Last Week of 2015!!

With games just yesterday, the English calendar continue to come thick and fast as most teams have about 48 hours off between their games yesterday and their games either tomorrow, Tuesday, or Wednesday.  Here are five games to watch over the next three days.

  1. Manchester United vs. Chelsea ~ Old Trafford

December 28, 2015 at 12:30 pm EST on NBCSN

These two giant clubs come into this game really cold.  United have lost 3 games in a row and might be looking for a new manager soon.  They are winless in their last 5 games and have dropped from second in the table to sixth place.  Chelsea is in 15th place and have just let go of their “special” manager in Jose Mourinho.  Since his departure, the club has earned 4 points against Sunderland and Watford.   In terms of style, these two teams are very similar.  They both have been rotating their squads quite a bit.  They both play possession football and attack down the left.  They also like to control the game in the opposition’s half and make a series of short passes.  This will be a fascinating matchup.  The big team news is that Diego Costa is out due to suspension.  Eden Hazard might start as he continues to work back from injury.  Terry may also be rested due to playing 90-minutes yesterday.  For Manchester United, Morgan Schneiderlin hasn’t started in any of the last four games.  Wayne Rooney should return to the starting lineup with Memphis likely to lose his spot.  Bastian Schweinsteiger is available after serving his three-match suspension.  Matteo Darmain is also close to returning.  Look for this to be a back and forth tightly fought match.   The only issue I have is I am not sure who scores the goals this weekend, if anyone.

Betting Odds

Match Result – United 6/4, Chelsea 21/10, Draw 23/10

First Goalscorer – Martial 6/1, Depay 7/1, No Goalscorer 7/1, Mata 7/1

Predictions

My Pick – United 1, Chelsea 1: Goals by Herrera and Willian

James’ Pick –

  1. Leicester City vs. Manchester City ~ King Power Stadium, Leicester

December 29, 2015 at 2:45 pm EST on NBCSN

In this top four matchup, Leicester will try to make it to their first season goal of 40 points.  Claudio Ranieri has insisted that this is the goal right now, as 40 points is usually enough points to guarantee your place in the Premier League for next season.  The goals might change for the season, but they will look to accomplish this soon.  This Monday, they will hope to bounce back quickly from a loss at Anfield when they face Manchester City.  Manchester City is looking to string back to back wins for the first time since October.  In their last 6 games, they have 3 wins and 3 losses.  Leicester will work to get back to their counter attacking ways and finishing off the chances that they create.  Manchester City will attempt to create a lot of scoring chances with their speed and strong wing play.  The team news is interesting since these teams will get an extra day of rest.  Jamie Vardy played against Liverpool with a fever and Mahrez looked very tired.  Ranieri may have a headache with this since Drinkwater, Schlupp, and Matt James are out.  For City, Komany is likely to miss as he was injured during the game yesterday.  Aguero picked up a minor knock and may come back in for this game.  This could be the start of Leicester slip down the table, but since City is without Kompany they could be vulnerable.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Leicester 16/5, City 10/11, Draw 14/5

First Goalscorer – Aguero 10/3, Bony 4/1, Vardy 5/1

Predictions

My Pick – Leicester 2, City 3: Goals by Vardy, Ulloa, Sterling, Aguero, De Bruyne

James’ Pick – Leicester 2, City 2: Goals by Mahrez, Vardy, Sterling, De Bruyne 

  1. Watford vs. Tottenham Hotspur ~ Vicarage Road Stadium, Watford

December 28, 2015 at 10:00 am EST on NBCSN

This matchup features two of the hottest teams in all of England.  Watford is in the midst of a 5 game unbeaten run.  Tottenham has just lost 1 game in their last 6 with 3 wins.  This also features two of the better defensive teams in the league.  Tottenham has the best defense, giving up just 14 goals all season.  Watford has conceded just 18 goals in their 18 games.   Watford is lead by their two big strong forwards and their ability to create shooting opportunities.  Tottenham has one of the hottest strikers in the league and will look to create chances for him.  In terms of team news, Watford should have Nathan Ake back in the lineup, having not been allowed to play against his parent club Chelsea.  If Quique Sanchez Flores wants to rotate his squad he may put Ikechi Anya into the side for Jurado.  For Tottenham, there are not many injuries so it only matters how much Pochettino wants to rotate.  Ben Davies could keep his place or we could see Danny Rose.  Heung-Min Son may also come in to the squad.  Dembele picked up a bit of a knock on his ankle and could be rested with Tom Carroll ready to come in. Watford will be tough to break down and Deeney and Ighalo are both menaces.  Look for this to be a tight game with few chances.  It will all come down to who finishes their chances.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Watford 11/4, Tottenham 11/10 , Draw 5/2

First Goalscorer – Kane 4/1, Ighalo 13/2, Deeney 7/1, Heung-Min 7/1

Predictions

My Pick – Watford 2, Tottenham 2: Goals by Deeney, Ighalo, Kane, and Heung-Min

James’ Pick –

  1. West Ham United vs. Southampton ~ Boleyn Ground, London

December 28, 2015 at 12:30 pm EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

This Monday, we take a look at two midtable English clubs.  Both of these two teams are hoping to cement themselves in the middle of the table and turn their focus towards potentially reaching a European place this season.  A win for either team will ensure they will start the New Year a safe distance from the relegation zone.  West Ham comes into the game on a 5 game unbeaten streak, but has drawn each of those 5 games.  Southampton is coming off their best performance of the year in a decisive win over Arsenal.  They will hope to carry this momentum this week.  West Ham will look to attack down the middle of the field and take a lot of shots.  Southampton will attack down the wings and look to create a bunch of scoring chances.  Dimitri Payet is still a ways off from returning for Slaven Bilic.  James Tomkins, Andy Carroll, and Aaron Cresswell will all face late fitness tests.  Enner Valencia or Nikica Jelavic are both vying for the spot up front.  Southampton will be without Graziano Pelle and Cedric Soares again.  Fraser Forster is close to returning, but still about a week out.  Look for Shane Long to feature again.  I think the momentum of the big win will help carry Southampton.  They are the healthier team and should be more up for the game.

Betting Odds

Match Result – West Ham 5/2, Southampton 5/4, Draw 12/5

First Goalscorer – Juanmi 7/1, Jelavic 15/2, Valencia 8/1, No Goalscorer 8/1

Predictions

My Pick – West Ham 1, Southampton 2: Goals by Valencia, Long, and Tadic

James’ Pick –

  1. Arsenal vs. Bournemouth ~ Emirates Stadium ~ London

December 28, 2015 at 12:30 pm EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Is this the game that Arsenal takes top spot with?  With a golden chance to take the top spot yesterday, Arsenal came out really flat.  They did not look up for the game and were punished by Southampton.  Their opponent this weekend will not go down easily and may surprise them as well, like they beat Manchester United and Chelsea recently.  Bournemouth plays with width and like to take long shots.  They also defend well as a team.  Arsenal will have the majority of the possession and will have to break down the Bournemouth defense.  Arsenal has no new injuries.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keiran Gibbs are ready to come back into the side.  For Bournemouth, Joshua King is close to being fully fit and could return to the side.  Eunan O’Kane could start this game after a strong performance from the bench.  Arsenal is the stronger team in terms of individual talent, but Bournemouth has shown that they have great spirit.  Look for a rebound performance from Arsenal but a strong defense from Bournemouth.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Arsenal 4/9, Bournemouth 7/1, Draw 15/4

First Goalscorer – Walcott 9/2, Iwobi 11/2, Ramsey 13/2

Predictions

My Pick – Arsenal 2, Bournemouth 1: Goals by Walcott, Ramsey, and Murray

James’ Pick –

EPL Games on Monday

Norwich City vs. Aston Villa – 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

West Bromwich Albion vs. Newcastle United– 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Everton vs. Stoke City – 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Crystal Palace vs. Swansea City – 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Newcastle United vs. Everton – 12:30 pm EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

EPL Games on Wednesday

Sunderland vs. Liverpool – 2:45 pm EST on NBCSN

La Liga Games on Wednesday

Real Madrid vs. Real Sociedad – 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Rayo Vallecano vs. Atletico Madrid – 12:15 pm EST on beIN Sports USA

Barcelona vs. Real Betis – 2:30 pm EST on beIN Sports

Las Palmas vs. Granada – 5:25 pm EST on beIN Sports

We will be back with a quick recap on Thursday and then a new weekend preview on Friday.  Hope you are all having a wonderful holiday break.

5 Things From Boxing Day

1. Liverpool looked strong and gave Leicester their second loss and kept the first clean sheet against the foxes. In a game that many thought would be another win for Leicester, Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho were both really strong and held Vardy and Mahrez fairly quiet. It was a good win for Jurgen Klopp and will give them something to fight for this season.

2. Arsenal blew their chance to go top with a poor performance. They were played off the park this weekend by Southampton. The Saints put together a great game and gave themselves some breathing room, pushing them closer to the top half.  Arsenal, meanwhile, remained in second place and is still 2 points behind the leaders.

3. Manchester City got a great rebound win, but it came at a cost. City dominated Sunderland, jumping out to a 3 goal lead in the first half. They made it 4-0 before Borini scored a goal.  The final score was 4-1.  The story of the game was the return and then quick exit of Vincent Kompany.  The captain returned to the field after a long layoff, but then was subbed off just 9 minutes later with a new injury.  This could be a big blow for City.

4. Is this the last week for Van Gaal? Is he going to leave United on his own power? United put out another lackluster showing against Stoke and they were made to pay for it.  Stoke took the lead thanks to a terrible attempted header by Depay that put in Johnson, who crossed to Bojan for an easy finish.  The lead was doubled just 7 minutes later when Bojan’s freekick came back off the wall to Arnautovic.  He sweetly struck the ball into the back of the net.  The game finished 2-0.  United are now in 6th place, 3 points behind Spurs in 4th.

5. Harry Kane is back and is looking very strong. He went on to score a brace against Norwich this weekend en route to a 3-0 win for Spurs. Tom Carroll added the third.  Tottenham are looking very good this season and are poised to make a serious run at not only a top four spot, but also a run at the title.  This will be an exciting season for them as their young stars continue to mature and look very strong.

Here are a couple goals that you should see from this weekend.

Marko Arnautovic vs. Manchester United

Cuco Martina vs. Arsenal

Boxing Day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

While the rest of Europe takes their holiday break, England has one of the best Boxing Day traditions.  A full slate of games will take place tomorrow and here are the five that I will have my eye on.

  1. Stoke City vs. Manchester United ~ Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent

December 26, 2015 at 7:45 am EST on NBCSN

This is the opening game of the day as the under pressure Louis van Gaal takes on Mark Hughes and his new look Stoke City.  Louis van Gaal has been the headline of many of the papers in England, even demanding an apology from media.  United are winless in their last four games.  Is this the match that will turn their season around?  United will play their possession football, making short passes and controlling the game left and right.  Stoke are very strong if they can get the lead and have a very consistent first eleven.  This could be a problem since the injury list is very long for Stoke.  The big two injuries ahead of this match are Marc Muniesa and Geoff Cameron being out.  Due to his three match ban, Bastian Schweinsteiger will miss the game.  Look for Herrera to come in or Fellaini.  This will be a big game for United, as they try to return to the top 4.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Stoke 12/5, Manchester United 27/20, Draw 9/4

First Goalscorer – Rooney 6/1, Depay 13/2, No Goalscorer 13/2

Predictions

My Pick – Stoke 2, United 1: Goals by Bojan, Arnautovic, and Mata

James’ Pick – Stoke 1, United 2: Goals by Arnautovic, Martial, and Fellaini

  1. AFC Bournemouth vs. Crystal Palace ~ The Goldsands Stadium, Bournemouth

December 26, 2015 at 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Two teams in the top 5 of the form table face off on the south coast.  Crystal Palace has won 4 of their last 6 and only lost 1.  Bournemouth is unbeaten in their last 6 games, including wins over Chelsea and Manchester United.  Bournemouth plays with great width and takes long shots.  They really like to play short passes and have the opponent’s aggression work for them.  Palace, on the other hand, attacks down both wings and attempts lots of crosses.  They also have the ability to play long balls from defense.  Bournemouth needs to avoid individual errors and could struggle against Bolasie.  Palace needs to avoid fouling in dangerous areas and avoid being offside.  Bournemouth has some injury doubts as Junior Stanislas and Joshua King are both doubtful and unlikely to play.  Crystal Palace is hopeful that Yohan Cabaye and Connor Wickham are fit enough to play.  Look for Palace to take the game to Bournemouth.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Bournemouth 7/5, Palace 21/10, Draw 5/2

First Goalscorer – Murray 11/2, King 6/1, Gayle 13/2

Predictions

My Pick – Bournemouth 1, Palace 2: Goals by Arter, Bolasie, and Puncheon

James’ Pick – Bournemouth 1, Palace 1: Goals by Ritchie and Cabaye

  1. Liverpool vs. Leicester City ~ Anfield, Liverpool

December 26, 2015 at 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

The top team in the country travels to Merseyside this weekend when they face Liverpool.  Leicester comes into the game in great form having won 3 straight and unbeaten in their last 10 matches.  Liverpool, conversely, has struggled recently as the honeymoon period seems to have ended.  They are winless in their last 3 games.  Liverpool will need to be aware that Leicester is going to look to counter attack them.  Leicester likes to take a lot of shots and has two of the best players in the league in Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.  They are a great attacking team.  They struggle keeping possession and in aerial duels, which could work for Christian Benteke.  Liverpool can create some chances and are a little too reliant on Coutinho.  Simon Mignolet is in a race to come back after Bogdan had a rough first Premier League game.  Lovren, Skrtel, and Gomez are all out in defense so look for Sakho to partner Toure.  Coutinho and Firmino will look to lead the attack with Benteke up front.  For Leicester, Jamie Vardy is a doubt, but should play.  Robert Huth is going to return to the lineup.  Leicester should be favorites, but can Klopp get Liverpool back to winning ways?

Betting Odds

Match Result – Liverpool 19/20, Leicester 29/10, Draw 29/10

First Goalscorer – Origi 11/2, Mahrez 8/1, Ibe 17/2

Predictions

My Pick – Liverpool 2, Leicester 2: Goals by Coutinho, Benteke, Mahrez, Okazaki

James’ Pick – Liverpool 1, Leicester 3: Goals by Benteke, Mahrez (2), Vardy

  1. Chelsea vs. Watford ~ Stamford Bridge, London

December 26, 2015 at 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Guus Hiddink takes charge of Chelsea for the second time in his career.  He will need to turn around the season quickly and try to build on their win last weekend against Sunderland.  However, they face Watford who have won four straight games and climbed into 7th place in the table.  Chelsea has really struggled this season and is looking to turn their season around.  Costa, Fabregas, and Hazard have been absent and will need to find their possession game.  Watford is led by the two strikers up front in Ighalo and Deeney.  They will look for long balls that lead to lots of shots.  It should be a great battle between Terry and Cahill and Ighalo and Deeney.  Eden Hazard has not trained following his injury but could make the bench.  Watford will be without Nathan Ake since he cannot play against Chelsea.  Look for Chelsea to find some better form and look to move closer to midtable.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Chelsea 1/2, Watford 13/2, Draw 17/5

First Goalscorer – Costa 7/2, Remy 9/2, Falcao 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – Chelsea 1, Watford 1: Goals by Pedro, and Ighalo

James’ Pick – Chelsea 2, Watford 2: Goals by Hazard, Costa, Deeney, Ighalo

  1. Southampton vs. Arsenal ~ St. Mary’s Stadium ~ Southampton

December 26, 2015 at 2:45 pm EST on NBC

This game features two teams at opposite ends of the form table.  Southampton has been in freefall having lost four of their last 6 games and winless in their last 5.  They are currently in 12th place, just 6 points from the drop, but a couple good results could see them move back up the table.  Arsenal is trending in the other direction, having won 3 in a row including a big win last weekend against rivals Manchester City.  Arsenal is 2 points behind Leicester in second place.  Southampton has really struggled with defending the counter attack this season and that could be trouble since Arsenal is very strong in that region.  Arsenal will play possession football and look to make short passes and have Ozil create chances.  Ozil has 15 assists on the season.  The Premier League era record is Henry with 20.  Fraser Forster is back in training but maybe a week away from returning.  Stekelenburg is expected to return to the starting eleven.  Arsene Wenger has no new injury concerns, but his list of injured players is quite long.  Sanchez, Rosicky, Coquelin, Cazorla, Arteta, Wilshere, and Welbeck will all miss out.  Arsenal should be comfortable tomorrow.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Southampton 13/5, Arsenal 23/20, Draw 13/5

First Goalscorer – Giroud 4/1, Walcott 11/2, Pelle 13/2

Predictions

My Pick – Southampton 1, Arsenal 2: Goals by Mane, Giroud (2)

James’ Pick – Southampton 1, Arsenal 2: Goals by Pelle, Giroud, Ozil

Other EPL Games

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Norwich City – 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Manchester City vs. Sunderland– 10:00 am EST on NBCSN

Swansea City vs. West Bromwich Albion – 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Aston Villa vs. West Ham United – 10:00 am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra

Newcastle United vs. Everton – 12:30 pm EST on NBC

 

We will be back on Sunday with another preview of the upcoming games on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

 

 

10 Big Results from this Weekend

  1. Malaga 1 – Atletico Madrid 0

Atletico had the chance to go into the winter break on top of the league table. Instead, they suffered a 1-0 defeat in the Costa del Sol to Malaga. The game was very much back and forth with both teams creating chances. Malaga had the major share of possession with 61% of the ball. They also created more chances in the game, but it all changed in the 56th minute when Gabi received his second yellow for a handball. This led to his sending off and Malaga began to turn the screw. Torres and Griezmann both had chances to give Madrid the lead, but Kameni came up with some huge saves. Then Amrabat found Charles Dias on a nice cross and he struck the ball goal bound.   The ball went off Diego Godin’s legs and into the net. Oblak was wrong footed by the deflection. The loss means that Barcelona stay on top of the Primera Division, level on points with Atletico Madrid going into the winter break.

  1. Arsenal 2 – Manchester City 1

In the heavyweight clash of the Premier League this weekend, Arsenal came out winners thanks to 2 first half goals from Walcott and Giroud. Ozil assisted both goals, as he takes his tally to 15 assists on the season. That is more than Mahrez and Deulofeu in second and third have combined. Manchester City dominated possession but could not make their chances count. Aaron Ramsey has had a profound effect on the team as he continues to be strong in the midfield. Arsenal did concede a late goal to Yaya Toure, who beautifully finished off a pass from Bacary Sagna. The game would end 2-1 to the Arsenal. This gives Arsenal a bit of space between them and City, as they are now 4 points clear of City. However, Leicester just continues to win and they are still atop the table. They have 38 points and are 2 points clear at the top. They will be on top of the table at Christmas and that is amazing.

  1. FC Koln 2 – Borussia Dortmund 1

In Germany, it was getting closer to maybe becoming a two horse race, but now the gap is back to 8 points and looks close to insurmountable. Dortmund have not had the luxury of dropping points and they have obliged with only 2 draws and 2 losses coming into this weekend. They had a prolific offense that has scored more goals than Bayern Munich and the defense has been solid. This weekend, they took a step back as they face Koln. They jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute. Dortmund had a bunch of chances but could not find the back of the net. In the second half, Koln grew into the game. In the 82nd minute, a horrible pass from Dortmund goalie, Roman Burki, led to Simon Zoller scoring the equalizing goal. This was Koln’s first goal in their last four home games. Then as time was winding down, Anthony Modeste beat Burki to the near post to send all of the points to Koln. The difference at the top of the table is now 8 points.

  1. SM Caen 0 – Paris Saint-Germain 3

In what is becoming something of a recurring theme, PSG dominated this weekend defeating Caen 3-0. They dominated just about every category on the stat sheet. Angel di Maria opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Zlatan doubled the lead in the 36th minute of the game. In the second half, di Maria scored a second goal that I am still trying to figure out how. Check it out later on. In the 85th minute, Andy Delort saw his penalty kick saved by Kevin Trapp to ensure the clean sheet. PSG is now officially halfway done with the season having played every team once. They have played 19 games, won 16, drawn 3, and lost 0. Is this going to be a magical season for PSG? How early can they wrap up the title?

  1. Inter 1 – Lazio 2

This weekend only one team in the top 6 in Italy did not win and it was the team on top of the table as Inter lost 2-1 to Lazio. This means the race for the top spot in Italy is really getting tight since the distance from 1st to 5th is now just 4 points. Any dropped points will be crucial in this league. Lazio jumped out to an early lead thanks to Antonio Candreva when he smashed Lucas Biglia’s corner kick into the net. In the second half, Mauro Icardi was played in by Ivan Perisic and scored the equalizing goal. Both teams had a host of chances but couldn’t find the finishing touch. Felipe Melo went straight into the back of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the box and this gave Lazio the perfect chance to take the lead. It was also an interesting bit of foreshadowing. Candreva would step up and see his penalty saved, but he finished the rebound giving Lazio a 2-1 lead. In the 90th minute, the red cards came out as Felipe Melo was caught with a high boot that went straight into Biglia’s neck. He was sent straight off. Then Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was sent off for some time wasting as he saw his second yellow. The game ended with some fireworks but was not the result Inter would have like.

  1. Carpi 2 – Juventus 3

The Italian champions have now won 7 straight games following their 3-2 win against Carpi. They had to come back following a 15th minute goal from Marco Borriello. The lead did not last long, as Mandzukic went on to score a very nice goal three minutes later. He added a second just 4 minutes from halftime. In the second half, Pogba doubled the lead just 5 minutes in. This lead held until Bonucci played the ball into his own net two minutes into added time. The game ended 3-2 to Juventus to make it 7 wins in a row. They have now climbed all the way from 17th place in week 2 to 4thplace. They are just 3 points off the top and can easily consider themselves in the title race, and possibly favorites now, considering their history and form.

  1. Manchester United 1 – Norwich City 2

Manchester United entered the weekend in the top four. They had been there for the last four weeks, despite their four game winless streak. Norwich entered the weekend in the relegation zone. At the end of the weekend, neither of those facts would be true any more. Norwich took the lead thanks to a first half goal from Cameron Jerome. Alexander Tettey doubled the lead in the second half. Anthony Martial pulled United one back after Norwich could not clear the corner well. Both teams went on to create a bunch of chances but neither could find a way past them. United dominated possession and created more chances but were not clinical enough. United have dropped out of the top four and have lost two in a row. Norwich, on the other hand, has propelled themselves out of the bottom 3 and will look to push on from here. It was a shocking result, but that is something that we have come to expect this season.

  1. Borussia Monchengladbach 3 – Darmstadt 2

This game was picked simply for entertainment value. The game featured Darmstadt who were newly promoted and in 13th place in the table. Monchengladbach were 4th in the table and had recently crashed out of the Champions League. The game seemed very straight forward but was far from it. The game started with a shock when Darmstadt grabbed the early lead. Sandro Wagner flicked on a throw in and Marcel Heller was first to the ball to volley it into the net. With just 7 minutes left in the first half, Granit Xhaka, the Monchengladbach captain, was sent off for violent conduct. He decided to take a kick at Peter Niemeyer.   That didn’t deter ‘Gladbach as Lars Stindl drew the game level with a beautiful shot. In the second d half, they took the league from a beautiful free kick from Haavvard Nordtveitt. The lead would last for 16 minutes as Sandro Wagner would head in a perfect cross from Marcel Heller. However, Darmstadt could not hold on to the lead as Oscar Wendt was played in by Lars Stindl and beat the keeper for the points and the end of a fascinating game.

  1. Real Madrid 10 – Rayo Vallecano 2

This is a result that no one wants to see happen. In fact, the game could have turned out differently if not for the first sending off. The game started with Gareth Bale finding Danilo for a third minute opener. With Real Madrid up, Antonio Amaya leveled the score on the 10 minute mark. The next four minutes were very up and down for Rayo. Two minutes after drawing level, Rayo went ahead with another headed goal from Jozabed. Then two minutes after that, Tito was sent off for an awful tackle on Toni Kroos. It didn’t take long as Gareth Bale leveled the score 9 minutes after the sending off. Three minutes after the goal, Raul Baena saw his second yellow card and send Rayo to nine men. The resulting penalty was finished off by Ronaldo. The floodgates were open then. Bale added another in the first half and two more in the second half. Ronaldo also added one in the second half. Benzema went on to score a second half hat trick. The win was an important result for Real Madrid, but you have to wonder what if in this game.

  1. Gazelec Ajaccio 2 – Olympique Lyon 1

The recently promoted side started the season without a win in their first 10 games of the season. Since their 2-0 loss against Saint Etienne, they have gone on a 9 game unbeaten run, winning 6 of those games including this weekend against Lyon. Lyon is falling fast, as they are in the middle of a 6 game winless streak and have lost 3 straight now. The two teams are now just 2 points apart in the table. One was supposed to challenge for the title. The other was supposed to go right back down. Lyon is now 25 points behind PSG. They have a total of 26 points for the season. Gazelec Ajaccio got a goal on either side of halftime from Mohamed Larbi. Clement Grenier drew Lyon one back in the 72nd minute, but they did not have enough in the tank to draw level. It was a massive three points for the side who play in front of just 8,000 people each week.

Picture of the Week

This was one of the worst tackles I have seen in a while from Felipe Melo.

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Goals of the Week

My Pick – I am going to go with Daniel Didavi. It was a beautiful shot into the top corner.

Bonus Goal Pick – Angel Di Maria scored two this weekend, but the second was an absolute peach. Check it out.

Winter Breaks

It is the time for winter breaks. Here is when the leagues that take them and when they return.

The Bundesliga is now on winter break and will be off until January 24th.

Ligue 1 will be off for the rest of the year and returns January 8th.

La Liga will be off for about a week as they take off Christmas but return on December 30th

Serie A will go on winter break with their return scheduled for January 5th

The English Premier League will fill your void as they have a very busy couple of weeks coming up.

5 Games for the Weekend

This weekend we are taking a look at some top of the table clashes, a southern derby, a couple midtable clashes, and a look at the top team in Italy.  This will be a big weekend for those teams in the middle as they look to make their moves away from the bottom of the table.

  1. Arsenal vs. Manchester City ~ Emirates Stadium, London

Monday, December 21st at 3:00 pm EST on NBCSN

Two of the title contenders face off this weekend in London when Arsenal hosts Manchester City.  The two teams sit in 2nd and 3rd respectively.  Arsenal is 2 points back of Leicester and City is 1 point behind Arsenal.  In terms of form, Arsenal has won 2 in a row coming into this game, having gone 3 games unbeaten.  Manchester City on the other had won last weekend but were torn apart two weeks ago by Stoke.  For some team news, Sanchez looks to be doubtful, so I expect it to be Campbell and Walcott out wide with Giroud up top.  Flamini and Ramsey should continue in the midfield for Arsenal.  For City, Aguero and Silva should be reunited but more importantly, Kompany is nearing full fitness.  I do not think he will play this weekend.  All eyes will be on what midfielders Pellegrini chooses.  This game could be very open, as both teams look to score goals.  I think this game will go a long way in how the off-field pressure impacts the season.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Arsenal 11/8, Manchester City 19/10, Draw 12/5

First Goalscorer – Aguero 4/1, Giroud 4/1, Bony 5/1

Predictions

My Pick – Arsenal 2, City 2: Goals by Ramsey, Giroud, Aguero (2)

James’ Pick –

  1. Real Betis vs. Sevilla ~ Estadio Benito Villamarin

Saturday, December 19th at 2:30 pm EST on beIN Sports Connect

The Sevilla Derby returns to La Liga this weekend after a year off.  These two clubs from the capital of Andalusia will face off, with both hoping for some bragging rights in the city.  The outlook is much better for Sevilla since they have gone unbeaten in 5 of the last 6 derbies.  Sevilla is currently in 7th place, meanwhile, Betis is in 11th.  However they are only separated by 3 points.  So if Betis wins they will be ahead of Sevilla in the table.  Sevilla come into the game unbeaten in their last 3 with a win over Sporting Gijon and Valencia.  Betis on the other had have only won 2 of their last 6 games and lost last weekend to Las Palmas.  Bruno Gonzalez and Dani Ceballos return from suspension for Betis.  Ceballos is one of the most talked about young prospects in all of Spain.  Look for Gameiro to get the nod ahead of Llorente.  In the last seven league meetings there has been at least one red card between these two teams.  Look for a feisty match that from personal experience I can say is a blast to witness.  Best bet is probably a lot of cards and a couple fans losing some clothes.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Real Betis 3/1, Sevilla 10/11, Draw 13/5

First Goalscorer – Gameiro 15/4, Llorente 11/2, Castro 6/1

Predictions

My Pick – Betis 1, Sevilla 2: Goals by Ceballos, Vitolo, Konoplyanka

James’ Pick –

  1. Bordeaux vs. Olympique Marseille ~ Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux

Sunday, December 20th at 3:00 pm EST on beIN Sports Connect

This weekend, we are looking at two historic teams from France as Bordeaux and Marseille meet in Bordeaux.  The two clubs have combined for 15 league titles.  However, this season has not gone as planned with Marseille in 9th place and Bordeaux in 14th place.  However, the middle of the French table is very close as the distance from a spot in Europe to the relegation zone is just 11 points.  These two teams are separated by just 2 points.  Marseille enter the game on a 5 game unbeaten run but have only won twice during this streak.  Bordeaux has won just once in their last five games.  This should be a very tight affair.  The difference will be who is more clinical in front of net between Michy Batshuayi and Henri Savet.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Bordeaux 9/5, Marseille 8/5, Draw 11/5

First Goalscorer – Batshuayi 7/2, Diabate 5/1, Thelin 6/1

Predictions

My Pick – Bordeaux 1, Marseille 1: Goals by Khazri and Alessandrini

James’ Pick –

  1. Internazionale Milan vs. Lazio ~ Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milano

Sunday, December 20th at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

Roberto Mancini has done a great job this season leading Inter Milan to the top of the Serie A table.  This weekend, his side faces the other side from Rome, but don’t say that to the Lazio fans.  This Roman side is looking to rekindle some form from last year as they have really struggled in the league this season.  Despite having success in the Europa League, Lazio sit in 12th place and has lost 4 of their last 6 and are on a run of 7 games without a win.  This weekend, they face the best defense in the country as Inter has conceded just 9 goals all year.  Lazio will look to their young stars in Anderson and Kishna to start performing.  The Roman side has gotten great performances from Lucas Biglia and Alessandro Matri this season.  Inter has been lead by Mauro Icardi and Stevan Jovetic at the front.  This game could be really tight and condensed.  Look for Inter to dominate the game and probably score a late winner.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Inter 8/11, Lazio 4/1, Draw 11/4

First Goalscorer – Icardi 7/2, Jovetic 9/2, Manaj 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – Inter 2, Lazio 1: Goals by Icardi, Ljajic and Anderson

James’ Pick –

  1. Hamburger SV vs. FC Augsburg ~ Imtech Arena, Hamburg

Saturday, December 19th at 9:30 am EST on Fox Soccer 2GO

This week in the Bundesliga, we look at one of the better in form teams and see how they can take on one of the German old guard in Hamburger.  Hamburger has won 6 Bundesliga titles and a European Cup in the past but the last couple seasons have been rough as they finished in the relegation play-off spot two years in a row.  Augsburg had their best ever finish in the Bundesliga.  However, this year has not gone as well as hoped.  Augsburg is in 13th place, but they are in the Round of 32 of the Europa League.  Hamburger is in 9th place and is looking good to finish above the relegation zone.  Lewis Holtby has been a revelation this season for Hamburger.  Defender and Captain Paul Verhaegh is the leading scorer for Augsburg.  Look for this to be a back and forth match with both teams looking to score.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Hamburg 11/8, Augsburg 11/5, Draw 11/5

First Goalscorer – Altintas 11/2, Schipplock 6/1, Olic 6/1

Predictions

My Pick – Hamburg 2, Augsburg 1: Goals by Lasogga, Muller, and Bobadilla

James’ Pick –

Other Games on TV This Weekend

England – Premier League

Manchester United vs. Norwich City – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on USA

Chelsea vs. Sunderland – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on NBCSN

Newcastle United vs. Aston Villa – Saturday at 12:30 pm EST on NBC

Watford vs. Liverpool – Sunday at 8:30 am EST on NBCSN

Swansea City vs. West Ham United – Sunday at 11:00 am EST on NBCSN

Spain – La Liga

Real Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano – Sunday at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Italy – Serie A

Bologna vs. Empoli – Saturday at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

Carpi vs. Juventus – Sunday at 6:30 am EST on beIN Sports

Roma vs. Genoa – Sunday at 9:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Frosinone vs. Milan – Sunday at 12:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Germany – Bundesliga

Koln vs. Borussia Dortmund – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

Hannover 96 vs. Bayern Munchen – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Hertha Berlin vs. Mainz 05 – Sunday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Darmstadt 98 – Sunday at 11:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

France – Ligue 1

Caen vs. PSG – Saturday at 11:00 am EST on beIN Sports

 

Champions League Draw

This past Monday, the draws for the Champions League and the Europa League knockout stages took place in Nyon, Switzerland.  Here is a quick look at these draws and an early prediction for winners.

In the Champions League, the first legs will be played on the 16th, 17th, 23rd, and 24th of February with the second legs taking place on the 8th, 9th, 15th and 16th of March in 2016.

Here is a quick look at the matchups…

Paris Saint-Germain (France) vs. Chelsea (England)

The champions of France and England will face off in the round of 16.  Both teams have been hoping to avoid each other after having faced-off in the round of 16 last year.  Last year, the two teams played out to a 3-3 aggregate draw that saw PSG advance thanks to two away goals.  This year, PSG is running away with the Ligue 1 title and might have it won by the time this round is over.  Chelsea, on the other hand, will need to advance if they want to play in the Champions League next season as they find themselves dangerously close to the relegation zone.

Leg 1 – February 16, 2016 at Parc des Princes, Paris

Leg 2 – March 9, 2016 at Stamford Bridge, London

Player to Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain) – This could be his last season in Europe and the one trophy that seems to have evaded him in the Champions League trophy.  He has won just about every other trophy he has competed for.  Is this his year?

Predictions: Look for Chelsea to play very defensive and try to nick the games 1-0.  A lot will depend on Chelsea’s form in 3 months time, but I am going to go for PSG to advance over two games.

Benfica (Portugal) vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia)

This will be a very close tie as both teams will hope to advance to the Quarter-finals.  Benfica has finally made it out of the group stage after three straight exits there.  The last time they were in the knockout stage was 2011-12 when they lost to eventual Champions, Chelsea, in the quarterfinals.  Zenit meanwhile will be coming back from their winter break to play in the two legs.  Zenit is back in the knockout stage after missing out last year when they failed to qualify from their group.  These two teams met in 2011-12 when Benfica knocked Zenit out in the Round of 16.

Leg 1 – February 16, 2016 at Estadio da Luz, Lisbon

Leg 2 – March 9, 2016 at Petrovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg

Player to Watch: Artyom Dzyuba (Zenit Saint Petersburg) – In the group stage Dzyuba scored 6 goals in the 6 games, putting him third on the top goalscorers list.  He will be the focus of the Benfica defense and the reason that Zenit can advance.

Prediction:  The winter break has notoriously hurt Russian teams as they have not played in the league since December 3rd and will not play again in the league until February 29th.  This break will hurt them in terms of match sharpness and why I am going with Benfica.

Gent (Belgium) vs. Wolfsburg (Germany)

Gent was the team that most of the big boys wanted and it appears to be Wolfsburg’s lucky day.  They should easily see out these two legs and advance to the Quarterfinals.  Wolfsburg and Gent are relative new boys to the competition, as this is their first foray into the knockout stages.  For both teams, this is their deepest trip yet.  Wolfsburg fans will feel excited that they are favorites to advance.  The German side has had its ups and downs, but this could be a nice first trip to the knockout stages.

Leg 1 – February 17, 2016 at Ghelamco Arena, Ghent

Leg 2 – March 8, 2016 at Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg

Player to Watch: Julian Draxler (Wolfsburg) – The new attacking midfielder has really started to find his form and he will look to dictate the game.  He also can score some brilliant goals.

Prediction: I think this one should be straight forward for the German side.  If they can get a nice win in the first game, then they should be able to coast to the knockout stages.  The game in Ghent should be a great atmosphere as the Belgian side makes their first appearance in the knockout stage.  Wolfsburg should go through though.

Roma (Italy) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)

The 10 time Champions League winners did not get the easiest draw in the world, but they are favorites to advance as they take on the team from the Italian capital.  Roma was the runners-up in 1983-84 when they lost to Liverpool.  Last season, Roma went out of the competition during the group stage but this season they would like to make another deep run in the competition.  However, they will not be favorites as they face the most successful team in the competition.  Real Madrid has made 5 straight trips to the Semifinals or finals.  Real Madrid last won the title two seasons ago for their tenth time.  Real Madrid may have a different manager by the time this game takes place with more and more rumors coming out surrounding the future of Rafa Bentiez.

Leg 1 – February 17, 2016 at Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Leg 2 – March 8, 2016 at Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Player to Watch: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) – The Costa Rican goalkeeper has been instrumental in the success that Real Madrid has seen.  If they are going to make another deep run in the Champions League, Navas will need to continue to perform.

Prediction:  This could be a lot closer than people think.  If Roma is able to get a result in the first leg at home then they could make some Madridistas nervous.  However, Real have more talent and the second leg at home.  Look for them to advance.

Arsenal (England) vs. Barcelona (Spain)

The defending champions will be beginning their defense of the title in London this year as they take on Arsenal.  Barcelona is looking to continue their run of 8 straight trips to at least the quarterfinals.  These two teams have meet in the past.  They last met in the round of 16 during 2010/11.  Arsenal won the first leg at home 2-1 but lost the second leg 1-3.  In 2009-10 they meet in the quarterfinals.  The first leg in London was a 2-2 draw.  The second leg was the Messi show as he would go on to score 4 goals in a 4-1 win.  Arsenal has had some luck in the first leg at home, but will this be a repeat of these last two accounts?  They also met in the final in 2006 when FC Barcelona won their second Champions League trophy.  Barcelona has gone on to win 3 trophies since then, meanwhile Arsenal has only reached the semifinals once.

Leg 1 – February 23, 2016 at Emirates Stadium, London

Leg 2 – March 16, 2016 at Camp Nou, Barcelona

Player to Watch: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – The best player in the world should be back to full health by the time these legs take place.  He has also really enjoyed playing against Arsenal.  Can he lead Barcelona back to the final?

Prediction: History says that Arsenal will get a result in the first leg and then lose in the Camp Nou.  Either way, I think Barcelona will advance to the Quarterfinals.

Juventus (Italy) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany)

This has to be the best matchup of the round as the runners-up from last year face the 2013 champions.  These two teams have been really hot lately and could both make a run really deep into the tournament.  Juventus got off to a bad start this year but has now picked up their form.  Juventus has climbed themselves back into the top end of the table and are within shouting distance of the title.  Bayern Munich is on top of the Bundesliga and looks set to win the title again this season.  It should be a great matchup with both teams looking to win.  Juventus has won the tournament twice in 1985 and 1996.  They have been runners-up more than any other team.  Bayern Munich has won the trophy 5 times in 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, and 2013.  This is a heavyweight clash and should be a great show.

Leg 1 – February 23, 2016 at Juventus Stadium, Turin

Leg 2 – March 16, 2016 at Allianz Arena, Munich

Player to Watch: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) – He finished the group stage with 7 goals in the 6 games.  He has been in sparkling form so far this season and he will need to continue this form against a strong Juventus defense if Munich is to dominate and make a long run.

Prediction:  This is probably one of the closest matchups, but I am going to go with Bayern Munich.  I think they will pull it out.  Pep Guardiola really needs to make a statement in his potentially final season in Munich.

PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) vs. Atletico Madrid (Spain)

After a six year absence from the Champions League, PSV have come back with a bang.  They have not made it the knockout stage since 2007 when they went out in the quarterfinals.  Their opponent in the round of 16 is Atletico Madrid.  Atleti was the runner up in 2014 and went out in the quarterfinals last season.  This season, Atletico Madrid have been very consistent.  They have one of the strongest defenses in the world and this should carry them back to the quarterfinals.  Atletico have finished runners-up on two occasions in 1956 and 2014.  PSV hoisted the trophy once in 1988.  Atletico will be looking to make a deep run into the tournament.

Leg 1 – February 24, 2016 at Philips Stadion, Eindhoven

Leg 2 – March 15, 2016 at Vicente Calderon, Madrid

Player to Watch: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) – The French forward has been a great player for Madrid this season and has really made a name for himself.  He will need to score goals for Atleti to make a deep run.

Prediction: I see this one going only one way as Atletico have the stronger team and better defensive set up.

Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Manchester City (England)

In the final Round of 16 matchup, Dynamo Kyiv faces Manchester City.  City has really struggled in the Champions League.  City has qualified for the Champions League each of the last five seasons, but has not made it past the round of 16.  Is this their chance?  They have a strong side that started the year in scintillating form.  Dynamo Kyiv returned this season to the Champions League after missing out the last two years.  Can they upset the favorites in City?  A good result in the first leg could give them hope but having to get a result in Manchester might be difficult.  The first leg will be played behind closed doors due to the Ukraine club being punished for their fans racist behavior during a game with Chelsea.

Leg 1 – February 24, 2016 at Olympic Stadium, Kiev

Leg 2 – March 15, 2016 at Eithad Stadium, Manchester

Player to Watch: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) – This is his first time playing in the knockout stages of the Champions League.  He has been slowly finding his feet at Manchester City and will look to make a difference in this round.

Prediction: Manchester City will finally advance to the Quarterfinals.  They have their best ever chance to advance and should take their chances.

Europa League Draw

The first leg will be played on the 16th and 18th of February and the second leg will take place on the 24th and 25th of February. My pick to advance is in bold.

Valencia (Spain) vs. Rapid Wien (Austria)

Fiorentina (Italy) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (England)

Borussia Dortmund (Germany) vs. Porto (Portugal)

Fenerbahce (Turkey) vs. Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia)

Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. Olympiacos (Greece)

Midtjylland (Denmark) vs. Manchester United (England)

Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) vs. Krasnodar (Russia)

Galatasaray (Turkey) vs. Lazio (Italy)

Sion (Switzerland) vs. Braga (Portugal)

Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) vs. Schalke 04 (Germany)

Marseille (France) vs. Athletic Bilbao (Spain)

Sevilla (Spain) vs. Molde (Norway)

Sporting CP (Portugal) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)

Villarreal (Spain) vs. Napoli (Italy)

Saint-Etienne (France) vs. Basel (Switzerland)

10 Quotes from the Weekend

  1. “The race is on for us now to amass enough points across the rest of the season to finish first, second or third.” – Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus manager

Don’t look now, but Juve are now just 6 points off the top of the table.  I feel like this is something that I write this once every week, but after a big win against title rivals, Fiorentina, this weekend it is getting closer and closer to an all familiar table in Italy.  Juventus fell behind in the game following a third-minute penalty from Josip Ilicic.  The lead did not last long when Juan Cuadrado leveled the score in the 6th minute.  Mandzukic and Dybala then earned Juventus all three points in the final 10 minutes.  The race in Italy is really heating up and is going to go down to the wire.  Roma, Juventus, Napoli, Fiorentina, and Inter Milan are all in this race and it should be a great to watch.

  1. “I feel that my work was betrayed” – Jose Mourinho, Chelsea manager

If you were to look at just the results and not the name…16 games played, 4 wins, 3 draws, 9 losses…then you would say that is not a very good season.  When you see that they are just 1 point above the relegation zone, then you would know they are in a relegation fight.  Once I tell you that it is Chelsea in this position, you might start to doubt that they are in a relegation fight.  You would say that they are too big of a club to get relegated.  However, they are and they are not too big of a club.  Following their 2-1 loss this Monday at Leicester, Chelsea is in disarray.  Mourinho then came out after the game and said that “I feel that my work was betrayed.”  It is only getting worse for Chelsea and questions will now swirl regarding the length of Mourinho’s tenure.

  1. “It feels good to score a hat-trick.” – Javier Hernandez, Bayer Leverkusen forward

Borussia Monchengladbach was one of the hottest teams in the world.  Not anymore after they suffered a horrible defeat at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen this weekend.  Two players scored all the goals as Stefan Kiessling scored in the first half to open the scoring.  In the second half, Javier Hernandez scored a thirteen minute hat-trick.  During this hat-trick, Kiessling added his second goal.  The game was then out of sight and Bayer had made a statement win.  It was their seventh win of the campaign and brought them within touching distance of the European places.  They are now just two points from a Champions League spot.  It was a great result and a great performance from the former Manchester United striker.

  1. “I don’t know why we went out like that.” – Pepe, Real Madrid defender

Real Madrid lost their third game of the season this weekend when they lost 1-0 to Villarreal.  Rafa Benitez sent out a very strong team that should have gone to Villarreal and came away with all three points.   However, the plan went out the window when Roberto Soldado scored in the 8th minute.  Real Madrid is now 5 points behind leaders, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.  Pepe partnered Sergio Ramos in the back and the defensive pair was strong for most of the game, but the one early error really cost the team.  Real Madrid dominated possession and took 20 shots, however; they were not many clear cut chances as they only had one shot on target.  Pepe talked about how it was a game of two halves and that the team did not come out as strong as they should have.  They paid the price and are now looking up the table.

  1. “This was a difficult match against opponents who are far superior.” – Hubert Fournier, Lyon manager

PSG never really gave Lyon much of a chance as they jumped out to an early lead behind Ibrahimovic.  Serge Aurier doubled the lead in the 17th minute.  Jordan Ferri gave Lyon some hope when he pulled Lyon one goal back after Kevin Trapp fumbled the ball.  However, PSG showed their quality as they went on to get goals from Cavani, Ibrahimovic, and Moura.  PSG overcame their supposed title rivals to give themselves a massive 17 point lead at the top.  Angers drew 1-1 at Bordeaux as well, so the lead has increased from 15 for PSG.  Lyon manager, Hubert Fournier, remained upbeat by claiming that “Despite the heavy margin of defeat, it is not all negative”.  They will need to pick up some points soon, as they have fallen to 6th place.  Can they get back into the race for the European places?  Can PSG go unbeaten?

  1. “It’s still too early. All of them will continue to fight for the title.” – Roberto Mancini, Inter Milan manager

This weekend, Inter Milan went 4 points clear on top of the Serie A table with an outstanding performance against Udinese.  Mauro Icardi opened the scoring in the 23rd minute.  Stevan Jovetic doubled the league leaders lead before halftime.  In the second half, Icardi added a second and Brozovic made it 4-0.  Inter Milan have the best defense in the league, having conceded just 9 goals in 16 games.  Their defense has been the rock of the team and now they are looking to build on this with their offense.  Coming into the game, Inter had scored just 18 goals.  They were averaging just over a goal a game.  If they can keep this offensive prowess up then they may win the Scudetto this season.  The title race is heating up, but the gap is now 4 points.

  1. “It’s a nice feelings …It’s always nice to go in over Christmas and start the New Year as league leaders.” – Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich defender

Bayern Munich assured themselves of the top spot in the table when the calendar turns over at the end of the month with a 2-0 win over FC Ingolstadt 04.  Bayern Munich have been one of the best teams in the world and really strong over the first 16 games of the season.  They have only dropped points in two games with a draw with Frankfurt and a loss against Monchengladbach.  They are currently 5 points clear of Dortmund, who are also really strong this year.  With just one more round before the winter break, Munich are on pace for their fourth league title in a row.  They will be able to focus now on some rest and enjoying their winter break before the big push towards a league title and Champions League title.  Lahm was very happy after the win.  Bayern have won what is called the Herbstmeisterschaft, or winter championship.  This is a fairly good predictor as the Herbstmeisterschaft has gone on to win 35 of the 52 Bundesliga campaigns.   For Bayern Munich, they have only failed to win the league twice when they are top on Christmas out of the 20 times they have been top.

  1. “We have asked for consistency and the last two weeks they have provided that and it has brought everyone closer together.” – Steve McClaren, Newcastle United manager

In nationally televised games in England, Newcastle has picked up 14 points.  In all of their other games, Newcastle has picked up just 2 points.  In their second televised game in England in two weeks, Newcastle picked up 6 out of 6 points over those two games against big teams.  Newcastle defeated Liverpool 2-0 last weekend and this weekend they came back to defeat Tottenham 2-1.  They have moved themselves from second bottom to above the defending champions, Chelsea.  They are now two points clear of the relegation zone and if they can find a way to be on television every week in England, they could win the league potentially.  McClaren came out and said that “We have asked for consistency and the last two weeks they have provided that and it has brought everyone closer together”.  Is it really consistency or is it nationally televised games?

  1. “We controlled our opponents and they didn’t have many chances,” – Leonardo Jardim, Monaco manager

Monaco is climbing up the table now and their latest win came at the hands of rivals Saint Etienne.  They went on to win the game 1-0 thanks to a Fabinho penalty in the 82nd minute.  Jardim came out to say that they were the stronger team, despite only having 50% of possession.  They were the more creative team, as they had 4 shots on target compared to 0 for Saint Etienne.  Saint Etienne was reduced to 10 men earlier in the first half when Kevin Malcuit saw his second yellow.  Etienne is now in 7th place in the table, 5 points behind Monaco.  Monaco is now in a Champions League spot having climbed to 3rd place in the table.  They are level on points with Angers in second and are only behind on goal differential.  A side note on goal differential, Angers is +7, Monaco is +2, but even more interestingly Paris Saint-Germain is +36.  Can you tell how much better PSG have been this season?

  1. “It just goes to show that games aren’t over even when you are up 2-0.” – Luis Enrique, Barcelona manager

Barcelona played their last league game this weekend before the jetting off to the Club World Cup in Japan.  Barcelona jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first half thanks to a great strike from Leo Messi.  He curled in a beautiful free kick.  Ivan Rakitic added a second goal just on the 62 minute.  However, that is when the game took a turn.  Deportivo showed the world why they were once know as Super Depo and hit back twice in the last 30 minutes to draw the match level.  Both teams would share a point each.  Barcelona stayed on top of the table despite Atletico Madrid beating Athletic Bilbao 2-1.  The two teams are level on points.  Barcelona will not play another game in La Liga until December 30th.  They will now try to win the Club World Cup this week.

Picture of the Week

A very very happy Claudio Ranieri after his team went back on top of the league.

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Goals of the Week

My Pick – I am going to go with Riyad Mahrez and his beautiful strike to put Leicester on top of the league.

James’ Pick – James is going with Junior Stanislas for his pick and his beautiful corner kick that went straight in the net.

Euro 2016 Draw Recap

All of the group winners, runners-up, and best four third-place teams will advance to the Round of 16.

Group A: France, Romania, Albania, and Switzerland

The hosts will open up the tournament on June 10th against Romania.  They should be clear favorites to win the group.  Second and third place will come down to Romania and Switzerland.  Both of them could qualify if they can get a great result against Albania.

Group B: England, Russia, Wales, and Slovakia

The match of this group is the match between England and Wales on June 16th.  Both of the United Kingdom squads should qualify for the next round with Russia also having a chance.  Wales will need to win their opening game.

Group C:  Germany, Ukraine, Poland, and Northern Ireland

Germany is clear favorites for this group, but who advances with them is really up for grabs.  Northern Ireland looks like the minnows of the group but they will be up for the challenge.

Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, and Croatia

In one of the two groups of death in my opinion, the defending European Champions are going to need to start off quickly as they host Czech Republic on June 13th.  All four of these teams will feel like they can qualify.  This will be a really interesting group

Group E: Belgium, Italy, Ireland, and Sweden

This is the other group of death.  The number one team in the world, Belgium, has to face Italy, a rejuvenated Ireland, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  The match of the round is between Belgium and Italy on June 13th.

Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, and Hungary

This group features two young teams that should be really interesting to watch in Iceland and Austria.  They are really coming into their own as they both look to make a statement in this group.  Portugal will be the favorite in the group, as they will count on Cristiano Ronaldo.

Look for a post in the middle of this week giving you a preview of the Champions League Round of 16 and the Europa League Round of 32.

5 Games to Watch This Weekend

As the Champions League group stage comes to a close, the race for a spot in next year’s competition is heating up.  This week we look at the surprise top team in England hosting the defending champions of England.  In Spain two of the oldest clubs face off as it is the capital vs. the Basque Country.  In Germany, we examine one of the hottest teams in Germany travel to a rival for the last Champions League place.  In Italy, we shift our focus back to the reigning champions as they host one of their title rivals.  Lastly is France, we will preview what should have been a title 6 pointer but really is just to see how far ahead PSG really are.

  1. Leicester City vs. Chelsea, King Power Stadium ~ Leicester, England

Monday, December 14th – 3:00 pm EST on NBCSN

When the schedule came out last summer many would have thought that this would be a matchup between the top team in England and a team near the relegation zone.  However, no one would have said it would be Leicester at the top.  Leicester has only lost one game all season.  Chelsea, meanwhile, is having a miserable league season and a top four finish seems a long way away.  Both teams are very healthy and should be ready to go.  Jamie Vardy saw his goal streak end last weekend, but can he start another one this weekend? A win will keep Leicester at the top of the table.  Look for Chelsea to park the bus and try to defend at all costs.  Points are vital now for Mourinho.  Leicester has been one of the best second half teams this season and Chelsea has struggled during the end of games.  Are we going to get another late winner?

Betting Odds

Match Result – Leicester 11/5, Chelsea 27/20, Draw 5/2

First Goalscorer – Eden Hazard 4/1, Jamie Vardy 9/2, Diego Costa 5/1

Predications

My Pick – Leicester 2, Chelsea 1: Goals by Mahrez, Vardy and Willian

James’ Pick – Leicester 3, Chelsea 2: Goals by Vardy, Mahrez (2), Costa, Willian

  1. Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao, Estadio Vicente Calderon ~ Madrid, Spain

Sunday December 13th – 12:15 pm EST on beIN Sports CONNECT

Atletico Madrid is one of the hottest teams on the planet right now that no one knows about.  They have quietly been just humming along winning and picking up points here and there.  They have won four straight league games and are unbeaten in their last 13 games in all competitions.  Bilbao enters the game in the midst of a 5 game unbeaten run in all competitions but has drawn their last two.  Atletico Madrid has the best defense and should show their strength this weekend.  Expect them to show good discipline and score a couple on the break.  Bilbao seems to have some form back, but Madrid is on fire.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Atletico Madrid 4/7, Athletic Bilbao 6/1, Draw 11/4

First Goalscorer – Griezmann 11/4, Vietto 4/1, Martinez 4/1

Predictions

My Pick – Madrid 2, Bilbao 0: Goals by Griezmann and Niguez

James’ Pick – Madrid 2, Bilbao 1: Goals by Aduriz, Griezmann (2)

  1. Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, BayArena ~ Leverkusen, Germany

Saturday December 12th – 12:30 pm EST on Fox Sports 2

Both of these two teams were knocked out of the Champions League this week.  Monchengladbach is done with European play for the rest of the season.  Leverkusen will now play in the Europa League.  Leverkusen looked really good against Barcelona during the week.  They have, however, struggled as they are winless in their last two Bundesliga games.  Monchengladbach on the other hand is unbeaten in 10 games and just beat Bayern Munich last weekend.  Andre Schubert has had a great impact since he took charge.  Watch for his team to be full of confidence and go on the attack.  If you have watched any games in the Bundesliga then you know they have a tendency to be very open and have lots of chances at both ends.  This could be a high scoring affair, look for both teams to create chances.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Leverkusen 19/20, Monchengladbach 11/4, Draw 11/4

First Goalscorer – Kiessling 4/1, Hernandez 9/2, Mehmedi 11/2

Predictions

My Pick – Leverkusen 1, Monchengladbach 2: Goals by Hernandez, Stindl, and Johnson

James’ Pick – Leverkusen 1, Monchengladbach 2: Goals by Hernandez, Raffael, and Stindl

  1. Juventus vs. Fiorentina, Juventus Stadium ~ Turin, Italy

Sunday, December 13th – 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports (Delayed at 7:30 pm)

Both of these teams come into this game on nice unbeaten runs.  Fiorentina is unbeaten in their last 6 league games and Juventus has won 5 straight league games.  Fiorentina is making a serious title challenge this year as they sit 2nd in the table, but this week will be a big step for them.  Fiorentina has scored at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 matches and could be a threat to defending champions.  They have come to Turin before in good form and struggled, so the question is can they this year?  Fiorentina has only won 2 of their last 18 games against Juventus.  For Juventus, this is a chance to move up into the top 4 and just 2 points behind La Viola.  I anticipate both teams wil create chances and substitutes to play a big role (Morata?).

Betting Odds

Match Result – Juventus 4/6, Fiorentina 9/2, Draw 11/4

First Goalscorer – Mandzukic 15/4, Morselli 9/2, Dybala 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – Juventus 2, Fiorentina 1: Goals by Dybala, Morata, and Kalinic

James’ Pick – Juventus 3, Fiorentina 1: Goals by Dybala, Mandzukic, Cuadrado, Kalinic

  1. PSG vs. Lyon, Parc des Princes ~ Paris, France

Sunday, December 13th – 3:00 pm EST on beIN Sports CONNECT

At the start of the season, this game had huge potential for what should have been a title clash.  A battle between the top two teams in France.  In the league table, PSG have a very comfortable lead on the rest of the table, as they sit 15 points above Angers and 19 points above Lyon.  PSG do have something to play for, as they are currently unbeaten in the league this season.  They were able to rest some of their players during the week and should be ready to go. Lyon took a big blow this week when they went out of the Champions League and lost striker Alexandre Lacazette for the rest of the year.  This was a bad time for both of these.  I believe PSG will dominate and run away from Lyon and the rest of the French League.

Betting Odds

Match Result – PSG 1/4, Lyon 12/1, Draw 9/2

First Goalscorer – Ibrahimovic 11/4, Cavani 3/1, Moura 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – PSG 3, Lyon 0: Goals by Moura, Cavani, and Di Maria

James’ Pick – PSG 3, Lyon 0: Goals by Ibrahimovic (2), Cavani

 

Tomorrow is the draw for the European Championships.  Look for a preview of those groups and follow the twitter account for some updates on the draw @SoccerPond

England – Premier League

Norwich City vs. Everton – Saturday at 7:45 am EST on NBCSN

Crystal Palace vs. Southampton – Saturday 10:00 am EST on USA

Manchester City vs. Swansea City – Saturday 10:00 am EST on NBCSN

Bournemouth vs. Manchester United – Saturday at 12:30 pm EST on NBC

Aston Villa vs. Arsenal – Sunday at 8:30 am EST on NBCSN

Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion – Sunday at 11:00 am EST on NBCSN

Spain – La Liga

Barcelona vs. Deportivo La Coruna – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Villarreal vs. Real Madrid – Sunday at 2:30 pm EST on beIN Sports

Italy – Serie A

Sassuolo vs. Torino – Saturday at 12:00 pm EST on beIN Sports

Udinese vs. Internazionale – Saturday at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

Milan vs. Hellas Verona – Sunday at 9:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Napoli vs. Roma – Sunday at 12:00 pm EST on beIN Sports

Germany – Bundesliga

Bayern Munchen vs. Ingolstadt – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Wolfsburg vs. Hamburger SV – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

Augsburg vs. Schalke 04 – Sunday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Borussia Dortmund vs. Eintracht Frankfurt – Sunday at 11:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

FIFA Club World Cup

America vs. Guangzhou Evergrande – Sunday at 2:00 am EST on Fox Sports 2

TP Mazembe vs. Sanfrecce Hiroshima – Sunday at 5:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Champions’ League Group Stage Recap

CV0I1R5XIAAgStjThe group stage of the Champions League has finished today and I thought this would be a great time to take a look back at this round and give you some of my thoughts.  We will take a look at all of the group winners and group runner’s up.  Then we will talk about who I think was the biggest winner, biggest loser, best goal, best player, and most disappointing player and manager.

Group Winners

These teams finished on the top of their groups and will advance to the knockout stage to face a team from the runner-ups:

Real Madrid – The most successful club in this competition makes it to the Round of 16 for the 19th straight year.  They have made it to the Round of 16 every year since it was expanded in 1997.

Wolfsburg – This is the first time since the UEFA Champions League started in 1992 that Wolfsburg has made it to the Round of 16.

Atletico Madrid – The runners up two years ago are back in the knockout stage, having won their group thanks to a 2-1 win over Benfica on the last match day.

Manchester City – This is their first time winning the group and is a massive step for the club, as the last two times they advanced to the knockout stage, they lost in the round of 16 to Barcelona.  They will avoid them now.

Barcelona – The defending champions advanced as group winners, despite getting off to a slow start.  They won the four games in the middle and drew the first and last game.  They are looking to become the first team to repeat as champions since the tournament was renamed the Champions League.

Bayern Munich – One of the three big favorites to win the tournament qualified with ease as they lost just one game during qualifying.  The question with them is can they get back to the final having made it all the way to the semi finals each of the last two years.

Chelsea – Despite their league woes, the English champions qualified as group winners following their 2-0 win over Porto.  They now will hope to avoid a big name in the Round of 16 and make a run at their second title.

Zenit Saint Petersburg – The Russia side were the last side to lose a point in the Champions League having lost 2-1 to Gent.

Group Runner Ups

These teams finished in second place and will advance to the knockout stage and will face a group winner in the next round

Paris Saint-Germain – Probably the biggest club to finish second in the group.  They won all their games not against Real Madrid and that was the difference.  They will be a team that the group winners want to avoid.

PSV Eindhoven – They came in second thanks to big wins on the first and last day of the competition.  They jumped Manchester United thanks to a 2-1 win over CSKA Moscow.

Benfica – This Portuguese side had a chance to win the group but lost on the final day to Atletico.  This means that they may now have to face one of the big teams.

Juventus – The defending champions slipped up on the final day and finished one point behind Manchester City.  This could create a nightmare match up for them as they may have to face Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich in the next round.

Roma – The team from the Italian capital advanced thanks to their 3-2 win over Leverkusen on match day 4.  Since both teams ended with 6 points each, Roma advances.  They will be a tricky out for a group winner.

Arsenal – The London club pulled the great escape after earning no points in their first two games, they went on to win 3 out of their last four and advanced thanks to their 3-0 win in Greece.

Dynamo Kyiv – The Ukranian side has finally qualified for the knockout stage following 11 straight times exiting at the group stage.  They might be the surprise side of the season.

Gent – In their first ever appearance in the Champions League, this Belgium side has qualified over the likes of Valencia and Lyon.  They are the surprise team of the knockout stage and the team all the big boys want to face.

The draw for the Round of 16 will be held on December 14th and the first legs will be played on the 16th, 17th, 23rd, and 24th of February and the second legs will be played on the 8th, 9th, 15th, and 16th of March.

Biggest Winner – For me this has to be Manchester City.  They have finally advanced as group winners and will avoid Barcelona in the Round of 16.  They were not favored to win the group, but they came up with big performances when they needed them.

Biggest Loser – I am going to stay in the same city here and go with Manchester United.  While there are no easy groups in the Champions League, a club the size of Manchester United should have easily qualified for the Round of 16.  It has to be disappointing when you see that they earned just 1 point from their two games against PSV.  Two wins out of six is not good enough.

Best Goal – For me was back on match day one when Alessandro Florenzi curled in an absolute beauty from just inside the halfway line.  What a strike.

Best Player – This has to go to Cristiano Ronaldo.  He scored a massive 11 goals in the group stage and helped Real Madrid to an undefeated group stage run.  He capped this off with 4 goals against Malmo.  He also added 3 assists during the group stage.

Best Manager – Andre Villas-Boas of Zenit Saint Petersburg is my choice for this, since he was the only manager to go a perfect 5 for 5 in the first five group games.  He has his Zenit side playing very well right now.  He did announce that he is returning to Portugal because of his family after the season.  In his last couple months as Zenit manager, he will look to make them special.

Most Disappointing Player – I am going to go with Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon. Lyon was supposed to be fighting for the top spot in the group, to having nothing to play for on the final day since they were already eliminated. Lacazette was one of the hottest players last year and in the summer.  However, he only scored 2 goals during qualifying as Lyon managed just 5 goals in 6 games.  It was a very disappointing show for him.

Most Disappointing Manager – Louis van Gaal of Manchester United for one reason, subbing off his most creative player, Juan Mata, when he was down 2-1 and needed to win the match to advance.  Why he made that change I am not sure and it was just one example of how things went horribly wrong for him and for United.

 Europa League

The following teams are entering the Round of 32 in the Europa League after finishing third in their group: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester United, Galatasaray, Sevilla, Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Porto, and Valencia.

 

I will follow up with a blog next week on the draw for both the Champions League and the Europa League.

10 Questions from This Weekend

  1. Who will win the Serie A?

In what has to be the most exciting title race this year, no team has really claimed the front runner spot in Italy.  There have been 6 different teams who have held the top spot this year with only three of them having been in the top spot for consecutive weeks.  The race has been between Fiorentina, Inter, Napoli, and Roma.  Inter is back on top of the table following their 1-0 win over Genoa.  For Inter, this is their league leading 10th clean sheet.  Their defense has really helped carry them this season.  Fiorentina also won this weekend to send them up to second place.  They defeated Udinese 3-0.  Napoli saw their18 game unbeaten run come to an end as they lost 3-2 at Bologna.  Bologna jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first half before Higuain scored a late brace in the game.  Napoli dropped from the top spot to third in the table.  Roma drew 1-1 against Torino this weekend.  They are now 5 points back in fourth place.  Lastly there is Juventus but more on them in a little.

  1. Can Gary Neville keep up the momentum?

Before he even took over as manager, there was a boast from having a new manager as Valencia fought back to draw 1-1 with Barcelona.  Gary will take over this week in a must win Champions League match.  Valencia will advance with a win.  Neville will have his feet right in the fire.  On the flip side, Barcelona could have been up 3-0 in the first 10 minutes but they were not at their best in the game.  The draw moved Valencia up to 8th place in the table.  They are 5 points behind Celta Vigo in fourth. The draw also means that the race at the top is tighter as Real Madrid thrashed Getafe 4-1 and Atletico Madrid defeated Granada 2-0.  Barcelona is now just 2 points clear of Atletico and 4 points clear of Real Madrid.  The title race is really heating up.

  1. Is the German title race back on?

Bayern Munich is no longer unbeaten as they failed to win in Monchengladbach losing 3-1 in the game.  The game was 0-0 at halftime.  Monchengladbach must have had a great team talk as they jumped to a 3-0 lead within the first 25 minutes of the second half.  They got goals from Oscar Wendt, Lars Stindl, and Fabian Johnson.  Franck Ribery came on for the first time this year and in his 15 minutes scored the only goal for Munich.  A healthy Ribery gives Munich almost too many options and headaches for Pep Guardiola.  This result coupled with Dortmund beating Wolfsburg 2-1 means that the title race is on now.  Reus would give them the lead in the first half.  The win looked sealed up going into stoppage time but then Ricardo Rodriguez scored from the spot.  Then on the next attack, Shinji Kagawa brilliantly volleyed in an Mkhitaryan cross to give Dortmund the points.  The difference is now 5 points.

  1. What is realistic for Leicester?

There is a big distinction in my opinion between can and will Leicester win title.  Can they?  Sure why not?  If they win every game the rest of the season, then they are champions.  Will they?  I really struggle to see them winning the title despite being top and being on top form.  The winter period is upon us and between now and January 13th Leicester face Chelsea, at Everton, at Liverpool, Manchester City and travel to Tottenham twice once in the FA Cup and once in the League.  This will be a brutal stretch for them.  If they are in the top four on the 14th of January then we can start to have the will they discussion with more seriousness.  They have been the best story in England all season and have delighted the eye and the heart.  Realistically, the goal was avoid relegation.  That is done.  Now it is to get as high as they can.  Anything in the top half is great.  A place in Europe?  Leicester may burn to the ground in celebration.

  1. Can PSG go unbeaten all season?

With just two games to until the midway point in the season, PSG are currently unbeaten in their 17 games.  They have won 14 games and drawn the other 3.  The answer to whether or not they can go undefeated will be answered in the next 3 weeks as they host Lyon and Saint Etienne and then travel to Caen.  If they can come away unscathed from those three games then there is a chance that they could run the table.  They are scoring for fun this season averaging 2.35 goals per game and allowing .47 goals against per game.  The longest unbeaten streak in Ligue  1 is 32 matches and we are a long way away from that but PSG look set to make a run at that record.

  1. Which Madrid side will finish higher this season?

Both teams came off big wins this weekend and are both poised to challenge for the title this season.  The question is which one will finish higher.  Atletico Madrid is the best defense by far in La Liga having only conceded 6 goals all season.  Diego Simeone seems to have figured out how to return Atleti to the form of two years ago.  They are scoring goals as they have 20 goals this season but are well behind the likes of Barcelona (34 goals) and Real Madrid (32 goals).  Real on the other hand seem one bad result away from a firestorm.  Rafa is questioned at every turn and there is not the sense of team chemistry that Atletico have.  But let’s remember, Barcelona was in a similar spot a year ago and they went on to win the treble.  It should be a fascinating rest of the season and a great title race.

  1. Can Juventus really win the Scudetto this year?

Juventus have absolutely dominated Serie A for the last four seasons.  They won the league by 17 points each of the last two seasons and it has never really been close.  This season was supposed to be a fifth title in the row.  They had reached the finals of the Champions League last season and were looking to push on from there.  Then the summer happened and many of their top players transferred away from the club.  In the first six games of the season, Juventus won 1 game and drew 2.  They had a total of 5 points and were looking up the table with a long way to climb.  Now they have won 5 games in a row with their 2-0 win over Lazio.  They are just 6 points off the top and are poised to continue their run.  They are going to give it their all and in an extremely exciting Serie A, they may just have what it takes to win their fifth in a row.

  1. How long does Jose really have?

It is strange to think that right now Jose Mourinho is closer to the relegation zone than he is to the top half of the table.  It is looking more and more likely that Chelsea will miss out on the Champions League next season.  Their only hope now is to win the competition this year.  However, they need to qualify for the group stage first.  They could drop down to the Europa League and win that competition as well but we are getting ahead of ourselves.  They really need to fix themselves first.  Chelsea has conceded the most goals this season in the last 15 minutes.  This trend continued as they lost 1-0 at home to Bournemouth thanks to a late Glen Murray winner.  They have given up more than a goal a game this season.  The trouble is not just the defense as they have only scored 17 goals.  Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, and Eden Hazard seem to have gone missing.  The team needs a big result in the Champions League as a defeat could see them out of the group stage.  The answer to the question is simple.  If he doesn’t qualify for the group stage he is out soon.  If he does then he could have a long stay at Chelsea.

  1. Is Angers for real?

It had been 21 years since Angers was in the top flight of French football and now they are the closest rivals to the French leaders, PSG.  While they sit 15 points behind them, they are in second place and just defended their place brilliantly with a 2-0 win over Lyon.  Not many would have seen this coming from this newly promoted side.  The team has one of the best defenses in Ligue 1.  This week, they knocked of Lyon and sent Lyon down to 5th place.  They are four points ahead of the side that was supposed to challenge for the title.  Their lead is not big as Caen and Monaco sit 1 and 2 points back respectively.  And while this run is amazing and we should all be cheering for Angers.  An interesting thought is that the difference between Angers and PSG (15 points) is the same as the distance between them and Toulouse in 19th place.  It is very tight between 2nd and 19th but for now Angers could be hosting Champions League football next fall.

  1. Congrats to Portland?

This weekend was the MLS Cup.  I must say congrats to Portland on winning their first ever MLS Cup.  This team was fun to watch this season as they went on to win the title 2-1 over the Columbus Crew.  The game was held in Columbus and was officiated very open and loose.  This was no more evident than for the second goal when the ball clearly traveled out of bounds in the 7th minute but the Timbers did not stop playing and went on to score just a couple passes later.  By out of bounds, I mean at least a foot out of bound.  I have no idea how this was missed.  It was a rough day for the assistant referee.  However, the Timbers probably deserved to win and might have anyways.  It was a bad call but went the way of the Timbers so congrats to them and their first ever MLS Cup.

Picture of the Week

Is this the dirtiest move by a goalkeeper ever?

IMG_5489IMG_5493IMG_5495

Goal of the Week

My Pick – Shinji Kagawa’s goal in the 4th minute of stoppage time to give Dortmund all three points and bring them within 5 of Munich.

Champions League Update

Group A – Real Madrid and PSG have both advanced to the group stage.  Real Madrid should win the group.  Shakhtar Donetsk is in line to advance to the Europa League over Malmo.

Group B – The only thing we know for sure is that CSKA is out.  If PSV Eindhoven beat CSKA then they advance.  Wolfsburg needs one point to advance.  Manchester United will advance with a win or any results other than a PSV win.

Group C – Benfica and Atletico Madrid have advanced to the group stage and play a win take all for the group in Lisbon.  Galatasaray and Astana play for the Europa League spot with Astana needing a win.

Group D – Juventus and Manchester City have advance to the group stage.  Juventus will win the group if they defeat Sevilla.  Borussia Monchengladbach will advance to the Europa League is they defeat Manchester City.

Group E – Barcelona has won the group and will rest players in the final game against Leverkusen.  If Leverkusen win and Roma stumble against BATE Borisov then they will advance.  BATE Borisov can advance with a win over Roma and a Barcelona win.  Roma will advance with a win.

Group F – Bayern Munich tops the group and has advanced to the group stage.  Olympiacos and Arsenal face off in Greece in a winner takes all match for the second spot in the group stage.  Arsenal needs to better the result of the reverse game where Olympiacos beat Arsenal 3-2.

Group G – This group is another three way race between Porto, Chelsea, and Dynamo Kyiv.  If Dynamo Kyiv defeats Maccabi Tel Aviv then they will advance to the group stage.  If they do not win then it is Porto and Chelsea.  Chelsea just needs a point in Porto to qualify for the group stage.  Porto needs to win at Chelsea to guarantee they qualify.

Group H – The only perfect team remaining is Zenit Saint Petersburg as they are 5 wins out of 5.  They have won the group.  Gent needs to win at home against Zenit to qualify.  They will also qualify is Valencia fails to win.  Valencia must win at home and hope that Zenit can get at least a point.  Lyon are eliminated.