• Friday, 30 October 2009

    Ligue 1 round 11

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

    Derby time in the Rhône valley when Lyon take the short trip down the road to St Etienne. Bafetimbi Gomis left Les Verts for their big-boy neighbours in the summer and there's almost duty bound to be some sort of reaction from the St Etienne supporters toward him and, dare I suggest, it might not be entirely friendly. Lyon arrive in much the better form, despite the drubbing handed down to them last week by Nice. Les Verts have fluttered briefly, but the traditional roles of the clubs in this fixture have very much reversed over the last eight years. It was always St Etienne in charge, but Les Gones have utterly dominated the last decade. But forget form. Settle in to watch the mayhem. With games like these, it's amazing that no UK broadcaster picked up the rights.

    Bordeaux host Monaco on Saturday in a first v second clash which, were it not for the derby, would easily be the game of the week. Nene has been brilliant for the Monagasques with nine goals from midfield. It's not all about him though, with able support from the likes of Park Chu-Young who is a doubt for this one as is Eidur Gudjohnsen. Bordeaux are at strength and are, therefore, favourites. A sleeper choice for game of the week comes at the Abbe-Deschamps where Montpellier travel to take on Auxerre. The home side are on the up while Montpellier's great start that took them as high as second at one point just slipped with a loss last week. Auxerre can be brilliant and rubbish in equal measures while Montpellier have been a model of consistency. Marseille welcome Toulouse to the Vélodrome who have André-Pierre Gignac back in top form. He's a threat to anyone and is one of the few to really flourish at national level under Raymond Domenech. PSG have their flu victims back in training and they resume their campaign at Sochaux, themselves in decent nick.

    Grenoble's futile search for a first win resumes against Lille, but the northerners should be coming down the mountains three points richer. Grenoble are just gash. Lens are in freefall and have a visit from European hopefuls Lorient to deal with this week while there's a proverbial six-pointer between Le Mans and Nice. Boulogne are plummeting and are at home to Nancy this week while there's a mid-table kerfuffle between Rennes and Valenciennes.

    Bundesliga round 11

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

    Top game this week sees first play fourth at the Veltins Arena with the home side a little more secure, financially speaking. Push was about to crash headlong into shove down Gelsenkirchen way with the threat of a points deduction should the club be unable to prove they had the finances to complete the season. Had they not been able to, the points would have been deducted as it would have been taken to mean that they had provided false information in order to secure a license for this season. A large cash injection has staved off that threat and meant that player sales in January won't be needed in order to secure the club's immediate future. After a way better start than any could have imagined, that latter fact is a massive boost to Felix Magath as he looks to repeat his efforts from last season with Schalke. The visit of Leverkusen is a big test of both club's title credentials with a draw probably favouring Bayer. Either way, it promises some good, open football.

    Hamburg have a relatively straightforward job at home to Gladbach and can take advantage of any dropped points by Leverkusen in Gelsenkirchen and Hoffenheim should be too good for Freiburg. Bremen are on a terrific run and Nurnberg shouldn't pose them too many problems. Bayern take on Stuttgart in what, in any other season, would be a humdinger. As it is, Bayern start as heavy favourites with patience wearing thin with Markus Babbel in Stuttgart. Defeat in the cup in midweek saw the board give Babbel their support, but if results continue to go against them, then action will have to be taken before it gets too bad. Bayern are threatening to destroy themselves from within, again, as Martin Demichelis criticised Louis van Gaal in this week's papers saying how he felt he was the only injured first-teamer who had to force his way back in. Memo to Demichelis: Daniel van Buyten is much better than you and Holger Badstuder, despite being just 20, doesn't come up with half as many hilarious brain farts as you do.

    Wolfsburg's game against Mainz is a big one for the champions. Lose here and they get sucked into the mid-table scramble and a little too distant from the top than would be comfortable. For their part, Mainz are going well and are more than capable of winning here. Hertha are still comically bad despite last week's goalless draw with the champions and they go to Dortmund in the Friday game where even a single point looks too much to ask. Finally, Eintracht host Bochum. Home win.

    Eredivisie round 12

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

    It's Classic time again when, on Sunday, Feyenoord go to the Amsterdam ArenA. We've already had some tasty tussles between the traditional big boys of Dutch football, most notably the five-goal thriller between Feyenoord and PSV, but there's always added spite when these two meet. Ajax are still going goal crazy with Luis Suarez already up to 15 for the season. Feyenoord haven't been as flashy, as last week's 1-0 win over ten-man VVV Venlo speaks volumes about, but are still just about in there at the pointy end. I expect Ajax to win this, but not until the two sides have knocked a dozen types of muesli out of each other.

    Twente and PSV should both win over comparatively lowly opposition. AZ needed extra time to see off Spakenburg in the cup in midweek, so low is their confidence, but a game against Groningen gives them a great chance of getting back to winning ways. Whether they've already left themselves too much to do is the bigger question, and I reckon they have. Utrecht are still well and truly in the hunt while Heracles are a coming side, sixth place and looking pretty useful. They go head to head this weekend in what may well be a better game than the Classic.

    Waalwijk's fruitless search for points sees them take on Willem II, gloriously inconsistent themselves. On their day, the Tilburgers can be great, but even if they're not, they should have too much for RKC. Sparta are on the up and take on NEC at Het Kasteel, VVV against NAC has draw written all over it and Heerenveen's miserable season continues against Den Haag who aren't a bad side and should win this one with something in reserve.

    Monday, 26 October 2009

    H1N1 strikes Paris: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    Big news this week was of the game that didn't happen. Three players - Ludovic Giuly, Jeremy Clement and Mamadou Sakho - were all confirmed as having the virus and the entire squad and staff were quarantined as a precaution against further spread. The trouble was the timing of the postponement, way too late for the PSG fans to not travel. Trouble duly erupted between rival fans with nothing better to do than drag their clubs' name through the mud again.

    On the field, Bordeaux regain top spot with a routine win over Le Mans. Didier Ovono put through his own net to put the champions in front, Marouane Chamakh and David Bellion with the others. That put them top as Lyon were stunned by lowly Nice. Mamadou Bagayoko's athletic header put Nice ahead. A howler from reserve keeper Remi Vercoutre allowed a ricochet off Aly Cissokho to squirm under his body for the second. David Hellebuyck made the defence look very slow as he charged right through them for number three and Loic Remy got the fourth, again thanks to some suspect goalkeeping. Dodgy keeping at the other end allowed Ederson a consolation, but the damage was done. Montpellier lost at Rennes and so failed to take advantage of OL's slip. Sylvain Marveaux put Rennes ahead in the first half and further strikes from Moussa Sow and Asamoah Gyan halted Montpellier's great run. Monaco it is that improve as they despatched ten-man Boulogne. Park Chu-Young put the Monagasques ahead with a good finish from the edge of the box shortly before Kevin Das Neves was sent off for a wild challenge. And yet it was Boulogne that got back into it with Jeremy Balyac given the freedom of the six-yard box from a corner. With time running out, that man Nene popped up with a double to win it and send his side second. Both were carbon-copy exquisite free-kicks. The keeper was rooted to the spot for both.

    Grenoble lost again, and it's now getting silly. They took the lead against Nancy, completely against the run of play, through Danijel Ljuboja, and were hanging on in there as the game entered it's dying moments. But just as it looked like the duck may finally be broken, up stepped David Jemmali to rescue defeat from the jaws of victory as he headed comically over his own keeper and into the net for 1-1. A point would at least be a start, but Bostjan Cesar grabbed a handful of Issiar Dia's shirt in the 88th minute to give away a penalty which Youssuf Hadji slammed into the top corner. Sochaux's good run continues as the fans showed great support for the injured Curtis Davies. Eight minutes into the contest, Damien Perquis rose highest to head in from a free-kick and that was enough to beat Lorient. St Etienne reverted to type by slumping to another miserable defeat, at home to Valenciennes. Johan Audel embarrassed the defence for the first and David Ducourtioux added a second in the last minute, a quite excellent run and finish.

    Toulouse are on the way back up the table and won well at Lens who are going the opposite direction. Moussa Sissoko and André-Pierre Gignac, back in form after a good spell with the national side, got the goals for Les Violets. Game of the week was at the Abbe-Deschamps where Auxerre twice came from behind to beat Lille whose revival is stopped in it's tracks. Gervinho put Lille in front with a lovely angled volley which Ireneusz Jelen equalised from close range. Pierre-Alain Frau restored the lead before the break, but Jelen again levelled it up before Daniel Niculae won it late on with a tidy near-post header.

    Too many draws: Bundesliga reviews

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

    Draws all round for the front runners gave Bremen the chance to close up which they did with a routine thumping of Bochum. Leverkusen and Dortmund battled to a goal apiece on Friday night, Lucas Barrios heading Dortmund ahead early on with Manuel Friedrich responding in kind halfway through the second period. Hamburg and Schalke shared six goals in a thriller, which defied the lack of resources Bruno Labbadia has up front. Eljero Elia and Markus Berg have really stepped up to the plate and the two combined for the latter to open the scoring. Piotr Trochowski made it two at the end of a first half the visitors utterly dominated with a wicked free kick, but Schalke came back into it after the break and Kevin Kuranyi headed in Rafinha's cross before David Rozehnal was sent off - last man back, no arguments. From the free-kick, Lukas Schmitz levelled it up. With Schalke pouring forward to try and win it, a quick break led by Ze Roberto gave Berg the chance to put his side back in front which he did. And they looked good for the win until the last minute when Kuranyi headed the sides back level. And Schalke might have won it had Gerald Asamoah not headed straight into the arms of Frank Rost with the last touch of the game.

    Bremen came from behind to beat Bochum, Stanislav Sestak putting the Ruhr Valley side ahead in the first few seconds. It didn't last long. Eight minutes, in fact, before Aaron Hunt equalised by getting the final touch on Claudio Pizarro's goal-bound header and Bremen were in front before the break through Marko Marin as he and Hunt tore Bochum a new one. Tim Borowski beat the offside trap for the third and the rout was completed by Mesut Ozil from a narrow angle. There's a gap back to the next few, comprising Bayern, Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg. The champions were held to a goalless draw by Hertha who pick up their first point since opening day while Bayern were indebted to Daniel van Buyten again for a win over Eintracht. Alex Meier put the Frankfurters ahead on the hour, but Arjen Robben scrambled in an equaliser eight minutes later, one of the scrappiest goals the Dutchman will ever score. Two minutes remained when van Buyten headed in the winner at the back post. Hoffenheim saw off Nurnberg fairly comfortable with Christian Eichner blasting in the opener from about half a mile (well, 30 yards or so) out. Vedad Ibisevic is back and firing and he doubled the lead before the break as the Bosnian showed no ill-effects of the knee injury that curtailed his 2008/9 season as he skipped past the defence and finished in style. Franco Zuculini added a third in the second half, also from outside the box. Mainz are also right in the mix after their 3-0 win, started by Andreas Ivanschitz's acrobatic volley. Tim Hoogland added two more after the break.

    Stuttgart are still in bother after yet another defeat, this time by Hannover. Didier Ya Konan hit the winner on the half hour, but the star was this ballboy. Gladbach and Cologne didn't do themselves any favours with a 0-0 draw.

    Serie A Round 9: Nesta saves Leonardo's Bacon

    Atalanta 3-1 Parma
    Bari 2-0 Lazio
    Cagliari 3-2 Genoa
    Chievo 1-2 AC Milan
    Fiorentina 0-1 Napoli
    Palermo 1-0 Udinese
    Roma 0-1 Livorno
    Siena 0-1 Juventus
    Inter Milan 2-1 Catania
    Sampdoria 4-1 Bologna

    Far be it from me to be anything but impartial but I may as well get this out of the way: Jammy Bastards. Alessandro Nesta's injury time header, following up his equaliser 10 minutes earlier, not only got AC Milan three points on sunday, they may just also have allowed Leonardo to remain in his job. The embattled Brazilian has not had an easy ride so far, but his side are now 6th and comfortably within reach of the top four. City rivals Inter had few problems brushing aside Catania, thanks to a Sulley Muntari strike and a lovely free kick from Wesley Sneijder - fast proving himself to be a vital cog in the Inter machine.

    Elsewhere, it was a fun saturday for second-placed Sampdoria who brushed aside Bologna - Giampaolo Pazzini scored his 6th of the campaign and Daniele Mannini netted twice in a 4-1 stroll. Juventus were not quite so convincing at Siena, and relied on a solitary Amauri goal to claim all three points and condemn the Tuscans to bottom spot. It was also a welcome return to Serie A for one of Italian football's most colourful characters, the mad-as-a-box-of-frogs Serse Cosmi who watched his new club Livorno grab all three points away at Roma thanks to Francesco Tavano's goal.

    Also on sunday, there was something of an upset as Atalanta triumphed at home to Parma, who have been going well lately and remain in eigth; an Andrea Lazzari winner for Cagliari resulted in a 3-2 win for the Sardinians and condemned Genoa to their third defeat in seven days; Lazio, who prevailed so late on during their Europa League match against Villarreal on thursday, showed it was just a flash in the pan by losing at Bari; and Palermo beat Udinese in a match in which, unusually, 9-goal leading man Antonio Di Natale did not find the net.

    La Liga Round 8: Relentless Barca open up lead

    Almeria 0 -3 Valencia
    Barcelona 6-1 Real Zaragoza
    Getafe 2 -0 Athletic Bilbao
    Racing Santander 1-1 Osasuna
    Tenerife 1-0 Xerez
    Valladolid 4-0 Deportivo La Coruna
    Villarreal 2-1 Malaga
    Atletico Madrid 1-1 Mallorca
    Sevilla 0-0 Espanyol
    Sporting Gijon 0-0 Real Madrid

    Some things in La Liga never change - AS will print whatever Raul tells them; Atletico Madrid will hire (and subsequently fire) highly unsuitable coaches; Racing will bore everyone rigid with downright insulting quality of football and Barcelona will with worrying regularity deliver an absolute mullering to a side in the bottom half at the Camp Nou. This week it was Real Zaragoza, whose mildly encouraging start to the season was curtailed by a hat-trick from Malian midfielder Seydou Keita, who brings his goal tally for the season to 5. Keita is a player rarely singled out for praise but his part in the Pep Guardiola rennaisance should not be under-estimated; versatile, hard-working and incredibly athletic, he contributes plenty. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, somewhat less hard-working but still very effective, continues to impress and got two of his own.

    That win meant Barcelona went 3 clear at the top after Real Madrid were held on Saturday at the ever-improving Sporting Gijon. Despite broadly possessing the same squad as last year, coach Manuel Preciado has guided his charges to 7th. Enduring a more traditional second season in the top flight are Malaga, whose Tapia-less campaign is proving disastrous - they provided Villarreal with their first win of the season thanks to goals from Nilmar and Marcos Senna, and are now bottom of the table. Atletico Madrid, who finally put Abel Resino out of his misery in midweek, were denied a second win of the season by Borja Valero's injury time strike.

    Back up top, Sevilla drew a blank at home to an obdurate Espanyol side, although they remain impressive at the back with just 5 goals conceded so far. Valencia took advantage of Deportivo's sensational trashing at Valladolid to leapfrog La Coruna into fourth with a win at Almeria. David Villa was first on the scoresheet in a 3-0 victory, and he jointly leads the race for the Pichichi with Zlatan. Getafe made it won 4, lost 4, with a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao and Tenerife captured what could prove to be a significant victory over fellow promoted side Xerex.

    Top five all win in goal frenzy: Eredivisie reviews

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

    All of the top five won as 31 goals went in around the Netherlands over the weekend. In terms of goals, the clash between AZ and Ajax was top with six being shared unequally in favour of the Amsterdammers. That signals the end of AZ's title challenge, even at this still early stage. They're fourteen points off the top already and with the uncertainty over the ownership, January could see an exodus of players. And yet they did go in front half way through the first half, Brett Holman taking down a long ball and crossing for Mounir El Hamdaoui who swept it past Marten Stekelenberg. After the break, Ajax came out firing and a blistering spell saw them stick three away within twenty of the retstart. A quick free-kick caught out the champions for the first, Urby Emanuelson launching it past Sergio Romero from fully forty yards. A minute later, the irrepressible Luis Suarez got his customary goal, expertly taking down Dennis Rommedahl's cross and showing nifty footwork to score. Gregory van der Wiel got their third, exchanging passes with Demy de Zeeuw en route to goal, and Suarez got a second in the last minute, van der Wiel turning provider. Graziano Pelle's overhead kick in stoppage time couldn't hide the beating his side had taken.

    Twente still lead from PSV by two and both were 4-0 winners. Twente were already two up on Groningen before keeper Brian van Loo was sent off, a slight deflection aiding Miroslav Stoch's 25-yarder in the fifth minute and Dwight Tiendalli smashing one in on the counter from over 30 yards. Van Loo was bang to rights on the hour, doing a Toni Schumacher on Blaise N'Kufo, but the big Swiss striker picked himself up and smacked the penalty past sub keeper Luciano - top corner, you don't save those. Ten minutes from time, the brilliant Bryan Ruiz, who had been superb all afternoon, added a fourth, swooping on Tiendalli's mis-kick and holding off four defenders to turn, shoot and score. The official time for PSV's opener was 18 seconds, Balazs Dzsudzsak sliding in at the back post, and it was downhill from there for NEC. Jonathan Reis got the second, quickest to latch on to Danko Lazovic's air shot, Otman Bakkal had a tap-in four minutes after the break as Gabor Babos failed to hold Orlando Engelaar's long-range shot and Lazovic made it four from the penalty spot after a clumsy foul. Feyenoord only needed one goal to see off VVV Venlo, Denny Landzaat tapping in after Kevin Begois spilled a cross at his feet, and Utrecht won by the odd goal in three on Friday night. Bram Castro was in brilliant form in Roda's goal and pulled off save after save through the first half. Eventually, pressure told when Jacob Mulenga finally beat the inspired keeper two minutes from half-time. Castro was out of position having made two stops, but his defence couldn't clear and the ball was played square across to Mulenga who finally beat the Belgian stopper. He was unlucky again when Utrecht doubled their lead. Ricky van Wolfswinkel beat Castro, but hit the post. The ball came back to the striker and, with Castro off balance, slammed it in the opposite corner. Willem Janssen got one back in stopage time, showing great strength down on the bye-line to shrug off the defence and slot the ball home.

    Waalwijk lost again and finished with ten men. Their defence is really, really terrible and it was basic failings that allowed Anthony Lurling to score after half an hour and the only surprise was that NAC didn't add to the lead. Gijs Luirink was sent off late on to compound the misery. They look down already. Heerenveen remain deep in trouble after a hammering from Willem II. After a goalless first half, Willem II opened up after the break and were in front three minutes after the restart through Sergio Zijler who took on half the Heerenveen defence before smacking it across goal and inside the far post. The floodgates opened. Caught in possession in midfield, Heerenveen backed away and the shot wasn't held and fell to Said Boutahar who made no mistake. A towering header from Michal Papadopoulos pulled one back, but the lead was back to two five minutes later, another shot not held and fell to Frank Demouge who buried it from 20 yards. Demouge made it four in the last minute as Heerenveen were opened up like a particularly compliant walnut.

    Heracles move up to sixth with a win while Vitesse are still very hit and miss. Willy Overtoom put the Almelo side in front on the stroke of half-time, sliding in to meet a cross from the right. Sebastien Scheur sealed the win twelve from time with an excellent angled header. Erik Falkenburg's hat-trick won it for upwardly mobile Sparta against Den Haag who pegged the Rotterdammers back twice. Falkenburg's first came on eight minutes with a 20-yard piledriver. Danny Buijs equalised, slotting home off a n eat lay-off, but Falkenburg put his side back in front with a half-volley from 12 yards. It would be level at the break when Charlton Vincento was first to a bouncing ball in the Sparta box, but Falkenburg popped up in the last minute to win it. The Den Haag keeper's poor clearance was almost put in from near half way, but the keeper palmed it straight to Falkenburg who tapped in at the back post.

    Friday, 23 October 2009

    Ligue 1 round 10

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

    Top game this week sees under-pressure Antoine Kombouare take his Parisians to arch-rivals Marseille. The club have brushed off suggestions that a win is a must for Kombouare to retain his job, but results have not been as good as those under Paul Le Guen. Marseille had a decent enough win in the Champions League in the week and they remain just three points off the lead. Lyon still lead and are at lowly Nice this weekend after a terrific win in Liverpool in midweek. Loic Remy apart, Nice are poor and Lyon should walk all over them. They're level on points with promoted Montpellier, the season's, the continent's surprise package. They face Rennes on Saturday and there's no reason why they can't go and register their seventh win. Bordeaux are still up there and, coming off a good win in Europe in a turbulent game (two red cards, two missed penalties, Michael Ciani scoring at both ends) and they're at home to Le Mans. Home win. Monaco too are going well and they face Boulogne, fading after an encouraging start.

    Are Grenoble the worst team in Europe? If not, then they're one hell of a contender. Winless after nine, Nancy aim to make it a perfect ten. Lens are at home to Toulouse who look like they may have turned the corner with the win over PSG last week. Lille were superb in beating Genoa 3-0 in midweek and are also upwardly mobile, as are Auxerre and the two clash in what looks a tasty clash. St Etienne and Sochaux pulled away from immediate danger with wins last time out. Sochaux's new found ability will be tested by European hopefuls Lorient while Les Verts are at home to mid-table Valenciennes.

    Bundesliga round 10

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

    Top game this week sees second-placed Hamburg travelling to take on third-paced Schalke. This is a crucial time for Hamburg without their leading strikers. Always difficult to break down, they look like relying on 1-0s until the likes of Mladen Petric return to the fold. A single Markus Berg goal saw off Celtic in Glasgow on Thursday night and Ze Roberto was, yet again, outstanding. That screen he provides in front of the back four is crucial when you lack firepower up top and he's the main man again here. Schalke are hanging on in there, the on-field performances masking huge problems off it. They just keep winning with Jefferson Farfan playing the best football he's played since joining the club.

    Champions Wolfsburg go to rock bottom Hertha with Armin Veh telling Grafite - sent off in the midweek draw with Besiktas - to take a week off to refocus. Obafemi Martins will start alongside the ever-brilliant Edin Dzeko instead of the Brazilian. Hertha are still laughably bad and lost again in midweek to similarly bad Heerenveen. They cannot buy a break at the moment and will lose this one barring something spectacular. Bremen have snuck up on the rails and should be too good for Bochum this weekend. Leverkusen continue to lead the way and they begun the round on Friday against Dortmund who are capable of turning in either great or rubbish performances. They won last time out, so we're due a shocker. Bayern, meanwhile, host Eintracht who are talking up their chances ahead of the game. The Bavarians will be without Franck Ribery for a month, the Frenchman also likely to miss the World Cup qualifying play-offs, while Arjen Robben is still a doubt. Luca Toni will continue to lumber about like a poorly co-ordinated giraffe alongside Mario Gomez.

    Hoffenheim keep getting up with the leaders only to fall back again. This week they're at home to Nurnberg where three points is the only really acceptable outcome. There's a big game at the bottom between Gladbach and Cologne while Markus Babbel's latest test comes as Stuttgart go to Hannover who are always tricky, if limited, opponents. Two promoted clubs face off as well, Freiburg going to Mainz. Both have started well, Mainz moreso, and both sides will fancy their chances of a win to consolidate that early achievement. Home advantage to swing it.

    Eredivisie round 11

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

    Top game this week sees troubled AZ at home to goal-happy Ajax. Despite all the uncertainty that's suddenly surrounded the champions, they got a decent result in Europe in midweek by drawing with Arsenal. So often we've seen clubs close ranks and pull together in times of adversity and perhaps AZ can do this. It won't be easy against the rampant Amsterdammers - Luis Suarez is only five goals behind AZ's total for the season to date - who also had a good result in midweek in Europe. Defeat for AZ and I confidently predict they won't win the title.

    Twente and PSV should both win pretty easily this weekend against Groningen and NEC respectively despite differing fortunes in Europe. PSV had a good win over FC Copenhagen while Twente were losing in Modova to Sheriff Tiraspol. Feyenoord were beaten last time out and don't have European worries, so their chance to get back on the horse comes in Venlo. Not that they'll have it all their own way against the draw specialists. It's hard to see VVV not scoring and if an upset was ever on the cards, this is it. Utrecht are still in touch with the leaders having only lost once so far this season and they get things underway on Friday night at home to Roda. Home win.

    At the bottom, Waalwijk remain adrift and even if they beat NAC will be so after this round of matches. NAC are doing OK, in eighth place which is stretching their ambition a bit, and ought to be way too good for RKC. The really big game at the bottom sees Heerenveen go to Tilburg to take on Willem II. The Friesians won in Europe in the week, albeit away at the worst Hertha Berlin side in living memory, but let's not kid ourselves that these two are anything but bad football sides. Den Haag are going OK and face a buoyant Sparta while Heracles face the infuriatingly inconsistent Vitesse.

    Tuesday, 20 October 2009

    AZ's defence takes another lurch to disaster

    It's been a turbulent week in Alkmaar. Defeat on the field to league leaders Twente was just the start of it, which left the club in sixth place on the table, fully nine points adrift of top spot. With a Champions League game against Arsenal coming up, the worrying lack of form bodes ill, but then came the news that sponsors DSB Bank has gone bankrupt.

    The club have received all the sponsorship payments from the failed company already, but one subsidiary of DSB Bank was the holding company that owns AZ. That company has now also gone into bankruptcy meaning that the club is up for sale and will play against Arsenal in shirts without sponsors logos.

    Last season saw AZ take just their second ever Eredivisie title, the first coming in 1981. Their defence that time saw them finish third, nine points off top spot. This defence is going spectacularly badly, not helped by the club losing a manager, several key players and now their owners. Tough times ahead in Alkmaar.

    Montpellier second as leaders lose: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    How long into a season does it take for a club to be considered contenders? Nine games into this new season, promoted Montpellier lie in second spot only one goal behind Lyon after the league leaders and champions were both defeated this week. Perhaps realistically, Montpellier are still a good ten or fifteen points from safety rather than genuine contenders, but this deep into the season, there is no question that they're up there on merit. Lyon and Bordeaux slipped up which meant Montpellier's win over St Etienne promoted them another place. Les Verts contributed to their own downfall by having Yoann Andreu sent off on the stroke of half-time and the south coast club took advantage. Karim Ait Fana blasted one in from close range from a long throw, the St Etienne defence just looked on, and Souleymane Camara got between two defenders to reach Victor Montano's cross. St Etienne pulled one back, Gonzalo Bergessio from the penalty spot after he was fouled, but Montpellier closed it out.

    Lyon left a number of big names on the bench ahead of a European week, but still had plenty of quality against Sochaux. Clint Eastwood was in town and took the ceremonial kick-off before the main action started. Perhaps OL were starstruck as Sochaux came flying out of the blocks at them. The warning signs from corners were there and Hugo Lloris got away with coming for one and missing, but not the second, dropped at the feet of Jacques Faty who poked it home. Sochaux kept their illustrious opponents at bay throughout the second half and sealed it with a quick counter attack, Slovan Privat tucking it under Lloris in the last minute. It was a tale of two penalties in the Auxerre-Bordeaux game - one missed and one scored. Yoann Gourcuff only started on the bench, so when Les Girondins were awarded a first half penalty for a crude shove on Wendel, Fernando Cavenaghi was entrusted with the responsibility. His standing foot slipped as he struck the ball and it trickled gently into Olivier Sorin's arms. A mistimed tackle on Cedric Hengbart gave Auxerre a shot from 12 yards quarter of an hour from time and Valter Birsa despatched it bottom left corner.

    Monaco move to within two points of the lead with a 2-0 win over Lens which leaves the northerners in trouble. Nene got both, the first latching on to a rebound off the post after just nine minutes, the second a penalty. Marseille and Lorient are a point further back after both won big. Marseille put three past Nancy, Mathieu Valbuena's first league goal for nine months opening the scoring early. Two late ones added a bit of gloss, the referee playing a good advantage in the build up to Brandao's angled strike and Fabrice Abriel smacking one in off the far post. Lorient beat lowly Nice who look in real bother and finished with ten men. Arnold Mvuemba struck from 20 yards to open the scoring shortly before the break and Marama Vahirua doubled the lead shortly after it, captialising on some sloppy handling from the keeper. Loic Remy's delicate free-kick pulled one back, but more sloppy keeping let Sigamary Diarra in for Lorient's third and Kevin Gameiro fired in a fourth in the last minute, though Emerse Fae still had time to get sent off.

    Grenoble still remain rooted to the foot of the table with nul points following a ninth straight loss. Mamadou Samassa put Valenciennes ahead after quarter of an hour as the defence watched the ball land at his feet and did next to sod all about it. Six minutes later, Grenoble were caught in possession in their own half and gave away a free-kick, centrally though perhaps 35 yards out. No matter. Fahid Ben Khallfallah smashed it in anyway. A missed penalty late on didn't really spoil things for VA in an easy win against a terrible football side.

    Boulogne grabbed a last minute equaliser at Le Mans. Roland Lamah put Le Mans ahead on the hour after Sébastien Corchia's superb free-kick was turned onto the post and rebounded into Lamah's path, but Fabien Robert poked home a loose ball in the third minute of stoppages. Lille and Rennes fought out an entertaining 0-0 draw, the home side indebted to keeper Ludovic Butelle who pulled off an incredible save to deny Jired Ekoko late on. PSG lost again and are only just inside the top half. Toulouse were their conquerors this week thanks to Albin Ebondo's late goal, coming on the end of a quick four-on-three break.

    Monday, 19 October 2009

    Leverkusen lack ambition: Bundesliga reviews

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

    Hamburg will be the happier with the outcome of their game against Leverkusen which saw the top two cancel each other out to a great extent. Leverkusen's cautious approach might have made more sense had all of Hamburg's rich attacking arsenal been on show, but Bruno Labbadia was without a host of strikers and Leverkusen were disappointing in their lack of endeavour. That result allowed everyone else to close in and Schalke are now just two points back from the pair of them after a win over Stuttgart. Ivan Rakitic put Schalke ahead, a quick break tearing the heart out of the Stuttgart defence. Cacau was Stuttgart's best on the day and he had warmed Manuel Neuer's palms on a number of occasions before he equalised quite late on, profiting from the unselfish work of Julian Schieber. Just three minutes later, Kevin Kuranyi sprang the offside trap and fired across Jens Lehmann for the winner.

    Bayern won their first in three away at Freiburg, though were hardly convincing. In the absence of many of their big guns and with Luca Toni yet again failing to make an impact, it was left to 20-year old Thomas Muller to put the Bavarians ahead. Toni had contrived to shoot straight at the keeper from point blank range when scoring was easier, but the ball broke to the new wunderkind and he lashed it in from twelve yards. Half way through the second half, Freiburg contributed to their own downfall when Du-Ri Cha's misplaced backpass wrong footed his goalkeeper and trickled agonisingly over the line. That meant Stefan Reisinger's last minute goal, tap-in at the back post after being brilliantly found in the box by Mohamadou Idrissou, was just consolation. Wolfsburg and Bremen keep up the chase after both won. The champions scored at the end of each half, Alex Madlung's header from a corner at the end of the first and Christian Gentner's 15-yard drive at the end of the second. There was still time after that for Gladbach to get one back, Michael Bradley chesting down and firing low past Diego Benaglio. Bremen made Hoffenheim pay for Carlos Eduardo's early penalty miss as they won with a nice header from Claudio Pizarro - his sixth of the season - and Per Mertesacker sticking a foot out to convert a free-kick late on.

    Hertha lost again and remain rooted to the foot of the table. They were two down to Nurnberg before the game was quarter of the way through as their defence continues to leak like a Whitehall official in possession of expenses data. Failure to clear a header cost them thr first, Daniel Gygax slotting home from a narrow angle, and Albert Bunjaku won't have many easier than the back-post tap-in he had for the second. Bunjaku's second took a little more work, slammed home from 20 yards, and Hertha's misery was complete. Bochum's loss to local rivals Dortmund sees them slip back to second bottom. Lucas Barrios's controlled finish put Dortmund in front and Neven Subotic made the game safe for Dortmund when he headed in a free-kick early in the second half. Cologne pulled away a little with just their second win of the season, Milivoje Novakovic's tap-in just before the break enough to see off Mainz. Eintracht remain in the top half after beating Hannover who can't defend corners. Nikos Liberopoulos headed in the opener from a corner midway through the first half, but Jiri Stajner levelled after the break as Eintracht indulged in some calamitous defending of their own. They were level for just six minutes prodded in a parried header as Hannover returned the favour. 90 minutes of pure, comic defences.

    Last gasp Twente leave AZ a mountain to climb: Eredivisie reviews

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

    AZ are already eleven points off the Eredivisie lead after defeat in Enschede on Saturday. Ex-Alkmaarder Kenneth Perez put Twente ahead towards the end of a first half they dominated when Miroslav Stoch's cross was missed by Bryan Ruiz and Perez had time to steady himself and smash it home from a tight angle. Into the second half and two goals in two minutes put AZ in front, Mounir El Hamdaoui back from injury to make Sander Boschker look statuesque as he dribbled the ball past the static keeper before Peter Wisgerhof inexplicably launched himself at a cross which Boschker had covered and could only watch in horror as it ended in the back of his own net. Ruiz restored parity a couple of minutes later with a neat half-volley from Blaise N'Kufo's chipped through ball and that's how it looked like finishing despite massive Twente pressure. Three seconds remained of the two added minutes at the end of the game when N'Kufo bundled the ball in at the near post as Twente piled cross after cross into the AZ box and the champions already look out of it while Twente continue to lead.

    PSV maintain the pressure on Steve McClaren's side after a single goal was enough to beat Heerenveen. Just nine minutes remained when the Eindhoveners finally got the breakthrough they deserved, Danko Lazovic alive to the ricochet after the brilliant Ola Toivonen checked back onto his right foot and curled a terrific shot off the post. Ajax won too, adding four more goals to an already prolific season against lowly Willem II who had Leonardo Veloso sent off. They were already two down by that point as Eyong Enoh broke the deadlock seconds from half-time, firing in from 20 yards as the Tilburgers failed to clear. A neat free-kick routine gave Miralem Sulejmani the second just after the hour and Marko Pantelic stabbed one in a minute after Veloso saw red as the offside trap was let down by a recalcitrant right back. And there was still time for the now customary Luis Suarez goal, the Uruguayan picking up Enoh's lay-off and shooting on the turn. Feyenoord lost ground after a fiery Rotterdam derby which saw three red cards. André Bahia put Feyenoord in front just after the half hour, heading in from about a foot, before all the fun began early in the second half. Sekou Cissé was sent off for Feyenoord six minutes after the restart and a further six minutes later, Rydell Poepon's deflected shot levelled matters. Just two minutes later, Jon Dahl Tomasson joined Cissé in the Feyenoord sheds. Poepon also got his marching orders, but Sparta still had the numerical advantage and got the winner six minutes from time when Kevin Strootman fired in from the edge of the box. Utrecht couldn't find a way past a desperate Groningen rearguard, but remain well placed.

    VVV Venlo drew yet again - their seventh in ten games so far - at home to Roda who went ahead through Morten Skoubo's delightful chip half an hour in. The equaliser was a bit less artful, lots of bodies in the box making dealing with a corner tough for Roda and Ken Leemans fired in from six yards. Waalwijk remain bottom, beaten by Heracles who had Bas Dost to thank for the winner. Waalwijk gave the ball away cheaply and Dost capitalised, taking the ball round the keeper and slotting home from a fine angle. A couple of clumsy challenges from behind earned Benjamin de Cuelar a pair of bookings and RKC finished with ten. Vitesse paid a heavy price for Frank van den Struijk's red card, a stupid handball on the edge of the box earning him a 34th minute dismissal when it was still 0-0. Edwin de Graaf thumped in the penalty and Roda were away. Kees Kwakman made it two just before the break, headaing in from a free-kick, before two in ten minutes from Anthony Lurling wrapped up a 4-0 win. He robbed Claudemir on the edge of the Vitesse box for his first as the Brazilian dallied in possession while his second came at the end of a quick and incisive counter. NEC came from behind to grab a point at home to Den Haag who went ahead in the first half when Bogdan Milic got a faint touch to a powerful goal-bound header to just take it away from the keeper. The equaliser was a stunning effort from John Goossens, twenty minutes from time. Taking the ball on his chest, he flicked it up and volleyed it up and over the keeper from fully thirty yards out. A cracking effort worth more than the single point it gained.

    Friday, 16 October 2009

    Ligue 1 round 9

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

    Bad news for both Lyon and Sochaux ahead of their game this week. Sochaux's American striker Curtis Davies was badly injured in a fatal car accident during the international break. Suffice to say his season is over. Lyon have concerns over summer recruit Bafetimbi Gomis who collapsed during training with the French side. That's the third time it's happened this season and questions are quite rightly being asked. With memories of Marc-Vivien Foé, even David Longhurst, still all too fresh in the memory, this can't be taken lightly and the French football authorities have been good on such matters lately, hence Lilian Thuram's abortive move to PSG last season. Lyon will be short-priced favourites for this one, but the game will seem of little significance given Davies's travails.

    Bordeaux have Yoann Gourcuff back, spelling trouble for Auxerre. Also back is Marouane Chamakh who spent most of the international break once again spelling out how he really, really, really wants to play in England. For the love of whatever you deem holy, shut up man! Changer le disque. This material is getting old. Montpellier remain in third place and are at home to St Etienne. All evidence points to a home win, but Les Verts arrive on the south coast with three straight wins. Marseille go to Nancy looking to find a bit of form. Didier Deschamps bemoaned a lack of confidence in his ranks and Hatem Ben Arfa hasn't helped the harmony in the camp by missing training and copping a fine.

    Grenoble are on the road seeking their first points of the campaign as they go to Valenciennes. The Alpine club haven't been playing that badly for the last few weeks and signs are that a win - or a point if we're going to walk before running - won't be too far away. Lens have slipped back after a decent start and go to Monaco who are going pretty well. The two big underachievers face off this week as PSG travel to Toulouse. It looked like André-Pierre Gignac was having a bout of second-season syndrome, but goals for France in the week will have helped his confidence. Lille's revival continues at home to Rennes, struggling Nice have a long trip to Lorient and Le Mans have a visit from rapidly fading Boulogne.

    Bundesliga round 9

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

    The top two clash this week in the Bundesliga when Leverkusen go to Hamburg with the sides separated by just one goal. The sides have virtually identical records and with Bruno Labbadia now in charge of Hamburg having been at the reins of Leverkusen last season, there's additional intrigue. The problem Labbadia has is up front where Markus Berg is his only fir striker. Paulo Guerrero, Mladen Petric, Collin Benjamin and Alex Silva are all out while Ebi Smolarek failed to impress during a trial period and has been let go. Without Patrick Helmes - knee problems - Stefan Kiessling has really stepped up to the plate and is the man in form. This should be a good one, but Hamburg's lack of firepower will be the decisive factor.

    Bayern have given Louis van Gaal the vote of confidence ahead of his side's trip to Freiburg where he'll be without Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben (arguably his entire attacking arsenal) and Ivica Olic. Back come the Mark van Bommel - hardly an attack-minded player - and the lumbering Luca Toni. Gomez and Toni up front together. What a prospect. Freiburg will never have a better chance of claiming this massive scalp. Schalke go to Stuttgart who are now no longer having a bad start, but are just not very good. With the top two playing each other, Schalke can really make up ground here. Markus Babbel is in a bit of trouble with the DFB. Without the necessary badges, he was given special permission to take control of Stuttgart so long as he attended the appropriate courses at the same time. He's missed a few sessions, so the authorities are taking a stern look at things in Mercedes town. Bremen in fourth take on Hoffenheim - a point and a place behind - with their boom youngster Mesut Ozil already declaring his loyalty. Unfortunately, he declared it to Barcelona. Demba Ba is missing for the Villagers while Thomas Schaaf has Torsten Frings back. Wolfsburg have Gladbach visiting. Having lost three times already, the champions need to get on a winning run and there's no reason why that shouldn't start here.

    The bottom two clash as well, Hertha travelling to Nurnberg. Don't expect the same excitement as the game between the top two. Cologne, third from bottom, are at home to sixth-placed Mainz, Eintracht and Hannover will dispute mid-table matters and Dortmund are at home to Bochum in a game they ought to win quite easily.

    Eredivisie round 10

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

    Hammer pieces of crooked wood against your windows; it's Rotterdam derby time at Het Kasteel. As has become traditional, the sides approach this from opposing ends of the table with Feyenoord peering down on their neighbours from fourth while Sparta are third from bottom. While the financial pressures haven't completely disappeared from De Kuip, Mario Been has got his charges playing with a verve lacking last season, though they need to start beating the sides above them to be properly considered contenders. Sparta aren't good and have only beaten Waalwijk and Willem II. It looks like another win for Feyenoord.

    Top game of the weekend sees champions AZ go to the side that finished behind them last season, current league leaders FC Twente. AZ are in danger of being dropped by the five clubs ahead of them at the moment and this is a key clash in their title defence. Unfortunately, they run into a team playing well and with a steely determination to keep their opponents at bay. Twente to win this one and leave AZ in no man's land on the table especially as the other front runners - PSV and Ajax - both have eminently winnable home games against Heerenveen and Willem II respectively. Utrecht are still in there and go to the woeful Groningen this week with three points very much in mind.

    Entertainers VVV Venlo are at home to Roda seeking just their second win of the season, which I fancy them to get. Waalwijk welcome Heracles to the Mandemakers Stadion, but another defeat is on the cards for their long-suffering support to endure. Den Haag go to Nijmegen and Vitesse are in Breda, both of which will probably end in stalemate.

    Seeds of annoyance

    In a classic case of moving the goalposts that comes a close second to the exploits of IFK Gothenburg's Kim Christensen, UEFA have gone ahead with their last-minute plan to seed the World Cup qualifying play-offs. Had this been the plan all along, then nobody would have had a problem, but this idea was only raised a month ago at a time when some of the big names in world football were having a tough time making it through to South Africa.

    As it turned out, most of the big, sponsor-friendly names made it through, but France and Portugal have to go through these play-offs and the prospect of them facing each other may have denuded the finals of some top talent. They're among the seeds, unsurprisingly, along with Russia and Greece and they'll face Ukraine, Ireland, Bosnia and Slovenia.

    Never will the neutral root more for the underdog.

    Thursday, 15 October 2009

    No major casualties: World Cup round-up

    With the sword of Damocles hanging over the hopes of a few of our teams, this was a big week in the European section of the World Cup qualifying competition. So who's going where? Let's do this group-by-group.

    Group 1

    Portugal 3-0 Hungary
    Portugal 4-0 Malta

    Canny work from the Portuguese in arranging their final two fixtures were both at home and they won both comfortably. On Saturday, Simão was the hero with two goals as the fast fading Hungary were put away with something to spare. Just after the quarter hour, Cristiano Ronaldo put the ball into the box and the keeper parried it straight to the feet of the little winger who stuck it past the prone Gabor Babos. Ronaldo went off injured ten minutes later which didn't help Portugal and it wasn't until late in the second half that two quickfire goals finished off the Magyars. Bruno Alves put in a deep cross for Liédson - unmarked on the back post - to head home and moments later Simão volleyed in at the back post as Hungary were caught in defence. While that was going on, Denmark were beating Sweden and Portugal were suddenly up to second.
    Malta hadn't won in the competition - indeed had only one point to their name - so surely Portugal were going to clinch that play-off spot. Well, yes they were and duly stuck four past the hapless Maltese. Nani got it rolling with a superb shot on the turn from 18 yards and Simão doubled the advantage from similar range in the stroke of half-time, gifted possession on the edge of the box by some clumsy defending. Miguel Veloso added a third eight minutes after the restart, tapping in after Liédson's air shot 6 yards out fell kindly to him, and Edinho wrapped up the game and second place in the group, springing what passed for an offside trap to race onto a clever through ball.
    They now await the draw for the play-offs.

    Group 3

    Czech Republic 2-0 Poland
    Poland 0-1 Slovakia

    A pisspoor end to a pisspoor qualification effort from Poland. Just 1900 turned up to witness the defeat to Slovakia and, while the appalling weather was doubtless a contributory factor, a boycott from the hardcore support was to blame. The momentum for a boycott built up after the dismal display in Prague. Tomas Necid broke the deadlock five minutes after the break, given the freedom of the field by the statuesque defence before rolling the ball in off the near post. Keeper Wojciech Kowalewski was again beaten at his near post twenty minutes later, a nice header from Jaroslav Plasil, although one that should have been stopped.
    On Wednesday in the snow, the game became a victory party for Slovakia who ended top of the group and the ever-generous Poles handed them the only goal of the game, Seweryn Gancarczyk shinning a routine clearance past Jerzy Dudek.

    Group 4

    Russia 0-1 Germany
    Germany 1-1 Finland

    The win in Russia ensured Germany would finish top of the group and qualify for yet another finals and the draw with Finland in Munich saw them go unbeaten through the campaign. Russia seemed to get a bit of stagefright on Saturday although they did start well and tested Rene Adler. Half an hour in, rising star Mesut Ozil squared for Miroslav Klose and he couldn't miss from five yards (though he gave it a good try). 22 minutes from time, Kevin-Prince Boateng went lunging in once too often on a slippery surface and picked up a second yellow card, but Germany hung on to clinch top spot.
    That made Wednesday's home game against Finland a formality, which seemed a good thing when Jonatan Johansson bundled in a tenth minute opener. The unbeaten record was preserved when, in the last minute, Lukas Podolski stabbed home from a few feet after the mother of all goalmouth scrambles.

    Group 5

    Armenia 1-2 Spain
    Bosnia 2-5 Spain

    Ten out of ten for the reigning European champions after two straightforward wins in Eastern Europe. Cesc Fabregas put Spain in front in Yerevan just after the half hour. A lovely lofted pass - think a 9-iron approach to the green - from Xavi fell right into the Arsenal man's path and he flicked it over the keeper with the outside of the right boot. Nice. The Armenians were level quarter of an hour after the break, Robert Arzumanyan heading in a deep free-kick at the back post, but Juan Mata quickly restored the lead from the penalty spot.
    Two late, late goals from Bosnia took the edge off the scoreline a little, but Spain belted them out of it, running into a 5-0 lead before Wolfsburg pair Edin Dzeko - work the angles and fire it in off a defender and the back post - and Zvjezdan Misimovic - daisy-cutting 20-yard volley - reduced the deficit. The damage had already been done. Two in a minute around the quarter hour broke the backs of the Bosnians, Gérard Piqué heading in a free-kick for the opener with David Silva slotting one through the keeper's legs shortly after. Early in the second half, Alvaro Negredo got two in five minutes, the first a shot on the turn from 12 yards, the second a tap-in at the back post. Juan Mata made it five, latching on to a superb diagonal through ball to slide it home.

    Group 7

    France 5-0 Faroe Islands
    France 3-1 Austria

    France rounded off one of their worst qualifying campaigns of the last twenty years with two wins that paper over a lot of cracks and ensure a play-off place. The defeat of the Faroes was expected with André-Pierre Gignac's double opening the scoring. His first was a shot on the turn from just about right on the penalty spot, the second slightly more spectacular. Taking the ball down on his chest just inside the Faroes half, he surged past four defenders and fired low across goal and inside the far post. And that was game over effectively, though further goals followed after the break. William Gallas headed in a deep, deflected cross, Karim Benzema waltzed through some lacklustre defending for the fourth and Nicolas Anelka tapped in from about a foot as the defence failed to clear.
    That win ensured second place meaning their defeat of Austria was just for fun. Austria failed to deal with a corner allowing Benzema to fling himself full length to open the scoring with a diving header and Thierry Henry fired in a penalty before Austria got one back through Marc Janko who profited from a rare Hugo Lloris mistake. But there wasn't to be an upset as Gignac scored another toaster, checking inside off the left wing and cracking a shot from the corner of the box into the top corner of the net.
    They're not out of the woods yet and have that play-off next month to negotiate.

    Group 8

    Ireland 2-2 Italy
    Italy 3-2 Cyprus

    The Azzurri has Alberto Gilardino to thank for seeing them to an unbeaten campaign and a first-placed finish. One late goal in Ireland rescued a point and three more spared a fair number of blushes against Cyrpus. Ireland led twice at Croke Park, Glenn Whelan giving them a great start firing in from a nicely worked free-kick routine and Sean St Ledger restoring the lead four minutes from time after Mauro Camoranesi headed in a first half equaliser. In stoppage time, Vincenzo Iaquinta squared it across the box for Gilardino to wrong-foot Shay Given and ensure Italy finished top with Ireland's point enough for second.
    Cyprus went two up in Italy in the final game and held that lead until twelve minutes from the end before more Gilardino blush-saving. Giannis Okkas had given the Italians some warning, firing inches over before he slotted one past Federico Marchetti just eleven minutes in. Chrysis Michael doubled the lead just after the break, volleying a slack back header and so it looked like it would stay until Gilardino finally got into the game. Twelve minutes from the end, he flicked Camoranesi's cross across goal and inside the far post and, two minutes later, equalised when poor defending allowed him to ghost in at the near post and shin it in. Into stoppages and he popped up in the right place again to bundle the ball over the line as the Cypriot defence fell about like Keystone Kops.

    The Dutch were through already, of course, and Italy, Spain and Germany join them. Portugal and France face play-offs next month while Poland are out.

    Friday, 9 October 2009

    Who needs what?

    International week this week and only a handful of our teams are looking good for a spell in South Africa next summer. The Dutch, who have completed their campaign, and the Spanish are already there and Italy can start booking hotels with confidence. Germany, France and Portugal's hopes are in the balance while Poland are going nowhere.

    Russia v Germany
    Armenia v Spain
    Czech Republic v Poland
    France v Faroe Islands
    Republic of Ireland v Italy
    Portugal v Hungary

    Germany v Finland
    Bosnia v Spain
    France v Austria
    Italy v Cyprus
    Poland v Slovakia
    Portugal v Malta

    France are in the merde. An automatic place looks beyond them - they're four points adrift of Serbia - and they're without several key players for this week's games. Yoann Gourcuff, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribéry are all injured which robs them of pretty much all creativity. Raymond Domenech was, rightly, criticised for playing two holding midfielders in games Les Bleus simply had to win. In the build-up to these latest matches, he's been more often quoted about his ambitions in the world of poker than he has about football. He comes across as a man who knows he'll have plenty of spare time on his hands in a few weeks time. France ought to beat Austria and the Faroes this week, but a play-off place is all that's at stake. Win or lose that, they still need a change of direction at the top. Domenech must go and even two eye-catching performances this week will not change that, regardless of the fact that his teams simply don't do eye-catching. The one hope is that Serbia are under threat of points deductions if there's any more bother at their games. It would sum up a terrible campaign if France were to go through by default.

    Spain round off a successful campaign with a tour round Eastern Europe. They could be without Fernando Torres as well as David Villa - Torres limped out of training - but still have way too much firepower to end the campaign with anything other than a big, fat duck egg in the L column on the table.

    Poland are out, as is Leo Beenhakker already, and finish with two really tough fixtures. The Czechs haven't impressed, but are still a far better side than Poland while Slovakia are hot favourites to win the group and the game against Poland on Wednesday could easily be their coronation. A miserable end to a miserable campaign fought with all the style and panache of Rudy Giuliani's US presidential attempt. That is to say, none at all.

    Saturday's game in Moscow will all but determine the outcome of Group 4 where Russia are a point behind the visitors, Germany. The loser will go to the play-offs with both sides having relatively straightforward fixtures on Wednesday, moreso Russia. On the artificial surface in the Luzhniki, a stumbling German side - two practice games against Mainz reserves failed to muster a goal - look vulnerable. Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski and Miro Klose are - how to put this gently - not troubling the scorers a great deal this season. Just what is it about Bayern that turns competent forwards into shambling relics of their former selves? The game is live in the UK on ESPN and it promises plenty of tension if nothing else.

    Portugal are hoping for a minor miracle. Malta are easy-beats - they've not scored in the entire campaign as yet - but Hungary are anything but, despite fading from the dizzy heights after the last round of matches. Even with six points, Denmark only need a point to seal qualification. If Denmark get that point against Sweden, then the Swedes only have to beat Albania at home to secure second place and that play-off spot. So Portugal are relying on Denmark to do them a big, big favour. As if the Denmark v Sweden game needed anything else placing on it.

    Marcello Lippi is under pressure, so he's done what he did in club football for so long - pick a Juventus side. Ignoring pressure to pick the in-form Antonio Cassano, he's stuck with what he knows and it'll be Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta up top, though both have patchy recent records in the Azzurri shirt. Seven Juve players are in line for a start at Croke Park where a draw will see Italy to qualification. They then finish at home to Cyprus, but the Italian media are looking for a sign that they're still a force. They will qualify top of the group, but how they do it is almost as important. They're without Fabio Cannavaro for the Ireland game due to suspension, but will he be around for the finals? More on that later.

    Elsewhere on Saturday, there's that Denmark v Sweden crunch clash with more than just local bragging rights at stake and it's Slovakia v Slovenia in a mighty tussle in Group 3.

    Tuesday, 6 October 2009

    Serie A Round 7: Inter go top

    Atalanta 1 AC Milan 1
    Bologna 1 Genoa 3
    Cagliari 1 Chievo 2
    Fiorentina 0 Lazio 0
    Palermo 2 Juventus 0
    Roma 2 Napoli 1
    Sampdoria 1 Parma 1
    Siena 0 Livorno 0
    Bari 0 Catania 0
    Inter Milan 2 Udinese 1

    Wesley Sneijder could yet prove to be Jose Mourinho's canniest acquisition as manager. The Dutchman, surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, popped up to find the winner at home to Udinese, and in doing so put his team top of Serie A on goal difference after Sampdoria were held at home by Parma. Samp have impressed in the early stages but are likely to run out of puff, particularly if something untoward should happen to either Antonio Cassano or Giampaolo Pazzini. Still, it gives a healthy complexion to the title race in these early stages, particularly as AC Milan continue to misfire. This week, beleagured Leonardo could only watch on as Ronaldinho scrambled home an equaliser at second-bottom Atalanta, who had earlier gone ahead through Simone Tribocchi. It is a case of the chickens coming home to roost for Adriano Galliani & co; no replacement for Kaka, Ronaldinho a shadow of his former self and the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar still to find their feet. Plus the rest of the team are old. Really Old.

    Juventus lost for a second week in a row - not something that happens very often - losing away at a very well-drilled and talented Palermo team, who scored through the reliable South American duo of Edison Cavani and Fabio Simplicio. Fiorentina missed out on the chance to build on their midweek Champions League success and leapfrog the Gobbini after being held at home by Lazio. My parents were in Florence last week, and said it was lovely. I just thought I'd mention that.

    Genoa's 3-1 win at Bologna, courtesy of goals from Kharja, Sculli and Alberto Zapater (a very shrewd signing) keeps them fifth, with Chievo in sixth after veteran midfielder Michele Marcolini scored twice to down Cagliari. Roma's gradual recovery under Euroballs favourite Claudio Rainieri continues, as Francesco Totti scored twice, nullifying Ezequiel Lavezzi's opener, at home to Napoli. In doing so he heaped pressure on Roberto Donadoni, who, following some odd comments from club president Aurelio Di Laurentis, must surely have his suitcases and cardboard boxes at the ready for the receipt of his P45. Livorno and Catania remain in the bottom three after two pairs of 0-0 draws.

    La Liga Round 6 Review: Sevilla overcome El Real

    Getafe 2 Osasuna 1
    Racing Santander 0 Valencia 1
    Sevilla 2 Real Madrid 1
    Sporting Gijon 4 Mallorca 1
    Valladolid 2 Athletic Bilbao 2
    Villarreal 0 Espanyol 0
    Xerez 1 Malaga 1
    Atletico Madrid 2 Real Zaragoza 1
    Barcelona 1 Almeria 0
    Tenerife 0 Deportivo La Coruna 1

    So, this was the weekend the juggernaut was halted - for now. Manuel Pellegrini looked on perplexed as, without both Lassana Diarra and Cristiano Ronaldo, his stratospherically expensive side fell to a 2-1 defeat at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. This was despite the best efforts of Iker Casillas, who pulled off several great saves, including one where, after a Navas square pass was hit across the six yard box, he moved from one post to the other to block Diego Capel's tap-in. Outstanding. Nevertheless, he could do little about the two goals, from Renato and Jesus Navas. Pepe got a goal in between, but Sevilla dominated and move level on points with the Galacticos. Its something of a triumph for Manolo Jiminez, whose abilities continue to be questioned. In partnership with the (usually) reliable Monchi, he has quietly assembled quite a side, but whether they have the depth to keep up with the Big Two is open to question.

    Barcelona were far from convincing at home to Almeria, and have Pedro to thank for his lovely solo goal to get past Hugo Sanchez's stubborn outfit. Almeria have scored just 5 from 6 matches, showing just how much the departure of Alvaro Negredo has hurt them. Deportivo move into fourth after a narrow victory over Tenerife, thanks to a solitary Colotto strike; Valencia leapfrog Mallorca after a win at Racing. Racing look dirt poor this season, particularly up front, and it was somewhat fitting that big Nikola Zigic, who scored so many goals in 1 1/2 seasons in Cantabria, should be the one to bring about their downfall here. Mallorca were hammered at Sporting Gijon, who looked a far more solid act on last season.

    It was all about one (very young) man at Valladolid, where Iker Muniain, Athletic Bilbao's 16-year-old sensation, grabbed a 77th minute equaliser - and in the process becoming the youngest ever scorer in a top flight Spanish match. He looks, putting it mildly, a fair player. Getafe made heavy weather of defeating a below-par Osasuna, former Valladolid winger Pedro Leon eventually getting the winner. Things just get worse and worse for Ernesto Valverde at Villarreal - he was unable to break down his former charges Espanyol at the Madrigal on saturday evening, meaning his new club are 6 matches without a win and only kept off the bottom by lonely Xerex, who finally got their first goal of the season during a 1-1 draw with Malaga. Elsewhere Zaragoza were obviously in a charitable mood, giving Atletico Madrid their first league win of the season at the Calderon, which allows Abel Resino a stay of execution for, ooh, I'd say about a week.

    David Villa, with 6 goals, remains the top scorer at this early stage.

    Apologies for the intermission

    Our regular reader(s) may well have noticed an absence of news from the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese leagues for the last four weeks or so. This is down to me moving house to That London and temporarily living in an archaic Life On Mars-style flat which only had internet Monday-Friday 8-6 - i.e. when I'm at work. Baffling.

    Happily I have now moved again, back into the 21st century, so will now endeavour to bring you updates from now on.

    Monday, 5 October 2009

    St Etienne spring major shock: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    The term 'one-man team' is a harsh one to throw about, but when Yoann Gourcuff is absent for Bordeaux and they lose to strugglers St Etienne it's an accusation that gains validity. Les Verts went ahead early through Augusto Fernandez and Aruajo Ilan made it two before the break. Jussie hit back with a penalty, but Dimitri Payet added a third for Alain Perrin's side in stoppage time to seal a great win against a lacklustre Bordeaux, the first defeat of the season for Les Girondins. That leaves Lyon top of the tree after they beat Lens. Sidney Govou is enjoying something of an Indian summer at this late stage of his career and put his side ahead early on. They rode their luck at times and were indebted to Yohan Demont who failed from 12 yards to level matters and Kim Kallstrom sealed it in the second half. Marseille lost ground too, surprisingly beaten at home by Monaco. Didier Deschamps was left to bemoan a lack of confidence after Nene and Park Chu-Young gave the Monagasques a two goal lead with just a late Mamadou Niang consolation coming back. The season's surprise package Montpellier move up into third place after another win, seeing off a greatly improved performance from bottom club Grenoble. Victor Montano put the south coast side ahead and Nenad Dzodic made it two after less than quarter of an hour. Danijel Ljuboja pulled one back just after the break, but Dzodic hit straight back with his second. Nicolas Dieuze got another one back for Grenoble, but too late to affect the outcome.

    Grenoble therefore remain on no points at the bottom of the table, fully seven points adrift of Le Mans who lost at Sochaux. They had Guillaume Loriot sent off and, though Vaclav Sverkos missed the resulting penalty, Marvin Martin won it for Sochaux twelve minutes from time. Nice, Lens, Boulogne and Toulouse all lit just one point further up and, of those, only Nice managed a win coming from two down to beat Valenciennes. Mamadou Siassa's penalty and Carlos Sanchez gave VA the lead before Chaouki Ben Saada pulled one back. VA's Renaud Cohade was sent off and, within five minutes, Nice were in front through Olivier Echouafni and Didier Ducourtioux's own goal. Lille came from behind twice to beat Boulogne whose good start to the season has tailed off dramatically. Bira Dembele put Boulogne ahead only for Gervinho to reply. Jeremy Blayac restored the lead, but a quick double from Pierre-Alain Frau sent Lille on the long trip home with all three points. Toulouse are having a miserable season and Olivier Monterubbio's last minute penalty snatched a precious point from their grasp.

    Two early goals saw PSG and Nancy share the points at Parc des Princes. Youssuf Hadji handed the visitors the lead on 14 minutes, but just four minutes later, Stéphane Sessegnon equalised and so it remained. Carlos Bocanegra was sent off for Rennes quarter of an hour into their game against Auxerre and Benoit Pedretti fired in the free-kick for the goal which won it.

    Hertha their own worst enemies: Bundesliga reviews

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

    The last thing you need when you find yourself rock bottom is a suicidal goalkeeper. No, scratch that. The second last thing you need is a suicidal goalkeeper. The last thing you need is two of them. Friedhelm Funkel (great name) took over from the sacked Lucien Favre just 24 hours before the game against Hamburg kicked off and it was all going swimmingly when Arne Friedrich got on the end of Raffael's neat flick in the ninth minute, but then the calamity started. Firstly, Kaka headed past starting keeper Timo Ochs before he was replaced by Sascha Burchert due to injury. The 18-year old handed Hamburg their other two goals with some spectacular brain fartery. Twice, he came out to clear with diving headers. Twice, the ball found itself at the feet of a Hamburg player. Twice, that Hamburg player put it away as Burchert was twice slow to his feet and left completely stranded. David Jarolim was the recipient of the first gift and the always outstanding Ze Roberto the second. Hertha are a mess while Hamburg continue to lead.

    Leverkusen remain on Hamburg's heels after another sizeable win, 4-0 over Nurnberg. Toni Kroos got them going just two minutes in and it was three by half time through Simon Rolfes' penalty and Eren Derdiyok. Stefan Kiessling wrapped it up after the break. Bayern, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim all lost ground on the leaders. Bayern were held to a goalless draw by Cologne while cracks are beginning to appear in Wolfsburg's make-up, Grafite publicly criticising his boss Armin Veh after he was taken off early in the second half. They were a goal down to Bochum - Vahid Hashemian with the goal - midway through the second half when Shinji Ono was sent off, leaving Bochum to hang on with ten men. Edin Dzeko grabbed an equaliser for the champions. Hoffenheim went down to Mainz, early goals from Andreas Ivanschitz and Aristide Bancé giving the promoted side the advantage and the Villagers couldn't muster a response until Andreas Ibertsberger struck three minutes from time. Schalke continue to grind out unimpressive victories and did so again over Eintracht. Gerald Asamoah came off the bench to give them a lead before Pirmin Schwegler was sent off for the Frankfurters. A late penalty from Jefferson Farfan made it safe.

    Hannover were impressive in sticking five past Freiburg who had been going well. Sofian Chahed and Arnold Bruggink gave Hannover an early two-goal lead, but Ivica Banovic pulled one back before the break. Karim Haggui restored the advantage before Julian Schuster pulled one back late on, setting up a grandstand finish. However, Hannover responded brilliantly with Didier Ya Konan and Sergio Pinto adding some polish to the scoreline with ever later strikes. Lucas Barrios got the only goal of the game as Dortmund came away from Gladbach with the points and Bremen added to Stuttgart's misery with a two-goal win, Claudio Pizarro and Aaron Hunt the scorers.

    League beginning to split: Eredivisie reviews

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

    Draws for Ajax and PSV gave Twente the chance to forge ahead on their own with a win over local rivals Heracles. The Almelo side gave Steve McClaren's men a mighty scare when Everton put Heracles ahead after just nine minutes. Bryan Ruiz levelled after half an hour and the second half belonged to Twente and two goals in two minutes - from Blaise N'Kufo and Kenneth Perez - sealed the win that sent Twente clear. PSV were disappointing against Utrecht and a fairly miserable 0-0 was only marked by the late dismissal of Balazs Dzsudzsak. Ajax also finished with ten men, Urby Emanuelson sent off late on as they came from behind to draw with Roda. Luis Suarez's penalty put Ajax in front, but Arnaud Djum levelled within a minute and Boldiszar Bodor gave the Limburgers the lead ten minutes into the second half. Suarez squared it off again before Emanuelson's indiscretion. Feyenoord were winners again, easily seeing off bottom club Waalwijk. Andwele Slory gave the Rotterdammers a half time lead and an own goal from Tony Varela made it two before Gerogino Wijnaldum wrapped it up late on. AZ got back to winning ways with an inconvincing display at home to NAC. Jeremain Lens got the winner for Ronald Koeman's side - a side low on confidence at the moment.

    That leaves the top six with a bit of a buffer back to the next nine clubs, with only Waalwijk adrift and draws were the order of the day. Den Haag needed an own goal from Groningen's Gibril Sankoh to snatch a point after Niclas Pedersen had put the visitors ahead and NEC wasted a lead in Tilburg, Erton Fejzullahu giving the Nijmegen side the lead before Said Boutahar's equaliser. Sandro Calabro gave VVV an 88th minute lead away to Heerenveen, but Michal Papadopoulos equalised in stoppage time to share the spoils. Vitesse managed a win which sent them soaring up the table, Lasse Nilsson and a late one from Wijlan Pluim enough to see off Sparta and lift Vitesse into seventh.

    Friday, 2 October 2009

    Ligue 1 round 8

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

    Bordeaux go to St Etienne this week without Yoann Gourcuff who limped out of the 1-0 win over Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League in midweek. This is a major blow to their hopes as everything goes through him and the Brazilian Fernando will replace him. Better news comes as Fernando Cavenaghi is almost back to full fitness and the Argentine's goals will aid their championship push. Even with no Gourcuff, St Etienne are second favourites on their own turf. Lyon go to Lens as league leaders and on the back of a 4-0 win in Europe and in great domestic form, but Lens are always tough opponents. Even so, Lyon are hot favourites. Marseille were walloped in Madrid in midweek and get back to it at home to inconsistent Monaco. It's just impossible to tell which Monaco will show up.

    Mismatch of the week sees fourth-placed Montpellier go to rock bottom Grenoble who are still seeking their first point of the season. Even goals would be nice - they've scored just two so far. It's been a dream start for the south coast side and it should continue here. Boulogne also started well following promotion, but they've slipped down and face Lille who are going in the opposite direction and won 5-1 in Prague in the week, three of those coming in the last five minutes. That could be just the spark they were seeking as they emerge from a miserable start to the season. Toulouse were also in European action - a 2-2 draw with Club Brugge - in the week and they remain entrenched in mid-table. Lorient are just on the fringes of the leading pack and they're the visitors to Les Violets this weekend. PSG and Rennes are both in there as well and both are at home, to Nancy and Auxerre respectively. Without their talisman Ireneusz Jelen, sent off last week and therefore suspended, Auxerre will struggle while the Parisians should be too strong for the repidly fading Nancy.

    Sochaux and Nice remain down among the dead men - by dead men, I mean Grenoble - and they both have home matches as they seek to pull away from danger. Nice take on Valenciennes which is never an easy task while Sochaux face fellow strugglers Le Mans and that is a huge game, even at this stage of the season.

    Thursday, 1 October 2009

    Bundesliga round 8

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

    It's tough to pick a game of the week here, but there are two complete and utter mismatches of the week. Cologne going to Munich to take on Bayern will not be pretty for Billy Goats fans, although the infighting has begun among Louis van Gaal's troops. Mario Gomez is unhappy about not getting a game in the first team and Luca Toni has said he won't play in the reserves for much longer despite being on the outer. They should still batter a poor Cologne side. The other one sees the top club go to the bottom club. Hertha, unsurprisingly, dispensed of the services of Lucien Favre on Monday following their sixth straight defeat. There's no new man in charge as yet, though Lothar Matthaus has emerged as an early favourite. It's a caretaker instead, Karsten Heine, who prepares the team for Hamburg's visit. Good luck. He'll need it.

    Stuttgart were poor in Europe in midweek, drawing with Unirea in Romania. They face Bremen who were impressive in the Europa League against Athletic but remain inconsistent. Wolfsburg were very good in defeat against Manchester United and face a leisurely trip to Bochum. Schalke are still up there, defying if not the critics then certainly the accountants, and face Eintracht at the VeltinsArena in a game they ought to be winning. Schalke's big rivals Dortmund are in the Borussia derby as they go to face Gladbach this week. Leverkusen should maintain their lofty position as they are at home to Nurnberg.

    A sleeper for game of the week sees Hoffenheim travel to Mainz. The Villagers are going goal crazy all of a sudden and have leapt up the league while Mainz are hanging on in there after a run of impressive results. Hannover against Freiburg also promises goals with the latter in decent form and Hannover always capable.

    Eredivisie round 9

    NEC 1-1 Utrecht

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

    It's derby time on the German border when Twente make the short trip from Enschede to Almelo to take on Heracles. Twente are playing by far the better football and will be confident of taking the points and they need them to maintain their position at the sharp end. They're currently level at the top with PSV who go to Utrecht who blew the chance to go within two points of the Eindhoveners on Wednesday when they blew a lead in Nijmegen to end level. Ajax will no doubt add another tranche of goals in the 'for' column in Kerkrade while Waalwijk's joy at getting off the mark looks like ending quickly when they go to De Kuip.

    AZ have slipped right off the pace and a disappointing home draw with Standard Liége in midweek won't have helped the mood in Alkmaar. NAC aren't a great side, but the way AZ are going, they'll fancy an upset. Elsewhere, things look bleak. VVV can get back to winning ways at Heerenveen, but the games between Vitesse and Sparta, Den Haag and Groningen and Willem II against NEC will only interest their respective fans. Nothing for the neutral there.