Category Archives: England
What do Hibs, Montpellier and Blackburn all have in common? No, it’s not that their fans have been spending an inordinate amount of time in the toilet recently. It’s that they’re part of today’s three to watch:
1) Scottish Premier League: Hibernian vs. Dunfermline Athletic, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
It is a testament to how abysmal Hibs have been this season that Dunfermline, the worst side to ‘grace’ the SPL in many a year, can still mathematically leapfrog the once-proud Edinburgh outfit and send them spiralling into the eternal black hole that is the Scottish First Division. Worryingly for fans of the home team, the Pars’ form has improved since Jim Jefferies – a legend at city rivals Hearts – took over, and a win at Easter Road would see them close the gap on their feckless opponents to two points with one game to play. Should the worst case scenario materialise for Hibs, their ensuing Scottish Cup final encounter with Hearts would take on a whole new complexion, providing those of a maroon persuasion with a brand new set of lusty, schadenfreude-inspired songs for the occasion. For Hibs, who rather famously haven’t won the Cup since 1902, it would be a bit like finally getting a date with the busty blonde in marketing, only to discover as you walked through the door of the cheesy wine bar that you’d left your wallet in the taxi…
2) Ligue 1: Rennes vs. Montpellier, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
Fans of cursed, middle-of-the-road, trophy-less sides across Europe will be stealing occasional sympathetic glances at the Ligue 1 scores this evening, as Montpellier strive to prove that a cursed, middle-of-the-road, trophy-less side can, with the right set of players, a lot of bottle and a large dose of luck, occasionally have a day in the sun. Said bottle will never be put to the test more stringently than at Rennes, where defeat will leave away fans facing the prospect of their team chucking the league away when, just a fortnight ago, it seemed like destiny was finally grinning down inanely at them. Billionaires’ playthings PSG, top on goal difference but having played a game more, and defending champions Lille (remarkably) simply refuse to go away, which means that the Languedoc-Roussillon club need at least a point to go into their last two fixtures as league leaders. Red cards, a 95th-minute missed penalty, on-pitch brawls, squad disharmony, controversial statements to the press and a decimated midfield have conspired to turn this into a rather tumultuous week for Montpellier, who can put all that behind them with a victory over Rennes, who are still in the hunt for a European place. All in all, it promises to be a belter in Brittany.
3) English Premier League: Blackburn Rovers vs. Wigan Athletic, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
You’ve got to feel for Blackburn and their ever-optimistic manager, Steve Kean. You’d think that Wigan would be exactly the team they’d want to face in this position: direct relegation rivals, with just six points presently separating the two sides. A football-loving Martian landing on Earth today would probably agree. But that would be because he hadn’t got his seven pairs of hands on the Latics’ recent results, which would give the likes of Real Madrid pause for thought before taking them on. In the past few weeks, Shaun Maloney and Co. have beaten Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle, taking 15 points from a possible 21. A win at Rovers will seal Wigan’s place in the Premier League for next season, and it would be a foolish punter who would bet against them on current form.
In a week where Sotheby’s in New York sold Edvard Munch’s 1895 work “The Scream” for $119.9 million, setting a record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction, football supporters all over Europe have been doing a fairly good impression of the Norwegian painter’s mysterious squawker over the past few weeks, as league championship, relegation and promotion issues come to a head. In a rather fortunate coincidence, one that we’ll pretend was a conscious choice, all three aspects are addressed in today’s three to watch:
1) Turkish Super Lig, play-off stage: Besiktas vs. Fenerbahce, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST
If Fenerbahce overcome their Istanbul rivals tonight, it’s fans of another Istanbul rival that’ll be crying into their chilled glasses of Tekel Birası. Galatasaray have stumbled badly in recent weeks, and will be hoping for a favour from The Black Eagles, who, like Newt Gingrich, can now finish no higher than third. Three points for Sarı Kanaryalar (The Yellow Canaries) will see them flutter to the top of the table with two games to play.
2) Ligue 1: Dijon vs. Auxerre, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST
In a league where proud, once-mighty football institutions (Lens, Nantes, Monaco, Metz and poor old fifth-divsion Strasbourg, to name but five) drop down to the lower leagues with surprisingly regularity, this year it’s Auxerre’s turn to stick their fans into the game’s equivalent of the dentist’s waiting room. The 1996 league champions are the only French club never to have been relegated, although they appear intent on pushing that stat to the max this year. Tonight’s game in Dijon is of the must-win variety, but if AJA are to cut the mustard (oh yes, we did), they’ll need top performances from underperforming stars like Olivier Kapo and Édouard Cissé.
3) English Championship play-off semi-final, first leg: Cardiff vs. West Ham, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
It’s the business end of the season, or so they tell us. Cue endless tedious references to how much a place in the Premier League is worth, forgetting (if you’ll excuse our naivety for a second) that some neutral observers just like to see a good, old fashioned football match. Malky Mackay’s Cardiff side are generally, well, crap in these pesky play-offs, and West Ham have won a club-record 13 matches away from home this campaign. Which probably means the Welsh team’ll win 3-0.
Today is ‘Good’ Friday, the day that intelligent, grown adults across the Western world commemorate the fact that their god sacrificed himself to himself to allow himself to forgive humanity for a sin made up by himself.
If you’d rather pray at the church of football, here are three must-see games today:
1) English Premier League: Swansea City vs Newcastle Utd., 17.30 CET/11.30 EST
Swansea, transforming the traditional cliché uttered about promoted clubs into a ‘breath of Welsh air’, look to be pretty safe from the drop now, while Newcastle are playing well, possess one of the most in-form strikers in Papiss Cissé, and aren’t quite yet out of the hunt for Champions League football, such has been the level of
crapness inconsistency shown by Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea. It should be an Easter Egg of a match – tempting, enjoyable and horribly addictive.
2) Belgian Pro League, play-offs: Standard Liege vs Anderlecht, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
Anderlecht’s draw with Kortrijk in the first week of the much-maligned play-off format was a big shock, and it cut their lead over Club Brugge to just one point. The Brussels-based club really need a win in Liege, as otherwise they may be looking at Brugge’s swaggering behinds by the time the final whistle of their rivals’ own match with Kortrijk sounds on Sunday.
3) French League 2: Monaco vs Nantes, 20.20 CET/14.20 EST
Ten years ago, this match would have paired the reigning French champions with the champions of the preceding year. As recently as 2004, Monaco were playing in the flippin’ Champions League final, for goodness sake. It’s not been the best time to be a fan of Les Canaris or Les Rouge et Blanc, but things are looking up – the once-rich-but-now-not-so-much-Monegasques have moved up the table to put to bed nightmares of a second successive relegation, and Nantes have finally put themselves in with a shout of escaping the Ligue 2 quicksand. For that reason alone, we’re taking the away side to sneak it in front of a bumper crowd of, um, 4,000 hardy souls at Stade Louis II.
Thought the Champions League was a European animal? Well, it is, but there’s one across the water too. Today’s three to watch come from the UEFA species, and its lesser-spotted CONCACAF cousin.
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Chelsea vs Benfica, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
With a 1-0 lead, an away goal and some so-so form under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea are obviously favourites. But they’re up against two-time European Champions Benfica, who’ve lost just once away from home in the Portuguese league this season. A team containing Aimar, Gaitán and Cardozo that needs to pull off a win against the odds should, generally, do just that. But this is the quarter-final of the Big Cup, and Stamford Bridge is a tough place to go blah-blah-blah. For the neutral or semi-neutral, the best thing that could happen to this match is for big Cardozo to hit a Crouch-style screamer in the opening five minutes. That would give us a game that might make us look up from our Game of Thrones DVD boxset, as it would mean that Benfica were coming, my lord.
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Real Madrid vs APOEL Nicosia, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
APOEL’s run to the quarter-finals will probably never be matched by another Cypriot team or by a side from a similar-sized nation. No-one’s holding their breath for Maltese champions Valletta or Luxembourg title-holders Dudelange to take next year’s Champions League by storm. So, Brazilian mercenaries or not, it’s hats off to the Lyon-tamers (see what we did there?), but with the news coming in that Real plan on fielding a reasonably strong team, it’s also time to say ‘Kalinihta’ (‘good night’; our thanks go to the delightfully unreliable Google Translate) to our islander friends.
3) CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, second leg: Santos Laguna vs Toronto, 03.00 CET/20.00 EST
Toronto surprised many self-appointed experts (excuse us while we look the other way) by holding Santos Laguna to a 1-1 draw in the first leg at BMO Field. The Canadians have been making confident noises, but Seattle did that too, and they got gubbed 6-1 in Torreon in the previous round. The Mexicans are top of the league and unbeaten this year. Toronto are not. But, as Jimmy Greaves was fond of mumbling, it really is a funny ol’ game. If TFC somehow reach the final, it would probably rank as their biggest-ever achievement, akin to a team from, say, Cyprus reaching the last eight of the competition’s European equivalent. Which would just never happ…oh.
The much talked about Mega Millions jackpot was won over the weekend, and news outlets are currently racing about trying to ruin the life of some sorry sod before he actually does it himself, Michael Carroll-style. The media was full of ponderous pearls of statistical wisdom in the run-up to the $640 million draw, the pick of which had to be USA Today’s claim that you were nine times more likely to die from a TV falling on your head. Having failed to beat the 175 million to 1 odds, allow us to help you get rich in three easy steps.
1) Liga: Sevilla vs Mallorca, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
Take ten of your finest dollars, pounds or Euros, and stick it on Mallorca at 9/2. The islanders’ away form is reasonable, while Sevilla’s home record has been poor this season.
2) English Premier League: Blackburn vs Man Utd, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
Now you have 45 of your finest dollars, pounds or Euros. Bit of a leap of faith this one, but shove it all on Blackburn at 7/1. With a supportive home crowd behind them, an early goal could see Steve Kean’s men hang on for a surprise victory. And it’s not like they haven’t done it before.
3) Bulgarian A PFG: Levski Sofia vs Ludogorets, 18.30 CET/12.30 EST
Your total stands at a rather tasty 315 of your finest etc. etc. While we’re not generally in the habit of venturing out into outposts such as the Bulgarian league, this fixture is interesting in that it involves a side – Ludogorets – that came up from the second division to challenge for the title this year, and a traditional heavyweight club that has just changed coaches due to patchy form. Take the promoted side at 7/2, spend your $£€ 1,112.50 wisely, and remember to send us our 15% commission.
With the kick-offs to today’s three games just a hop and a skip away, we’ll limit this preview to one adverb and one adjective. Lazily sparse, in other words.
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: APOEL Nicosia vs Real Madrid, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: Benfica vs Chelsea, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
3) English FA Cup: Tottenham v Bolton, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
Today’s three matches to keep an eye on are brought to you by Football Clichés, taking one game at a time.
1) French Ligue 2: Lens vs Nantes, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
‘How the mighty have fallen’.
Really? This is one of today’s picks? Well, it’s certainly the most symbolic encounter of Monday’s fixture list. French champions in 1998, desperate to return to the big league so that their fervent supporters can once again fill their 40,000 capacity stadium, Lens have fallen on hard times recently. French champions in 2001, desperate to return to the big league so that their fervent supporters can once again fill their 40,000 capacity stadium, Nantes have fallen on hard times recently.
2) English Premier League: Manchester United vs Fulham, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
‘A six-pointer for United’.
Given that those big-spending baddies across town dropped two points to Peter Crouch FC on Saturday, a win would put Man U three points clear with eight games to go. Clint D and Co., who have turned mid-table mediocrity into an art form in recent years, should put up
some stiff no resistance whatsoever at Old Trafford.
3) Spanish Primera División: Granada vs Sevilla, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
‘Too big to go down’.
No not, Granada, who came up from the second division last year and are doing well to be lying (just) outside the relegation zone. Sevilla have had an awful second half of the season so far, and although they currently appear well clear of trouble, a defeat to El Graná would not augur well for the run-in. The 2007 UEFA Cup winners would seem to have more match-winners in their side (Jesus Navas, Manu del Moral), but Granada may prove to have more cojones over 90 minutes.
Say what you like about him, but gangly goal-grabber Peter Crouch knows how to get chins wagging. Not only did his astonishingly struck volley put the brakes on Manchester City’s title charge this afternoon, it’s probably a stick-on for goal of the season. Watch it here: