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I believe, this is a very strange season all over Europe. Football Leagues in every nation have a different story to tell.

Italy has a two horse race, England has a three where as Germany has a four horse race, everybody is losing in Holland, it is all but wrapped up in Scotland and Fuel rich PSG are being pushed to the limit in France.

In Spain, the season is promising a full drama till the end of the season. No, not for the the title decider, but in the middle of the pack.

While 15 fixtures are yet to be played, Real Madrid are sitting comfortably at the top of the table with a massive 10 point lead over Barcelona.

Barca have thrown away the league. Thanks to their terrible away form, Barca have picked up just 17 points from possible 33, where as Real have picked up 28. Even Rayo Vallecano have managed more away points than Barca, 18.

Barca will have to up their away form and hope for some miracles. Otherwise the Real seem to have wrapped up the league. As usual, Valencia are third placed. There is incredible 21 point gap between the leaders, Real Madrid and Valencia. These three teams will finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd and will qualify directly for the next year’s Champions League group stages.

But what about fourth place? Who wants to have a shot at Champions League playoff round next year? Who wants to be a millionaire?

No one.

Further 7 points adrift of Valencia and 28 points of Real Madrid, at 33 points from 23 games, the real drama starts.

Flight to the Fourth.

It is an incredible melee of 14 teams. Only 7 points separate 4th placed Espanyol and 17th placed Villarreal.

Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao are tied on 33 points but Espanyol are placed ahead of Bilbao on better head-to-head points (ESP 2-1 ATH and ATH 3-3 ESP). Thus in case of same points by the end of the season, Espanyol will always be ahead of Bilbao.

Atletico Madrid and Levante are tied on 32 points, but since Atletico beat Levante 3-2, they are placed 6th and Levante are 7th. If Levante beat Atletico in the reverse fixture, head to head goal difference will be taken into consideration.

Rayo Vallecano, Malaga and Osasuna have acquired 8th, 9th and 10th places and all have 31 points.

Seville and Betis are locked 11th and 12th with 29 points. Mallorca, Getafe and Granada are on 13th, 14th and 15th with 28 points. Real Sociedad and Villarreal are on 16th and 17th with 27 and 26 points.

Okay, the chances of Seville, Betis, Mallorca, Getafe, Granada, Sociedad and Villarreal getting a fourth spot are less realistic but from 15 remaining fixtures, if anybody manages to hit a hot streak of wins, it’ll go down to the wire.

Main reason of this situation is none of these teams have a consistent run of results. Lets have a look at the points picked up in their last 6 league games and the impact on their standings.

Position Now

Position 6 weeks back

Team

Points picked up

Points available

4

8

Espanyol

9

18

5

9

Athletic Bilbao

10

18

6

11

Atletico Madrid

12

18

7

4

Levante

2

18

8

13

Rayo Vallecano

12

18

9

6

Malaga

6

18

10

5

Osasuna

5

18

Despite Levante’s dismal form, Malaga and Osasuna couldn’t continue their initial good form and all three have been struggling recently. Even with huge spending spree and incredibly disastrous performances, Malaga too have a chance to get a playoff spot.

Espanyol and Atletico Madrid had a great chance to change the table scenario but they too could manage 2 and 3 points respectively in their last 3 games.

Rayo Vallecano have been promoted in La Liga this season. And they are playing some good football in the league. With 3 consecutive wins Rayo Vallecano have surged ahead, and are deservedly claiming their stake on that 4th spot.

Nobody is showing a true potential to be worthy of a Champions League playoff spot. Instead of good performances and consistency, it seems they all are waiting for others to press self destruction button. Lets see if the coming week will help reshuffling of this pack.

Next week’s fixtures
Espanyol vs Levante: It is a potential 6 pointer game and the winner will be either 4 or 2 points clear of each other. But Levante’s away form has been disatrous. They have lost all 6 previous away matches in the league. Although Espanyol themselves are not in a great form, I still think they’ll beat Levante comfortably at home, maybe 2-0.

Villarreal vs Athletic Bilbao: Although it is a battle between 17th and 4th placed team, only 7 points separate these two. Both the teams have picked up 10 points in their last 6 games. Historically Villarreal have been good against Bilbao at home. But they’ll have to wipe out last week’s 4-0 drubbing by Mallorca, where as Bilbao have thrashed mega rich Malaga 3-0. This one is tough to call. I guess Villarreal can nick it 1-0.

Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona: Atletico have been formidable at home against Barcelona. They have beaten Barca 4 times in last 6 seasons. Barca’s away form hasn’t been too good either. In last  6 away matches, they have picked up only 8 points, where as Atletico have picked up 13 points in last 6 home games. I can see a draw here. Probably a 2-2 result.

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Madrid: They say all good things must come to an end. Rayo Vallecano are on a impressive form, whereas Real Madrid are on exceptional form. Rayo have notched up 5 wins in 7 games, but Real have been on a steam roller, winning all 8 out of 8 previous games. I don’t see anything else but Real winning this one. Predicting scoreline is like throwing two dice and read the numbers on top. Real can score any no. of goals between 1-6.

Malaga vs Zaragoza: Sunday Lunch time kick off. Zaragoza are at the bottom of the league and on a paper it should be a comfortable win for Malaga. But the football is never played a paper. Although Zaragoza has beaten Espanyol in two weeks back, I don’t think they’ll be able to repeat the miracle. Malaga to win 2-0.

Osasuna vs Granada: Granda are playing good football considering they’ve returned to the top flight after 35 years absence and they’ll go on to beat Osasuna, maybe by a goal to nil.

If all the above predictions come true, then we might see Espanyol pulling themselves clear by just 3 points ahead of Athletic Bilbao. If the same trend and inconsistent form continues in the weeks to come then likes of Seville and newly promoted Betis will join the gang. Whoever presses the panic button will drop out of the race. I guess Levante have already done it.

The joke is, just because everybody is playing badly, cometh the end of the season, they will still have a chance earning themselves a Champions League playoff spot.

Will the real 4th place team please stand up?

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When there is passion, there is rivalry; where there’s rivalry, there is hatred, and where there is hatred, there is violence.

Welcome to Istanbul, Turkey.

Turkey is divided by two continents. It is a country where the culture is so strong and based on honour, that people are prepared to fight for it. It is also home to some of the world’s most fanatical football supporters.

In the wake of a collapsing economy, receding jobs, and hardship, Turkish people have taken to football almost as their religion.

Istanbul (and Turkey) is separated by the Bosphorous Strait, leaving a small portion of the country in Europe, and the rest in Asia. The city is famous for the bazaars, Turkish baths, kebabs and even knives! These easily accessible knives have groomed the city’s violent knife culture.

Moving back to football, the country’s reputation on the pitch is on the rise after their success in the 2002 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2008. However, matters off the pitch have taken a deadly turn due to the ultras, and the fierce Kıtalar Arası Derbi (Intercontinental Derby), played between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.

Galatasaray and Fenerbahce are Turkey’s two biggest clubs and are both located in Istanbul. Although the city extends on both sides of the strait and hence unites Europe and Asia, football divides the city. Galatasaray is at the European end of the Bosphorous strait, while Fenerbahce is on the Asian side.

The roots of the hatred between both sets of fans go deep into the clubs’ history. Galatasaray was formed by the students of the Galatasaray Lycée, one of the most prestigious educational institutes in Turkey. Most of the students came from wealthy families and were given world-class education, with classes being held in French. Football came to these students because of their link with the west. Fener on the other hand was formed in the not-so-affluent district of Kadikoy by not-so-wealthy footballers, who decided to form their own football club.

Fenerbahce regarded themselves as the people’s team and were established in secrecy a couple of years after Gala, as Ottoman rulers had forbidden Turkish youth from playing football due to its western roots.

The first ever derby was played in 1909, and 367 derbies in all competitions have followed since. Fenerbahce has enjoyed more success domestically, having won one title more than their arch-rivals, but Galatasaray has 2 European trophies to rub in the noses of Fenerbahce fans.

But let’s keep stats aside. When talking about one of the world’s fiercest football rivalries, stats barely have any meaning.

Both these clubs have their own ‘firms’. Although hooliganism in Turkey is not as organised as in the rest of the Europe, it is one of the deadliest nevertheless. The most prominent firm of Fenerbahce is KFY (Kill For You), and that of Galatasaray is UltrAslan.

Apart from fighting other fans, these firms also take as much pride in fighting the police. As a result, police security on derby days is huge, with thousands of security personnel deployed in and around the stadium.

In a title-decider in 2001, stones were being thrown from the terraces to and fro both sections of fans. One fan was hit on the head, leaving him with a fractured skull. There were so many injuries that doctors in the stadium ran out of needles, and many injured fans had to watch the game in the stands without any treatment. The police refused to allow them to leave, fearing rioting outside the stadium.

Fenerbahce fans celebrated the title, went home, and were treated by doctors in their own territory.

Zico, while managing Fenerbahce in 2006, once said, “You get the feeling that there are two championships here. One, the actual league, and two, the matches against Galatasaray. It is one of the biggest derbies I’ve seen in my career.”

Speaking of managers, the infamous ‘Graeme Souness incident’ certainly added fuel to the fire.

Souness was managing Galatasaray in 1996, and his team were up against favourites Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Cup final. It was a two-legged cup tie, with Galatasaray winning 1-0 at home in the first leg, then claiming the cup with a 1-1 draw at Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. During the post-match celebrations on the pitch, Souness decided to express his elation by taking a huge Galatasaray flag and planting it right in the middle of the Fenerbahçe pitch.

A member of KFY named Volkan jumped over the turnstiles and ran towards Souness in rage, but was restrained by police dogs. Souness had to take cover behind the police and rush into the tunnel. That being his only season in Turkey, it left Fener fans with a feeling of pure hatred for the former Liverpool and Rangers star. The Gala faithful, on the other hand, nicknamed him ‘Ulubatlı Souness’ after the heroic Turkish martyr. In one moment, he had become an abhorred villain, and an adored hero.

A couple of years later, one Fener fan nicknamed “RAMBO”, decided to exact revenge.

On the eve of the opening day of the season, he managed to sneak into the Galatasaray stadium, hide behind the advertising hoardings throughout the night with a big Turkish sword and a Fenerbahce flag. At the time of kick off, he tore the hoarding, ran to the centre of the pitch, planted the Fenerbahce flag and pointed his blade towards Galatasaray players, warning them not to come near it.

Galatasaray, on the other hand, have taken the violence onto a different level, with English teams and their fans at the receiving end of their intimidation.

The trouble started with Manchester United’s trip to Galatasaray for a European Cup tie in 1993. Over 170 fans were arrested for riots even before the game had started. Chelsea arrived in 1999, and were welcomed at the airport by Gala supporters with lit flares, shouting, “No way out! No way out!” When United again visited Galatasaray, the fans were ready, and there was a huge banner unfurled saying “Your Nightmare is Back Again”, while a graffiti read, “Welcome to HELL”.

When Leeds United travelled to Istanbul for their UEFA Cup tie, fans of both teams clashed in Taksim Square, heart of the Galatasaray area, and two Leeds fans were incredibly stabbed to death.

It prompted a huge campaign against Turkish hooliganism, and the media called for Galatasaray to be banned from European football. Those calls were ignored and Galatasaray went on to win the UEFA Cup, beating Arsenal in the final.

UltrAslan members are not just ordinary fans; they are warriors who are prepared to do whatever it takes to emerge winners in a confrontation of any kind. The organization has fans and followers all over the world, and has gone on to become a big brand. In fact, they have sold more tops and scarves than the club have sold team shirts in recent times!

When Galatasaray were in debt, it was UltrAslan, who poured in over $4 Million to save the club from going bankrupt.

In 2007, league-winners Fenerbahce came to play the penultimate match of the season at Galatasaray. The media heated the atmosphere before the game by raising the question as to whether Galatasaray should give the “Guard of Honour” to the newly-crowned champions. As the teams settled matters on the pitch, the fans settled it their own way in the stands and on the streets before and after the game, making it most disruptive derby game ever played between the two clubs. Over 12,000 seats in the stadium were ripped, and the police, working overnight to maintain order, had to make over 50 arrests.

In March 2011, a large glass bottle was also thrown on to the field during a derby game. In the same match, Galatasaray broke the Guinness Book’s “Loudest Crowd Roar at a Sports Stadium” record with the help of its fans, clocking a staggering 131.76 dBA. It was even more memorable as it was the first derby taking place at Galatasaray’s new stadium, Türk Telekom Arena.

Turkish football administrators eventually had to take rapid strides to stop this madness. In April 2011, the Turkish parliament approved legislation aimed at eradicating the hooliganism that currently blights the country’s football matches. It has introduced sentences up to six years in prison for fans who dismantle seats, two years in prison for fans who make racial slurs and obscenities in or around stadiums, and one-year prison terms for spectators who attempt to bring guns, sharp objects, or flares to sports events.

With the new legislation, fans can only purchase electronic tickets using government ID numbers, making it easier to track and punish troublemakers. Fans deemed to be drunk or under the influence of drugs are refused entry to events, while anyone involved in hooliganism will be barred from all competitions for a year.

Fenerbahce decided to tackle this issue more drastically. The Istanbul side was initially told to play two home matches behind closed doors after fans invaded the pitch during a game against Shakhtar Donetsk. But later, the Turkish authorities softened their stance and decided to let women and children attend. Incredibly, more than 41,000 women and children attended Fener’s match against Manisaspor. The players responded to the huge fan turnout by throwing flowers at the fans, while the visiting team was greeted with applause, rather than by bottles being thrown at them!

If you are looking for the power of the 12th man, Istanbul is the place. In the next edition of the Intercontinental Derby, Fenerbahce host Galatasaray at the end of the March, with just three more matches in the season after that. One glance at the league table says that this one could be a championship decider. Expect nothing else, but all hell to break loose.

Till then, Peace!

————

Note:

The above article has been published in India’s first and finest football magazine “90 Minutes

The images in the blog differ from the ones in the Magazine.

UEFA Champions League or European Cup as it was earlier called has entered its 57th season in 2011-12. Champions League is European football’s most prestigious club competition and according to few players and managers, it is better than even the World Cup.
Champions League casts its unique spell on the viewers. While watching Barcelona trying to defend their crown by beating Bayer Leverkusen in the away leg, I decided to write A-Z of the Champions League.
Away Goals are the most precious asset in the Champions League. But this rule was first introduced in 1967-68, that too only for the first round. Till that time, if both the teams were tied on the aggregate scores from both the legs, a playoff used to be played at a neutral venue. The honour of being the first club to qualify for the second round of the European Cup belongs to FC Valur of Iceland. In the first leg at Reykjavik, Valur drew 1-1 against Jeunesse Esch of Luxembourg, and the return fixture at Esch-sur-Alzette ended 3-3. Thus Valur qualified for the second round on away goals. The Away Goal rule for the second round and quarterfinals was applied in the 1968-69 and in 1970-71 for the later rounds.
Benfica hold the overall record of “Biggest two legged wins”. They beat Stade Dudelange of Luxembourg 18-0 in the preliminary round in 1965-66. Pedras scored a hat-trick in first leg in which Benfica scored 8 unanswered goals. The next leg in Lisbon turned out to be more emphatic. Eusebio scored 4 and Jose Augusto scored a hat-trick. Benfica ran riot and won 10-0.
Coin toss was used as a tie breaker in the pre away goals and penalty shootout era. The first coin toss was used in the 1963-64 playoffs to decide a winner between FC Zurich and Galatasaray, after the tie ended 2-2. Galatasaray lost the coin toss and hence the tie, but in 1969-70 they won the coin toss against Spartak Trnava in the second round. Apparently that match was the last time when coin toss was used in the European Cup as a tie breaker.
Defending the Champions League has been some kind of Holy Grail for the winners. Ever since European Cup was renamed The Champions League, none of the Champions have been able to successfully defend the trophy. After winning the Champions League only AC Milan, Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United, have been able to reached the next season’s Finals, but without any success.
El Classico in the European Cup was held in 1960-61 season. Barcelona had to overcome Belgian side Lierse 5-0 over two qualifying legs. This set up first round clash between five time defending European Cup Champions Real Madrid and qualifiers Barcelona. The Legend Luis Suarez of Barcelona scored 88th minute penalty to draw the first leg 2-2 at Bernabau. Two weeks later Barcelona beat Real 2-1 in Camp Nou in front of 120,000 spectators. Barcelona lost to Benfica in the final.
Football, Bloody hell”. This is by far most acute summation of the sport. Manchester United defeated Bayern Munich in an extraordinary climax by scoring two goals in the injury time. United thus became first club in the Champions League era to achieve a historic treble. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson deliriously summed up the experience in the post match interview.
Gabriel Hanot, editor of L’Equipe newspaper is a mastermind behind the launch of the European Cup. Having been impressed by the success of South American Championship of Champions Clubs, he proposed the idea to UEFA. When British press announced Wolves as “World Champions”, Hanot finally convinced UEFA to host a pan European club tournament, to determine best club in Europe. L’Equipe selected the 16 participating clubs on the basis of being prestigious and most representative in Europe.
Hans-Jorg Butt holds a distinction of being an only goalkeeper to have scored goals in the Champions League for three different teams. Butt has scored for Hamburg, Leverkusen and Bayern Munich. Burg’s all three goals have come from the penalty spot. A unique feature about these goals is, all three of them have been scored against Juventus.
Istanbul, in May 2005, hosted one of the incredible Champions League Finals has ever been played. Liverpool having played 3rd qualifying round, progressed through very tight group stage, thanks to Steven Gerrard’s wonder strike. By dismissing Chelsea in the semi final, they set up final showdown with AC Milan. Paolo Maldini scored for AC after 53 seconds and went 3-0 up at half time.
Liverpool scored 3 goals in 6 crazy minutes to draw level. Jerzy Dudek pulled off a double save in the injury time. As the game went to penalties, Milan chickened out and Dudek saved 2 penalties and Liverpool miraculously lifted their 5th Champions League trophy.
Johann Cryuff turned out to be most successful managers who themselves had been great players. He had won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax as a player in 1971, 72 and 73 and as a coach with Barcelona in 1992. His apprentice Josep Guardiola, having won a European cup as a player in Cryuff’s team, has gone on to win two Champions League as a coach with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.
Klaus-Dieter Sieloff of Borussia Monchengladbach, became a first player to score on a penalty kick in the first ever penalty shootout in the European Cup history. Both the legs in the second round ended in 1-1 draw and after the extra time, penalty shootout had to be used as a tie breaker. Everton’s Joe Royal could’ve had this honour but he missed his penalty and Sieloff converted first spot kick for the Germans.
Lisbon Lions have nothing to do with any team coming from the Portuguese capital. But it is a nickname given to Legend Jock Stein’s Celtic which beat Inter 2-1 in the 1966-67 European Cup final. Celtic became the first British club to win European Cup. A unique feature about this team was, all the team members were born within 30 miles of Glasgow. Celtic achieved a unique Pentagram by winning Scottish League, Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup, Glasgow Cup and European Cup.
Marouane Chamakh is the only player to score in six consecutive Champions League fixtures. His first goal in this hot streak came against Olympiacos in the Round of 16’s second leg, 2009-10 season. Chamakh then scored in both the legs of Quarterfinal against Lyon. He scored next 3 goals for Arsenal in 2010-11 season against Braga, Partizan and Shakhtar.
Nottingham Forrest became unlikely winners of the European Cup in 1979. Nottingham Forrest had to play defending champions Liverpool in the round 1. Forrest under their talismanic manager Brian Clough, not only won European Cup of 1979, but also successfully defended the cup in 1980. Apparently Nottingham Forrest has become the only winners of European Cup who have won more European titles than the domestic league.
Olympiacos FC hold an honour of maximum as well as successive representations in The Champions League Group stage by a Greek side. Apart from being a first Greek side to feature in European Cup, from 1997-98 season onwards, they have featured in the group stage for 11 consecutive seasons till 2008-09. Olympiacos again qualified in 09-10 and 11-12 seasons. Olympiakos has reached Quarter Finals once and five times have been defeated in round of 16.
Peter Palotas became the first player to score a Hat-trick in the European Cup. Palotas’ scored the goals on 25, 59 and 80th minute for a Hungarian outfit MTK Budapest in 6-3 victory against Anderlecht. MTK lost to eventual runner up Stade Reims in the quarter final on the aggregate 8-6. In the second leg which ended 4-4, Palotas scored 2 more goals. Palotas missed out on a first player to score two hat-tricks in the same season.
Qualifying rounds have not always proved easy fixtures for the big teams. Teams finishing outside the automatic group stage qualification spot, have to play the qualifying rounds. But failing to qualify automatically in the group stage does not mean you are a weaker side. Manchester United in 98-99, AC Milan in 2002-03 and 06-07, Liverpool in 04-05 and Barcelona in 08-09 have gone on to win the Champions League from the third qualification spot.
Raul holds the record of scoring most goals (71) and most appearances (144) in the Champions League. He has scored 66 goals for Real Madrid and 5 for Schalke. Raul has appeared 132 times for Real Madrid and 12 times for Schalke in the Champions League.
Steaua Bucharest lifted the European Cup in 1985-86 by beating Barcelona on penalties. The match ended 0-0 in the normal time and after having played through the extra time, in came the penalty shootout. The nerves started to show as both the teams missed initial two penalties each. Steaua goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam hand a “Hand of God” and saved all 4 penalties by Barcelona. Steaua Bucharest became the first Eastern European side to win a European Cup.
Tottenham Hotspur when they drew their final group stage match 3-3, against Dutch side Twente in 2010-11, they became a first side to score at least 2 goals in each of their group stage matches. Spurs scored 18 goals in their 6 matches, 10 at home and 8 away. Spurs topped their group and knocked out AC Milan in knock out tie, but went down tamely against Real Madrid in round of 16.
Undefeated European campaign is a definitely one to savor. It certainly not a very easy task to play continental games home and away without tasting a single defeat. Only nine clubs have lifted the European Cup without being defeated. Only Ajax, Liverpool, AC Milan and Manchester United have been able to achieve this feat twice. Apparently Manchester United’s dramatic victory in 1998-99, is only time any club has been victorious by winning fewer number of games. United could only win 5 games throughout the campaign.
Victoria Plzen FC made the debut in Champions League as they secured the entry to the 2nd qualifying round as winners of the Czech league. Plzen won 2nd, 3rd and playoff qualification round and gained the Group Stage spot for the first time in its history. Plzen were drawn against Barcelona, AC Milan and BATE Borisov. Plzen’s highest point in the Champions League came when they held AC Milan to 1-1 draw in Minsk. They finished 3rd in their group to qualify for the Europa League.
Wembley has had a privilege of hosting maximum (6) finals of European Cup and Champions League. Manchester United and Barcelona have played 2 finals on Wembley including the one against each other in 2010-11. Barcelona having outplayed United, have won both the finals where as United have beaten Benfica 4-1 to lift 1966 European Cup.
Xavi produced a sensational display in the 2008-09 Champions League Final, against Manchester United. He outmanoeuvred United’s midfield and set up a wonderful cross to Lionel Messi to score a winner. Xavi was duly awarded Man of the Match and Midfielder of the year award. He repeated the similar performance in the Wembley final in 2010-11. He, along with niesta, detonated Manchester United’s tactically naive midfield.
Yugoslavian outfit Red Star Belgrade became a second Eastern European side to win the European Cup when they defeated Marseille on penalties. Even this game ended 0-0 in normal time and extra time, went on penalties. Red Star converted all the 5 of their spot kicks. This Red Star team had all but one Yugoslav players in their squad. The only non Yugoslav player in the squad was a Romanian, Midorag Belodedici, who had earlier helped Steaua Bucharest to become first Eastern European country to win the European Cup.
Zinedine Zidane, arguably one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, has only one Champions League winner medal to show. Zidane in his first season with Juventus in 1996-97, ended up on runners-up side against Borussia Dortmund. Five years later, Zidane made a world record €75 M to Real Madrid, and again reached up to finals in the first reason, against Bayer Leverkusen. However, he unleashed a stunning left foot volley for one of the best goals scored in any finals, which turned out to be a winner.

In continuation to the last post of Project Malaga, this is a second part which will look at Project Saint-Germain.

Paris Saint-Germain F.C. is simply known as PSG worldwide, play in Ligue 1, which is French football league.

PSG is relatively a younger club, being formed in 1970 by merger of Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain. After working their way up to Ligue 1 for initial 4 years, PSG has been playing in France’s top flight football ever since.

Also, PSG are one of only two French club sides, who have won European accolades. Although PSG has a European Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Intertoto Cup, two Ligue 1 titles, eight Cup titles and three League Cup titles to their credit, they still were called underachievers. Lately Lyon and Marseille have been top French sides where as PSG were being considered as Pensioners Saint-Germain who were often lost in tales of Ronaldinho and Anelka from the past.

As expected, PSG finished 4th in 2010-11 season which was their best finish since 2004.

Little they knew, that the scenario will chance so fast.

On May 31 2011, PSG declared that Qatar Investment Authority, an Investment arm of Qatari Government has bought controlling 70% stake in the club. This sale is estimated around €50 M, wiping out the debts and losses of the past.

Thus arrived Nasser Al-Khaleaïfi as a first Non French president of the club, actually acting on behalf of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Unlike Malaga, who started their project on a low note, Nasser produced a 5-year plan to take PSG on European Football summit.

Nasser said, “PSG has an enormous potential – they are the only big football club in a city of 12 million inhabitants! That’s unique in Europe. Our aim is to qualify for the Champions League every year as of 2012. Then, from 2015, we want to play a major role in Le Championnat. We don’t want to sign Lionel Messi, but we want to invest in the big stars of tomorrow from all over the world, including France.” Nasser opened oil dipped pockets of the owners and released €100 M kitty for the rebuilding.

PSG wasted no time in trading a path of direct success. Leonardo was appointed as Director of Football, Claude Makelele retired as a player and took the post of an advisor.

Club splashed a record €89 M in the summer. €46 M were spent in signing Kevin Gamiro (FW) from Lorient, Diego Lugano (DF) from Fenerbahce, Momo Sissoko (MF) from Juve, Milan Bisevac (DF) from Valenciennes, Jeremy Menez (FW) from Roma, Blasi Matuidi (MF) from Saint-Etienne and Salvatore Sirigu (GK) came from Palermo.

And then came a marquee signing of 2011. Much coveted Javier Pastore, too arrived from Palermo for €43 M, making him most expensive player in Ligue1.

PSG started the league season with a disappointing 0-1 defeat to Lorient at home. But then PSG bandwagon went on 12 games undefeated,winning 9 times and drawing 3. After back to back defeats in week 14-15, they have again gone on 8 matches (7W,1D) unbeaten streak.

But after PSG tasted humiliating Europa League group stage exit and round of 16 League Cup defeat, change at the managerial post was seen as the answer by the owners. So the current manager Antoine Kombouaré who stabilized the squad and took PSG to the top of the league, was let go by mutual consent and Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as a new manager on 30th Dec, on a 2.5 yrs contract.

Amongst all this frenzied activities in the boardroom, on the pitch PSG have adopted 4-2-3-1 formation. Sirigu at the goal, in the defence of Ceará, Camara, Sakho, Tiéné. Holding midfield of Matuidi and Boder, On the Left wing Nenê, Pastore playing behind the striker Gameiro and Ménez on the right wing have formed a consistent line up.

PSG have adopted an possession football approach with short passing being the main style of play. Although they have enjoyed 54% average possession, the goals haven’t been flowing freely. In 22 League games, only 38 goals have been scored. That means only 1.7 Goals have been scored per game from average 5 shorts on target. This suggest only 34% of shots being converted in goals.

The defence however, has been tight, only 19 goals have been shipped. A staggering average 413 (84%) passes per game have been coming as short passes. Only 25 assists means that more goals have been scored by means on individual talent, than a team effort.

In the January transfer window, the club has further spent €20 M on Maxwell (LB) from Barcelona, Alex (CB) from Chelsea and Thiago Motta (CM) from Inter. PSG also lured Carlos Tevez by their big money power.

Ancelotti’s arrival has further elevated the mood in the camp. PSG currently are top of the Ligue 1 tables, with 49 points from 22 games, and are on a track of domestic double of League and French Cup.

Where Project Malaga is getting on at a very slow pace, Project Saint-Germain has been going on full steam ahead.

 

I’m sure, football fans across the globe were put on alert as two mighty projects were launched in Spain and France. The football world is rapidly falling prey to the “Big Property Showoff” between Russian oligarchs and Arab Sheikhs, Malaga and Paris Saint Germain are the latest renowned clubs from La Liga and Ligue 1 to be acquired.

Bankrolled by virtually endless money, these projects have been launched with the aim of bringing silverware to the gold laden countries in the middle east by virtue of winning club football championships and tournaments in European leagues.

Both clubs having been acquired by the Royal family members from the middle east, have undergone a total revamp on the pitch, coaches and backroom staff. Both the clubs have acquired prized signings, Santi Cazorla and Javier Pastore, have been going through a season of mixed performances.

We’ll look at both the Projects in this two legged blog. First lets have a look at Project Malaga.

A member of the Qatari Royal Family, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani purchased Malaga for a reported 36 million euros on June 11, 2010. He announced his arrival a year ago with low key optimism and said, “Our goal is to help Malaga take the necessary steps to consolidate its presence in La Liga”, than saying that Malaga has arrived on the European scene and is ready to rub shoulders against the likes of Barca and Real. Well, foreign investment or acquisition seems to be the only way for the small teams in Spain to take heads on with big two due to their unfair TV rights system.

After securing the services of Manuel Pellegrini in November 10, club took its first steps towards the stability by signing Bayern’s Demichelis (on loan), Atletico’s Asenjo, and ex-Seville, Arsenal and Real Madrid hit man Julio ‘the Beast’ Baptista.

After a humiliating defeat by Barca’s B team on the final day of the 10-11 season, this season has been marked as a launch of the “Malaga Project”, and Ruud van Nistelrooy from Hamburg, french medio Jeremy Toulalan from Lyon, right back Sergio Sanchez from Sevilla, left back Nacho Monreal from Osasuna, centre back Joris Mathijsen too from Hamburg, Isco from Valencia, Joaquin Sanchez (once named Spanish Figo) with his unfulfilled promises arrived. Demichelis’ loan was made permanent and then Malaga confirmed it’s marquee signing Santi Cazorla from Villareal. This all zing bang arrived for no less than 52 million euros.

Although Malaga are sitting in the 8th place with 28 points, just 3 points behind 4th placed Levante and Champions League playoff round spot, there are worrying points.

1) The Form,

2) Goals at both the ends.

The season has been one with ups and downs. They started with a loss away at Sevilla, followed by 3 wins in a row (vs Granada, Mallorca and Bilbao), a draw and a win again (vs Getafe), propelling them to 4th place.

Then the wheels came off. Malaga played next three games vs extremely cash strapped Levante, giants Real Madrid and a neighborhood club Rayo Vallecano and lost all 3, conceding 9 goals and scoring nothing in reply.

Next 4 games saw a win against Espanyol, draw against Betis and two consecutive wins against Racing Santander and Villarreal.

June when the things seem to have got back on track, Malaga hit a form which can be termed no less than a calamity. A set of next 3 matches before the winter break saw them  losing dramatically to Real Sociedad in 91st minute to an incredible goal, drawing to Osasuna and losing tamely to Valencia. Meanwhile they managed to see off Getafe over two legs in round of 32 of Copa Del Rey.

The return from the winter break was equally disastrous. The draw to Atletico Madrid was sandwiched between losses to Real Madrid in both the legs of Copa Del Rey round of 16. Malaga lost again to Sporting Gijon and got trounced 1-4 at home to Barcelona. They finally beat Sevilla 2-1 at home on 29th Jan 12, which was their first victory since 28th Nov 11.

Till today in January window, Carlos Kameni, once highly rated goalkeeper from Espanyol has been signed.

Pellegrini seem to have settled on 4-4-1-1 formation. Caballero in goal, Jesus, Demichelis, Mathijsen, Monreal in the back, Joaquin on wide right, Duda and Toulalan in the centre and Santi Cazorla on the left. Teenager Isco is being preferred ahead of Baptista, Juanmi to play behind striker Van Nistelrooy.

However there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in the starting line up. Only Martin Demichelis  has started in all the 24 games. Toulalan has made 22 starts, Mathijsen 19. At right back, Jesus Gamez has made 15 starts where Sergio Sanchez has made 10 starts (9 RB, 1 CB). The story at the left side of the defence is same. Monreal has started in 14 games and Eliseu in 10. Joaquin on the right has started 14 times where as Seba has started in 9 games in the same position. Cazorla has started 17 games on the left, 4 in the center and one on the right. Ruud has started in just 14 games.

The goals are coming in far lesser numbers than expected out of this attacking line up. Malaga has scored only 24 goals in 20 league matches and 5 in 4 Copa del Rey fixtures. 16 of those 24 have come at home and 8 away. No less than 15 players have been on the scoresheet.

Santi Cazorla is leading the pack with 4 goals and 6 assists, all of the goals have come in first 4 matches, leaving him with a barren spell of 20 matches. Seba, Rondon and Ruud van Nistelrooy all have scored 3 goals each.

At the back, Malaga have shipped a whooping 29 goals in 20 League matches, 14 of them being conceded at home and 15 away. Malaga’s Home and Away form has hit a strange symmetry. Having played 10 games each, home and away, their record reads 6-2-2 at home and 2-2-6 on the roads.

Although Malaga has made a mixed start, with 18 games still to go, they’ve got to get some stability and right balance. The players surely need to lift the game and in turn lift Malaga up the table with an ambition to compete in European tournaments next season.

With Fernando Hierro as a Sporting Director, gritty coach like Manuel Pellegrini, stars like Santi Cazorla and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani’s limitless money at disposal, nothing seems out of bounds.

We will have to wait and see when the Project Malaga really kicks off.

to be continued with Project Saint Germain.

Written on 21st January on Blogger.


Everyone has a point to prove.

All the 22 players approach the game with one objective of winning but surely they have different perspective. to it. Some of them want to perform so they can win the place back in the starling line up or to maintain it. Some of them are looking for that marquee goal or appearance. Some of them are regaining fitness. Some of them want to impress the national team manager or a scout. Some of them could be playing be silence the critics as well. But some one might be playing with a perspective of shutting up the blabbering opponents and prove a point.

I watched Borussia Mönchengladbach playing at home to Bayern Munich last night. There was one man playing with the intention of proving the point. His name, Marco Reus. He had to silence the mighty Bavarians. And he did it.

Marco Reus’ transfer saga ensured heated atmosphere in Bundesliga’s extended winter break.

Being called as FC Hollywood, Bayern Munich were sure of luring this upcoming superstar of German football to Allianz Arena in summer. Traditionally Bayern have been relentless in luring big players / potential stars and have much success. It all seemed just a matter of time.

In December, Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge commented, “It is not a bad decision to stay one more year and make further progress, because the pressure at a club like Gladbach or Dortmund is lower than that at Bayern”.

But complacency is a big “C” word in football.

Reus instead turned down Bayern’s advances and opted to join his home town club in the summer, none other than Bavarians’ arch rivals, Borussia Dortmund, for €17.5m (£14.6m) on a four-and-half-year deal.

That sparked a bitter reaction from the Munich camp.

Bayern sporting director Christian Nerlinger did not show any reaction, claiming his side were “in no way disappointed,” and that his club were not completely convinced by Reus. Bayern defender Holger Badstuber commented, “Maybe he decided not to move to Bayern because as a young player, he desperately needs match practice.” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes responded, claiming that Bayern have historically always been at the top. Dortmund, he said, as well as Gladbach and Bremen, had good spells in their histories but eventually fell from the top. Apparently the negotiations between Bayern and Reus broke over promise of regular first team opportunities.

To all this saga, Reus responded, “I know what really happened, this is what matters. We’ll see them on the pitch!”.

And boy, he showed up with a possessed mind. Only aim was to destroy Bayern and make a  fool out of them.

Bayern themselves had entered in this tie as winter champions and 3 points clear of Dortmund and 4 of Gladbach. The game started as if it was a chess. Both sides trying to be cagey. It was clear whoever scores the opening goal, would go on to dictate the terms. Reus showed immense class yesterday and controlled the game by duly scoring the opener on 14th minute, thanks to Manuer Neuer’s blunder.

For poor Neuer it was a Deja Vu. On the opening day of the season in the same fixture at home, Bayern had lost to Gladbach due to his blunder and on the 1st day after the winter break, in the reverse fixture, Neuer did it again. Off his line, Neuer passed the ball directly to Marco Reus, who collected and fired in the bottom left corner from the distance.

Watch the Reus goal, Neuer gaffe >>>>>> Here

Reus was at the action again, this time giving a wonderful through ball to Patrick Herrmann on 71st minute. Herrmann, already having scored a goal earlier in the 1st half, neatly rounded Neuer to complete his brace and give Gladbach an unassailable 3-0 lead. Although Bayern pulled one goal back, it was too little, too late.

Reus had an agenda, and he executed it to perfection. He made a point.

Your point has been noted, Son !!!

Watch the goals from Borussia Mönchengladbach v Bayern Munich >>>>>>> Here

Traditionally, Last month of the year and the first month of the following year, bring cheer, joy and hope to the people around the world. Nothing different when it comes to football.

While rest of the Europe use this time as a Winter Break to freshen up their leagues, allow teams to make tours to middle east and mint money, England and Scotland pile up the fixtures on the Boxing day, New Year’s eve and 2nd day of the year and following weekend. Large crowds are drawn away from home to the stadiums to they can enjoy Festive Season with their mates, over the beer rather than spend time with the families.

As people flock in the stadiums to enjoy more and more football, 11 men on the pitch and the one in dugout, start to sweat over the games coming thick and fast. With Pride, Glory, Promotion, Relegation, Local bragging rights at stake, Managers can’t wish for anything else but to scrape through this period with minimum injuries and maximum possible points.

This season teams will be playing played 5 League matches and a Cup game between 17th December – 8th January span. These 5 games can define your season. You can break away from your nearest rivals, either to the summit or away from the abyss, or you can blow up the lead or get sucked into the relegation battle.

Before getting in that fixture frenzy, Man City (38 Pts) and Man United (36 Pts) were split by 2 points at the summit while Bloton (9 Pts), Blackburn (10 Pts), Wigan (12 Pts) made the bottom three and Wolves, Sunderland (14 pts) and West Brom (15 Pts), were lurking just above the relegation zone.

Out of these 8 placed teams City, United, Bolton, Wigan, Sunderland and West Brom are yet to play their 5th fixture of this frenzied fixture pile up. And this is going to turn out to be significant.

Currently the bottom six of the table has been occupied by Bolton (13 Pts), Blackburn (4 Pts), Wigan (15 Pts) at the bottom three, new entrant QPR, Wolves (17 Pts) and Sunderland (21 Pts) occupy 17th, 16th and 15th place respectively.

Now looking at the remaining fixtures of this frenzied last round, Wigan will play Sunderland at Home tonight, Tottenham will host West Brom and Everton will host Bolton on 5th Jan.

Resurgent Sunderland, under Martin O’Neill has picked up 7 points in their last 4 games (L,W,D,W) and I fancy them to go to Wigan who have picked up just 3 points (D,D,L,D), and take all 3 points. These 3 points will take Sunderland to 24 points and will see them propelled to 10th Position and Wigan will be rooted to 18th place. A draw will see Sunderland climb up just 1 place to 14th but a win for Wigan will get them out of the relegation zone and move up on 16th place, pushing QPR in the relegation zone.

Wigan will be hoping that Sunderland will be tired after playing on 1st Jan and beating Man City with the last kick of the match.

Everton will host Bolton, who are rooted down the bottom of the league. A win for Everton or a draw will change nothing in the table (which I think will be the scenario). But a Bolton win will still keep them in the relegation zone but from bottom of the league to 18th place.

Wolves have shown a promise in patches but have picked up just 3 points in last 5 (L,D,D,D,L). Their next 5 fixtures are Spurs (A), Villa (H), Liverpool (H), QPR (A), West Brom (H).

While Norwich, Swansea have shown incredible promise to stay up in the League, QPR will be looking forward to buy more fringe players and make a desperate attempt to improve the disastrous form (1 point in 5 games). QPR’s next 5 fixtures are Newcastle (A), Wigan (H), Villa (A), Wolves (H), Blackburn (A) and I think they have a best chance of pulling out from the relegation zone.

I hope Blackburn and Bolton, traditionally combative teams, will keep trying hard and picking up points here and there and sneak out of the drop zone. But it might just be too little too late.

Bolton’s next 5 fixtures (post Everton trip) are against Utd (A), Liverpool (H), Arsenal (A), Norwich (A), Wigan (H). Blackburn will play with Fulham (H), Everton (A), Newcastle (H), Arsenal (A), QPR (H). I can see Bolton have a chance of picking up 4 points and Blackburn 3. Wigan’s next 5 (post Sunderland trip) are Man City (H), QPR (A), Spurs (A), Everton (H), Bolton (A) and might pick up 3 points. 

I reckon that will not change the scenario at the bottom.

I was hoping that the teams in the relegation zone and just above drop zone would be showing a spirit and some true grit. I was hoping that after every match day, bottom of the League Table will keep on shuffling.

None of that has happened so far but I haven’t given up the hope yet.

Hope 2012 gives combative spirit to the bottom 3 and spices up the relegation battle.