With the January transfer window about to slam shut every team across the major leagues of Europe now know that come May, come what may, their squad just has to be good enough.
A talking point is again taking place in Milan where David Beckham seems on the verge of extending his loan period from LA Galaxy. The two spin offs from this mean that he can, if registered in time, play for AC in their UEFA Cup games, and very possibly extend his International England career in the process.
With most of the world’s eyes glued to a thrilling Super Bowl last night some of the Euro leagues roused themselves from their mid winter hibernation to recommence the action. Welcome back Germany and the Bundesliga.
Back in Manchester, City have been dipping into the money by signing Wayne Bridge from Chelsea, the much travelled Craig Bellamy from West Ham United, Nigel De Jong from Hamburg, and long serving Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given. City have also let big summer signing Jo leave on loan for Everton.
Unfortunately Rome wasn’t built in a day, or a season even, and despite having pots of money City lost at Stoke, the place that actually makes the said pot. Their 0-1 defeat came against 10-man Stoke who had long throw expert Rory Delap dismissed after 38 minutes. This didn’t stop the home side’s new signing James Beattie scoring in injury time of the first half to give Stoke the lead.
Despite City virtually camping in the Stoke penalty box for the second half, they were unable to get the equaliser and they lost 0-1.
Meanwhile at the top Liverpool and Chelsea clashed at Anfield. The game was somewhat marred by the controversial, no-let’s-not-mix-our-words unjust, sending off of Chelsea’s Frank Lampard in the 60th minute with the game balanced at 0-0. Replays show that he clearly got the ball in the challenge against Alonso.
Referee Mike Riley saw it otherwise and sent him off. Riley really got it wrong. Liverpool could sense that they had Chelsea against the ropes and two very late goals from Fernando Torres secured all three points in a 2-0 win.
Manchester United won again, scraping past Everton 1-0 at Old Trafford thanks to a Ronaldo penalty. The Gunners misfired again at home drawing 0-0 at home to London rivals West Ham United, who extended their recent impressive form whilst rising to eighth in the table.
In the big north east derby Newcastle United drew 1-1 in a lively match with near neighbours Sunderland. Ex-Marseille, Liverpool, and France international striker Djibril Cisse put the visitors ahead after 32 minutes, but a calmly taken penalty from Shola Ameobi made it 1-1 after 69. The result leaves both sides in mid table.
Highly impressive Aston Villa drew a blank at home to improving Wigan Athletic despite having England striker Emile Heskey making his home debut against his old club. If Villa had won they would have moved into second spot however when Zat Knight hit a post, and two more attempts were cleared off the Wigan goal line it was clearly not going to happen.
The result pales into insignificance following the news that a third prominent ex-Villa person had died. Former manager Vic Crowe died, aged 76. Cup final captain Johnny Dixon also passed away at the end of January. This was followed by the tragic news that Paul Birch had died following a fight against bone cancer at the age of 46. The three points are never as important as three people.
Villa stay in 4th on 48 points level with Chelsea and five behind Manchester United, who are two ahead of second placed Liverpool. United of course still have a game in hand, at home to Fulham. Villa have now put five points between themselves and 5th placed Arsenal.
Fulham, now without influential midfielder Jimmy Bullard who has made a big money move to Hull City, added to under-fire Portsmouth manager Tony Adams’s problems by beating them 3-1 at Craven Cottage to go 9th. Two goals from substitute Erik Nevland added to the earlier strike from Andy Johnson gave the Londoners a 3-0 lead.
Portsmouth have now slumped to 16th in the table only one point away from the drop zone. Whether Adams can survive this alarming nose dive remains to be seen.
The bottom three positions are now occupied by West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough on 22, and Blackburn Rovers 23. Stoke are now on 24 level with Portsmouth, Newcastle, and Spurs. Relegation jitters got the better of both Middlesbrough and Blackburn who met at ‘Boro. It was more a case of both sides not wanting to lose in a dire game that ended 0-0.
Bolton Wanderers beat Spurs 3-2 at the Reebok Stadium. The home side had led 2-0 at one stage before an inspired substitution by Harry Redknapp saw Darren Bent enter the action. He scored twice in three minutes to equal the score. However the smile was soon wiped off Harry’s face when Kevin Davies grabbed a late winner for Bolton. The only other game saw Hull and West Brom share four goals and grab a point a piece.
Rangers continue to claw back points on rivals Celtic’s lead at the top of the SPL. This weekend they beat 3rd placed Dundee United at Ibrox 2-0.
Celtic were surprisingly held to a 0-0 draw at bottom club Inverness Caledonian Thistle. It was former England defender Terry Butcher’s first game in charge of Cally Thistle but despite this excellent result they remain four points adrift of Falkirk, who beat Aberdeen 1-0.
St Mirren drew their first ever match at their shiny new stadium 1-1 with Kilmarnock, Hibernian and Motherwell drew 1-1, while Hamilton continued their climb up the table beating Hearts 2-0.
At the top Standard Liege retained their two point lead over Anderlecht by beating bottom club KSV Roeselare 3-0. Anderlecht won comfortably at KV Kortrijk 3-1, and 3rd place Club Bruges beat AFC Tubize 3-1.
Roeselare are now three points behind RAEC Mons who drew 1-1 at home to 5th placed Cercle Brugge. On Sunday AA Gent thrashed Charleroi 5-2 away, and 4th placed Racing Genk won 2-1 at Lokeren. Germinal Beerschot Antwerp continued their improved form beating Westerlo 2-1 to climb to 12th.
It really wasn’t Frederic Piquionne’s day. The big money Lyon striker, playing for the seven on the trot champions against his old club St. Etienne, missed a couple of easy goal scoring opportunities with the result that he was getting stick from both sets of supporters. He then rounded off a miserable evening by tackling himself when put through on the St Etienne goal and falling flat on his face.
A few minutes later he was sent off for a forwards tackle and trudged off looking somewhat dejected. Lyon went a goal behind to Kevin Mirallas’s strike on 50 minutes, before Juninho scored from a direct free kick that deceived St. Etienne’s goal keeper Janot.
It ended 1-1. It would have been St Etienne’s first win over their rivals since 1994. To rub salt in their wounds, a dead cert penalty was denied them late in the match.
Bordeaux missed the opportunity to go top by drawing 2-2 at home to Lille, who scored two goals in eight minutes. As a result they remain a point behind Lyon, but three ahead of PSG who rose to 3rd by beating Caen 2-0. Both goals from the Paris club coming in the second half.
Valenciennes did their relegation worries the power of good by beating Nice 1-0 at home. Le Havre look to be hopelessly adrift seven points behind after losing 2-3 at home to Nancy. Sochaux, a point ahead of Valenciennes, also won beating Marseille 1-0 on a snow covered pitch and a match played in near blizzard conditions.
5th met 6th at Rennes who drew 0-0 in an interesting encounter with Toulouse. Monaco beat Grenoble 1-0 at an alarmingly empty stadium on the south coast.
Table topping Hoffenheim, who will have to be without top scorer Vidad Ibisevic who is injured for the rest of the season, stay two points clear after beating 2nd bottom Energie Cottbus 2-0. Demba Ba scoring, his eighth of the season, to help them on their way. Hertha Berlin are now 2nd, on equal points to 3rd place Hamburg, courtesy of a 2-1 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt.
Hamburg beat Bayern Munich, who are now down in 4th, 1-0. It was a headed goal from Petric that did the damage and caused Bayern’s first defeat since September. Meanwhile French star Willy Sagnol has had to retire from the game due to injury. His presence will be missed.
Bottom club Borussia Monchengladbach lost 0-2 at Stuttgart and are now two points behind Cottbus, and Karlsruhe. The latter lost 2-0 at Vfl Bochum who climb above them as a result, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen drew 1-1 in a tense match.
Werder Bremen who have now slipped to 10th lost 1-2 at home to Arminia Bielefeld. It’s all set up for a fascinating end of season. Can Hoffenheim hold off the big city challenges of Bayern, Hamburg, Dortmund, and an emerging Hertha Berlin.
AEK were beaten 1-0 at home by Athens rivals Olympiakos who stay top. Panathinaikos won 2-1 at Levadiakos whilst PAOK Salonica beat Ergotelis 2-0 to stay 2nd.
AZ Alkmaar continue their march towards the title by beating Sparta Rotterdam away 2-0. This was the ninth game that AZ have not conceded a goal.
Second placed Ajax lost 1-0 at home to Heerenveen and had Vermaelen sent off after 47 minutes. Heerenveen, whose goal came from a power drive from Pranjic are now in 4th position, having enjoyed four wins on the trot ahead of PSV who won 3-0 at De Graafschap.
One of the home teams fans won’t have to worry about watching his team’s desperate fight against relegation. He will no doubt be banned after running on the pitch and fouling one of the referee’s assistants. It can all start to get a bit passionate at this stage in the season, even in laid back Holland.
3rd placed Twente Enschede were held to a 0-0 home draw by Utrecht. NEC beat disappointing Feyenoord 1-0 to go 8th. Bottom side Volendam, who have previously only won one point away from home, drew 1-1 at NAC, who have now won only one in the last eight. Vitesse Arnhem won an important three points by winning 2-0 at Willem II.
Meanwhile 3rd bottom side Roda JC beat Heracles 3-1 to increase pressure on the bottom two. Volendam are on 12 points, four adrift of De Graafschap who are two behind Roda.
It’s been a busy week in Serie A. During the week 2nd place AC Milan were held to a 1-1 draw by Genoa. Milan’s goal from the ever impressive David Beckham who scored a wonderful direct free kick from an unlikely angle. No wonder they want to add him to their squad.
At the bottom Torino and Reggina fought out a tense 0-0 draw in Turin. Chievo and Lecce also drew meaning that there was no change at the bottom places. Lecce’s goal in the 1-1 draw came from a wonder strike by Giuseppe Vives. Juventus lost 1-2 at Udinese but stayed 3rd.
This weekend saw Torino grab a vital point at top of the table Internazionale in the San Siro. Milan won 3-0 at Lazio with goals from Kaka, Pato and Ambrosini. Reggina gained a point in a 2-2 home draw with AS Roma.
Juventus lost again this time 2-3 at home to Cagliari. It was the first time Cagliari have won at Juve since 1968. Inter stay six points clear of Milan on 44. At the bottom Reggina have 15, and Chievo and Torino are both on 18. 4th bottom side Bologna lost 1-3 at home to Fiorentina. Lecce grabbed all three with an important win at Siena.
FC Porto stay top a point ahead of Benfica having won 3-1 at lowly Belenenses. Benfica also secured all three points by beating bottom side Rio Ave 1-0 on a waterlogged pitch at the, not so, Stadium of Light. Sporting Lisbon stay 3rd despite only drawing 0-0 at Trofense following an embarrassing amount of missed chances.
Barcelona won yet again, to go twelve points clear at the top, this time 2-1 at Racing Santander, with both goals coming from their Argentinian star Lionel Messi.
Real Madrid won 2-0 at Numancia to stay 2nd. 3rd placed Sevilla lost 1-0 at mid table Sporting Gijon. The bottom three teams Mallorca, Espanyol, and Osasuna all have 17 points.
So as Europe freezes in sub-arctic conditions some of the leagues are warming up nicely. As I type this Liverpool’s Robbie Keane has just re-joined Spurs. There is literally only an hour before the window slams shut.
It seems that no one wants to leave Spurs forever. This month we have already seen the return of Jermaine Defoe from Portsmouth, Pascal Chimbonda back from Sunderland, and now Robbie Keane. I suppose a return by Jimmy Greaves or Dimitar Berbatov is too much to ask. However, given their current position, Spurs probably would, if they could.
Neighbours Arsenal meanwhile look set to sign Andrei Arshavin from frozen Russia. I guess he must feel at home in the six inches of snow of north London tonight.
Thought For The Week
I once managed to headbutt a steel support under a stand at Craven Cottage, jumping up and down like a lunatic whilst celebrating a vital Peter Beardsley goal for my team Fulham.
When I tried to re-enact it, without the necessary surge of adrenalin, I couldn’t get my fat head anywhere near the same bit of metal. Seemingly I had somehow managed to go from a seated position to a jump of ‘Frosby flop’ proportions as a result of a goal. So the next time someone tells you that football is only a game… tell them to take a jump.