80 club sides through out Europe will be looking ahead to their European campaigns. We, of course, are in that pack, and the most recent podcast from The European Hangover goes into detail about what we can expect and hope to achieve from our clashes with Villarreal, Rapid Vienna & Spartak Moscow. If you haven't already, give it a listen, the three experts put in a hell of a lot of work and research.
I'm going to briefly summarise my thoughts on the Champions League & Europa League groups, starting with THE CHAMPIONS (to the tune of...well you know what I'm getting at). A - Atletico Madrid look comfortable favourites, with Dortmund a likely second. Monaco cannot keep selling their stars and expect to progress, Brugge look happy to be there. B - Group of Death. Inter and PSV can at least challenge Barcelona, who should top this group, whilst Spurs could go either way, but should be looking to progress too. C - If Napoli can get their act together and be the side that looked so good last term, then this group will be fascinating. Liverpool and PSG seen as likely top 2 candidates, whilst Red Star Belgrade should be thrilled to get some lovely away trips. D - This always happens, every year there is one shitter of a group, step forward D. Any of the 4 can win this group in all honesty, but for the wrong reasons. E - Easy street for Bayern, who should waltz through this group. Any of Ajax, AEK & Benfica can also advance. F - City will probably feel the same as Bayern, although Shakhtar know how to beat them in this competition of course. Hoffenheim will be intriguing, Lyon could either be brilliant or crap, no middle ground. G - Real Madrid make it a hat trick of heavy group favourites, Roma should come second in all honesty, CSKA and Viktoria Plzen likely to battle it out for third. H - Tasty group to finish up, Juventus should be favourites but have yet to kick into gear yet. Manchester United have also made a sluggish start, as have Valencia. It'll likely be a battle between Juve and Man U for top spot, although if the Red Devils aren't careful, Los Che could catch them out for 2nd. Young Boys need to grow up considerably to stand a chance, see what I did there?
I won't go into such depth in the Europa League, but pick out three groups that I think could be the Ones to Watch. B - The Red Bull Derby! An inevitability that these two would play each other, you wonder if these ties will be won and lost on the wings (get it?) and our smelly neighbours will see themselves as progression candidates but it will not be easy at all. F - Real Betis, Milan & Olympiacos could all beat each other, will be a tight race for who gets through, at this stage it's too early to tell. H - similar story to F, Lazio, Marseille & Eintracht Frankfurt all viable candidates to advance. Marseille want to go that one step further and actually win the competition this time, so will likely take this more seriously than the other two.
David Marshall informs us of new leaders in the Northern Irish Premiership, as well as a remarkable milestone for a goalkeeper:
We have new leaders in the Irish Premiership as Coleraine top the table for the first time this season. Former leaders Linfield were held to a draw for the second week in a row. A disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Ards will be frustrating when they managed a 1-1 away to Cliftonville after being reduced to 10 men the week before. This meant all attentions turned to Monday night as Coleraine took on current champions Crusaders in North Belfast. Josh Carson gave Coleraine the lead in the first half and a brace from Jamie McGonigle sent the Bannsiders top of the league on goal difference. A final word and tip of the hat to Glentoran goalkeeper Elliot Morris. He made his 700th appearance for the Glens in their 1-1 draw with Glenavon on Saturday.
Chris Marshall is all about Derbies in his latest Spanish report:
Derby Fever swept La Liga this weekend as there was not one, not two, not even three but four taking place across the country. In the first of the weekend Eibar picked up their first points of the season as they defeated Real Sociedad 2-1 at Ipurea extending the San Sebastian side’s 6 game winless run against their Basque neighbours, one that extends back to Eibar’s very first game as a Spanish top tier side. Friday night also saw Villarreal continue their decidedly iffy start to the season with a 1-0 loss at home to Girona, a sucker punch from Christian Stuani being a jab that they were unable to recover from after a dominant if ultimately fruitless first half display from those aboard the Yellow Submarine. On Saturday night Real Madrid cruised past neighbours Leganes who are still finding their feet under Maurizio Pellegrino. A leaner and meaner Karim Benzema in particular looking a player rejuvenated under Lopetegui and whilst there will be bigger challenges to come Los Meringues have made a strong start to the season highlighted by this 4-1 victory.
Sunday saw the two big derbies of the weekend (in Spain) take place. Fans of both Levante and Valencia were not only rewarded for their early afternoon in the 35 degree aun with a total of 50,000 bottles of water and 18,000 baseball caps but also a highly entertaining Valencian Derby as ten man Levante held on for a 2-2 draw despite seeing Coke sent off with 15 minutes to go. The heat in particular has caused problems across the early La Liga season with cooling breaks being a frequent addition on the half hour mark of each half and the Valencia Deby in particular was played in spite of pleas to the league from local health officials and the two sides for the game to be moved to later in the day. A decision made even more baffling when you just one week previous a game in Seville was moved for that very reason. Speaking of Seville the final game of the jornada saw Real Betis play Sevilla in “El Gran Derbi”, a game that may not have the profile of an El Clasico or a Madrid Derby but almost certainly exceeds it in terms of atmosphere, experience and - in recent history - match quality. This encounter may have lacked the goals of the last time the two sides met when Real Betis won 5-3 at the Sanchez Pizjuan but it was as frantic as ever with the turning point coming in the 66th minute when Roque Mesa was controversially shown a second yellow card after being put in a jumping headlock by Betis keeper Pau Lopez. It wasn’t until the 80th minute though that the magic happened. Substitute and Verdiblanco icon Joaquin found himself on the end of a wonderful cross from Aissa Mandi to send the Benito Villamarin into raptures. A 37 year old transported back to childhood dreams of scoring the winning goal against his sides greatest rivals, to say he was delighted would be an understatement.
If you want to hear more about the rest of last weekends La Liga action, check out the Isco Inferno. Until then, hasta luego!
Adam Stark tells us about Hungarian footballs sole representatives in European competition this season, a once great football nations only hope:
Hungarian Football breathed a collective sigh of relief. MOL Vidi have qualified for the Europa League group stages this year by virtue of making it to the Play-Offs of the Champions League. You might remember they were due to face the other half of the Old Firm, that was until AEK Athens snuffed that particular dream. Vidi tried but fell just short in the end and AEK Athens progressed into the premium European Club competition. Oddly enough, MOL Vidi were the last Hungarian side to make it to the groupstages of a major European tournament, with the side doing so in the 2012/13 season, they were known as Videoton back then. With all of the larger and more illustrious Budapest side failing this season, the weight of Hungarian footballing expectation lands squarely on the shoulders of the Serbian manager Marko Nikolić and veteran club captain Roland Juhász.
I suppose the strangest thing about MOL Vidi, you probably know them better as Videoton. The club based in Hungary's 9th largest City (Székesfehérvár) has gone through a grand total of 16 name changes in the proceeding years since it's inception in 1941. Videoton proving to be the most popular iteration, with the club having the moniker 6 times, up to and including before the very start of this season. You would think after 77 years and 16 name changes the fans would be used to the ever changing name but most are unhappy with it. In slightly betteerr news for MOL Vidi fans were drawn in the Europa League groupstages against Chelsea, BATE Borisov and PAOK Salonika. As you can imagine the club are very excited at the prospect of hosting Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea but the catch is they wont be. Well not really anyway. MOL Vidi are currently awaiting the final stages in the building of a new stadium and will have to play all of their games in Budapest at the Groupma Arena, the home of current league rivals Ferencváros. During qualifying they played at the Pancho Arena but that stadium fails to meet the requirements to host European football proper, according to Uefa anyway. So MOL Vidi, Hungary's only representation in European Football this season have no stadium, a new name and absolutely zero expectations. They are a team worth keeping an eye on.
Scot van den Akker with the latest from his homeland and neighbouring areas:
No shocks at the top or the bottom....the four bookies tips for the 1-4 places are indeed where they should be: PSV top with full points from 4 games, Ajax 2nd, Feyenoord 3rd and AZ 4th. The bottom group also contains all 3 promoted clubs....again no shocks other than perhaps Groningen being 2nd from bottom after a terrible start.
Same as Holland, and perhaps indicative of how football is developing...the top four are as expected: Brugge, Genk, Anderlecht and Gent. No shocks at the bottom either. It does seem that bigger crowds, and regular money from European competition is seeing some clubs leave the others behind with small 'elites' being formed all across Europe.
There is one surprise so far....European giant killers F91 are bottom. The Dudelange side threw eveyrthing into EL qualification, and had a game postponed for them by the FA, and are bottom but do have 2 games in hand over almost every other team in the league. Early leaders Jeunesse d'Esch have maximum points from 4 games with a game in hand....against F91!
Thanks, as always, to those who have contributed to The Binge so far. A final word from me:
It's international break weekend, club sides throughout the land are taking stock of what they have done so far this season. The break has come at the best or worst possible time, with each team having their own unique take on that slant. From our point of view, it absolutely has, as we have played a plethora of games already, and travelled great distances. Of course you have that fear in the back of your head that one of your key players will pick up an injury whilst representing his country, and there is sod all you can do about that other than try to replace within your own squad as best you can, all the while moaning about the concept of international football in the first place. We've all done it. However, when you see Borna Barasic starting for Croatia (second best team in the world, kind of) you can't help but feel a bit proud.
Thanks for reading,
James Forrest (@No_Not_That_1)