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Unfamilar faces light up Germany and France

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Phil Minshull | 10:03 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The top of the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have a very unfamiliar look about them after some strange results during the first few weeks of the season. Who would have thought that it would be Mainz and Rennes leading the way? Certainly not me.

Taking Germany first, I am sure some people will recall that I was expecting Bayern Munich to comfortably defend their title. Well, it hasn't worked out that way.

Propelled forward by their charismatic 37-year-old coach Thomas Tuchel, who reminds many people of Jose Mourinho in his days at Porto, Mainz dived into the transfer market to strengthen their squad and a did a good job of picking up a host of young but talented players that did not seem to fit into the plans of other clubs.

A good case in point is the 22-year-old Hungarian international striker Adam Szalai, who was signed in the summer for 1m euros from Real Madrid after spending the second half of last season on loan from the Spanish giants.

Mainz's Andre Schuerrle, Adam Szalai and Lewis Holtby celebrate with the corner flag after beating Werder BremenMainz's Andre Schuerrle (left), Adam Szalai (centre) and Lewis Holtby celebrate beating Werder Bremen

Despite scoring 22 goals in 77 games for the Real Madrid reserve team, Szalai was deemed surplus to requirements by former coach Manuel Pellegrini and the club decided to cash in during the summer.

Since the start of the season, Szalai has scored three times for Mainz, prompting - prior to Real's 6-1 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday at least - the Spanish media to use his departure and subsequent success as one of several sticks with which to beat Mourinho and the Real president Florentino Perez with.

The English media have also had cause to muse on what might have been.

Winger Lewis Holtby, on loan at Mainz from Schalke, has made his first club Borussia Mönchengladbach regret releasing him as a youth player with a series of stunning displays. He got both goals in Mainz's recent 2-0 over Koln and played a big part in their 2-1 win over Bayern just over a week ago.

Apparently, Mönchengladbach thought Holtby was too slow and small to have a serious chance of playing first-team football. Yet Germany coach Joachim Loew said last week that the player could get his first senior cap in November, when Germany play Sweden.

And this is where the English media get interested. Holtby has an English father who hails from Merseyside, prompting some quiet overtures about his availability by the English FA. However, Holtby, a firm Everton fan who played for Germany at last year's Under 20 World Cup, has pledged his allegiance to the nationalmannschaft.

Mainz, who finished a surprising ninth last season, now lie three points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with a 100% record while, by contrast, last season's Champions League finalists Bayern languish are in 12th - and they have already lost three times this season.

"We have got to be worried about things because we cannot allow ourselves to be where we are. We are in deep trouble and we have now got to see to it that we get out," said Bayern chairman and former player Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on Monday.

It is worth remembering that Bayern, Champions League finalists last season, have only twice finished outside the top four in the last 30 years - sixth in 1995 and 10th three seasons before - and have won the Bundesliga eight out of the last 12 seasons.

Turning to France, I would not have picked Rennes to be among the top teams in Ligue 1 - although World Soccer did.

"Rennes have been making steady progress and despite Briand's [striker Jimmy Briand, who left for Lyon] departure, with a number of interesting signings and a tough coach in [Frederic] Antonetti they could be the surprise package of the season," wrote the magazine in its traditional pre-season analysis.

Well, they were right, at least so far.

Rennes, who are unbeaten with 18 points from eight games, went top of the French first division for the first time since 1970, one point in front of equally unheralded St Etienne.

The key to their success appears to me, having predominantly watched highlights of their games and worked my way through the reports in French sports daily L'Equipe, is a much more authoritative defence than last season, when they finished ninth.

Goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez has been playing as well as he has ever done and conceded only four goals, while defender Romain Danze, who can play anywhere across the back four, has been outstanding.

Rennes goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez catches the ball against PSG Rennes goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez catches the ball against PSG

Neither man has been capped internationally and were both overlooked when Laurent Blanc named his squad to face Romania and Luxemburg for the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifying fixtures. However, with the France team still in flux after the World Cup shenanigans, the pair could soon enter the reckoning if they can maintain their form.

Possibly beating Holtby, Douchez and Danze to his first international appearance could be Spain's Borja Valero.

Readers with good memories may remember that, almost 12 months ago, I waxed lyrical about the then-Mallorca midfielder. Well, there were plenty of sceptical comments at the time about my assertion that "I might have seen the next great European midfielder". Fair enough under the circumstances, I suppose.

However, since then he has earned a prestigious Premio Don Balón, awards given out by the respected Spanish football magazine of the same name, as the best Spanish player in La Liga last season.

Even I would admit that this was a rather strange choice when one considers that Andres Iniesta, David Villa and most of Spain's World Cup-winning squad were eligible and would have been worthy winners but it is also an acknowledgement of his talent and the season that he had helping Mallorca to an completely unexpected fifth place.

Valero is still in Spain, on another season-long loan from West Brom> But this time he is at Villarreal, who are currently second thanks, in no small measure, to his excellent form.

With Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque facing something of an injury crisis ahead of the his next two Euro 2012 qualifiers against Lithuania and Scotland, Valero was called up on Monday and could well win his first cap in the coming week.

Del Bosque quite rightly still retains faith in the men who triumphed in South Africa but I would not be surprised to see Valero become a regular fixture in the Spanish team during the next 18 months ahead of the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine.

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to: europeanfootball@hotmail.co.uk. I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

Here's a couple of Barcelona-related questions:

Q) Given that Barcelona's first XI is probably the best in the world at the moment, do they have the squad necessary to accomplish their Spanish, as well as European, ambitions? In light of the recent injury to Lionel Messi, are they one quality reserve striker short?
Anurag Bhide, Mumbai, India

A) Firstly, I wouldn't say that Barcelona's first XI is probably the best in the world. The results so far this season don't justify that statement despite them still being a very good side. Who IS the best in the world obviously remains a matter of debate and conjecture. However, despite the injury to Messi, I don't think they are short of strikers. They have Villa, Bojan, Pedro and Jeffren, while Iniesta and Adriano can play up front if resources get a little stretched. In my opinion, it's not a question of a lack of strikers, it's just that a few of the existing ones are having a slight dip in form and confidence.

Q) Do you think young Barcelona midfielder Oriol Romeu will make the first team at Barca or leave for Arsenal?
Zenzo Chombela, Lusaka, Zambia

A) Romeu is a very impressive and talented player and been capped by Spain at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-20 levels. He turned 19 on 24 September and Barca extended his contract until the end of next season the day before.

As he is playing in the second division with the Barcelona reserve team and should also get the occasional outings with the first team in the Spanish Cup and friendly matches, I think he will stay until next summer, when the club will assess how he has developed and either to renew his contract or sell him. At the moment, I'd say both options were 50-50.

To be honest, even though there has been talk about a move to Arsenal, he is being followed by many clubs across Europe. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Comments

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  • 1. At 12:09pm on 06 Oct 2010, The unwilling wrote:

    Interesting blog! I've got to admit I'm surprised by the current situation of Europe's top leagues. Even the Premier League and La Liga have had their share of surprise results. Do you think the gap between the traditional "top" clubs and the rest of their respective leagues is closing? Are clubs being more careful now that the financial fair play rules are looming? Or is it just a blip?

    I'd like to know your opinion on Moussa Sissoko and Kevin Gameiro. They both seem to have done quite well over the past season or two and are now being linked with big clubs, just how good can they get? And where do you think they will end up (assuming they move on)?

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  • 2. At 12:18pm on 06 Oct 2010, Eliot wrote:

    I'm an Englishman living in Germany and the Bundesliga is the most refreshing experience i have had for a long time... especially being a liverpool fan!
    You've mentioned Mainz, who are cavalier and exciting, but I think there is more to it than first meets the eye! Borrusia Dortmund have been simply outstanding. Jürgen Klopp's Team is the youngest in the league and in Shinji Kagawa they have unearthed a diamond; Kevin Großkreutz, Dortmund born and bred, has similiarly been in imperious form, earning a call-up to the german national side. Watch this space!
    Also Phil, the bottom of the league is equally interesting with both Schalke and Stuttgart, occupying the two automatic relegation slots, in a worse state than Bayern!

    The Bundesliga puts the Premier League to shame in so many senses of the word! Who can call it? and who could say that about the english game!?

    Great Post Phil, Cheers.

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  • 3. At 12:18pm on 06 Oct 2010, 11_Giggsy_11_dont_save_606 wrote:

    Mainz are one consecutive win away from beating the best ever start in Bundesliga.

    It really is impressive, considering they have a few players that they have brought in on loan

    Schalke, in hindsight, must regret sending Holtby out on loan considering how poorly they have done so far this season

    Bundesliga is a terrific league and going in the right direction. Serie A needs to stop relying on their reputation from the past, or Bundesliga will surpass them easily, if not already.

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  • 4. At 12:19pm on 06 Oct 2010, Vox Populi wrote:

    Capello and the FA have missed a trick with Lewis Holtby. He could have been another good option for the current England manager and future English managers but they've dithered too long and let the Germans get him. Just as they've done with Klose, Podolski, Khedira, Oezil, Cacau and Tasci the Germans have poached talent that was potentially eligible for another country.

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  • 5. At 12:20pm on 06 Oct 2010, NUR DER HSV wrote:

    Hi Phil!

    Good blog, but I'd add that it is Holtby's assists in particular, which made him so valuable to Mainz this season (7 assists in 7 games). Also you should at least mention Andre Schürrle who's been absolutely outstanding this season (4 goals, 1 assist, coming on as a joker in 4 of his 6 appearences)..and he is only 19 years old too. Mainz have played really well this season, obviously far far above expectations, but they will not be able to keep up with the pace like this all season and I expect them to drop dramatically just like Hoffenheim did two seasons ago, when they were Herbstmeister and dropped to 7th in the second half of the season. Tuchel is an enthusiastic young coach who likes to talk to his players and has implemented a level of democracy in the team (they can decide together with him what tactics should be played against some teams)- something that, I think, could not be said about Jose Mourinho even in his early years!
    Anyway, interesting nonetheless..

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  • 6. At 12:29pm on 06 Oct 2010, 11_Giggsy_11_dont_save_606 wrote:

    Ditto on the Schurrle shout. Made a real impact off the bench in the game i saw. A pity for Mainz that he is off to Bayer next season but money talks, especially Mainz aren't that one of the more financially strong team in Bundesliga. Schurrle is similar to Thomas Muller in some ways, in that he is tall, has a eye for goal and versatile.

    From the moment he was made captain of the German u21 side, England never stood a chance of prising away Holtby

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  • 7. At 12:44pm on 06 Oct 2010, baggiemick wrote:

    Good Blog. But it shows a quality player often needs the right system to develope his skills.
    Valero is a typical example. At Albion he obviously had some skill but struggled with the speed of the EPL and the system employed by Tony Mobrey. Ironically, the sytem, of 2 defensive midfielders with a creative midfielder in front of them (Valero), employed by DeMatteo would probably suit him better. Although he improved towards the end of his time at Albion, his weakness in tackling back was his Achilles heel in England. He is unlikely to return with an agreement in place for a permanent transfer at the end of the season.
    Sometimes it's just a case of "horses for courses"!

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  • 8. At 12:54pm on 06 Oct 2010, JoC wrote:

    Fascinating blog Phil, do you agree with Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson's recent comments that the exertions of the top clubs' players during this Summer's World Cup is chiefly to blame for the incredible amount of shock results we're seeing early on this season - throughout Europe - or do you think it's just co-incidence?

    Call me cynical but recent EPL surprise results such as Arsenal and Liverpool's home defeats against West Brom and Blackpool respectively coupled with newspaper revelations over sport bettings has got me questioning things more. Are Fifa and UEFA's Fraud Detection Unit more busy than normal I wonder ;)?

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  • 9. At 1:23pm on 06 Oct 2010, Fordde wrote:

    it's hardly poaching holtby if: a he represented them at u-21 level, plays in germany and lives there and has done since well years.

    surely it's england who would have pached him had we even tried to get him.

    just wish the germans had kept owen hargreaves, cos he really is dire

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  • 10. At 1:29pm on 06 Oct 2010, cableguy wrote:

    Good stuff, Phil.
    Apart from the unfortunate Tuchel-Mourinho early years comparison (he's so far removed from that it's a different universe), it's an excellent read.

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  • 11. At 1:40pm on 06 Oct 2010, hackerjack wrote:

    Despite scoring 22 goals in 77 games for the Real Madrid reserve team
    --------------------

    Castilla? Not surprising really as 22 in 77 for a team who are at a level in Spain where teams vary between at best League One and at worst Conferance level. You will find dozens of strikers in England at that level with better scoring records, should Madrid look to sign them? Of course not.

    Even now scoring 3 goals (wow, amazing, it's not like a jouirneyman pro likle Elmander or Picquionne could manage that is it, oh hang on a minute...) is not any real indication of long term prospects.

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  • 12. At 1:44pm on 06 Oct 2010, Rob04 wrote:

    Suspect these are really early season 'blips' but really long may it continue because it makes these leagues more interesting than La Liga at this point, though Valencia and Villareal have made very good starts. Started watching the Bundesliga this year and have been very impressed with some of the teams and games: the Bremen/ Hamburg game of a couple of weeks ago in particular was great.

    Spain having 'something of an injury crisis' Phil? Really glad that some of these players (Torres, Fabregas and Xavi) are out and if Iniesta, Villa, Puyol and Busquests could also pick up niggling injuries that will keep them out of the Scotland game that would be just fine and dandy. But I would argue that our injury crisis will be worse than theirs and their line up won't matter too much as they would still be more than handy for most European teams.

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  • 13. At 1:47pm on 06 Oct 2010, hackerjack wrote:

    I'm very dissapointed in the lack of mention of the World Cup. We nearly ALWAYS see this kind of situation early in post-world cup seasons. Most clubs return for pre-season in later July, this eaither elaves the world cup stars facing a short layoff and hence often looking jaded or given more time to recover and hence not being quite up to speed at the start of the season.

    The teams at the top are simply those who had fewer players at the world cup.

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  • 14. At 1:47pm on 06 Oct 2010, Mikey wrote:

    I love watching the Bundesliga and have been trying to keep my eye on Mainz this year due to a player (Morten Rasmussen) from my team being on loan there.. bears some resemblance to Hoffenheim who stormed the league that season with their cavalier attitude which the others couldnt live with..

    Phil could you answer me why Dortmund chose to sell Nelson Valdez for so little to Hercules?? I have always liked him as a player and the reported just over 3 million seems very cheap. Was there a reason for this? i.e contract running out etc.. I know his goalscoring record wasn't too high for a striker but he has always been one of they strikers who does a lot of running and work for those around him

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  • 15. At 1:55pm on 06 Oct 2010, jsybaz wrote:

    The football teams of Watford and Mainz both starting the season better than expected - let's hope the twin towns keep it going. COYH

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  • 16. At 1:56pm on 06 Oct 2010, RubberNutz wrote:

    4. At 12:19pm on 06 Oct 2010, Someone Less Imaginative Stole My Username wrote:
    Capello and the FA have missed a trick with Lewis Holtby. He could have been another good option for the current England manager and future English managers but they've dithered too long and let the Germans get him. Just as they've done with Klose, Podolski, Khedira, Oezil, Cacau and Tasci the Germans have poached talent that was potentially eligible for another country.

    -----------

    You make a valid point but you seem to make the assumption that had Fabio come calling earlier he'd of fallen over himself to play for England. I doubt this is the case. He's half German by blood and fully German by upbringing. His first choice would always be Germany.

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  • 17. At 1:57pm on 06 Oct 2010, RubberNutz wrote:

    9. At 1:23pm on 06 Oct 2010, Fordde wrote:
    it's hardly poaching holtby if: a he represented them at u-21 level, plays in germany and lives there and has done since well years.

    surely it's england who would have pached him had we even tried to get him.

    just wish the germans had kept owen hargreaves, cos he really is dire
    ----

    Hargreaves is an excellent player. When fit. Which is the problem.

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  • 18. At 2:31pm on 06 Oct 2010, Rob wrote:

    Don't think it's post World Cup syndrome if one looks at the Dutch and Portugese leagues over recent seasons with smaller temas again doing ver well.

    A breath of fresh air indeed. It'd be most welcome in the UK too.

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  • 19. At 2:35pm on 06 Oct 2010, Letsbe_avenue wrote:

    We'll see where Mainz is come mid-season, they had a fair start last season and then sort of faded away. They just don't have the players to win the league.

    Bayern have a couple of problems, one; Frank Ribéry and Arjen Robben are missing, and two; without them Van Gaal (as was the case last season) seems unable to compensate for the loss.

    As many would say about England, no team's got the God-given right to be at the top of the league. I know Bayern assume themselves to be Germany's gift to football, but actually "boring, boring Bayern" aren't and have only in recent seasons managed to shake off the name a bit.

    I'm sure Rummenigge and Hoeness aren't best pleased at the current position in the table, but they have no "right" to be at the top, typical Bayern Munich.

    Either they will get back into the groove or Van Gaal will be sacked, and given the "strength" rest of the league they still won't finish out of the top five.

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  • 20. At 2:49pm on 06 Oct 2010, Charlie wrote:

    Isn't Holtby NOT eligible to play for England? As he has represented Germany at -20 level he can only be capped by Germany at senior level. I believe that this came up recently with player from abroad who is playing in the EPL who was interested in playing for England.

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  • 21. At 3:06pm on 06 Oct 2010, G-in-Belgium wrote:

    "unheralded St Etienne"

    Who have only won Ligue 1 ten times, the French cup six times, and who's teams comprised of such unknowns as Michel Platini, Laurent Blanc, Aimé Jaquet...

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  • 22. At 3:12pm on 06 Oct 2010, Rock Star wrote:

    As an Englishman living in France, I admit that Rennes are a very good side with a very good and passionate coach. St Etienne play very attractive footbal but are probably a little more fragile. However, the season is only 8 games old and I suspect as it wears on with injuries taking their toll on the smaller clubs, I suspect it is the old culprits that will be fighting it out for the championship - Marseille (my team), Lyon and Bordeaux etc

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  • 23. At 3:30pm on 06 Oct 2010, hackerjack wrote:

    Isn't Holtby NOT eligible to play for England? As he has represented Germany at -20 level he can only be capped by Germany at senior level. I believe that this came up recently with player from abroad who is playing in the EPL who was interested in playing for England.
    ---------------------

    Incorrect.

    Until you are capped at full level in a competitive fixture you remain eligable for any country for which you qualified for a passport at the time of you forst representign them at age level.

    Arteta represented Spain at age level, at that point he was only eligable for a Spanish passport and thus was ocked into Spain. Holtby was eligable for English and German passports at birth thus is still eligable for eaither nation.

    As another example of this application, Manuel Almunia is eligable for England as he did not represent Spain at age group level.

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  • 24. At 4:16pm on 06 Oct 2010, Swindon2010 wrote:

    Interesting blog. Since the start of the season I've been watching the Bundesliga a bit more, since it's more interesting than the Prem - it's similar to the Championship in that it's unpredictable, but the teams are better. Mainz have done brilliantly, equalling the record start set by Kaiserslautern and Bayern which nobody expected really.
    My favourite team in the Bundesliga is 1899 Hoffenheim, mainly because of their good start to last season capturing my imagination. I hope Mainz don't fade away like Hoffenheim did, but Hoffenheim only faded away because of key players being injured.
    Shinji Kagawa has been playing well for Dortmund (who have won 6 from 7 and lost once), what do you think of him, Phil?

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  • 25. At 5:04pm on 06 Oct 2010, tridevo wrote:

    Mainz is on a high at the moment and we won´t win the title, we know that, but we are enjoying our football, Mainz have got youth and experienced players, from a squad of 26 players 20 have already played. Mainz have given all players a chance. Tuchel was Youth trainer for Mainz winning the league title, bevor taking over the first team. Schnurrle was one of his key players before moving up a level, like Bungert so he knows how to bring the best out of younger players, with Holtby being no exception. He picks his team on the bases of knowing the oppositions tactics. That is why he swithches players regularly. Holtby, Schnurrle, Szali have all sat on the bench. In Mainz there are no Stars, It´s called playing as a Team.
    Jurgen Klopp wasPlayer and Manager from Mainz05 before he moved on to Dortmund!

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  • 26. At 5:32pm on 06 Oct 2010, Rob04 wrote:

    #14
    Had forgotten Mainz was where Morten Rasmussen had gone on loan and now I will pay more attention to them: although I was a bit surprised that he was loaned out in the first place given that he wasn't really given any run out at Celtic.

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  • 27. At 10:29pm on 06 Oct 2010, GigiBuffon1 wrote:

    Nice to see your blogs are on more varied subjects this season Phil. Keep it up.

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  • 28. At 10:47pm on 06 Oct 2010, Spaced Invader wrote:

    There is always a lot of confusion about eligibility of players who wish to change nationality. FIFA's rules on eligibility state that for a player to change nationality having already represented a country at any level excluding full international status,

    - the player must not yet have reached his 21st birthday when he makes the request to change his national team
    - he must already hold the dual or multiple nationality when he makes his first appearance in a competitive international match
    - he must not have appeared for the A or senior level national team of his current association
    - he may change his national team only once in his career
    - he may not change his national team during a preliminary competition in which he has taken part.

    Under UK law (and this law differs in other countries), a player (or anyone, for that matter) who was born abroad becomes eligible for a British passport after five years of lawful residence in the country, and he thus becomes eligible to play for one of the home countries provided he has not played for another national side in official competition.

    UK law therefore technically opens up the possibility of a non-British player living in, say, England, actually choosing to play for Wales, N Ireland or Scotland, as they are all one nation in legal terms though not in FIFA terms. Manuel Almunia for example is therefore allowed to play for any home nation at this time.

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  • 29. At 11:14pm on 06 Oct 2010, Mark wrote:

    Just a couple of things on Mainz and the Bundesliga in general:

    1. As has been correctly pointed out, Tuchel is pretty much the exact opposite of Jose Mourinho, both in demeanour and tactical style. Both excellent coaches, but Tuchel so far seems to favour a far more positive style.

    2. Mainz have been fantastic this season, largely due to their attacking trio of Holtby, Schürrle and Szalai. Holtby is making the mistake of his life by choosing to play for Germany in my opinion. He is an awesome player, but Germany have Özil and Kroos playing in his position (attacking midfielder/playmaker). There isn't room for Holtby in the team as long as one of those two is playing, and good as he is, I doubt he will be able to dislodge them permanently. England on the other hand have an absolute dearth of creative midfielders, and Holtby and Wilshere would complement each other well in my opinion. Oh well. As for Szalai, I would disagree completely with hackajack's comment. He reminds me of Berbatov or Dzeko, tall, strong, skillfull. Remember Berbatov had a poor goalscoring record during his first couple of years at Leverkusen.

    3. As good as Mainz are to watch, the best team in the league at the moment has to be Dortmund. They've got the best goalscorer in the league in Lucas Barrios, a great keeper in Weidenfeller, some exciting young attacking players (Großkreutz, Kagawa, Lewandowski, Götze...) and most importantly, the standout player of the season so far: Nuri Sahin. Sahin has been unbelievable this season, the way he bosses a game is a joy to watch. Like Schweinsteiger, but with more attacking impetus and a lethal left foot. If he keeps up this form, he might single-handedly take them to the title.

    4. Bayern are looking awful at the moment, they were lucky in avoiding injuries to key players last season, but the decision not to strengthen the squad has cost them dear. They were over reliant on Robben to get goals last season, their tactic was basically to give him the ball and hope he could conjure something up. It worked so well that it didn't matter that the strikers weren't scoring. Now he's injured, they have no attacking thrust whatsoever. Plus, their defence is way below-par for a club of their ambition. They'll do well to scrape into 3rd this season.

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  • 30. At 08:00am on 07 Oct 2010, Ronnie_McFall_And_His_Talented_Toupee wrote:

    21. At 3:06pm on 06 Oct 2010, G-in-Belgium wrote:
    "unheralded St Etienne"

    Who have only won Ligue 1 ten times, the French cup six times, and who's teams comprised of such unknowns as Michel Platini, Laurent Blanc, Aimé Jaquet
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    I couldnt agree more G.
    One of the proudest clubs in France, and those of a certain age will always remember their European forays.
    Allez Les Verts.

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  • 31. At 09:02am on 07 Oct 2010, benjaminu wrote:

    How i wish we could have a surprise table topping package in England.The problem is the wide divergance between the perrenial European representatives and other clubs in the league.season in and out it has got to be Manutd,chelsea,arsenal,liverpool,spurs,villa,everton(save for this time around).But why?it is true these clubs have a lot of money at their disposal to make good signings come the transfer window.it is true that a second string United side can finish in the top half of the league(see united side that drew with Rangers in the champions league).Secondly it is true that refrees normally make dubious decisions in favour of the heavy weights.United scored in the 97th minutes against city last season,spurs were so lucky to leave the Britania stadium with 3 points,the refree blew his wistle rather much earlier to salvage a point for United at Goodison,de jong should have been sent off for his assult on Ben Arfa and many more dubios decisions.what is only left in England for the minors are the cup tornament which i also wish are seeded such that the big boys meet in the early stages of the competition,otherwise few lucky one just walk their wayto the titles without doing some good work(chelsea FA cup and Man utd Carling cup).and all tean in Europe should be playing away in the fist rounds of these tornaments.

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  • 32. At 09:31am on 07 Oct 2010, U11846789 wrote:

    Interesting stuff in Germany and France at the start of their seasons.

    Intersting stuff over here in Sweden at the end of our season:

    Malmö and Helsingborg are slugging it out at the top (BIG local rivals more or less neck and neck with just a few games to go) and AIK - of Stockholm - hanging onto their Swedish PL status by the skin of their teeth. They could still go down!

    I remember when the English leagues had this sort of unpredictability in them.

    They are sorely missed.




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  • 33. At 12:29pm on 07 Oct 2010, Stevat wrote:

    #13, like Chelsea and Man City, who's entire squads were away during the summer? I think it's a tad harsh to try and belittle the achievements of Mainz thus far this season. They are being held in high regard in blogs such as this for their manner of victory as much for their positive start. Football isn't about winning after all, it's about entertaining and inspiring local pride and a sense of community - in idealogical terms at least.

    #29, Sahin is quality, but we all knew of his capabilities. Kagawa has really surprised me, will be interesting to see how he develops. On the Holtby thing, he shouldn't play for England, he isn't English. He wants to play for Germany, and to me that decision should be based solely on which country he feels reflects his international identity - how would he describe himself? Which gives him the better playing options is irrelevant, should be a decision made by the heart. That's not to say I disagree with players from other countries representing England, if Almunia considers himself English, then he should play for us.

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  • 34. At 2:09pm on 07 Oct 2010, The_soul_patch_of_David_Villa wrote:

    #4

    ''Just as they've done with Klose, Podolski, Khedira, Oezil, Cacau and Tasci the Germans have poached talent that was potentially eligible for another country.''
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    With the exception of Cacau, I don't think it can be accurately claimed that Germany ''poached'' any of those players.

    Khedira, Özil and Tasci are all born and raised in Germany, while Klose and Podolski's families moved over there at a young age.

    If you think that Germany ''poached'' these players, then it must also follow that England poached Jermain Defoe ( eligible for St. Lucia or Dominica ), Phil Jagielka ( eligible for Poland ), Emile Heskey ( eligible for Antigua and Barbuda ), Bobby Zamora ( eligible for Trinidad and Tobago ), and many other players who represent or represented the national squad.


    #11

    Even now scoring 3 goals (wow, amazing, it's not like a jouirneyman pro likle Elmander or Picquionne could manage that is it, oh hang on a minute...)
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I don't think it's entirely fair to refer to Johan Elmander as a ''journeyman''. How many other ''journeymen'' command a transfer fee of £8m at the age of 27 ?!


    #21
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I think Phil is referring to them as ''unheralded'' in the context of this season.

    Having finished just above the relegation places last season, I don't think too many people would have heralded Saint-Étienne as a team that would be challenging at the top of the table.





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  • 35. At 2:14pm on 07 Oct 2010, The_soul_patch_of_David_Villa wrote:

    ''Klose and Podolski's families moved over there at a young age.''

    That should of course read: Klose and Podolski's families moved over there when Miroslav and Lukas were at a young age !

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  • 36. At 2:21pm on 07 Oct 2010, nhawkins5185 wrote:

    @Benjaminu

    Whislt I agree with some of what you say in the way the clubs with more European exposure have more money and can build better squads (Everton slightly aside as I would argue some clubs with less exposure have a bigger budget)

    I do disagree on the easy ride for Premiership teams in cups, in the last two Seasons of the carling cup Man Utd have beaten Arsenal, Man City, Tottenham and Aston Villa...before that they got beat by Coventry. And have been beaten by Exeter and York over the years. Liverpool crashed out to Northampton and got beat not so long ago by a less fashionable Burnley side (Inc a comical Own goal I believe). My memory is scratchy but I think chelsea got taken to a reply and run very close by Brentford in a cup a few years back as well (apologies if i have that one wrong. I was sure it was Brentford, Big lad up front caused all sorts of problems to chelsea). I dont think any game against an enthusiastic and well organised side is ever truly easy, its just when the chances come the difference in quality can show.

    I do feel though that the Carling Cup should be changed,it needs to be made more open, whether this limits the involvement of Premier League clubs (Or just those in Europe maybe) to give someone else a chance of winning silverware.

    As for the main article, I was glad to see more coverage and analysis of leagues outside the English and Spanish. I hope Mainz can continue to perform well.

    To those who have pointed to the phrase "Unheralded St Etienne" I am guessing he means in these more recent times so often dominated by Lyon. I hope this breaking of established expectations keeps going and that we can see even more blogs on the lesser reported leagues from around Europe.

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  • 37. At 09:28am on 08 Oct 2010, itsonlyagame - R9 The Number of the Beast wrote:

    Hi Phil,
    It's refreshing to see a blog about these teams rather than the usual European juggernauts. Mainz have been a huge surprise to those of us who don't follow the BL closely, though B.Dortmund are in hot pursuit and I think they'd be the obvious title favourites as things stand right now.
    I'll stick my hand up as one who thought that your article headline on Valero last year was pretty much ott. I actually thought that he'd been transferred rather than loaned to Villarreal, so that's another thing I've learnt today.
    I'd be interested to know where you see him fitting into the Spanish national team (on a regular basis)?
    Xavi looks like the most likely candidate to make way for new blood in the Spanish team in a not-too-distant future; Alonso isn't that much younger, but he still appears to have a few years left in him.
    To date, Cesc Fabregas has been widely considered to be the 'natural' substitute for Xavi - both at club and international level - do you see Valero bumping him from the 'selección'?
    As a final question - how do you rate Villarreal's chances in the league?
    In an earlier blog this season I pointed out that their midfield is as good as anyone else's in La Liga, they've got a potent strike-force with some very handy players on the bench (like Jefferson Montero) and despite losing Godin, still had some reasonable cover in the middle of their defence and in goal.
    It remains to be seen how they manage when they face some of the big boys as so far, in fairness, they've only really faced mid- and bottom-table sides, but Garrido seems to be carrying his good work with the B side over to the 1st team.
    Anyhow, here's to hoping for an exciting Liga campaign!

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  • 38. At 6:02pm on 08 Oct 2010, Mark wrote:

    #33 - Holtby has one German parent and one English parent. Yes, he grew up in Germany, but that doesn't mean he is not English. He is both German and English, and therefore has the choice between representing either country. He has stated that he wants to play for Germany, but this seems to be based on the fact that he developed in the German system, and is currently the captain of their under 21s. He has also stated in interviews that he used to support England when they played against Germany when he was growing up, and that he considers himself to be both English and German. Of course he is entitled to make his own decision, but I personally think that choosing England would be better for his career prospects.

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  • 39. At 2:32pm on 13 Oct 2010, Phil Minshull wrote:

    Many apologies only posting this response now, it was actually written last Friday.

    Unfortunately, some kind of glitch in the BBC computer system meant I couldn’t post anything until today. At least, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it but I won’t say anything more for fear of upsetting the techies in London!

    NUR DER HSV: “You should at least mention (Mainz’s) Andre Schürrle who's been absolutely outstanding this season.” You are absolutely right. An acknowledgement of what he’s done was only missing because of space and the fact that there were slightly more interesting tale to tell about Szalai (who scored three goals last night in Hungary’s 8-0 hammering of San Marino) and Holtby.

    Swindon 2010: “Shinji Kagawa has been playing well for Dortmund (who have won 6 from 7 and lost once), what do you think of him?” To be honest, I can’t claim to have known much about him before he got to Dortmund but clearly their club scouts did a fantastic job in assessing his potential while he was in Japan. From what I’ve seen so far he’s very quick and skilful, has easily filled the gap left by the departure of Nelson Valdez (see below) and clearly seems to be enjoying life so far in Dortmund.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2010/sep/20/shinji-kagawa-borussia-dortmund-schalke

    Mikey: “Could you answer me why Dortmund chose to sell Nelson Valdez for so little to Hercules?” Valdez had been saying publicly since the start of the year that he was unhappy at Dortmund. He was quoted back in March as saying that he would shine at the World Cup and that there would be plenty of clubs wanting to sign him. I can only speculate but I guess he wanted a better contract since he was an acknowledged starter. In the end, Hercules paid 3mn euros (perhaps a small amount but a club record for them) so it looks like Dortmund were glad to get rid of a whinging player who had ceased to be very motivated, and he got better terms and conditions and a move to a Spanish-speaking country, and to a club in a nice location.

    G-in-Belgium took me to task for calling St Etienne ‘unheralded but thank you to The_soul_patch_of David Villa for coming to my defence when he said, “I think Phil is referring to them as ''unheralded'' in the context of this season.” Exactly. I’m fully aware of St Etienne’s glorious history in the 1960s and 70s, and even before, but they have had some grim times in the last 25 years and spent a fair amount of time in Ligue 2. They only hung onto their Ligue 1 status on the final day of last season. No one seriously expected them to be top of the table after seven games.

    JoC: “Do you agree with Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson's recent comments that the exertions of the top clubs' players during this Summer's World Cup is chiefly to blame for the incredible amount of shock results we're seeing early on this season - throughout Europe - or do you think it's just co-incidence? I think the World Cup ‘hangover’ is a contributing factor but IMHO it can’t be the whole answer, otherwise I’d expect one or two more of the top clubs in England, Spain and Italy would be ‘doing a Schalke’ and down towards the bottom of the first division. However, it is noticeable that a reasonable number of players who were at the world cup and played in four or more games are struggling to find their top form and fitness e.g. the Spanish trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Villa for starters.


    Itsonlyagame: “I'd be interested to know where you see him (Valero) fitting into the Spanish national team? As a final question - how do you rate Villarreal's chances in the league?” I can see Valero being used initially as cover for either Iniesta, Busquets and Xavi, perhaps playing a little deeper than he does for Villarreal (and last season Mallorca). After that, everything depends on all the usual variables of injuries and form.

    Regarding Villarreal, I mentioned in passing a couple of weeks ago, in a blog on Jose Mourinho (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/philminshull/2010/08/can_mourinho_make_a_difference.html), “I think that the perennially frustrating Atletico Madrid could have a good season and I think it will be between Villarreal and Sevilla for fourth.” I’d still stand by that, a top four place for Villarreal, especially as many of their key players like Cazorla, Senna and Rossi were not in South Africa and had the summer to rest and recuperate.

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