• Tuesday, 31 August 2010

    Lautern's great start continues: Bundesliga reviews

    Kaiserslautern 2-0 Bayern
    Schalke 1-2 Hannover
    Bremen 4-2 Cologne
    Wolfsburg 3-4 Mainz
    Eintracht 1-3 Hamburg
    Nurnberg 1-2 Freiburg
    St Pauli 0-1 Hoffenheim
    Leverkusen 3-6 Monchengladbach
    Stuttgart 1-3 Dortmund

    Bayern have been slow starters in recent seasons, but nobody predicted that promoted Lautern would roll them over this week but that's what transpired. Bayern dominated the opening half hour, Bastian Schweinsteiger blazing over and Thomas Muller putting it wide when one-on-one with the keeper. Profligacy will be punished and how. Ivo Ilicevic rattled one in from 20 yards ten minutes from half time. He then sprang the offside trap to set up Srdjan Lakic for the second barely a minute later. A stunned Bayern just couldn't react and even Ivisevic's second booking in second half stoppages couldn't spoil the Lautern party.

    Lautern are one of five sides with two wins from two. Leading the way are Hoffenheim, but they left it late against St Pauli, an 87th minute corner ending with Isaac Vorsah's bullet header for a 1-0 win. Schalke look short of goals which the capture of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar may help with, but they went down again, losing at home to Hannover. Konstantin Rausch got the first just after the half hour, some nice footwork giving him the opening as Schalke's leaky defence was tested again. Only three of the back four stepped up five minutes after the break which allowed Mohammed Abdellaoue free rein to grab the second and all Schalke could get in response was a late headed consolation from Jermaine Jones. Hamburg came from behind to beat Eintracht for whom Patrick Ochs deflected the opener past Frank Rost. The second half was all Hamburg. Joris Mathijsen headed in the equaliser on the hour, Ruud van Nistelrooy tapped in the second from about a foot out and Paolo Guerrero grabbed a third, showing great strength to shrug off his marker. Mainz are the other side on six points after coming out on top of a seven-goal thriller with Wolfsburg. Three goals in seven minutes put Die Wolfe into what looked a comfortable lead and a rout looked on the cards. Edin Dzeko, inevitably, got the first two, taking it round the keeper for the first and starting and finishing the move for the second. Diego, back in the Bundesliga and on his Wolfsburg debut, played in the killer pass for that second one and Dzeko returned the favour moments later and also provided a good foil as the Brazilian opened his Wolfsburg account. So what happened? Difficult to say in the nine minutes it took for Mainz to get on the board. Wolfsburg only half cleared a corner and Morten Rasmussen drove it home from eighteen yards, but it didn't look terminal. Three minutes after the break, Lewis Holtby broke down the right and crossed deep for Elkin Soto to tap in and Andre Schurrle levelled it up ten minutes later with a shot from range that somehow made it's way to goal despite looking tame. Four minutes from time, Adam Szalai stunned the home crowd with a winner.

    Bremen also hit four in beating Cologne. Marko Marin's tricky footwork drew Petit into blocking him off in the box on the half hour and Torsten Frings - one of the best out there - smashed home the penalty. Marko Arnautovic opened his Bremen account with a header after good work from Claudio Pizarro, but Lukas Podolski got one back with the most delicate of headers from a free-kick a minute later. Hugo Almeida restored the two-goal cushion with quarter of an hour left, Arnautovic with the pinpoint cross and the Austrian capped a man of the match display with his second in the last minute, fed in by Frings. There was enough stoppage time for Cologne to get one back, Kevin McKenna bundling it over the line as Bremen failed to deal with a corner. Stuttgart are bottom after losing to Dortmund and their cause was hardly helped by Khalid Boulahrouz diverting Marcel Schmelzer's cross into his own net just five minutes in. Kevin Grosskreutz set up Lucas Barrios for the second and it was 3-0 by half time, Boulahrouz's afternoon not improving as his defensive lapse allowed Mario Gotze to sneak in. All Stuttgart could muster in response was Cacau's 69th minute consolation. Freiburg beat Nurnberg despite going behind early on to Julian Schieber who headed in as Nurnberg summarily failed to deal with a routine free-kick. Papiss Demba Cissé got both Freiburg goals, one each side of half time, the first a fine penalty and the second a header from six yards.

    One game left then, but nine goals as Gladbach got the better of Leverkusen in a bizarre game of football. Patrick Hermann got the opener for Gladbach on 20 minutes, Mohamadou Idrissou with a strong tackle and inch-perfect cross for Hermann to tap in from close range. The lead lasted just three minutes before Gonzalo Castro's deep cross was headed in by Eren Derdiyok, but three goals in the ten minutes either side of half time turned it back Gladbach's way. Five minutes from the break, Rene Adler couldn't hold a long range shot and parried it to Roel Brouwers who couldn't miss from three feet and, on the stroke of half time, Hermann slapped in his second from 20 yards. Juan Arango made it 4-1 moments after half time with a stunning 25-yard free-kick which left Adler shaking his head. Arturo Vidal pulled one back from the penalty spot a couple of minutes later after he himself had been fouled. Another long shot not held by Adler gave Gladbach their fifth, a deserved goal of Idrissou who was a nuisance all afternoon. 5-2 and there was still half an hour left. Marco Reus made it 6 nine minutes later, a really nice finish from just inside the box, Adler again questioning his defence's role in the move. And Stefan Kiessling got the ninth and final goal of the game with twenty minutes left, pressuring Logan Bailly into dropping it and poking it in to the most muted of celebrations. Crazy, crazy game.

    Gourcuff senior > Gourcuff junior: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    More frustration for the big boys in Ligue 1 this week as none of Lyon, Bordeaux, PSG and Marseille managed a win. Neither did Lille or Auxerre as the league continues to throw up surprises, none moreso than up in Brittany at the Moustoir where Lorient, managed by Christian Gourcuff, took on a Lyon side that saw a certain Yoan Gourcuff come off the bench for his Les Gones debut. By the time the international midfielder came on - half an hour into proceedings in place of Cesar Delgado - Lyon were already behind, Kevin Gameiro converting an early penalty after Jeremy Toulalan had handled. Just after the hour, a decent save from Hugo Lloris fell at the feet of Lynel Kitambala who fired in a decisive second from fifteen yards. Lyon were simply not at the races. Marseille were ahead early against Bordeaux, Lucho Gonzalez turning a Brandao cross in at the near post, but were reduced a man before half time when Edouard Cissé was sent off. Bordeaux bided their time and patience was rewarded late in the game with Anthony Modeste's header.

    PSG endured a thoroughly miserable day at Sochaux. When Gregory Coupet is dropping dollies, you know you're in trouble and he did just that quarter of an hour in, spilling the ball at the feet of Modibo Maiga who could scarcely believe his good fortune in putting his side a goal up. The veteran keeper was beaten at his near post for the second, scored by Ideye Brown, as the much-decorated international grew very old before everybody's eyes. Coupet came for a corner in first half stoppages, didn't make it and Damien Perquis to make it 3-0 as the sides went for a cuppa. Guillaume Hoarau did pull one back with an emphatic finish five minutes after the restart, but PSG's day ended in miserable fashion as Jeremy Clement was sent off a couple of minutes from time. Lille went behind to an Emerse Fae penalty after Eric Mouloungui went down a little too easily. Frankly, it was a fair challenge from Adil Rami. No questions about the spot kick though, Fae sending Mickael Landreau the wrong way. Eden Hazard rescued a point after Gervinho got to the byeline and dragged it back for the young Belgian. Auxerre were undone by two quickfire second half goals in the Principality. The first was pretty much route one, a long hoof forward, a headed flick on and Daniel Niculae's finish from range. That was followed moments later by Pierre-Emeric Aubamayeng finishing from just inside the box.

    Toulouse still lead the way after their fourth straight win and have opened up a five-point gap already without having fielded a striker since midway through round one. They rode their luck a little during the first half at Nancy who hit the bar and forced a stunning reflex save at the near post from Mathieu Valverde. A bustling run from Etienne Capoue saw him finish in style for the opener and the game was sealed in the last minute by Franck Tabanou who embarked on a long, mazy run, saw Capoue drag defenders out of the way to leave him one-on-one with the keeper, dink it over him, saw it come back off the post but into his path and he tucked it in. Rennes are in second after beating Arles thanks to a long-range thunderbolt from Victor Montano. His former club, Montpellier, are third thanks to Olivier Giroud's diving header which was enough to beat Valenciennes. Sochaux are fourth while a Dimitri Payet hat-trick saw St Etienne past Lens and move up to fifth. The first came on five minutes, Payet cutting in from the right and looping a curling effort over the keeper from the edge of the box. His second, eleven minutes from time, saw him cut in from the left and finish right footed from similar range and his treble was complete with five minutes left in similar fashion to his second. Sylvain Marchal got himself sent off in stoppage time which allowed Lens to get one back very late on, Jeremie Janot unable to hang onto Sebastian Roudet's long range shot and Issam Jemaa followed in to score. Caen lost ground on the leaders after their first loss of the season. Their cause wasn't helped by Sambou Yatabare's early dismissal and Brest took full advantage. They produced chance after chance, but the deadlock was only broken fifteen minutes from time, the highly-rated Nolan Roux with a lovely half-volley from fifteen yards. Moments later, Jeremy Sorbon was tripped and a penalty awarded despite contact being about yay far outside the box. Mario Licka put the spot kick away.

    34 goals, but leaders held: Eredivisie reviews

    Willem II 0-3 Groningen
    NAC 2-0 VVV Venlo
    Roda JC 4-2 Heracles
    NEC 2-2 Heerenveen
    De Graafschap 0-5 Ajax
    ADO 2-2 PSV
    Feyenoord 4-0 Vitesse
    Twente 4-0 Utrecht
    AZ 1-1 Excelsior

    The goals continue to pile up in the Eredivisie. Well they are doing everywhere except in the 'A' column alongside Twente's name on the league ladder. Four games in and they've yet to be breached, which is quite remarkable. However, they've also found their touch at the other end of the field and Luuk de Jong is off and running. Two last week, he matched that this week as Utrecht - coming off the back of an impressive European performance - were brushed aside in a clinical second half performance. De Jong hit the post and Marc Janko hit only air when well placed in a first half which Twente dominated, but they had to wait until twenty minutes into the second half for the breakthrough, Theo Janssen's deep cross finding Janko unmarked six yards out and he headed in. Eight minutes later, repeat as before for 2-0. Another six minutes on and Janko's nod-down was swooped on by de Jong for his first. With six minutes to go, Bryan Ruiz - not on the scoresheet yet this season, but still massively influential - sent de Jong away down the left. He cut infield, took three defenders out with some fancy footwork and finished in style for a convincing win. Ajax went one better, Luis Suarez hitting a hat-trick as De Graafschap were blown away at De Vijverberg. Suarez's first came with a glancing header on the quarter hour. It was easy, too easy, and Ajax strolled through the rest of the game, picking off the Super Farmers almost at will. It was 2-0 at the break, Suarez having whipped a free-kick around the wall and in from just outside the box. Twenty minutes into the second period, it was three when Urby Emanuelson, off a one-pace run-up and with no backlift, curled a free-kick from similar range over the wall after Siem de Jong had been fouled. Suarez toe-ended his third and Ajax's fourth after exchanging passes with Demy de Zeeuw and a long ranger from Christian Eriksen - the young Dane's first Eredivisie goal - wrapped it up late on.

    That sends Ajax top on goals scored as PSV were surprisingly held in Den Haag by ADO. Twice the Eindhoveners led and twice they were pegged back. Ibrahim Afellay had PSV ahead early on with a long range stunner, but ADO pulled it back early in the second half, Timothy Derijck turning a knock-down in from ten yards. A Francisco Rodriguez free-kick restored the lead midway through the second period, but a lovely delayed finish from Frantisek Kubik earned a share of the points. Feyenoord got back to winning ways, easing to victory over Vitesse who were behind to Kelvin Leerdam's header 20 minutes in. Leroy Fer poked home a corner on the half hour for the second. Vitesse lost possession in their own half to concede the third, Luc Castaignos with the vital touch, albeit from a yard offside. With time running down, Giorgino Wijnaldum won and converted a penalty for the fourth and a resounding win. AZ almost fell foul of Excelsior who converted recent home form into a decent away showing. Dallying in defence, Joey Didulica rushed a clearance which gave possession away and Guyon Fernandez was johnny-on-the-spot to lift it over the Australian for an unlikely looking lead. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson rescued a point, albeit through an awful shot, driven down into the ground but looping up over the keeper and in.

    Willem II are adrift at the bottom already after another beating, this time at the hands of Groningen whose combative midfield won the ball to present Tom Hiariej to chip the advancing keeper for the opener late in the first half. Leandro Bacuna mis-hit a shot across the face of the goal just after the hour mark, but Thomas Enevoldsen was on hand to pick up the scraps and sidefoot home and victory was sealed a couple of minutes later, Nicklas Pedersen volleying in after the Willem II keeper had parried a decent save right to him. Willem II are adrift at the bottom as NAC registered their first win of the campaign over fellow strugglers VVV Venlo. Matthew Amoah got the first on ten minutes, volleying in first time a long ball that came over his left shoulder onto his right foot. Stunning. Donny Gorter made it two fifteen minutes later, a long throw giving VVV all sorts of issues at the back. NEC blew a two-goal lead in drawing with Heerenveen who edged the first half in terms of chances created as they turned around at 0-0. Within six minutes of the restart, their profligacy looked like costing them as they found themselves two down. Leroy George cut in from the right wing and curled a left-footed gem inside the back post for the opener and he turned provider for the second, playing in Lasse Schone who finished from a tight angle. Within a minute, Heerenveen pulled one back through Christian Grindheim's looping header, but it looked like NEC would hang on until Roy Beerens popped up with three minutes left to get the decisive touch on Bas Dost's goal-bound effort. One more game to look at and six more goals... An early Morten Skoubo double set Roda JC on their way against Heracles. He showed great strength for his first, holding off a couple of defenders, but still having the wherewithal to finish, the second a bit more routine, a header from the 12 yards as the keeper came and failed to make it. The game wasn't even ten minutes old and before it was 20, Roda were three up after Laurent Delorge latched onto a great through ball. His first touch took the defenders out of the equation and the only remaining question was could he find the finish from a tight angle. Yes. Yes he could. It should have been four, but the officials failed to spot the ball crossing the line before the Heracles defence cleared. Twenty minutes after the restart, Marko Vejinovic pulled one back for Heracles with a massively deflected free-kick and ten minutes later they were within one. Another massive deflection took Willy Overtoom's shot past Premyslaw Tyton to set up a grandstand finish. The revival was snuffed out with ten minutes to go as Delorge sprang the offside trap on the counter and squared for Mads Junker to seal the game from six yards out.

    Friday, 27 August 2010

    Ligue 1 round 4 previews

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

    The big news this week was the frankly unbelievable transfer of Yoan Gourcuff to Lyon. What's even better is that his first game in an OL jersey will be against his father's side. Yes, Christian Gourcuff is the gaffer at Lorient and that's who the Team Of The Century (So Far)™ take on this weekend. In the draw in Monaco this week, Lyon got a good group. Struggling Benfica, lowly Hapoel Tev Aviv and the always unpredictable Schalke 04 - we reckon Lyon fancy that. Mind, their league form has been pisspoor so they'd better buck up quick and why not this week against Lorient? Few would give you odds on father bettering son.

    The other UCL representatives, Marseille and Auxerre, both got tricky draws. Auxerre looked good in turning a first leg deficit aginst Zenit to reach the group stages. Howeverm they copped for Real Madrid, AC Milan and Ajax. It's going to be tough to even avoid finishing bottom of that group, but this week they're in Monaco. Both sides have drawn all three games so far, so smart money says 0-0 there. It's a tougher deal to call Marseille's UCL group. They've got MSK Zilina, Spartak Moscow and Chelsea. They must fancy going through, but again they've been rotten domestically. Maybe finally getting shut of Hatem Ben Arfa - finally set to join Newcastle - might help. Disruptive elements not required. They take on Bordeaux this week in what should be a battle of the big boys but takes on the sheen of a relegation six-pointer. Take your pick there.

    Caen look good to pick up three more points against Brest to keep up the chase on TFC. Les Violets take on Nancy and they're beginning to look reliant on Daniel Braaten now. If the big Norwegian fails, then they've got massive issues. Montpellier look good for victory at VA while Les Verts of St Etienne will do similar against RC Lens. More misery for Arles-Avignon, sad to say, as Rennes visit Le Parc des Sports and Nice have a long and ultimately futile trip north to Lille. PSG are at Sochaux, which they ought to win having come through a fraught Europa League qualifier in midweek. Should be a belter this week. Strap in.

    Thursday, 26 August 2010

    Bundesliga round 2 previews

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

    Three clubs were sweating on the Champions League draw ahead of this weekend's action. Bremen performed a superb comeback to beat Sampdoria. Leading 3-1 from the first leg, it shouldn't have been that hard, but Samp quickly built up a 3-0 lead on the night with Giampaolo Pazzini on fire. But Markus Rosenborg blazed in a stunning stoppage time goal that squared it all up on aggregate. It totally took the wind out of Samp's sails and extra time was all Bremen. Marko Marin set up Claudio Pizarro for a long-range winner that put them through and they've drawn Inter, Spurs and Twente. They'll be confident of qualification, no doubt. They've got Cologne in the league this week; again a task they'll be confident of completing. Bayern, as one of the top seeds, got a reasonable draw: Roma, Basel and Cluj. We like Basel in the offices here, but Bayern are easily the pick of those four and also way too good for Lautern on Friday night. Schalke also got a decent draw. Benfica have started their season exceptionally badly, Lyon are a lore unto themselves and then there's Hapoel Tel Aviv. Mind, they need to show something themselves before they can declare themselves favourites to progress. At home to Hannover, they'll be fine this week.

    Wolfsburg are closing on a move for Juventus's former Bremen playmaker Diego - at time of writing he's passed a medical - and he could play against Mainz this weekend. Not that they should need him: Die Wolfe by plenty there with or without him. Hoffenheim lead the way after one game and take on St Pauli, also round one winners, this week. This will be more of a test of St Pauli's Bundesliga credentials as The Villagers look pretty good this year. All the trouble makers that made Ralf Rangnick's life a misery last year are gone now that Carlos Eduardo's move to Rubin Kazan has gone through. We reckon they're in good shape. Stuttgart and Dortmund both lost in week one, but that was something of a surprise as they both look decent sides. This should be a good game, but is almost bound to finish goalless.

    Hamburg are away at Eintracht which may be more of a test than a misfiring and short-handed Schalke did last week. Eintracht look really hard to break down which may not be pretty, but can be pretty effective. Leverkusen looked impressive last week in dismantling Dortmund and take on a workmanlike Gladbach in round 2. And, for completeness, there's Nurnberg v Freiburg in which two sides short on quality will probably go out and produce a 5-4 thriller or somesuch. Or a 0-0 draw. One or the other - nothing in between.

    Eredivisie round 4 previews

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

    Joy in midweek for Ajax as they progressed to the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in five years. Had they failed to do so, then it's our understanding that the crown jewels on the playing side - Suarez, Stekelenburg, van der Wiel, Vertonghen - would all have been up for grabs. That's not to say they're definitely stopping - a healthy bid would still do the job - but the pressure has certainly been eased. The reward is a draw with AC Milan, Real Madrid and Auxerre. Hard to see them progressing. Anyway, there's Eredivisie action this week and it couldn't be a more marked contrast than awaits them in Europe. De Graafschap, for it is they, should not present a problem to the Amsterdam giants.

    For their part, Twente got Inter, Werder Bremen and Spurs in the interminable draw in Monaco and, if they get their game faces on, they stand a decent chance. They're involved in game of the week this week against Utrecht. Ricky van Wolfswinkel is on fire, but he'll be up against the meanest defence in Europe, nay the world. No goals against. Read it and weep.

    Willem II kick off the weekend on Friday where they'll get a good kicking from Groningen. You try picking a winner from NAC against VVV Venlo - anything could happen there. Recent history suggests there'll be a glut of goals at NEC v Heerenveen, but no indication of which side will end up with more. Heracles should be OK away in Kerkrade against Roda JC. The big boys all play on Sunday. PSV should be fine against ADO to maintain top spot, as should Feyenoord against Vitesse if they get organised at set pieces. AZ are at home to Excelsior who have been successful at home. Can they translate that into success away? Doubtful, but AZ need to find a scoring touch in order to put them away.

    Monday, 23 August 2010

    Nil-nil the new black: Ligue 1 reviews

    Monaco 0-0 Montpellier

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

    The Premier League seems to be in love with 6-0. 3-0 is popular in Holland while 3-1 is very much de rigeur in Germany. France, however, has learned to love the goalless draw. The delayed round two clash between Monaco and Montpellier finished 0-0 and Montpellier were at it again at the weekend, the Sunday clash with Caen finishing with the same result though that leaves Caen in second place as their unbeaten start to the season continues. The other early Sunday game produced nothing by way of goals as Sochaux held off Lille who have lost their touch in front of goal that seemed to come so easily last season. Rennes and St Etienne also bumbled their way to the same result.

    So far, so yawnworthy. Toulouse are striking out on their own, despite their lack of strikers. They're the only ones with a three from three record and Daniel Braaten has scored in each one. He opened the scoring again, just after the half hour, a neat finish from the edge of the box. Braaten turned provider for the second just after the hour, slipping a lovely ball through for Etienne Didot who composed himself before slamming it home from 12 yards. Franck Djadjede pulled one back moments later, but Arles remain without a point at the bottom of the pile.

    The three big clubs previously without a win all finally got off the mark. Gabriel Heinze got Marseille up and running, pouncing on a loose ball in the Lorient box, and Taye Taiwo sealed it midway through the second half with a thunderbolt from downtown which found it's way through a forest of bodies. Lyon just needed the one goal, Jean Il Makoun from close range in the 19th minute, while Bordeaux left it very late to beat PSG in the late Sunday game. A straightforward header from a corner saw Alou Diarra put Les Girondins ahead midway through the second half, but PSG were level through Guillaume Hoarau soon after when Ludovic Giuly set him up from six yards. As time ticked down, a draw looked the most likely outcome, but another corner saw Michael Ciani get his head on it to win it in the fourth minute of stoppages. The big news after the games is that Bordeaux have agreed to sell Yoan Gourcuff to Lyon.

    Auxerre drew their third straight game, though the point is enough to lift Valenciennes up to fourth and it was VA who were in front in a low key game just after the hour. The crowd were oddly subdued, but even the home fans had to concede that the opener was a bit special. There was nothing on when Gael Danic picked the ball up half way inside the AJA half, at least not until he flung his left peg at it and it found it's way into the far side of the goal despite Olivier Sorin getting fingers to it. Three minutes later, Ireneusz Jelen had AJA level as VA couldn't deal with a corner. Nice and Nancy also finished one apiece thanks to a late equaliser from Paul Efoulou. Emerse Fae had Nice in front with a 25-yarder after 25 minutes and it seemed as though that'd be enough until Efoulou beat David Ospina at his near post, which the Nice stopper won't be happy about. Landry N'Guemo was sent off late in the piece for an off-the-ball challenge. Monaco also drew their third game, but only after blowing a two-goal lead. Daniel Niculae got the first twenty minutes in from long range and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made it two with twenty minutes to go. A long throw was flicked on and Aubameyang volleyed in from close range. Lens got a foothold in the game four minutes later when Adriano stuck a leg out and diverted a harmless shot past his own keeper and the comeback was complete when Sébastien Roudet was given too much time and space in the box and picked his spot past Stéphane Ruffier.

    Hoffenheim get serious: Bundesliga reviews

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

    The Bundesliga came back with a bang on Friday night with a humdinger at the Allianz where Bastian Schweinsteiger stole all three points with a late, late winner. Thomas Muller picked up where he left off in the World Cup with the opener inside ten minutes. He started and finished the move, exchanging chipped passes with Schweinsteiger before lashing the finish past Diego Benaglio. New Wolves skipper Edin Dzeko quickly got into his stride and tested Hans-Jorg Butt on a number of occasions, but it was only after Steve McClaren threw on Zvjezdan Misimovic at half time that the tide turned. Misimovic, a fiery character at the best of times, went public after the game with criticism of the decision to start him on the bench, but did a good deal of his talking on the pitch too, eventually sending over the corner that Dzeko rose highest to meet and headed into the top corner. No chance for Butt. Chances continued to flow at either end, but as the game headed into stoppage time, it looked set to end even. Bayern had other ideas and, a minute into second half stoppage time, Franck Ribéry sent over a swirling cross from the left which drew Benaglio out just far enough for Schweinsteiger to find the gap at his far post for a late winner, though both sides showed plenty to suggest they'll be the front runners throughout this season.

    Result of the weekend was Hoffenheim's demolition job on Bremen, themselves just days after thumping Sampdoria in the Champions League. There was no hint of the thumping to come when Torsten Frings, as he had in midweek, put Bremen ahead from the penalty spot after Luis Diaz had handled. He takes a mean penalty does Frings and, despite Tom Starke going the right way, it was just too good. By half time, though, Bremen would have shipped four goals. The first came on 20 minutes, the Villagers getting to the line and cutting back for Peniel Mlapa whose wayward shot broke to Demba Ba to blast in from close range. Ten minutes from the break, Mlapa made it two, breaking from deep and dummying his way past the keeper. Frings was robbed in midfield to set up the third, Vedad Ibisevic with the finish, and it was dead-ball king Sejad Salihovic with the fourth, a beautifully flighted free-kick up and over the wall. Ruud van Nistelrooy got both of Hamburg's goals as they began with a win over Schalke for whom Raul couldn't get into the game. Both were typical van Nistelrooy strikes, i.e. from a combined total of almost a yard. The first was off a deep cross and the Dutchman got between two defenders to prod it home a minute into the second half. On the hour, Schalke lost Benedikt Howedes to a second yellow card, but Jefferson Farfan got them level with ten minutes to go. Ivan Rakitic floated a free-kick into the box which the Peruvian somehow managed to flick over his own shoulder as he ran away from goal and divert it into the far corner. They were level for three minutes before Hamburg got Eljero Elia away down the left and his fizzing cross was turned in by compatriot van Nistelrooy to win it.

    Leverkusen got off to a winning start against Dortmund, two quick first-half goals deciding it. Euroballs favourite Tranquillo Barnetta swept the first in on 19 minutes and Renato Augusto exchanged passes with Eren Derdiyok before blazing it in from 20 yards. Stuttgart came a cropper in the early Sunday game, going down in Mainz who continue their good home form from last season. Cacau missed a penalty in the twentieth minute and Mainz made them pay, Sami Allagui with a fine angled finish as he seemed to be running away from goal. Somehow he wrapped his foot around it to open the scoring. The second came a couple of minutes after the restart, Morten Rasmussen with a looping header.

    St Pauli got their centenary season off to a flier, but they left it late against Freiburg. Indeed, Demba Cissé had Freiburg ahead with just twelve minutes to go, the defence being opened with alarming ease. Five minutes later, it was all square, the ball pinging around the box before dropping nicely for Fabian Boll to smash it in, Freiburg's defence proving equally as porous as St Pauli's. A misplaced shot fell kindly to Richard Sukuta-Pasu to give St Pauli the lead and it was wrapped up in stoppage time by Fin Bartels. The other promoted side, Kaiserslautern, also got off to a winning start, also 3-1 away from home. Despite having Youssef Mohamad sent off in just the second minute, Cologne went ahead when Milivoje Novakovic was the beneficiary of a goalkeeping shocker, Tobias Sippel dropping a routine free-kick right at the Slovenian's feet. He doesn't miss from there. A stunning shot on the turn from Srdjan Lakic brought it level with twenty to go and he put Lautern ahead in the 84th minute, a first time effort after Ivo Ilicevic was tripped. And Ilicevic made it three in the last minute with a lovely curling effort that left Faryd Mondragon rooted to the spot. Gladbach were held by Nurnberg who were ahead in quarter of an hour as Jens Hegeler nodded in a free header. On the half hour, Timmy Simons played in Mohamadou Idrissou and the big Cameroonian made no mistake from close in. Finally, Hannover managed a win over Eintracht. Konstantin Rausch put Hannover ahead in the 21st minute as Eintracht dithered rather than clear their lines, but Benjamin Kohler levelled it back up five minutes later, stealing ahead of his marker to divert the ball in at the near post. With quarter of an hour to go, Didier Ya Konan won it with another free header and, again, Eintracht could have cleared the danger much earlier. They've got defensive issues.

    PSV the remaining hundred percenters: Eredivisie reviews

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

    Just the 33 goals this weekend in Holland, down three on last week. Only the 1-1 draw between Heracles and Feyenoord failed to make it as high as three. Mark Looms headed the home side ahead there from a corner, Feyenoord's failings at set pieces again marked out for all to see. Heracles continued to press, but couldn't work the opening for a second, Erwin Mulder called into action on a number of occasions to keep the Rotterdammers in it. And their profligacy was paid for by a cracking equaliser from Giorgino Wijnaldum who spun away from his marker on the edge of the box and looped a shot in from the edge of the box.

    Everywhere else, it was raining goals. PSV continue to head the standings after a relatively comfortable win over AZ who, after selling Moussa Dembélé to Fulham in the week look well short of firepower. AZ were forced into some desperate defending as PSV threatened to overwhelm them early on, but we had to wait until a couple of minutes from the break for first goal. PSV gave it away cheaply in midfield, but were immediately returned the favour and shipped it forward quickly where Ola Toivonen played in compatriot Marcus Berg who hit it across the keeper and inside the back post. The Eindhoveners came flying out of the blocks second half, but AZ countered and a deep cross found the head of Erik Falkenburg who nodded it between Andreas Isaaksson's legs for 1-1. They weren't level for long, PSV able to split the defence open at will as if they were shelling peas. Jeremain Lens was sent clear and he squared it for Berg to slide in to restore the lead. And in the last minute, Ibrahim Afellay sealed it. His initial shot was well saved by Joey Didulica, but broke back to him and some delightful footwork saw him work the space for the shot which found the back of the net.

    Twente are off and running, and have still to concede this season. The Tukkers fans had to endure another scoreless 45 minutes before they finally hit the groove though, but once one went in, the floodgates opened. Mark Janko showed the dancing feet on the edge of the box to lose his marker and fire it in. It was always going to be tough for anyone to replace club legend Blaise N'Kufo and young Luuk de Jong (brother of Ajax midfielder Siem, not Man City midfielder/kung fun expert Nigel) is the chap with the responsibility. Bryan Ruiz supplied him for his first, a perfect through ball finding de Jong in space in the box. Where had the Vitesse defence gone? The same pair combined for the third, Ruiz squaring it along the edge of the six-yard box for his young strike partner when he could probably have scored himself. Ajax remain unbeaten after another relatively easy win, Mounir El Hamdaoui getting two more. A defensive mess gave him his first in a plate after good work from the returning skipper Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan got the second after exchanging passes with El Hamdaoui on the edge of the box and the two combined once again for the Moroccan to tap home a third from close range.

    Excelsior won their second straight game, again on the artificial surface at their compact home ground. Bjorn Vleminckx's fourth goal in two games got NEC ahead on the half hour, a deep cross finding the Swede unmarked at the far post. That was it for the first half, but Excelsior came flying out of the traps after the break with two quick goals. Jordie Clasie cracked the first in from just outside the box to level it and Daan Bovenberg headed the home side in front two minutes later, NEC caught napping at a corner. NEC were back level with quarter of an hour to go with a goal of some quality, the Nijmegeners shifting from defence to attack in the blink of an eye, Bas Sibum getting on the end of the move to make it 2-2. They were level for just three minutes, a famous name getting Excelsior back in front, a long range shot not held and spilled at the feet of Roland Bergkamp who poked it in from close range. Last week's star, Guyon Fernandez, wrapped it up in the dying seconds, catching NEC with a wicked turn of pace, taking it round the keeper and walking it home. NEC will not be the last side to come a cropper there.

    De Graafschap were undone by an early dismissal for Jan-Paul Saeijs, a blatant foul and last man back. He had to go. Andreas Granqvist converted the spot kick - just. Young Danish winger Thomas Enevoldsen made it two before the break, side-footing home from close range and that was pretty much that. Rydell Poepon pulled one back with twenty minutes to go, but the damage had already been done. Matthew Amoah had NAC in front at Heerenveen within a minute, largely thanks to a goalkeeping howler as Kenny Steppe allowed the tame shot to squirm through his hands and in. The response came 25 minutes later, Bas Dost getting between two defenders to head in at the near post. A loose clearance gave Heerenveen the position to go in front, but it was the luckless Kees Luijckx who got the final touch past his own keeper. Dost then added a third, another header as he was left completely unmarked ten yards out. Two more goals for Ricky van Wolfswinkel and two red cards as Utrecht beat Willem II who are already in danger of being cut adrift. The Tilburg side should have been in front, but Andreas Lasnik missed a 20th-minute penalty, blasting it over the bar after Franck Demouge had been pulled down in the box. Barely a minute had passed when Jacob Mulenga was fouled in the other box and, this time, van Wolfswinkel showed Lasnik how to do it, drilling it into the bottom corner. A great Michal Silberbauer run set up the second. He was stopped in his tracks as he was about to pull the trigger on the edge of the box, but the ball squirmed free to Dries Merterns who tucked it in nicely. And the game was all but over just after the half hour as the ref played a great advantage and van Wolfswinkel headed in powerfully. Alje Schut picked up his second yellow ten minutes into the second half and he was followed by Demouge 15 minutes later, his wandering elbow picking up two cautions in quick succession. Finally, some late drama in Venlo where ADO were in front in the second minute as Dmitry Bulykin got across his marker to divert the ball in. A neat interchange of passes on the edge of the box saw Achmed Ahahaoui released and level it midway through the first half. Bulykin gave ADO the lead back on the hour, somehow turning it in from a corner despite the seemingly impossible angle and so it looked like remaining until some late, late action. Wesley Verhoek looked a couple of yards offside as he put ADO 3-1 up, a lovely touch taking him round the keeper as the inquest began back on half way. Ruud Boymans pulled one back in the first of three minutes of added time, but ADO hung on.

    Thursday, 19 August 2010

    Ligue 1 round 3 previews

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

    Finally the saga of Loic Remy is over. He's joined Marseille as a direct replacement for erstwhile captain Mamadou Niang as OM look to get their season on track against Lorient. It's been miserable so far for the champions and the first quarter of the game here it key. If they're off it again and the crowd start to get on their backs, it could all turn a bit ugly and Lorient, no mugs, are perfectly capable of capitalising. Fellow strugglers Bordeaux and Lyon are also looking to get their seasons on track. Lyon have the easier task as they face Brest at home, but Bordeaux have to go to the capital where PSG - not exactly fluent themselves - will be out to add further misery to the start of Jean Tigana's reign at Les Girondins.

    Caen and Toulouse lead the way and the former go to Montpellier. They're clearly not afraid of anyone and while they may respect Montpellier for what they achieved last year - indeed, laid down the blueprint for Caen to follow - they're not going to be overawed. Toulouse lost André-Pierre Gignac in week one and Xavier Pentecote, for six months, in week two. They must be dreading week three, but there they sit at the top of the tree. They're at home to Arles and even continuing with Daniel Braaten up front on his own, they must fancy making it three from three.

    Nice begin life post-Remy at home to Nancy. Can they find the goals? Auxerre come back from a tough trip to St Petersburg in the Champions League with a home game against Valenciennes. Like Nice, it's hard to see where goals are coming from for AJA. Monaco have a long trip north to Lens, struggling Sochaux face Lille and St Etienne are at Rennes, looking to build on a decent win last time out.

    Bundesliga round 1 previews

    It's back! Consistently the most competitive and entertaining league around. Stuff the rest - it's time for the Bundesliga party trousers and foaming stein of heferweizen to see you through the long winter months.

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

    The champions get us up and running, as is traditional, with the first Friday night game and it's a tasty one. We fancy Wolfsburg to be right up there this season as they've managed - for now at least - to hang onto Edin Dzeko. Obafemi Martins has gone, but Grafite and Zvezjdan Misimovic remain - the attacking triumvirate that won them the title two seasons ago. A move for Diego from Juventus hasn't happened yet, but they have brought in the highly rated Simon Kjaer from Palermo in what amounts to a bit of a transfer coup. He'll partner Arne Friedrich in a really good looking defence, an area of concern last season. Bayern haven't been so active in the market with the only really big move that of Toni Kroos coming back from his 18 month loan at Leverkusen. Their off season has been dominated by an ongoing row over the wisdom - or not - of the Dutch playing a half-fit Arjen Robben in the World Cup and Bayern having to pick up the pieces. That and the FFF requesting Franck Ribéry attend a disciplinary hearing following France's World Cup implosion which Bayern, as they were within their rights to do, denied. This should be a cracking game, the first ever Bundesliga game involving an English manager. These two will be title rivals all season long and getting first blood will be a nice psychological boost.

    Bremen have lost the services of Mesut Ozil to Real Madrid on the eve of the new league season, though it didn't hurt them as they walloped Sampdoria in the Champions League in midweek. Ozil was out of contract next summer, so they've cashed in now. They don't have much time to mould someone into that role, though Aaron Hunt seems favourite and a neat cameo against Samp from Marko Marin highlighted his abilities. Per Mertesacker attracted attention from elsewhere too, but he remains as the rock in defence. Marko Arnautovic arrives from Twente via Internazionale, but he's already started winding people's backs up. If he pulls his head in, they've a real player there. That's a big if. They start against Hoffenheim who need to start turning Dietmar Hopp's backing into results. There aren't many changes to the squad, though Timo Hildebrand has gone. Prince Tagoe had a great World Cup for Ghana and the core of the side - Ibertsberger, Salihovic, Ibisevic - all remain. Outside European contenders.

    Schalke are still in financial strife, though the worst seems to be over. They did manage to persuade Raul to quit the Bernabeu for Gelsenkirchen. The influence of fellow new signing and fellow Real Madrid refugee Christoph Metzelder was cited as swinging it for the club to grab the 33-year old striker. He should score goals, but the wisdom of paying his hefty wages when the club is already struggling to rub two brass pfennigs together is a concern. Kevin Kuranyi departs as does Rafinha and Heiko Westermann who joins this week's opponents, and this season's comedy club, Hamburg. Armin Veh takes the reins having failed to complete a season in charge in either of the last two, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg relieving him of his duties. Their squad looks either old or wantaway. Eljero Elia is close to a move to Juventus, for instance, while goals are needed from Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gojko Kacar and the ever-entertaining Paulo Guerrero who will find himself stuck in Peru at some point, unable to board a plane back.

    Leverkusen responded to losing Toni Kroos by bringing back Michael Ballack. It's a bold move, but hardly one that makes you think the club are looking long term. Other than that, it's as you were with Stefan Kiessling and Patrick Helmes leading the line with supply from Tranquillo Barnetta. They still looks short of winning the thing. They face Dortmund in round one who have just lost Nelson Valdez to Spanish football. Other than that, they've been quiet too this summer, so it's Mohamed Zidan to be the focal point up front once more, but Kevin Grosskreutz made an impression last season and it set for more responsibility.

    The big move for Stuttgart was Sami Khedira's move to Real Madrid. They also lost Alexander Hleb, returning to Barcelona from where he was on loan last season. A move for Man City's Vladimir Weiss has so far come to nought, so they'll be relying on last season's squad. With one big exception. Crazy Jens has left the building. Yes, Germany's most mad goalkeeper - and the competition is fierce - has retired and Sven Ulreich will take over. Christian Gentner returns to the club from Wolfsburg and Philipp Degen arrives on loan from Liverpool. Their round one opposition, Mainz, lost Aristide Bancé to Al Ahli so have a large goal threat to replace. So far, no dice. Without him, they may struggle.

    What of the promoted sides? Kaiserslautern have completely overhauled their squad, raiding the loan market. Wolfsburg's Jan Simunek leads the way there, but you worry about quality and particularly quality in depth. They face Cologne who are much the same as last year. Maybe a good World Cup has revitalised Lukas Podolski, but more likely he'll revert to his goal-shy self.

    In their centenary year, St Pauli look set to struggle. Moritz Volz and Gerald Asamoah are the biggest names on their squad list, coming in from Fulham and Schalke respectively, but it's largely the promotion squad they'll be relying on. Only two overseas players in the squad. Freiburg have largely been selling this summer with Mohammed Idrissou and Cha Du-Ri the biggest names to leave. This looks an early season battle of relegation candidates.

    Hannover too are having a clear-out, led by Jan Durica, Arnold Bruggink, Arouna Koné and Jiri Stajner. They've strengthened in goal with Markus Miller and in defence with Emmanuel Pogatetz, but it looks like being a long season. Eintracht have tinkered rather than anything else. The signing of Theofanis Gekas is a good one and will see them at least hold onto a top half finish, but it's hard to see them make the leap to European contenders.

    And finally, Gladbach take on Nurnberg. Timmy Simons is a great signing for Nurnberg, joining from PSV, but their loan signings from Bayern - Breno and Andreas Ottl - have both returned. Daniel Gygax has gone too, so it's about neutral, i.e. they'll struggle. Rob Friend, Roberto Colautti and Oliver Neuville have all gone, but Idrissou adds size to an otherwise small attack. Michael Bradley remains and he's a more than tidy wee player. Danté, Tobias Levels and Raul Bobadilla will all have big roles to play. Too good to go down, not good enough for Europe.

    That's how it's all shaping up for week one. If you want a prediction or two, then it's Wolfsburg to pip Bayern to the title with Bremen coming a close third. St Pauli to take the drop with Hannover with a fierce battle to avoid the relegation play-off above them featuring Freiburg, Nurnberg and Lautern.

    Eredivisie round 3 previews

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

    Lots of sides backing up from European action this week: Ajax in the Champions League and PSV, Feyenoord, AZ and Utrecht all in Europa League action. The latter three hadn't kicked off at time of writing, but PSV had an early kick off and lost in Novosibirsk. Fred Rutten rested a few, but it was still a strong side. He'll have to turn that around for the visit of AZ on Sunday who this week lost Moussa Dembélé to Premier League Fulham. AZ were at home in Europe to Kazakh opposition, so may well be fresher than PSV who had a hell of a long trip to central Russia, but are really struggling for forwards at the moment. One thing PSV aren't short of is goals.

    Neither are Ajax, though questions have been raised about their defence which has shipped four in two games so far. Jan Vertonghen has been defiant about the abilities of himself and colleagues and it was he who got an important goal in Kiev against Dynamo in a 1-1 draw. They're at home to Roda JC this week and it really ought to be a home win. Utrecht have a tough test against Celtic in Europe, but they've started well domestically and should have too much for struggling Willem II. Coming off the back of the loss to Excelsior, Feyenoord don't have too far to travel, just across the border to Genk in Belgium. They'll have to be much sharper than they were on the artificial surface last week to get something in their Europa tie or indeed this weekend's fixture against Heracles.

    Twente are still searching for goals and face a threat from Liverpool for Bryan Ruiz. A swap deal involving Ryan Babel has been mooted, but no movement as yet. Safely in the group stages of the Champions League, they'd better get moving before that starts and there's no reason why it shouldn't be this week in Arnhem. Excelsior are back at home to face NEC, one of just two remaining sides with a 100% record. It's unlikely to be the eight-goal thriller NEC were involved in last week, but after a terrible opener, Excelsior showed they can play in beating Feyenoord last week and look a handful, at home at least. De Graafschap were brought back down to earth last week after briefly topping the table and have another tough task against Groningen this week. The northerners aren't the most fluent side around, but they are hard; hard to break down, hard working and hard as in tough hombres. Finally, Heerenveen take on NAC and VVV play ADO. The former should be a home win, the latter is anyone's guess.

    Sunday, 15 August 2010

    Marseille go down again: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    Two games in is a bit early to use the term crisis, but things are looking a bit murky in Marseille. Captain Mamadou Niang finally got his move and will join Fenerbahce in the week while Hatem Ben Arfa has been angling for a move to Newcastle all summer long and is now threatening to go on strike. Niang leaves on a low note, subbed off after 57 minutes against Valenciennes by which point OM were already two down. Niang blew the best chance of the first half, tripping over the ball when one-on-one with the keeper, as the first 45 ended goalless. Two minutes after the restart, VA were ahead as Gael Danic fired in from close range as OM failed to clear. Six minutes later, Gregory Pujol made it two. A throw-in was flicked on and Pujol nodded it over Steve Mandanda and he made it a scarcely believable 3-0 nine minutes later, Gaetan Bong playing him in to side-foot home, unmarked, from about three feet. The Nungesser crowd was going wild, but OM made it a nervy finish with two late goals. Andre Ayew was brought down by the keeper with eight minutes to go and Taye Taiwo stepped up to stroke the penalty home. And it was Ayew who pulled another back, firing a low shot through a forest of legs with a couple of minutes to go, but VA held on for a deserved win.

    Auxerre drew their second straight game, Benoit Pedretti rescuing a point with a late leveller against Brest who had the better of the opening exchanges and were ahead on 26 minutes with Nolan Roux heading in a deep free-kick. With time running out, Pedretti swung in a corner that evaded everyone and found it's way into the back of the net. Toulouse saw off near neighbours Bordeaux in the rain at the Chaban Delmas. Daniel Braaten, playing as a striker in the absence of André-Pierre Gignac and Xavier Pentecote, stabbed the opener home seconds from half time. Jaroslav Plasil equalised with one of those dinks between his own legs to convert Fernando Cavenaghi's cross, but Etienne Didot won it for Les Violets with a move off the training ground. A free-kick was taken short to Didot, completely out-foxing the Bordeaux defence and he finished it to send TFC top. Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon are all in the bottom five while joining TFC on six points and topping the table are promoted Caen who came up with their second shock win of the season by defeating the giants of Lyon. In just the second minute they were ahead thanks to a lovely chipped finish from Youssef El Arabi as the Lyon defence was split open like an over-ripe watermelon. Bafetimbi Gomis stabbed home the equaliser four minutes later from a suspiciously offside position, but Caen restored the lead ten minutes later through Sambou Yatabaré. Gomis equalised again midway through the first half, but as the half drew to a close, Lyon's Anthony Reveillere was sent off. In his absence, Ismaila N'Diaye headed in a winner with 13 minutes left from a well-worked set piece.

    St Etienne almost blew three points in spectacular style despite going 3-0 up with 25 minutes to go. The first came in the sixth minute, Boubacar Sanogo with a flying volley, before a Loic Perrin double early in the second half looked to have been enough. His first came at the second attempt, a header coming back to him off the bar which he had a second nod at to double the lead. He volleyed in moments later for 3-0, but within a couple of minutes, Sochaux were back within one. Ryad Boudebouz pulled the first one back with a shot from way downtown which moved in three different directions to deceive Jérémie Janot. A minute later it was 3-2, Marvin Martin side-footing in from the edge of the box, but Les Verts held out. Arles went down at home to Lens, just the one goal enough - a route one affair ending with David Pollet's header. Nice grabbed a vital three points, Loic Remy with the winner. He's so important to them and his impending departure will hurt the club. Lorient were in front early through Yoan Jouffre, but the lead lasted barely a minute, Ismael Gace heading in at the near post. With twenty minutes left, a free-kick was kept in the danger area by Nice and Remy nodded it in under no pressure at the back post. Rennes saw off ten man Nancy with some ease. Alfred Ndiaye was sent off in the 13th minute, a professional foul as last man back after he'd been caught in possession on the edge of his own penalty area. Though his side held out to half-time with no damage, the second half was all Rennes and Victor Montano put them in front five minutes after the break and he turned provider ten minutes later, pulling the ball back to Yacine Brahimi to power it home from the edge of the box. With three minutes to go, Ismael Bangoura wrapped it up as Rennes broke at pace, a long, early through ball leaving him one-on-one with the keeper and he slipped it past him and in for 3-0.

    No goals in the northern derby between PSG and Lille, though Nene went ... this close to winning it late on, while torrential rain in the south of the country accounted for Monaco's home game with Montpellier, the Stade Louis II surface waterlogged. They'll try again on Tuesday.

    PSV surge as Twente held again: Eredivisie reviews

    Ajax 4-2 Vitesse
    PSV 6-0 De Graafschap
    VVV Venlo 1-0 Heracles
    AZ 1-1 Groningen
    Twente 0-0 Heerenveen
    Excelsior 3-2 Feyenoord
    Utrecht 3-1 NAC
    Willem II 3-5 NEC
    ADO 1-3 Roda JC

    Twente were again held to a goalless draw in week two of the Dutch season. On the positive side, they've yet to concede in 180 minutes of football, but it's more than a little concerning that they've also drawn a blank at the business end. Whither Blaise N'Kufo? While the Tukkers blunder around looking for a goal, PSV have them in abundance. Ola Toivonen struck twice on the opening day and went one better as De Graafschap's brief tenure on top spot was brought to a spectacular end. The writing was on the wall as early as the fourth minute when De Graafschap were reduced to ten men, Purrell Frankel shown a straight red as he brought down Jeremain Lens in the box. As last man back, the red card was inevitable. The spot kick was confidently converted by Balázs Dzsudzsák. Twenty minutes later and Toivonen made it two, played in by a De Graafschap defender which made the complaints of the Super Farmers about Toivonen being offside a little on the lame side. Toivonen's second came within a minute of the restart, losing his marker with an intelligent run across the box to meet Ibrahim Afellay's corner and head it in at the near post and his hat-trick was completed ten minutes later, slotting in from 12 yards as the defence lost him yet again. A genuine hat-trick, right foot, left foot, head. Perfect. Not that PSV were done at 4-0. Nordin Amrabat turned defence into attack in the blinking of an eye, starting the move and finishing from the edge of the box with a low, driven shot and Afellay wrapped up an easy win with a couple of minutes to go, converting Dzsudzsák's cross at the back post.

    Ajax got to winning ways against a gutsy Vitesse side who were in front midway through the first half, Davy Propper getting in front of his marker to head in Jeroen Drost's cross. Without Luis Suarez, Ajax are struggling for goals from the forward line, and it was the defenders who got them back on track. Mounir El Hamdaoui was fouled on the edge of the box around the half hour and Demy de Zeeuw teed it up for Jan Vertonghen to blast it home. With five minutes of the first half remaining, Gregory van der Wiel, as he does so often, got up in support of the attack and was played in with a neat through ball before tucking the ball past the keeper and just inside the far post. Back came Vitesse who levelled it before the break, Ajax failing to clear and Marco van Ginkel lashing it past Maarten Stekelenburg for 2-2. Control was reasserted a couple of minutes after the restart, Siem de Jong sliding in to meet Florian Jozefzoon's cross and prod it home. Vurnon Anita made it safe with an early goal of the season contender, jinking past a couple of defenders, opening his body out and finishing from range with a looping shot that the keeper could only wave at as it went past him. AZ needed a late equaliser to snatch a point from Groningen for whom Tim Sparv scored to give them a 76th minute lead. AZ couldn't clear a corner and it fell to Sparv on the edge of the box. He flicked it up and volleyed it in from 20 yards. Maarten Martens got the equaliser with three minutes to go, finishing confidently after being left unmarked on the edge of the box and found by Brett Holman's cross.

    Feyenoord went down in the derby against Excelsior in a dramatic match. Excelsior capitalised on a bright start with a stunning strike from Guyon Fernandez on the half hour. An inch-perfect through ball from Kevin Wattamaleo set the pacy striker away and he finished with a curling effort beyond the reach of Erwin Mulder. Two goals from set pieces turned the game, Ron Vlaar bullying in a header for the equaliser and the unfortunate Daan Bovenberg getting the last touch to give Feyenoord the lead. Bovenberg responded brilliantly, equalising straight away for Excelsior, latching onto a looping through ball and prodding it in for the equaliser. That would have satisfied most home fans, but Fernandez popped up with almost the last kick of the game, shrugging off the attentions of Andre Bahia to snatch a dramatic winner. They are susceptible to set pieces, but Feyenoord's delivery was poor, but the artificial pitch at the tiny Verzekringen will weigh in their favour.

    Heracles, like De Graafschap, couldn't make it two from two as they came unstuck in Venlo. Just the one goal in this one, Ruud Boymans heading in in the 11th minute to upset the European hopefuls. NAC finished with nine men against Utrecht and, as you would expect, lost. Fresh from his Oranje debut in midweek, Ricky van Wolfswinkel slid in for the opener 13 minutes in, the ball taking a wicked deflection on it's way to goal. A horrid backpass allowed Matthew Amoah in for the equaliser, but the lead was restored a couple of minutes after the break, Dries Mertens with a surging run up the left and a quality finish across the goalkeeper. Jens Janse picked up a second booking in the 68th minute and Donny Gorter followed him down the tunnel ten minutes later for punching a goalward effort from Jacob Mulenga away. Van Wolfswinkel took the penalty and buried it. A frantic opening at Het Zuiderpark saw three goals in the opening 12 minutes. Frantisek Kubik had ADO in front in the third minute, albeit with a strong whiff of offside, but Roda JC were level inside five minutes, Mads Junker with a penalty. The keeper guessed right, but Junker's shot was simply too good and Laurent Delorge had Roda in front three minutes later. It looked like the Belgian had tripped over the ball, but he got just enough purchase on it to find the back of the net. The points were sealed twenty from time, Jimmy Hempte with a screamer from 30 yards. Goals galore at Tilburg too, where eight were shared between Willem II and NEC. Bjorn Vleminckx got a treble for the Nijmegeners as they twice came from behind to win a thriller. Juha Hakola had Willem II in front in the sixth minute, but Lasse Schone levelled it twelve minutes later with a good finish from 12 yards out. Franck Demouge headed Willem II back in front on the half hour from a corner. Vleminckx got his first from the penalty spot after a push was spotted ten minutes into the second half and his second quickly followed, a tap-in from about a foot out, getting the last touch on Schone's goal-bound shot. Classic poacher's behaviour. Bas Sibum volleyed a fourth for NEC before Andreas Lasnik pulled one back from the penalty spot. Vleminckx completed his hat-trick deep in stoppage time, latching on to a headed ball forward and rounding the keeper before side-footing home.

    Friday, 13 August 2010

    Ligue 1 round 2 previews

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

    Top game this week is the derby match between Lille and PSG. Unfortunately and rather inevitably, PSG's season opener was marred by crowd trouble, the fans picking up where they left off last season. It still seems to be among themselves rather than involving opposition fans, a throwback to the club segregating the crowd, partially along racial grounds, back in the 1970s. Hopefully this one will pass of peacefully and the football can once again be the talking point. PSG were impressive last week and Guillaume Hoarau made his international debut in midweek on the back of his performance. Lille were held to a draw last week, but have too many good players for it to be a real problem.

    Elsewhere, Bordeaux v Toulouse looks a cracker. Les Violets were good against Brest last week, but this will show us whether that was Brest being poor or TFC are genuine contenders this time around. Bordeaux need to kick out of their slump quickly. It stretches back to last season and we all thought a new face in charge may give them the lift they needed, but Jean Tigana's men were undone in Montpellier a week ago. Yoan Gourcuff in particular looks like he needs a lift. If he fires, they'll be fine, but he's been a passenger for too long now. Bordeaux's conquerors from last week, Montpellier, go to the Principality this time and look good for another three points. Difficult second season? They're not having it down on the south coast. Caen come off the back of beating Marseille by going head-to-head with title favourites Lyon this time. It doesn't get much of a tougher start for the Normans, but if they did the champions, why not Lyon, especially at home? Marseille look to get back to winning ways at Valenciennes where they ought not to have too many problems.

    Sochaux got off to a winning start over a gutsy Arles side last week and face St Etienne this week, both sides keen for early points in order not to be dragged into a relegation battle. Arles take on Lens as they seek their first points of the season and Brest are at home to Auxerre. Strikers are in demand and Loic Remy had a lot of scouts looking at him at the Norway game. He'll line up for Nice against Lorient this week while Rennes, whose World Cup star Asamoah Gyan looks set to move to Sunderland, are at Nancy.

    Eredivisie round 2 previews

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

    Table-toppers De Graafschap have a tough task on their hands to retain that position after the second round of fixtures. They're away in Eindhoven against fellow first round winners PSV. It's unlikely that De Graafschap will find the PSV defence as generous as Excelsior's last week and it should be the hosts who emerge two-for-two rather than the team from Doetinchem. Heracles, however, look good to remain up at the top by backing up an opening day 3-0 win by inflicting a second loss on VVV Venlo. Feyenoord were also winners on day one and take on Excelsior this week. Anything other than a big win for Feyenoord seems highly unlikely, especially given more than half of Excelsior's squad this season are Jong Feyenoord players. NEC won last time out and travel to Tilburg to take on Willem II where an away win is the favoured outcome, but Vitesse have a stern test to remain undefeated as they travel to face Ajax.

    Twente were held last week and face Heerenveen at the weekend. This is always a tough battle and there have been some tight games between the clubs in recent times. Twente shade it on paper and, as champions, should certainly fancy beating the Friesians on home soil. AZ drew last week and face another side on one point, Groningen, who came from two behind against Ajax to secure their point. Moussa Dembélé hasn't quite exited stage left yet, Birmingham failing to secure the Belgian striker, but Fulham are the latest Premier League club to show an interest. Either way, he doesn't look likely to feature for the Alkmaarders any time soon. Groningen looked sharp last week and need to make hay while they've a full-strength side out. Once injuries bite, they will struggle, so best to chalk some points up now. ADO take on Roda JC in Den Haag - a low-scoring draw is the place to put your money on this one - while in Utrecht, there's a battle of the prudent and the profligate. NAC are deducted a point having paid players late, one of a number of measures the KNVB have brought in to try to make sure clubs live within their means. Willem II came close to a deduction and some of the big boys - Feyenoord especially - are also in the mire. Not Utrecht though who, like Twente, make a major issue of the fact they carry no debt and are run on strictly commercial lines. Following his goal on opening day, Utrecht striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel made his Oranje debut in midweek as Bert van Marwijk gave his first team a rest and the 21-year old looks set for a big season.

    Monday, 9 August 2010

    How the style icons of Europe are dressing

    You know us here at Euroballs. We've long been recognised in our field as purveyors of fine fashion, our field populated only by us and a few raggedy scarecrows of course. Anyway, here's our run through of the top designs adorning the torsos of Europe's footballers.

    A surprise pick for our first entry, the Arles away kit. A dusty, almost pastel pink number with a broad, grey stripe down the middle doesn't sounds appealing, but they've pulled it off. Mated with grey shorts and socks of the same shade as that stripe, they blew Sochaux off the park in the style stakes in round of Ligue 1 if not on the scoreboard. Mind, when it comes to zany clobber, Arles have previous.

    Lyon switched from Umbro to adidas for this season and boy oh boy have they gone to town. The home shirt has the traditional stripes at a nice jaunty angle with lion motifs down them, but it's the change strip that really catches the eye. What is the French for avant garde anyway? The third kit looks more like something straight off the back of a Tour de France rider, but is none the worse for that.

    In fact, we'd go so far as to say that Lyon are going to be the most elegant side on the continent this season, but that would be to overlook the fashion capital that is the industrial north of Germany, Hamburg in fact, home of St Pauli. It's their centenary as well as the first time back in the top flight since 2001 and they've gone to town. The change kit is one thing, an elegant white number with old school collar, but it's the alternative that really catches the eye. It's reversible with an interesting copper colour on one side and an intricate design on the reverse featuring scenes from down the years. It's out there, it's ambitious, but it works. Truly a work of art.

    Toulouse don't vary much from the traditional lilac and white stripes, but it's a classic and you don't tinker with it. Airness are a new company to us, but it's no doubt the very height of science with some sort of sweat-be-gone technology. Still stylish though.

    Our final pick comes from the Eredivisie which isn't something you'd expect to hear. After all, it's pretty much a monotone league. Twente: red. AZ, Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Utrecht: red and white. However, Utrecht have gone out on a limb with an orange and black change kit. Tasty.

    Supporters of these clubs can be happy they're quite the dandies. The rest of you: well it's either a change of allegiance you need or a strongly-worded e-mail to your club to tell them to buck their ideas up.

    Sunday, 8 August 2010

    Caen spring early surprise: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    On the opening Saturday, not one of the title favourites managed a win. Auxerre, Lille and Lyon were all held to draws, but the big shock was newly promoted Caen going to the Vélodrome and turning Marseille over. The Normans played really well and didn't give Marseille any time on the ball and went ahead after winning the ball in midfield in just those circumstances. The skipper Nicolas Seube found the ball at his feet and, as the defence backed away and backed away, unleashed a low fizzer from 25 yards past Steve Mandanda and into the bottom corner. Marseille were level quarter of an hour from time thanks to a defensive mix-up, goalkeeper and defender each leaving the other to clear and Mamadou Samassa nipped in and poked the ball home, but Caen found a winner late in the piece, Youssef El Arabi left completely unmarked at the back post to nod in for an unlikely three points. Auxerre came from behind to lead before being pegged back by Lorient. Sigamary Diarra showed some neat footwork before firing home in the seventh minute to give Lorient the lead. Yann Jouffré almost made it two, but his shot came back off the post before a low, driven cross found Benoit Pedretti for the equaliser. Anthony Le Tallec put AJA ahead early in the second half, somehow finding a way to goal from the edge of the box, but Lorient got a deserved point thanks to Arnold Mvuemba's stunner which looped over Olivier Sorin in the AJA goal. Lille had to come from behind in an open game at Rennes for whom Ismael Bangoura got the opener, springing the offside trap and blasting it past Mickael Landreau. Moussa Sow went close to an equaliser in the first half, but did get it in the second, heading in at the back post. Lyon couldn't find a way past Monaco in a goalless encounter. Bordeaux lost the Sunday evening game at Montpellier who pick up where they left off last season. Just the one goal in it, right back Garry Bocaly with a tidy flick of the head to divert a free-kick just beyond the reach of Geoffrey Jourdren.

    Arles took an early lead against Sochaux, but couldn't hold on for the win. In a very natty pink and grey number - it does work, honest - Franck Djadjede headed them in front after a high, hanging cross was missed by the home defence. The lead lasted just seven minutes when Edouard Butin's shot saw the keeper dive over it and allow it through and Jacques Faty got the winner with a near post header from a corner early in the second period. Brest went down to Toulouse who were ahead late in the first half thanks to Daniel Braaten's cool finish. Braaten won a late penalty which Paulo Macahdo dispatched in style, but only after TFC had lost André-Pierre Gignac to a nasty looking ankle injury. Nancy escaped with three points from Lens in a dramatic finale. Julien Feret had Nancy in front on the half hour, a great, late arrival in the box to meet a well-timed cross and crack it past the keeper for 1-0. Toifilou Maoulida levelled it twenty minutes from time, stabbing in from close range before it became the Pascal Berenguer show. The Nancy skipper started the move and followed in to power a shot home from the edge of the box to restore the lead with seven minutes to go. In the last minute of the game, Berenguer pulled down Henri Bedimo just inside the box and picked up a second yellow. The penalty wasn't great from Issam Jemaa and it was saved. Nice had the better of a goalless draw with Valenciennes while St Etienne went down heavily in the capital. Mevlut Erdinc had PSG in front inside five minutes, but Les Verts were level five minutes from half time as Dimitri Payet shaped to shoot, allowed the defence to part and then fired home. The lead lasted barely two minutes though as Stephane Sessegnon's overhead shot came off the post and the back of St Etienne keeper Jérémie Janot's arms and in for an unfortunate own goal. The points were sealed eight minutes from time by Nene as Les Verts were caught on the counter once too often.

    Champions held: Eredivisie reviews

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

    Twente utterly dominated the opening game of the season in Kerkrade, but were unable to find a killer touch. Bryan Ruiz had a couple of opportunities in the first half, but resolute defending from Roda kept them at bay. The best chance fell to Mads Junker whose looping header came crashing back off the top side of the crossbar, but Roda were grateful to goalkeeper Premyslav Tyton for securing a point with an outstanding save from a curling Nacer Chadli effort nine minutes from time which looked set for the top corner until a strong arm from the Polish keeper pushed it away. PSV were being held goalless by Heerenveen at half-time, but Ola Toivonen got their challenge up and running six minutes after the break. He won the ball with a strong challenge midway inside his own half and set off upfield. He passed wide for Stanislav Manolev, but continued his run, arriving in the box just in time to meet Manolev's return to slam home the opener. Heerenveen were level soon after with a powerful header, but late goals wrapped it up for the Eindhoveners, Toivonen with an absolute screamer from all of 35 yards in the 82nd minute and Orlando Engelaar added gloss with a firm left foot drive from 20 yards in stoppage time.

    Feyenoord won 3-1, coming from behind against Utrecht. Ricky van Wolfswinkel put the visitors ahead after a free-kick was parried into his path by Erwin Mulder, but it was rather against the run of play though Utrecht did enjoy a strong spell afterwards. Feyenoord were back into it early in the second half with a comedy own goal, Alje Schut sliding in at the back post to prod it past his own keeper. Quite a finish which turned the game. A Luigi Bruins thunderbolt made it two just after the hour and Leroy Fer wrapped it up, heading in a free-kick with quarter of an hour to go. A double on his Ajax debut from Mounir El Hamdaoui wasn't enough for the Amsterdammers to see off Groningen who came back at them. His and Ajax's first came five minutes into the second half; very much route one stuff, but with a deft finish off the outside of the boot. He's paid for all the boot, so the outside is as good as any other part and it was the same patch of leather that saw him curl a second past the hapless Luciano (archetypal South American flap-merchant) in the Groningen goal on the hour. That should have been that, but Groningen finally came to life and dominated the last 20 minutes, a brief one-man pitch invasion notwithstanding. They laid siege to the Ajax goal and a neat lay-off saw Tim Matavz blaze through a crowd scene to pull one back. The equaliser arrived four minutes from time from a corner, disputed for an obvious foul of Demy de Zeeuw in the build-up. Maarten Stekelenburg could only parry the first effort and Nicklas Pedersen was on hand to bundle it in. Erik Falkenburg gave AZ the lead in Breda, played in by a neat through ball by a NAC defender, but the home side earned a draw late on when Matthew Amoah tapped home from close range as the AZ defence went AWOL.

    Vitesse were another side to come from behind as they saw off ADO to sit unusually high on the league ladder at this very early stage. Lex Immers turned in a low cross for the opener for Den Haag, but they were pegged back on the stroke of half-time as Wiljan Pluim demonstrated that good touch for a big man, rolling his marker and slotting the ball past the keeper. Two second half penalties from Lasse Nilsson sealed the win, one for handball, one for a foul. The first was allowed to stand despite some laughably obvious encroachment, but the second was pulled back for a retake for the same reason, despite the offence being no less subtle. All three kicks were confidently placed to the keeper's right. He wasn't getting anywhere near any of them. Ramon Zomer got the only goal for NEC as they beat VVV Venlo. A free-kick looked to have been dealt with, but the VVV defence was pulled this way and that before Rens van Eijden stood a cross up to the back post where Zomer powered in a header. Concerns over Excelsior's defence took just eight minutes to be realised as they allowed Rydell Poepon to head home from six yards and they were missing in action for another two De Graafschap goals in the second half. Muslu Nalbantoglu fired in from a tight-ish angle and Steve de Ridder's long range shot took a slight nick on it's way through a forest of legs. Excelsior look really poor as do Willem II, given a lesson in support and passing by Heracles. Marko Vejinovic got the first goal of the Eredivisie season just three minutes in as Heracles broke with pace and Willie Overtoom's shot was parried into the path of of the young striker. Glynor Plet made the game safe with a late brace, the first a free header at the back post, the second a delightful drive into the roof of the net after showing off some ball juggling skills and it's De Graafschap and Heracles that top the table.

    Friday, 6 August 2010

    Ligue 1 round 1 previews

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

    After the horror of the World Cup campaign, France returns to league action this weekend. It's like no-one really wants to admit it, so quiet has the off-season been. Clubs spent their money last year while this time around it's been a case of trimming squads and getting rid of super-annuated ageing plodders - by which we mean Marseille have got rid of Fernando Morientes.

    So to week one of the new season and the champions have a gentle opener against Caen, newly promoted. It's a stunningly young squad up in Normandy, but there are a few gems there, notably young defender Thomas Heurtaux. They won't be a match for Marseille though, even if Mamadou Niang gets his wish and exits stage left. Lyon look good to push on for another championship this time around and begin against Monaco at the Gerland. The Monagasques have lost a lot of players, including the influential Nene and look like struggling to make the top half while Lyon have retained the bulk of the squad that got them so far in last season's Champions League. Midfield tyros Miralem Pjanic and Maxime Gonalons are both a year older, wiser and stronger and we fancy them to make a big difference. Auxerre also retain most of their side that did so well last time around, but they'll have to look after exciting young midfielder Kevin Gameiro if they're to see off Lorient on opening day. Last season's surprise package Montpellier have a tough start to the season against Bordeaux, now under Jean Tigana's stewardship. There's no Victor Montano for Montpellier this time - he's at Rennes - so where the goals come from is a mystery. Bordeaux still have plenty of talent, but Tigana has to get it all working for him in a way that Laurent Blanc couldn't once the announcement that he was leaving was made public. We fancy Lille to do well this season, again having retained all the players others were looking at, especially Eden Hazard. They take on Rennes this week in a tricky opener for the northern side.

    Caen will be among the favourites for the drop, but not as iron-clad certainties as the other promoted sides. Arles travel to Sochaux for their opening game and while Sochaux don't look any great shakes themselves, they'll be upset losing this one. Brest have a squad thinner than a dieting supermodel and they're at Toulouse. It's been a cost-cutting exercise for TFC this summer, but they've still a core of capable players and it recent history is anything to go by, they're due a decent year.

    Elsewhere, the ageing legs of PSG - albeit with added Nene and Mathieu Bodmer - take on St Etienne who look too good to go down if not anything more than that. Lens and Nancy face off in what looks like being a mid-table battle while Nice and Valenciennes both look in trouble from the off and either one taking three points here will steal an early march on fellow relegation candidates.

    Thursday, 5 August 2010

    Eredivisie round 1 previews

    Yay, we're back! Hope you all enjoyed the football feast through the summer and come back refreshed and ready to go again. The first of our leagues kicks off this weekend so here we go with the first look at the new Dutch season.

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

    Only one of the big five - as we must now consider it - begin at home and that's Feyenoord. Having got rid of a number of their big earners, they may need a year or two more to build a side capable of winning the league again, but they've at least turned the supertanker around. New signings are few and far between, so the veteran Jon Dahl Tomasson will have to score the bulk of their goals. Utrecht pose tricky opposition and could easily spring an opening day surprise here. They've remained much the same as they look to build on an encouraging season last time around. The champions begin life after Steve McClaren against Roda. Gone are the veterans Blaise N'Kufo and Kenneth Perez. Young Luuk de Jong has been handed the shirt vacated by the record goal-scorer N'Kufo while Perez's calming midfield influence will need Theo Janssen to shed the wild child image and grow up. There's no Miroslav Stoch, Azerbaijani Vaguf Javadov comes in from partner club Qarabag, but Bryan Ruiz remains. They look to be well in contention for a repeat success, but it'll be a lot harder this time around. Either way, they'll be way too good for Roda JC.

    PSV are the title favourites and begin with a tricky one away at Heerenveen. The Friesians have had a massive clear-out, so may find the early going tough. New faces too in Eindhoven where Marcus Berg comes in from Hamburg and Jeremain Lens from AZ to bolster the forward line, but it's much the same squad as last time, just a year older and wiser. They look strong. Ajax are in a muddle. They need to raise cash, so offers for Luis Suarez, Gregory van der Wiel and Maarten Stekelenberg will not be refused, but would they have time to bring in anyone should they leave? Marko Pantelic is already gone, so Mounir El Hamdaoui, in from AZ, will have to pick up his slack alongside Suarez. It's the young lads who will have to step up. Toby Alderweireld was great last season, as was Siem de Jong and they'll have to be again. Groningen, their opponents this week, look set for a season of struggle. AZ are just emerging from the collapse of their parent company and have lost an entire forward line. Gertjan Verbeek is the new boss and while he's lost a fair few players, he's still got plenty to work with, unlike Robert Maaskant at NAC who doesn't have two brass farthings to rub together as the new Rat Verlegh stadium still weighs as a millstone round the club's neck.

    Elsewhere, there's an early battle between the two promoted clubs. Excelsior have crammed their side with Feyenoord juniors while De Graafschap will be looking to Rydell Poepon for the goals to keep them up. They both look like having long, hard seasons. VVV Venlo too look like having a season of struggle. No longer are the likes of Keisuke Honda and Sandro Calabro there and the replacements, frankly, aren't up to much. Heracles lost Verbeek to AZ, but still look a tidy little side, well able to challenge for the final Europa League spot led by the likes of Everton and Darl Douglas. They're at Willem II this week who only avoided relegation by beating Go Ahead Eagles in the play-offs. They don't look any better than that for the new season. Vitesse against ADO also looks like a relegation battle. ADO lost several of their better players in the off-season and don't have the cash for replacements while Vitesse are really struggling and have a tiny squad. Any injuries and they're in trouble.

    Finally, a plea. Last season was the worst in a number of years for crowd trouble. Can we all just calm down please?