‘Pitchside Europe’

Report: United start 2013 with a bang to keep City at bay

“LONDON — Manchester United kept a firm grip on the Premier League title race by sweeping to a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on the first day of 2013 to maintain their seven-point lead.”

My AFP report on the Premier League’s New Year’s Day fixtures can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Marseille resistance keeps things interesting

“As in all the great rivalries, much of Marseille’s sense of identity is derived from their fierce opposition to everything PSG, and the events of the last year or so have only served to make the distinction between the clubs clearer. If PSG are the nouveau riche aristocrats, OM have become the sooty-faced street urchins, scrapping and scheming for everything they can get. In André-Pierre Gignac, the striker no-one wanted, who matched [Zlatan] Ibrahimović’s brace at Stade Vélodrome, they have a fittingly unglamorous figurehead for their resistance to the billionaires from Paris.”

My latest Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, on how Marseille exposed the shortcomings in Paris Saint-Germain’s star-studded squad, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Streamlined Lyon roll with the punches

“A bloated payroll, allied to the failure to qualify for the Champions League and diminishing income from television rights, meant that Lyon had no choice but to slash their wage bill in the summer. [Jean-Michel] Aulas sounded the alarm, declaring that it was time for the club’s “pharaohs” and “changing-room dinosaurs” to move on, and by the time the transfer window closed earlier this month, Hugo Lloris, Aly Cissokho, Kim Källström, Ederson, John Mensah and club captain Cris — among others — had all departed.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog, on how Lyon have made a steady start to the season despite a summer of Ligue 1 upheaval, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Lille slow and steady as PSG rumble by

“There are 1,001 ways to highlight the gulf in resources between PSG and their domestic rivals, but the comparison with Lille is of particular interest because the 2011 champions were expected to mount the most enduring challenge to [Carlo] Ancelotti’s men this season. Montpellier will struggle to return to last season’s heights and while Lyon and Marseille have made promising starts, both clubs are in transition and have thin squads that will feel the pinch of injuries and suspensions keenly. Lille, though, appear to be on the up. Their brand new 50,000-seater stadium has helped them to attract high-quality players such as [Salomon] Kalou and Marvin Martin, while qualification for the Champions League group phase is expected to swell the club’s carefully tended coffers by around £16 million.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog for Eurosport, on why Lille look like the most serious challengers to Paris Saint-Germain this season, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: ‘Big Mac’ Gignac bites back

“[Gignac] has emerged as the unlikely inspiration behind Marseille’s revival under new coach Elie Baup. His £250,000-a-month salary makes him OM’s most handsomely remunerated player, but where he was once an emblem of the club’s ill-considered excesses, he has come to symbolise their hopes of renewal. The cost of renovating the Vélodrome and the drop in earnings caused by last season’s 10th-place finish means that Marseille have been able to sign just one player — 23-year-old forward Florian Raspentino, from Nantes — and their chances of success this season will depend on their thin squad digging deep and following Gignac’s example.”

This  season I will be writing exclusively about Ligue 1 for Eurosport Yahoo!’s Pitchside Europe blog, and you can read my piece on André-Pierre Gignac’s revival with Marseille here.

Related link: Nerves fray as PSG remain grounded

Pitchside Europe: European Team of the Season

“Zlatan Ibrahimović enjoyed his most prolific season to date with Milan, Bayern Munich’s Mario Gómez plundered goals with remarkable consistency, and Falcao shot Atletico Madrid to Europa League glory, but Huntelaar outscored them all. The Dutchman’s sparkling partnership with Raúl fired Schalke to Champions League qualification and with 29 goals, he trailed only Messi, Ronaldo and Robin van Persie in the running for the European Golden Shoe.”

Pitchside Europe signed off for the 2011-2012 campaign by selecting a team of the season from players plying their trade outside the English Premier League. You can see the team (and then vent your spleen about my preposterous selections) here.

Pitchside Europe: Ten games that defined the season

“Although unbeaten since their loss to Barcelona in December, Madrid had wobbled, drawing against Málaga, Villarreal and Valencia to allow the Catalans to close the gap to just four points. Barça had won their 11 previous games but for once they found themselves deservedly beaten, losing to Cristiano Ronaldo’s coolly-taken 73rd-minute strike after Sami Khedira’s opener had been cancelled out by Alexis Sánchez. It was Madrid’s first win at Camp Nou during Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona tenure and it felt like the end of an era. The title duly followed.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog for Eurosport, on the 10 games that shaped the 2011-2012 season, can be found here.

Pitchside Europe: All of Europe’s winners and losers

At Eurosport’s behest, this week’s Pitchside Europe blog was a rather perfunctory run-down of the various permutations concerning the title races, European qualification contests and relegation battles across Europe’s major leagues.

It’s been rendered partly redundant by some of Monday night’s results, but should you wish to consult it (and why not add a sardonic comment underneath, as some considerate readers already have?), you may do so here.

(Incidentally, last week’s Pitchside Europe blog had a similar theme. You can consult a full list of my Eurosport articles from this season here.)

Pitchside Europe: Ajax’s spring surge brings title into sight

Rarely can a team have hit such scintillating form with such perfect timing. Since a shock 2-0 loss at home to FC Utrecht on February 5, Ajax’s record reads: played 10, won 10, scored 35, conceded four. The high point of that sequence was Wednesday’s 5-0 rout of 10-man Heerenveen, which saw Siem de Jong run in a hat-trick after Heerenveen goalkeeper Brian Vandenbussche was sent off in the third minute.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog for Eurosport, on how Ajax have turned a crisis season into a successful title defence in the space of just two months, can be found here.

Pitchside Europe: PSG cling on in French title race

“Olivier Giroud and his team-mates have only recently begun to discuss the title as a realistic objective but they are starting to enjoy their role as the unwelcome thorn in PSG’s side. At a recent conference about the future of French football, PSG sporting director Leonardo sparked controversy by accusing his club’s domestic rivals of devoting all their training sessions to “toros [piggy in the middle] and shots at goal”. When asked how his side had prepared for the game against Sochaux, Montpellier coach René Girard smiled and replied: “By doing toros all week.” PSG may loom large in Montpellier’s rear-view mirror, but they are clearly not the intimidating sight that Leonardo would like to think.”

My latest Pitchside Europe article for Eurosport, on how Montpellier are continuing to set the pace in the Ligue 1 title race, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Olympiakos celebrate almost-title

“Fans of Greek football awoke on Monday morning to find their country’s national championship, the Super League, in a curious state of suspended animation. Those of an Olympiakos persuasion may well have rolled out of bed nursing sore heads after a night spent toasting their club’s 39th league title success but — officially at least — nothing has been decided yet. Olympiakos’ 1-0 victory at Panaitolikos on Sunday left them four points clear of second-placed Panathinaikos with three matches of the season remaining. However, the gap is effectively an unassailable 10 points because Panathinaikos were docked three points and Olympiakos were awarded a 3-0 victory after serious violence forced last month’s Athens derby at the Olympic Stadium to be abandoned.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog for Eurosport, on how Olympiakos have moved to the brink of the Greek Super League title (with a little help from the fans of their fiercest rivals, Panathinaikos), can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: What’s gone wrong for Bayern Munich?

“The absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger — out since early February with torn ankle ligaments — has been keenly felt, but Bayern’s most pressing problem is a perplexing lack of bite in attack. Having plundered 16 league goals in the run-up to Christmas, Mario Gómez has scored just twice since the winter break, while both Thomas Müller and Arjen Robben are struggling for form.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe column, on how Bayern Munich’s arresting slump in form since the winter break has gifted the initiative in the Bundesliga title race to defending champions Borussia Dortmund, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Skulduggery submerges Serie A showdown

“Incensed by the decision to rule out Muntari’s goal, Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani reportedly stormed down to the tunnel at half-time and became involved in an angry exchange with Conte. There was aggravation on the pitch as well, with Arturo Vidal sent off for an ugly tackle from behind on Mark van Bommel and Philippe Mexes guilty of a sly dig to the ribs of his former Roma team-mate Marco Borriello that has seen him banned for three games. Approached by French television channel Canal+ in the mixed zone, Mexes swept past, explaining: “They’ve told me not to talk.””

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for the Eurosport website, on Saturday night’s stormy 1-1 draw between Milan and Juventus in Serie A, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Could Celtic really survive without Rangers?

“To suggest that Celtic could carry on regardless without their old rivals is like claiming that Othello would be the same play if Iago or Othello were abruptly scratched from the script. Both teams define themselves by their opposition to the other. It can, on occasion, spill over into repellent sectarianism, but the great rivalries — be it Ali and Frazier, Prost and Senna or Nadal and Federer — are what enable sport to transcend the perfunctory accumulation of points, wins and trophies that it might otherwise be. John McEnroe and Björn Borg played out one of tennis’ great rivalries but after three years of fierce contests, the Swede retired in 1981 and McEnroe admitted that his career was never the same again.”

My latest Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, which contemplates how Rangers’ sudden descent into administration could affect their hated rivals Celtic, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Ajax in disarray ahead of United visit

“On Thursday, Ajax announced that their five-man supervisory board would step down after club icon Johan Cruyff succeeded in a legal battle to prevent the four other members of the board — of which he is a member — from appointing former coach Louis van Gaal as chief executive. Van Gaal’s nomination had been announced in November, prompting Cruyff to proclaim that his fellow board members had “gone mad” after they convened to finalise van Gaal’s appointment while Cruyff was away in Barcelona.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog for Eurosport, on the back-stage turmoil at Ajax that has plunged Manchester United’s Europa League opponents into civil war, can be read here.

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