbach v Schalke
    Leverkusen v Stuttgart
    Hannover v Bayern

    It's all about Luca Toni this week. The lumbering Italian issued a completely futile "it's him or me" ultimatum last week that he's bound to come off worse from. That and comments to the papers about his souring relationship with Louis van Gaal led to a club suspension, a €25,000 fine and he's been dropped completely from the squad to face Hannover this weekend. The club say he'll be welcome back if he apologises, but these things normally only end one way, so it's ta-ta Toni come January. Besides, the club already have one lumbering carthorse of a striker in Mario Gomez. Beating Hannover will prove little about Bayern as a force. We all know what that club is going through at the moment, but a win over the traditional powerhouse of German football would be a massive fillip.

    Game of the week sees Wolfsburg go to in-form Bremen who haven't lost since the opening day. Both sides are without strikers - Claudio Pizarro and Obafemi Martins have both played their last matches of the calendar year. Another Martins - Bremen's Moreno Martins - comes in after recovering from breaking his jaw to bolster the strikeforce, but it's Mesut Ozil who is attracting the attention. What a player. With him on the books, it's no wonder the club were so willing to cash in on Diego. Wolfsburg let a lead slip on the astroturf of the Luzhniki in midweek and looked poor. Zvejzdan Misimovic was anonymous and he's so important to them. They need a turnaround and soon.

    Hoffenheim v Dortmund also looks a cracker. There's sure to be goals there, unlike Friday night's Bochum v Cologne match which has been eschewed by ESPN in the UK for Sparta v PSV from the Eredivisie. Wise move. Hamburg's stuttering challenge faces a stern test in Mainz, Hertha haven't had a better opportunity to win a game than this week at home to Eintracht, though they'll find some way of blowing it and the leaders Leverkusen have a gimme at home to Stuttgart. Gladbach have it all to do against Schalke who are beginning to hit their stride, but Nurnberg v Freiburg is definitely one for the purists only.

    Eredivisie round 15

    Sparta v PSV
    AZ v VVV Venlo
    Heerenveen v Waalwijk
    Heracles v Roda
    Willem II v Twente
    Den Haag v Feyenoord
    Vitesse v Ajax
    Groningen v NEC
    Utrecht v NAC

    The three main title challengers are all away from home this week in the Low Countries and all look short odds for the win. Twente take their parsimonious defence to Tilburg where Willem II shouldn't prove too great an obstacle. PSV are in Rotterdam at Het Kasteel where you'd fancy them to take advantage of Sparta's little wobble. That's the Friday game while Ajax are in Arnhem on Sunday looking to add to their 45 goals so far this season. Yes, 45. Just over one third of the way through the season, they're on course for the ton and few would back against them. They're going at over three goals per game and yet they still find themselves six points off top spot. Luis Suarez is on 17 for the season in the league, but has a long way to go to break the long-standing record of 43 for the season.

    Game of the week is VVV Venlo's trip to Alkmaar. Win, lose or, as is most likely, draw, VVV do it in style and with smiles on faces. AZ are coming off the back of a 0-0 draw in Europe which dumps them out of the Champions League, but league form is picking up slowly.

    Avoid Groningen v NEC if you love football. This is a dire prospect. Den Haag v Feyenoord should be fiery if nothing else as neither side is made up of particularly shrinking violets. Should Waalwijk's recent recovery continue against Heerenveen, then everyone in the bottom half of the table is suddenly back in danger and there's no reason why they can't do it as the Friesians are awful. Heracles' push for Europe should get a kick back into gear against Roda while Utrecht and NAC both have designs on European competition next season. I take Utrecht to win this one, but it should be fun whatever the outcome.

    Tuesday, 24 November 2009

    Auxerre top as Bordeaux lose at home: Ligue 1 reviews

    Marseille 1-0 PSG
    Grenoble 1-1 Lyon
    Rennes 2-1 Le Mans
    Lens 2-1 Nancy
    Bordeaux 0-1 Valenciennes
    Auxerre 2-0 Monaco
    St Etienne 0-2 Lorient
    Nice 1-0 Toulouse
    Montpellier 2-0 Lille

    Over two years have passed since Bordeaux were last beaten at home, but their visitors this week were Valenciennes, a side with a formidable away record. That said, they only had three efforts on goal in the whole game, but Mamadou Samassa got one past Cedric Carrasso in the seventh minute. Wendel went close with a spectacular free-kick and had two or three other great opportunities and Yoann Gouffran also spurned a glorious opportunity. Guy N'dy Assembe was inspired in the VA goal and his performance alone deserved the three points. Lyon failed to take advantage as they were held up in the Alps at Grenoble. César Delgado put Lyon in front, surely just the first action of a comfortable win, but Danijel Ljuboja equalised moments after Laurent Courtois was sent off for just their second point of the season. That means Auxerre go top after beating Monaco. Adama Coulibaly put them ahead late in the first half and Delvin Ndinga made it safe a couple of minutes from time. It's been quite a turnaround for AJA who started badly and now sit top of the league for the first time in six years.

    Montpellier won at home to Lille to maintain their place in the top handful, Victor Montano with both goals, but it's Lorient who sneak up into fourth. They beat St Etienne thanks to a pair of early goals from Marama Vahirua and Franco Sosa. Difficult to beat, they look to have a first eleven good enough for Europe, though how they go when injuries set in will determine how well they go.

    Nice rise further still after beating Toulouse, that man Loic Remy yet again, this time from the penalty spot. Le Mans are still deep in trouble after going down in Rennes, but Lens just pull away from the bottom three after coming from behind against Nancy. Issam Jemaa and Kevin Monnet-Paquet both scored in the last few minutes to snatch the win after Paul Alo'o Efoulou put Nancy in front early in the second half.

    Bayern's annual crisis: Bundesliga reviews

    Freiburg 0-6 Werder
    Stuttgart 1-1 Hertha
    Schalke 2-0 Hannover
    Wolfsburg 2-3 Nurnberg
    Cologne 0-4 Hoffenheim
    Eintracht 1-2 Monchengladbach
    Dortmund 0-0 Mainz
    Bayern 1-1 Leverkusen
    Hamburg 0-1 Bochum

    Bayern's draw with Leverkusen sees them sit in seventh. That's not good, despite the gap to top spot being just six points, and the whole thing is collapsing. Luca Toni reckons it's him or Van Gaal, and the lumbering Italian may just get his wish. Even if Van Gaal goes though, it's hard to see Toni remain at the club after January. Philipp Lahm, already in hot water over comments to the press, has described the club as "sick" after the poor performance against the leaders. It's easy to forget they didn't actually lose. Mario Gomez put Bayern ahead early on, but Stefan Kiessling equalised moments later and that was that. Poor game.

    Bremen are now just a point back from Leverkusen after a thumping win over Freiburg. Mesut Ozil was the star as Bremen hit five after the break, the young midfield tyro getting one and having a foot in most of the others. Hugo Almeida got a brace, Marco Marin, Markus Rosenberg and a Naldo penalty as Freiburg were blown away. Schalke come next after a low-key win over Hannover. Jefferson Farfan got the first and Jan Moravek sealed the win in the last minute. Hoffenheim are the big movers after belting lowly Cologne. Carlos Eduardo and Chinedu Obasi put the Villagers two up at the break with Demba Ba and Vedad Ibisevic, from the penalty spot, completing the job.

    At the bottom, Zdravko Kuzmanovic grabbed a point for Stuttgart against Hertha before getting himself sent off. Not that a point does anything for Hertha. Bochum and Nurnberg were the winners down at the bottom, the latter against the champions. Going to the VW-Arena, Nurnberg were pegged back twice before Peer Kluge struck in stoppage time. Albert Bunjaku scored twice, but Wolfsburg came back both times, Ashkan Dejagah and a Grafite penalty looking to have secured a point until Kluge popped up late on. Hamburg went down to Bochum, Dennis Grote with the only goal of the game. Elsewhere, Mainz and Dortumnd ground out a 0-0 and Eintracht went down at home to Gladbach.

    Top three can't stop winning: Eredivisie reviews

    Roda 2-4 AZ
    NAC 3-3 NEC
    Waalwijk 3-1 Groningen
    Twente 1-0 Vitesse
    Feyenoord 0-0 Utrecht
    Ajax 5-1 Heerenveen
    VVV Venlo 5-0 Sparta
    Willem II 1-1 Den Haag
    PSV 4-0 Heracles

    It's a definite case of a top three and then everybody else in the Netherlands now. Those three just keep on winning and are pulling inexorably away at the top of the tree. Twente battled past Vitesse despite being way below par and had Bryan Ruiz, back from World Cup heartbreak with Costa Rica, to thank for the win as he showed great strength to hold off a couple of late defenders and stab in a late winner. The chasers both won big, but it's still Twente who have the points advantage. Goal difference advantage definitely goes to Ajax who thumped in another five at home to Heerenveen. All six goals went in during the first half. How AZ are missing Demy de Zeeuw and he struck twice in the opening quarter, Marko Pantelic got the third and Luis Suarez got his customary penalty. Goran Popov scored a cracker for the Friesians, but Ismail Aissati added a fifth before the break. Both sides merely went through the motions after the break. PSV could only hit four after Heracles keeper Martin Pieckenhagen was sent off half way through the first half. The Almelo side held out until just before half-time, but Ibrahim Afellay blazed one home from the edge of the box and it was just about all over. All that remained was to find out by how many. Balázs Dzsudzsák, Ola Toivonen and Jagos Vukovic gave us the answer.

    Feyenoord and Utrecht failed to muster a goal between them and fall further away from the pace; indeed they've been caught by AZ who came from behind to beat Roda. Jeremain Lens put the champions ahead, but Pa-Modou Kah and Jeanvion Yulu-Matondo helped Roda to a 2-1 lead ten minutes into the second half. Rasmus Elm equalised twenty minutes from the end and two more goals in the next ten minutes secured the points, Lens with a second and Jonathas wrapping it up shortly before a stray elbow saw him sent off.

    The main action is down at the bottom. A third win for Waalwijk cuts the gap back to the rest to three points. Two points more than that is good enough for tenth as it all squashes up together. RKC took advantage of Groningen losing Luciano to an eleventh minute red card and Charlison Benshop struck twice as they won 3-1. NAC and NEC shared six goals with the Nijmegeners leading twice and yet still needing a late Saidi Ntibazonkiza goal - his second of the game - to secure a point, though they remain second bottom. Den Haag had Ahmed Anni sent off late in the first half, but did go in front in Tilburg through Karim Soltani. They couldn't hold on though and Willem II equalised through Frank Demouge. The big winners were VVV Venlo whose five goal thumping of Sparta sees them go from bottom three to tenth. It was four by half-time, Sandro Calabro getting two of them, as they recorded just their second win of the campaign.

    Friday, 20 November 2009

    Ligue 1 round 13

    Marseille v PSG
    Grenoble v Lyon
    Rennes v Le Mans
    Lens v Nancy
    Bordeaux v Valenciennes
    Auxerre v Monaco
    St Etienne v Lorient
    Nice v Toulouse
    Montpellier v Lille

    Not quite a full programme this week in La Rébublique because on Friday night, the postponed Marseille v PSG game takes place. This is the one that was called off thanks to an outbreak of H1N1 in the Paris camp and the two sides scheduled opponents, Sochaux and Boulogne, sit out the weekend. All three of the infected players are back in for the rearranged clash, though they are without Claude Makelele and Guillaume Hoarau due to suspension and injury respectively. Marseille have their problems, but they're mainly internal thanks to Hatem Ben Arfa's falling-out with Didier Deschamps. Whenever a player falls out with his manager, he loses. So it is in this case too, and Ben Arfa will be out on his ear as soon as is possible. January.

    Bordeaux continue their defence of the title at home to Valenciennes, but the big game sees third play fourth at the Abbe-Deschamps in Auxerre where Monaco are the visitors. This should be a belter. Ireneusz Jelen and Nene are two of the league's leading scorers and both sides play attractive football. Should be great. Lyon are in second and will win this weekend. Why? Because they're up against Grenoble who are still rubbish despite getting off the mark last time out. There's a reasonable looking game on the south coast between resurgent Nice and Toulouse.

    Elesewhere, picking look slim. Struggling Le Mans go to Rennes, struggling Lens are at home to Nancy, Montpellier look to get back on track against Lille and St Etienne are at home to Lorient. None of them look particularly appetising to the neutral observer.

    Bundesliga round 13

    Freiburg v Bremen
    Stuttgart v Hertha
    Schalke v Hannover
    Wolfsburg v Nurnberg
    Cologne v Hoffenheim
    Eintracht v Monchengladbach
    Dortmund v Mainz
    Bayern v Leverkusen
    Hamburg v Bochum

    The Bundesliga resumes under something of a cloud following the tragic death of Robert Enke. The national team's friendly against Chile last weekend was postponed, so we resume with a full league programme.

    A year ago, Hertha against Stuttgart was a top-of-the-table clash. This week, both sides go into the game in the bottom four. The only surprise for Hertha is that they're only six points adrift of safety. Mind, that's six points they've not looked like getting all season so far and it's Stuttgart who have that gap over the troubled Berliners. Hertha have already changed their manager - Stuttgart have yet to do so, but Markus Babbel is on borrowed time. Both clubs need a win, but it's difficult to make a case for either of them winning. If ever two sides in a football game could both contrive to lose a match, this is it.

    Pressure is high in Munich as well where the latest make-or-break match - they seem to have one every week - sees the leaders Leverkusen visit the Allianz. Compare and contrast to last season. Jurgen Klinsmann was, rightly, lambasted for his utter ineptitude as a manager, but Bayern were doing better at this stage than they are under Van Gaal. The Dutchman hasn't had the services of his three best players, in all fairness, thanks to injury to Mark van Bommel and Franck Ribéry and Ze Roberto having been sold in the summer. Still, the cash has been splashed and results are poor. Stefan Kiessling is in great form, as is his main supplier Tranquilo Barnetta. Leverkusen play with a verve that Bayern are a millions miles away from emulating.

    Hamburg have a straightforward looking game against Bochum to get their title challenge back on track, as do Bremen who are at Freiburg. Schalke have just fallen off a little and they face Hannover, still trying to come to terms with the loss of Enke. The fact they're playing is more important than the outcome. Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim can both play stunning football when they're so inclined and both are favourites in their respective games, Dortmund v Mainz looks a cracker unlike Eitracht against Gladbach which... err... doesn't.

    Eredivisie round 14

    Roda v AZ
    NAC v NEC
    Waalwijk v Groningen
    Twente v Vitesse
    Feyenoord v Utrecht
    Ajax v Heerenveen
    VVV Venlo v Sparta
    Willem II v Den Haag
    PSV v Heracles

    Back to the weekly grind after the fun and games of the World Cup qualifiers and it's one of those weeks in the Eredivisie where none of the games leap off the page and scream 'watch me!'. Leaders Twente are at home to Vitesse, PSV have Heracles, also at home. They should both win comfortably as should Ajax, also at home, to lowly Heerenveen. Feyenoord and Utrecht face off in a clash which may go some way to determine the 'beat of the rest' title and there are some real potential stinkers. If Waalwijk v Groningen was on in my back garden, I'd close the curtains. NAC v NEC doesn't inspire either. AZ's indifferent form will be tested in Kerkrade while Den Haag against Willem II looks set to be a race to see who can kick the opposition hardest.

    That leaves VVV Venlo against Sparta as my game of the week. They are going in opposite directions. VVV started well but are fading, to the point at which they dropped into the bottom three last time around. Sparta are quite the opposite having started badly, but have risen to the fringes of the European places. There should be goals, and that can't be said for the rest of the week's fixtures.

    Thursday, 19 November 2009

    What the f

    France 1-1 Ireland
    France win 2-1 on aggregate

    Slovenia 1-0 Russia
    2-2 on aggregate. Slovenia win on away goals

    Bosnia 0-1 Portugal
    Portugal win 2-0 on aggregate

    Ukraine 0-1 Greece
    Greece win 1-0 on aggregate

    You can only really start a World Cup round-up at Stade de France. Ireland came up with a battling performance against France and forced extra time after Robbie Keane converted Damien Duff's pinpoint cross. That was the only time the Irish beat the inspired Hugo Lloris in the French goal. Ireland had marginally the better of the extra half hour as well, but then came the controversy. After the referee had denied France a penalty, probably correctly, when Shay Given came off his line sharply at the feet of Nicolas Anelka, he summarily failed to see Thierry Henry handle the ball twice before squaring it to William Gallas who turned in an equaliser on the night and the winner overall.

    Henry didn't deny that he'd handled it, instead claiming it to be the duty of the referee to spot it. He has a modicum of a point, but one which was greatly undermined as he wheeled away on celebration as if he'd just been granted the kingdoms of France, Spain and Portugal as reward for his cunning and then the faux-sportsmanship after the game as he commiserated with Richard Dunne. Frankly, if Dunne had punched him the throat and told him to fuck off, he'd have been more than justified.

    Giovanni Trappatoni has seen pretty much everything in football and was characteristically magnanimous in an FAI press conference the following day. While the FAI barked up very much the wrong tree in pleading for a replay, Trappatoni expressed his disappointment in his now trademark half English-half Italian and seemingly moved on quickly. Dara O'Briain was on the radio and came up with a great idea. Throughout the World Cup finals, they should be referred to as France*. We'll certainly be doing that here.

    Elsewhere, seeds Portugal and Greece prevailed. Portugal saw off depleted Bosnia and Miroslav Blazevic will surely now slide gracefully into retirement. What a career he's had and isn't it amazing how black his hair has remained? Raul Meireles struck ten minutes after half-time and Bosnia's fate was sealed when Sejad Salihovic was sent off. They've done well, Bosnia, but this was a bridge too far. Greece won through in a predictably dull game, Dimitrios Salpigidis with the only goal of the 120 minutes. So far so good for FIFA's seeding plan.

    But when all else was failing, step forward Slovenia. They gave Russia no breathing space at all and Zlatko Dedic struck a minute before half-time to hand them the lead on the night and, on away goals, in the tie. Russia never got going and Slovenia really got stuck in, making life hard. Andrei Arshavin never got in the game and the rattled Russian finished with nine men as, first, Alexander Kerzhakov and then Yuri Zhirkov were sent off as it threatened to boil over. Slovenia are therefore the only non-seeds to progress and represent a big up yours to FIFA and, for that reason, they are the official Euroballs side of the 2010 World Cup.

    Wednesday, 18 November 2009

    World Cup scramble

    The second legs of the World Cup qualifying play-offs take place tonight with the final four European places in next summer's finals at stake. All four games are finely poised with the non-seeds all poised to upset FIFA's shameless moving of the goalposts. Let's have a look at the state of play.

    France (1) v Ireland (0)

    Ireland did well in Dublin on Saturday, but failed to take their chances. By contrast, Nicolas Anelka did take one of France's few and the normally prolific André-Pierre Gignac could have all but ended the tie, but missed. This return fixture should be a feisty affair after a bit of a set-to parked by Lassana Diarra's contretemps with Keith Andrews at the final whistle at Croke Park. But will feist overcome flair? There's a tricky balancing act between the two and if Ireland concentrate too much on trying to unsettle the French, they'll expose themselves at the back. However, this French side isn't one of the great French sides and, as their travails are one of the main reasons we have this seeding system, let's all hope they cop a beating in St Denis.

    Bosnia (0) v Portugal (1)

    Miroslav Blazevic has done a terrific job with Bosnia, but the former Croatian boss, now 74, risks having all his work undermined by injury and suspension. The injury is the biggy - Zvejzdan Misimovic makes this side tick and will be sorely missed as part of a dynamic front four. The onus instead passes to Sejad Salihovic to provide the balls for Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic. Emir Spahic, Elver Rahimic and Samir Muratovic are all suspended having picked up yellow cards in the first leg. Simao reckons Portugal aren't going to sit on the 1-0 lead, but under Carlos Queiroz they've been inclined to sit back on leads during games a few times too often. It looks like Cristiano Ronaldo will miss this one as well, which is grist to Blazevic's mill. The old master to work one more miracle before he finally retires? Don't bet against it.

    Slovenia (1) v Russia (2)

    Nejc Pecnik's late goal in Moscow enlivened this tie as, until that point, it looked like Russia were walking away with it. Diniar Bilyaletdinov got both for the Russians and they were cruising home. Yes, they've still got the advantage in the tie, but momentum is a big thing and Slovenia are notably buoyed by the outcome. They boast a mean defence and a full-strength side for this game in Maribor. Guus Hiddink looks set for a midfield reshuffle with Alan Dzagoev still struggling after missing the first leg and Igor Semshov and Vladimir Bystrov both in poor form. Russia will start favourites to progress, but that away goal looks huge.

    Ukraine (0) v Greece (0)

    This could rank as one of the dullest games in the history of World Cup qualifying. Greece under Otto Rehhagel play as they always have done: tight at the back, hit on the counter. That can be quite entertaining, but not against a side like Ukraine with the paucity of attacking options that they bring to the table. Alexiy Mikhailichenko played Andriy Shevchenko on his own up top in the first leg, but Artem Milevskiy and Oleg Gusev will have to get up in support more if Ukraine are to break down the tough Greek rearguard. Socrates Papastathopoulos was detailed to look after Shevchenko in Athens, but while defence is fairly well looked after, it's the Greek attack that looks weak. And Ukraine haven't conceded at home since June. Penalties.

    Outside of Europe, there's a couple of tasty looking clashes as well. Egypt beat Algeria in a bad-tempered grudge match by two goals to nil at the weekend which left the rivals with identical playing records through the group stage. This then requires them to play off in a one-off game and it's in Sudan. In the Americas, Costa Rica lost in San Jose to Uruguay, but go to Montevideo in good spirits. More on that on our sister site, CONMEBalls.

    Wednesday, 11 November 2009

    Forget football

    For all we love football here at Euroballs, we hope we don't lose sight of the bigger picture. Often when bad news emerges, football is one of the methods we can use to forget about the cares of the world and focus on something that, ultimately, doesn't really matter.
    Then bad news comes in from within the football world, such as the tragic death of Robert Enke, the Hannover 96 goalkeeper and apparent first choice for the national side. The DFB have taken the only real course of action in calling off the week's games against Chile and Ivory Coast - this is hardly a time for trivialities such as football.

    Monday, 9 November 2009

    Ten goals in Lyon while Grenoble make their point: Ligue 1 reviews

    PSG 0-1 Nice
    Valenciennes 1-1 Montpellier
    Le Mans 0-1 Auxerre
    Nancy 0-1 St Etienne
    Monaco 0-0 Grenoble
    Lorient 5-0 Boulogne
    Sochaux 1-2 Lens
    Lille 2-0 Bordeaux
    Toulouse 3-2 Rennes
    Lyon 5-5 Marseille

    That isn't a typographical error. Lyon 5-5 Marseille. It really did happen. 25 years ago, your current correspondent sat with jaw on the floor as a Chris Waddle-inspired Newcastle ran into a five-goal lead against QPR in the old First Division only to see it level at the end at five apiece. Quarter of a century on, it's happened again with Waddle's former club Marseille snatching a dramatic draw at the death of a quite remarkable game. With ten minutes left, OM were leading 4-2, but had to rely on a stoppage time own goal from Jeremy Toulalan to ensure a point. Miralem Pjanic put Les Gones ahead inside three minutes as Marseille failed to clear a Kim Kallstrom cross, but Souleymane Diawara headed in a corner ten minutes later. They were level for just three minutes before Sidney Govou handed OL the lead back with a lung-bursting run and neat finish. Benoit Cheyrou slammed another equaliser home on the stroke of half-time and Bakari Koné put OM into the lead for the first time two minutes after the restart with a great volley. Brandao headed home for 4-2 eleven minutes from time and that looked to be the game. Lisandro Lopez had other ideas, chipping over Steve Mandanda and then slotting home an equalising penalty after Gabriel Heinze was adjudged to have handled in the box. Into stoppage time and Lisandro combined with Pjanic to tee up Michel Bastos who put Lyon back into the lead. And after all that, there was still time for Mamadou Niang's shot to cause panic in the Lyon area and the unfortunate Toulalan had the final touch. Don't know about you, but I'm worn out reading that back.

    That meant that Bordeaux got away with a defeat at Lille to remain top. The champions were off colour and were taken down a peg by the northerners who dominated throughout. Pressure finally paid off when the otherwise exemplary Cedric Carrasso parried Pierre-Alain Frau's shot to the feet of Yohan Cabaye who put it away. A late Florent Balmont penalty sealed the points. Auxerre move up to third after beating Le Mans. Jorge Andrade was helpless to prevent himself putting through his own net, his keeper Didier Ovono parrying Ireneusz Jelen's shot into his path as he tracked back. Anthony Le Tallec had a late penalty saved, compounding Le Mans' misery.

    Other than the five-all draw, the big story was Grenoble winning their first point of the season in a goalless draw in Monaco. They had chances to win it, but were more indebted to an inspired goalkeeping performance by Ronan Le Crom who saved three times from Frederic Nimani to get his side off the mark.

    Toulouse won a five-goal thriller against Rennes, Moussa Sissoko putting them in front on the half hour only for Asamoah Gyan to level on the stroke of half-time. Daniel Braathen and André-Pierre Gignac put Les Violets ahead, but Kader Mangane set up a tense finish. Lorient won big against free-falling Boulogne, banging five away, Kevin Gameiro and Marama Vahirua getting two each and Morgan Amalfitano nabbing the fifth. Dimitri Payet got the only goal of the game as St Etienne beat Nancy, PSG went down to a late Loic Remy goal as Nice pulled away from the bottom, Montpellier drew with Valenciennes to slightly arrest their slide and Lens grabbed a vital three points against Sochaux.