Two beastly encounters in the La Liga in the same weekend. Real and Atletico Madrid lock horns at the Bernabeu once again this evening in what would be the more obvious choice but we kind of prefer the Barcelona vs Athletic Club affair that takes place this afternoon. Continue reading
The Martin O’Neill/Roy Keane dream ticket has been about the most flat and uninspired start to any Rep Ireland coaching team since possibly Steve Staunton (although at least he began with a 3-0 win at home to Sweden in an albeit friendly match). It’s been a bit of a mixture so far for the dream team, but it would be stretching it to say there has been many positive signs and anything resembling the beginning of a new era. The players just aren’t coming through at the minute.
Only a decade or so ago Ireland had four or five world-class– or at least serious looking– players in their team: Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Stephen Carr, Richard Dunne, and Shay Given. Admittedly two of those are still playing but one– Given– has just returned from retirement (never a good sign), with the other– Robbie Keane–still plugging along only not to the same level of influence and spark that he once had.
Sunday sees the beginning of the Euro 2016 qualifying, with ridiculously more teams (from 16 to now 24) awarded the opportunity to arrive there, diluting the competition and turning it into a bit of a joke in all honestly. But then, see also the bloated marathon that now is the Europea League (formerly the Uefa Cup) and you will notice that the powers-that-be have a habit of half ruining their own competitions.
Ireland’s group, meanwhile, is made up of Germany (certs to win it), Poland (certs to finish second/third), Ireland (certs to fancy their chances to challenge the Poles for second), Scotland (their best chance to qualify for a tournament since 1998), Georgia, and new boys Gibraltar.
It’s a trip to Gerogia that kicks off O’Neill’s competitive era in charge. It will not be a forgone conclusion, but you can find the boys in green priced at 6/5. We reckon they’ll just about get the three points required that should make things a little more positive around the Irish camp, and the country. Just don’t get too excited if they get a result is all.
The home side go into this one generously priced at 13/5, and we believe it’s an absolute bargain. Chelsea may have strengthened since going down 1-0 in this fixture last season but there is doubts over the fitness of the thus far incisive Costa up top, while Everton are more or less as good if not better (though slight doubts remain over ex-Chelsea man Lukaku’s toe problem).
The Tofees sit on two points from two games but will be scratching their heads wondering why it’s not the full six, having tossed away leads late on to Leicester and Arsenal respectively.
Chelsea have started the season well enough too, dispatching Burnley and Leicester without much trouble, but only as expected. Their first big test comes at Goodison.
Stick your couple of quid on a home win here, with the win rush possibly the best bet considering Everton’s at times shaky defense.
A first for our follow-a-team-through-the-European-competitions experiment as both of our teams in the play-offs won through to the main draw of their respective competitions.
Maribor were highly unfancied against relative giants Celtic, reprieved after a stuffing off Legia Warsaw in the previous round. But the Slovenian champions heaped an unwanted footnote in UEFA history to the former winners from Glasgow – being knocked out of the same competition twice in one season. On the face of it, Celtic’s 1-1 draw in Slovenia wasn’t a terrible result. The 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park however, was. Brazilian forward Marcos Tavares was the man with the crucial goal that sent Maribor into the group stage for the first time.
(Celtic had several chances but they lacked both cutting edge and composure in a mostly worrying night at Celtic Park. There was something inevitable about the way Maribor took the lead, and equally inevitable about Celtic’s failure to level things up– website Ed. and Celtic fan who– probably unfortunately– watched the game).
Without wishing to be patronising, but they were the teams most people would want to draw in that group stage and the theatrical fishing of balls from goldfish bowls handed them Chelsea, Schalke and Sporting CP. Tough, but also an opportunity to leave a mark on some fancied runners.
In the Europa League, the mammoth play-off round saw Rio Ave first travel to Sweden where they were beaten by Elfsborg, although Marcelo’s goal midway through the second half ensured that it was no disaster. 1-0 in the return would do them, and what d’you know? With the game locked at 0-0 and the Swedes looking forward to what many people refer to as the ‘round of far too f***ing many’ until Esmaël Gonçalves intervened. Pedro Martins threw the forward on late in the piece to replace right-back Lionn. With the game in the second minute of stoppages, he struck to deny Klas Ingesson’s side at the death and also picked up a caution for the celebration.
In the draw, Rio Ave were handed trips to Aalborg – defeated in the Champions League play-offs by APOEL Nicosia – Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev and another defeated Champions League side, Steaua Bucharest, who were undone in one of the all-time great penalty shoot-outs. Again, a tough draw.
How we work out who to follow should either Maribor or Rio Ave fail to get through their groups, I’ve no idea. There’s time to work that out yet.
Liverpool may have sold the Premier League’s best player in Suarez but should still do well this season. Players such as Sturridge, Coutinho, Lallana and Sterling are ready to raise their game, take on more responsibility and link up well.
Watching the Reds versus Borussia Dortmund last week only proved that this season the plan remains to play passing, attacking football at tempo and, as Gary McAliister pointed out in commentary, instead of players looking to get the ball to Suarez, there should be more interchanging and team play and goals, certainly. It is a Brendan Rodgers side after all.
What makes this game extra interesting is the opposition. Lallana’s old club Southampton have had a stressful summer, selling half-dozen first-teamers, albeit for lots of profit. Now they now must get a new team together, and hope that they don’t get sucked into a relegation battle. The new signing this week of cracking Irish striker Shane Long from Hull should go some way to insuring this wont be the case.
This should be a good game and pleasing on the eye.There is bound to be goals, and most certainly to the home team. We’re going for a 3-1 homer.
Derby head into the season half buoyed, half still wondering what might have been after previous term’s wonderful form, but ultimate failure to a late Qpr playoff final goal at Wembley. This of course means another season for them in the second tier rather than the PL.
Their most interesting close season signing has been young Real Madrid midfielder and B-team player Mascarell. Head coach Steve McClaren also keeps the vibes positive by signing a contract extension despite being lined with Southampton.
Derby are a team we quite fancy to do well this year, and expect them to be there or thereabouts again as the season unfolds.
Rotherham make this game doubly interesting due to– unlike their opponents– a last-ditch season playoff penalty win over Leyton Orient that means them able to come up against opponents like Derby. Often teams such as Rotherham– admittedly now one of the smaller second tier clubs– do well in their first season in this division, and it would be no surprise if The Millers do likewise.
We fancy a safe home win, though, at around 4/7.
The way the Champions League is unfolding, we’re switching allegiances as each round passes. In the third qualifying round, we were on Maccabi Tel Aviv who played Maribor. A goal coming five minutes into stoppages in the first leg gave a fairly defensive Maribor the advantage. The onus would therefore be on Maccabi to force the issue in the return, once again hosted in Larnaca.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Agim Ibraimi put Maribor in front ten out from half-time, heaping further pressure on Oscar Garcia’s side. The Maccabi boss got the response he’d have wanted as Tal Ben Haim (not that one) equalised before the break and Eden Ben Basat put his side ahead on the night shortly after. They still needed another, but were undone within a couple of minutes of the equaliser, Maribor’s Montenegrin striker bagging his second of the tie and sending the Slovenian champions through to the play-offs.
And so it’s they that we’ll follow at that stage. There, they will meet Scottish champions Celtic who were controversially awarded a 3-0 home win of Legia Warsaw who fielded an ineligible player– Bartosz Bereszynski– in the second leg of their qualifying tie. Leading 4-1 from the first leg it should have been routine for Legia, but a dispute over a suspension ultimately cost them, UEFA ruling a 3-0 Celtic win instead of allowing the 2-0 Legia win to stand. Previously, Debrecen had been issued a fine for the same offence while allowing their result to stand, so Legia can feel hard done by. Even with the 3- 0 ruling, it’s only away goals that Celtic go through on. They’re in a bit of a mess, but it’ll still be tough for Maribor.
We have our first switch of allegiance in the Europa League. Up against Portuguese cup runners- up Rio Ave, IFK Göteborg lost at home in the first leg, Rio’s Egyptian striker Ahmed Hassan Koka with an early strike. The return was a frustrating affair. Effort aplenty from the visitors, but no way through a resolute Rio Ave back line. No goals and Rio Ave go through to the play-offs 1-0.
They will face more Swedish opposition in the play-offs, this time in the form of Elfsborg who qualify for the tournament as winners of last seasons Svenska Cupen having beaten Helsingborg in the final. This season, they currently stand fourth in the Allsvenskan after 17 matches, albeit with the second-best defence. The Portuguese league is still a week away from starting and it can be tough going in against sides half-way through their season, but Rio Ave will start favourites for this one.
Italian Serie A side Napoli are hoping to confirm the signing of Man Utd’s Marouane Fellaini’s hair and elbows within the next 48 hours.
“Marouane’s hair and elbows come as one package, of course, and we’re all aware at the club that one is no use without the other, but we’re confident of obtaining both– the complete Marouane– sooner rather than later”, said a Napoli spokesman.
“The good thing about this signing– if it goes through– would be its suitability to more than one area of the field. The elbows are especially good around the middle of the park– breaking up play when the ref’s not looking– while the hair causes all sorts of havoc in the opposition penalty area, sometimes even resulting in goals. Haha!”, he continued.