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

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European Football Round-Up // December 4

Diego Simeone’s Atletico draw level with Barca at the summit of La Liga. There was a cracker at Hoffenheim with there being just the eight goals scored. Not much better in boring Serie A with just seven goals in the Fioentina vs. Hellas Verona game.. In Germany it was business as usual for Pep’s Bayern while PSG continue to dominate Ligue 1 with consummate ease..

 

The big talking point in Spain this week came from Barcelona following proceedings at the San Memes in which Barca lost 1-0 in a turgid affair. It’s not necessarily the result which is the talking point but what it prompted – the debate around Barcelona’s identity and what Martino has made of it since his arrival in the summer. The fact that a debate regarding philosophy exists proves somewhat that Barca are different in some respects.

Only recently Barca completed a game with less than 50% in La Liga in over four years. The style is fading and with that cules are beginning to question whether Martino was the right choice for manager. All of this comes with the fact he was a game away from statistically having the best start – result wise of course, of any Barcelona manager ever. Odd indeed.

While Barca struggled it was business as usual for Atletico who travelled to Elche and won 0-2. Unsurprisingly Diego Costa scored again which makes it 15 for the season and notably of those 15 goals they’ve been spread out across 12 matches; ruthless efficiency from the Brazilin turned Spaniard.

In Madrid there was the crowning of the ‘Prince of Wales’ as Madrid based newspaper Marca put it following Gareth Bale’s ‘perfect hat trick’ (right foot, left foot and a header). Madrid won 4-0 and is now only three points behind Barca and Atletico.

Real Betis drew 2-2 with Rayo Vallecano in a bottom of the table class which was to be the end of Pepe Mel’s tenure at Betis. It would be unsurprising to see him picked up at a top club in the near future – perhaps Valencia who despite winning 3-0 at home to Osasuna (thanks to a Jonas hat trick) I feel manager Miroslav Djukic’s safety as Valencia coach is a ticking time bomb. Despite the slight upturn in form in recent weeks his popularity remains non existent. Oh and one more thing on La Liga – Sevilla won away, again!

In Germany it was frankly business as usual for the most part; Bayern swept aside Braunschweig 2-0. Once again Gotze played as a false nine in which he provided an assist. Dortmund travelled to Klopp’s old club Mainz and won 1-3. There was a cracker at Hoffenheim as they draw at home 4-4 to Bremen. Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen beat Nurnberg at home easily with a 3-0 score line and Gladbach remain on place for European football next season as they won 1-0 at home to Freiburg.

In Italy the story of the weekend was a non-football one, as there was another u-turn in the Galliani soap opera at AC Milan. It seems he won’t be leaving – or resigning, after what seemed like an end to the 27 year marriage at the absolute height of football dominance both in Italy and in Europe. Looking happy to try and turn around his beloved AC Milan’s fortunes he saw them win 1-3 away at Catania. Though sadly, once again there was talk of racist abuse as Mario Balotelli accused Catania’s Nicolas Spolli of racially abusing him. Should he be found guilty a ten game ban will follow following Serie A’s new racism regulations which seem a case of better late than never.

In Serie A there were notable draws for table-topping Juventus who only managed a 1-1 draw at home to Udinese while second place Roma drew their third league game in a row. Napoli however travelled to the Stadio Olimpico and beat Lazio 2-4. The game of the weekend though, if only from an attacking viewpoint, occurred at Fiorentina as they beat newly promoted Hellas Verona 4-3. Boring Italy, as they say.

Finally in France PSG continue to look like champions elect as they beat the once-mighty Lyon 4-0 at home. Lille won 1-0 (again) which makes it 11 clean sheets in a row. Staggering. Monaco needed new-boy James Rodriguez to finally step up to the mark as they were without Falcao – and the Portuguese winger stepped up in fine fashion as he scored in a 0-3 win away at Nice.

Kevin Kelly