Niko Kovac’s job looks safe at Bayern Munich after shaky start


Niko Kovac looked like he was out of his depth for much of this Bundesliga season with German giants Bayern Munich. But the Croatian seems to have turned things around at the club after Bayern went on a five game winning run before the traditional Christmas break in Germany.

In the process after being as low as 5th this season Bayern have roared back and are just six points behind league leaders Borussia Dortmund. The league does not start again until January 18th.

It has been quite a rollercoaster few months for Kovac with the pressure meter constantly at 10, but the club have responded and it is thought that club directors are more than happy with Bayern’s performances. This is bad news for Arsene Wenger, with the former Arsenal manager having been linked to the club. Jose Mourinho was directly linked also after he was sacked from Manchester United last month.

If anything Kovac has bought himself some time and it seems with Champions League qualification also in his back pocket that he won’t be sacked this season at least.

Kovac has had much to say about the campaign claiming that teams around Bayern have improved and this has been a much tougher season than the last one. Kovac said Bayern’s official website. “I feel we’re the Bayern from the start of the season again, that we’ve restored our ease and confidence – and that the lads are fired up to give it everything and put up a fierce fight against Borussia Dortmund. It was a half year with many facets, very emotional, and certainly not boring. We had many good periods but also had to weather difficult ones. However, taken altogether we’re on a good track, and at the end of the day our conclusion to the six months is positive.”

Kovac continued, “Of course we wished for a good start. We worked very hard for it during pre-season. We dominated the matches. The lads wanted to assert themselves after the arrival of a new coach. The performances in training and in matches were correspondingly strong.”

With Bayern pulling three points clear of 3rd place Borussia Monchengladbach it seems that the league has turned into a two horse race and at least it will be an exciting finish in Germany this season. As for Kovac if Bayern do not win the league his job does look like being in the balance, because 2nd just isn’t good enough for a club like Bayern.

Still after a difficult start at least Kovac has won the first round and is looking good to steer Bayern to silverware this season, against for some, all the odds.

Celtic Park Set To Host Another Epic Battle


Celtic host Monchengladbach in the Champions League on Wednesday and the home form of Celtic in this competition is quite something to behold. A capacity Celtic Park on a Champions League night really is a special occasion and as well as giving the home side an extra spring in their step, seems to strike fear into the greatest of opposition.

Last time out, after being roundly thrashed in Camp Nou they faced a Manchester City side who were on top form and coming on the back of ten wins on the trot. The bookmakers had already written off Celtic’s chances, marking down Manchester City as 1/7 favourites and rating the hoops chances at 10/1. Moussa Dembele, who signed from Fulham in the summer, opened the scoring with just 3 minutes on the clock and this kicked off what will be remembered as another epic night as the sides slugged out a 3-3 draw. Dembele went on to claim a brace for the night, with Raheem Sterling also scoring two, although he may want to forget his own goal.

European giants such as Juventus, Manchester United and lately Barcelona have all come to Glasgow and left the city obsessed with football with nothing. In fact, Celtic, with 25 Champions League home fixtures have lost just three, drawn six and won sixteen, and if they make it seventeen against Borussia Monchengladbach, they will put themselves in a strong position for at least a third place finish.

In 2012, under Neil Lennon’s guidance, they were drawn in a group containing an all-conquering Barcelona. Victor Wanyama, who now plies his trade with Tottenham Hotspur following his summer move from Southampton opened the scoring, rising high above a static Barcelona defence to head into the net, on that memorable night. With Celtic leading 1-0, Lennon baffled the support by bringing on young striker Tony Watt who went on to score a goal he will never forget as the Hoops took a 2-0 lead. Lionel Messi did manage a consolation goal that night in the 91st minute, but once again the fortress of Celtic Park saw off another challenger.

With Borussia Monchengladbach pointless in the group, they know a defeat here would virtually spell the end of their European campaign this season. Striker Andre Hahn is expecting a no-holds barred match and is adamant that Monchengladbach will be up for the fight. Celtic on the other hand, will run out once again to a rocking Celtic Park, savour the legendary atmosphere and go all out to get that seventeenth home win.

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Barca and Bayern record resounding victories in the Champions League

Euro 2016Barcelona and Bayern Munich began their 2016-2017 Champions League campaigns with resounding victories as they each produced extremely impressive performances.

Both teams are aspiring to win a sixth European Cup title and commenced their respective quests to achieve that in a supremely confident and positive manner.

In doing so the two sides showcased their credentials as strong contenders to once again reach the latter stages of European’s football’s elite club competition, the final of which is to be held in the Cardiff National Stadium on 3 June 2017.

Barcelona breeze past Celtic

In terms of Barcelona’s potential journey to Cardiff, that started with Luis Enrique’s side inflicting a 7-0 defeat on Celtic at the Nou Camp, which represents the Glasgow club’s heaviest ever European loss.

As they have so often done since first playing together at the start of season 2014-2015, Barcelona’s forward triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez delivered an attacking masterclass to ruthlessly torment Celtic.

Whereas Messi scored a hat-trick, the 29-year-old’s sixth in the Champions League, Neymar beat Celtic goalkeeper Dorus De Vries with a wonderful free-kick and also provided four goal-scoring assists, whilst Suarez completed the scoring with Barca’s sixth and seventh goals.

Subsequently in just over two seasons playing alongside one another, the South American trio have now scored a combined 266 goals and assisted a further 128.  Equally as influential a figure for Barcelona as Lionel Messi,  Neymar and Luis Suarez are, is Andres Iniesta, who also scored against Celtic as the 32-year-old strives to become a five times Champions League winner with the Catalan giants, after helping them triumph in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015.

Ancelotti guides Bayern to impressive win over Rostov

In the latter of those four years, Barcelona beat Juventus 3-1 in the final, after recording a 5-3 semi-final aggregate victory over Bayern Munich.  The Bavarian giants opened up their current Champions League campaign by comprehensively beating FC Rostov 5-0, as Bayern’s Carlo Ancelotti became the first man to manage seven clubs in the competition.  The 57-year-old Italian’s wealth of Champions League managerial experience was previously built during spells with Parma, Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid.

Although it took almost half-an-hour for Bayern to take the lead through Robert Lewandowski’s expertly converted a penalty, thereafter they confidently dismantled their Russian opponents, with Joshua Kimmich playing a particularly prominent role.

Specifically the 21-year-old scored twice in between goals from Thomas Mueller and Juan Bernat.  In doing so, on a personal level, Kimmich capped an excellent 10-day period, during which he scored his first goal for Germany, first league goal for Bayern and first Champions League goals, after his brace against Rostov.

Atletico win in Eindhoven

Bayern’s next Champions League game is against the team who beat them at the semi – final stage of last season’s competition, Atletico Madrid, with Diego Simeone’s side also winning their first group – D – game.  In order to do Los Rojiblancos produced a typically determined and resolute display as their 21-year-old midfielder Saul Niguez’s scored a spectacular scissor kick to earn Atletico a 1-0 victory over PSV, although they were fortunate to do so.  As well as Luuk De Jong having a goal disallowed, PSV missed a penalty when Andres Guardado had his spot – kick saved by Jan Oblak.

As such each of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have enjoyed successful, albeit differing, starts to this season’s Champions League, whilst so too did Napoli.

A quartet of close contested affairs

Arkadiusz Milik scoring twice for the Serie A side in the Ukraine as they recovered from a goal down to win 2-1 against Dynamo Kiev, for whom Oleksandr Shovkovski kept goal to become the second oldest player in Champions League history at 41 years and 255 days.  The oldest player remains former Lazio goalkeeper Marco Ballotta at 43 years and 252 days.

The other game in Napoli’s group – B – was drawn 1-1 between Benfica and Bestikas as the Brazilian striker Talisca struck a superb free-kick in the last minute to equalise for the Turkish Super Lig team against his parent club.  Specifically Aguias enabled the 22-year-old to go on a season long loan to Besiktas, for whom Portugal’s Euro 2016 winner Ricardo Quaresma played an important role.

Whilst Benfica’s match with Besiktas ended in a draw, so too did the two games in Group A.

Specifically whilst the Bulgarian side Ludogrets withstood intense pressure from Basle in Switzerland to earn a 1-1 draw, that was also the same score line between PSG and Arsenal, as Arsene Wenger’s side recovered from conceding a first minute Edison Cavani goal, to equalise through Alexis Sanchez.

2016-2017 Champions League underway to an entertaining start  

Therefore whereas Barcelona and Bayern started their Champions League campaigns with resounding victories, each of the other five games played on the first night of the competition were closely contested affairs.  One match scheduled to take place but which did not was Manchester City’s fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach.

The Bundesliga club are set to be Barcelona’s next opponents in Group C on 28 September, whilst City will host Celtic on that same night.

In the interim each team’s focus will be upon domestic football commitments, whilst aiming to ensure that they enter their second group stage game in optimum form.

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Borussia Monchengladbach to begin Bundesliga season full of confidence

Euro 2016

The first round of Bundesliga fixtures for the 2016-2017 season are to be played over the course of this weekend, when two of Germany’s four Champions League representatives will play another.

Those are Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen with the pair set to meet at the former’s Stadion im Borussia-Park.

Whilst at the end of the 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign, Monchengladbach were third and Leverkusen fourth, there was a reversal of those positions last season. Specifically Leverkusen finished five points ahead of Monchengladbach and in doing so secured automatic qualification to the group stages of this season’s Champions League, along with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Schubert’s side overwhelm BSC Young Boys

Also joining the trio in the group stage of European football’s elite club competition are Monchengladbach, after Andre Schubert’s side successfully progressed from their qualifying play-off encounter against BSC Young Boys by comprehensively defeating the Swiss side 9-2 on aggregate.

In both legs of the tie Monchengladbach produced extremely assured and competent performances to completely outplay their Swiss opponents, whilst in doing so they built up a great deal of confidence ahead of the Bundesliga season.

Whilst Monchengladbach displayed control and discipline to beat BSC Young Boys 3-1 in Bern, during the return game Schubert’s team played a wonderfully expansive attacking game, which resulted in them securing a thoroughly impressive 6-1 victory.

From the outset of that, Monchengladbach showed great desire and enthusiasm to substantiate their advantage from the first leg, which they were rewarded for, as both their experienced Brazilian striker Raffael and Thorgan Hazard scored hat-trick.

Despite being highly convincing, the margin of Monchengladbach’s victory could have been wider had it not been for some inspired interventions by BSC Young boys goalkeeper Yvon Mvongo.

Monchengladbach talented players in fine early season form

In stark contrast to that, Mvongo’s Monchengladbach’s counterpart Yann Sommer was rarely tested in either game, whilst neither were the defensive trio of Andreas Christensen, Nico Elvedi and Tony Jantschke, who combined to form a strong unit in front of the Swiss international goalkeeper.

Nevertheless Monchengladbach’s concession of a goal in both legs of their tie against BSC Young Boys was attributable to moments of complacency in defence, which Schubert will strongly encourage his players to eradicate from future performances, so that they do not risk undoing the fine attacking work which they undertake.

Chief architects of that work are captain Lars Stindl, along with the wide pair of Fabian Johnson and Ibrahima Traore. Each of those three players are capable of both scoring goals and providing quality service Raffael and Hazard, who invariably spearhead Monchengladbach’s attack, although Andre Hahn is another excellent striking option available to Schubert.

Confidence high among Monchengladbach squad

As such at present the 45-year-old manager is working with an extremely talented group of players, who are full of confidence, after earning their place in the group stage of this season’s Champions League.

Prior to the commencement of that on either 13 or 14 September, Monchengladbach will play two Bundesliga games, with the first of those being against Bayer Leverkusen, which is set to be an extremely keenly contested affair.

Granit Xhaka: The Swiss Bastian Schweinsteiger

Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Granit Xhaka has enjoyed a standout campaign in the German Bundesliga this season, with the former Basle man showcasing his all-round abilities in the middle of the park that is sure to get him noticed by some elite European clubs. Dubbed the Swiss Bastian Schweinsteiger due to playing similarities, Bayern may be one of many teams who look to the Switzerland international to replace their ageing star.

Xhaka, 22, has been a regular in the Monchengladbach side throughout the campaign, making 29 league appearances, scoring two goals. He is more of a deep-lying player who protects the back-line, than somebody who will be creating chances in the final third. The youngster ensures the opposition are nullified, and when in possession he lays the ball onto more creative teammates.

His role in the side sounds simplified and understated, but it is arguably the most important in the Monchengladbach team. Averaging a tackle or interception every 20 minutes, the 22-year-old is fast becoming one of the best midfielders of his ilk in Europe, and this summer he is expected to be the subject of a lot of interest.

With former side Basel, Xhaka was used to winning titles and other domestic honours, so his initial period in Germany has been a struggle. He has since transformed himself into a key player in the team, and one the manager is desperate to hold on to. While Mochengladbach are enjoying a fantastic season, the lack of silverware and sheer distance from Bundesliga champions Bayern suggest Xhaka will never win anything with his current side.

There will not be a shortage of interest from clubs this summer, so he could be forced into making a big decision about his future. His asking price will have considerably risen from the €8.5M fee Monchengladbach paid to sign him back in 2012, which reflects his impressive development with the club.

AC Milan were linked in the winter transfer window, and Atletico Madrid and Manchester United are said to have thrown their hats into the ring recently too. Plenty of choices for the youngster, but the possibility of winning trophies is an important factor in his next move. His ability is not in question, and he does not want to waste the best years of his career without any additional silverware to show for it.