Bad week for the EPL?

Is the EPL the best league in the world?  While that is the common thought and believed by many, this week was not the best week for the league.  With 3 teams left in both the Champions League and Europa League coming into this week, hopes were high that they could make a big statement.  Liverpool looked certain to advance with their great form and clean sheet at home.  Tottenham had a disappointing draw but could still advance past a team most felt was not as good as them.  Everton were already through to the round of 16 with their huge road win.  In the Champions League, Manchester City looked like they had a chance to beat Barcelona and finally make a statement in Europe.  Chelsea had their road goal and just needed a good result at home to advance.  Arsenal had what many thought was the easiest road to the Quarterfinals.  That was Monday.  We sit now on Friday and look back at what has been a terrible week for the EPL.  There is only one team who was in the Europa League Round of 16 draw, and only one team did not lose after the first legs of the Champions League.  While many will argue that top to bottom it is the most competitive league, this was not the best week for the the top of the EPL.  Do any of the English sides advance to the Quarter-finals of Champions League? I think one does in Chelsea, but the others will struggle. 

Champions League Recap

This week was supposed to be the week Manchester City finally announced themselves as a top team in Europe, and that fell flat on its face.  They were completely bossed all over the field in the first half.  This half was dominated from start to finish by Barcelona and they looked extremely comfortable all over the pitch.  Luis Suarez scored two goals as he made his return to England.  Pellegrini chose to go with two up top and he paid the price in the midfield.  In the second half, City played much better, but they could only really ever improve after the first half.  Agüero did score a vital goal that will give Manchester City a glimmer of hope.  With the last kick of the ball, Messi was denied from the penalty spot and his diving header was just wide on the rebound.  This opened the door even more for City.  While the two-legged tie is not over yet, it will be difficult for City, as they must score 2 goals to advance.  They will get Yaya Toure back, but they will also be in Barcelona, and at home Barcelona have had one of the best defenses in all of Europe.

The other English side, Arsenal, played host to Monaco on Wednesday.  Geoffrey Kondogbia opened the scoring with an absolute beauty from outside the box.  Ospina barely even moved as the shot dipped and swerved past him.  Then in the 53rd minute to make matters worse. Anthony Martial broke down the left side of the pitch and squared a great pass to Dimitar Berbatov, who calmly placed into the goal.  Arsenal was now down 2-0 at home.  In stoppage time the game picked up and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain controlled the ball just outside the box and curled a beautiful shot into the top right corner of the goal.  A glimmer of hope for Arsenal was then dissipated when Carrasco broke away from the defense and shot the ball off the left post and into the goal with practically the last kick of the ball.  The final score was 3-1 in favor of Monaco, and with a trip to the Principality scheduled for a couple weeks from now, Arsenal has their work cut out for them. 

In the other game on Thursday, Atletico Madrid lost 1-0 in Leverkusen.  In a game that was very chippy and involved 36 fouls with a total of 10 yellow cards.  Two yellow cards were shown to Atletico’s Tiago as he was sent off with 14 minutes to play.  Hakan Calhanoglu scored the only goal in the 57th minute on a nice strike into the center of the goal with a lovely assist from Bellarabi.  Fernando Torres thought that he had scored off a corner kick, but the ball was judged to have gone out of bounds on the corner.  The game ended 1-0 to the home side with it all to play for at the Calderon in March.

Juventus hosted Borussia Dortmund in the other game on Tuesday.  In a match that featured two teams at opposite ends of their respective tables,  the Italian champions came out as victors as they won 2-1.  All of the scoring took place in the first half with Carlos Tevez opening the scoring after just 13 minutes.  Then Marco Reus took advantage of Chellini slipping to gather the ball and calmly place it past Buffon.  Then just before halftime, Alvaro Morata scored the winner off a great cross from Paul Pogba.  With the second leg in Dortmund, can that crucial away goal come good for Dortmund or will the Old Lady finally make it back to the Quarter Finals?

At the half way point of the Round of 16, I feel there is no better time to make some predictions, so here are mine for who I think will make it to the Quarter-finals…

Porto, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Monaco, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Dortmund

Let me know your thoughts @SoccerPond

Europa League Review

In what was already a bad week for English clubs got even worse when Mario Gomez scored the opening goal in Florence for Fiorentina.  To make matters worse, Salah then scored the second goal of the game and Tottenham were out of the Europa League.  Liverpool meanwhile conceded a goal in the 72nd minute that led to penalties.  While all of the first 8 penalty takers scored, Lovern stepped up needing to score.  I am not sure if his kick has landed yet, as he soared it over the bar.  This sent Liverpool crashing out in their first ever defeat on penalties in Europe.  Everton was the last team standing and after winning 4-1 on the road, Lukaku continued his scoring run with two in the first half plus a goal from Mirallas sealing their spot in the last 16.  Everton now face Dynamo Kyiv in the last 16.  There are now 5 Italian teams left, with Torino facing Zenit Saint Petersburg, Intern facing Wolfsburg, Napoli taking on Dynamo Moscow, and the all Italian affair when Fiorentina face off with Roma.  The defending champions, Sevilla, will play the only other Spanish team left, Villarreal.  The other two matchups are Club Brugge against Besiktas and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk against Ajax.  It should be interesting to see who can make it to the Quarter-finals, and if Sevilla can make it all the way back to defend their title.

Weekend Preview

The weekend starts early in France as Marseille host Caen today.  Marseille will look to get back to winning ways as they have drawn their last 2 games.   Meanwhile, Caen comes in having won 5 of their last 6 matches.  Marseille need to win to get back in the title race.   On Saturday, Lille will host Lyon as these two teams both need all three points.  Lille is in danger of being dragged into the relegation fight, while Lyon need to hold off PSG at the top of the table.  In the big match of the weekend Monaco host PSG.  Monaco is coming off a huge result in the Champions League, and they will look to keep that going as they play PSG.  This could be a big weekend in which we see a new team at the top of the Ligue 1 table.

The leaders of the Bundesliga kick off the weekend as Munich host Cologne today.  The leaders have won 12 of their last 133 home games in the Bundesliga, and I would not expect anything different today.  Dortmund will look to continue their climb up the table when they host Schalke on Saturday.  Schalke need to win to stay in the Champions League hunt.  Monchengladbach host Paderboon, and both of these teams could use a win this weekend.  Stuttgart will work to get some points at the bottom of the table as they face Hannover, who with a loss will be right in the middle of the relegation battle.

In Serie A, the big match is Monday when Roma host Juventus.  About a month ago this looked to be the match that would decide the title, but Roma have fallen off the pace and this game looks to be a coronation for Juventus if they win.  Roma now have to look over their shoulder as Napoli is closing in on second place.  Napoli will travel to Torino is weekend with the hopes of tying Roma on points before their big game against Juventus. 

Real Madrid has a 4 point lead at the top of the Spanish top division and will look to extend it as they host Villarreal this weekend.  While Villarreal are coming off two straight wins, the number of fixtures may get to them as they host the hot Real Madrid.   Sevilla host Atletico Madrid this weekend.  Sevilla need points in a hurry since they have fallen 5 points behind Valencia. With their progress continuing in the Europa League, this will be a huge game for them.  Valencia host David Moyes and Real Sociedad where they look to close in on the top 3.  On Saturday, Barcelona will hope to temporally close the gap to 1 point at the top when they travel to Granada. 

Four teams will not take the field in the EPL this weekend, as the League Cup final takes place on Sunday.  The first trophy will be up for grabs when Tottenham and Chelsea face off in Wembly.  Leicester and QPR were going to be their opponents this weekend, so they also have the weekend off.  Tottenham will scramble to win their first trophy since 2008, when they last won the League Cup.  They have won this competition 4 times and been in 7 league cup finals.  This would be Pochettino’s first trophy as a manager.  For Chelsea, they will try to add their 5th League Cup trophy, and first since 2007.  Their last trophy was the Europa League in 2012-13.  This would be Jose Mourinho’s first trophy since his return to the club. He has won the League cup twice with Chelsea already.    

In the EPL, Manchester City will attempt to take advantage of Chelsea not playing, as they look to close the gap.  Their opponent this weekend hopes to overcome their devastating defeat on penalties in Europe, Liverpool.  Both teams will try to grab all three points in what has become a big game for both teams.  City can close the gap to 2 points on Chelsea, where as Liverpool could jump into the top 4.  Manchester United host Sunderland, as they work to maintain their spot in the top 4.  Sunderland have been struggling lately, and Gus Poyet is under a lot of pressure.  Three points here would go a long way for him as he tries to escape relegation.  Southampton travels to West Brom where under Tony Pulis, West Brom has lost just one game.  Southampton will need to find their form in front of goal and make their great play count with goals.  Arsenal host Everton as they need to bounce back from one of their worst performances in Europe.  A loss for Everton could really leave them in a lot of trouble in the league.

EPL Pick ‘Em

In what was an amazing weekend for Buzz, he has extended his lead to 185 to 167.  He correctly predicted 3 scores last weekend and had 3 more correct winners for 12 points, whereas I was only able to correctly predict one score and had only 2 correct winners for 5 points.

My picks – West Ham 2-1, United 1-0, Stoke 2-1, Swans 1-0, Saints 1-0, Newcastle 2-1, City 2-1, Arsenal 3-1

Buzz picks – W Ham 2-1, United 3-1, Toon 1-0, Saints 2-1, Burnley 2-2, Stoke 1-1, pool 2-2, Gunners 2-1

Don’t forget to check out the twitter feed this weekend – @SoccerPond

Don’t forget about the bottom of the table as we watch the relegation battles unfold. 

Champions League Places

Last week I talked about drama at the bottom end of the table, but now I want to focus on the top end of the table.  While there is a lot of focus on who ends up at the top, there is also a huge battle to finish in a Champions League spot.  The Champions League is, in my opinion, the greatest competition in the world.  It started as a competition for league winners, and has expanded to include many teams from some top leagues.  The amount of teams from each league depends on the UEFA coefficient for the league.  The competition begins with a round-robin group stage of 32 teams.  However, before this starts, there are three qualifying rounds and then a play-off round.  In these rounds, the champions from many of the smaller nations play for a spot in the group stage.  For the big 5 leagues that I have focused on, they are all given multiple spots in the competition.  Spain, England, and Germany all get 4 teams in the competition.  Italy, Portugal, and France all get 3 spots in the tournament.  The race for these spots is very important for the clubs and worth a lot of money to each of them.  While we watch the Round of 16 play out now, we realize why teams are desperate to get into this competition.  A spot in this competition is the goal of most clubs and something that can make a season successful.  With more and more of the title races becoming less and less entertaining as teams grow huge leads, the race for either fourth or third will be getting more and more exciting.

Here are the big 4/big 3 races in the big 5 leagues.

Serie A: Juventus and Roma look certain to qualify for the Champions League in the top 2 spots

3rd Place – Napoli (45), Lazio (40), Fiorentina (39)

Liga BBVA: Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid all look certain to qualify for the Champions League

4th Place – Valencia (50), Sevilla (45), Villarreal (44)

Ligue 1: With three teams in the race for the title (Lyon, PSG, and Marseille), they all seem certain to also qualify for the Champions League. However, Marseille is just 7 points clear of Monaco, who have been making a late charge up the table and will cut that to only 4 points if they win their game in hand.

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg look certain to qualify in the top two spots which leaves two spots open for the following teams:

Moncehengladbach (37), Schalke (35), Augsburg (35), Bayer (33), Hoffenheim, 30, Werder (30)

English Premier League: Chelsea and Manchester City look to have a battle for top spot on the horizon, but should both easily qualify for the Champions League.  The question now remains for the last two spots between these teams:

Arsenal (48), Manchester United (47), Southampton (46), Liverpool (45), Tottenham (44)

Champions League Preview

The last four matchups in the round of 16 kick off this week, and they start with a bang.  On Tuesday, the Champions of England host the runners-up in Spain.  Manchester City host Barcelona.  This is a rematch from last year where Barcelona advanced on a 4-1 aggregate win.  Manchester City have been building their team with the goal of becoming a big name in Europe.  While they have had great success in England, this has not translated to Champions League.  Can they change that this year?  They will need to advance past the Round of 16 to ever get a reputation in Europe.  Barcelona will need to answer their critics and get back to winning ways, as they lost this weekend.   In the other game on Tuesday, Juventus will look to knock out Borussia Dortmund.  They are similar to Manchester City, as they have recently struggled to make a splash in the latter rounds of this competition.  While they have history in the competition, they have struggled since they returned to the Champions League in 2008-09.  On Wednesday, Arsenal host Monaco.  Both of these teams have been managed by Arsene Wenger.  While he currently is the manager of Arsenal, he had a lengthy period of time at Monaco.  While manager of Monaco, he won Ligue 1 and a Coupe de France.  This is a big game for Arsenal, as they work to keep their great form going and hope to advance to the Quarter Finals.  The other matchup is Bayer vs. Atletico Madrid. Last year’s runners up will attempt to have more success in Germany like they did last year en route to the final.

Weekend Review

Did Barcelona look ahead to their Champions League clash this week and not give Malaga the credit they deserved?  Malaga capitalized on a huge error from Barcelona and grabbed an early lead.  They held on to this lead to snatch all three points from the Camp Nou in a 1-0 win.  Barcelona had the chance to grab the top spot, but failed.  Real Madrid then further punished Barcelona when they beat Elche 2-0 thanks to goals from Ronaldo and Benzema.  Real now sit 4 points clear at the top, and they are now in the driver’s seat to win the title.  Atletico Madrid kept pace with Real when they beat Almeria 3-0.  Real Sociedad got a vital 3 points with a huge win over Sevilla 4-3.  This puts them in the top half of the table.  Sevilla’s loss, coupled with Valencia winning, means that the gap from 4th to 5th is now 5 points.

In Italy, the title race might be all but over as Juventus won on Friday 2-1 over Atalanta.  The winning goal was scored by Pirlo with an absolutely beautiful strike.  On Sunday, Roma drew 1-1 with Verona to extend Juve’s lead at the top to 9 points.  This might be just two much for Roma to overcome.  Empoli got a huge 3 points with a 3-0 win over Chievo.  This puts them 7 points clear of Cagliari.  Napoli won 2-0 today and they got some help from Torino when they drew 1-1 at Fiorentina.  Lazio climbed back into the race for the top 3 with a huge win over Palermo.  They now sit just 5 points behind Napoli.

The first team in the title race in Ligue 1 to take the field was PSG.  They temporarily took top spot behind a strong 3-1 win over Toulouse.  This gave them a 1 point advantage heading into Sunday, but Lyon were certain to make sure they didn’t stay at the top for too long.  Lyon responded with a 1-0 win over Nantes that took them back on top.  Marseille was last to take the field, and they were the only team to drop points.  St. Etienne got the lead early in the second half, but two quick goals from Michy Batshuay gave Marseille the lead with 23 minutes to go.  Marseille was unable to hold on to the lead and gave up a stoppage time goal to Mevlut Erding.  The draw means they are now 4 points off the top and only 7 points above Monaco, who has a game in hand.  Caen and Bastia got a huge win at the bottom end of the table.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich showed the world they can score as the pummeled Paderboen 6-0.  Wolfsburg was able to keep pace with a 2-1 win, but it does seem like it is all for nothing as with 12 games remaining Bayern have an 8 point lead.  The difference from 2nd to 3rd also seems to grow as Monchengladbach drew 1-1.  Wolfsburg now sits 10 points clear of third place.  However, from there the rest of the league is quite bunched up.  The difference from 3rd place to the bottom of the table is just one more point than the distance from 3rd place to the top.  Dortmund, who got a huge 3 points this weekend, are now just 10 points from the Champions League places having been on the bottom of the table just two weeks ago.  It should be fascinating to watch as the table shifts and moves down the stretch, as it seems no one is safe outside of the top two.

The title race in England took a turn I don’t think many of us saw coming.  Chelsea and Burnley drew 1-1.  The game seemed to turn on what looked like a horrible tackle from by Ashley Barnes.  It was probably deserving of a straight red card, but it was not called.  What did happen was Matic, who was on the receiving end of the tackle, jumped off the ground and ran over and shoved Barnes to the ground.  For his actions, Matic was shown a straight red.  This gave Burnley a numerical advantage that they took advantage of and turned the tide of the game allowing them to score the equalizer.  I do believe that Matic should have been sent off for his actions, but Barnes also deserved a red card for his part.  Man City then stepped up to the plate and destroyed Newcastle 5-0.  The lead at the top is now 5 points, and is very much game-on.  Chelsea have a history of dropping points against teams they should not, and City have a history of coming back to win the title.  The race for fourth place got even more interesting, as Liverpool despite being the second best team on the pitch, got a crucial 3 points in a huge match against Southampton.  They now sit just 2 points behind United who lost 2-1 at Swansea City.  Arsenal won 2-1 over Crystal Palace and Tottenham drew 2-2 to make the race for fourth very tight.

Relegation Battles

German Bundesliga – Bottom 2: Hertha Berlin (21 points), Stuttgart (18) – 16th Place: Freiburg (22) – In Battle: Dortmund (25), Mainz (25), Hamburg (24), Paderborn (23), Koln (25), and Hannover (26)

French Ligue 1 – Bottom 3: Evian Thonon Gaillard (26), Lens (22), Metz (22) – In Battle: Toulouse (28), Lorient (28), Stade de Reims (31), Caen (31), and Stade Rennes (31)

Italian Serie A – Bottom 3: Cagliari (20), Cesena (16), Parma (10) – In Battle: Atalanta (23), Chievo Verona (24), and Hellas Verona (25)

Spanish Liga BBVA – Bottom 3: Granada (19), Levante (19), Cordoba (18) – In Battle: Elche(23), Almeria(23), Deportivo La Coruna (24),

English Premier League – Bottom 3: Aston Villa (22), Burnley (22), Leicester City (18) – In Battle: QPR (22), Hull (26), Sunderland (25), West Brom (27), Crystal Palace (27), Everton (28)

What in the world is Relegation?

What in the world is Relegation?

As the season starts to come to an end, I want to briefly discuss relegation and why it makes what would be a dull soccer match fascinating.  This is a concept that is very foreign to American sports.  Every year, every team must earn their place their divisions.  If the team does not perform well enough, then they are moved down to a lower division.  In each of the top 5 leagues, the bottom 3 teams are demoted, or relegated.  It is based on points, so the three teams with the least amount of points gets relegated.  The easiest comparison to American sports would be to use baseball and say that the worst 3 teams in the MLB would play in the AAA system for the next year.  This provides lots of drama and excitement as the season goes on.  Teams will do just about anything to stay in the top division.  While most teams do not face relegation on a yearly basis, it can happen to anyone and can have a huge impact on the club and the players that it can attract.  While most of the league title races seem all but over, the race for the last spot in the top divisions is really starting to heat up.  The most interesting relegation battle has to be in Germany, as there are many big name clubs sitting in the bottom half.  Germany works a little differently from the other leagues, in which the team that finishes in 16th place (remember there are only 18 teams in the Bundesliga as compared to the others with 20 teams) plays a two-legged relegation match with the team that finishes in third place in the Second Bundesliga (Germany’s second division).  Here is my quick recap of the teams in the big 5 leagues that are in the bottom 3 currently or in the relegation battle.  For a team to be in the battle, I settled on 5 points from the drop.

German Bundesliga – Bottom 2: Hertha Berlin (21 points), Stuttgart (18) – 16th Place: Freiburg (21) – In Battle: Dortmund (22), Mainz (22), Hamburg (23), Paderborn (23), Koln (24), and Hannover (25)

French Ligue 1 – Bottom 3: Evian Thonon Gaillard (26), Lens (22), Metz (21) – In Battle: Toulouse (28), Lorient (28), Caen (28), Stade de Reims (30), Bastia (30), and Stade Rennes (31)

Italian Serie A – Bottom 3: Cagliari (20), Cesena (16), Parma (10) – In Battle: Atalanta (23), Chievo Verona (24), Empoli (24), and Hellas Verona (24)

Spanish Liga BBVA – Bottom 3: Granada (19), Levante (19), Cordoba (18) – In Battle: Elche(23), Almeria(23), Getafe (23), Deportivo La Coruna (24), Athletic Bilbao (24), Real Sociedad (24)

English Premier League –  Bottom 3: Aston Villa (22), Burnley (21), Leicester City (17) – In Battle: QPR (22), Hull (23), Sunderland (24), West Brom (26), Crystal Palace (27), Everton (27)

Let the race to stay in these league really start to heat up! Let me know who you think is going to get relegated for the leagues.  Tweet me your thoughts @SoccerPond.  I will be tweeting out my predictions later today.

Champions League

Courtois is the hero once again for Chelsea as they got the result they needed on Tuesday with a 1-1 draw.  The visitors scored first on a cross into the box from Terry that was brilliantly flicked on by Cahill, and headed in by Ivanovic.  If you would have told me that three players were involved in the Chelsea goal, I think the combination of those three would not have been one I guessed.  Ivanovic has a history of scoring big goals for the team and this one could prove to be decisive.  Courtois made 5 saves in the game, and was huge coming up with some spectacular efforts to keep Ibrahimovic and company at bay for most of the game.  Cavani did score the equalizer late in the game, but the attack was too little too late.  They could not make their chances count as they had 14 shots, but only 7 on target and only 1 goal.  Chelsea, in the mean time, were happy to defend as they only managed two shots and scored on their only one on target.  PSG have struggled with away goals having gone out of the competition both times in the last two years on away goals.  Will this come back to hurt them in a couple weeks when they travel to London?  We will have to wait and see.

Bayern Munich and Shakhtar Donetsk played to a 0-0 draw.  Bayern Munich were the better side but on a bad pitch in Lviv. The match was played in Lviv due to damage done to the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, and the fact that the stadium in now in the middle of a war zone.  Lviv is 750 miles away from the Donbass.  It is actually closer to Munich than it is to Donetsk.   Munich dominated possession but did not create many chances, and could not finish off the chances they did have.  Xabi Alonso was sent off for a second yellow and will miss the return leg of the tie.  It will be a tense return leg, but it could get ugly for Shakhtar.

On Wednesday, Real Madrid took to the Champions League stage, and Ronaldo didn’t take long to get on the score sheet.  A nicely placed cross from Carvajal was sweetly finished off by Ronaldo, as he headed the ball over Wellenreuther.  Timon Wellenreuther started in goal for just the third time ever for Schalke, and at 19 played very well for his Champions League debut.  Ronaldo also set up Marcelo, but he still had a lot to do.  Real Madrid won the match 2-0 and look all but certain to progress to the next round.

The last match of the week was Porto at Basel.  The Swiss club took the lead 11 minutes into the match.  Derlis Gonzalez took the ball down brilliantly and placed the ball past the keeper into the goal.  Porto were the better team for most of the game, registering 15 shots and 7 on target. They did get their deserved equalizer from Danilo.  He was brought down in the box and then finished off the awarded penalty.

Europa League

The first legs of the Round of 32 took place on Thursday this week, and they did not disappoint.  Everton won big, as Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick in their 4-1 win at Young Boys.  Liverpool kept the all-important clean sheet at home as Mario Balotelli converted a controversial penalty.  The foul was not the controversy, but who took it was as it seems Balotelli took the ball off captain for the night, Jordan Henderson.  Regardless, Liverpool won 1-0 and will look to advance next week, but the trip to Turkey will be tough.  Sevilla won 1-0 over Borussia Monchengladbach, as they look to defend their crown.  Wolfsburg continued looking good as Das Bost scored twice to beat Sporting CP 2-0.  Napoli won 4-0 on the road.  Tottenham drew 1-1 at home to Fiorentina.  Celtic and Internazionale probably had the most interesting game, as Inter went up 2-0 within 13 minutes but then Celtic pegged back with two goals in 2 minutes.  Palacio gave Inter another lead, but in the 93rd minute Guidetti scored a late equalizer.

Weekend Preview

In England this weekend, the big matches take place on Sunday when Tottenham host West Ham and Southampton host Liverpool.  Will there be an Europa League hangover for these teams or will they both be able to keep climbing up the table?  On Saturday, the leaders Chelsea host 19th place Burnley.  They will look to increase their 7 point lead.  Manchester City host Newcastle as they want to keep pace, or gain some ground, on the leaders.  Arsenal will try to jump into the top 4 with a win at Crystal Palace, who have been in a fine vein of form since Alan Pardew took charge.  Manchester United will look to keep themselves in the top 4 as they travel to Wales to face Swansea.

The big three in France this weekend all look to take the top spot this weekend.  PSG will attempt to get back to winning ways as they host Toulouse.  A win for PSG would send them to the top of the table before the other two teams play on Sunday.  Current leaders, Lyon, host Nantes.  They will work get all 3 points and turn their form around.  Marseille have the toughest matchup of the weekend as they travel to St. Etienne.  This is the last game of the weekend and Marseille might need to win to stay in this tight race.

In Italy, the pressure could be ramped up on Napoli as they have to wait until Monday to play.  They will host Sassuolo, but their lead for third place could only be one point when the game starts.  Fiorentina hosts Torino on Sunday, and they want to close in on third place.  Juventus play today, as they will most likely extend their lead at the top, as Juve try to extend their unbeaten run to 21 matches.  Atalanta will need points, as they are in a relegation battle sitting just 3 points off the bottom 3.  Roma have really struggled as of late, having drawn 6 of their last 8 Serie A fixtures.  Last weekend, they drew with bottom of the table club Parma, and now face another team in the relegation fight, Verona.

In the Bundesliga, Dortmund will make an effort to continue climb up the table having finally gotten out of the bottom 3 last weekend.  This weekend starts with a huge relegation battle as Stuttgart host Dortmund.  Stuttgart are now the bottom of the table and are in desperate need of 3 points.  This will be a huge battle in deciding the fates for two very proud and history-rich clubs in Germany.  Munich travel to Paderborn as they look to maintain their lead at the top.  They currently sit 8 points ahead of Wolfsburg, who have been in fantastic form.  Wolfsburg will be striving for 3 more points when they host Hertha Berlin this weekend.  Looking at the table, the difference from 1st to 2nd is greater than the difference from 18th (bottom of the Bundesliga) to 10th place in the league.  The relegation battle should be a fascinating one as teams get desperate for wins and points.

In La Liga this weekend, the leaders take on a team in the relegation zone when Real Madrid travel to Elche.  This should be a huge game for Cristiano Ronaldo, as he has scored 6 goals in his last two games against them.  Luis Enrique’s Barcelona will drive to make it 12 wins in a row, as they host Malaga this weekend.  Malaga comes into the game having lost their last two games.  Barcelona will need to maintain their focus since they have a big trip to Manchester City coming up next weekend.  Atletico Madrid will toil to get back into the title race with a huge 3 points.  They also have a game midweek when they travel to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.  The race at the top should continue to be fascinating as each team will need to get all three points each week.

EPL Pick ‘Em

The score is currently Buzz 173 to Me at 162.

My Picks – West Brom 2-1, Stoke 1-0, Chelsea 3-1, Arsenal 2-1, United 2-0, Hull 0-0, City 2-1, West Ham 2-1, Everton 1-0, Saints 1-1

Buzz’s Picks – Chelsea 3-0, Stoke 1-0, Sunderland 1-1, Arsenal 2-1, Hull 2-1, United 1-0, City 3-1, Spurs 2-2, Everton 3-1, Saints 2-1

Don’t forget to check out the twitter feed this weekend – @SoccerPond

These are the Champions…

Guess what is back!!!! The Champions League returns this week!! After the long winter break, the greatest competition in the world returns.  The knockout stage begins this week.  This is the business end of the competition, and where legends are formed and enhanced.  The Round of 16 begins on Tuesday.  The matches will be played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays over the next two weeks.  They start off this week with a bang when Chelsea travels to Paris Saint-Germain.  The champions of France will host the best team in England.  The second leg will be the second week in March at the Stamford Bridge.  This will be a huge match in Paris and probably the matchup of the week.  The other match on Tuesday has the champions of Germany facing the champions of Ukraine when Shakhtar Donetsk hosts Bayern Munich.  On Wednesday this week Porto travel to Switzerland to face Basel.  In the other matchup on Wednesday, the holders of the title, Real Madrid travel to Schalke 04.  This should be an interesting matchup as Real Madrid has had trouble in Germany in the past.

Weekend Review

In Serie A, the teams at the top struggled this weekend.  Roma drew with Parma 0-0, Juventus drew with Cesena 2-2, and Napoli lost 3-1 at Palermo.  Fiorentina took advantage of this with their 3-1 win over Sassuolo.  La Viola now sits 4 points behind Napoli.  Lazio also won this weekend to keep them in the race for third place.  Despite getting a draw with Roma, Parma looks certain to go down as they sit 13 points from safety.  Cesena also is in trouble as they sit 7 points from safety.

In Ligue 1, Marseille started the weekend out drawing 2-2.  Then came the more shocking result in France as PSG drew 2-2 at home to Caen.  This set the table for Lyon but they were also held 1-1 at Lorient.  The top 3 all stayed the same this weekend, as no one was able to get more than 1 point.  The race at the bottom is getting better as well, as the difference from 18th to 13this just 4 points.  Lens and Metz sit at the bottom on 22 and 21 points respectively.  Evian sits in 18th with 26 points.  Caen, Lorient, and Toulouse all have 28 points.  Bastia and Stade Reims both have 30 points.  It should be a good run in for the bottom 3 points.

The Bundesliga had some remarkable results.  The weekend started with Dortmund winning 4-2 over Mainz.  In this bottom half of the table clash, Dortmund finally is out of the bottom 3.  They now sit 1 point clear of the bottom 3.  On Saturday, Bayern Munich destroyed Hamburg, 8-0.  Munich has now outscored Hamburg 44-5 in the last 5 years.  There were some amazing goals in the game.  The other crazy result was that Wolfsburg beat Bayer 5 to 4, behind 4 goals from Bas Dost, including one that was with the last kick of the game.  Heung-Min Son scored a hat trick in the game as Leverkusen’s comeback failed.

In Spain, the leader won 2-0 over Deportivo, but the crowd was not on their side.  The fans at the Bernabeu booed during the match, as they were not fans of the way the team played.  Real Madrid won, but did not play well and did not look very interested in the match.  Barcelona came out on Sunday and put 5 past Levante, including a hat-trick from Leo Messi.  Atletico Madrid lost 2-0 to Celta Vigo.  They were not able to continue their form following the victory over Real Madrid.  Valencia and Sevilla both won in their race for fourth.  The race at the bottom is starting to get tight, as the difference from 20th to 12th is just 6 points.  This should be a good one to watch, as a spots in the top division is on the line.

The FA Cup Round 5 took place this weekend.  West Brom beat West Ham 4-0 in a big statement win and something that could give them momentum going forward.  Blackburn Rovers upset Stoke City 4-1 in a shocking display from the Potters.  Reading won 2-1 at Derby County.  Liverpool needed a comeback and a Mario Ballotelli appearance to advance with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace.  Aston Villa beat Leicester 2-1 in what was the first match without Paul Lambert.  The new Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood watched from the stands.  Bradford City continued their giant killing run when they beat Sunderland 2-0.  It was a rather comfortable win for them.  Arsenal won 2-0 over Middlesborough.  Olivier Giroud scored two goals within 135 seconds.  Preston North End will host Manchester United today.

Midweek Preview

While the main stage is the Champions League this week, the Europa League resumes this weekend.  The Round of 32 begins this week.  The first leg will be this Thursday and the second leg will be next week.  There are some big names in this round of the competition such as Sevilla (the defending champions), Ajax, Roma, Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton, Napoli, and Inter.  It will be interesting to see who can advance, and if any of the smaller clubs can pull off the upsets.

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter for blog updates and more information and videos at @SoccerPond

Money, Money Everywhere

How much money will footballers make in 20 years?  The money in the game is skyrocketing.  Well, it is in England at least.  This week the Premier League signed a new broadcasting rights deal in England for the 2016-2019 period of time.  They sold for a record 5.136 billion pounds.  Currently, EPL games are shown on Sky and BT in the United Kingdom.  They currently pay 3.018 billion to show all the games.  This rise will have a large impact on the game.  In the EPL, the difference between the top TV earners and the bottom TV earners is not that different.  Last year Liverpool made the most with 97.5 million pounds.  Cardiff finished bottom with just 62.1.  That is just a difference of 35.4 million pounds.  Compare that to Spain, where Barcelona and Real Madrid each made 103.74 and Valencia made 35.57.  Oh and they were the 3rd highest earners.  Atletico Madrid was the champions last year and made only 31.12 million pounds.  The champions of Spain made less money via TV rights than the worst team in the EPL.  The bottom earning club in Spain was Granada, Elche, Valladolid, Rayo Vallecano, and Almeria.  They each earned 13.34 million pounds.  The Spanish Giants made almost 8 times more money than the bottom clubs.  They made more than 3 times the amount that the Champions made.  The figures are not great for other countries either.  Bayern Munich only earned 27.34 million.  In France, PSG, Marseille, and Lyon combined made less than Liverpool.  How will the influx of more cash to what is already the richest league change the landscape all over the world?

It is already having an impact as teams look at the money.  They are able to sign players to bigger contracts, but more importantly, hopefully it will lead to more collective bargaining.  In England, there is a collective bargaining agreement that helps spread the wealth to all of the teams.  This helps provide some parity to the league.  While I understand that only about 5 teams can ever really win the league, there is more hope for those teams.  There is also more hope of new teams that come up can stay up in the Premier League.  In Spain this does not exist.  Barcelona and Real Madrid are allowed to negotiate their own TV rights.  This has helped create the great gap between earners.  Those two teams are the two favorites every year with Atletico.  In Italy, it has turned into Juventus every year.  Guess what, they are the top TV earners.  In Germany, it is a Bayern Munich runaway this year, but even Dortmund who won the last couple years is the second highest earner.  Beyond that, there are not many real challengers to the title.  In France, PSG, Marseille, and Lyon dominate the league and TV earnings.  Finding the balance of sharing the wealth will be important.  It will be interesting to watch Spain over the next couple weeks as legislation tries to get passed for collective bargaining.

Midweek Review

BALOTELLI is back.  He has finally scored in the Premier League and it could not have come at a better time for Liverpool.  After being pegged back twice, Liverpool were looking for a hero and Balotelli stepped up.  The 3-2 win over Tottenham gives them a fighting chance at qualifying for the Champions League.  They now sit just 5 points behind United in third and 4 points from fourth place.  Arsenal also came away with a big win in the fight for the top 4.  Chelsea kept their 7 point lead at the top with a 1-0 win over Everton.  There was a controversial moment when it appeared Branoslav Ivanovic either head butted McCarthy or bit him.  Manchester City got back on track as Aguero scored twice with a 4-1 win over Stoke.

In the Copa Del Rey semifinals, Barcelona continued their fantastic form.  They hosted Villarreal in the first leg of the semi-finals.  They got goals from Messi, Iniesta, and Pique in a 3-1 win.  In the other semifinal, Athletic Club and Espanyol drew 1-1.  The second legs will be March 4th.

The Coupe de France played this week.  The quarterfinals are now set and 8 of the teams come from 4 different leagues in France.  From the 4th tier for French football is US Concarneau.  The third tier also has a representative in US Boulogne.  There will be a Second Division team in the semi-finals as Stade Bretois 29 host AJ Auxerre.  The last four teams are from top tier.  Guingamp travels to US Concarneau.  Saint- Etienne travels to US Boulogne.  The marquee matchup is Paris Saint-Germain hosting Monaco.

Weekend Preview

The battle for the top spot continues in Ligue 1.  Marseille plays today as they host Stade Reims.  They will look to take the top spot briefly before the other two play.  PSG take the field on Saturday when they host Caen.  They can then take the top spot with a win.  Marseille and PSG are tied in Goal Difference so whoever wins by a bigger difference will be top spot going into Sunday.  On Sunday, the top team Lyon will most likely need to win.  They are also the only team on the road.  They travel to Lorient.  A win will keep them on top of the table.

The other tight title race is in Spain.  This week Real Madrid host Deportivo.   They have beaten Deportivo 5-1 and 6-1 in the last two matches at the Bernabeu.  Real Madrid will also look to get back to winning ways.  Barcelona hopes to keep pace and pressure on Real Madrid when they host Levante.  Messi has scored in 8 of his last 9 games.  Barcelona wants to win their 11th game in a row.  Atletico Madrid are the only team on the road as they travel to Celta Vigo.  They will try to keep their momentum rolling.  It should be an interesting weekend if any of these three drop points.

Juventus will attempt to keep their 7 point lead at the top.  Their opponent, Cesena, is battling a relegation fight, whereas Juve have gone on a 19 game unbeaten run.  Roma will look to keep place and string a second win in a row as they host Parma.  Napoli will look to get their 5th win in a row to firmly plant themselves in the all important third place.

In Germany, Dortmund takes on Mainz today.  They are doing their best to get out of the bottom 3.  Neither of these teams are really on form, and both desperately need a win.  Bayer Leverkusen host Wolfsburg as Wolfsburg wants to cut into the 7 point lead into Munich has.  Munich host Hamburg as they work to extend their lead at the top.

Lastly, the EPL takes the weekend off and the FA Cup resumes.  The Fifth Round takes places and a spot in the quarter-finals is on the place.  Bradford City hosts Sunderland as they work to beat their second top division team.  Preston North End hosts Manchester United in the other tier 3 versus tier 1 matchup. Arsenal host Championship team Middlesbrough and Liverpool travel to Crystal Palace.  Will the dream final for Steven Gerrard remain alive?

Don’t forget to check out the twitter feed this weekend – @SoccerPond

23 Year Wait is Over

It was written in history that the African Cup of Nations would go to a penalty shoot out.  The Ivory Coast had been in 4 finals, and they had never seen a goal scored in regulation.  After 120 minutes the match was scoreless.  The match itself was not the best, but the penalty shootout was worth watching.  Penalty shootouts fascinate me.  To play so hard for 120 minutes just for the title to come down to five spot kicks can either bring ecstasy or agony.  This penalty shootout had a bunch of twists, turns, and drama.  Ghana was to go first and their lineup was Wakaso, Jordan Ayew, Acquah, Acheampong, and Andre Ayew.  For the Ivory Coast, Bony was first then Tallo, Aurier, Doumbia and finally Yaya Toure.  Wakaso easily buried his spot kick. Bony stepped up and hit the woodwork.  After one round, Ghana was in the lead 1-0.  Jordan Ayew scored a classy penalty while Tallo sent his about 5 yards wide of the goal.  After two kicks, Ghana looked sure to win, being up 2-0.   With a chance to essentially end the kicks, Acquah stepped up.  Coppa Barry guessed the right way and made an amazing save, giving his country hope. Aurier stepped up and the PSG man pummeled the ball into the top corner. Ghana then stepped up with a chance to make it 3-1 and Acheampong missed the net.  Seydou Doumbia nailed his penalty.  After 4 rounds, it was tied at 2.  Ghana seemed to have blown their big chance.  Andre Ayew and Yaya Toure converted it to send it to sudden death penalties. The next 5 penalties all found the back of the net setting up the a great 11th round.  It was time for the goalkeepers to take their penalties. Ghana’s Razak went first, and his was saved by Barry. Barry, who seemed to be battling cramps, was on the ground in pain after the save.  It might have been a bit of gamesmanship, but he got up to take his penalty.  He slotted the ball coolly into the corner and scored the game winning and cup winning penalty. Congrats to the Ivory Coast on winning their second African Cup of Nations.

On a much sadder note, violence erupted again in Egypt this weekend at an Egyptian Premier League match.  On Sunday, a riot broke out and a fight between the police and fans led to the death of 25 people.  This riot comes only 3 years after violence in an Egyptian stadium killed 74 people.  This is a terrible tragedy.  The ultras, or Egypt’s most hard-core fans, frequently clash with police inside and outside of the stadiums and this is something that needs to come to a stop

Weekend Review

The weekend truly lived up to the billing.  Tottenham vs. Arsenal was a fantastic match and Atletico sent a message to the world.

In Spain, the title race is really on.  Real Madrid had the chance to finish off Atletico this weekend but instead it was Atleti that sent the message.  They dominated the game from start to finish and were better in every way.  Then they made their advantage count as they scored 2 goals in the first half and two goals in the second half.  They won the match 4-0 and showed Spain and the world that they will not give up their title without a fight to the end.   This lead to Sunday and Barcelona traveling to the new San Memes deep in the heart of Basque Country.  Messi and company knew that a win would cut the deficit to just one point and they played like this was a must win.  They jumped out to a 2-0 half time lead and ended the match with 5 goals winning 5-2.  The lead is now 1 point for Real Madrid over Barcelona and 4 points over Atletico.  It is truly game on with 16 matches left.  Valencia also took advantage of a team slipping up when they beat Espanyol and Sevilla lost at Getafe.  They now sit 2 points ahead of Sevilla for 4th place.

While Roma was not able to make up any ground against Juventus, they did get a huge win.  They beat Cagliari 2 to 1.  Juventus made sure that they would not lose ground when they beat Milan 3-1.  Sampdoria and Lazio seem to be heading down the wrong end of the table.  Sampdoria drew 1-1 this weekend with Sassuolo but their rivals Napoli and Fiorentina both won.  Lazio is still yet to play as they play tonight.  However, Napoli now has a 7 point lead on Fiorentina and Sampdoria and is 8 points ahead of Lazio.  Is this race for 3rdplace over?  I hope not but it is looking more and more difficult for anyone to catch Napoli.  It looks more likely that Napoli could catch Roma.

Lyon stay top in Ligue 1.  In what might be the most intriguing title race in the big 5, Lyon drew 1-1 against title rivals Paris Saint-Germain.  They stay 2 points up at the top of the table.  Lyon took the lead and then a questionable penalty gave Zlatan the chance to equalize.  His first penalty was saved but it was called back for encroachment, and Zlatan found the back of the net on the second one.  Marseille did not take advantage as they also drew 1-1 at Rennes this weekend.  While these three teams all seem sure of Champions League football, which one of them will win the league is going to be a great watch over the next couple months.

Dortmund are no longer on the bottom of the table.  They are still in the relegation zone, but they are not on the bottom after a 3-0 win at Freiburg.  They are now one point from safety.  Bayern Munich got their first win of the New Year when they beat Stuttgart.  Stuttgart are now on the bottom of the table.   There were some spectacular goals scored in that match and they are on the twitter feed @SoccerPond.  Munich are still 7 points clear at the top and look to be cruising to a title win.

Is the title race over in England?  Probably.  Chelsea extended their lead at the top to 7 points.  They beat Aston Villa 2-1.  The major talking point from the game is that Aston Villa ended an 11 hour scoreless streak in this game.  Is Jose’s defense the weak point of the team?  For a man who has built his team on a strong defense, should a team that hasn’t scored in almost half a day score on Chelsea?  Man City on the other hand needed a last minute equalizer to draw at home with Hull City.  Tottenham came from behind in an amazing North London Derby to win 2-1.  Harry Kane is quickly becoming the next superstar in the Premier League as he scored both of Tottenham’s goals.  Southampton left it late before they scored their winner over QPR.  Manchester United followed City in leaving it to the very end before scoring their equalizer.  They drew 1-1 with West Ham.  The Merseyside Derby was a very slow match with Everton concentrating on defense and hoping for a counter attack.  The match ended 0-0 with very little clear chances.  The race for third and fourth is really what to watch for in the EPL.

Midweek Preview

This week, the EPL gets back in action for a midweek round of games.  The big matchup involves one team in the heart of the race for fourth and one team on the outskirts of this race.  Liverpool host Tottenham.  Tottenham have the fourth best away record, but travel to a place that has been very difficult for them recently, against a team that has dominated them.  Can Tottenham finally beat Liverpool?  Manchester City travel to Stoke in need of a big three points.  Chelsea host Everton in a match in which they will try to extend their lead even more.  Southampton host West Ham as they look to hold onto third place.

The first legs of the Copa Del Rey Semi-finals take place this weekend.  Barcelona host Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao host Espanyol.  The second legs of these games will take place on March 4th.  Can Barcelona make it back to the final this year?  Will Lucho lead them to a Copa Del Rey title?

The Coupe de France also picks up again with the Round of 16.  There are only two first division matchups as PSG host Nantes and Monaco host Rennes.  The only other first division teams are Saint-Etienne, Metz and Guingamp, and they all play lower division opponents.

EPL Pick ‘Em

This past week I finally won 5-4.  Catching up slowly but surely haha.  The score is now Buzz 165 to Me at 155.

My Picks – Sunderland 1-0, Arsenal 3-1, Hull 0-0, Spurs 2-1, Man City 2-1, United 1-0, Chelsea 2-1, Saints 1-0, Palace 1-1, West Brom 1-1

Buzz’s Picks – arsenal 2-0, hull 1-0, Pool 2-1, Sunderland 2-1, Chelsea 2-2, united 3-1, Saints 1-1, city 2-1, palace 1-0, Swans 2-2

Derby weekend!

Welcome to derby weekend.  Two of the biggest derbies in the English Premier League and the Madrid derby will take place this Saturday.  The weekend will start with Tottenham hosting Arsenal.  The north London derby will be the first course of the weekend and looks to be a great match.    Arsenal leads the rivalry with 66 wins.  In the match earlier this year, the two teams drew 1-1 at the Emirates.  This ended a streak of 3 wins at home for Arsenal.  In the last 5 matches played at White Hart Lane, Tottenham have won 3, lost 1, and had one 3-3 draw.  The loss, however, was last year when Rosicky scored in the second minute.  This should be a hotly contested match and one that will have a huge impact on the league.  Spurs enter the match having won 3 of their last 5 games, including the last two games.  Arsenal comes into the game coming off 3 straight wins and 4 out of their last 5 games.  This is the matchup of the number 5 and 6 teams in the table.  Can either of these teams make the top 4?

The other big derby in England is the late game on Saturday.  The longest running top-flight derby in England will take place at Goodison Park when Everton host Liverpool.  The two teams from Liverpool collide when the “Friendly Derby” takes place for the 224th time.  The two teams are located less than a mile apart from each other.  Everton used to play at Anfield before moving across Goodison Park to their new stadium.  This matchup usually has a lot of drama and a lot of goals.  The first match this year ended 1-1 at Anfield with Phil Jagielka scoring in extra time to get Everton a point.  In the last 5 games in this rivalry, there have been 4 draws and one Liverpool win.  Liverpool has scored 10 goals in those 5 games while Everton has scored 6 goals.  Will we see another great thriller?

The last big derby of the weekend will take place at the Calderon when Atletico Madrid hosts Real Madrid.  This is one of the biggest rivalries in the world and has been escalating over the last couple years.  Real Madrid comes into the game on a 4 game win streak and will get Cristiano Ronaldo back for the match.  Atletico Madrid has won 3 of the last 5 games but has not won back to back over those games.  However, Atletico has 3 of the 5 matches this year.  They did lose the biggest match these two teams have played in recent history when the lost after extra time to Real in the Champions League final.  Real Madrid will be without some key figures for the game, as James and Sergio Ramos are injured and Marcelo is banned.  Can Atleti continue their great form against Real Madrid?

African Cup of Nations

The African Cup of Nations took a dark turn this week when the hosts went out of the tournament following their 3-0 loss to Ghana.  The match needed to be suspended for 30 minutes when the crowd started hurling bottles onto the field.  Riot police and a helicopter was used to help calm the crowd down.  The trouble seemed to start around half time when the fans started to become restless.  Some of the traveling Ghanaian fans had to go to the hospital after the game.  Some sharp objects ended up on the pitch.  In footballing news, Ghana will advance to the final this weekend to face Cote D’Ivoire.  The Cote D’Ivoire beat DR Congo 3-1. The two continental powerhouses will play for what you can expect to be an amazing game with big names.  I think this is going to be a fascinating game that will result in Cote D’Ivoire winning the African Cup of Nations.

Midweek Review

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the downfall of Borussia Dortmund. It seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Last weekend they drew at Bayer Leverkusen. While it was not the worst result, this week they lost 1-0 at home to 10-man Augsburg. Following the match, the players went over to their vocal fans to talk. Some of the players even climbed the fence to get closer to them. The team has suffered from players leaving and a lot of key injuries this season, but it is quite a fall for the team that was in the Champions League final just two years ago.  In other Bundesliga games, Bayern Munich got their first point of the year when they drew 1-1 with Schalke.  Fortunately for them, Wolfsburg also drew on the road at Eintracht Frankfurt so the lead at the top is still 8 points.

In Spain, Real Madrid played their game in hand against Sevilla and won 2-1.  The game was basically over in the 36th minute when Jese scored the second goal of the game.  James Rodriguez scored the opener in the 12th minute before needing to leave the game injured.  Aspas added a late consolation goal.  James will likely be out for a while.

In FA Cup replays, the big boys advanced but it was not easy sailing for them.  Manchester United won 3-0 over Cambridge United, but the game could have easily gone the other way.  Sunderland beat Fulham 3-1 and Preston North End beat Sheffield United.  On Wednesday, Liverpool beat Bolton 2-1.  Liverpool fell behind 1-0 after a dubious penalty in the 59th minute, but goals from Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho helped keep the dream birthday gift for Stevie G alive.  The Coutinho goal was magic and is up on the twitter account @SoccerPond.

Weekend Preview

I have already talked about the big three rivalry matchups this weekend but there are still a lot of huge games.

In France, it might not be a derby, but Lyon host PSG in what will go a long way towards deciding the title.  Lyon are currently 2 points clear of PSG.  Lyon enter the game coming off a bit of a run of poor form.  They have won only 3 of their last 5 games, but only 1 of their last 3 matches.  PSG, on the other hand, have won 6 in a row.  Marseille are also 2 points behind Lyon and will look to take top spot should the results fall their way.  This will be a big weekend for Lyon and could put them well ahead of PSG and make it potentially a two horse race.  It could also become extremely tight at the top and that will only cause more drama.

In Germany, Borussia Dortmund attempt to jump out of the bottom with a win at Freiburg.  Despite all the poor results, they still only sit just 2 points from safety.  Munich hope to win their first game of the new year as they travel to Stuttgart.  Wolfsburg will be hoping that the slide continues for Munich, and they can close the gap even more when they host Hoffenheim.  There is a good game tonight when Shalke host Monchengladbach.  Both teams are in the fight for the final two spots in the table and a spot in the Champions League next year.  Augsburg find themselves in the all important 4th place and will look to stay there with a win against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Juventus are unbeaten in their last 18 fixtures.  They did draw their last match, but look to get back to winning ways when they host Milan.  Milan enter the game having won just 2 of their last 5, losing the other 3 games.  Roma enter the game having just lost 2-0 to Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia.  Before that match, they had drawn their last 5 games.  They will need a big win at Cagliari to get back into the title race, as this one looks like it could be done well before the last day of the season.  Juventus are currently 7 points ahead.  Napoli sit in third place and will try to gain some more distance when they host Udinese.  Lazio and Sampdoria are anticipating that Napoli slip up and they can close the gap with wins in their matches against Genoa and Sassuolo.

In Spain there are other games going on, but the big one is the Madrid Derby.  In other games, Barcelona will look to continue their fantastic form when they travel to Bilbao.  This has been a tricky game for Barcelona in the past, but they will have to work to keep pace with Madrid or close the game on them should they drop any points.  Sevilla and Valencia are battling it out for fourth place and both teams are on the road.  Sevilla travel to Getafe while Valencia take a trip to Barcelona to play Espanyol.

In England, Chelsea are looking to get 3 more points when they travel to Aston Villa.  Last year, Aston Villa came up with a huge 1-0 win in this fixture, but now they are struggling after losing 3 of their last 5 games.  Chelsea are coming into the game off a draw against City, but their form has not been great lately.  Villa don’t score much, so it will be a tough one for them.  Manchester City are eager to win their first game, as they have not won any of their last 4 games.  Their opponent is the perfect opponent for them, as Hull City have lost seven of their last nine matches.  On Sunday, West Ham will look to beat Manchester United at home for the first time in their last 5 attempts.  QPR will play their first game without Harry Redknapp in charge when they host Southampton.  QPR have really struggled this year and have not won at home for three games, and hope to get points as quickly as possible.

EPL Pick Em

The current standings are Buzz leading 161 to 150.  He correctly called Everton to win last week 1-0 and that helped him on way to an 8-4 win for the weekend.  Hoping for a better weekend this week here are the picks:

Me – Spurs 3-2, City 4-1, Swans 0-0, Palace 2-1, Chelsea 1-0, Saints 2-0, Pool 4-3, Burnley 3-0, Stoke 2-1, West Ham 2-1

Buzz – arsenal 2-1, Chelsea 2-0, Palace 1-1, City 3-1, saints 2-0, Swans 2-1, pool 2-2, Brom 2-1, Newcastle 2-2, United 1-0

Don’t forget to check out the twitter feed this weekend – @SoccerPond

Also we have been developing a new logo this past week.  Big shout out to my sister for all of her help.

logo v4.3

Is a 5 point lead enough?

Is a draw at home against the 2nd place team good enough?  In what was the most watched game in the world this weekend, two teams played a great match right up until the end.  No, I am not talking about the Super Bowl, I am talking about Manchester City at Chelsea.  Chelsea took the early lead through a brilliant series of passes leading to Remy side-footing the ball into the net.  Then 4 minutes later, the ball is placed in from the right hand side and Courtois misplays it.  The ball falls to Aguero, whose shot takes a deflection off Silva’s foot and goes into the goal.  From that moment on, City continued to attack while Chelsea seemed content with the point.  I get a point is a fine result for them and that this point could be crucial in deciding the title, but I was not a fan of Mourinho’s tactics and changes that he made.  If this game was in the Etihad Stadium I would be singing a different tune, but at home. in front of your own fans, and you “park the bus” per se.  Chelsea are most likely going to win the Premier League title and could have it wrapped up well before the end of the season, but to not have the faith that your team can come out in the second half and go for the win or at the least play some attacking football is mind-blowing to me.

The way they played the game and the changes they made on both benches showed me that one team wanted 3 points, and the other was fine with just one.  Pellegrini brought on Lampard, Dzeko, and Jovetic for Fernando, Aguero, and Silva respectively.  Mourinho, on the other hand, brought on Drogba and Cahill for a Willian and Remy.  Willian was hurt so that is probably why he brought on Drogba, thinking that in a couple minutes he would be taking off Remy.  The second change was the one that really did it for me.   Why take off a striker when there are still 3 minutes to play plus stoppage time?  His last change was Loftus-Cheek for Oscar in the 92nd minute, which was just to get some fresh legs on the pitch.  Now you talk about Chelsea’s bench and the team that Mourinho sent out there, but there were some options.  I know that Salah and Schurrle are on their way out, but one of the two could have been used.  For a team that has spent a ton of money, where is there attacking depth?  You lose Cesc and Costa and now have no depth what so ever?  Manchester City had 57% of the ball this weekend.  Manchester City had 9 shots to Chelsea’s 3.  Chelsea’s 3 shots were the fewest by a home team in the Premier league since 2003-04.  I will make the statement that Pellegrini didn’t make after the match, Chelsea were playing for a draw in the second half.  For me, a 5 point lead is not something that a team should count on, especially looking at the history of the title chase and how teams can quickly make up ground.  An 8 point lead, however, is a different story.  This will take multiple weekends of slip up from a team to be caught.  City have experience coming from behind in terms of the league table, and if Chelsea continue to play this way it could catch up to them.

Australia are the champions of Asia! Well that sounds a little weird to say.  Australia defeated South Korea 2-1 after extra time.  South Korea scored the vital equalizer in second half stoppage time to send the game into extra time.  Then Troisi scored the winner in the 105th minute to give Australia their first Asian Cup victory.  Australia is the first nation to win two continental titles.  Australia won the Oceania crown in 1980, 1996, 2000 and 2004 and now are champions of Asia.   In 2006, Australia applied and was granted entrance into the Asia Federation for soccer.  This move was done to help them qualify for the World Cup.  Oceania is only given .5 of a spot in the world cup.  This means that they need to play the 5th best team in South America just to qualify.  In Asia, there are four World Cup spots.  The move made sense for Australia, but with them now winning the Asian Cup and an Australia A-League team, the champions of the Asian Champions League, you start wonder does it make sense for the actual Asia countries.

The African Cup of Nations is really getting down to business end of the competition.  Over the weekend, the quarter-finals took place.  In the first matchup, the DR Congo beat Congo 4-2.  Then hosts Equatorial Guinea beat Tunisia 2-1 after extra time.  On Sunday, the big matchup was Cote D’Ivoire against Algeria.  Cote D’Ivoire won 3-1 with goals from Bony (2) and Gervinho.  Ghana beat Guinea 3-0 behind two goals from Chelsea man Atsu, and one from Appiah.  This week we will see the semi-finals.  Both matchups feature teams that are making Cinderella-esque runs and perennial powers in Africa.  DR Congo will look to make their first final since they won in the tournament in 1974.  They have not gotten past the quarter finals since 1998.  Cote D’Ivoire will look to make it back to back finals appearances.  The DR Congo and Cote D’Ivoire will play on February 4th.  Ghana will look to make their 8th appearance in the final of the Cup of Nations and look to win their 5th title if they get there.  The last semi-final team is the host nation Equatorial Guinea.  They are in only their second ever Cup of Nations and in both times they have reached the quarter-finals.  This year, they will look to make it to their first ever final having already made it to their first ever semi-final.  It might be one step too far for them, but it is big progress for the small country.  They will host Ghana on February 5th.  The final is set for next Sunday.  Will we see two African powerhouses or will the two surprise teams make it?  I am hoping that the hosts can win it all, but my money would be a Cote D’Ivoire against Ghana final.

Weekend Review

In Serie A, Roma continued to struggle with a 1-1 draw at Empoli.  Since the start of the New Year, Roma has only picked up 10 points out of a possible 18.  Juventus in the same time frame has picked up 17 points from a possible 21.  This 7 point difference is the difference at the top of the table.  It could have been worse had Juve found the back of the net on Sunday as they drew 0-0 at Udinese.  The biggest winners of the weekend were Napoli, as they came away from Chievo with 3 points and their rivals, Lazio and Sampdoria, both suffered defeats on the road.  This means that Napoli now has a 5 point lead on the two teams below them and is in the lead position for the final Champions League spot.  Cesena got a huge 3 points against Lazio, as they look to climb out of the bottom three but still sit 4 points from safety.

The German Bundesliga returned with a shocker as Bayern Munich conceded goals 4 times and lost 4-1 in the first game of the weekend to second place Wolfsburg.  Wolfsburg are now only 7 points behind Munich.  Borussia Dortmund’s campaign to get off the bottom of the table started with a 0-0 draw at Bayer Leverkusen.  While it does not take them off the bottom, they are now only 2 points from safety.

In France, the gap at the top has been closed as PSG started the weekend with a 1-0 win over Rennes.  Then Marseille beat Evian 1-0. Lastly, on Sunday, Monaco held Lyon to a 0-0 draw.  This closed the gap at the top to 2 points.  St. Etienne has struggle in the New Year and have seen their title/Champions League place challenge stumble again as they lost 1-0 to Caen.  They now sit 7 points behind PSG and Marseille, who are level on points in 3rd and 2nd respectively.

In Spain, it was as it seems to always be.  On Saturday, Real Madrid conceded very early but were able to come back and win going away with a score of 4-1 over Real Sociedad.  It was the first of a two game ban for Ronaldo but did not seem to set them back.  Ateltico de Madrid also won 3-1 over Eibar on Saturday.  They jumped out to an early lead thanks to a 7thminute goal from Griezmann and a 2 minute brace from Mandzukic. He scored in the 23rd and 25th minutes.  That was all the scoring until the 89th minute when Eibar got a consolation prize in a goal from Piovaccari.  Sunday was not as smooth sailing for Barcelona.  They fell behind twice in the match before a brilliant strike from Messi gave them a 3-2 win over Villarreal.

In England, Chelsea maintained their 5 point lead as previously discussed.  Arsenal are seemingly putting on a show as they scored 5 past Aston Villa in a 5-0 win.  Shelvey scored the only goal to give Swansea a huge win over Southampton.  Tottenham continue to get massive production from Harry Kane and Cristian Eriksen as they won 3-0 over West Brom.  United got goals from Van Persie and Falcao, plus an own goal from Morgan en route to a 3-1 win over Leicester.  Daniel Sturridge made his return for Liveprool and only took 12 minutes before he scored to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead.  Raheem Sterling continues his great form with the win.  With the results, Manchester United jumps up to third place, a point ahead of Southampton, who are now level with Arsenal.  Tottenham sit 2 points behind them with Liverpool now just 4 points from 4th place.

Midweek Preview

This week we will see some FA Cup replays, Coupe de la Ligue, and some Coppa Italia matches.  The FA Cup replays feature some big teams, as Manchester United will host Cambridge United on Tuesday.  Liverpool travel to Bolton on Wednesday.  Both teams would be among the favorites to win the cup should they advance.  The Coupe de la Ligue is the second major cup competition in France and is currently in the semi-finals stage.  This week we will see Lille host PSG and Monaco host Bastia.  The winners will advance to the final.  In the Coppa Italia, Roma host Fiorentina and Napoli host Intern in the last two quarter-final matchups.  These four teams will look to join Lazio and Juventus in the semi-finals.

Transfer Deadline Day

This might have been the most boring transfer deadline day ever.  Will update this with any news if it breaks, but sources saying only big moves will be Schurrle out at Chelsea and Cuadrado in at Chelsea.  They are looking to sign Cuadrado for 26 million pounds and selling Schurrle for 24 million pounds.  This would be a good piece of business, but seeing as Salah has gone out on loan and depth was an issue this weekend, getting rid of two and only bringing in one gives me some questions.  The only big deals that I see causing some drama are which defender will Manchester United make a run at.  I don’t think they can not buy a single defender this window if they are serious about a run at the top 4. Whether it is Mats Hummels of Borsussia Dortmund or Marquinhos of PSG, I think they need to make a move.  This will be updated as the day goes on…

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