Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Netherlands: Title showdown looms for Ajax and Twente

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 2, 2011
Christian Eriksen

Christian Eriksen scored Ajax's second goal against Heerenveen

With just one game left to play in the Dutch Eredivisie the situation at the top of the table couldn’t be any more exciting. Defending champions FC Twente Enschede lead nearest challengers Ajax Amsterdam by just one point with the two teams going head-to-head in the Amsterdam ArenA in a fortnight’s time.

This weekend saw FC Twente easily put the challenge of Willem II Tilburg to one side with a 4-0 victory. Goals from Luuk de Jong, Douglas and Theo Janssen as well as an own goal from Tilburg’s Dragan Jelič ensured that the Enschede club preserved the lead going into the final day and also sealed Willem’s relegation to the second division next season. Second placed Ajax visited SC Heerenveen needing a win to stay in title contention but things didn’t get off to a good start for Ajax as Heerenveen’s Mika Väyrynen gave them the lead after 19 minutes but Ajax weren’t down for very long, restoring parity just sixty seconds later thanks to Miralem Sujemani. The decisive goal of the match came just a minute into the second half when Christian Eriksen gave Ajax a lead they would never relinquish and sets up a double-header of crucial matches involving themselves and FC Twente who, as well as playing each other in the final matchday of the Dutch league, will also meet meet in the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final in Rotterdam’s De Kuip stadium this coming Sunday, May 8th.

PSV Eindhoven are three points behind FC Twente but cannot expect to win the championship now as whatever happens in the Ajax v FC Twente game will lead to one of those two teams winning the championship shield. Nevertheless PSV did win their home game against Vitesse Arnhem on Sunday by two goals to one and still hope of snatching the second UEFA Champions League spot.

Netherlands: McClaren should stay to further Twente cause

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 4, 2010
Steve McClaren

Steve McClaren was ridiculed as the "wally with the brolly" after England's defeat to Croatia

Steve McClaren’s transformation from “wally with the brolly” to championship manager is now complete after his FC Twente side won their maiden Eredivisie title in the Netherlands this weekend. But almost immediately the press is in overdrive with reports that the former Middlesbrough and England coach is being sought after from other European clubs with former Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg the favourites, in some quarters, to get their man. Although McClaren must be flattered to finally receive the recognition that his achievements with the Enschede based outfit deserve one should really advise him to stay with the newly-crowned Dutch champions and further the club’s ambitions as a serious competitor in the UEFA Champions League.

After England’s failure to qualify for the UEFA European Championship in 2008 McClaren was turned into a joke figure from people who saw him standing in the rain with an umbrella as symbolic of a man whose reign as national coach was as equally as damp as the weather which ultimately subjected him to much ridicule. After news came through later of his move to a little known club called FC Twente many people doubted that he would ever find footballing credibility again. This view seemed further enhanced after a now (in)famous interview in which he spoke English in a mock Dutch accent to a female interviewer from the Netherlands who spoke arguably better English than he did. After that comical episode McClaren had to do more to make the doubters eat their words but, little by little, he did that in a way which has won him many admirers for effective attacking football coupled with strong defence.

In his first season, not only were FC Twente outclassed in the UEFA Champions League qualifying round by Arsenal FC, coach McClaren was unlucky to see his side finish as double runners-up in both domestic league and cup. FC Twente would’ve been champions in the 2008-09 season had it not have been for an AZ Alkmaar side which was flourishing under the stewardship of Louis Van Gaal and which eventually strolled to win its second league title by eleven points. The disappointment was doubled for McClaren having lost out in the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final against a Heerenveen side who took them all the way to a penalty shoot-out and defeat McClaren’s side from spot kicks. Thankfully for McClaren his team had gained some useful experiences which they would learn from in his second season plus he would make two inspired inclusions into his side in the form of Costa Rican striker Bryan Ruiz and Miroslav Stoch, a loan signing from English side Chelsea FC. These two players came up some many important goals throughout the campaign to keep the Tukkers one step ahead of the competition in the Eredivisie. McClaren steered his team to a near-perfect home record of 16 wins from 17 games at home, their only blemish was a 1-1 draw against PSV Eindhoven as far back as August, and they lost only two games in the league all season. Despite the heartbreak of another cup defeat, this time in the semi-finals to Feyenoord Rotterdam, McClaren kept his players motivated and they sealed their destiny on the final day of the campaign with a 2-0 win away at NAC Breda.

Steve McClaren FC Twente

Steve McClaren shows off the Eredivisie trophy after FC Twente's 2-0 win over NAC Breda

Now, though, is where the hard bargaining for Steve McClaren’s services begins. Although the German Bundesliga is, without doubt, a higher quality league than its Dutch counterpart one should encourage the Englishman to remain where he is for the time being despite the temptations of a better contract and higher transfer funds elsewhere. After all FC Twente now have guaranteed UEFA Champions League football next season whereas in his first two seasons his team has been just short of qualification, having to make do with the UEFA Cup or Europa League instead. Secondly the chairman of the club Joop Munsterman showed faith in him when everybody else was ridiculing him, allowing McClaren all the time in the world to create a good football side. Finally if he can replicate this success again and prove that it wasn’t a one-off then that will surely bring in the interests of much bigger clubs than VfL Wolfsburg in the future. You never know he may well make a return to the rain-soaked football grounds of England, only this time he will be a winner rather than a wally.

Europe: Easter Round-Up

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 4, 2010
Maik Franz

Maik Franz scored the winning goal for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 3-2 home win over title-chasing Bayer Leverkusen

The European football scene is being kept on edge with many of the major leagues potentially going all the way in the hunt for the various national championships across the continent. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reviews the Easter weekend.

FC Bayern München went into the 29th Matchday of the German Bundesliga two points behind their opponents Schalke 04 in the table but had beaten the Gelsenkirchen side in the DFB Pokal (German Cup) semi-finals recently and were determined to repeat the winning feeling. After a tight opening period the match came to life in the 25th minute when Franck Ribéry shot from distance to give Bayern the lead which was doubled only a minute later with Bayern taking advantage of some terrible defending from Rafinha allowing youngster Thomas Müller to shoot home from close-range. The league’s top scorer Kevin Kuranyi pulled one back for Schalke 04 but, try as they might, they couldn’t find an equalizer against a Bayern team playing most of the game with ten men after Hamit Altintop was sent-off just before half-time.

In the other game affecting Germany’s title race Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s chances of championship success were reduced further having lost four of their last five games. The latest setback came against an Eintracht Frankfurt side who are serious contenders for a UEFA Europa League spot after a thrilling 3-2 win over the title chasers. After Selim Teber had given Eintracht the lead from the penalty spot after 28 minutes it was Stefan Kießling who gave the visitors the lead with strikes on 33 and 46 minutes. But life is never dull in Frankfurt this season and die Adler (The Eagles) came back through an incredible long-range strike from Caio (62 mins) and an overhead kick from Maik Franz (pictured) two minutes from time to secure the three points for Eintracht who have now won their last three games whilst Bayer 04 Leverkusen now lie six points behind FC Bayern with five games to play.

In England’s Premier League the top two, Manchester United and Chelsea, faced-off at Old Trafford with the visitors seemingly unable to afford a defeat against the champions if they were to keep the title race going. United led the table by one point before the game but Chelsea were to emerge after it with a two point advantage after they became only the second team to beat United at Old Trafford in the Premier League this season with a 2-1 victory. Goals from Joe Cole and Didier Drogba, albeit a dubious one in the latter case, gave Chelsea a 2-0 lead before Federico Macheda pulled one back for the Red Devils with nine minutes left to play but there were to be no further goals and Chelsea emerged back on top of the table. Arsenal FC made hard work of their 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers with Arsène Wenger’s men scoring five minutes into second half stoppage time thanks to substitute Nicklas Bendtner allowing The Gunners to move back to within three points of Chelsea and one behind Manchester United in the table. With five matches remaining anything can happen in what is one of the most intriging title races in English football for many years.

All fixtures in Serie A were moved forward to Saturday as is traditional on Easter weekend in Italy. It was to be a good day for all the three title chasers, Internazionale FC, AS Roma, and AC Milan with each chalking up wins over Bologna, Bari and Cagliari respectively. Inter easily disposed of Bologna 3-0 thanks to goals from Thiago Motta (2) and Mario Balotelli to ensure that the Nerazzurri would remain on top for at least one week more. AS Roma had Mirko Vučinić to thank as he scored the only goal in the game away at Bari whose faint hopes at chasing a UEFA Europa League spot may just have faded with this defeat. AC Milan had a tough encounter on the island of Sardinia against a mid-table Cagliari side who were determined to make life difficult for the Rossoneri coming from behind twice in the first half before an unfortunate own goal from Davide Astori sealed the deal for AC Milan just before half-time. With six matches to play in Serie A and only three points between the top three sides this could also be an interesting year for Italian football.

FC Girondins de Bordeaux seem to be losing the plot in France’s Ligue 1 having gone down to another defeat on Saturday, this time losing 2-1 at home against AS Nancy. Youssouf Hadji and Issiar Dia secured the three points for Nancy as Bordeaux, whose solitary strike was scored by Fernando Cavenaghi, have now lost seven matches this season and have now been overtaken at the top of the standings although they do still have two games in hand. Olympique Lyonnais, who defeated FC Girondins in the Champions League earlier in the week, went top with a 2-1 away at Stade Rennais thanks to goals from Michel Bastos and Lisandro Lopez whilst Montpellier HSC also went above Bordeaux into second place having secured a point away at AS Monaco in a goalless stalemate. Olympique de Marseille, fresh from winning the Coupe de la Ligue final last weekend, moved into joint third with a 1-0 win at home to Racing Lens thanks to Brandão’s 22nd minute strike. On Sunday AJ Auxerre missed the chance to go outright top of the table when they mustered a 1-1 draw at home to Paris Saint Germain.

Real Madrid and FC Barcelona continue to set the pace in La Liga with both teams easily victorious in their Matchday 30 fixtures. FC Barcelona got the weekend off to a predictable start when disposing of the weak challenge of Athletic Bilbao by four goals to one. On Sunday Real Madrid, thanks once again to Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain, went back to the top of the table after a 2-0 away win against Racing Santander. In Denmark on Thursday the top of the table clash went the way of defending champions FC København who consolidated their lead at the top of the SAS Superligæn with a 2-0 home win over nearest challengers Odense Boldklub. Goals from Dame N’Doye and Jesper Grønkjær have allowed “FCK” to move further ahead of “OB” with a four point margin separating the two sides with nine matches left to play. There was also a big clash between the top two in Belgium where RSC Anderlecht and Club Brugge shared the goals and the points with their game in the Jupiler League championship play-off group finishing in a 2-2 draw. Les Mauves maintain their eight point lead over Club Brugge with seven matches left to go in the season. Things remained the same in the Netherlands with wins for all of the top three as FC Twente beat VVV Venlo 2-0, AFC Ajax Amsterdam squeaked past Den Haag 1-0 with a 93rd minute winner from Toby Alderweireld and PSV Eindhoven defeated Willem II Tilburg thanks to a late penalty from Balázs Dzsudzsák. With four games left FC Twente lead the table four points ahead of Ajax and a point further ahead of PSV Eindhoven.

Title races hot up all over Europe

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 15, 2010
Stefan Kießling

Stefan Kießling scored two goals for Bayer Leverkusen in their 4-2 home win over Hamburger SV

As the season comes to the business end in many countries throughout Europe there are some very interesting title chases developing. Stoppage Time provides the latest news after another weekend of top quality action on the continent:

The German Bundesliga, more often than not, provides a tight finish and this season could continue that trend as the top three teams all won this weekend. On Friday night Schalke 04 got the weekend under way with a 2-1 home victory over VfB Stuttgart thanks to goals from Edu and Kevin Kuranyi. Twenty-four hours later FC Bayern retained the number one spot with a hard-fought 2-1 win over struggling SC Freiburg. After Cedric Makiadi had given Freiburg a shock lead the Bavarians left it late before Dutch international Arjen Robben performed a one-man rescue act with goals on 76 and 83 minutes, the latter from the penalty spot, to put Bayern back on top. On Sunday Germany’s top scorer Stefan Kießling increased his tally by two goals as his Leverkusen side eventually saw off a spirited Hamburger SV side by 4-2.

In England all three title contenders managed wins to keep the title race interesting. On Saturday Chelsea FC easily disposed of a weak West Ham United side 4-1 thanks in part to two goals from Ivorian ace Didier Drogba. In the late game Arsenal FC had to rely on a last-minute winner from Niklas Bendtner to give The Gunners a 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Hull City, who played all of the second half with ten men after George Boateng was sent off. On Sunday Manchester United eased their way to a 3-0 win over Fulham FC at Old Trafford with in-form Wayne Rooney scoring twice to increase his tally of goals for the season to thirty-two. Dimitar Berbatov sealed the deal with an 89th minute strike to give the leadership back to United who have a two-point lead over both Chelsea and Arsenal but United have played one game more than Chelsea.

In Spain both title protagonists Real Madrid and Barcelona recored victories to keep up their domination of the La Liga. Gonzalo Higuaín scored a hat-trick and Cristiano Ronaldo scored the other as Los Blancos recorded a 4-1 win over Valladolid to remain on the same points as champions FC Barcelona whose 3-0 home victory against Valencia CF saw Lionel Messi score a hat-trick. In the fight for UEFA Champions League places fourth place Sevilla dropped more points at home as they could only muster a 1-1 draw against Deportivo La Coruña. Fazio’s opener for the home side on 21 minutes was cancelled out by Adrian three minutes later to leave the Andalusian side frustrated. 

In the Netherlands FC Twente Enschede were the big winners of the weekend. Not only did they triumph 3-1 at home to ADO Den Haag, Bryan Ruiz scoring a brace for the home side, but the leaders saw the gap remain at five points between themselves and PSV Eindhoven who were demolished by an ever-improving Ajax Amsterdam by 4-1. In France things are a lot tighter after this weekend’s games. Champions Girondins de Bordeaux could only muster a 0-0 draw away at AS Monaco whilst second place Montpellier shared a 1-1 draw at home to AJ Auxerre. In the top six only Lille OSC were victorious as they defeated Grenoble 1-0 thanks to a Bostjan Cesar own goal. Only three points separate Bordeaux in first place from Olympique de Marseille in sixth, who failed to capitalise on most of their rivals inability to gain three points as they could only draw 1-1 away at Toulouse FC. Italy’s Serie A also took an unexpected twist with champions Inter going down to a surpise 3-1 away defeat at Catania whilst their city rivals and chief challengers AC Milan won 1-0 at home to Chievo thanks to a last-minute Clarence Seedorf winner although David Beckham’s Achilles tendon rupture made the headlines as the severity of his injury has ended his season. Elsewhere in Italy AS Roma dropped two points in their chase for lo Scudetto being involved in an exciting 3-3 draw away at struggling Livorno Calcio.

Euro Leagues Round-Up: Part 1

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 1, 2010
Danny Koevermans

Danny Koevermans scored twice for Eredivisie leaders PSV Eindhoven in their 5-1 triumph over RKC Waalwijk

With international football taking place on Wednesday “Stoppage Time” today focuses on eight of Europe’s top leagues, with another ten tomorrow, in order to give you the latest on how each of the major championships are shaping up after this weekend’s games:

ENGLAND (1st – Chelsea 28 games played/61 points; 2nd – Man.United 28/60; 3rd – Arsenal FC 28/58)

With Manchester United in League Cup final duty on Sunday, league leaders Chelsea had a fantastic opportunity to increase their lead at the top of the Premier League to four points. However they came up against an ambitious Manchester City side who still harbour hopes of finishing in a Champions League place. Despite the build-up to the game being mainly centred on the private lives of former team-mates John Terry and Wayne Bridge the game will be remembered for an amazing City performance as they cruised their way to a 4-2 win. A goal three minutes before half-time from Frank Lampard gave Chelsea the lead but two goals each from Carlos Tévez and Craig Bellamy stunned the home side with Lampard scoring a last-minute penalty to give the scoreline some respectability. In other games Arsenal’s 3-1 win away at Stoke City was overshadowed by the broken leg sustained to Aaron Ramsey after a tackle from Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross, who left the pitch in tears after the incident following a red card. Tottenham Hotspur beat Everton 2-1 at White Hart Lane thanks to goals from Roman Pavlyuchenko and Luka Modrić whilst Liverpool beat Blackburn Rovers by the same scoreline at Anfield with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres securing three points for the Reds who are only one point behind Spurs in the quest for Champions League football next season.

NETHERLANDS (1st – PSV Eindhoven 25/65; 2nd – FC Twente 25/64; 3rd – Ajax Amsterdam 25/58)

The Eredivisie is hotting up with PSV Eindhoven and FC Twente fighting it out all the way and Ajax hanging on by their coat tails. PSV easily defeated bottom club RKC Waalwijk 5-1 at Philips Stadion with Danny Koevermans (pictured) scoring a brace. Steve McClaren’s FC Twente are not giving up, though they did struggle to a 2-1 win at home to NEC Nijmegen. Bryan Ruiz, the club’s top scorer with 17 goals, gave the home side all three points with the winning strike just five minutes from time. Ajax are finally coming into a good run of form under new coach Martin Jol and they dispatched the challenge from FC Utrecht with great ease winning 4-0. The League’s main marksman Luis Suárez bagged two goals for the Amsterdammers who have claimed 23 points in the last nine games.

FRANCE (1st – FC Girondins de Bordeaux 24/51; 2nd – Montpellier 26/51; 3rd – Olympique Lyonnais 26/49)

Ligue 1 is shaping up quite nicely as the champions FC Girondins de Bordeaux are top of the pile with six points separating them from sixth place AJ Auxerre. However the league leaders didn’t play this weekend so they still have two games in hand on nearest challengers Montpellier who beat Rennes 3-1 at home on Saturday with Joris Marveaux scoring twice. Third place Olympique Lyonnais are keeping up the challenge for their eighth title in nine years with a 2-0 defeat of Côte d’Azur outfit OGC Nice. On Sunday the whole nation’s attention turned to le Classique as Olympique de Marseille easily dispatched arch-rivals Paris Saint Germain 3-0 at the Parc des Princes thanks to goals from Hatem Ben Arfa, Lucho González and Benoît Cheyrou to send the Marseillais up to fourth while PSG linger in mid-table obscurity.

GERMANY (1st – FC Bayern München 24/52; 2nd – Bayer Leverkusen 24/50; 3rd – Schalke 04 Gelsenkirchen 24/48)

After weeks of chasing, FC Bayern are back on top of the Bundesliga after beating fourth place Hamburger SV 1-0 in the Allianz Arena thanks to a stunning strike from Franck Ribéry with twelve minutes of the game left. On Saturday Leverkusen could only manage yet another draw at home to 1.FC Köln, their eleventh in the Bundesliga this season, in a goalless stalemate. The usual jibes about “Neverkusen” are coming back to haunt the second placed team, who have recently been dubbed “Meister der Unentschieden” (‘Champions of Draws’) by one German paper. Schalke 04 beat their rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at home on Friday night in the big Ruhr derby. Benedikt Höwedes and Ivan Rakitić scored the goals for the “Null Vier”, coming from behind after Dortmund’s Nuri Sahin had given die Schwarzgelben (Yellow and Blacks) the lead from the penalty spot on 47 minutes. Werder Bremen beat 1.FSV Mainz 2-1 to consolidate sixth place whilst seventh place Eintracht Frankfurt were defeated away at their “Angstgegner” (bogey team) VfB Stuttgart, the resurgent Swabians coming from behind at the end of the first half thanks to two goals from in-form Cacau.

SPAIN (1st – FC Barcelona 24/61; 2nd – Real Madrid CF 24/59; 3rd – Valencia CF 24/46)

Lionel Messi saved Barça’s blushes with a goal six minutes from time to preserve the Blaugrana’s two point lead at the top of La Liga. Earlier on Saturday night Real Madrid had easily seen off the challenge from Tenerife on the island with a 5-1 win with two goals from Gonzalo Higuaín and a strike apiece for Ronaldo (penalty), Kaká and Raúl. This meant that los Blancos were top of the table for at least two hours during Barcelona’s home game against Malaga. After a goalless first half the Camp Nou were getting impatient following some resilient Malaga defending. Finally the deadlock was broken thanks to Pedro in the 69th minute but within twelve minutes the visitors shocked the home supporters thanks to a equalizing goal from Valdo. With nine minutes left Barça needed a saviour and, as ever, it was the Argentine wonder who stepped up to the plate tapping home from short range on 84 minutes. In other games Atletico Madrid came from behind at home to Valencia to impressively seal a 4-1 although it did help that los Che had Carlos Marchena and Miguel sent off. Two goals for Diego Forlán saw him take his season’s tally for twelve with Kun Agüero and Jurado adding one apiece for good measure. Fourth place Sevilla could only draw 0-0 at home to Athletic Bilbao.

ITALY (1st – FC Internazionale 26/58; 2nd – AC Milan 26/54; 3rd – AS Roma 26/51)

The Serie A title race seems to look over one minute and looks interesting the next. Thankfully after this weekend’s action it looks once again like the latter as AC Milan kept up the chase on local neighbours FC Internazionale with only four points separating the Milanese giants. Alexandre Pato was the star for the Rossoneri scoring twice in the first half in AC Milan’s 3-1 win against Atalanta whilst Inter were involved in a close match away at Udinese Calcio. Pepe scored for the home side after just two minutes but Inter were ahead just nineteen minutes later thanks to Mario Balotelli and Maicon. Diego Milito scored on the edge of half-time but Udinese, thanks to an Antonio de Natale penalty, pulled one back early in the second half. Mercifully for Jose Mourinho his Inter team manged to hold on for three points but they do seem to be in a battle to keep hold of lo Scudetto. Another important game took place in Naples where local side Napoli took on AS Roma in the ‘Derby of the South’. Julio Baptista (penalty) and Mirko Vučinić seemed to have won the game for Roma but the Neapolitans didn’t lie down and got their reward with goals from Germán Denis (75 minutes) and Marik Hamsik (penalty 90th min.) denying the visitors two points with the game finishing 2-2.

PORTUGAL (1st – SL Benfica 21/52; 2nd – Sporting Braga 21/51; 3rd – FC Porto 21/43)

The Liga Sagres has looked like a two-horse race for some time and this assumption was further cemented after Sporting Lisbon defeated third place FC Porto 3-0 in Sunday’s big match. The Lions, who knocked out Everton FC from the UEFA Europa League three days before, easily had the Dragons of Porto on the ropes by the 47th minute thanks to goals from Yannick (6 min.), Marat Izmailov (45th.) and Miguel Veloso (47th.) kept Sporting in fourth place in the table, a distant twenty points behind leaders Benfica. The leaders had an easy 4-0 away win at Leixoes thanks mainly to a hat-trick from Angel di Maria. This kept the Eagles one point ahead of surprise contenders Braga who went behind early at home to 13th place Olhanense but who came from behind to secure a 3-1 win with strikes from Matheus, Evaldo and Albert Meyong Ze.

SCOTLAND (1st – Glasgow Rangers 26/61; 2nd – Glasgow Celtic 27/51; 3rd – Dundee United 27/45)

The Scottish Premier League title race is all but over after a thrilling climax in yesterday’s Old Firm between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Park. After ninety goalless minutes the game was decided in stoppage time thanks to a dramatic last-ditch winner from Rangers’ Maurice Edu. The three points has all but sealed a 53rd league championship for Rangers as they currently lead the SPL with a ten point lead and a game in hand. Third place Dundee United are in pole position to challenge for a Champions League place should Celtic slip up having easily defeated Falkirk FC 3-0 but Hibernian FC aren’t far behind, just one point behind United in fourth spot, but they’ll have been disappointed to drop two points at home to St. Johnstone in a pitiful 1-1 draw.

Euro Leagues: Weekend Preview

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on January 28, 2010
HSV - VfL Wolfsburg

Eljero Elia scored for HSV in their 4-2 win over Wolfsburg earlier this season. Both teams meet each other again in the Bundesliga this Friday.

With all of Europe’s top leagues back in full swing after the winter break “Stoppage Time” previews this weekend’s top matches:

ENGLAND (Chelsea 22 games/51 points; Man. United 23/50; Arsenal FC 23/49)

For the first time in many years it looks as though more than two teams can challenge for the English Premier League title. However two of the contenders are to meet on Sunday as second place Manchester United, fresh from their League Cup semi-final win over local rivals Manchester City, travel to the Emirates Stadium with hopes of doing the ‘double’ over Arsenal FC after their 2-1 win at Old Trafford earlier this season. Chelsea will hope to put some more distance between themselves and their rivals in the Saturday evening fixture where they meet struggling Burnley FC. In other games in-form Birmingham City meet Champions League contenders Tottenham Hotspur whilst Liverpool FC, not for the first time in this tough season, hope to get back to winning ways at home to Bolton Wanderers.

SCOTLAND (Glasgow Rangers 22 games/51 points; Glasgow Celtic 21/41; Hibernian FC 21/39)

Sadly it seems that the much anticipated four-way challenge for the SPL has now hit the rocks after Rangers’ good form has coincided with all of their potentials rivals dropping points. While the league leaders and current champions Rangers were strolling to a 2-0 win at St.Mirren on Wednesday Old Firm rivals Celtic lost 2-1 at home to Hibernian FC, who now have ambitions of claiming the second Champions League spot for next season. This weekend sees Rangers at home to bottom side Falkirk FC, Celtic play away at Hamilton Academicals and Hibernian face-off against mid-table St.Mirren.

GERMANY (Bayer 04 Leverkusen 19 games/41 points; FC Bayern München 19/39; FC Schalke 19/38)

In recent years the Bundesliga, arguably more than any top European league, has concluded with final-day drama and tension and this season has the potential to emulate some of the drama from the past. The top five teams in the league are separated by only seven points and with none of them playing against each other on Matchday 20 then this weekend may tell us more about each team’s title hopes. Leaders Leverkusen, still unbeaten after 19 games, play against SC Freiburg on Sunday evening knowing if they need to win to reclaim top spot. In the meantime either FC Bayern (at home to 1. FSV Mainz) or Schalke 04 (at home to Hoffenheim) can take over the leadership of the league, if only for a matter of hours. Other top games include Hamburger SV against champions-in-crisis VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund’s trip to VfB Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt host 1.FC Köln.

FRANCE (Girondins de Bordeaux 21 games/47 points; Montpellier 21/39; Lille OSC 21/37)

Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux have ambitions to usurp Olympique Lyonnais as the top team in France and have a handy eight point lead over nearest challengers Montpellier. Many expect them to stroll to another three points in their latest match at home to second bottom team Boulogne. After reaching the Coupe de la Ligue semi-finals this week, Olympique Marseille will play against surprise title contenders Montpellier in a southern derby. A win for l’OM will allow them to overtake Montpellier in the table. Lille OSC, who were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue on Wednesday, will hope to put cup disappointment behind them with a win against  Racing Lens. In the Côte d’Azur derby AS Monaco play against OGC Nice, a win for the former will improve their European credentials whilst for the latter will help les Niçoise pull further away from the relegation zone.

SPAIN (FC Barcelona 19 games/49 points; Real Madrid CF 19/44; Valencia CF 19/39)

La Liga has looked like a potential two-horse race ever since Matchday 1 and not much has changed now that we have reached the halfway stage of the campaign. FC Barcelona became only the seventh team to end the first half of the league season unbeaten and will hope to consolidate their position with a win away at Sporting, which is traditionally a tough place for any side to go due to the hostile reception their fans provide their opponents. Cristiano Ronaldo endured mixed emotions in his last outing for Real Madrid, his two goals in a 2-0 win over Malaga were overshadowed by his red card in the second half. El Real must play without their record signing this Saturday away at Deportivo de La Coruña where, surprisingly, Madrid haven’t won since 1992. Third-place Valencia play against the team who occupied that position for most of the season Sevilla, who recently embarked on a torrid spell of one win in the last five games.

ITALY (Internazionale 21 games/49 points; AC Milan 20/40; AS Roma 21/38)

After last weekend’s Milan derby many people have already suggested that the Nerazzurri should be given their fifth consecutive lo Scudetto already having built up a nine-point lead over their eternal and nearest rivals. However Inter coach Jose Mourinho would not want to take their next opponents Parma lightly as they are a team capable of beating anybody on their day. In other games AC Milan are at home to Livorno, who are struggling against relegation lying fifth from bottom, AS Roma hope that they can continue their recent good form at home to bottom side Siena whilst Juventus, with talk of crisis in the air, will have their work cut out at home to SS Lazio.

NETHERLANDS (PSV Eindhoven 19 games/51 points; FC Twente 19/49; Ajax Amsterdam 19/42)

The Netherlands is expecting the mother of all battles on Sunday afternoon as De Klassieker between Feyenoord Rotterdam and Ajax Amsterdam resumes again. Feyenoord are at home this weekend and will hope to avenge the 5-1 mauling they suffered at the home of their bitter rivals earlier in the season. Ajax will hope that a win for themselves can bring them closer to the main title challengers above them. FC Twente, who had led the table for most of the season, have been overtaken by PSV since the resumption of the Eredivisie after the winter break but Steve McClaren’s men will be hoping to get back to winning ways at home to Roda JC Kerkrade whilst PSV are away at mid-table Vitesse Arnhem.

PORTUGAL (Sporting Braga 16 games/39 points; SL Benfica 16/39; FC Porto 16/33)

Little Sporting Braga have captured many people’s hearts in Portugal as their title challenge continues. They lead the table despite having a much inferior goal difference to Benfica due to their head-to-head record (Braga won the first meeting 2-0 in October) but the ‘Eagles’ of Lisbon have been stronger since that game winning five and drawing two of their last seven games. Braga play against Benfica’s local rivals Sporting Lisbon on Friday whilst Benfica plays at home to Vitoria Guimarães. Only six points behind both teams are FC Porto who have a tough away tie against Nacional Madeira on Saturday.

European Leagues: Winter Break Round-up

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 22, 2009
Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto'o is all smiles as his club Internazionale lead Italy's Serie A

With the exception of England, Scotland and France, most of the league championships in Europe have taken a well earned break for Christmas time. “Stoppage Time” reviews the season so far in Europe’s top leagues:

SPAIN

This looks like it will be a two horse race between arch-rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona (39 points from 15 games) hold a slim two point advantage over ‘El Real’ whose performances haven’t always been great but whose capability of getting results has improved. Sevilla looked for a while like a potential ‘stalking horse’ candidate for the title, keeping close to the top but they have slipped off the pace in recent weeks. At the bottom of the table newly promoted sides such as Xerez (7 points from 15 games) and Real Zaragoza have found the going tough. A traditional giant of the Spanish game, Atlético Madrid find themselves just one point from the cellar after a string of poor displays.

ITALY

FC Internazionale of Milan (39 points from 17 games), including striker Samuel Eto’o (pictured) find themselves in charge of Serie A yet again. Going for a fifth consecutive championship, the Nerazzurri’s only challengers to date appear to be local enemies AC Milan, who are eight points behind with a game in hand. The Rossoneri have come back strongly after a really poor start under the stewardship of Leonardo. Juventus appeared to be going well under new coach Ciro Ferrara but have lost their last three games and remain a point further behind Milan having played a game more. At the bottom of the league six points separate Udinese in 14th place from AC Siena in last place (12 points after 17 games), signalling that a tight relegation battle could be just around the corner.

GERMANY

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (35 points from 17 games) remain unbeaten to be crowned the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (autumn champions) in the Bundesliga. However the ‘Werkself’ (Work’s Eleven) have drawn a lot a games meaning that their lead is a narrow one point margin from nearest challengers Schalke 04, who have done well considering their financial troubles. Despite Bayern Munich’s less than impressive start to the season the Bavarian giants are a further point behind Schalke. Louis Van Gaal has withstood the criticism and has guided Bayern to third place at the halfway stage with 33 points. The surprise of the season so far is 1. FSV Mainz 05, who were promoted from the second division last season, who have a respectable eighth place finish after 17 games. Hertha Berlin is the surprise team at the bottom of the table (6 points/17 games), all the more surprising considering they won on the opening day against Hannover 96. Other big clubs close to the bottom are 1. FC Nürnberg, who sacked their coach Michael Oenning on Monday, and VfB Stuttgart, who replaced Markus Babbel with former Tottenham Hotspur coach Christian Gross in early December.

PORTUGAL

The Portuguese Superliga normally has three contenders for the title but one of this year’s contenders is an unfamiliar one: Sporting Braga. They lead the table jointly with SL Benfica (33 points from 14 games) with perennial champions FC Porto four points behind. Many hope that Braga can keep up with the big two especially since the tradional third power of Portuguese football, Sporting, are struggling domestically (21 points/14 games) but performing well in Europe. Also many remember last season’s surprise package Leixões, who led the table early on in 2008-09, falling away late in the season. Could Braga really become only the sixth club (after Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Belenenses and Boavista) to win the Portuguese championship? At the bottome Leixões’ glory days from last season are well and truly behind them as they now are fighting against relegation lying just one point above the bottom two clubs Olhanense and Belenenses (10 points/14 games).

HOLLAND

Steve McClaren has done an impressive job at FC Twente (47 points/17 games) thus far and he’s already hoping to go one better than last season. The club from Enschede were runners-up in both league and cup in 2008-09 but McClaren’s men currently lead the Eredivisie by two points from PSV Eindhoven. PSV’s coach Fred Rutten has given new purpose to the Philips owned club after they lost direction last season under Huub Stevens which led to them weakly giving up their run of four consecutive titles. Ajax, coached by Martin Jol, have suffered a few defeats and are nine points off the pace. Their arch-rivals Feyenoord Rotterdam have also been rejuvenated under new coach Mario Been and a further point behind having played a game more. At the bottom RKC Waalwijk (12 points/18 games) will hope to avoid the automatic relegation spot at the end of the season as they are not far off the teams above NEC Nijmegen, ADO Den Haag and Willem II Tilburg.

GREECE

It’s the same old story in Greece as champions Olympiakos Piraeus are involved in a two-way tussle with league leaders Panathinaikos (38 points/15 games) for the championship. As usual PAOK Thessaloniki threaten to make a fight of it but end up dropping too many points but they should easily get a place in Europe. Athen’s third club AEK have struggled for form and consistency in both Greek and European competition thus far and lie in eighth place on 21 points. At the bottom of the table it’s been a dreadful time for promoted Panthrakikos who remain without a win after fifteen games. They have only two points at this stage and are dead certs for the drop. Above them the likes of Giannina, Levadiakos (14 points), Larissa and Iraklis (15 points) will hope to avoid joining them in the second division next season.

TURKEY

The Turkish Superlig could be one of the most exciting for years. Fenerbahçe (37 points/17 games) lead at the halfway stage by just one point from eternal rivals Galatasaray. Then there are two unexpected title chasers in Bursaspor and Kayserispor (35 and 34 points respectively) as well as last season’s champions Beşiktaş (32 points). “Fener” will miss on the services of Roberto Carlos after the winter break as he heads back to Brazil to finish his career at Corinithians. Last season’s surprise package Sivasspor struggled in the early weeks of the season but will hope that they can take recent good form into the second half of the season. They are ten points ahead of second bottom Denizlispor (7 points/17 games) and seventeen ahead of Ankaraspor who are pointless (numerically speaking, of course) at the halfway stage and look certain for the drop.