Friday, September 24, 2010
We've trawled squads around the country to select the Premier League stars - and their better halves - to "play" for their clubs in our contest of glitz and glamour.
A couple will represent each team taking part in the Premier League this season and be matched as per their club fixtures in a battle of brains, brawn and beauty.
Click on the match-up and vote for your favourites. We will then see how our Wags and Stags league table compares with the real thing.
Koeln - Hoffenheim
Bayern Munich - Mainz
Eintracht Frankfurt - Nuernberg
Schalke - Borussia Moenchengladbach
St Pauli - Borussia Dortmund
Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen
Werder Bremen - Hamburg
Wolfsburg - Freiburg
Kaiserslautern - Hannover
Roma has handed Claudio Ranieri a vote of confidence before their clash against Inter Milan. AC Milan host Genoa hoping to return to winning ways after going three games without a victory. Struggling Fiorentina host Parma on Sunday desperate to claim their first win of the campaign having mustered just two points in four games.
Real Madrid held by Mallorca, Barcelona defeated at home by Hercules and Valencia winning their first three. That is exactly what we wanted to see: an open tournament in which more than two teams have something to say.
Seven days and two consecutive victories by Real Madrid and Barcelona later, things seem to be slowly going back to their Old Firm ways. Or maybe not - take a look at this week's quiniela as we may be about to witness a couple of surprises...
Manchester City vs. Chelsea: Preview
Roberto Mancini's training methods at Manchester City have come under renewed scrutiny amid allegations that he is overworking his players and subjecting them to the possibility of unnecessary injury as well as potentially costing the club millions of pounds.
Carlos Tevez, the City captain, and Craig Bellamy, now on loan at Cardiff City, both questioned Mancini's training regime last season and the latest criticism comes from the club's former conditioning expert, Raymond Verheijen, reflecting on "the enormous amount of injuries at Manchester City" and speaking of his hope that "Mancini will finally question his training methods".
The Premier League club also said it had paid off all debt on its Highbury Square property development of flats, built on the ground of its old stadium.
Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.
This week, Mario Balotelli reveals his three biggest regrets, Stephen Bywater apologises for his 'erotic' art installation, a Honduras goalkeeper shoots at journalists and Micah Richards and Adam Johnson pay £12,000 for a date with Jordan.
A professional goalkeeper has aroused the anger of his neighbours by displaying an artwork featuring a blow-up sex doll in his garden.
The midweek round of games are the second rarest thing in the German Bundesliga, so hopefully your midweek time was well spent soaking in some German football (the first rarest thing in the Bundesliga, of course, being a goal from Mario Gomez). The week provided a couple of shock results, which has set up several good matches this weekend.
The back pages make for miserable reading on Merseyside right now. Similarly embarrassed in this week's Carling Cup, such small consolation as Liverpool can derive comes from the fact that they are three points and three places above Everton.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
How close did Jürgen Klinsmann come to taking the U.S. men's national team job? Awfully close, judging by what the German coach and playing legend says. In an interview with SI.com on Tuesday, the California-based Klinsmann told me:
In an alternative title chase, managers could receive points for witlessness, disingenuousness and babyishness.
Mainz are created in their manager's image - young, eager players happy to learn new things. And teach rivals a few too.
Thomas Tuchel's carnival club party on as Mainz maintain perfect start.
Valencia's 100% Primera Division record was brought to a halt as Atletico Madrid held Los Che to a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla.
In recent years, managers have used the Carling Cup to give their young stars a chance to shine, while a number of players from the lower leagues have found their way into the limelight through the competition.
Scunthorpe 2 - 5 Manchester United
Daniel Taylor at Glanford Park
Chelsea 3 - 4 Newcastle
Jamie Jackson at Stamford Bridge
Liverpool 2 - 2 Northampton (2-4)
Tim Rich at Anfield
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
When Dimitar Berbatov was a child, he idolized Robert De Niro, so it perhaps isn't surprising he plays the cold-eyed assassin well. There is a coldness about him, a sense of calculation that fits uneasily into a Premier League environment in which "passion" remains the foremost of all virtues. If anything, though, he probably resembles less De Niro than Clint Eastwood, laconic and unfussy, almost everything he does performed with an ironic glint.
On Friday night, I could have constructed a long list of things that I didn't expect to see on Monday morning but, if I had then erased anything sordid or relating to my personal life, Valencia sitting pretty in La Liga's number one spot would have featured very near the top.
The Premier League has a collective TV deal, with a more equitable distribution of television money than some other major leagues. Even so, those clubs with a wealthy benefactor or a huge fan base can put themselves streets ahead of weaker rivals, while only a handful of clubs go into the season with any realistic chance of winning. A dose of predictability is the price paid for the quality on show.
It is the opposite of domestic football in Argentina, where the first division has become wildly unpredictable. However, the price paid for this excitement is a lack of quality.
Again, from River Plate's official website...
The Premier League defender and his brother, Tesfaye Bramble, were arrested at the Vermont Hotel early on Wednesday and are being questioned by detectives.
Tottenham 1 - 4 Arsenal
John Brewin at White Hart Lane
Redknapp: Nasri dived for penalty
Brentford 1 - 1 Everton (4-3)
Jason Burt at Griffin Park
Moyes accuses Brentford fan of throwing bottle
Stoke 2 - 0 Fulham
Rory Smith at Britannia Stadium
Sunderland 1 - 2 West Ham
Louise Taylor at Stadium of Light
As some of County's visiting coaches departed, they were attacked with bricks near Wolves' ground.
Mexico's Carlos Vela and Efrain Juárez have been banned for six months by their national federation for allegedly throwing a party at a team hotel following a friendly against Colombia earlier this month.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Carling Cup third round action midweek sees several all-Premier League clashes including the big North London Derby on Tuesday. The North London Derby cup tie is just one of several involving Premier League teams which include Stoke City against Fulham, Sunderland against West Ham United, Aston Villa against Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea against Newcastle United and WBA against Manchester City.
The defeat of Atléti in Madrid was a huge relief for Barça, but also, in a strange way, for the hyped-up-to-the-hilt rojiblanco.
Atlético's great expectations grounded by brilliance of Barcelona.
Carlos Bocanegra and Saint-Etienne cruised past Montpellier 3-0 at home to go top of the league for the first time this season. A vintage performance from the back four and some breathtaking attacking play from leading scorer Dimitri Payet and French youth international Emmanuel Riviere helped lead Les Verts to victory and the number 1 spot in French Ligue 1.
Bocanegra played the full 90 at left back for Saint-Etienne as they secured their second clean sheet in six games.
He is certain to miss Saturday's game at West Bromwich Albion as well as the trip to Serbia to take on Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League.
He joins Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey and Nicklas Bendtner on the treatment table.
The actual home team treatment room at the Emirates. Note there are only five tables...
Observers of the U.S. men's national team were treated to an example of chaos theory in action on Monday. Jurgen Klinsmann broke his silence, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati didn't, and now manager Bob Bradley looks even more vulnerable than when he first took the job almost four years ago.
The summer signing from Japan's J-League was the star of the show in last night's Revierderby.
Shinji Kagawa, the jewel in Borussia Dortmund's crown.
'This is a team that has balls,' declared Claudio Ranieri in a pre-match rant. Their draw with Bologna suggested otherwise.
Roma lacking testicular fortitude as press gets under Ranieri's skin.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a five-star weekend.
Barcelona star Lionel Messi will miss the club's next two games with a sprained ankle, after tests revealed that the injury he picked up against Atletico Madrid is not as serious as first thought.