By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
In lieu of writing 2,000 words on Spain, Germany, Italy and every other major league in the world, I thought I’d do a super-easy wrap-up of the other “big” leagues (that I feel like addressing). It isn’t scientific, and I don’t know everyone who was signed, but heck, I’ll be right at least some of the time (like in predicting Barcelona and Real Madrid will finish in the Top 2 in Spain).
As I complain about regularly, Spain bores the me. It’s not that some of the teams don’t play nice football, it’s just that the way their TV payments system is set up, the only teams that are truly competitive are Real Madrid and Barcelona. And now we get news the season openers might be postponed because some of the teams can’t afford to pay their players. Blah. Anyway, here’s my picks:
Champion: Real Madrid; Champions League: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Villareal, Valencia; Europa League: Malaga, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao; Relegated: Rayo Vallecano, Granada, Levante; Top scorer: Lionel Messi, Barcelona; Player of the season: Lionel Messi, Barcelona
I enjoy the Bundesliga a lot. It offers the high-paced play that you see in England, but without the obvious discrepancies between the top teams and other teams in the league (though this is often due to poor play on the part of Bayern. Meanwhile, teams like Borussia Dortmund and Leverkusen play free-flowing attacking soccer with players who are up-and-coming as opposed to tired retreads living on past glories (I’m looking at you, Frank Lampard).
Champion: Bayern Munich; Champions League: Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen; Europa League: Stuttgart, Mainz, Hamburg; Relegated: Moenchengladbach, Freiburg, Augsburg; Top scorer: Lucas Barrios, Dortmund; Player of the Season: Franck Ribery, Bayern
It’s been a rough couple years for Italy. Even though Inter Milan won the Champions League a couple years ago, coach Jose Mourinho bailed, and all the other Italian teams have been miserable in European play. AC Milan won the league last year with a season that could probably best be describe as uninspiring. Though it was nice to see teams like Lazio, Napoli and Udinese play strongly last season, you have to believe at least one of those teams (probably Udinese) will drop back this season. Also on the horizon? An end to Inter’s recent dominance in the league – though they should still have enough to qualify for the Champions League.
Champion: AC Milan, grudgingly; Champions League: AC Milan, Napoli, Roma, Inter Milan; Europa League: Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina; Relegated: Atalanta, Lecce, Novara; Player of the season: Marek Hamsik, Napoli; Leading scorer: Antonio Di Natale, Udinese
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Pretty big weekend in store across Europe. After the relative excitement of the first half of the Champions League knockout round, we have an actual cup final – Arsenal v Birmingham City in the Carling Cup as well as big games in Germany, France, Italy and Holland. As usual, the two giants in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid, play nobodies that they should crush with ease. Yay for La Liga! All times Pacific.
Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund. (German Bundesliga, 9:30 a.m.) This is actually a pretty exciting match. It features Borussia Dortmund, or as I have dubbed them, The Fighting Bananas, who are running away with the Bundesliga this year, against Bayern Munich, who are generally the most dominant team in Germany and the highest scoring. Bayern is coming off an impressive 1-0 win in the Champions League at defending champion Inter Milan and have won their last two Bundesliga matches in impressive fashion over Hoffenheim and Mainz. Dortmund have struggled a little bit lately, if you could say a team that has lost only once in its last 22 league matches is ever struggling. Regardless, they’ve only won two of their last five matches (three draws). They beat Bayern 2-0 in the other match between the two this year. Right now, Dortmund leads the league by 10 points, and Bayern is 13 points back. Players to watch for Bayern are striker Mario Gomez and wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, as usual. For Dortmund, Nuri Sahin is my favorite player who is not Japanese and injured. (That’s right, I mean you, Shinji Kagawa.)
My prediction: Cliche alert! Bayern will win the battle, but Dortmund will win the war. 3-2, Bayern
Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners. (Australian A-League playoffs, 2:01 a.m.) So I know no one is going to watch this match due to the time, but if you can’t sleep … you know. Anyway, since I wrote so much about the last match, I’ll keep this brief. Brisbane are breaking records all over the A-League this season (only one defeat in 30 matches, a +32 goal differential), and they have a 2-0 lead in the two-leg match and are playing at home. Players to watch for Brisbane are Costa Barbarouses and Jean Carlo Solorzano, who have 25 goals between them, and Thomas Broich, who has 14 assists.
Prediction: Brisbane advances easily, 3-1
Arsenal v Birmingham City. (English Carling Cup final, 8 a.m.) This match offers Arsenal their first chance to grab some silverware in six years, and they should have a relatively easy time of it against Birmingham City, who although a fellow Premiership side, are not in the same class. Arsenal will cope without the services of captain Cesc Fabregas or winger Theo Walcott, but they’ll still have a plethora of good attacking players like Samir Nasri, Andrei Arshavin and Robin Van Persie to rely upon. Birmingham do have former Arsenal midfielder and Belarusian international Аляксандр Паўлавіч Глеб and David “I’m a poor man’s Beckham; Very, very poor” Bentley, in a not-really-that-interesting side plot. Failure to win this match would be a pretty big blow to Arsenal, though in fairness, they’re still in the Champions League, challenging for the Premiership and competing in the FA Cup, so it’s not THAT BAD, is it?
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0
Athletic Bilbao v Valencia. (Spanish La Liga, noon) I’m continuing my recent vow not to publicize matches involving Real Madrid and Barcelona since they win all the ones they play 4-0 and split 75 percent of the TV revenue from La Liga games, thus rendering any other Spanish clubs’ chances of winning the title at 0. So I’m picking this one. But it’s a pretty good one. Athletic Bilbao are a Basque club and one of the most decorated in La Liga history, though they haven’t won the league in almost 30 years. Valencia I think were the last non-Barcelona/Madrid team to win the league in Spain. Both teams are competing for spots in Europe, and Bilbao are notoriously difficult to beat at home, having only lost to Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and … Deportivo de la Coruna. Umm…ignore that last one there. Valencia are in third place and currently benefiting from Villareal’s poor run of form, as all of you know. Players to watch: for Athletic, Spanish international striker Fernando Llorente has 13 goals this season, and well, he plays for Spain. Valencia has a bunch of good young players (Aritz Aduriz – well, not young…, Juan Mata and Pablo). Lots of long hair and weird skinny hairbands here today, ladies.
Prediction: Athletic 2-1
Palermo v Udinese. (Italian Serie A, 6 a.m.) This match doesn’t have much bearing on Serie A title race, though both teams are still in the hunt for Europe. What it does have is two of the funnest, most attacking sides in Europe and two bright young stars (Palermo’s Javier Pastore and Udinese’s Alexis Sanchez) that you’ll hear mentioned again and again and again over the next couple years. Plus, neither team can defend, though Udinese are probably slightly better on that end…
Prediction: Palermo 4, Udinese 4
Lille v Lyon. (French Ligue 1, noon) This match gives current French frontrunners Lille the opportunity to end their recent poor run of form (two straight losses after not losing a match for four months) and knockout Lyon, who are generally probably considered the best French side, though they haven’t won the title in three years. A loss for Lille, meanwhile, would put Lyon back in the title race, and probably would knock Lille down to second or third place. Lille is led by Eden Hazard, a playmaker coveted by Arsenal and Manchester United and strikers Gervinho and Moussa Sow (27 goals between them). Lyon has quite a few good players, but Bafetimbi Gomes, who was once considered the heir apparent to Didier Drogba, though it’s never quite happened for him, will line up as the lone forward.
Prediction: Lille 2, Lyon 1
AZ Alkmaar v Twente Enschede, PSV Eindhoven v Ajax Amsterdam. (Dutch Eredivisie, 6:30 a.m.) The only thing bigger than a weekend with these two teams in Holland is when De Staat plays the Amsterdam Arena. Anyone? Anyone? The match features the Top 3 teams in the country and Alkmaar, who are currently sixth. Right now the Top 3 are only separated by five points, so if Ajax beat PSV and Alkmaar won, it would be down to a two-point lead. I don’t feel like listing all the team’s players, but Twente’s Theo Janssen is pretty good, so start with him in your search of Dutch superstars.
Predictions: Alkmaar 1, Twente 1; PSV 2, Ajax 2
AC Milan v Napoli. (Italian Serie A, 11:45 a.m.) Both AC Milan and Napoli were knocked out of Europe over the last two weeks. Oh wait, AC Milan gets knocked out in two weeks. My mistake. Anyhoo, This match features the top 2 teams in Italy. AC Milan have an excellent attacking trident up top, which I’ve already talked about in previous posts, so I won’t bother today. As for Napoli, they’re led by Edinson Cavani, who has 20 goals and probably has been the player of the season in the Serie A. Napoli will be missing Ezequiel Lavezzi, though, who doesn’t score goals, but doesn’t really need to with Cavani starting.
Prediction: AC Milan 1, Napoli 1
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
This week is chock-a-block with good games, from the Club World Cup championship on Saturday to the Catalan Derby in Spain, to a Top 6 clashin Italy and a meeting of two of the dominant forces in French football. Enjoy!
Saturday (All times Pacific)
Inter Milan v TP Mazembe. (Club World Cup, 9 a.m.) Rafa Benitez will hope the stop-start nature of Inter Milan’s season so far will go into full-on start modein the Club World Cup championship match with huge underdogs TP Mazembe, the first non-European or South American representative in the title match in the history of this tournament. Casual observers, and probably most more esteemed football fans, will probably all be pulling for Mazembe to “shock the world” as too many American basketball stars like to say. Stranger things have happened …
Prediction: Inter Milan 3, TP Mazembe 1
Espanyol v Barcelona. (La Liga, 11 a.m.) The biggest match in Spain this weekend is the Catalan Derby between Espanyol and Barca. This match matters more than most Catalan Derbies in thesense that Espanyol is actually pretty good this year, and will be testing a perfect home 7-0-0 record against their municipal foes who are also a perfect 7-0-0 away from the cozy confines of the Camp Nou. Something has got to give, right?
Prediction: In most other circumstances, we’d pick high-flying Espanyol to pull of the upset or at least draw, but no one has come close to stopping Barcelona lately. Espanyol 2, Barcelona 3
AC Milan v AS Roma. (Serie A, 11:45 a.m.) In something of a rarity, the biggest match in Italy is also on a Saturday, in this case pitting Serie A leaders AC Milan against Roma, who have been lingering on the fringes of Champions League for most of this year so far. In this case, you’d have to fancy AC Milan to win, though these type of matches are always capable of springing a surprise. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as odious a character as he is, has been dominant for Milan, and Roma has been particularly terrible away from home this season, only winning once so far.
Prediction: AC Milan 2, AS Roma 1
Panathinaikos v Olympiakos. (Greek Super League, 9:30 a.m.) I know arguably less about the Greek league than I do about what is really cooking on those spinning Gyro cones you see at Greek restaurants, but I do know two things: 1. The Greek national team is epically dull to watch; and 2. Pana and Olympiakos are two of the traditionally dominant teams in the league, making a match between them – particularly when they’re No. 2 and No. 1 respectively in the table – always worth watching. So watch it, if you’re not interested in the other matches I’ve already talked about.
Prediction: Panathinaikos 1, Olympiakos 1
Chelsea v Manchester United. (English Premier League, 8 a.m.) Since The Blues emergence as a power in world football (Thank you, Russian oligarchs!) the Chelsea-Man U clash is one that many football fans across the world eagerly await, only to be lulled into a stupor, because, let’s face it, these big matches in the EPL are almost always tactical borefests. The possibility of a draw also increases the chance that Arsenal and Man City can jump into a tie for first in the table with wins.
Prediction: Dominant victories by one team in these matches are almost as rare as Wayne Rooney scoring a goal in open play this season. Oh! Chelsea 1, Manchester United 1
Real Madrid v Sevilla. (La Liga, noon) It’s hard to call this a big match with the way Sevilla (four losses on the bounce in La Liga, including a 3-1 loss at home to the powerhouse known as Almeria) has been playing of late, but the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo, Who Will Score More? race has been quite intriguing this season.
Prediction: Real Madrid 4, Sevilla 1
VfB Stuttgart v Bayern Munich. (German Bundesliga, 8:30 a.m.) I admit it, I’m including this match more to make sure I get a Bundesliga game on the list. For those who haven’t watched any German matches this season, start. There are always tons of goals, great technical players, and bizarre occurrences whereby a team like Stuttgart, who qualified for the Champions League last year, are in the relegation zone despite winning two matches this season by at least six goals. As for Bayern, they have to keep winning to have any chance of catching Dortmund, now an incredible 17 points ahead of them at the top of the table with 18 matches to play.
Prediction: VfB Stuttgart 3, Bayern 3
Marseille v Lyon (French Ligue 1, noon) Lyon are a strange team in that they have struggled mightily the past couple seasons (at least for a team that won the title seven years in a row) in the relatively lightweight Ligue 1, but continue to perform well on the continent and have a lot of good players. Playing at defending champs Marseille will give them a chance to show that the recent good form that has them back in the Champions League picture isn’t a fluke.
Prediction: Nonetheless, I’m giving Marseille the edge here playing at home. Marseille 2, Lyon 1
Once Caldas v Deportes Tolima. (Colombia, 2:30 p.m.) Alajuelense v Herediano. (Costa Rican Primera, 2 p.m.) Metapan v Alianza FC. (El Salvadoran Primera, 1:15 p.m.) Municipal v Comunicaciones. (Liga Nacional de Guatamala, 9 a.m.) I won’t pretend to know much about these teams, but all of these matches are league final matches, so if you’re interested in seeing a game where the outcome truly matters, look these up on http://atdhe.net or one of the p2p sites.
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
This weekend is a little strange, because, unlike most, there aren’t a lot of exceptional matches going on involving the major leagues in Europe, except for England. In Spain, Real Madrid travels to Real Zaragoza for what should be a relatively easy game, and Barcelona hosts Real Sociedad, another one they should win without too much fuss. Italian table-toppers AC Milan travel to Bologna on Sunday as well. In Germany, league leaders Borussia Dortmund host Bremen, who have been struggling recently, and Bayern hosts St. Pauli. At the Club World Cup, they’re still in the preliminary stages, and Internacional makes the first appearance of the “big boys” on Tuesday. Here are other games to watch this weekend:
Newcastle United v Liverpool. (English Premier League) This match is interesting because it’ll be the first one with Newcastle being managed by Alan Pardew (above), who was appointed after the popular Chris Hughton was sacked. Several Newcastle players have spoken out publicly against the change, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team performs. Will it be “new manager syndrome” or will Newcastle start a slide down the table? Liverpool has been better recently, though they’ll need to win matches like this to keep Roy Hodgson in his job.
Prediction: Newcastle 1, Liverpool 2
Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea. (English Premier League) If Spurs have truly have aspirations of challenging for the title, this match is a perfect opportunity for them to make their claim against a faltering Blues side who have only won one of their last six in all competitions, scoring only three goals in the process. Tottenham recently broke their long, long duck against Top 4 sides by beating Arsenal. This is their chance to show it isn’t a fluke.
Prediction: Chelsea has to break out of their slump at some point, don’t they? Spurs 1, Chelsea 1
Juventus v Lazio. (Italian Serie A) Amazingly, the Old Lady haven’t lost in their last 15 matches in all competitions, though seven of those have been draws. They’re facing a Lazio side who showed with a 3-1 thrashing of Inter Milan last week that they aim to stay in the title hunt all season long. Midfield signing Hernanes in particular has been inspirational for the Biancocelesti. With AC Milan visiting Bologna, Lazio is hoping a win and a Milan loss will put them back level on points.
Prediction: Juventus 1, Lazio 1
Mainz v Schalke 04. (German Bundesliga) After a dream start of eight wins in their first nine matches, Mainz has faltered a bit, winning only two of their last six. Enter Schalke, the ultimate Jekyll-Hyde team. They have surprised their way to winning their group easily in the Champions League, but they have struggled mightily in the Bundesliga, getting hammered by Kaiserslautern before somehow beating Bayern 2-0 in one of the most one-sided displays you’ll ever see by a team on the losing side. Mainz has to win to even contemplate closing the gap on Dortmund.
Prediction: Mainz 3, Schalke 1
Estudiantes La Plata v Arsenal de Sarandi; Racing Club v Velez Sarsfield (Argentinian Primera Division) You can’t really dream up a better final weekend of the Primera Division, which features all of the top four involved in two matches on Sunday. Estudiantes needs just to beat Arsenal to win the title, but Arsenal is no slouch, undefeated in their last three and third in the table. Velez Sarsfield, undefeated in nine straight in which they’ve only conceded three goals, will win the title if they win and Estudiantes loses. They visit Racing Club, who is currently in fourth place and undefeated in their last eight.
Prediction: Estudiantes 2, Arsenal 0; Racing Club 0, Velez 2
Manchester United v Arsenal. (English Premier League) Yeah, I know, another English game, how boring. Sorry, I didn’t make the schedule. It seems like every year there is much hand-wringing and debate over whether this will finally be Arsenal’s year. Usually matches like this are the ones where you find out that, oops, it’s not. Well, this year, Manchester United look as shaky as they’re probably ever going to look, so it’s an opportunity for Arsenal to move four points — you heard me right, four points — in front with a win. Will it happen? Ehh…well…let’s say yes, for once.
Prediction: Manchester United 1, Arsenal 2