• Friday, 30 March 2012

    Marking your card #3

    Things to look out for this weekend.

    Real Madrid got back to winning ways last week, but have a tough trip to Pamplona to play Osasuna on Saturday. Barcelona have already slipped up there and they take on Athletic this week. The Bilbao side back up from Thursday's 4-2 Europa League win over Schalke 04, the Liga authorities refusing to put the game back. It makes little difference: Athletic have struggled to back up from European exploits all season long and Barcelona should win this relatively comfortably. The 2-2 draw between the two at San Mamés was one of the games of the season. It's difficult to make a case for a repeat.

    It's a big week in Portugal. Porto face the obdurate Olhanense at home, but new leaders Braga go to Lisbon to face the side they usurped at the top, Benfica. Should Braga win, they will fancy going on to take the title. Anything else and it's all still up for grabs.

    It's third v fourth in France on Sunday when Lille host Toulouse in the battle for the final Champions League place. PSG can steal a march on Montpellier by winning their game against mid-table Nancy as the southerners don't play until Wednesday as the league allowed Marseille to reschedule in order to better prepare for Champions League football. Fat lot of good that did...

    In Poland, two of the traditional powerhouses meet on Friday night when Wisła Kraków host Legia. Wisła are down in seventh, eleven points behind leaders Legia who are having a bit of a wobble having drawn the last two. Both have parsimonius defences, so this looks like being a cagey affair - well as cagey as it ever can be.

    Having been denied by Rangers last week, Celtic can seal the Scottish title this week, though they'll need a helping hand from Motherwell who play their Glasgow rivals. Even if it doesn't happen this week, there's always the week after.

    In the US, Sébastien Le Toux returns to Philadelphia - the club he didn't want to leave - with the Vancouver Whitecaps and a win for the Canadians would heap pressure on Piotr Novak. Chile's version of Rangers travel to play Universidad de Chile who are still quite incredible to watch. The big one in Russia sees leaders Zenit take on fourth-place Spartak Moscow. And if English non-league football is your bag, York City's trip to Luton on Friday night is a massive game. These sides met in the FA Trophy semi-finals, York sneaking through over two legs, securing a dramatic draw at Kenilworth Road to edge it 2-1 on aggregate. Further down the ladder, Chester FC celebrate two years since their rise from the ashes of Chester City with a home game against Whitby Town. 11 points clear with seven games to go, a win for Chester puts on foot in next season's Conference North. Our new best friends at 1.FC Magdeburg have a tough trip to Halmstad to take on Germania.

    Finally, in Belgium Westerlo and Sint-Truiden begin their five-game series to determine which of them gets relegated. They will be utterly fed up of the sight of each other by the end of April.

    You should find something to suit your tastes from that little lot. Wherever you end up, have fun.

    Thursday, 29 March 2012

    Unbelievable Jeff! #19

    We've all been there, watching our teams fail to score game after game. For five games in a row, 1.FC Magdeburg over Regionalliga Nord failed to find the net. Fortunately, their fans helped the team find their way to goal.

    Watch the video here

    God speed 1.FC Magdeburg, our new favourite Regionalliga side

    Wednesday, 28 March 2012

    Goalkeepers yelling at defenders #28

    2-cap US national goalkeeper, Matt Reis

    37 today. Iván Helguera is also 37 today, as is our very own JD.
    Other notable football birthdays today: Sergi Goméz, Yoon Joon-Soo and Steve Bull. Also Chris Barrie, Nasser Hussain, Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn (he might make another good film yet; give him chance), Matthew Corbett, Neil Kinnock, Michael Parkinson, Hank Paulson and Mario Vargas Llosa.
    Oh, and Tim Lovejoy. It was all going so well up to that point...

    Tuesday, 27 March 2012

    10 things worth more than Massimo Moratti's backing

    The writing has been on the wall for some time in truth, but the ultimate signal that ended Claudio Ranieri's tenure at Internazionale came after their defeat to Juventus at the weekend when Massimo Moratti said "I think he'll be here until the end of the season". 24 hours later, Ranieri was clearing his desk and Inter were ushering in their third manager of the season.
    Here are ten things worth more than Moratti's backing:

    10. Monty Panesar's batting average.

    9. A contract to manage first-team affairs at Palermo longer than six months.

    8. A timeshare in the Algarve.

    7. Millionaires running a penniless country telling poor people that "we're all in this together".

    6. A ministerial resignation in order to 'clear my name'.

    5. An internal investigation by News International.

    4. A penalty shout by an away team at the Stretford End.

    3. An invoice for services rendered from noted trustworthy government outsourcers A4E.

    2. A LibDem election pledge.

    1. Roman Abramovich's backing.

    TW3 #4

    The weekend in a nutshell.

    Inter go down in Turin, Ranieri offed as a result though in reality it had long been coming. Milan continue to lead, that man Zlatan with both goals in a 2-1 win over Roma. Cesena are almost down, but it is just a matter of time.

    Real Madrid's little wobble is over following a 5-1 thumping of Real Sociedad. Barcelona also won, away to Mallorca, so the gap remains six points with a Clasico still to come. Málaga are the new incumbents of fourth and it could get better yet for the nouveau riche Los Boquerones as Valencia's second straight loss means it's tied on 47 points for third. At the bottom, Zaragoza's second straight win has pulled them level with both Racing and Sporting Gíjon, albeit still six points adrift of Granada and Villarreal. A fighting chance, nothing more.

    Montpellier return to the top of Ligue 1 with a win over St Etienne combined with PSG being held 1-1 by Bordeaux. Lille remain third after cruising past Evian. Auxerre are in all sorts of trouble and hit the bottom after defeat to fourth-placed Toulouse.

    A good weekend for Ajax in the Eredivisie who continued their great run with a win over PSV. They're a point behind AZ - 1-0 winners over RKC Waalwijk - but Twente fall away after a draw with ADO. Big wins for Feyenoord and Heerenveen see them make up a trio on 51 points with PSV a point further behind Steve McClaren's team.

    New leaders in Portugal where Benfica and Porto both drew - Pablo Aimar sent off in a 0-0 draw for the former against Olhanense, the latter pegged back late on by Paços de Ferreira - and Sporting Braga beat Académica to go past them both.

    The Belgian regular season has ended and now they go into their play-off frenzy. Anderlecht finished top and Kortijk sneak into the top six who play off for the championship as Cercle Brugge buggered it up against Lokeren and drop into the Europa League play-offs for the teams finishing 7th to 14th. Westerlo and Sint-Truiden play-off to avoid relegation. Clear? As mud.

    Celtic have to wait at least a week for the Scottish title after defeat to Rangers in a feisty, tempestuous game, but they will be champions. So will Manchester United, south of the border, after rivals City extended their worrying run of complete inability to win away from home.

    The fall-out from the trouble at the Panathiaikos-Olympiakos game saw the Greek FA award the match as a 3-0 to Olympiakos, fine Panathinaikos and order them to play four games behind closed doors. Both sides won this weekend - a 7-2 thumping of Asteras for Olympiakos for whom Kevin Mirallas got three - which leaves Olympiakos ten points clear.

    Finally, Germany. Wins for the top three leaves the status quo intact, but a surprise loss for Gladbach at home to Hoffenheim sees them fall away and their season is in danger of fizzling out. They are a long way clear of Leverkusen though, so a top four finish is still very much on. 2.Bundesliga is finally taking shape. Of the top five, only Greuther and Eintracht Frankfurt won - Greuther against an increasingly dismal Lautern, Eintracht 4-0 away to Union Berlin - and they're away and over the hill now.

    A busy midweek sees the Champions League quarter-finals hog the headlines and an emotional return to White Hart Lane for Bolton in the rearranged FA Cup tie, the game that was abandoned after Fabrice Muamba's heart attack.

    Goalkeepers yelling at defenders #27

    Andrés Fernández


    Friday, 23 March 2012

    Marking Your Card #2

    Welcome to the preview of this weekends big action in Europe as the big leagues start to
    edge themselves to a conclusion that is gradually closing in.

    In Spain this weekend the top two both play on Saturday with Barcelona starting the weekends fixtures off with a tea time kick off in Mallorca whilst table toppers Real Madrid are at home to Real Sociedad and given the midweek fixtures can Madrid maintain 11 players on the pitch and
    will Messi bag another hat trick? The latter you couldn't bet against at the minute.

    Whilst in the Bundersliga, league leaders Dortumund travel to Koln on Sunday whilst Bayern can close the gap if they beat Hannover on Saturday afternoon but at the other end of the table sees a clash which could play a huge part in who gets relegated as bottom of the table Kaiserslautern travel to 16th placed Freiburg knowing a win could make the bottom of the table very messy and help their
    chances of survival, a loss and a win for Berlin above could be disastrous for their survival hopes.

    The Dutch Eredivisie sees one of the biggest games in Europe on Sunday as Ajax host PSV. This fixture has ramifications for the table as if PSV win they will leapfrog Ajax. Elsewhere the leaders Alkmaar host Waalwijk.

    A few big other fixtures are around Europe this weekend. Celtic can win the Scotish League title at arch rivals Rangers ground on Sunday if they win to hurt their financially crippled cross town foes and in England, Manchester City can leapfrog to top of the EPL till Monday night if they beat Stoke away on Saturday night

    Thursday, 22 March 2012

    That was the (mid)week that was #3

    It's now a fully blown crisis at Marseille as they were dumped out of the Coupe de France by third-tier Quevilly. The game was played in Caen rather than at the tiny, 2,500 capacity Stade Amable Lozai and Marseille needed a late Loic Remy equaliser to take it into extra-time. He scored again in the extra half-hour, but only in between two strikes from John Ayina, the last a couple of minutes from the end of the 120 minutes. An upset too on Corsica where 3rd division Gamélec Ajaccio beat Montpellier. PSG are also out, beaten by Lyon, and Rennes progressed against Valenciennes.

    No such cup joy for Greuther Fürth of 2.Bundesliga, but they did give Borussia Dortmund a real fright. They dragged their semi-final through to extra time, but a last-miute goal from Ilkay Gundogan denied them at least a penalty shoot-out. A shoot-out was what we had in the other semi, Bayern edging out Gladbach.

    The semi-final of the Coppa Italia between Milan and Juventus also went to extra-time having ended 2-1 to Milan after the 90 minutes which left it all square on aggregate. Six minutes into the additional period, Mirko Vucinic blasted in a stunner and Juve held firm for the remaining time in a heated game. Napoli join the Old Lady there after beating Siena.

    PSV eased past Heerenveen for the second time in a matter of days to reach the KNVB Beker final. PSV are joined in the final by Heracles who beat AZ in extra-time. The little club with the plastic pitch are almost certainly in the Europa League next year. Twente struggled past ten-man De Graafschap in a delayed league game from the cold snap in January. Graafschap were extremely unlucky not to grab a point. Luuk de Jong was carried off after turning his ankle and that could be key to Twente's fortunes for the remainder of the season.

    The NextGen series sees Ajax joined in Sunday's final by Internazionale after a 2-0 win over Marseille at Brentford's Griffin Park. The final is also in London, at Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road ground.

    Finally, Spain. Lionel Messi. He's now scored three or more in a game on nine occasions this season. It's difficult to think of anything else to say about him. El Real finished with nine on the field and Aitor Karanka and Jose Mourinho sent from the bench at El Madrigal where Marcos Senna's wonderful free-kick denied Los Blancos a win. The gap is down to six points at the top. Game on? Levante continue to stake a claim for fourth place, but Málaga have kept it to one goal difference.

    That's Conference #14

    We've been too harsh on strikers missing sitters in That's Conference lately. Time for a goalkeeping mega-blunder. To the MLS then and Portland Timbers v Philadelphia Union and Zac MacMath is in goal for The U. Andrew Jean-Baptiste with the header, MacMath seems to have it covered...

    Oops. That's Conference!

    Tuesday, 20 March 2012

    TW3 #2

    Needless to say, the footballing week was largely overshadowed by what happened to Fabrice Muamba at White Hart Lane. The news is good so far which comes as something of a relief to everyone, but it'll be a long road back and he'll need all the support he can get. Best of luck to him.

    On with the actual football then...

    Or not. Away fans were banned from attending Panathinaikos v Olympiakos after trouble flared at previous matches. It didn't stop trouble flaring. Indeed, running battles between fans and police and sections of the ground being set on fire caused the game to be abandoned. Yes, Panathinaikos fans setting fire to their own stadium. No, us neither. The big derby in Poland saw pretty much nothing happen except for a pair of bookings for Adam Kokoszka in a drab 0-0.

    Juventus finally broke out of their run of draws, sticking five past Fiorentina who are now in real trouble at the bottom. Juve are still unbeaten, but with Milan winning again, there remains a four-point gap and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is short odds to make it nine league titles in a row, an utterly maddening statistic. Napoli came back from 2-0 down to snatch a draw with Udinese which, coupled wth Lazio's defeat to Catania, sees the three teams vying for third split by a single point.

    There might yet be a title race in Spain, but it looks a long shot. Some routine Messi brilliance - one of those chips only he seems able to do - saw Barcelona ease past Sevilla and a late Santi Cazorla free-kick - and what a free-kick, goal of the week even - earned Málaga a draw at the Bernabéu. The gap is down to eight. Not exactly game on, but in the context of the season, about as exciting as it gets. Roberto Soldado's hat-trick saw Valencia beat Athletic who are finding it tough to back up after European games and Levante are back into that fourth Champions League spot this week.

    Lyon won the big derby in France, a late Bafétimbi Gomis goal enough to beat St Etienne and leapfrog them in the chase for European football. However Toulouse leapt over them both with a win over Rennes the following day. Neither of the top two won, but Lille are still seven points behind second-placed Montpellier.

    Wins for the top three in Portugal sees them remain split by a single point and it's all back on in Holland as AZ were held by NAC and Twente were beaten by Feyenoord. PSV hit five past Heerenveen who need to start taking points off the other top sides to stay in contention. Ajax are the form side with a fifth win on the bounce to beat ADO. Twente play their game in hand against De Graafschap this week.

    Draws elsewhere in Argentina mean that Boca's victory over San Martín moves them to second, a point behind Tigre who drew with Estudiantes. In Primera B, River Plate had goals from David Trézéguet and Fernando Cavénaghi in a 3-0 win over Deportivo Merlo, but they still trail Instituto, 3-1 winners over Characrita Juniors, by a point. Staying in South America, Universidad de Chile came from 2-down to beat Unión Espanola 3-2, Manuel Ruidiaz with a late winner, to remain clear at the top.

    Finally, to Germany where Bayern couldn't make it three games in a row scoring seven. They only - only - put six past a horrible Hertha BSC outfit who really didn't seem to know what they were doing. There were also wins for Dortmund, Schalke and Gladbach, so it's very much as you were. In 2.Bundesliga, there were defeats for Paderborn - a 5-0 thumping from Ingolstadt - and St Pauli while Fortuna were held by Energie Cottbus. That's allowed Greuther, who thumped 1860 to all but end any chance they had, and Eintracht Frankfurt, big winners over Dynamo Dresden, to pull clear.

    There are lots of midweek games too with a full programme in Spain and cup matches all over the place and that postponed league game in Holland. The Copa Libertadores continues as well with the start of the fourth round of matches in the group stage. There's the Asian Champions League and the second semi-final of the NextGen series where Inter and Marseille under-19s vie for the right to face Ajax in the final.

    Monday, 19 March 2012

    Goalkeepers yelling at defenders #25

    Sander Boschker

    550 games for the Dutchman, a landmark reached last weekend where he conceded an own goal, just as he did on debut back in 1989.

    Friday, 16 March 2012

    Marking your card #1

    Looking for some footballing action this weekend? Here's where we'd be heading for some fun and games.

    Tonight, the big game is undoubtedly the Warsaw derby. Legia are top of the Ekstraklasa with Polonia down in fourth, but only five points separate them. It's must-win for Polonia, must-not-lose for Legia.
    More derby action and it doesn't get bigger than this in Greece: Panathinaikos v Olympiakos. Panathinaikos lost last week aaway at AEK which allowed Olympiakos to pull four points clear at the top. Only a win will do for the Greens. Should be a belter.

    In the Bundesliga, Gladbach travel to Leverkusen in what could prove a pivotal game for both. Gladbach's title tilt has stuttered a bit lately, while Levekusen need a win to maintain a push for European football next season, particularly after the evisceration at Camp Nou. Bayern travel to Berlin to play Hertha BSC having scored 7 (seven) in their last two outings. Odds on it being a third? Not that high to be honest: Hertha are rubbish.
    Udinese v Napoli is the pick of Serie A. Both clubs are two points off the European places and both dropped out of European football in the week. Both with wounds to lick, both full of goals, this could be a classic.
    Valencia v Athletic Club is huge in La Liga while Real Madrid v Málaga is also a tasty one. Any slip by El Real has to happen now if they're not to win the title and Málaga are going well at the moment.
    For the first time in a long while, St Etienne go into a derby with Lyon as favourites and that's the stand-out game in Ligue 1. Sochaux v Nice is massive at the bottom.
    PSV take on Heerenveen in a big top-five Eredivisie clash and Twente are up against Feyenoord as well. Those two games will go a long way towards shaping this title battle. After derailing PSV last week, NAC get to have crack at the new leaders AZ, albeit away from home this time.
    There's more derby action in Belgium too, in Bruges. Cercle host Club Brugge in a feisty affair. Fourth against second as well.
    Further afield, it's early days in the Argentine Clausura, but Estudiantes going to Tigre is a biggy. Tigre lead after four wins from their five games so far with Estudiantes just two points further back.

    But our favourite league this year is 2.Bundesliga. The top five are still separated by just three points and four of them have reasonably straightforward games this week. Greuther Fürth are the current leaders and have the trickiest game of them all, away to 1860 Munich. 1860 went on a tremendous run and threatened to make the five into six, but now haven't won in three. They need this, Greuther need this. It should be a belter.

    Where are you off to? Let us know below the line. Wherever you end up, have a good one.

    That's Conference #13

    For all we loved the Athletic v Manchester United game last night, one thing is inescapable. For all the praise that has been heaped on them, there's a reason why Athletic are seventh in La Liga at time of writing. They cannot finish.
    The game yesterday was littered with iffy efforts. Toquero was guilty a couple of times, Iraola had to do better, but the tin lid goes to Oscar de Marcos after Iker Muniain had hit the post:

    See it here on 101greatgoals.

    With the whole goal to aim at and the keeper nowhere, he's found the back of the stand. That's Conference.

    Unbelievable Jeff! #18

    Last night was quite remarkable as Athletic Club went out and did to Manchester United precisely what they did a week previously. It was another terrific game punctuated by moments of absolute genius. Llorente's goal off an amazing ball from Fernando Amorebieta and Rooney's late consolation were both exceptional, as was Toquero rocking up at left-back and Amorebieta going a full game without a booking. Highlight, however, was right-back Andoni Iraola almost scoring the best goal since, well, ever.

    See it here on 101greatgoals.

    We haven't seen close control like that since Charles Charlie-Charles was a lad. Unbelievable Jeff!

    Mourinho's legacy

    Chelsea and Internazionale have a lot in common. Both enjoyed success under Jose Mourinho, both have been through managers like there's no tomorrow in the immediate aftermath of Jose Mourinho.

    Chelsea are on their seventh boss since Mourinho left them five years ago, Inter are up to four in less than two years. Both clubs are burdened by the weight of Mourinho's signings, invariably experienced players at or near their peak when signed and therefore pretty costly. There's no legacy planning and Mourinho is very adept at picking the right time to move on, the fans still in awe and memories of glory days fresh in the mind. The problem arises a short time later when those players at or near their peak suddenly pass it and the incumbent coach finds a squad not fit for the job in hand. Mourinho's teams all get old together. It's as if he arrives at a club already knowing how long he's going to be around and builds a team that will last that long and not a great deal longer.

    His attitude to his players also works against future coaches. By protecting his players from all external criticism - his antics with the media and on the touchline look more like the work of a Machivellian schemer than pure coincidence - he helps inculcate a culture where they are immune to everything, be that honest appraisal or new ideas.

    It's also no coincidence that Inter and Chelsea both have notoriously trigger-happy chairmen, but even as far back as the 1930s when Fulham fired Jimmy Hogan after 31 days, players have had their say over managers who try to get them to do things they don't see as worthwhile. And who is easier to sack; one manager or 25 players? Moratti and Abramovich have been culpable of facilitating this trait of Mourinho.

    It's like salting the earth behind you as you leave the farm. Nobody will be able to grow anything there and your reputation as a master farmer will remain intact for generations. Mourinho seals his legacy by getting to decide that his successors will not be able to emulate him.

    Run DMC and the lessons of England's European failure

    "Next time someone's teaching why don't you get taught? It's like that (huh) and that's the way it is"

    England's national team has been poor for ages. 1996 was the last time they were any cop, but since then it's been a triumph of fevered hype followed by tournament performances that resemble each other so closely that it stops looking like anything other than a predictably repeatable pattern. But that's been OK, because England has the Premier League, the self-styled Best League In The World.

    "All these players are great for their clubs", went the well-worn excuse for getting beaten on penalties by Portugal - again - at a major championships, "so why can't they do it for England?". Well the obvious answer to that, which nobody wanted to hear, was that the key players in those club sides weren't English. In light of England's European embarrassment this season - notwithstanding Chelsea finding Napoli's Achilles heel that is a total inability to defend corners - the technical deficiencies apparent in the national team seem to have filtered down to the clubs.

    The line used on creation of the Premier League was that it'd help the national team. That sounded like bollocks then and still does. The EPPP that the top clubs forced through by holding a financial cannon to the groin of lower league clubs was fed to us with the same line. That also sounds like bollocks, especially in a week where the most emphatic European result featuring an English side was Liverpool's 6-0 gubbing by Ajax in the NextGen series semi-finals. Yes, youth development is very much best off in the hands of such clubs.

    If this were any other country, we might be holding crisis talks. There may be rumours of a total overhaul of the way England produces players and, subsequently, coaches. There may be root-and-branch reviews of the entire football system in this country, you know, a bit like Germany did after poor tournaments in 1998 and 2000. Instead, what we've had so far this week is a senior FA official going on a xenophobic rant and falling into an ornamental pond and the demand for change from the culture, media and sport select committee responded to by the FA washing their hands of all footballing matters completely and handing over all power in the game to the top clubs.

    Sporting CP rode their luck at times, but were worthy winners over Manchester City. Arsenal were undone by an abject first leg in Milan. Manchester United were given a 180-minute football lesson by an incredibly exciting team. But for Napoli's enormous defensive short-comings, there would be more Cypriot teams left in Europe than English. This season, there has been a lot of teaching going on. The fear is that the response will be the usual, i.e. stick fingers in the ears and repeat the 'best league in the world' mantra until the pain goes away. Is anyone going to get taught?

    Tuesday, 13 March 2012

    That was the week that was #1

    Taking over from the Vague round-up, something a bit more in-depth...

    Last week was a European week with Barcelona and that Lionel Messi bloke grabbing all the headlines. That was a shame as APOEL's penalty shoot-out win over Lyon got a bit shouldered out of things and Athletic Club's trip to Manchester United in the Europa League was one of the games of the season. With APOEL reaching the quarters, Arsenal not quite managing to overturn the four-goal deficit against Milan and Chelsea 3-1 down going into this week's return leg against Napoli, Cyprus look likely to have more clubs in the quater-finals than England. Effort.

    Onto matters domestic and in Spain, the one-horse races for first, second and third places all remained exactly that, even if Valencia - in a lonely third - could only draw with Mallorca, chucking a two-goal lead away in the process. More pain for Villarreal against Getafe on Monday night. Their survival hinges on finding three clubs worse than them. Fortunately Racing, Sporting and Zaragoza combine to fit that bill rather well. The only real race is for fourth and Málaga have that spot this week, Athletic conspiring to lose at Osasuna.

    Napoli were stunning on Friday night in Serie A, thumping six past Cagliari. They conceded three though, a hat-trick for Joaquin Larrivey. Cagliari responded by sacking manager Davide Ballardini and re-hire former boss Massimo Ficcadenti who himself was sacked by the club four months ago. Clear? Milan won again to extend their lead at the top with Juventus - still unbeaten - only drawing in Genoa. Inter got back to winning ways against Chievo, but Ranieri is still on thin ice. The bottom three look done already, but Novara dented Udinese's Champions League hopes with something of a shock win.
    Wins for the top two in France leaves that battle as it was, but both pull clear of third-placed Lille who were beaten by Lyon. St Etienne sneak into fourth after a win over VA. Four points cover the bottom seven meaning squeaky bums all round. In Ligue 2, Monaco finally pulled themselves out of the bottom three. It's still too early to talk of a resurgence.

    The Eredivisie had one of it's bonkers weeks. Ajax went top briefly after a win of RKC Waalwijk, but AZ returned there in the late game on Sunday after beating Graafschap. PSV lost 3-1 at NAC Breda and fired Fred Rutten. Twente went and lost to NEC to stuff their chances of going top. Heerenveen also won to remain fifth, but a draw for Feyenoord sees them lose pace in sixth. AZ lead by three from Ajax, but one point covers second to fifth.

    Porto stuffed up in the Liga Zon Sagres, drawing at home to Academica. Benfica's win over Paços de Ferreira and Braga's win over Leiria brings them both within a point. Sporting are a yawning eleven points further back in fourth.

    Galatasaray are miles ahead in Turkey, likewise Basel in Switzerland. Olympiakos have opened up a bit of a gap in the Greek Super League after Panathinaikos were beaten by AEK. Legia opened up a bit of a gap in the Ekstraklasa after Slask were beaten by Korona. Warsaw derby next week.

    Finally, Germany. Dortmund were held in Augsburg to a goalless draw, but remain four points ahead of Bayern, 7-1 winners against an increasingly shambolic Hoffenheim. Gladbach could only draw with Freiburg and they lose ground; Schalke move within a point of the Foals by beating Hamburg. But it's 2.Bundesliga where the real fun is. Three points covers the top five, still. Paderborn were held 0-0 by Bochum, the only ones in the top five not to win. Greuther beat Alemannia to remain top by a point from Eintracht Frankfurt who stuck five past Hansa. Then come Fortuna, 3-1 winners over Erzebirge. All that heaped pressure on St Pauli to win on Monday night and they did, 1-0 over Karlsruhe who remain in deep trouble at the wrong end.

    Monday, 12 March 2012

    Unbelievable Jeff #17

    Everyone loves a team goal, right? Don't argue, it's a fact. Esteban Cambiasso against Serbia, Carlos Alberto in the 1970 World Cup final, even this pearler from Benjamin Huggel are all great examples of the collective coming together in spectacular fashion.
    Now, there's a new entry in the great team goal pantheon and it's from the A-League. Adelaide are away to Brisbane, it's 0-0 and the home side are on the attack:

    Unbelievable Jeff!

    PSV wtf

    PSV were rubbish against NAC at the weekend. Despite going ahead early through Georgino Wijnaldum, NAC were ahead shortly afterwards as Santi Kolk equalised and Anthony Lurling wove through some poor defending for the second. Shortly before half-time, Stanislav Manolev was sent off after picking up a second yellow for what was about his sixth cautionable offence. Kolk increased the lead with a free header and NAC held onto it quite comfortably despite them being reduced to ten as well after an ugly challenge from Robbert Schilder. This came on the back of a 4-2 defeat to Valencia in the Europa League - they were 4-0 down after an hour - and a 6-2 snotting from title rivals FC Twente who themselves were a man short for almost the whole second half. It has not been a good week for PSV.

    They have also lost up at Groningen in recent weeks - Manolev was sent off there too - and have won only three Eredivisie matches since the league resumed after the winter break. They've gone from top at Christmas to fourth. This prompted the board to act and Fred Rutten was sacked today.

    Rutten was already going to leave at the end of the season. The club had been vocal about bringing Steve McClaren to Eindhoven, but with Twente dispensing with Co Adriaanse and the ex-England manager returning to Enschede, that is no longer an option. Perhaps that knowledge that Rutten was leaving and the public courting of other coaches has had an effect on the playing staff in terms of motivation. Whatever the reasons, they're in a funk at the moment and the title push has been derailed. They are four points back from leaders AZ, but the rot has set in and it needs to be turned around quickly if they're to salvage something from the season.

    Philip Cocu and fellow alumnus Ernest Faber have been given the rescue job until the end of the season. Cocu has long been groomed for the role and this would appear to be an extended job interview. He's very highly thought of as a coach and continues to work with the national team alongside Bert van Marwijk and was strongly linked with the Australian national team job in recent times. The worry has to be that if he flunks the interview or decides it's not for him, where can PSV turn? The obvious candidates - Eric Gerets for example or the impressive Alex Pastoor - are already in work and the ability of PSV to pay compensation has to be questioned.

    PSV remain a big club and have a superb pool of talent with the likes of Dries Mertens, Ola Toivonen, Tim Matavz and the exciting Zakaria Labyad. This is a real opportunity for one of the great Oranje players to make a real impression in the coaching career he's always seemed destined for. If he doesn't, a grand old club are in some trouble.

    Goalkeepers yelling at defenders #24

    Antonios Nikopolidis

    No Just for Dads here. Sod off, Figo.

    Friday, 9 March 2012

    Punishment in the modern era

    On Monday morning, Wolves defnder Roger Johnson rocked up to training "unfit to train properly", something we took to mean that he was still tired and emotional. The club said that they'd disciplined him and that was that. Johnson has also apologised.

    But what did that disciplinary procedure actually contain? Johnson hasn't featured in either of Wolves' last two games - a draw at Newcastle and a derby shellacking at Fulham - after being dropped following another 5-goal gubbing at home to West Brom. Now the BBC are reporting that Johnson is in the squad for the game at Molineux against Blackburn.

    The message we're getting is this: If you don't behave and turn up pissed for work, you run the risk of having to play against Blackburn. Sounds a bit excessive to us, but it could be worse - he could have to go up against Karl Henry at training.

    Tuesday, 6 March 2012

    Unbelievable Jeff! #16 - Spanish special

    What a weekend it was in Spain's Primera Liga. Goals rained in everywhere and a lot of them were very special indeed. All four goals in the Getafe v Málaga game were outstanding, none moreso than the absolute rocket that left the unlikely boot of Jeremy Toulalan. Speaking of unlikely scorers, Barcelona were indebted to Seydou Keita (who we're big fans of) as the ten men of the champions struggled past a gritty, if limited, Sporting Gijon side. Bottom side Real Zaragoza got a vital win over fellow strugglers Villarreal thanks in part to a cracking equaliser from Luis Garciá.
    But none of that makes our entry for Unbelievable Jeff today You see, we had a delegation in Spain this weekend for the big game of the round, the Basque derby between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad.

    Arriving in Bilbao on Friday afternoon, the hotel was located and it was straight up to San Mamés where a small queue was formed up from the ticket windows. Socios only, however. Come back at half ten tomorrow morning. We got there early, but the queue snaked round from the ticket windows right up to the hole in the ground that will one day be the new San Mamés. Thick end of two hours later, it was apparent that there were no more available. We tried again on Sunday morning and got talking to some of the ultras in a bar over the road from the ground. Complete sell-out. The queues were huge on Thursday and Friday morning before we arrived and every one had been taken.
    We'd been out and about in the town on Friday and Saturday and already been won over by the place. It's not exactly a tourist town, so the fact we were there at all, let alone for the football, proved quite the novelty for the locals. We were made extremely welcome and we figured that watching the match in one of the bars near the ground wouldn't be a bad second choice. How right we were.
    Cider and what looked to be a sickly combination of red wine and coke was flowing from 10am. The streets and bars were packed, blue and white mingling freely with red and white with nary a hint of trouble nor the sight of a single copper. Two weeks previously, I was at a game between a blue and white striped team and a red and white striped one and every copper in West Yorkshire seemed to be in town. Commuters just trying to get home were being filmed as they got off the train, so the Spanish approach was welcome and refreshing.
    We watched the Zarzgoza v Villarreal game in one bar and wandered off to grab a decent spot at another for the main event. It was gloriously chaotic everywhere, but we grabbed a spot in a bar where we'd seen the previous night's games. Beer and pinxtos disappeared down our faces at alarming rates as the atmosphere continued to build.

    Athletic dominated the game which was played in an absolute deluge and took the lead midway through the first half as Susaeta finished off a typically Bielsan passage of neat, passing play. The big moment in the game came in the second half when a rare spell of pressure from La Real produced a goal for Carlos Vela that, crucially, none of the officials saw. Athletic responded to it better than La Real and Susaeta, the best player on the field by some distance, made it safe ten minutes from the end with a ripper of a free-kick:

    As unbelievable (Jeff) as that was, that's still not the point of writing this. What was unbelievable, Jeff, was the city, the people, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the whole experience. A fabulous weekend had by the pair of us, a colossal amount of beer consumed and football watched, capped by that wonderful effort from Susaeta.
    Back to reality now though as I have been roped in to cover the Huddersfield v Hartlepool game tonight. I don't know how it's going to measure up to what I was party to this weekend. If it's even 20% as good as the derby, I'll be a happy man.