Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Spanish get going again

Sean O'Conor,
Ponferrada, Spain

Spanish football had a summer nightmare as La Roja meekly surrendered their world crown in Brazil, crashing out in the first round with only a dead rubber win over Australia to point to. But lest we forget, La Liga clubs made a clean sweep of UEFA trophies last season, as Real Madrid won the Champions League & Super Cup and Sevilla the Europa League.

While the national team finally returned to winning ways with a 5-1 victory over Macedonia in their first Euro 2016 qualifier, the Primera has also resumed proceedings with the annual Barça-Real ding-dong back into full swing.

Barcelona have resumed normal service, topping the Primera after six outings with five wins and a draw. Real Madrid have started more slowly, surprisingly losing their opening two games of the season, away at Real Sociedad and at home to Atletico Madrid.

Their city rivals are of course the reigning champions and Champions League runners-up, and it is very much to be hoped they can maintain that success to make the race for the Spanish title at least a little more interesting than a tussle between the usual two suspects.

Valencia is the most likely candidate to make it a four-horse race and the club coached by Portuguese Nuno Espirito Santo have made an encouraging start and find themselves second to Barça so far, just ahead of Atletico and Europa League winners Sevilla.

The rest of the Spanish top flight once more looks depressingly weedy however, with the likes of Almeria, Eibar and Getafe unlikely to set many pulses racing.

Barça v Real may be an overblown, vulgar carnival at least twice a season, but the pulling power of the star-heavy lineups remains undeniable. 

Their first clash, at the Bernabeu on the 25th of October, has been on people's lips since the start of the campaign, particularly as it will feature the long-awaited debut of Luis Suarez for the blaugrana.

If the domestic league turns out to be as predictable as ever, then at least in Europe the big two Spanish clubs face a battle. There is also Atletico and Athletic Bilbao making up Spain's Champions League quartet.

After last season's all-Madrid final, Barcelona will be eager to make their mark again in the competition they dominated so impressively three seasons ago under Pep Guardiola.

After edging past Cyprus’ Apoel unconvincingly 1-0, their first real test comes tonight away to Paris Saint-Germain, with their old boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic eager to prove a point. Ajax are the other team in their group.

Real began more convincingly thumping Basel 5-1 and look to have an easier ride to the knock-out stages with Liverpool and Bulgaria’s Ludogorets Razgrad to come.

Atletico lost their opening clash 3-2 away to Olympiakos, and must now up their game to finish second in a group containing Juventus and Malmo.

Athletic, who qualified after defeating Napoli in the play-off round, have a reasonable group on paper of Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Bate Borisov but have also started slowly, drawing 0-0 at home to Shakhtar.

In the Europa League, Real Sociedad surprisingly crashed out 3-1 to Russia’s Krasnodar in the play-off round, leaving Villareal and holders Sevilla flying the Spanish flag.

Villareal won a crucial point away to Group A rivals Borussia Moenchengladbach and should make it through against Apollon Limassol and Zurich, while Sevilla began with aplomb, beating Feyenoord 2-0 in Group G, with Rijeka and Standard Liege to come.

La Roja look like they have finally left the stage of global greatness after two European Championships and one World Cup across five magical years, but with a Euro 2016 qualifying group featuring the modest talents of Belarus, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Slovakia and Ukraine, Vicente Del Bosque has the luxury of time to rebuild and rethink.

In European club competition however, the expectation and pressure for Spanish gold is as great as ever.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, September 26, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 27 September 2014

George had only one correct Premier League prediction last week and no perfect scores.

This weekend's standout tie is the North London derby where we are going for a narrow home win. Chelsea should remain top with an easy-looking fixture at home to Aston Villa, who lost heavily at home to Arsenal last time out. Manchester should get back to winning ways at Old Trafford against the Hammers but nothing is now certain for LVG's men.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Liverpool 2 v Everton 1
Chelsea 3 v Aston Villa 0
Crystal Palace 1 v Leicester 1
Hull 1 v Man City 2
Man Utd 2 v West Ham 1
Southampton 4 v QPR 1
Sunderland 2 v Swansea 2
Arsenal 1 v Tottenham 0

Sunday 28 September 2014

West Brom 1 v Burnley 0

Monday 29 September 2014

Stoke 2 v Newcastle 1

Soccer - Ben Arfa seeks top-half spot

Hatem Ben Arfa believes the squad Hull City boss Steve Bruce has put together is good enough to secure a top-half finish in the Premier League this season. The 27-year-old Frenchman is currently on loan at the Tigers from Newcastle United where he featured in 76 Premier League matches. Bruce has also signed the likes of Tom Ince, Michael Dawson, Abel Hernandez and Mohamed Diame since the end of last season, and Hull have made a solid start to the campaign, losing only one of their first five league matches. Ben Arfa said: "It was the last five minutes of the transfer window when I arrived at Hull. The coach has built something interesting and I think we can expect to be in the top 10." Hull, 7/1 with the bookies to draw 1-1 against Manchester City on Saturday, can be backed at 4/1 to clinch a top-half finish this season.

2014 Ryder Cup - Punters Yet To Come For Passionate Poulter

Ian Poulter, the man who kick-started the 'Miracle of Medinah' back in 2012 remains 8/1 and, so far, relatively unbacked with bookies to be the top European at the 2014 Ryder Cup.

Steve Freeth "The 2012 Ryder Cup should hold happy memories for every European supporter, but it was the complete opposite for our golf In-Play traders who still carry the scars after taking a pounding at the hands of punters on that late September weekend.

"Two years on, that double figure price comeback remains one of our worst ever golf results, but the man earmarked by the United States, Ian Poulter, is yet to be supported to continue his impressive record."

Poulter is 13/8, behind 11/8 favourite Justin Rose, to be top Englishman at Gleneagles and 16/1 to hole the winning putt, whilst Europe are 8/13 favourites to win outright with USA at 7/4 and the tie at 10/1.

2014 Ryder Cup

To Win Outright

Europe 8/13 Tie 10/1 USA 7/4
Top European E/W ¼ 1,2,3

Rory McIlroy 4/1 Sergio Garcia 5/1
Justin Rose 6/1 Henrik Stenson 8/1
Ian Poulter 8/1 Martin Kaymer 9/1
Graeme McDowell 10/1 Lee Westwood 12/1
Jamie Donaldosn 18/1 Victor Dubuisson 20/1
Stephen Gallacher 25/1 Thomas Bjorn 28/1
Top Englishman
Rose 11/8 Poulter 13/8 Westwood 5/2

Last time's predictions

Friday, September 19, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 20 September 2014

George had five correct Premier League predictions last week but no perfect scores.

This weekend's standout tie is Manchester City, last year's Premier League champions against this year's current leaders with a 100% record. Manchester United have a tricky visit to Leicester to face another newly promoted side after thumping QPR last weekend. Will the "Gaalaticos" prevail?

Saturday 20 September 2014

QPR 1 v Stoke City 0
Burnley 1 v Sunderland 0
Swansea City 2 v Southampton 2
Newcastle 1 v Hull City 1
Aston Villa 2 v Arsenal 1

Sunday 21 September 2014

Leicester 0 v Man Utd 2
Tottenham 2 v West Brom 0
Everton 2 v Crystal Palace 1
Man City 2 v Chelsea 1

Punters Back Mour To Be Merrier In Champions League

Chelsea are 11/8 to be the furthest progressing English team in this season’s Champions League and Jose Mourinho’s side are the one that bookmakers fear most in the outright market.

Pundit Steve Freeth: "The way Chelsea have started the season coupled with their straight forward looking group has had punters fancying Mourinho to get his hands on the Champions League trophy once again."

Diego Costa is 16/1 to end the Ronaldo/Messi monopoly of the Champions League top scorer crown, 5/6 to outscore Sergio Aguero in the competition and bookmakers have now raised his top flight goals quote to 23.5 for this season.

2014/15 Champions League

Outright E/W ½ 1,2

Real Madrid 7/2 Bayern Munich 4/1
Barcelona 11/2 Chelsea 6/1
Man City 14/1 PSG 16/1
Arsenal 20/1 Atletico Madrid 20/1
Liverpool 25/1 Borussia Dortmund 25/1
Juventus 25/1 Bayer Leverkusen 66/1

Furthest Progressing PL Team (win only)

Chelsea 11/8 Man City 2/1
Arsenal 4/1 Liverpool 5/1

Top Goalscorer E/W ¼ 1,2,3,4

Cristiano Ronaldo 11/4 Lionel Messi 4/1
Robert Lewandowski 8/1 Zlatan Ibrahimovic 14/1
Sergio Aguero 16/1 Diego Costa 16/1
Thomas Muller 20/1 Luis Suarez 20/1
Gareth Bale 33/1 Daniel Sturridge 40/1

2014/15 Champions League Goals Matchbet

Sergio Aguero 5/6 Diego Costa 5/6

2014/15 Premier League - Total Diego Costa Goals

Over 23.5 5/6 Under 23.5 5/6

(Currently has 7)

Soccer - Wenger stands by new boy Welbeck

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger remains confident that recent signing Danny Welbeck will get among the goals sooner rather than later. The £16million striker, signed from Manchester United, marked his Gunners debut by hitting the woodwork against Manchester City, before spurning several opportunities in the 2-0 Champions League loss at Borussia Dortmund. However, Wenger is certain that England international Welbeck, who is 33/1 with bookmakers to be top goalscorer in the Premier League this season, will come good in the very near future. He commented: "Danny will improve, I don't think we have to make a problem of that. "He had a very lively first half. He had two or three good chances but couldn't finish them. There was one obvious one. We have to be patient with him." The next challenge for Arsenal and Welbeck is a visit to Aston Villa on Saturday, with the hosts having taken ten points from a possible 12 from their opening four league games of the campaign.

Soccer - Rodgers: Reds still adapting

Manager Brendan Rodgers believes that victories are key to allow his Liverpool side to move from being a work in progress to becoming the finished article. Rodgers was speaking after seeing his side edge a 2-1 victory at home to Ludogorets Razgrad in their opening Champions League Group B fixture, with the Reds needing a last-gasp Steven Gerrard penalty to take the spoils. And, with his side 7/2 with various bookmakers to top Group B, Rodgers said: "There is a lot of adaptation going on as we have a lot of players who have come in and are still adapting. We are a work in progress and while we do that it is important we win games. "It was very important to get back in the competition, but it was always going to be a tricky tie for us because they are the champions of their country and there are not too many bad teams in the competition. "Maybe in the first six months we would have drawn and maybe even lost it, but we showed the resilience and character in the group."

Last time's predictions

© Soccerphile.com

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fifa World Rankings September 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for September 2014 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

New world champions Germany remain at the top of the Fifa pile followed by Argentina, Colombia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, Uruguay, Spain, and France and Switzerland.

England remain in a lowly 18th place up slightly after beating Switzerland away in Euro 2016 qualification.

Algeria are the top African team in 20th place.

Japan are in 48th place and on a downward spiral.

The USA are in 17th place. Scotland are in 29th position equal with Wales. The Republic of Ireland are in 62nd place, Northern Ireland are 71st.

Ranking Team
1 Germany
2 Argentina
3 Colombia
4 The Netherlands
5 Belgium
6 Brazil
7 Uruguay
8 Spain
9 France
10 Switzerland
11 Portugal
12 Chile
13 Italy
14 Greece 
15 Costa Rica 
16 Mexico
17 USA
18 England
19 Croatia
20 Algeria 

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

Friday, September 12, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 13 September 2014

So we are back after an extended summer break joining the action in match week four of the Premier League.

Young George is itching to get back in the saddle with some exciting picks for the new season. Let's see how he does after his pre-season training.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Arsenal 1 v Man City 2
Sunderland 1 v Tottenham 1
Stoke City 2 v Leicester City 1
Crystal Palace 2 v Burnley 0
Chelsea 3 v Swansea City 0
West Brom 2 v Everton 3
Southampton 2 v Newcastle 1
Liverpool 2 v Aston Villa 1

Sunday 14 September 2014

Manchester United 2 v QPR 0

Monday 15 September 2014

Hull City 0 v West Ham 1

Van 9/4 To Deliver On Top Three Target

Bookmakers are quoting 9/4 about Manchester United finishing in the top three this season after reports of Louis van Gaal being set such a target by the Old Trafford hierarchy.

The Red Devils are 5/2 to finish outside the top six spots for the second season running and 4/1 to win a major trophy during 2014/15.

Steve Freeth adds: "Van Gaal has been spending like a kid in a very expensive sweet shop and it will be interesting to see how he shoehorns his attacking talent into his starting eleven."

Man Utd 2014/15 PL Finishing Position

1st 12/1 2nd 12/1 3rd 11/2 4th 4/1
5th 9/2 6th 15/2 7th+ 5/2

Top 3 Finish 9/4

Man Utd To Win A Major Trophy During 2014/15

Yes 4/1 No 1/6

Total Radamel Falcao 2014/15 PL Goals

Over 13.5 5/6 Under 13.5 5/6

Soccer - Welbeck relishes central role

New signing Danny Welbeck is eager to make his mark as a central striker with Arsenal, who are 8/15 with bookmakers to finish in the Premier League top four this season. £16million former Manchester United man Welbeck showed his qualities with both goals in England's Euro 2016 qualifying win in Switzerland earlier this week, and Welbeck is determined to carry on the good work. He told reporters: "It is well known I prefer to play through the middle, so when I get my opportunity I just want to show what I can do. "Once I get into the box and get the opportunities I have got faith in my ability. "Before I wasn't getting into the box because I wasn't playing too much as a striker and I had to worry about my defensive work." Welbeck is poised to make his debut for the Gunners on Saturday when they host the reigning Premier League champions, Manchester City.

Soccer - Fabianski dreams of top four

Swansea City goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski has called on his side to continue their good start to the new season, with a top-four finish in the Premier League a possibility. Fabianski and the Swans have won all three of their league games to date and head to Chelsea on Saturday to take on the only other side to have taken nine points out of nine. Poland international Fabianski sees no reason why City should not aim as high as possible, with the Welsh outfit 66/1 with bookmakers to secure a top-four spot. Former Arsenal keeper Fabianski said: "Obviously it is early in the season and it is too early for things like that (talk of a top-four finish), but if we keep going as we are game by game, you never know in football. "Hopefully we could do it, why not? We don't have to be afraid of anything. "It's a shame the international break came when it did because we made a great start to the season with three wins from three."

Last time's predictions

© Soccerphile.com

Monday, September 8, 2014

Stielike, Seoul, Struggles - September in South Korea

This has been one crazy summer and most in Korean football are glad to see the back of it. The events of the World Cup are well-known. What comes next remains to be seen.

The search for Stielike

When the KFA reluctantly accepted the resignation of Hong Myung-bo in early July, they had no idea as to the identity of his replacement. Indeed, a number of senior figures in the organisation also resigned following the World Cup failure including vice-president Huh Jung-moo and chairman of the technical committee Hwangbo Kwan. His successor is Lee Yong-soo, who held the post back in 2002. Lee and the new committee wanted a European with World Cup experience, club experience and experience in developing young players as well as decent English skills.

Bert Van Marwijk was the name on top of the list. Lee went to the Netherlands to talk to the man who led the Oranje to the final of the 2010 World Cup but the deal broke down mainly due to the Dutchman's desire to spend much of his time in Europe. The KFA wanted someone willing to get involved at all levels of the country's football scene.

Former Juventus coach Ciro Ferrara was also high on the list but in the end, the successful candidate was something of a surprise. Uli Stielike was a fantastic midfielder for Real Madrid and West Germany in the seventies and eighties yet his coaching career is not quite as impressive. Unremarkable national team spells with Switzerland in the late eighties and the Ivory Coast in the previous decade are peppered by short-lived club terms, the most recent of which came in the volatile coaching region of West Asia. Years spent with German youth teams at the turn of the century appealed to the KFA and basically being German helped.

Reaction was not especially positive or negative, though there is some relief that the post has been filled with the Asian Cup just four months away. Friendlies in October and November will give him a little time, though not much, to prepare for Australia. His bosses are looking longer-term but a bad start will, obviously, make it tough for a man whose record does not excite. Fans seem open-minded but there is not much credit in the bank.

Stumbles in the K-League

Pohang Steelers and Jeonbuk Motors have been here before and know well what it takes to win the K-League title. That doesn't mean they won't be frustrated at their recent slips in form. The only positive is that the two defeats in the last three that Jeonbuk have suffered and the dropping of eight points from the last four games from Pohang have not been capitalised on by rivals such as Suwon Bluewings.

Lee Dong-gook
Jeonbuk are three points clear and the happier of the two, especially after their recent and clinical 2-0 win in Pohang, their bogey team in recent years. Lee Dong-gook was on the scoresheet once again and remains on the top of the K-League goalscoring charts, not bad for a 35 year-old. Such form earned him a recall to the national team and the Lion King scored two fine goals in a very welcome 3-1 win over Venezuela on September 5.

At the bottom, Gyeongnam FC are propping up the other 11 and despite not playing that badly of late have just not been getting the results that they have deserved. Two-time Asian champs and seven-time domestic winners Seongnam are starting to climb free of trouble, helped the return of legendary coach Kim Hak-beom. If he can perform anything like the same magic as the middle part of last decade, fans in the satellite city are in for a happier time.

The only team in excellent form are FC Seoul. The 2012 champions started the season so badly that their recent run is not going to end in a title challenge but it should at least ensure a top-half finish. Sixteen points from the last eighteen has taken some pressure off coach Choi Yong-soo though whether this season is regarded as a success will depend on what happens in a different theatre.

Seoul of Asia?

That is one of the slogans that can be seen around the big stadium in the capital city. Seoul reached the final of the Asian Champions League in 2013, losing on away goals to Guangzhou Evergrande. The Koreans are now one game (if two legs) away from a repeat performance after seeing off Pohang in a turgid quarter-final that ended goalless after 210 minutes of football. The Steelers failed to score a single spot-kick and Choi Yong-soo's men sneaked through.

Western Sydney Wanderers lie in wait in the semi-final and while it will be tough, an in-form Seoul, even one not as strong as the 2013 version, should be able to get through and then take on Al Ain or Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia.

If Seoul can collect a first continental title, then they will at least be able to end what has been a traumatic year for Korean football on a high.