Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wolfsburg v Hamburger SV match preview

Following the dreadful home loss to PSG in the mid-week UEFA Cup match, Wolfsburg face Bundesliga leaders Hamburger SV at the Volksparkstadion.

Martin Jol is unquestionably steamrolling his way to one of the best stories of the Bundesliga this year. After being dumped by Tottenham of England's Premier League in thoroughly cowardly manner, the wily Dutch coach has HSV flying strong and further proving his brilliance on the pitch.

While HSV stumbled to Karlsruhe recently they have equally dispatched top-shelf club Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Bayern München and show little signs of slowing up. Of course against Wolfsburg in a Nord derby, motivation is a plenty and HSV cherish the opportunity to send die Wölfe back with another "away" defeat.

For the match Felix Magath is far from providing confidence boosting quotes saying:

"We will do all in our power to hold our own in Hamburg too. We are in good form and the fans can look forward to seeing a very interesting game."

"Interesting" is more than a morsel shy of we'll fight for every blade of grass but I suppose that's a discuss for another time. Wolfsburg is without Sascha Riether, Diego Benaglio and Ashkan Dejagah but there is some question if Grafite might be able to perform. While they are anxious to have the Brazilian striker back, it is far too soon from knee injury and will only cause long term problems. In one of the most troubling losses Zvjezdan Misimović is in the sin-bin for the match, causing significant problems for their tactical play. HSV will miss Bastian Reinhardt, Timothée Atouba Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Romeo Castelen to injury and both Collin Benjamin and Jérôme Boateng are suspended.

Newcastle v Bolton Wanderers match preview

Newcastle travels to Reebok Stadium to face Bolton with both sides desperate for points. With a draw against Everton last week and a victory over West Brom the prior week, the Magpies have found a morsel of space above the drop zone. However with Middlesbrough shocker defeat of Liverpool, the relegation battle is rearing its ugly head again and action is needed.

Gary Megson's Bolton have been a fine squad at home, upending West Ham and Tottenham in their two most recent matches and know a victory on Sunday will thrust them into the top half of the table. With the table so congested, they are not only a bit too close to the drop zone to call completely safe but equally only five points off a Europa League spot.

Unfortunately for Newcastle, this provides Bolton greater motivation if they needed it and it will mean Chris Hughton and completely will need to come up big for the match. Targeting another eleven points to a target of thirty-nine for safety, the Magpies have a painfully difficult schedule ahead that includes Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea over the next four weeks. Couple in matches against Liverpool and Aston Villa in the later stages of the campaign, five of their eleven matches are against European bound teams and points against Bolton are a must.

Bolton looks to be fully-fit and ready to go whilst Newcastle is without Kevin Nolan who is in the sin-bin for a dreadful challenge and Danny Guthrie is unlikely. The Magpies have a host of players slowly returning to health with both Andy Carroll and Alan Smith likely finding their way into the starting eleven.

Clássico ends in scoreless draw

The Clássico between Porto and Sporting at Estádio do Dragão ended in a scoreless draw leaving the defending champions at the top of the Liga table.

Os Dragões best chance to score came ten minutes into the match when Raul Meireles in swinging corner was nodded towards the goal by Cristian Rodríguez but superbly cleared off the lined by Daniel Carriço.

However beyond that attempt, Sporting controlled the majority, albeit only a few reasonable scoring chances. With seven minutes left in the half Porto dodged a bullet as a long cross found Derlei at the corner of the six yard box, to which is headed on to Liédson, who subsequently hit the post from a difficult angle.

At the restart opportunities were few and far between as both sides were not willing to take a risk and go forward and the match ground down to a nil draw.

Leeds back in playoff spot after defeating Scunthorpe 3-2

Leeds promotion hopes improved Saturday afternoon with a 3-2 victory over Scunthorpe United at Elland Road. With the victory the Whites edge into sixth position, one point above Scunthorpe but with an extra match played.

With Luciano Becchio suspended for the match, Simon Grayson paired returning Jermaine Beckford with the young Scot Robert Snodgrass up top and kept Lee Trundle on the bench. However it was the visitors who showed initiative first as Leeds were lacking an early attacking pulse. However two minutes past the half hour Jonny Howson, rightfully back in the starting eleven crossed to Jermaine Beckford, who finished from ten metres out. The margin was doubled six minutes later when Bradley Johnson, who had entered the match for an injured Andy Robinson on the quarter hour, benefited from a opportunistic deflection off Grant McCann. Leeds two goal lead was not long for the afternoon as Scunthorpe's twenty-one year old striker Gary Hooper scored the first of his two goals three minutes before the break when he capitalized on a defending blunder between Casper Ankergren and Ben Parker. Seven minutes after the break, he provided the equalizing goal win a strong run and error-free finish.

Realizing the match was slipping away, Simon Grayson called upon Lee Trundle for Neil Kilkenny two minutes before the hour, which resulted in Robert Snodgrass moving to his correct position on the right win and Fabian Delph to orchestrate from the central position. Nine minutes later the Young Scot provided Jermaine Beckford the opportunity, with the striker making no mistakes from twelve metres. With ten minutes remaining Jonny Howson received his second yellow and was off to the showers. Down a man, Leeds managed to hold on to the 3-2 victory.

Leeds return to play, in a ridiculously flawed scheduling decision, on Monday in a massive match against Oldham.

Barry Ferguson's provides Rangers 1-0 victory over Accies

The Rangers seven match unbeaten continued with a 1-0 victory over the Hamilton Accies thanks to Barry Ferguson's first half goal. With the victory the Gers stay deadlocked with Celtic at the top of the SPL table with sixty points.

As promised Billy Reid’s side put forth a noble effort in an attempt to avenge the 7-1 beating at Ibrox in December. A packed New Douglas Park witnessed a curmudgeonly home side that never relented and fought to the last minute. Walter Smith who was without Pedro Mendes due to a late injury made a surprise decision to hand Maurice Edu and Kyle Lafferty starting duties with the brilliant teen John Fleck resigned to the bench.

The Gers went on the attack from the opening whistle however the Accies young 'keeper Tomáš Černý was both brilliant and possessed good fortune with the posts. The twenty-three year old Czech is growing by leaps and bounds with each match and displayed good leadership on the pitch whilst keeping angles near picture perfect. After thwarting both Kyle Lafferty and Kenny Millers' efforts it became quite clear that the Rangers were going to need something special to breach the goal.

Walter Smith's side finally broke through ten minutes before the break when a poor clearance of a corner provides Barry Ferguson the ball and the skipper, who after getting the ball under control, drives it into the bottom far corner of the net. The Gers continued to attack, fortunate or fate saw Kenny Millers attempt caress the bar before the break. After the restart the young Hamilton 'keeper continued to frustrate the Rangers, none more than Kris Boyd who was played in alone by Steven Davis on the hour but there was no way though. While the Accies pushed for the equalizer behind the support of their fans it was not to be and the match concluded with a 1-0 victory for the Rangers.

Baden-Württembergischen derby

After the tough loss in the UEFA Cup against Zenit Saint Petersburg, VfB make the short trip to Karlsruher SC for the Baden-Württembergischen derby. While near the bottom of the Bundesliga table Edmund Becker's club is far from a pushover and can come up big at home in front of their highly supportive fans as Hamburger SV found out when they defeated them 3-2 last month.

Die Schwaben will be without Yıldıray Baştürk, Matthieu Delpierre and Sebastian Rudy to injury with Khalid Boulahrouz suspended while KSC will miss Maik Franz, Massimilian Porcello and Tim Sebastian.

KSC coach Edmund Becker said before the match:

"This game will be influenced a lot from the outside - in particular through the fans and press. There is no question that it's a special game but I don't see the sort of explosiveness that is being presented from some people. The only thing that matters to us is being as successful as possible. It makes no difference whether it's VfB or any other team.

"After the result against Frankfurt and the defeat to VfB earlier in the season, we will be out to get revenge but I don't wish to guess at the score, that's not for me to do!"

Kashima Antlers start year off right

With the J-League season nearing, the Kashima Antlers started the season off right with a 3-0 defeat of Gamba Osaka at Tokyo National Stadium to win the 2009 Super Cup.

After an early Gamba attack, Oswaldo de Oliveira's side found composure and Blue Samurai Shinzo Koroki netted the first goal only six minutes into the match with a powerful left-footed drive. Only eight minutes later last-years J-League MVP Marquinhos made it 2-0 as the Antlers capitalized on a powerful break down the left side. Long time Kashima veteran Takuya Nozawa sealed the match off six minutes before the break to make it 3-0. Gamba tried to adjust in the second half with a more attacking formation but they couldn't budge the scoreline and Kashima won the Cup 3-0.

Everton finds winning mark over West Brom

It was far from a convincing performance but Everton returned to its winning ways with a 2-0 victory over West Brom at Goodison Park. With a host of injuries, including young Jack Rodwell, Mikel Arteta and Victor Anichebe, David Moyes' starting eleven was clearly running out of sync and it was in-fact the visitors who showed a superiour side early, demonstrating quality touches and good play-making abilities. However West Brom's quality work came crashing down nine minutes before the break. With a total lapse of defending four Everton players strolled into the box unmarked to meet Leighton Baines free-kick and Timmy Cahill came out the winner. Up by one, Everton still lacked to punch it needed and West Brom slowly was gaining momentum and pushing forward. On the hour David Moyes, drew Timmy Cahill into the midfield with Louis Saha coming in for Marouane Fellaini and playing as the sole striker. Ten minutes later the thirty year-old veteran showed a touch of brilliance and closed the match as he accepted the ball twenty-five metres out, drew the ball back with his left foot and then turned to power the ball into the net. Up by two, West Brom fought valiantly on but the match was effectively over for a 2-0 win by Everton.

Geißböcke disappoint with draw

The surge of last weeks 2-1 victory over Bayern München came to a bitter halt as die Geißböcke played a stubborn Arminia Bielefeld to a 1-1 draw. While talk of "dominating" a match mean little when it concludes level, the result is highly frustrating to Herr Daum as Köln should have come out with three points in this match.

After controlling the run of play die Geißböcke opened the scoring at the fifteenth minute when Marvin Matip sent a stunning long pass down the left channel to Fabrice Ehret, who then sent a perfectly placed cross for Portuguese international Petit to powerfully head in from just beyond the spot. The lust for goals continued with Fabrice Ehret's free-kick denied by Arminen 'keeper Dennis Eilhoff midway of the half and Nemanja Vučićević's woeful finishing resulted in a round of missed opportunities starting at the half hour mark. With three minutes remaining before the break, Michael Frontzeck's side made die Geißböcke pay for their wastage as a defensive miscue by Mišo Brečko played the ball to Chris Katongo who drove a curling ball into the net to bring the match level.

At the restart Köln's attacking problems skyrocketed as Milivoje Novakovič was lost to an injury and the hosts were easily controlled going forward by a well disciplined Arminen side. Herr Frontzeck's teaches a classic model of shape and form and not shy of grinding out tough draws and this is precisely what they did as the match concluded to a frustrating 1-1 draw. However die Geißböcke did have their chances with Nemanja Vučićević missing chance after chance, including one from inside the six yard box with less than five minutes remaining.

Man City v West Ham match preview

Following the successful advance in the UEFA Cup over FC København, Manchester City travel to Upton Park Sunday afternoon to face Gianfranco Zola's West Ham. With both clubs looked securely in the mid-table with a chance to squeeze into a Europa League spot, this match is more than just a battle of pride between two old foes from their playing days. Oddly enough though, the background tale of both managers might be more interesting part with many saying the great maestro, Gianfranco Zola, could be the eventual leader of Chelsea as well as the ongoing vultures circling Eastlands for Mark Hughes job. Couple in the return of Craig Bellamy to Upton and this match has all the makings of a Puccini Opera.

For the Hammers the year has been a unique one and equally, one that has quietly echoed the shape of things to come in the sport. After a solid start, their then-manager Alan Curbishley tendered his resignation giving the reason of upper management's transfer policy. Unfortunately Mr. Curbishley, who is one of the most underrated managers in England, did not understand the shaky footing that the sport was standing on and the reality of needing to ratchet down financial demands. Quite possibly he was the one of the public's first signs of a shape of things to come but nonetheless it wasn't long till the flourishing Gianfranco Zola era began at Boleyn Grounds.

What of course makes this match most interesting or at least curious to watch, is the return of Craig Bellamy to Uptown Park. The Welsh striker, who many questioned Mark Hughes' signing-of has been on-fire since joining the Citizens. While the very obvious strong lines of communication between manager and player served as a launching pad for the strikers renewed motivation and his production should be no surprise, he relishes the opportunity to go against his former club.

From City's perspective the match is another opportunity to salvage an otherwise melancholy domestic campaign. A few days past the FC København victory in the UEFA Cup, the Premier League season is a adrift in a sea of mediocrity but equally a spot in the new Europa League is only a few points off. While the Citizens have squandered countless points, returning to European competition is not that far off if they can turn their fortune while playing away from Eastlands.

For the match Mark Hughes will be without Shaun Wright-Phillips, who is in the sin-bin but otherwise fully-fit. The Hammers will be without Wales international James Collins as well as a host of long-term absentee's and Mark Noble under suspension.

PSG welcomes Nancy to Parc des Princes

Following a very fortunate schedule in the first two months of the calendar year, the Parisians are locked into second place of the Ligue 1 table six points off Olympique Lyonnais. However the table has turned now and the schedule takes on a steep climb as face seven matches in the next three weeks including UEFA Cup ties against Braga, Toulouse and ominous Ides of March meeting against l'OM. Couple in foreboding losses of Claude Makélélé and Stéphane Sessegnon to suspension, les Rouge et Bleu know that three points are an absolute must against Pablo Correa's Nancy-Lorraine on Sunday.

For Nancy, the end of February couldn't come sooner as they were without a win and suffered through a series of disappointing finishes that has their long-term manager considering a series of major changes. Looking back to last weeks loss to l'OL, Karim Benzema netted the winning strike in the dying moments just as did David Hellebuyck the week before for Nice and remarkably three weeks prior Jimmy Briand scored with a few minutes remaining to provide Rennais a draw. While Nancy is painfully only four points above the drop zone, this is a very fine team that merely is being victimized by poor focus in the later stages of the match.

For the match Paul Le Guen will have a near fully fit squad. Both Ludovic Giuly and Guillaume Hoarau were well rested against VfL Wolfsburg and should be ready to go, along with Claude Makélélé and Stéphane Sessegnon whose trip to the sin-bin doesn't start to next week.

brilliant photo of Michel Platini during his time for Nancy from L'Equipe

De Friezen defeat PSV 3-2

De Friezen trip to Eindhoven ended with a 3-2 victory over defending champions PSV with a last minute penalty strike by Danijel Pranjić. Trond Sollied's side took the lead fifteen minutes after the opening whistle when Paulo Henrique controlled Viktor Elm pass and quickly sent the ball in. However in a five minute span near the half hour mark Heerenveen were caught off-guard and Balázs Dzsudzsák and Timmy Simons quickly gave PSV the 2-1 lead. The match settled down till just after the break when Friezen found the equalizer at the fifty-first minute as Paulo Henrique capitalized on a defending error. PSV was shaken and appeared were pushed on their heels with Arnór Smárason and Roy Beerens' attacking vision. With the match looking like it was heading for a draw a lightening fast Heerenveen counter-attack resulted in Jason Culina being red-carded and the spot pointed-to for his foul on Danijel Pranjić in the area. Calm and collected Philips Stadion was quieted as the former Dinamo Zagreb man sent the ball into the net for the 3-2 victory.

LFP hands down suspensions

The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) has handed down suspensions to Claude Makélélé and Stéphane Sessegnon regarding their actions in the recent match against Saint-Étienne. While difficult losses for the Parisians, they were both expected and highly warranted.

Against Saint-Étienne, Stéphane Sessegnon retaliated against Blaise Matuidi's hard foul with an obvious head-butt while Claude Makélélé launched into a deplorable two footed tackle against Yohan Benalouane that could have caused a serious injury.

Their respective suspensions will commence on Monday with Stéphane Sessegnon out for three matches and Claude Makélélé out for two. Unfortunately this is highly costly loss as les Rouge et Bleu will be without Stéphane Sessegnon in their crucial match against l'OM at Parc des Princes on March 15.

Dragões welcome Sporting

Following the mid-week draw against Atlético de Madrid in the Champions League, Porto welcome Sporting to Estádio do Dragão in a massive Liga clash.

For Sporting this is not only a chance to pull them within a point of the Azuis e brancos but equally rebound from a dreadful 5-0 drubbing by Bayern München on Wednesday. That result does not go unnoticed and if anything is likely to motivate them even greater to respond with a top-shelf performance. Paulo Bento is without Montenegrin international Simon Vukčević, Hélder Postiga, Rui Patrício and Miguel Veloso.

Jesualdo Ferreira has called upon Andrés Madrid for his first Liga match with both Tricolorii capped Cristian Săpunaru and Jorge Fucile both out with injuries. Prior to the match Hulk noted his respect for Sporting:

"I don’t believe in a fragile Sporting, they’re a good side and I’m sure it will be a great match.

"I don’t think we’re in advantage for this match just because Sporting was defeated in the Champions League. We also are somehow frustrated with the result of the Madrid’s game and, in addition, the classical matches never have favourites. I just hope our fans come to the stadium to support us."

Marching on Together: Leeds v Scunthorpe match preview

Leeds welcome Scunthorpe United to Elland Road Saturday afternoon in a massive six-point affair. With a win the Whites could find themselves back into the drivers seat for a playoff spot and draw level with Oldham Athletic.

Simon Grayson will have Jermaine Beckford back in the lineup but Argentine maestro Lucciano Becchio is suspended. Robert Snodgrass is likely to get the starting nod although new signing Mike Grella has impressed in reserve match and could figure with the young Scot taking his rightful place on the wing. Andy Hughes and Frazer Richardson are both hobbled up and Jonathan Douglas is a likely replacement at right-back.

Nigel Adkins' Scunthorpe are an absolute pain to watch from a defending side on the road and in the midst of the three-match losing side that has their supporters ready to hear the reading of the Riot Act. Should they regain their focus and benefit from a number of players returning from injury, they are a serious threat to come out of the playoff battle and win promotion. Leeds will need to pay careful attention to Gary Hooper and Paul Hayes as they are more than capable of littering the nets.

Heerenveen sinks PSV with late goal

Heerenveen sealed a come from behind 3-2 win over PSV at Philips Stadion with late goal by Danijel Pranjić. With the loss PSV tumbles to fifth in the Eredivisie table and now faces a "must-win" match next week against Twente.

From last weeks starting eleven against FC Groningen, PSV manager Dwight Lodeweges recalled Oranje capped Danny Koevermans in favour of Ola Toivonen, who returned from suspension. The Friezen side started fast as only fifteen minutes in Viktor Elm fed the highly promising teen prospect Paulo Henrique the ball and the Brazilian quickly sent the ball past Andreas Isaksson. Down by one PSV hunted for the equalizer and after coming close with Ibrahim Afellay's effort, Balázs Dzsudzsák redirected Nordin Amrabat's cross four minutes before the half hour. Billowing with confidence the defending champions took the lead only five minutes later when Timmy Simons poached on the rebound of Ibrahim Afellay's drive.

After the break poor defending allowed the visitors to level the match six minutes after the restart with Paulo Henrique collecting a poor clearance and adding his second of the night. With the match going back and forth, PSV came close to finding the winner, however each was to no avail. Finally, deep into added, Jason Culina was shown a straight red-card for fouling Danijel Pranjić in the area. Without hesitation the Croatian international drove the ball into the net giving SC Heerenveen the 3-2 victory.

Everton's chance to rebound

After last weeks unsatisfying draw to Newcastle, relegation threatened West Brom come to Goodison Park to face the Toffees.

With Mikel Arteta now out for at least six months with knee surgery and Victor Anichebe for at least three weeks, David Moyes has his hands full tactically. In addition Jack Rodwell, who has worked himself into being a constant in the starting eleven, is doubtful for the match as is Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar and Louis Saha.

On the positive side Marouane Fellaini is ready to go and both Timmy Cahill and Tony Hibbert return from suspensions.

Rangers v Hamilton Accies match preview

Following Motherwell's holding of Celtic last week, the Rangers find themselves at the top of the table as they face the Hamilton Accies on Saturday at New Douglas Park.

After an early season swoon Billy Reid's side is in the midst of a six match unbeaten streak and relish the opportunity to pay the 'Gers back for the 7-1 beating at Ibrox when the score was unquestionably ran up with three goals in the final ten minutes. While the Accies manager has made note of his sides improvement since that match and their short-term goals of finishing in the top half of the table, they are highly motivated to see the Rangers out of first place.

On the injury front Walter Smith is without Pedro Mendes, Nacho Novo, DaMarcus Beasley and Lee McCulloch for the match. The 'Gers manager complimented the opposition prior to the match, saying:

"I think when you look at Hamilton at the start of the season they were in a situation where they had just achieved two very consistent seasons in the First Division.

"They had just missed out on promotion two years ago and then got it last season so they were coming into the Premier League in good shape.

"That showed in the early games of the season when they were full of enthusiasm and achieved some good results.

"There was a period where they dropped down again but the changes that Billy Reid has made have been significant ones and it has been a terrific bit of management by him.

"His changes have been really good ones and he has got them into a position where they looking to push for a top six position which would be a fantastic achievement.

"We went one down the last time we went to Hamilton so we know that Saturday lunchtime is a very big date for us.

"I have been impressed with a lot of their players - and not just the young ones. I think you have to look at the team overall and they have done very well.

"It's their teamwork and togetherness that has got them through and as I said Billy deserves a lot of credit."

Friday, February 27, 2009

96 will show NO FEAR

Following last weeks loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach, 96 face Leverkusen at AWD-Arena in need of a win. Only two points above the drop zone, Dieter Hecking is taking the task saying, "we are showing no fear." He will be without Mike Hanke, Altin Lala and Chavdar Yankov for the match while Leverkusen will miss Tomasz Zdebel as well as Henrique and Gonzalo Castro on suspension.

In their first meeting of the year Leverkusen anniliated 96 4-0 as Patrick Helmes, Stefan Kießling and Renato Augusto were left unchecked. Singling out the trio, Herr Heckling noted how they must ensure they are marked tightly in the tough fight out of the bottom of the table.

searching for first place against Dortmund

After the disappointment of last weeks draw against Stuttgart, 1899 Hoffenheim travel to face Borussia Dortmund on Saturday afternoon. The match is a difficult test against one of the Bundesliga's toughest defensive units.

However Ralf Rangnick has the luxury of both Timo Hildebrand und Chinedu Obasi back although Marvin Compper will sit out to the suspension. Herr Rangnick has given no indication on tactical formation as he has been bouncing back and forth with a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 and is likely to face a tight 4-4-2 "diamond" by BVB coach Jürgen Klopp. BVB is hampered with the loss of Jakub Błaszczykowski, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Mats Hummels, Dedê and Lee Young-Pyo as well dealing with questionable involvement of Tinga, Mohamed Zidan and Sebastian Kehl.

With first place Hamburg welcoming Wolfsburg, a team rarely able to win on the road, 1899 is in-need of a full three points to remain close in the race. On the opposite end is BVB's unremarkable unbeaten streak at home that includes eight draws in eleven matches.

tricky match against 96 ahead

Werkself's visit of Hannover 96 is one of the trickier encounters as their opposition is far better than their lower table performance shows. Although many tabbed 96 to threaten the top six, the have been slaughtered with injuries and now only three points out of the relegation zone. Combined with their inability to win on the road, Bruno Labbadia is expecting a bitter fight for points tomorrow afternoon.

The Werkself coach said of 96:

“Hannover will play a disciplined game up front. They won’t throw everything into attack but instead wait for mistakes and it’s up to us to keep these to a minimum. We’ve got 13 matches left and there are no easy games amongst them. It’s all about qualifying for Europe and we can’t afford to drop any points.”

Lukas Sinkiewicz and Hans Sarpei will step in for Gonzalo Castro and Henrique are both suspended for the match. Tomasz Zdebel will miss out but Toni Kroos is expected to see his first action for Werkself. Key area to watch in this match is how Tranquillo Barnetta tries to spring Patrick Helmes and Stefan Kießling free against what is potentially a very disciplined group of defenders.

We have a score to settle!

Heading into Saturday afternoons important battle against 1899 at the Westfalenstadion, die Schwarzgelben coach Jürgen Klopp made it clear his side is not in an optimal health situation:

"We have to work with what we have available."

The start of the Rückrunde has been below expectations and BVB is still without a victory, along with four draws. The loss of Jakub Błaszczykowski has been very damaging as the attacking pulse has been absent with they yet to score more than once in a match since the restart.

Although Jürgen Klopp will miss the Polish international Kuba, Dedê, Mats Hummels and Kevin-Prince Boateng to injury, in addition to Lee Young-Pyo serviing suspended, Mohamed Zidan, Tinga and Sebastian Kehl have shaken off injuries and will be available.

Jürgen Klopp said of 1899:

"We have to work hard against the ball. You have to dispossess them at the right time and if you then move the ball into space, you won´t have many opposing players in front of you.

"We have to match them physically, because Hoffenheim go into every tackle like there´s no tomorrow."

Possibly those the plan was best summarized by Tamás Hajnal when he alluded to the early season defeat by 1899:

"We have a score to settle!"

Eintracht looks to build on victory

Following last weeks victory over Karlsruhe, Eintracht has gained important breathing room on the bottom of the table. With Schalke visit of the Waldstadion die Adler will need to be on top of their game and have the typical strong support from the stands to come out with full points.

Injuries continue to plague Eintracht coach Friedhelm Funkel as both Nikos Liberopoulos and Martin Fenin have been out of the training the last few days and the final decision on availability will come prior to the match. It is too early for
Zlatan Bajramović, Christoph Preuß, Christoph Spycher and Ioannis Amanaditis but Austrian international Ümit Korkmaz is a strong possibility.

When asked of Schalke's strength in his pre-match press conference, Herr Funkel emphasized their aerial ability:

"With Kurányi, Westermann, Bordon, Höwedes, Engelaar and Rakitić they have very stronog and good aerial players."

Borussia challenge in Berlin

Needing a big turnaround in the Rückrunde, Borussia have answered the call and are undefeated in three matches. However Saturday afternoon's trip east to Berlin will be one of their most difficult challenges as Hertha BSC have won their last seven matches at home and know a victory is important if they are to remain in the championship hunt.

To complicate matters for Hans Meyer's return to Berlin, where he triumphantly lead them to safety five years ago, he may be without Tomáš Galásek for the match due to a stomach flu. The addition of the Czech holding midfielder from Banik Ostrava this past December has paid rich dividends and his absence will cause significant strain on defending tactics. Jean-Sébastien Jaurès and Dante are sill unavailable and Moses Lamidi, who has shown well in training, will make the trip.

The Berliners will have Josip Šimunić available but Sofian Chahed, Serbian international Marko Pantelić, Łukasz Piszczek and Fabian Lustenberger are all out.

Christoph Daum urges Geißböcke to stay grounded

Following last weeks 2-1 victory over Bayern München, Köln coach Christoph Daum is urging die Geißböcke to stay focused. Demanding a realistic vision towards the year, he emphasized the need for steady play against Arminia Bielefeld. Calling the win over a the Bavarian's a "highlight", he added, "we cannot either over-rate it or use it to measure ourselves."

Concern over Arminia Bielefeld is warranted as they come out fighting since the start of the Rückrunde, upsetting Werder Bremen as well as holding top tier clubs Dortmund and Hertha BSC to draws. Christoph Daum called them one of the best teams in the league since the restart and will focus upon disciplined and patient play.

Pierre Wome and Ümit Özat are still out for die Geißböcke. Arminen will miss Rüdiger Kauf to suspension but also dealing with late decisions on goalkeepers Rowen Fernández and Dennis Eilhoff.

De Tukkers now out of UEFA Cup

De Tukkers UEFA Cup hopes ended against Olympique de Marseille, losing out to penalties. After winning in the Marseille 1-0, Twente returned home but could not add to the lead with Ben Arfa leveling the match twenty-four minutes into the match. The Ligue 1 side started very quickly but were held back. Marko Arnautović flourished for Twente, creating and coming close but still never able to break through. Later in the match Cheik Tioté drive from the edge of the area looked to be headed-in before Marseille 'keeper Steve Mandanda pushed it wide. Still with three minutes left in extra time Youssouf Hersi pounded the goal post and the match went to a shoot-out. Finally after sixteen attempts, with Marseille winning 7-6, Twente's UEFA Cup effort came to an end.

Werder stunning comeback!

Down by two goals with only thirty minutes remaining the Green Whites stunned a smallish crowd at San Siro to play AC Milan to a 2-2 draw. With the result, Werder advances to the next round and will now face Saint-Etienne of Ligue 1.

After falling behind 2-0 on Andrea Pirlo and Alexandre Pato first half goals, it appeared Werder was headed for a sad ending. However after the break Werder was attacking relentlessly and eight minutes past the hour Diego's free kick into the area was nodded in by Claudio Pizarro to make it 2-1. Ten minutes later the miracle comeback continued as Sebastian Boenisch was headed in by Pizza to level the match. Although ahead by the aggregate, Werder came close to finding the outright winner but the match ended without further score, sending Thomas Schaaf's club forward.

Metalist Kharkiv moves to next round of UEFA Cup against Dynamo

With a confident 2-0 win over Sampdoria, Metalist Kharkiv has advanced to next round of UEFA Cup and will now go up against Dynamo Kyiv. After holding a one goal advantage the Zhovto-Syn continued to attack at home and were rewarded with first-half goals by Ukraine international Serhiy Valyayev and Jajá.

Myron Markevych’s club was definitely feeling confident as they came out quick to the attack with two early efforts drifting off-course. However Valyayev made no mistake on the half hour off a nice one-two as he finished from just beyond the spot. Ten minutes later Jajá’s free-kick from twenty-five metres put the match out of reach 2-0.

PSV v SC Heerenveen match preview

Following last weeks 1-0 victory over FC Groningen via Danko Lazović's last second strike, PSV stands fourth in the Eredivisie table, six points behind Twente in the final Champions League spot. Hopeful to return to the premier tournament PSV welcome a surging SC Heerenveen to Philips Stadion on Friday night.

Dwight Lodeweges has a fully-fit squad available to him, including Ola Toivonen who returns from the sin-bin. The manager said of his choices:

"It’s nice we have a full-strength squad available. Toivonen put in convincing displays before he served a two-match ban and Danny Koevermans as well as Danko Lazović have shown their quality when they deputised up front. We have a large squad but it’s important that the players know what they’re up to."

Of the opposition he added:

“Heerenveen have a style of play similar to AZ. They’ve been playing attacking football the past few seasons. FC Groningen have the ability to play more opportunistic football. (Last week) We scored the winner at the death, seconds before the final whistle went. It was a vital goal and an important win. But tomorrow night’s game is another vital one as we embark upon a series of five crucial games."

CSKA Moskva advances to round of sixteen

The Zico era of CSKA Moskva continues to motor on as they defeated Aston Villa 2-0 at Luzhniki Stadium. With the victory the Army-Men advance to the round of sixteen against Shakhtar Donetsk on March 12.

While Martin O'Neill sat many of his regulars, Villa gave teens Nathan Delfouneso, Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan an opportunity to shine and they did not disappoint with a hearty performance. After shutting down the Army-Men for the first hour Russian international Yuri Zhirkov scored via a clever play from a set-piece. With the one goal margin, Villa was exposed in the back and in the dying moments Vágner Love added the second goal from Miloš Krasić's provision.

Craig Bellamy leads City to victory

On the strength of Craig Bellamy's two late goals, Manchester City defeated FC København 2-1 in the UEFA Cup. With the victory the Citizens will now face Danish side Aalborg BK in the round of sixteen which commences on March 12.

For the majority of the match both sides were clearly worried about leaving themselves open to the counter and were lacking in attacking zeal. When openings did occur finishing was not up to snuff until. However with seventeen minutes remaining Craig Bellamy took matters into his own hands as he got on the end of Stephen Ireland's provision and dispatched the ball into the net after fighting off the København defenders. With the one goal advantage the Wales international continued his stunning goal scoring spree since joining Mark Hughes side, as with ten minutes remaining he redirected Robinho's pass from close range. Danish international Martin Vingaard added his name with a consolation goal deep into added time but it mattered little as the match ended with a solid 2-1 victory for City.

Le Magnifique Rouge et Bleu

In a shockingly easy fashion, Paris Saint-Germain defeated VfL Wolfsburg 3-1 in Volkswagen Arena. Handing the German club their first loss at home this year, the Parisians now advance to the round of sixteen where they will face SC Braga on March 12.

While Wolfsburg attacked, each effort was held back and slowly Paul Le Guen's side gained confidence. With seven minuted left in the half Jan Šimůnek was adjudged for bringing down Jérôme Rothen in the area and the spot was pointed to. Calmly Péguy Luyindula stepped up and gave les Rouge et Bleu the lead they would not relinquish. On the hour Jérôme Rothen scored from the edge of the area on an absolutely foul piece of defending that should embarrass Wolfsburg as he was left unmarked before finishing with a brilliantly placed drive. Japan international Makoto Hasebe drew one back three minutes later and he powered into the box. However the two goal margin was restored at the seventy-third minute when following a poor challenge by Andrea Barzagli on Péguy Luyindula a free-kick was awarded. Clément Chantôme's strike was flicked in the net by Péguy Luyindula for his second of the night to take the match to a 3-1 conclusion.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Zenit Saint Petersburg advance in UEFA Cup

Defending UEFA Cup champions Zenit Saint Petersburg advance in the UEFA Cup after 2-1 victory over VfB Stuttgart at the Neckarstadion. With the victory Dick Advocaat's side will now advance against Udinese of Serie A with the opening match on March 12.

The victory for Zenit was hard fought as the German Bundesliga side put up a great fight but owe much of their demise to bad finishing before the break. After the home side had controlled much of the run of the play, Zenit took the lead two minutes before the break when Danni's cross was sent to the back of the net by Igor Semshov who was just outside of the six yard box. With clear defensive mission in mind, Zenit was holding on the lead when Timo Gebhart brought the home supporters to their feet as he equalized the match. However four minutes before the whistle, poor defending by VfB left 'keeper Jens Lehmann in a precarious position resulting in Danni crossing to Russian international Viktor Faitzulin, who subsequently turned the ball into the net.

poor effort ends Wolfsburg UEFA Cup run

Although Felix Magath promised a top-notch effort by Wolfsburg in the return match against Paris Saint-Germain in Volkswagen Arena, it failed to materialize as die Wölfe embarrassed themselves with a positively dreadful performance in route to a 3-1 humiliation.

With PSG manager Paul Le Guen taking a calculated risk by leaving Claude Makélélé, Ludovic Giuly and Guillaume Hoarau out of the lineup, Wolfsburg had a clear-cut opportunity to make up for the two goal deficit from the opening leg. However after a missed early chances, Wolfsburg was rarely a threat going forward and the visitors dominated a pithy performance by the home side. PSG took the lead thirty-eight minutes into the match when Péguy Luyindula converted from the spot, following Jan Šimůnek being adjudged to bringing down Jérôme Rothen. The margin was doubled on the hour in a amateurish piece of defending as an unmarked and unchallenged Jérôme Rothen scored from the edge of the area. Three minutes later Makoto Hasebe showed great heart and he cut the margin in half as he overpowered the Parisians defenders and he went into the box. Ten minutes later poor defending cost resulted in PSG's third coal as Clément Chantôme’s free-kick was nodded in by Péguy Luyindula to bring the match to its final 3-1 conclusion.

Wolfsburg returns to play on Sunday against Hamburger SV.

Schwaben need twelfth man

Fans of attacking Football will be treated to quite the clash today as die Schwaben welcome Zenit Saint Petersburg to the Neckarstadion. With the opening leg ending 2-1 in frozen Saint Petersburg, VfB can quickly close the margin and take advantage of the "away" goal.

The defending champions will be hampered with the loss of Radek Šírl and Anatoliy Tymoschuk to suspension along with Tomáš Hubočan and Nicolas Lombaerts to injury. Markus Babbel will miss Yildiray Bastürk, Arthur Boka and Matthieu Delpierre and Ludovic Magnin is questionable due to a very heavy cold.

Prior to the match Marcus Babbel said:

"We can go into the game with the comforting knowledge that we are always capable of getting a goal. If we are to do that though, we will have to go into this game with the same attitude and with the same mentality that we approached the Hoffenheim game in, but at the same time, we must put a stop to our individual mistakes.

"I appeal to everyone, despite the late kick-off time and the live television broadcasting of the match, to come to the stadium and support us. We could really do with that twelfth man!"

Green Whites look for redemption

Within a difficult year, the Green Whites have a chance for a bit of redemption at San Siro today in their UEFA Cup match against AC Milan.

After a 1-1 draw at Weserstadion last week, the Serie A club holds a distinct advantage with the away goal. However their coach, Carlo Ancelotti, is claiming they have "could" be down to one striker Fillipo Inzaghi as Andriy Shevchenko, Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho are questionable.

Arriving Milan, Werder was notably quiet and focused on the match. Klaus Allofs said:

"We definitely did not tell them to keep quiet. But maybe that was already the concentration of the game that we felt.

"I am confident that we will play a good game. Whether it's enough to reach the next round we will have to see," said the manager, who assumes it will do the team good being underdogs.

Thomas Schaaf is without Tim Wiese, giving Christian Vander a chance to step into goalkeeping duties and will also miss Jurica Vranješ. Torsten Frings back from suspension as Werder will look to drive forward for a important win.

In an odd note, apparently local fans aren't very interested in this match as only 15,000 tickets have been sold.

Zenit Saint Petersburg v VfB Stuttgart match preview

Defending UEFA Cup champions travel to Germany holding a narrow 2-1 advantage over VfB Stuttgart. Most troubling to Dick Advocaat's side is the "away" goal VfB scored at Petrovsky Stadium and they cannot afford to be too cautious. To complicate matters for Zenit, Ukrainian international Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Radek Šírl are both suspended along with long-term injuries Tomáš Hubočan and Nicolas Lombaerts and 'keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev is questionable. VfB is without Matthieu Delpierre, Arthur Boka and Yildiray Bastürk and Ludovic Magnin is questionable with a bad cold. With good conditions at Neckarstadion, the match is expected to be highly attacking affair as both sides look to advance.

Manchester City v FC København match preview

Following a disappointing 2-2 draw in the opening match, the Citizens welcome FC København to Eastlands looking to secure their way to the final sixteen of the UEFA Cup. With Man City locked at tenth in the Premier League table and well off pace for a Europa League spot, this years competition is prioritized to domestic play.

Mark Hughes said of the match:

"We have a few injury concerns but we'd rather get the job done and put the game to bed than go the other way.

"You might think you can go with a weaker team and keep personnel in reserve hoping that you don't need them. But invariably, at some point you do need them, and I'd rather go the other way."

The Citizens are also the beneficiary of scheduling as København return to Danish Superliga action against bitter foes Brøndby IF. However København manager Ståle Solbakken is not about to go easy into the night and promises a tough battle:

"We will be better tomorrow than we were last week.

"That late goal at Parken obviously gives us a chance.

"It would be interesting to face Aalborg, another Danish team, in the next round but we have a tough task first and must try to do our job in the second leg. But this is a bonus game for us before our season restarts on Monday."

For the match, Mark Hughes will have Vincent Kompany available, although he has been dealing with a problematic toe injury. Shaun Wright-Phillips, suspended domestically, is available in European competition but will undergo a late fitness test regarding a ankle injury.

Man City will need to be at their best as the Danish side knows how to play a tough defensive match and last weeks match helped them work through the rustiness of inactivity.

PSG v Wolfsburg match preview

After stumbling through the early stages of the UEFA Cup, Paris Saint-Germain travels to Wolfsburg holding a distinct two goal advantage after defeating the German side at Parc des Princes last week.

Wolfsburg is coming off a spectacular victory over Hertha Berlin on the weekend and yet to lose at home. However they will need to overcome a two goal disadvantage and les Rouge et Bleu will unquestionably take a more defensive approach as they look to nullify Wolfsburg's high-scoring duo of Edin Džeko and Zvjezdan Misimović. Equally they home side will need to go forward in the match without the services of Brazilian striker Grafite who is out with a knee injury. Paul Le Guen is without Claude Makélélé for the match ahead of Sundays clash against Nancy and will likely use Larrys Mabiala in his place.

Prior to the match Ceará acknowledged Lique 1 is the club's priority:

"The board and the coaching staff have made it clear that Ligue 1 is our priority. We want to show that we're strong and in the hunt in the league and then after that, we have two other parallel competitions to play in.

"Obviously we want to go as far as we can in all the competitions and that's why we still have to play well on Thursday to qualify for the last-16 of the UEFA Cup. But the number one goal is still the league championship and we want to hold onto this second place."

Should the Parisians advance they will face the winner of Standard de Liège v SC Braga, with the Portuguese side most likely as they hold a three goal advantage.

CSKA Moskva v Aston Villa match preview

CSKA Moskva welcome Aston Villa to Luzhniki Stadium in the second leg of the UEFA Cup. Following the first match that ended in a 1-1 draw the Army-Men are in the drivers seat and are the "beneficiaries" of a questionable 'Villa lineup. Clearly Martin O'Neill has prioritized domestic play for his side as left Gabriel Agbonlahor, Gareth Barry, Carlos Cuellar, Brad Friedel, Emile Heskey, James Milner, Stiliyan Petrov and Ashley Young out of his squad list.

Of his lineup choices Martin O'Neill said:

"We are not giving up. People sound defeatist. We are going to go there and try to win the game.

"It will be difficult of course. It would have been even if we went with every single player in the squad. But we will go and try and win the game.

"It's now an opportunity for players to prove themselves. But it's not as if we are going in with untried and untested stars.

"We have some really capable players - as we showed in Prague. I'm sure they will step up to the mark again.

"We should look forward to the challenge. You hear talk and you'd think we are beaten already. That wouldn't be my view."

While I understand his decision, it is the fan that suffers because this will definitely not be 'Villa's best starting eleven and it cause a significant tactical adjustment. As the sport grapples with immense financial constraints it needs to consider matters such as these because scheduling needs to be adjusted such that reserve sides are not being fielded in this type of competition.

For the Army-Men Zico has a full lineup available and is very aware the Aston Villa is in need of an away goal. He has stated that he has no reason to rush towards the goal and will adjust his tactic's accordingly. His only decision is whether to go with Deividas Šemberas or young Russian starlet Pavel Mamayev. A victory will see them through to play Tottenham v Shakhtar Donetsk.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dragões gain advantage over Atlético de Madrid

Os Dragões gained a strong advantage over Atlético de Madrid with a 2-2 draw at Vicente Calderón and sit on the verge of moving to the next stage of the Champions League.

The match started rough for the visiting Porto as Maxi Rodríguez gave Atlético the lead three minutes as slipped behind lax defending efforts to receive Sergio Aguero well-weighted ball to power the ball behind Porto 'keeper Helton. However Lisandro López leveled the match midway the half after he was left unmarked in a poor defensive moment. Sloppy defending continued as Diego Forlán gave the home side the lead before the break as his harmless shot skipped through the Helton's mitts and into the net. After the break, Porto had a number of opportunities to bring the match even but stubborn home side held strong. Finally with eighteen minutes remaining Lisandro López found the much needed equalizer when he turned in Aly Cissokho's perfect cross. While Os Dragões pressured for the winning strike, it could not be found and the match concluded as a 2-2 draw.

Porto returns to action this Saturday in a showdown against Sporting.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Werkself loses to Hamburg

Düsseldorf hasn't been kind to Werkself as they lost 2-1 to Hamburg Sunday afternoon. While able to control most of the run of play, Hamburg took the lead after eighteen minutes when José Guerrero sent the ball back to Marcell Jansen in the penalty area before sending his shot past René Adler into the Bayer 04 net. However ten minutes later German international Patrick Helmes scored his sixteen goal of the year as he redirected Manuel Friedrich’s cross from ten metres out into the net. The attacking push of Werkself was under-wraps for much of the match typically came through the tireless work of Renato Augusto. That withstanding Hamburg disappointed the home supporters with twenty-three minutes remaining as Marcell Jansen scored his second of the day when he volleyed José Guerrero's provision in from the six yard box to give them the 2-1 victory.

Beyond the dropped points the match was also costly as both Gonzalo Castro and Henrique received what is their fifth yellow card of the season and will now Saturday’s tricky match against Hannover 96.

De Tukkers over Sparta

De Tukkers visit to Rotterdam concluded with a 2-1 victory over Sparta thanks to Theo Janssen's goal in added time.

Certainly feeling fatigue from the mid-week match against Marseille in the UEFA Cup, Twente's energy level was low. However fortune seemed to fall their way as Sander van Gessel turned in Eljero Elia cross for an own goal after only four minutes. Serbian international Slobodan Rajković was adjudged for a hand ball thirty minutes in and Ruud Knol leveled from the spot. For the balance of the match most of the attacking aspect was that of Steve McClaren’s side however Sparta had done well and deserving of a draw. In a shocking conclusion, in added time Theo Janssen sent a speculative shot from beyond thirty-five metres that somehow evaded Sparta 'keeper Cássio and give Twente the 2-1 victory.

Feyenoord over De Graafschap 2-0

Following last weeks loss to Ajax, Feyenoord responded with a 2-0 defeat of De Graafschap. Breathing a sigh of relief, Leon Vlemmings’ club moves up to eleventh place in the table.

After a scoreless opening half the Rotterdammers took the lead with Karim El Ahmadi scoring nine minutes after the break with Jon Dahl Tomasson adding the second deep into added time. Feyenoord started fast with Georginio Wijnaldum nearly finding the net barely thirty seconds in but following that chance, De Graafschap defensive was impossible to penetrate. Finally after the break it was Karim El Ahmadi who broke the deadlock as he scored from the edge of the area. At the hour Ben Sahar came close for De Graafschap and while just missing it woke his side up as they continued to pressure. However there was no beating Henk Timmer and with the match nearing conclusion Jon Dahl Tomasson made it 2-0 from close range.

Newcastle plays Everton to scoreless draw

Throughout a season plagued with talks of collapse and even relegation, matches such as these serve as a trigger point to a better future. Against all odds Newcastle held Everton, who are buoyed with hopes of European competition, to a scoreless draw.

With an injury list that includes Michael Owen, Andy Carroll, Danny Guthrie, Ignacio González, Xisco, Habib Beye and Joey Barton, Newcastle played a thoroughly curmudgeonly style, didn't give up a blade of grass and earned the point with exclamation. The draw leaves the Magpies at fourteenth in the table, five points above the all-important drop zone.

A series of attacking advances early by Everton were dealt with 'keeper Steve Harper, although few advances were made by Newcastle. The noble effort was put to the test when Kevin Nolan was shown a direct red-card for a unprofessional foul on Victor Anichebe just before the break.

After the break Chris Hughton called upon Jonás Gutiérrez for Damien Duff and before the hour Oba Martins returned to the fold, replacing Shola Ameobi. While both sides were able to create some space in the final forty-five, the final touches were lacking and the match concluded without a score. Beyond the positive result, Newcastle supporters are encouraged with the return of Oba Martins and Alan Smith making his debut this year as he entered for Peter Løvenkrands with thirteen minutes remaining.

Newcastle returns to action next Saturday against Bolton.

Citizens hold strong at Anfield

Pushing forward with pride, Manchester City held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield. With the draw the Citizens sit firmly mid-table at tenth but effectively snuff-out Liverpool's championship hopes as they are now a distant seven points behind Manchester United. Following the disappointing draw in the UEFA Cup draw against FC København, this match has the potential to reaffirm City's intentions and a foundation to build upon.

With everything to play for Liverpool came out inspired and took the match to City. However defending for Mark Hughes side was near flawless and what wasn't dealt with properly was held back by Shay Given confidently. At the half hour City let go a golden chance to take the lead when Robinho's provision to Stephen Ireland was denied by Liverpool 'keeper Pepe Reina. Following that effort, the home side returned to being the aggressor and whilst they knocked at the door, the match went to the break without a score.

Four minutes after the restart, City took the lead as Robinho and Vincent Kompany linked up to provide the ball Craig Bellamy, with the Wales international effort taking a opportunistic deflection off Álvaro Arbeloa into the net. Up by one, City grew in confidence however Dirk Kuyt leveled the match when he drove home Yossi Benayoun cross into the box. Liverpool continued to throw forward for the winning goal but the Citizens defending was up to the challenge and the match concluded as a 1-1 draw.

Rossoblu overcome Napoli 1-0

The Rossoblu overcame Napoli 1-0 in a close fought match with Serbian international Boško Janković providing the lone goal of the match with twenty-one minutes remaining. With the victory Genoa maintain fifth place in the table, tucked between Fiorentina above and Roma, a single point below.

Unfortunately one of the last memories of the match will be those in attendance at
Stadio San Paolo who seemed to relish the opportunity to rain down jeers and whistles and Edoardo Reja's Azzurri. Hardly supporters, a subtle error was attacked voraciously and the home side seemed more fearful to go forward for victory and were drained of self-confidence. Equally this was clearly not a day of genius for Genoa as the attacking trident of Diego Militom, Raffaele Palladino and Giandomenico Mesto were barely a threat.

With little attacking resolve to note after the restart Gian Piero Gasperini pulled the pin, calling upon Giuseppe Sculli and former Crvena zvezda man Boško Janković. Napoli continued to sputter going forward but showed noble character limiting Genoa's efforts. Finally in a very by-chance event, with twenty-one minutes remaining Thiago Motta sent the ball to the extraordinary Serbian, Janković, who went in alone on Nicolás Navarro and drove the ball into the net from just beyond the spot, giving Genoa the 1-0 lead. While Azzurri made a number of tactical moves looking for the right elixir it was not to be found and the match concluded without further incident.

Genoa returns to Serie A play next Sunday against Siena.

Santos defeats Monterrey 2-0

Monterrey's winning streak came to an end as they fell 2-0 to Santos. In a surprise move Víctor Manuel Vucetich left Osvaldo Martínez and Humberto Suazo on the bench at the start with William Paredes and Luis Sandoval in their place.

It didn't take long before the home side took the lead as Fernando Arce drove the ball past Jonathan Orozco five minutes in. The attacking trio of Walter Ayoví, Luis Sandoval and Aldo De Nigris created a series of opportunities through to the break however all efforts fell short. At the break Osvaldo Martínez entered the match but Santos doubled the lead nine minutes in with Juan Pablo Santiago capitalizing on Daniel Emmanuel Ludueña's provision. Chupete was called upon on three minutes before the hour in an effort to bring the Rayados back into the match but they fell short with a 2-0 defeat.

Unfortunately the match was marred with a series of unsavoury fan disturbances that is likely to draw action by by the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación (FMF).

Everton drops important points

Seemingly beaten and the subject of relegation talk, Newcastle handed Everton a tough nil draw even though they played a man down after Kevin Nolan was red-carded for a disgusting hatchet job on Victor Anichebe.

The match wasn't even five minutes in when Mikel Arteta was stretchered off as injured his knee in a challenge of Danish international Peter Løvenkrands. Segundo Castillo came in for the injured midfielder and fit in seamlessly. Near the twentieth minute Joseph Yobo's header was pulled off the line by Sébastien Bassong and later, young Jack Rodwell came close. Slowly Newcastle pulled out of its shell and started to threaten however Tim Howard was on form held attempts back. Just before the break Kevin Nolan was done for the day with a two footed challenge Victor Anichebe, who had to be replaced by a less-than healthy Marouane Fellaini at the restart. The Toffees dominated the run of play but were unable to find a route through the final third and the match ended deadlocked without a score.

Following the match, David Moyes talked of the injuries and Kevin Nolan's despictable challenge:

"It's been a bit of disappointing day because of the result, because of not getting the three points and because of the injuries to Mikel Arteta and Victor Anichebe.

"Mikel has gone back for a scan and we'll know maybe more tonight (Sunday) - but we're not expecting good news, that's for sure.

"Injuries are part of football but what we'll miss is that we don't have the squad or numbers to do it.

"You've got to have the numbers, and that's where our problem comes.

"I just felt we didn't really flow, we didn't have the rhythm we've had in recent weeks and what I've come to expect. I felt we were patching up, hoping to get the victory. But we didn't have the fluency we've had in recent weeks and months."

Regarding Kevin Nolan:

"It was a definite red card. I've not known Kevin to be that type of player, so we've got to take that and move on. I don't think players meaningfully go out to hurt anybody, but it was undoubtedly a bad tackle and it was rightly given a red card."

Schwaben play to draw against 1899

VfB's clash against Bundesliga leader 1899 Hoffenheim at Neckarstadion ended with a 3-3 draw. While Schwaben were fortunate to come out with the draw it was likely the low point of Markus Babbel's tenure. Following the Zenit Saint Petersburg match only a few days earlier, Jan Šimák, Arthur Boka and Cacau for Martin Lanig, Ludovic Magnin and Ciprian Marica from the out-set.

VfB gave up the lead after twenty-four minutes as Andreas Beck dispatched the ball Demba Ba who fired the ball to the back of the met. Only a few minutes later Cacau received the ball from Mario Gómez and quickly leveling the match. On the half hour Ludovic Magnin came in for Arthur Boka who was stretchered off after being hacked down by Sejad Salihović. Although only receiving a yellow card, disciplinary action from the DFB is possible however nothing will assist Boka now as he is lost for over six weeks with torn knee ligaments. As the match got started going again, the German international Mario Gómez headed in Serdar Tasci’s cross five minutes later to take the 2-1 lead. Just before the break a defensive miscue lead to Demba Ba set free and pounding the ball in from twelve metres.

After the break Mario Gómez stylishly flicked Ricardo Osorio's delivery over onrushing 1899 goalkeeper Daniel Haas. The lead was short-lived as Demba Ba punished another defensive miscue only for minutes later. In added time the spot was pointed to after Ludovic Magnin was adjudged to bringing down Carlos Eduardo. Call it poetic justice or just the will of Jens but Sejad Salihović effort flew over the bar and the match ended with a 3-3 draw.

Following the match Ludovic Magnin said:

"Today we were heftily punished for our individual errors. I personally made a big mistake before the break and I am very sorry for that. If we'd had gone into the break 2-1 up, we would have won the game. Before the penalty I said to Jens, "Please save me"!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

coup d'arrêt

The long road of growth for les Rouge & Noir has taken many turns this year. A triumphant unbeaten streak was off-set with a debilitating period where championship hopes dimmed and it appeared that they would remember the year for missed opportunities.

Yet with each challenge, the futures of clubs are solidified. Some falter while others soar and ultimately the test is how adversity is met. For Rennais with its mixed group of veteran players and brilliant young artists, the greater test is how the taste of chaos is dealt with.

Since the late November victory over Paris Saint-Germain, the hurdles faced by les Rouge & Noir have taken them to the brink of failure but recently a glimmer of hope has been seen and Saturday evening in the Côte d'Azur against Nice, they answered the call of challenges with a triumphant 1-0 victory.

While much is to be said of the match, the real story is between the lines. A team as Monsieur Lacombe described with "nothing to lose" played with everything to win. Against the formidable Niçois, les Rouge & Noir had everything stacked against them with the "house" looking confident for a win. Yet that changed within the blink of a eye as Bretons immediately showed a greater attacking vision and looked to exploit the Niçois exposure to contre-attaque. To no surprise Olivier Thomert, Rod Fanni and Bruno Cheyrou embodied the attacking pulse and shining gem of Jimmy Briand's talent shone through. Yet marking was perfect and up to every assault and while both sides probed for an opening, there was not a mistake to be preyed upon.

With only forty-five minutes to play and with the stakes raised les Niçois began to slowly ease forward, first with Loïc Rémy testing Rennais and later beginning to link up quality touches. At the hour Julien Sablé threatened from twenty metres but Nicolas Douchez stretches out and denies the ball going into the net. Les Rouge & Noir fought back and with a slow build up of play set the table for the coup d'arrêt. Driving forward, Bruno Cheyrou launches to Jimmy Briand who coyly pulls defenders along before crossing to Olivier Thomert for the finale. A late dalliance by the Niçois fall short and Rennais returns home with the 1-0 victory and awaits next weeks match against Olympique Lyonnais.
The long road of growth for les Rouge & Noir has taken many turns this year. A triumphant unbeaten streak was off-set with a debilitating period where championship hopes dimmed and it appeared that they would remember the year for missed opportunities.

Yet with each challenge, the futures of clubs are solidified. Some falter while others soar and ultimately the test is how adversity is met. For Rennais with its mixed group of veteran players and brilliant young artists, the greater test is how the taste of chaos is dealt with.

Since the late November victory over Paris Saint-Germain, the hurdles faced by les Rouge & Noir have taken them to the brink of failure but recently a glimmer of hope has been seen and Saturday evening in the Côte d'Azur against Nice, they answered the call of challenges with a triumphant 1-0 victory.

While much is to be said of the match, the real story is between the lines. A team as Monsieur Lacombe described with "nothing to lose" played with everything to win. Against the formidable Niçois, les Rouge & Noir had everything stacked against them with the "house" looking confident for a win. Yet that changed within the blink of a eye as Bretons immediately showed a greater attacking vision and looked to exploit the Niçois exposure to contre-attaque. To no surprise Olivier Thomert, Rod Fanni and Bruno Cheyrou embodied the attacking pulse and shining gem of Jimmy Briand's talent shone through. Yet marking was perfect and up to every assault and while both sides probed for an opening, there was not a mistake to be preyed upon.

With only forty-five minutes to play and with the stakes raised les Niçois began to slowly ease forward, first with Loïc Rémy testing Rennais and later beginning to link up quality touches. At the hour Julien Sablé threatened from twenty metres but Nicolas Douchez stretches out and denies the ball going into the net. Les Rouge & Noir fought back and with a slow build up of play set the table for the coup d'arrêt. Driving forward, Bruno Cheyrou launches to Jimmy Briand who coyly pulls defenders along before crossing to Olivier Thomert for the finale. A late dalliance by the Niçois fall short and Rennais returns home with the 1-0 victory and awaits next weeks match against Olympique Lyonnais.

De Friezen power to another win

Heerenveen returned to the winning column with a 3-1 romp over Willem II at Abe Lenstra Stadion, bringing them even in points with Ajax and PSV. Trond Sollied completely out-matched the troubled side and the only question-mark from the match was the late goal for the visitors and a number of scoring chances that were not closed out properly.

De Friezen took the lead thirteen minutes after the start when Danijel Pranjić and Roy Beerens linked up on a corner, setting Paulo Henrique for a point blank nod in. Willem II was absolutely no threat following the goal and it was only some poor final touches and quality goalkeeping by Willem II 'keeper Maikel Aerts that kept Heerenveen off the score sheet for the next thirty minutes. However with four minutes left in the half Swedish international Viktor Elm well-placed cross was headed-in by Kristian Bak Nielsen. After the re-start the home side was looking for more goals but both Roy Beerens and the Viktor Elm could not fool Willem II's keeper. However with ten minutes remaining Roy Beerens found the mark after Kristian Bak Nielsen headed the ball to Viktor Elm, who then supplied the ball to the goal-scorer to bring the match to a 3-0 score. With seven minutes remaining and the match not in question Mohamed Messoudi ruined Brian Vandenbussche's otherwise perfect day and the match ended 3-1.

The turnaround of de Friezen since the break has been nothing short of stunning. The attacking style that forgot defending before the holidays is a memory now and in its place is an effective, well disciplined play showing great maturity. Next Friday's match against PSV will go a long way in deciding European competition.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

96 fall short at Borussia-Park

As stated in the match preview, Borussia Mönchengladbach has been one of the tougher clubs in the Bundesliga since the start of the start of the Rückrunde and the proved it today as the avenged their early 5-1 loss to 96 by winning today 3-2 in front of their vocal supporters in Borussia-Park. Following the opening week victory Rückrunde against Schalke, Dieter Hecking's side have stumbled in the last three matches and are only three points above the drop zone.

Looking to end their problems playing away from home Jiří Štajner and Mikael Forssell both threatened early but after those efforts Gladbach slowed the pace of the match down without every threatening. However in a series of defending breakdowns, Gladbach took the lead with with Alexander Baumjohann und Marko Marin scoring with nine and two minutes remaining. Frustrating to say the least because while 96 had taken most of the initiative and looked to be on the verge of scoring, Gladbach took a commanding two goal lead into the break.

At the restart Jan Schlaudraff came in for Hanno Balitsch and 96 slowly worked themselves back into the match. Sergio Pinto brought one back striking from twenty metres after linking up with Arnold Bruggink. 96 continued to pressure with Jan Schlaudraff in the centre of things and finally Christian Schulz found the equalizer with thirteen minutes remaining of a corner. Fighting back from the two goal arrears, the home stands sang out and if on cue, the great veteran Oliver Neuville stepped up to centre stage to sink 96 with seven minutes remaining as he sent in a close range rebound.

1899 misses chance for a win

1899 showed fight as they responded from last weeks 4-1 loss to Leverkusen with a 3-3 draw to Stuttgart. That withstanding the match will be remembered with bad penalty miss by Sejad Salihović as the match concluded

Demba Ba gave 1899 the lead at the twenty-fourth minute from Andreas Beck feed before turning and firing into the net. However a few minutes later Mario Gómez provided Cacau the ball and after making space in the area he drove the ball into the back of the net. Mario Gómez scored the first of this two goals, the first just past the half hour mark heading in Serdar Tasci's cross. The end to end action continued and just before the half-time whistle Demba Ba raced in alone on Jens Lehmann and drove the ball in from twelve metres. Level at the half, Stuttgart took the lead when the German international Gómez showed touch to squeeze the ball over 1899 'keeper Daniel Haas. Only four minutes Demba Ba scored the third of his day with a nice turn and drive into the net. 1899 had a great chance to win the match when the spot was pointed to deep into added time following Ludovic Magnin bringing down Carlos Eduardo. Normally sure footed Bosnian international Sejad Salihović stepped up and sent the ball over the bar and the Baden-Württemberg-Derby ended with a 3-3 draw.

Eintracht takes three points from KSC

Eintracht's worrisome run of late ended with a hard fought 1-0 defeat of KSC, with the lone goal coming from Caio eight minutes into the second half. Not pleased with the play of Alexander Meier and Markus Steinhöfer, Friedhelm Funkel replaced them in the starting eleven with by Junichi Inamoto and Mehdi Mahdavikia for a more defensive stance and utilized Nikos Liberopoulos as the lone striker. Defending was the mark of this match with most opportunities, albeit limited ones, before the break coming from KSC.

Looking for improved attacking pulse Caio came in for Nikola Petković at the break and Benjamin Köhler moved over to the Serbian's defensive position. Die Adler were immediately more inspired after the break, first with Inamoto's drive just missing and then eight minutes in Michael Fink headed Nikos Liberopolous' cross back with Caio volleying in. Martin Fenin narrowly missed doubling the margin shortly after but slowly KSC began to attack more and in the final twenty minutes tested Markus Pröll on a number of occasions. Lars Stindl, Giovanni Federico and Edmond Kapllani threatened just under twenty minutes but each was denied and Eintracht walked away with its first victory of the Rückrunde

Geißböcke win in München

Confident of winning points today, coach Christoph Daum delievered the goods as die Geißböcke defeated Bayern München today 2-1.

With Kevin McKenna in for Youssef Mohamad and Daniel Brosinski making his first Bundesliga appearance, Köln were ready for the Bavarians. Throughout the match, Bayern controlled the ball but could not break through the compact defending in the final third. However at the mid point of the opening half Nemanja Vučićević took advantage of the Mark van Bommel and provided Fabrice Ehret, who finished with a perfect chip over the Bavarian 'keeper. Ten minutes before the break the Serbian international, Vučićević, provided for the next goal as well as he played the ball to Daniel Brosinski for the finish. Down by two, Bayern maintained ball possession but only until the later stages of the match were able to threaten. From the hour mark Zé Roberto, Franck Ribery and Miroslav Klose each tried to bring one back but
goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón was up to the task. Finally with six minutes remaining Bayern broke through with Hamit Altintop's cross being headed in by Daniel van Buyten but it was not enough as Köln won 2-1 in Christoph Daum 150th match in-charge of the club.

Werder loses again

The horrible start of the Rückrunde deepened today as the Green Whites lost 2-1 to Energie Cottbus. The win pushes die Lausitzer out of the relegation zone as they have now picked-up seven points since the restart using a tough defending plan by coach Bojan Prašnikar, combined with players who play with a fire to succeed.

Alternatively the loss maintains the sad run by Werder and now with a single point in four matches they have fallen to eleventh in the table as Köln jumps above them. How long before the denial of crisis is anyone's guess but with the result the chance of making it to European competition seem very low.

Without Claudio Pizzarro in the lineup, out of the match because he missed practice, Werder continued to attack with endless waves but as a hallmark of this year, they couldn't finish. After a scoreless first half, Werder finally got on the mark when Clemens Fritz was headed-in by Hugo Almeida from close range. However that was the end of the scoring for Werder as the host side fought back with two unanswered goals. Five minutes after the opening strike Ivica Iliev brought the match even when drove the ball to the inside corner from the left side of the box. Looking for the victory Sebastian Boenisch and Hugo Almeida came close for Werder with just over ten minutes left but it was die Lausitzer who found the winner in added-time when Dimitar Rangelov was played through by Timo Rost and the Bulgarian international pounded the ball into the net to give Energie Cottbus the 2-1 victory.

Borussia wins with late goal by Oliver Neuville

The Borussia resurgence since the start of Rückrunde continued today with a 3-2 victory over Hannover 96. Undefeated in three matches, it is evident that Hans Meyer has carefully crafted a sound plan with a group playing with pride and courage.

Marko Marin returned to the lineup, in place of Tony Jantschke with greater attacking intention. In the early stages of the match both sides were cautious with Borussia creating a few speculative efforts via Michael Bradley but all handled with ease by 96 'keeper Robert Enke. By the fifteenth minute the momentum had shifted at Borussia-Park and die Fohlen were lucky not to fall behind with Jiří Štajner and Mikael Forssell both coming close. Scoring chances slowed till ten minutes remained in the half with Alexander Baumjohann, from Marko Marin, scored from twenty-four metres. Confidently Borussia went forward with Marko Marin adding the second from the center of the box make it 2-0.

After the break, Borussia started well but Sérgio Pinto drew on back from twenty metres eight minutes in. Not comfortable with the one goal lead, Herr Meyer brought in Oliver Neuville for Marco Marin at the seventieth minute but still 96 was controlling the run of play. Their dedication paid off with the thirteen minutes remaining when Christian Schulz headed the ball from in the box. Knowing three points was a must, Borussia did not falter or wilt under the pressure as the great veteran and German international Oliver Neuville scored the winning goal six minutes later giving Borussia the 3-2 victory.

Die Enttäuschung ist sehr groß

After ninety minutes of heated play in the Revier-Derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen, the match ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw for the home side. The match will unquestionably be remembered for Kevin Kurányi's stunning goal that came from an equally remarkable cross from Halil Altıntop, however regardless of what could ultimately be called the highlight strike of the year, Mohamed Zidan canceled the advantage late and sent those in Veltins-Arena home unsatisfied.

Intensity in this heated rivalry is never in question and tackling always had a cutting edge to it. BVB's Kevin-Prince Boateng, a player of great potential, came out with a bit too much venom and was lucky to escape with only a yellow-card five minutes after the opening whistle when he trampled Mladen Krstajić. Unfortunately it wasn't long before the Serbian international could not longer continue and was replaced by Halil Altıntop. Twenty minutes into the match Altıntop was pinned in the right corner by BVB defenders and managed to sent a blind, perfect to the spot to the cross into the box with Kevin Kurányi finishing with a stunning volley into the net. After a number of bad challenges and in a effort to increase their attacking pulse Kevin-Prince Boateng was replaced by Egyptian capped Mohamed Zidan at the break. This would have a telling impact upon the match as die Königsblauen were playing too far back and allowed Dortmund to come at them more. At the hour mark Kevin Kurányi had a chance to double the margin as he came in alone on Dortmund 'keeper Roman Weidenfeller but his shot was off line. Following Nelson Valdez entrance for Alexander Frei, Dortmund began to have the run of play with he and Zidan posing danger. With victory in sight, Zidan leveled the match with nine minutes left when he got on the end Valdez's provision after a scramble in the box. Now even, the visitors were ready to grab a win and five minutes from time Zidan's effort was pushed back with a incredible save by Manuel Neuer to keep the match even.

Schwaben to battle 1899

Schwaben do battle against 1899 at Neckarstadion this afternoon with a chance to leap above Wolfsburg into sixth place. After Wednesday's loss in the UEFA Cup match against Zenit Saint Petersburg, Markus Babbel knows his side is depleted:

"We need to call up our reserves of energy now. We want to be playing every three days, that is the will of the club, and so we must accept the situation.

"We are looking to win this game because we want to maintain our positive record. Everyone knows that this is also a game for the fans, although it's clear that the games between VfB and KSC have a greater importance to the supporters."

There have been no changes to the injury list with the match in Russia with Matthieu Delpierre, Timo Gebhart, Sebastian Rudy and Yildiray Bastürk unavailable.

Tumbling 1899 is dealing with late decisions on Marvin Compper and Timo Hildebrand along with Tobias Weis, Andreas Beck and Matthias Jaissle. The upstart squad that looked so strong in the Hinrude have seen their attack dwindle since the loss of Vedad Ibišević and only scored four times in the first three matches since returning from the break.

Big match later today - let me hear from everyone in support as we climb the table.

Green Whites travel to Energie Cottbus

The ongoing crisis denial continues as the Green Whites face Energie Cottbus at Stadion der Freundschaft. With only a single point in the three matches since the start of the Rückrunde, Werder is in tenth position only two points above Köln and nine points below Leverkusen in the final Europa league spot.

Against die Lausitzer, they will face a stiff defending unit that is coming off a 3-1 defeat of Hannover 96 and a 1-1 draw to BVB. Fighting off relegation Bojan Prašnikar will emphasize limiting Werder going forward.

Thomas Schaaf had to be pleased with Diego's performance in the UEFA Cup this week but is without Claudio Pizzaro who missed the team training. Explaining that goalscorer is out of the lineup for the match, Schaaf said:

"If you don't make final training, you won't be considered for the game."

Klaus Allofs said:

"The confidence in scoring has not been there recently. There are phases in which things just do not work. What's important is that the players continue to give their all and not give up. Our players will push on and I am convinced that they will at some time be rewarded for their efforts. It would be nice if it happens on Saturday."

Dragões defeat Paços de Ferreira 2-0

The Dragões continued their eleven match unbeaten streak with a 2-0 victory over Paços de Ferreira.

Hulk opened the scoring for Porto fifteen minutes in with a brilliant left-footed shot to the opposite far corner.

Porto continued to pressure as four minutes later the score was nearly doubled when Raul Meireles' cross was headed just over the bar with Ernesto Farías diving header.

However the host near leveled the match as four minutes before the half hour Rui Miguel's drive from just outside the box that rang off the cross-bar.

Continuing to pressure Pedrinha's effort six minutes later just didn't curl in enough to find the net and Porto kept the one goal advantage.

Six minutes before the half, Hulk pulled his shot left and the match went to the break with Porto holding thin 1-0 lead.

Finally four minutes after the hour Paços de Ferreira was victimized with a very questionable penalty call when Ricardo was adjudged for bringing down Hulk in the area and the spot was pointed to. Bruno Alves calmly stepped up and gave Porto the 2-0 lead.

Without further opportunities, the match concluded with Porto winning 2-0 and maintaining their hold on first place.

a difficult challenge at Stade des Alpes

Riding the crest of a four match winning streak PSG travel to face Grenoble Saturday evening. While the charm and beauty of the surrounding area is perfect is quite obvious, for a visiting Football club the Stade des Alpes can be a daunting task. Mehmed Baždarević's side made a number of fine acquisitions during the transfer season and coming off successive draws to Valenciennes and Bordeaux. Strong on defending, Grenoble is putting forth a well disciplined, high-energy performance as they look secure their spot well outside of the relegation zone.

Given Paul Le Guen's rather remarkable decision to keep Claude Makélélé, Ludovic Giuly, Stéphane Sessegnon, Mickaël Landreau, Ceará and Jérémy Clément out of the lineup that easily defeated Wolfsburg in the UEFA Cup, the squad is quite rested and ready to go. They have no new injuries and all are expected to play. Impressed with his contribution Tripy Makonda has been included in Paul Le Guen's squad list.

The manager said of the match:

“We’re confident, even if we were beaten by Grenoble earlier this season. This team is hard to play against and will be playing in front of a sell out crowd. But we’re use to that. Grenoble used the January transfer window well to get the few missing pieces they need to reach their own goals.”

Of the keys to the match he added:

“We’re coming off a good performance away to Nantes and I’d like us to produce a repeat performance. We could drop to third or fourth place and still bounce back so there’s no need to panic. Nor get carried away with sitting second. The most important thing will be where we are at the end of the season.”

Leeds v Cheltenham Town match preview

Following successive losses to Huddersfield Town and Hereford United, Leeds is eighth in the table, four points behind Millwall, who also have two additional matches to play. With playoff hopes growing dim, Leeds manager Simon Grayson is still confident though as he noted to the BBC:

"We've lost the last two which is disappointing but there's still a lot of matches to be played.

"There's no reason we can't go on a run and make sure we get into the play-offs because there's plenty of games and I expect a response at the weekend."

Misdirecting blame away from the sad tactical plan he said:

"We didn't play with any quality and decision making was poor, and that's from a team that played very well at the weekend and been on a decent run.

"I'm not going to criticise individuals or the players because that's not my style but we've had words and the players accepted what's happened today.

"Hopefully now they'll use that as inspiration from now until the end of the season because if they don't then one or two might not play for the club again."

Whilst the manager has chosen to cast blame to his players, the first mark of questionable leadership, the problem with Leeds has started with the players being trapped in poor system that doesn't maximize their abilities and is in-fact the preferred style only of the manager. To choose an approach, regardless of your squads ability is not simply foolhardy but gives your team for ego. However to trump that, hands down is to cast blame where a leader first accepts it. Leeds has failed because of poor tactical planning first and foremost and to cast blame is not appropriate.

For the match Leeds is without Luciano Becchio and Jermaine Beckford who are both in the sin-bin. Right-back Carl Dickinson has returned to Stoke City and either Frazer Richardson is most likely to get the nod.

Rangers v Kilmarnock match preview

Following last weeks scoreless Old Firm derby, the Rangers return to action against Kilmarnock two points behind Celtic.

For the match Walter Smith has a near full squad available to him as of new injuries, only Lee McCulloch will miss. DaMarcus Beasley who was hacked down in the Scottish League Cup against Forfar midweek, is ready.

Walter Smith said of the match:

"If you look at the game that we had with Kilmarnock in the early part of the season they went in to the lead and we had to work very hard to overcome them.

"I see this as being the same type of game. Home games have proved difficult for us when teams come and set their stall out to defend well.

"Credit to them, the majority of teams in Scotland have been doing that very well and it's only been occasionally when we've managed to get goals early on that games have really opened up.

"Kilmarnock are a team that have maybe had a bit of inconsistency in their results but they are always capable of getting a result against any team and they have made it awkward for us in the games we have played already."

The Rangers have defeated Kille in both of the meetings this year, 2-1 at Ibrox and 4-0 at Rugby Park and are very unlikely to let up in this match. With the race for the championship so close they must continue to press Celtic at every turn and capitalize on any opportunities.

Wolfsburg v Hertha BSC match preview

In one of Wolfsburg's most daunting challenges of the year, top of the table Hertha BSC visits Volkswagen Arena Saturday afternoon. Following Wednesday's dreadful loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Cup, Felix Magath's squad are surely shaken and must show intense resolve if they are to defeat the Berliners.

Felix Magath said of the opposition:

"Hertha are, for me, one of the greatest surprises of this year. They are in the position that they are in thanks to an impressive second half of the season and I firmly believe that they can qualify for international competition in the form they’re in."

While Wolfsburg has shown tremendous ability at home without suffering a loss this campaign, they are going against a formidable foe and need to show greater respect to defending.

For the match Hertha BSC will be without Serbian internationals Marko Pantelić and Gojko Kačar, Sofian Chahed and Fabian Lustenberger. Wolfsburg has no new injuries to report and will be without Grafite and long term absence Ashkan Dejagah.

PSV v FC Groningen match preview

Following the late comeback against AZ, PSV finds itself in fourth in the Eredivisie, riding the wave of success under manager Dwight Lodeweges. Light-years apart from the Hubb Stevens led squad, the defending champions are undefeated in four matches while filling the nets with sixteen goals.

With only eleven matches left in the campaign, six points behind Twente in the final Champions League spot, the next four matches are crucial to returning to the prestigous tournament. Following Saturdays match against FC Groningen, who are only two points behind them, they face Heerenveen, Twente and intense match against Feyenoord and know full well that twelve points could get them back to centre stage.

Ron Jans FC Groningen are following their own dreams and riding a six match unbeaten streak. A tough side to beat at home, they are within two points of a Europa League spot and Euroborg Stadion will be out in full force supporting their club.

Dwight Lodeweges said of the opposition:

"We must be wary of FC Groningen’s opportunistic style of play. They get the crowd behind them and, backed by the vociferous support of their home fans, they attempt to trample all over their opponents.

"Looking ahead at the tough fixture list, this is a crucial game for us”, explained Lodeweges.

"We are ready for the challenge. FC Groningen are hard to beat, but we feel we stand a fair chance of returning to winning ways. They will try to put early pressure on our defence, but we won’t allow them to catch us by surprise."

PSV has a full squad available excluding Ola Toivonen, who is sin-bin.

Manchester City v Liverpool match preview

While Mark Hughes has been talking of finding positive messages in this weeks UEFA Cup draw against FC København, there is little disputing that the up and down season of the Citizens has been a disappointment. With a number of points dropped in winnable matches, hopes of securing a European bid need to be put aside and the club must balance its tactical plan for a strong finish run along with planning for the future. This puts the manager in the most difficult of positions because the front office, despite its claim of undying support, will be be pleased with a bottom half of the table finish.

To complicate things further with Saturdays visit of Anfield, Man City must not only put forth a strong performance lest the lynch mob for Mark Hughes will continue to gain support but equally be prepared for next Thursdays clash in the UEFA Cup. This will decide a number of tactical decisions as general poorly levels of conditioning are starting to shine through with the last month of action well below satisfactory work-rate.

For the match, Mark Hughes will have Richard Dunne back from suspension although Shaun Wright-Phillips remains in the sin-bin. Micah Richards, Darius Vassell, Daniel Sturridge and Gelsen Fernandes are all questionable and ultimately the decision will come down to the tactical plan Mark Hughes will utilize. Rafael Benítez has lineup considerations as Liverpool is only four points behind Manchester United but facing Real Madrid on Wednesday in the Champions League. He will be without Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso for the match.

Possibly the most telling of statistics is that excluding West Brom, Fulham and Stoke City, the Citizens are the worst team on the road in the Premier League. As they chart a course for the future this key element must be dealt with.

Newcastle v Everton match preview

After a lengthy break, Newcastle returns to action as Everton visits St James Park. Further to their most recent match, a 3-2 victory over West Brom, the Magpies are thirteenth in the table. Four points above the drop zone the entire focus of the remaining matches is a race to safety with a target of thirty-eight points confidently staving off relegation to which points at home is an absolute must.

With Joe Kinnear convalescing, Chris Hughton will steward the clubs direction and he has the fortune having Oba Martins, Mark Viduka and Alan Smith back from injury and Jonás Gutiérrez returning from the sin-bin. Unfortunately the match comes too soon for Michael Owen, Andy Carroll, Danny Guthrie, Ignacio González, Xisco, Habib Beye and Joey Barton.

Surging Everton are one of the best stories of the Premier League this year and at sixth in the table are on the prowl for a spot in the Europa League. Combining a youth lineup of Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling with a host of quality veterans led by Tim Cahill, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka, Everton reaffirms the notion of a quality side built through brilliant coaching and development. David Moyes will however be without Tim Cahill and Tony Hibbert, who are in the sin-bin and Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar are all questionable for the match.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rennais visitation of the Niçois

With the Carnaval de Nice in the backdrop, Stade du Ray will the setting for a match that will go a long way in deciding Rennais chances at winning a berth in European competition. For the Rouge & Noir who were flying on the wings of a long unbeaten streak, the previous four matches have inspired only modest hope that they may return to the form that saw them flicker briefly at the top of the league. Now seventh in the table and level the Niçois, points are needed to stay abreast of l'OM and Toulouse. Complicating things is Frédéric Antonetti's side who have returned to form after a brief lull in January, staging last gasp victories in successive weeks over Le Mans and Nancy.

Given the situation, Guy Lacombe has promised that there will be no holding back in the trip to the Côte d’Azur and very attacking plan will be used. His Bretons unit will be without Kader Mangane who sustained a late injury in practice but will be replaced by the highly regarded Bira Dembele. However Julián Estéban, Jérôme Leroy, Sylvain Marveaux and Asamoah Gyan will miss to injury with Moussa Sow out to suspension. Judging from the training grounds, a similar lineup of last week is expected with Jirès Kembo Ekoko provided another valuable learning experience across from Olivier Thomert in the attack with Mickaël Pagis and Jimmy Briand.