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Football's back

Posted August 18th, 2008 at 20:06 by Iain
English league football returned in glorious fashion last weekend and was swiftly followed by the Premier League, note FA lawyers - I did not say Premiership, on Saturday just gone.


Hamburg's Jonathan Pitroipa

It's that exciting part of August as all major European leagues are resuming after the winter break. Pre-season tournaments such as Feynoord, Ajax and Arsenal ones that collate teams from all over the continent are all well and good but I can't think of a fan out there that wouldn't prefer Hull vs. Fulham on the opening day of the season to even the most glamorous friendly such as Real Madrid vs. Arsenal.

Like a child who's just received Easter Eggs from every auntie they have, now is truly the time of year to gorge on everything available to you as a football fan. When browsing the European page of Soccernet earlier on, I was even interested in reading the Belgium first division results purely because it was the first day of the season. None of the teams bar the perennial qualifiers for Europe really resonate with me but I looked at them anyway. You'll be interested to read that Genk, Anderlecht and Standard Liege (who impressed me so against Liverpool the Wednesday before) have already pulled away at the top of the league. Ok, maybe not everyone is interested...

In honour of early season enthusiasm, here is a brief guide to everything that went on over the weekend.

Belgium
As mentioned above. The Jupiler League, to my untrained eye, seems to have started exactly as expected. Liege looked a good, if slightly aggressive outfit, against Liverpool and the old rule that "Football Manager is never wrong" was re-inforced with a good performance from Axel Witsel. I sometimes wonder if it is just that well-researched or a case of life imitating art such is the scary level of accuracy. Do players on the computer at home see that someone like Witsel has an 18 for pace, dribbling and crossing and automatically give him more respect than perhaps is deserved? It's an unlikely theory, and one probably deserving of being written on the back of a lager-stained beer mat.

France
Ligue 1 (or 'un'' if you've perfected the accent) has been going for two weeks now so the league has slightly more credibility. The story of the early season is that newly-promoted Grenoble are top of the league after impressing all by winning their first two matches. At the weekend they beat Rennes 1-0 to move above the likes of Lyon, Marsielles and Monaco to the top of the heap. Houllier's men dropped their first points of the season by drawing at Lorient but they will surely be at the peak soon enough.

I claim to support Auxerre but could not name more than a couple of players from their side. We lost 4-0 to Mariselle at the weekend.

Germany
Like England, the Germans have chosen Aug 16th as their preferred kick-off date. The Bundesliga games are shown live on Setanta (like a lot of European football - if you haven't got it then get it) and when I move out (in a shared house they're on at too inconvenient a time to hog the television) I shall keep fully up to date with proceedings.

I'm following a team for the first time ever in Germany this season thanks to Martin Jol taking the Hamburg job and my fandom has been instantly rewarded by their opening day 2-2 draw away at Bayern Munich (including some classic Atouba moments), the hardest fixture in the league. They have a right winger who hails from Burkino Faso called Patroipa who particularly stood out when watching them in a friendly against Real Madrid and I'm keen to see how they do despite the loss of Rafael Van Der Vaart.

The result is even more impressive considering they went 2-0 in thefirst 20 minutes but valiantly fought back against a team including Klose, Podolski, Schweinsteiger, Kroos (who is one to watch) et al. Bild, the German version of the Sun, has an English language Bundesliga section which makes it a bit easier to follow.

Scotland
I should give a brief mention to the fact that Mo Edu has joined Rangers. As a completely fairweather Toronto FC fan who sometimes forgets to even check results, I'm disappointed one of the best players they had have left - especially for Scotland. Their new-look central midfield pairing of Edu and Pedro Mendes is such an obvious attempt to woo my courtship that I cannot be too angry however. Hamilton surprisingly lead the way but both Glasgow clubs are hot on their trail in second and third. I'm in no way politically influenced by Scottish football but have a preference for who I'd like to see in this year. I'm not religious so the Protestant / Catholic connotations mean nothing to me but as an Englishman history dictates that I should prefer the blue side of Glasgow. Again, I've never payed any attention to this.

However Edu, Mendes, ShogunIIIEmperor (join the Facebook group to show your appreciation) and just the general misery that is Gordon Strachan have convinced me to finally pick a side, for one year at least. My decision has the added benefit of them already having been eliminated from Europe so I don't need watch or justify a horrific anti-football performance from them either. 'Mon the Gers.

Misc
Football Weekly (see left) started again today after the summer break, and that's a great place to learn more about European football in a humourous manner.
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