• Friday, 29 January 2010

    La Liga round 20

    Espanyol v Athletic
    Sporting v Barcelona
    Deportivo v Real Madrid
    Tenerife v Zaragoza
    Villarreal v Osasuna
    Valladolid v Almeria
    Getafe v Racing
    Xerez v Mallorca
    Atlético v Málaga
    Sevilla v Valencia

    Cristiano Ronaldo picked up a two-match ban for breaking Patrick Mtiglia's nose with his forearm last week. Naturally the Portuguese has copped his punishment like a man, grateful to only get two games as in the Premier League it would have been three, minimum. Err, no. Whining to Madrid's chief propagandists, AS, he claimed the ban to be "excessive". El Real duly appealed and lost. Ronaldo now misses this week's game against Depor and next week against Espanyol. Mtiglia, meanwhile, is set to miss the next six weeks.

    Depor sit fifth, a little way back from the top three, but can succeed against narrow sides like Real. I'd stop short of tipping a win for them, but I fancy them to get a result. Barca, meanwhile, are in Gijon and if you can even get odds quoted for an away win, they won't be very long. It's surely a question of how many. Barca have dismantled many sides with much more pedigree than Sporting already this season and will do so again. Probably here.

    Top game of the week is Valencia's trip to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville. The home side need a win to peg Los Che back in the race for Champions League places. Indeed, since the end of this season's Champions League group stage, Sevilla have gone backwards. That's been in the absence of the injured Luis Fabiano and the internationally occupied Fredi Kanouté. The latter is back after the Africa Cup of Nations where, surprisingly, he was left on the bench for a make-or-break game for Mali. Bizarre. No wonder they didn't break any pots. Valencia are going supremely well, scoring goals from all over. When the likes of David Albelda and Carlos Marchena are in the goals, you have few worries.

    Xerez look doomed and high-flying Mallorca can hammer in nail number 20 into that relegation coffin this week. The next six above them are all well and truly in the relegation battle. Zaragoza are stinking the league up with their current form and go to Tenerife this week who are one place and three points above them and there's another six-pointer between Almería and Valladolid. Espanyol are still right in the mire and have a home game against Athletic who can do anything on any given day. At home, Espanyol will fancy it. If nothing else this week, these games should at least give a slightly clearer picture of who lies where.

    Finally, there are three mid-table scraps with Villareal and Atlético both at home as they continue to resurrect what looked to be forlorn seasons early on. They face Osasuna and Málaga respectively. Getafe look to keep up their pursuit of European football at home to Sergio Canales-inspired Racing.

    Serie A round 22

    Bari v Palermo
    Napoli v Genoa
    Cagliari v Fiorentina
    Milan v Livorno
    Chievo v Bologna
    Roma v Siena
    Sampdoria v Atalanta
    Catania v Udinese
    Parma v Internazionale
    Juventus v Lazio

    At time of writing, Ciro Ferrara remains boss of Juventus, but a Coppa Italia defeat to Inter in the week may prove his last game in that role. Mario Balotelli scored a last-minute winner for the league leaders prompting the board of The Old Lady to summon Ferrara to a meeting. Rafa Benitez is being linked strongly to the job and Alberto Zaccheroni has also been mentioned. Ferrara, if he does succumb to the pressure, will not be the first nor the last coach to suffer from being too close to the players. It's not that long since he was team-mates with half this squad and going from buddy to boss is a difficult move. Both Benitez and Zaccheroni offer a level of authoritarianism that Ferrara cannot, at this stage of his career, hope to offer. And lord knows those players need a firm hand. They've been rotten lately and if Champions League football is to be on next year's agenda, then it needs changing soon. Mind you, Lazio are a terrible football side so they probably won't have an issue this week.

    The other big Serie A story this week concerns Firoentina striker Adrian Mutu. He's failed another drug test and is facing a ban of between one and four years, and given that he's already 31, that could well be that for the Romanian's career. Needless to say, he won't feature for La Viola at improving Cagliari this weekend. Elsewhere, Roma have been rocked by injuries to both Luca Toni and Francesco Totti and both are facing six weeks out of the game. Fortunately, they only have to face Siena this week.

    The top two should both win through easily enough. Inter are at fast fading Parma while Milan are at home to Livorno. Palermo are fast on the rise, but go to Bari this week which is always a tough place to pick up points. Inter were held there a couple of weeks ago, but Bari will have their hands full to contain a Rosanero side that looks full of verve and brio. Napoli versus Genoa is a real battle of European contenders. This won't settle a place in the Champions League, but will go some way to determining the outcome. Sampdoria were looking good for the top four or five early in the season, but have suffered a massive blip. Dropping Antonio Cassano looked the counter-intuitive thing to do, but Samp won last week. They are at home to lowly Atalanta this week and look good for a second straight win.

    Two important clashes down at the bottom this week. Catania host Udinese and Bologna go to Chievo and points are essential for all four of them. Catania start the round in the bottom three, a point behind Udinese. Chievo have a bit of a buffer back to the danger zone, but Bologna are only one place below and should they win then Chievo will be dragged right back in.

    Thursday, 28 January 2010

    Ligue 1 round 22

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

    It's been a bad week for Lyon. And that's coming in the middle of what, for them, is a bad year. A week ago, they were dumped out of the Coupe de France in Monaco and that was followed by defeat to Lorient in the quarter-finals of the League Cup. Moreover, they're eleven points off the top of the league. By the standards set at Stade Gerland in the last decade, this is a crisis. And yet they're still only three points away from second place and an automatic Champions League place. And they can take a big step towards that with a win over similarly embattled PSG. The Parisians were already out of the League Cup, beaten by Ligue 2 Guingamp, but won through at home to Evian in the Coupe de France last week. A loss there and Antoine Kombouaré would probably have gone. He remains, albeit under growing pressure. A loss for either here and a managerial change cannot be far away.

    Bordeaux roll serenely on in all three domestic competitions with Laurent Blanc stating the bleeding obvious by saying his side are in good shape to take all three. Only a bizarre loss of form by a good number of his squad can stop him. Nobody in this league can hold a candle to his runaway league leaders. Especially not Boulogne, probably the worst side in the major European leagues on current form. Montpellier have lasted longer at the top than pretty much everybody thought they would and remain the nearest challegers to Les Girondins. They have a real tough test for the this week, a home game against Marseille. Win it, and the south coast club can start having a look around the other leagues for potential Champions League opponents. Lose it and everything's back on. For their part, Marseille can't really afford to lose it for fear of being cut adrift. Lille's terrific run ended last week, but they'll have Gervinho back in the reckoning for a local derby against Lens. There's a derby of sorts at the other end of the country where Nice make the short trip to Monaco. The Monagasques are shedding a bunch of players with Frederic Nimani and Eidur Gudjohnsen both off on loan to the Premier League in England. Auxerre are still in with a shout and Ireneusz Jelen came back from his latest injury to bag a winner in the cup a week ago. They face St Etienne this week who gave themselves a bit of breathing space, opening up a four-point gap back to the bottom three.

    Le Mans are that side four points behind and they face Toulouse at home this week. TFC are impossible to read. They don't look a great side, but they're way too good to be in any sort of trouble, but they're equally capable of losing to a side like Le Mans who won't give them any space. Grenoble's pitiful campaign continues up north at Rennes. Elsewhere, Lorient go to Nancy and Valenciennes have a visit from Sochaux in a couple of mid-table clashes.

    Bundesliga round 20

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

    Two clubs dominated the headlines in Germany during the week and they kick off the weekend with a Friday night fixture at the Volksparkstadion. Hamburg made all the right noises, capturing the highly sought-after Ruud van Nistelrooy. He'll certainly improve their goal scoring record, especially as Paulo Guerrero is still stuck in Peru after recovering from a serious knee injury. His fear of flying, which meant he missed the chance to see a specialist in the United States, has kept him on terra firma. Three times he's boarded a plane bound for Germany, but he had to leave before take-off each time. For their part, Wolfsburg, HSV's opponents this week, were in the news for putting Armin Veh out of his misery. With the benefit of hindsight, it was always going to be tough for Veh, a very quietly spoken man, to take over the treble role that the autocratic Felix Magath left behind. Magath is a one-off. Not many people can act as head coach, sporting director and CEO, but somehow Magath made it work. Veh simply couldn't. Had he had two other people alongside him to fulfil the CEO and sporting director roles and left him to concentrate on coaching the players, then perhaps it could have been different. We shall never know. His side lost their seventh league game of the season last week, to struggling Cologne, and the board acted. Bernd Schuster and Guus Hiddink are the favourites to succeed Veh and both have the credentials to do the Magath job, but Lorenz-Guenther Koestner takes the job on as caretaker in the meantime.

    Leverkusen remain top with everyone wondering when the 'Neverkusen' curse will kick in and ruin everything for them. Unlikely this week, you'd think, with a home game against lowly Freiburg. Bayern moved up to second, ominously, with a dominant performance over Bremen. They face Mainz this week, but they've already lost to the Frankfurt club this season. Mind, Bayern have got much better since then and Mainz will be doing very well to get something out of this one. Schalke remain right in there despite being held by Bochum last week. They face Hoffenheim this week with pressure mounting on Ralf Rangnick after a miserable 3-0 home defeat by Leverkusen last time out.

    Stuttgart are improving under Christian Gross, but run up against the steam train that is Borussia Dortmund this week. Some solid results have seen Stuttgart move away from immediate danger, but they could easily get sucked in if things start going against them soon and Dortmund look in no mood to start dropping points after six straight wins. As the Stuttgart side of 2007, and Wolfsburg last year, would testify, that is championship form. The only thing is that maybe they've started their run a bit too early. Bremen have dropped off, but played much better - in patches at least - against Bayern last week. With the likes of Aaron Hunt, Marko Marin and Mesut Ozil, they're a very young side and maybe it's next year we should be looking at them as real contenders. They're certainly capable and should have too much for Gladbach, Marin's previous employers, this weekend.

    Hertha are in a proverbial six-pointer against Bochum who come off the back of that draw with Schalke, and it's 16th v 17th in Hannover where Nurnberg are the visitors. Cologne have pulled away from the danger zone a bit and they go to a very much mid-table Eintracht.

    Eredivisie round 20

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

    All eyes on De Kuip on Sunday morning for another Classic. Ajax are in Rotterdam for the latest instalment of this long-running feud. Well, the Ajax players will be. As usual, their fans won't be travelling. And yet it's hard to get properly excited about this one with Ajax remote in third and Feyenoord even more remote in fourth. The Rotterdammers can close to within a point of their bitter rivals with a win and go into this as the first side to beat PSV in 39 straight matches after a 2-0 win in the KNVB Beker in midweek. For their part, Ajax have been less than their swashbuckling best of late. 50 goals in the first half the season set them up for a stunning total, but since hitting the half century, they've not hit the heights in the league. Luis Suarez has signed a contract extension which at least staves off transfer talk for now and while Dutch national keeper Maarten Stekelenburg missed the home win over AZ last week, they have another international in Kenneth Vermeer - stunning last week - to deputise.

    Twente need to get back to winning ways before PSV are over the hill and far away. The Eindhoveners have to do something they haven't done for almost a year this week and that's bounce back from a loss, but even given that they're away from home and Vitesse are improving, it's difficult to see them slipping up. The Tukkers have seen a four-point swing to PSV since the resumption and now lie two behind the leaders following successive goalless draws. The cup has been kinder though and they took out their frustrations on Sparta, battering them 4-0 with Kenneth Perez getting two. Roda aren't pushovers, but this is one you'd expect Twente to win. If not, then maybe the rot has set in.

    Rock bottom Waalwijk get the round started on Friday night away at second-bottom Willem II. Should RKC win, then they'll be off the bottom for the first time all season, leapfrogging their opponents. It's difficult to see that happening, even given the Tilburger's lack of form. Den Haag also start the weekend in the bottom three and they have a tough game against improving Heerenveen. NEC and Sparta are both struggling for form and face off in Nijmegen while there's a clash of European hopefuls in Utrecht with Heracles the visitors. Utrecht should have Jacob Mulenga back from Africa Cup of Nations duty, which will help, while Heracles suffered a setback a week ago and need to get back to winning ways. Both these sides will be looking to capitalise on any slip by Feyenoord above them. NAC are also in the European frame and lie five points clear of their nearest challenger, VVV Venlo, who they coincidentally face this week. If VVV are to cap their return to the Eredivisie with a shot at the Europa Cup, then this is a must-win. Expect a draw.

    Monday, 25 January 2010

    Ronaldo's goals break Malaga, but his arm breaks Mtiglia's nose: La Liga reviews

    Sevilla 1-0 Almeria
    Valladolid 0-3 Barcelona
    Deportivo 3-1 Athletic
    Tenerife 0-0 Valencia
    Villarreal 4-2 Zaragoza
    Sporting 0-1 Racing
    Xerez 1-2 Osasuna
    Espanyol 1-1 Mallorca
    Getafe 1-0 Atlético
    Real Madrid 2-0 Málaga

    After Barcelona's routine thumping of Valladolid on Saturday, El Real had to respond against Málaga in the late game on Sunday. The visitors rattled Los Merengues early on as they had several good chances including one off the bar as Sergio Duda's cross was turned towards goal by Xabi Alonso. They survived the early onslaught though and Cristiano Ronaldo finished off a lovely move, slotting in Kaka's cross. Four minutes later he added a second, a fierce dipping shot from range. He wouldn't finish the game though, as a flailing arm from the Portuguese caught Patrick Mtiglia in the face, breaking the Danish defender's nose. A straight red card was the result, a decision which Ronaldo described as "a disgrace". Moreover, it's sporting manager Jorge Valdano's considered opinion that Ronaldo deserves leniency because he is "an entertainer". Tommyrot. It was a wild and careless action which will see the victim out for a month or more. While El Real's cheerleaders in the Madrid press will no doubt agree with Valdano, no other person with even a passing interest in football does.

    Barcelona were unstoppable against Valladolid and picked off their opponents in clinical fashion. Dani Alves set one up for Xavi and scored the second himself within the space of two first half minutes. Lionel Messi added a third after the break before the cue went in the rack. Valencia were held to a goalless draw at Tenerife, leaving them ten points adrift of the leaders and five behind El Real. This is a two-horse race now, such as it was ever anything but. Mallorca and Depor are tucked behind Los Che, the former held to a draw by Espanyol with only a late Borja Valero penalty to thank for rescuing a point. Depor won well over Athletic, emerging 3-1 winners after a goalless first half. Filipe Kasmirski put them ahead four minutes after the break and Juca doubled the advantage ten minutes later. With Atheltic not making much of a game of it, Depor defender Diego Colotto got Athletic back into it with an own goal, but Pablo Alvarez added a third in the last minute to seal a comfortable win.

    Sevilla ended their horror run thanks to Alvaro Negredo who got the only goal of the game at home to Almería and Getafe also needed just the one goal to beat Atlético. That came from Manu late in the first half and Atléti finished with ten men when Paulo Assuncao was sent off twenty minutes from time. Villareal withstood a fightback from Zaragoza before emerging with a 4-2 win. The Yellow Submarine ran into a 3-0 lead early on thanks to Joan Capdevila, Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi. As the clock ticked down, two in seven minutes - Eliseu and Lafita - threatened to set up a grandstand finish, but Abriel Ibagaza calmed home side nerves with a fourth, three minutes from time.

    Racing won away at Sporting despite the late sending off of Oriol. Alexandre Geijo had earlier given Racing the lead. Xerez remain rooted to the bottom after defeat to Osasuna who were ahead inside ten minutes through Nacho Monreal. Mario Bermejo equalised halfway through the first half, but Osasuna won it seven minutes from the end through Javier Camuñas.

    Two off, but Inter take derby spoils: Serie A reviews

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

    The derby started well for Inter when Diego Milito put them in front with a fine, angled finish after just ten minutes. Wesley Sneijder was running the show from midfield, as he does so often, but managed to get himself sent off for dissent before the half hour mark. Sarcastically applauding the referee drew a straight red for the Dutchman. Far from heads dropping for the Nerazzurri, it galvanised them. Yes, Milan had the majority of possession, but they were as wasteful as the Inter midfield was tigerish and the defence stoic. Goran Pandev increased the lead on 65 minutes with a superb free-kick as Milan huffed and puffed to little real effect. Lucio was sent off in stoppage time, picking up a second yellow for handling the ball, but Julio Cesar saved the resultant penalty from Ronaldinho sending half the San Siro crowd crazy. It had an effect on the Inter bench too where Marco Materazzi donned a Silvio Berlusconi mask before celebrating in the middle of the pitch to hoots of laughter.

    Defeat for the Rossoneri allowed Roma to close to within two points after coming from behind to beat troubled Juventus. The ageless Alessandro del Piero gave the Bianconeri a deserved lead early in the second half, but they went to pieces after that. Fabio Grosso felled Rodrigo Taddei in the box and Francesco Totti - an early replacement for the injured Luca Toni - fired in the free-kick, his 188th Serie A goal and, remarkably, his first against Juve in Turin. Gianluigi Buffon was sent off for taking down John-Arne Riise and the Norwegian grabbed a stoppage time winner with a superb header. Napoli and Palermo both took advantage of Juve's slip to move up. Napoli saw off Livorno who finished with ten men and missed a penalty, so determined were they not to win the game. Cristian Maggio opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time and Luca Cigarini finished it on the stroke of full-time after Cristiano Lucarelli had missed from 12 yards and Alfonso de Lucia was sent off. Palermo destroyed a woeful Fiorentina with a wonderful attacking display. 20-year old Uruguayan Abel Hernandez scored twice for the Rosanero, linking up well with Fabrizio Micolli who was sublime throughout. Hernandez started in place of Igor Budan, but the Croatian came off the bench to add a third as the Sicilians move into fifth.

    Sampdoria arrested a horror run that saw them slip into the bottom half of the table after a stellar start as they came from behind twice away against Udinese. Antonio de Natale and Giampaolo Pazzini exchanged penalties in the first half, but Udinese led at the break through Mauricio Isla. Nicola Pozzi and Franco Semioli struck in the second period to take a much-needed three points for the Genoese. Their city rivals Genoa also won, 2-0 at home to lowly Atalanta, Rodrigo Palacio and Hernan Crespo on target. Cagliari are in seventh after an eventful game at Siena where both sides finished with ten men. Joaquin Larrivey was first to go for Cagliari and Emanuele Calaio put the home side in front. It was going swimmingly for them until Emilson also saw red ten minutes from time and Alessandro Matri scored the penalty.

    Parma slip into the bottom half after slumping to heavy defeat at Catania. Giuseppe Mascara put Catania in front and then missed a penalty, but Jorge Martinez and Takayuki Morimoto made sure that miss didn't matter too much. Bari blew a lead at Bologna, Henry Gimenez on target twice after Paulo Barretto had put Bari in front and Lazio drew with Chievo, Sergio Pellissier equalising for the Flying Donkeys after Gugliermo Stendardo had put Lazio in front early on.

    Dortmund the form horse: Bundesliga reviews

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

    BvB won their sixth straight game at the weekend and are unbeaten since the derby defeat to Schalke back in September. Hamburg were the victims this time, though it came around too early for new HSV signing Ruud van Nistelrooy to figure, Nelson Valdez punishing Hamburg for not clearing their lines. Without regular keeper Roman Weidenfeller, Marc Ziegler had a rare start for BvB and kept his side in front with a string of saves. The one time he was beaten, Mladen Petric headed over the top.

    Bayern went top, briefly, after beating Bremen at the Weserstadion. Aaron Hunt gave Bremen an early lead, but Bayern went into half-time in front thanks to Thomas Muller and Ivica Olic. Hugo Almeida brought it back level quarter of an hour from time, but Arjen Robben fired in a free-kick from wide out off the underside of the crossbar. Bremen should still have secured a point, Marko Marin wrongly ruled offside in the dying moments. They were top for little more than 24 hours, before Leverkusen went to Hoffenheim and put a disappointing TSG side away. Sami Hyypia has been a terrific acquisition for Leverkusen, an imposing figure at the back, completely rejuvenated after looking jaded in his final days at Liverpool. This time, he popped up at the other end to grab his first Leverkusen goal ten minutes into the contest. Second half goals followed from the outstanding midfield duo Toni Kroos and Tranquillo Barnetta as Hoffenheim once again fail to start the second half of the season in any kind of form. Schalke lost ground in the title race as they blew a two-goal lead over neighbours Bochum. Vicente Sanchez and the in-form Kevin Kuranyi gave Schalke a 2-0 half-time lead and they were looking good to hold onto that as time ticked down. Even when Vahid Hashemian pulled one back eight minutes from time, there looked little to worry about. But Stanislav Sestak popped up two minutes into stoppage time to head Hashemian's cross past Manuel Neuer for a late equaliser.

    Hertha picked up another point in a lacklustre game with Gladbach who saw Juan Arango's penalty saved late in the first half. They remain three adrift of Nurnberg who also drew, 1-1 with Eintracht. Christian Eigler put Nurnberg ahead twenty minutes in, but it was all square by half-time, Benjamin Kohler on target for Eintracht, and so it remained. Hannover lost, but remain seven clear of Hertha. Andre Schuerrle's fourth minute goal, picking off a loose pass in defence, was enough for Mainz to end a six-game winless streak. Freiburg are just a point above Hannover after defeat to Stuttgart who climb to eleventh thanks to Ciprian Marica's goal late in the first half. Freiburg had a goal chalked off due to a much-debated offside call and Marica had a second ruled out harshly for high feet as he stabbed a corner into the net.

    PSV steal a march over misfiring Twente: Eredivisie reviews

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

    What on earth has happened to Twente? Cruising serenely onwards in the lead up to the winter break, since the league resumed they've played out two really poor goalless draws. Yes, they remain unbeaten, but with PSV in similar form they hadn't built any sort of lead. Knocked off the top on goal difference last week, this latest stalemate saw the Eindhoven giants open up a gap. Yes, it's only two points, but with barely a chance worthy of the name created in two games, it's a worrying time. For their part, PSV were comfortable winners over NEC on Friday night. With Jonathan Reis sacked by the club after testing positive for recreational drugs, Ola Toivonen came back into the starting line-up and immediately made an impact with goals in each half, heading home halfway through the first half and lashing home from just inside the box quarter of an hour into the second. Nordin Amrabat came off the bench to stab a late third in as PSV take control of the league.

    Ajax emerged with a win in a wide open game against AZ. Chances were created in huge number at either end, but Kenneth Vermeer - in for late withdrawal Maarten Stekelenburg - and Sergio Romero were both in terrific form. Gregory van der Wiel eventually broke the deadlock after exchanging passes with Luis Suarez. Dick Advocaat was sent to the stands as his side picked up seven bookings, but his complaints looked a little silly as his charges kicked lumps out of the Amsterdammers. Indeed, Stijn Schaars was lucky to stay on the field after a studs-up challenge on Ismail Aissati. Feyenoord were held in Venlo despite one of their former players, Patrick Paauwe, turning Jon Dahl Tomasson's cross past his own keeper. Ferry de Regt rescued a point late on with a neat header.

    Heracles' European push took a hit as Onur Kaya scored twice for Vitesse. Sebastian Steur got one back, too little too late. Utrecht were also beaten, 2-0 in Kerkrade. Willem Janssen got the first five minutes before the break and Jan-Paul Saeijs the second five minutes after it as Roda ran out comfortable winners. Heerenveen are on the march and won well at home to Willem II who finished with ten men. Paulo Henriques scored twice for the Friesians, the second coming after Marlon Pereira was sent off. The Tilburgers had taken a lead with eighteen minutes remaining, but they collapsed in spectacular fashion, Pereira's dismissal for a professional foul capping a miserable finish to the game. NAC kept up their hopes of European football with a 1-0 win over hapless Waalwijk who pick up where they left off. Leonardo got the goal and was later sent off on an eventful afternoon for the Brazilian. Finally, Sparta and Den Haag ground out a lifeless 0-0 draw in Rotterdam.

    Thursday, 21 January 2010

    Bundesliga round 19

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

    Top game in the Bundesliga this week sees resurgent Hamburg the latest side to try to break Dortmund's impressive winning streak. With Mladen Petric back from injury, Hamburg have a potency up front they missed badly in the months before the winter break. Prior to that, they were lost without Eljero Elia through whom all the attack was going. Now, at least they have options. Dortmund looked good enough without Mohamed Zidan - away with Egypt and looking good for a third straight Africa Cup of Nations - although they almost threw a handy lead away last week against lowly Cologne.

    In any other season, the trip to Bremen by Bayern would attract most eyes, but Bremen's woes of late coupled with Bayern's superb run make this look a one-sided affair in prospect. Schalke are also up at the sharp end and have a derby with Bochum to negotiate this week. They should be pretty comfortable with this one though and maintain their pursuit of Leverkusen who have a tricky one away at Hoffenheim. Dietmar Hopp demanded European football this season as recompense for his backing, but The Villagers are some way off the pace at the moment. They're capable of beating anyone in this league and probably many others, but consistency has eluded them and Leverkusen are very organised. Moreover, Simon Rolfes came back last week and Patrick Helmes got a bit more game time under his belt as he comes back from knee trouble.

    At the bottom, Hertha scored a morale-boosting win last week, but still remain some way adrift. They take on another struggling side this week in the shape of Gladbach and if there was ever a time to string some wins together, it's now. Hannover got rid of Andreas Bergmann following the defeat to Hertha and former Schalke supremo Mirko Slomka takes over in time for the trip to Mainz. Nurnberg are at home to Eintracht who continue to grind out results. Stuttgart aren't still completely out of trouble, but take on Freiburg who are hovering above the bottom three and the other side in trouble, Cologne, go to Wolfsburg. That looks a hopeless task, even if the champions aren't in great form themselves. Despite his club's form, Edin Dzeko's agent has told anyone who will listen that €40m will be enough to persuade his client to move. Frankly, that sounds like a bargain.

    Nobody wants to challenge Bordeaux: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    It seems that nobody is interested in mounting a serious challenge to the champions. Lille were making a strong case with a string of impressive results scoring goals, goals, goals. Not this week though, as they were undone by Sochaux. Les Lionceaux were two up inside ten minutes, Damien Perguis and Stephane Dalmat with the goals, and Lille spurned an early chance to pull one back when Yohan Cabaye was denied from the penalty spot. LOSC were content to bide their time, and Robert Vittek got them back in the game quarter of an hour from time, but the clock became their enemy and Sochaux held on. Meanwhile, Bordeux were up in the Alps and battered sorry Grenoble despite going behind. Laurent Batlles put Grenoble into a shock lead on the stroke of half-time, but the second half was just two minutes old when Jimmy Juan was sent off. You don't want to do that against the champions. Yoann Gouffran and Marouane Chamakh - still determined to leave the club with Liverpool now on the radar - got them in front within ten minutes of the red card and Fernando Cavenaghi sealed it late on.

    Montpellier now move up to second, bouncing back well from defeat to Monaco by beating Lens. Hugo Montano was again on target, his seventh of the season, for the only goal of the game. Monaco's own challenge was maintained against PSG who slump to yet another defeat courtesy of Edel Bete's own goal. Auxerre and Marseille also won as the battle to become runner-up to Les Girondins hots up. Ireneusz Jelen is back for AJA and, predictably, got the winner in Nice as the game geaded into stoppage time. Mamadou Niang was Marseille's hero, scoring twice, once with a penalty, after Anthony Le Tallec had given Le Mans the lead in the Vélodrome. Lyon were also winners, again after going behind. Pierre Ducasse put Lorient in front, but Kim Kallstrom struck twice to win it after Lisandro's equaliser.

    Down at the bottom, St Etienne grabbed another point in a goalless draw with Rennes, while Boulogne went down again, losing 2-0 at home to Valenciennes. Jérémy Blayac missed with a penalty that would have given Boulogne the lead and VA made them pay. Gaetan Bong handed them the lead early in the second half and Fahid Ben Khalfallah secured the points in stoppage time and Toulouse were held 0-0 at home by Nancy.

    The league takes a break this week for the Coupe de France where the pick of the action is Lyon's trip to Monaco.

    Twente's slip allows PSV to go top: Eredivisie reviews

    NEC 2-1 Vitesse
    Utrecht 0-0 Twente
    NAC 1-1 Ajax
    Roda 0-1 PSV
    Groningen 2-0 Heerenveen

    A change at the top in the Eredivisie after round 18 was eventually completed after the abandonment of the last Sunday of last year. Twente dropped points! In fact, they were lacklustre in the extreme at Utrecht last Sunday, though Utrecht's objective was clear as they packed the midfield and dropped Ricky van Wolfswinkel to go with one up top, Kevin Vandenbergh. Van Wolfswinkel eventually came on late on and nearly won it after Wout Brama had been sent off for a professional foul, but Sander Boschker rescued a point for the Tukkers with a fine save. That left the door ajar for PSV, but they weren't much better against Roda on Tuesday. Andreas Isaaksson had a stunner of an evening between the pipes for the Eindhoveners as Roda had by far the better chances throughout. Indeed, it was an error by Roda stopper Bram Castro that allowed Danny Koevermans to grab the only goal of the game, spilling Stanislav Manolev's speculative effort at the burly striker's feet for the goal which sends PSV top of the pile on goal difference.

    Ajax couldn't make ground either as they were held in Breda by a resilient NAC. Ellery Cairo put the home side in front with the third of a string of good chances, and Maarten Stekelenburg pulled off a fine save to stop the striker making it two. But they couldn't add to their lead and Rasmus Lindgren headed in from a corner shortly before the break to level. Luis Suarez and Demy de Zeeuw went close for Ajax, but they wouldn't have deserved the win had either effort found the net. NEC came from behind for a much-needed and morale-boosting win. A Lasse Nilsson penalty put Vitesse ahead inside five minutes, but Saidi Ntibazonkia squared it up before the break and Ramon Zomer won it early in the second. Groningen, too, needed points and got it last night at home to Heerenveen. They were pretty comfortable and Tim Matavz and Andreas Granqvist secured the points.

    Back to the hurly burly of the league season now and how will the Tukkers react to being knocked off their perch after the 12-game winning run came to an end? They go to a re-energised Groningen - simple on paper, but perhaps not so on grass. PSV, meanwhile, are at home to NEC while game of the week is in Amsterdam where Ajax take on AZ. Dick Advocaat will have welcomed the break to get to grips with his squad and perhaps take stock of what he actually has at his disposal.

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

    We'll wrap those games up next week.

    Tuesday, 19 January 2010

    Bordeaux held, but still in control: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    Runaway leaders Bordeaux were held at home by Marseille in round 20's big clash. Marc Planus was sent off for Les Girondins just after the hour by which point they were a goal in front thanks to OM keeper Steve Mandanda punched into his own net. It looked like the champions were going to hold on, but Benoit Cheyrou volleyed the visitors level ten minutes from time to grab a point. That allowed form side Lille to close, although the gap remains a mighty looking seven points. Mind, if Lille keep going the way they are, that will soon erode. Another three went their way this week against big rivals PSG. Ludovic Obraniak put them on their way inside five minutes and they added a second and third just after the break through Florent Balmont and Franck Beira. Consolation, such as it was, came from Mevlut Erding seven minutes from the end.

    Montpellier bounced back from the thumping they got at Monaco with a win over Nice, even if it was an unconvincing one. Souleymane Camara got the only goal of the game early in the second half as the season's surprise package consolidates third place. Behind Montpellier, there are four clubs locked on 33 points. OM are one of them, Lyon, Auxerre and Monaco the others. Nene struck twice in the last five minutes for the Monagasques to sneak past Sochaux and Lyon were also 2-0 winners, away at Nancy. Again, they left it late, Cris with their opener ten minutes from time and Maxime Gonalons sealing it six minutes later. Auxerre were held to a goalless draw by struggling Boulogne, though the point doesn't help Boulogne out of the bottom three.

    Grenoble lost again in what may prove a big proverbial six-pointer come season's end. St Etienne went two up in the first half through Loic Perrin and Emmenuel Riviere, though Cedric Varrault hit a penalty a minute after Riviere had made it 2-0. A nervy second half saw few chances and Les Verts held on for a vital three points. Le Mans are also in the bottom three after another defeat as they went down 3-0 at home to Lorient. Olivier Monterubbio got two of them after Laurent Koscielny had but the Bretons in front early on. Lens came from behind to grab a draw at Rennes and held on despite Alaeddine Yahia's late red card. Moussa Sow gave Rennes the lead, but Kevin Monnet-Paquet equalised within ten minutes. Toulouse and Valenciennes looked to be heading for a point apiece at Stade Nungesser until two late goals stole a win for Les Violets. Franck Tabanou had put them in front, but VA were level just before the break through Johan Audel. Tabanou's second came six minutes from time and Moussa Sissoko made the game safe three minutes later.

    Round 21 follows immediately on Tuesday and Wednesday:

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

    and we'll round those up later in the week.

    Monday, 18 January 2010

    Hertha win at last: Bundesliga reviews

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

    Starting 2010 in what was very much last place, Hertha had a dream start to the new year. They were comfortable winners away at Hannover and even had the luxury of missing a late penalty, Cicero the guilty man. They were 3-0 up by that point after Lukasz Piszczek and Raffael handing them a first half lead and Theofanis Gekas adding a third ten minutes from time. Reality bites though, and the current season began in similar fashion before turning into the disaster that saw them finish the first half of the season so far adrift. Even with this win, they're nine points adrift of safety, but it's a good start.

    Leverkusen, Schalke and Bayern all won, leaving the status quo intact at the top of the table. Bayern saw off Hoffenheim with ease on Friday, the unsettled Martin Demichelis putting the Bavarians ahead and a late strike from Miroslav Klose sealing the points. The Royal Blues needed just the one goal, the resurgent Kevin Kuranyi with his ninth of the season enough to beat struggling Nurnberg. Leverkusen were involved in a terrific game against Mainz that wasn't settled until two minutes from time. Tim Hoogland put Mainz ahead on eight minutes, but a Tranquilo Barnetta-inspired Leverkusen hit the newly promoted side with three in quarter of an hour. Michal Kadlec, Barnetta and the influential Toni Kroos turned that one-goal deficit into a 3-1 half-time lead. Niko Bungert pulled one back and Mainz went in search of an equaliser until a beautiful move from back to front on the counter attack ended with Barnetta crossing for Eren Derdiyok to stab home from close range.

    Marcell Janssen and Mladen Petric struck for Hamburg as they beat Freiburg to stay in touch at the top. The return of Petric will be huge relief to Bruno Labbadia who had gone three months without a recognised striker and will hopefully signal a return to form and a concerted push to keep this race interesting. Dortmund ended 2009 in terrific form and picked up where they left off, Mats Hummels scoring twice in a one-sided first half in Cologne. The hosts came back strongly after the break with Slovenian international Milivoje Novakovic a constant threat. Eight minutes remained when Kevin McKenna pulled one back and just two when Youssef Mohamad equalised. Just when they thought they'd done enough to grab a point, Kevin Grosskreutz broke their hearts. While the points were welcome, a nasty knee injury to goalkeeper and captain Roman Weidenfeller wasn't what Dortmund needed, but substitute Marc Ziegler won't let BvB down.

    Wolfsburg's year starts with defeat, the champions not making a great fist of the defence of their title. Roberto Hilbert and Pavel Pogrebnyak put the Swabians two up before Edin Dzeko pulled one back, but Stuttgart added a third through Timo Gebhart to leave the champions in ninth place, fully 14 points off the pace. Bremen also lost more ground, losing in Frankfurt to a Marco Russ goal. This comes a week after coach Michael Skibbe outlined his exit strategy from the club, bemoaning the club's lack of ambition. Bochum won a vital relegation battle against Gladbach, Stanislav Sestak and Zlatko Dedic putting them two up before Fabian Backer's late goal set up a tense last ten minutes that the Ruhr side just about hung onto.

    Four points now cover the top four with Dortmund, unbeaten in eight now, coming up fast on the rails. This is not over by a long shot.

    Friday, 15 January 2010

    Eredivisie round 18 (part 2)

    NEC v Vitesse
    Utrecht v Twente
    NAC v Ajax
    Roda v PSV
    Groningen v Heerenveen

    It's another week until the Eredivisie gets back up and running, but with half the programme from the last round before the break being wiped out by snow, ten clubs come back a week early to complete that aborted weekend of fixtures. The pick of these is leaders Twente's trip to Utrecht. The hosts would surely have preferred this game to have been played when originally scheduled as their hard working centre forward Jacob Mulenga is away in Angola with the Zambian national side. Twente are without Chiek Tioté for much the same reason (Ivory Coast), but he's not as central to what Twente do as Mulenga is for Utrecht. Besides, Marko Arnautovic is back in Enschede from his loan spell at Inter and Theo Janssen's club suspension after a drink-drive offence is due to end soon. It's unlikely that Twente will drop points and, in this remarkable two-horse race, neither will PSV away in Kerkrade on Tuesday. It just ain't going to happen. The big question is just when oh when oh when will either of these two lose? The only time either looks like dropping any points is when the two clash for a second time this season.

    Ajax are by any other definition doing pretty well. Just the three defeats in the first half of the season and a blinding amount of goals and yet they're nine points off the pace. NAC are impossible to read and could easily spring a shock, just as easily as shipping yet another half dozen. While the league was off, Ajax managed to put 14 away in the cup, six of them through Luis Suarez who has pledged to stay at Ajax for the foreseeable - i.e. at least until the end of the season rather than during the current transfer window. Heerenveen and Groningen both managed to pull away from immediate danger in the lead-up to the shutdown and face off on Wednesday. A point each wouldn't be a disaster, but a win for either and they'll do themselves a massive favour. NEC are in the bottom three as they resume their campaign against Vitesse. The Arnhem side are in a dizzying tenth, but that's just four points above the drop zone. It is that tight down there. NEC will be without their burly Swedish midfielder Bjorn Vleminckx, suspended after his sending off and subsequent hissy fit in the last round before the break. They look a poor side.

    Ligue 1 round 20

    Monaco 4-0 Montpellier
    Boulogne 0-0 Sochaux

    We had two catch-up games while the league was on hiatus that almost - almost - leaves us with an even table. Boulogne and Sochaux battled to a fairly uninteresting goalless draw that helps neither side do much, but Montpellier suffered a huge setback with a thumping defeat at Stade Louis II that was capped by Abdelhamid El Kaoutari putting the final goal through his own net three minutes from time, that coming after Monaco had already put three of their own away and Montpellier had Younes Belhanda sent off for a second bookable offence. A night to forget for 2009's surprise package. Everyone has now played 19 games bar Marseille and Sochaux as the league resumes for real this weekend and it does do with these fixtures:

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

    Top game this week sees runaway leaders Bordeaux at home to fourth placed Marseille. Girondins lost their cup game in midweek to the snow that's affected much of Europe, much to the chagrin of Laurent Blanc who lost two days preparation for this big clash. Marseille won through in the cup away at St Etienne, but like many sides in Ligue 1 are without a host of players to the Africa Cup of Nations - Taye Taiwo and Bakari Koné for two. It's 38 years since Marseille went to Bordeaux and won and it's difficult to make a case for them to break that sequence, despite Blanc's protestations that his side are short of match practice.

    Lille went second just before the shutdown after a stunning run of form that saw them hit goals for fun. One of the main sources of those goals, finishing and creating, is the Ivorian striker Gervinho. Guess where he'll be this weekend? Not freezing his nadgers off in northern France, that's for sure, where PSG make the short journey across to Stade Metropole for a local derby. Not that PSG are in great shape, dumped out of the cup by Ligue 2 Guingamp. Even without their Ivorian talisman, Lille can heap more misery on their neighbours here. Montpellier have an ideal chance to bounce back from that tubbing in the Principality at home to Nice in something of a south coast derby while Auxerre, in fifth, have Boulogne at home - a game they really should be winning if they've any pretence of maintaining a push for European football or, indeed, the title.

    Le Mans haven't just got players away in Angola, but also coach Paolo Duarté, also head coach of Burkina Faso who somehow earned a 0-0 draw against Ivory Coast despite being outgunned to the tune of 22 shots on goal to.. err.. one. Some of that defensive tenacity wouldn't go amiss up Orléans way as they shape up for a local derby with Lorient. Monaco aren't completely out of it and are at home to Sochaux and neither are Valenciennes - at home to the most frustratingly inconsistent side in Europe, Toulouse.

    For Lyon, in this century at least, a crisis involves not winning the title. It looks highly unlikely they'll do it this year with all sorts of rumblings in the camp. They had to rely on a Jeremy Toulalan goal - Methuselah was still in short trousers the last time that happened - to keep them in the cup in midweek. Nancy are in freefall and they host Les Gones this week. Just down the road from Lyon are their big rivals St Etienne who start 2010 in the bottom three. They start with a home game against rock bottom Grenoble. It took the Alpine club so long to get going, but they were picking up the odd point here and there before the break and lie eight points behind Les Verts. If St Etienne win this one, then that last bit of light that Grenoble can see will probably turn out to be the light of an oncoming train.

    Bundesliga round 18

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

    We're back with the start of the second half of the Bundesliga season due for kick off within half an hour of putting fingers to keyboard. The winter break may have done some clubs a favour while others were just getting going and the break came at an inopportune time. One that falls into the latter category is FC Bayern who had shaken off the early season blues that blighted their campaign in it's early days. They've also taken the opportunity provided by the reopening of the transfer window to offload that troublesome dressing room presence Luca Toni and his reported £171,000 weekly wage. A settled side with Ivica Olic and Mario Gomez leading the line has seen them get the results and end 2009 in third place. They're still without Franck Ribéry for the 2010 opener against Hoffenheim. The loss of the French schemer hasn't hurt them greatly in the run-up to the winter lay-off and another win here will see them go top for the first time in two years. Hoffenheim have striker Chinedu Obasi and Isaac Vorsah away in Angola at the Africa Cup of Nations and four others unavailable due to injury or suspension.

    Leaders Leverkusen, still unbeaten lest we forget, resume against home against Mainz and second-placed Schalke also have a home tie, relegation strugglers Nurnberg who strengthened with the loan of a couple of Bayern players, defenders Andreas Ottl and Breno. Hertha begin 2010 ten points adrift of safety and are away at Hannover while another club grateful to see the back of last year, Stuttgart, aim to begin the recovery against Wolfsburg. The champions will lose midfield schemer Christian Gentner to Stuttgart once this season is done with Gentner moving back to Swabia when his contract expires.

    Dortmund, Bremen and Hamburg are all on the fringes of the action at the head of the field and all will start favourites in their respective clashes. Dortmund are away at Cologne, Bremen are in Frankfurt to take on Eintracht and Hamburg have a visit from Freiburg. Gladbach welcome Bochum to the Borussia-Park in an important clash at the lower end of the table.

    It's good to be back.