Weekender: Fouls, feasts, freebies and fire
1) Holt and Davies set for foul-off
Last weekend Kevin Davies became the second player in the history of the Premier League to collect 100 yellow cards, joining fellow foul-finder Lee Bowyer. Davies has topped the foul charts in six of the last seven seasons, but there may be a new bruiser in town Ã¢ÂÂ literally, this weekend, when Bolton host Norwich. The Canaries' former tyre-fitter Grant Holt leads this season's sinners' list with 15 fouls, four clear of Davies. Expect some keenly-contested corners and perhaps the odd eye-watering tackle, then.
2) Champions League Ã¢ÂÂ goal feast or goal famine?
Big Ears is back and one of its most interesting groups Ã¢ÂÂ Real Madrid, Ajax, Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb Ã¢ÂÂ started disappointingly cautiously with just one goal in its first two games. The lowest aggregate score in any first-round Champions League group came in 2005/06 when Villarreal, Benfica, Lille and Man United managed just 12 between them in 12 games. However, Fergie's men also took part in the highest-scoring group, three years previously when they scored 16 goals, Maccabi Haifa 12, Olympiacos 11 and Bayer Leverkusen nine to share an astonishing 48 goals Ã¢ÂÂ an average of four per game. Beat that, Mou & Co.
3) Paralympians prepare to represent their country
While we wait for the FAs of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to stop bickering over who (if anyone) represents the host nation at the 2012 Olympics, at least we know there'll be a British Paralympics side. Two, in fact Ã¢ÂÂ a five-a-side team of visually impaired athletes and a seven-a-side team of players with cerebral palsy. The action will take place between August 31 and September 9 2012, but tickets are currently only on sale until September 26 2011 Ã¢ÂÂ a week on Monday. Act now Ã¢ÂÂ for more information, visit tickets.london2012.com.
4) Magic ref makes beautiful assistants disappear
Players and management of Hereford and Gillingham should be mindful of their manners around referee Paul Tierney on Saturday. The Lancashire official took charge of the League Two pairÃ¢ÂÂs previous clash in April, in which he booked eight players and sent both sidesÃ¢ÂÂ assistant managers Ã¢ÂÂ Dave Kevan and Ian Hendon Ã¢ÂÂ to the stands for persistently protesting at the pernickety whistle-blower.
5) Let's go somewhere nice, love. Ooh, there's a game onÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Leaves are falling faster than QPR ticket prices and half the UK is being whipped by hurricanes. Anybody fancy getting away for the weekend? FFT's travel partner Nickes offer bargainous ticket-and-hotel deals to world-renowned destinations which combine football with fun Ã¢ÂÂ like Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid and Milan. There's Lazio v Roma on Oct 16, from ÃÂ£259; Ajax v Feyenoord on Oct 23, from ÃÂ£231; Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid on Nov 27, from ÃÂ£261; or AC Milan v Inter on Jan 15, from ÃÂ£251. See FourFourTwo.com's Travel Guide for dozens more, plus exclusive city guides.
TRAVEL Check out FFT's football travel guide
Bad weekend for the big names. Inter lost 4-3 to Palermo in the first round of the strike-delayed Serie A; Barcelona sit fourth after a draw at Real Sociedad; and Bury lost 4-2 at home to Rochdale in League One's North Manchester Clasico.
Nearby, the two Manchesters swatted aside local pretenders Bolton and Wigan to remain 100%. Below them, Arsenal were gifted slim victory by Swansea's goalkeeper and Liverpool lost despite dominating Stoke. If the champions beat Chelsea this weekend the two MCR clubs could be pulling clear already.
In midweek, a Premier League side lost in a cup competition Ã¢ÂÂ but it was Wigan's second string losing at Palace in a riot-rescheduled Carling Cup game, so nobody paid much attention. After all, Fernando Torres was setting up both goals in Chelsea's opening Champions League win while Arsenal were conceding a late Dortmund equaliser.
The following night, the two Manchesters found it less easy to impose their will with 1-1 draws for United at Benfica and City at home to Napoli. In truth, it wasn't a great midweek for the island's continental ambassadors: in the other trophy Celtic and Birmingham lost while Fulham, Stoke and Tottenham U21s were held.
And finally, an award for severalupmanship to Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, who put an unfriendly welcome in Zagreb down to his being "rich, handsome and a great player". Smooth.
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Holland: PSV & Ajax prepare to resume battle for supremacy
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Spain: Famous club seeks 10th European triumph. Again
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How to save the Europa League
ItÃ¢ÂÂs safe to say the return of the Europa League was met with little more than a half interested raising of eyebrows. The standing of EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs secondary competition is arguably at an all-time low. Put simply, the Europa League needs a kick up the jacksie Ã¢ÂÂ and not some hackneyed re-branding and a few added bells and whistles. Here are some suggestions.
Revert to a straight knock-out. You can see why UEFA copied the Champions League cash-cow with a group stage, but the fans aren't buying it Ã¢ÂÂ literally, given the low attendances. Eradicate the dead rubbers, making every match a must-see, ending "squad rotation" and hiking prices for broadcasters.
Redistribute money more evenly. Few teams make a profit in the Europa League; many make a loss. The competition winners only get Ã¢ÂÂ¬3m, compared to the Ã¢ÂÂ¬7.2m each doled out to every single Champions League group-stage team. Nobody's asking for parity but UEFA already have the prize money to make it more of a bonus than a booby prize.
Move the matches to a Tuesday. One of the Europa League's big problems is that it feels like an afterthought. More would watch if it were on a Tuesday, with Champions League on a Wednesday and Thursday Ã¢ÂÂ forcing fewer teams to switch their weekend kick-offs to Sunday.
Ã¢ÂÂ James Maw, FourFourTwo online features editor
For six more ways to save the Europa League, read the full feature here
We're busily transferring over 15 years of FFT interviews to our online archive. Among the 400 we've uploaded so far:
"It's like he's got wing mirrors"
Perfect XI, May 2011: Jamie Redknapp
"They really are scum"
More Than A Game, Jun 2004: Millwall v West Ham
"I've been at Napoli when fans were setting fire to seats"
Celebrity Fans, Sep 2011: Massive Attack's 3D