Monday, November 29, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 29 November - 2 December 2010

Monday 29 November

19.45 Droylsden v Leyton Orient, FA Cup Second Round, ESPN/ESPN HD
If you thought you'd had your fill of FA Cup action over the weekend (your Fairground team was at Colchester for their visit from Swindon Supermarine), think again. Monday night sees Leyton Orient rewarded for a replay victory over Dagenham with a trip to Droylsden. The Blue Square Bet North side overcame Havant & Waterlooville in the first round. On the line is a trip to Norwich City in the third round.

19.45 Leicester City v Nottingham Forest, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
A big derby win for Norwich on Sunday took them past Nottingham Forest and into the top six, but Monday evening's clash at the Walkers affords Forest the chance to immediately strike back. Their hosts are just two points above the relegation places but haven't been beaten on home turf since the middle of September. These two sides last met in February, when a 3-0 Leicester win was ample revenge for a Robert Earnshaw-inspired 5-1 victory for Forest last December.

20.00 Barcelona v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
This is a match that needs no introduction, but that's not going to stop me. Real Madrid have a one-point lead over Pep Guardiola's side and both are in remarkable form. Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi are scoring for fun but it could be the coaches whose battle is most fascinating on Monday night. Whatever happens, this looks set to be a fantastic game of football.

Tuesday 30 November

19.45 West Ham United v Manchester United, Carling Cup Quarter Final, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The mood at Upton Park was lifted slightly by a weekend win in the Premier League, but a much trickier task lies in wait for them in the League Cup. The Hammers will be even happier if Alex Ferguson sticks to his usual selection for this competition, leaving the weekend's five-goal hero Dimitar Berbatov out of action and West Ham out of his firing line. The visitors haven't been knocked out of the Carling Cup for almost two years.

19.45 Fiorentina v Reggina, Coppa Italia Fourth Round, ESPN/ESPN HD
It's cup week in Italy too, and the fourth round of the Coppa Italia sees Fiorentina host Reggina on the back of a fortuitous draw at Juventus. The Amaranto sit four points off the automatic promotion spots in Serie B, and progressed to this round of the cup by beating Frosinone with two second half goals at the end of October.

Wednesday 1 December

18.00 Sampdoria v PSV Eindhoven, Europa League, ESPN/ESPN HD
It's do or die for the Blucerchiati in Group I. They've two games left to gain three points on Metalist Kharkiv and the first is against a PSV side who need just a point to secure qualification. Samp's only win in the group so far came against Debrecen, who have lost all four games and scored just once in the process. The home side's draw against Serie A leaders Milan on Saturday could be a decent footing ahead of a difficult match.

19.45 Birmingham City v Aston Villa, Carling Cup Quarter Final, Sky Sports 2/HD2
A midweek Birmingham derby, you say? Surely that's not a good idea! Yes, it's West Midlands Police's worst nightmare on Wednesday as a large chunk of their December budget is blown on one football match. Villa had won six derbies on the spin before this season's goalless draw, but Blues will be gagging to get this one underway after beating Chelsea.

20.05 Manchester City v Red Bull Salzburg, Europa League, Five/Five HD
Manchester City can put one foot in the next round with a Group A win over Salzburg. Three points ahead of Juventus and behind Lech Poznan only on goals scored, City have their destiny in their own hands. However, too many draws - three in their last five matches in all competitions, before which they lost three games on the spin - could spell disaster.

20.05 Lech Poznan v Juventus, Europa League, ESPN/ESPN HD
In the other Group A match, the Bianconeri must win to have a realistic chance of qualifying. They have drawn all four Europa League group matches and face Poznan and Manchester City in the final two. Juventus are unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions but eight of those have ended level. They'll need to develop a killer instinct if they want to avoid crashing ignominiously out of Europe.

Thursday 2 December

14.45 FIFA World Cup Host Announcement, BBC2
Not a match, but worth a mention. A shambolic period in FIFA's recent history comes to a close with the announcement of host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. 2018 will come down to England versus Iberia versus Russia, while the USA and Australia are going all out for 2022 with Qatar waiting in the wings. If England and USA are selected, my head might explode. Also covered on British Eurosport.

18.00 PSG v Sevilla, Europa League, ITV4/ITV4 HD
Sevilla's pedigree in this competition in recent years has been excellent, and their start to Group J has matched it. They sit top after winning three games out of four and would guarantee top spot with a win over second-placed PSG. They might be glad to be back on the road - after a run of five straight home wins, the Rojiblancos slumped to two home defeats in their most recent league matches.

18.00 Steaua Bucharest v Liverpool, Europa League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
A point in Romania would secure a place in the next round for Roy Hodgson's Liverpool, with Napoli and Utrecht both five points behind the Group K leaders. The group opened back in September with a 4-1 win for the Reds against the Militarii. Marius Lacatus' side beat Utrecht in the last group game to go second, and have a European Cup winner to look up to in the dugout.

19.45 Tamworth v Newport County, Blue Square Bet Premier, Premier Sports
In a midweek dominated by cup football, it's perhaps fitting (loosely fitting, like a smock or something) that Tamworth are in televised action. Their cup pedigree has been good over the years but on Thursday they're in league action against Dean Holdsworth's high-flying Newport County. Newport head to Staffordshire with Craig Reid in fine goalscoring form.

20.05 Palermo v Sparta Prague, Europa League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Sparta's Wilfried Bony is the top goalscorer in the Europa League this term, and has scored in every game in Group F in which the Czech side has found the net. A point will do for Sparta, while the home side will have to come out all guns blazing in Sicily if they're to keep their hopes alive. The Rosanero's only win in the group was a 1-0 win over whipping boys Lausanne Sports.

20.05 Villarreal v Dinamo Zagreb, Europa League, ITV4/ITV4 HD
Qualification prospects from Group D are as tight as John Burridge's doorframes, but Dinamo can make sense of the mayhem by defeating Villarreal on Thursday. But it won't be easy for the Croatian side - Villarreal's two group wins so far came in their two home games. A draw here and PAOK could take control of the group by beating Brugge.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Weekend TV Preview: 27-28 November 2010

Saturday 27 November

12.45 Aston Villa v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
For the fourth weekend in a row Arsenal have a lunchtime kick-off. My wife pointed this out to me for some reason so I thought it was worth mentioning here.

12.50 AFC Wimbledon v Stevenage, FA Cup 2nd Round, ITV1/ITV HD
Stevenage knocking MK Dons out was probably the most disappointing giant-killing as far as ITV were concerned. I for one am thankful we haven't had to wade through the swamp of maintstream media swill over THAT fixture (not to mention the accompanying bloggosphere hand-wringing). For the 2nd Round, the carnies at the Football Fairground will be pitching up at Colchester to see them take on Swindon Supermarine - weather and rail replacement bus services permitting.

17.20 Burnley v Derby County, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
One win in six has seen Burnley slip out the play-off spots into the very congested chasing pack - but hey it's the Championshp so next time you look it'll be completely different anyway. We'll probably be stuck on a bus somewhere on the A12.

19.00 Sevilla v Getafe, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Getafe have just taken just one point in the last four games, Sevilla will be looking to make up for the home defeat to Mallorca last time out. If I'm not in the pub by kick-off, I won't be happy.

21.00 Atletico Madrid v Espanyol, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Not El Clasico. The other teams from Madrid and Barcelona play each other on Monday night.

Sunday 28 November

12.00 Dundee United v Rangers, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
The man in black will be a black-leg in this tie as the SPL bring refs in from abroad to beat the referees' strike. This might actually be worth watching - what's Norwegian for "scab"?

13.15 Norwich City v Ipswich Town, Championship, BBC1/BBC HD
The old farm derby finds neither side with much to shout about, form-wise. Norwich haven't won in five while Roy Keane's side have lost their last three. Desperate stuff.

13.30 Newcastle United v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Newcastle could win this. If they do, expect some suspicious betting patterns to form as idiots from Ashington to Washington bet their mortgages on the Toon winning the title.

14.15 Motherwell v Hearts, SPL, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Both teams get to pretend they're playing in Europe as they fail to make the referee understand anything they say.

16.00 Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
According to Peter Crouch, this Spurs side are better than the Liverpool side that got to the 2007 Champions League Final. Oo look, they're playing Liverpool today. 6th plays 9th.

18.00 FA Cup 3rd Round Draw, ITV1/ITV HD
Third Round. FA Cup. In come the big boys. 64 balls in a velvet bag. Jumpers for goalposts - "Look out, here comes Parky!" Marvellous.

18.00 Athletic Bilbao v Osasuna, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1 (1st Half Red Button)
10th plays 11th. Sky really have to scrape on weekends when the top two aren't playing.

19.45 Palermo v Roma, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
After a shocking start, Roma are now the form team of Serie A and have climbed up to fifth - above Inter. Their change in fortunes culminated midweek when they came back from two goals down to beat Bayern in the Champions League.

20.00 Valencia v Almeria, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Home win.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Bundesliga Show Episode 1 - The Netzer Machine

Welcome to the first episode of the Bundesliga Show. A new podcast from myself, Terry Duffelen, and Jon Hartley of Bundesliga World.

Each week or so, we'll be taking a look at the various doings in the German Bundesliga.

This week, we look at the Champions League action and the trials and tribulations of Louis van Gaal and Thomas Schaaf. Plus we congratulate Schalke on their excellent win against Lyon which sends them through to the knock-out stage of the competition.

We also look back on last week's Bundesliga results and look ahead to some choice fixtures this weekend.

Click here to listen to the podcast or right click on the link to download it.

Alternatively, subscribe to the podcast feed here or the iTunes feed here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

MLS Cup Final 2010: Glory for Colorado

And so November comes to an end, and with it Football Americana's second season of Major League Soccer. The final of MLS Cup 2010 took place on Sunday evening at BMO Field in Toronto between Colorado Rapids, the champions of the Eastern Conference, and FC Dallas, their counterparts in the West. The game itself was one for the purists, as they say, but nobody's complaining in Denver.

MLS in 2011 will be a different beast. Portland and Vancouver will form a Pacific Northwest triumvirate with rivals Seattle in an 18-team league with reformed playoffs and a greater focus on youth academies than ever before. In it, the Rapids will be defending champions after a 2-1 extra time win over Schellas Hyndman's Dallas side.

The Rapids were denied a first half penalty and went in at the break a goal down. Jair Benitez swept a diagonal ball out to Marvin Chavez, who repeated the trick for league MVP David Ferreira. The attacking midfielder was racing towards the six yard line and arrived at the perfect moment to knock Chavez's brilliant cross past Matt Pickens in the Colorado goal.

Eleven minutes after half time Gary Smith's side was level. His Scottish namesake, Jamie, passed low into the area for Conor Casey, who reacted quickest when the ball broke loose between himself, goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and Benitez to prod in the equaliser. Dax McCarty for Dallas and Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz had efforts from distance saved, and the chances were split between the two sides before extra time began to loom large over BMO Field.

That extra period was settled in the cruellest of circumstances for the Texan side. Mac Kandji, traded to Colorado in the deal that took Mehdi Ballouchy to New York this season, was found by a lovely raking pass from Casey and headed towards goal from an acute angle. His run was blocked by Ugo Ihemelu and the ball span off the thigh of a stranded George John past his own goalkeeper.

It's a harrowing way to lose the season finale and it's not a moment John or FC Dallas will forget in a hurry. Enormous congratulations to Colorado Rapids on their success this season. They were handed a chance to win the title by virtue of the nature of the playoff system and, like Real Salt Lake last year, grabbed it with both hands.

Football Americana will undoubtedly be back on a few occasions between now and March, when MLS returns. Until then, adiós!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 23 - 25 November 2010

Monday 22 November

20:00 Sunderland v Everton, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
The way Sunderland are going, their manager Steve Bruce needs to careful he doesn't end up tagged with the curse of the "next England manager". Everton are good but not that good. Their need for a first win since October should force them on the front foot and make for a lively game.

Tuesday 23 November

17:30 Spartak Moscow v Marseille, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
Spartak haven't won anywhere in November and lost the big derby game against CSKA at the weekend. Both themselves and OM are on six points so this makes for an exciting showdown for second spot in the group.

19:45 Chelsea v Zilina, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports 2 / HD2 / 3D
The Slovakian club were mullered 7-0 by Marseille at their place in the last round. Moreover, Zilina lost their first league game of the season on Saturday to second placed Senica. That's one loss in seventeen! Chelsea are hardly in great shape themselves but if they can't beat this lot...

19:45 Braga v Arsenal, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
The Gunners were supposed to be the Alphas of this groups. However, defeat to the Shakthar club and again in the North London derby would have had Braga scenting blood were it not for the fact that they are not in great shape either.

19:45 Partizan Belgrade v Shakhtar Donetsk, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
A hostile welcome is in store for Donetsk. The Ukrainian's fantastic result against Arsenal has blown the top three of this group open. Now all they need is a win against a beatable Partizan team to put them in the box seat for the final round of games.

19:45 Ajax v Real Madrid, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
Those dropped points at Milan did for Real's chances of turning the last two games into dead rubbers. A tricky away tie at a feisty Ajax team will be a test of metal for Jose's men.

19:45 Auxerre v AC Milan, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
The home side twitched somewhat in the last game against Ajax. Nevertheless, Milan look set to establish some distance in second place, assuming everything goes to plan in Amsterdam.

19:45 Roma v Bayern Munich, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
Ranieri's team are back back back after a dismal start to the season and will fancy having a tilt at a Bayern team who are through to the next round and all but group winners. This is just as well as Roma need the points.

19:45 Basle v Cluj, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
Especially if Basle win this very winnable game against Cluj.

Wednesday 24 November

17:30 Rubin Kazan v Copenhagen, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
Even if the recently deposed Russian champions were to beat the Danes they would still need to recoup another point in the final round to overhaul their opponents in second place. It's looking good for FCK.

18:00 Udinese V Lecce , Coppa Italia 4th Round, ESPN / ESPN HD
Alternatively, if you hate Russia and are allergic to pigs then why not watch the Coppa Italia on ESPN. I think you'll be the only one.

19:45 Tottenham Hotspur v Werder Bremen, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports 2 / HD2 / 3D
Spurs have been tremendous value in the Champions League this season and will be super-confident after their aforementioned derby win. Bremen, on the other hand have been atrocious lately and were shelled 4-0 by Schalke on Saturday. Despite that, I wouldn't put too much money on a home win.

19:45 Inter Milan v FC Twente, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
Inter's eccentric form coupled with Twente's surprising quality have helped make Group A the most entertaining in the competition. Still and all, the home side should be able to negotiate their way passed the Dutch.

19:45 Rangers v Man Utd, Champions League Matchday 5, ITV1 / ITV HD
This match will certainly generate more eyeballs for ITV's advertiser that the Spurs game and possibly as much drama. Rangers are tough hombres and United are not at their best. Definite potential shock.

19:45 Valencia v Bursaspor, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
Bursaspor look pretty dead but Valencia may want to add another couple of extra rounds in the chamber, just in case.

19:45 Panathinaikos v Barcelona, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
Pana kicked their legs an giggled a bit while Barca tickled their bellies in the reverse fixture. The Catalans probably need to win their next two games to be certain of progression. Could be a nervous encounter.

19:45 Hapoel Tel-Aviv v Benfica, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
An win for third placed Benfica will leave them very handy for the final round against Schalke who are currently in third. No matter what the Gelsenkirchen club do in this round, the Portuguese club will know that a win will see them through.

19:45 Schalke 04 v Lyon, Champions League Matchday 5, Sky Sports Interactive
Not that that will be too easy. Schalke have been decent enough in the Champions League and are finally getting themselves together in the Bundesliga. Raul scored a hat trick against Bremen last Saturday and Lyon may have to wait until the next round against Hapoel to secure a place in the knock out stage.

Thursday 25 November

19:45 Histon v Bath City, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
This is more like it. Two non-league clubs as opposed to two ex-league clubs. Histon are hovering above the relegation zone thanks to two straight defeats. Bath are comfortably mid-table and unbeaten in four.

19:45 Cagliari v Bologna, Coppa Italia 4th Round, ESPN / ESPN HD
No points between these two in the league. Caglieri won in their last league encounter and have the edge in the head-to-head.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bundesliga Week 13 Round Up: Allagui magic

If and when you get round to checking out the goals for this weekend's Bundesliga action, you should start with Borussia Monchengladbach v Mainz. 'Gladbach's first and second were by Marco Reus. His first was the best, running on to a fast travelling ball and shooting first time passed the 'keeper.

Unfortunately for him and typically for 'Gladbach, he and his team mates were unable to keep a clean sheet. Andre Schurrle has already equalised when Reus scored his second. After that it was the Sami Allagui Show with his glamorous assistant Christian Fuchs. His cross on the 76th minute provided Allagui with the equalising goal. Then, in the 90th minute, Fuchs played a long ball through to the Tunisian who lobbed the onrushing keeper, ran onto his own ball and headed it casually into the net. Class.

Mainz win their first match in four games and retain their second place by virtue of Bayer Leverkusen's draw with Bayern Munich. Mario Gomez was on the end of some excellent build up play. Leverkusen played well with Sidney Sam the stand out player. He won a penalty on the stroke of half time which Arturo Vidal converted.

Borussia Dortmund stay on top thanks to a hard fought win at Freiburg. The home side openned the scoring thanks to a defensive mix up which lead to an own goal by Mats Hummels which left the player and coach Jurgen Klopp claiming a foul on 'keeper Roman Weidenfeller. Given Freiburg's penchant for the effective counter attack, a win for BVB seemed unlikely. However, eventually they persevered thanks to the improving Robert Lewandowski. The winner came from an own goal by Mensur Mujdza but Freiburg were unlucky as had the Bosnian left the cross it would have come to an offside player.

The game was also notable for an incomprehensible miss in front of an open goal by Dortmund's Jakub Blaszczykowski which is already turning into a Youtube classic.

In fourth place are Hannover who came back from 2-1 down against Hamburg. Mike Hanke scored in the 90th minute to send Mirko Slomka into rapture and Armin Veh to the dog house.

Elsewhere. Hoffenheim reacted well to my recent post about them with a 4-0 thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt. Kaiserslautern eased away from the bottom three with a fantastic 3-1 win at Nurnberg. Koln's Lukas Podolski took advantage of a highly dubious penalty to score the only goal in a 1-0 win at Stuttgart . Neither FC St Pauli or Wolfsburg felt in the entertaining mood and played out a fairly drab 1-1 draw.

Finally, it was a dark day for Werder Bremen, beaten as they were 4-0 by a resurgent Schalke. While the German media has been on the one hand celebrating Raul's hattrick, they are also stroking their collective chins and pondering the fate of Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf. The club are standing by their man who has been in charge at the Weserstadion for eleven years. However, his team have conceded 10 gaols in the last three games and by Schaaf's own admission are not responding to his strategies in training.

Breman go to to White Hart Lane on Wednesday to meet Spurs in the Champions League. Bundesliga watchers will be looking to see if Schaaf's players give him some sort of positive response.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekend TV Preview: 19 - 21 November 2010

Saturday 20 November

12.00 Kilmarnock v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
The Old Firm are ten and eleven points clear at the top of the SPL, with the main difference between the two still Rangers' win over Celtic back in October. The Gers were beaten by Hibs last week but bounced back to beat Aberdeen at the weekend, and the same pattern leaves Celtic a point behind. Kilmarnock have exactly half the number of points accrued by Rangers with just 13 games played. Plus ça change.

12.45 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
The North London derby seems to have picked up some extra spice since Tottenham began to creep up on the top four league places under Martin Jol. Arsenal certainly have their rivals' number in this fixture and will be looking to pick up three more points that could help them establish their place in the title battle. But this is a very decent Spurs side and one that will be keen to turn over the Gunners on Saturday.

17.00 Villarreal v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Valencia travel to Villarreal three points behind Cosmin Alioanei's side, but goal difference likely precludes them from moving into third. Valencia have won only one of their last five games and only twice in their last five at home. They'll be up against a side on Saturday with two of the form goalscorers of the league, Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar.

17.20 Sheffield United v Crystal Palace, Football League Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Two of the Championship's traditionally big clubs, this meeting of Sheffield United and Crystal Palace sees them both in worryingly low positions. They're two points apart, with palace second from bottom and United just outside the relegation zone. However, both have picked up results lately with the visitors winning their last two and the Blades winning one and drawing one in the same period. Palace have already lost ten matches this season.

17.30 Liverpool v West Ham United, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Two teams in dire straits go head to head at Anfield in Saturday's late kick-off. The Hammers are bottom of the Premier League and have won just one match this term. But it's 11th-placed Liverpool who seem in the most distress after losing to Stoke last weekend. Manager Roy Hodgson seems unlikely to see out the year, and calls for Kenny Dalglish to replace him seem desperate at best.

19.00 Almeria v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Ahead of a potentially tricky match for Real Madrid, Barcelona will be looking to put the pressure on them by beating lowly Almeria and heading for the top of the table. Pep Guardiola's men haven't lost a game in the league since their infamous defeat to a Nelson Valdez-inspired Hercules on 11th September, and have dropped just two points in that time. Lionel Messi has scored in each of Barcelona's last four league matches, finding the net no fewer than seven times.

21.00 Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Unlike Barcelona, Real remain unbeaten ahead of this weekend's games. They welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Bernabeu on Saturday evening having dropped just four points and conceded only five goals all season. Bilbao's Spanish international Fernando Llorente is the top scorer outside the big two and will be looking to breach the Merengues defence. Neither Sporting nor Atleti managed it in the previous two league games involving Jose Mourinho's side.

Sunday 21 November

11.30 Genoa v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Genoa replaced Gian Piero Gasperini with Davide Ballardini in the coaching hotseat earlier this month after a poor start to the season. Ballardini's reign has started well with wins over Bologna and Cagliari, but the Old Lady stands in the way of a third consecutive victory. Juve haven't lost in the league since September and won four and lost four since then.

13.30 Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Injury-hit Villa caught the eye last weekend thanks to a magnificent performance against Manchester United by a team full of youngsters. Marc Albrighton, Jonathan Hogg and Barry Bannan made names for themselves in midfield and you can be sure that meticulous Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce noted their showing with interest. These two have met regularly in the last year, with Villa having the edge for the most part.

16.00 Fulham v Manchester City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
After being jeered and booed against Birmingham, it's clear that the pressure is on Manchester City gaffer Roberto Mancini to start turning draws into wins. His opposite number on Sunday knows exactly how he feels, having been ousted at Eastlands in similar circumstances. Mark Hughes seems to be settling in well at Craven Cottage but also needs to start putting better results on the board.

18.00 Sevilla v Mallorca, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Sevilla host Mallorca and will be hoping to grab their third league win on the bounce. On 8th November they disptached ten-man Valencia at home, and six days later took home the points from Zaragoza despite having Fernando Navarro dismissed with the score at 1-1. Mallorca have only taken one point from their last two games.

19.45 Napoli v Bologna, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
A rather limp performance last weekend saw Napoli pass up a great chance to go top of the league. Instead they were beaten by Lazion and will settle for third for the time being. Bologna are three points above the relegation zone thanks to a 1-0 win over Brescia courtesy of Marco Di Vaio's second half goal. The fact that they're six points off fourth tells you all you need to know about Serie A so far this season.

20.00 Real Sociedad v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
It's Madrid versus the Basque Country again on Sunday evening as Quique Sánchez Flores' Atleti head to San Sebastián to face Real Sociedad. Sociedad have won their last three at home and Real Madrid are the only visitors to find the net at the Estadio Anoeta so far this season. The visitors' away form is very poor but their only win on the road this term came in Bilbao, which is as daft an omen as I can come up with.

01.30 (Monday) Colorado Rapids v FC Dallas, MLS Cup Final, ESPN/ESPN HD
And as the weekend comes to an end, so too does Major League Soccer 2010. FC Dallas defeated LA Galaxy to reach the final, winning 3-0 in a shock result at the Home Depot Center last Sunday. Meeting them in Toronto late on Sunday will be Colorado, who won the Eastern Conference (don't ask) by beating Columbus and then San Jose. Keep an eye out for Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman's rather fetching lucky jacket on the touchline.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MLS Playoffs: Conference Finals

There's now just one match left in Major League Soccer in 2010, and next Sunday's MLS Cup final in Toronto will be contested by Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas. The Rapids make the final despite finishing fifth in the Western Conference, while Dallas went unbeaten for vast swathes of the season.

The Rapids secured their place in the final by winning the Eastern Conference. Having dispatched Eastern opponents in the semi-finals, two Western sides battled it out for the Eastern title with the Rapids defeating San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday evening. Kosuke Kimura was the hero for the Rapids with a fantastic tackle on Ryan Johnson on 25 minutes and the Japanese defender lifted the roof off DSG Park with a 43rd minute cross from the touchline that evaded Omar Cummings and swung in at the far post to win the game for Colorado.

In Toronto next Sunday they will face Dallas, who rolled into the Home Depot Center, gave LA Galaxy a good hiding - at least on the scoresheet - and are now en route to the final of MLS Cup. LA's playoff beards got a sniff of a sharpened razor on 26 minutes, when David Ferreira turned beautifully after Marvin Chavez's pass and found the bottom corner with a lovely finish. It was against the run of play somewhat, with Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman having been the key man up until that point and throughout the rest of the game.

George John fired the second in the roof of the net after a great pass across goal by Brek Shea, and Chavez got a goal of his own with an easy finish to kill the game and send Dallas to the final. David Beckham was booked for protesting that Chavez had been offside when Ferreira passed the ball but the former England skipper was, in the words of Alan Partridge, bang wrong.

Congratulations to FC Dallas on winning the West and to Colorado Rapids on winning the East. Their success at the end of the season shows the value of form and momentum in playoffs.

You can see the Conference finals highlights here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 16 - 18 November 2010

Tuesday 16 November

19:45 Woking v Brighton & Hove Albion, FA Cup 1st Round Replay, ESPN/ESPN HD
It's another international break so this week's TV Preview begins with a Tuesday outing for Gus Poyet's team. They'll be trying to avoid becoming another name on the long list of Cup shocks but will have to do so without star player Kazenga Lua Lua. He broke his ankle against Hartlepool at the weekend and won't be back for 10 weeks.

20:00 Scotland v Faroe Islands International Friendly, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Craig Levein's had no less than ten withdrawals from his squad ahead of this game, and one of those was a replacement for one of the first nine. Difficult to know how much value the Scots can attach to a friendly involving such poor opposition. Whether the feeling's mutual for the Faroe Islanders, we'll leave to your imagination.

Wednesday 17 November

17:00 Argentina v Brazil, International Friendly, ESPN/ESPN HD
Kudos to ESPN for snapping up this one. Matches between these two teams are barely ever 'friendly' due to the intense rivalry they've harboured over the years. This match, taking place in Qatar, sees Ronaldinho making his long-awaited return to the Selecao after an 18-month absence from the squad. Token gesture or clever team selection? You decide...

19:30 Sweden v Germany International Friendly, ESPN/ESPN HD
Borussia Dortmund's surge to the top of the Bundesliga is reflected in the selection of several BVB players by Joachim Loew. Among the young guns appearing on the team sheet against the Swedes are Marcel Schmelzer, Mario Goetze, Kevin Grosskreutz and Mats Hummels. An avoidance of the 4-1 pummeling against the Dutch recently will be Erik Hamren's first priority for his side.

19:45 Northern Ireland v Morocco, International Friendly, Sky Sports 2
Like Scotland, Northern Ireland have also seen ten players withdraw from their squad. Things are now looking so bad for Nigel Worthington that he's having to call up Aberdeen players as replacements. Who'd be a manager, eh?

19:45 Republic of Ireland v Norway, International Friendly, Sky Sports 1
After a World Cup qualifying defeat to Russia and a draw against Slovenia, Ireland need some reassuring that they're still a force to reckon with, but guess what?  Yes, there's injuries a plenty in the Irish squad so once again some of the younger, less experienced charges could be given a rare chance to shine. Hooray for the youth, that's what we say.

20:00 England v France, International Friendly, ITV1/ITV HDFabio's rather erratic squad selections of late leave us with no idea who'll be donning the white shirts to face France, but it should be an interesting match (as meaningless friendlies go) between two evenly matched teams. France are in good form under Laurent Blanc and will be keen to get a confidence boost under the famous Wembley arch.

Thursday 18 November

19:45 Ebbsfleet United v AFC Wimbledon, FA Cup 1st Round Replay, ESPN / ESPN HD
The Big One is on. If the New Wombles can grab a win at Stonebridge Road they'll be half-way towards a mammoth coming-together of earth-shattering proportions against M***** K***** D***. Oh, and apparently Ebbsfleet will be pleased with a win too.

19:45 Rushden & Diamonds v York City, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
These two teams faced each other back in September, the result being a 2-0 win for York. Sadly for the Minstermen, their form ever since has been poor while their opponents remain keen contenders for a promotion place to League Two.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bundesliga Week 12 Round Up: Bayern on the move

It is difficult enough for a coach to assimilate a brand new defensive partnership into a team, especially when that coach has just arrived at the club himself. However, when one member of that partnership pulls up injured before even kicking a ball in anger, the task becomes impossible. Unfortunately for Wolfsburg coach, Steve McClaren, this is exactly what is taking place.

The two defenders who joined Die Wolfe in the Summer were German international Arne Friedrich and the highly rated Danish centre back Simon Kjaer. Friedrich is the player who is out injured and is not expected to return until the resumption of the Bundesliga season after the Winter Break. This has meant that the inexperienced Kjaer has had to get to grips with his new surroundings without the former Hertha Berlin captain at his side to help him out.

Unfortunately he is not having the best time if things as yet again, Wolfsburg surrendered a commanding lead and missed out on three precious Bundesliga points.

This time, Schalke were the fortunate recipients and there was a good deal of fortune about the Gelsenkirchen club's unlikely point at the VW Arena.

Going forward, Wolfsburg are awesome. Diego is fully integrated into the attack and Grafite and Edin Dzeko are reliving that great partnership that took them to the title two seasons ago. In fact they were both on the mark on Saturday as the home side took a 2-0 lead.

Schalke's come back started after Jefferson Farfan's run down the inside right position took him behind the Wolfsburg defence. The Peruvian is in good nick at the moment and his cross found Edu at the far post who scored easily from 12 yards. If McClaren was left cursing his defence's inabiltity to track runners for the first goal, he was cursing the referee for the second. The official failed to spot a clear handball from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who used his hand to control a deflected through ball and score the equaliser. Before you feel too sorry for Wolfsburg, The Hunters' marker was Karin Ziani who, rather than attempt to disrupt the Dutchman's shot with some clever defensive acumen, elected to stand there, hand aloft fruitlessly appealing for the handball. Not big and not clever. As if things couldn't get any worse, Ashkan Dejagah was sent off and The Wolves were left hanging on toa point by the end.

To use an old adage, the draw helped neither side. Schalke are still in the bottom three while the pressure is mounting of McClaren who may not be around long enough to worry about who to replace Edin Dzeko should the Bosnian, as is being strongly tipped, make a big money move to Bayern Munich.

Not that Bayern looked like they needed him on Sunday when the Allianz Arena welcomed their Bavarian rivals Nurnberg. Der Club found striker Mario Gomez in fine form. The German international has take his portion of stick since arriving in Munich. However, Super Mario has scored twelve goals in nine games so who's laughing now. Both goals were close range finishes. the first from a Daniel Pranjic centre and the second from a corner by the returning Franck Ribery, back after injury. Gomez also won the penalty which Philipp Lahm converted. Their was a second penalty in the match which Gomez himself took with the score at 3-0 to complete his hat trick. He blasted the ball over the bar demonstrating that no matter how well he plays, chaos and hi-jinks are never far behind Mario Gomez. Personally, I love the guy and hope he stays at Bayern for years before finishing his career at Crystal Palace.

Anyhoo, Bayern are now sixth in the Bundesliga table. After twelve games, last season they were eighth and no one was giving them a prayer. So despite Borussia Dortmund's excellent form at the top, there is plenty of time for Louis van Gaal's team to bridge the gap and overhaul the Westfalen club.

Unless of course, BVB keep winning. Jurgen Klopp's men show no sign of stopping after defeating Hamburg 2-0 with goals by Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Barrios. Both goals came in the second half after a fairly even first period. But after the break Dortmund just nudged themselves into another gear, much to the chagrin of Hamburg coach Armin Veh.

Second in the table are Bayer Leverkusen. They finally over came a dogged St Pauli at the Millerntor thanks to a late goal by Renato Augusto. This means that Mainz slip to third after another defeat. Hannover only needed one goal at the Stadion Am Bruchweg and what a goal it was by Sergio Pinto. The 96ers even managed to survive with only ten men for much of the second half. Mainz need a win to right themselves and avoid slipping into mid table.

Elsewhere, Koln's post Soldo bounce was flattened spectacularly by a 4-0 hammering at home to Borussia Monchengladbach, Werder Bremen participated in only their second 0-0 of the season with Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim were left counting their missed chances as they lost 1-0 in the very last second at home to Freiburg. The away side had always looked dangerous on the break in a very entertaining match and it was that man Papiss Cisse (also subject of transfer speculation) who shrugged off his marker and rifled home at the death.

Finally, The Kaiserlautern home fans unveiled a spectacular mobile of World Cup winning legend Fritz Walter before an extraordinary game in the Fritz Walter Stadion against Stuttgart. The away side went 3-0 up with goals from Arthur Boka, Cacau and Christian Gentner. Cacau's second was deeply controversial as it came from a counter attack with the 'Lautern players screaming for a penalty at the other end. However, flushed with indigence and anxious not to let their fanatical home support down, the players stormed back with three second half goals to claim a point. 'Lautern's second was tremendous, cutting inside and letting fly with a log distance strike that verily flew into the top corner. A cracking game and further proof that Kaiserslautern's presence in 1.Bundesliga is good news for the neutral.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Weekend TV Preview: 12-14 November 2010

Friday 12 November

19:30 Borussia Dortmund v SV Hamburg, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD

Presumably there's no egg chasing on this weekend which is why ESPN have come crawling back to the Bundesliga to fill their gaping schedules. As it happens, they've hit on a potential classic between the league leaders Dortmund and a Hamburg team packed with some top players.

19:45 Preston North End v Hull City, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Alternatively, Preston are on the other side. Scoff all you like but this blogger can guarantee that this North West v Humberside clash will gain more viewers than Messrs van Nistelrooy, Ze Roberto, Kagawa, Sahin and co.

Saturday 13 November

11:00 TBC, Asian Champions League, British Eurosport 2
In fact, such is the parochialism of the UK football-watching audience they'll probably not even realise that this Asian Champs League match is on. Mind you it would help if they bothered to publish the teams.

12:45 Aston Villa v Man Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Fresh from their victory against Ian Holloway's Alt_Blackpool, Villa face the might of the Manchester United first XI, give or take a few. On the subject of Blackpool, I note that himself Mr Holloway is threatening to do one if those meddlesome interferons at the Premier League punish his club for fielding an under strength team.

17:20 Reading v Norwich City, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Is it me or is there an element of "meh" about Mr H's rants? After all, the worst that will happen to to Blackpool is that they'll get a suspended fine. Is he seriously going to walk out on account of a sort of punishment?

17:30 Stoke City v Liverpool, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Or is he perhaps laying down some groundwork for a spectacular departure for another club later in the season. I could have sworn that I saw him in a Starbucks in London talking to some bloke with a towel wrapped around his head.

19:00 Atletico Madrid v Osasuna, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
OK, so I'm being facetious (and a little offensive) but ask any Plymouth fan and they'll tell you that he's capable of walking out on a club at the worst possible moment.

21:00 Barcelona v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
I'm just saying that if, two weeks from now, Sven and Ollie have swapped jobs, the World will know I'm right and not just some desperate blogger who doesn't have the time to research these previews.

Sunday 14 November

11:30 Lazio v Napoli, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD

And on the subject of research...

13:30 St Mirren v Celtic, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
...we at the Sound Of Football Podcast are grateful for the number of kind words regarding our latest edition covering the state of Scottish Football.

14:00 Everton v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
In particular, we'd like to commend the redoubtable Andrew Gibney, the man behind the splendid Gib Football Show and proud Scotsman. However, we were struck by one of his tweets where he observed the following.

16:10 Chelsea v Sunderland, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D

Well really! I'm astonished that anyone would think anything else? You could easily add a bottle of cheap red plonk and a pint of Special Brew to our painstaking preparations ahead of the recording of each of our beloved and increasingly venerable podcast.

16:30 Bayern Munich v FC Nurnberg, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Nevertheless, we note that the the redoubtable Mr Gibney is peaked by our deranged ramblings and posited the theory that smaller clubs should merge to try and take on the might of the Old Firm.

18:00 Sporting v Real Madrid (1st Half Via Red Button), La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
We cannot wait to see a blog post from him on the subject... followed by the predictable outrage from traditionalists, lefties and other malcontents.

19:45 Inter Milan v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
The sort of outrage that would follow Rafa round the street of Milano should his Inter team lose to their big city rivalson Sunday.

20:00 Valencia v Getafe, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Get a hair cut ya hippies!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 8-11 November

Monday 8 November

16.00 Rubin Kazan v Spartak Moscow, Russian Premier League, ESPN
Champions for the past two seasons, Rubin currently sit in third and will secure a Champions League spot with a win against the only side that can still overtake them. Spartak are the form team at the moment having dropped just four points in their last eight games - which includes Zenit's only defeat this campaign.

19.45 Newry City v Portadown, Irish League, Sky Sports 1
A Richard Lecky hat-trick help Portadown to a 4-2 win over Newry in September, however they've only managed one win in the seven games since then, seeing them slip down to second from bottom. Newry are only a couple of places above them coming up to the half way point in the regular season.

20.30 Sevilla v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Neither side go into this with any great form behind them Valencia without a win in their last three while Sevilla are still licking their wounds after a 5-0 mauling at Barcelona. That should give the home team enough encouragement to come out fighting here especially since Valencia haven't managed to win here since 2004.

Tuesday 9 November

19.45 Stoke City v Birmingham City, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Two sides that desperately need a win before things start to get precarious. Birmingham have been improving but their next games are Man City and Chelsea. Stoke have lost four on the trot and will be without Ryan Shawcross, suspended for getting sent off against Sunderland, even though he's still not that kind of player.

Wednesday 10 November

16.00 Zenit St Petersburg v CSKA Moscow, Russian Premier League, ESPN
A win all but guarantees the title for Zenit (depending on Rubin's result from yesterday), though it's pretty much been done and dusted for some time. CSKA sit nine points behind them in second place and will be looking to consolidate their group stage Champions League place which they hold over Rubin on goal difference alone. This will be Zenit's third League title after winning this competition in 2007 and the old Soviet League in 1984.

19.30 Hearts v Celtic, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
Well Celtic may have scored nine goals at the weekend, but three of them were penalties, one an own goal and two they scored when they had an extra man. So it wasn't really that bad for Aberdeen, if you look at it like that (actually, yes it was).

20.00 Man City v Man Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
Carlos Tevez's return has seemingly lifted City from their funk, while there was little to convince in United's late win over Wolves. Rooney is still on the can't-be-bothered-to-show-up list as he continues to enjoy a non-earned holiday at Nike World - once he gets over the fact that it isn't just a big leisure-wear shop.

Thursday 11 November 2010

19.45 Wrexham v Luton Town, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
While all eyes are on Crawley and AFC Wimbledon, Luton have maintained an effective chase and have closed the gap to three points from top. Wrexham have slipped away of late and need wins if they're not to lose touch with the leading pack.

19.45 Parma v Sampdoria, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Parma's opening day win is still their only victory this season and they've scored just one goal in their last six games. A win here looks unlikely against a Samp team yet to lose on their travels but they've only managed one goal themselves in the three games since their self-imposed suspension on Cassano for mouthing off at the club President. What's Italian for "cutting your nose off..."?

MLS Playoffs: Semi-Final, Second Leg

If you need convincing that the MLS conference system is due a shake-up, this should do the trick: the Eastern Conference final will be played by two teams from the West. Here's all the action from the semi-final, second legs.

San Jose Earthquakes overturned a first leg defeat by winning 3-1 at Red Bull Arena against New York Red Bulls. One of their best players this year, Bobby Convey (pictured), opened the scoring with just five minutes gone to set the tone for the match. The sides exchanged chances before Convey's superb second with fifteen minutes to go. Juan Pablo Angel pulled the Red Bulls level with one final MLS goal a couple of minutes later but it was Chris Wondolowski, the man of the moment, who suckerpunched New York and sent the Earthquakes through.

The other true Eastern Conference team, Columbus Crew also went crashing out. Having been beaten 1-0 in the away leg, they looked in good shape after taking a 2-0 lead against Colorado Rapids. Eddie Gaven finally opened the scoring from close range in the 22nd minute after a blistering start by the Crew. The went ahead in the 70th minute when Robbie Rogers broke free to score past Matt Pickens, but the Rapids took the game to extra time thanks to a late goal by Conor Casey.

Extra time was goalless, and the match went to penalties. Mac Kandji's spot kick was fortunate but made it 2-1, and everyone scored until Brian Carroll stepped up to take the vital tenth penalty for the Crew and smashed over with the score at 5-4 Rapids.

FC Dallas needed only to hold their ground at Rio Tinto Stadium after beating Real Salt Lake in the first leg. They did just that, and the champions exit at the first hurdle. Midfielder Dax McCarty drew first blood in Sandy, rolling the ball home after side-stepping Nick Rimando in the 17th minute. Salt Lake needed two goals to take the match to extra time but they only managed one despite continually knocking the door. Robbie Findley tapped in with ten minutes to go but RSL couldn't find the all-important second goal and their defence of the title ended in the semis.

Supporters Shield winners LA Galaxy are still going strong thanks to a 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders, securing a 3-1 aggregate victory. Edson Buddle headed in David Beckham's corner to open the scoring and Omar Gonzalez glanced in a Beckham free kick to make it 2-0 inside half an hour. The Sounders could only dent the Galaxy wagon, getting a late consolation goal thanks to Steve Zakuani's finish with five minutes left.

The last four consists only of teams from the West. Colorado and San Jose will contest the Eastern Conference final after seeing off Columbus and New York respectively. In the West proper, it's LA v Dallas. The format now moves to a single match, and LA and Colorado will be at home.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jeu Du Jour 2010/11: Podcast 6

Time once again for another quick rundown of all that's important from French Football over the last fortnight.

Chris O wonders at the ongoing dominance of Brest while keeping one eye on Rennes, there's news of a first win for Arles-Avignon plus a round-up of all the ups and downs for French clubs taking part in Europe this week.

And as if that weren't enough for you, there's the usual look at the top goalscorers chart and the race for supremacy in Ligue 2 as well.

Download Jeu Du Jour Podcast 6 as an MP3 here

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekend TV Preview: 5 - 7 November 2010

Friday 5 November

19:45 Rochdale v FC United of Manchester, FA Cup 1st Round, ESPN / ESPN HD
It's somehow apt that on Guy Fawkes Night we get the weekend underway with this fizzing cracker of a match. As we discussed on this week's Sound of Football podcast, it's a local derby with a difference - namely one that gives a televisual airing to the breakaway faction that wants to be everything Fergie, Rooney and Co isn't. Rochdale will be looking to show their new-found credentials as a team very much on the up and up, so keep your fingers crossed for a tasty curtain-raiser to Round 1 of the Cup.

Saturday 6 November

12:45 Bolton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Team News just in: Gareth Bale will be playing Bolton single-handedly in this match with one hand tied behind his back and will beat them for he is the greatest British footballer of his generation, the saviour of the modern game and a Messiah for our time. And if you saw that appear on the Sky Sports News ticker, you'd be proper freaked out, wouldn't you?

17:00 Bologna v Lecce, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
Marco Di Vaio's goalscoring run appears to be at an end (albeit hopefully only a temporary one), which means this could be a dire match-up of two distinctly sub-standard teams. And if you've been reading these TV Previews of ours for some time, you'll know that's probably the cue for a 10-goal thriller.

17:20 Derby County v Portsmouth, Championship, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Two teams in great form at the moment. Whether they'll find themselves in with a shout of promotion in May remains to be seen, but Nigel Clough and Steve Cotterill have clearly got their sides performing well with decent squads at their disposal.

17:30 Cambridge United v Huddersfield Town, FA Cup 1st Round, ESPN / ESPN HD
Keep your eye open for the match ball in this fixture. It's called the Umbro NeoSpark, and it's supposed to give a truer flight as it moves through the air (but then don't they all). The U's have been practicing with it all week and their captain Paul Carden said: "It’s orange and it resembles kicking a pumpkin." Smashing.

19:00 Real Sociedad v Racing Sandtander, La Liga, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
Eleventh plays twelfth as far as the league table's concerned, and there's little to choose between both teams. The current Segunda Division champions could find themselves heading up to fifth if they win here, but the last few games betwen Real and Racing have been cagey affairs so we'd suggest you don't succumb to an idle punt on this one if you can help it.

19:45 Inter Milan v Brescia, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
Just because they collapsed against Tottenham Hotsbale, doesn't mean Inter have become a bad team all of a sudden. They remain second in Serie A and now face a straight-forward looking tie at home to lowly Brescia.

21:00 Espanyol v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
Two wins in the last 21 games in all competitions tells you all you need to know about Malaga's likelihood of staying up this season. Espanyol, on the other hand, look strong contenders for a Europa League place.

Sunday 7 November

12:00 Southport v Sheffield Wednesday, FA Cup 1st Round, ITV1 / ITV HD
This is the sort of tie that epitimises the spirit of the FA Cup. The Owls from League One, a team not unused to playing in front of crowds of 20,000+ at Hillsborough travel to Haig Avenue to face a team more likely to be cheered on by around 800. All of which will be inconsequential when David-and-Goliath epithets and talk of giant-killings fill the air this Sunday lunchtime.

12:00 St Mirren v Rangers, SPL, ESPN / ESPN HD
Bottom-v-top. St. Mirren have only notched up one win over The Gers since 1992, but we don't care because The Saints have always held a special place in our hearts since we laughed at the name Jimmy Bone in our Panini Football '79 sticker album.

13:10 Cardiff City v Swansea City, Championship, BBC1 / BBC HD
The South Wales derby hits our screens and with good reason, given how both teams are in tip-top form of late. The mind games have started, the sledging has begun... now it's time to see which team has the bottle to handle the big occasion. Unless it's a draw, of course, in which case QPR will probably end up benefitting.

13:30 Arsenal v Newcastle United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
We're still keeping our fingers crossed that Mike Ashley isn't going to sack Chris Hughton. After that display against Sunderland last weekend, he could deprive the fans of seeing the best brand of football Newcastle have played in ages and one which will surely keep them well clear of relegation. Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, merely has to defend his choice of so many fringe players in this week's Champions League defeat to Shakhtar.

14:15 Hibernian v Hearts, SPL,     Sky Sports 4 / HD4
What makes the Edinburgh Derby fascinating viewing is that you never know who will win, and a look at the form table for both sides backs that up. Despite Hearts sitting in fifth position, six places above Hibs, neither team has covered themselves in glory very much in recent games. Should be a good, open match with all to play for.

14:15 Lazio v Roma, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
Lazio have won seven from their first nine games and sit top of the table, but they'll have to make do without Francesco Totti who got himself sent off last weekend against Lecce. Roma picked up a morale-boosting win against Basle in Europe this week, so everything looks set for a tough Rome Derby once again.

16:00 Liverpool v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1 / 3D
Still a long way to go in Liverpool's recovery but Steven Gerrard showed against Napoli that he hasn't given up on a lost cause yet. Chelsea, meanwhile, are finding everything terribly, terribly easy at the moment. A repeat of last season's 2-0 win for The Blues at Anfield isn't beyond the realms of believability.

16:30 VFB Stuttgart v Werder Bremen, Bundesliga, ESPN / ESPN HD
As Terry always says, you'll always get goals when Werder are playing - as shown by the fact that they've only failed to score in two of their last 26 Bundesliga games. A poor showing at home to Nurnberg last week should be balanced out here against a woeful Stuttgart team with only two wins to their name all season.

18:00 Getafe v Barcelona (1st Half Via Red Button), La Liga, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Getafe's season seems to be unravelling before their very eyes. A strong start has been followed by inconsistency, most recently taking the shape of a 1-1 draw at Portugalete (from Spain's fourth tier) in the Copa Del Rey, then a short trip up the road to be walloped 3-0 by Athletic Bilbao last weekend. Add to that a poor showing in the Europa League and this should be a fairly comfortable win for Barcelona.

19:45 Palermo v Genoa, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
Both teams are locked in mid-table on 11 points so far and the last two occasions on which they met ended in draws. Could very well be three-on-the-trot, from where we're standing.

20:00 Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Similar fortunes for both sides in European competition this week. Real left it late to equalise 2-2 at Milan while Atletico left it late to get their winner in beating Rosenborg 2-1 in the Europa League. El Derby often provides great entertainment and this one should be no different.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MLS Playoffs: Semi-Final, First Leg

The Major League Soccer playoffs are underway and the first legs of the Conference semi-finals have been played.

The playoffs began at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, where Colorado Rapids began their outsider's raid on the Eastern Conference against second seed Columbus Crew. The form of these two sides meant that common wisdom made the Rapids the favourite, and Gary Smith's side got their 1-0 win courtesy of Pablo Mastroeni's finish from a low Omar Cummings cross. Though pleased with a first leg lead, Colorado could come to regret their profligacy in a match which saw them create all the best chances.

On Saturday, FC Dallas stamped their mark on the playoffs with a 2-1 home win over Real Salt Lake. It had all started badly for the Texans thanks to Fabian Espindola's brilliant fifth minute strike at Pizza Hut Park. Both teams demonstrated their attacking intent but it was FCD who got the second of the game, Jeff Cunningham slaloming through the defence to equalise just before the break.

David Ferreira hit the post in the 55th minute and in the 69th it was advantage Dallas after the sending off of Javier Morales. The Argentine got his second booking for a clumsy high boot and will be a big loss for Salt Lake in the second leg. The man advantage lasted just five minutes before Atiba Harris picked up a straight red card for an elbow. Eric Avila's (pictured) late winner was beautifully struck and gives Dallas a great chance to progress.

The form of San Jose Earthquakes had many tipping them for an upset against New York Red Bulls, but Hans Backe's men confounded the holders of that view by winning their away leg 1-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium. The man in form, Joel Lindpere, scored the crucial goal in California. The ball found its way to him near the edge of the box and he got his head down and drove it low across Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. The Quakes will be disappointed not to have taken any of their chances in the first leg. To make matters worse, golden boot winner Chris Wondolowski was booked for diving in the penalty area when San Jose had some useful possession, and the home side also hit the woodwork.

LA Galaxy also take an advantage back home after winning at Qwest Field against Seattle Sounders. The Sounders had a goal disallowed for offside before even 40 seconds had elapsed, and a superb Donovan Ricketts save from Fredy Montero kept LA level ahead of Edson Buddle's first half winner. The US international hit a cracking lob over Kasey Keller from long distance. There has been some debate about the freakish bounce off the turf and Keller's positioning, but Buddle should take the credit for a great goal.

LA, New York, Dallas and Colorado go into this weekend's second legs full of hope. The Red Bulls host the Earthquakes on Thursday night, Columbus play Colorado and Salt Lake play Dallas on Saturday, and Seattle travel to LA late on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bundesliga Week 10 Reflections: BVB top, Bayern on the rails

Of course the easy thing to say is that the wheels are coming off Mainz' Bundesliga title challenge. However, that suggests that they were seriously going for the title in the first place.

Thomas Tuchel's team have enjoyed the kind of start that left teams like Bayern and Werder Bremen wishing they could have had only a portion. But with a young squad, there was likely to a reckoning at some point and it came against Borussia Dortmund, another young team. Against Hamburg, Mainz can consider themselves unfortunate. Against BVB they were simply not up to it.

Sympthy must go to Niko Bungert who's mistakes contributed to the defeat. On the other hand, Mario Gotze had to work pretty hard for his picture book goal, Dortmund's first. What a talent he is proving to be. Where are these guys coming from?

And leave it to the Panther himself, Lucas Barrios to snatch the second and decisive goal. The result is, by no means a championship decider, nor a season wrecker. Both Mainz and indeed Dortmund can still look forward to a terrific season but you have to wonder if there is enough in the tank for a championship tilt. Something tells me that the 2010/11 Bundesliga winner isn't even in the top three yet.

Which brings me nicely to Bayern Munich who dispatched Freiburg with ease last Friday. Significantly, Martin Demichelis was among the goal scorers. This selection did not escape the attention of Bayern's club president Uli Hoeness who launched an attack on Bayern coach Louis van Gaal that was off the charts on the Scathe-o-meter. Hoeness accused the Dutchman of dismissing players too quickly, including Demichelis and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, another goal scorer, conveniently.

The pair have since patched things up, no doubt aware that disharmony wins nothing and that despite their relative distance from the leaders, there is still a good chance that the Bavarian club can overhaul the points deficit between them and the top two. Especially when you consider that most of their traditional challengers are in hopeless form at present.

Take Werder Bremen for example. If the wheels are coming off Mainz' wagon then Werder's is still on the blocks with the man from Kwik Fit sucking through his teeth and claiming that he'll need to order in some new parts. Their apparent unwillingness to take their chances was rightly and deservedly punished by a Nurnburg team who know that they simply cannot afford to waste opportunities to take points in unlikely venues, such as the Weserstadion. The game finished 3-2 to Die Club but Bremen's second was an afterthought at the end of the game. Congratulations to Nurnberg's Ilkayl Gundogen for his splendid brace in that game.

Schalke meanwhile do not seem to be showing any signs of genuine improvement. Sydney Sam's crisp finish was enough to seal all three points in Gelsenkirchen for Bayer Leverkusen (who move up to third in the table). The mood in the Veltins Arena looks ugly and if it were not for the fact that Felix Magath is almost running the whole show there, he would surely be facing the sack.

Meanwhile, it was another fantastic weekend for Hoffenheim and their recent signing Gylfi Sigurdsson who score two goals in his team's 4-0 rout of Hannover. Theofanis Gekas moved up to the top of the goalscoring charts with two more for Eintracht Frankfurt as they beat St Pauli 3-1 at the Millerntor. Kaiserlautern finally broke their losing streak courtesy of the ever accommodating Borussia Monchengladbach. (Steve McClaren's) Wolfsburg stunned their supporters by taking a two lead and not flushing it down the toilet against Stuttgart.

Finally, Koln's new coach Frank Schaefer oversaw a tricky tie against 1860 Munich in the DFB Pokal last week and followed it up with a 3-2 win against Hamburg. To do this, Schaefer called upon the lumbering talents of Slovenia forward Milivoje Novakovic. Frozen out by former coach Zvonmir Soldo, the Bundesliga's answer to Neil Shipperley bundled over a hatrick and lifted the Billygoats out of the bottom three. The game also saw the rare sight of Lucas Podolski providing an assist rather than a crazy attempt at a Hollywood goal. That was his first of the season. Will the wonders ever cease?

That's it. Results and tables are here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 1 - 4 November 2010

Monday 1 November

20.00 Blackpool v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Monday's Premier League clash looks on paper to be one for viewers who like to be entertained in the obvious sense. These two promoted sides are known for their attractive (in the obvious sense) football, but it's Albion who go into this one on a high. Blackpool are above only Wolves in the form table, with only one win in the six-match attention span of everyone's favourite media behemoth.

Tuesday 2 November

17.30 Rubin Kazan v Panathinaikos, Champions League, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Group D's winless duo meet in Kazan to reprise their fixture from 20th October. The sides finished goalless in Athens to leave the Russians on two points and Panathinaikos on one in a group in which second place had been considered up for grabs. Rubin actually gained ground on Copenhagen that night, but four points still divide second place from third.

19.45 Tottenham Hotspur v Inter Milan, Champions League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Inter may be duking it out with Milan and an excellent Lazio side at the top of Serie A, but for me they remain the best team in the league. Their quality was demonstrated emphatically in the first half of the home game against Spurs but Gareth Bale's freakish and brilliant hat-trick at San Siro took the shine right off the Nerazzurri's dominance. Don't be surprised if Tottenham throw a spanner in the works here - Bale's third changed the dynamic of this little duet somewhat.

19.45 Bursaspor v Manchester United, Champions League, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Nani's goal against the Turkish side enabled United to squeak past Bursaspor in their last Champions League fixture, a game in which United probably should have grabbed another goal but were ultimately quite disappointing. They picked up their first away win in the league just over a week ago, and will be looking to add another three points to those earned by beating Valencia away earlier in the round.

19.45 Valencia v Rangers, Champions League, Sky Sports 4/HD4
SPL leaders Rangers dropped their first league points of the season on Saturday thanks to Eric Odhiambo's late equaliser for Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The Gers' goal came from Maurice Edu, who scored headers at both ends against Valencia in the Champions League group game at Ibrox. Valencia's 1-1 draw against Zaragoza at the weekend also, incredibly, came courtesy of an opponent scoring past both goalkeepers.

19.45 Werder Bremen v FC Twente, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
Bremen sit in the bottom half of the Bundesliga as they prepare to host Twente. Wins over Freiburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach were followed by Saturday's home defeat at the hands of Nürnberg. In the Netherlands, Twente top the Eredivisie but are yet to win in the Champions League despite leading in two of their three matches in the group.

19.45 Benfica v Lyon, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
It's now 50 years since the golden age of the Eagles, who won the European Cup consecutively in 1961 and 1962. One win in three Group B matches puts paid to any faint hopes Benfica had of revisiting the good old days. Opponents Lyon are sitting pretty with a 100% record and have only conceded once - even that was scored by a goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

19.45 Hapoel Tel-Aviv v Schalke, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
That goalkeeper was Vincent Enyeama of Hapoel Tel-Aviv. The Israeli side are bottom of the group having been beaten three times. On 20th October they were dismantled by Schalke, for whom Raul scored twice is the competition's top goalscorer and appearance maker. A win for Schalke and defeat for Benfica would almost guarantee second place for the Germans.

19.45 FC Copenhagen v Barcelona, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
Copenhagen weren't the first team to fall foul of Leo Messi in the Champions League, and they won't be the last. Two goals from the Argentine wizard took Barcelona to a 2-0 victory over the Danish team at Camp Nou in October, and the return clash promises much of the same. The Spanish champions warmed up with a 5-0 demolition of Sevilla at the weekend.

Wednesday 3 November

19.45 Chelsea v Spartak Moscow, Champions League, ITV1/ITV HD
Spartak have won two in a week in the Russian Premier League and head for London in good spirits. A home win over champions-in-waiting Zenit St Petersburg was followed by a 2-1 victory against Rostov with goals by Welliton and Aiden McGeady turning the game around for Valery Karpin's men. Russian Yuri Zhirkov scored for Chelsea in Moscow in the previous meeting of these two sides.

19.45 Shakhtar Donetsk v Arsenal, Champions League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
After applauding Eduardo's consolation goal at the Emirates, it's Arsenal's turn to hit the skies as they travel to Ukraine to face Shakhtar. Arsene Wenger's side will be brimming with confidence against opponents they've dismantled so recently, and only a comfortable win will be good enough. It will certainly be a more testing game than the home fixture.

19.45 AC Milan v Real Madrid, Champions League, Sky Sports 4/HD4
The pressure's on for Max Allegri and Milan. With Ajax facing winless Auxerre, the Rossoneri need a win over Real Madrid to avoid facing an uphill battle in Group G. Despite playing time for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pippo Inzaghi, Robinho, Alex Pato and Kevin-Prince Boateng, Milan looked worryingly toothless in their defeat by Juventus on Saturday evening. Real won the tie in Madrid by a two-goal margin.

19.45 Auxerre v Ajax , Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
Should Milan fail to get a result, Ajax would go three points ahead with victory over Auxerre. The French team are winless in the group but head into this game on the back of two consecutive league wins over PSG and Nice. Ajax are third in the Dutch league, one point behind leaders Twente and level with PSV. On goal difference, of course.

19.45 FC Basel v Roma, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
I wouldn't want to be Claudio Ranieri right now. Not only are Roma's deadly rivals Lazio tearing a strip off Serie A, but the Lupi are in the middle of a sequence that sees them repeatedly look to have a grip on things before losing impetus and slipping backwards again. After losing to Basel in Rome, Ranieri's men will again face the likes of Valentin Stocker and Xherdan Shaqiri on Wednesday.

19.45 CFR Cluj v Bayern Munich, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
Inconsistent Bayern Munich travel to Romania with a much more solid record in Europe than domestically. Wins over Cluj, Basel and Roma take them south east with nine points from a possible nine, but Cluj scored two own goals at the Allianz Arena to give Bayern something of a helping hand in the previous group game.

19.45 MSK Zilina v Marseille, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
MSK are top of the Slovakian Super Liga after 14 games and remain unbeaten domestically. Tomáš Oravec scored a hat-trick in their 3-3 draw with Dukla in Zilina on Friday (doubling his tally for the season), and bagged his side's only group stage goal so far. Marseille's home match against Rennes was postponed due to rain on both Saturday and Sunday, so they should be well rested.

19.45 Partizan Belgrade v Braga, Champions League, Sky Sports Interactive
Lowly Rio Ave won their first league game of the season in Portugal on Saturday, defeating ten-man Sporting Braga by two goals to nil. It's hardly ideal preparation for a Braga side in need of a win in Europe to take advantage of Shakhtar's Arsenal double-header. Back in mid-October, the aptly-named Arsenalistas reeled the Ukrainian side in thanks to Arsenal's win and their own victory over Partizan.

Thursday 4 November

18.00 Lech Poznan v Manchester City, Europa League, ITV4
Poznan gave Manchester City an easy evening at Eastlands, with Emmanuel Adebayor bagging a hat-trick in the previous meeting. Going to Poland is a more troublesome task on paper, but the difference in quality between these two teams should shine through. Then again, this is Man City we're talking about.

18.00 Rosenborg v Atletico Madrid, Europa League, ESPN/ESPN HD
The previous fixture between these two sides in Europa League Group B was a comfortable win for holders Atleti, who eased to a 3-0 victory over the Norwegian side thanks to goals by Diego Godin, Sergio Agüero and Diego Costa. Defender Godin will be absent against Rosenborg and for around a month afterwards having just had surgery for appendicitis. Los Rojiblancos are clear favourites nevertheless.

20.05 Liverpool v Napoli, Europa League, Five/Five HD
Last time out, a dull 0-0 draw at the San Paolo was a disappointing outcome for Napoli in a match overshadowed by problems off the pitch. Walter Mazzarri's Partenopei are nothing if not thrilling to watch this term, and they'll be looking to prove that Liverpool have not turned the corner we hear about so much. A draw does neither side any favours as crunch time approaches.

20.05 PSG v Borussia Dortmund, Europa League, ITV4
Ladies and gentlemen, Borussia Dortmund: second conquerors of the mighty Mainz and current leaders of 1.Bundesliga. Jürgen Klopp's Schwarzgelben beat Mainz on Sunday with goals from Lucas Barrios and the very nearly alarmingly-monikered Mario Götze, leapfrogging them in the process. With only one defeat in ten league games, confidence is high at the Westfalen and BVB will be keen to go level on points with PSG with a win on Thursday.

20.05 Steaua Bucharest v FC Utrecht, Europa League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Steaua are a club with fine European pedigree, with a European Cup win and a losing final on their books. In the continent's secondary competition, the Militarii's best performance is a semi-final appearance in 2005/06, when they were beaten over two legs by a miraculous comeback by Middlesbrough. They face a Utrecht side that has drawn all three games in Group K.

02.30 (Friday morning) New York Red Bulls v San Jose Earthquakes, Major League Soccer Playoffs, ESPN/ESPN HD
MLS is now down to the nitty-gritty of playoff football, and the Earthquakes head East both literally and in terms of their geographical conference. There, they face a New York side with real designs on the title this year. Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards are in fantastic form for the Red Bulls, but they won't have it all their own way in this two-legged tie. Chris Wondolowski finished the regular season as the league's top goalscorer, while Ryan Johnson and Brandon McDonald should make life difficult for New York at either end of the pitch. New York lead after the first leg.