The Tuesday 10: Surprises of the 2009/10 season so far

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Wigan’s shock victory over Arsenal this weekend spurred Dan Ross into thinking about the ten surprises of the season across Europe so far…

Montpellier’s Ligue 1 assault

Imagine if Burnley had finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League.

Ridiculous, preposterous, impossible… right? Well, not in France. This year Ligue 1 has been taken by storm by Montpellier, a side promoted on the last day of last season.

Widely predicted to watch his side go straight back down, new coach Rene Girard instead masterminded a sensational season.

In February they were vying for the title, and while they have dropped off slightly, they still sit, unbelievably, level on points with third-placed Lyon, who occupy the lowest Champions League qualification position.

And, what’s more, the two sides meet in a fortnight’s time. If all goes well, Girard may have to start planning for the impossible.

Pompey reach the FA Cup Final

In administration, a nine-point penalty had seen Pompey prematurely relegated.

A host of injuries and suspensions plagued Avram Grant’s squad, and they weren’t given an ice cream’s chance in hell of winning the FA Cup semi-final.

They were up against Tottenham, a side managed by former Pompey favourite Harry Redknapp and driven on by Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Niko Kranjcar – three of the stars that served Pompey under Redknapp.

The underdogs were terrific, Frederic Piquionne striking nine minutes into extra-time, before Kevin-Prince Boateng scored from the penalty spot, to set up a final against Chelsea that will see Avram Grant face his former club.

Due to bonuses that the debt-ridden club needs to shirk and a web of contract clauses, it is still unclear which players will be allowed to play in the final.

But, whether or not they pull off Mission Impossible Part Two and beat Chelsea, and whether or not they are allowed a Europa League place next season, their FA Cup fairytale has been a bright light in Pompey’s darkest hour, and is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.

Wolfsburg go from table-toppers to mid-table mediocrity

Reigning Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg suffered a 2-4 home defeat on Saturday to Werder Bremen, a result that leaves the Wolves in eighth, almost as close to the relegation zone as they are leaders Bayern Munich.

A year ago, the world’s football media were drooling over Wolves’ ‘magic triangle’ (Edin Dzeko, Grafite and Zvjezdan Misimovic) after they destroyed Bayern 5-1, inflicting their worst defeat in seven years.

This week, after an Arjen Robben hat-trick helped Bayern demolish Hannover 7-0, Louis van Gaal’s men now look down at a Wolfsburg side a whopping 17 points below them.

What a difference a year makes. Although it might have something to do with last season’s boss, Felix Magath, joining Schalke 04 in June - they lie in second place…

Mallorca in the Champions League places

Spanish side Mallorca are themselves fast establishing a reputation as the Portsmouth of La Liga.

The near bankrupt Balearic outfit were widely regarded as cannon fodder this term, and seen as likely relegation candidates, but they have been performing overwhelmingly above themselves so far this term and find themselves in fourth place with five matches remaining.

Having failed to lose in both matches with Villarreal, Valencia and Atletico Madrid (a win and a draw with each), scoring twice in defeat at the Nou Camp, and narrowly losing the return match, Mallorca have won over their critics in style.

With matches against Real Madrid, Athletic and Deportivo still to come, it will be hard work for los Barralets to retain their lofty position at the end of the season, but Mallorca will grab a surprise Champions League qualification spot if they manage it.

If they negotiate that, then a prestigious European place would go some way towards easing their financial burden. But one step at a time…

Juventus’ dismal season

The Old Lady started the season well. Back in August, Bianconeri fans were frothing at the mouth with excitement after their two expensive new recruits, Diego and Felipe Melo, scored as Juventus beat Roma 3-1 in their own back yard.

The optimism was short-lived, however, as Juve fans have since watched their side capitulate. A quick Champions League exit then turned to a quick Europa League exit at the hands of Fulham, while their league performance has been dire.

Sitting miserably in seventh, having sacked Ciro Ferrara and then continuing to have a torrid time under Alberto Zaccheroni, Juve could find themselves finishing out of the European places altogether unless they sort out their act in the last four games.

Liverpool could miss out on fourth place

Liverpool fans know all too well what the Juventus faithful are going through.

Rafa Benitez’ men lie sixth in the league, having suffered ten defeats and eight draws in their 35 matches so far.

Couple to this the embarrassing performance in the Champions League that saw them drop behind Fiorentina and Lyon into the Europa, and a third round FA Cup defeat to Championship side Reading, and it’s been a term to forget for the Scousers.

Hopes of change on the horizon have been buoyed by the decision of Hicks and Gillette to sell up, and their could yet be European silverware heading to Anfield, but for that to happen they will need to overcome Atletico Madrid without Fernando Torres, who has hopped off for another knee op.

Curiously, rumours abound that Benitez is leaving at the end of the season for… you guessed it, Juventus.

Fulham’s European adventure

Another team that stands in the way of the ‘Pool tasting glory in the Europa League is, surprisingly, Fulham.

Roy Hodgson’s brief time at Craven Cottage has been something of a revelation - saving the club from relegation, and taking them into Europe.

Many expected their European adventure to be a short and rather uninteresting one, but the Cottagers (and Channel Five) have had the last laugh, as the Premier League’s most likable club just got entertaining.

En route to this Thursday’s clash with Hamburger SV, Fulham beat current Europa champions Shakhtar Donetsk, turned around a two-goal first leg deficit with a 4-1 second leg win over European giants Juventus, and, most recently, defeated reigning German champions Wolfsburg home and away.

More bizarrely still, the club’s top goalscorer is one Bobby Zamora, who has netted nearly twenty times in all competitions to spark talk of a World Cup call-up.

All in all, such has been the remarkable rise of the Cottagers, Fulham will probably now only raise eyebrows if they fail to lift the trophy on May 12.

Roma are set to win the Scudetto

Yes, you read that right, Roma are in pole position in Serie A and set to win the Scudetto. More importantly for football fans across the globe, someone other than Inter is set to win the title.

Strangely, the manager behind this resurgence is ‘Tinkerman’ Claudio Ranieri. Sacked by Valencia and Juventus (albeit with a relegation-preventing season at Parma in between), the Roman boss seems to be thriving at the helm of his hometown club.

Mourinho’s men looked like shoe-ins for the honours for an age, but a slight blip at Catania last month, combined with the defeat to the Giallorossi saw the gap close to just one point.

Then, a fortnight ago, Roma’s win over Atalanta and Inter’s draw with Fiorentina saw Ranieri’s men go top of the Serie A standings – not only for the first time this season, but for the first time since September 2007. Victory over Lazio in a pressure-soaked Derby della Capitale this weekend shows that Roma mean business… can they hold out?

Newcastle are crowned champions

While hardly a surprise on paper, given the quality the Toon have in their squad compared with the rest of the Championship, who didn’t expect Newcastle to do a Leeds?

A caretaker manager, under-performing players, disenchanted fans, a transfer exodus and an unwanted board made up the maelstrom that engulfed St. James’ Park before the season had even kicked off.

Fortunately enough, Newcastle managed to hold onto the likes of Steven Taylor and Kevin Nolan, while the ‘Three Amigos’, Jose Enrique, Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez, settled into life on Tyneside and sparkled throughout the campaign.

With Andy Carroll, Peter Lovenkrands, and Kevin Nolan all hitting double figures, the Toon secured the title (and promotion back to the big time) with relative ease, much to the delight and intense relief of their Army of supporters.

Fantastic finish across Europe

While English fans’ eyes are fixated on the nail-biting title run-in between Chelsea and Manchester United, it seems that every league in Europe this year is heading the same way.

A single point separates the first-placed Blues from the Red Devils in second, as it does Barcelona from Madrid in La Liga, Roma from Inter in Serie A, and FC Twente from Ajax in the Eredivisie.

Bayern Munich are hardly bucking the trend with their slender two-point lead over Schalke 04.

Can you hear all that squeaking? That’s the bums of football fans across the continent, that is. - more to read...
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