Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Axe Falls on Hagi and Polat - What Next?

Gheorghe Hagi's appointment as Galatasaray coach in October was meant to be the catalyst to save a season which had seen Cim Bom fall into the bottom-half of the Turkish SuperLig.

However, Adnan Polat's decision to sack Rijkaard and replace him with Hagi back-fired and the Turkish giants are back to square-one with just a few months of the season remaining.

Under Hagi, Galatasaray won just 6 games from 19 in the Turkish SuperLig conceding 23 goals in the process. Defeats to bitter rivals Fenerbahce and Ankaragucu saw Aslanlar drop to 11th position in the SuperLig and increasing pressure from supporters and directors forced Polat into axing the Romanian legend.

Whether Galatasaray’s slump is down to Hagi’s managerial abilities or the players he has at his disposal is up for debate, but the timing of Hagi’s sacking comes at an interesting time.

There are only nine games left in the SuperLig and Galatasaray may struggle to get their desired coach so close to the “business-end” of the football calendar. As always with a managerial vacancy, a number of names have been tossed into the ring including former Galatasaray coaches Fatih Terim and Mircea Lucescu, the latter employed by Champions League Quarter-Finalists Shakhtar Donestk.

Other names have included Bursaspor’s talented head coach Ertugul Saglam who famously led Bursa to the SuperLig on the final day of last season.

Bülent Ünder has been handed the reins until the end of the season after reports suggested that Hagi’s assistant Tugay Kerimoğlu had turned down the opportunity to take the job. Tugay has been placed in charge of youth teams and will assist Ünder with first-team responsibilities.

More importantly though, the continued instability is clearly becoming a problem for Galatasaray and their form this season would certainly show a lack of continuity amongst the players and staff at the club. Cim Bom have had seven coaches in just four years – and in that time only once finished inside the top three.

The club may be taking a step in the right direction, however, with club elections on the horizon to find a new leader to take over from Adnan Polat and recently resigned Sporting Director Adnan Sezgin.

Cim Bom will be hoping for a similar reaction as to Faruk Suren's election as Club President in 1996 where Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup, European Super Cup and four consecutive SuperLig titles in his five years at the helm. Suren's regime inspired by players such as Taffarel, Jardel, Gheorghe Hagi and head coach Fatih Terim.

It is imperative for Galatasaray to take advantage of this wind of change that might be the key factor in creating a solid championship challenge next season and beyond. A new president, a younger coach and a host of new players must be top of the agenda for the incoming man at the top of the tree.

Galatasaray have A LOT of catching up to do on rivals Fenerbahce and Besiktas in the next four months until the start of next season.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Bundesliga's Managerial Carousel

Even with some thrilling action in Germany over the past few weeks, with Bayern narrowly missing out on a Quarter Final slot in the Champions League, Leverkusen out of the Europa League and Dortmund stumbling to the finishing line, the attention has been firmly on the managerial carousel.

If your not a Bundesliga aficionado, then tracking which managers have had the axe, and which still remain, is a fairly difficult task. Some of the sackings were expected, like McClaren at Wolfsburg, Van Gaal at Bayern and Skibbe at Frankfurt but it does seem the same coaches sacked are just popping up in a new position.

Starting in Bavaria, the champions Bayern Munich reportedly sacked Louis Van Gaal after going out of the Champions League to Inter Milan but re-appointed him until the end of the season. Van Gaal has endured a torrid season in the Bundesliga, not helped by sporadic injuries to Robben and Ribery, and they find themselves in 4th position just two points behind the impressive Hannover. It has been a major capitulation from a side that secured a superb domestic double last season and lost out in the Champions League final to Inter.

Replacing Van Gaal at the end of the season is Bayer Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes who will have his third spell as Bayern's main man. The 65-year-old has done a fantastic job at the BayArena with two excellent finishes in 2009/10 and this season where they could challenge Dortmund all the way for the championship. Heynckes, who has signed a 2-year-deal with Bayern, enjoyed success in his two previous stints at Bayern where he won 2 league championships between 1987 and 1991 and took over from Jurgen Kilnsmann for just a handful games in the 2008/09 season.

Leverkusen have been quick to fill the void that will be left by Heynckes and have confirmed that SC Freiburg's 46-year-old coach Robin Dutt will take over at the end of the season. Freiburg have been another one of the many impressive sides in the Bundesliga and they are in a decent 8th position at the moment. However, with the nature of the Bundesliga's bottom-half of the table, they could still be sucked into a relegation battle if they don't keep picking up points.

Dutt was appointed as Freiburg head coach in 2007 and lead his side to a promotion from Bundesliga.2 in 2009. His two seasons managing in the German top-flight with SC Freiburg, where he led Breisgau-Brasilianer to 14th and 8th this season respectively, have alerted a number of Bundesliga clubs including Leverkusen and their Sporting Director Rudi Voller was quick to appoint the Freiburg coach.

Qualification for the Quarter Finals of the Champions League wasn't enough for Schalke coach Felix Magath who was sacked 10 days ago. Magath was appointed Schalke's coach in 2009 after winning the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg the season earlier and impressively, led Schalke to 2nd spot in the table. This season on the other hand, has been a major disappointment for Die Königsblauen who sit in 10th position with just nine wins all season in the Bundesliga.

Magath's assistant coach Josef Eickhorn was placed in temporary charge of first-team reponsibilities until Monday when former Hoffenheim boss Ralf Rangnick took over as permanent head coach. Rangnick left Hoffenheim in January by "mutual consent" after he expressed his frustration following Demba Ba and Luis Gustavo's departures. Rangnick's first game on the Schalke bench will be the match at St Pauli on April 1.

Felix Magath didn't stay out of a job for much longer when he was quickly brought in to change the fortunes of under-performing Wolfsburg. The Bundesliga champions in 2009 have been occupied in a dogged relegation battle this season where they have been rarely out of the bottom-three. Steve McClaren was sacked in February but his temporary replacement Pierre Litbarski was only in charge for a month before Wolfsburg re-appointed Magath for his second spell at the Volkswagen Arena.

Hamburg have gone through a host of changes in the last few weeks with coach Armin Veh sacked along with Chairman Bernd Hoffman leaving the club as well. It has been a very average season for HSV who are in 7th position at the moment but instability inside the club has led to a number of changes at the Imtech Arena. Frank Arnesen will also be appointed Hamburg's new Sporting Director at the end of the season.

Replacing Veh is Michael Oenning who was Veh's assistant coach and will be in charge until the end of his 2-year contract at Hamburg which expires next summer. The changes at HSV have had a very positive effect on the players after a thumping 6-2 win over FC Koln with Mladen Petric netting a hat-trick on Saturday afternoon.

At the bottom end of the table, Eintracht Frankfurt have sacked coach Michael Skibbe after a disappointing season at the club. Frankfurt have been involved in the relegation battle for the majority of the season but have sneaked away from the bottom-three following a 2-1 win over St Pauli last weekend. Skibbe has been replaced by Christoph Daum - the man with the great moustache. Daum has had something of a controversial career as a coach with allegations of cocaine abuse while in charge at Bayer Leverkusen. He was subsequently sacked and enjoyed a number of spells in Turkey with Besiktas and two spells with Fenerbahce.

It has been a hectic few months in the Bundesliga and the number of changes in the dug-outs will hopefully offer some added entertainment to the league - if it actually needs that given how competitive the Bundesliga is at the moment.

Who will feel the axe next? - On current form, Jurgen Klopp?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Europa League Round of 16 Preview Part Two

In the second part of our Europa League previews, Thomas Watt takes a look at the three remaining Dutch sides in action on Thursday.

PSV Eindhoven v Rangers

The Eredivisie league leaders have managed to continue their title challenge in spite of losing key players throughout the season. Jonathan Reis started the term with eight goals in ten games but has had his season curtailed by knee ligament injury, while creative midfielder Ibrahim Affelay was sold to Barcelona in January.

Much of this consistency has been down to the talents of Ola Toivonen and Balazs Dzsudzsak, the industry behind PSV’s endeavour. Given the lack of a prolific goalscorer the pair have had ever more importance placed on their roles behind the main striker – most often Marcus Berg – and have found the net 27 times between them. Jeremain Lens, the 23 year old former AZ forward, usually lines up on the right side of the roving trio of players behind Berg.

Fred Rutten usually has PSV line up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Orlando Engelaar and reigning Canadian player of the year Atiba Hutchison anchoring the midfield, allowing Toivonen free reign in the centre, Lens on the right and Dzsudzsak a marauding left sided forward role. Wilfred Bouma and Marcelo have been the preferred central defensive pairing, although regular left back Erik Pieters can operate there if needed. Bulgarian right-back Stanislav Manolev usually completes the defence with former Manchester City goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson.

PSV have been in exceptional form domestically, and have lost just five matches in all competitions this year, one of which was on penalties to title rivals Twente in the Cup. PSV certainly have more creativity, but Rangers have proved dogged and stubborn opponents for better teams than the Dutch leaders. Walter Smith’s side will probably need an away goal given how effective PSV have been outside of the Netherlands this season.

Ajax v Spartak Moscow

After a comprehensive 4-0 victory over AZ at the weekend, Ajax look in good shape for their upcoming match with Spartak Moscow.

Despite an internal dispute with disgruntled top scorer Mounir El Hamdaoui, Frank de Boer has won plaudits both for his maintenance of the Ajax traditions and the team’s results on the field. Although it once seemed impossible, Ajax have now gone seven years without an Eredivisie title, and while PSV and Twente have been setting the pace, it is credit to De Boer that Ajax remain in contention despite the loss of Luis Suarez to Liverpool and Urby Emanuelson to Milan in January.

As ever, Ajax rely on a batch of exciting young players; likely attacking trio Miralem Sulejmani, Siem de Jong and Lorenzo Ebecilio have an average age of just 21. Since El Hamdaoui’s banishment, de Jong has operated as the central striker with the pace and guile of Sulejmani on the right, and Dutch Under 21 Ebecilio on the left.

The midfield is no less youthful, with highly rated Danish international Christian Eriksen likely to instigate attacks from the centre. A relative veteran at 27, Demy de Zeeuw is the oldest outfield player likely to start and operates in the Arie Haan/Edgar Davids role. The fantastically named Cameroon internationalist Eyong Enoh patrols the area in front of the defence.

Vurnon Anita and Gregory van der Wiel are full-backs in the classic Ajax mould, and Belgian central pairing Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have consistently improved throughout the season. There is a certain inevitability that at least two of the four, as well as goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, will move on to pastures new in the summer.

Should Ajax opt for this lineup, the average age of the eleven will be just 22 years old. Were it not for the ruthless nature of the modern transfer market there is every reason to believe they could emulate successes of the mid-90’s.

Spartak, like Zenit, have yet to kick off their season and may find the Amsterdam ArenA a far from ideal preparation. The Dutch side have been in good form in Europe, comfortably seeing off a decent Anderlecht side, and only missing out on progress in the Champions League to Real Madrid and AC Milan. There is certainly the talent for a little further progression in this competition.

FC Twente v Zenit

Although there has been a slight stutter to Twente’s domestic form, they are still well placed to compete on three fronts this season. Sitting three points behind leaders PSV in the Eredivisie, the reigning champions are also in the KNVB Cup final and the Europa League.

Although nominally a 4-2-3-1 formation, Michel Preud’homme’s tactics often switch to a more traditional 4-3-3 depending on available personnel. A central defensive partnership of Peter Wisgerhof and Douglas, the tempestuous Brazilian will likely be flanked by Belgian left-back Bart Buysse and adventurous Venezuelan Roberto Rosales. Former Liverpool goalkeeper, Nikolay Mihaylov has been first choice shot-stopper this season.

Given that Twente will want to exercise a little more caution for their European campaign, Preud’homme will likely start the influential Theo Janssen with either Wout Brama or Denny Landzaat. Luuk de Jong, brother of Ajax’s Siem, will operate behind Marc Janko with Nacir Chadli on the left. Costa Rican playmaker Bryan Ruiz is unlikely to be fit, so Emir Bajrami will fill in on the right hand side.

Twente have already excelled against Russian opposition in Rubin Kazan, but reigning champions Zenit are likely to be a far more obstinate proposition. Given that the St Petersburg side have yet to start their season, Twente may have a match-fitness advantage. However, with the second leg in Russia, and with the creativity of Bryan Ruiz potentially missing, the Dutch side may be forced to concentrate their efforts on domestic matters.

Thomas regularly contributes to STV Sport and you can follow him on twitter at @redthom

Europa League Round of 16 Preview Part One

As a new feature, here is a brief look ahead to some of this week's Europa League Round of 16 ties.

Cahiers Du Sport blogger and IBWM co-editor Ben Shave talks us through the chances of the remaining three Portuguese sides in the UEFA Europa League.

Benfica vs PSG

An eighteen-match winning run came to an end for Benfica on Sunday, as the Eagles finally succumbed at Braga. It took a shameful piece of simulation from Alan and a wonder goal from Mossoró to overcome Jorge Jesus' side, who have been in largely-scintillating form since, well, September time. With the title now virtually impossible, Benfica's attention will turn to the three cups that they are still involved in, with the Europa League an undoubted priority.

Given the club's rich history in European competition, a trophy would be the perfect antidote to losing the title, and this was reflected in the absence of three key Argentines (Pablo Aimar, Eduardo Salvio and Nico Gaitán) from the starting line-up at Braga. The latter two should return for the PSG tie, with Carlos Martins (a more physically dynamic presence than Aimar) likely to keep his place. Benfica have been formidable at home in the Liga, but somewhat shaky against European competition. Expect Jesus to prioritise not conceding for the first hour or so, before looking for a goal to take to Paris.

Likely line-up: Roberto; Maxi , Luisão, Sidnei, Coentrão; García, Salvio, Martins/ Aimar, Gaitán; Saviola, Cardozo.

Last five matches: WWWWL.

Prediction: 2-1 Benfica.

CSKA Moscow v FC Porto

F.C Porto travel to CSKA Moscow knowing that, barring a catastrophe of wholly-unexpected proportions, they should reclaim the domestic title that Benfica wrestled from their grasp last season. Eleven points clear with eight rounds remaining, André Villas Boas stands on the cusp of a superb debut season at the Dragão, one in which his side have lost just three times in all competitions. One of those defeats came at home to Sevilla in the second leg of the Europa League round of thirty-two, and whilst Porto sneaked through on away goals, their youthful coach admitted that such mistakes must be cut out should they wish to progress to the latter stages of the competition.

Porto arrive with no major injury concerns, and should field the same 4-3-3 formation that has served them so well for the best part of a decade. A solid defence, technically outstanding midfield and potent forward line makes the Dragons one of the most complete sides left in the competition, and their ability to score should stand them in good stand for what will be a tricky trip to the Russian capital.

Likely line-up: Helton; Sapunaru/Fucile, Rolando, Otamendi, Fucile; Fernando, João Moutinho, Belluschi; Varela, Falcao, Hulk.

Last five matches: WWLWW.

Prediction: 2-1 Porto.

Braga v Liverpool

Braga host Liverpool with a clear blueprint for victory over a big European name already laid down – the Minho club qualified for the Champions League back in August 2010 with a smash and grab aggregate victory over Sevilla, which displayed their finest qualities: collective defending and rapid counter-attacking play. The Arsenalistas have been inconsistent in both domestic and European competition this season, and given Liverpool's resurgence under Kenny Dalglish, have to be viewed as major underdogs.

However, Domingos Paciência and his men earned a morale-boosting 2-1 home win over Benfica this past weekend, and Liverpool would do well to keep their wits about them at the Estádio AXA. The absence of midfield enforcer Custódio through injury and on-loan winger Ukra (who is cup-tied, having represented F.C Porto earlier in the competition) are blows, but Braga should field a combative 4-2-3-1 formation.

Likely line-up: Artur; Sílvio, Kaká, Rodríguez, Miguel Garcia; Vandinho, Hugo Viana; Alan, Mossoró, Paulo César; Lima.

Last five matches: LLWDW.

Prediction: 1-1.

You can follow Ben on twitter at @cahiers_dusport and check out his excellent blog on Portuguese Football :

Continuing from Braga's clash with Liverpool, Graham Ruthven looks at the chances of Liverpool and Manchester City this week.

Braga v Liverpool

So often when a club is in crisis they will call upon the fans favourite, in a desperate attempt to appease those exasperated at what state the club has fallen into.

However, equally as frequent are the failures of such schemes. Newcastle are serial offenders, having appointed Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer in the same season at a time when relegation was a very genuine threat. That threat became an equally genuine realisation. Invariably when the hysteria wears off, so does the effectiveness of the appointment.

However, the return of Kenny Dalglish to Anfield in their time of need has not followed the aforementioned trend, with Liverpool enjoyed an emphatic renaissance since the departure of Roy Hodgson.

Ironically this revival of Liverpool’s season has coincided with the sale of talismanic striker Fernando Torres, which was seemingly symbolic of the very slump they had endured in the first half of the season.

The impact of Luis Suarez, signed for £23 million from Ajax as a replacement for Torres, has gone some way to mitigate the repercussions felt from the departure of the club’s top scorer for the past three seasons. The recently installed most expensive English player of all time, Andy Carroll had his Liverpool bow delayed due to injury, eventually making his debut in Sunday’s dismantling of Man Utd, but one player who has been reinvigorated more than most by the return of ‘King Kenny’ is Portuguese midfield dynamo, Raul Meireles. Billed with being the perfect foil for captain Steven Gerrard in the centre of midfield, Meireles failed to match up to the standard set by himself during the World Cup in South Africa.

Victory at Stamford Bridge and Sunday’s convincing 3-1 win over Manchester United have demonstrated the potential Dalglish has gone some way to uncover and with the Europa League Liverpool’s sole chance of silverware this season, emphasis will be placed on overcoming Braga and reaching the last sixteen of the competition.

Likely line-up: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Meireles, Gerrard, Cole, Maxi, Lucas, Kuyt

Prediction: 2-1 Braga

Dynamo Kyiv v Manchester City

When Carlos Tevez made the controversial switch from United to City two seasons ago, it was labeled as the symbolic switch of footballing power in the city of Manchester. It hasn’t quite turned out as definite as some had expected but Roberto Mancini’s side have indeed made strides which have taken them into the Premier League’s top four.

Tevez has been able to translate his bustling and spirited nature that was revered for at Old Trafford to his form at City, and despite publically announcing his desire to return to his homeland, Argentina in December, he has become a favourite with the City support for his enigmatic qualities.

However, Tevez is not the only enigmatic quantity at Eastlands with controversial striker Mario Balotelli completing an unpredictable line-up in attack. Since his signing from Inter Milan in the summer, the Italian international has made a big impact, although not entirely a positive one. Renowned for his disruptive behaviour, self-righteous ego and questionable taste in haircuts as much as his irrefutable ability on a football pitch, Balotelli has scored six times in eleven starts for City this season but has also been involved in training ground bust-ups, on the field bust-ups and even bust-ups with his manager.

The arrival of Spanish World Cup winner David Silva has been comparatively somewhat smoother than that of Balotelli, with the former Valencia man quickly becoming a key influence under Mancini’s compact and narrow system.

League success looks to be beyond City for this season and despite still remaining in the FA Cup, they find themselves in similar circumstances to that of Liverpool. This could be their best chance at silverware this season.

Likely line-up: Hart, Richards, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Barry, Silva, Yaya Toure, De Jong, Viera, Tevez

Prediction: 1-0 Manchester City

You can follow Graham on twitter at @grahamruthven and can read some of his work at

In part two, we focus in on the Dutch sides in action including PSV Eindhoven v Rangers.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Borghi Handed Tough Job To Emulate Bielsa

Argentinian coach Marcelo "madman" Bielsa was something of an unknown quantity to most armchair football fans before he led the Chilean National Side to the 2010 World Cup but their impressive qualifying campaign combined with very attacking football has made him a candidate for a number of top jobs in Europe.

For those with a strong interest in South American football then Bielsa would have been a familiar name after some big jobs in the region such as Club America in Mexico, Newell's Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield in Argentina and the Argentinian national team itself for a 6-year period. Bielsa was appointed head coach of the Chilean national team in 2007 and has guided Chile through one of its most successful spells on the international stage.

Chile's terrific qualifying campaign saw them finish second in the South American standings, just a point behind Brazil, and having scored just one goal less than the Samba stars during the 18 matches. The most impressive thing about Chile during Bielsa's reign was the fast-tracking of so many talented young stars who went on to grace the World Cup platform in June last year.

Bielsa's attacking style was great on the eye but the system employed by the Argentine would have raised a few eyebrows before the tournament kicked-off. Some outlets said 4-2-3-1, some said 4-3-3, and probably most accurate was that of the superb Zonal Marking site, which showed Chile in a 3-3-1-3 formation.

'Loco Bielsa' resigned in February after a spat with FA President Jorge Segovia leaving the Chilean FA the almost impossible job to replace a coach that has knitted together one of the finest young squads in International football.

Their replacement was another Argentine who has been involved in some of the top jobs like his predecessor. 46-year-old Claudio Borghi takes over the reigns from Bielsa after a terrible short spell as coach of Buenos Aires giants Boca Juniors. Borghi has coached some of Argentina's big clubs like Boca, Independiente and Argentinos Juniors, where he led Argentinos to their first domestic championship in 25 years.

Despite his failed stint at La Bombonera, Borghi seems the sensible appointment for the Chilean FA as he has a wealth of coaching experience in South America, and a hugely successful spell with Colo-Colo in Chile where he was involved in coaching some of the current crop of Chilean Internationals such as Matias Fernandez, Jorge Valdivia, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Humberto Suazo. Borghi won four Chilean league championships (Apertura/Clausura) and his Colo-Colo side reached the 2006 Copa Sudamericana final where they lost to Mexican side Pachuca.

Borghi has agreed a deal until the 2014 World Cup play-offs which has the option to be extended if Chile qualify for the competition in Brazil. The former Boca coach will have less than four months to prepare his side for the 2011 Copa America in Argentina which starts in July.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Clock Ticking On Thomas Schaaf?

There are not many 'one-club men' around in football and certainly not many who could match the dedication that Thomas Schaaf has shown to Werder Bremen.

Schaaf joined Bremen as a 10-year-old and has been with the club since 1972. After over 280 appearances for the first-team, Schaaf took over as Assistant manager following short spells as a youth coach at Bremen while he was still playing in the first-team. His big break came in 1999 when he took over first-team duties from Felix Magath and was thrown right into a relegation dogfight which saw Bremen surviving by the skin of their teeth on the final day.

His twelve years so far as Bremen manager have been very successful with a number of trophies heading to the Weserstadion. Since Schaaf replaced Magath in 99, Bremen have won three German Cups, the German League Cup in 2006 and the Bundesliga in 2004.

Not bad I suppose?

But questions are being asked of Schaaf and Bremen after what has been a fairly abysmal Bundesliga season so far. Werder Bremen sit in 14th position and are just 1 point away from the relegation positions. The team has struggled throughout the season and the sale of Mesut Ozil in the summer could have had a huge impact in Bremen's downfall. Ozil was a huge part of Bremen's side last season as he used his exceptional talent to link the midfield to a very strong attack.

The Bremen fans have became accustomed to the club cashing in on the best players at the club like Diego, Borowski, Klose and Klasnic who were all sold on in the past 4 or 5 years. The sale of Mesut Ozil may just be one step too far.

Thomas Schaaf does like to implement a very attacking strategy and the mentality usually revolves around just scoring one more than the opposition. Defensively, Bremen are just as brittle with Mertesacker and Silvestre not covering themselves in much glory this season.

However, the attacking prowess has dried up this season and the likes of Pizarro and Marin have not been able to replicate the form of last season. Bremen also sold Portuguese striker Hugo Almeida in January which has made the position Pizarro's regardless of performances. Ozil's departure has been a huge blow for Bremen and the German international was fantastic at switching and linking the play between Aaron Hunt and Marko Marin last season.

It is certainly not a recipe for success when your losing goals and not scoring them. So far this season, Bremen have lost 44 goals and have scored just the 28.

Werder Bremen have only ever been relegated once from the Bundesliga and their form this season would suggest that 2011 could be a dull and emotional roller coaster for Bremen and Thomas Schaaf. The board at the Weserstadion have a massive decision to make - stick with Schaaf or abruptly change the management team to get a reaction from an under-performing squad?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Dortmund Rue Missed Chances

Bundesliga league-leaders Borussia Dortmund will be wondering how they did not see off rivals Schalke in this evening's Ruhrpott derby at Signal Iduna Park.

After Dortmund's 3-0 win Schalke earlier in the season, Felix Magath and Schalke would have been eager to regain some pride but it was always going to be difficult with BVB in superb form this campaign. Jurgen Klopp's young side were hoping to increase their 11-point gap over Bayer Leverkusen and their opponents were looking to pull away from the 7 teams seperated by just 4 points in mid-table.

Even thought it was 0-0, it was a game full of chances and excellent football which was appreciated by the 80,000 fanatical followers inside the stadium. Dortmund started with a fluent 4-2-3-1 formation and their high tempo was rattling their rivals early on. The hosts had two excellent chances in the first 5 minutes with Schalke's Manuel Neuer alert as ever to Dortmund's potent attack.

Teenage sensation Mario Gotze should have done much better with his oppertunity on 3 mintues when his low finish was saved by the feet of Neuer. Polish wide-player Jakub Blasczykowski found space in behind Schmitz but when up against Neuer, the German number one came out on top with a fine block. Mats Hummels was next to test Neuer from close range and even a second attempt from Blasczykowski could not beat Neuer who was in sensational form this evening.

The young Dortmund side tonight had an average age of 23 and were very impressive again tonight. Klopp stuck with his 4-2-3-1 formation which was much more fluent than first expected. Dortmund created great width through Schmelzer and Piszczek when on the ball with their starting wide-players Großkreutz and Blasczykowski happy to drift inside which allowed Gotze to almost play like a second-striker at times.

18-year-old Gotze was excellent and the German international is quickly filling the void of Shinji Kagawa who will be out for the rest of the season. It boasts well for the German national team when youngsters like Gotze look as if they have played the game for decades with such intelligence on and off the ball.

Captain Nuri Sahin was crucial to the tempo of the game. Sahin was capable of increasing the tempo in the early stages with some excellent short passing between him, Gotze and Kuba creating enough space to make oppertunities. After the first 20 minutes, Sahin was more of a deep playmaker and dropped deep enough to take the ball from Hummels and Santana before moving it on to Bender or Gotze in more advanced positions.

The home side's domination continued in the second-half with Paraguyan striker Lucas Barrios striking the post on 55 minutes and the visitors almost punished Dortmund's poor finishing with Jefferson Farfan firing over the bar just a minute later. Manuel Neuer was involved again with a stunning piece of goalkeeping when he ran out to 35 yards from his goal to clear the danger and he quickly got back to his line to comfortably save Gotze's attempt from the halfway line.

A small glimpse of goal for Jurado could not open the scoring as Dortmund struggled to maintain the pace of the first-half. However, Gotze had the best chance of the match when he rounded Neuer with some neat footwork and his effort hit the post when it looked easier to score. Lewandowski came on as a late substitute and his shot was just past the right-hand post.

Even the teenage sensation of Schalke Julien Draxler could not make a late impact in the game following a dream debut in the Cup victory last week.

On another day, it could have been a night for Felix Magath and Schalke to forget ...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Five Stars of the future from Murray Park

At a time when a black financial cloud hangs over the inspiring façade on Edmiston Drive, a beam of hope comes from the Murray Park training complex in the outskirts of Glasgow.

Rangers opened their £14m state-of-the-art training complex in July 2001 and the manager at the time Dick Advocaat and his youth supremo Jan Derks had a massive say in the construction of the facility. The centre sits in a 38-acre site in Auchenhowie, Milngavie, and was one of the most advanced training centres in Europe when officially opened nearly 10 years ago. The complex boasts six full size pitches, two half size pitches, a practice area, an indoor pitch and a training centre which has some of the most advanced pieces of Sports Science and gym equipment in the UK.

What has to be emphasized is that Murray Park is not a youth academy but a purpose-built training facility.

However, its effect on the development of young players at Rangers is clear for all to see in recent years. Tottenham right-back Alan Hutton is one of those players who developed at Murray Park. Hutton netted Rangers £9m in January 2008 and made his debut in a Rangers side full of international stars at 18 years old.

Steven Smith burst on to the scene in 2005 under Alex McLeish and made his Champions League debut at 20. Smith’s Rangers career was hampered by unfortunate injuries but his form under Paul Le Guen was one of the only success stories of that season. He was a regular in the side and was one of the hottest properties in Scottish Football. However, recurring injuries were a serious problem for Smith and he was never able to reach the heights of 06/07 in his later years at Ibrox. It was a story of what could have been.

The facility also had a major impact on the development of Chris Burke and Ross McCormack who are now playing their football in the Football League but both had impacts in the Champions League and were another tale of what could have been.

The class of 2011 are already growing upon the Ibrox faithful and with such a threadbare squad, there has never been a better time to make your mark at Rangers. There are 5 stars around the famous Rangers crest which symbolise the 53 League Championships won by the club and there are 5 new stars emerging from the Rangers youth teams.

Midfield duo Kyle Hutton and Jamie Ness have burst on to the scene this season and both have played a part in some of Rangers’ biggest fixtures this season. Hutton made several sub appearances in the SPL before a surprise start against Manchester United in the Champions League and he never looked out of place. His U19 team-mate Jamie Ness had to wait for his senior debut due to injury but started in the Old Firm derby of January 2nd and came out with pass marks in a terrible team performance that day.

Hutton is the more defensive of the two and is very comfortable at picking the ball up from deep. Ness on the other hand is more industrious and covers a huge amount of ground each game but his best asset is by far is wonderful left-foot and his impressive range of passing.

Attacking midfielder John Fleck has been around for some time after making his senior debut back in 2008. Fleck became the youngest player to appear in a British Cup Final when he made a late sub-appearance in the 3-2 Scottish Cup Final win over Queen of the South. Fleck was tagged early on as ‘the next Rooney’ and was under severe pressure by media and some sections of the supporters to deliver quickly. It looked like Fleck was set to have a big part to play this season and after an excellent pre-season, picked up a hamstring tear in a friendly to Clyde which effectively ruled him out for a month or so. The 19-year-old is naturally most comfortable as a second-striker or attacking midfielder. He is technically very sound and is capable of creativity which can unlock stubborn defences. Time is very much on Fleck’s side and with Kenny Miller now a Bursaspor player, the youngster could make that position his own in the future.

Gregg Wylde is one of the Murray Park youngsters who have grown on the Rangers supporters any time he has taken the field. Wylde featured mainly at left full-back for the U19s but is more comfortable as an old-fashioned left-winger. The 19-year-old prefers to use his excellent pace over any skill and reaches the by line fairly often. That is useful but more importantly, Wylde has a final ball and has created numerous chances in his cameo-appearances so far in his career. He is potentially one of the last of a dying breed of wide-players and could be the next to try to hold down a shirt in what has been a problem role for Rangers in the last decade.

Walter Smith took the opportunity to hand Darren Cole his Rangers debut against Bursaspor in the Champions League with the Ibrox side already heading into the Europa League. Cole is comfortable at centre-back and full-back and he started that match at right-back for the first-team. The 19-year-old impressed in the intimidating atmosphere of a Turkish stadium and got subsequent praise from his manager. He has yet to play in the Scottish Premier League but his performance in Turkey has certainly put his name on the list of players to replace Whittaker or Foster if they pick up injuries.

The financial situation at Ibrox is well-documented and the mis-management of the club by Sir David Murray has resulted in extensive pressure from the Lloyds banking group to recoup £20m-£25m worth of debt. Most Rangers fans naively still treat Murray as a god, but the 2 years without signing a player and the inability to withstand any decent offer for a player should have been a wake-up call, if they had not realised the damage Murray was causing.

A takeover was on the cards, or it could in fact be another Murray moonbeam, but with the future uncertain off the pitch, Rangers fans can be encouraged by the new breed of talent which may save the club a fair few pounds in the next few years.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Bosman 11 of 2011

With clubs cautious about opening their cheque-books, the bosman market might be the popular route this coming summer.

Here's my bosman 11:

1. Timo Hildebrand (Sporting Lisbon) - The 31-year-old German broke on to the scene with VFB Stuttgart and he was one of the most saught after goalkeepers whilst in Germany. A move to Valencia did not go as well as planned but Hildebrand revived his career for 2 years at Hoffenheim and is now Sporting's backup goalkeeper.

2. Lucas Neill (Galatasaray) - The experienced Australian signed an 18-month contract with the Turkish giants last season and joined up with fellow Aussie Harry Kewell, who is also available on a bosman. Neill has also had spells at Blackburn, West Ham and Everton and at 32 would certainly do a job back in the Premiership next season.

3. Oscar Wendt (FC Copenhagen) - Copenhagen's first choice left-back is very highly-rated in Denmark and Chelsea fans will see more of the Swede when they lock horns in the Champions League. The 25-year-old is reportedly being chased by Benfica and a number of German sides.

4. Joseph Yobo (Everton/Fenerbahce) - Yobo is currently on loan at Fenerbahce after falling out of favour at Goodison Park. The Nigerian has done well in Turkey and has held down a regular shirt so far this season. With 75 caps for Nigeria his experience could be valuable for any European club.

5. Gokhan Zan (Galatasaray) - Gokhan Zan is someone who I remember from Euro 2008 where he was a stand-out in one of Turkey's games. The 29-year-old looked the part and was a regular at Besiktas before moving to Galatasaray a year later. His time at Galatasaray has not been great and it is unlikely that he would be offered a new contract.

6. Gilberto (Panathinaikos) - At 34, Gilberto might be tempted back to Brazil in the summer when his contract runs out in Athens. Gilberto was a key part of the Arsenal 'invincible' team and made over 100 appearances for the Gunners.

7. Zoltan Gera (Fulham) - Gera is a crucial part of a very talented Hungarian national side and his wealth of experience is crucial in a young squad. The 31-year-old was a star man in Fulham's Europa League campaign last season and is still capable of playing at the top level. A very under-rated player in my view.

8. Alex (Fenerbahce) - Fenerbahce's number 10 has excelled since arriving in Istanbul in 2004 and is now their captain. Alex has also featured a number of times for the Brazilian national team and could also be tempted back to Brazil in the summer when his deal runs out.

9. Johan Elmander (Bolton) - Under Owen Coyle, Elmander has been given a new lease of life following a relatively unsuccessful spell at the Reebok. He joined Bolton in 2008 after a good spell at Toulouse. The 29-year-old is a regular in the Swedish national team and could be tempted to stay at Bolton due to Coyle's presence. Could do a job for most top sides.

10. Ibrahim Yattara (Trabzonspor) - With Trabzonspor leading the way in the SuperLig, the 30-year-old Guinean midfielder has been oustanding so far this season. Easily one of the best players in Turkey, this could be a potential scoup for any club at the end of the season.

11. Alan (Braga) - Alan played a huge part in Braga's excellent form last season. He joined Braga in 2008 and at 31 impressed in their Champions League games this season. Like the other two Brazilians in my 11, he could be tempted by a move back to Brazil in the summer.

Hope that was not the most boring 5 minutes of your life.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Summer Football: The Future?

The horrific weather conditions of mid-December are probably a distant memory for the majority of people in the UK and the almost Armageddon-like images of deserted motorways will be something to reflect on in winter 2011.

From a personal point of view, trekking for 5 hours along an empty dual-carriageway is something I will certainly not be doing again!

We should just shut down completely in the winter. Close the shops except the 24-hour ASDA and let's just hibernate, or better still go on holiday, for the winter months.

No more school. No more college. No more work and how about no more football?

Strangely enough, the concept of not playing football in the time when the country is battered by snow and rain has yet to take off in the UK. The winter calendar was hit especially hard in Scotland with over 70 postponements throughout the SPL and SFL in the month of December. Games at the top level were called off for burst pipes due to the thaw and games at the bottom were called off because of failing undersoil heating. This year's farcical football calendar is not a new thing in Scottish Football and over the past few years fixture pile-ups seems to be the norm.

The effect of the winter weather in most European countries is not felt as much as it is in the UK with the majority of leagues packing up in December and having a much-needed winter shutdown. It was well-documented that the winter break might have had a positive effect on the German national team during the World Cup with so many players in the Bundesliga. This sparked much debate in England about the positive impacts of introducing a winter break and this was echoed by Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson.

How about an even more radical change to European football by playing through the summer months?

German legend Rudi Voller said: "Of the 34 match days of the current season, you're 'frozen' during 20 of them."

His thoughts were backed by Holger Hieronymus, managing director of the German football league (DFL). He said: "I think it's feasible. When we have the chance to improve something, we can at least discuss it, but such a reform cannot be decided by Germany alone."

Rangers manager Walter Smith is also a supporter of a move to summer football but for different reasons. He said: "We need to look at moving the season forward. It is something that would help our clubs in terms of preparation for these early European games. I feel a little bit sorry for the two clubs who were involved last night as they both have new managers who are just in the door."

Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Faroe Islands and Iceland have all implemented summer football into their calendars. With a potential winter world cup in 2022, will that give the super-powers of European football the chance to consider a summer calendar?

The debate about summer football in Scotland is something which pops up on a regular occurrence whenever games become postponed due to the weather. There is a growing call for summer football in Scottish Football and with the youth season adapting to the summer calendar then it might not be far off for the professional game. Scottish teams are regularly dumped out early in Europe to teams from countries with summer football and this change has been echoed by Henry McLeish who is apparently going to save Scottish football with his revolutionary report.

It is baffling how those against summer football can still enjoy a midweek trip to Dingwall or Inverness during the winter? - That's if the game would even go ahead!

Summer football is worth considering for Scotland and for European football.

Granted, those in Southern Europe might not be caring as they get good weather all year round but us unfortunate to be in Northern Europe might see Summer Football as a future change to the football calendar. Would those in England, Holland, Belgium, and Germany be opposed to summer football?

It would be fantastic to see Scottish Football able to work alongside the rest of Europe who are in warmer climates but unless we have a lengthy winter break then I don't think that is possible. I don't think the idea of summer football will take off generally unless England and others in Europe were to follow suit.

It is time to do what's best for Scottish Football, the fans, the youth players and for the future of our game. If you want to join us Europe, then your more than welcome.

Anyway, it will be scarf, hat, gloves, snood and furry jacket for me tomorrow.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Huistra Dreaming Of Inspired Finish To Eredivisie Title Race

With the Dutch Eredivisie now at the halfway mark, FC Groningen have their sights set on becoming the fifth different title winner in the past 10 years.

43-year-old Pieter Huistra, formally of Rangers in the 90s, was thrown into the deep end in the summer when he was appointed Groningen's new manager to replace Ron Jans. Huistra's previous coaching experience was mainly at youth level with Groningen and Ajax before a one-year stint in charge of the Ajax B side.

You would struggle to find anyone who would have tipped Huistra to have such a positive impact at Groningen with such little managerial experience but the new manager has excelled in his role and led his side to 3rd place at the start of the winter shutdown.

FC Groningen's investment into scouting has paid dividends on the pitch with some talented players gracing the field at the Euroborg stadium. Serbian winger Dusan Tadic has been one of the finds of the season in European football and the 22-year-old, who joined from Vojvodina for £1.5m, quickly established himself as the first name on the teamsheet for Groningen.

Another impressive player from the Balkans has been Slovenian striker Tim Matavz who has 10 goals in the Eredivisie this season. Matavz is an established international at just 22 and has attracted the attention of a number of bigger clubs.

Groningen's extensive scouting also reaches to Scandinavia with a number of players from that region. Swedish defender Fredrik Stenman joined from Leverkusen and is a regular at full-back for Groningen. Former Wigan defender Andreas Granqvist is a key component of the Groningen defence. The squad also contains Finnish youngster Tim Sparv and another 2 Danish internationals in Nicklas Pedersen and Thomas Enevoldsen.

Their record so far this season against the bigger clubs in Dutch Football is fairly impressive. Groningen opened their Eredivisie account with a respectable 2-2 home draw with Ajax before a 1-1 away draw with AZ Alkmaar the week after. Groningen continued their good run of form against away to PSV with another draw but were turned over by champions FC Twente 4-2 in October. Groningen defeated Feyenoord 2-0 in late November and in their second-last game before the winter break, AZ Alkmaar were defeated 2-0 as well in front of nearly 22,000 fanatical fans.

Groningen have had mixed fortunes over the past 30 years with a few stints in the Dutch 2nd Division. But times seem to have changed and former manager Ron Jans, who was in charge for 8 years, led Groningen to an excellent 5th place in 2006 meaning entry into European football for next season. Their venture into the UEFA Cup saw them locking horns with Serie A side Fiorentina and the Dutch cracks impressed over the two-legs but were knocked out on penalties following a 2-2 draw on aggregate.

Huistra and the current crop are on the verge of something special at FC Groningen who are just four points behind league-leaders PSV Eindhoven and are joint-second with FC Twente. A place in the Champions League would be something of a dream for FC Groningen but there never has been a better time to win the Eredivisie and this could be their unique opportunity for major domestic success.

The continued dominance of Dutch Football was turned on its head when AZ Alkmaar won just their second Dutch title in 2008-2009 and followed by Steve McClaren's FC Twente fairytale which was their first ever Dutch championship.

Is the stage set for the Green & White army?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A New Decade Brings Fresh Challenges For Cim Bom

It has been a fairly mixed decade for Galatasaray and in recent years the instability and changes in the balance of power in Turkish Football has been painful viewing for even the most loyal of fans.

The next decade will present a number of new challenges to Cim Bom with the club suffering from the reckless spending of the late 90s. Galatasaray will move to a new 53,000 all-seater stadium which will see the end of their days at the symbolic Ali Sami Yen which the club played in for over 30 years. With the Turkish government keen on hosting an International football tournament, Galatasaray have been one of the clubs to reap rewards from a number of new modern stadiums being built across the country. The naming rights were sold to Turk Telecom for over £10m over 10 years and extra investment will be made through areas of the purchased land being sold off to other Turkish companies.

The area around the ground has been renamed to Aslantepe which means 'Lion Hill' with the Lion being the symbol of Galatasaray.

A wind of change has swept through Turkish football in the last few seasons. In 52 years of the Turkish SuperLig, only four teams had ever won the competition with the trophy moving back-and-forth between the three dominant Istanbul clubs. The only team to upset that dominance was Trabzonspor who enjoyed excellent success in the late 70s and early 80s where they picked up 6 SuperLig crowns.

The balance of power shifted even further when Sivasspor finished just 5 points behind Besiktas in the 2008-2009 season. Finally, a fifth team would get its hands on the SuperLig trophy when Bursaspor came from absolutely nowhere to win the league on a pulsating final day decider between Bursaspor and Fenerbahce. 'The Green Crocodiles' from Turkey's fourth largest city defied all the odds under Ertugul Saglam to beat Besiktas 2-1 on the final day to become just the second side from outside Istanbul to become champions.

This season has been one to forget so far for Galatasaray and they sit in an embarrassing 9th position with just seven victories all season. Chairman Adnan Polat was forced into sacking Frank Rijkaard after significant pressure from supporters following a home defeat to Ankaragucu. Gheorghe Hagi, the greatest foreigner to play in Turkish football, was Rijkaard's successor and signed an 18-month contract in October. The appointment got an instant reaction from the Galatasaray players who achieved a respectable draw away to bitter rivals Fenerbahce just 48 hours later. The positive impact of Hagi's appointment did not last long with two defeats in just 3 days against Trabzonspor and Manisaspor. The former currently lead the SuperLig by 5 points at the halfway stage with Buraspor their closest challengers. Kayserispor have been the surprise packages of the season with Shota Arveladze guiding them to fourth position in the table.

The debts of Galatasaray are one of the highest in Turkish Football but according to chairman Adnan Polat, the debt is of a 'manageable size within the SuperLig'. When vying for the votes of club members to become chairman, his rival candidate Adnan Ozturk criticised Polat's financial management and claimed that Cim Bom were in over £200m worth of debt back in December 2009 and that the club was losing substantial amounts of money under Polat's term as chairman.

Ozturk said: “When we announced our candidacy, the management announced that they would not sell Riva. And with that, we saw one result of our candidacy. We do not plan on selling one square meter of Galatasaray land. The club lost $135 million in two years. We need to cut waste without preventing sportive success.”

Only last month, the company who deal with the commercial operations of Galatasaray's football team were slapped with a tax bill of around £30m. Current chairman of Galatasaray Adnan Polat was chairman of Galatasaray Sport and Football Management A.Ş for four years.

The 'Gheorghe Hagi Revolution' will move up a gear as the January transfer window allows the Turkish giants to flex their financial muscles in hope that they can improve on their current league position. The bar was set early by rivals Besiktas who added a trio of Portuguse stars to their squad early in the month. Simao signed for £7m and a penned two-and-a-half year deal with Besiktas. He was joined by Hugo Almeida who cost around £2m from Werder Bremen and Manuel Fernandes joined from Valencia on a loan deal. Hagi has added 2 new players so far in Colin Kazim Richards from Fenerbahce and Juan Culio from Romanian side Cluj who joined in a £2.5m deal.

Hagi's return has proved a popular one within Aslanlar and alongside assistant Tugay Kerimoglu they have set their sights on a Europa League position this season with long-term aims of securing the number one position in Turkish Football. From a sensational treble win under Fatih Terim in 99/00 and dominance under Mircea Lucescu to woeful league finishes such as 6th in 2004, 5th in 2009 and the 9th position this season has made supporting Galatasaray seem like an endless roller coaster through the past 10 years.

The end of an era will come on Tuesday 11th January 2011 when Galatasaray will take to the field for the final time at the Ali Sami Yen before moving to their new ground later in the month.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Whyte Waits On Murray, But Takeover Still Likely

The BBC website is today carrying a story that prospective owner Craig Whyte is hopeful of taking over the club in January. Journalist Alasdair Lamont has published a story this afternoon that contains no quotes, but is strong in it's belief that Whyte has said he is aiming to takeover the club sometime in January - probably towards the end of the month now. Crucially, this end of month deadline would mean that Smith could potentially be given funds from new ownership to utilise in the transfer window.

The article on the BBC site, said the following, "Craig Whyte remains hopeful of concluding his proposed takeover of Rangers before the end of January. Whyte has been in negotiations with the current owner Sir David Murray since the middle of November."

"He had initially hoped to complete a £33m deal before Christmas, but due diligence has taken longer than the Scottish businessman expected. However, if that can be concluded soon, Whyte aims to take over in time to help Walter Smith strengthen his squad."

Continuing, the article then points to the fact that Whyte has been waiting to hear back from current owner Sir David Murray over a couple of queries he has on several issues before he can move forward with his bid.

"Whyte considers the matter to be largely in Murray's hands at this stage, with Whyte's lawyers and accountants awaiting responses to a number of queries from the current owner. He expects that following a period of relative inactivity over the festive period, which he found frustrating, the pace of negotiations will now pick up."

The timing of this article is impeccable as only last night and today, news has broken with Walter Smith lamenting the lack of funds he has to work with to shore up the creaking Rangers squad.

Whyte clearly sees this as an issue for the club, that manager Smith cannot accentuate the squad, so he will hopefully hasten his attempts to gain control of the club as it would rid the club of the burden of Lloyds holding all the aces in terms of the clubs finances. The financial freedom that would be afforded the club with no debt would be fantastic for the manager, meaning first and foremost that any player sales would need to be sciphone off to go towards servicing the clubs debt.

The lack of quotes is perhaps the only worrying thing about the article, however the BBC are usually spot on when it comes to their sources. Nevertheless, the fact that Whyte would be subject to different laws and regulations as he is engaged in a takeover means that he would probably not be allowed to be directly quoted.

Very, interesting times for Rangers.

Rab Boyle/therabbitt is News Editor and Administrator for the fantastic site Rangers Media which has all the latest Rangers news and some excellent discussion on its forums.

His blog:

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Give Us Our Game Back, Please?

Representatives from all Scottish Premier League clubs today met at Hampden Park to discuss the prospect of League Reconstruction. It was evident quite quickly that most clubs favoured a change in the SPL structure.

Henry McLeish's Football Review has recommended that the SPL move to a two-tier top flight of 10 clubs which would see all SFL clubs move under the SPL's rule. McLeish recommends a 10-team setup for the lucrative financial reasons and the cushioning payments for relegation positions for SPL1 and SPL2. Today, the 12 member clubs moved a step-forward to agreeing on the structure recommended by McLeish.

However, the new changes could be met by strong opposition from supporters in the SPL who are against the move to a 10-team SPL. A Supporters Direct poll which was answered by nearly 5,000 fans showed that 88% opposed the move to a 10 or 12 league and 77% favoured a 16 or 18 team league.

Are the SPL and fans on a head-on collision course with regards to League Reconstruction?

It would appear a 16-team league, my personal choice, has been wiped off the table completely for financial reasons. That would only leave an extension in 14 or 18 clubs and surely 18 clubs would only dilute the quality of teams within the SPL for a few years. At least with 16 teams, you would have a fluid and competitive promotion and relegation between your SPL and First Division.

Clubs like Dundee, Livingston, Airdrie and Clyde are dying on their feet in the current climate and these clubs have decent fanbases and infrastructure suitable for the SPL.

A 16-team league will provide a large variety of local derbies which will bring the fans out for sure. Two Old Firm, Two Edinburgh, Two Dundee, Two Ayrshire, Two Highland & Two Fife derbies in a 16-team SPL compared with Four Old Firm and Four Edinburgh in the 12-team SPL currently?

Even now in a 12-team SPL, the four Old Firm games a season are nowhere near as significant as they used to be. After losing Sunday's Old Firm match, Rangers can get one over on their rivals next month. Derbies should be a unique occasion in the season and a step to a 10-team league would take away the significance of a derby with four of them a season.

In the coming month, Hearts will take on Rangers twice and will play Celtic at the end of the month. That is 9 points available to Hearts is putting pressure on the Old Firm and potentially are the biggest games this season. That's excitement. That's competition. That's what the fans want!

Scottish Football will never be able to compete on a European level unless we have a major overhaul of youth football and Scottish Football becomes a conveyor belt for young talent in the SPL. Instead of clubs spending millions on average squad players, focus should be on bringing through youth players and giving them a chance in the first-team.

It's simple. The fans are being shafted. We don't want Scottish Football like 10 years ago with high debts that are unsustainable in such a small country.

We want our f****** game back!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Next Month Is Crucial In SPL Title Race

The momentum in the SPL title race has swung in Celtic's favour after a 2-0 win at Ibrox in Sunday's Old Firm derby. In a fairly 'non-event' match, Georgios Samaras capitalised on two defensive errors from Rangers to net his first two SPL goals of the season in the Celtic victory.

Rangers had gone into the game full of confidence and belief after their 3-1 derby win earlier in the season but a dreadful performance from the home side will leave manager Walter Smith pondering any changes over the next few games. The only positive light for the SPL champions was the performance of 19-year-old Jamie Ness who made a impressive start on his Old Firm debut.

Celtic's game plan from the off was fairly straight-forward and looked the more hungrier side to win the game. One interesting point from the Celtic performance was the 'pressing in packs' when Rangers were in possession of the ball. It could have arguably been a deciding factor in the way the game was panning out as Rangers rarely pressed the game and were forced incredibly deep at times. When Vladimir Weiss received the ball, Mark Wilson, James Forrest and usually a central-midfielder would immediately press him to stop the Rangers attacks. Compare that with a sluggish Rangers midfield, with the exception of Jamie Ness who put in a good shift, who did not press Celtic's midfield or full-backs whenever they got forward.

With over a month to go until the SPL's 'big-two' lock horns in the next Old Firm derby, both sides will be looking for a consistent run of form to break clear at the top of the table. Rangers will take another break from the Scottish Premier League for nearly a fortnight with a Scottish cup match against Kilmarnock next Monday evening. When SPL matters do resume, Rangers have a home double-header against Hamilton and St Mirren before two visits to the capital to take on Hearts and Hibs. Hearts will then pay a visit to Ibrox before Motherwell are the last team to take on the Champions before the February 20th Old Firm match. It is a huge run of games for Rangers and with just 2 points separating third-placed Hearts from Rangers, the 6 points available for either side could have a massive bearing on the last charge for the Championship.

Celtic's title credentials will be tested to the limit when they face a few fairly difficult matches in the next month. Cup business is on the calendar for this weekend with Celtic taking on Berwick Rangers away from home. The following Wednesday, Celtic will have played another game in the SPL more than Rangers after their trip to Hamilton. Neil Lennon's men then take on Hibs at Easter Road before a rejuvenated Aberdeen visit Celtic Park. A huge match will then follow at Celtic Park in midweek with third-placed Hearts looking to close the gap. Another two away trips then follow before the next Old Firm clash at Aberdeen and Dundee United.

It is probably worth taking Hearts into consideration after a fine run of form for the Jambos. They are in Cup action also this weekend against St Johnstone before an away double-header against Dundee United and Kilmarnock. Hearts have home and away matches with Rangers, an away visit to Celtic, a home match against St Johnstone and an away trip to Hamilton in the same period of time.

Whether Hearts can last the pace in the chase for the Championship is anyone's guess, but with 3 matches in the next month against Rangers and Celtic, they have as big a say in the trophy's destination just as anyone else.

January also brings round the beauty of the transfer window and it remains to be seen who will be moving in the next month. Rangers are unlikely to strengthen for financial reasons and that might be a problem with Rangers competing in four different competitions this month - and potentially for the next few months like 2007/2008. Celtic have already added Ljungberg to a squad which saw a few players surprisingly step up to the plate on Sunday and Lennon could be after Forest defender Kelvin Wilson to strengthen a shaky defence. There is a growing belief amongst Hearts supporters that controversial owner Vladimir Romanov might indeed allow Jefferies to strengthen in the January window with two eyes on 2nd or even first place.

And who says Scottish Football is boring?