Swiss Super League: Basel vs Young Boys Match Preview

Gimme Five

Basel are ready to write history in Switzerland, as they aim to become the first team to win the national title for the fifth time in a row. Recent years have been extremely positive for the Swiss giants, with a team that have enjoyed a real impact in European football, reaching the Champions League Round of 16 (after they knocked out Manchester United) in the 2011/12 season, and the Europa League semi-finals one year later.

The St. Jakob Park outfit have been able to keep their performances high despite a number of departures, year after year, losing jewels to bigger leagues. In 2012 Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka left for the Bundesliga, while this summer the club waved goodbye to talented central defender Aleksandar Dragovic, who transferred to Dynamo Kyiv. However, an extremely productive youth system and a good scouting network (Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah and Chilean defensive midfielder Marcelo Diaz are two players to watch) have always filled the holes left in the first team by departures.

Basel have not an impressive start to this season though, with only two wins (against newly-promoted Aarau and Lausanne) in five games. Murat Yakin’s men are still searching for consistency that lasts 90 minutes. In the Champions League third qualifying round Basel drew 3-3 against Maccabi Tel-Aviv after they led 3-0; in the Swiss Cup they defeated amateurs Old Boys only in extra-time, while in the Super League, Yakin’s side suffered a painful home defeat against fierce rivals Zurich despite dominating the game. 

Apart from Basel however, in recent years none of the clubs (Young Boys, Luzern, Grasshppers) crowned “winter champions” have managed to win the league. Despite the Swiss giants not being at their best yet, they should never be underestimated.

Bringing Back The Golden Years

Young Boys are looking to collect their first title since 1986. They went close three years ago under coach Vlado Petkovic, but after the Berne-based side dominated the league until the final two games, Basel snatched the title from their grasp at the death. Since then, Young Boys have fallen back into mediocrity, as three coaches sacked (Petkovic, Christian Gross and Martin Rueda) in the last three seasons has shown. 

To bring backs the glory days, Young Boys chose Uli Forte, recently voted best Swiss coach in the 2012/13 season – and, according to a Swiss women’s magazine, even the sexiest. Forte did a superb job with Grasshoppers, turning his side from relegation candidates to serious title contenders within 12 months. Despite a lack of money, the Zurich-based team qualified for the Champions League for the first time in a decade after finishing second in the league. Moreover, they ended a ten-year trophy drought defeating Basel in the Swiss Cup final.

Under Forte, Young Boys have started their 2013/14 campaign in fine fashion, with five wins in five games and 15 goals scored, before an unexpected home defeat against Grasshopper. The arrival of veteran Steve von Bergen has given consistency to the defensive pack, while up front strikers Samuel Afum, Gonzalo Zarate, Alexander Gerndt and the revelation Yuya Kubo (three goals in five games for the 19-year old Japanese talent) has given Forte many options.

Basel have played three games in seven days, while Young Boys turned out in just one. Forte’s men are in top form and in high spirits (despite their home defeat), leaving all the pressure on the reigning champions, who are six points behind the visitors. Basel however are well-known for their die-hard mentality, and on paper the quality of their team is not worse than the Berne side’s. This will be a close contest and is probably heading towards a spectacular draw.

Premier League: Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur Match Preview

Papering Over The Cracks Or On The Right Track?

Arsenal and Tottenham battle at the Emirates Stadium in what promises to be another fiery north London derby. Two weeks ago even the most ardent Arsenal supporters must have been wondering what sort of season they were set to endure after opening up the campaign with a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. Coupled with the club’s failure thus far to make a splash in the transfer window, there was real worry at what was happening at the club.

Fast forward two weeks and nearly all has been forgotten. A convincing 5-0 aggregate win over Fenerbahce secured Champions League football for the 16th consecutive season and last week Arsene Wenger’s side picked up their first Premier League points of the season with a convincing 3-1 win at Fulham.

Things seem to be back on track, though there is a fear that it will be one step forward and two steps back should the Gunners fail to beat Tottenham. This will be a time of great importance and anticipation for all involved at the club with a big derby match and the close of the transfer window promising to make it quite a suspenseful affair. Thursday’s Champions League draw saw Arsenal placed in Group F alongside Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli. This sort of difficult draw has increased the pressure for the club to buy and with a thin squad they really must bring in new blood in order to challenge on multiple fronts.

Transfer Window Winners

On the flip side, Tottenham have been extremely aggressive in the transfer market as the club have spent huge amounts of money bringing in the likes of Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela, amongst others. Andre Villas-Boas’ work is not done and more signings are expected before the close of the window on Monday night as the club seek to reinforce the squad especially with the finalisation of Gareth Bale’s move to Real Madrid. 

On the pitch, Tottenham are one of only two teams in the Premier League to have an unblemished record after the first two rounds. They may not have hit the heights with their narrow wins against Crystal Palace and Swansea, both of which came thanks to Soldado penalty kicks, but no one associated with the club will be complaining about having six points in the bag.

As with Arsenal, it is really shaping up to be an intriguing campaign for Tottenham. They appear to be building a deep squad with quality and certainly claiming fourth spot and a Champions League berth will be the minimum expectation. Soldado already seems a shrewd buy, but with Bale on his way out, there will need to be a collective effort to replace the Welsh star, not only in so far as the goals he provided, but his speed and ability to beat defenders. 

After Liverpool vs Manchester United, this is the second half of another Super Sunday spectacular in England. Though it may be somewhat early for this result to have a real bearing on the table, this match will mean a lot nonetheless. A win for Arsenal and the feel-good factor could return to the Emirates Stadium with what would be four wins on the trot for Arsene Wenger’s side. A loss however, could put the club back to square one and ensure another rough start to a league campaign for the Gunners. While Arsenal have yet to be successful in the transfer market, the mood is quite different for their local rivals. Tottenham look set to lose Bale, but they are by most accounts the most successful club in the summer transfer window having bought quantity and quality. The stage is set for an exhilarating clash with either side looking capable of the win and goals just about guaranteed. In the end, the home side may have just enough and ride their recent good form to secure a big derby victory. Arsenal 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur.

Premier League: Liverpool vs Manchester United Match Preview

Big Test For Reds

The two most successful clubs in English football history clash on Merseyside as Liverpool host Manchester United at Anfield. Liverpool have begun the season with great promise, coming through their first two matches against Stoke and Aston Villa with maximum points. It will be a different proposition altogether however when their historic rivals and defending Premier League champions come to town.

This will be the first big test of the season for Brendan Rodgers’ side and there is a sense of real anticipation around Anfield as to how Liverpool will match up against the league’s elite teams this season. With Liverpool undergoing a period of inconsistency over the last few seasons, they will be keen to face Manchester United now, considering that Sir Alex Ferguson has retired and a new era with David Moyes at the helm has started. 

Liverpool have shrugged off the drama surrounding Luis Suarez recently and have been solid in their opening two matches, though there have been some rough moments and they have had some good fortune. Nonetheless, Reds supporters will be buoyed by the team’s start and a win against Manchester United would send an early warning that Rodgers’ men are serious about challenging high up the league table. 

Challenging Start To Campaign

As soon as the fixture list was rolled out for the new campaign it was apparent that new Manchester United manager Moyes would face a baptism of fire. An away visit to Swansea was followed up by a home match against Chelsea and then another massive game against Liverpool. The defending champions were convincing in defeating Swansea on the opening day of the season and last Monday’s 0-0 draw against Chelsea was deemed a decent result all things considered, with Moyes’ men looking the better side on the night.

All in all it has been a solid start for the new man in charge, however he will continue to face questions week in and week out with regard to Manchester United’s performances and results. The club’s inability to sign players in the transfer window has been slightly concerning and the hope is that a few new recruits can be brought in before the deadline. 

One source of good news for fans is that Wayne Rooney looks set to stay at Old Trafford. The 27-year-old put in a fine performance against Chelsea and the belief is that he will remain a Manchester United player. If Moyes can keep the pressure off him and the club during such a tough start to the campaign then Manchester United surely will be challenging for the title once again.  

One of English football’s great rivalries, there will be no shortage of tension and drama when these two lock horns at Anfield. Both clubs enter the match in decent enough form. For Liverpool, supporters must be overjoyed with two straight league wins to start the season, though against Manchester United they will have to raise their performance level even more. Manchester United looked the stronger side against Chelsea, but had to be content with a 0-0 draw at home after disposing of Swansea 4-1 in their opening league  match. Home advantage could play a key role in this match; though look for Manchester United to perhaps hold on for a point. Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United

Portuguese Primeira Liga: Sporting Lisbon vs Benfica Match Preview

New Coach New Season

Sporting Lisbon entertain Benfica at the Estadio Jose de Alvalade in the first Lisbon derby of 2013/14. The two teams have had very different starts to the season, but no matter the form, a match such as this always brings something extra from each team. 

Sporting’s previous season was one to forget. The club failed to earn a place in Europe, which has turned out to be financially disastrous. Things however seem to be better after the arrival of their new manager, Leonardo Jardim. The tactician has brought a new mentality to the club and in the first two matches of the season Sporting scored nine goals and conceded only one. The team seem different, the players seem to be united and the football they are playing is exciting. Newcomer Fredy Montero looks a good signing and is already the league’s top scorer with four goals. The Colombian forward’s arrival somehow puzzled and confused the supporters, but they have already picked him as one of their favourite players.

Jardim has a difficult task on his hands, erasing memories of the last campaign, but the initial signs are good for Sporting. The Portuguese coach is known for his tactical expertise and his recent record, both in Portuguese and Greek football, is impressive.

Less Than Perfect Start

Benfica meanwhile have had a troubled start. After losing in Madeira to Maritimo, the Eagles struggled to beat Gil Vicente at home and only managed to grab the win in the dying moments of the match. Their coach, Jorge Jesus, has been under heavy fire from supporters. Benfica look far less consistent than last season and their defence and attack are far from their best. Constant talk of dressing room issues and splits is now surfacing in the domestic media.

The club’s pre-season was marked by Oscar Cardozo’s situation at the club. The Paraguayan striker pushed Jesus at the end of the Portuguese Cup final last season and after speculation about his departure from the club, was fined and reintegrated into the first team squad last week. Benfica’s president has caved in to the supporters’ wishes by allowing Cardozo to return to the team, seemingly against Jesus’ will. The Paraguayan could even feature in this clash.

The cards are on the table for a very interesting game and neither side will want to give their rivals a boost by giving up easily.

Lisbon derbies between Sporting and Benfica are usually close affairs, but the hosts seem to have an advantage coming into this clash. The Lions are already looking more confident and consistent than Benfica this season and will surely be motivated for this home clash. In particular, Sporting’s midfield, with Adrien Silva and Andre Martins, dictating the pace of the game, will be a key strength. Benfica’s midfield has been lethargic so far, with powerful defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic not at his best. 

Sporting have a golden opportunity to claim a win here, which they should be able to do. Sporting 2-1 Benfica.

NFL Pre-Season Week 4: A Perfect Pre-Season

This NFL Pre-Season has been a perfect pre-season for almost everyone affiliated with the league. The NFL had great viewing statistics and was able to provide a wide range of coverage for the fans and the networks with one of the most watched pre-seasons in many years. You can feel the excitement when you hear fans talking about how their teams look and what  their expectations are for the season. Even with some teams doing and looking pretty horrible in the pre-season you still can hear the the optimism everyone  is exuding for this up and coming season.

The real perfect season goes to the Washington Redskins. Going undefeated with out their star 2nd year quarterback Robert Griffin III not even taking a snap makes one wonder how good this team possibly could be. The Redskins special teams, defense and offense on all A,B, and C squads just totally dominated almost every team they played both statisticaly and physically. They did all of this with out their star. Does that mean RGIII is all hype? Does this mean that when Griffin comes into play he is going to hurt the team rather than help because he has absolutely no playing time or feel for the rythym of his offense?  Sure, he can take a million snaps in practice but those snaps are controlled. His teammates are not trying to rip the head off of the front line and do the same to him. I think that with out him playing even one second in the pre-season it is going to hurt him at t he start of the season and will cost the Skins a very valuable game that will set the tone for their regular season.

With the pre-season completed, the beer coolers are freshly stocked, the chip bowls are full and ready to be dipped and the fangear is clean, pressed and ready to be displayed in hopes that their loyalty to their team will give them the mojo they need to be successful. I myself am very exicted for the regular season to start along with seeing who can hold up the momentum they have created and go on to a winning season. I plan on this season being one of the most watched and filled with more excitement then we expect.

La Liga: Valencia vs Barcelona Match Preview

Tough Game

What seemed to be a good start for Valencia domestically, turned bitter last weekend as Los Che suffered a defeat to Espanyol after an opening day win against Malaga. Against Barcelona, they will want to make the Cules as uncomfortable as possible in hopes ruining the latter’s perfect start to the season. With no Roberto Soldado spearheading the attack this time around, Valencia have a tougher job than usual.

The 2004 league champions are winless against Barcelona in their last six games. However, that did not stop new signing Helder Postiga from believing that victory is possible against the Catalans. “Sure you can win against Barcelona if you play a perfect match, by being on top and being aggressive”, remarked the Portuguese striker.

Indeed, Valencia have won their last six league home games. But, prevailing over Barcelona has somehow eluded them. Under new coach Miroslav Dukic, they will try to capitalise on Lionel Messi being less than 100%, to claim a victory. Nonetheless, Dukic endorsed Postiga’s declarations, by saying that his side have the ability to overcome any opposition “We believe we have a strong enough team to beat anyone.”

Extending The Run

It has become evident that Barcelona and Real Madrid display the better aspect of their game on home soil. That said, the defending champions will face a tough trip as they fly out to the Mestalla and dispute a tricky encounter against Valencia. The away side have not lost against Los Che for some time, but that does not mean that they will not face a tough resistance from them.

One man that knows Valencia well is former left-back Jordi Alba. The Spaniard feels that his ex-side will be going out for the win after what recently occurred against another Catalan adversary. “They will be going all out for this game, especially after what happened to them last week at Espanyol”, he said.

Barcelona have won their last seven games in La Liga. Even more so, they are undefeated against Valencia in their last 13 encounters. Should Messi miss this one, then a reshape will be in order for the Catalans. Perhaps Neymar will start the game under Gerard Martino after being a substitute in the last two league outings.

Barcelona have enjoyed a good recent record against Valencia, but they have failed to win the last three times they visited the Mestalla stadium. With Messi maybe failing to show and Neymar below full fitness level, they might have a hard time winning this one. A draw would be a realistic outcome.

La Liga: Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao Match Preview

Better Than Last Time

It has not been champagne football so far for Real Madrid, but the club have managed to make it six points out of a possible six so far in this league season, as opposed to just one last term. The team have been more possessive in play, yet less dangerous on the ball under Carlo Ancelotti. Facing Athletic Bilbao, they will need to win in order to continue on par with title holders Barcelona.

There appears to be a better atmosphere at the club at the moment, as the debate regarding the first-choice goalkeeper seems to have cooled down – at least publicly. Furthermore, Gareth Bale is on the way in, with Welshman expected to be a Blanco before the transfer window shuts down.

The home side have been in very good form against Athletic Bilbao in recent games, as they have scored at least four times in the last four encounters at the Santiago Bernabeu. As a matter of fact, the home side have been victorious in all of the last six games that were disputed between them and their Basque adversaries.

Need to Show Up

Athletic Bilbao have enjoyed a 100% start to their league season, but their luck is in danger of running out when they travel south and face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite knowing that their recent record against Los Merengues is deplorable, there is reason for optimism at Los Leones as they start a new era under Ernesto Valverde. A surprise win or a draw at the Santiago Bernabeu would serve as a great stepping stone.

The Basque outfit are undefeated in their last five away games in the league system, but that record might come to an end when they face Ancelotti’s men, according to midfielder Benat, who highlighted his opponents’ abilities. 

“The most important thing is to win and to collect as many points as possible. It is a joy to take a point or three. This Madrid side are very complete: Serious in defence, have quality players in midfield and put chances away in attack”, commented the former Real Betis man.

With players like Benat and Kike Sola joining the fray this season at the San Mames, there is every chance that Athletic Bilbao might break the deadlock this time around and prevent Real Madrid from claiming a third victory.

Athletic Bilbao travel in high spirits to Madrid this time around, but the nine-time Champions League winners will be eager to earn a big result in La Liga. In front of their own fans, they almost always win, and should be able to do so. Real Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao.