footy musings from a (relative) newbie

Archive for December, 2013

Festive Fixtures

It’s that time of year again. The time when the major European leagues wind down the first half of the season and send their players off on much needed breaks.

In Italy, Serie A clubs take a two-week break, as does Spain’s Primera Division. The Bundesliga takes six weeks off (nice work if you can get it!)

But the Barclays Premier League continues play right through Christmas and New Year’s. This is what is known as The Festive Period (also “Festive Fixtures”).

Beginning today, the Premier League’s 20 teams will go on a run of fixtures that won’t end until New Year’s Day. It’s one of the aspects of the league’s structure that makes it, IMO, one of the toughest competitions to win.

As a fan, I’m of two minds about this period in the Premier League calendar. On the one hand, I like having football to watch over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling like it would be beneficial to give the players some kind of break – especially when all of the other big European Leagues are doing so.

In any event, I will have my eye on these fixtures from Matchdays 17-20:

12/22: Swansea City vs. Everton* and Southhampton vs. Tottenham
12/23: Arsenal vs. Chelsea
12/26: Chelsea vs. Swansea City and Manchester City vs. Liverpool
1/1: Manchester United vs. Tottenham

Europe League KO Draw

Thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?

But no. This season, I’ve resolved to give the Europa League its due. With that, here’s the round of 32 draw

FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (UKR) v Tottenham Hotspur FC (ENG)

Real Betis Balompié (ESP) v FC Rubin Kazan (RUS)

Swansea City AFC (ENG) v SSC Napoli (ITA)

Juventus (ITA) v Trabzonspor AŞ (TUR)

NK Maribor (SVN) v Sevilla FC (ESP)

FC Viktoria Plzeň (CZE) v FC Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)

FC Chornomorets Odesa (UKR) v Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)

SS Lazio (ITA) v PFC Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)

Esbjerg fB (DEN) v ACF Fiorentina (ITA)

AFC Ajax (NED) v FC Salzburg (AUT)

Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC (ISR) v FC Basel 1893 (SUI)

FC Porto (POR) v Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)

FC Anji Makhachkala (RUS) v KRC Genk (BEL)

FC Dynamo Kyiv (UKR) v Valencia CF (ESP)

PAOK FC (GRE) v SL Benfica (POR)

FC Slovan Liberec (CZE) v AZ Alkmaar (NED)

Now, admittedly, I don’t know my Maribor from my Makhachkala, but I’m hoping to change all that in the next couple of months. Yup – I’m going to attempt to educate myself about all the unfancied teams making their way through the Europa League. We’ll see how that goes.

Actual Rd of 16 Draw

I may have mentioned that my prediction skills are terrible. But hey – at least I got Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich right!

My quick thoughts on what the balls threw up in Nyon (wait, that sounds bad. Oh well).

Manchester City vs. FC Barcelona: Well, some say City’s owners have been trying to recreate Barcelona in Manchester, so I guess this will be the true test of how far along they are in that (wait for it) project.

Olympiacos vs Manchester United: Given the way United have performed this season, Olympiacos will think they have a chance. They will be wrong.

AC Milan vs. Atlético de Madrid: Atletico have been so good this season (see how they ran away with Group G?), but this Milan team – shoddy though it is – will put up a fight.

Bayer 04 Leverkeusen vs. Paris Saint-Germain: One of the more intriguing and hard to call ties of this round. Technically, PSG should easily get past Bayer. But then, technically, Bayer shouldn’t even be in this round given how poorly they performed in their group.

Galatasaray AŞ vs. Chelsea FC: The reunion of Mou and King Didier.

FC Schalke 04 vs. Real Madrid: Like Bayer 04, Schalke shouldn’t even be in this round, and I don’t know if they’ll have enough to threaten this star-studded Madrid side.

FC Zenit vs. Borussia Dortmund: I appreciate that Zenit midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk has already started the trash talking months in advance of this tie. But Zenit had better enjoy being in the knockout stages while it lasts – cuz it won’t last long.

Arsenal FC vs. FC Bayern Munchen:
My lone correct prediction. Hard to say how this one will play out. Bayern is the stronger, deeper team, but they just had their first loss of this season’s Champions League to Manchester City last week. And it was Arsenal who inflicted one of Bayern’s two CL losses last season (albeit past the point when it mattered). Another one that’s tough to call.

Rd of 16 Draw Projections

The Group Stage of UEFA Champions League is over, and to my mind, a whole new tournament begins with the round of 16 draw.

My projections for the draw before it’s revealed in a few hours:

Manchester United vs. AC Milan

Real Madrid vs. Bayer 04 Leverkeusen

Paris Saint-Germain vs. FC Zenit

FC Bayern Munchen vs. Arsenal FC

Chelsea FC vs. Olympiacos

Borussia Dortmund vs. Galatasary AŞ

Club Atletico de Madrid vs. Manchester City FC

FC Barcelona vs. Schalke 04

Now, Europa League becomes interesting

…or at least easier to keep track of.

Let me get this out of the way: I am not a fan of the system that puts teams that crashed out of the Champions League Group Stage into the knockout rounds of the Europa League – a competition they haven’t played in and which many clubs have no serious interest in pursuing.

That said, the Europa League becomes more interesting to me now that it’s involving 32 teams instead of 48! Also, this seems to be the part of the competition when most of the teams – at least the ones involved from the beginning – realize, “Hey, there’s an actual trophy at stake here!” and start playing accordingly. When the competition resumes in February, these teams will be competing to get to the round of 16:

Seeded
AZ Alkmaar, FC Basel 1893*, SL Benfica*, Eintracht Frankfurt, ACF Fiorentina, KRC Genk, PFC Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympique Lyonnais, SSC Napoli*, FC Rubin Kazan, FC Salzburg, Sevilla FC, FC Shakhtar Donetsk*, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Trabzonspor AŞ, Valencia CF.

Unseeded
AFC Ajax*, FC Anji Makhachkala, Real Betis Balompié, FC Chornomorets Odesa, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, FC Dynamo Kyiv, Esbjerg fB, Juventus*, SS Lazio, Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC, NK Maribor, PAOK FC, FC Porto*, FC Slovan Liberec, Swansea City AFC, FC Viktoria Plzeň*.

As previously noted, for me, at this stage, Europa League becomes the more entertaining of the two major European competitions. That’s probably because I have little rooting interest and so enjoy seeing less well-known teams getting to the latter stages.

In any event, I’m looking forward to the round of 32 draw on December 16 almost as much as I’m cursing the numerous ways Uefa will drag out the ceremony.

*denotes teams transferred from the Champions League

And So the Group Stage Ends

After six matchdays, the UEFA Champions League has whittled to 16 the 32 teams that began the Group Stage in September. Along the way, some groups threw up surprises (Ciao, Juventus), while others stayed tight until almost the last kick.

At the start of the Group Stage, I made my picks for winners and runners-up. So, how did I do?

In Group A, I picked Manchester United and Bayer LeverKeusen to prevail, and they did – though not before putting out some lackluster performances. Group B was supposed to yield Real Madrid and Juventus as winner and runner-up, respectively. But while the Spaniards did their part (progressing through the group undefeated), Juventus started the competition playing badly and were eventually eliminated on this last matchday by Galatasary. Likewise, in Group C, Benfica, my pick for runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain, are out of the tournament; Greek team Olympiacos is going to the round of 16 instead.

Group D proved to be status quo as defending champions Bayern Munich and Manchester City are on to the next round – the latter for the first time. No doubt Man City will take confidence from their defeat of Bayern on the final matchday.

Despite twice defeating Chelsea, Switzerland’s FC Basel are out of the competition after losing to Schalke 04. Honestly, this is surprising to me. Basel played Chelsea off the park TWICE, and Schalke have been weaksauce in this competition and in the Bundesliga. Yet Chelsea and Schalke are the teams that ended up going through from Group E. At least I got the winner and runner-up right for this group!

As advertised, the Group of Death (Group F) showed no mercy, as Napoli were eliminated despite beating Arsenal 2-0 on Matcday 6. Borussia Dortmund squeaked into the round of 16 with just about the last kick of their game against Marseille. Seeing Gonzalo Higuain cry reminded me of why a Group of Death stresses me out. Inevitably, hearts get broken.

Zenit St. Petersburg followed Atletico Madrid out of Group G, giving me a perfect record in this group and ensuring that I get to continue ogling the pretty that is Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in the next round.

Finally, in Group H, Barcelona won the Group and AC Milan did just enough to come out runners-up. But I ran out of fucks to give about this group when I saw that Barca and Milan were drawn together again.

So, another Group Stage ends, and draw day for the round of 16 awaits on December 16. I’ll be up bright and early for it.

But my true happy place is…

…when Manchester United and Chelsea lose on the same day. Within hours of each other in fact.

It is beautiful.

It is joy.

It is right.

In other Premier League news, my Everton drew league leaders Arsenal. Only an Everton win would have made this the perfect EPL weekend for me.

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