Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mark Hughes on 2009

Little needs to be said of the first half of the season in-which the club rarely showed a consistent high level of play. However all that is behind Man City now as Mark Hughes can look forward to an improved squad in the second half of the campaign and taking the challenge head-on.

In looking forward with confidence, he said:

“Credit to the lads, we stuck at it at Blackburn in our last game and got the least we deserve from a game where we created the better chances. I can sense the self-belief in the players after the last two games which showed the full range of qualities a team needs to be successful in the Premier League.

“We displayed fantastic attacking play against Hull with the manner of the victory and in the game at Blackburn we showed different skills. We dug in and showed a real togetherness and willingness to scrap. We got our reward for that.

“The season has been frustrating because at times in certain games we have shown how good a side we can be and in other games we have really disappointed.

“What we need is a consistent level of performance and if we can get that then we can go into the second half of the season with confidence.

“We must go into matches expecting to win them, not hoping to win them. It has been a busy six months what with the change of ownership off the field and the UEFA Cup ties added to the mix.

“The number of games has been a drain on us in that sense but we are through to the knock-out stages in Europe and that, along with the FA Cup, gives us something to look forward to.”

“I want to be king of Manchester City”

Since coming over from Real Madrid, Robinho has become a ground favourite of Eastlands. However the Brazilian international is far from satisfied from his performance noting his desire to “king of Manchester City.”

While not pleased with his performance he questions whether the air-lift of new players has players worried of their position, resulting in poor performance:

“One theory I have is that the constant rumours about possible reinforcements in January have damaged us in some way.

“Some of my team-mates do perhaps fear for their future and that is not positive, I guess. But there is nothing we can do about that apart from try not to let it affect us.”

To this I have to say, if a professional athlete whimpers that he cannot play please get rid of him fast. Competition is a natural part of athletics and within elite athletics you have to be able to handle the stress or you’ll fail. If players find the threat of losing their job “too stressful”, they should not have the job to worry about.

the secret to Stephen Ireland’s success

While last year Stephen Ireland showed glimpses of brilliance, for the most part he was most known for some questionable behaviour. However this campaign, the twenty-two year-old has completely reversed his direction and exhibited a more mature professional approach whilst continuously being a spark-plug on the pitch. The secret of this success, per Mark Hughes, will warm the hearts of supporters and coaches alike:

“Stephen works exceptionally hard on a daily basis, and it is no coincidence that he has been able to sustain the level of performance that he has been playing at. He not only works on his game, but he works on his ability to cope with the demands of the Premier League. As a consequence he has been able to maintain his excellent form, so we’re really pleased with what he has produced so far.”

The dedication is quite obvious as Stephen is proving out to be a much more focused player this year and will continue to flourish as the club progresses.

Wayne Bridge could be the first

As the Footballing world gets ready for Mark Hughes’ shopping spree, reputedly in the £60m range, most believe one of the first men on the wish-list is Chelsea’s Wayne Bridge. The veteran left-back, capped thirty two times for England, would provide the club the stalwart read-guard that has been missing. Along with Blackburn’s Roque Santa Cruz the club will move fast and try to bring in each well before the upcoming match against Portsmouth on January 10. Should efforts to lure Wayne Bridge to Man City with a £10m offer be scorned, Mark Hughes is rumoured to very interested in Bayern München’s Philipp Lahm.

Nedum Onuoha to miss Nottingham Forest match

Looking towards this weekends FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest, Mark Hughes is likely without the services of Nedum Onuoha. The twenty-two year-old centre back has fared well during the recent matches against Hull City and href=””>Blackburn, splitting time with Micah Richards. However the workload has proved to be a problem as he is having some modest problems with his hamstrings and will sit so that he is ready for Portsmouth match on January 10.

Mark Hughes said of absence:

“Nedum is likely to miss out because of tight hamstrings. It’s unfortunate for him and a shame because he did really well in the second-half against Hull, and again at Blackburn last Sunday.

It was a good opportunity for him but when you have not played that many games sometimes it can be difficult to build up the match strength that you need.

He is a little bit compromised at the moment but hopefully it is only a six to eight day injury and he will be ok for the trip to Portsmouth.”

Shaun Wright-Phillips is tough

Since returning from Chelsea, Shaun Wright-Phillips has consistently been one the bright spots of the club and flourished within Mark Hughes system. However the English international has also felt the wrath of opposition defenders not shy of rough play:

“I do get kicked a lot - but I take that as a compliment and just get on with it.

“My philosophy is that if I can run I can play. When you play like I do then you get used to being kicked, I don’t think it’s any worse now than at any other times in my career. I just accept what comes my way, I’m always confident that I can get the better of anyone over a period of time

“You get it in one match and then the next it starts all over again. It gets to the point where you almost get immune to it.

“I do spend a lot of time between games getting treatment but touch wood there has been nothing serious so far.”

One player who won’t be going

With all the talk of air-lift at Man City, a number of players have been concerned about maintaining their position with the club. and considering moving-on. This has rightfully posed a problem with the club, particularly as it tries to find a balance between bringing in high profile players with its academy program. This is particularly an issue at striker where Felipe Caicedo, Ched Evans and Daniel Sturridge possess bales of talent but unfortunately do not get the type of playing time that they would at many other clubs.

However Daniel Sturridge is adamant about staying with the club and becoming a regular. City fans got another taste of his promise in the recent Blackburn match as he came in with nineteen minutes remaining and down by two, he scored once and provided Robinho a perfect set-up for the leveler, firmly establishing once again why he is considered as one of the great young players in England today. Yet possibly the most impressive aspect of the England U21 is his overall appreciation of being a team-playing and fighting spirit:

“I was eager to show I belong at first-team level. I know the club might buy players in January but that doesn’t worry me as I am willing to fight for my minutes on the pitch.

“What every player wants to do is play with world class and European class players and I am no different.

“It doesn’t matter to me what reputation players have or come with. My aim is to show I am as good as them.

“Hopefully in years to come I might be considered a world class player.”

this might make more time than you think

Venturing towards the transfer window, Mark Hughes is being loud and clear that Man City’s rich coffers won’t be taken advantage of as he will maintain a value-minded approach:

“We’re aware of this assumption about the level of finance that we’ll throw at the project in January, but we still have realistic market values. There is also an assumption that we will stimulate the market, that the money sloshing around will be from the deals that we have started, but we have to make sure we protect the Club as well.

“We’re hoping to go into the market and acquire players that we think will help us, but it is still dependent on whether clubs are willing to deal with us or not.

“The deals that we do will have to be good ones, but we are quite happy at the moment. We know that there will be a premium that we will probably have to pay because it’s January, and teams don’t want to lose their better players. But it will not be to the extent where we are paying hugely over the market value.”

This of-course could be a preemptive public statement as many clubs are in very troubled financial position and most are expecting proposed market value’s to tumble, leading Man City into a very opportunistic position.

With the club languishing in thirteenth place and suffering from extremely inconsistent play time is of-the-essence and it will be necessary to act with speed.

“We hope we can do business quickly, because that will help us, but you can’t judge on whether the deals you want to happen will do when the time is right.

“We have to make sure that the players we want to bring in are good for us in terms of quality and their position in the squad. If we do that I am very positive for the second half of the season.

“It’s not an exact science. You have to look at what’s out there, what’s attainable and the price clubs are asking for. If you come to the conclusion that things are right for the team and the club, then you start to make things happen.

“There is a budget out there, and we will work within that. The key thing is to make sure the quality we bring in supplements the quality we already have here. I feel that the addition of the right players will give us more consistency in the second half of the season.”

Likely Mark Hughes will look at this situation as a chance to add players that can assist immediately but additionally be aware that most of best acquisitions will need to wait for the summer transfer season.

Transfer window creaking open

The moment all Manchester City fans have been waiting to happen is just hours away as the transfer window is ready to open. While the first-half of the campaign has been less than satisfying, its time to rip the rear view window down and push forward.

Much talk has been made and while Mark Hughes is adamant that the club won’t be held ransom given its rich coffers, the economic reality of the present world will surely play into the clubs hands. With a countless group rumours swirling of top shelf players such as Villarreal’s Marcos Senna, Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus and AC Milan’s Kaká, the next month could see some massive changes to the Man City line-up.

With these changes a number of players will naturally see their final days with the club and it is very possible that Jô, Tal Ben Haim and Elano will be moved. Nery Castillo’s loan from Shakhtar Donetsk has finally come to an end and the El Tri capped hitman rumoured to be re-start his career at either Chivas, Real Betis or Almería.

That aside, it is accepted that the club is looking to finalize terms very quickly to bring in Roque Santa Cruz from Blackburn. The Paraguayan striker is held in high regards by Mark Hughes and has been sought-after since the manager came over from the Rovers. Look for this deal to happen without haste as City prepares for the next league match against Portsmouth on the 10th.

Can Joe Kinnear pry Michael Kightly from the Wolves?

A variety of media reports are suggesting Joe Kinnear is keen on attracting Michael Kightly from Wolverhampton Wanderers with an offer upwards of £4 m. While there in no-disputing the abilities of the England U21 capped wingman, it must be stressed that the Premier League bound Wolves are not about to give up young Mr. Kightly without a fight and the Toon Army shouldn’t be penciling his name in the lineup yet. While there is quite obviously a lot of matches to play in the campaign, the Wolves appear headed towards a mid ninety point romp into the Premier and manager Mick McCarthy must keep an eye towards the future. The Wolves young stars, that includes Wales international ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey will be horded by the club as it will looks to emulate Hull City’s extraordinary play since being promoted.

“He won’t be leaving”

While Magpie supporters nerves might be rattled with the thought of Shay Given moving on to another club, Joe Kinnear attempted to shut the down on this type of clatter. Speaking to The Journal, the Newcastle boss said:

“He won’t be leaving - he has no interest in that whatsoever. He loves the football club. He’s part of the city and that suits us because he’s a world-class goalkeeper. He’s very happy here, he’s very comfortable at Newcastle United.”

The Republic of Ireland ‘keeper has proven out to be the clubs most valuable player in the first half of the campaign and through the darkest moments provided a foundation to build up. Put succintly, Joe Kinnear said of him

“He’s the best goalkeeper in the Premier League by a mile.”

Now the key is retaining the “best ‘keeper” and with £8m being bantered around and the club in need of funds, at what price do they consider a deal reasonable? While Shay’s level of expertise is irrefutable with Steve Harper and Tim Krul waiting in the wings is the insistance that he is not moving part of a “bargaining chip” to raise the ante?

Rayado President Jorge Urdiales sets 30 point target

In a highly commendable manner, Rayado President Jorge Urdiales has admitted the clubs performance during the Apertura 2008 season was a "complete failure" Quite frankly during the recent problems, this type of recognition of the issue was sorely needed and along with dealing with the situation head-on they have brought in six players to ensure the success of the club. Eschewing a sense of confidence and direction, Mr. Urdiales noted the club is going to fight for points, be aggressive with a firm target of winning thirty points in the Clausura season, which represents a twelve increase from the Apertura.

Nervous days ahead for Genoa

The start of the transfer season poses some nervous days for Rossoblu supporters with Diego Milito rumoured to being the subject of Inter Milan and Juventus' affections. Il Principe has carried Genoa offensively with twelve strikes in the first half of the clubs electrifying campaign that have seen them rise to sixth in the table. With offers from Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Juventus said to be waiting in the wings, it undeniable fact that the sharpshooter could be on his way out.

While terms of a possible deal are completely unsubstantiated and highly speculative, the most publicized entry to the market comes for José Mourinho's Inter Milan with an apparent robust offer that would include the likes of Victor Obinna, Francesco Bolzoni, Mario Balotelli and Nicolás Burdisso. With the Nerazzurri holding down the top spot in Serie A with a hefty six-point lead, the self-proclaimed special one is looking to secure the top scoring combination in the league with Zlatan Ibrahimović and Diego Milito pairing-up as well as deal with the complete lack of production of ex-Porto man Ricardo Quaresma. Equally on the bidding front is Juventus who are nestled in second and more than aware, Diego Milito could put them over the edge. Throughout the entire lead-up to this, Genoa's President Enrico Preziosi has insisted he is staying at the club regardless of the offer.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Andrei Arshavin named Russian Athlete of the Year

Zenit Saint Petersburg is proud to announce that Andrei Arshavin has been named Russian Athlete of the Year. Organized by Sport Express the Russian international edged out Olympian Elena Isinbaeva, who successfully defended her Gold Medal in the Pole Vault at the Beijing Games while establishing a new world record and Alexander Ovechkin, a product of the Dynamo Moscow system who plys his trade for the Washington Capitals of the NHL.

In accepting the honour, Andrei graciously noted he felt Alexander Ovechkin was more deserving:

"Any kind of voting reflects opinion of some group of people, so you should treat these things calmly. If I had an opportunity to vote, I would have chose Alexandr Ovechkin as the best athlete of the year in Russia. He was leader of our hockey team at the World championship in Canada"

"there is a need for freshness and competition"

In summing up the clubs needs, new Leeds manager Simon Grayson acknowledged "there is a need for freshness and competition for places."

Near the end of Gary McAllister’s tenure, the clubs competitive drive went into a tail spin with the not only the fit for position lacking but levels of fitness deplorably bad and the much of the club simply not being able to play at an acceptable pace. Each of these situations need to be pounded out harshly by the new man in charge.

I speaking directly of transfers and the timing, Simon Grayson added:

"There's things that are going on in the background, but there's no guarantee as to when.

"Hopefully there will be a couple because there is a need for freshness and competition for places."


Priority to keep team intact

In speaking of the upcoming transfer market Paul Le Guen revealed that the club is not actively looking for new additions. While rumours continue to swirl of a possible move on Arsenal's William Gallas the PSG leader affirmed his intent on maintaining the present squad which has gelled as a unit. That being said with the club locked in a remarkable tight race and only five points behind perennial Ligue 1 champion Olympique Lyonnais it seems unlikey that they would not jump at the opportunity to strengthen the squad.


is the Andrei Arshavin saga coming to an end?

The clock is ticking down for the opening of the transfer window and with it the question of whether Andrei Arshavin will finally get his wish and leave Zenit Saint Petersburg. While most consider his move a foregone conclusion, with the most recent rumoured suitor being Arsène Wenger. While clatter of Real Madrid and Tottenham seemed to have died down of late, Zenit have shown little interest of bargaining with the proposed price in the £20m region.

Given economic constraints to overall world's financial affairs and in lieu of Andrei Arshavin's disdain for returning, I expect Zenit to move on the price.

£8m offer coming for Shay Given?

The sheer thought of it is nauseating but with the transfer window ready to open, the Daily Express is reporting that Arsène Wenger is trying to lure Newcastle 'keeper Shay Given to Arsenal with a £8m offer. The Republic of Ireland international has been the guiding light for the Magpies this campaign and while the much need funds would be welcomed by Joe Kinnear, the cost is too heavy. In a related vein it is equally reported by the Daily Mirror that Sheffield United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny is being lined up as a possible replacement.


"great way to end the year"

Buoyed with the 3-1 win at Stockport County Leeds Chairman Ken Bates assailed the victory as "a great way to end the year."

Per the club web-site Mr. Bates said:

"We're delighted with the start Simon's made." .

"We came back after going a goal behind at Stockport with a fantastic performance and with a little bit of luck we'd have had three points against Leicester on Boxing Day as well.

"We also had a bigger gate against Leicester than five clubs in the Premiership which further demonstrates what a fantastic club Leeds United are.

"It's been a great way to end the year."

Confident of being able to grab a promotion spot, the Chairman said:

"The clubs above us will take points off each other and there will be an opportunity there.

"It is about gaining some momentum and we need everyone - on and off the field - to play their part in getting us into that next league."


Bill Kenwright credits David Moyes as one of the best

Gushing with pride on EvertonTV, chairman Bill Kenwright said:

I can remember ten, 12 years ago, people would, sadly, say ‘Everton were one of the top six’ - and we were.

"When the Premier League was first mooted all those years ago, it was always (talk of) the top six clubs and Everton were one of them. Now, we are, by right, one of the top six clubs again. We aren’t in terms of money, we are, definitely, in terms of history, but I think we are in terms of today and tomorrow now. If I can take some share in that then fantastic – but it’s not me, it’s David Moyes."

"It was David Moyes who came in, and I remember right from the word go, it was his decision to bring the age of the players down.

"(He said to me) every year make sure you can give me one major signing and I will fill up the rest."

"What the fans don’t know, and what is my privilege, is how much actual work he puts in to every game," he continued. "You might think all managers do; this manager is painstaking in his research, in his knowledge of the opposition and getting across to the players what they will come up against.

"Not a lot has changed in David’s attitude since he arrived but a lot has changed in the stature of this football club.

"I can remember saying within months of him arriving that he was going to be one of the great managers; I think he is one of the great managers now.

"There’s no shadow of doubt about that, he’s one of football’s great managers."

Timo Gebhardt signs!

VfB announced today that Timo Gebhart has joined club from TSV München 1860. The nineteen year-old midfield talent was instrumental in the German U19 side's recent performance and ready for the challenge of the top-flight of the Bundesliga.

VfB sport director Horst Heldt said of the new signing:

"Timo passed the obligatory medical tests, which opened the way for the signing of the necessary paperwork. He had a number of interesting offers from other Bundesliga clubs but we are delighted that Timo opted for VfB."

In speaking of his new club the new man said:

"VfB is a super club with great tradition. In recent years, many young players have made their breakthrough here and, for that reason, I was determined to go to VfB."

Known for his versatility, he was asked of what his preferred position is:

"I'm a young player and I'm new to the club so I don't want to begin making demands. I'll play wherever the trainer puts me. I most enjoy playing in central midfield though."

He won't be a complete stranger to VfB clubhouse, adding:

"I've played together with Manuel Fisher in a number of international youth team selections and I know Christian Träsch from 1860 Munich."

Finally after referring to the example of Roberto Hilbert and Martin Lanig who came up through Bundesliga 2, he was asked of accepting a similar challenge to move up to VfB:

"Yes! Both players managed the leap from the second division to the Bundesliga with VfB. I will do my all and work hard every day in training to try and achieve the same feat."

"It has always been my goal to play in the Bundesliga. I made the decision to move to VfB because they have put so much fate in young players. I wish to develop my strengths here in Stuttgart and, step-by-step, make my way into the first team."

Kashiwa, Gamba for final of Emperor's Cup

Gamba Osaka ガンバ大阪 and Kashiwa Reysol 柏レイソル will meet in the finals of the Emperor's Cup as both sides won thrilling semi-final matches.

Reysol came from behind to defeated FC Tokyo FC東京 2-1 as Tadanari Lee scored the winning strike at the eighty-eight minute. After a thrilling J-League season that saw the Gas Men climb to sixth-place, Tatsuya Suzuki extended their hopes for the Emperor's Cup as he gave them the lead just past the half-hour mark. However Reysol stormed back with França leveling the match with twenty-two minutes remaining off the provision of compatriot Alex before Tadanari Lee's winner.

Gamba Osaka defeated Yokohama F. Marinos 横浜F・マリノス 1-0 with a late goal Masato Yamazaki with four minutes remaining in extra-time. Deadlocked without a score after regulation, the F. Marinos were forced to play a man down when Norihisa Shimizu was sent off with his second yellow-card twelve minutes into extra-time.

Kashiwa Reysol 柏レイソル and Gamba Osaka ガンバ大阪 will now decide the Emperor's Cup with the final played at the National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ricardo La Volpe reports

With the return of Ricardo La Volpe to the club the question looms how will the mental approach to the club change. Clearly one of the worst clubs in the La Primera División Apertura, the Rayados took it's winter "training" with a less-than competitive streak in Cancún and I am hopeful, a ploy to highlight the severity of work imposed by Mr. La Volpe. With the tactical genius back, the club will now focus on his learning his system but also establishing the discipline and fighting spirit that has been lacking. With the likes of Luis Alonso Sandoval, Diego Martínez, Juan Carlos Medina, Aldo de Nigris and Gerardo Galindo now part of the lineup, the club will have a tremendously different side to augment the brilliance of Humberto Suazo for the opening match against Puebla on January 17.

First Channel Cup

While the harsh winter months are a bit more difficult because of the break from the Football season, the early season tournaments offer a series of great match-ups. Possibly one of the most exciting this year is the First Channel Cup that will bring together clubs from Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The eight clubs will be broken in two groups of four starting on January 25, with the winners of each group meeting in a final on February 1. From Russia, CSKA Moscow, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Krylia Sovetov will take part, with FC Bunyodkor from Uzbekistan and Dynamo Kyiv, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist Kharkiv

First Channel Cup 2009
Group 1: CSKA Moscow, Dynamo Kyiv, Krylya Sovetov, Metalist Kharkiv
Group 2: Zenit Saint-Petersburg, FC Bunyodkor, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Shakhtar Donetsk

25.1: Shakhtar Donetsk – Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, FC Bunyodkor – Zenit Saint-Petersburg
26.1: CSKA Moscow – Dynamo Kyiv, Metalist Kharkiv – Krylya Sovetov
27.1: Shakhtar Donetsk – FC Bunyodkor, Zenit Saint-Petersburg – Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk
28.1: CSKA Moscow – Metalist Kharkiv, Dynamo Kyiv - Krylya Sovetov
29.1: Shakhtar Donetsk – Zenit Saint-Petersburg, FC Bunyodkor – Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk
30.1: CSKA Moscow – Krylya Sovetov, Dynamo Kyiv – Metalist Kharkiv

1.2: Final - Winner group 1 vs Winner group 2

Walter Smith waits for offers

The Rangers hopes to add some new blood to the squad when the transfer window opens is dependent upon unloading a number of players as the club will take a firm stance on maintaining a positive balance with respect to transfers and operating salaries. In addition the financial realities, Walter Smith is keen on paring down the squad a morsel:

“We have too many lads in the group who are not playing and they don’t like that, which means it’s not conducive to having a good squad.”

However, plans might need to be moved to the back-burner as Jean-Claude Darcheville’s move to Valenciennes is the only transfer that is on solid ground. Rumours of Nacho Novo move to Deportivo de La Coruña as well as situations involving Andrius Velicka and Charlie Adam have yet to materialize and could prove to be the undoing of future efforts.

Fabian Delph to stay

Fabian Delph star is shining brightly and the nineteen year-old has quickly emerged as the spark-plug for the Leeds attack. It is a very clear and obvious point that without the England U21 international in the lineup, the attack stalls to a painfully too slow to watch pace. Quite obviously this has not went unnoticed and many Premier League clubs have put the teen on their radar. The club has went on record on a number of occasions stating that he won't be sold, yet unless Leeds is promoted to the Championship, it may be impossible to resist selling him given the financial windfall and that his talents will have likely outgrow this level. However in another installment of the Fabian Delph saga new manager Simon Grayson told the BBC:

"I've been assured he won't be sold."

"If we get stupid money for him we might do it, but we don't have to do it. My gut feeling is he'll stay."

When asked of what that price might be, he responded:

"I don't know what sort of price that would be."

"If he was to go no one will get him on the cheap."

Given Fabian Delph's development, the only likely chance at seeing him with Leeds next year is promotion and even that might not be sufficient as he is on the fast track to the Premier League.

CSKA new logo

As part of CSKA Moscow's plans to increase its global brand recognition they have released a new logo that Moscow's preeminent design group, FIRMA studio have developed. Along with new design, the club has also announced a long-term deal with Reebok on kits and related products that will make the Moscow giant a feature in the American-based firm product line.

is Lokomotiv Moscow's Peter Odemwingie leaving?

Rumours are swirling that Lokomotiv Moscow’s Peter Odemwingie could be headed to English Premier League sides West Ham, Newcastle or Everton.

While the Merseyside club Everton has faced a debilitating series of injuries at striker, their manager David Moyes has denied looking to spend cash to bring anyone in and making healthy use of their superb youth program. However Newcastle is buoyed with the decision of owner Mike Ashley taking the club off the market as well as looking to invest and would relish the opportunity to unite him with fellow Nigerian international Obafemi Martins.

Lokomotiv president Nikolai Naumov takes a firm stance in negotiations as he has stated he is not interested in loans and deals strictly with formal offers from clubs.

Scottish Premier League week 20 summary

Week Twenty of the Scottish Premier League with Celtic reaffirming a strangle-hold on the title race with a 1-0 defeat of Rangers at Ibrox (match review Celtic - Rangers). With the victory Gordon Strachan's club now has a seven point lead and showing little signs of letting up.

Elsewhere Aberdeen defeated Hearts 1-0 with recently Scottish capped Lee Miller volleyed the lone goal to the back of the net at the thirty-six minute mark. With the victory The Dons move to within a point of fourth-place Hearts.

Dundee United maintained its strong third place position with a close 1-0 victory over Falkirk as Scott Robertson provided the lone goal nine minutes before the half hour mark as he jumped on a poor clearance and slammed the ball home from the edge of the area.

In one of the most thrilling matches of the day Kilmarnock overcame Hibernian 4-2. Danny Invincibile gave Killie the lead only five minutes in with a professional vision from close range as Jamie Hamill fed him a perfect pass to the back post. Only six minutes later Allan Russell doubled the margin as he got on the end of corner and drove the ball past Hibs 'keeper Yves Ma-Kalambay. In a strange twist of events Dean Shiels scored twice from the spot at the thirty-sixth and fortieth minute to bring the match level, with the second penalty seeing off Killie 'keeper Alan Combe. Down a man, Killie found the net two minutes after the restart with the Aussie Danny Invincibile heading home his second of the day. Hibs came close to evening the match but with sixteen minutes remaining Garry Hay returned Killie's two goal lead.

Motherwell defeated Inverness Caley Thistle 3-2 with Chris Porter proving why many clubs are looking towards him this transfer season as he netted three goals on the way to the victory. (Caley Thistle review)

Finally St Mirren edged Hamilton Academical 1-0 as veteran Craig Dargo gave off the bench to net the winner with only twelve minutes remaining. The loss leaves the Accies laying in the dreaded relegation spot ahead of next weeks match against Aberdeen.

Please stop by for expanded coverage of the SPL next week as the action continues with the following matches:

Dundee United @ Celtic
Hibernian @ Hearts
Aberdeen @ Hamilton Academical
Motherwell @ St Mirren
Kilmarnock @ Falkirk
Rangers @ Inverness Caldeonian Thistle (Sunday)

Celtic 20 16 2 2 45 18 50
Rangers 20 13 4 3 45 17 43
Dundee United 20 9 7 4 28 20 34
Hearts 19 9 4 6 20 21 31
Aberdeen 19 9 3 7 23 19 30
Hibernian 20 7 5 8 26 28 26
Kilmarnock 19 8 1 10 20 25 25
St Mirren 20 7 3 10 16 22 24
Motherwell 19 6 2 11 20 31 20
Falkirk 20 4 5 11 21 30 17
Caley Thistle 20 5 2 13 20 34 17
Hamilton Academical 20 5 2 13 17 36 17

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tukkers draw to PSV

Although out-playing PSV for the second half the "Tukkers" had to settle for a single point as they played the defending champions to a nil draw in Eindhoven. With the result Steve McClaren's Twente head to the break with a firm grip on third place, four points behind Ajax and further three points behind league leader AZ.

The match in-truth showed only the faintest glimmers of intent to score and it appeared play was lethargic for holiday inactivity. While the intent of a post Christmas / Boxing Day match is to provide an exciting experience for the fans during the holidays, this match certainly was not going to be the subject of a marketing plan. While PSV had a few opportunities to score early, most notably through the work of Hungarian international Balázs Dzsudzsák, Twente's best chance before the break came ten minutes before the break when Marko Arnautović pounded the ball off the post from close range. However the "highlights" of the match were minimal to say the least and while Twente controlled ball possession after the break, it seemed more like a defensive practice in-which PSV played behind the ball and limited notable attempts on goal. Possibly the best effort came from Marko Arnautović, the subject of a number of transfer rumours, with just over twenty minutes remaining but it was not to be and the match slowly came to a end without a score.

Steve McClaren said “It was a game of two halves”, noting:

“In the first half, it took a while to get going. We lacked maturity in the first period, but improved after the break. I am happy with our second-half display. We took control, created chances and could even have won the game. We’ve ended the year on a high and I think we have more reason to be happy with the share of the spoils than PSV. It was a big game for us. We faced a real test and I think we have passed.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feyenoord heads to break with a victory over NAC Breda

After a troublesome three match losing streak, Feyenoord completed its historial century year with a 3-1 victory over NAC Breda buoyed by its youth. Gertjan Verbeek's side took the lead at de Kuip thirty-three minutes in as Diego Biseswar, finally fit from injury, beat his man and launched a powerful long range missile from well outside the box into the net. With the 1-0 lead, NAC looked far from confident and Feyenoord doubled the margin moments before the break as Leroy Fer nodded Giovanni van Bronckhorst's cross into the box. Resurgent in front of over forty-thousand supporters, Feyenoord continued to press to close the match off with the third goal and two minutes past the hour Kevin Wattamaleo provided Leroy Fer the ball and Fer added his second goal of the match with a confident strike from just outside the area. With the match out of reach Matthew Amoah added a consolation goal with four minutes remaining but nothing could stop the celebration of Feyenoord's 3-1 victory.

While a small token of success the match surely will give het Legion reason to celebrate and eternal hope for the future.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Newcastle drops points, losing 2-1 to Wigan

Despite a late rally, Newcastle lost to Wigan 2-1 at the JJB. With the Boxing Day loss, the Magpies hold at twelfth place in the table with twenty-two points, one behind Portsmouth and Bolton.

Newcastle had the first scoring chance fourteen minutes-in but a saving tackle by Austrian international Paul Scharner thwarted Michael Owens close range effort with a textbook tackle. Finally as momentum had switched in Wigan's favour they took the lead a minute before the half-hour mark as Ryan Taylor kept his shocking good form against Newcastle, curling in a sublime free-kick from twenty-three meters.

Without much of an offensive spark, Joe Kinnear looked to insert to youthful pace as with twenty-two minutes remaining Andrew Carroll came in for Mark Viduka who had been pressed into the starting grid for José Enrique who was injured in the warm-up. However Wigan looked to have complete control of the match with seventeen minutes remaining as Amr Zaki converted from the spot following Sébastien Bassong being red-carded for obstructing Emile Heskey. With seventy-eight minutes remaining Canadian U20 and Newcastle academy product David Edgar entered for Michael Owen and youthful lineup displayed a sharp focus to get back into the match. With two minutes remaining Wigan 'keeper Chris Kirkland brought down Andy Carroll and the spot was pointed to. Danny Guthrie converted with poise and a frantic finish was on as the youth troop wasn't willing to go down without a fight. While Andy Carroll made claims for a penalty in the dying seconds, the levelling goal was not to be and Newcastle lost 2-1.

The match ended in controversy and what is becoming expected, Joe Kinnear complained of the officiating, in-particular that Andy Carroll wasn't awarded a penalty late and was shown a yellow for simulation.

"I thought it was a certain penalty at the end with Andy Carroll," he said.

"Steve Bruce also thought it was a stonewall penalty but in the end Andy has been booked which is very disappointing.

"Our lads gave their lot in the final stages and pushed on and I thought we could get an equaliser.

"Big Andy has changed the complexion of the game when he came on and did well to win the penalty which gave us that hope.

"If only the second one had been awarded we could be sat here talking about a draw."

"Heskey has done well, thrown himself and lost his balance. But he's 6ft 3in. The referees fall for it. At the other end Andy Carroll's got hacked down from behind. See it on TV, see it on the tape, it's a clear penalty. Even Stevie Bruce said the same but we didn't get it. That sums up his performance.

"In the last 15 minutes I always thought we'd get something out of the game. Then the penalty pops us, but you have to rely on officials to do their job, what they are supposed to do.

"They want respect in the game but what would you say after today. I'm too sick to say anything else."

While many will be disappointed with the loss, it must be stressed the solid performance of the younger players with Andy Carroll finally getting a chance to show his abilities. Hopefully this is just the start of things to come.

Celtic v Rangers preview

With both clubs stumbling of late, Rangers have crept back into the title race and tomorrows Old Firm clash at Ibrox is critical for Gordon Smith's dreams to hoist the hardware. While the Gers have had a great deal of success recently at home against Celtic, the pressure is on to earn the full three points.

In this match that defines far more that championship races, all Footballers will be pushing their bodies to the limits. On the injury front the Rangers will have Chris Burke, Maurice Edu and Kenny Miller ready although Madjid Bougherra will undergo a late fitness test. The cat and mouse commentary of whether Kris Boyd will be a part of his first match against Celtic since May 2007 has garnered a great deal of attention but it difficult to imagine that Walter Smith would keep his top scorer out for the match. He may have given a clue the Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller will be paired at striker by stating:

"It's always difficult to leave Kris Boyd out of your team because he is a natural goalscorer.

On the opposite end of the pitch Gordon Strachan's Celtic side looks to be fully fit with only Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink absent.

Robert Snodgrass' late goal earns Leeds a draw

The Boxing Day showdown between Leeds United and Leicester City at Elland Road ended in a 1-1 draw with Robert Snodgrass' added-time goal earning the point for the home side.

With over thirty-three thousand in attendance, Simon Grayson's first match in-charge of Leeds was far from inspiring as his side continued the same dowdy approach that cost Gary McAllister his job. While last years League One Player of the Year Jermaine Beckford returned along with Andy Robinson from injury, Leeds attack was far from potent and rarely was the agressor. Although Leeds came close fifteen minutes in as Luciano Becchio nailed the post it was the visiting Foxes who took the lead as Matt Oakley scored at the twenty-fourth minute. While Leeds hunted for an equalizer their pace and transitional movement was slow and predictable, allowing Leicester City to mark defensively with ease. Seventy-seven minutes overdue, Jonny Howson was introduced and along with Robert Snodgrass who had come in a minute early, Leeds midfield showed the confidence and vision to find the leveller. Finally a minute into added time local-boy Jonny Howson chipped the ball to Robert Snodgrass, who then fired the ball into the net.

Following the match Simon Grayson noted his pleasure with the result:

"I was pleased with the result in the end. I felt if we'd have started like we finished we could have won the game.

"I'm smiling because we got a point against the league leaders when it didn't look like we would get one. They are a good team.

"And it's the first point of a new start for us. It's a point we can build on and try and get things going again.

"It'll be a gradual thing, but the main thing is instilling confidence and belief because they are a talented group.

"We have something to build on now."

The draw leaves Leeds in ninth place in the table a full fifteen points behind first place Leicester City. With pre-season goal of ninety points a dream long since forgotten, Leeds must start winning the tough matches and not let up if it is to get into the playoff round. The task of automatic promotion is unlikely as they must make up thirteen points in the remaining twenty-four matches and will require not only a near perfect run by Leeds but second half problems by Leicester City and the MK Dons who are at second-place with forty-six points.

While it is certainly noteworthy that the losing streak has been halted, any celebration should be a short one because this was far from a quality performance and showed the same tactical flaws that has cost the club the first half of the season. If Leeds is to be successful it will need to play aggressive, with confidence and be bold in the attack. Leeds returns to action against seventh place Stockport County on Sunday in a desperate need for points.

Toffees climb to sixth in table!

Everton climbed to sixth in the Premier League table with a 1-0 victory against Middlesbrough. The victory continues the Toffees bewildering form on the road which has them as the second best club in the league when away from home. With Louis Saha, Victor Anichebe joined on the sidelines by Leon Osman and Joseph Yobo, David Moyes was forced to make some tough tactical choices including giving eighteen year-old Dan Gosling a starting berth in the midfield. The choice worked to perfection as the England U-19 created a number of opportunities and came close to adding his name to the score-sheet on a number of occasions. The winning strike came six minutes after the break when Timmy Cahill latched onto Mikel Arteta corner and sent it into the net.

From the start of the match, Everton looked comfortable and displayed a miserly approach, rarely allowing a noteworthy effort upon Tim Howard. The Toffees looked to have taken the lead nine minutes in with Steven Pienaar scoring but it was erased as a foul by Joleon Lescott in the box. After a number of opportunities by Everton that feel short, 'Boro came alive fifteen minutes before the break with Gary O'Neill's strike being pushed wide by Tim Howard. Finally after a scoreless first forty-five, Everton found the back of the net as Mikel Arteta's corner was headed on by Timmy Cahill but after a series of saves of his and Joleon Lescott's attempt, the Aussie international found the magic touch to take the 1-0 lead. Minutes later Dan Gosling had a perfect opportunity to increase the margin but his effort drifted sadly wide. While Everton dictated much of the play, they were unable to seal the game off and with only a few minutes remaining Middlesbrough came close as Mido's slick pass to Afonso Alves was chipped off the mark. However without another opportunity to level, Everton took the 1-0 victory and the important three points.

Dieter Hecking reflecting on first half of season

Continuing along with an "open-door" policy of the club, Hannover 96 leader Dieter Hecking reflected upon the first half of season via the clubs web-site.

Given that the club has had terrible injury problems the first half of the year, Mr. Hecking was asked were there other reasons other than the injury problems?

DH: "Preparing for matches is always difficult when lots of players are away on international duty, and also we did ourselves no favours by picking up several red cards. So overall it was nigh on impossible to be at our best as a team.“

It has also been suggested that Hannover lack a leader in their team...

DH: "That will always be the case when the natural hierarchy of the team is laid low by injury at the same time. Losing players such as Robert Enke, Michael Tarnat, Valérien Ismaël, Altin Lala and Arnold Bruggink would rock any side. We had to rely on others to step up, and so set-backs are to be expected. But I'm sure this kind of crisis will serve a purpose as well. The situation brings people together and speeds up the learning process for younger players."

So was it just factors that were outside of your control that were to blame?

Dieter Hecking: "Let me make one thing clear: with the expectations that we have created at Hannover 96 over the last few years it is not good enough to draw at home against teams like Cottbus, Bochum and Bielefeld. Regardless of other factors. We are critical enough of ourselves to see that. We have a responsibility to scrutinize our own performances and face up to the critics, as long as they have a point. The most important thing is to look in the mirror after the game and know you have analyzed all your mistakes and done everything you possibly could.“

Would you have done anything differently given the chance?

DH: "After the Cottbus game at the end of last season I wouldn't have said that we would collect five more points this season, which is now much quoted. I underestimated the importance that would be placed on it, even though I think most fans took it as a sign of healthy optimism rather than as a literal promise. After our difficult start the media kept bringing up this quote and putting even more pressure on us. But the flip-side is that had we not set ourselves a high target people would have accused us of being happy to make no progress.“

And what do you make of all the discussions surrounding your tactical system?

DH: "As soon as you start talking about whether a team should play with one, two or three nominal strikers you move away from the question of offensive and defensive tactics. Modern teams should be flexible enough to react to different situations in games. That's what we did against Bochum, but most of the public didn't notice. Incidentally we beat both Bayern and HSV using a 4-2-3-1 formation, and used the same line-up when we beat Gladbach 5-1. Obviously we will decide how we line-up depending on the opponent. We will always do what we feel is best.“

After the disappointing first 17 games, what are your realistic aims for the second half of the season?

DH: "We will all use the time during the winter break as usefully as possible to analyse our situation and eliminate the mistakes we have been making, and then hopefully go into the New Year with renewed vigour. We all have to take responsibility and take strength from coming through the crisis. If we can find our rhythm and keep big errors out of our game the team can definitely make huge strides forward."

Gladbach keeps building roster

Hans Meyer's efforts to avoid relegation have been bolstered with the announcement of defender Dante joining the club from Standard de Liège. The twenty-five year-old Brazilian will make a sizable improvement in the defending core and represents a commitment by the club far beyond avoiding relegation. Per the club web-site Borussia Mönchengladbach Sport Director Max Eberl noted that while he has been used at left-back because of Standard de Liège problems, they "see him more as a central defender, just as he himself does."

Takeshi Okada has big plans for 2010

Takeshi Okada has set the bar high for the 2010 World Cup stating that he believes a final-four finish is possible:

"We will seriously aim to finish in the top four at the World Cup. Some people may laugh it off but I think it is possible."

His lofty goals will be put to test this February 11 as Japan faces unbeaten Group A leaders Australia in a critical qualifying match.

semi-finals of Emperor’s Cup set

With Gamba Osaka's 2-1 quarter-final victory over Nagoya Grampus the semi-finals of The Emperor's Cup is set. On Monday evening (local) Kashiwa Reysol will play FC Tokyo in Shizuoka while Gamba face Yokohama F. Marinos in Tokyo in the other semi's. Of the remaining clubs, none has won the Cup although Yokohama's predecessor clubs, pre-merger "Marinos" and "Flügels", hoisted hardware in 1992 and 1993 respectively.

J-League awards

The Kashima Antlers put their stamp on the J-League awards as their striker Marquinhos (Marcos Gomes De Araujo) won the MVP award and Golden Boot for top scorer and their manager Oswaldo Oliveira being presented the top manager award for the second successive year. Yoshizumi Ogawa of Nagoya Grampus was awarded top rookie of the year.

In addition to the above awards the Antlers had three players named to the "Best XI" of the J-League as listed below:

Best XI (with club and number of times selected):

Goalkeeper: Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus, 4th);
Defenders: Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers, 2nd), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers, 1st), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Urawa Reds, 5th), Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F Marinos, 5th), Satoshi Yamaguchi (Gamba Osaka, 3rd);
Midfielders: Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale, 3rd), Yoshizumi Ogawa (Nagoya Grampus, 1st), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka, 6th);
Strikers: Marquinhos (Kashima Antlers, 1st), Atsushi Yanagisawa (Kyoto Sanga, 3rd).

Cho Jae-jin joins Gamba Osaka

Former Shimuzu S-Pulse striker Cho Jae-jin has joined champions Gamba Osaka after a season with K-League powerhouse Jeonbuk Motors. During his three-year tenure at S-Pa the twenty-seven year-old Korea Republic international scored 51 goals in 113 matches.

Bill Kenwright’s Christmas message

An important Chrismas message from Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright, as per the club web-site.

Dear fellow Evertonians,

Christmas means many things to many people. For the lonely and for those with seemingly unsolvable problems it represents a period which they simply want to get through; for those of us lucky enough to have caring families, it can be a magical time when we can revel and rejoice in the love of those special to us. Of course, for those of us who love our football, it simply means three games in a week!

I have a fantastic family, most of whom who have been coming to Christmas games with me for the last six decades. I also have another family - one I know to be the best and the most loyal in world sport. Some of us within that family play the role of the decision-makers, others are blessed in that they fill roles the rest of us can only dream of - one which invloves pulling on that famous Royal Blue shirt to represent the greatest football club in the world. Above all else, we are supporters - that is what unites us, that is what makes us special.

As I said, Christmas is a time for family - and I know of no other football club where that sense of family and togetherness is stronger than it is here at Everton. At Goodison Park the camaraderie which exists amongst our playing staff, coaching staff and the many people who work throughout the club is truly exceptional. But, this very precious form of unity would not be possible without the support and backing which everyone at Everton receives from our extended family of supporters. Most of you know - and, I hope, accept -that I am simply one of you - someone who is trying to get for YOU what YOU want for this football club. Your loyalty to me - and to everyone else at Everton - is truly special, truly valued, and as far as I’m concerned, truly unique.

As I walked to the car park after the Chelsea game on Monday night, I wasn’t thinking of the four-hour motorway journey I had to endure on my way back south but more of the extraordinary feeling of fellowship and friendship which I know our club possesses. I’d just watched eleven players give their all- and then some- against one of the strongest teams in world football. They had performed with both passion and professionalism and Evertonians were rightly proud of them. Our current senior squad is, in my opinion, made up of some of the finest lads in football today. Although I’m not a Chairman who likes to frequent the dressing room and get involved in the playing side of things, I have, over the last couple of months, spent time with David Moyes, his staff and the players- and I want you all to know that they too are proud to be a part of YOUR Blue army. From the boys who have been here for a relatively short period, to the lads who are coming through the ranks, to those who have given us stability over the past few years, they give me the distinct impression that they want to go out there and play for each other, for you and for this football club. There really can be no finer tribute to a club and its fans.

In finishing this Christmas message, it would be wrong of me not to include my personal thanks to our acting CEO Robert Elstone and his staff. They seek to improve, they seek to deliver and they seek to achieve- I believe our club to be in safe hands.

And finally there’s David and his staff. I said five years ago that I felt that our man would one day become one of the very great managers in football. For me he has already achieved this. He devotes every waking hour to this football club - and I’m truly proud and grateful to have him as my friend and our manager.

Everyone knows that we are not the richest football club in the world- but I know that not one of you would swap one minute of your Everton devotion for a lifetime of support of another club. We do constantly strive to provide the manager with the funds that he needs to continue our progress on the field- without, of course, placing in jeopardy our progress away from it. The support of you, our family of Evertonians, makes that possible.

So please enjoy a wonderful Christmas. Enjoy this season of peace and goodwill with your families, safe in the knowledge that there is another family you will always have surrounding you for as long as you support our great club.

Bill Kenwright

Boxing Day at Riverside

After all the leftovers and just one more helping of Christmas pudding, Everton supporters will be able to cozy up and watch Middlesbrough at Riverside this Boxing Day. While the Toffees sit comfortably at seventh in the table, the climb to fifth which is presently occupied by Arsenal is a steep one. With five points to make up for a Europa League slot, Everton needs to keep its brilliant run on the road against Gareth Southgate’s side. ‘Boro is looking fully-fit with only Gary O’Neil questionable and have the striking duo of Tuncay Şanlı and Egyptian international Mido ready to go. David Moyes will need to be at his tactical best as Louis Saha and Victor Anichebe are still out along with Leon Osman and Joseph Yobo both being questionable.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tukkers defeat Willem II

Following the PSG UEFA Cup match, in which Steve McClaren prioritized league play and left out Eljero Elia, Blaise N'Kufo and Kenneth Perez, the "Tukkers" came out primed and ready for Willem II. The strategy worked to perfection as Twente won comfortably 2-0 and maintain pace on first place AZ and are two points behind Ajax in second. While both Kenneth Perez and Blaise N'Kufo came close to opening the scoring early, Twente finally broke through eleven minutes before the break as Douglas Franco headed a Perez free-kick against the crossbar and then slammed the rebound of his own effort into the net. While only holding a one goal lead the match was decidedly one sided in Twente's favour but they finally doubled the margin at the sixty-eighth minute as Blaise N'Kufo headed a perfect cross by Kenneth Perez into the netting. Down by Willem II did not respond with an attacking threat and the match concluded with a perfect victory.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Heerenveen's UEFA Cup effort ends with loss to Portsmouth

As mentioned in my preview, I questioned how much energy would be expended for the Portsmouth UEFA Cup match and without surprise, Heerenveen’s UEFA Cup efforts ended with a 3-0 loss to the English side. Given the club is locked in a tie with PSV at twenty-six points and chasing Twente, Ajax and AZ the question was whether the club would prioritize the weekend match against Sparta Rotterdam or push forward for a victory.

With Geert Arend Roorda, Bonaventure Kalou and Croatian international Danijel Pranjić out of the lineup, Heerenveen pushed forward early and came close with Roy Beerens rattling the woodwork. However it was not too long before Peter Crouch began to take over on the attack and after a number of misses he headed Marc Wilson’s cross in five minutes before the break. Only two minutes later the English striker drove a close range rebound in to give Portsmouth the 2-0 lead at the break. Tarik Elyounoussi had a chance to bring a goal back were fifteen minutes after the restart but after it drifted wide, there were no further attempts. As time wound down Hermann Hreidarsson re-directed Glen Little’s free-kick in.

Repeating my original contentions, the priority must be the domestic season and continuing the winning streak with Sparta Rotterdam on Saturday.

After Lech Poznań, looking ahead to PSV

Excuse my pun but without a point earned prior to the Lech Poznań, their was little point of yesterdays match in consideration of the weekend's clash against PSV. However with the basic notion of playing for pride at De Kuip, Feyenoord put up a strong effort but came up short losing 1-0 to Lech Poznań. The match started tentative with both sides locking up in the midfield. Without a prior attempt on Henk Timmer's goal, the Polish side scored the lone goal of the match twenty-seven minutes in a Semir Stilić drew the ball into the center of the box where Ivan Djurdjević re-directed the ball in. With the goal Gertjan Verbeek tactics opened up in search of the equalizer and opportunities, while still not a open flood-gate of chances, were more frequent. However it was not till the final third of the match that Feyenoord looked to be in the match. with a beautiful play between Georginio Wijnaldum and Roy Makaay being passed to Luigi Bruins but his finish fell short and was easily saved. With twenty-six minutes remaining it was obvious that Gertjan Verbeek's focus is on the weekend as Leroy Fer and Georgino Wijnaldum were taken off with two eighteen year-old up and coming players Michal Janota and Kermit Erasmus introduced. That said, although Feyenoord put forth a good effort in the closing stages they were not able to level the match and it ended in a 1-0 loss. Of the positive sides you can take from this match is the commitment to younger developing players and while it is difficult to see through the cloudy days of losses, benefits will be reaped from this in the future.

Spartak Moscow v Tottenham UEFA Cup preview

After a series of stumbles, Spartak Moscow's hopes for advancing in the UEFA Cup come down to needing a victory against Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Michael Laudrup's Spartak has been far from consistent, enjoying the highs of defeating CSKA Moscow before being win-less in their final three matches of the domestic season in route to a disappointing ninth place finish. After falling 2-1 to NEC Nijmegen at Luzhniki (match review) in their most recent match, the decision was made to make the journey to London to prepare for this "do or die" match.

For the match Myaso will be without key-man Vladimir Bystrov but have Welliton and Clemente Rodriquez. While Tottenham has already qualified, Harry Redknapp is facing a series of injuries problems which have eliminated his striking options down to Fraizer Campbell. The Spurs will miss Vedran Corluka and Roman Pavlyuchenko who are cup-tied plus Darren Bent, Jermaine Jenas, Jonathan Woodgate, Ledley King, Alan Hutton and Giovani dos Santos.

Key players to watch for Spartak is the enterprising trio of Aleksandr Pavlenko,Ivan Saenko, Nikita Bazhenov, while will have Croatian international Luka Modrić back for the match.

I will report on it as it concludes.

Porto defeats Estrela da Amadora 4-2 in tight match

In a highly spirited match Lázaro Oliveira's Estrela da Amadora fell 4-2 to Porto after fighting back twice to level the match.

The Dragões took the lead ten minutes in as Lisandro López found the back of the net connecting with a soaring header.

Vítor Manuel Moreno drew the match level three minutes before the half hour mark with a peculiar goal off a extraordinary deflection that somehow found its way into the goal.

Cristian Rodriguez restored Porto's lead before the break with a powerful header off Hulk's corner.

Estrela da Amadora fought back and a minute past the hour mark Jose Vidigal found the equalizer as he flew in-close to head in a perfectly placed free-kick.

Three minutes after the hour ex-Tokyo Verdy man Hulk chipped a perfect goal from outside the area into the net.

With six minutes remaining Cristian Rodriguez struck a beautiful curling left-footed free-kick to the outside corner.

Estrela da Amadora
Nélson; Hugo Gomes, Mustafá (Ndiaye 20'), Carreira «cap.» e Moreno; Celestino (Pedro Pereira 65'), Marcelo Goianiria, Fernando Alexandre e Vidigal; Silvestre Varela e Anselmo (Rui Varela 73')

Helton; Fucile, Rolando, Bruno Alves e Pedro Emanuel (Tomás Costa 90'); Fernando, Raul Meireles (Guarin 85') e Lucho González; Lisandro Lopez, Hulk (Mariano Gonzalez 88') and Cristian Rodríguez

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wolfsburg finishes first in Group!

Wolfsburg advances to the next round of the UEFA Cup, claiming first place of Group E with a draw against AC Milan. With the top spot of their group they will draw a preferential position and face a club finishing third-place in the knockout round while second place clubs will face the eight clubs falling in from the Champions League. The Serie A giant took the lead seventeen minutes in as they exposed a major Wolfsburg weakness as Massimo Ambrosini nodded in Clarence Seedorf’s corner with power. Wolfsburg did not wilt under the pressure and came close to leveling four minutes before the half-hour as of Bosnia and Herzegovina international Edin Džeko struck the cross-bar with a close range header. However on cue for his return to Milan ex-Palermo man Cristian Zaccardo re-directed Marcel Schäfer’s cross to the back of the net eleven minutes after the re-start. Within the minute the Rossoneri asserted their domain of San Siro as Filippo Inzaghi provided Pato a perfect set-up in the center of the area to which the young-gun didn’t disappoint. Behind 2-1 things appeared dire for Die Wölfe in the final half-hour but surprisingly with first place in-sight, Carlo Ancelotti turned aside a tactical defensive substitute to lock-down the match. With nine minutes remaining AC Milan lost it’s claim for first place as Wolfsburg as Polish international Jacek Krzynówek’s drive was re-directed in by Mahir Sağlık.

The result is an extraordinarily fortunate result for Wolfsburg and will provide them a leg-up on the competition in the round of thirty-two. I cannot help but mention my surprise on the tactical decisions made by AC Milan in the final twenty minutes and protecting the lead better.

Wolfsburg are now off on their winter break and return when they face FC Köln on January 31 of the new year.

PSG v Twente UEFA match preview

At this stage of the UEFA Cup PSG's European efforts have been far from noteworthy. In-fact they have been quite pedestrian and at every turn it seems the club is denying its efforts are less than one-hundred per-cent. The opening match against Schalke 04 was abysmal and a questionable legitimate attempt to win at best with the Racing Santander and Manchester City matches thereafter, while they were fine displays, it did not give you the impression the UEFA Cup is a priority for this year.

This of-course leaves Parisian supporters were a number of peculiar questions because regardless of how many times Paul Le Guen pounds the gavel that he won't sacrifice the domestic campaign for the UEFA, I doubt the will be "all in" for the match.

Heading into the match PSG sits in the basement of Group A and as I thought at the draw, the most difficult group for PSG to escape from. While that brings up the question of whether management was ever going to put up the fight to actually advance is a debate for another time the point is, they are in last place and not only need a victory but require Man City to defeat Racing Santander.

In going against Twente, let me state very straight and to the point - this is one of the biggest stories in the coaching world today. Whilst Steve McClaren suffered through a great deal of ridicule of his closing moments leading England, he has down a remarkable job with Twente and they are without question the hottest club in the Eredivisie in the last four matches, chewing and spitting out opponents with thirteen goal differential during the period. While their loyal supporters will do their best to look away from the mere mention of it but this could be the year Twente hoists hardware domestically and if so, much will be owed to Steve McClaren.

Twente possesses a well-rounded lineup of veterans Kenneth Perez, Blaise Kufo enjoying a triumphant renaissance along with a younger group of Footballers whose names will become frequent taglines soon. Wout Brama and Eljero Elia overflow with talent, with the latter seemingly unstoppable of late and will be a mountain of headaches for the PSG defending crew.

Leading into the match both sides are relatively fit with the exception of Mateja Kežman however that gives little insight into how PSG will approach the match. Given the club in sitting in tie with Bordeaux and Olympique Marseille only three points behind Lyonnais, I do not expect them to jeopardize the weekend match Valenciennes with an all-out attacking effort.

Genoa tested with injury list

Through the first half of the Serie A campaign, Gian Piero Gasperini's Rossoblu have been relatively untouched with injuries. While certainly not a clean slate, the lack of fitness woes has assisted greatly in their success and has played a part in their sixth place position to-date. All that is about to change as leading up to this weekends tilt against relegation-threatened Chievo Verona looks to test their bench depth significantly.

Of gravest concern is Matteo Ferrari who per the club is facing surgery on a abdominal hernia. While recovery will vary on this, depending upon the procedure, Matteo should not be counted on the lineup till the final weeks of January.

In addition to their stalwart defender, Gian Piero Gasperini will be missing Raffaele Palladino and Andrea Gasbarroni from the strike-force as well as Matteo Paro and Marcel Román. To complicate matters further former-Hajduk Split man Ivan Jurić, Rubén Olivera and Diego Milito, Il Principe are all questionable. Along with Omar Milanetto and Giuseppe Sculli in the sin-bin, the lineup will be stretched thin.

While much is still be decided with injury situations ex-Crvena zvezda man Boško Janković and
Francesco Modesto are likely to loom large in the attack with an opportunity for young teen Stephen El Shaarawi as well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Schalke cant be beat two-man down

In a gutsy performance, Schalke fought first-place 1899 Hoffenheim to a 1-1 draw. Die Königsblauen put forth one of their best defensive efforts on the first half of the season, controlling the stunning play of scoring phenom Vedad Ibišević. From the opening whistle, Schalke's determined side shone through and came close to opening the scoring only a few minutes in with Gerald Asamoah's close-in effort. The home side threatened Manuel Neuer after that but five minutes before the break Asamoah avenged his earlier miss as he was led in by Halil Altintop and then tucked the ball safely into the Hoffenheim net.

The battle-lines were set after the break, tension was thick and fouls were the harshest in nature. Three minutes before the hour mark Jermaine Jones challenged Luiz Gustavo for the ball but was shown his second yellow as Gustavo went to the crowd.

Fred Rutten said:

"The decision was wrong. If you know Jermaine, you know how good he is at winning the ball."

With eighteen minutes remaining the home side brought the match level with Selim Teber free kick from outside of twenty meters.

The home side benefited from a two-man advantage with ten minutes remaining as Orlando Engelaar was shown his second yellow and although they mounted significant challenges, each was met with the perfect defending move. With that in-mind, the match concluded as a 1-1 draw.

Schalke begins the winter break at seventh place and with significant work to-do in the second half of the season. Two points behind BVB and a further three points behind Bayer Leverkusen they will need address their weaknesses if they wish to attain their Champion League goals. They return to Bundesliga action on January 31 against Hannover 96.

Twente continues to win

De Tukkers continued on their winning path defeating FC Groningen 4-1. It was Steve McClaren's side fourth successive victory in which they have outscored the opposition a stunning eighteen goals during the period. With the victory, Twente sits in third place of the table, breathing down the neck of Ajax two points in front and first-place AZ a further three points ahead.

In a brilliant man-of-the-match performance Eljero Elia set-up the first goal seventeen minutes in as his cross to nineteen year-old Marko Arnautović was directed in from ten meters by the young Austrian international. Only four minutes later Ronnie Stam provided Eljero Elia a perfect opportunity to which he didn't disappoint making it 2-0. A defensive lapse allowed host Groningen cut the margin in added-time before the break as Danny Holla's corner was nodded in by former FK Partizan man Goran Lovre. However after the break, the host poured forward and came with a whisper of equalizing the match but Douglas Franco walled off Koen van der Laak's attempt before it crossed the line. However with twenty-two minutes remaining Ronnie Stam pounced on a rebound of his own drive and delicately lifted the ball over the Groningen 'keeper Luciano. As the match slowly came to a end Blaise Kufo latched onto a errant ball and made it mistake sending it to the back of the net, bringing the match to its final 4-1 score-line.

so now that we have conquered you

With each step 1899 Hoffenheim's rise to the Bundesliga adds a new chapter to the illustrious story. Facing Schalke 04, Ralf Rangnick's men came from behind for a 1-1 draw to stand atop the Bundesliga at the break. It was far from a "easy going" match as tempers ran hot, resulting in over forty fouls and two red-cards.

Schalke's defensive-minded approach worked well as the match began and it was also obvious that the normal bounce in the Hoffenheim step had slowed, the by-product of fatigue. After die Königsblauen early efforts were turned back by Daniel Haas, Sejad Salihović's free-kick was a menacing foe to deal with but was parried away by Manuel Neuer. Seven minutes before the break Vedad Ibišević provided Demba Ba a close-range opportunity but his effort flew wide. Two minutes later Schalke benefited from the genius of Turkish international Halil Altıntop who delivered an extraordinary through ball to Gerald Asamoah, who then drilled the ball into the net. The battle heated up and twelve minutes after the act, in a deplorable foul Jermaine Jones raked Luiz Gustavo from behind and then proceeded to have a tantrum directed towards the referee. While he was sent off with his second yellow, it will surely draw attention from Deutscher Fußball-Bund. With the clocking ticking down and Schalke digging in defensively Selim Teber curled a free-kick from twenty meters to bring the match to 1-1. With ten minutes remaining Orlando Engelaar was sent off with yellow and although possessing the two man advantage, Hoffenheim had to settle for the draw.

Any disappointment is short-lived as 1899 Hoffenheim promotion is capped with the "autumn championship."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Feyenoord lose to AZ

In a brutally painful display of bad finishing Feyenoord lost to league-leader AZ 1-0 at De Kuip. While the match could have been a rallying cry in one the last home matches of the historical season, it will instead be remembered for lost opportunities. Gertjan Verbeek had his side prepared for the challenge or so it would seem, but after controlling much of the play with a passionate performance, final touches were inexplicably bad. Both Roy Makaay and Luigi Bruins had a particularly off night's, with the latter missing twice before the break, mis-hitting from close range as well as heading a ball without any sign of pace that was easily dealt with by AZ goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Romero's play was likely the deciding factor as he robbed Giovanni van Bronckhorst of a goal bound effort before the break as well. Finally in one of their few opportunities, eleven minutes after the break Mounir El Hamdaoui handed Ari a perfect cross for an easy finish past Henk Timmer giving AZ the 1-0 lead. Without further scoring incidence the match ended in difficult to accept 1-0 loss for Feyenoord.

Of significant concern is the overall health of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst who was stretchered off with two minutes remaining as he took a boot to the head. While reports are pre-mature he is not expected to play this Wednesday against Lech Poznań in the UEFA Cup.

Werder climb above Wolfsburg at the break

The Green Whites completed the tumultuous first half of the season on a up-note as they defeated Wolfsburg 2-1. With the victory, Werder nudges about Wolfsburg at the break on goal differential and sit a point behind Schalke 04, with BVB a full three points in the distance. With notable absences of Claudio Pizarro, Diego and Hugo Almeida from Thomas Schaaf normal lineup, Werder put their hopes in Aaron Hunt, Said Husejinović, Mesut Özil, Markus Rosenberg and Austrian international Sebastian Prödl against Wolfsburg and pleasantly awarded with quality two-way play.

The match certainly did not start in too favourable of a fashion for Werder fans as only three minutes in Zvjezdan Misimović's corner was pounded into the net by Christian Gentner to give Wolfsburg the 1-0 lead. Following the goal handicap Thomas Schaaf's side put on a clinic on how to defend the attack-happy Wolfsburg and twenty-four minutes later the match was level as Mesut Özil free-kick was re-directed in by Per Mertesacker. The German U21 Özil pace and creativity was the catalyst of the winning goal at the sixty-third minute as after racing down the pitch his cross bounced off the Wolfsburg skipper Josué and into the net. With the lead now, the motivated Werder side were relentless and barely provided Wolfsburg room to breath and the match ended with a brilliant 2-1 victory.

Following the match Thomas Schaaf said:

“That wasn’t just a win born of hard work, there were periods when we passed the ball around very well. Unfortunately our finishing wasn’t so impressive. We could and should have scored a third goal, which really would have settled us. Towards the end they forced us well back but maybe we were just running on empty after the game on Tuesday.”

Igor Semshov moves to Zenit Saint Petersburg

In a stunning move, Russian international Igor Semshov is finalizing terms that will see him move from Dinamo Moscow to Zenit Saint Petersburg. The thirty year-old midfielder, who came over from Torpedo Moscow in 2006 after seven seasons was gracious of his time with Dinamo:

"I want to say thanks to the fans, sponsors and club bosses for the full support during my time at the club."

Die Adler put Hamburger SV to the test

Eintracht Frankfurt forced the most out of Hamburger SV but in the end fell 1-0 to the fourth-place club. Die Adler supporters can stand proud with the performance as they did not give a ball up without a challenge and show intense desire to bring home points. While the Martin Jol-led Hamburg side controlled much of the possession they were consistently disappointed with Die Adler intensity and defending prowess. It is not appropriate to single-out one player it such a strong defensive effort but clearly much credit is owing to Michael Fink, Markus Steinhöfer, Mehdi Mahdavikia and former Japanese capped Junichi Inamoto for a courageous performance that choked off most scoring chances before they could enter a more dangerous phase. With Friedhelm Funkel's tactical plan obvious to assault on the counter, Hamburg grew wary and with a raised eyebrow was cautious going forward. Yet the goal line was finally broken just before the hour as Piotr Trochowski's cross was headed-in by a diving Mladen Petrić. Nikos Liberopoulos had a late opportunity to bring the match even but it unfortunately the effort fell short and the match ended with a 1-0 deficit.

While disappointment is natural with a defeat, this should not be the case as Die Adler played brilliantly and in-consideration of the enormous injuries we can look forward to the second half of the season.

Energie Cottbus stun Werkself with late goal

In the final match before the break Energie Cottbus stunned Werkself with late goal to bring the match a 1-1 draw that left supporters seething. Although Werkself had controlled the overall play, die Lausitzer stingy defense was too much to break through. The draw was a costly lost two points, dropping Leverkusen to fifth place with thirty-two points and three points behind leaders 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern München.

Tactically there were few surprises as die Lausitzer started the match at ease with playing behind the ball and looking to limit Leverkusen's advances. Much to my chagrin it worked to a charm as Werkself's efforts were mostly from a poor angle or longer range in nature. Chances prior to the defensive first half were modest to say the best and the match went to the break scoreless.

At the break Bruno Labbadia re-tooled the lineup, calling on Arturo Vidal to firm up defending and giving Tranquillo Barnetta the directive to attack. The effect was immediate albeit not still not easy to find the key to the die Lausitzer lock. Finally a rare opportunity presented itself with thirteen minutes remaining as Côte d'Ivoire international Constant Djakpa scooped up a rebound of a Patrick Helmes free-kick and sent it back into the box for Simon Rolfes, who did not hesitate from five meters giving Werkself the 1-0 lead.

With six minutes remaining Cottbus brought in Shao Jiayi for ex-Partizan man Ivica Iliev and he immediately made his presence known, hitting the crossbar at the eighty-six minute. With the packed BayArena ready to celebrate a victory Shao Jiayi spoiled the party as with only seconds left in added-time he headed in Ervin Skela's corner from the near post.

Auf Wiedersehen

Hannover 96 and Arminia Bielefeld play to draw

As expected, Arminia Bielefeld continued their determined play and fought Hannover 96 to a 1-1 draw. It might not be so clear looking at the statistics but throughout the year Bielefeld have shown the ability to close off the most challenging opponents with sturdy defensive play and that was the message of today.

Dieter Hecking will take great pride in the work of Morten Jensen, who defied the idea of being a "number 3", fit in perfectly and showed great leadership. With a mandate to be "aggressive" and to force errors, Jiří Štajner prodded for a opportunity early but goalkeeper Dennis Eilhoff was up to the task. Finally just past the half-hour the Czech Republic capped Štajner fought off Markus Schuler and headed-in Arnold Bruggink's corner from close-range to give Die Roten the 1-0 lead.

Returning from the break Hannover 96 continued directing the run of play but equally Die Arminen stern refusal to provide a reasonable scoring chance. Then, just before the hour mark, Bielefeld caught Hannover 96 over-committing and launched a long ball effort Rüdiger Kauf who then provided the scoring chance to Artur Wichniarek, with the veteran easily capitalized on to bring the match even. Sensing a chance at three points Die Arminen jumped forward in the attack with Thorben Marx coming close with twenty minutes remaining. Mikael Forssell was brought in late in an effort to find the winning strike but it was fruitless and the match ended with a deserving point for each side.

The single point leaves Hannover 96 with seventeen points and in thirteenth position just behind Eintracht Frankfurt before heading to the winter break.

BVB heads to break on a high note

Despite playing a man down for more than fifty minutes, BVB held strong for a 2-1 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach at Westfalenstadion. Die Schwarzgelben can enjoy the winter break with sitting in sixth place only three points behind Bayer Leverkusen and Jürgen Klopp can hold his head high with brilliant leadership.

With little ground being given up without a challenge, scoring opportunities were at a minimum until with ten minutes remaining in the half Egyptian international Mohamed Zidan got in-between a Steve Gohouri headed attempt and drove the ball into the net from twenty-two meters.

BVB's challenges were increased as Hungary's player of the year, Tamás Hajnal was excused with his second yellow-card due to a challenge of 'Gladbach goalkeeper Christofer Heimeroth. Ten minutes after the restart BVB was up 2-0 as Polish international Jakub Błaszczykowski passed to Nuri Sahin, who was wide open at the top of the box with Sahin firing into the back of the goal. Through the balance of the match 'Gladback maintained most of the ball possession but it was generally out of the final third of the pitch.

'Gladbach's intensity increased after the hour and were denied a goal as Roman Weidenfeller spectacularly saved Rob Friend's header after the hour mark. At the eightieth minute they cut the margin in half as Johannes van den Bergh volleyed from the edge of the area but that would be as close as it could get. Jakub Błaszczykowski could have added the third goal just as regulation time was concluding as he shot from long-range to a open goal, vacated by Gladbach ‘keeper Christofer Heimeroth who had come forward in a effort to score off a corner. Gladbach as expected put forth a brilliant effort, one that you know they always will but were unable to break through an swarming defense.

Wolfsburg loses to Werder Bremen 2-1

Wolfsburg's horrible away record continued with a 2-1 loss to Werder Bremen at Weserstadion. With the loss, Wolfsburg still has yet on the road this year and stands at ninth in the Bundesliga table going into the break. The customary offensive onslaught of Die Wölfe Zvjezdan Misimović, Edin Džeko and Ashkan Dejagah met its match with a youth laden Werder side. Werder manager Thomas Schaaf handed a number of players rare starting assignments given the absences of notables such as Diego and Claudio Pizarro and will definitely have some interesting decisions based upon their brilliant play. The normal defensively weak Werder played inspired Football with particular exception owed to a youth movement of Sebastian Prödl,Aaron Hunt,Mesut Özil and Bosnia and Herzegovina international Said Husejinović. With Aaron Hunt being the elder statesman of the four at twenty-two years of age, they played with a level of commitment and work-rate that has not been seen by Werder typically and quite honestly a pleasure to watch.

Wolfsburg got off to a fast start as Christian Gentner volleyed a corner in only three minutes in however in an interesting point, following that goal all Wolfsburg attacking efforts fell short and Tim Wiese was typically undisturbed. Werder's stunning championship defending continued, turning Wolfsburg flowing attacks to nothing more than a trickle and three minutes before the half hour mark the home side leveled the match as Per Mertesacker re-directed Mesut Özil's free-kick in. Mesut was the subject of the go-ahead goal as his cross into the box three minutes past bounced off Wolfsburg's Josué and into the net. Wolfsburg created a number of opportunities in the remaining minutes but Werder cut down sight lines and each attempt drifted without threat.

Prior to heading on the long winter break, Wolfsburg returns to play against AC Milan in the UEFA Cup this Wednesday.

Genoa and Atalanta fight to draw

Stadio Luigi Ferraris was the setting for a power-packed fight between Genoa and Atalanta that ended in a draw. With thirty-two fouls and three red-cards, tempers were short as two clubs fighting for a Europa League bid were not prepared to give up a morsel of ground.

While Genoa controlled over sixty per-cent of the possession and were more efficient with their passing, they lacked the final creative touch in the final third and barely could sting the hands of Atalanta's Ferdinando Coppola. It was peculiar to say the least as Genoa looked ready to break through early as Diego Milito threatened twice before the tenth minute, including a header off the post six minutes in. However seventeen minutes after the start Sergio Floccari produced a highlight clip circumventing defenders and the Genoa 'keeper for a brilliant goal. The run of play slowed on the barely playable pitch and tensions went from simmer to boiling over after the break.

Twelve minutes after the break Gianpaolo Bellini was excused leaving Atalanta a man down. With the advantage Gian Piero Gasperini called upon former Crvena zvezda man Boško Janković who immediately created a multitude of problems for the opposition. However the advantage was short-lived as Omar Milanetto was red-carded a minute past the hour mark. Oddly enough the man advantage returned as Claudio Rivalta embarrassed himself with a hatchet job on Raffaele Palladino, resulting in a red-card at the seventieth minute. With four minutes remaining Genoa found the equalizer as Domenico Criscito's cross was turned-in by Giuseppe Sculli

Genoa heads to beautiful Verona next Sunday to face Chievo before the break over the holiday.