Friday, April 27, 2012

The Joy of Six: Title Deciders

From Michael Thomas's goal to Michael Kutzop's penalty, we recall half a dozen classics between the top two in April and May.

England: Premier League Weekend Previews & Predictions

The Premier League title race is set for a decider on Monday night, but before then there are other matters of huge importance up and down the table. Chelsea, fresh from their staggering victory over Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, host West London rivals Queens Park Rangers looking to push for a top-four finish and keep the Hoops stuck in the relegation mire. Newcastle, also hoping to finish in the top four this season, travel to fourth-bottom Wigan while struggling Aston Villa face a crunch Midlands derby against West Bromwich Albion. Elsewhere, Bolton go to Sunderland, Arsenal take on Stoke City and Tottenham are pitted against Blackburn Rovers.


Team News

Premier League Spotlight

Norwich City vs. Liverpool: Preview

Paul Merson's Predictions

Lawro's Predictions

Italy: Serie A Weekend Preview

AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri knows it will be very difficult for his side to defend the Serie A title, but has warned league leaders Juventus they will fight until the end. The Rossoneri go into Sunday's encounter at Siena trailing three points behind unbeaten Juventus with four games left to play. Juventus have a better head-to-head record against Milan and travel to Novara on Sunday riding a seven-match winning run. The Turin giants will be tested by a Novara side that must avoid defeat to have any chance of avoiding the drop. Novara are 19th in the standings, eight points adrift of Genoa, who hold the last position of safety. The stakes are also extremely high when third-placed Lazio visit Udinese, who are sixth and three points behind Sunday's rivals. Lazio hold the last Champions League qualifying spot but are just one place and one point clear of Napoli, who travel to the Italian capital to face fellow European hopefuls Roma on Sunday. Inter Milan have not given up hope of a third-placed finish and take on already relegated Cesena at the San Siro still unbeaten under coach Andrea Stramaccioni. The Nerazzurri are level on 52 points with Udinese.


Spain: La Liga Weekend Preview + Quiniela

Both Barcelona and Real Madrid turn their focus back to the league after suffering painful eliminiations from the Champions League midweek. Real Madrid have a slim chance of putting their agonising Champions League exit behind them by clinching their 32nd La Liga title this weekend.After prevailing in El Clasico at the Nou Camp last weekend, Madrid have a seven-point advantage which they could stretch to 10 if they beat ninth-place Sevilla at home on Sunday lunchtime. Should Rayo Vallecano beat Barcelona on Sunday night, the title will be Madrid's, and the club's players are already keen to move on from last night's painful defeat to Bayern.



England: Championship Preview

It's the last day of the Championship season on Saturday and Southampton can secure their top-flight return with a win at home to Coventry. The Saints will know that if they slip up, West Ham could yet pip them to promotion with a convincing win against Hull at Upton Park. In the play-off battle, Cardiff will guarantee their place in the top six with a win at Crystal Palace.


Ben Arfa finally adopts team ethic

There was a philosophical feel to Alan Pardew's postmatch news conference on a recent Monday afternoon. In the wake of his side's 2-0 victory over Bolton on April 9 he fielded the obvious questions about his side's opener -- a wonderful solo effort from Hatem Ben Arfa. In among the superlatives and compliments Pardew gave telling insight into how you handle someone with a heavy backlog of misdemeanors -- which included going on strike to force through his move to Newcastle, and even visiting Tyneside without Marseille's permission. "With Hatem, you've got to let him have his world," said Pardew, before adding, "It's his world when he has the ball, my world is when he hasn't."

Fox to air six-part documentary on Liverpool

Liverpool is giving Fox Soccer behind-the-scenes access for a six-episode documentary series. Fox said Thursday that "Our Liverpool: Never Walk Alone" will air this fall in the U.S. and likely will be shown on networks around the world.

With his thick Scottish accent, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish could be hard for some viewers to understand. "We probably will have to do a tad of captioning for Kenny," Hill said.

Friday MLS Forecast

The Forecast discusses whether Toronto FC will set an undesirable record this weekend and winds its way through the Week 8 slate.

Richard Williams: Bayern Munich take long road to final where Chelsea and history await

Jupp Heynckes has led the German club to a home Champions League final at the Allianz Arena in his third spell in charge.

UEFA Europa League: Atletico through, Llorente fires Athletic

Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will head to the 2012 Europa League final in Bucharest, having overcome Valencia and Sporting respectively in Thursday's semi-final encounters.

Guardiola to Leave Barca

Pep Guardiola has confirmed that he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season. His assistant, Tito Vilanova, has been appointed as his successor. Guardiola has enjoyed great success at the Camp Nou since he was promoted in the summer of 2008 from his role in charge of the Barcelona B side. Under his leadership, Barca won the league title in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Champions League in 2009 and 2011 and the Copa del Rey in 2009.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

From My Mate Pedro Santos in Lisboa

Gabriele Marcotti: A dearth of quality center backs

Look around and note who's playing in central defense for the Champions League semifinalists. Barcelona? Gerard Pique, who is not having a good season, Carles Puyol, who is 34, and Javier Mascherano, who is 5' 9 and, until recently, a midfielder. Real Madrid? Pepe, OK, but then there's Sergio Ramos, a recycled right back and Ricardo Carvalho, 34 next month and often injured. Bayern? Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, another recycled fullback, and Daniel Van Buyten, another sprightly 34 year old. Chelsea? David Luiz, who seemingly divides opinion like few others, Gary Cahill, who was playing for Bolton until December and John Terry, who needs no introduction when it comes to generating conflicting emotions. How many of the above can be described as "outstanding"?

How many are as good at what they do as their teammates who play up front?

First XI: Title Clashes

The Manchester derby is expected to have a decisive impact in crowning the champions of England this season, so here we look back through the history books to pick out a selection of crunch matches between title rivals.

Paolo Bandini in Italy

Giuseppe Mascara's move from Napoli to Novara seemed insignificant, but it may have a big say in determining Italy's Champions League places this season.

How one little transfer could have a huge impact on Serie A.

Jonathan Wilson: Chelsea should look to Leeds for a warning from history

The similarities between this Chelsea side and the Leeds United team that lost the 1975 European Cup final are striking and the London club would do well to study their slow decline.

Italy: Wednesday's Serie A Review

Unbeaten Juventus remained three points clear of AC Milan in the Serie A title race after both scraped 1-0 wins on Wednesday. The race for third place and the remaining Champions League spot was blown open when Novara claimed its first win in six games with a 2-1 victory over Lazio. Lazio remains third on 55 points, but Napoli is now just a point behind after a 2-0 win over in-form Lecce. Inter Milan is two further back following a 3-1 win at Udinese, which saw it draw level with the Friulian team on 52 points. Roma's chances of finishing third have all but disappeared and the team was loudly booed during its 2-1 loss at home to Fiorentina, while around 200 fans protested outside the stadium after the match.


UEFA Champions League: Wednesday's Semi-final Second Leg Reports, Analyses, Fallout

Real Madrid 2 - 1 Bayern Munich (3-3 agg; 1-3 pens)

Sid Lowe at the Santiago Bernabéu
Henry Winter at the Santiago Bernabéu

Bayern Munich Player Ratings

Real Madrid Player Ratings

James Lawton: Jose Mourinho's dream punctured by nerveless Bayern Munich riposte

Spanish Press Reaction

Mourinho to support 'Chelsea heroes' in Champions League final

Barcelona's stunning failure to beat Chelsea: What does it all mean?

Barcelona's failure to beat misfiring, mismatched, misbegotten 10-man Chelsea was one of the most surprising and indeed troubling results in recent history. It calls into question everything we thought we knew about the sport. Pep Guardiola's free-flowing tiki-taka merchants are supposed to be the greatest team on the planet, if not the greatest team in history. So what went wrong?

Norman Hubbard: The Worst EPL Signings of the Season

Scott Dann: One of the worst AND a ruptured testicle...

Money is only actually a boon if used well, as many a football club has proved over the years. ESPNsoccernet's selection of the worst signings of the season cost the best part of £100 million and may now only be worth a fraction of that. Most have had a detrimental impact on their club's season; others have barely featured in it. Some may come good over the course of their contract, but the majority probably won't. And as far as this season is concerned, all are simply bad buys.

Rewind to 1937: Blue Rules Manchester

This season, the two Manchester clubs have led the way in the Premier League to such an extent that there has been little doubt that the title would remain in the city. It hasn't always been that way, though, and, in 1937, City claimed their first ever league trophy while rivals United were relegated to the Second Division. In the early 1930s, Arsenal were the team to beat. Under Herbert Chapman, whose bronze bust remains proudly on show at Emirates Stadium, the side won the league titles in the 1932-33, 1933-34 and 1934-35 seasons and were viewed as one of the finest teams to have played in the English top-flight. But there were new challengers on the horizon. Sunderland had finished second in the 1934-35 season and the following year finished as champions, scoring 109 goals in their 42 games to finish eight points clear of Derby County. Then there was Manchester City: FA Cup winners in 1934 and a side many considered to be well equipped to mount a serious title challenge.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

UEFA Champions League: Wednesday's Semi-final Second Leg Preview

Who: Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich
When: 2:45pm EDT
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

UEFA Champions League: Tuesday's Semi-final Second Leg Reports, Analyses, Fallout

Barcelona 2 - 2 Chelsea (agg. 2-3)

Henry Winter at Camp Nou
Daniel Taylor at Camp Nou
Richard Williams at Camp Nou

Player Ratings

Terry Explains Dismissal

Mark Ogden: That tops Liverpool in Istanbul.
Paul Hayward: Terry misses out on final after act of thuggery

Spanish Media Reaction

Gary Neville's Goalgasm

Andy Brassell in Turkey

The Turkish SuperLig was always a potential tinderbox this season, against the background of a major match-fixing investigation and the champions Fenerbahce being refused entry to the Champions League. It certainly seemed that the introduction of a play-off system to decide the title after the regular 34-game season might be an unnecessary accentuation of the resulting tension.

He's got a history, you know...

Zokora told journalists in the post-match press conference at Fener's Sukru Saracoglu Stadium that he had reacted to Emre racially abusing him (in English), calling him a "f***ing n*****". The former Tottenham man apologised for having to utter the word, before expressing his disdain and shock. "What upsets me more," he continued, "is how disgraceful it is for a player who has African team-mates like (Moussa) Sow and (Joseph) Yobo to insult an African from another team."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

UEFA Champions League: Tuesday's Semi-final Second Leg Previews

Who: Barcelona vs. Chelsea (0-1 agg.)
When: 2:45pm EDT
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona
U.S. TV: Fox Soccer Channel

Jonathan Wilson: Barcelona must avoid a repeat of its profligacy against Chelsea
Daniel Taylor: Chelsea required to better perfection to handle Barcelona's backlash

Barcelona call Gerard Pique in from the cold to deal with Chelsea's Didier Drogba

From Derision to Adulation: How Raul became a legend at Schalke 04

When Schalke 04 last won a European trophy – the Uefa Cup in 1997 – Raúl González Blanco was winning his second of six La Liga titles with Real Madrid. A year later, he would take them to Champions League glory. The idea that the quintessential Madridista would one day become a Schalke legend would, at that time, have seemed laughable. Over a decade later, however, and the man who still holds the record for the most goals in European competitions has left his name alongside those of Szepan, Kuzorra and Fischer – firmly imprinted on the heart of every football loving Gelsenkirchener.

Sid Lowe in Spain

There is no reason to assume ceding the title to Real is the end of this Barça team. It does, though, herald the arrival of Madrid.

Real Madrid make definitive statement in pulling the plug on Barcelona.

Paolo Bandini in Italy

Troublemakers forced a 45-minute delay of Genoa's defeat to Siena, overshadowing Juve's latest step towards the Scudetto.

Genoa Ultras get shirty as protest forces match suspension.

Ronaldo at the Olympic Soccer Draw

No article necessary...

The Trawler: Royals Ascension, Pompey Down

Welcome to The Trawler, your weekly submersion through the teeming waters of life in the Championship, League One and League Two. You might be surprised what you find down there.

Henry Winter: Mario Balotelli's absence is the best thing that's happened to Manchester City and Roberto Mancini

Decisions, decisions. Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson have no margin for error with their tactical calls, personnel selection or mood-setting comments as the race to the line quickens.

Americans Abroad: Jozy Altidore keeps slim AZ title hopes alive, while other Americans fight against relegation

The forward continued his excellent season in Holland, while U.S. internationals in England and Germany fought to keep their sides in the top flight.

The Rest

And more!!

Major League Soccer: Five things we learned in week seven

Portland Timbers show how to stop Sporting Kansas City; fighting Philadelphia Union; San Jose Earthquakes reach the top in the West.


Group Stage: Men's Olympic Tournament 2012

Great Britain's men's team have been drawn against Uruguay, UAE and Senegal in the Olympic games. Uruguay, runners-up in the Under-17 World Cup and winners of the Copa America, could include Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and Sebastian Coates. The two teams will meet at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in the final group game on August 1. Great Britain will open up their campaign at Old Trafford on July 26 against Senegal, the African nation who only secured their place in the finals on Monday night by beating Oman in a play-off at Coventry's Ricoh Arena. The second game is against the UAE at Wembley on July 29. Senegal could both potentially call on Newcastle strike duo Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse. The men's teams are made up of 18-man squads of under-23 players with three over-age players permitted per squad (born before January 1, 1989).


Raphael Honigstein in Germany

Dortmund celebrated back-to-back titles with an enthusiasm and togetherness that has been a mark of their season.

Borussia Dortmund celebrate Bundesliga title win built on unity.

Tim Vickery in South America

Imagine if Didier Drogba had missed that chance against Barcelona last week at the end of the first half. It was Chelsea's only shot on target in the match. Had it not gone in, would their approach in the second half have been bolder? I am inclined to doubt it. From a Chelsea point of view, scoring was great - but even better was stopping Barcelona get on the score sheet. The away goals rule was introduced to encourage adventure from the visiting side and, for a while, seemed to be successful. But there is a sense now that it often has a very different effect - giving the home side in the first leg a powerful incentive not to concede. There are those in Europe who argue that the rule has outlived its usefulness, that in a continent where journey times are short there is no need to offer such a benefit to the away side. In South America things are different. For a start, the continent is bigger. Journey times are huge, and there are conditions such as altitude and temperature differences which make it hard for the visitors.

Phil Ball in Spain

So, to twist that well-worn phrase, it's all over bar the pouting. There remains a philosophical possibility that Real Madrid could drop seven points in the next four games - the trip to San Mamés is a tricky one, and the game at Granada might also be more difficult than it looks, if the hosts are in need of a win to stay up, but there seems little point in clutching at straws. Real Madrid are champions elect, and probably deservedly so. Even the Catalan press, in harmony with Barcelona's own public show of 'saber perder' (know how to lose), were reasonably generous towards Madrid, which is something of a first. Nevertheless, Xavi, the arch-scowler, who always looks as if someone's just told him that his house has been burgled, spoiled it all by announcing to the press that 'Nosotros sabemos perder' (We know how to lose), which means of course that he doesn't - or else why say it? The implicit target of his remark, Real Madrid, are of course sore losers, but it was an unnecessary point to make. We know all this.

As they say in Yorkshire, Xavi should save his breath to cool his porridge.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Germany: Borussia Dortmund Win The Bundesliga

If Spain's squad at Euro 2012 will be built around a Barcelona core, Germany's current approach is in symbiotic harmony with the philosophy of Borussia Dortmund. Bayern Munich may supply more players to the national squad (and Mats Hummels could conceivably be the only Dortmund player to start Germany's opening group match against Portugal on June 9), but in their style, their youthful effervescence, and their commitment to attacking football, Germany have drawn significant inspiration from the Dortmund model. Dortmund's relentless pressing and high-octane approach play claimed another scalp on Saturday in the 2-0 defeat of Borussia Moenchengladbach that secured the Bundesliga title for a second successive year.

England: Premier League Weekend Review, Reports, Analyses, Teams of the Week, Table

Dropped points for Manchester United and a win for Manchester City reignited the title race, while Wolves were relegated from the Premier League. Newcastle United gained a firm grip of fourth place with a convincing win over Stoke City, while Tottenham's poor form continued with a defeat at Queens Park Rangers. Blackburn beat Norwich to improve their chances of beating the drop, while Wigan's defeat at Fulham pulled Roberto Martinez's men back into the dogfight. The weekend began with a stalemate as Arsenal drew 0-0 with Chelsea in the race for a Champions League place.


Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea
David Hytner at the Emirates Stadium

Newcastle 3 - 0 Stoke City
John Wardle at St. James' Park

Queens Park Rangers 1 - 0 Tottenham
Paul Doyle at Loftus Road
Barney Ronay at Loftus Road

Manchester United 4 - 4 Everton
Henry Winter at Old Trafford
Sam Wallace at Old Trafford
Richard Jolly at Old Trafford
Jamie Jackson at Old Trafford: Five Talking Points

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 - 2 Manchester City

Richard Williams at Molineux

Liverpool 0 - 1 West Bromwich Albion
Andy Hunter at Anfield
Simon Hart at Anfield

Five Things We Learned

Team of the Week
Garth Crooks's Team of the Week
 Manchester United35265483863254
 Manchester City35255580872760
 Newcastle United34188862534211
 West Brom3513616454147-6
 Norwich City35111014434760-13
 Stoke City3411914423248-16
 Aston Villa3471512363548-13
 Queens Park Rangers359719343957-18
 Wigan Athletic FC3581017343460-26

Italy: Genoa soccer fans hold match hostage, demand players take off uniforms

Genoa risks a multi-match home stadium ban and could face even harsher measures in the wake of a protest-filled 4-1 loss to Siena. It's the latest in a long list of crowd trouble at Serie A matches, and Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Petrucci declared Monday that the situation is "beyond the point of no return." Sunday's match with Siena was suspended for about 45 minutes early in the second half, when Genoa fans threw flares onto the pitch and climbed atop barriers as they were faced by stewards in riot gear. With their side trailing 4-0, players tried to appease the hard-core "ultra" fans by removing their shirts to acknowledge they weren't worthy of wearing them.

Italy: Serie A Weekend Review (and midweek preview), Team of the Week, Table

Things are looking good for Juve...
Juventus hold a three-point cushion at the top of the Serie A standings with five games remaining, but club coach Antonio Conte is not taking anything for granted. The Turin giants are unbeaten and have won their last six league games, including Sunday's 4-0 triumph over Roma. Second-placed AC Milan host 17th-placed Genoa on Wednesday looking to bounce back from last weekend's 1-1 draw to Bologna that hindered their title challenge. Massimiliano Allegri's men have dropped five points in their last two games at the San Siro.

Review (and midweek preview)

Team of the Week

 AC Milan33208568632736
 AS Roma33155135052466
 Inter Milan33147124947452
 Chievo Verona33111012433040-10

Spain: La Liga Weekend Review, Report, Table

Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao all boosted their respective bids for European places with victories on Sunday. On Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo finally stood up to be counted in a Clasico as record-breaking Real Madrid took a giant step towards wrestling the La Liga title from Barcelona's grasp after a 2-1 success at the Nou Camp.


Graham Hunter: Well Done, Mourinho

 Real Madrid342842881093079
 Athletic Bilbao341212104849445
 Atlético Madrid34139124847425
 Espanyol Barcelona3412913454446-2
 Real Betis3412616424049-9
 Real Sociedad34101014404150-9
 Rayo Vallecano3412418405060-10
 Sporting de Gijón348719313564-29
 Racing Santander3441416262453-29

Monday MLS Breakdown: Familiar problems send Toronto FC sliding once again

Dysfunction within the organization and instability at the back undermine Aron Winter's TFC project, plus a look at all of the Week 7 action.

The Fifth Official: Squeaky Bum Town, Spurs Crumbling

Wolves go down in a hail storm...

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 week brimming with potential victims.