Sunday, April 29, 2007

Philip Cocu for PSV Eindhoven (v Vitesse Arnhem), 29 April 2007

After all that, an amazing day on the last day of the Dutch season saw PSV retain the Eredivisie title after all.

Leaders AZ, reduced to 10 men after just 19 minutes of their game, went down 3-2 to a last minute goal at Excelsior. Even a draw wouldn't have been enough, as second place Ajax won 2-0 at Willem II.

However, third place PSV not only overhauled the points total of Ajax and AZ but also the goal difference as they smashed Vitesse 5-1 at the Philips Stadion to win the title on goal difference by one goal. Their captain and inspiration Philip Cocu scored the vital and decisive goal in the 77th minute.

It's cruel on AZ as only the top two in the league qualify for the Champions League and so they will end up in the UEFA Cup again next season. Harsh too on Ajax who, with fifteen minutes of their game to go were all set to be Champions based on "goals scored".

(and it means we have Ronald Koeman's coma-inducing brand of "no strikers" football in the Champions League again next season...)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wayne Rooney for Manchester Utd (v AC Milan), 24 April 2007

Predictions time again. I should (fingers crossed) have the table updated by the end of today....

*blames workload*

Blackburn 2-0 Charlton
Chelsea 2-0 Bolton
Everton 1-1 Man Utd
Man City 0-0 Aston Villa
Middlesbrough 1-1 Tottenham
Portsmouth 1-1 Liverpool
Sheff Utd 2-0 Watford
Wigan 0-0 West Ham
Arsenal 3-0 Fulham
Reading 2-1 Newcastle

and from the closer than close last week of the Dutch season:

Excelsior 1-2 AZ
PSV 2-0 Vitesse
Willem II 1-3 Ajax


Predictions tables updated, and it looks like a three horse race going into the last couple of weeks of the season (mainly due to an astonishing points scoring run by Adem over recent weeks). Also mention to Jonny who scored the highest ever weekly total last week (26 points) - bear in mind its 3 for a correct score and 1 for a correct result. Thats good going (although the 5 bonus points for getting Kevin Pietersen clearly helped....)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Didier Drogba for Chelsea (v Valencia), 4 April 2007

Proof if it were needed that where we lead, the others follow....

So I wrote about the Gary's and Terry's of the football world back here in March. Frank Keating in the Guardian writes almost the same piece today (notwithstanding Didier Drogba's hair).

You don't think they might be using our ideas, do you?


Monday, April 23, 2007

Shote Arveladze for AZ Alkmaar (v Heerenveen), 22 April 2007

After the Premiership, the Dutch Eredivisie is my favourite football league. I have been lucky enough to watch some Dutch football over the years, and whilst the quality isn't always terrific, the teams have great exotic sounding names and some lunatic shirt colours. There's some handy players around too.

PSV have dominated Dutch football for a few years now but this year a remarkable dip in form since the winter break has seen them overhauled in the race for the title. From being ten points clear at the turn of the year, next weekend the Dutch league is heading for the most exciting climax in decades.

Louis van Gaal's AZ side, a resurgent Ajax and Koeman's PSV are currently all tied on the same 72 points with one match of the season to go. PSV have the easier tie on paper (at home to Vitesse) whilst Ajax travel to lowly Willem II and AZ must go to struggling Excelsior.

In the event of a tie, goal difference will decide the title and AZ are in pole position with +53 from Ajax's +47 and PSV's +46. Barring a miracle, an AZ victory should see the little Northern club celebrate only their second ever League title.

An AZ triumph would end the "big three"'s stranglehold on Dutch football in that only one team bar Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord has won the League since 1964 (AZ in 1981). (And you thought the Premiership was boring..!)

So, from 13.30pm next Sunday my eyes will be on the Dutch title race. One of these years, my team (NEC) might be involved. I doubt it, though....

Friday, April 20, 2007

Douglas Rinaldi for Watford (vs Blackburn Rovers), 18 April 2007

Here we go then: this week's predictions.

We're on the home straight now.

Bolton 1-0 Reading
Charlton 1-1 Sheff Utd
Fulham 0-1 Blackburn
Liverpool 2-0 Wigan
Man Utd 3-0 Middlesbro'
Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal
Watford 0-0 Man City
West Ham 1-0 Everton
Aston Villa 0-1 Portsmouth
Newcastle 0-2 Chelsea

Wildcards -- this week, top and bottom(-ish)

Colchester 0-2 Sunderland
Tranmere 0-1 Scunthorpe
Walsall 2-0 Bury
Plymouth 2-1 Southend
Doncaster 0-1 Brentford
Wrexham 0-1 Torquay

Bonus (5 points): Top run scorer in Saturday's dead rubber match at the Cricket World Cup between England and the West Indies. Ramnaresh Sarwan

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bryan McFadden for Westlife XI (v Malaysian Rockers United), 23 November 2002

101 Great Goals #62 - Bryan McFadden

OK, so it might not be exactly the sort of player you may expect to see in a compliation of genius goals from the history of football, but there is no denying that whilst a little bit Hollywood (and bearing in mind the opposition was made up of Asian rock bands) it's a great finish.

When he throws himself into the air, it's like he's flying without wings.... (sorry. couldn't resist.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Patrice Evra for Manchester United (v AS Roma), 10 April 2007

After the Easter break and the rather excellent English success in the Champions League this week, we're back to the domestic predictions again...

from the Premiership

Arsenal 2-0 Bolton
Man City 0-2 Liverpool
Middlesbrough 2-1 Aston Villa
Portsmouth 1-1 Newcastle
Reading 2-1 Fulham
Sheff Utd 1-2 West Ham

from the FA Cup

Manchester Utd 3-0 Watford
Chelsea 2-0 Blackburn Rovers

squeaky bum time in the Championship

Birmingham 2-1 Southampton
Coventry 2-1 Preston
Ipswich 1-1 Derby

and three bonus wildcard points for naming a horse that'll finish in the top 3 in the Grand National:

Idle Talk

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Michael Carrick for Manchester United (v Roma), 10 April 2007

I have been lucky enough to see some great United performances in my twenty odd years of going to Old Trafford. And whilst we've put six or seven goals past the likes of Barnsley and West Ham (and even Arsenal on occasion), I'm not sure I have ever seen anything quite like last night.

This is a Roma side with only two defeats in their previous 22 matches and who eliminated five times French champions Lyon in the previous round. Inter's nearest challengers for the Serie A title. With respect to the great Premiership Barnsley side, Roma are in a very different class.

And yet, that is probably the most exhilerating attacking performance I can remember seeing. I don't even think that Roma were particularly poor (although their keeper didn't look that stunning) but I think they just couldn't live with the effervescent and high-tempo game that United played. United's biggest win in Europe for forty years, the biggest winning margin in the European Cup at this stage since 1958 and a result that equalled the biggest ever European win at Old Trafford.

It's one of those incomprehensible results. A good Italian side defending a lead, United with a makeshift eleven (Darren Fletcher, I thought, was particularly impressive), a forward returning after 18 months out injured, the fact United have not overturned a first leg deficit in the Champions League in five attempts, their frankly poor form in Europe, the lack of goals from Ronaldo and Rooney - the list goes on. And yet here we are today applauding a magnificent 7-1 triumph.

I particularly loved the moment in the first half when we were 3-0 up with about 20 minutes to go until half time. Giggs had misplaced a couple of passses to gift Roma possession and the guy next to me turned to his mate and sighed. "We've gone all shit again", he complained. At 3-0 up. After 25 minutes. Of the European Cup Quarter Final.

Heh heh heh.

Football. Bloody hell.

Alan Smith for Manchester Utd (vs Roma), 10 April 2007

It seems slightly hard to believe now (and always looked a bit dodgy with a relatively slender 2-1 lead), but an Italian newspaper wrote after the first leg of the Champions League Quarter Final last week that Roma had taught Manchester Utd "a footballing lesson".

I wonder what they've got to say this morning.

Actually, I usually manage Roma in "Football Manager", and throughout the whole game last night, I was pondering what I would do to turn things around. Initially I thought about throwing on Gaetano D'Agostini to free up Totti and Vincenzo Montella to reinforce the front line. Then (and after some consultation with Lord Bargain), I decided I would roll the dice and throw on -- Roma legend -- Ian Stonebridge.

By the time the seventh goal went in though, I thought the only realistic solution was to reboot the PC and start the match again.

Sadly, this was not an option that Roma had last night, otherwise I think they certainly would have taken it.....

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Chris O'Grady for Rotherham United (v Nottingham Forest), 9 April 2007

Do you know what the managers of the following clubs have in common?

Birmingham City, Bury, Wrexham, Sunderland, Rotherham United, Blackburn Rovers, Macclesfield Town and Peterborough United?

Yep, their managers all played under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Widen that search away from simply United and you include Alex McLeish, Gordon Strachan and Willie Miller. And then of course you can include those without a current managerial post including Bryan Robson, Neale Cooper and Mark McGhee.

Does it help playing under a great manager? Or do people like Fergie and Clough just stick around long enough that it stands to reason that a proportion of their players will go into management?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hernan Crespo (for Inter Milan) v Parma, 1 April 2007

For those of you who have't seen it lately, this is the top of the Serie A league table.

Team P W D L F A Pts
1 Inter Milan 29 25 4 0 63 23 79
2 Roma 29 17 8 4 56 23 59

Inter are nine games away from emulating Arsenal's achievement in the 2003/4 season of going through an entire domestic season unbeaten. Some have argued that the points deductions following the match-fixing scandals have downvalued Inter's achievements this season but you have to remember that despite their points losses, Lazio, Fiorentina and AC Milan remain in Serie A along with other strong clubs including Roma, Palermo and Sampdoria.

Three years ago, Arsenal won the Premiership without losing a game. Two years ago, Chelsea lost one match en route to the title.

What does this mean? Are the major leagues getting more uncompetitive, or have there simply been a few "great" and dominant teams in recent seasons?

Alex Ferguson once considered that six defeats was the maximum a team could afford on their way to the league title. If you look across the major European leagues this season so far, the leading sides have suffered only a handful of losses. Lyon, Barcelona, Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Fenerbahce have all only lost four league games. Genk, in Belgium, and Manchester United have only lost three.

The only "competitive" league this season appears to be the Bundesliga where leaders Schalke have lost six games already.

Does this mean we should be lauding Inter's achievements or bemoaning the lack of competitiveness within the game?