European Qualifiers

The fifth round of the European Qualifiers took place over the last couple days.  European Championships are scheduled for June of 2016 and will be played in France.   53 different national teams are trying to qualify for the first ever expanded field of 24 teams.  The tournament has had 16 teams since 1996 when the tournament doubled from 8 to 16 teams.  They are now adding another 8 teams to the mix.  What this really means is that there will be some nations that have never made the Euros finally get their chance on the big stage.  For qualifying, the 53 nations are split into 8 groups with 6 teams and one group with 5 teams.  The winners and runners-up automatically qualify, and the best overall third place team will qualify.  The worst teams’ results will not count towards third place in the calculators for the groups with 6 teams.  The other eight remaining third place teams will play a two-legged playoff to see who gets to join France at Euro 2016.

This past week was Matchday 5 out of 10.  Here is a quick look at all of the groups and where the big teams stand…

Group A has the Czech Republic on top of the table with Iceland just a point behind them.  The Netherlands are in third, with Turkey right on their heels.

Group B Is topped by Wales currently, but Israel and Belgium are both within striking distance and have played one less game.  Bosnia and Herzegovina are 3 points behind Belgium in 5th.

Group C has Slovakia on top who have won 5 out of 5 games.  Spain is in second due to their loss to Slovakia.  Ukraine sit in 3rd and are 3 points behind Spain.

Group D has two teams from the British Isles who are competing for third place in Scotland and Ireland.  Poland is on top of the group currently, with Germany just a point behind them.  Scotland is level on points with Germany and Ireland is two behind them.

England leads Group E as they seem to be running away with the group.  Slovenia and Switzerland are in a battle for 2nd and 3rd.

Group F has the last British Isles team in Northern Ireland who sit in 2nd place.  Romania tops the group with Hungary in 3rd.  Northern Ireland could be on their way to finally qualifying for the Euros.

Group G has Austria on top with Zlatan and Sweden in second.  Russia is battling with Montenegro for third place.

In Group H, Croatia is leading Italy by 2 points at the top end of the table.  Norway are in third place.

Lastly in Group I, Portugal sits atop the group with Denmark and Albania both 2 points behind.  These 3 teams have been beating up on Serbia and Armenia.

Looking at all of the top 3 teams, Scotland is currently the best team but they are all really close.

The qualifying should get more and more interesting as the year goes on.  The next matchday is in June and end in October.

Relegation Battle Update…

Relegation Battles

Here is your weekly update to the battle going on at the bottom end of the table…

German Bundesliga – Bottom 2: Paderborn (24), Stuttgart (23) – 16th Place: Hamburg (25) – In Battle: Freiburg (25), Hannover (27), Hertha Berlin (29), and Koln (30)

CHANGES – Stuttgart got a huge three points this weekend.  While they are still at the bottom of the table, they are just 2 points from safety.  Freiburg also got a huge three points.  They moved into 15th place and out of the relegation zone.  Hamburg fell into the zone when they lost to Hertha.  Hertha used the three points to gain some distance.  Paderborn dropped into the bottom 2 despite drawing with Hoffenheim.  Koln are back on the list following the wins at the bottom of the table.

French Ligue 1 – Bottom 3: Toulouse (32), Lens (25), Metz (23) – In Battle: Lorient (34), Evian Thonon Gaillard (35), Reims (35), Caen (35), Bastia (37), and Nice (37)

CHANGES – Metz earned a vital point as they are in great need of them.  Their journey to safety got even more difficult when Toulouse beat Bordeaux over the weekend.  Toulouse are closer to safety now since Lorient lost to PSG.  Evian got a huge win over Montpellier to give them some safety.

Italian Serie A – Bottom 3: Cagliari (21), Cesena (21), Parma (9) – In Battle: Atalanta (26)

CHANGES –The bottom 3 all lost this weekend.  This coupled with Atalanta earning a draw with Napoli means they are now 5 points clear of the drop.  It is getting closer and closer to the end of the season and it seems more and more likely that these three will be the three that get relegated.

Spanish Liga BBVA – Bottom 3: Levante (25), Granada (23), Cordoba (18) – In Battle: Almeria(25), Deportivo La Coruna (26), Elche(27), Eibar (28), and Getafe (29)

CHANGES –Deportivo, Granada, Eibar all earned a vital point with draws over the weekend.  Cordoba look set to go down as they suffered another defeat.  The battle looks to heat up as four teams are within 3 points of each other.

English Premier League – Bottom 3:  Burnley (25), QPR (22), Leicester City (19) – In Battle: Sunderland (26), Aston Villa (28), Hull (28)

CHANGES –Leicester City, QPR, Burnley, Sunderland, Aston Villa, and Hull City all suffered defeats on the weekend.  With only 8 games remaining, points will be vital.  Leicester seem to be to far gone but both QPR and Burnley can get to safety if needed.

What a Weekend

The eyes of the world were focused on Barcelona on Sunday, and the stars on the field did not disappoint.  Messi had a brilliant assist on a free kick that set up the opening goal.  He put the ball perfectly into the penalty area and Mathieu headed the ball past Casillas.  Neymar had a great chance to double the lead, but the ball hit off his knee and into the arms of Casillas.  On the ensuing counter attack, Modric played in Benzema, who back heeled the ball into the path of Ronaldo, who poked the ball into the net.  We were now level on the score sheet.  A couple minutes later, Bale had the ball in the back of the net, but it was ruled to be offsides.  While Bale was not offsides, Ronaldo was when the initial ball came in and since he flicked it on the correct call was made.  The game was rough and chippy and looked set to be a back and forth contest.  In the second half, Dani Alves played a great pass over the top for Suarez to run onto.  He beat Pepe and Ramos to the ball and took one touch to create space before he beat Casillas and scored what would be the game winner.  Barcelona held on to win the game 2-1.  They are now 4 points ahead of Real Madrid with just 10 games to go.  Looking at both of their run-ins, Real Madrid has it easier than Barcelona.  Both teams have trips to Sevilla and Espanyol and host Valencia.  The big difference between the schedules is that Barcelona has a trip to Madrid left to face Atletico de Madrid.  This is on the penultimate day of the season and could play a big role in who wins the title.

In England, all of the action focused on Anfield and the huge match for fourth place between Manchester United and Liverpool.  The game was fast paced with action all over the pitch.  Ander Herrera made a splitting pass to put Mata in on goal to open the scoring in the first half.  The game completely changed 48 seconds into the second half when Steven Gerrard was sent off for a stamp on Herrera.  Liverpool would now have to climb back into the game with just 10 men.  Mata added a second with probably a goal of the year contender, when Angel Di Maria chipped a pass over the defense and Mata meet the ball with a sublime overhead kick.  Sturridge would give Liverpool hope when he beat De Gea to the near post, but it was too little too late.  Rooney had a chance to make it 3-0, but his penalty was brilliantly saved by Mignolet.  United are now 5 points clear in the race for fourth place and can set their sights on finishing even higher than that.

Elsewhere in England, Chelsea needed a late goal from Loic Remy to beat Hull 3-2.  They took an early 2-0 lead, but the Tigers were able to peg their way back in the first half.  Everton beat QPR to give themselves some breathing room at the bottom end of the table.  Tottenham needed a Harry Kane hat trick to beat Leicester 4-3.  Southampton beat Burnley 2-0.  Arsenal dominated the first half and took a 2-0 lead into the half, but Newcastle came to play in the second half and nearly equalized. Arsenal were able to hold on to a 2-1 victory.  Manchester City were aided by an early red card that was a case of mistaken identity as the wrong man was sent off.  City went on to cruise to an easy 3-0 win.

In France, we have a new team at the top of the table.  PSG beat Lorient on Friday 3-1 to jump to the top.  They stayed there when Eysseric scored the 86th minute winner for Nice.  Despite playing the majority of the second half with just 10 men, Nice were able to beat Lyon 2-1.  Marseille kept pace with the top two as they beat Lens 4-0. Monaco was also able to keep up, as they beat Stade Reims 3-1.  The race for the top spot has really tightened up since PSG have just a 1 point lead on Lyon and are only 2 points up on Marseille.  Monaco are just 4 points away from the top 3.

In Italy, Sampdoria jumped into the top 4 when they beat Inter Milan 1-0.  Napoli are now in 5th place, since they drew 1-1 with Atalanta.  Fiorentina also drew 2-2 with Udinese.  Lazio put some distance between themselves and fourth place as they beat Verona 2-0.  Roma finally got back to winning ways,beating Cesena 1-0.  Lazio are only one point behind Roma and could catch them in the weeks to come.  Juventus maintained their 14 point lead at the top with their 1-0 win over Genoa.

In Germany, Monchengladbach got the result of the weekend when they beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in Munich.  This was Munich’s second loss of the season and first defeat at home in 11 months.  Wolfsburg failed to capitalize on Munich’s loss as they drew 1-1 with Mainz.  Bayer Leverkusen strengthened their position in 4th place with a 1-0 win at Schalke.   This now means that there are 6 points between them.  Augsburg lost 2-0 at Freiburg, so they are 7 points out of the Champions League places.  The top four spots may be set with just 8 games left to play.

Elsewhere in Spain, Valencia continued their great run of form when they beat Elche 4-0.  Atletico Madrid also won to keep pace when they beat cross-town rivals Getafe 2-0.  Sevilla remained just 4 points behind Atleti when they beat Villarreal for the third time in two weeks.  Valencia are now just 4 points behind Real Madrid and one point ahead of Atleti.  It should be a fascinating race to the end of the season, as all of the top four teams have matches against each other still to go.

This week we have an International Break.  Looking at the schedule for the week and weekend here are some of the games that I feel might be worth a watch.  On Wednesday, Denmark hosts the United States and Germany plays Australia. Thursday the big game is France against Brazil.  Friday sees European Qualifying begin.  Spain host Ukraine and England hosts Lithuania.  On Saturday, Netherlands host Turkey, Belgium hosts Cyprus, and Italy travels to Bulgaria.  Argentina plays El Salvador in a friendly match.  Brazil host Chile on Sunday as Portugal hosts Serbia.  The World Cup Champs travel to Georgia on Sunday in their European Championship qualifying match.

Enjoy the break from the action for the week and watch some International matches.

El Clasico

This weekend hosts the greatest rivalry in all of sports.  A rivalry that is not just on the pitch, but off the pitch.  This is more than a local rivalry, this is El Clasico.  One of the most watched events of the year.  The eyes of the world will turn to Catalunya this Sunday to see two of the greatest teams in the world.  The two best players in the world will face off.  Both of these teams have stars upon stars.  Barcelona will have their big 3 in attack of Suarez, Neymar, and Messi.  Madrid have a big three of their own in Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo.  Both midfield trios will be fantastic with Real most likely having Modric, Kroos, and Isco.  Barcelona will have Xavi, Iniesta, and Mascherano.  The defenders will be the ones focused on, as Ramos is back for Real with Pepe or Varane, Marcelo, and Carvajal.  Barcelona will have Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, Pique, and Mathieu or Bartra.  The goalies will most likely be Bravo and Casillas.  This will be a game of stars.  The one that every fan dreams of seeing.  It also comes with a huge reward.  The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the Spanish League Title.  In Spain, the first tiebreaker is not goal difference but head-to-head.  Since Real Madrid won the first match up in the Bernabeu 3-1, Barcelona have their  work cut out for them if they want to lead the first tiebreaker.  However, I am sure all Cules (Barcelona fans) would simply take a win and a 4 point lead at the top.  I have seen this game played live at a neutral site and can honestly say I have never been in such unbelievable atmosphere.  It was tense but exciting.  I will certainly be glued to my television as I watch what I believe is the greatest fixture in the world.

Champions League Recap

Messi is the best player in the world and he reminded us all of this on Wednesday.  He completely bossed the match against Manchester City.  He nutmegged just about everyone he could.  Barcelona dominated the game creating what felt like 100 chances to score.  They were in complete control, and then Messi made an amazing pass to Rakitic who calmly chested the ball down and lobbed the ball over Hart and into the net.  Aguero had a late penalty to level the game and get City within one goal of forcing extra time, but Ter Stegen was up to the task and he saved the penalty with a little help from Mascherano.  He was standing right behind Aguero and pointed to the direction that Aguero was going to go.  Barcelona advance to the round of 8 and the English hopes of a team in the last eight were dashed.

Has Juventus finally arrived to the European party?  They look dominant in both games against Borussia Dortmund and were rewarded with a 3-0 win in Dortmund.  Carlos Tevez was the best player in the park, scoring two goals and setting up Morata for the other.  Juventus advanced 5-1 on aggregate.  Is this the end of Borussia Dortmund?  With this loss, it looks more likely that Dortmund will not be in the competition next year.  Will there be a great exodus to find Champions League football?  I hope not, but knowing the game it will most likely happen.

Was Tuesday just a reminder of who Arsenal really are?  They looked fantastic and were attacking brilliantly.  They came so close but in the end, they were just not good enough.  Arsenal was facing a daunting task.  One that has never been overcome in the history.  They needed to score 3 goals on the road.  They came very close, but again in the end they were just not good enough.  They beat Monaco 2-0.  They had goals from Giroud and Ramsey.  There was a penalty shout in the first half, but it was not called.  Arsenal gave it their all, but their poor performance at the Emirates cost them and over the two legs Monaco were the better team and deserved to advance.

In Madrid, Mario Suarez gave Atleti the goal they needed after 27 minutes.  With the game level on aggregate, extra time and eventually penalties were needed to find a winner.  Each team took 5 penalty kicks and at the end, 5 people had missed.  Garcia (over the bar) and Koke (saved) missed for Atleti, and Calhanoglu (saved) and Toprak (Over the bar) missed for Bayer.  Torres stepped up to take Atleti’s last penalty and calmly placed the ball past Bernd Leno.  Kiesling stepped up for Bayer Leverkusen and put his over the bar.  Atletico de Madrid survived and advanced winning on penalties 3-2 after an aggregate score of 1-1.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW!!!!

The Champions League draw took place today for the Quarterfinals.  I, for one, cannot wait for some of these matches.  There are two fantastic draws and two that are easy to predict.  The two big matchups are PSG-Barcelona and Atletico-Real Madrid.  The Madrid derby is the headlining tie of the draw.  A rematch of the final from last season.  A rematch of the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey.  A rematch of the Supercopa de Espana.  Two teams from the same city that really don’t like each other.  I think this is going to be a massive tie.  PSG vs Barcelona is a rematch from two years ago when Barcelona advanced on away goals.  Both of these games should be fantastic.  The other two matchups are Porto-Bayern Munich and Juventus-Monaco.  Here are my early predictions of who will make it to the Semifinals: Barcleona, Atletico, Bayern, Juventus.  It is hard to call some of them, but let’s see how I do.

Europa League Recap

The English hopes in Europe were dashed fairly quickly when Everton lost 5-2 to Dynamo Kyiv.  In what was already a great day for Ukrainian soccer, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk defeated Ajax when they lost 2-1 on the road, so they advanced thanks to their road goal.  Zenit Saint Petersburg lost in Torino 1-0, but advanced thanks to their 2-0 win in the first leg.  Wolfsburg beat Intern 5-2 on aggregate and Nicholas Bendtner scored the winning goal in Milan.  Sevilla won the second leg 2-1 to advance winning 5-2 on aggregate.  The holders remain alive in the competition.  Club Brugge won in Istanbul 3-1 and that helped them advance to the Quarterfinals.  The draw today has set up some very intriguing matchups.  The holders Sevilla face Zenit Saint Petersburg.   Club Brugge will battle with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.  The two Italian clubs were kept apart as Fiorentina plays Dynamo Kyiv and the probable tie of the round is Wolfsburg against Napoli.

Weekend Preview

In France, the weekend starts early as PSG host Lorient on Friday.  A win will take PSG to the top of the table before Lyon play on Saturday.  Lyon host Nice on Saturday and will most likely need a win to take back the top spot.  This race is heating up and as we go down to the wire any dropped points will be devastating.  Marseille will look to keep pace with the top 2 and distance themselves from the bottom when they travel to Lens.  Monaco is hot on their tails and they travel to Stade Reims.

In Germany, the battle for fourth place really heats up as the current 4th place holder, Bayer Leverkusen, travels to 5th place Schalke.  With just a 3 point difference between these two teams, this game has huge importance in who will eventually end up in the Champions League next year.  It takes on even more significance since third place Monchengladbach have to travel to top of the table Bayern Munich on Sunday.  They could be in fourth place at the time, or have two teams just two points behind them.  Augsburg will look to keep pace with these three as they travel to Freiburg this weekend.  Wolfsburg travel to Mainz.

In Italy, Lazio sit in third place right now with a 3 point lead over Napoli.  They are just 1 point behind Roma in second.  Juventus has all but won the title with their 14 point lead at the top.  Fiorentina and Sampdoria are also in the race for third as they sit just 4 points behind Lazio.  With 11 games left in the season, the race will really start to get tight.  Looking at their remaining schedules, Roma has the easiest run-in as they do not face Juventus and only play Napoli and Lazio of the contenders.  Fiorentina is next as they only face Sampdoria, Napoli, and Juventus, but have a nice run-in at the end of the season.  Sampdoria has to face Fiorentina, Napoli, Juventus, and Lazio before the end of the season.  Napoli has to play Roma, Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Juventus, and Lazio.  Lazio plays Juventus but then has the worst end to the season as they face Sampdoria, Roma, and Napoli in the last three weeks of the season.  Should Roma hold on to second and Fiorentina and Sampdoria falter, it could come down to that last game.  This weekend have Napoli host Atalanta, Lazio host Verona, Roma travel to Cesena, Sampdoria host Inter Milan, and Fiorentina travel to Udinese.  The leaders Juventus host Genoa.

In Spain, while the eyes will be on Barcelona hosting Real Madrid, Valencia has quickly risen to third place and will look to stay there when they travel to Elche on Friday.  Atletico Madrid will host one of their other crosstown rivals in Getafe.  Villarreal may be sick of seeing Sevilla, as this will be the third time in a week and a half that these two teams face each other.

As if my Sunday was already not good enough with El Clasico, Liverpool host Manchester United in England’s version of El Clasico.  The two clubs with the most trophies in England will face off with a place in Champions League on the line.  A win for either club will go a long way in their Champions League ambitions.  Manchester City will look to rebound following their defeat to Burnley when they host West Brom on Saturday.  Southampton has to face this hot Burnley team.  Arsenal will look to rebound from their Champions League exit as they travel to Newcastle.  Chelsea will look to get back to winning ways as they travel to Hull.

EPL Pick ‘Em

I have won another weekend 8-6 over Buzz but the lead still seems to never shrink as he now leads 199-187.  I am running out of weekends to catch up but here’s to hope!

My Picks: City 2-1, Stoke 1-1, Spurs 2-1, Saints 1-0, Villa 1-0, Arsenal 2-1, West Ham 3-1, Pool 2-2, Chelsea 2-0, QPR 1-1

Buzz’s Picks: City 2-1, Aston Villa 1-1, Arsenal 2-1, Saints 2-2, Spurs 3-1, Stoke 2-2, West Ham 2-0, Pool 2-2, Chelsea 3-1, Everton 1-0

Is Pellegrini’s time up?

Does Manuel Pellegrini make it to the end of the season?  I think his tenure as manager of Manchester City is coming to an end.  Whether he lasts to the end of the year or it is cut short after a big defeat, I do not see him in charge next season.  He was brought in to take City deep into the Champions League.  If they are not able to turn around their 2-1 deficit against Barcelona on Wednesday, that will be three years in the Champions League and never making it past the Round of 16. Their first year in, they failed to make it out of the group stage.  Then came the Pellegrini era.  While manager of City, he has won the league title and successfully taken them out of their groups in the Champions League both years.  But now it is time to look and think if he is truly the man to take them to a semifinal or final of Champions League.  With their recent run of games in the Premier League, the questions are now coming forward.  It will take an enormous night and huge effort from his City team as they need to score two goals in Catalunya to advance.  Can they turn it around and save Pellegrini’s job?

Champions League Preview

This week brings the Round of 16 to a close.  On Wednesday night we will know the final 8 teams in the competition.  4 teams have already taken their seat in Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Porto, and PSG.  Who will join them?  On Tuesday, we could see the second English team exit the competition as Arsenal travels down to Monaco.  Monaco won the first leg 3-1 in the Emirates and will be in the driver’s seat to advance.  Their poor defensive record could give Arsenal hope, but goals will be needed for the Gunners to advance.  In the other game, Bayer Leverkusen will try to hold on to their 1-0 lead when they travel to Atletico Madrid.  Atleti is having a bad run of form lately, but they will advance if they can win at home.   On Wednesday, two teams who have had great success domestically over the last three years will look to finally make it to the Quarter-finals.  Juventus has a 2-1 lead that they will take to Dortmund.  Will Dortmund’s away goal help them advance, or will Juve finally make it to the last 8?  Lastly, Manchester City will look to overcome a 2-1 defeat at home when they travel to Barcelona.  Can the City team score 2 goals to advance?  Will there be an English club in the last 8?

Europa League Preview

On Thursday, the second legs of the Europa League Round of 16 take place.  It will be fascinating to see if any of the teams that lost the 1st leg can overcome the defeat and advance at home.  I think Everton could be in some trouble if Dynamo Kyiv score early.  Everton might be the only English side left in Europe when their game kicks off.  Ajax will look to score more than two goals and advance, despite their 1-0 defeat to Dnipro.  Can Zenit hold on in Torino?  Probably.  Wolfsburg will travel to the San Siro with a 3-1 lead and will hope to easily advance.  Sevilla are the only team that gets to head home following a win on the road, so they will have an advantage to continue their defense of their title.  Roma host Fiorentina today in the only game that was drawn last week.  Napoli and Club Brugge will both strive to advance following their wins at home against Moscow and Besiktas respectively.

Weekend Recap

In Italy, all of the big games really take place today when Fiorentina hosts Milan, Torino hosts Lazio, and Roma host Sampdoria.  4 of the top 6 teams will play today with all of the teams in the top half of the table.  The other two top 6 teams played over the weekend.  Juventus won 1-0 at Palermo on Saturday to all but wrap up the title.  Their lead is now 14 points with only 11 games to play.  Napoli lost 2-0 at Verona.  They now sit in 4th place, tied with Lazio on points.  The race for third place just got a little tighter.

In France, the top 3 teams all dropped points this weekend, but Lyon did extend their lead at the top after their 0-0 draw in Marseille.  This was due to Bordeaux beating PSG 3-2.  Bordeaux took the lead twice, but both times PSG was able to level the score before they finally got the winner in the 88th minute.  Zlatan was not very happy with the officiating during the game.  He even came out and said that France do not deserve PSG.  He has since apologized for his comments, but it just shows his frustration following what was a big week for them in the Champions League.  Monaco won big on Friday, beating Bastia 3-0.  This win means they are just 4 points outside of the Champions League places.  Lyon is now 2 points clear of PSG and has a four point lead over Marseille.  With just 9 games to go, the need for points is heating up.

In Germany, it was more of the same as both Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg went on to win 4-0 and 3-0.  In fact, the top 4 teams all won their games by a combined score of 13-0 as Bayer beat Stuttgart and Monchengladbach beat Hannover.  Schalke was only able to draw 2-2 with Hertha, and Augsburg lost 2-0 to Mainz.  Looking at the table now with just 9 games to go, Munich maintain their 11 point lead on Wolfsburg and their 20 point lead on Monchengladbach in third.  Bayer sits in fourth now, just 2 points behind Monchengladbach.  Schalke are now 23 points from fourth with Augsburg a point behind them.

In Spain, we had a shift in the top 4 as Atletico Madrid could not find the back of the net en route to a 0-0 draw at Espanyol.  On Friday, Valencia had put the pressure on Madrid when they beat Deportivo 2-0.  This sent Valencia up to third and Madrid to fourth.  Barcelona beat Eiber 2-0 with Messi scoring both goals to keep them in the top spot heading into El Clasico next weekend.  Real Madrid got back to winning ways when they beat Levante 2-0.  Sevilla won 3-0 against Elche to sit just 4 points behind Atletico in fifth place.  This is a huge weekend coming up but more on that later in the week.

In England, the top two teams dropped points.  Manchester City lost 1-0 at Burnley on Saturday.  This set it all up nicely for Chelsea to basically win the league with a win at home against Southampton.  However, Chelsea seemed very flat and could only manage a draw.  The game could have really gone either way as the Saints played very well and deserved at least one point.  Manchester United came out and finally got that big scalp they have been waiting for in 2015.  They destroyed Tottenham 3-0 in the best game I have seen them play all season.  This is a nice setup for their clash with Liverpool next weekend.  Arsenal won comfortably as they inched their way up the table and may get themselves in the title race.  According to Jose Mourinho, they are title contenders but let’s be honest, if they actually get close to Chelsea it would be due to some terrible form from Mourinho’s side.  I think he should worry more about his team than the teams behind him right now.  Liverpool plays today against Swansea City as they will need 3 points to stay in the race for fourth.

Relegation Battles Update

Relegation Battles

Here is your weekly update to the battle going on at the bottom end of the table…

German Bundesliga – Bottom 2: Freiburg (22), Stuttgart (20) – 16th Place: Paderborn (23) – In Battle: Hamburg (25), Hertha Berlin (26), and Hannover (27)

CHANGES – Mainz got a massive three points with their win over Augsburg.  That takes them 6 points clear and off the list.  Koln earned their way off the list with a tough point at Dortmund.  Hertha Berlin were the only other team to earn any points in the bottom end of the table as they are now 3 points clear.

French Ligue 1 – Bottom 3: Toulouse (29), Lens (25), Metz (22) – In Battle: Evian Thonon Gaillard (32), Nice (34), Lorient (34), and Caen (34)

CHANGES – Lens got a huge win over Toulouse as they now sit just 4 points behind them.  Lorient also got a big win over Caen to take them 5 points from safety.  Evian are now in the danger zone as they sit just 3 points clear of Toulouse.

Italian Serie A – Bottom 3: Cagliari (21), Cesena (21), Parma (9) – In Battle: Atalanta (25)

CHANGES – Parma lost twice this weekend as they were docked 2 more points by the league and lost to Sassuolo.  The rest of the teams that are battling it out for the other two spots all got a point.  Parma look certain to go down which will be good for the club.  Cagliari and Cesena are going to need points and quickly if they want to both play in Serie A next year.

Spanish Liga BBVA – Bottom 3: Levante (25), Granada (22), Cordoba (18) – In Battle: Deportivo La Coruna (25), Almeria(25), Elche(27), Eibar (27), Getafe (29),

CHANGES – Cordoba looks set to go down following another loss this weekend.  Levante dropped back into the bottom 3 when they lost to Real Madrid.  America climbed out of the bottom 3 with their draw against Villarreal.  Rayo are no longer listed after they beat Granada 3-1.  With 5 teams all within 2 points of each other, the third and final drop spot could change quite a bit as we see the race for safety heat up.

English Premier League – Bottom 3:  Burnley (25), QPR (22), Leicester City (19) – In Battle: Sunderland (26), Aston Villa (28), Hull (28)

CHANGES – The biggest change this week is the Sunderland have just sacked Gus Poyet after their humiliating 4-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa.  Everton won big over Newcastle so they can be taken off the list.  Leicester got a point thanks to their draw with Hull.  Burnley got a huge win over Manchester City to take them just 1 point from safety.  Aston Villa and Hull City sit just 3 points from the drop.  The race is getting tighter but it looks like Leicester will be the first to go down.

2 Red Cards, 2 Different Results

I am torn on what to talk about today.  I had the opportunity to actually watch the whole Chelsea vs. PSG match on Wednesday since I was home sick.  I feel like there were many big talking points during the game.  For me the biggest has to be the fact that the Chelsea players swarmed the official as soon as Zlatan tackled Oscar.  I think this is something that needs to be stopped.  If you haven’t seen the tackle, please check out my twitter feed where I posted a vine of the tackle.  I have now seen the tackle from about five different viewpoints and I have not seen a view that says to me red card.  It was a yellow sure, maybe from some viewpoints.  From the view of the ref, I would say it is a yellow card but a straight red? Not a chance.  Why was it a red?  Well, all of the Chelsea outfield players were within a yard of the ref almost immediately after the tackle happened.  Why? They wanted blood, they wanted a red.  If you watch the tackle, you can see that Zlatan pulls out from going in full force.  I even feel that you can see this best from the ref’s point of view.  But within seconds of him making contact with Oscar, all the players rushed the ref and were demanding the red card.  This is not a Chelsea issue, as most teams all across Europe do this.  It needs to stop.  Only 2 people on the pitch should be allowed to speak to the ref, the two captains.  That is it.  I do not know why every player feels they need to try to get a card.  The ref needs time to think and react and this can be difficult when you have 9 players screaming in your face.  John Terry came out and defended his teammates, as he should, but no one should be seen shouting in the face of a ref asking for a red card.  Terry ran in and started shouting for the red right away, as did his teammates.  That is something that we must get out of the game.

Champions League Recap

Where to start, where to start.  Let’s start with Wednesday since that was a fantastic day.  The day saw a total of 11 goals and 2 red cards.  Bayern Munich won 7-0 to advance, and PSG drew 2-2 with Chelsea to advance on away goals.  We saw two teams face an opposition that only had 10 men for the majority of the game.  One team took complete advantage of it, and the other did not. One team pressed the game and scored 7 goals.  The other is no longer in the competition.

Chelsea had done what it needed to on the road…not lose and get an away goal.  Everyone thought okay, now Jose will park the bus and ride this game out to advance to the next stage and get a late goal as added insurance.  One would think that the script would change when Zlatan Ibramhimovic was sent off in the 31st minute.  Chelsea now had a man advantage and could really dictate the game.  However, that is not what happened.  PSG dominated the midfield and worked hard defensively to make life very difficult for Chelsea.  But then Chelsea does what it always seems to do and that is score a late goal to win.  When Gary Cahill calmly volleyed the ball into the back of the net, it seemed that all of PSG’s hard work was for naught.  However, they carried on.  They kept pressing the game.  They were trying to find a way through the resolute Chelsea defense.  They eventually earned a corner and David Luiz sent a rocket header into the goal.  Extra time it was as the game was tied 2-2 on aggregate.  In extra time, Thiago Silva seemed to lose his mind and stuck his hand up to hit the ball in the box.  Eden Hazard coolly slotted the penalty away.  Okay now it is over.  There was no way that Chelsea could give up another lead.  PSG kept coming trying to find a way and with 7 minutes left, PSG earned a corner.  Thiago Silva raised up and snapped a header right on goal, but Courtois made a brilliant save.  Problem is that it resulted in another corner, and this time Silva made no mistake as he headed the ball over Courtois and into the back of the net.  PSG had done it.  They had played with 10 men for 90 minutes and they were going to advance.  Chelsea were out on away goals.  The best English hope was out of the competition.

Bayern Munich were fantastic this week in a match that could have been a banana peel for them.  They had traveled to Ukraine and drew 0-0 in the first leg.  They did not have any road goals and a draw in this leg could see them out of the competition.  Well it didn’t take them long to respond to their poor goalless draw as they were on the board within the first 5 minutes.  In just the 3rd minute, Kucher took down Gotze from behind and in the box.  He was sent off right there.  Shakhtar was going to have to play 87 minutes with just 10 men.  Muller easily scored the penalty and that was just the beginning of the Bayern offensive attack.  Jerome Boaten added a second goal in the first half.  In the second half, Ribery, Lewandowski, Muller, Badstuber, and Gotze all scored.  When the dust settled, Bayern had won 7-0.  This was their biggest win in their Champions League history.  One more goal and it would have tied Liverpool’s 8-0 win over Besiktas.

On Tuesday, white handkerchiefs came out at the Bernabeu when the final whistle blew.  Real Madrid came into the game with a big 2-0 lead over Schalke.  However, this seemed to give Schalke a care free attitude.  They seemed to play very free and were the first team to score when Fuchs beat Casillas to his near side.  However five minutes later, Ronaldo equalized for Madrid.  However, that didn’t stop Schalke as they scored again in the 40th minute when Huntelaar beat Casillas to make it 2-1 and 2-3 on aggregate.  However five minutes later, Ronaldo equalized for Madrid.  No that is not a typo.  He seemed to be the driving force for Real Madrid today.  Los Blancos came out in the second half and dominated for the first ten minutes, and Benzema gave them their first lead. However, 4 minutes later Sane equalized for Schalke.  The Aggregate score was now Real 5-3.  Then with just 6 minutes left to play, Huntelaar scored his second goal.  This made the score now 5-4.  One more goal and Real Madrid are out of the competition.  In the 90th minute, the ball fell to Benedikt Howedes.  He brilliantly brought the ball down and snapped off a shot at the near post.  This time, Iker was up to the save and Real would advance.  Despite losing 4-3 on the day, they advanced with a 5-4 win over Schalke.  But all credit goes to Schalke for really bringing their best and scoring 4 goals in the home of Madrid.  Is this the beginning of the end for Carlo at Real Madrid?  It shouldn’t be, but you never know with Fiorentino Perez.

The last game was Porto hosting Basel.  The first leg ended 1-1, but the road goal was not going to be needed for Porto.  Porto absolutely dominated the match from start to finish.  Brahimi opened the scoring with a brilliant free kick.  Herrera added a second just after half time.  Casemiro scored on another absolutely beautiful free kick.  Aboubakar capped off the scoring.  Porto would win 4-0 and 5-1 on aggregate.  Can they be this year’s dark horse?

Europa League Review

The Round of 16 will be taking place over the next two weeks.  The first legs took place on Thursday. Every team that played at home won except for two games. Zenit Saint Petersburg beat Torino 2-0.  Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk beat Ajax 1-0.  Wolfsburg beat Internazionale 3-1 after they gave up an early goal. Club Brugge beat Besiktas 2-1. Everton came back to win 2-1. Napoli beat Dynamo Moscow 3-1.  The only road team to win was defending Champions Sevilla, as they won 3-1 at Villarreal.  Roma also earned a draw 1-1 with Fiorentina when Keita scored in the 77th minute.  The second legs will take place next week on Thursday.

Weekend Preview

This weekend in Italy, Juventus travels to Palermo as they look to extend their double digit lead at the top.  They can have a 14 point lead at the top by the end of the day on Saturday.  While the title seems to be only a matter of time until Juve are crowned well before the end of the season, all eyes are turning towards the race for the Champions League places.  This has heated up in recent weeks.  Napoli and Lazio are level on 46 points.  Fiorentina and Sampdoria are sitting in 5th and 6th respectively, 4 points behind Lazio and Napoli.  Roma is also falling into this race as they sit just 4 points above Lazio and Napoli.  Napoli is the first to play on Sunday and they can momentarily grab the last spot when they travel to Verona.  On Monday, Fiorentina host Milan, Lazio travels to Torino, and the biggest match is Roma hosting Sampdoria.  If Sampdoria can win then it will be a race for two spots between these 5 teams.

In the other league with a double digit lead at the top, Bayern Munich travel to Werder Bremen.  Second place Wolfsburg host Freiburg.  While the top two spots in this league seem to be set in stone, the race for third and fourth (both of which give you a Champions League Ticket) is heating up.  Currently Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen hold those spots.  Monchengladbach has 41 points and Bayer has 39 points.  Schalke 04 and Augsburg sit one point behind Bayer Leverkusen.  Monchengladbach host Hannover on Sunday.  Bayer plays today as they host Stuttgart.  This is a huge match for Stuttgart as they are in a major need of points.  Schalke travels to Hertha Berlin.  Lastly, Augsburg hosts Mainz on Saturday.  It should be a big week in the race for the top 4.

In France, the title race just keeps getting better.  The top 3 are separated by just 4 points.  But that can all change this weekend.  Marseille hosts leaders Lyon this weekend.  Can Marseille propel themselves right back into the title race? Can Lyon distance themselves from Marseille?  This will be a huge clash on Sunday.  Right before this game, Bordeaux hosts Paris Saint-Germain.  PSG are coming off a huge victory during the week and can take top spot with a win this weekend.  Monaco can jump into the race for the third spot with a win over Bastia on Friday.

In Spain, new leaders Barcelona travel to Eibar as they look to stay atop the league.  Will they look ahead to what is a huge week in their season?  El Clasico is just a week away and Barcelona host Manchester City during the week in Champions League.  Real Madrid host Levante as they look to respond t,o their midweek loss.  Fourth place Valencia host Deportivo on Friday as they hope to close the gap on third place Atletico.  Atletico travels to Barcelona to play Espanyol.  This weekend is all about the build up to next week.  I personally cannot wait for next Sunday when the best teams in the world take the field.

Manchester United’s season will be judged on how they can do in their next five games, as they play four of the top six teams in the league.  Will they still be sitting in the top four after these games?  It all starts this weekend when they host Tottenham at Old Trafford.  The other big match of the weekend takes place in West London when Southampton travels north and plays Chelsea. This will be a fun watch to see how Chelsea can respond to their shocking exit from the Champions League.  Can they respond and win the title quickly?  Manchester City can cut into Chelsea’s lead when they travel to Burnley.  There is also a London derby this weekend when Arsenal host West Ham.  The last game of the weekend sees Swansea host Liverpool.  This will be the start of the run into the end.  Which teams will make the moves to play in the Champions League next year?

EPL Pick ‘Em

The current score is now 193-179.  I am slowly closing the gap. I am going to need some big weeks here as we only have 10 more rounds left.

My Picks – Palace 2-0, Villa 1-1, West Brom 1-0, Leicester 2-1, Arsenal 2-0, City 3-1, Chelsea 2-0, Spurs 2-1, Newcastle 0-0, Pool 1-0.

Buzz’s Picks – Palace 2-1, Arsenal 2-1, Hull 1-1, Sunderland 1-0, Stoke 2-2, City 3-1, Chelsea 2-0, Everton 1-0, Man U 3-2, Pool 3-1

Is the Bundesliga competitive?

Is the Bundesliga still competitive?  I have been pondering this question for a while now.  Bayern Munich seems to have a strangle hold on the league and will easily win the title.  The lead at the top of the table is now 11 points.  Looking even further down the table, Monchengladbach is 20 points behind the leaders.  In fact, Monchengladbach is closer to the relegation zone than they are the top of the league.  They sit just 21 points above the bottom club, Stuttgart, and just 18 points above Paderborn in 16th.  The race for the title and 2nd place in the league are over, barring a catastrophic collapse for one of those two.  With just 10 games to go, the race for third and fourth is alive and well.  It looks to be a race for two spots between 4 teams.  Monchengladbach and Leverkusen are currently in the spots, but Schalke and Augsburg are hot on their tails.  After that there is another drop between 6th and 7th of 5 points.  While I do find the games to be intriguing and the action is always entertaining, is there any doubt who will win the league next year?  Or going out even further, next year?  

The question then remains does this make the league not competitive?  Could you not guess the winner of the Serie A next year?  I’ll go out on a limb and guess Juventus.  La Liga? Real Madrid or Barcelona with Atleti close.  Ligue 1? PSG, Marseille, Lyon pick one of the three.  Premier League? Chelsea.  City could push and United will improve.  The point is that even thought Bayern Munich will most likely dominate the top spot, that does not mean that the league is no longer competitive or entertaining.  It is, however, fascinating to me that the team in fourth place in the league is closer to the bottom than it is the top.  Looking at the other big five leagues and where the highest ranking team is closer to the bottom than the top is interesting.  In Serie A, Genoa is in seventh and they are closer to the bottom than the top (not counting Parma due to financial reasons).  In France and Spain it is the team in eighth that sits closer to the bottom being Lille and Athletic Bilbao respectively.  In England, it is Swansea City sitting in ninth place.  The other leagues show more of a mid table team being at that divide.  What will it take for the German league to get closer to something like those other leagues?  Does it matter that one team dominates?  Does Bayern need Dortmund to rise again?  Do they need Wolfsburg to becoming a force?  Does Bayern need a Real Madrid to them being Barcelona?

Weekend Review

Let’s start in Germany, where the lead at the top was extended this weekend thanks to Augsburg.  They held on to a 1-0 win over Wolfsburg.  That win, coupled with Bayern Munich beating Hannover 3-1, means the lead at the top is now double digits.  The distance between those battle for the third and fourth spots was also cut into with Monchengladbach drawing 2-2 at Mainz.  Augsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and Schalke all won.  Monchengladbach still sits in third with 41 points but their lead is only 2 over Bayer and just 3 points over Schalke and Augsburg. 

In Italy, Roma missed a golden opportunity to cut into the Juventus lead.  Juve is still to play today so Roma could have cut the lead to just 6 points, but instead they only cut it to 8 points following a 0-0 draw with Chievo.  Napoli then had the chance to get closer to second place, but they also drew 2-2 with Inter Milan.  This allows Lazio the opportunity to jump Napoli if they can take all three points today against Fiorentina.  If Fiorentina wins, then they will jump Lazio and be just one point behind Napoli.  Udinese and Sampdoria were the only two teams to pick up all three points at the weekend.

In France, it was a case of anything you can do, I can do.  Marseille opened the weekend with a 6-1 win over Toulouse.  This temporally leveled them with PSG, who then went on to win 4-1 over Lens.  This sent them to the top of the league.  That didn’t last long as Lyon won on Sunday, 5-1 over Montpellier.  Monaco and St. Etienne both won to keep pace with the big three.  In every game this weekend there was a winner and lots of goals were scored this weekend.   46 to be exact, meaning there was an average of 4.6 goals per game this weekend.  Where was the defense? 

In England, the FA Cup took center stage.  While France was having a goal fest this weekend, England was struggling to find the back of the net.  Of the 6 teams that played this weekend, only one team scored.  Bradford City and Reading played to a nil-nil draw.  Liverpool and Blackburn also played to a nil-nil draw.  The only team to score was Aston Villa.  Yes you read that correctly, the team that earlier this season went on a historically long goal drought was the only team in the FA Cup to score over the weekend when they beat West Brom 2-0.  Manchester United hosts Arsenal today, so here is to hoping there are more goals.  There was a EPL game this weekend, and it did have goals when Tottenham beat QPR 2-1.  Harry Kane scored both of the goals for Tottenham, giving him a grand total of 16, just one goal behind Aguero and Costa for the lead. 

Lastly, Spain gave us a new leader.  After 16 rounds at the top, Real Madrid are in second place.  This comes after their trip to the New San Mames.  Adruiz was the only goal scorer on an absolute peach of a header into the top corner.  The score finished 1-0 to Bilbao.  This meant that Barcelona could climb into the top spot with a win at home against Rayo Vallencano.  It didn’t take them long to take the lead in the match when Luis Suarez scored 5 minutes in.  Going into the halftime, the score was still 1-0 in favor of Barcelona.  When the final whistle blew and the dust settled, the score was 6-1 Barcelona.  Messi scored his record setting 24th hat trick in La Liga.  With his hat trick, he also tied Ronaldo at the top of the scorers list.  With the Clasico being just two weeks away, it is all setting up nicely for an absolute amazing game.  In the battle for third place, Atletico Madrid and Valencia drew 1-1 at the Calderon.  Both teams scored off of free kicks.  This means that Atleti still have a 1 point lead over Valencia.  However, Sevilla closed the gap a little as they won 4-3 over Deportivo . 

Champions League Preview

The Champions League returns this week with 4 second legs.  On Tuesday, Porto and Basel have it all to play for after a 1-1 draw in Basel.  Can Porto take advantage of their vital away goal?  Real Madrid should easily qualify when they host Schalke.  They take a 2-0 lead into the game and are at home this week.  Wednesday should be an fascinating day as both matches have the teams level after one leg.  The more interesting match will be PSG vs Chelsea.  Chelsea got their away goal in Paris, but then gave up a late equalizer. The match will also mark David Luiz’s return to Chelsea following his big money move away from Chelsea this past summer.  Chelsea should be able to hold on, but with Zlatan on the field, you never know.  The other match ended in a bit of a shock to me with Bayern being held off the score sheet.  Can Shakhtar pull off the upset?  An early away goal could really change this game.  But who am I kidding, I expect Bayern to win easily and punch their ticket to the Quarterfinals. 

Europa league Preview

This Thursday is the first leg of the Round of 16 in the Europa League.  The lone English side left in the competition is Everton.  They host Dynamo Kyiv this weekend.  There are three games that I am looking forward to this week and they are Wolfsburg hosting Internazionale, Villarreal hosting Sevilla, and Fiorentina hosting Roma.  Fiorentina will have a busy week as they play today and Thursday, so that could hurt them.  Sevilla are the defending champions of the competition and will look to use this a a possible way into the Champions League.  Wolfsburg will need to respond to their defeat at the weekend against a struggling Inter side that if finally starting to figure itself out.

Check out the Twitter account – @SoccerPond

Relegation Battle Update

Relegation Battles

Here is your weekly update to the battle going on at the bottom end of the table…

German Bundesliga – Bottom 2: Freiburg (22), Stuttgart (20) – 16th Place: Paderborn (23) – In Battle: Hamburg (25), Hertha Berlin (25), Mainz (26), Hannover (27), and Koln (28)

CHANGES – Dortmund are now off the list following their draw at the weekend.  Koln is the next team that is looking to jump off the list.  Stuttgart got a huge point this weekend against Hertha Berlin as they look to get off the bottom.

French Ligue 1 – Bottom 3: Toulouse (29), Lens (22), Metz (22) – In Battle: Lorient (31), Evian Thonon Gaillard (32), Nice (34), and Caen (34)

CHANGES – Bastia and Stade de Reims both won and distanced themselves enough so they are both off the list.

Italian Serie A – Bottom 3: Cagliari (20), Cesena (20), Parma (11) – In Battle: Atalanta (24)

CHANGES – Parma finally played a game and got a point when they drew with Atalanta.  Cagliari was one of the two teams to not get points this weekend.  Chievo are no longer listed as they got a vital point against Roma to take them 6 points clear of the drop.

Spanish Liga BBVA – Bottom 3: Almeria(24), Granada (22), Cordoba (18) – In Battle: Levante (25), Deportivo La Coruna (25),  Getafe (26), Elche(27), Eibar (27), Rayo Vallecano (29)

CHANGES – Levante continued their climb out of the bottom 3 with another win this weekend.  Cordoba have a huge game with Getafe today that could have a big impact on the bottom 3.  Granada got a big win this weekend as well.  Real Sociedad are off the list as they sit outside the five point zone but Rayo Vallecano join the list following their loss at Barcelona.

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

CHANGES – Aston Villa has climbed their way out of the Bottom 3 following the hiring of Tim Sherwood.  Leicester City does have a game in hand on the rest but it is against the top of the table team Chelsea so that could seal their fate.  QPR has dropped in following back to back defeats at the midweek and weekend.  Everton do remain on the list as they did not win during the midweek round.