• Monday, 27 September 2010

    St Etienne take derby spoils: Ligue 1 reviews

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

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

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

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

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

    Mainz roll on: Bundesliga reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Willem II halfway down already: Eredivisie reviews

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, 25 September 2010

    Ligue 1 round 7 previews

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, 23 September 2010

    Eredivisie round 7 previews

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

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

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

    Schalke off the mark: Bundesliga reviews/previews

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, 20 September 2010

    Derby disaster for Schalke: Bundesliga reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Contrasting fortunes for near neighbours: Ligue 1 reviews

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

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

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

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

    Klassieker joy for Ajax: Eredivisie reviews

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, 18 September 2010

    Ligue 1 round 6 previews

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, 16 September 2010

    Bundesliga round 4 previews

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

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

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

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

    Eredivisie round 6 previews

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

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

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

    Monday, 13 September 2010

    Big spenders floundering: Bundesliga reviews

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

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

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

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

    French bookies in a lather: Ligue 1 reviews

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

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

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

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

    Willem II pay the penalty: Eredivisie reviews

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

    It was never going to be easy for Willem II. In 36 previous attempts at beating Ajax in Amsterdam previous to this weekend, they'd failed 36 times, conceding 136 while scoring just 20. Only four of those 36 games were draws and the two clubs occupied diametrically opposite positions on the league ladder. Given all that, what you don't want to do is give Luis Suarez any excuse to go down in the box, but a stupid lunge from Arjan Swinkels saw the gravitationally challenged Uruguayan take a tumble and the referee point to the spot. Swinkels saw yellow, Suarez tucked the spot kick away. That was ten minutes before the break. Fast forward to ten minutes after it, and Niek Vossebelt's tap on the back of Suarez's legs saw the great man go flying once again and again he stepped up to put the penalty away. Same side, but too good for the keeper who guessed correctly this time.

    Despite the win, Ajax are bumped off the top of the table by one goal as PSV beat NEC after going behind late in the first half to a John Goossens free-kick from way downtown. Danny Koevermans levelled seconds after the break, getting on the end of a sweeping move to tap in at the near post and two quickfire goals midway through the second period settled matters. Ibrahim Afellay turned his would-be marker inside out before firing in from 18 yards and Ola Toivonen headed a third to send PSV top. The Twente defence was breached for the first time this season, but the champions did get their third straight win. They went in front on the half hour with Bryan Ruiz's first of the campaign, the Costa Rican exchanging passes on the edge of the box before driving it past a well-beaten keeper. A clumsy challenge by Nacer Chadli on Michael Timisela gave VVV the opportunity to level from the penalty spot, Patrick Paauwe sending Nikolay Mihaylov the wrong way. VVV keeper Dennis Gentenaar was keeping his side in with a shout of a point with a string of excellent saves, none better than a flying effort to divert a curling Ruiz effort that looked destined for the top corner. He was beaten 20 minutes from time as a long range shot from Roberto Rosales took a nick off a defender, wrong-footing Gentenaar and creeping in the bottom corner. The other unbeaten side are Groningen. For all we keep saying Groningen are physical - they are - they can also play some football and this was an open encounter with some flowing football. Chances came at both ends, but the deadlock was only broken five minutes from time after Michael Silberbauer upended Tim Matavz in the box and Andreas Granqvist put his foot right through the resulting penalty. Pick that one out.

    Heerenveen left it very late to get past Vitesse who were in front midway through the second half through Davy Propper's long range shot which bounced unkindly just in front of the keeper. Just two minutes remained when Filip Djuricic was upended in the box and Roy Beerens stuck the penalty away. Oussama Assaidi won it with the last kick of the game, picked out six yards from goal and he threaded it inside the back post. Excelsior won on home 'turf' again, coming from behind this time after Mark Jan Fledderus had Heracles ahead on the half hour. Roland Bergkamp levelled it on 60 minutes and Leen van Steensel won it fifteen minutes later. Excelsior are up to sixth. AZ went down to Roda, Willem Janssen with the winner early in the second half after Rasmus Elm had got the Alkmaarders back level in response to Laurent Delorge's early opener. Feyenoord paid for their inability to convert chances in going down to NAC. Robbert Schilder got both goals late on, the first a nice drive which beat Rob van Dijk at his near post. The second was a free-kick deep in stoppage time which came when Bruno Martins Indi pulled down Matthew Amoah and, as last man back, was sent off. From an inch outside the box, it's often said there's not space to get it up and back down again, so Schilder bent it round the wall instead. Nice. Hugo Bargas struck twice to rescue a point for De Graafschap after ADO had built up a 2-0 lead. Dmitri Bulykin put ADO in front after ten minutes, prodding it in from close range as De Graafschap failed to clear, and Kevin Visser doubled the lead with twenty minutes left, found unmarked in the box 10 yards out for a simple tap-in. Bargas pulled one back almost instantly, showing great control with head and left foot to take it round the defence to open up space for the shot, and he levelled things up two minutes from time with a spectacular overhead volley from 15 yards.

    Friday, 10 September 2010

    Ligue 1 round 5 previews

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

    With the national side back to winning ways in midweek, there's an almost an air of positivity around the hexagon as we get back to league action. Toulouse lead the way by an impressive five points and they've managed it without any strikers. Rather, Daniel Braaten is operating on his own up front and Etienne Didot is chipping in from midfield. It's working, but you wonder for how much longer. St Etienne have also started well and are a lot higher up in the standings than has been the norm over the last few years. This will be a decent test of both sides credentials. Clever money says a TFC win though. Rennes and Montpellier lead the chase with Sochaux tucked in behind - it's all a bit odd at the moment. Rennes begin life after Asamoah Gyan against Sochaux in an unlikely top-of-the-table clash while Montpellier are at home to Nancy. Caen lost for the first time two weeks ago and take on Auxerre who have been struggling domestically despite making it to the Champions League group stages.

    There's a big derby between Lens and Lille which should be a lively affair. Lille have drawn all four games so far this season and need to get a wriggle on if they're going to make an impact this season. Brest got a win last time out and face Lorient this week while Arles' search for their first points goes on in the capital. They're already four points adrift at the bottom and it looks like being a very long season for the Avignon faithful.

    That leaves us with the big boys, only one of whom is even in the top half. That's Marseille, and then only just. They lie tenth and take on Monaco this weekend who have yet to taste defeat. Lyon take on Valenciennes who have ground out some valuable points already and Bordeaux are at Nice. Wisely tipped as championship front-runners, Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille surely have too much talent in the ranks to languish in the lower reaches for too much longer, but with Marseille already eight points off the pace, they'd best get a move on.

    Thursday, 9 September 2010

    Bundesliga round 3 previews

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

    In terms of championship placings, the top game this week sees Mainz take on Kaiserslautern. Both are two-for-two and Lautern are coming off the back of beating Bayern. Mainz were, if anything, even more impressive in overturning a 3-0 deficit to beat Wolfsburg. It's hard to think that either will be right up there come seasons end, but for now, at least one of them can enjoy being in the spotlight. Hoffenheim head the standings and they might well be up there after 34 games. They've started really brightly and take on point-less Schalke who will have new boy Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on debut. He bagged five goals for the Netherlands in the last week, so arrives in form. Good job, because the rest of the Schalke squad look anything but. Hamburg and Hannover are the other two that have won their first two matches. Hamburg take on Nurnberg and should surely make it three in a row while Hannover have a much tougher task against Leverkusen.

    Dortmund v Wolfsburg would normally be one to savour and may yet turn out that way. Both managers would probably accept a scruffy 1-0 though, especially Steve McClaren whose Wolfsburg side have been hopeless defensively. At least Diego Benaglio looked back to something like form in the international break, but Simon Kjaer hasn't hit the ground running. No Diego either for Die Wolfe this week. Wither Misimovic?

    As well as Schalke and Wolfsburg, there are three other sides without a single point yet. Cologne are at home to St Pauli, Eintracht are away to Gladbach and Stuttgart - rock bottom - are in Freiburg. The final game sees Bayern take on Bremen. That should be a cracker.

    Eredivisie round 5 previews

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

    Back from the international break, we're predicting wins for the top five. Ajax lead the way and they take on rock bottom Willem II this week. There's only one outcome there and it's a thumping home win. PSV are dead level with them and are also at home, NEC the visitors. The Nijmegeners are well capable of scoring goals, but PSV are simply better in every department. After a sluggish start, Twente are up and running and are still to concede this season. It's almost inconceivable that their defences will be breached by VVV Venlo on Saturday. Still no Jon-Dahl Tomasson for Feyenoord, but against NAC they ought to be OK without the veteran Dane. Groningen have started strongly and are proving to be hard to break down. A very physical side, they're up against Utrecht this week who are altogether younger and more callow. While Utrecht have plenty of ability, we reckon Groningen will kick them out of their stride.

    Excelsior have a home fixture where they've been pretty good so far this season. Heracles are the visitors this week and they've been disappointing so far. That probably won't change on the artificial turf. Like Heracles, AZ have been a bit rubbish, but a game against Roda JC should see them gain their first win of the season. Vitesse go north to Heerenveen - should be a home win - while ADO welcome De Graafschap. That's a lot harder to call. If De Graafschap are going to get away from the bottom places, then this is one they have to win, but ADO look the stronger side.

    Thursday, 2 September 2010

    A swizz round the Euro qualifiers

    No league action this week, but lots and lots of Euro 2012 qualifiers. Poland and Ukraine promise us they'll be ready on time and the long road begins this week with the typical double headers. Let's have a look at how the sides from the leagues we follow are shaping up.

    Friday: San Marino v Netherlands
    Tuesday: Netherlands v Finland

    With Gio van Bronkhorst's retirement after the World Cup, Bert van Marwijk needed a new captain. He didn't have to look far for one, just as far as his daughter's husband. Yes, it's that loveable rogue Mark van Bommel. Robin van Persie is out for both games and more besides, but back comes Ruud van Nistelrooy after a decent start to his Bundesliga season. After winning his first cap in the friendly last month and a thunderous start to the Eredivisie, it's a surprise that there's no place for Ricky van Wolfswinkel, especially in a low-pressure game like the San Marino one. The core of the World Cup squad remains, but the defence looks better for the inclusion of the hard-as-nails Feyenoord skipper Ron Vlaar and the silky Ajax left-back Vurnon Anita. Twente's Theo Janssen and Valencia new-boy Hedwiges Maduro are added to the midfield.

    Keepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax), Piet Velthuizen (Hércules), Michel Vorm (Utrecht)
    Defenders: Vurnon Anita (Ajax), Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg), Erik Pieters (PSV), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax)
    Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (PSV), Mark van Bommel (Bayern), Theo Janssen (Twente), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Hedwiges Maduro (Valencia), Wesley Sneijder (Internazionale), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur), Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax)
    Forwards: Eljero Elia (Hamburg), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Jeremain Lens (PSV), Ruud van Nistelrooy (Hamburg)

    Friday: Belgium v Germany
    Tuesday: Germany v Azerbaijan

    Michael Ballack is back for Germany and immediately resumes the captaincy, Phillip Lahm his deputy. The other major sticking point was the goalkeeping spot, but Joachim Löw sticks with Manuel Neuer. The defence is shorn of Jerome Boateng, Serdar Tasci, Dennis Aogo and Arne Friedrich, so Friedrich's club-mate Sascha Riether gets a chance along with Heiko Westermann who was a surprising omission from the World Cup. Elsewhere, it's as you were with the young squad that surprised so many at the World Cup ready to pick up where they left off.

    Goalkeepers: René Adler (Leverkusen), Manuel Neuer (Schalke), Tim Wiese (Bremen)
    Defenders: Holger Badstuber (Bayern), Marcell Jansen (Hamburg), Philipp Lahm (Bayern), Per Mertesacker (Bremen), Sascha Riether (Wolfsburg), Heiko Westermann (Hamburg)
    Midfielders: Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern), Marko Marin (Bremen), Thomas Müller (Bayern), Mesut Özil (Real Madrid), Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern), Christian Träsch (Stuttgart)
    Forwards: Cacau (Stuttgart), Mario Gómez (Bayern), Miroslav Klose (Bayern), Stefan Kießling (Leverkusen)

    Friday: France v Belarus
    Tuesday: Bosnia v France

    A new chapter in the soap opera that is France begins on Friday in St Denis. Nine of the World Cup squad are in, but chief-mutineer Patrice Evra isn't - he's sitting out the first of five games after his ban from the FFF - prompting the need for a new captain. At time of writing, we don't know who that is. Knowing the hungry hoards who read this stuff, you've mainly come here for some idle speculation, so we'll say that Alou Diarra is your man. Maybe Hugo Lloris. Kevin Gameiro - tipped by better pundits than us for greatness - gets a go in midfield, but Lassana Diarra is out, something which is becoming a bit of a recurring theme. There's strength in the squad, plenty to take care of Belarus, but Bosnia will be a tough examination of a side which still has a few cracks left in it after the summer's antics.

    Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux)
    Defenders: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Adil Rami (Lille), Philippe Mexès (AS Roma), Mamadou Sakho (PSG), Benoît Trémoulinas (Bordeaux), Gaël Clichy (Arsenal), Anthony Réveillère (Lyon)
    Midfielders: Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Jérémy Ménez (AS Roma), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Blaise Matuidi (St Etienne)
    Forwards: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Loïc Rémy (Marseille), Louis Saha (Everton), Guillaume Hoarau (PSG)