Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas From The Bundesliga - 19 Goals in 180 Minutes

The first-half of the Bundesliga season came to a stunning end on Sunday evening with an 8-goal thriller at the Mercedes-Benz Arena infront of sell-out 41,000 crowd.

The best German striker in the Bundesliga, Mario Gomez, netted a hat-trick for FC Bayern to send them into a 5-1 lead with Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery on the scoresheet also. Bruno Labbadia's Stuttgart side managed to restore some pride with 2 goals in 5 minutes from substitutes Harnik and Gentner.

A comedy of errors from Stuttgart's brittle defence gave the Bavarians a 3-0 lead at half-time. Young defender Bicakcic was caught in possession by Muller and he assisted Gomez who emphatically fired home. Just four minutes later, Delpierre's slip allowed Gomez to take advantage and he returned the favour to Muller who had the simplest of finishes.

Despite the late brace from Stuttgart, they are still in the relegation positions and are 3 points away from safety. New coach Bruno Labbadia will be hoping to add to a limited squad during the January transfer window ahead of a crucial last-half of the season with eyes on a mid-table finish and a final assault on the Europa League.

On Wednesday night infront of another sell-out crowd in Stuttgart, we were treated to another football feast with 9 goals this time in Round two of Stuttgart and Bayern. The erratic defending from Stuttgart in the second-half allowed Bayern to steam clear and score 4 goals, including 2 from Miroslav Klose. Khalid Boulahrouz and Mathieu Delpierre were both sent-off in the second-half and the home side also missed a second-half penalty which could have made it 3-3.

Already, the Bundesliga has given us some classic moments this season with 481 in 153 matches in the first-half of the season. Attendances are peaking and up to 14,000,000 supporters could enter through the gates by the end of the season compared with 12,790,000 last season. The packed stadiums, all-out attacking football and a truckload of goals make the Bundesliga quite comfortably the best league in the world.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

SPL Must Favour Expansion

The Scottish Premier League will sit down next Monday at Hampden Park to discuss the new proposals suggested by Chief Executive Neil Doncaster which will mean less clubs in the SPL. We will have SPL1 and SPL2, both with 10 clubs, then a regional system right down.

The idea has come in for much criticism from fans across the country who have been crying out for League expansion for a number of years. The SPL changed from a 10-team league to a 12-team league at the start of the decade. Why would a move backwards take us forwards?

The best option has to be a 16-team Premier League with just 30 games and a winter break. Assumptions have already been made that Sky and ESPN won't be interested in such a proposal as "Sky are only interested in 4 Old Firm games". If that's the case, then Sky can take a run and jump. With regards to ESPN, they have had to put up with the poorer games over this deal and are paying the same as Sky (£8m) for the SPL TV Rights. Surely, ESPN would jump at the chance in taking the jackpot Old Firm games into their deal which might bring the SPL a better, more lucrative TV deal?

If you were to take the first four teams from the First Division to join the 12 current SPL clubs, that would see Raith Rovers, Dunfermline, Dundee and Falkirk. These clubs are more than capable of holding their own in the SPL and are probably just as well equipped in terms of infrastructure.

"Would you want to lose 2 Old Firm games for 2 games against Cowdenbeath?". That's the question I keep hearing. Firstly, if Cowdenbeath get to the SPL then they deserve to. Only 2 years ago, we had an even smaller club in Gretna playing in the top-flight. At Ibrox, the attendances for both games against Gretna were 48,000 and 49,000. Celtic's midweek game with Gretna at Celtic Park in December brought 57,000.

A simple solution for the supporters who won't want to turn-up - give more tickets to away fans. Cheap ticket-pricing is something this country has yet to discover and the recent fueds between clubs over Scottish Cup prices would prove that. A pricing structure has to be created which would mean games aren't costing over £10-£15. The Old Firm games will become unique, a demand for tickets will created and clubs are in their right minds to charge £25+ for these games. I can see the logic in that. But fans shouldn't be ripped off for the sake of it. I remember Partick Thistle against Rangers a few years back and Thistle filled the the bottom half of the Broomloan and the normal SPL allocation - search their goal at Ibrox on youtube and you'll see what I mean.

There are a number of factors in the lower attendances at Ibrox and Celtic Park this season, probably due to the economic climate, prices, poor matchday experience and pretty dire standard of football - but the standard of opposition certainly is not a factor in that considering Inverness Caley have drawn at both grounds this season.

The 16-team setup might actually see a competitive challenge for the SPL title. Less games generally and less games against the Old Firm would mean clubs have a better chance of winning games and mounting a proper title challenge. The games against Rangers and Celtic for Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United would be significantly more important, generating more fans and more interest = better TV interest = more revenue.

The prospect of a return to safe-standing/terracing at Scottish grounds has generated a positive response from most supporters. At the end of the day, all supporters should be catered for and a small safe-standing section at stadiums in Scotland would be a good thing. In Germany, Borussia Dortmund are able to add 20,000 on to their home gates in the Bundesliga because of this safe-standing model. For European matches, seats will be used due to UEFA regulations. A small safe-standing section at Ibrox, Celtic Park, Pittodrie etc might just see a few thousand extra added on to the gate.

"With less revenue you won't be able to afford the better players". Rubbish.

See instead of spending wages on average players who only start 3 or 4 games a season and are usually shoe-horned into about 5 different positions, why don't you give some of the youth's a chance? If Rangers can produce an Alan Hutton once every 2 or 3 years, your laughing. I'm just using Rangers as an example, but who's to say Kyle Hutton, Gregg Wylde, Darren Cole and John Fleck can't play more of a part?

A stronger focus on youth development and scouting would mean that these problems could be overcome quite easily.

Expanding the Scottish Premier League is absolutely sustainable regardless of what anyone says. The step-back to a 10-team league will only keep this boring idea of playing teams 4-times a season on the go. Granted, it might financially be beneficial in the short-team, but in 10 years time, when we still can't do anything in Europe - will we finally see sense?