Normal service resumes as the Champions League is tonight upon us once more. Clear your schedule for the next two evenings and take in sixteen fixtures that should keep us all glued to our television sets. Let’s have a look at all of the fixtures in detail for matchday one:
Runners-up last season, Atlético Madrid embark on the new campaign as they travel to Piraeus to face Olympiacos. The Greek side will be a tough test for Diego Simeone’s men at the Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis as Olympiacos last season won 16 out of 17 matches at home in the league last season.
Swedish champions Malmo travel to Turin to face Italian giants Juventus. It will be a tough test for Malmo who go into the fixture with some injury concerns while Juve’s Carlos Tevez will be out to prove a point. The Argentine has gone 14 matches without a goal in the competition since scoring in Man United’s 2-2 draw with FC Porto in April 2009.
Liverpool are back in the Champions League after a five year absence. The Premier League runners-up welcome Ludogorets to Anfield – the first meeting between the Reds and a Bulgarian team since the 2005/06 campaign. Emre Can and Lazar Marković are both suspended for Liverpool on matchday one while Ludogorets are without goalkeepers Vladislav Stoyanov and Ivan Čvorović through suspension and injury respectively.
Four months after they conquered ‘La Décima’ in Lisbon, Real Madrid will begin their title defence against FC Basel. The Swiss side travel to the Spanish capital with new coach Paulo Sousa, who has won six of his first eight Super League games. Los Blancos can boast some of the biggest names in world football, as well as new additions in James Rodriguez, Tony Kroos and Chicharito – all ready for tonight’s fixture.
Monaco are back in Europe after an eight year absence as they tonight host Bayer Leverkusen. The Ligue 1 side replaced coach Claudio Ranieri with Leonardo Jardim in the summer and lost star players such as James Rodriguez, Eric Abidal and Falcao without getting any substantial replacements. Leverkusen are in fine form having won five out of five this season before last Friday’s 3-3 draw with Werder Bremen.
Zenit St Petersburg travel to Lisbon as they face Benfica in their opening match of the campaign. The Russian side have a good record against Portugese teams in the past 12 months having beaten FC Paços and FC Porto in the qualifying games and group stages respectively.
It’s new coach Cesare Prandelli’s first Champions League match tonight since taking charge of Galatasaray as they face Anderlecht in Istanbul. The Belgian side will be seeking to get their first win on Turkish soil in their history while Galatasaray will be more than aware that they have not won any of their last four opening-night fixtures.
No strangers to one another, Borussia Dortmund welcome Arsenal in their opening fixture. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to reverse the home defeat they suffered to the Gunners 12 months ago while Arsene Wenger will be without defender Mathieu Debuchy, but will be keeping a close eye on star-signing Alexis Sanchez, who has scored in each of his last three appearances, to cause considerable damage to the Germans.
Ashley Cole is set to play in the Champions League for a third club as Roma tonight face CSKA Moscow in the Stadio Olimpico. The Italian side are without star players Daniele de Rossi and Kevin Strootman while the Russians are beaming with confidence coming off the back of four consecutive wins – their best since 2002.
Yet again Man City and Bayern Munich meet in the group stages – the third time in four years – but it still makes for a tasty fixture. The last time managers Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini met as coaches was during El Clásico in 2009/10 Spanish season. City are tonight without Pablo Zabaleta but can take comfort in the recent form of both Stevan Jovetić and Sergio Agüero.
The only Irishman in the Champions League Cillian Sheridan and his APOEL team-mates travel to the Camp Nou to try topple giants Barcelona despite having never won away from home in the competition as Luis Enrique makes his European coaching debut with the Catalans.
Zlatan Ibrahimović returns to face his former club Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena with his Paris Saint-Germainteam-mates. The Parisians are six games unbeaten in 2014/15 yet have won just one of their last seven away games. Ajax however started their season with two league wins before a 3-1 home defeat to PSV Eindhoven on 24 August cost them their first defeat in 25 league matches dating back to last November.
Chelsea welcome Schalke to Stamford Bridge once more having last faced the Germans a year ago. The Blues, and new star signing Diego Costa, are both in flying form have won four out of four in the Premier League this season while Schalke have failed to win any of their first four competitive games of a new season for the first time since 1968.
Slovenian side Maribor, regarded as minnows in the competition, play host to Sporting Lisbon for their first group stage campaign for 15 years. Sporting, under new coach Marco Silva, are in the group stage for the first time since 2008/09 but, as Maribor will be aware of, they have lost their last two opening-day fixtures in the competition.
FC Porto begin their 19th group stage campaign determined to put last year’s poor home results in the Champions League behind them and make ammends as they seek an opening-night win against BATE Borisov in what will be the Portugese side’s 200th European Cup fixture. BATE are no strangers to competition, but rarely make any impact and have lost their last three European away games.
Finally, tomorrow is Athletic Bilbao‘s first appearance in the Champions League group stage since 1998/99 as they face Shakhtar Donetsk in their brand new stadium at San Mamés. Despite political unrest in the Donestk region and forced to play their home games some 1,200 km away in Lviv, Shakhtar’s form is very good having won eight out of eight in all competitions in 2014/15, scoring 18 and conceding just once in the process.
Referee: Deniz Aytekin (GER) – Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER) – Stadium: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (NED)
Referee: Ivan Bebek (CRO) – Stadium: Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor (SVN)
Referee: Bas Nijhuis (NED) – Stadium: Estádio do Dragão, Porto (POR)
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: Estadio de San Mamés, Bilbao (ESP)
The next blog will be coming to you directly from Italy, as I head to Milan to see what a big game in the San Siro is like as AC Milan take on Juventus – historically two of Serie A’s and Europe’s most famous and successful teams.
Barcelona born-and-bred Sergi Samper Montaña will be 20 years old next January but is one of the most talked about young players in Spain.
A product of Barcelona’s famous youth academy, known as La Masia, Samper has impressed immensely since joining the academy at the age of six in 2001. He has been making a huge impact in recent times with Barcelona B and has attracted the attention of many managers around Spain and especially one London-based manager in Mr. Arsene Wenger.
Indeed the Arsenal boss wants to make Samper the new Fabregas and, according to the press in Spain, is prepared to meet the club’s €12 million buy out clause for the defensive midfielder. Barça boss Luis Enrique has other plans and fully intends on bringing the player into the senior squad later this season.
Technically gifted and hugely influential around the middle of the park, the player who is so very often called “the new Busquets” is set to make an impact regardless of the jersey he will wear.
The Boys In Green today launch their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Georgia in Tbilisi. It’s Martin O’Neill’s first competitive fixture since his appointment as Ireland manager ten months back.
Results haven’t gone O’Neill’s way so far. In fact he only picked up his first win as Ireland boss last Wednesday in the incredibly uninspiring 2-0 win against a poor Oman side in front of just 14,000 at the Aviva Stadium.
O’Neill could also be faced with the problem of seeing some real talent coming through as the campaign progresses. Though there is much debate in Jack Grealish and former England U-21 captain Mark Noble to both possibly declare their allegiance for the green jersey – the inclusion of latter has divided opinion throughout the country.
Regardless off all the talk before a ball is even kicked, there is still 10 competitive games for the Boys In Green to be played between today and October of next year. Each one of them is crucial.
I for one am getting a little bit bored of seeing my national team fail to qualify for major international tournaments. I’m sure you are too.
The atmosphere in Poland two summers ago will never be forgotten and two summers from now I want to re-live a similar atmosphere somewhere in France as I watch my beloved Boys In Green at Euro 2016.
The journey starts today…
7 September 2014
Republic of Ireland
Georgia v Rep. of Ireland at the Dinamo Arena, Tsiblisi kicks off at 5pm.
Also in our group today is Germany v Scotland and Gibraltar v Poland.
Brazilian football legend Ronaldinho currently finds himself without a club having last played with Atletico Mineiro. There hasn’t been the world’s elite queuing up to sign the former World Player of the Year. But there is an offer from one English club. No, it isn’t Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal, but non-league side Basingstoke Town have been in contact with the 34-year old’s agent.
“We’ve put an offer to his brother, who is his agent, and look forward hearing back from him,” Basingstoke marketing director Simon Hood has said. “We took a look at the transfer list to see which players were available. We were shocked to see that Ronaldinho was a free agent and thought what better way for him to get back into football than to play for Basingstoke Town.”
The 2005 Ballon d’Or winner, 2006 Champions League winner and 2002 World Cup winner has previously won 97 caps for his country and his time in Europe playing for PSG, Barcelona and AC Milan between 2001 and 2010 earned Ronaldinho worldwide acclaim.
Basingstoke aren’t the only club interested in signing ‘Dinho. Chennai Titans, who play in India’s top tier, have also been in contact to bring the Brazilian to the Tamil Nadu region of India where he could join up with former PSG team-mate, and one-time Hull City right back, Bernard Mendy.
Publicity stunt from Basingstoke? Or legitimate attempt to lure on of the most famous faces in world football to England’s sixth tier?
After a two year absence from the international scene, Shay Given is back in the Ireland set-up after he was named in Martin O’Neill’s 27-man squad.
The Donegal man retired after an incredibly disappointing Euro 2012 and he subsequently lost his place in Aston Villa’s starting XI. His shock return to the Ireland set-up is being praised in some quarters, but the fact that the 38-year old could be, according to reports, about to leapfrog ahead of Keiran Westwood and David Forde and actually start against Georgia next week beggars belief.
Given was a great servant to his country and at one time was one of the best ‘keepers in the Premier League – possibly the best. But at this stage of his career where he is ultimately a substitute at club level, calling him into the Irish team is not only something of a backwards step, but it exposes the fact of the lack of talent available to Martin O’Neill.
Delighted to be back in the @FAIreland squad, looking forward to meeting up with the boys again. #COYBIG
Of course, I hope I am proven wrong.
He could be joined next month with a new addition in Mark Noble. The West Ham player, who scored at the weekend against Southampton, spoke of his disappointment not to be included in Roy Hodgson’s plans for England.
Enter Martin O’Neill.
The 27-year-old revealed that the Ireland boss was indeed in contact about the possibility of his availability to declare for the Boys In Green.
Noble spoke on Sky’s Goals On Sunday TV show how his mother’s bloodline is Irish, with both grandparents hailing from Cork but said that if he was to line out for the in the green jersey, it would be a little strange for him. Understandably so for the former England under-21 captain.
He added: “But you never know. Football is a strange game and I’ll just keep enjoying West Ham and playing the way I am. Hopefully I’ll make a decision in the next couple of weeks.”
Ireland have historically made full use of the so-called “granny rule” by adding eligible British players such as John Aldridge, Chris Hughton, Tony Cascarino, Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend and Jason McAteer to the team, while also missing out on trying to lure other eligible British players such as Wayne Rooney, Martin Keown, Steven Gerrard, Gary Cahill and Paul Scholes.
Ireland play Oman (friendly) on Wednesday 3rd September at the Aviva Stadium and Georgia (Euro 2016 qualifier) away in Tsiblisi on Sunday 7th September.
The draw for the group stages of the Champions League took place yesterday afternoon.
Liverpool will be making their return to the competition with a glamour tie against current holders Real Madrid and will also face Swiss side FC Basel as well Ludogorets following their fairytale entry to the competition for the first time.
Arsenal have no easy task as they face Borussia Dortmund, Turkish side Galatasaray and Belgian champions Anderlecht.
Man City will face the task of trying to topple Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side. Manuel Pellegrini’s men also face CSKA Moscow which is never an easy tie and finally Roma, featuring Ashley Cole & co., will complete a difficult group for City.
Cillian Sheridan, currently the only Irish player competing in the competition, and his APOEL side have been dealt an incredibly tough group featuring Barcelona, PSG and Ajax. It’s big news as Zlatan will return the Camp Nou, but Sheridan will try to give the Parisians, Catalans and Amsterdammers a run for their money.
But for neutrals, Group C has some tasty fixtures, as Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco all battle it out. There is not one easy tie for any club in that group and it’s one that I’ll be personally be keeping an close eye on.
The draw in full:
Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Olympiacos, Malmo
Real Madrid, FC Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, AS Monaco
Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
FC Bayern Munich, Man City, CSKA Moscow, AS Roma
C FBarcelona, PSG, Ajax, Apoel Nicosia
Chelsea, Schalke 04, Sporting, Maribor
FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE
With Carlo Ancelotti letting go of arguably one of his most crucial players of last season says a lot about the side, but it could easily prove to be a massive boost to van Gaal who is coming off the back of a loss and a draw in his opening fixtures.
There won’t be an Angel di Maria-shaped-hole in the Real Madrid side though – James Rodriguez, arguably one of the best young talents to emerge from South America since Lionel Messi, is already filling the gap which di Maria leaves in Ancelotti’s side. But will van Gaal use the 26-year-old efficiently enough to get the best out of him?
Di Maria does lose possession a lot, but the better players do, as they take risks. Few lose the ball more than Messi.
The Dutchman has said that di Maria “is a tremendously fast and incisive left-footed player who puts fear into the most accomplished defence. His dribbling skills and his ability to take on and beat opponents are a joy to watch.”
The Argentine, who scored the first ever goal in the new Aviva Stadium just a little over four years ago, is set to make his debut on Saturday against Burnley as United seek to earn their first three points of the season.
By now you are probably aware of the fine Dundalk FC received from UEFA for a flag of Palestine being flown by fans during their Europa League qualifier against Hadjuk Split.
The club issued a statement, saying: “Dundalk FC can confirm that the club has been charged by the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Committee.
“These charges relate to Article 16 (2) of the Disciplinary Rules (relating to flags that have been deemed by UEFA to be inappropriate) and Article 45 UEFA Stadium Infrastructure (relating to the prohibition of standing supporters). The total fine is €18,000 for these charges.”
I don’t believe I am alone in thinking this is utterly ridiculous. The main reason is that if Dundalk, a small club in a semi-professional league, can be fined €18,000, then surely big clubs such as Ajax can be fined also.
To see the Israeli flag flown in the Amsterdam Arena is a very common occurance (and indeed in White Hart Lane occasionally too). In fact if you look at this image, it’s not like the Ajax fans are hiding it.
Do UEFA fine Ajax? No chance. Have Spurs ever get as much as a warning for their fans sporting the Israeli flag? Nope!
Fining clubs for fans’ racism or violence is supported and encouraged. For flying a flag of Palestine? I don’t think so.
The big transfer news this week, as most of you will be well aware of at this stage, is that the ever-eccentic Mario Balotelli is soon to become a Liverpool player. This was greeted with much delight from the red half of Merseyside. And understandably so. But the general feeling is that Mario’s behaviour may disrupt the harmony that Brendan Rodgers has kept at Anfield during his tenure there.
Of course it’s now three weeks that have passed since the Liverpool boss said “categorically” that he would not be signing the Italian striker. But, as ever, nothing in football is impossible.
People took to social media to question if Rodgers could “get Balotelli to sort his head out”. Let’s be honest, nobody can change Super Mario’s personality. He doesn’t do the whole respect-for-authority thing. But maybe Rodgers can use him more efficiently than some previous managers.
Balotelli, when at his best, can be world-class. He is one of the best penalty takers I’ve seen in some time and has fierce ability. He is incredibly competitive – similar to that of Luis Suarez – but the Uruguayan had a never-give-up attitude. The Italian international tends to drift in and out of games if decisions seem to go against him.
There’s good and bad with purchasing Mario Balotelli: the bad is his attitude, professionalism and his eccentric behaviour off the pitch which attracts much press attention (see the video below about him discussing it with Noel Gallagher). The good is, as I said before, he can be world-class. It will be up to Brendan Rodgers and Mario himself to bring that out week in, week out.
One thing that’s guaranteed is that his time at Merseyside, good or bad, will not be dull.
The new Sky Sports 5 showed it’s first Dutch Eredivisie live game of the season between PSV and NAC Breda last Saturday afternoon in which the Eindhoven club won 6-1. But throughout the match, behind one of the goals in the infamous T and U sections, PSV supporters began to protest against the introduction of Wi-Fi at their stadium.
The supporters were angered that the club are encouraging supporters to use the internet on their phones during a match, instead of watching the match and supporting the team instead.
While Wi-Fi would surely be welcomed by football fans from outside The Netherlands attending matches in the Philips Stadion (such as yours truly), it is according to supporters groups the latest in a series of decisions intended to gentrify the crowd at home matches.
“F**k wifi. Support the team” one large banner read among the chants from the PSV faithful (see video below).
While I understand where the supporters are coming from, I feel Wi-Fi is something that should be welcomed into stadia. Aside from fans from overseas coming to matches as I’ve said before, but it would surely be handy – or in some cases even essential – to check the scores from other important league or cup matches being played simultaneously. I don’t think somebody checking the scores on their phone or even sending a live tweet during the match isn’t supporting the club any less.
There has been some big money moved to the English Premier League so far. Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea and Ander Herrera to Man United all stick out. But, and as with every year, there will be a few players with a smaller profile that will stick out for their clubs. Let’s have a look at some hot prospects for the forthcoming season:
Bojan – Stoke City
When Bojan was the darling of Barcelona and the envy of opposing managers, plenty were heard saying if the Catalan player could do it on a rainy Wednesday night in Stoke. Well now we will see the answers. Bojan is actually a versatile player with two powerful feet. He’s not a goalscorer as such, but he has fantastic pace and agility. Something both Pep Guardiola and Frank Rijkaard have said about him. He’s been wandering around since leaving Barcelona at clubs such as Roma, Milan and Ajax. I think he may well find his suited club with The Potters.
Leonardo Ulloa – Leicester City
Ulloa has been enjoying a great pre-season with The Foxes. Add to that the great season he had at Brighton last year, he could actually be quite the player for Leicester as they enjoy Premier League football for the first time since the 2004-04 season. The £8 million man seems to have found his feet playing in England after a slow few years in Spain and Argentina. Could he be the perfect fit for The Foxes?
Jack Rodwell – Sunderland
Rodwell joined Man City from Everton is 2012 with a reputation as being one of the hottest prospects in England following some wonderful displays while with The Toffees. But effectively he sat on the bench for two years and his career lost some momentum. Now at Sunderland, the 23 year old still has time on his side as well as a superb manager in Gus Poyet. I feel he could be just the man to make Man City furious he was sold.
Daryl Janmaat – Newcastle
The Toon managed to get themselves a superb defender in Daryl Janmaat. The 25-year-old Dutchman enjoyed two great seasons at Feyenoord recently before being selected by Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands side for the recent World Cup (where he performed well and even managed an assist in the famous 5-1 win over Spain). Alan Pardew’s replacement for the Arsenal-bound Mathieu Debuchy is, in my opinion, a superb bit of business from Newcastle. Keep your eye on this guy.
It’s August and normal service will be resuming very shortly and that means so will the fantasy football. Excited? We are.
For those who were in the league last season, all you have to do is pick your team and once it’s confirmed, you will automatically re-join the Official Hot Press fantasy football league.
For those who weren’t in the competition last year, but want to join us then here is what you must do:
Go here to the official website of the Barclays Premier League.
Register with the site (it takes around a minute).
Pick your players and once satisfied with your selection click on ‘confirm team’.
Go to ‘join leagues’. We’re in a private league, so enter the code 1005834-239916 when prompted.
Let battle commence.
Once more the good folk at Hot Press HQ will be dishing out some lovely prizes for the best managers in the league, so stay tuned for more info on that.
So any idea who you’re going to pick?
Alexis Sanchez is causing a stir around North London. At £10.5 million, he’s pricey. But he’s guaranteed points surely? What about Chelsea new boy Cesc Fabregas. At £9 million that’s a steal for the former-Barcelona man. Though he’s got some stiff competition in the Blues’ midfield. Sergio Aguero is a hefty £12 million. But he’ll guarantee you points. Or will he? Seamus Coleman played out of his skin and earned a total score of 180 points last season. He’s £7 million. Can he repeat it?
“It is a surprise,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said at the weekend when asked about Manchester City and Frank Lampard. “I’ve heard they (Man City) want to buy five clubs all around the world. The players will register in the clubs where they will put them and they can get out on loan. Is it a way to get around the (financial) fair play? I don’t know.”
Of course, it is something of a surprise for Frank Lampard to agree to join Man City, even if that is on loan from New York City FC, the newly formed club bought by the same owners as the sky blue half of Manchester. The former Chelsea and England midfielder had previously stated that he could never join another Premier League team due to his respect for the Blues. That will change when the 36-year-old will join up with his City teammates on Wednesday.
But perhaps Wenger is onto something? In an era when financial fair play is tightening, it might be the perfect (if a little elaborate and audacious) loop hole in which the wealthy Abu Dhabi United Group, the company that owns City, can avoid the fair play.
We live in an era where people don’t bat an eyelid when a €30 million fee for a player transfer occurs. What’s an entire new club to one of the wealthiest on the planet? Stranger things have happened. Watch this space.
AP Luzenac, a small club from a tiny village with a population of just 650 in the Pyrenees, will find out on Thursday whether they will be allowed to play in Ligue 2. Or will their dreams be crushed because in fact they are just too small.
The club were competing at amateur level in regional French leagues until 2009. That was until when they gained promotion to the Championnat de France National – the country’s third tier league. Competitive football wasn’t the easiest of transitions for them – barely surviving relegation twice in a row along with financial pressures threatened to dissolve the club. Until wealthy businessman Jérôme Ducros lend a hand of support.
Ducros brought in former Man United and France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez as managing director. Barthez, from neighbouring village Lavelanet, like the rest of France, had taken a shine to Luzenac and accepted the role. The World Cup winner proved to be a shrewd operator, luring talented players which ultimately witnessed the club finishing in second.
It's official, since last weekend, Luzenac will be in Ligue 2 next season !
Congratulations to all the team !
The club are already by far the smallest club ever to play in the French third division, but their deserved status of being the same in the second division is under threat.
With promotion secured, Luzenac began preparing for the next step – the primary concern was finding somewhere suitable to play. Their own ground, the Stade Paul Fédou, has only one stand and 400 seats and worthy of only amateur football in France. This is why they played last season at a ground in nearby Foix – but that only has a capacity of 3,000, far fewer than is required to meet Ligue 2 standards.
Ducros, at the time of writing, was hatching a plan to bring Luzenac 80 km away to Toulouse for Ligue 2 football as well as luring in some top talent both on the pitch and the sidelines.
This Thursday, the club will make their voices heard for the last time when the case is heard by a Toulouse court whose verdict will be final. Should Luzenac lose, they will have to accept getting no reward for last season’s heroics and the future will look somewhat uncertain. Barthez and Ducros fear the club could go the way of AS Valence, who were repeatedly denied entry to Ligue 2 in 2004 and soon ceased to exist.
However if they win, Ligue 2 will have to be expanded to feature 21 teams rather than 20 next season and organisers will have to devise a new fixture list accordingly – just two days before the campaign kicks off. It will be the fairytale ending they are waiting for. You never know – they may even get Cristiano Ronaldo someday.
Cristiano Ronaldo : "Luzenac is a great club, with a beautiful story. Finish my career over there ? Why not !"