Prediction: Athletic Bilbao vs Getafe

31st October 2010

Athletic Bilbao remained in the top part of the table despite the 4:3 defeat to Sevilla, and they now look to return to wining ways at their San Mames, the stadium that has become a real fortress over the years. After hammering Sporting Gijon last weekend at home, Getafe are hoping to improve their away form as well, although they remain the underdogs in this tie.

After several years of staring relegation in the face, Athletic Bilbao have established themselves as a real mid table team and their good showings this season are by no means a surprise. Joaquin Caparros’ men tend to pick up most of their points at the Cathedral, where their fans create a magnificent atmosphere and make the team give their best in every single match, so it is little wonder Athletic boast such a good home record. They did lose to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona there this season, but easily beat Mallorca and Zaragoza, proving any team outside the title contenders have nothing to hope for in Bilbao. Following the good showing in Seville, Joaquin Caparros’ side beat giant slayers Alcorcon in Copa del Rey and they now enter the Getafe game high on confidence. The hosts are missing Amorebieta and Ocio, while important midfielder, Javi Martinez, remains a doubt after pulling his muscle in the Alcorcon game.

Following a very successful La Liga campaign last term, Getafe made it to Europa League this season and, unaccustomed to the busy schedule, the team left a very poor impression at the start of new La Liga campaign. They showed some improvement lately, but that is only true for their performances at Coliseum Alfonso Perez, as el Geta continue to struggle on the travels. After losing three straight away games, Getafe could only muster a 1:1 draw away to fourth division side Portugalete, showing they are a completely different side when they leave Alfonso Perez. Taking all that into account, I just don’t see how they can stop Athletic from winning this game, especially as the match will be played at the notorious Cathedral. Boss Michel also faces a real selection headache with Jaime Gavilan, Nico Pareja, Mario Alvarez, Miguel Torres, Mane and Javier Casquero all on the sidelines.

Conclusion

If the match were to be played at neutral ground, there wouldn’t be too much separating the two sides, but seeing these are both genuine home sides, Athletic have got to be considered favourites here. The Basques seem to be in good enough form to defeat one of the worst travelers in La Liga and my advice is to back the hosts to win.

Verdict: Home win Athletic Bilbao (1)

Best Odds: 21/20

Bookmaker: 888sport

Sun 31 October, 2010
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´No excuses´ for Smith as Rangers held

Walter Smith refused to blame player burnout after Rangers saw their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League reduced to one point as Inverness Caledonian Thistle struck late to snatch a 1-1 draw at Ibrox.

A superb strike from Maurice Edu early in the first-half looked to be enough to continue the Gers’ winning run on Saturday.

But despite chances to increase their lead it was substitute Eric Odhiambo who prodded home the equaliser eight minutes from time as Inverness remain undefeated away from home since November 2009.

Rangers’ were aiming for their best start to a season for 112 years but the Ibrox side have had a tough run of games with matches against Champions League rivals Valencia, Celtic, a League Cup quarter-final against Kilmarnock and Inverness in the space of the past 10 days.

Smith’s small squad has been stretched thin with only four new players signed in the past two years coupled with several summer departures but the manager said tiredness shouldn’t come into the equation at this stage of the season.

“I don’t think tiredness is a factor and I don’t think warnings are necessary,” the Rangers manager said.

“We have got a lot of big games and it is going to be difficult but it would be difficult for any group of players.

“When you look over the teams that have to play in the Champions League it is difficult, you have to say that.

“If someone wants to use that as an excuse on our part then fine but I’m certainly not using that one; I’d rather be involved in the Champions League than not.

“When we look at our performance it wasn’t up to what we would have expected from our team.”

Rangers were looking for their tenth win in a row in the league to maintain the three-point advantage they gained over Celtic following their 3-1 win in last weekend’s Old Firm derby.

But their draw coupled with the Hoops 3-0 win over ten-men St Johnstone reduced the deficit to just one.

And Smith said it was a sloppy performance against an Inverness side who were the last team to win in the league at Ibrox some 19 months ago.

“?I am just disappointed as normally in the second-half of the game slackness can creep in but it was happening in the first-half,” the Rangers manager said.

“We warned them at half-time that unless they stepped up their game there was a possibility Caley could get back in.

“In the second-half Allan McGregor had one great save and that should have been enough of a warning for us but unfortunately it wasn’t and we lost a goal so we have no complaints.

“I felt Caley themselves played very well and were very compact and difficult to break down.

“But really we never reached or played at the pace that we should have during the game.

“We always look at ourselves and our own performances more than anything else and that wasn’t one of our best ones.”

Goalscorer Edu came off at half-time after he failed to recover from a bad challenge by Richie Foran, which saw the Inverness skipper booked. And Smith revealed the midfielder was a doubt for Tuesday’s trip to Valencia.

“We will have to see how it is. He took a bad kick to his calf,” the Gers gaffer said.

“Vladimir Weiss has also had a bit of a heel injury that was causing him a little bit of a problem even in the warm-up.

“He had to come off at half-time as well so both are doubtful for Tuesday’s game.”

At McDiarmid Park a Niall McGinn double and a Emilio Izaguirre goal got Celtic back to winning ways with a 3-0 win over St Johnstone who had Danny Grainger sent off late on.

Sun 31 October, 2010
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Allardyce hails Chelsea as ´champions-elect´

Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce believes his side were beaten by the team destined to win the Premier League this season after Chelsea battled to a 2-1 victory at Ewood Park.

Carlo Ancelotti’s defending champions were stunned by an opening goal from Benjani Mwaruwari, the Zimbabwe forward’s first in almost two years.

But a Nicolas Anelka equaliser before the interval on Saturday was followed by a dramatic late winner from Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic, which secured three points and maintained the west London club’s five-point lead over second placed Arsenal.

The resilient nature of Chelsea’s win convinced Allardyce that, barring costly injuries, the Blues have the wherewithal to hold off the Manchester clubs, Arsenal and any other potential challengers, as they attempt to retain the English crown.

“I think they look like champions again,” he said. “They have a very, very experienced squad with a few young players who are gaining experience.

“It will be about not getting too many injuries in the wrong areas for them – as it is for all of us. You have to keep your best players fit.

“They have strength in depth and they have the punishing side of the game as well.

“They are ruthless. When they are losing or being outplayed, they hang in there.

“Look at their first goal – quality. They make two passes and with the third pass, it’s a goal.

“They have outstanding quality that can punish you at any time. The ball for Ivanavic’s goal was an outstanding ball.”

Blues boss Ancelotti carried a characteristically unemotional air in post-match interviews although he did not attempt to disguise the importance of his team’s victory – even if he did see them concede a league goal for the first time in 501 minutes.

“It was an important result, obviously,” he said. “It is very difficult to play here and the win meant we maintained our position at the top of the league.

“We were prevented from playing in the first half. They put us under strong pressure in the first half and they stopped us playing our football, but in the second half we were lucky but played much better.

“We knew that this is a hard place to come. Every team has difficulty winning here. Blackburn at home are a very good team.

“It was very important to win here and stay top. We are in a good position and are confident we will improve with this victory.”

Although it was hard to detect, Ancelotti’s mood must have been helped by the display of Russian Yuri Zhirkov who crossed for Ivanovic’s winning goal, to cap a thoroughly effective all-round individual performance.

“I said that when Yuri Zhirkov scored against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League his confidence improved,” Ancelotti said.

“He is now playing continuously and is showing good performances. He made the assist against Wolves and did it again.

“He is a very efficient player and showed that when he replaced (injured) Ashley Cole (at left-back) last season.”

Meanwhile, despite the impressive manner of his team’s display, Allardyce was forced to concede that the league table makes alarming reading for his side as they attempt to avoid becoming embroiled in a relegation fight.

“We played as well as we possibly can but needed to convert more of the chances we created into goals,” he said.

“It was pleasing to create so many chances against such a big team and to give them such a good game but we got the ultimate kick in the teeth.

“You have to punish the opposition when you get chance because a team as good as Chelsea will take full advantage if you don’t.”

Sun 31 October, 2010
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Wenger salutes ´mature´ Arsenal

Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal’s 1-0 victory over West Ham confirms they now have the maturity to launch a sustained title challenge.

Alex Song’s 88th minute header secured a victory that looked likely to elude Wenger’s side as they battled to remain in touch with leaders Chelsea.

Had they drawn the game against the side who sit bottom of the table, Arsenal would have fallen seven points behind Chelsea after ten games of the campaign.

But Song’s late winner transformed a potentially disappointing afternoon into a triumph that was marred only by a recurrence of Cesc Fabregas’s hamstring injury that could keep the midfielder out of Wednesday’s Champions League trip to face Shakhtar Donetsk.

“It was a relief because when you win with two minutes to go it is always a relief,” said Wenger.

“We needed to be intelligent, patient not to make a mistake at the back with the West Ham team who had a strong spirit and were well organised. We didn’t do anything stupid. We were intelligent.

“We kept going and out of this game you can say we had a great attitude and we have matured.

“You can see that in the way we handled when it doesn’t work for us. I believe that the players remain calmer than before.”

And referring to Arsenal’s prospects in the title race, he added: “I believe we have a good chance but we want to show consistency first. We go step by step.

“We still need to step up a gear to achieve that but on the other hand there is more to come from this team because they are still players to come back and we had good potential on the bench. So if we keep a good injury record we have a chance.

“It’s too early in the season but I have belief. We need to show now from game to game that we can handle every single game with the different aspect that the Premier league has.

“We played against the bottom team and it was a real battle. We have to show we can compete like that in every game.”

Wenger was concerned by Fabregas’s injury but took heart from the fact that he finished the 90 minutes.

“It was really important we had Cesc, my concern now is there is no setback,” Wenger said. “He played a bit within himself, he had a little tension in his hamstring so we hope there is no setback.

“At half time I hesitated to take him off but then he got better and better.”

West Ham manager Avram Grant acknowledged his side are in a difficult position rooted at the foot of the table with just six points but believes the performance at the Emirates Stadium offered cause for optimism.

“I’m not thinking about history,” he said, in response to the suggestion that teams at the foot of the table at this stage of the season often struggle to pull clear.

“Things are possible or not possible but we are not in a situation now that we cannot do it. We need to win games and we will try to win the next game.

“There are six or seven months until the end of the season. Even if we were in this situation in April I would still think we could do it.

“We are not in a good situation in the league but the team is playing good football, they fight and they are not giving up and that is a good base for the future.”

Sun 31 October, 2010
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Brazil: Cruzeiro win at Gremio Prudente

(GSM) – Cruzeiro maintain their pressure on Brazilian Serie A leaders Fluminense, beating Gremio Prudente 0-2 in Saturday’s league action.

Fluminense beat Gremio 2-0 on Friday, forcing Cruzeiro to earn three points themselves in order to remain level on points with their rivals.

Leo drew first blood at the match between Gremio Prudente and Cruzeiro, putting the visitors in the lead after 18 minutes. Robert added a second goal five minutes before the break.

Both Fluminense and Cruzeiro have 57 points with six rounds to go. ‘Flu’ have a better goal record.

Fourth-placed Botafogo took distance from Santos, beating Atletico Mineiro 0-2 with second-half goals from Edno and Sebastian Abreu.

Santos were held to a 1-1 draw at Internacional in Porto Alegre. Ze Eduardo netted the opener after 78 minutes but the home side had the final say as Leandro Damiao leveled three minutes later.

Sun 31 October, 2010
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No fear of sack for Mancini after City slump

Roberto Mancini claimed he does not fear the sack at Manchester City after experiencing a second successive defeat.

But Mancini admitted City can forget about lifting the Premier League title if they are to lose more games against the lesser teams, following a bitterly disappointing 2-1 defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The Italian is under increasing pressure at Eastlands after this setback came in the same week three of his players were caught on video drinking alcohol at a party in Scotland.

And he was fielding questions about his job security again as City continue to stumble in their bid to look like authentic title contenders.

“I do not feel the pressure, I am not worried about that [the sack]. But of course we have to win these games, because we are a very good team,” Mancini said.

“But we have to play all the games at 115 percent, not 15 percent. We played only in the first 20 minutes. We played very well and only scored one goal, even though we had other chances.

“We have a good team spirit because we started the season very well. We lost against Arsenal because we played with one player less.

“We had fantastic spirit there but today we didn’t play very well. We missed Carlo [Tevez] and Nigel [de Jong] but we have the players to beat any team. We must understand why we lost.”

Emmanuel Adebayor?s penalty gave the visitors the lead but Nenad Milijas rewarded Wolves?s pressure with a fiercely struck equaliser.

City fell behind early in the second period when David Edwards beat Joe Hart from close range and despite a late bombardment in search of an equaliser, Mick McCarthy was celebrating his first win in six attempts against his opponents.

Mario Balotelli, the Italy international, was virtually anonymous on his first Premier League start since his 24 million pound move from Inter Milan while Adebayor reacted petulantly when he was substituted late in the game.

“I took him off because I wanted to try something. But Manu played very well. He wasn’t happy but that is normal. We have another game on Thursday,” Mancini said.

McCarthy insisted this victory – Wolves’s first in the Premier League since the opening day – was a triumph for team spirit.

Wolves remain in the bottom three of the Premier League and face Manchester United (away) and Arsenal (home) in their next two games.

“Without team spirit we’d really be struggling. This was fully deserved. When we get beaten and we’re propping the league up and I’m saying we’re playing well and the team spirit is good, it sounds awful when you’re down there,” he said.

“But that performance and result just shows what the lads are all about. I think that result has been coming and it wasn’t a rabbit out of the hat, we’ve been playing well.”

Sun 31 October, 2010
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Liverpool still one of the world´s best: Hodgson

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson will take his struggling squad to play Bolton on Sunday convinced the Reds are still a top option for the world’s greatest players.

Despite sitting in the Premier League relegation zone after just two wins so far this season, Hodgson is adamant the lure of a move to Anfield will be enough to help him strengthen his squad with some top-class additions when the transfer window reopens in January.

Since replacing Rafa Benitez in the close-season, Hodgson has never hidden his concerns about the weakness of his squad, something this season’s results seem to support, and he is determined to bring in several new signings.

However, after discussions with Liverpool’s new owners, New England Sports Ventures (NESV), Hodgson is also refusing to be held to ransom in his bid to help Liverpool return to the summit of English football.

Liverpool co-owner John W Henry has reassured the club’s fans that none of their current crop of top stars are going anywhere in January and Hodgson is confident he can buy – but only when Liverpool’s valuation of a player is met.

“If we want the right quality, we have got to be prepared to pay the right price,” he said.

“The owners know that perfectly well. We have got to make certain that if we go out and spend 20 million pounds, we are getting a 20 million pounds player.

“We want to be attracting the players that Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter are chasing. It would be nice to think that we can shop at a high level.

“I’m like all managers in that I’m wary of the January transfer window. I think it can be dangerous as clubs try to correct mistakes.

“But, having said that, we are going to be very interested in trying to improve our squad in January. There is no question about that. I am sure we will sign players.”

In what would have been a surprise at the start of the season, Bolton sit in the top half of the table while Liverpool are struggling at the bottom and Hodgson is full of praise for the job that Owen Coyle has done at the club since joining from Burnley last season.

“I respect Bolton as a side and as a football club,” he added. “They are an established Premier League side and deserve to be. Sam Allardyce started it and Owen Coyle has kept that going and it will not be an easy encounter.”

Despite being above Liverpool in the league, Coyle is refusing to take the encounter for granted and urged Liverpool to give Hodgson time to turn around the club’s current situation.

“Liverpool are very much a team in a transitional period, and it was always going to be difficult for any manager,” Coyle said.

“Roy has come in and he is an outstanding manager, always has been, and everywhere he has been across the world he has done a fantastic job.

“All Roy Hodgson needs is time because there is no doubt in my opinion he will turn Liverpool into the force they have been known for, a club that will challenge for honours year in year out.

“But we all know that in this league it only takes two or three results to turn that on its head and to be catapulted up there.

“This is not a team that is detached. We know this is a team that, within a couple of wins, can really push themselves up the table.”

Sun 31 October, 2010
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Portugal: Porto win again, Braga lose

(GSM) – Porto continue to dominate the Portuguese league, as the leaders added yet another victory away to Academica on Saturday.

The only goal of the match, played in the city of Coimbra, came in the final minutes of the first half as Silvestre Varela directed the ball past Academica keeper Romuald Peiser.

Porto are seven points ahead of Benfica, their nearest rivals in the league ranking.

Sporting Braga weren’t as successful, suffering a 2-0 defeat at Rio Ave. Ze Gomez (72nd) and Joao Tomas (82nd) provided the goals.

Sun 31 October, 2010
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Record breaking Del Piero caps Juve win

(GSM) – Alessandro Del Piero became Juventus’ all-time record goalscorer in Serie A after his goal helped his side clinch a 2-1 victory over Milan at the San Siro.

The Italian legend scored Juve’s second in the 65th minute, adding to Fabio Quagliarella’s opener, to register his 179th top-flight goal.

Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up an exciting finish with an 82nd minute goal against one of his former clubs, but it did not prevent Juve moving into the top four of Serie A.

Home side Milan started the game at a furious pace, however, Italy striker Quagliarella silenced much of the crowd with a perfect header after 24 minutes.

Del Piero then struck a scrappy goal, following in after Mohamed Sissoko had failed to produce a shot on target when one-on-one with Christian Abbiati.

The goal allowed the 35-year-old to overtake 1950s great Giampiero Boniperti in Juve’s record goalscorers.

Sat 30 October, 2010
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Redknapp angry at ref for Nani goal

(GSM) – Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp has directed his anger at referee Mark Clattenburg after allowing Nani’s controversial goal to stand.

Spurs lost at Old Trafford with a 2-0 scoreline with Nani claiming the second, which left Redknapp to claim that the official had failed to spot a handball by the Portuguese.

Nani scored in the 85th minute when Gomes had placed the ball down, seemingly thinking his side had been awarded a free-kick in his area.

But the Red Devils winger swooped on the ball to score and referee Clattenburg, after consulting with his assistant, allowed the goal to stand amidst furious protests from the Spurs players.

“It was handball. He put his hand on the ball and dragged it down,” Redknapp told ESPN.

“He should have been booked. The referee didn’t see him handball it, that’s why he’s allowed play to go on. The assistant referee has seen it, that’s why he’s flagged.

“He’s [Clattenburg] gone over and he’s told him what he did, he should disallow the goal. He’s handled the ball. If he’s handled the ball he should be booked and it’s a free-kick. So Gomes put the ball down for a free-kick.

“If you look at [Darren] Fletcher he’s called Nani to get back into position because he thinks we’re going to counter attack from the free-kick. Gomes puts the ball down to take a free-kick. It’s obvious. Why would he stand there and leave the ball there after he saw him handball it?”

Redknapp said his side may have been able to claim a point if the goal had been disallowed, despite the fact they had already trailed to Nemanja Vidic’s first-half header.

“You never know, the game lasts 90 minutes,” Redknapp said. “You dont know, we’re one down we may get another opportunity to score. You don’t know.”

However, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson believes Spurs goalkeeper Gomes was to blame for United’s controversial second, claiming the Brazilian “should have known better”.

“It was bizarre,” Ferguson told ESPN. “No-one knew at the time what was wrong. One minute the goalkeeper had the ball in his hands and next it’s in his net. Nani looked back and looked at the referee and the referee said play on, so what can he do but put the ball in the net?

“You can look at the referee and look at the linesmen and blame them, but the goalkeeper should know better. He’s an experienced goalkeeper. I thought he made a mess of it. I thought it was a penalty first of all and I think Nani felt he handled the ball. But the referee didn’t blow for it.

“The referee played on because the goalkeeper took possession of the ball. He then went to take a free-kick thinking it was a foul. He made an error.”

Sat 30 October, 2010
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