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

European Football Round-Up // November 25

Bayern Munich thrash Borussia Dortmund as inevitably, Mario Gotze comes on to score the opening goal, while Atletico continue to impress in a 7-0 romp. In France, PSG continue to look formidable whilst AC Milan look as bad as ever in a listless draw vs. Genoa.

FBL-GER-BUNDESLIGA-DORTMUND-BAYERN MUNICH

“It wasn’t me”… Mario Gotze holds his hands-up to the “Yellow Wall”.

The story of the weekend came from the Bundesliga as a depleted Dortmund side lost 0-3 to Bayern Munich. Dortmund, who were missing their entire regular back-four with Subotic, Hummels, Piszczek and Schmelzer all out, Dortmund struggled to impose their trademark style on the game, barring some breaks which lead to half-chances. The game was at deadlock until midway through the second-half when the inevitable occurred – Mario Gotze broke the deadlock. The ex-Dortmund starlet farcically warmed up in the tunnel prior to being subbed on to avoid the fans retributory chants and whistles. After Gotze’s opener, goals from Robben and Muller followed in quick succession to see off any hopes of a late Dortmund fight-back.

The victory leaves Borussia Dortmund trailing in third, seven points behind Bayern Munich. With the winter break fast approaching Jurgen Klopp must be beginning to worry if they have any chance of catching the Bavarian giants. After the game Klopp commented on Pep Guardiola’s contrasting styles throughout the game. During the first-half, Bayern uncharacteristically hit the ball long, usually to Javi Martinez who despite being a holding midfielder was positioned between the lines as a “defensive 10”. “They wanted to play around our counter-pressing, our biggest strength,” the Dortmund manager explained. In the second-half, Guardiola reverted to a more patient approach building from deep: “OK, cool move,” Klopp said, “you can do it like that, first you work us with long balls and then you bring on the 1.70m boys,” Klopp commented.

Other notable results in Germany were Bayer Leverkusen’s 0-1 away win at Hertha Berlin which keeps them within four points of the Bundesliga summit. Borussia Monchengladbach remain in third place after their 0-2 win away at VfB Stuttgart.

Elsewhere, in Spain the result of the weekend came from Madrid’s current best side – Atletico Madrid. Simeone’s men romped to a 7-0 victory at home to one of Madrid’s smaller sides in Getafe CF. Diego Costa’s solitary goal of the night may have been Atletico’s seventh, but was undoubtedly the goal of the night. Despite possessing a burly build, the Brazilian (wait, he’s Spanish now?) performed an outrageously acrobatic bicycle-kick.

Whilst Atletico may have been the most impressive side in Spain this week, the standout performer was most certainly ex-Arsenal striker Carlos Vela who scored four goals in Real Sociedad’s, blistering 4-3 at home to Celta Vigo. Vela, having been handed the match ball after the game may possibly have the quote of the weekend:  “I’ll give it to the dog so he can play with it.’’

On Sunday night there was also the small matter of the Seville derby as Sevilla hosted Real Betis. Sevilla, who hadn’t started the season well, didn’t fail to impress as they smashed Betis 4-0. This was the first time Sevilla had won two consecutive league games for nine months and it was undoubtedly a massive win for the Andalusian side. Afterwards, Sevilla manager Unai Emery cheekily remarked that he was disappointed in his sides lack of hunger to “score the fifth’’.

Less notable results in Spain this weekend were Barcelona and Real Madrid’s somewhat inevitable victories: Barcelona won 4-0 at home to Granada which included penalties from both Iniesta and Fabregas whilst Sanchez scored to continue his rich vein of form with Pedro scoring in stoppage time. For Real Madrid, the result was never in doubt; Ronaldo scored in the third minute and from that moment on lowly UD Almeria were submissive at every opportunity. Gareth Bale scored Madrid’s fourth goal as he continues to settle in Spain. Youngster Morata scored late on with a fine strike.

In Italy, Napoli lost their first home league game of the season to Parma which leaves them in third place behind A.S. Roma who play Cagliari Calcio on Monday night. Juventus however, are now two points clear at the top of the Scudetto as they beat A.S. Livorno Calcio 0-2 away.

AC Milan’s miserable season continued as they drew 1-1 at home to Genoa – who played most of the game with just ten men. Milan’s ultra’s had blocked exits from the stadium in protest of the poor results and indeed, season. More than an hour after the match, Milan players were still unable to leave the San Siro with exits blocked by more than 300 ultras and police, which lead to Kaka and Christian Abbiati meeting fans for a face-to-face discussion. The discussions lasted about five minutes, but it was well into the small hours of the morning before the roads were clear enough for Milan’s players to leave the stadium.

Finally, in France, PSG remain on top as they travelled to Stade De Reims winning 0-3. Lille OSC could muster just the one goal as they beat Toulouse 1-0 and remain four points off the lead in second place – AS Monaco travelled to FC Nantes, winning 0-1 leaving themselves five points off the top of Ligue 1.

Kevin Kelly

Costa picking up where Falcao left off // European Football Roundup

Bale continues to find form in Madrid while Diego Costa steals the show as La Liga’s standout performer. Elsewhere there were shocks in Serie A, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga…

Finally it seems Gareth Bale is beginning to find his place among Ancelotti’s Madrid side. After impressing last week in scoring twice and assisting twice in the bonkers 7-3 win at home to Sevilla Bale continued his upward curve of form with two assists against the high-pressing Rayo Vallecano in a 2-3 win for Madrid.

Real Madrid was unconvincing on the night and they needed a Ronaldo brace and a goal from Benzema to scrape a win. If Ancelotti is to escape further criticism from the ravenous Spanish press then Madrid must begin to play with more authority. What’s certainly not helping Ancelotti is the form is Diego Simeone’s men who continue to play like arguably the best side in Europe.

Atletico Madrid hosted Atletic Bilbao on Sunday night in which it was business as usual – Diego Costa starring the show while David Villa also bagging a goal which leaves Ateltico right on the heels of the thus far table topping Barcelona. Costa has now scored 13 league goals in 12 matches and is surely going to be on the top of the shopping list for many of Europe’s most wealthy clubs this January. Tito Martino will surely be looking over his shoulder as Atletico finally look to have a squad and mentality to put up a sustained challenge for the title.

Diego Costa celebrates his 13th goal of the season against Bilbao.

Diego Costa celebrates his 13th goal of the season against Bilbao.

It was the Catalonian derby on Friday night as Barca hosted Espanol. Whilst in recent years Espanol have been dubbed ‘the anti Barca’ in terms of style it seems Barcelona may be heading somewhat into that direction. Once again Barca looked short of ideas up and with little intelligent movement. It took a second half strike from in-from Alexis Sanchez to seal the win for Barca to remain at the top of the table who have only dropped two points so far with 11 wins and one draw.

In France PSG seem to have finally broken away from Monaco who lost away to Lille 2-0 who now move into second place. Despite the absence of Ibrahimovic PSG cantered to a 4-0 victory at home to Lorient with the Uruguayan Edison Cavani stealing show the show as he scored twice.

In Germany there was a shock as Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen loosened their grip on second place Borussia Dortmund as they shockingly lost away to Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0. The aforementioned Borussia Dortmund hosted Stuttgart on Friday night in a 6-1 mauling. Despite going 1-0 down very early on to a neat header by Karim Haggui, the hosts came roaring right back, scoring twice in quick succession and eventually emerging with a 6-1 victory. Lewandowski looked in scintillating form as he netted a second half hat-trick. It seems the Polish striker, who is set to leave for league leaders Bayern Munich in January will do so in smashing form.

Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich won again and it doesn’t seem like they’ll stop anytime soon. Despite facing a Hoffenheim side who certainly made them work hard for the victory they came out on top in a 1-2 win. Despite going 1-0 down in the 1st half the Croatian Mario Mandzukic levelled things up soon after and in the 75th minute Thomas Muller scored the winner which saw Bayern equalled yet  another record (you’d assume they’ll set a new one quite soon!)  – something which usually follows a Pep Guardiola side, it seems). Bayern’s win meant they have now played 36 league game without loss – a record which was set 30 years ago by Hamburg’s 82-83 side. Bayern’s last defeat was in October 2012 to Bayer Leverkusen.

Finally we look to Italy where there was joy for Inter, and utter despair for the counterparts AC. Last season Inter were doing exactly what AC are doing now – playing awfully without any style or cohesion. Despite the addition of Kaka it seems Allegri’s men are doing everything in their powers – or lack of, to finally see him given the sack. AC hosted Fiorentina in the San Siro yet looked lacklustre in every department. Fiorentina continue to look at exciting side as they swept AC aside in a 2-0 win.

As mentioned previous Inter have serious turned their fortunes around this year and look on course to challenge for Champions League football as they travelled to Udinese and convincingly won 0-3.

Juventus won again away at Parma 0-1, though it took a late Paul Pogba goal to seal the victory. It seems Juve have lost the spark they had in the previous two seasons in which the secured the Scudetto. The recent change of formation from 352 to 433 indicates Conte is trying to reinvigorate his side, not unlike the changes Pep Guardiola implemented throughout his tenure as Barca boss.

The story to the weekend in Serie A and perhaps Europe is that of Roma who left Turin with a 1-1 draw and the ending of a sensational start to the season. Despite selling three key players in Lamela, Osvaldo and Marquinhos in the summer they began the season in unprecedented form having won all 10 games, scoring 24 and conceding just once. Last night though, as the run came to a frustrating end, Rudi Garcia can be proud of their start of to the season as they sit top of Serie A three points clear of Napoli and Juventus. They’d have taken that if they were handed it in August, that’s for sure…

 Kevin Kelly