Headlines

  • Wednesday, 8 December 2010

    Brazil

    Nation whose footballers are preternaturally disposed to attacking and sod the consequences. Full-backs and centre-backs are often to be found as the most advanced players on the field while goalkeepers tend to be onlookers at best, flap merchants at worst.
    Five-time World Cup winners, generally the most loved side in the world and yet Lucas, who is clearly an impostor, still gets a game for them.

    Defenders

    Players specifically deployed to stop the opposition getting shots in on goal.
    In Brazil, defenders are generally to be found further up the pitch than attackers as nobody in Brazil wants to defend. If a lad comes home from school and says "Dad, I want to be a defender", the response is generally along the lines of "I have no son".

    Sunday, 5 December 2010

    Premier League

    Self-proclaimed best league in the world and if you keep telling yourself that, you'll start to believe it too.

    Wednesday, 1 December 2010

    Monday, 29 November 2010

    Vidiprinter

    Superceded method of informing punters of final scores, as seen on erstwhile BBC flagship Grandstand. You know your team had copped a right gubbing if the vidiprinter spelled out the number of goals you'd conceded, e.g. Amazing Rovers 7 (SEVEN), Shitbox Town 0.

    Xavi

    Spanish midfielder who, it is rumoured, once misplaced a pass. Unfortunately, no documentary evidence for this exists, so we must conclude that it never happened.

    Valdes, Victor

    Spanish flap merchant. Plays for Barcelona where he has the accolade of being the best paid football spectator in the world.

    Sherwood, Tim

    Former Blackburn and Spurs midfielder about whom nobody has (to date) made a film.

    Sunday, 28 November 2010

    Eredivisie

    Dutch top flight. Hegemony. Since it's formation in 1956, Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV have won all bar three championships (to end of 2010). AZ won it in 1981 and 2009, FC Twente in 2010.

    Athletic Bilbao

    Basque club that still adheres to a Basques-only policy, even if it has been watered down to the point where they'll bus in promising youngsters at an early age and claim they're Basque on residency grounds. Basically, the more hardcore footballing version of Yorkshire CCC. One overseas player* has played for the club, French Basque Bixente Lizarazu. They were one of the few clubs to eschew shirt sponsorship until financial pressures led to them taking €2m in 2008 for a three-year deal from an oil company. One of only three clubs never relegated from the Spanish top flight (see also Barcelona and Real Madrid).
    Forced to change the name to Atlético under Franco as non-Spanish language was suppressed, but now only referred to as that by idiots.

    * - Athletic changed what they meant by Basque in the early 2000s and so long as you lived in the area from a young age, that was deemed OK. Hence they bussed in decent talent to the San Mamés academy from all around and they now have Venezuelan centre-half Fernando Amorebieta on the books.

    Zidane, Zinedine

    Ridiculously talented Frenchman. Scored twice in the 1998 World Cup final, once in the 2006 final in which he was also sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi. Hey, we've all wanted to do it.
    Roy Hodgson wanted to sign a young Zidane for Blackburn, but was turned down by his chairman Jack Walker with the excuse "we've got Tim Sherwood". Tim Sherwood never had a film made of him. Zidane has.

    Naive

    Lazy punditry term descriptive of all African defenders and goalkeepers.

    Wednesday, 24 November 2010

    Orange

    1. Colour of the ball to be used in snowy conditions. Experiment to use an orange ball throughout the 2010/11 FA Cup was abandoned in the first round replays after it was clear that, unless it was snowing, orange balls are incredibly hard to see.

    2. Colour of the Dutch national team's shirts, hence the nickname 'Oranje'. Fans are also easily identifiable by a proliferation of orange outerwear, whether it's snowing or not.

    3. Traditional foodstuff taken on board at half-time, hence the interval also being known as 'oranges'. Rodney Marsh's England career was (allegedly) cut short when Alf Ramsay told him to give his all for 45 minutes 'because I'm going to pull you off at half time'. Marsh's fateful response: 'Fucking hell boss. All we get at [Manchester] City is a cup of tea and an orange'.

    Moreton-in-the-Marsh

    Town in which Newport County were forced to play home games by the FAW after reforming. Moreton is a mere 80 miles from Newport.

    Ipswich Town

    Former East Anglian powerhouse who rose to prominence under the stewardship of Bobby Robson. Now known as Sunderland Reserves.

    Wales

    Principality whose elite footballing talent all suddenly get colds when they hear the words 'international friendly'. See also Giggs, Ryan.

    Sunday, 21 November 2010

    Total Football

    The reason people love the Dutch. Invented by Rinus Michels and played by the likes of Johan Cruyff, Jan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Ruud Krol, the van de Kerkhof brothers, Total Football is the sort of liberal, hippy nonsense only 1970s Holland could have produced. 'Position' was merely the place you found yourself in at any given time rather than your exact role in life and players moved freely around the field, confusing the bejaysus out of the opposition. Jeez, they were good and archive footage will still get football purists salivating, but they never translated this revolutionary style of play - with markers utterly clueless as to whom to pick up - into trophies, losing both the 1974 and '78 World Cup finals.

    The memory of those much-loved Dutch sides has now been crapped all over by the antics of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong.

    van Basten, Marco

    Prolific Dutch striker whose career was cut short by serious knee injury. Essentially finished by the age of 24, but will at least be forever remembered for that volley in the 1988 European Championship final. Oh what might have been.

    van Bommel, Mark

    The most cynical, fouling git the world has ever seen. When not booting opponents in the air, raking his studs down their thighs or having little digs off the ball, he spends his time trying to referee the game.

    The antithesis of Dutch football.

    Newcastle United

    Club based in north-eastern England that hasn't won anything since God was a lad. There's a contractual obligation that says whenever they're on TV, there has to be at least five close-ups of shirtless fat bloke with NUFC tattoos about his person.

    Sky

    1. Place where ball spends most of the time when Blackburn are playing.

    2. English football's paymaster general. Broadcaster which propagates the myth that football began in 1992 and that Wimbledon and Milton Keynes are the same football club.

    Shearer, Alan

    One-time prolific goal scorer turned unfeasibly dull pundit. Famously celebrated Premiership win with Blackburn by creosoting a fence. Doesn't know who Hatem Ben Arfa is.

    X-rated

    Tabloidese for a horror tackle. See also Henry, Karl.

    Saturday, 13 November 2010

    Headbutt

    The best way to end your involvement in a World Cup final and, indeed, professional football as a whole. See also Zidane, Zinedine.

    Wolf, Wolfgang

    German manager and former Kaiserslautern defender who, in a classic case of nominative determinism, had his best spell in management with Wolfsburg.

    Linesman

    Match official who runs the line, more latterly known as assistant referee. The high point of a linesman's weekend is picking up his £50 plus expenses after being covered in phlegm by players on six-figure sums per week who bawl at the merry flag waver as they reckon they should have had a throw-in.

    Own goal

    The act of putting the ball into your own net. See also Sinclair, Frank and Traore, Djimi.

    Young Boys

    Sniggersome Berne-based side who used to play in the equally amusing Wankdorf stadium. Sadly, that ground has now been redeveloped into the Stade de Suisse, but the completion of works did lead to the immortal headline 'Young Boys in Wankdorf erection relief'. Tee hee hee indeed.

    Winger

    Player who operates in wide areas. The term is seemingly impossible to use without the prefix 'tricky'.

    Quiet word

    What referees have with big name players when they really ought to be booking them.

    Chamakh, Marouane

    Moroccan striker who would be an absolute world beater if he scored as many goals as come-and-get-me pleas he issues.

    Bendtner, Nicklas

    Goal-shy Danish striker. Neither as good nor as indispensable as he thinks he is.

    Forlan, Diego

    Prolific Uruguayan striker who has scored an absolute truckload of goals wherever he's been. That is excepting an unhappy spell at Manchester United which leads the mainstream British media to conclude that he's rubbish. They are wrong.

    Sunday, 7 November 2010

    World Cup

    Quadrennial jamboree of rigged elections, ticket touting, displacement of natives, suspect building contracts, white elephant stadia with a footballing theme.

    Uruguay

    Small, South American nation sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil capable of combining sublime football with extreme violence. Won two of the first four World Cups, the last of those in 1950. Don't keep crapping on about it like the English though.

    England

    Won something once, not that anyone keeps harping on about it some 40-odd years later.

    Juventus

    Turin-based Serie A side reliant on OAPs (see also del Piero, Alessandro) and floppy, blonde haired Eastern Europeans (see also Nedved, Pavel and Krasic, Milos).
    Owned by Fiat and about as reliable. Nicknamed the Old Lady. Big massive cheats (see also Calciopoli)

    Possibly the most mispronounced football club name in history (see also Keegan, Kevin)

    Middlesbrough

    Experiment to see just how well the Old Firm would do if accepted into the English leagues.

    ASBO

    Pre-requisite for any player wishing to join Newcastle United.

    Since superceded by a French passport.

    Attackers

    Players deployed with the specific intention of putting the round, bally thing in the back of the white, netty thing. Opinion is divided on whether such players are, strictly speaking, necessary: Craig Levein and Alain Casanova think they're not, everyone else thinks they are.

    Plea, Come and get me

    Announcement issued by agent of a player agitating for a move away from his current club. See also Chamakh, Marouane.

    Ridsdale, Peter

    Inventor of a new branch of economics, Ridsdalian Economic Theory, which involves selling your windows in order to pay the window cleaner.

    Barry, Gareth

    Formerly decent midfielder now morphed into England's answer to Mark van Bommel.

    Knees

    1. Important joints which are generally considered vital for players of the beautiful game but lack of which never hindered Andy Booth or John Carew. Owen Hargreaves has knees made of biscuits.

    2. What Mark van Bommel will thump in the back of your thigh early doors to 'let you know he's there'.

    Redknapp, Harry

    1. Britain's leading Droopy impersonator.

    2. Man seen as some to be the answer to all of English football's woes, those people mainly being his son and his nephew.

    3. Serial wrecker of football clubs. One could be counted as unfortunate. Two, unlucky. But four? See also AFC Bournemouth, West Ham, Portsmouth, Southampton.

    Webb, Howard

    Referee, policeman, Yorkshireman. Only referee in the world that thinks kicking someone in the heart warrants only a caution. See de Jong, Nigel.

    Gil, Jésus

    Late president of Atlético Madrid. Sacked more managers than you've had hot breakfasts. As you can't defame the dead, it's safe here to call him a money laundering crook with an ego the size of a large central African republic.

    Tactics Truck

    The natural habitat of crap pundits like Andy Townsend.

    Flap merchant

    Term descriptive of goalkeepers who like to wave at crosses as they sail over their head. Formerly the reserve of South Americans, but now largely applicable to Eastern Europeans. See also Gomes, Heurelho; Kuszczak, Tomas.

    Wenger, Arsene

    Successful manager of Arsenal FC, who suffers from a debilitating blindness during matches, particularly if one of his players dives to win a penalty or gets sent off for a two-footed lunge. Frequently accuses teams that beat him of being overly physical, to which everyone else's response is 'just bloody deal with it then'

    Mido

    Athletic and skillful, Egyptian striker Mido should be a top player. And he is, when he fancies it. Unfortunately he is also the owner of a colossal ego, which at least partly explains the reason why, at age 27, he is back for his second spell at Ajax, his breakthrough club nine years ago, and his tenth different club overall. Has fallen out with practically every club he's ever worked with - destined to enter the lexicon as a bigheaded prima donna: "Oh no Arsene, I wouldn't go near him - he's a bit Mido"

    Ibrahimovic, Zlatan

    Tall Swedish striker currently on loan at AC Milan from Barcelona, who has a propensity to talk out of turn and fall out with coaches. Moved to Barcelona from Internazionale in the summer of 2009 in a deal with took Samuel Eto'o (and forty million quid) in the opposite direction, and then promptly decided his Big Break wasn't worth the effort and agitated for a move back to Italy. Clearly not as highly thought of by the top coaches (Guardiola, Capello, Mourinho) as he clearly is by himself, he appears destined to stand out as a player who never quite delivered on his potential, particularly in big games. Also one of the laziest bastards ever to step onto a football pitch.

    Domenech, Raymond

    Clueless ex-coach of the France national side, whose reign was characterised by bitter infighting within the team and culminated in the squad effectively going on strike during the 2010 World Cup, led by captain Patrice Evra. Unsurprisingly he left soon afterwards, and his combination of eccentric behaviour, baffling team selections and awful quality of football means most right-thinking club boards would sooner employ Geert Wilders as their next manager before him.

    Zamparini, Mauricio

    Barmy owner of Serie A team Palermo, who goes through managers like pairs of primark trainers (although recently has curtailed this habit, perhaps he's on some sort of anti-depressant) and also once threatened to cut off his players' testicles and serve it to them as a salad garnish if they failed to win a match. Has frequently been accused of mafia links although no proof has ever been produced. Nevertheless, appears to have brought the best out of the Sicilian club which has one of the better scouting networks in the league, particularly in South America.

    De Jong, Nigel

    Dutch black belt in Karate and part-time Manchester City footballer. Enjoys kicking people. In the heart.

    Sunday, 31 October 2010

    Chimbondas

    The type of glove worn by outfield players, as named after Guadeloupe-born French full-back Pascal Chimbonda who wears such articles even in the middle of August.

    An update

    You've noticed, of course, the lack of action on here lately. That's because much the work done here is duplicated on the frankly wonderful In Bed With Maradona. I suggest you become a regular reader if you're not already. This means we're putting Euroballs into cold storage for now, perhaps to try and do something a bit different with it in the not too distant future. In the meantime, sister site CONMEBalls is still in full swing and you can follow the authors on here on Twitter, @dobsonjp, @cjplume and @MatthewAHorton.

    Wednesday, 6 October 2010

    Mainz equal record, but Dortmund hang on: Bundesliga reviews

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

    Mainz remain top of the Bundesliga after beating Hoffenheim and also equal the record for consecutive wins at the start of a season. They're seven from seven now and stay three points clear of Dortmund in second, the pair of them already well clear of the pack. Lewis Holtby was in superb form once again and threaded a through ball for Adam Szalai to run onto in the second minute. He was onside, but Sami Allagui wasn't when the ball was played and the Hoffenheim defence stood still waiting for a flag. It didn't come and Szalai squared for his strike partner, back onside by this point, to sidefoot home. The Villagers were level late in the first half after Mainz uncharacteristically lost possession in centre field, Gustavo Dias going on a long run before playing Demba Ba in to level. With Jogi Low looking on, it wasn't long before Mainz were back in front, a looped ball forward for Szalai to run onto and finish. Ten minutes later, Holtby - he still qualifies for England, y'know - squared into the Hoffenheim box only for Dias to divert the ball in at the near post for 3-1. Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back with a stunning free-kick five minutes later, but any hope of a Hoffenheim comeback was thwarted when Josip Simunic pulled Holtby down in the box and, as last man, was sent off. Andre Schurrle put the penalty in the top corner and that was that. Dortmund stay behind after beating Bayern for whom Mario Gomez is morphing into the new Luca Toni. Three chances in the first half from a combined total of less than twelve yards were all spurned and Dortmund made them pay. Five minutes after the break, Lucas Barrios turned the ball in after a long throw caused panic in the Bayern rearguard. On the hour, Nuri Sahin curled in a wicked free-kick which gave Hans-Jorg Butt no chance and Bayern were defeated. They've been forced to forego the annual trip to the Oktoberfest in favour of extra training as a result. Ribéry and Robben can't come back quickly enough.

    Hannover stay third despite losing at home to St Pauli, just their second defeat of the season. The one goal came early, Marius Ebbers heading in at the end of a quick break in just the sixth minute. The newly promoted side were comfortable after that, moreso when Karim Haggui was sent off ten minutes from time. Third they may be, but already eight points behind the leaders. Leverkusen are up to fourth after a home draw with Bremen. A bright opening saw chances at either end, but Leverkusen took the lead through Patrick Helmes, a confident finish at the near post, after quarter of an hour. Marko Marin was proving a handful for the Leverkusen defence and he won a free-kick shortly after the break which he teed up for Hugo Almeida to blast through a crowd scene to level before Marin himself put Bremen ahead, finishing a move involving Wesley, Almeida and Aaron Hunt who provided the inch-perfect cross. An entertaining game finished with as a probably fair draw as Eren Derdiyok first ran powerfully through the defence and then showed some great footwork to get round the last couple of men before giving Tim Wiese no chance with the finish. Bremen remain marooned in 13th.

    Stuttgart stay bottom of the pile with just that one win - bizarrely or perhaps typically for the Bundesliga, a 7-0 victory - after defeat to improving Eintracht. Inevitably, Theofanis Gekas was on the scoresheet, the diminutive Greek hotshot sneaking in at the near post as the Stuttgart defence played musical statues to put the Frankfurters 1-0 up. Chris supplied the ball for that and he made it two with twenty minutes left, heading in from a corner. Stuttgart got one back through Pavel Pogrebnyak, mopping up after Eintracht keeper Ola Nikolov spilled a routine save, but that came after Stuttgart were reduced to ten, Mathieu Delpierre sent off. Schalke are still just a point above Stuttgart after yet another loss, this time away at Nurnberg. Felix Magath was defiant, placing the blame solely on his players. That may be fair enough, but he overhauled the squad himself in the summer, 15 players coming in and 21 leaving. This is his side, but no, it's not his fault. It can't be; he's brilliant. Manuel Neuer has hinted he may seek to leave with Magath responding that he's changed the squad to help him out, to offer him European football. It looks a long way off. After a goalless first half, the second started badly for the Royal Blues as Jermaine Jones picked up a second yellow for following in on the keeper and was duly sent off. The arguments threatened to boil over in the dug-outs, but Jones can have little complaint despite trying to pull out of it. He caught him, it warranted a booking and he'd already picked up a stupid one earlier in trademark fashion. Nine minutes later, Mike Frantz slid in to convert Julian Schieber's cross to put Nurnberg ahead. Jefferson Farfan set up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the equaliser quarter of an hour from time, but Schalke had a big hand in their own downfall ten minutes later. A woeful backpass could only be directed behind by Neuer and, from the corner, Andreas Wolf powered a header into the roof of the net. Big problems in Gelsenkirchen.

    Wolfsburg's winning run came to an end, but they did get a point from their trip to Gladbach. Thomas Kahlenberg put the opener away for Die Wolfe as Gladbach complained about a foul in the build-up, probably accurately, but Thorben Marx levelled it midway through the second half with a diving header. Hamburg got back to winning ways against Lautern who were ahead after Ivo Ilicevic was upended after a great run to the edge of the Hamburg box down the left wing. Srdjan Lakic put the free-kick in the top corner, leaving Frank Rost rooted to the spot. Chances flowed and the frames of both goals were rattled before Hamburg finally took one of the many chances presented them, Gojko Kacar with a bullet header in the 70th minute from Ze Roberto's cross. The game continued in open fashion and both keepers made excellent saves to keep it 1-1, but six minutes from time, a Lautern attack broke down, Kacar launched it long for Jonathan Pitroipa who squared for Eric Choupo-Moting to nudge in a winner. Freiburg remain fifth after a good win over Cologne who even the ever-optimistic Lukas Podolski now admits are in a relegation fight. Jan Rosenthal had Freiburg two up in little more than ten minutes, the first coming off the back of a lovely turn on the edge of the box and a fine low finish, the second a brilliant 30-yard volley as Cologne failed to clear their lines. Just eleven minutes later, Cologne were back in it as Youssef Mohamad was quickest to react to a parried save. It was all square five minutes after half-time when Adam Matuschyk latched onto a loose ball and lashed it in from twenty yards. The winner came in the 70th minute when Papiss Demba Cissé beat the offside trap and lobbed the keeper when one-on-one.

    The table still has an odd look to it as we head to the international break, but Mainz and Dortmund are already threatening to make a break for the hills.

    Monday, 4 October 2010

    Another new leader: Ligue 1 reviews

    Arles 0-4 Auxerre
    Monaco 0-1 Brest
    Nancy 2-3 Lyon
    Bordeaux 1-0 Lorient
    Sochaux 3-0 Lens
    Valenciennes 2-1 Caen
    St Etienne 1-1 Marseille
    Lille 3-1 Montpellier
    PSG 0-0 Nice
    Rennes 3-1 Toulouse

    New leaders in France where Rennes, unfashionable and unfancied Rennes, walloped fellow high-fliers Toulouse to assume the league leadership. Playing with pace and exuding confidence, Romain Danzé put them ahead in the last minute of the first half with a thunderous drive from just outside the box which served warning as to their intentions. Kader Mangane headed a second midway through the second half, some statuesque defending allowing the big Senegalese through, and Sylvain Marveaux converted a late penalty for 3-0. Toulouse have completely lost their way and slip to fourth after their fourth straight game without a win, but they did have the last word here, Moussa Sissoko starting and finishing the move which ended with him sliding the ball past the keeper for a consolation. Ex-Toulouse man André-Pierre Gignac got his first for his new club as champions Marseille held leaders St Etienne to a draw. A loose clearance was diverted back into the danger area off the ref and Gignac, as ever, was alive to it and stuck it in despite the keeper getting a strong hand to it. Les Verts levelled on the hour as Laurent Batlles converted a low cross, but it wasn't enough to maintain the lead after Rennes' exploits.

    Finally, the big boys got moving. Just one goal was enough for Bordeaux, but what a goal. A loose clearance from the Lorient keeper was swooped on by Michael Ciani who had the presence of mind to deliver a delightful lob from 40 yards which the keeper couldn't get back to. Lyon blew a two-goal lead before Jimmy Briand rescued them in Nancy. In their delightful smoking jacket style away kit, Lisandro Lopez had Les Gones in front late in the first half, a simple tap-in after great work down the right hand side. Briand doubled the advantage with a header, but André Luiz headed one back two minutes later. With twenty minutes to go, an uncharacteristic error from Hugo Lloris allowed Julien Feret to level it. Another goalkeeping error at the other end saw Gennaro Bracigliano punch weakly. Briand was on the spot to stick the loose ball away. Something had to give as the only two winless sides faced off and Auxerre came through in convincing style to leave Arles miles adrift. Alain Traore got the opener in the 18th minute after an initial fine save. A bullet header was going in the bottom corner, but Vincent Plante pushed it wide. Traore reacted quickest and slotted it in from a tight angle. The game was held up midway through the first half after Alvaro Mejia collided heavily with the post and had to be stretchered off. Hopefully there's no fracture to the skull, but he left the field strapped to a spinal board with his head taped still. Unpleasant. AJA went into half time two up as Benoit Pedretti doubled the lead thanks to a heavy deflection. Pedretti continued to run the show after the break and it was 3-0 just shy of the hour, Roy Contout with a long-range, looping header. Valter Birsa made it four just before time, a curling effort just evading Plante and finding the bottom corner. Arles... No points and a -17 goal difference already. That tells it's own story. Lille go up to third and are, along with Rennes, still unbeaten. Moussa Sow had them in front in the twentieth minute with a brave, diving header, sticking his melon where the boots were flying, but Olivier Giroud equalised with a penalty after a clumsy foul in the box. Lille were dominating though and went in ahead through Sow's second, tucked past the advancing keeper from a narrow angle. Montpellier got back into it, but couldn't find that crucial goal and were picked off ten minutes from time, Eden Hazard setting up Gervinho for the clincher. PSG couldn't find a win though, held 0-0 by Nice.

    Brest, newly promoted, have snuck under everyone's radar to find themselves in fifth, Bruno Gougi with a low shot that Stephane Ruffier allowed to sneak under his body. Sochaux are up to sixth after thumping Lens, Modibo Maiga setting the tone with a rocket-powered left-footed shot from way downtown that just about ripped the net as it thundered past the flailing keeper. Ideye Brown made it two a minute before half-time from a suspiciously offside position as the keeper parried another long-range shot into his path. Damien Perquis wrapped it up late on with another piledriver, this time from a free-kick. Lens are struggling. Caen are slipping down the table following defeat to Valenciennes who were ahead in the 25th minute through Gregory Pujol's looping header. Mamadou Samassa walked in the second moments later and though Caen pulled one back midway through the second half through Youssef El Arabi, they couldn't get back on terms.

    Utrecht storm the Ajax fortress: Eredivisie reviews

    Vitesse 0-0 Willem II
    NAC 2-0 NEC
    Excelsior 1-2 Roda JC
    Ajax 1-2 Utrecht
    Twente 4-2 Groningen
    AZ 2-1 Heracles
    De Graafschap 1-1 Feyenoord
    Heerenveen 0-0 ADO
    PSV 3-0 VVV Venlo

    A few weeks ago, Ajax got past Willem II thanks to a brace of penalties from Luis Suarez. This week, it was Ricky van Wolfswinkel who scored twice from the spot and the first came after a ludicrous handball from Suarez as Ajax were beaten by domestic opposition at the Amsterdam ArenA for the first time since January 2009. What was going through the Uruguayans mind is anybody's guess as he threw his arms way over his head to bat high cross away - yes it was even more blatant than his World Cup transgression. Van Wolfswinkel's confidence is running high and the way he put the penalty past Maarten Stekelenburg summed it up, hitting it powerfully, high and to the keeper's left. Even if he'd gone the right way, he wasn't getting there. Eight minutes later and Edouard Duplan was brought down in the box by Eyong Enoh. Up stepped van Wolfswinkel again and put it low to Stekelenburg's right. Another classy spot kick. In a season which has seen a number of players struggle from the 12-yard mark, the young striker is right up there. And so it looked like remaining until the third minute of stoppage time when Siem de Jong rattled in a 30-yarder into the top corner, but it came far too late to alter the outcome.

    There went one of the four remaining unbeaten records and another one went south as well. Not PSV's though, as they saw off VVV Venlo thanks in no small part to the Brazilian Jonathan Reis. Ten minutes into the second half, after the first 45 hadn't produced much by way of excitement, a woefully underhit backpass allowed Reis to swoop for his first, taking it round the keeper and walking it into the net and the Eindhoveners were on their way. Wilfred Bouma is back in Dutch football after an unhappy spell with Aston Villa and he leapt highest to nod in a corner six minutes later and Reis completed the win which sent PSV back to the top of the standings, benefitting from Jeremain Lens's unselfishness as he squared the ball to the back post for his buddy rather than take the shot on himself. It's not Twente's record that's gone either, it's Groningen's who went to Enschede and suffered their first defeat of the season. More penalties here too, one from Andreas Granqvist in the 28th minute after Douglas had handled. The lead lasted just two minutes before Bryan Ruiz levelled as the Groningen penalty area turned into a duck shoot for a moment, the Costa Rican keeping his cool when all around lost theirs. Luuk de Jong was brought down in the box by the keeper a couple of minutes into the second half - a quality rugby tackle, but that cut little ice with the ref. Ruiz stepped up to put Twente in front. With eighteen minutes to go, Marc Janko headed in for 3-1, but Groningen were right back in it two minutes later, Tim Matavz controlling a really difficult volley. Twente won it with two minutes left, Ruiz springing the offside trap and squaring to Theo Janssen who chipped the keeper - a party piece which is rapidly becoming his trademark. Janssen already has twice the number of goals as he had last term and an Oranje selection to go with them. He's playing the best football of his career.

    With Ajax losing, just three points cover the top five now with Roda JC drawing level with Groningen after beating Excelsior on the plastic. If the artificial surface at the Verzekringen did hold a hoodoo, it's been trashed in the last fortnight with two losses for the Rotterdam outfit. Excelsior led at half-time through Wouter Gudde's header seven minutes from the break. Pa-Modou Ka headed Roda level twenty minutes from time and a third headed goal won it two minutes from time, Anouar Hadouir with the winner. Roda have lost just once, away to Ajax in week 2. They'll have tougher tests than this, but for now they're right in there. Not so Feyenoord who are now without a win in four. Some awful defending allowed Hugo Bargas in for the opener on 20 minutes which saw De Vijverberg go mental. The Rotterdammers did escape with a point though, Giorgino Wijnaldum going down heavily in the box though contact appeared minimal. Luigi Bruijns converted the spot kick.

    Willem II are finally off the mark, albeit thanks to a drab 0-0 with Vitesse and ADO were also held to a goalless draw by Heerenveen. NAC are on the heels of the top five despite that point deduction after beating NEC. Matthew Amoah got the first as the NEC keeper came for a hopeful cross and got nowhere near it and the win was sealed two minutes from time as Fouad Idabdelhay was given the freedom of the NEC box. Heracles remain in trouble after defeat in Alkmaar while AZ are going in the right direction. Willy Overtoom had Heracles ahead four minutes from the break with a low drive from 20 yards, but the teams went in level as Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's shot was deflected in. A goalmouth scramble a couple of minutes from time ended as the ball broke to Jonathas six yards out and he lashed in the winner.

    Friday, 1 October 2010

    Internationals looming

    After this round of domestic fixtures, attentions will once again turn to matters international with another round of back-to-back Euro 2012 qualifiers. Managers around Europe have named squads and will no doubt spend the weekend hoping none of their selections pick up injuries.

    Germany face their toughest task of the qualifying campaign on Friday with a visit from Turkey to Berlin's Olympiastadion. Now under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink and with a large Turkish population in Berlin, this isn't going to be an easy one, but Joachim Low's selection shows that he's confident that Turkey need to do more worrying about Germany than the other way round. Kevin Grosskreutz's outstanding form for Dortmund has been rewarded with a call-up, but with 17 of the World Cup 23 in the squads, his chances look limited. Lewis Holtby and Andre Schurrle miss out despite great form for league leader Mainz and stay with the U21s. Holtby still qualifies for England. It might be wise to get him a senior cap sooner rather than later and with the rather more straightforward task away to Kazakhstan to follow on Tuesday, now might have been a good time to get him blooded. But for Low, consistency is more important than political shenanigans.

    Goalkeepers: Rene Adler (Leverkusen), Manuel Neuer (Schalke), Tim Wiese (Bremen)
    Defenders: Holger Badstuber (Bayern), Philipp Lahm (Bayern), Jerome Boateng (Manchester City), Marcell Jansen (Hamburg), Heiko Westermann (Hamburg), Per Mertesacker (Bremen), Sascha Riether (Wolfsburg)
    Midfielders: Kevin Grosskreutz (Dortmund), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern), Thomas Muller (Bayern), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern), Marko Marin (Bremen), Christian Trasch (Stuttgart)
    Forwards: Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Cacau (Stuttgart), Mario Gomez (Bayern), Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich)

    Tuesday is when the Netherlands have their toughest game, on paper at least, at home to Sweden, but not until they've gone to Moldova first. Again, coming off the back of a good World Cup, it's not a surprise to see Bert van Marwijk stick with largely the same squad that got him there and with wins from both their opening qualifiers, changes are largely forced on him. Hedwiges Maduro, the Valencia defender, is out of action and is replaced by Peter Wisgerhof, the 30-year old uncapped FC Twente skipper. Vurnon Anita is included despite picking up an injury in Ajax's defeat at Internazionale in midweek, a knock which may keep him out for some time. With Robin van Persie a serial crock, Ruud van Nistelrooy continues up front with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, another Dutchman to find his touch in the Bundesliga. There's no place for Ryan Babel and is unlikely to be until he starts playing some actual football, but Ricky van Woilfswinkel can be considered unlucky not to least make the squad after a blinding start to the season with Utrecht.

    Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax), Piet Velthuizen (Hercules), Michel Vorm (FC Utrecht)
    Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), Peter Wisgerhof (FC Twente), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Vurnon Anita (Ajax), Erik Pieters (PSV)
    Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (PSV), Mark van Bommel (Bayern), Theo Janssen (FC Twente), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (AZ), Wesley Sneijder (Internazionale), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham), Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax)
    Forwards: Eljero Elia (Hamburg), Ruud van Nistelrooy (Hamburg), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Jeremain Lens (PSV)

    Before a ball was kicked, Romania looked to be France's toughest opponents in Group D, but they've only managed two draws from the first set of fixtures. After defeat in the opening game to Belarus, the knives were out for the French, but a comfortable win over Bosnia seemed to be getting the press back onside. Laurent Blanc has been critical of Karim Benzema in the lead up to Saturday's game against the Romanians, saying how he is easily distracted from work and that the bubble Real Madrid players exist in is unhealthy. He also defended Yoann Gourcuff and reminded everybody that he's still a young lad - he's just 24 despite seeming to have been around for ever - and that he's still very much a work in progress. After Romania, it's Luxembourg at home and if that isn't a cricket score, Blanc is going to be under pressure once more. This is a crucial week for him and for Les Bleus. Dimitri Payet gets a call-up, the lad from Réunion has been excellent for league leaders St Etienne, and back come Samir Nasri and Lassana Diarra. There's no Jeremy Toulalan and forwards André-Pierre Gignac and Djibril Cissé are overlooked.

    Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux)
    Defenders: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Adil Rami (Lille), Philippe Mexes (Roma), Mamadou Sakho (PSG), Benoit Tremoulinas (Bordeaux)
    Midfielders: Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Blaise Matuidi (St Etienne), Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon)
    Forwards: Kevin Gameiro (Lorient), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Loic Remy (Marseille), Guillaume Hoarau (PSG), Dimitri Payet (St Etienne)

    Ligue 1 round 8 previews

    Arles v Auxerre
    Bordeaux v Lorient
    Monaco v Brest
    Nancy v Lyon
    Sochaux v Lens
    Valenciennes v Caen
    St Etienne v Marseille
    Lille v Montpellier
    PSG v Nice
    Rennes v Toulouse

    St Etienne assumed control of Ligue 1 for the first time in a generation last week with a win over their local rivals and former big dogs Lyon. This week, they take on the champions Marseille at the Geoffroy-Guichard. It's the late Saturday game and the house full signs are expected to be out well in advance of kick-off. Centre back Sylvain Marchal has been saying in the week that without the derby atmosphere surrounding this week's game, they'll be better focused. That ought to be a worry for the rest of the league as they were magnificent last week, none moreso than Dimitri Payet who is in a rich vein of form. Marseille were beaten in London in the Champions League in midweek, but emerged without any injury concerns, so Didier Deschamps has a full hand to pick from. Win this and maybe St Etienne could be considered title challengers. The late Sunday game sees third placed Toulouse going to second placed Rennes. Expect few goals. These two have conceded just seven between them so far this season - Toulouse three to Rennes four - but neither are either side prolific in front of goal. Rennes have yet to lose - only Lille can boast that record too - and a draw is the early favourite result here.

    Lille, whilst not having lost, have drawn five of their seven games so far. They welcome Montpellier this week in what looks sure to be another share of the spoils. The two sides without a win - Arles and Auxerre - go head-to-head in Avignon, so back another draw there. Monaco are the other draw specialists, so fans of the neutral outcome want to get themselves to the Stade Louis II for the visit of Brest who make the long trip from the north-west corner of the hexagon right down to the south-east. That's a 1500km journey. One way.

    Lyon look to get their season back on track with a trip to Nancy on the back of a win in the Champions League in Israel. They needed that and will fancy carrying it on here. Bordeaux are at home to Lorient who are no pushovers and you really, really should keep an eye on Kevin Gameiro. Sochaux are up and down and, having lost last week, will probably go and win this time out at home to struggling Lens. PSG and Caen are both going nicely at the moment and the former should beat Nice at home, though we don't reckon the odds on it passing off peaceably are very big, while Caen go to Valenciennes, again looking good for a win.

    Bundesliga round 7 previews

    Hannover v St Pauli
    Hamburg v Kaiserslautern
    Mainz v Hoffenheim
    Monchengladbach v Wolfsburg
    Freiburg v Cologne
    Nurnberg v Schalke
    Stuttgart v Eintracht
    Leverkusen v Bremen
    Dortmund v Bayern

    All bow at the altar of Thomas Tuchel. Everyone really needs to stop referring to Mainz's ascendancy to the Bundesliga summit as a surprise and just deal with the reality - they're a bloody good side, a well-drilled unit who know their roles and seem to enjoy each other's company, coached by a burgeoning genius who is clearly having the time of his life. Last week, Bayern were turned over at the Allianz and the contrast between the world-weary Louis van Gaal and the carefree Tuchel could not be clearer. Even when Bayern got back level, it didn't perturb the bowl-cut merchant unduly. He knew what his side could do and had absolute faith in their ability to do the job. And they did. This week, a win over Hoffenheim - early leaders who are on a rocky run at the moment - will set a new record of wins at the start of the season. Nobody has won the first seven of a Bundesliga season before. Typically, Tuchel is downplaying that possibility. And rightly so as opposite him will be Ralf Rangnick, another wily customer. Hoffenheim still have plenty of talent, but are acquiring a knack of turning that into average results. This should be a belter. We're taking Mainz to edge it.

    Bayern face Dortmund and the other manager clearly having a whale of a time, Jurgen Klopp. His team play with a verve and a swagger and no club anywhere has spent a better €350,000 than BvB did on Shinji Kagawa. Sevilla somehow managed to beat Dortmund in midweek despite being very much second best on the night and Bayern are looking a bit sluggish just as the Spaniards have been in La Liga. Without Ribéry and Robben, Bayern struggle to create, those responsibilities falling on the unlikely shoulders of Mark van Bommel, a role that just doesn't sit well. While pretty much everyone is happy for Mainz and what they've done so far, one club must hate them - Hannover. Any other season, them being in third place after six matches would be the story. They kick off the weekend in the Friday night game, at home to St Pauli. It's been an encouraging start for the Hamburg side and their away form is pretty good. Hannover haven't just been knocking over stiffs - the thrashing of Bremen was particularly impressive. Win this, and they go second. It's hard to see them not doing that.

    Leverkusen take on Bremen without Michael Ballack and Stefan Kiessling. Eren Derdiyok has been impressive up front for Bayer in Kiessling's absence and was on target again in midweek away at Atlético Madrid. Bremen can't string two results together at the moment and were thrashed in Milan by Internazionale in the Champions League. Not the first time they've conceded four this season and, while it's unlikely to happen here, probably not the last as Bremen struggle for consistency. Schalke got a morale-boosting win in midweek as their sorry campaign staggers onward. Nurnberg are the opposition this week, but the new-look front line of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Raul are finally beginning to click for the Royal Blues. Hamburg have lost their last two, as have Lautern. Something has to give here. Wolfsburg's shift back to the trusted diamond formation and two up top - Grafite restored alongside Edin Dzeko - has seen them turn their form around. Steve McClaren had success at Twente by not changing anything. Perhaps he should have done the same here rather than impose a new system. Anyway, the error has been corrected and now they're looking like the challengers we expected them to be. They go to Gladbach this week hot favourites to make it four-in-a-row. Stuttgart remain bottom and were sent straight back to earth last week, shipping four against Leverkusen after beating Gladbach 7-0 the game before. It asks the question just to how bad Gladbach are as Stuttgart were abysmal last week. Eintracht are also struggling, but they're nowhere near as terrible as their league position suggests or as Stuttgart are. Freiburg have had a decent start and will start favourites at home to Cologne.

    Eredivisie round 8 previews

    Vitesse v Willem II
    NAC v NEC
    Excelsior v Roda JC
    Ajax v Utrecht
    Twente v Groningen
    AZ v Heracles
    De Graafschap v Feyenoord
    Heerenveen v ADO
    PSV v VVV Venlo

    Too many draws are blighting Twente's attempts to defend their title, but they got away with it to a degree last week as they drew with leaders Ajax while PSV and the fourth unbeaten side, Groningen, who are Twente's opponents this week. A humbling defeat, largely thanks to three hooky penalty decisions, in London in midweek isn't the best preparation for the game against tough opponents who had the week off. It's not unfair to describe Groningen as the surprise package of the season and came through their first real test against PSV last week with a well-earned draw. This one should be a belter. Groningen need to get something out of it while Twente really have to stop mucking about and start winning. A draw it is then.

    PSV should not have any problem in getting past VVV Venlo, but they've not been at their ruthless best so far this season. A long trip to the Ukraine saw them come away with three Europa League points in the week, so the fixture list has been kind in handing them a home tie against a side in the bottom three. VVV did get a win last week, but let's not pretend De Graafschap are anything compared to PSV. Ajax are also at home after their Champions League home draw with Milan, but against Utrecht they will face a test of their credentials. Ton du Chatinier's side drew with Liverpool and it's a sign of the ability in the Utrecht side that they can reasonably be disappointed with the result. Ricky van Wolfswinkel was an injury doubt, but played the full 90 in midweek and is good to go again here. Feyenoord are in a mess at the moment, but Mario Been and his sporting director Leo Beenhakker seem set to be given the chance to turn it round. Without Jon Dahl Tomasson or funds to bolster his squad, Been has been operating with one hand tied behind his back and it's the acceptance of that fact by fans and board that are allowing him the time. Luc Castaignos has been leading the line, but the 18-year old has yet to really convince. It may come good, but the kid is very raw. Away at De Graafschap, you'd really expect Feyenoord to win, but they've come unstuck before in games they're expected to do well in. AZ are on the up after consecutive 1-0 wins, but copped a 4-1 gubbing in Belarus in midweek against BATE Borisov. Not ideal preparation for a home game with Heracles, but the Almelo side are in rotten form. Mind, with Everton in great goal-scoring form, an upturn can only be moments away. This could be a major turning point in either club's season, so expect a draw.

    NAC are up to eighth despite that point deduction and face NEC, in seventh, this week. That should be fun. Expect goals. If you want a crazy punt, have a look at 3-3. Excelsior lost for the first time on the artificial surface at home last week, but get the chance to put that right this week as Roda JC visit the Verzekringen. ADO are up to sixth and face a trip to Heerenveen while rock bottom Willem II kick us off for the weekend with a trip to Arnhem to take on Vitesse. Lose this and you may as well stick a fork in them.

    Monday, 27 September 2010

    St Etienne take derby spoils: Ligue 1 reviews

    Auxerre 2-2 Nancy
    Caen 0-0 Bordeaux
    Lorient 2-1 Monaco
    Marseille 2-1 Sochaux
    Montpellier 3-1 Arles
    Nice 1-2 Rennes
    Lyon 0-1 St Etienne
    Brest 1-0 Valenciennes
    Toulouse 1-1 Lille
    Lens 0-2 PSG

    St Etienne move clear at the top of Ligue 1 after beating their derby rivals in round seven of the Ligue 1 season. By doing that, they also helped ensure Lyon drop into the bottom three. Really, life doesn't get much sweeter for fans of Les Verts. Dimitri Payet was the hero last week and he was on target again in the 1-0 win at the Gerland. It was a sumptuous free-kick quarter of an hour from time that did it, curled into the very top corner which ensured that, even though he saw enough of it, Hugo Lloris simply wasn't able to get to it and claw it away. Payet was the hero at the other end too, clearing off the line twice at corners to seal the win in the 100th clash between the two clubs and seal St Etienne's first win in this fixture for 17 years.

    Toulouse, still without strikers, dropped points in a draw with Lille for whom Gervinho got the opener, latching onto a heopful long ball, got between two defenders, took it round the keeper and slotted it in from a tight angle. It looked like Alain Casanova's ongoing problems with strikers would cost him more, but Antoine Devaux rescued a point quarter of an hour from time, profiting from some slack defending which allowed him far too much time and space at the back post. Rennes consolidate in second after beating Nice on the south coast. Stéphane Dalmat might be a little chunkier than in his heyday, but he certainly reads a game well enough and followed in to tidy up after the keeper spilled a long range shot to give Rennes the lead, but the sides went into the break level after Danijel Ljuboja curled in an equaliser following great work from Anthony Mounier in the build-up. The winner came with thirteen minutes to go, a really poor defensive header allowing Victor Montano to sneak in and steal the points. Caen stay fourth following a creditable draw with Bordeaux who move up a place, but are still labguishing at the wrong end of the table so far as they're concerned.

    Arles are still propping everyone else up and went down to ten men, Xavier Collin sent off for Montpellier nine minutes after half-time. Olivier Giroud had struck twice to give MHSC the lead before Collin's dismissal, scoring three minutes before and three minutes after half-time. The first was down to an excellent turn on the edge of the box and a low finish across the keeper and in off the far post while the second came from the penalty spot after one of the most obvious fouls in football history on Younes Belhanda. After the sending off, a towering header from Yann Kermorgant got Arles back into it, but the win was sealed eight minutes from time by Souleymane Camara's nutmegged finish. Montpellier are one of five clubs on eleven points, a group headed by PSG in fifth after their 2-0 win over Lens. A Ludovic Giuly cross was turned into his own net by Yohan Dermont early in the second half to hand PSG the lead and Nene sealed it in stoppage time, exchanging passes on the edge of the box and chipping the keeper. He's quite some player and may just be enough to help PSG into the European places. Marseille are tucked in behind them after beating Sochaux at the Vélodrome. Taye Taiwo put them in front in the nineteenth minute, an amazing shot from right out on the left touchline and fully forty yards from goal. Think Gheorghe Hagi in the 1994 World Cup finals, only moreso. An astonishing strike. The second, from Lucho Gonzalez on the hour mark, was rather more straightforward, the Argentine latching onto a headed flick-on and tucking it in under little pressure. Nicolas Maurice-Belay got one back as he started and finished the move with quarter of an hour to go, but it proved to be mere consolation. Lille and Brest are the others on eleven, Brest after the exciting Nolan Roux gave them a 1-0 over Valenciennes. The 22-year old is very much one to watch out for, but his side really should have been behind 18 minutes from time after a needless handball gave Gregory Pujol the chance from the penalty spot. The first one went in, but a retake was ordered for some fairly obvious encroachment. Wouldn't you just know that the second one was saved, a trailing leg from Steeve Elana diverting it over the bar. Five minutes later, a corner was met on the run by Roux and he kept it down for the only goal of the game.

    Auxerre still haven't won, drawing their fifth game of the season in their game against Nancy. Dennis Oliech got two to put AJA ahead, the first in the first minute as he raced onto a long through ball. His second came ten minutes later from slightly closer in this time, but another accomplished finish. Alexandre Cuvillier pulled one back five minutes later with a header on the run and it was level by half-time when Marama Vahirua slammed in from the edge of the box after being found with a great cut-back. And so it remained to full-time. Finally, Lorient drew level with Monaco on the back of beating them at the Moustoir. The exciting Kevin Gameiro had Lorient in front on five minutes, racing onto a through ball and lifting it over the advancing keeper. Dieudionné Mbokani pulled it back level, muscling his way through to tap-in as Lorient failed to deal with a free-kick, but their game plan was disrupted when Sébastien Puygrenier was sent off on the stroke of half-time. Lorient finally made the breakthrough in the last minute, a quick attack down the right ending with a cross for Lynel Kitambala finishing from close in.

    Mainz roll on: Bundesliga reviews

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

    Nobody predicted Mainz were going to do anything this season, but nobody seems to have told them. While they won their first five games, they were perhaps games they'd have fancied winning anyway. However, going to Munich for round six, even if the champions were without their two best players - Franck Ribéry joining Arjen Robben on the sidelines - surely this was where Mainz's fun ended. Not so. Thomas Tuchel's reputation grows day by day and they had much the better of this one. Sami Allaqui back-heeled them in front on the quarter hour and it looked like staying 1-0 up to half time, but a horrendous own goal squared it up. A long ball forward from Mark van Bommel seemed straightforward for Mainz keeper Christian Wetklo, but Bo Svensson needlessly involved himself and diverted past his goalkeeper and into the net. They didn't fold though and, despite moments of pressure from the champions largely from van Bommel, got they're deserved winner when Adam Szalai blasted one in with 13 minutes to go.

    Bremen won a thrilling north German derby. They built up a 2-0 lead by the time half an hour had gone, first with a Guy Demel own goal, turning Marko Marin's driven cross over Frank Rost and into the far corner, and a Hugo Almeida header as the Hamburg defence disappeared. The big change Armin Veh made in the second half was introduce Jonathan Pitroipa and he made an immediate impact. He set up Ruud van Nistelrooy for a tap-in to pull one back and then blasted in an equaliser from 20 yards three minutes later. Bremen were indebted to Per Mertesacker for keeping it level with some important interventions and he was rewarded when Marin set up Almeida for a second, tapping in at the back post to settle an end-to-end contest.

    Dortmund are still second after beating St Pauli and making it five in a row, but not until after the Hamburg side had given them a real shock. Shinji Kagawa looks more and more like an absolute steal at €350,000 and he set up Kevin Grosskreutz for the opener after 17 minutes. BvB had threatened to rip St Pauli apart, but they got back level with a really nice finish from Rouwen Hennings, but the second half was all Dortmund. Kagawa got himself on the scoresheet five minutes after the restart and Grosskreutz's second sealed another impressive win, but St Pauli can take a lot from this. If Mainz being top is a shock, then what is Hannover in third? They circled the wagons to hold off Lautern after Mohammed Abdellaoue had headed them in front on the half hour. Hannover had one attack of note in the second half as Lautern pounded on the door time and time again. They couldn't find a finish and the Hannover defence really earned their money in closing out a hard-earned win.

    Wolfsburg are back to form and it's the Brazilian connection that's doing it. If you're playing Die Wolfe, conceding free-kicks anywhere inside your own half is an open invitation to Diego to plant the ball wherever he wants. Twice in this one, it was onto the head of his countryman Grafite. He headed Wolfsburg ahead in the 25th minute, but Freiburg were level through Papiss Demba Cissé levelled nine minutes from half time after a real goalmouth scramble. Shot after shot rained in, Simon Kjaer and Diego Benaglio somehow managing to keep them all at bay, but Freiburg were allowed one shot too many. Cissé should have put his side ahead after the break, but missed a completely open goal, putting the ball wide. Grafite was again played in by Diego to win it on the hour. Hoffenheim have lost their way a bit and were, in the end, grateful for a draw from the Friday game in Cologne. Lukas Podolski blasted a left-footed drive in for the opener quarter of an hour in and the sides both had many chances throughout the first half, but it remained 1-0. Nine minutes after the break, Demba Ba muscled his way in to equalise and he had a glorious chance to put the Villagers ahead, but it was spurned and the game remained level.

    Stuttgart are in a world of trouble and looked all at sea against Leverkusen. They were aleady 2-0 down when Mauro Camoranesi was sent off for a professional foul. Sami Hyypia had headed in the opener and Arturo Vidal slid in for the second after great work from Eren Derdiyok in the build-up. Zdravko Kuzamanovic pulled one back with one of those free-kicks which floats beyond everyone and sneaks in the far post, but the respite was brief. Hanno Baltisch grabbed the third, Barnetta and Derdiyok were immense throughout and the latter was again at the heart of things in setting up substitute Sidney Sam for the fourth. The Stuttgart defence was awful. Schalke got a point, rescuing Felix Magath's unbeaten home Bundesliga record. Gladbach hit them hard, Filip Daems converting a penalty on the quarter hour after Marco Reus was felled in the box. Michael Bradley wasn't picked up with a late run into the box just before the break and the American slammed the second home. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar pulled one back early in the second half before Gladbach were reduced to ten, Roel Brouwers sent off for a wild lunge on Huntelaar. It looked like Gladbach would hold on, but Raul popped up to stab his first Bundesliga in to rescue a draw with three minutes to go. Finally, Eintracht got back to winning ways with a solid performance against Nurnberg. Theofanis Gekas, despite his diminutive status, is pretty good in the air and headed the opener in the 17th minute, coming away from goal and really extending the neck muscles to give it the power to get over the line. Nurnberg had their chances, but Brazilian defender Chris slid in to seal the points with a couple of minutes left to haul Frankfurt away from bother.

    Willem II halfway down already: Eredivisie reviews

    Heerenveen 2-2 Roda JC
    ADO 3-2 Heracles
    AZ 1-0 Utrecht
    PSV 1-1 Groningen
    Twente 2-2 Ajax
    Excelsior 0-2 Vitesse
    NAC 2-1 Willem II
    NEC 3-0 Feyenoord
    VVV Venlo 1-0 De Graafschap

    For long periods of Sunday afternoon, it looked like Willem II were going to break their seasonal duck. Andreas Landgren put them ahead in the seventh minute and it was well into the second half when they finally succumbed. Kees Luijckx equalised in the 65th minute and Joonas Kolkka won it with ten minutes left. That leaves them five points adrift already as VVV Venlo beat De Graafschap at home to put clear daylight between them and the Tilburgers. Patrick Paauwe had already had a penalty saved when Jorge Chula crossed for his strike partner Ruud Boymans to turn in the only goal of the game. It got worse for the Super Farmers when Vito Wormgoor was sent off in the final quarter. Heracles slip to second bottom after defeat in Den Haag. The Almelo side led early on through Glynor Plet, but they trailed going into the break after Lex Immers equalised and Dmitry Bulykin put ADO in front. Everton squared it up for the second time, but Bulykin struck a second time to snatch the points.

    No change at the top as the top four all drew. It was a cracker in Enschede as Ajax and Twente battled to a draw. Theo Janssen was Twente's star man and he put the champions ahead in the eleventh minute as the Ajax defence stayed stock still playing offside, which Janssen wasn't even if Bryan Ruiz was. Janssen raced through and chipped Maarten Stekelenburg to the delight of the packed terraces. Mounir El Hamadoui had already missed a sitter by that point, but made amends after Nikolay Mihaylov spilled a tame shot at the Moroccan's feet. It really wasn't great goalkeeping. Luis Suarez struck the upright twice in the first half, but the sides turned round level at 1-1. Nacer Chadli tested the frame of the goal early in the second half, but cometh the hour, cometh the man of the match. That man Janssen was once again on target in the 61st minute, converting Luuk de Jong's cross to restore the lead, but it lasted just four minutes when Eyong Enoh thrashed in a wonderful 30-yard volley as Twente cleared a corner right to the Cameroonian. Chadli swung over a deep cross-cum-shot late on which struck the far post and came out to Luuk de Jong. His shot was brilliantly saved by Stekelenburg who turned it onto the bar, saw it come down off the post and back into his waiting arms having rescued a point for his side. Earlier in the day, Groningen found a late equaliser to square things up with PSV who were ahead just after the hour through a long-range Ola Toivonen strike which somehow found it's way inside the back post. It looked like being enough, but a couple of minutes from time, a long throw caused panic in the PSV box and Gonzalo Garcia was on hand to grab a deserved equaliser.

    Feyenoord went down heavily to NEC and slip to thirteenth. Lasse Schone put the Nijmegeners ahead when he converted a Lorenzo Davids cross quarter of an hour in and that set up a first half which NEC dominated without being able to find the killer blow. Feyenoord did have it in the back of the net early in the second half, but it was correctly judged offside, but NEC continued to fashion the better chances, Rob van Dijk keeping them out with a string of quality saves. He was finally beaten eight minutes from time as he got in a muddle with one of his defenders and Rick ten Voorde stole in for NEC's second. The final cut came from a corner, Bram Nuytinck with a firm header to seal a win which sent NEC seventh. Vitesse got a much-needed win at Excelsior, the first side to come away from the Verzekringen with all three points this season, thanks to second-half goals from Dalibor Stevanovic and Ismail Aissati. AZ also got a vital three points at home to Utrecht whose inconsistency is Gertjan Verbeek's biggest headache. This was an open contest with plenty of chances, but just the one goal, Rasmus Elm with the slightest of headed touches to a free-kick which was enough to turn it in. The draw theme was completed by Heerenveen though, who blew a two-goal lead over Roda JC - both from Bas Dost - by conceding twice in six second-half minutes to Arnaud Sutchuin Djum and Mads Junker and the Kerkrade side held on despite the late dismissal of Laurent Delorge, the Belgian midfielder picking up a second caution six minutes from time.

    Saturday, 25 September 2010

    Ligue 1 round 7 previews

    Caen v Bordeaux
    Montpellier v Arles
    Lorient v Monaco
    Nice v Rennes
    Auxerre v Nancy
    Marseille v Sochaux
    Lyon v St Etienne
    Brest v Valenciennes
    Toulouse v Lille
    Lens v PSG

    The most successful side in French history take on the most successful in the modern era in the most intriguing Derby du Rhone in many years. Since their heyday, St Etienne have gone into these games much the poorer relation, but for the first time since they last won the title 29 years ago, Les Verts face Lyon sitting at the top of the table. Moreover, Lyon sit one place outside the relegation zone after a frankly awful campaign so far. They spent big, most notably on Yoan Gourcuff, but it simply hasn't clicked yet and the pressure is building on Claude Puel. It's at the Gerland and it should be fascinating.

    Toulouse slipped to second last week after drawing a blank as their striker crisis bites. Selling André-Pierre Gignac on deadline day perhaps wasn't the wisest move and January can't come quick enough, especially given Xavier Pentecote's long-term injury. Daniel Braaten filled in then fell out with Alain Casanova. They're at home to Lille this weekend, sure to be a tough test of Les Violets credentials. Rennes, in third, go to the south coast to face Nice where they're odds on to record a win which could send them top should Toulouse and St Etienne fail to win their respective games. Caen could also go top should results fall their way and they manage to beat Bordeaux. Pre-season, you'd say this was a nailed on three points for Jean Tigana's side, but the way both sides have performed this year so far, the points could easily be staying in Normandy. In this unpredictable season, it's a brave person who calls it.

    Marseille are beginning to get going, belatedly, but face Sochaux this weekend with the Montbéliard club riding high in fifth. PSG are right on OM's heels and have a trip to Lens this week which is a tricky prospect at the best of times, even if the sang et or are struggling a bit. Auxerre and Arles remain the only sides without a win and Arles won't break that run in Montpellier, but AJA will fancy their chances at home to Nancy. Elsewhere, Monaco go north to Lorient and Brest have a home game with Valenciennes.

    Thursday, 23 September 2010

    Eredivisie round 7 previews

    Heerenveen v Roda JC
    PSV v Groningen
    AZ v Utrecht
    ADO v Heracles
    Twente v Ajax
    Excelsior v Vitesse
    NAC v Willem II
    NEC v Feyenoord
    VVV Venlo v De Graafschap

    No prizes for picking out this week's top game in Holland. Leaders Ajax travel east to take on champions Twente. The Amsterdammers are four points clear of Twente after Michel Preud'homme's side were held to their third goalless draw of the season a week ago. They've still only conceded one goal this season and Ajax do ship a few, so we're expecting goals in this one. The other two sides in the top four also face off; PSV at home to Groningen. This is a hard one to call. Groningen are going really well, but this will be their hardest test so far. They bumped off the youths of Utrecht easily enough, but PSV are more streetwise than that. It's a complete clash of styles which should be a really good one to watch.

    Life gets no better for Willem II. Not only are they rock bottom with no points, they were the only Eredivisie side to be beaten by a lower league team in the KNVB Beker, Eerste Divisie leaders Zwolle beating them on penalties. As shocks go, this was a minor one. The Tilburg side go to Breda to face NAC this week and they look to have turned a corner. More misery for Willem II. AZ v Utrecht should have been a top six clash, but AZ's well-publicised financial woes are a major reason why they're way down in 14th. It's hard to see them beat Utrecht who can play some lovely stuff sometimes. Roda JC are up in fifth and they're at Heerenveen in a clash of European hopefuls. Excelsior are riding high in sixth on the back of their excellent home form and that's where they are again this week, Vitesse the visitors who put some poor league form behind them in the cup with a 6-0 win, albeit over third-tier opposition. Heracles are getting desperate for points, but will fancy their chances of getting them in Den Haag while De Graafschap will be looking to put yet more daylight between them and the danger zone against VVV. Feyenoord sit tenth having lost three times already and can't afford to fall further behind. They take on NEC this week and that's not going to be easy.

    Schalke off the mark: Bundesliga reviews/previews

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

    Schalke got off the mark in the first midweek round of fixtures, bouncing back from last weekend's derby disappointment. They left it late though, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar getting on the end of a deep cross in the last minute. Freiburg started the brighter, almost prising an opening in the first minute, but Ivan Rakitic put Schalke ahead in the ninth after Huntelaar's shot wasn't held. Demba Cissé levelled it midway through the second half as Freiburg continued to pile forwards, but they remained vulnerable at the back and Huntelaar nipped in. To make matters worse, a stray elbow in stoppage time saw Ivica Banovic booked for the second time and he was duly sent off. They remain bottom, but level on points with Eintracht and Stuttgart, both of whom lost. More late drama accounted for the Frankfurters, Patrick Ochs sent off and Arturo Vidal converting the penalty in second half stoppages. Earlier, Lars Bender converted a great cross to give Leverkusen the lead in the ninth minute, but just nine more had elapsed when Theofanis Gekas headed in an Ochs cross. After sticking seven away at the weekend, hopes were high for Stuttgart at Nurnberg, but it didn't come to pass. Indeed, the bubble burst in just the third minute, Julian Schieber latching onto a perfect through ball to tuck in the opener. Nurnberg had Andreas Wolf sent off midway through the second half and Cacau equalised with five minutes to go, giving Stuttgart hope. Hope that was extinguished in stoppage time as the ten men found a winner, Javier Pinola finishing a quick counter-attack. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, pull away from that end of the table and look altogether better after a 3-1 win over Hamburg. Diego Benaglio has his mojo back after a wobbly start to the campaign and pulled off two top drawer saves to keep his side in it and, inevitably, Edin Dzeko went up the other end to finish off Wolfsburg's first real attack of the game. The electric pace of Eljero Elia created the equaliser for Eric Choupo-Moting and it remained level to the break. Hamburg started the second half the brighter, but Grafite, who had been quiet to the the point of anonymous, popped up with two quickfire goals to win it. His first came from Marcel Schafer's teasing cross with twenty minutes to go and eight minutes later, he got his second of the game and the season, a solo effort finished from a tight-ish angle.

    Mainz strengthen their place at the top with their fifth win from five. Lewis Holtby got both goals for Thomas Tuchel's men as Cologne were brushed aside. They had to wait until 18 minutes from time for the opener, a free header for Holtby from a free-kick and he couldn't miss from that close in to the goal. The second, in the last minute, was a composed finish off a long ball up the middle. Dortmund are up to second after their fourth straight win, thumping Lautern at home. Lautern were pretty awful, but held out for half an hour when Lucas Barrios broke through and finished from the left hand side of the penalty area. Seven minutes later, Kevin Grosskreutz curled in a beautiful second and so it remained to half time. Chances continued to flow in the second half, but it took twenty minutes for the third goal to arrive, Mats Hummels heading in as the Lautern keeper went walkabout. Robert Lewandowski chipped in for number four and Barrios, fittingly, wrapped it up, sliding in for the fifth. Hoffenheim were beaten despite going ahead inside 45 seconds, Vedad Ibisevic stealing in to stun the Bavarian giants. Thomas Muller levelled on the hour, a parried save falling kindly for him and Daniel van Buyten won it in the last minute with an unconvincing prod.

    St Pauli got back to winning ways against Gladbach whose week just got worse and worse following the 7-0 stuffing they copped last weekend. They did lead midway through the first half though, Juan Arango reacting quickest as a header was just parried. Gerald Asamoah had been on the field barely two minutes when he headed St Pauli level and he was heavily involved in the incident that led to the penalty that put them in front, Carsten Rothenbach upended in the box by Roel Brouwers. Florian Bruns converted and Gladbach's woe was complete when Mohamadou Idrissou was sent off in stoppage time for a second booking. Bremen languish in 14th after being well beaten by Hannover. It started badly, Clemens Fritz throwing a leg at a wayward header and diverting it into his own net. Torsten Frings levelled it from the penalty spot after some wrestling in the box at a set piece but the second half was all one way. Eight minutes of it had elapsed when Bremen were caught in possession in midfield and the ball was shipped forward to Didier Ya Konan who waited for Tim Wiese to commit before slotting it past him. Christian Schulz made it three ten minutes from time with an opportunistic strike and the rout was completed in the last minute when Mohammed Abdellaoue sprang the offside trap and nicked in ahead of the defence. It could and maybe should have been more.

    Hoffenheim kick us off this coming weekend with a trip to Cologne on the Friday night while Mainz take their unbeaten record to Munich to face Bayern. Dortmund are in Hamburg to face St Pauli as they look to pick up any scraps Mainz offer them.

    Cologne v Hoffenheim
    Bayern v Mainz
    Schalke v Monchengladbach
    Stuttgart v Leverkusen
    Eintracht v Nurnberg
    St Pauli v Dortmund
    Bremen v Hamburg
    Wolfsburg v Freiburg
    Kaiserslautern v Hannover

    Monday, 20 September 2010

    Derby disaster for Schalke: Bundesliga reviews

    Eintracht 0-1 Freiburg
    Bayern 0-0 Cologne
    Bremen 0-2 Mainz
    Stuttgart 7-0 Monchengladbach
    Wolfsburg 2-0 Hannover
    Kaiserslautern 2-2 Hoffenheim
    St Pauli 1-1 Hamburg
    Schalke 1-3 Dortmund
    Leverkusen 0-0 Nurnberg

    Let's not beat around the bush here. Schalke got boned on their own midden in the Ruhr derby. 3-1 is bad enough, but it could and probably should have been twice that. Dortmund had a perfectly good goal wrongly rubbed out by an over-eager offside flag early in the first half and BvB created chance after chance throughout. They'd rattled the woodwork as well before Shinji Kagawa opened the scoring with a dipping shot from range. Kagawa got the second after great work from the impressive Kuba Blaszczykowski down the right and the Japanese striker poked in a flying volley. Schalke's evening got worse when Robert Plestan picked up two bookings in the space of four minutes and he had no grounds for complaint about either. Robert Lewandowski headed in a third, his first for the club, before Klaas-Jan Huntelaar pulled one back. It flattered the Royal Blues. They were rubbish and being this rubbish has cost them one heck of a lot of money.

    Schalke therefore remain on no points, the only side still on that mark after Wolfsburg and Stuttgart broke their ducks, the latter spectacularly so. Pavel Pogrebnyak hit three out of seven as Stuttgart gave Gladbach the mother and father of all thumpings. Pogrebnyak got the first, third and fourth and all three were from close range after defensive or goalkeeping blunders. Georg Niedermeyer headed in from a Mauro Camoranesi corner for the second and Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Matthieu Delpierre and Ciprian Marica all got in on the act. Gladbach offered nothing. Diego got Wolfsburg's opener in the derby against Hannover ten minutes into the second half with an overhead volley but then lost him to injury after he copped a set of studs in the side. Edin Dzeko made it two as the keeper went AWOL to give Steve McClaren his first Bundesliga win. The other derby saw honours shared in Hamburg, Mladen Petric with a stunning late equaliser from a mile downtown after Fabian Boll had driven St Pauli ahead.

    Hoffenheim were held by near neighbours Lautern and needed new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson to rescue them. It looked like being an easy day when Gustavo put the Villagers ahead late in the first half, but two goals from Erwin Hoffer turned it round. He headed the first in under a worryingly small amount of pressure while he just threw a foot out for the second and made enough contact with a wayward header to turn it in. They led for just two minutes though as Sigurdsson bent a free-kick round the wall and in the far corner. Those dropped points saw Mainz go above them as they maintained the only 100% record in the league by beating Bremen who can't string two results together. Marcel Risse lashed the first in from an angle ten minutes into the second half and young hot-shot Andre Schurrle - snapped up by Leverkusen for next season - finished off a sweeping move.

    Mainz's neighbours Eintracht are struggling a bit, beaten by Freiburg. Both keepers were in outstanding form - Oliver Baumann shading it on points with a string of excellent saves in the Freiburg goal - but Oka Nikolov was finally beaten in the last minute as Freiburg found an extra man in attack, Jan Rosenthal getting upfield to finish a quick counter. Elsewhere, Bayern were held to a goalless draw by Cologne as were Leverkusen at home to Nurnberg.

    There's a midweek round of fixtures - an English week - with Bayern's trip to Hoffenheim the pick. Wolfsburg go to Hamburg in another tasty clash while Nurnberg will hope that Stuttgart punched themselves out at the weekend. Schalke go to Freiburg and it's still hard to see them get that elusive win.

    Mainz v Cologne
    Hoffenheim v Bayern
    Hannover v Bremen
    Leverkusen v Eintracht
    Dortmund v Kaiserslautern
    Hamburg v Wolfsburg
    Monchengladbach v St Pauli
    Freiburg v Schalke
    Nurnberg v Stuttgart

    Contrasting fortunes for near neighbours: Ligue 1 reviews

    Lorient 0-1 Caen
    Monaco 0-0 Toulouse
    Nancy 0-2 Brest
    St Etienne 3-0 Montpellier
    Sochaux 4-0 Nice
    Valenciennes 1-1 Lens
    Arles 0-3 Marseille
    Lille 1-0 Auxerre
    PSG 0-0 Rennes
    Bordeaux 2-0 Lyon

    It's been 29 years since St Etienne lifted the last of their ten Ligue 1 championships. Ask anyone under the age of 30 who are the big dogs, you're more than likely to get the response 'Lyon'. Understandable really, given the way Les Gones have dominated things over the last ten years in which they've won it seven times. The balance of power was shifting 60km up the A47. Could it be that it's now shifting back? Lyon were beaten again, a morale boosting and possibly job saving win for Jean Tigana's Bordeaux. The opener came an hour in, Alou Diarra getting the faintest of touches onto a free-kick which took it past Hugo Lloris and just inside the far post. Jussie sealed it in the last minute, latching onto Lloris's clearance and weaving his way past three defenders before sticking it past France's number one. That leaves Lyon out of the drop zone on goal difference alone while their near neighbours, who have been in relegation bother far too often in recent seasons, sit at the top after a big win over Montpellier. Dimitri Payet got two, the first coming twenty minutes in after a weaving run took him right through the defence. Ten minutes later, Emmanuel Riviere headed in for 2-0 slightly unconvincingly which made the back-flip celebration look a bit OTT. Payet's second was a stunning free-kick. It might be getting ahead of things, but Les Verts fans are getting confident.

    Marseille duly beat managerless Arles to move into the top half. Benoit Cheyrou got the opener just after the half hour at Parc des Sports direct from a long range free-kick, the keeper deceived by Gabriel Heinze's run across the front of goal. Andre Ayew made it two moments later, played in by Fabrice Abriel, and a second from Ayew early in the second half wrapped it up, profiting from some terrible defending. Auxerre are the only other side without a win, albeit they're four points clear of Arles despite defeat to Lille. AJA had the better of the first half, but Lille came back into it in the second and won it through Moussa Sow in stoppage time. The Human Centipede celebration perhaps a sign of relief more than an homage to that particular film.

    Toulouse slip to second after a goalless draw with Monaco, Alain Casanova's plan to go in without any strikers or anyone who can even masquerade as one blowing up in his face. Rennes couldn't take advantage as they too drew 0-0 with PSG, but Caen move back up to fourth after getting back to winning ways at Lorient, Youssef El Arabi with the only goal of the game just before the break. Sochaux were the big winners with a four-goal thumping of Nice. Sochaux dominated and particularly exploited Nice's right-hand side defence. Time and again FCSM broke down that side, but it took until the last minute of the first half to pay dividends, Ideye Brown finally able to convert one of the string of chances. Twenty minutes in to the second half, another attack down Sochaux's left saw Ryad Boudebouz meet a perfect cross to volley in for number two. The third was a bit more route one, Marvin Martin with looping shot over the keeper, and Modibo Maiga added a fourth in the last minute as Nice gave up all pretence of defending. Brest are up to eleventh after a 2-0 win over Nancy, Larsen Touré sealing the points with a late, angled strike across goal while Lens needed a stoppage time equaliser to rescue a point from their game at Valenciennes. Route one worked for VA ten minutes into the second half, Mamadou Samassa half-volleying a deep cross low to the keeper's left, but Abdoulrazak Boukari somehow found a way through a forest of legs from a free-kick that was squared to him in the first added minute.

    Klassieker joy for Ajax: Eredivisie reviews

    De Graafschap 3-2 Heerenveen
    Groningen 2-0 Excelsior
    Vitesse 0-0 NAC
    Willem II 2-4 ADO
    Feyenoord 1-2 Ajax
    Utrecht 3-2 VVV Venlo
    NEC 0-1 AZ
    Roda JC 0-0 PSV
    Heracles 0-0 Twente

    Sunday turned out quite excellently for Ajax. A win over their deadliest rivals from down the road in Rotterdam and blanks drawn by their principle title rivals sees them take control of the Eredivisie table. They dominated all bar the last ten minutes of the game at De Kuip early on Sunday. The frame of the goal took a pounding before Siem de Jong put Ajax ahead. A free-kick was inadvertently flicked into de Jong's path by Stefan de Vrij and the international midfielder had a simple header for the opening goal. Feyenoord's cause wasn't helped moments later when Ron Vlaar came off second best in a collision with Maarten Stekelenburg and had to go off with a sore hip. Come the second half and the Feyenoord bar took a battering once more before Mounir El Hamdaoui finally got the goal his performance deserved, a beautiful reverse pass from Luis Suarez playing the Moroccan in. That was ten minutes in to the second half and it looked like game over. Ajax continued to create chances, but their inability to convert them always gave Feyenoord a sniff. With ten minutes left, André Bahia powered a header past Stekelenburg which set up an increasingly testy finish. Ajax retained the (marginally) cooler heads and closed it out.

    PSV and Twente were both held to goalless draws, PSV by Roda JC and Twente to ten-man local rivals Heracles. Mark Jan Fledderus picked up two yellows in the last three minutes of the first half in Almelo to leave Heracles a man short, but Twente couldn't take advantage. That means Groningen were the big winners and were even top for a short while having played the previous day to the other top sides. They were too big and too strong for Excelsior, but had to wait until shortly after the break for the breakthrough. An initial good save was picked up by Groningen and a pull-back found Nicklas Pedersen who lashed it home. Tim Matavz made it safe on the counter-attack with quarter of an hour remaining.

    At the bottom, Willem II still await their first points even though they were in front against ADO inside five minutes when Maceo Rigters volleyed in as ADO failed to clear. Aleksander Radosavljevic equalised before the break and ADO were in front shortly after it as the Willem II defence played musical statues and the keeper flapped to allow Frantisek Kubik to prod in. The Tilburgers were level within moments, a deep cross finding Evgeniy Levchenko's forehead, but Kubik got a second ten minutes from time, a neat angled finish though again largely thanks to the generosity of the Willem II rearguard. And it was four in the last minute, Dmitry Bulykin allowed to jog along the bye-line and poke it past the keeper. Awful, awful defending. AZ pulled themselves away from immediate trouble with a scratchy win over NEC, Jonathas with the only goal of the game late in a first half which NEC had the better of. Mind, it was a nice finish from a tight angle. VVV Venlo slip to second bottom after defeat to Utrecht despite leading twice. Ruud Boymans put VVV ahead for the first time after quarter of an hour with a lovely volley on the spin, but a wrestling match in the VVV penalty area ten minutes later gave Ricky van Wolfswinkel the opportunity to level which he took. Boymans restored the lead completely against the run of play, reacting quickest after his initial shot was blocked. It lasted six minutes this time, van Wolfswinkel from close range after a long range shot came back off the post. A deserved victory was completed with six minutes left when Jacob Mulenga took it to the line and squared it for Nana Asare to tap in. Finally, Rydell Poepon struck twice for De Graafschap as they recorded their second win of the season. Christian Grindheim had Heerenveen in front midway through the first half with a thunderous drive that came off the underside of the bar, but it was level at the break, Muslu Nalbantoglu with an equally impressive strike. Poepon's first three minutes after the break came on the end of a dizzying passing move and a nutmeg of the last defender, but Heerenveen were level through Oussama Aissadi - slightly more route one this time. Poepon won it with moments remaining, heading it in from a corner. Already, De Graafschap are six points clear of bottom place and it looks like a big gap.

    Saturday, 18 September 2010

    Ligue 1 round 6 previews

    St Etienne v Montpellier
    Lorient v Caen
    Valenciennes v Lens
    Nancy v Brest
    Sochaux v Nice
    Monaco v Toulouse
    Arles v Marseille
    Lille v Auxerre
    PSG v Rennes
    Bordeaux v Lyon

    Suspensions are the name of the game this week in France. After a horror start to life in Ligue 1, Arles find themselves bottom without a point. Their response is to suspend manager Michel Estevan, presumably with the sack to follow any moment. It's hard to see what the board expect. They're a small club who find themselves in the top flight largely on the back of Estevan's work. They're at home to Marseille this week, so it doesn't get any easier for them. At the other end of the table, Toulouse boss Alain Casanova has dropped Daniel Braaten - the Norwegian midfielder who has been filling in as a lone striker - because of his apparent lackadaisical attitude. "I want eleven warriors, not ten", said Casanova ahead of this week's trip to Monaco. That's fine, but where are the goals coming from now? It smacks of cutting off his nose to spite his face.

    There's an early return to Bordeaux for Yoan Gourcuff as his new side, Lyon, are in town. It'll be interesting to see the reaction the home fans give him as, for all he was really good for them, it didn't end so well. The other unexpected strugglers, Auxerre, go seeking their first win of the season at Lille.

    Up at the top, Rennes are in Paris and St Etienne are at home to Montpellier. Caen have just gone off the boil after a great start and take on Lorient this week. Sochaux host Nice and struggling Lens go to Valenciennes.

    Thursday, 16 September 2010

    Bundesliga round 4 previews

    Eintracht v Freiburg
    Bayern v Cologne
    Bremen v Mainz
    Stuttgart v Monchengladbach
    Wolfsburg v Hannover
    Kaiserslautern v Hoffenheim
    St Pauli v Hamburg
    Schalke v Dortmund
    Leverkusen v Nurnberg

    Derby time in Germany this week. The big one sees in-form Dortmund go to Schalke whose season got even worse during the week with a Champions League defeat to Lyon, a game in which Benedikt Howedes put through his own net for the only goal of the game (since credited, generously, to Michel Bastos) and was sent off for kicking Jimmy Briand in the heart. Raul cut an isolated figure last week, but if the pressure is on Felix Magath, he's not showing it. Dortmund looked pretty handy in beating Wolfsburg last week and should enjoy their day out in Gelsenkirchen.

    It's derby day in Hamburg as well, St Pauli the hosts for the still unbeaten Hamburg. After a win on opening day, St Pauli have lost their last two while Hamburg remain third despite not being all that convincing while doing it. Wolfsburg, bottom and winless, are at home to Hannover in a Lower Saxony derby. If they're going to get a win anywhere, it really should be here. They need to start defending if they're going to progress though. Hoffenheim continue to lead the way with echoes of the football they played in storming the first half of the 2008/9 season and they face local rivals Lautern this week where another win should be quite straightforward.

    Mainz, in second, face Bremen who looked in equal parts awful and brilliant in their Champions League draw with Spurs in midweek. Bayern got a much-needed win in midweek against Roma and need to replicate that form in the league before they find themselves adrift of the leaders. They're at home to Cologne this week and that shouldn't be a problem, even if they are missing Arjen Robben and involved in a seemingly intractable tussle with the KNVB about whose fault it is. Frieburg have had a decent start and go to Frankfurt to face Eintracht who got their first win last week. Stuttgart, at the bottom and playing miserable football, take on Gladbach while Leverkusen - sans the injured Michael Ballack - are at home to Nurnberg.

    Eredivisie round 6 previews

    De Graafschap v Heerenveen
    Groningen v Excelsior
    Vitesse v NAC
    Willem II v ADO
    Feyenoord v Ajax
    NEC v AZ
    Roda JC v PSV
    Utrecht v VVV Venlo
    Heracles v Twente

    It's derby time in Holland with the first Klassieker of the season as Ajax - sans fans - go to De Kuip to face Feyenoord. And the timing couldn't be better for the Amsterdammers as Feyenoord are struggling. In front of goal, they're really missing Jon Dahl Tomasson who is still out with the leg injury picked up at the World Cup and they've few other sources of goals. While Roy Makaay retired at the end of last season, the money simply isn't there to replace him. Ajax have goals galore in them, but with both sides a bit iffy at the back, this should be entertaining. The other derby sees Twente take the short trip to Almelo to face struggling Heracles. After a decent showing on their Champions League debut, this should be straightforward for the champions. PSV will look to take advantage of any slip-ups with a trip to Kerkrade to face Roda JC.

    The weekend kicks off on Friday night with De Graafschap hosting Heerenveen. That should be pretty straightforward for the visitors, though De Graafschap finally got some goals under their belts last week. Struggling AZ go to NEC and you'd think an away win is unlikely. Rock bottom Willem II face ADO and if the Tilburgers are ever going to get out of it, then they have to start here. Excelsior have been good lately, confounding this pundit and more than a few others, but a trip to Groningen looks a step too far for them this week. Vitesse slipped to second bottom last week and are at home to NAC Breda where another more points look remote. After a great start, Utrecht have lost their last two and have dropped to eleventh. They need to get back on the horse and a home game against VVV Venlo gives them a great opportunity to do just that.

    Monday, 13 September 2010

    Big spenders floundering: Bundesliga reviews

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

    Money can't buy you love, so some cheeky sixties popsters sang, and it can't buy you Bundesliga points either. Many have tried, but few succeed. Ask Schalke, Bayern and Wolfsburg. Schalke new boy Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was on show, but his new team were overwhelmed by a hard-working Hoffenheim side, a side who have rediscovered their mojo, on Friday night. Huntelaar's strike partner Raul looked like he'd rather be anywhere other than the outskirts of Sindheim and cut a disconsolate and disinterested figure. Hoffenheim weren't about to show much in the way of sympathy and a short corner late in the first half saw the Schalke defence opened up like a well-cooked mussel for Isaac Vorsah to head in unopposed. The second, which came in the last minute, goes down as a Manuel Neuer own goal. Sedad Salihovic hit a lovely free-kick which left the German number one rooted. The ball struck the post, struck Neuer and bobbled in. Bayern were held to a goalless draw by Bremen for whom Torsten Frings out van Bommelled Mark van Bommel and Marko Marin provided much of the thrust. Bayern looked becalmed. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, are 0-for-3 and already the pressure is on Steve McClaren. Where Die Wolfe were lethargic, Dortmund were effervescent and, after a goalless first 45, got their reward five minutes after the break when Nuri Sahin cracked in a long-range shot right into the top corner which left Diego Benaglio flailing. Quarter of an hour later, Andrea Barzagli and Simon Kjaer were pulled apart far too easily to allow Shinji Kagawa through on goal and he finished with ease.

    Hoffenheim remain top then, level on points with the only other 100% side in the league, Mainz. They beat Lautern, back down to earth after the win over Bayern, despite going behind to Srdan Lakic's 20th minute goal after the offside trap was sprung wide open. Mainz were level with 20 minutes left, a long range shot pinballing around the box before Niko Bungert tapped it in from five yards. The winner followed moments later, a wonderful effort from Andre Schurrle which drifted gently through the air as it sailed past the flapping keeper. Hamburg and Hannover both drop points for the first time this season as both were held. Hamburg were ahead against Nurnberg when Joris Mathijsen turned in Eljero Elia's deep corner on the hour, but Nurnberg rescued a point a few minutes from time thanks to Javier Pinola's emphatic penalty. Hannover will feel hard done by to lose a two-goal lead to Leverkusen for whom Patrick Helmes rescued a point in second half stoppage time. Didier Ya Konan put Hannover in front after 20 minutes with a really intelligent finish, opening his body out to create the angle for the shot, and they were two up early in the second half through Mohammed Abdellaoue despite having lost Emmanuel Pogatetz to a second yellow card in the interim. Leverkusen had lost Michael Ballack to a micro-fracture of the shin early in the game, but Eren Derdiyok got them back into it on the hour with a volley from 18 yards. The equaliser had to come and so it did, Helmes rattling a low free-kick in from just outside the box.

    Joining Wolfsburg and Schalke on no points at the bottom of the table are Stuttgart, beaten by Freiburg despite going ahead through Pavel Pogrebnyak, the big Russian heading in from close range in the 27th minute. Papiss Demba Cisse levelled it up on the hour, stealing in at the back post to tap in a deep cross. The winner came quarter of an hour later, the ball laid off to Julian Schuster who curled in a beauty from 20 yards. Cologne picked up a vital three points with a 1-0 win over St Pauli for whom the bubble appears to have burst. A thunderous shot from 35 yards came crashing back off the bar and Taner Yalcin was alive to it and poked it home. Eintracht were the big winners of the weekend, sticking four past Gladbach. Benjamin Kohler got the first, getting above the keeper to head in from close range before Theofanis Gekas got the first of his double, Alex Meier teeing him up for a tap-in. Patrick Ochs got number three with a chipped finish before Gekas completed the rout, Halil Altintop playing the diminutive Greek through an increasingly ragged defence.

    French bookies in a lather: Ligue 1 reviews

    Auxerre 1-1 Caen
    Lyon 1-1 Valenciennes
    Montpellier 1-2 Nancy
    PSG 4-0 Arles
    Rennes 2-1 Sochaux
    Toulouse 0-1 St Etienne
    Lens 1-4 Lille
    Brest 0-0 Lorient
    Nice 2-1 Bordeaux
    Marseille 2-2 Monaco

    You would have thought that after five rounds of fixtures that the big clubs in Ligue 1 would, if not have asserted themselves at the top, at least looked like moving in an upward direction. Not so. Still the bookmaker's pre-season favourites languish in the bottom half after another week where none of them won. Measure the heart rate of a French bookie and stand back in amazement. If this continues, they're going to take a bath on this season. Neither does it bode well for any of the French sides in the Champions League. The group stage begins this week with the three representatives in stinking rotten form. Auxerre have yet to get a league win under their belts yet, drawing for the fourth time this season at the weekend. The one bright spot for AJA has been skipper Benoit Pedretti and he opened the scoring against Caen in the 20th minute, some great footwork starting the move and finishing with a low, left-footed drive. Youssef El Arabi had gone close in the first half, but rescued a point three minutes into stoppage time, a low cross coming off his shin and past Olivier Sorin. A similar story for Lyon who were in front against Valenciennes through Jeremy Pied, but conceded an equaliser midway through the second half, a bullet header from Gaetan Bong whose late run into the box at a corner simply wasn't picked up. Marseille had to equalise twice to save a point against Monaco. Daniel Niculae had the Monagasques in front with a finish from an impossibly tight angle quarter of an hour in, but the sides went into half-time level after Mathieu Valbuena slammed in a shot from 15 yards following a spell of sustained OM pressure. With eleven minutes to go, Park Chu-Young capitalised on a defensive mix-up to restore Monaco's lead, but within a minute, Adriano put through his own net, turning a low cross in from point blank range.

    Bordeaux fared even worse, going down to a 2-1 defeat in Nice. Eric Mouloungui put Nice in front ten minutes from half time, cutting in from the left and finishing right-footed. Habib Bamogo made the game safe in the last minute, a delicate finish over the keeper, but Bordeaux did get one back in stoppages, Anthony Modeste with a penalty. Bordeaux remain in the bottom three. Below them are Lens, beaten heavily in the derby against Lille after having two men sent off. Gervinho put Lille ahead midway through the first half before Lens were reduced to ten when Sebastien Roudet was sent off. Early in the second half, Issam Jemaa followed after a second booking, but Lens were level on the hour Abdoulrazak Boukari with a powerful header. It couldn't and didn't last. Pierre-Alain Frau got two in two minutes, the first after Lens keeper Vedran Runje could only palm Yohan Cabaye's long range shot onto the bar. The second was rather more routine, turning in a headed cross from five yards. Gervinho wrapped it up late on with a firm header as the nine men crumbled. Arles remain rooted to bottom with no points and another four goals against, this time with none coming back the other way. PSG overwhelmed them from the off and Arles sat so deep, it was just a matter of time. The entire defence running away to leave Guillaume Hoarau on his own, onside, ten yards from goal certainly isn't good for your chances of winning games, but that's what they did twenty minutes in. He scored, of course. Ten minutes later, a deep corner was met on the slide by Mamadou Sakho for 2-0. After the break which saw the traditional Parc des Princes half-time entertainment of home fans scuffling with each other, Nene floated in a beautiful free kick for 3-0 and the brazilian added a fourth a few minutes later, a nice little dink over the advancing keeper. Arles, sad to say, stink.

    Toulouse remain top despite a loss, their first of the season, to St Etienne who consolidate their third place. Just the one goal, Laurent Batlles getting in front of his marker to head in. Rennes remain second after a late winner against Sochaux. Rennes led after five minutes, Kevin Theophile-Catherine heading in from a corner, but the sides went in level after Damien Perquis got a slight brush of his head on a free-kick a few minutes from half-time. And so it looked likely to remain until Kader Mangane stole in at the back post to poke home a driven cross. Brest and Lorient battled to a goalless draw while Montpellier slip to fifth after defeat to ten man Nancy, Joel Sami picking up his second yellow three minutes into the second half. Nancy were already two up by then, Djamel Bakar quickest to react as the MHSC keeper spilled a long range shot and Bakaye Traore - no French side is complete without a Traore - with a neat finish on the turn. Marco Estrada curled the free-kick in after Sami's dismissal, but they couldn't find a way past the resolute ten men.