By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Bayern Munich 1 Borussia Dortmund 3. (German Bundesliga; Jeremiah’s prediction: Bayern 3-2) Sadly, I missed this match, and apparently it was a good one. I actually thought with the way Bayern has been playing, they’d win this, but Dortmund was the better team and probably could’ve won by more than two goals. For all intents and purposes, this win, coupled with Bayer Leverkusen’s draw against Werder Bremen, gives Dortmund the title. They lead Leverkusen by 13 points and Bayern by 16 with 10 matches to play. Dortmund led 2-1 at halftime thanks to goals from Lucas Barrios and Nuri Sahin. Bayern’s goal came from Gustavo. Mats Hummels finished it off in the second half.
Also in the Bundesliga: Aside from Leverkusen, no one else is in the title race, though Hannover actually edged ahead of Bayern in the race for the Champions League. In the relegation battle, Stuttgart won at Frankfurt to pull within three points of safety.
Brisbane Roar 2 Central Coast Mariners 2. (Australian A-League playoffs; Jeremiah’s prediction: Roar 3-1) This match actually looked like a bit of a shock early on, with the Mariners scoring twice in the first half to pull to 3-3 on aggregate in the two-match playoff. Brisbane scored twice in the second half, though, to advance to the Grand Final. As for the Mariners, thanks to the A-League’s convoluted playoff system, they still have a chance to play in the Grand Final, though they’ll need to beat Gold Coast United to do it.
Also in the A-League: In whatever they call the playoff game (the semi-semi-final?), Gold Coast United beat Adelaide United 3-2 behind two Shane Smeltz goals to advance to play the Mariners.
Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2. (English Carling Cup final; Jeremiah’s prediction: Arsenal 2-0) Arsenal came into this match talking about winning the quadruple (Carling Cup, Champions League, FA Cup, Premier League). Well, if they play like they did in this game, they could emerge from this busy two-week stretch out of all four competitions, more or less. As much as I hate saying this, especially as a Villa fan, Birmingham City deserved their win. Arsenal coasted along, probably should’ve had goalkeeper Wojcech “I’m sure I’m spelling his name wrong” Szczeny sent off early, gave up a goal off a corner, and then gifted Birmingham with the win, thanks to a terrible mixup between Szczeny and defender Laurent Koscielny. Nothing else this can be described as other than a crushing defeat for Arsenal, especially when you consider that pretty much every player on their team is better than every Birmingham player (except for maybe Ben Foster or Roger Johnson). There’s always next year, right? Oh wait, now they have to try and knock out Leyton Orient in the FA Cup AND Barcelona in the Champions League. Good luck.
Also in England: Manchester United crushed Wigan 4-0 to push their lead to four points ahead of Arsenal. Manchester City could only draw at home to Fulham, effectively ending their title challenge.
Athletic Bilbao 1 Valencia 2. (Spanish La Liga; Jeremiah’s prediction: Athletic 2-1) If you’re keeping score, I’ve gotten every single prediction wrong so far. You’re welcome. Thank you for reading my stories. Athletic took the early lead, then Valencia rallied, winning on a goal from new signing Jonas. This match doesn’t move any mountains in the league standings – this is Spain after all – but it does go along way toward solidifying a Champions League spot for Valencia, who are now 11 points ahead of Espanyol in fifth. And for a team that’s perennially in financial trouble like they are, it’s important. As for Bilbao, they’re still in a position to qualify for Europe.
Also in La Liga: Barcelona win, Real Madrid lose, boring. Malaga beat Almeria in the battle of the two basement dwellers, though they’re still both a little ways away from safety.
Palermo 0 Udinese 7. (Italian Serie A; Jeremiah’s prediction: 4-4) Oh man, what can you say about this match? At least I almost got the total goals right. Udinese led 5-0 at the
break. Alexis Sanchez – one of my players to watch, thank you very much – scored four goals. A catastrophic loss for Palermo, but a win that really helps Udinese on for their push to the Champions League, particularly with Napoli playing AC Milan as we will soon discuss … As for Palermo, the loss gave owner Maurizio Zamparini (shown), who has to be one of the more obnoxious owners in professional sports, the opportunity to say manager Dellio Rossi “ruined” his team before firing him.
Also in Italy: Inter won to provisionally move up to second place; Roma blew a 2-goal lead, which is sort of like saying “Roma played a soccer match” since they do it every week.
Lille 1 Lyon 1. (French Ligue 1; Jeremiah’s prediction: 2-1 Lille) Kind of a dull match that keeps the French title race wide open. With the draw, Lille are now tied with Rennes for first, though Lille have a better goal difference. Not much else to add to this really.
Also in France: Rennes beat Lens 2-0 to move into a share of first. Marseille and PSG both won, which means four points separate the first-place team from the fifth place team. If French football wasn’t so painfully slow, I might actually watch a match to see what happens!
AZ Alkmaar 2 Twente Enschede 1, PSV Eindhoven 0 Ajax Amsterdam 0. (Dutch Eredivisie; Jeremiah’s prediction: Both draws) Anyone expecting something super-dramatic to happen in these matches had to be disappointed. Alkmaar’s win puts them in a slightly better position to challenge for the Champions League, though they’re probably too far out to challenge for the title. After a drab 0-0 draw, PSV has to be breathing a sigh of relief that Twente lost.
Also in Holland: Groningen, the other title challenger in Holland, lost, so it looks to be a three-horse race, or as they say in Holland, a drie paardenrace.
AC Milan 3 Napoli 0. (Italian Serie A; Jeremiah’s prediction: 1-1) Thanks a lot, Napoli, for ruining my one chance to redeem myself after getting every prediction wrong except for the PSV-Ajax draw. Napoli were terrible in this match, and missed their chance to grab a tie for first. If you’re keeping score, that means in five matches against Top 5 teams in Italy, Napoli have scored three goals and given up 13 in losing all five. You won’t win the title that way, guys.
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
Arsenal v Wigan Athletic: The Gunners helped erase their two-match losing streak with an occasionally impressive win over Aston Villa, in which they dominated for long periods, but still conceded twice and seemed nervy for most of the second half. Manager Arsene Wenger seems to more intent on getting something out of the Carling Cup this year, so don’t expect to see a starting 11 of youth players like cup teams of years past. Robin Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott all figure to get some playing time, though Arsenal will still be without Cesc Fabregas or Abou Diaby. For Wigan, their hope is just to soak up Arsenal pressure and pull of a shock win, though they’ll have to do it without Hugo Rodallega, serving a three-match suspension, or Tom Cleverly, who is ineligible to play cup matches as part of his loan agreement. Manager Roberto Martinez did say he hoped to make Wigan the “Arsenal of the North,” and we wish him luck with that, though he might be doing it in the Championship next year.
Form guide: Arsenal, 3-0-2, 10 goals scored, 8 goals conceded; Wigan, 1-1-3, 4 gs, 8 gc
Prediction: Arsenal 3, Wigan 0
West Ham v. Manchester United: This match pits the bottom of the table against the top of the table. West Ham have been pretty terrible this season, but managed to get a stay of execution for manager Avram Grant in their most recent match with a win over Wigan. Grant will probably rest some players and make improving their Premiership play the priority. Injuries to midfielders may force Grant to start US defender Jonathan Spector in midfield for the first time in his career. Manchester United has yet to suffer a defeat this season, but have been perhaps the least convincing Red Devils squad in recent memory. It remains to be seen whether their 7-1 demolition of Blackburn at the weekend is a reflection of newfound dominance or how terrible Blackburn is. Dimitar Berbatov might be rested or on the bench after scoring five goals against Rovers, giving Javier Hernandez another chance to shine in front of goal. Edwin Van Der Sar will also probably be rested.
Form guide: West Ham, 1-3-1, 7 goals scored, 8 conceded; Manchester United, 3-2-0, 12 gs, 3 gc
Prediction: West Ham 1, Manchester United 2
Birmingham v Aston Villa. Birmingham is hoping that Wednesday’s Carling Cup match will be a chance to end the recent string of dominance by Villa in this derby, having not won a match between the two since 2005. They have particularly struggled in cup matches against the Villans, having never scored in five matches played. City fans will think this year is a particularly good chance to end the string against a Villa team that is below them in the Premiership table and is facing an injury crisis with the likes of Jonathan Hogg drafted into the first team for matches this season. Alexandr Hleb will miss the match through injury, so former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner, City’s top scorer this season, will likely replace him in midfield. City Manager Alex McLeish said he would field a stronger side than in previous Carling Cup rounds. For last season’s finalists Villa, striker Gabriel Agbonlahor will likely return after missing the loss to Arsenal at the weekend. Manager Gerard Houllier is hoping that Villa’s strike force – which has only scored three goals in total this season in league play, will start scoring. Young winger Marc Albrighton is still missing after having his appendix taken out.
Form guide: Birmingham, 1-3-1, 6 goals scored, 6 goals conceded; Aston Villa, 1-2-2, 8 gs, 11 gc
Prediction: Birmingham 1, Aston Villa 0
Ipswich Town v. West Brom. Ipswich, the lone Championship team still in the Carling Cup, and manager Roy Keane will be forced to field an under-strength side for the cup game in the wake of their recent struggles in Championship play, where they have lost eight of their last 12 matches. Keane will be without the services of the team’s four loan signees and is dealing with injury problems. For West Brom, who ended a poor run of three losses in four matches with an impressive 4-1 win against Everton, Youssef Mulumbu will be missing through suspension, which probably means Somen Tchoyi, who has scored three goals in his last five matches, will probably step in again in midfield.
Form guide: Ipswich Town, 1-0-4, 4 goals scored, 11 conceded; West Brom, 1-1-3, 6 gs, 9 gc
Prediction: Ipswich Town 0, West Brom 2