Firstly to some domestic football (soccer) action in Australia. Canberra United were crowned W-League champions on Sunday after defeating the highly fancied Perth Glory 3-1. It has been an up and down year for Canberra, who suffered a mid-season slump and only qualified for the top four on the final day of the regular season. Perth dominated the regular season and the minor premiers had only lost twice all year going into the grand final. But Canberra secured a famous upset to be crowned champions for the second time. For Canberra Ashleigh Sykes was the hero with two goals in quick succession late in the second half. It could have been a different story had Canberra goalkeeper Chantel Jones not saved a penalty with the score at 2-1. Many of those in action will be eagerly awaiting the announcement of the Matilda’s team, due out today, for next year’s World Cup.

Wellington Phoenix were expected to struggle in the A League this season, and some were even tipping them for the wooden spoon. Their home form so far this year has been excellent but on the road they have struggled to secure results. That changed on Sunday and it could well be the day that the Phoenix announced themselves as true contenders in 2014/15. And it was a familiar face who stole the show, with Nathan Burns scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Sydney FC. The win lifts the Phoenix above Sydney and into fourth on the table. Sydney had the better of the first half but were over-run and out played in the second as the Phoenix secured a deserving win. Sydney have now won only one of their last seven matches and Graham Arnold needs to find the spark to switch the Sky Blues back on.

That was the only upset of the round in the A-League. Elsewhere Melbourne City were victorious in their derby with Melbourne Victory 1-0 and the ninth placed Newcastle jets defeated third placed Adelaide 2-1. In the weekends other fixture the table topping Perth Glory thumped the Central Coast Mariners 4-1. Western Sydney Wanderers may be the reigning Asian Champions League winners but domestically their season has been a disaster. They were not in action on the weekend as they returned from the Club World Cup in Morocco (won by Real Madrid) and now find themselves languishing at the bottom of the table and four points behind the Jets. They may have two games inhand but a miserly three points from nine games is simply not good enough. Next up is a trip over the Tasman to take on the high-flying Phoenix.

Jacques Kallis and Michael Hussey may be one of the oldest opening partnerships going around in professional cricket but age was no barrier in the Big Bash on Sunday. Hussey and Kallis were dominant for the outset. Between the opening duo they struck 26 fours or sixes, though both will have been disappointed to fall short of their hundred. Hussey fell for 96, while Kallis was left on 97 not out as he was unable to get the three he needed for his century off the last ball of the innings. The 160 run stand was the second highest partnership in the history on the Big Bash and set up a commanding total of 208 for the Sydney Thunder. The Brisbane Heat lost wickets early and though they managed to stabilise collapsed to lose their last five wickets for only five runs as they were all out for 152 in response. On Saturday the Melbourne Stars poor start continued as they were beaten at home by the Hobart Hurricanes. Darren Sammy may not have top scored but he was the difference as he blasted 28 from just 12 deliveries at the end of the innings as the Hurricanes scored 47 off their final two overs. Set 190 to win the Stars made just 138, of which captain Cameron White contributed 62.

And finally, there was disappointing news for Australian cycling fans this morning with the announcement that the reigning national road race champion and Tour Down Under winner, Simon Gerrans, had crashed and broken his collarbone in a training ride yesterday. While his recovery is expected to be swift he will still miss both races in January. The crash happened while Gerrans was out cross training on a mountain bike. While a massive blow to Orica Greenedge before the season has even started the pressure will now be on Gerrans’s teammates to step up. In the lead up to both races I’ll have a closer look at the course and favourites.

The week before Christmas and plenty of sport to keep all but the most particular of sport followers entertained.

  1. Alpine Skiing – Val Gardena-Groeden (men) and Val d’Isere (women) – The Alpine skiing World Cup is in full swing, with this weekend’s racing taking place in France and Italy. In France on Val d’Isere the women will compete in the Downhill on Saturday and then the Super G on Sunday. Over at the Italian resort of Val Gardena the men will follow Friday’s Downhill with the Super G and Giant Slalom on Saturday and Sunday respectively. What’s the difference between all these? In simple terms the alpine skiing events can be ordered Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom and Slalom, with the gates getting more frequent and the course more technical. Downhill is the most open and thus has the fastest racing.

Tips – Men – Kjetil Jansrud to win the Downhill and Super G, Marcel Hirscher the Giant Slalom. Women – Lindesy Vonn to win the Downhill and Tina Maze to win the Super G.     

SUQ – 6 – The actions can be difficult to catch but if you can find the telecast then it is well worth watching.

 

  1. Cricket – Australia versus India – Second Test – The second test looked like being evenly poised at the halfway mark, but some late innings hitting has given Australia the edge. Earlier in the day India had looked set for a solid first innings lead but a dynamic run-a-ball 88 from Mitchell Johnson helped drag Australia back to level pegging, with some even later hitting from Mitchell Starc securing a first innings lead, which now stands at 95. With the players at tea the Indian bowlers are still toiling and trying to take the tenth and final Australian wicket. Yet again Steve Smith was the mainstay of the Australian innings, with a well-crafted 133. Once again the main difference between the two sides has been the batting contribution from the tail. While India’s last four wickets added 80 Australia’s have added 256 and counting. It is a familiar story and one that continues to hurt India’s chances of winning test matches.

Tip – A great cricket wicket, still plenty of help for both batters and bowlers. A result looks definite and while India could win it’s hard not to feel that the match has turned. Australia has the lead, the momentum and a formidable record in Brisbane.

SUQ – 8 – India needs to win to have any chance of winning the series. It is all to play for in Brisbane.

 

  1. Cricket – Australian Domestic Big Bash League Last year the Melbourne Stars didn’t lose a game until the semi-final. Last night they were obliterated by the Adelaide Strikers in the season opener. The Strikers chased down the Stars 148 runs with ease, thanks mainly to the striking of Tom Ludeman. Last season he couldn’t get a game, last night he scored the fastest domestic BBL half century ever. It too just 18 balls. He slowed down slightly but still finished with an unbeaten 92 off 44 deliveries. This weekends fixtures see the Sydney Sixers take on the Melbourne Renegades, Melbourne Stars versus Hobart Hurricanes and Sydney Thunder host Brisbane Heat – a stormy weekend instore indeed. The opening games are extremely difficult to judge, and much of the interest will be around the performance of imports, such as Jaques Kallis. Kallis will be looking to inspire a Sydney Thunder side that has traditionally struggled in the twenty over format. Kevin Pietersen has been brought in to strengthen an already formidable Melbourne Stars batting line-up, and while he made an impressive 66 (off 46) on debut his performance was overshadowed by that of Ludeman. The Stars lost wickets at key moments in their opening games and will need to avoid that if they are to beat the Hurricanes.

Tips – I’m going to go with all the home teams – Sydney Sixers, Melbourne Stars and Sydney Thunder.

SUQ – 7 – Only early and the tension will build.

 

The first test between India and Australia reached a dramatic conclusion on Sunday. At the start of the last day all three results – win, loose, tie – were still possible, with Australia the favourites. By tea time all three results were still possible but India, on the back of their captain and a strong batting display, were favourites. But Nathan Lyon put an ordinary first two sessions behind him to bowl Australia to a famous victory.

On day four Australia wrapped up the Indian tail then went about plundering the runs to set India a fifth day chase. Once again Chris Rogers and Shane Watson failed and were it not for Michael Clarke suffering yet another hamstring injury then both of their spots in the eleven would have come under scrutiny. The fact that Watson has survived this long at number three despite a series of sub-par performances is a mystery to me. David Warner once again was the mainstay of the innings, notching his second hundred in the match. But it wasn’t without fortune. Bowled in the seventies he received a respite after a front foot no-ball from Varun Aaron. Aaron had given Warner a send-off before the no ball was spotted by the umpires and Warner duly responded on his return to the crease. The animosity provided a sense of normality for two teams who clash more often than most.

Steve Smith’s rich vein of form also continued as he notched another half century. He is a batsmen and player who has matured enormously in the last twelve months and I believe Cricket Australia’s decision to name him as captain on Monday is fully vindicated. At 25 he may be Australia’s third youngest captain but he is the obvious candidate and a better long-term option than vice-captain Brad Haddin. He has captained at state and Australian under 23 level, clearly has a cricketing brain and looks ready for the job.

Back to the cricket, India were set 364 to win on the final day. It was a chase that would require plenty of records to be broken but wasn’t without hope. The wicket was still playing well and Australia’s pace attack hadn’t exactly set fear into the Indian batsmen in the first innings. But this isn’t an Indian batting line up with renowned stars. Murali Vijay provided the only real support to Virat Kholi with an outstanding 99. But his wicket sparked a collapse from which India never recovered. India lost 8 for 73 in the final session to fall 48 runs short of victory. For Virat Kholi the result will have been particularly tough to take. He batted well in the first innings for 115 and then even better in the second for 141, his highest test score. He led from the front all game. But his wicket will give him nightmares. It was one of Lyon’s worse balls of the day and sat up to be hit. Kohli duly obliged, but he picked out Mitch Marsh, who didn’t even have to move, in the deep. Kohli’s talent is there for all to see and if he goes on to become the player many expect then, despite the loss, this may well be a match he looks back on as the turning point. Up until now he has shown promise but failed to deliver all to often. An average of less than 40 is far too low for a player of his calibre.

For Australia it was Nathan Lyon who was the hero. 12 months ago and in a similar position he failed to bowl Australia to victory on the final day against South Africa. But he is a much better bowler these days. His flight and control were impressive throughout. He toiled for the first two sessions but found the umpires tough to convince with a number of near misses. But when he managed to beat Vijay’s wristy flick and trap him LBW there was a sense of vulnerability. The cricket gods may have smiled on him after with at least one of his wickets dubious. His seven wickets in the innings took his match tally to 12, easily a career best. And his performance helped to cover-up a subdued and ineffective bowling performance from his colleagues. Johnson, Harris and Siddle will be particularly grateful that Lyon was up to the challenge as the pace trio struggled to make an impression on the final day. And before someone pipes up that Johnson took two wickets, the first was fortunate and shouldn’t have been given out and the second was a number nine late on.

As close as India came it is worth remembering that Australia dominated for most of the five days. Australia declared twice and India managed a paltry 12 wickets across both innings. Whether they can take the 20 wickets required to win a test match is debatable. And while their batsmen acquitted themselves reasonably well not enough starts were converted and the form of Rohit Sharma will be of concern. The second test starts in Brisbane on Wednesday. It has been a happy hunting ground for Australia and they will be firm favourites to take a 2-0 series lead.

To football where this week I’m just going to look at one match, Manchester United versus Liverpool. Or should I say David De Gea versus Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli. Manchester United may have won 3-0 but it was De Gea who made the crucial interventions. Just how United have won six straight given their defensive deficiencies is quite amazing and once again they looked profligate on Sunday. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring after good work from Antonio Valencia on the wing. But it could have been a different story were it not for De Gea less than 30 seconds earlier. De Gea was on hand to block a Sterling effort and from the rebound United counter attacked and scored.

Twice more he denied Sterling in the first half, including one after Jonny Evan’s did his best impersonation of Xavi with a perfectly weighted through ball for Sterling to race on to. What was meant to be a backpass was woefully underhit and De Gea, after keeping out Sterling’s shot was rightly furious. He is a one man defence at the moment. Various websites have given him a perfect 10 for his performance and it is hard to argue with them. Thibault Courtois is the only goalkeeper in England who can claim to be anywhere near De Gea’s level, and he has the benefit of playing behind a far less hospitable backline.

While De Gea’s confidence is clearly sky-high, Sterling seems bereft of both confidence and ideas. He dallied at least once when he should have shot earlier and this was his 21st competitive game without a goal. The return of Sturridge to take some of the burden off his shoulders can’t come soon enough.

At the other end of the field the names on the scoresheet for United were familiar; Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata. Though it must be said that there was a sense of fortune about the second and third with a hint of off-side on both occasions. Rooney’s form is as good as at any time in his career, and he is continuing to find the net despite being moved deeper and deeper. On this occasion he played in midfield, with his presence alone seeming to instil confidence. Any further back and he’ll be in defence. He might just be United’s best option there at the moment as well.

Interestingly Louis Van Gall continues to use Radamel Falcao off the bench, with James Wilson starting. Falcao is beginning to look sharper and while he is snatching at goal scoring opportunities it seems only a matter of time until he is given a chance from the start. Anders Herrara hasn’t done a huge amount wrong and will surely find his way into the starting line-up sooner rather than later as well. He uses the ball far more effectively than most of his United counterparts and is a bundle of energy. And then there is the return of Angel Di Maria from injury to manage. Louis Van Gall is going to have his job cut out deciding on his best team and formation. But that is what he is paid to do.

 

After a couple of quiet weeks there seems to be a bit more sport to choose from this weekend.

  1. Hockey – Champions Trophy (men’s) – The Kookaburra’s (Australia) have progressed to the semi-finals after a 4-2 win over Argentina in the quarter-finals. It was a popular quarter-final score, with India (hosts and world number 9) and Pakistan (world number 11) also securing upset wins by the same scoreline over Belgium (world number 4) and the Netherlands (world number 2) respectively. Australia will now play Germany, 2-0 winners over England, in an eagerly anticipated semi-final. Australia are aiming for a sixth straight title but haven’t been at their fluid best so far this time around. Germany are the reigning Olympic champions and will be desperate to halt Australia’s march toward another Champions Trophy.

Tip – Two unexpected but intriguing semi-finals. The Kooaburra’s have looked vulnerable and I think they’ll come up short against Germany. India will ride their home support all the way to the final but will ultimately find a well-drilled German outfit too strong.

SUQ – 8 – Second only to Olympic gold in terms of prestige in hockey the Champions Trophy deserves more attention and coverage than it gets.

 

  1. Cricket – Australia versus India – First Test – So far it has been all about the batsmen. Four hundreds, three fifties and only 12 wickets in three days of play. Mitchell Johnson was the star last summer and is the reigning ICC Test player of the year. But even he struggled on a placid pitch. Nathan Lyon was the most threatening of the Australian bowlers as he varied his deliveries well, kept the Indian batsmen pinned down and got a couple of deliveries to jump and surprise on his way to a two wicket haul. For India it was stand in captain Virat Kohli who top scored with 115, but he will disappointed in both the way he got out and the timing, with only four overs left in the day. With India five wickets down and still 150 behind the match is evenly poised. If Australia can grab a few early wickets they may be able to hang onto a lead of 100 and then score some quick runs to set up a final innings chase. India will be looking to bat for as long as possible. The draw looks the most likely outcome but both sides will still be optimistic of securing an all-important series opening win.

Tip – Extremely tough but the wicket still played well yesterday so I’ll stick with the draw.

SUQ – 8 – India put up more of a fight than many expected and the next two days could shape the rest of the series if one side gets on top.

 

  1. Golf – Australian PGA Championships – at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast –For Adam Scott 2014 hasn’t been quite as good as he might have hoped. The defending champion will be looking to end the year on a high and has said that a win could kick-start 2015. In his two starts in Australia over the last month he has been consistent yet inconsistent. Close but not quite close enough. Scott shot a 4-under 68 in the opening round yesterday to be two shots behind overnight leader Boo Weekley. There are 16 players at either 3 or 4-under and the early indications are that it is going to take a score better than Scott’s 14-under par last year to win the title.

Tips – Scott is the most well-credentialed player in the field, has started strongly and knows the course. He should win.

SUQ – 7 – Two weeks ago Jordan Speith ran away with Australian Open, turning the final round into a procession. Hopefully this weekend the leaderboard is more congested and the action more intriguing.

 

Note that the first round of the Championships were concluded on Friday morning after rain delayed the opening round on Thursday evening. Jim Jeong was running hot on Friday morning as he completed a flawless opening round with seven birdies punctuating eleven pars. He now leads by one shot from Weekley.

The Volvo Ocean Race continues to be a titanic between three boats. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has led for most of the first eighteen days of the second leg but was overtaken on Sunday by the two boats that had previously been pursuing in vain. Team Bruneel now leads Dongfeng Race Team by 8 nautical miles, with the Abu Dhabi boat a further 20 nautical miles back. They were the first three boats in the first leg and are continuing to assert their dominance in the race.

If you haven’t had a chance to look at the website I thoroughly suggest you do, there are some stunning pictures. And thanks to Jo Whidd for her link. The world of long distance yacht racing is a very unique one. Some of the photos show the boats hardly moving in benign conditions with speeds as low as two knots. That means plenty of time for contemplation as the hours and sometimes days are whiled away with very little to do. But when the winds do pick up the skippers really earn their money. Indeed, Dongfeng were left lamenting the fluky wind overnight, siting it as the reason that they lost around eight nautical miles (their entire deficit) to Team Bruneel over the last 24 hours.

It was hardly an exciting weekend of action in the English Premier League with three nil all draws on Saturday alone. Tottenham, Liverpool and Hull, the three home sides, were all favourites and will all have been disappointed with their performances. As will the fans. Liverpool have a crunch Champions League tie on Wednesday against Basel so their decision to rest some key players, including captain Steven Gerrard, was understandable. But the team sent out by Brendan Rodgers should still have been able to secure three points against Crystal Palace. Lose or draw against Basel and they are out of Champions league, the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

Newcastle’s revival since the opening handful of games has really been quite something. After seven games Newcastle hadn’t won a game, had four points and were in the relegation zone. And many were calling for Allan Pardew’s head. Their revival has included wins over Liverpool, Manchester City (League Cup) and now Chelsea. St James’ Park has become a fortress, which no team will look forward to visiting. On Saturday Newcastle inflicted Chelsea’s first defeat of the season with a 2-1 win. Papa Cisse was the here for Newcastle as he came off the bench to score both goals but the performances of Moussa Sissoko, third choice goalkeeper Ben Alnwick, Fabricio Coloccini and even Steven Taylor were crucial. Taylor’s performance was somewhat soured by his late red card which meant that Newcastle spent the last ten minutes hanging on with only ten men but his eighty minutes before that were outstanding. Next up is a trip to Arsenal.

What does it mean for the Premier League? Three weeks ago some commentators were saying that the League was already a foregone conclusion. But declaring anyone winners in November is foolish. In their last three games Chelsea have shown a number of frailties. They were unable to break down a stubborn Sunderland, lost at Newcastle and, despite beating Tottenham comfortably were caught at the back on a number of occasions and could have been punished by better finishing. They remain the best team in the league and due to the gap they had opened up and Southampton’s recent struggles still have a three point gap at the top. While Manchester City have closed in that has been on the back of Sergio Aguero alone. The site of him limping off after less than five minutes will have left Manchester City fan’s despairing. City are another side with a crunch Champions League as they take on Roma in a winner takes all (well, qualifies from the group along with Bayern Munich) mid-week clash.

A quick word on La Liga. Or, more specifically Cristiano Ronaldo. He is a regular feature on these pages but he is in a rich vein of form that looks likely to see him win a second Ballon d’Or. I personally would like to see Manuel Neuer take out that award after a stellar World Cup in which he was the standout player for champions Germany. But the candidates will be discussed in more detail closer to the award. At club level Ronaldo has been imperious. On Saturday against Celta Vigo he scored his 23rd La Liga hat-trick, bringing up 200 goals in the process. In only 178 games. As he approaches his thirtieth birthday many are pondering when (if) he will start to slow down. His athleticism is second to none and he can score goals off both pegs and with his head. And, arguably most importantly, he spearheads a frighteningly good Real Madrid side full of creative talent. The opportunities are going to keep on coming and right now there isn’t any reason to think Ronaldo isn’t going to keep putting them away. As if not to be outdone Lionel Messi responded with a hat-trick of his own on Sunday. We, as viewers, are privileged to be able to watch two players who will undoubtedly be remembered as amongst the best of all time.

And finally to the women’s hockey Champions Trophy. The Hockeyroos secured their spot in the final via a convincing 3-0 win over neigbours New Zealand. Hosts Argentina had a far closer encounter with the Netherlands before booking their spot in the final with a 2-1 win. The final was a tight contest, Australia was first to score but were soon pegged back by Argentina. The game stayed locked at 1-1 and ultimately the tournament was decided via a penalty shoot-out. A young Australian team was found out in the shoot-out, with only their captain finding the back of the net. While Argentina rightly celebrated there were plenty of positives for an Australian side that has shown solid improvement. The hockey world’s attention now shifts to India, which is playing host to the men’s Champions Trophy.

Phil Hughes’s tragic death led to a re-shuffling of the Australian cricket schedule, both at international and domestic level. As a result the first test starts in Adelaide on Tuesday 9 December (rather than yesterday), with the Brisbane test to follow. Anyway, back to this weekend.

  1. Hockey – Champions Trophy (women’s) – The Hockeyroos have moved through to the semi-finals of the Champions trophy with a comfortable 4-1 win over Japan in Mendoza. Next up is a meeting with New Zealand, who dispatched England 3-1. Australia has taken a young side to Argentina but have performed well so far, progressing to the semi-finals for the first time in five years. On the other side of the draw the Netherlands won a tough contest with Germany 1-0 and will play Argentina, who thrashed China 7-2, for a spot in the final. The final will be played on Sunday.

Tip – Australia will be confident of defeating neighbours New Zealand but the other semi-final looks likely to produce the overall winner. I’ll go with the hosts, Argentina, to win the trophy.

SUQ – 7 – Second only to Olympic gold in terms of prestige in hockey the Champions Trophy deserves more attention and coverage than it gets.

 

  1. Tennis – IPTL A spin-off from the cricket IPL, the IPTL sees an innovative format with teams competing in abbreviated fixtures under slightly different rules. Teams are made up of men and women and include both current and former players. Anybody know what a ‘super shootout’ is? Well, Tomas Berdych won one yesterday against Gael Monfils to secure a 24-23 win for the Singapore Slammers in their tie-breaker with the previously-undefeated Indian Aces. As far as I can tell it is a tie-breaker that lasts seven minutes with a team’s two best/chosen players competing. But I may well be wrong! It’s lucrative for the players and designed to be fast-paced and more attractive to viewers, with less time between points and one-set matches. It started in Manilla and there are games to come in New Delhi and Dubai.

Tip – No idea. Flip a coin in virtually every contest.

SUQ – 4 – The opportunity to see some of the games stars from yesteryear is about the only reason to tune in to what could be termed “hit and giggle” tennis.

 

  1. Sailing – Volvo Ocean Race – Leg 2 – Cape Town to Abu Dhabi (6125 nautical miles) – Sport is dominated by contests that take place over minutes or hours and can be decided by seconds. Not so the world of sailing. And definitely not in the Volvo Ocean Race. The race started in Alicante, Spain in October and will finish in Gothenburg, Sweden in June 2015. Seven teams battle the elements as they cross the globe, covering 38,730 nautical miles spread across nine designated legs of racing. The boats have so far covered more than 4000 nautical miles of the second leg and, amazingly, there is a mere 8.4 nautical miles, separating the leading trio. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing currently leads the field from Team Brunel and Dongfeng Race Team. There has been drama at the back with Team Vestas Wind running aground on the Cargados Carajos Shoals in Mauritius. Check out the race’s home page at http://www.volvooceanrace.com/ for more information and to see some spectacular shots of the racing and stranded Team Vestas Wind boat.

Tips – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are racing towards home and that should be the added incentive they need to hold off the chasing pack when they finish in about a week.

SUQ – 8 – A fascinating and truly unique sporting event. Certainly not one for the fan or spectator who wants a quick adrenaline hit.

 

Some thoughts on various football games from around the globe.

In 2006-07 Opta records began tracking goal attempts. On the weekend the unlikely combination of Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City set a new record that will take some breaking. The two teams recorded an astonishing 51 goal attempts (52 according to some stats) over the course of the ninety minutes. That’s more than one every two minutes. Take into consideration the actual time the ball is in play and that becomes more like one every ninety seconds. An astounding strike rate. QPR were the winners thanks to Charlie Austin’s decisive goal, as were neutrals who crave attacking football. Both defensive coaches might have some work on their hands this week given the ease with which both attacks managed to find space and create scoring opportunities. Final score: 3-2.

To Spain, where Real Madrid recorded an equally impressive record of their own: 16 consecutive wins across all competitions. Saturday’s win was more hard-fought than many of the others, a 2-1 away win at a much improved Malaga outfit. Surprisingly Cristiano Ronaldo was not on the scoresheet, with his two forward compatriots Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale instead doing the damage. That said the Portuguese ace did provide both assists for his teammates. Many would argue that Ronaldo is selfish and while there is no doubt he often takes it upon himself to shoot when others are in a better position he has eight assists (and a lazy twenty goals) in just twelve league games this season. Given the attacking talent at their disposal and improved defensive solidarity there is no reason to believe that Real don’t have a few wins left in them. Their next three games ( versus U.E Cornella in the Copa del Rey, Celta Vigo in La Liga and Ludogorets in the Champions League) are all at home and if they can win them they will pass Barcelona’s spanish record (set during Frank Rijkaard’s reign) for consecutive wins.

Over to Germany now where Borussia Dortmund’s dismal start to the season shows no signs of abating. It is quite astonishing to think that three short months ago at the start of the season they were considered the only challenges to Bayern Munich and arguing anything other than a top three finish would have been a difficult proposition. After the weekends 2-0 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, Dortmund are bottom of the league for the first time in 29 years and have only 11 points from 13 matches. And don’t forget that three of them came from that own goal. There have certainly been mitigating factors: not least an injury list that would keep a small hospital in business, and a run of luck in-front of goal that surely can’t continue. Jurgen Klopp was one of the most sought after managers at the start of the year. And while his reputation remains intact at this stage, that could change. He shows no signs of wanting to leave and the Board and supporters have continued to remain optimistic despite the horror start. But how long that can continue is up for debate, especially in terms of the fans. There were whistles and jeers of frustration at the end on the weekend and anything other than a win at home in Friday’s encounter with Hoffenheim will likely see much worse. Dortmund may be short on personnel at the moment but they have far too much talent to be languishing in even the bottom half of the table. All those associated with Dortmund will find some solace in the fact that they are “only” ten points off a Champions League qualification position.

Miralem Pjanic and Andrea Pirlo might be at different stages of their careers but right now both are the fulcrum’s of the two dominant sides in Seria A. On Sunday they engaged in a little bit of tit-for-tat, inspiring their teams to wins in matches in which they were challenged. Pirlo scored a trademark late free-kick to snatch a win for Juventus in the derby with Turino while Pjanic broke Inter Milan hearts with the final two goals in a 4-2 win after Inter had twice recovered to draw level after going a goal behind. His second was a 25 yard freekick. Anything you can do Andrea I can do better? Juventus are three points clear of Roma who themselves are eight points clear of surprise packet Genoa. The two sides have the two best attacking and defensive records in the league and, on current form, are well clear of the chasers. In Rudi Garcia Roma have one of the best young managers in the game and he has instilled the team with the belief that they can win the league. And in Francesco Totti they have a peerless leader who continues to defy his age and conventions. But he is just one the many attacking threats an enterprising Roma side has at its disposal.

And finally to the A League in Australia were Nathan Burns became the first Wellington Phoenix player to score a hat-trick in his sides memorable 5-1 thumping of Melbourne City. The scoreline represented a nine goal turnaround from the last meeting between the two sides. Phoenix weren’t in the best form after two away losses and had to weather an early storm but they got better as the game continued and dominated the second half to record a comprehensive victory. Burns has now scored seven in eight games and his form is part of the reason Phoenix find themselves exceeding expectations and in fifth position on the table, six points clear of sixth but four points off fourth (a rather unique set of numbers there!). Wellington’s success is great for the league and the game in New Zealand. They have the capacity to attract bigger than average crowds and add an extra dimension to a league that, while a success so far, has huge growth potential.