Friday, 21 September 2018

Weekend Highlights

Well the highlight will depend in what team you support of course so for me it is a trip (yes, a trip, no sitting in front of the box all weekend for me, just part of it) to see Celtic at Kilmarnock. The delights of Rugby Park and their excellent pies await.

But for those of you not lucky enough to be making the glamorous pilgrimage to Ayrshire, there are the usual shed-load of matches to watch on TV. These are the pick (excluding Eleven Sports as that is too much of a faff):

Friday 21st

Not the most scintillating fare, I would opt for Stuttgart vs Fortuna Dusseldorf. Mainly because I like saying Fortuna Dusseldorf. It’s at 7.30 on BT Sport. Donkey Shite and all that.

Saturday 22nd

Again not a vintage day, but you can check on Spurs’ attempts to win again, away at Brighton at 5.30pm on BT Sport. As an alternative, you could try Llandudno vs Connah’s Quay on S4C at 7.30pm just for the hell of it.

Sunday 23rd

Apart from the Mighty Celts, there is Arsenal vs Everton at 4pm on Sky, or Lyon vs Marseille on BT at 8pm. But this will clash with the last episode of Bodyguard so maybe just the first half.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

A Nations League Once Again

The UEFA Nations League gets underway this week, with virtually all of the games available to view on Sky starting on Thursday and going through until Tuesday, with some tasty looking matches such as Germany vs France and Wales vs Ireland - but what exactly is it?

The Nations League Concept

On one level, the idea behind it is simply a more competitive series of matches (although Scotland vs Belgium on Friday is just an old-school friendly, even if the prices don’t reflect that), but it also serves as a path to the European Championships in 2020. Only four of the 55 nations competing though will get through via that method (see below).

There are actually four separate leagues, based on UEFA coefficients (not FIFA ranking) which throws up some quirks like the Netherlands (who haven’t qualified for the last two major tournaments) in League A and Serbia (in the last World Cup) in League C. There are four groups within each league consisting of either three or four teams who play each other home and away.

The Nations League Format

Group matches last until November 20th. The winner of each group is “promoted” to the league above and the bottom team “relegated” for the next round of matches in two years’ time. The winners of the four groups in League A qualify directly for a pretty pointless Nations League play-off in June 2019. There may or may not be a trophy involved.

European Championships Qualifying

“Normal” qualifying for the Euros will begin in March 2019 with ten groups of five or six teams, drawn after the Nations League groups are complete with seeding based on the ranking from these. The top two from each of these will qualify. As there is no host nation (the finals matches are spread over 13 different countries) then no team qualifies automatically.

Now for the interesting bit (especially for the – ahem – lesser nations): the four groups winners in each Nations League will play-off in semi-finals and a final for the right to qualify directly for the 2020 tournament. Yes, one team from the each of the leagues including the lowest-ranked one is guaranteed to qualify. Azerbaijan will be the favourites for this honour. If any of the Nations League winners have already qualified through the traditional method, then the next best placed team will go through to the play-off. Which may not even be the runners-up if they have also qualified, which may well be the case in League A. In fact, all of League A could qualify in which case League B teams would “move up” for play-off purposes.

The leagues and groups are as follows, remember one team from each league will qualify. Scotland, for example, assuming they don’t make it through the main qualifying and finish above Israel and Iceland in Group 1 in League C, would play-off against the other three group1 winners eg Greece, Slovenia and Romania. Even McLeish must have a chance of that surely? Well, unless the tax man jails him first.

League A
Group 1: Germany, France, Netherlands
Group 2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland
Group 3: Portugal, Italy, Poland
Group 4: Spain, England, Croatia
League B
Group 1: Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic
Group 2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey
Group 3: Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Northern Ireland
Group 4: Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark

League C

Group 1: Scotland, Albania, Israel
Group 2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia
Group 3Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus
Group 4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania

League D

Group 1: Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra
Group 2: Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino
Group 3: Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo
Group 4: FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar

Friday, 24 August 2018

Coming to a TV Near You

It’s the weekend again, and a three-day one for some of us. Here is the suggested football menu for you if you have nothing better to do. I have a full diary and probably won’t see any of this due to my hectic and varied social life. Cough.

Bayern Munich vs Hoffenheim 19:30 BT
The Bundesliga returns with sure-to-be-champions Bayern in action right away. Should be plenty of goals.

Lyon vs Strasbourg 19:30 BT
Ligue 1 already at their third game and PSG already top. This is 10th vs 7th.

Middlesbrough vs West Brom. 19:45 Sky
The English championship looking like an exciting and unpredictable contest this season so there should be lots of games with unpredictable outcomes like this one, although you would expect ‘Boro to win with home advantage

Wolves vs Manchester City 12:30 Sky
City continue their bid to win every game this season and it is hard to see anyone stop them. Certainly not Wolves.

Prestwich Heys vs Radcliffe Borough 12:30 BBC Red Button
Early chance for the BBC to patronise wee teams in “the greatest cup competition in the world”, not that you would agree if you watch this. That's the FA Cup incidentally, if you didn't know.

Nottingham Forest vs Birmingham City 17:30 Sky
Forest one of the candidates for a ply-off place if not the title, and a City side struggling already.

Liverpool vs Brighton 17:30 BT
Liverpool surely continuing their good start here as two watchable matches are pitted against each other.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen 17:30 BT
And a third game on at the same time as another big name (ha) starts the season.

Benfica vs Sporting Lisbon 19:00 Freesports
Really think Freesports should be blowing their own trumpet a bit more as their coverage of the Portuguese league continues. Could pick up a few viewers missing the Spanish and Italian leagues.

Motherwell vs Rangers 2012 12:15 BT
If Motherwell are up for this (and their captain’s recent comments make it sound like they are) they should be more than capable of getting a point or more here.

Watford vs Crystal Palace 13:30 Sky
Going to be a lot of glamour games like this in the Premier League this season

Lille v Guingamp 14:00 BT
More French action (why does that sound rude?)

Mainz v VFB Stuttgart 14:30 BT
Bundesliga bound again.

Newcastle United v Chelsea 16:00 Sky
The big one, as Sky will call it.

Bordeaux v Monaco 16:00 BT
From France. But you knew that.

Borussia Dortmund v RB Leipzig 17:00 BT
Back to Germany for another mighty tussle

Marseille v Rennes 20:00 BT
Rounding off the evening with a French encore.

Hamburg v Arminia Bielefeld 19:30 BT
Budesliga 2, if that floats your boat

Man Utd v Tottenham Hotspur 20:00 Sky
Now this is a big one for a Monday night. Could even be Jose's last game.

You’ll notice I have not included any Spanish, Dutch or Italian games as they are now shown on Eleven Sports, a subscription only online channel where the viewing figures must be tiny. Although you can also see them on the William Hill website if you have an account with them. You can thank me later.

Friday, 10 August 2018

For Your Viewing Pleasure

It’s the big one tonight, all eyes will be on BT Sport 2 for the clash between St. Pauli and Darmstadt in Bundesliga 2 at 7.30pm. Or you may prefer the return of the English Premiership as Manchester United face Leicester. If Jose Mourinho can muster up enough interest to pick a team that is. It’s on Sky at 8pm. Freesports has Portuguese action at 8.30pm as Benfica face Vitoria Guimaraes.

Hearts take on champions Celtic on Sunday at 12.30pm on Sky deep in the Tynecastle Pampas. Celtic of course in complete disarray, with hopes of an eighth consecutive title fading fast in the face of a resurgent Gerrard-led Rangers 2012, who incredibly only trail by 2 points. (Must stop reading the Evening Times).

If you are so disgusted at the failure to sign John McGinn for that vital spot on the bench that you have chucked it, you could instead watch Newcastle vs Tottenham, also on Sky (nice to see them give the Scottish game a boost by scheduling an English match at the same time.) Derby vs Leeds could be tasty at 5.30pm, or there is Wolves vs Everton over on BT. Porto vs Chaves rounds the day off on Freesports at 9.

You can have a lie-in on Sunday before watching Liverpool vs West Ham at 1.30pm, then find out just how far ahead of the rest Manchester City are as they visit Arsenal at 4. The German Super Cup is at 7.30 as Bayern Munich play Eintracht Frankfurt on BT, and the Spanish equivalent at 9 with Barcelona playing Sevilla (the last Spanish game on Sky for a while as the rights for La Liga have gone to Eleven Sports who apparently will be broadcasting on Facebook. Oh dear).

Friday, 3 August 2018

No Flagging

Celtic unveil their seventh consecutive league flag tomorrow (bored yet? No, me neither) before they face newly-promoted Livingston, led by Kenny Miller, who has previously played for Rangers 1872, Celtic and Rangers 2012.

The flag will be raised by Daniel Fergus McGrain, one of my all-time heroes as he is for every Celtic fan of a certain age, an undisputed world class player in his heyday – world class in the true sense in that he would be named in a world 11 of the time.

Another big European game in midweek may mean that anyone with even a niggle will be rested so we may not see Tierney, Forrest or Brown (apart from the flag-raising), but that could mean outings for Lustig, Rogic, Hayes, Griffiths and Boyata, at least in part. Our easiest game of the campaign on paper, but it’s important to get off to a good start and lay down a marker for the season ahead.

The English Championship also starts tonight, with Reading vs Derby (many people’s tips for the title after making some promising signings, although they do have a rookie manager who is expected to do well just because he was a decent player despite no real experience) on Sky Sports at 8pm. Sky also have Sunderland vs Charlton on Saturday (in League One, which doesn’t sound right) at 12:30 and Sheffield United vs Swansea at 5:30.

Sunday sees Aberdeen vs Rangers 2012 at 1pm, also on Sky, then BT spring into life with the Community Shield between Manchester City and Chelsea at 3pm. Leeds vs Stoke at 4.30 on Sky rounds things off (apart from the usual friendlies and MLS matches).

If you don't fancy any of that you could always watch cyclists endlessly circling a track. Each to their own.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Halfway to Paradise

Celtic play they their fourth (of eight – hopefully) Champions League qualifier tonight in Trondheim, facing Rosenborg with a 3-1 advantage from last week.

Everything points to Celtic’s progression, but nobody is taking anything for granted. Management, players and fans all know the job is only half done, and no mistakes can be countenanced.
This is probably the team which will be entrusted with the task:

Tierney, Ajer, Hendry, Gamboa;
Brown, Ntcham;
Forrest, McGregor, Sinclair;

Subs: Bain, Lustig, Rogic, Christie, Allan, Kouassi, Johnston

Brendan may be tempted to start Rogic in place of Sinclair for an extra bit of defensive solidity – especially if he is planning to change his away mindset a bit this season – but that would be something of a risk as the Aussie powerhouse is not up to full match fitness yet. Not much in terms of experienced attacking players in reserve, let’s hope they are not needed.

The game kicks 0ff at 19:45 cpt, and is on Premier Sports 2 (although they have a friendly scheduled for 21:05 on the same channel) as well as eir Sport 1 in Ireland and Eurosport in Scandinavia. Strange that it can be shown in all these countries on these channels, but not on Celtic TV. Seems like a raw deal for subscribers.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Wasted Weekend

Another weekend with no football to go to even though it feels like the season has started.
On Friday night (or Saturday morning to be exact) we are back to the MLS on Sky (Orlando City vs New York City at 1am followed by Los Angeles FC vs LA Galaxy at 3.30).

Saturday’s “highlight” is Clyde vs Motherwell in the League Cup at 3pm on BT Sport, which you can warm up for by watching Jiangsu Suning v Shandong Luneng in the Chinese Superleague on Sky. Toronto FC vs Chicago fire is on midnight.

Sunday has Guangzhou Evergrande v Chongqing Lifan then Hearts vs Inverness.

I’m going out.

Unless the Celtic under-23 team taking part in the South Shields FC International Tournament (along with the hosts, Southampton and Marseille, who Celtic play on Friday at 7.30pm) reach the final, which is on Freesports on Sunday at 5pm. Come to think of it, the 3rd-4th place playoff is also on 1pm. Jack Aitchison will be hoping to score a few as he faces the daunting prospect of muscling past Edouard, Dembele and Griffiths in the striker queue. Good luck there.

I’m staying in.