Year in Review

Is there a better time than now to look back over the last year of soccer?  As we prepare to welcome in a new year, I want to take some time to look back at this year and reflect on what we have learned.  The look back has to start with the World Cup.  This was a fantastic spectacle and reminds us all why we love this game.  Whether it was watching the matches at a bar with friends or in Grant Park with thousands, the World Cup is a great launching point for soccer in this country.  Fans flocked to bars, parks, and couches to watch as the best players in the world were put on display.  The tournament brought new stars to the forefront like James Rodriguez, Keylor Navas, and Julian Green.  It elevated the reputation of some goalkeepers like Guillermo Ochoa, Tim Howard, Claudio Bravo.  However, in the end it was just like Gary Lineker says, “football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win..”  Well actually it took them 120 minutes this time around, but they were the best team in the tournament and deserved to be the champions.  The tournament also saw Luis Suarez continue his biting problem when he took a chunk out of Giorgio Chiellini.  That was a very dark moment in the tournament and changed the tournament for Uruguay and the summer for Liverpool and Barcelona.  For me, the player of the tournament was Javier Mascherano.  He was amazing and was the rock that Argentina needed.

You could also think about this year as the year of the Spanish in both a positive and negative way.  In Brazil, we saw the end of the Spanish Dynasty.  They were a hollow shell of the team that they were in the past.  They were one of the first teams eliminated from the tournament and never really seemed to even participate.  However, this year was not all bad for the Spanish.  Spanish teams dominated in Europe.  In the UEFA Champions League, the final was an all Spanish affair and it was a fantastic game.  Real Madrid’s long wait was over as La Decima has arrived.  It had been 12 years since they had won number 9, and they triumphed in extra time to win their 10thEuropean crown.  The Champions League final was another special match that showed us why we all both love and hate this game at times.  With the clock at 90:00, Atletico Madrid lead 1-0.  In the 3rd minute of extra time Ramos headed in the tying goal and this set the stage for their 3 goal onslaught in extra time.  It was mission accomplished for Real Madrid.   Sevilla also went on to win the Europa League making the UEFA Super Cup an all Spanish affair as well.  This last year was a remarkable season for Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.  They were typically third fiddle to the big two in Spain, and this past year they bucked that trend by not only reaching the final of the Champions League, but by winning the league when they drew 1-1 at the Camp Nou on the last day of the season.

For me personally, this was an amazing year of football.  In one fantastic week, I went to 3 matches in Spain.  I took an amazing trip around Spain with my brother and it definitely had a soccer theme.  It started with us sitting 4 row from the pitch for the Sevillan Derby, Sevilla FC vs. Real Betis.  What a game and what a historic match up.  The match was in Benito Villamarin and dates back to 1915.  On this day, Betis was about to be relegated while Sevilla was playing for a Champions League spot and en route to winning the Europa League.  The match was amazing for the atmosphere.  It was my first live match in Spain and it set the bar high.  If you ever find yourself in Southern Spain, I highly recommend a trip to the Benito Villamarin.  This was just the start of our epic soccer journey.  We then bused down to Gibraltar and then over to Malaga before taking the train to Valencia for a midweek game that I will never forget.

In the US we have rivalries, but none of them are even close to what we saw.  My brother and I were lucky enough (Thanks Dad) to score two tickets to La Mestalla for the Copa del Rey final.  As a Barcelona fan, my excitement is not capable of description.  I had seen them train once before in Chicago, but a live match that actually matters, let alone was final…I felt like it was all a dream that whole day.  Not only was I going to watch Barcelona, but they were play Real Madrid…El Clasico…the biggest rivalry in the world.  Messi, Neymar, Fabregas,  Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Alves, Bartra, Masche, Alba and Pinto against Bale, Benzema, Di Maria, Isco, Modric, Alonso, Coentrao, Ramos, Pepe, Carvajal, and Casillas. Does it get any better?  The answer is simply no.  The atmosphere around the stadium can only be described as rocking.  People were everywhere as we headed down the streets of Valencia towards the stadium.  Our seats were amazing and the game was just as good.  The two sets of fans were loud and proud.  There were many moments during this game where all I could do was sit back and look around and realize that I was really there and it was not a dream.  I was watching the two greatest teams in the world live in Valencia.  The only thing that would have made this better was a Barcelona victory, but there is always next time 😉  I am sure my brother Jon would join me again.

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The last of the three matches was in Barcelona and was like a trip to Mecca for me.  I had been to the Camp multiple times before, but that was always during the summer and never for a match.  The stars aligned for me and I was able to attend Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona with my dad.  What a match up to end the trip with, the Basques versus the Catalans.  While Barcelona did have a disappointing season, it was still unreal to take this game in.  Then the moment happened that made this night special.  Leo Messi scored from a brilliant free kick to win the game.  A Leo Messi game winner to top of the trip.  It was brilliant and I will never forget this trip.  THANK YOU SO MUCH DAD!!! YOU ARE THE BEST!! I hope you and Jon enjoyed these matches just a quarter as much as I did because they are memories that I will never forget.

Midweek Recap

In the Copa Del Rey, many big clubs punched their ticket to the next round.  The Round of 16 is all set to be played in the first couple weeks of January.  It will have Malaga against Levante, Celta Vigo against Athletic, Valencia vs. Espanyol, Granada vs. Sevilla, Barcelona vs. Elche, Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid, Villarreal vs. Real Sociedad, and Almeria vs. Getafe.  The obvious tie of the round will be the Madrid Derby as these two teams have had some amazing matches over the last two years.  Atletico struggles a little this week as they faced L’Hospitalet.  Mandzukic opened the scoring in the first half and Atleti took a 1-0 lead into half time.  Then L’Hospitalet equalized through Alcaraz.  Mandzukic then scored a second goal, but 10 mintues later Alcaraz equalized again in a moment of déjà zu.

In Germany, Bayern Munich continued to roll as they beat Freiburg 2-0.  They even extended their lead at the top as Wolfsburg drew 2-2 at Dortmund.  The result was not good for either side as Wolfsburg now sit 11 points of the top and Dortmund sit in the relegation zone.  Monchengladbach and Bayer both won as well to move within 4 points of Wolfsburg for second, but sit 15 points behind the leaders.

In England, the fifth round of the League Cup took place.  Chelsea beat Derby County 3-1 and then Liverpool beat Bournemouth by the same score to set up a fascinating two legged semi-final.  Tottenham finally looked dominant as they beat Newcastle 4-0 and now face third division Sheffield United for a spot in the final.  Could a trophy be headed to the North side of London?

 Weekend Preview

This weekend marks the last weekend of matches for most of the European continent.  English teams will continue to play, but the rest take a break until the first weekend in January.  This weekend is also the midway point for Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga.

In Ligue 1, PSG, Marseille, and Lyon will try to take advantage of the last round of games before the New Year.  Any one of these three can be on top at the new year and will look to stay in the race.  PSG hosts Montpellier on Saturday and will look to jump to the top before the other two play.  Marseille will host Lille as they will look to claim the top spot.  Lastly, Lyon will travel to Bordeaux as they will look to either take advantage of dropped points or keep pace.  St. Etienne also has a big game as they host Evian Thonon Gaillard as they will look to stay just 3 points out of the Champions League.

In Serie A, Juventus played on Thursday as they traveled to Cagliari.  Roma host Milan on Saturday as the two horse race for the title continues.  While those two chase the title, the chase for the last Champions League spot is really heating up.  Italy sends 3 teams to the Champions League each year.  Currently, Lazio sit in third place with 26 points.  Sampdoria and Genoa also have 26 points while Milan and Napoli have 24 points.  This could be very interesting to watch as the year goes on.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich are looking to extend their lead today as they travel to Mainz.  Wolfsburg will hope they slip up and that they can cut their lead to under 10 points for the new year.  In what is a huge relegation 6 pointer, Werder Bremen host Borussia Dortmund.  Who would have thought that this game would be a big match at the bottom of the table?? Not me.  Bayer Leverkusen host Eintracht Frankfurt and Dorussia Monchengladbach travel to Augsburg as they look to maintain their Champions League spots.

In La Liga, Barcelona will look to take advantage of Real Madrid playing in the Club World Cup and cut their lead to 1 as they host Cordoba.  In a Basque vs the Capital battle, Bilbao host Atleti.  Atleti will look to rebound after drawing with L’Hospitalet.  Bilbao beat Alcoyano in the Copa.  Sevilla also has the weekend off as they would have faced Real Madrid but will now make this match up in February.  Valencia will look to take advantage of this a jump into 4th with a win at Eibar.

Lastly, the festive period in England begins.  While the rest of the world rests, the EPL teams will play matches this weekend, on Boxing Day, the next weekend and then again on New Year’s Day.  These teams will play 4 matches in 13 days.  The rest of the world takes a couple weeks off and these teams ramp up.  Some of the big matches over this time-frame will be Liverpool hosting Arsenal this Sunday.  Manchester United against Newcastle on Boxing day. Tottenham host Manchester United and Chelsea travel to Southampton on the 28th.  If you are in the mood for some New Years Day soccer, Tottenham host Chelsea and Southampton host Arsenal.

This will be my last blog of the year.  I will be traveling out of the country for the rest of the year so I will not be blogging then.  I will be back on the 5th of January.  Happy Holidays to all and Happy New Year.

EPL Pick ‘Em

My Picks –

Week 17 (December 20-21) City 3-1, West Ham 2-1, Tottenham 2-0, Swans 2-1, United 2-1, QPR 1-1, Saints 2-1, Toon 1-1, Pool 1-1, Chelsea 2-1

Week  18 (December 26) Chelsea 3-0, City 2-0, Hull 1-1, Everton 2-1, Spurs 2-1, Pool 1-0, Saints 2-1, Swans 1-1, United 3-2, Arsenal 2-0

Week 19 (December 28-29) Spurs 2-1, Chelsea 2-1, City 2-1, Villa 2-0, Stoke 1-0, Hull 1-0, QPR 1-1, Arsenal 2-1, Everton 1-0, Pool 1-1

Week 20 (January 1) United 2-2, City 2-1, Pool 1-0, Newcastle 3-1, Villa 1-0, Swans 1-0, Everton 1-0, West Ham 2-1, Saints 1-1, Spurs 2-1

Buzz’s Picks

Week 17 (December 20-21) City 3-1, United 2-1, Swans 1-0, QPR 2-0, Saints 2-2, Spurs 3-1, W. Ham 2-0, Newcastle 2-1, Pool 2-2, Chelsea 3-1

Week 18 (December 26th) Chelsea 3-2, Pool, 2-1, Saints 4-1, Everton 1-1, Spurs 2-0, United 3-1, Sunderland 1-0, Swans 2-2, City 3-0, Gunners 2-1

Week 19 (December 28-29) Spurs 2-1, Chelsea 3-1, Villa 1-1, Hull 2-2, City 4-1, QPR 2-1, Stoke 2-2, Arsenal 3-1, Everton 1-0, Swans 3-2

Week 20 (January 1) United 2-1, Villa 2-2, Everton 1-0, Pool 2-0, City 2-1, Toon 2-1, QPR 2-2, Saints 2-1, W. Ham 3-1, Chelsea 4-1

We are the Champions….

WOW, WOW, WOW.  Is there anything better than the Champions League knockout stages?  The answer is simply no!  In what is the biggest yearly competition in the world, the match-ups just get better and better.  This morning in Nyon, the Round of 16 match-ups were drawn.  In what was a drawn out UEFA ceremony, each of the group winners was paired with a runner up.  The balls were drawn as if the soccer gods wanted the greatest clashes possible.  They truly gave the fans some fantastic games to look forward to.  While some fan based will be looking at their meeting and cursing the soccer gods, neutrals should be praising them.   This is a tough trophy to win and gets better and better as each round goes by. The first game drawn of the evening was scintillating.  Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea squad face the Parisian giants and David Luiz.  This is a rematch of last years’ quarterfinal, in which Chelsea defeated PSG on away goals.  PSG won the first leg last year at home 3-1, and then lost 2-0 in Stamford Bridge.  This should be an amazing collision of talent.  Even more interesting will be the team that is knocked out of the competition.  Both of these teams have dreams of reaching the final. That game was just the appetizer as the next fight pitted the Champions of England against the runner’s up in Spain.  Barcelona will face Manchester City.  These two teams faced off last year in the Round of 16.  After failing to get out of the group stage for two years in a row, Manchester City have now been handed the Spanish Giants two years in a row in the Round of 16.  The next knockout trial is Juventus vs. Dortmund.  While Dortmund have struggled and continue to, see below, they have had success in the Champions League and will look to advance to the Quarter Finals for the third year in a row.  Atletico Madrid got Bayer Leverkusen as they look to get back to the finals.  Defending champions, Real Madrid, will face off with Schalke.  Bayern Munich will look to get back to the finals after stumbling last year as they play the Shahtkar Donetsk.  Basel and Porto might be the only game to pass on, but who knows.  One of those two teams will make the final 8.  The last match is Arsenal vs Monaco, which is the battle of Arsene Wenger.  He made his name coaching at Monaco before eventually ending up at Arsenal.  It will be an interesting reunion for him.

Weekend Review

Lyon got back into the French title race with their 3-0 win last Friday. They dominated Caen behind 2 goals from Lacazette. He now has 15 goals in 18 games. The door was opened for them even further when both PSG and Marseille failed to win on their travels. Guingamp got an early goal and held on for the 1-0 win over PSG. Monaco rode their Champions League form into a 1-0 win over Marseille. The French league appears to now be a 3 horse race as Marseille, PSG, and Lyon are all separated by 1 point.

In Serie A, Juventus dropped 2 points and now only have a 1 point lead on Roma.  This race heated up as Sampdoria grabbed an equalizer in the 51st minute.  Roma snagged a 1-0 victory in Genoa to cut the lead to 2 points.  Milan got a big win this weekend over Napoli.  The 3 points brought them level with Napoli on 24 points and within 2 points of a Champions League spot.  Lazio got a big 3-0 win to shoot them up to 3rd in the table, and in the last spot for next year’s Champions League

Munich extended its 7 point lead as they won 4-0. Wolfsburg was only able to draw 1-1 with Paderborn to allow Munich to extended their lead. In the battle for third, all things stayed as is as Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladach drew 1-1. The other Borussia team’s struggles continued. Dortmund went to Berlin and lost 1-0 to Hertha. They now find themselves in the relegation zone. The drama in Dortmund seems to be something that will keep on for the rest of the season.

In Spain, Real Madrid have continued doing what they do best in a 4-1 victory at Almeria.  Ronaldo now has an astonishing 25 goals in 15 games.  He is on a blistering pace and it will be fascinating to see where he can end up at the end of the season.  Real got help from another Madrid club as Getafe held Barcelona off the scoreboard for a 0-0 draw.  Villarreal beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 and Sevilla drew 0-0 with Eibar.  All of these results gave Real Madrid a nice cushion of 4 points.  They will now travel to the Club World Cup and will be at the top of the table at the start of the New Year.

In England, Manchester United are really making a run at not just the top 4, but potentially the title.  While I feel they are still a ways behind both City and Chelsea, they are only 5 points behind City and 8 points behind Chelsea after their 3-0 victory over Liverpool.  For Liverpool, the season continues to spiral downward as they sit 7 points off of 4th place and 7 points from the drop.  Tottenham finally got a big win with their 2-1 victory over Swansea City.  It took them until the 89th minute to finally get the winner. Burnely got a huge 3 points to take them out of the relegation zone against Southampton, who seem to be trending downward as well.  City and Chelsea both won easily, as did Arsenal with their 4-1 victory over Newcastle.

Midweek Preview

This week we have some cup matches as the Copa del Rey and League Cup tournaments continue.  The Germans will be playing a round of league games.

Munich will look to extend their 9 point lead at the top as they host Freiburg.  Wolfsburg will look to continue the misery for their opponents as they travel to Dortmund. Monchengladach host Werder Bremen as they hope to get back to their winning ways. Likewise, Bayer travel to Hoffenheim.

In Spain, there are some Copa del Rey matchups.  In the second leg of this competition, Barcelona will host Huesca with a 4-0 lead after the first leg.  The rest of the Round of 32 games will be settled this week, and the bracket will start to fill in as all eyes are looking towards the potential of Real Madrid vs Barcelona in the Quarter-Finals.

The fifth round of the English League Cup takes place this week as there are a bunch of showdowns of better lower league teams and the Premier League.  Derby County will host Chelsea, and Sheffield United will host Southampton.  Sheffield United are from the third tier of English Football.  On Wednesday, Tottenham face off against Newcastle in the only all EPL match-up.  The last conflict is Bournemouth hosting Liverpool.  This may be a huge match in Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool career, as a trophy in either the League Cup or the FA Cup will be needed along with a top 4 finish after failing in the Champions League.

Early and I mean way to early Champions League Round of 16 Predictions

Chelsea, Barcelona, Atletico, Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Porto

Buzz agrees and added that perhaps Juve could get upset, or maybe Arsenal because they tend to choke.  Dortmund may need to re-focus efforts towards not getting relegated, therefore, Juve has an easier time.  I completely agree with him.

Is it time to cut ties with Brendan Rodgers?

Could this season have started worse for Liverpool? Is it time for Liverpool to cut ties with Brendan Rodgers?  Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Liverpool fans? Let’s start by rolling back the clock to late April.  Liverpool were top of the Barclay’s Premier League table and in control of their fate.  They had a great chance to end their title drought.  The team was attacking at will and scoring for fun.  They were led by Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez up front and Stevie G in the midfield.  A young speedy winger was starting to become a star in Raheem Sterling.  Brendan Rodgers seemed like a tactical genius.  While they would struggle at the end of the season, dropping points to Chelsea and then the fatal collapse to Crystal Palace, all signs pointed to another quality campaign with Liverpool in Champions League and poised to challenge for the title.  Then the summer happened.  Luis Suarez bit Chellini and moved to Barcelona.  Liverpool brought in a whole host of players that they felt could help take them to the next level, including Lallana, Lambert, Moreno, Lovren, Can, and Markovic.  The team started the season with a good 2-1 victory over Southampton, but the signs were there.  This team could be successful, but would struggle at times due to their defense.  Then two moments happened that really shaped the season.  First was the purchase of Mario Balotelli.  This hot-headed player was in need of a new location, but this was not the right place.  He has failed to impress, and now Liverpool must look to other options at striker.  The second moment, and what I think is truly the reason Liverpool failed to qualify for the knockout stage, was Daniel Sturridge’s first injury while with England.  This meant that Liverpool would enter the Champions League missing 50 goals they had scored last year between Sturridge and Suarez.   Brendan Rodgers needs to figure out what he is doing without Suarez and Sturridge quickly.  I do not think it is time for Rodgers to go.  I think he needs to figure out this team and his team selection, and make a push for the fourth spot in the table.  This will be of vital importance.  However, if I am sitting down to write the blog in a year and Liverpool are in the same spot they are in now, then I will say it is time for him to go.

Midweek Recap

On Tuesday there were some fascinating games that took place. Real Madrid won their 19th game in a row when they beat Ludogorets 4-0.  They were already group winners before the match, but have now won every game in the group stage.  As mentioned previously, Basel advanced with their 1-1 draw at Anfield.  Dortmund drew 1-1 with Anderlecht to win the group and send Arsenal, despite their 4-1 victory, into the runner’s up group.  Juventus got the point they needed to advance, but they are also in the runner’s up group.  Monaco needed to win to advance and got all 3 points against Zenit.  That victory, coupled with Bayer Leverkusen, means that Monaco are the group winners.

Manchester City have gone to Rome and come away with the big prize!  They will advance as runner’s up in their group.  Bayern Munich helped them out by beating Moscow 3-0.  In the battle for the top spot in the group, Barcelona finally showed what their attacking trident can do as Messi, Neymar and Suarez all scored.  Zlatan gave PSG an early lead, before Messi equalized in the first half.  Ajax won 4-0 to guarantee their spot in the Europa League.  Schalke got the help they needed from Chelsea and beat Maribor 1-0.  Sporting needed to win but couldn’t as they lost to Chelsea 3-1.  Athletic Bilbao got themselves into the Europa League with their 2-0 win over BATE while Shakhtar was able to draw in Porto 1-1.

For the round of 16, Group winners are matched with a Group Runner Up.  You cannot be matched up with a team from your group or your country.  The 8 group winners are Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munchen, Barcelona, Chelsea, and Porto. The 8 runner’s up are Juventus, Basel, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke, Shaktar Donetsk.

The draw will take place on Monday.  The difference between winning the group and finishing second is huge, and not more noticeable than who Barcelona can play (Juventus, Basel, Leverkusen, Arsenal, Man City, Schalke, and Shakhtar).  Whereas PSG faces much tougher possible opponents (Atleico, Real Madrid, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and Porto).  If PSG would have won or drawn in the Camp Nou, Barcelona would have faced one of these 5 teams: Dortmund, Munich, Chelsea, Porto, or Monaco.  These teams present a much greater challenge than who they can face now.

The eight teams that will enter the Europa League are Olympiacs, Liverpool, Zenit, Anderlecht, Roma, Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, and Athletic Bilbao.

Weekend Preview

In Germany, the surprise team of the year, FC Augsburg, will host Bayern Munich.  They currently sit in third place but are 12 points behind Munich.  Wolfsburg hosts Paderborn on Sunday, as they look to keep pace with Bayern Munich.  Bayer Leverkusen will look to get back to their winning ways as they host Monchengladbach.   Dortmund will look to win 2 in a row, as they travel to Berlin to play Hertha.

In Italy, Roma will look to rebound from their Champions League exit with a win at Genoa.  Genoa sits in third place and should put up a big fight in what has to be the matchup of the weekend in Italy.  Juventus host Sampdoria as they look to stay atop the league.  A big-time midtable clash will take place in Napoli as Rafa Benitez hosts AC Milan.  Both teams will hope to use this match as a springboard up the table.

In France, PSG must pick up the pieces following the 3-1 defeat at Barcelona.  They could not have a better opponent for this in Guingamp.  They have only won 6 of the 17 games this year, losing the rest.  Monaco will look to reignite their Champions League place campaign with a victory over Marseille.  Marseille sit 1 point above PSG and need to keep matching their results.

In Spain, Real Madrid travel to Almeria, as they will look to extend their lead to 5 points on Friday.  Barcelona also get to travel and will look to close the gap back, if Real Madrid should extended their win streak to 20.  Barcelona faces off with Getafe.  Atletico Madrid is also in the title race, and they will look to keep pace on Sunday as they host Villareal.

In England, the biggest rivalry in the country takes place on Sunday when Manchester United host Liverpool.  Manchester United are this year’s version of Liverpool last year.  They are not playing in Europe and have been using the time off to focus on the league and getting back to Europe.  They currently sit in 4th place and are 7 points ahead of Liverpool.  Liverpool will look to get back into the race with 4 points and a vital win against their rivals.  Arsenal hosts Newcastle as one of these teams will be placed right back in the thick of the top 4 races.  Chelsea hopes to get back to winning ways as they host Hull City.  Man City will look to capitalize on their Champions League victory as they travel to bottom of the table, Leicester City.  I think this could be the weekend that leads to our first sacking of the season…see last weeks blog.  My money is on Nigel Pearson, who is the current favorite as 11/10, but if Rodgers cannot get the win this weekend it could be him at 5/1.

EPL Pick ‘Em

Current Score – Buzz 100 – Me 92

My Picks – Saints 2-1, Chelsea 2-0, Stoke 1-1, Man City 2-0, West Ham 1-0, Villa 2-2, Arsenal 2-1, United 2-1, Swans 2-1, Everton 2-0

Buzz’s Picks – Chelsea 3-1, City 2-0, hammers 2-1, Stoke 1-1, saints 2-1, Villa 1-1, gunners 2-1, united 2-1, Swans 2-2, Everton 2-1

Best Time to be a Soccer Fan

Anything you can do, I can do better. On Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo recorded his record setting 23rd hat trick in La Liga. He lead Real Madrid to their 17th straight victory. He had a dominating performance and scored his 200th goal for Real Madrid. He showed us how dominant he can be. He has 23 goals this season in 14 games. That is a remarkable strike rate this year. Ronaldo is off to a record-setting pace and it might be time we sit back and just watch as he continues to dominate the game of soccer. Ronaldo is setting the pace. Then, Sunday came and it was Messi’s turn to answer him. While Messi is not having the season that Ronaldo is, he is still one of the best in the world and he showed us that on Sunday. In the Catalan Derby, Messi came to play. Barcelona fell behind 1-0 and then just on the stroke of halftime, Messi came out of the tall grass and curled a beauty past Casilla. It was one of those finishes that makes you drop your jaw and wonder how in the world someone can do that. He didn’t stop there either. Five minutes into the second half, Messi scored another brilliant goal and eventually added a 3rd en route to Barcelona winning 5-1. This was Messi’s third hat trick in the last four games.  He is really starting to play this season. After walking these two performances on back to back days, it makes you wonder. Are these two players the best ever? They clearly push each other to be better and keep raising the bar each and every week. The only thing I know for sure is that I am so glad I get to watch these two superstars.

Something doesn’t feel right about the EPL. Something is missing. I mean there are goals, saves, tackles, and drama, and yet something is missing. But part of the drama is missing…No EPL manager has been sacked.  This is one of the staples of an EPL season.  While I do believe we will see some fired, there are usually some firings before the start of December.  During the 2013-2014 season, we had already seen 2 managers get the sack and would see 4 more get sacked in December. In 2012-13 we had 2 before December. In 2011-12 Steve Bruce was sacked in November.  In fact looking back in history, there have only been 4 seasons in which no manager was sacked before December. In two of those four seasons, a manager resigned before the season started. This is the first season since 2010-11, but before that it hadn’t been since 1995-96. The sack race is one of the best story lines that takes place over the EPL season.  There is even a website dedicated to this race, thesackrace.com.  On this website, they give you the odds on which manager will be the next to leave.  Currently the best odds to get fired is Nigel Pearson of Leicester City.  Alan Irvine is in second and Steve Bruce is the third manager on the list.  Who will be the first two go?

Weekend Recap

In Germany, Munich continue their winnings ways that they beat Bayer 1-0.  Dortmund came up with a huge result to move out the relegation zone.  Mats Hummels made his return to the team and made one of the best plays I have ever seen.  Check out my twitter @SoccerfAtPond for a vine of it.  It was spectacular and saved Dortmund 2 points.  Germany now seems to be a two horse race between Bayern Munich on 36 and Wolfsburg on 29 points.

In Italy, the only two teams in the race both dropped points.  Juventus drew 0-0 at Fiorentina and Roma somehow managed to come back and draw 2-2 with Sassuolo.  Genoa was able to gain ground on these two as they beat Milan 1-0 and moved into 3rd place.  They are now 9 points behind Juve and 6 behind Roma.

In Spain, as previously mentioned, the big boys won as Real Madrid extended its win streak to 18 and Barcelona won the Catalan Derby.  Atleti also kept pace with a 2-0 win over Elche. As all of the top 3 teams are within 4 points of each other.  Sevilla also came up with a big road victory to help keep them in 4th place.

In England, the big result of the weekend was Newcastle 2-Chelsea 1.  The unbeaten season is over for Chelsea.  Man City closed the gap with a 1-0 victory over Everton.  Arsenal fell 3-2 to Stoke City.  There is a big match-up today while Southampton and Manchester United both look to jump into the top 3.

Midweek Preview

This week marks the 6th and final group games of the UEFA Champions League.  The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout phase and the third place team will join the Europa League.  Tuesday we will see Groups A, B, C, and D play. Wednesday will bring the conclusion of Groups E, F, G and H.

In Group A, Atletico Madrid have qualified and will be winners if they don’t lose to Juventus by more than 2 goals.  Juventus need to a draw or Olympiakos fail to win.  Olympiakos will advance to the knockout stage if they win and Juve lose.  Malmo will qualify for the Europa League with a victory.

In Group B, Real Madrid have won the group.  Anfield will host the big match on Tuesday as the winner of Basel vs Liverpool will advance.  Basel only needs a draw to advance. Ludogorets can qualify for the Europa League if they get more points than Liverpool on the day.

In Group C, Bayer Leverkusen have advanced and will win the group with a win at Benfica.  Monaco needs a draw or win off Zenit, whereas Zenit will need to win to advance. Benfica is eliminated.

In Group D, both Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal have advanced.  Anderlecht has qualified for the Europa League.  Dortmund will win the group with a win over Anderlecht.  Arsenal will win the group with a win of Galatasaray and a Dortmund draw or loss.  Galatasaray have been eliminated.

In Group E, Bayern Munich have won the group, but the rest of the group is all still alive with 5 points each.  CSKA will need to beat Bayern and have Roma not win.  Roma will advance with a victory over Manchester City.  Man City needs to win and have CSKA not win.  If the two games end as a draw, then Roma will advance.  If CSKA lose, Roma needs a scoreless draw to advance.

In Group F, Barcelona and PSG will show down in Barcelona to see who wins the group.  PSG need a draw or win whereas Barca need a win.  Ajax needs a draw to qualify for Europa League and APOEL needs to win to qualify for the Europa League.

In Group G, Chelsea have won the group.  Sporting Lisbon will advance if they draw or win against the Blues.  Schalke need a win and a Lisbon loss.  Maribor can come in third if they can get their first win against Schalke.

In Group H, Porto have won the group and Shaktar Donetsk have come in second.  Bilbao will go to the Europa League as long as they do not lose to BATE Borisov.  BATE can jump Bilbao if they beat the Basque Club.

My predictions for the last 16 are Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Roma, Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea, Schalke, Porto, Shakhtar,

It should be a fascinating couple of days and some enthralling soccer.

EPL Pick ‘Em Results

On Saturday, we both got Hull and West Brom to draw, but had a bit more faith in their attacking abilities.  Buzz nailed the 2-0 victory for QPR, while I gave Burnley too much credit as they failed to score.  We both thought that City would win by a bigger scoreline, and I correctly thought that West Ham would win but missed on the scoreline.  We will wait to see for the final match today.  I currently have 4 points while Buzz has 5 points.  This will be a big match tonight as I picked Southampton and he picked United.

Ballon d’Or

Earlier this week the Ballon d’Or shortlist came out. This is a list of the three players that are finalists for best player of the year.  The award was originally given out by the French media for the best European Footballer. In 1995, it was expanded to the best player playing in Europe. Then in 2009, it merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year to become its current trophy known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or. In its current format, there have only been two winners: Messi (3) and Ronaldo (1). Messi won 3 in a row before Ronaldo won last year.

This week, the original list of 23 was cut down to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Manuel Neuer. Neuer is the surprise choice for the shortlist, as no goalkeeper has been named on the shortlist in the current format.  Goalkeepers do not win this award. Since the original award was created in 1957, only one goalkeeper has won the award, Lev Yashin, in 1963.  He was the goalkeeper for Dynamo Moscow and Russia. I would love to see another goalkeeper added to this list of winners. Messi has won this trophy the most with 4.  He won the fold Ballon d’Or 1 time and has won this version 3 times. He will hope to add his 5th in January. Ronaldo will look to win his 3rd to join Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Marco Van Basten on 3 Ballon d’Or trophies.  He won last year and once in the old version of the trophy.

Let’s look at the three candidates and their credentials over the past year.  Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for best player of the tournament during the 2014 World Cup.  He was the driving force behind Argentina’s run to the final.  However, he had a disappointing season with Barcelona and did not win a trophy with them last season.  Cristiano Ronaldo was the best player in the Champions League. He helped Real Madrid finally get la Decima and was the league’s top scorer with 17 goals, which is more than anyone else in history. He also won the Copa Del Rey, but did not play in the final. In the World Cup, Ronaldo only scored 1 goal as Portugal crashed out in the group stage. Lastly, there is Neuer, the goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and Germany. With Munich, they ran away with the Bundesliga and won the German Pokal Cup. They made it to the semi finals of the Champions League.  In the World Cup, Neuer was awarded the best goalkeeper. He kept a clean sheet in the final match as Germany went on to win their fourth World Cup. I would love to see Neuer win the Ballon d’Or and feel that if he doesn’t do it this year, then he probably never will.  I honestly don’t know if a goalkeeper will ever win it again. Despite all of this, my choice to win it all is Ronaldo, mainly for his work in the Champions League.

Another interesting award is the Coach of the Year award. The three finalist are Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid, Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid, and Joachim Loew of Germany. I think all three of these coaches were amazing over the last year. However, I feel Simeone deserves this award. Loew won the World Cup as a favorite, Ancelotti won the Champions League as a favorite, but no one ever gave Atletico Madrid a chance to win the Spanish League.  Yet, Simeone did an amazing job and his team was fantastic. If winning La Liga is not enough, he even led his team to the final of the Champions League and was minutes away from winning that trophy as well. It will be interesting to see who wins as they are all very great options.

The FIFAPro World XI will also come out at the ceremony in January.  Looking over the shortlists for Goalkeepers, Defenders, Midfielders, and Forwards there are some interesting options.  One of them being Suarez is on this shortlist but was not one of the 23 originally up for the Ballon d’Or.  My prediction for the FIFAPro World XI: Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Godin, Mascherano; Di Maria, Iniesta, Schweinsteiger; Messi, Ronaldo, Costa

In the midweek games, the big teams seemed to be getting back on track. Arsenal were able to get the win at home against Southampton via another Alexis Sanchez winner. United battled back to win 2-1 over Stoke and needed a late save off the line from Ashley Young. Chelsea won easily 3-0 over Spurs as Drogba showed us a glimpse of the old Drogba. City ended their recent struggles at the stadium of Light as they beat Sunderland 4-1 with Aguero scoring two goals to 14 on the season. Liverpool with Gerrard back in the side won 3-1 against the bottom club Leicester.  West Ham, Swansea, and Aston Villa also got three points. Burnley got a huge point at home against Newcastle and Hull got a point against Everton.

This weekend…

In Spain the big match is the Catalan Derby as Barcelona host their neighbors, Espanyol. Real Madrid host Celta de Vigo. Atletico travels Elche and Sevilla travels to Rayo Vallecano.

In Germany, Borussia Dortmund are currently playing a must win today as they host Hoffenhiem. The big match up of the week is Bayern Munich hosting Bayer Leverkusen. Could this be the first lost for Munich or will it be a huge 6 pointer in the race for the Bundesliga crown? A Bayern win probably makes this league a two horse race, as they would have a 13 point lead over 3rd place Bayer. Wolfsburg travels to Hannover as they look to keep pace with Munich.

In Italy, Juventus travels to Florence today to play the Viola, while Roma host a promoted side Sassuolo. This league is truly a two team race as Roma in second is 8 points ahead of Napoli in 3rd heading into the weekend.

In France, Lyon travel to Evian Thonon Gaillard.  Evian defeat PSG last year at home and will look to defeat another top team at their ground this year.  PSG host 7th place Nantes, while Marseille host Metz.  This might be the tightest race across the Big 5 as Lyon sit just 5 points behind the leaders, Marseille, who have a one point lead on PSG.  Every point will be crucial if either Lyon or Marseille try to take back the trophy this year.

In England, the marquee matchup has 3rd versus 4th when Southampton hosts Manchester United on Monday. This will be a big match for both teams. The Saints have lost 2 in a row and are yet to beat any team that finished in the top 6 last year. Manchester United have now won 4 in a row. Can they keep this going ahead of the big match next weekend with Liverpool? Liverpool this week hosts Sunderland. It will be interesting to see how they line up with a crucial Champions League match next week against Basel. In the other big matches, Chelsea looks to extended its unbeaten run to 15 when they travel to Tyneside to face Newcastle. Manchester City will look to keep pace with Chelsea as they host Everton. QPR face Burnley and Hull face West Brom in big bottom of the table battles.

EPL Pick ‘Em

During the midweek games, I won 16-9. This week we both correctly predicted that Manchester United would win 2-1. I was also able to correctly predict the West Ham and Aston Villa victory and the Hull-Everton Draw. This brings the season total to Buzz 92 to Me with 88.

My Picks –

Liverpool 2-1, Chelsea 2-1, Hull 1-1, QPR 2-1, Arsenal 2-1, Spurs 1-0, City 2-1, West Ham 1-0,  Villa 1-1, Saints 2-1

Buzz’s Picks –

Liverpool 2-1, Chelsea 2-0, Hull 1-1, QPR 2-0, Gunners 2-1, Spurs 1-0, City 3-1, West Ham 2-2, Villa 1-1, United 2-1

What is wrong with Borussia Dortmund?

What is wrong with Borussia Dortmund?  When you watch them in the Champions League, they look like the team that captured the world’s heart two years ago and almost won the Champions League.  This is the team that knocked Bayern Munich off their perch in the German Bundesliga.  They won the league two years in a row (2010-11, 2011-12) and have been runners up the last two years.  They won the DFB-Pokal Cup in 2012 and were runners up in 2014.  They were primed to be Bayern’s top competition for the next couple of years.  They had incredible talent and a great coach.  And then the great exodus began.  First was Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid for 10 million Euros.  Then Shinji Kagawa, Lucas Barrios, and Ivan Perisic left in 2012/2013.  So far the team was maintaining and continuing to win.  Then the big two left and the team that they went to really started to hurt them.  Over the next two summers, their top performers would leave Dortmund for Munich.  They would join the biggest club in Germany and Dortmund’s top rival.  Mario Götze at least earned Dortmund some funds, but Robert Lewandowski left for free.  This leaves them in their current state.  While the team has brought in new recruits, and the team is arguably deeper and more talented now, they seem to be missing their heart.  They still have Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, but they are now rumored to be headed away from Dortmund.  They have brought in very good players such as Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Sokratis, Matthias Ginter, Ciro Immobile, and Adrian Ramos.  They have even brought back Kagawa and Sahin.  But they continue to struggle.  On Sunday, they perhaps hit rock bottom.  They lost 2-0 to Eintacht Frankfurt and now sit at the bottom of the table.  It will be interesting to see how they respond, and what happens over the next couple months as their ticket is already booked for the round of 16 in the champions league.  But can they avoid the drop this year?

Elsewhere in Germany, Wolfsburg staked their claim as the new challengers to Bayern Munich.  They defeated Mönchengladbach 1-0 this weekend and now sit 7 points behind Munich after Munich won 1-0 over Hertha Berlin.

In Serie A, both of the top two teams won at home and now the pressure is on Napoli to win today to keep the pace and pressure on Juventus and Roma.  Although, this looks to be a two horse race to the finish.  Ligue 1 is also a two horse race between Marseille and PSG.  They are currently separated by 1 point.  Both of the teams won at home over the weekend.

In Spain, the headlines start with Real Madrid.  They have now won 16 consecutive matches with their 2-1 victory in Malaga.  They look to be the early favorite to win the league and maybe everything else as they are currently unbeatable.   On Sunday, the real fireworks stared.  Sevilla climbed back into the top 4 with a 5-1 victory over Granada.  Atletico won 2-0 against Deportivo.   The last game on Sunday was a fantastic match in La Mestalla.  Valencia held a great shape and had plenty of chances to win the game.  However, they were not able to find the back of Bravo’s net.  Deep into stoppage time with almost the last kick of the game, an unlikely hero arrived for Barcelona.  Messi played in a lovely cross to Neymar who headed the ball straight into Diego Alves’ head.  The ball fell to Sergi Busquets, and he hammered it into the back of the net.  Barcelona won 1-0 and has kept pace with Real Madrid as they currently sit 2 points behind Madrid.

The big match in England took place on the south coast as Manchester City won 3-0 over Southampton.  Southampton enters a very tough part of their schedule, and they did not get off to a great start.  They played well but were caught many times on the break. Also on Sunday, Tottenham won 2-1 over Everton to help get their season on track as they jumped up to 7th in the table.  On Saturday, Arsenal, Manchester United, QPR, West Ham, and Liverpool all won.  Sunderland have also become Chelsea bogey team.  Gus Poyet seems to have found the secret to not losing to Chelsea.  In the last 3 matches, Sunderland has won 2 games and drawn 1 as they drew 0-0 with Chelsea on Saturday.  The unbeaten season continues, but as we approach the congested holiday some holes might be appearing.  We will have to wait and see.

Previewing this week we can look forward to some Copa del Rey action and some awesome midweek EPL matches.  In the Copa Del Rey, last year’s winners Real Madrid host Cornella in the second of their two legged tie.  The runner’s up Barcelona will travel to Huesca on Wednesday for the first leg.

In the EPL, we have some big match-ups on Wednesday.  Arsenal will host Southampton as the Gunners look to jump into the top 4, and Southampton looks to keep its spot close to Chelsea.  Chelsea host Tottenham Hotspur as they look to extend their unbeaten run against a good road team.  Everton hosts Hull City as they look to rebound from their loss on Sunday.  Lastly, Manchester City travel to Sunderland as they look to keep pace with Chelsea and potentially close the 5 point gap even more.  I would say that the title race is back on between those two.  On Tuesday, Manchester United will look to make it 4 in a row as they host Stoke City.  Liverpool travel to Leicester City as they hope to win a second game in a row.

EPL Pick ‘Em

This past weekend was a good one for Buzz as he nailed the Liverpool 1-0 victory which helped him win the week 7-2.

As for this week

My Picks:

Liverpool 1-0, Newcastle 2-1, United 2-1, Swans 2-1, Villa 1-0, West Ham 2-1, Saints 2-1, Chelsea 2-0, Everton 1-1, City 3-1

Buzz’s Picks:

Liverpool 2-1, United 2-1, Newcastle 2-0, QPR 2-2, Villa 2-1, West Ham 3-2, Chelsea 3-1, Arsenal 2-1, City 2-0, Everton 2-1