Pitchside Issue Nine

In this week’s show we discuss the recent sackings at WBA and Spurs, plus the usual chit-chat! 🙂

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We Are Pitchside

Pitchside are a seven strong group of Journalism students hailing from London all the way up to Carlisle. We are working on a multi-platform sports news source consisting of a weekly sports chat show and regular articles. Though these articles will carry some weight towards our supported clubs as noted on our ‘Meet the Panel’ page we will endeavor to cover all the major sporting stories.

Mystic Mawky – Week Seven

Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal: An exciting game at the Etihad which will end in a draw as two strong teams show signs of weariness after tough away trips in the Champions League during midweek.

Can Koscielny stop the in-form Sergio Aguero?

Cardiff 1-2 West Brom: Two sides sat side by side in the table meet in Cardiff and I can just see the baggies coming away from this one with an away win. Shane Long will get one of the goals and this is the sort of match where I can see an own goal being scored.

Chelsea 4-0 Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis’s reign at Palace has started well but Chelsea are near invincible at StamfordBridge and should turn them over fairly easily.

Everton 2-1 Fulham: Everton come into this game on the back of taking four points away to Manchester United and Arsenal and should do the same here, Fulham are rubbish away from home and Everton should win fairly comfortably.

Newcastle 1-1 Southampton: Both teams have been in good form this season and they should play out an entertaining game at St James’s park, Southampton’s style of pressing high up the pitch should secure them a point at least.

West Ham 1-0 Sunderland: Two sides struggling near the bottom of the table will play out a dull game at Upton Park with only one goal which will most likely be scored from a set piece, seen as West Ham seem to think they’re Spain at the moment and don’t play with anyone up front.

Hull 1-0 Stoke: Home advantage will be the key in this one with Hull just sneaking all three points against Stoke, who will be one of the poorest sides in the league this season but will just manage to stay up.

Aston Villa 1-1 Manchester United: United will put a halt to their losing run, only just though with a stagnant performance at Villa Park. United really need to buck their ideas up or they won’t even make Europe this season.

Norwich 2-2 Swansea: Norwich and Swansea will give the fans a treat at Carrow Road with a four goal thriller, a game that will prove that it’s not just the top teams in the Premier League who can create a classic.

Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool: Liverpool go to White Hart Lane to face a Spurs side who have been struggling lately, having said that I can’t see Spurs losing this game and think that they will grind out a draw.

Pacitto Predictions – Week Seven

Manchester City 3-1 Arsenal: ManchesterCity have been just far too formidable at home to ignore. Arsenal will go two games without a win for the first time this season, and lose grip at the top.

Cardiff 1-2 West Brom: Nobody has really picked up on Cardiff’s slide down the table, but they lay a mere point above Palace and Fulham. Their problems to become more noticeable with a home defeat.

Chelsea 3-0 Crystal Palace: Easy as you like for Chelsea, they can beat the Eagles at a canter. Tony Pulis will not be focusing on games like this to get them out of trouble; it’s a damage limitation exercise.

Tottenham 3-1 Liverpool: Tottenham to come out like an absolute steam train and punish Liverpool in the first half, even Suarez is kept quiet. I’m still expecting the Uruguayan to score, but it won’t be enough.

Dembele (if he starts) and Lucas could be a key battle; who will come out on top?

Everton 2-2 Fulham: A rejuvenated Fulham go to Goodison Park and play out a cracker of a game, nabbing a point along the way. Meulensteen needs this honeymoon to last.

Newcastle 2-1 Southampton: Despite an excellent performance, the longest away trip in the League for the Saints should just prove too much for a Newcastle side in fine form.

West Ham 1-1 Sunderland: The Hammers & The Black Cats play out a six-pointer where nobody takes home more than one for themselves. A dreary game with a couple of tap-ins for goals, not what either manager needs.

Hull 1-0 Stoke: Two very mid-table sides, and Steve Bruce’s profile is rising all the time. Another efficient win here and I can’t see the Humberside club falling into trouble.

Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester United: Goals only seem to get scored in Manchester United’s away games. They’ll pick up a win here against a Villa side that only have 6 home goals themselves this season.

Norwich 2-0 Swansea: Swansea, with their well-documented travel problems with getting to Switzerland, will suffer preparing for this game more than St Gallen. Easy enough win for Norwich.

OBSCURE XI’S // WEEK Three – Gingers vs. Dreads

The short 11 which can be found here is ahead in the voting for last weeks Pitchside Picks. This week our 11’s are back and even more obscure! Our own ginger panelist Michael ‘Morecambe’ Garvey has picked his dream Ginger XI which will go against Tom Dorsett’s dread-locked 11, Tom unfortunately does not have dreads (check out the curls though!) but here are his and Morecambe’s teams…

thirdweek11s

Ginger XI – “Orange County F.C” – 4-4-2

 The Gaffer – Alex McLeish

The team is managed by Alex McLeish who has enjoyed success in Scotland with Rangers winning the SPL and Scottish cup twice. He has also managed both Birmingham clubs and guided Birmigham City to promotion to the Premier League and Carling Cup in 2011 where they beat Arsenal in the final.

Goalkeeper – Ben Amos

Goalkeeper is not this teams strongest position, but it is always important to build for the future and Ben Amos certainly has a bright one having been capped three times for England Under 21s and making several appearances in the Manchester United first team. Currently on loan at Carlisle where he looks a cut above in League One.

Right Back – Wes Brown

Not many gingers can boast a medal haul of Five Premier League Titles, two FA Cups and Two Champions League’s. Not to mention 23 caps for England. Wes Brown was reliable defender for Manchester United for over a decade before being transferred to Sunderland where he proved he still has it with his performance against Manchester City the other week after a lengthy spell out injured.

Centre Back – Alexi Lalas

Iconic United States centre back, who lit up the 1994 World Cup with his long ginger hair and bright bushy beard, became the first modern era American to play in Serie A when he joined Padova in 1994, had a spell as general manager of LA Galaxy and now works for ESPN as an analyst.

Centre Back – Matthias Sammer

Dubbed as the heir to the great Beckenbauer, Sammer was the peak of his powers at Euro 1996 where he was part of the victorious German team, a feat that also saw him claim the Ballon D’or that year. Played predominantly for Borussia Dortmund where he won the Bundesliga and Champions League in 1997. Retired in 1999 aged 30 and now works as a sporting director at Bayern Munich.

Sammer was a big player for Dortmund in the 90's

Sammer was a big player for Dortmund in the 90’s

Left back – John Arne Riise

The Norweigan left back has one of the most powerful left foots the game has ever seen, won several major honours at Liverpool including the Champions League,  still playing at the age of 33 at Fulham.

Right Midfielder – Neil Lennon

A product of the prestigious Crewe academy, Lennon enjoyed a decent career in the Premiership with Leicester City and in Scotland with Celtic, winning the League cup and the SPL five times. Now manager at Celtic in the most uncompetitive league in world football.

Central Midfield – Paul Scholes

The first name on the team sheet, Scholes is the benchmark for all ginger people to aspire to and his 60 yard pinpoint passes will allow him to run the show for this team. After a glittering career at Manchester United where he won 11 Premiership titles, three FA cups and two Champions Leagues among others he is now coaching the youth team at United.

Central Midfield – Nicky Butt

Butt is included alongside Scholes in central midfield and they will complement each other perfectly, a tough tackling midfielder who was scared of no one, Butt was a rock at the central of United’s midfielder for over a decade, winning numerous trophies including playing the Champions League final in 1999 before moving on to Newcastle and Birmingham City. Now back at United coaching the youth team with Scholes.

Left Midfielder – Gordon Strachan

A talented left winger who enjoyed a decent career under Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen and Manchester United, before moving on to Leeds where he won the first division title in 1992. Retired at 40 in 1997 and now the manager of Scotland.

Centre Forward – John Hartson

An old fashioned battering ram of a centre forward, Hartson enjoyed a decent career in the Premier League with Arsenal, West Ham and in Scotland with Celtic. Hartson now does a bit of coaching and works as a pundit after recovering from cancer.

Centre Forward – Dave Kitson

Average striker but with better than average ginger hair, Kitson played in the Premier League for Reading and Stoke before moving down the leagues and now plays in League Two for Oxford United.

 And the opposition…

Dreads XI – “The Hair Care Bunch” – 4-2-3-1

The Gaffer – Ruud Gullit:

To put it simply, Ruud Gullit is the Godfather of the Dreadlock. Regarded as one of the finest players of his generation, Gullit was an elegant midfielder with outstanding balance who was named Ballon d’Or winner in 1987.

Gullit was an integral part of the dominant force that was Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan team of the late 80’s and along with compatriots Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, won three Serie A’s, three Supercoppa Italiana’s, two European Cups, two UEFA Super Cups and two Intercontinental Cups – Quite a trophy list.

Gullit also holds legendary status not only as a player, but also as a manager, winning the F.A. Cup in 1997, the club’s first major trophy in 26 years. Ruud will be sad to not see his son… sorry, doppelgänger Nathan Ake, Chelsea’s newest young prospect, in the starting line-up.

A chequered managerial career, probably down to the arrogant nature of the Dutchman; I’m sure he can he lead his fellow dread-locked disciples with distinction.

Goalkeeper – José Manuel Pinto:

Now this man has gone for a dreadlock with a twist; a corn-rowed style of dreadlock, but believe me I’ve seen this man’s hair out of his famous look and let me tell you, it’s LONG.

A close call with David James, Barcelona’s second-choice goalkeeper for five years just edged it in my ruthless quest for the defined dreadlock. Despite the sporadic nature of his appearances for the Catalan club, Jose hasn’t done too bad for himself; four La Liga’s, two Copa del Rey’s, four Supercopa de Espana’s, two UEFA Champions League’s, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.

Pinto on his day is a steady pair of hands; off his day, not so much. Let’s just hope for this particular “day” he’s on-form.

Right Back – Bacary Sagna:

Now when Bacary arrived in North London, you could hear many an Arsenal fan say, “What is he doing with his hair?!” but not now.

Unlike Gervinho, who had the craziest hair style, I’d certainly seen in a long time, Sagna and his trademark locks have been an ever-present sight for Arsenal, flowing in the wind, for seven seasons now and in the process becoming something of a cult hero with the fans at the Emirates.

Arriving at the Gunners from Auxerre in 2007, he has gone on to make 243 (+12 sub) appearances for Arsenal, being named in the PFA Team of the Year twice, 2007/8 and 2010/11.

Arsene Wenger has said that “Bac” is the best right back in the Premier League, which I’m sure, proves he’s a great addition to my team. 

Centre Back – Rigobert Song:

The King of Cameroon himself; this man knows how to rock a dreadlock. The undisputed fans’ favourite of the Indomitable Lions up until his retirement, Song holds all manner of records for his country including number of caps (138) and record number of African Cup of Nations played in (8).

The King of Cameroon boasted arguably the best dreads of any footballer

The King of Cameroon boasted arguably the best dreads of any footballer

A club career starting in France with Metz and ending in Turkey with Trabzonspor, it is perhaps a spell with then Gerard Houllier’s, Liverpool where he is most fondly remembered, (although Trabzonspor’s fans did nickname him “Big Chief”, and he was famed for his dance moves).

During a three-year spell on Merseyside, Song established himself as a real fans’ favourite, probably due to his hard-working attitude and the fact he was often played out of position at right back – thus the chant “We’ve Only Got One Song” was imagined by the Kop faithful.

A rock for his national team, I have the faith that Big ‘Bert can lead the back-four with aplomb; however he won’t be on Jamie Carragher’s Christmas card list, after the always eloquent Scouser allegedly in his autobiography called Rigobert “a soft c***t” after taking him out in a training session. Jamie, how dare you!

Centre Back – Linvoy Primus:

Mr Portsmouth himself is given the task of marshalling the back-four along with Big Bert, and was one of few (apart from that crazy fan with the tattoos) to work a dreadlock or two down on the South Coast.

Starting his career at Charlton before being released in 1994, Primus went on to make 127 appearances for Barnet before finding his real home at Portsmouth. During a nine-year stay at Fratton Park, he made 189 (+9 sub) appearances for Pompey, winning the Division One (Championship) title as well the fans’ player of the year and the PFA Player of the Year in the 2002/03 season.

So much so is he loved by both the club and the city, following his testimonial game in 2010, the club announced that the Milton End Stand would be renamed the Linvoy Primus Community Stand after his outstanding service to the club, where he remains in an ambassadorial role.

Ruud and I, alike, have faith in Big Linvoy to deal with the Ginger’s XI’s battering rams of a strike-force, John Hartson and erm… Dave Kitson.

Left Back – Taribo West:

Now, you may not remember the name, but you’ll definitely remember those green dreadlocks from the 1998 World Cup.

In a playing career, that may well be forgotten about, due to his wacky dreads, West did make 41 appearances for Nigeria, playing every minute of aforementioned World Cup and winning an Olympic Gold Medal at the ’96 games in Atlanta.

West also played for the likes of Internazionale and A.C. Milan, proving to be an integral part of the Nerazzurri’s 1998 UEFA Cup winning team. During his time with Auxerre, he also won a Ligue One title as well as two French Cups. In a recent interview, West claimed that he “was better” than A.C. Milan legend Paolo Maldini and the only reason for his short spell with Milan was because of the former’s “godfather-like” status at the club.

Taribo only just edged it ahead of the likes of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, because of his trademarked variety of colours of dread, but an honourable mention must go to Fulham legend, Rufus Brevett. Rufus and his blonde-tinted dreadlocks bombing on from left back will forever be one of my favourite sights from supporting the Mighty Whites!

Centre Midfield – Alexandre Song:

I’m sure Alex Song will feel an immense sense of pride playing in front of his cousin (but some reason, Alex calls him “uncle”) Rigobert Song but also playing next to the great Edgar Davids in the first of my two, pivotal, holding midfield roles.

Song, who took on the challenge of a flat-top with dreads during his time with Arsenal, was probably missed by the Gunners up until the return of Mathieu Flamini this season – the athletic midfielder, who is equally adept at both breaking and setting up attacks, was brought to North London for 1m and sold for 15m to Barcelona in 2012.

During his time in North London, he made 118 (+15 sub) appearances for Arsenal and collected a Champions League Runners-up medal in 2005/06.

Now carrying the Song flag for Cameroon in place of his “uncle”, I’m more than willing to wager that he and “the Pitbull” alongside him can be more than a match for the Ginger midfield.

Centre Midfield – Edgar Davids (C):

I and Ruud were unanimous when it came to deciding who should captain our dread-locked side, and making his second appearance in Pitchside XI’s, Edgar Davids and his unique image is surely one of the most recognisable sights of our generation of football.

As has already been mentioned the man had an illustrious playing career that spanned the top divisions in Holland, Spain, Italy and England – where he was a key player for Spurs in their consecutive fifth-place finishes in 2005/06 & 06/07; somewhat unbefitting of the man this career finished at Crystal Palace, of all places.

Davids went on to make a total of 386 (+20 sub) appearances in his club career, scoring 32 goals and winning a plethora of trophies including three Serie A’s, a Champions League and an UEFA Cup. Add to that 74 caps for the Netherlands, plus one of the greatest ever players, Pele, personally placing you into FIFA’s top 100 living players – you’d have to be a fool not to see how highly regarded this man was.

Making some “choice” decisions in charge of Barnet, isn’t exactly the best way to start your managerial career – but the man who Marcello Lippi once described as, “a one-man engine room” will without doubt be relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head once more with Paul Scholes in what could prove to be a crucial clash in deciding the outcome of this game.

Right Wing – Clarence Seedorf:

He may not have them now, but one of the best-named men in football, Clarence Seedorf was the “Daddy Cool” of the dreadlock in his pomp.

Much like his compatriot, Davids, Seedorf now at the tail-end of his career with Botafogo in Brazil has had an incredible career with the likes of Ajax, Real Madrid and A.C. Milan where he spent ten years of his career, making 300 appearances and scoring 62 goals, in all competitions.

Still the only player to win four Champions League’s with three different clubs; Ajax in 1995, Real Madrid in 1998 and Milan in 2003 & 2007, Seedorf was ranked seventh out of 20 in the best players of the Champions League since its inception.

Some eyebrows may be raised when it comes to his position out on the right wing, but Clarence possesses superb feet and technical ability, accompany that with a wicked cross and exceptional free-kick ability – I’m sure Clarence will do just fine.

Centre Attacking Midfield – Jay-Jay Okocha:

Part of Nigeria’s “Dream Team” that won an Olympic Gold Medal alongside team-mate here, Taribo West, Okocha is probably one of Nigeria’s greatest-ever players.

Jay-Jay (so good they named him twice, any Bolton Wanderers fan will tell you) was renowned for his elaborate skills and had a playing career which really kicked off in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt alongside Tony Yeboah. Spells at Fernerbahce and PSG followed before he found his hero-like status in the most unlikely of places – Bolton, Lancashire.

Brought to the Reebok Stadium by “Big” Sam Allardyce, there have been plenty of times where I’ve been sat in the away end feeling both of sense of incensement and admiration whilst watching Jay-Jay Okocha.

An absolute cult-hero in Bolton (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/bolton-wanderers, Bolton fans’ DO NOT click here as it might break your hearts), Okocha made 106 (+18 sub) appearances for Wanderers scoring 14 goals.

With that much flair and ability, surely Jay-Jay can be the fulcrum of my side’s attacking intent and lead them to victory?

Left Wing – Siphiwe Tshabalala:

I’m not going to do much writing for this one apart from the following: Surely everyone’s favourite player at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the greatest surname in football, and an excellent set of dreadlocks. What more could you want?

Well Siphiwe Tshabalala went and did this…

 

Striker – Henrik Larsson:

Henrik loved Scotland and Scotland loved him; the Sweden legend scored an incredible 243 goals in 315 competitive games for Celtic and is the all-time leading SPL goal-scorer with 174 goals, (Kris Boyd has recently equalled this total).

Whilst banging in the goals to make him top goal-scorer in the SPL in five of the six seasons that he competed in, he had the cheek to score the majority with the greatest blonde dreadlocks you’re ever likely to see!

A hero for his country also, he appeared in three World Cups and three European Championships and ended his international career with 37 goals in 106 matches.

Spells at Barcelona, Helsingborg and a brief loan-spell at Manchester United capped off a club career that ended with a record of 573 apps, 325 goals. Not bad for a man who’s also played competitive floorball since 1989.

and of course…

The Chairmen – Michael Garvey & Tom Dorsett.

The Story of Giuliano Maiorana

As the ‘Class of 92’ hit cinemas last week, we take a look at the story of Giuliano Maiorana, one of the original ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ whose rapid rise from non-league football to the Manchester United first team is likely to never be repeated.

When Giuliano first heard that United were looking at him, he thought it was a joke; he was playing non- league football for Histon part time and had already been turned down by Cambridge United, Brentford and Norwich City.

He was given a trial but wasn’t very hopeful: “When I found out United were looking at me, I honestly thought it was a wind up considering I was 19 at the time, and bearing in mind that Cambridge United had told me on a few occasions that I wasn’t good enough for them. I thought my one week trial at Manchester United would come to nothing, other than a week of experience with a massive club”.

In only the second day of his trial, Giuliano was picked in the squad to play in a testimonial match for Birmingham City’s Ian Handyside and performed so well that he was offered a four-year contract after being substituted at half time: “Being picked to play in Ian Handyside’s testimonial was a big surprise to me, it was a Tuesday night and before the game I got told I was in the starting line-up which shocked me even more because it was with the first team squad.”

“Playing in front of 10,000 people was nerve racking but luckily for me I didn’t do too bad, I got a penalty and at half-time they brought me off and offered me a four year contract straight away. It took me only around six weeks to break into the first team. My scout Ray Medwell told me what I had achieved would not happen again, because at the time Histon were five leagues below the old fourth division”.

Giuliano's rise from the ninth tier of English Football to the Theatre of Dreams, will likely never be repeated...

Giuliano’s rise from the ninth tier of English Football to the Theatre of Dreams, will likely never be repeated…

The transfer fee United paid Histon saved them from going out of business and Maiorana made his debut on 14th January 1989, coming on as a substitute in a league match against Millwall at Old Trafford, and remembers feeling slightly overwhelmed by the situation he found himself in: “When I came on as a sub I remember after running down the wing, because I was breathing heavy, my ears kept blocking and unblocking, all I could hear fading in and out of my ears was United, United, United!”

“As this happened I looked around the stadium and suddenly it dawned on me the magnitude of the situation I was in. There were around 45,000 people at the game and considering only six weeks before I was playing in front of 50/60 people. I was used to watching professional games but all of a sudden I was thrust into a game, which the supporters were watching, that I was playing in, it was ridiculous and awe inspiring”.

The skilful left winger rose to prominence in his first start for the club with an exciting performance in a televised 1-1 draw against Arsenal, who finished the season as league champions. It looked like the start of a long and promising career and he was seen as a star of the future at Old Trafford.

Then a cruel twist of fate intervened, whilst playing in a reserve game in 1991 he suffered a serious knee injury after a tackle from Aston Villa’s Dwight Yorke, from which he was unable to fully recover. He never played for the first team again, eventually leaving the club and after a brief spell playing in Sweden he retired from the game at the age of 24.

Giuliano in action for United...

Giuliano in action for United…

In total Giuliano made eight appearances for United and looks back at his time at Old Trafford with mixed emotions: “Obviously playing for the first team was a dream, but the flip side was getting injured when I was 21 and having to retire at 24. A journalist once asked me after reading in a paper about the skill I had, if it made me feel proud.”

“I responded that I was very lucky to have been blessed with the skill I did have, but it would’ve made my life a hell of a lot easier if I didn’t have it and United would’ve released me because I wasn’t good enough, then at least I could’ve got on with my life thinking that I had given it a go and wasn’t good enough. Instead I’ve got a question mark over my career, that unfortunately for me I will never be able to answer.”

Now 44, Giuliano now works for his family’s upholstery business and still has some involvement in football: “I only play five-a-side now against friends, nothing serious just for enjoyment, getting too old for that. I also help coaching my son’s team. I’ve been doing that for around eight years and get a lot of pleasure and enjoyment doing it.”

Unlike many players whose careers are cut short by injury, Giuliano is happy and has been able to make a good life for himself away from football: “I’ve learnt with age that you always have to look at the positives and for me the positives of my time at United are that I met some really good people up in Manchester, my wife is from Salford and we have two wonderful kids, I’m blessed with a great family.”

“I may not be rich with the money I might have earned as a professional footballer, but I’m happy and rich with life, so I can’t complain.”

Michael Garvey

European Football Round-Up // December 10

Bayern score a whopping seven goals away at Bremen in the Bundesliga while it was goals galore again in Serie A as Napoli draw 3-3 at home to Udinese. It was the cup in Spain as Real Madrid came unstuck against the lowly Xatavia, though not to forget mentioning PSG who continue to look formidable in France as they won 5-0 at home to Nantes.

 

When Pep Guardiola was appointed the manager-to-be in of Bayern Munich for the following season I wrote about how he faced the task of ‘reinventing the wheel’. When I wrote that, Bayern were in the quarter finals of the Champions League, top of the Bundesliga and also still in the German Cup. A little over four months later Guardiola’s task looked a whole lot harder.

Bayern had won the Champions League, won the Bundesliga, and won the German Cup. Not only had they won the treble, but most notably they decimated Pep’s previous club Barcelona which sent shivers down the spines of the millions round the world who had been captivated by Barcelona’s space-age tiki-taka football the past four years.

Such success would be impossible to top, certainly in one season. Not only that, but as Bayern destroyed Barcelona and seemingly their possession based football, many questioned what Guardiola could bring to thing new all-conquering Bayern side. There were questions whether Pep would over-complicate a side who had found a formula which couldn’t be matched. The summer signings of Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara insinuated Pep wanted to bring some Catalonian inspired football to Bavaria.

Fifteen games into the 2013/2014 season having played 15 league games Bayern sit on top of the Bundesliga having won 13 games and drawn two, scoring 39 goals and only conceding seven. They’re already ten points clear of last season’s European and domestic runners-up Borussia Dortmund (who have since dropped to third place) and four points clear of high-flying Bayer Leverkusen. Not only that, they top their Champions League group having won every game.  As for the questions regarding the football he would bring to Bayern, well, it has been a fusion of lat season’s dominant counter attacking, and his tiki-taka possession based football we all seen from his Barcelona side. If I could give one example of how Pep’s innate genius has improved this Bayern side, is the curious case of Phillip Lahm.

Lahm, who despite being right-footed has been the best left-back in the world for the past decade has been moved to play in defensive midfield replacing one of Europe’s best players last season in Javi Martinez. Many scoffed at the tactical decision initially, including me. Nevertheless the decision has been inspired, as Lahm has mirrored the performances of Sergio Busquetts for Barcelona. Lahm now sets the tempo for the best side in Europe: the fulcrum of the side. A full-back: genius.  Maybe Guardiola won’t top last season’s trophy haul but he’s going about equalling it the right way, that’s for sure.

I guess all of that was a prelude to the news that on the weekend Bayern travelled to Werder Bremen and won 7-0. There was a double from Robben who at one point looked to be likely to be sold in the summer. Mandzukic was brought back into the side and scored,  there was also an o.g. from Bremen’s Lukimya, a goal for Gotze and even one for centre-back Van Buyten. It has got to the point where the number of goals Bayern score is the benchmark of how well they do, not simply if they win. If Bayern’s dominance is benchmarked by number of goals scored, it’s a little different for Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen side who have found themselves within four points of the Bavarian giants as they edge closer to the winter break.

Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday which frankly Dortmund needed to win should they want to keep any hopes of winning the Bundesliga this season. The game was tight and Bayer won with a solitary first-half goal from attacking midfielder Son. The victory puts Leverkusen on 37 points after 15 games and four points within Bayern who, quite clearly, look Europe’s best side by a distance. Not bad for Hyypia who’s only been managing less than two years.

Elsewhere in Germany there were wins for Wolfsburg who travelled to Freiburg winning 3-0 which leaves them in fifth, behind ‘Gladbach who hosted Schalke and won 2-1 which keeps them on course for European football next season.

In the ever-so boring Serie A this weekend there were two 3-3 draws for Napoli-Udinese and Inter-Parma and another draw for AC who travelled to Livorno in which a Balotelli brace made the game 2-2. Juve as ever looked like a mechanical winning machine as they travelled to Bologna and won 2-0.

Ac’s 2-2 draw leaves them in ninth place and a whopping 22 points behind Serie A leader Juventus who look on-course for a third successive Scudetto. Not bad for a side who only a few seasons previously were relegated to the Serie B for their part played in the Caliopoli scandal. If Galliani and co need answers surely they need to look to Turin where solid management and player acquisition, without an extortionate outlay on funds, has saw them look as formidable and healthy as they have in quite some time.

Napoli’s 3-3 draw with Udinese leaves Rafa’s men in third, now eight points behind Juve. Roma however, got back to winning ways with a Destro inspired victory as they saw off Fiorentina 2-1 which leaves the side from the Capital only three points behind Juve having won 11 and drawn four of their 15 games played this season. Totti’s return to fitness sends signals to Turin that Roma will surely run Juve close for the Scudetto this season.

Inter’s 3-3 draw at home to Parma was another mad-hatter performance which in a roundabout way shows their improvements from last season and their remaining deficiencies. Despite containing a leaky defence, they’re scoring goals and looking more fluid in attack than last year with Guarin at the heart of all things’ positive for Inter. The draw leaves Internazionale in fourth position, four points behind Napoli.

In France the big news came from Lille who finally conceded a goal after an 11 game shutout which saw them overtake Monaco as the best side that won’t get near PSG. Lille travelled to Bordeaux and lost 1-0 which saw them drop to third place behind Monaco. Monaco hosted Ajaccio and won 1-0 which leaves them within two points of leaders PSG who beat Sochaux 5-0 in another romping performance from Blanc’s side.

In Spain this weekend it was the Copa Del Rey and literally nothing interesting happened. Real Madrid could only muster a 0-0 draw with lower league side Xatavia while Barcelona looked as poor as you can in a 4-1 victory over Cartagena (who?). Diego Simeone’s Atletico side won again (surprise surprise) as they beat Saint Andreu (again – who?) 4-0. In one of the few all La Liga clashes Celta hosted Bilbao and won 1-0 which leaves them in good stead for the second leg to be played in the coming weeks.

Kevin Kelly