European Leagues Weekend Roundup

The last weekend of league football before the first international break of the season is done. The Serie A finally joined in the fun with its opening round fixtures. Just as with last weekend, there were some big transfer moves to end it all off. Radamel Falcao moved to Manchester United on loan, while Javier Hernandez joined Real Madrid in a similar capacity and Shinji Kagawa returned to Dortmund. Today was transfer deadline day so look out for the roundup of all the August and September transfers in the coming days.

So, on the fixtures. As stated last week, the focus will be on the bigger clubs in all leagues with special performances or shock results getting a mention as well.

Primeira Liga(Round 3) and Eredivisie(Round 4)

Never a dull day in Portugal and the Netherlands as both leagues continue to march on. Porto is now the only big boy to have won all its games, while Benfica and Sporting Lisbon played to a draw. PSV continues to rattle in goals and pick up wins with 14 goals in four games and a perfect record. The shock of the week is Ajax falling to a second straight loss, this time to Groningen. Here’s the highlights of that game.

Ligue 1(Round 4)

Both PSG and Marseille turned on the style this weekend with big wins to climb up the table into familiar positions. Bordeaux still leads the league but things may return to normality soon enough. Monaco again continue to falter, and have left themselves in even more of a precarious position for the season after the departure of Falcao. Why do you enter the Champions League after so many years without arguably the best centre-forward in the game? An ever solid Lille side was the opposition this weekend, so excuses could be made. Meanwhile, gone are the days of the perennial title-winners Lyon.

Ligue 1 highlights here

Serie A(Round 1)

The Serie A returned with plenty of questions. A few of which were answered on day one, as Juventus, Roma and Napoli picked up where they left of with wins. The trio is again expected to battle it out for the title, with Roma and Napoli hoping the departure of Antonio Conte leaves Juventus a bit weaker. The two Milan sides had different fortunes as Inter seemingly couldn’t muster the energy to win after midweek play, while a Europe-less AC Milan started life post-Balotelli in style.

Serie A highlights here

Bundesliga(Round 2)

Bayer Leverkusen continued its good start with a solid home win. Schalke held Bayern Munich to a 1-1 draw, while Borussia Dortmund squeaked into the win column. All of that action leaves Bayer as the lone leader in the league now, and neutrals will be hoping they can hold on to put up a strong challenge this season. Conventional wisdom would have Bayern winning it all, yet again, but this season could be different.

Bundesliga highlights here

La Liga(Round 2)

Things have already taken an interesting turn in La Liga after this weekend’s results. Real Sociedad pulled of an absolute shocker with four unanswered goals to defeat Real Madrid. Angel Di Maria won’t be feeling to bad about drawing with Burnley now. It was pretty much business as usual everywhere else though, with Barcelona picking up a hard-fought win as well as Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla getting in on the act.

La Liga highlights here

Premier League(Round 3)

Things got really interesting this weekend in the Premier League with the highlight being a thrilling, from what I’ve heard, encounter between Everton and Chelsea. Will be watching that replay soon enough. Manchester United continued to do an Arsenal with a draw at Burnley, while Arsenal did an Arsenal at Leicester City. Liverpool is the only other big team to come away with positive vibes after decimating Tottenham at White Hart Lane, as Manchester City fell to Stoke City.

Premier League highlights here

 

Until next time.

Leicester City 1 – 1 Arsenal: Pre-Transfer Deadline Day Doldrums

Which is a prequel to Arsenal’s actual transfer day doldrums.

Arsenal entered the international break in typically frustrating fashion after tying away with Leicester City 1-1. One could go on and on about the need for this, the lack of that and so on and so forth but it’s still really early in the season. Although for anyone actually thinking title challenge before all this, I hope they’ve seen the light.

I’ll make this quick since I have plenty of August and transfer deadline day deals(probably none which will involve Arsenal) to look at, as well as European league roundup.

Arsenal now has five points from three games, which looks bad at face-value until you consider Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham have six, Manchester United and Everton have two and Chelsea has nine. Chelsea look ready for the long-haul, and one can’t look past new additions Diego Costa and He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Unlike against Everton, though, the game against Leicester will be looked at as two points dropped. Arsenal fans at the stadium certainly made their feelings known with chants for new strikers to be brought in. Sorry fellas, Sanogo’s just warming up is all.

Alexis Sanchez did score again, which is the only real positive from the game. We were again nervous at times defensively, and even more so with Laurent Koscielny in la-la-land early on. Koscielny return to the field after knocking his head is partly to blame for Leicester’s equalizer and the Frenchman really shouldn’t have come back in.

Maybe having another experienced central defender in the ranks would have discouraged Arsene Wenger from doing something that daft.

Another continuation of stubbornness or lack of tactical insight, or just being senile, saw Arsene Wenger again force Mesut Ozil to play from wide. We aren’t Germany, Wenger. Far from it. And, you saw how ineffective he was in Brazil until the latter stages playing out wide.

Ozil, I’m sure, was bought to play the central attacking midfield role in a 4-2-3-1. That’s his best position. Why the sudden change? Cazorla is one of the few non-wingers who can do a solid job in that position, as he did for Villarreal. Not sure what’s going on there.

Ozil started last season there last year and was great. Whether he’s behind Olivier Giroud or Sanchez he needs to be central or else he’ll continue to falter and fall foul of the Arsenal boo-boys sooner rather than later.

Oh, and there’s also Lukas Podolski looking he could give two #$%s about being played centrally at last after coming on late in the game. I think he would have preferred to take his magical left boot elsewhere if Giroud hadn’t gotten injured.

Oh, well.

Still have ways to go in the transfer day yet.

We’ll see what happens.

FIFA 15 and Football Manager: The Best of Football Virtual Reality Returns

We are weeks away from the annual release of my favourite video game of all time, EA Sports FIFA , and almost two months away from yearly arrival of the highly addictive Football Manager.

FIFA15Box02 Football_Manager_2015_from_Sega

While we’ve spent a lot of time looking at some of the real life events on and off the pitch so far, the return of these video games will see me speak a bit more about the virtual side of the game. That will especially be the case with Football Manager, as right now it’ll be a bit more accessible for me than FIFA.

That may change if my PS3 decides to waltz back into my living room at some point in the next few weeks. Since that’s unlikely to happen, it will be the first edition of the game in some time that I haven’t gotten on the release date. That’s a big deal for those who know me well.

Both games are among the most in-depth and entertaining in the sports genre and are certainly ahead of others where football is concerned. Football Manager’s so in-depth in fact, that it was reported by the Guardian in early August that Premier League clubs will begin to use the game’s database. Here’s further info, again from the Guardian, on just why this move came about.

So this year when I brag about finding a player or using a system that achieves constant success for Arsenal I may think about sending a note or two to Arsene Wenger should he falter in London his season.

Hopefully I can get back on the FIFA train pretty quickly as well, as it’s become increasingly fun to beat players online. Almost as good as Career Mode.

It’ll certainly be fun to play these games, especially for disgruntled fans who think they can do better than their current managers. We’ll definitely take more of a look at these games as time goes on.

Until next time.

Michael Platini’s Champions League playoff plan needs revising – ESPN FC

Michael Platini’s Champions League playoff plan needs revising – ESPN FC.

Some good thoughts in this article but one area of focus in particular involves Arsenal.

As a Gunners fan I should be happy that our years of consistent appearances and progression in the tournament lead to us being a Pot 1 seed. However, I don’t believe it’s deserved in instances like this year when we have to go through playoffs to qualify.

As author, Rory Smith, stated in a note at the end;

*An additional note: the idea that teams can go through the qualifiers and then end up as first seeds, such as Porto and Arsenal, is entirely ludicrous. That privilege should be reserved for champions of the five major nations, the holders, and then the two best sides by coefficient. It is very easy

That’s pretty simple isn’t it? It is called the Champions League after all and the winners of the top leagues in Europe(England, Spain, France, Italy and Germany) should be rewarded for their efforts along with the winner. They are usually among the best performers on the continent as well and they should be joined by the next best teams that automatically qualify.

When we finish third then a Pot 1 seed is okay, but no team that has to play their way into the tournament proper should be able to be in Pot 1. Not that it’s seemed to help either way.

In the last five seasons(including this one) we’ve been in the playoffs three times and only once have we had a group that you would consider relatively easy.  We qualified automatically that season after coming third but came in second in that group.

2010/11 opponents(automatically qualified, Pot 1, finished 2nd) – Shakhtar Donetsk, Partizan Belgrade, Braga

2011/12 opponents(playoffs vs. Udinese, Pot 1, finished 1st) – Marseille, Olympiakos, Borussia Dortmund

2012/13 opponents(automatically qualified, Pot 1, finished 2nd) - Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier

2013/14 opponents(playoffs vs. Fenerbache, Pot 1, finished 2nd) - Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Marseille

2014/15 opponents(playoffs vs. Besiktas, Pot 1, unknown) - Borussia Dortmund, Galatasary, Anderlecht

 

Nothing too easy there and it’s possible that things could get worse if Arsenal was to go to Pot 2. Maybe that would convince Arsene Wenger to push more for a finish in the top 3, or better, rather than the “4th place trophy.”

Let’s see what happens this year.

 

 

17 Years and Counting…Not too Shabby

Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Besiktas last night was a bit too close for comfort but it means the Gunners can continue to build on a positive summer.

I mean, who wants to play for a team spending nights in places like Agdam, which Wikepedia says is some place in Azerbaijan. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have been horrified by the thought of playing the Europa League had that occurred. I think it’s a trophy we would have been among the favourites, if not the favourite, to win.

That matters little now, as we await our opponents for the Champions League proper after what was a suspenseful game. I think this current crop of players took the idea of football as entertainment a bit too far against Besiktas.

Overall, I was happy with the result and one or two performances but still came away feeling a little too nervous.

Things do seem to be getting better game by game for the Gunners though, with the notable takeaway that Alexis Sanchez has now opened his account for the club. While unfortunate for Olivier Giroud, I think the Frenchman’s injury is a good thing for Alexis as he can now push on and make the forward role his own. Okay, admittedly, that may not be his best role in this Arsenal system but unless someone else is brought in, he’s the best option besides Giroud.

I hope Giroud does recover well as he can offer a good alternative, and as he showed against Everton he does provide a good focal point for the attack. With Alexis likely to be well accustomed to his teammates by December, when Giroud is expected back, the Frenchman could face a fight to regain a starting role.

If Arsene does want a short-term solution to missing Giroud he could bring back MK Dons on-loan master forward Benik Afobe. Only to dress him for games against Manchester United, of course.

Aside from Sanchez, Jack Wilshere looked better away from the shadow of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla also improved and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain looked great. Still not happy with Arsene Wenger”s decision to have Mesut Ozil play mostly from the left, as he and Ronaldo(I mean Sanchez) could strike up a great understanding playing closer together in the middle.

Huge credit goes to the defense, who each played a valiant role down the stretch to deny Besiktas that all-important away goal after going down to 10 men. There were nervy moments throughout, especially with those first half penalty shouts but credit has to go where its due.

So. Now that that’s all sorted Arsene, can we please get a defender? That’s all. I’m sure there £10 million sitting around somewhere for the penultimate piece to the puzzle.(We need a DM too but I know you probably won’t get one)

On to the weekend at Leicester, and then the international break.

Until next time.

European League Weekend Roundup

Another weekend of football has passed us by with some interesting results all around. Both the Bundesliga and La Liga ran through their opening fixtures, leaving the Serie A, minus a certain Super Mario, as only big league yet to start. There were some other big signings in the last few days but we’ll focus on those during the August transfer roundup.

So, on the fixtures. As stated last week, the focus will be on the bigger clubs in all leagues with special performances or shock results getting a mention as well.

Primeira Liga and Eredivisie

Portugal and the Netherlands are two leagues that have some good talents, even if they may not match the level of competition of other European Leagues. It’s pretty much business as usual in Portugal with Benfica and Porto among the few unbeaten teams. PSV is now the only one of the traditional big boys to stay unbeaten in the Netherlands, after a fantastic 3-1 away win against reigning champions, Ajax.

Ligue 1

Bordeaux surprisingly lead the table while big-spenders, PSG and Monaco, have realized they forgot to throw the money at the officials, their opponents and anyone else who could get them consistent wins. PSG had to do without the magician named Zlatan while also worrying about Thiago Motta’s nose, while Monaco huffed and puffed to their first league win. Maybe money doesn’t solve all. Elsewhere, things are looking up for Marseille as well after the first win under Marcelo Bielsa.

Ligue 1 highlights here

Bundesliga

The opening weekend of the Bundesliga provided two surprising, but not so surprising results, as Schalke went down to Hannover 96 while Borussia Dortmund effectively handed the title to Bayern Munich with a home loss to Bayer Leverkusen. If any team is really expected to challenge Bayern then it would be those fellows who look like bumblebees but, just like last year, they are showing that SuperCup win means little in the long run.

Bundesliga highlights here

La Liga

The most intriguing tie of the opening round heading in was Sevilla versus Valencia, and that ended in a 1-1 draw. Those two sides, along with Atletico Madrid are set to give the sternest challenges to Barcelona and Real Madrid. Atletico didn’t get their title defense off to the best of starts after a draw. The two bullies of the league both won, at home,(wonder who set that up) against newly promoted sides.(Really?)

La Liga highlights here

Premier League

No real shockers in the second round of games here. Lots of draws, Tottenham exciting fans with an early 4-0 drubbing of QPR only to let them down later in the season, Arsenal finding a slim positive among plenty negatives with a comeback draw versus Everton, Manchester United holding Sunderland to a draw and the list goes on. The two major contenders for the title, Chelsea and Manchester City are proving their worth.

City look especially good and it’s probably not a coincidence that the team with the least upheaval in terms of key players is pretty comfortable so far. Liverpool still have work to do but could repeat their title challenge provided they avoid major player catastrophes or prolonged periods of poor form.

Premier League highlights here

 

Until next time.

 

 

It’s Still Early Days Yet for Arsenal and Things Can Only Get Better…Right?

All’s well that ends well may be the mantra for many Arsenal fans after the 2-2 draw versus Everton.

Let’s start with the positives, shall we?

Arsenal showed some great resilience to claw back from a 2-goal deficit, away at Everton, and rescued a point in the process. And, that’s about it.

Then again, they could have been helped by Everton’s decision to basically stop playing in the second half. (Maybe I’m downplaying Arsenal’s part in the game as I sit here watching Spurs dismantle QPR at home).

As the title states, though, it is still early days and Arsenal still has multiple chances to convince with everyone in full flow before the season really gets flowing. And that’s the thing. Arsenal seems like one of the  few big clubs where the late return of key players is affecting the performance so much despite a perceived plethora of options in the midfield and attack.

Arsene Wenger’s decision-making, despite the positive signings, is still in question as far as I’m concerned.

Yes, there are key players returning from World Cup duty who are either still getting back into full form and, in some cases, trying to mesh with their new teammates as well.

That still doesn’t mean that certain players, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker in this case, should be dumped into what everyone knew would be a tough away game against Everton. The case for Ozil not playing is even more annoying when you consider that Rosicky remained on the bench. Mertesacker’s inclusion became a necessity as Wenger has so far neglected to strengthen the defense despite that being one of the weak points heading into the season.

That the two Germans were among the worst performers on the day showed the club would have been better off if they could have come on as subs and not be given a fitness run out in a key game.  Will they be in the starting lineup at midweek after playing each playing the full 90 minutes in a hard-fought game? You can’t think that will lead to more positive performances on their behalf.

On the attacking end, the fact that Olivier Giroud came on to score the equalizer is a positive/negative as it means the Frenchman will continue to be the main forward as things progress and Alexis Sanchez will be shunted out wide again. As I’ve stated time and again, it’s just personal preference for me that the Chilean starts up top but as pointed out by an avid Barcelona, and Sanchez, fan, Arsene Wenger’s use of his front three is not conducive to getting the best out of Sanchez.

Sanchez will, in time, show his best form and it will be interesting to see where Wenger decides to use him then. What can’t be excused is the inability to cope with Everton’s attack as Roberto Martinez used almost the same tactics that led to that 3-0 defeat towards the end of last season.

Everton deserved their 2-goal lead and perhaps didn’t deserve to keep it as they let Arsenal back in the game.

It has to be said that grabbing point at Everton is actually quite good considering the circumstance. It may be seen as a point gained rather than two dropped. There’s still issues to consider though.

Individual performances around the pitch are still a problem, and the upcoming international break will delay the team’s ability to play cohesively even further. Manchester City will be waiting in the wings after that break, so hopefully the Gunners can improve individually and as a team in the two games before the break.

In other news, Lukas Podolski’s exclusion at the weekend has led to increased speculation that he could be leaving the club. More chances for Joel Campbell as a result? We’ll see what happens.

European league weekend roundup coming up next.

 

 

And the Slow Start Continues

Common sense says it’s still way too early in the season for cynics to criticize the Gunners but another ho-hum result may see the scoldings begin in earnest.

Arsenal’s 0-0 draw away at Besiktas wasn’t the worst result possible for the London side and there were certainly a number of positives. There were negatives as well that seem indicative of a repeat of last seasons decisions, which were ultimately mistakes, by Arsene Wenger.

Why, for instance, was the starting XI, bar one or two players, from the Crystal Palace game trotted out after a short rest and an away trip? Arsene paid the prices for that decision with an injury to Mikel Arteta possibly forcing him out of the next few games, and some poor performances across the pitch.

The duo on the left side composed of Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal offered little going forward, the incomparable Olivier Giroud lacked sharpness, and Aaron Ramsey got himself red-carded. Those were some of the other negatives that made the return leg, despite it being a home encounter, a trickier proposition than before.

The game itself was pretty open while also being a bit physical, and there’ll be two players considering wearing cups before the return leg kicks off. Some of Arsenal’s underwhelming play is a result of the short preseason for certain players after the World Cup and it’s obvious that things should get better before they get worse.

One major worry tactically, besides the inability to finish against an open side, was Besiktas’ attacking down the left flank.

Mathieu Debuchy’s interest in pushing forward is all well and good but time and again there were was space in behind the position he vacated. That led to almost the best chance of the game for Besiktas soon after the second half begun. The Gunners inability to completely control the game as they should have also made it a more nerve-wracking affair than it should have been.

On the positive side, Alexis Sanchez began to show what he could really do for Arsenals’ attack on the break. He was the Gunners best player in that respect and I’m really hoping to see him lead the line.

Speaking of leading the line, where the heck did this version of Demba Ba come from?

For about 60 minutes, until he no longer received good service and lost some fitness himself, Ba was the complete opposite of Giroud. Creating chances, holding up play and almost scoring a spectacular effort from the kick-off. It’s a wonder what confidence can do for a player.

The final result is still not something to scoff about but with an away trip to Everton at the weekend things could get hairy fast. The Toffees will give Arsenal their sternest test so far this infant season, and will be keen to make up for lost points against Leicester City.

Should be fun. Until next time.

Looking at European Leagues during the 2014/15 season

I said we’d start with a Premier League roundup after an interesting first Round but the idea moving forward was to bring news and results from Europe’s best leagues.

We’ll try make this a weekly thing as we take a look at the top 5 European leagues(Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1). The Eredivisie and Primeira Liga will get a look as well.

The focus will be mainly on the big teams in each league, hopefully we won’t have to spell that out, but any team or individual performance of note will get a nod. Three of the seven leagues have already started, with Ligue 1 and the Eredivisie already one game ahead, so we’ll play catch up on those next week.

Since the Premier League holds special interest thanks to a certain North London side, we’ll just comment on the big boys there this time around.

There weren’t any major surprises as far as results go.

Manchester United lost to Swansea City at home, but it wasn’t a big shocker given the lack of depth and the club fighting to regain confidence from last season. The best team won in truth. Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool decided to play with fans hearts a bit with some very close scorelines and interesting performances. The ever faithful and, even more extremely hopeful, Gooners will already be biting fingernails. Elsewhere, it was all business as usual for Manchester City and Chelsea as they effectively dealt with their opposition and were comfortable victors in the end. Everton drew with Leicester City and may come to rue the dropped points later in the season. Leicester City look like they may be in the league to stay though.

So that’s a look at Round 1 of the Premier league and we’ll look to bring in all the leagues that have started beginning next week. Here’s to hoping Arsenal doesn’t throw away all the good summer work by ending up in the Europa League.

Will bring a recap of the Besiktas versus Arsenal match tomorrow. Bonne chance(did I say that right?), Gunners.

What Should Brandao’s Fate Be?

The aftermath of PSG’s recent 2-0 victory of Bastia brought some pretty interesting activity. Bastia forward, Brandao, once a Marseille player, head-butted PSG’s Thiago Motta in the tunnel after the game.

The response in some areas, led by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, is for the Brazilian attacker to be banned for life. Some are also looking at Luis Suarez’s recent suspension and wondering how any punishment, and there’s no doubt that there will be, will stack up.

The Suarez situation shouldn’t come into play as far as this issue is concerned. Suarez performed his act of aggression in three different countries, in three different competitions and in two different continents. He obviously didn’t learn his lesson and his punishment was deserved.

Brandao took things to another level with an obviously premeditated act that occurred well after the result was over. Suarez’s actions were borderline premeditated/reaction to a situation.

What happened to Brandao during the match that could have caused such a reaction? There have been no reports so far of any ill-mannered activity towards the Bastia forward.

The question is, what should happen to Brandao?

The latest updates surrounding the situation, courtesy of Tim Daniels from Bleacher Report, show that Bastia is looking to terminate attackers contract. That’s a good start.

One would think that Ligue 1 may even chime in at some point with punishment of their own. Whatever the case, it may be fair to say that Brandao’s future in European football may be over. He’s 34 years old and has provided many clubs with a valid reason to avoid signing him beyond just his football skills.

We’ll see what happens.