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.