Friday, August 25, 2017

Champions League 2017-18 Groups

After the draw the groups are as follows:

Group A: Manchester United is back and probably favourites ahead of Benfica, with two difficult outsiders with Basel and CSKA.
  • Benfica
  • Manchester United
  • FC Basel
  • CSKA Moscow
Group B: Everyone will be watching Paris St. Germain with Neymar, and their ambitions to make it all the way. In particular against Bayern Munich, who as always are favourites for the title. Celtic and Anderlecht are there to fight for the Europa League.
  • Bayern Munich
  • Paris St. Germain
  • Anderlecht
  • Celtic
Group C: Chelsea is back as champions of the PL, and with ambitions to get far, alongside with Atletico Madrid. Roma could threaten either side, while the debutantes of Qarabag will be happy for any points they can get, and the experience of playing Champions League.
  • Atletico Madrid
  • Chelsea
  • Roma
  • FC Qarabag
Group D: Juventus and FC Barcelona have had some amazing clashed in the last seasons of the CL, and will likely fight for the top-2 of this group. Olympiacos continues to be a great home team that can take points from everyone, while Sporting also could take some points.
  • FC Barcelona
  • Juventus
  • Sporting CL
  • Olympiacos
Group E: Last seasons' Europa League finalists are in the same group, and again Sevilla should be considered favourites, despite Liverpool always having more confidence than quality, but under Kopp may achieve something. Spartak Mrioscow could fight for one of the spots, while nobody expects much from Maribor.
  • Sevilla
  • Liverpool
  • Spartak Moscow
  • Maribor
Group F: Manchester City are favourites in this group, but it is not an easy one! Napoli surely has the quality to take on the English, while Shakhtar and Feyenoord are solid and experienced sides that should never be underestimated. This could be one of the closest fought groups.
  • Manchester City
  • Napoli
  • Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Feyenoord
Group G: Big expectations to the Monaco side, that has nevertheless lost some its key players. RB Leipzig are debutantes that will be interesting to see, and could cause upsets. Of course, FC Porto is a side that can beat anyone, while Besiktas is always difficult with their strong home fans.
  • AS Monaco
  • FC Porto
  • Besiktas
  • RB Leipzig
Group H: Defending champions of Real Madrid are surely favourites, with Dortmund and Tottenham fighting for second place. Whoever of them takes points from the Spanish may have a good shot. In the meantime the Cyprus champions of Apoel may be there to annoy some of these big teams.
  • Real Madrid
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • Tottenham
  • Apoel

Thursday, August 24, 2017

FC Qarabag in the CL

I am going to be unashamedly subjective in expressing my delight at FC Qarabag being the first team from Azerbaijan ever to make it into the Champions League. The champions of Azerbaijan defeated the Danish champions of FC Copenhagen 1-0 at home, and an away goal in the 2-1 loss in Copenhagen was enough to put them in the Champions League.
Granted, FC Qarabag may have made it to the tournament by a qualification where they the champions they defeated were not from the strongest leagues (Georgia, Moldova and Denmark) but they deserve to have made it after defeating some Danish champions that appear to believe that being champions of Denmark is enough to defeat other teams!
I am delighted Copenhagen is out!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Bundesliga start

The Bundesliga opens today with defending champions Bayern Munich facing Bayer Leverkusen. Despite the dominance of Bayern Munich, the German league always has surprises, amazing young talent, plenty goals and some of the best atmosphere in Europe (Borussia Dortmund fans are perhaps the best I have ever seen).
And the Bundesliga leads the way also in terms of equality, with the first female referee, Ms. Bibiana Steinhaus, who will be making her debut in the Bundesliga! I hope that we will soon see her in the Champions League!
(but don't count on me not complaining about the referee anyway)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Real Madrid on top and a weak Barcelona

I am not a Barcelona or Real Madrid fan. In fact in terms of fandom I pretty much dislike both teams, although in terms of football quality I am full of respect and admiration for what they have achieved. Therefore, pretty much the only thing I look forward to in the Spanish league is to see these teams play against each other, so watching the first leg of the Supercopa final tonight was obligatory.
But it angered me.

The quality of both sides is unquestionable, which Ronaldo and Asensio's amazing goals for Real Madrid are witness to. And Real Madrid are truly amazing at the moment, picking up where they left last season: Zidane has created a team that combines experience with immensely talented youth (and he shows he believes in them), freedom of action with tactical discipline, and with a strength in depth that Barcelona cannot match.
But both teams lower their own quality by not letting the ball alone talk, but constant acting, diving and bitching. It is at times painful to watch.

The vulnerability of Barcelona became so obvious today against a top Real Madrid side, that only favourable refereeing gave them a chance in the match: an incorrectly cancelled goal for Real Madrid, a non-existant penalty and a questionable red card for Ronaldo (despite the fact that one cannot help but be smugly happy for Ronaldo's off-the-shirt yellow card that he seems to get on purpose) just helped Barcelona not become totally humiliated.
Two of the best teams in the world, and refereeing is totally amateurish... This happens more in the Spanish league than in any other league (both Real Madrid and Barcelona have favourable referees in any match against other sides), and there is no question that a league with such low quality of refereeing (where players again and again take advantage of them) can in no way be called among the best in the world.

And finally, about Neymar: I understand why left Barcelona. It was not the money: as an ambitious young man he went to a side that is looking forward and investing, while he left a Catalonian side that before was relying on Messi-Suarez-Neymar, now seems to rely solely on Messi and Suarez, with quality in some positions, but barely any in others.
In the meantime Neymar scored in his debut for PSG, starting what looks like a great partnership with Edison Cavani...
Look to PSG for the coming season, not to Barcelona!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Premier League is on!

This evening I was speaking with a Chelsea fan who said that Conte should be fired because of their PL opening 2-3 defeat to Burnley. That is in my view a bit early: of course the manager is responsible, but Chelsea are still defending champions. They did look as if they were still on vacation though, against a Burnley team that of course was top motivated to play the champions.
There have been some great matches already: Arsenal and Leicester had a fireworks of goals when Arsenal won 4-3, and perhaps it is a prelude to the season for Liverpool in that defensive errors and a late goal only gave them 3-3 against Watford. The favourites for the title are in my view Manchester City; they have invested heavily, and I expect that Guardiola now understands how to pace his side in the most difficult league in the world. City opened with a 0-2 victory over Brighton.
Finally, one thing that made me particularly happy was to see good ole' Wayne Rooney score the winning goal for Everton in his debut against Stoke. 
And who is on top after one match? Newcomers Huddersfield opened with a solid 0-3 victory against Crystal Palace. I do not expect Huddersfield to remain on top though.