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November 2007

Thursday, 29 November 2007

5078 Prediction Panel 2007/8: UEFA

by : Antony Melvin

Liverpool (3) v FC Porto (16), Group A, KO 19:45

I'm sure no-one needs reminding that Liverpool need to win this game. Porto top the group and can qualify regardless of tonight's game if they beat Besiktas at home on the final day. But Porto will qualify tonight if they avoid defeat - a result that would require Besiktas to do Liverpool a favour to enable Liverpool to travel to Marseille still in with a chance of qualification. Liverpool's league form in recent weeks is superb, though, but until the Besiktas humbling it hasn't been replicated in this tournament. Liverpool will be heavy favourites to win; and the vast majority of pundits back them to do just that.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Draw
Antony Melvin: Home

Rosenborg (64) v Chelsea (2), Group B, KO 19:45

In the final few days of Jose Mourinho's time at Chelsea, Rosenborg pulled off a shock result at Stamford Bridge when Koppinen's early strike was matched by Andriy Shevchenko's second half equaliser. But was it a shock; as these are now the top two teams in the group and both look likely to qualify. A diplomatic draw would leave both needing something from the last game; and a Chelsea win would see them through. Neither side needs a win, and both would benefit from avoiding defeat and that suggests a low scoring draw could be the result to look for.

Colin Illingworth: Away
Hugh Larkin; Away
Antony Melvin: Draw

Valencia (14) v Schalke 04 (27), Group B, KO 19:45

The other pair in Chelsea's group would not have expected to be trailing Rosenborg at this stage - who have provided, perhaps, the most unexpected surge of a team in any of the groups. But they do trail to the extent that a loser here is almost certainly eliminated from the tournament with a match left. Valencia have home advantage and will expect to make it pay, but it will probably be a close game. Group B is the lowest scoring group, with Chelsea top scoring with 5 and neither of these two teams have more than 2 goals to their credit; does suggest a 0-0.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Draw
Antony Melvin: Draw

Werder Bremen (21) v Real Madrid (9), Group C, KO 19:45

This is the last chance Saloon for the Germans as defeat here will leave a startling combination of complementary results to see them qualify with 6 points; it is possible but it is not likely. Real Madrid have been stuttering themselves in this competition, but not to the extent that they won't expect to qualify as group winner. Madrid need one point from the last two games and given their experience in qualifying that point is the minimum they will expect from this game.

Colin Illingworth: Draw
Hugh Larkin; Away
Antony Melvin: Draw

(the figure in brackets is the current provisional UEFA ranking)Three British clubs in action tonight with an exciting trip for Aberdeen to Atletico Madrid the highlight. The two English clubs have home advantage, with Spurs having a simple looking game against Aab Aalborg and Bolton facing a more daunting task against Greek second-city side, Aris Thessaloniki.

Thursday, 29 November 2007; UEFA Cup

Atletico Madrid (83) vs Aberdeen (146), Group B, KO 19:45

Such is the UEFA Cup group stage, Aberdeen have one point from two games and yet are level on points with third placed Atletico, however Atletico have a game in hand. Realistically 5 points should be enough to qualify, but even 4 points is enough under certain circumstances - so it is not a case of win or bust for the Dons. If Aberdeen can get a point in Madrid they will set up the final game nicely. But Atletico are fifth in Primera Liga with an especially strong home record having scored 22 goals in 7 games; The Dons will have to perform well to keep a clean sheet.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Home
Antony Melvin: Home

Bolton Wanderers (59) vs Aris Thessaloniki (119), Group F, KO 20:00

After the heroics in Bavaria Bolton, unusually, take on a provincial Greek side. Almost every Greek side that prospers is based in Athens and so Aris, from Greece's equivalent to Birmingham, may travel with a similar sense of injustice recognisable by many non-London based teams. Two points from two games mean that a win will take Bolton through, and as Aris beat Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) in their other game any kind of result will be a bonus for the Greeks. Gary Megson will want to build on the win over Manchester United - but this will be a tough test.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Home
Antony Melvin: Home

Tottenham Hotspur (41) vs Aab Aalborg (163), Group G, KO 19:45

After a win in Israel Spurs can qualify tonight by beating off one of the least experienced European sides left in the competition. And a win would also bring Tottenham alongside Celtic in the UEFA rankings - such is the experience they are building up in Europe. Juande Ramos is starting to rebuild shattered confidence in north London and a home win is very likely.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Home banker
Antony Melvin: Home

5089 There are Thais, Damned Thais

by : Dan Bailey

There is much at stake next month when Thailand goes to the polls for its first general election after the coup d’etat in September 2006. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the election campaign is that the battle is partly being contested on the turf of the English Premier League.

The current Manchester City Chairman, and the last democratically appointed Prime Minister of Thailand, Dr Thaksin Shinawatra will not be allowed to stand for office as he is currently the subject of corruption allegations made by the military junta that overthrew him. His former party, the Thai Rak Thai party, was also disbanded in the aftermath of the military takeover and 111 of its most senior members have been banned from participating in politics for life. The People’s Power Party (PPP) have emerged as a direct successor to the Thai Rak Thai however. They are planning to rule upon the same lines as Shinawatra and they have received his tacit consent. A victory for the PPP in the forthcoming elections would be seen as a vote in confidence for the ousted Shinawatra by proxy, and a major setback for the junta that have taken control.

As the battle in Thailand heats up, what is interesting is how the fanatical football culture in Asia and the obsession with the English Premier League in particular is being used to bolster the image of the major political players.

The deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, took control of Manchester City in the Summer and his cash injection has allowed them their best start to a campaign in decades. He is now looking to exploit his position to appeal to the football-mad Thai people and in doing so enhance the status of the PPP.

Manchester City manager Sven Goran Eriksson visited the country during the international break along with Sun Jihai and Shinawatra’s son and daughter on official club business. A lavish press conference was called to announce the signings of three players from Thailand’s national team into the Manchester City squad, the cloning of Manchester City’s academies and the establishment of links with a myriad of ‘feeder clubs’ around the globe, including in Bangkok. During the conference a recorded video message from Shinawatra (he is refusing to return to the country until he can be sure of a fair trial by an elected government) was used to aim a thinly veiled attack on the military junta that removed him from power and their form of ‘managed democracy’.

He said “My fellow Thais, when I was your prime minister, I ran a government that promoted and defended free and fair elections. As the December elections approach, I hope the military junta and the next government will do the same. The new government must govern for the many, not just for the few.”

5090 Who needs a national team when

by : Mark Carlton

Cynics might suggest that it was a classic Public Relations triumph and with an election on the horizon, the timing was impeccable.

The three players Manchester City have acquired, Kiatprawut Saiwaeo, Suree Sukha and Teerasil Dangda (a centre back, a right back and a centre forward respectively if you’re interested) are all likely to be moved out on loan in the immediate future, but the perception in Thailand is that their footballers can only benefit from the link up and will give the leading lights of the national team a chance to step into the limelight.

Perhaps Shinawatra just has an innocent desire to see football in his home country develop. This would not be an ignoble or original intention, but the extravagance and timing of the press conference indicated he was going to milk his position for all it is worth and showed that his political instincts are as sharp as ever. The players themselves will not even be eligible to play in the Premiership until January 1st, but of course this falls seven days after the Thai Election.

The misleadingly named Democrat Party, who currently govern the country (albeit without a mandate from the public) have duly responded by announcing a deal to work with Everton. Everton staff are due in Bangkok in December to announce a deal that will see a series of ‘soccer clinics’ set up in the Thai capital to coach young players. The Democrat Party have also gone as far as to make sure their soccer clinics will open before the academies of Manchester City.

"This isn't about a counter attack. Our bid to build ties with the City of Liverpool coincided with the Man City deal," Deputy Bangkok Governor Buddhipong Punnakanta told Reuters. Unsurprisingly, few have seen this move as an innocent alliance with noble aims to develop Thai football.

With the two major parties in Thailand forming well-publicised associations with English Premier League clubs with the aim of investing time and resources into football at Thailand’s grass-roots, the nation’s obsession with the Premier League is turning into a hypothetical political football.

The impact of globalisation has been felt before in the Premier League. It has often been alleged that Asian stars such as Lee Gonk Yook of Middlesbrough and Dong Fan-Zhuo of Manchester United have been brought to England for commercial rather than footballing reasons and pre-season tours of the Far East are commonplace these days. It would seem then that, for now at least, the commercial aims of football clubs are in sync with these political endeavours.

However, the latest developments seem to breakoff from that. The motivations behind these announcements don’t seem to be financial at all, they seem to be political. The football-mad Asian public are not being sold any product, they are the subject of being bought out. There is no struggle for the money of the Asian market, it is a struggle for their hearts and minds.

It is also open to debate whether these commercial and political aspirations will remain so harmonized. Shinawatra has recently invited Thailand’s national team to train with Manchester City ahead of the Asian Nation’s World Cup Qualifying campaign. Perhaps as we see the prolonging of the battle for power in Thailand, Eriksson may increasingly have to make sacrifices in his team’s preparation in order to aid Shinawatra’s political ambitions.

It will be intriguing to see just how much deeper English football becomes imbedded into Thai political discourse in the weeks leading up to the election. It is disquieting to consider the extent to which politics could become imbedded into English football.
After England fans were witness to the diabolical shambles that unfolded last week at least we can retreat back to the real pride of the English game, the Premier League.

Ironically or coincidentally, whichever way you want to see it, nobody can deny that the Premier League is in fine fettle. Whether the league is prospering at the expense of the national team is for another debate, but the competition is truly out-shining all of the leagues in Europe.

Thirteen weeks into the season and we have seen some of the most competitive football around. It is a traditional football manager’s clich, but it certainly does ring true when they claim that their team are capable of beating anyone on any given day, as proved by Bolton beating Manchester United 1-0 last weekend.

It is clear to see that clubs have invested the television windfall wisely over the summer. Clubs such as Manchester City, Portsmouth, Everton, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers have improved greatly and have become extremely difficult outfits to beat.

One of the most noticeable changes this season is that teams seemed to have adopted more attacking policies and are actually giving games a go rather than defending for their lives as per last season. The total amount of goals scored this season has increased massively compared to the same time last season. In total, after thirteen weeks there has been a total of 365 goals scored in 137 matches; that is an average of 2.66 per game. Compare this to last season and the stats pale in comparison. By this time last season only 129 matches had been completed, but the total goals scored stood at 273, almost 100 goals less and struggling to achieve an average of 2 goals per game.

Excuse the American-style stats fest, the average footsteps per Premier League player article is coming next week, so stay tuned.

One thing for certain is that we are all getting more goal for our money by watching the Premier League this season. The English clubs have also taken their high-scoring into Europe as well, with Arsenal and Liverpool both attempting cricket scores against Slavia Prague and Besikitas respectively.

Last weekend gave us another high scoring encounter as Everton thrashed Roy Keane’s Sunderland 7-1 and previous to that we saw West Ham take apart the whipping boys of the Premier League, by beating Derby 5-0. It seems not a week goes by without the videprinter having to compute an extraordinary result, and then rub salt into the respective teams wound by encapsulating (seven) in brackets, just in case you didn’t catch the numerical representation of the score.

Taking into account these rather one-sided encounters, it could be argued that the Premier League is not as competitive as first thought and that the television money has only made the gap wider for teams such as Birmingham City, Sunderland and Derby County who are currently in 16th, 18th and 20th respectively?

However, there has been a fair share of closely fought high scoring encounters as well. Spurs’ remarkable comeback against Aston Villa demonstrates attacking football at its best and defending at its worst. Portsmouth’s memorable 7-4 victory over Reading proved even scoring four goals in a game doesn’t guarantee a victory and not forgetting Fulham’s 3-3 draw’s against Manchester City and Spurs earlier in the season.

So, is the Premier League reaping the rewards whilst directly impacting the national team? What do you put the high scoring games down to? Is it that the Premier League is more competitive than previous years or is the gap widening? We would love to know your opinions.

5091 Book Review: Right Place, Righ

by : Kieran McHugh

The burgeoning collection of books relating to various aspects of the career of Brian Clough has tended to focus on the Forest years. Not surprising when you look at what was achieved and take into account the starting point in the journey to the pinnacle of European club football. In recent times The Damned United has added a touch of fictional colour to the Clough legend from his brief time at Leeds, a club towards which he made no secret of his antipathy.

Notable by the absence of study are the years in which Clough, (and Peter Taylor), took unfashionable Derby County to the league title, (ahead of Shankly’s Liverpool amongst others), from a similar starting point in the second tier of the English game. Whilst some works have touched upon the Derby years, (His Way: The Brian Clough Story, by Patrick Murphy for example, The Definitive Biography, by Richard Williams for another), Right Place, Right Time fills in some of the few remaining blanks in the career of one of English football’s greatest ever managers.

Written from the perspective of the football correspondent on the Derby Telegraph, (in much the same vein as the recent William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner Provided You Don’t Kiss Me – 20 Years With Brian Clough, written by the reporter on the Nottingham equivalent), Right Place, Right Time is first and foremost the memories of a fan following his team during their most successful period from a position that granted him the sort of access the man on the terraces could only dream of.

It was a position that allowed Edwards to gain an insight into the relationship between Clough and Taylor at a time when the two men enjoyed each other’s company and respected each other’s opinion. Obviously there is the odd tale of a bust up here and a disagreement there, but more telling are the moments when Edwards saw evidence of the bond between the two that was forged when both played at Sunderland.

One occasion in particular illustrates their understanding and the positive benefits it brought to their team. Having suffered a heavy defeat at Arsenal, Clough’s silent rage endured for the length of the coach journey to St Pancras, (for those were the days), casting a doom over the whole Forest entourage and striking them all dumb with fear. Clough’s temper might have persisted all the way to Derby had Taylor not intervened to lighten the mood with a well timed quip. Clough giggled, the team relaxed and drinks, inevitably, were taken. The evening was rounded off by a late night in a favoured hostelry and the following week Derby played Sunderland off the park in a 4-0 win.

The difficulty in these types of books lies in ensuring the appeal is not confined to fans of the club or fans of the man. Whilst it becomes clear pretty quickly that Edwards is County through and through, his relationship with Clough is, as we have come to expect from accounts of Old Big ‘Ed, ambiguous. It is to Edwards’ credit if he avoided becoming Clough’s mouthpiece and the book certainly benefits from what is surely a genuinely held view of the coaching, scouting and managerial abilities of Clough himself.

What is significant is the recognition given to Peter Taylor by a man who, aside from the players, must have had as good a view as anyone of what brought success to a hitherto inconsequential provincial club. Then, as now, the role of the assistant was very much as a second in command. Taylor though was afforded almost equal status, by Clough as well as others at the club. A manager in his own right, he left Burton Albion to join Clough at the Baseball Ground. He would later return to manage the Rams without Clough, which in part led to the two men falling out so calamitously.

5087 Squarefootball Diary; Rangers

by : Stephen Orford

Squarefootball Diary - Tuesday November 27 2007

Rangers will sweat it out until the final Group E game in their bid to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League.

Walter Smith’s side are downed 3-2 in Stuttgart and that, coupled with Lyon’s 2-2 draw in Barcelona leaves the Scottish side requiring a point against the Frenchmen next time out to make it through to the knockout phase;

“Lyon was always going to be an important game.” observes Smith, after watching his side take the lead through Charlie Adam, before going 2-1 down. Barry Ferguson equalises, but the last word is Stuttgart’s as Cyprian Marica nets the winner five minutes from time;

“We have a big night to look forward to at Ibrox and if we show the same endeavour I'll be pleased.” he adds.

Arsenal had already qualified from Group H, but suffer their first defeat of the season in all competitions going down 3-1 in Seville. The result puts the Spanish side through to the last 16, and arrives courtesy of goals from Seydou Keita, Luis Fabiano and Fredi Kanoute in response to Eduardo’s opener for the Gunners. Arsene is sent to the stand by referee Eric Bramhaar, but claims to have no idea why;

“I had no exchanges with the referee. I don't know why I was sent off, I was really surprised.”

Not the first time Wenger has failed to notice a key incident in a game.

Slavia Prague’s 1-1 draw at Steaua Bucharest is enough to earn them the group’s UEFA Cup slot.

Manchester United finish off Group F, but leave it late after falling behind to Sporting Lisbon at Old Trafford. Abel’s 22nd minute speculator leaves Thomas Kuszczak floundering, but Carlos Tevez equalises for the home side. Just as a draw looks the most likely outcome, Cristiano Ronaldo steps forward to belt a fearsome free-kick past his former side;

“I think that he (Ronaldo) always wants to do well against his old club because he owes a lot to Sporting Lisbon - they found him as a boy, he respects that and has great admiration for the club.” notes Sir Alex Ferguson.

Funny way of showing your admiration.

Roma smash Dynamo Kiev 4-1 to seal their own qualification, and knock the Ukranians out of contention for even a UEFA Cup berth.

Inter take the Group G spoils, that after a 3-0 win over Fenerbahce. The Turkish side need to win their last game against CSKA Moscow to guarantee their progression, but a draw will do if PSV Eindhoven fail to overcome Inter. For now, the Dutch side stay alive with a 1-0 win in Moscow.

Championship leaders Watford are in danger of hitting the wall. Aidy Boothroyd’s side are beaten 2-1 at home to Burnley, thus missing the chance to go eight points clear at the top. Fortunately for the Hornets, Charlton Athletic are thrashed 3-0 by Sheffield United and stay third. Play-off contenders Ipswich Town beat Southampton 2-0, while Bristol City are held to a goalless draw by Hull City, who themselves lie only a point shy of the top six.

Norwich City’s 3-1 win at Blackpool isn’t enough to get them off the bottom, but the Canaries still pull to within a point of safety after defeats for Preston North End and Queens Park Rangers at Crystal Palace and Stoke City respectively.

Sheffield Wednesday are now unbeaten in six after beating Barnsley by the only goal, while Coventry City draw 1-1 at home to Scunthorpe United.

Swansea City climb to the top of League One with a single goal victory at home to Hartlepool United.

Off the field the SFA are looking for anther new national team boss. Just 10 months after taking over the reigns from Walter Smith, Alex McLeish resigns his position and is apparently set to take over at Birmingham City;

“Alex had a contract for another two years until 2010 and we were willing to give him another two years with a much better financial deal.” explains SFA chief executive Gordon Smith, feeling more than a little put out;

“We weren't going to allow him to speak to the club (Birmingham).”

By Stephen Orford

28 November 2007

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

5088 Late goals means a draw in Mar

by : Antony Melvin

Several commentators have again mentioned the idea that Liverpool cannot qualify without winning in Marseille; this is odd as it is and was plainly incorrect. If Liverpool had won 2-1 tonight then they would have had to win the final match, but the three goal margin allows for another scenario.

If Liverpool draw the final match in Marseille then they will still qualify as long as Besiktas beat Porto to move onto 9 points. This would leave Liverpool in a three-way points tie for second with Porto and Marseille. At this stage the results between the three teams that are level on points are tallied up to produce a winner, effectively the Besiktas results would be ignored.

Final table if Besiktas win 1-0 and Liverpool draw
Besiktas pl:6 pts:9 gd:-8
Liverpool pl:6 pts:8 gd:+9
Marseille pl:6 pts:8 gd:+1
Porto pl:6 pts:8 gd:-2

The reason why Liverpool would be second is simple. These results would result in a mini-table where all three have 5 points, and while Marseille have a better head-to-head than Liverpool, Porto have a better head-to-head than Marseille and Liverpool are better off than Porto. At this stage it goes down to goal difference between the three and the late goals scored at Anfield mean that Liverpool would top this mini-league and qualify in second place if they draw and Benfica win on the final day.

Liverpool pl:4 pts:5 gd:+2
Marseille pl:4 pts:5 gd:level
Porto pl:4 pts:5 gd:-2

This is confirmed in in the UEFA competition regulations section IV, subsection 6.05 (

6.05 If two or more teams are equal on points on completion of the group matches, the following criteria are applied to determine the rankings:

a) higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the teams in question;
b) superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question;
c) higher number of goals scored away from home in the group matches played among the teams in question;
d) superior goal difference from all group matches played;
e) higher number of goals scored;
f) higher number of coefficient points accumulated by the club in question, as well as its association, over the previous five seasons (see paragraph 8.02).

Group results to date:
Besiktas 2 - 1 Marseille
Liverpool 4 - 1 Porto
Porto 2 - 1 Marseille
Liverpool 8 - 0 Besiktas
Besiktas 2 - 1 Liverpool
Marseille 1 - 1 Porto
Besiktas 0 - 1 Porto
Liverpool 0 - 1 Marseille
Porto 1 - 1 Liverpool
Marseille 2 - 0 Besiktas

Group results without Besiktas:
Liverpool 4 - 1 Porto
Porto 2 - 1 Marseille
Marseille 1 - 1 Porto
Liverpool 0 - 1 Marseille
Porto 1 - 1 Liverpool

5077 Prediction Panel 2007/8: CL 28

by : Antony Melvin

Manchester United (10) v Sporting Lisbon (28), Group F, KO 19:45

Manchester United come off a bad result at the weekend, and with the return of Ronaldo may expect to take out their frustrations on a worried Sporting outfit. Sporting are already three points behind Roma and after that late Roma equaliser last time out Sporting must get more points than Roma to get past them. Sporting can win here and still be eliminated; so their position is very weak - but they can only look after their own result. Carlos Queiroz was quoted in the Portuguese press yesterday as having sent scouts to look at Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho of Sporting; so their performances will be interesting. Expect United to play some fringe players - meaning that this could be closer than it looks.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Home banker
Antony Melvin: Home

Sevilla (6) v Arsenal (5), Group H, KO 19:45

The best two teams in Group H meet, with Sevilla still needing points to qualify. With a 5 point gap over Slavia Prague, Sevilla's task is simple if they draw here they need to at worst suffer a narrow defeat in Prague (Sevilla earlier beat Slavia 4-2) to qualify in the worst case of Slavia winning in Bucharest. If Slavia don't win that match then Sevilla qualify regardless of results elsewhere and this match is a play-off for group leadership. If Sevilla win tonight then they will be favourites to win the group; the Arsenal team is weakened again by the missing Gallas, Adebayor, Clichy and Hleb and so Sevilla stand a real chance. Equally an Arsenal win seals the group and probably offers Arsenal an easier knock-out round draw.

Colin Illingworth: Away
Hugh Larkin; Draw
Antony Melvin: Draw

Steaua Bucharest (25) v Slavia Prague (80), Group H, KO 19:45

In all probability these two will finish in the bottom two in the group, and as Slavia go into the game with a 4 point advantage over Steaua it seems probable that Slavia will grab the UEFA Cup place. Neither side have scored many goals with just 6 bagged between them in 8 games to date and that could point to a low scoring game; both sides will see this as an opportunity to secure a morale boosting win. Steaua have lost all four games to date and will be very motivated to get something from a grim campaign.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Draw
Antony Melvin: Home

VfB Stuttgart (39) v Rangers (33), Group E, KO 19:45

Stuttgart go into this match with nothing to play for in Europe (except those pesky coefficient points) but on the back of some impressive Bundesliga results; back-to-back wins over Bayern Munich (3-1) and Eintracht Frankfurt (4-1) show a return to form for the German champions. If Stuttgart's improvement results in a win tonight it does not take qualification out of Rangers hands and the feeling persists that the final group game against Lyon is being set-up as a decider.

Colin Illingworth: Draw
Hugh Larkin; Draw
Antony Melvin: Home

(the figure in brackets is the current provisional UEFA ranking)In Group A the Liverpool / Porto game is of huge interest to an English audience tonight, and after his spat with the Liverpool owners Rafa Benitez cannot afford to lose; whilst in Besiktas, Marseille will expect to confirm qualification. In Group D Celtic probably need to beat Shakhtar Donetsk if they are to qualify; whilst Milan will look to win the group at Benfica. Chelsea travel to Rosenborg needing a win to qualify; whilst Valencia host Schalke with both clinging to hopes of qualification. Elsewhere Lazio host Olympiakos and Real Madrid travel to Werder Bremen.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007; UEFA Champions League

Benfica (18) v AC Milan (1), Group D, KO 19:45

Bottom meets top in an odd group where no-one is yet eliminated and the possibility remains that the final matchday could start with all four capable of coming top or bottom of the group - these are the groups that UEFA like to see! Milan are struggling domestically but retain an aura in Europe so Benfica will start a home game as outsiders - but need to win it to retain any reasonable hope of qualification. If Benfica win and there is a result in Glasgow then the group will be set up 9-9-6-6 going into the final game; but only wins for Benfica and Shakhtar tonight leave open the possibility of the first 9-9-9-9 group finish.

Colin Illingworth: Away
Hugh Larkin; Away
Antony Melvin: Home

Besiktas (58) v Marseille (23), Group A, KO 19:45

Marseille will qualify tonight if they do better than Liverpool, which indicates that a Liverpool win is vital because Besiktas have been poor with the exception of the home game against Liverpool where everything that could go right, did go right. Besiktas 8-0 defeat at Anfield could well have sapped the confidence out of the team, and although two Besiktas wins could well see them qualify for the last 16, Marseille and Porto will both start as favourites to win their respective games.

Colin Illingworth: Draw
Hugh Larkin; Draw
Antony Melvin: Home

Celtic (38) v Shakhtar Donetsk (35), Group D, KO 19:45

Celtic must maintain their invincible home record if they are to retain much hope ahead of the trip to Milan; a draw will take qualification out of Celtic's hands in Milan in in Portugal, whereas a defeat will see Shakhtar through and require Milan to lose their last two matches for Celtic to progress. Shakhtar are now the best backed Ukrainian team after an influx of new money and shocked Celtic with early goals on a tricky surface - Celtic need to reverse that trick by hitting ensuring that Shakhtar start slowly. Neither side scores many at this level but both have picked up wins in tight games - Celtic have managed two wins despite scoring only three goals; and Shakhtar have two wins from four goals. So expect a tight, narrow encounter where the first goal could settle matters.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Home Banker
Antony Melvin: Home

Lazio (57) v Olympiakos (44), Group C, KO 19:45

In one of the tightest of the CL groups Lazio and Olympiakos have identical records; the two teams drew 1-1 in Greece so if either side wins tonight then the other cannot overtake them. AsMadrid are likely to take the other place a decisive result will probably decide the group positions tonight. Lazio last time out struggled with their discipline and had four players booked and one sent off as they narrowly saw off Werder Bremen to set up this game, so this might be bitty; but Lazio really need to win to progress as a draw will probably mean that they will to travel to Real Madrid and win. Lazio are a strong home team and will expect the win that will see them through.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Home banker
Antony Melvin: Home

5086 Scotland; Is Anyone A Winner

by : Stephen Orford

The SFA are left looking for a new national team manager after Alex McLeish’s decision to step down as Scotland boss today (November 27).

The former Motherwell, Hibs and Rangers manager looks set to replace Steve Bruce at the helm at Birmingham City, and leaves after just 10 months in charge. As the press men line up to speculate on his successor, Scottish fans must be left wondering what they have to do to persuade a manager that leading his country is the highest honour he can receive. McLeish’s predecessor in the job was Walter Smith, who himself lasted only two years in the hot-seat.

All of which is symptomatic of how the club game has all but swallowed up the international scene. While one might stop short of suggesting that the Scotland manager’s job is now a mere stepping stone to a top club job, the evidence suggests that it is not the attraction it once was. Smith’s decision to join Champions League regulars Rangers was understandable at a push, but McLeish’s choice to join a mid to lower table English side has to be seen as a major disappointment for the Scottish game.

It has been said that it is the quality of the English league rather than the Birmingham club which has lured McLeish south. McLeish may argue that the opportunity to pit his wits against old Aberdeen mentor Sir Alex Ferguson aswell as the likes of Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez was too exciting to turn down. Yet in reality the St.Andrews club will not be mixing it with the top four any time soon. Newly promoted and way off the European qualification pace already, even a financial injection from prospective new owner Carson Yeoung won’t provide an overnight remedy. The man capped 77 times by his country will inevitably find it tough to compete, and his first task must surely be to keep Blues in the top flight by the start of next season.

Contrast that with what could have been achieved in Scotland and the decision becomes ever more flawed. A young, improving Scottish squad now has a plethora of talented players who continue to gain top level experience in the UEFA Cup and Champions League. Drawn in World Cup Qualifying Group 9 with Holland, Norway, Macedonia and Iceland, the Scots have every chance of clinching at least a play-off place from that section, and perhaps moving on to the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010. It would represent their first qualification for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France, and is potentially one of the most exciting prospects that any manager could ever dream of being involved in. Not least of all a Scottish manager.

The SFA’s problem now is to try to appoint someone who will not only continue the good work done by Smith and McLeish, but who will add a little stability to the position. Names like the recently sacked Billy Davies, Graeme Souness, George Burley and even the less experienced Gary McAllister have all been mentioned, and all would no doubt do a fine job. Yet what happens when the new man carves out a reputation for himself at world level before sneaking off to join the latest Premier League club to fall on hard times? It’s unthinkable that an England manager might act this way, but it may just be that associations with the limited resources that Scotland have will have to get used to the fact that their top job comes with a short-term brief.

The SFA’s task is not an enviable one, but then neither is McLeish’s.

By Stephen Orford

27 November 2007

5085 Derby County Manager – The con

by : Colin Illingworth

Has Billy Davies paid the price for achieving too much too soon? The former Preston boss said he would take The Rams to the Premiership inside three years, but managed to achieve that aim in just one. He knew that life in the top flight wasn’t going to be a bed of roses but after picking up just six points and failing to gain the full backing of the board he decided it was time to leave.

Now the search is on to find The Rams new manager and there are three names being strongly linked with the vacant position at Pride Park. Here I take a look at those names in the frame and assess their credentials for the job.

Paul Ince

The former Manchester United, Liverpool and England midfielder is gaining a bit of a reputation for himself in the lower leagues and is destined to manage in the top flight at some stage. The bookies believe that it could be sooner rather than later after they suspended bets on him becoming the new Derby boss after just an hour, but is he the man for Pride Park? He’s shown that he can motivate players and turn things around from his time at Macclesfield. And now MK Dons are riding high in League Two under his stewardship. He is one of the game’s brightest young managers and is learning his trade the hard way so he deserves a crack at the big time. But is Derby the right place for him?

Paul Jewell

The former Wigan Athletic and Bradford City boss has been linked with every vacant position since he left the JJB Stadium in May. Jewell turned down the chance to return to Wigan earlier this month and would be a huge catch for Derby County, but I’d be surprised to see him end up at Pride Park. He’s proved that he can mix it with the best in the Premiership and he should be looking for a big club to test his ability. He left Wigan due to stress and I don’t think returning to a relegation battle would be the best thing for him personally.

Steve McClaren

The former Middlesbrough and England boss is back on the market after his dismissal from the national team and could be tempted back into the game by Derby. He’s currently taking a break but, despite failing to qualify for Euro 2008, he does have a credible pedigree as a manager. He was part of Manchester United’s treble winning season, helped Middlesbrough to their first ever trophy and guided them to the UEFA Cup final. However, with Gareth Southgate seemingly on the ropes at the Riverside I think he may be waiting for a call from Steve Gibson.

Other names being mentioned for the vacant post include Joe Royle and Watford’s Aidy Boothroyd, but it looks like the new boss is going to come from the trio of Paul Ince, Paul Jewell and Steve McClaren. If I was pressed to pick one who I thought would take the job I’ve have to say Paul Ince. He’s hungry, ambitious and loves a challenge, and there’s no bigger challenge in the domestic game than trying to keep Derby County in the Premiership.

• Calling all Derby fans. Who would you like to see as your new boss and how do you think Billy Davies was treated by the board? Do Derby have what it takes to stay up or do you think the new man will be planning for life in the Championship?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

5076 Prediction Panel 2007/8: CL 27

by : Antony Melvin

Ian Holloway follows in the footsteps of Martin Allen, who was sacked in September, and Gary Megson, who joined Premier League outfit Bolton Wanderers in October. But despite Leicester sitting in the bottom half of the Championship and having struggled to keep afloat since coming out of administration the former Bristol Rovers player just couldn’t resist the chance to take over at a club that is set up for the Premiership. A fantastic stadium, a loyal fan base and a decent squad of players, The Foxes are definitely better than their league position suggests.

The Championship is an unpredictable league where anyone can beat anyone on their day and a good run of results can see you shooting up the table. Crystal Palace proved that a few years back by storming their way to the Premiership through the play-offs, despite looking doomed for League One at Christmas. Ian Holloway’s record as a manager is pretty decent and has won more games than he’s lost as a manager so can he repeat the feat achieved by Palace? Lance Tomlyn is hopeful.

“I believe we are in a somewhat false position and most of the problems have been brought about by what seems like constant turmoil at the club with three managers already having taken control of the team. This can’t be good for the players or moral. Hopefully a period of stability will see us climb the table and if it’s not too late possibly squeeze into a play-off position.”

Meanwhile Kevin Wells says he expects them to finish “mid to mid-top table”.

“The squad I believe is good enough to challenge for the play-offs and hopefully Holloway can organise them to do that,” he said. “What we are missing is width, and maybe that can be addressed in January.”

The big question facing Ian Holloway though is how he will get on with Milan Mandaric? Martin Allen’s style didn’t exactly go down too well with the Serbian business tycoon and Kevin Wells thinks there’s not much difference between Allen and Holloway. However, Lance Tomlyn believes that Milan will be prepared to give the former Plymouth chief time to transform the club.

“Holloway will last for as long as he keeps winning football matches and if he does so he’ll no doubt become Milan Mandaric’s new best friend, as will with all of the supporters. I know everyone is eager for an instant return to the Premier League but I believe provided the supporters can see steady progress being made in the right direction they will give him the time he needs to grow into the job and I believe Milan Mandaric will do the same.”

Holloway’s Leicester career got off on the right foot on Saturday with a 2-0 win over high-flying Bristol City. Tonight he makes his home debut in front of a near sell-out crowd against Cardiff City hoping to keep that 100 per cent winning record going.

• Calling all Leicester City fans. How do you feel about the appointment? Do you think he is the right man to take Leicester forward? We’d love to hear your views.Three British teams in action tonight and as Manchester United and Arsenal have already qualified attention switches to Rangers who can seal qualification tonight with a win in Stuttgart as long as Lyon don't beat Barcelona. Arsenal contest the group leadership with Sevilla; whilst the other game in Group H sees Steaua Bucharest and Slavia Prague fighting it out for third place, in all probability. Manchester United may already have won their group, but three points against Sporting Lisbon will confirm it; whilst Roma travel to Kiev expecting to secure qualification. Elsewhere PSV travel to Moscow to face CSKA and Inter host Fenerbahce.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007; UEFA Champions League

CSKA Moscow (26) v PSV Eindhoven (13), Group G, KO 17:30

The bottom two in Group G meet and CSKA can only reach the UEFA Cup and PSV need two wins and either Fenerbahce or Inter Milan to lose their matches. The group started well for PSV who beat CSKA 2-1 in the opening fixture to top the group on 19 September. But since then just one point from three games with Fenerbahce and Inter Milan leaves them realistically looking to secure UEFA Cup football against another Moscow side to find this competition difficult. A draw will see PSV secure third.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Home
Antony Melvin: Draw

Dynamo Kiev (67) v Roma (17), Group F, KO 19:45

Roma will look to wrap up qualification away in Kiev against a Ukrainian side that is yet to register a point. But with Sporting travelling to Old Trafford, assuming Sporting lose then Dynamo can maintain a hope of a third place finish by avoiding defeat here and surely cannot be as lacklustre as in their two games against Manchester United. Roma have a superior head-to-head than Sporting and a win here will guarantee qualification without worrying about having to secure a result against United in the final game. Roma are a compact, intelligent outfit and will expect to win.

Colin Illingworth: Draw
Hugh Larkin; Away
Antony Melvin: Away

Inter Milan (8) v Fenerbahce (47), Group G, KO 19:45

The top two teams in Group G meet and Inter have won all three games in the group since the opening day defeat to Fener. Both should qualify with a point or two more needed for a guarantee; so this game is more about who wins the group. Fener will be delighted to take that contest to the final game, but for that they will need to avoid defeat in Milan - which is a tough ask. Inter are extremely short odds favourites despite the earlier reverse.

Colin Illingworth: Home
Hugh Larkin; Away
Antony Melvin: Home

Lyon (7) v Barcelona (4), Group E, KO 19:45

Lyon are desperate for something from this game because the two defeats to Rangers mean that they have to get at least two more points from the final two games than the Glasgow team. Barcelona are just about qualified; the only scenario that can eliminate them is a 3-0 or worse defeat here and then a similar defeat at home to Stuttgart on the final day combined with Rangers beating Stuttgart tonight and drawing with Lyon on the final day; leaving an 11-10-10-3 group with Barca eliminated on goal difference. But that is a hugely unlikely turn of events. Lyon need to get something from this game and hope Stuttgart can beat Rangers and then travel to Ibrox and beat Rangers. Lyon have two cup finals just to reach the knock-out stages.

Colin Illingworth: Away
Hugh Larkin; Draw
Antony Melvin: Home


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