Long shots: a mixed bag before the break (week 9)

Week 9 of the season, and my oddball selection of sides have hit a relegation market, a collective 40 points, Sure, that’s not going to keep any one of them up individually, but it’s all going surprisingly well so far, with no sides at all in the drop zone.

That said, on some fronts the strain is starting to show. Here’s the latest ahead of the international break…

Bundesliga: Arminia Bielefeld (5/6 on to be relegated) 0-5 away to Union Berlin

A confession: Union Berlin are a side I have a real soft spot for, having seen them live before they were anywhere near the Bundesliga, and taken a liking to the political activism of their fans. I’ve committed myself to Arminia for the season, though, and this particular loss is a terrible sign.

Arminia had been on a bad run, but against good sides, which makes it somewhat excusable before now, but this was a real thrashing. Union were two up in a little over a quarter of an hour, and Bielefeld didn’t create anything in the whole game even worthy of the highlights reel.

They’re still outside the drop zone. Just, thanks to the three sides in the Bundesliga yet to grab even one win.

Long shots: a Fulham win, finally (week eight)

What’s been interesting about my season-long dabble with the teams that are supposed to be ‘the biggest losers’ so far is that none of them are looking all that bad. In fact, the one side that were really struggling, Fulham, took advantage of an easy-ish fixture this week to be the fifth team out of the five not to sit in the relegation zone in week 8, a surprising outcome this far into the season.

Of course, on balance, the sides are still losing more than they win, apart from Metz, a brilliant anomaly. Here’s how the latest week panned out…

Premier League: Fulham (evens to go down) 2-0 at home to West Brom

Unquestionably this week’s ‘headline’ insofar as these things have one, Fulham finally got their first league win of the season against West Brom, at the seventh attempt. It came before three other teams, which means they’re straight out of the drop zone.

I’ll admit I was worried for Fulham, even suggesting last week that they might be contenders for the lowest points total in premier league history. They certainly need to get results in games like this, and I still think a small total – perhaps 33-34 points – will be enough to stay up this year, but this was a top performance.

West Brom had their chances, but Fulham clearly found some bite, and while their first was scrappy, Ola Aina’s hammer into the corner was spectacular (to be honest, I’d never even heard of the man before this). They could have had another late on, too. Real cause for hope, I think, from a side that finally look like they’ve got something about them.

Oh, and the less said about that West Brom kit, the better.

Long shots: top half challengers (week seven)

I was expecting a season of watching clubs lose as part of this project, but in truth it’s been a lot better than that: two of the five clubs I’m following now sit in the top half of really competitive leagues, and the five are collectively averaging over a goal and over a point a game, an impressive stat for the odds on favourites for relegation in the five top leagues in Europe. It’s a shame about Fulham, though…

Here’s how week seven went…

La Liga: Elche CF (8/15 to go down), 2-1 at home to Valencia

Elche now have a spectacular 10 points from their opening five games, after losing their first game in La Liga, and this win was probably the best of the lot. Fernandes’ curling strike from distance put them ahead against Valencia, who are nothing like the side they once were.

The second goal was almost as good as Fidel lashed home from outside the box, and while Elche were hanging on towards the end, including a late clearance off the line to keep hold of the three points, they already look a very good bet to stay up this year.

The win puts them firmly in the top half of the table with games in hand, and above the likes of Barcelona, Sevilla and the Valencia team they saw off here.

Long Shots: Battling points (week six)

I keep stats of the five relegation favourites at the bottom of these posts, and what’s becomng clear as things go on is that all these teams are competitive. I mean they’re losing more than they win, but they’re not conceding too many, and while they’re scoring still less, there are goals in them. Only Fulham, really, are letting the side down so far. Here’s how we’re going six weeks in…

Premier League: Fulham (evens to go down) 1-1 vs Sheffield United at away

Is it possible to have a relegation six-pointer only five games into the season? On the evidence of these two sides so far this season, I’d say that it is. Both are not only losing, but looking like they’ve not got a lot to offer.

This game was both competitive and highlighted where many of the problems are. Both clubs look incompetent up front, with Fulham struggling to fire at all even with the sometimes brilliant Mitrovic, and Sheffield United looking nothing like a team that threatened European football for most of last season.

Lookman and Loftus-Cheek, though, are quality signings, and an obvious lift to the overall strength of the team that might give them hope. Lookman fired in the Fulham opener here, though Mitrovic’s silly penalty miss cost them the game. In fact, both teams conceded ridiculous penalties. Still, at least it’s a point on the board for Fulham (game link). Arguably a good one, given they were away.

Groundhopping: Ireland (vs Wales, Aviva Stadium)

Date: 11 October 2020

Competition: UEFA Nation’s League, League B, Group 4

Result: Ireland 0 – 0 Wales

Tickets: Not available to the public (entry via press pass)

Attendance: circa 50 press.

The game: It’s a really quite surreal experience watching international football from a socially distanced press box, fully masked, far enough from the other journalists in attendance to make a conversation almost impossible. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game quite so quietly, chomping away on the free crisps and sandwiches and watching the action unfold far below, yet still hearing every word the players shout at each other.

I reviewed the game in full here if you’re tempted to read up; it wasn’t a classic, with Ireland hampered by corona withdrawals ahead of the game, especially up front. In truth, in going to almost every Ireland hme game for the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve only seen a couple that I really thought were great entertainment. They should probably have won, however, with Wales – despite the presence of the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Daniel James – offering precious little. I quite like the look of Ireland under Stephen Kenny. It’s a far better style of passing, attacking football that’s actually really quite pleasant to watch, if frustratingly inefficient at the sharp end. Hopefully, the results will come.

Long shots: Metz Hit Form (week five)

Metz are the longest odds to stay up of all my sides, and yet they’re firing on all cylinders going into the international break, with Niane looking like a star forward. Aside from the French overachievers, nothing much stood out in week five, which saw either routine losses, or staunch draws. Here’s how things stand going into a week off…

Serie A: Spezia (1/4 on to go down) 0-3 away to AC Milan

You can probably file this one under ‘routine loss to a big club’ for Spezia. They held on for a decent amount of time, creating only one chance worth mentioning, really, in front of the piled-up electronic billboards that give the San Siro a surreal feel at the moment.

Then they conceded some run-of-the-mill goals, Milan won comfortably, and nobody was particularly surprised by any of it. Not a classic game or a classic result, but three points from their first three games is not at all bad for a side like this. Get a look at the company it puts them in, league wise…

Long Shots: Win, win, win! (week four)

Welcome to a winning week – we’re starting to upset the odds! As it stands, ust one of my five relegation favourites are in the drop zone, and this week we got first league wins of the seasons for Arminia Bielefled, Spezia Calcio and Elche CF. The long-shots are taking shape…

Bundesliga: Arminia Bielefeld (5/6 on to be relegated) 1-0 at home to FC Koln

What a start to the season for Bielefeld, one that, amazingly considering the holders won 8-0 on the opening day, puts them above Bayern in the latest Bundesliga table, and outside the European places on goals scored.

Of course, Arminia haven’t played anyone that good yet (they’ve even lucky enough to have an indifferent Werder Bremen next), but points mean prizes, and Koln, who haven’t won a league game since March, are likely to be one of the teams Arminia are ultimately fighting to finish above.

This was a game of not many chances, but a glorious cameo in the form of substitute Joan Simun Edmundsson, a lad from the Faroe Islands who became the first-ever player from that corner of the globe to play in the Bundesliga. He promptly marked the occasion with a brilliant takedown and finish from a ludicrously tight angle to win the game.

Koln should have taken at least a point, and looked pretty toothless up top, but who cares. One of my teams is flying unexpectedly high…

Long shots: First win, first points! (week three)

I wondered how long I’d be doing this project before the first win came along, and it’s here! The fourth game of the league season for FC Metz, and they grab a win that puts them just outside the relegation zone. The news was less good elsewhere…

Premier League: Fulham (evens to go down) 3-4 vs Leeds away

I have to take a brief aside here to say that I am, in actuality, an Aston Villa fan, and that there are now five teams in the Premier League with two losses from two, and with Villa winning their first game, I’m feeling quite positive about this season. But anyhow, that’s obvious besides the point of this blog.

I don’t think Fulham got used to the Premier League yet, which I guess is fair enough after two games. Leeds, on the other hand, look like they belong here, even if their defending is – surprisingly after they defended so well last season – less than impressive.

Still, Fulham were out of this one before they briefly looked like they might be back in it, with Helder Costa scoring an absolute cracker off the crossbar to put Leeds ahead early on, before two of those really ridiculous penalties that seem to be a thing at the moment (they were both penalties, just stupid ones).

Leeds currently look like they could win – or lose – to just about anyone, while Fulham, to give them credit, have started to look a little bit dynamic going forward at times, though perhaps not enough to worry the bigger clubs. I think they’re still sub par. Which is a dangerous thing to say, because guess who they’re playing next…