Coach defends derby substitution

Markus Babbel defended his decision to take off Alexander Baumjohann at a crucial time in Western Sydney's 3-1 defeat to Sydney FC.

The coach decided to take off the player who had had a big influence up to that point, when he needed to send on a substitute keeper in the derby at ANZ Stadium.

Vedran Janjetovic had been dismissed for handling the ball outside his area, leaving Babbel needing to take off an outfield player in order for debutant Danijel Nizic to take over between the uprights.

Western Sydney had been ahead at that point, but though it was widely seen by fans as too-defensive move to substitute the attack-minded Baumjohann the home side went on to ship three goals.

Speaking of his decision after the game, Babbel said: "Alex is a fantastic footballer and I feel really really sad for him because he's one of our best players.

"But in this moment, for me it was clear we need legs now and we have to defend more than to attack. And Alex is a fantastic player offensive-wise, but defensive is not his biggest strength, so I have to make that decision."

As far as the Wanderers coach is concerned, what cost his team as they slumped to a fifth-straight loss to their derby rivals was the team's frail mentality.

Babbel said it would have been easier for him to accept if the goals they conceded to the Sky Blues had been well struck from outfield play.

The fact they conceded twice after the break from set-pieces didn't sit well with him as a former defender, he admitted.

"We are not hungry in this moment; we don't see the danger in this moment," he added.

"[So] we don't have to be surprised if you lose this game, because this is a good side."

Western Sydney are 11/4 to win their next game against Adelaide, who are 10/11 with the draw 11/4.

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Sky Blues beat 10-man Wanderers

Sydney FC came from behind to win their derby clash with Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1 at ANZ Stadium.

Steve Corica's team handed their rivals a third defeat in the space of four games, with Wanderers' chances taking a major hit when keeper Vedran Janjetovic was sent off.

Playing against his former team, Janjetovic was dismissed for handling the ball outside the penalty area after he was beaten to a long ball by Adam le Fondre.

Oriol Riera had put Western Sydney ahead, with Alex Brosque levelling in first half stoppage time.

The Sky Blues went ahead before hour mark courtesy of Siem De Jong, with Jacob Tratt's bullet header adding gloss to the scoreline late on.

Western Sydney deserved their opener, which came when Spanish striker Riera turned in Alexander Baumjohann's free-kick from close range midway through the first half.

Janjetovic was then shown a straight red card and their coach Markus Babbel responded by withdrawing Baumjohann in order to be able to bring on substitute keeper Danijel Nizic.

Brosque drew the Sky Blues level in the first half of added time at the end of the first half when he reacted quickest to net from a rebound after Josh Brillante's shot came back off the post.

The visitors had already threatened twice since finding themselves with an extra men, de Jong forcing a tip-over from Nizic and le Fondre curling a shot just past the upright.

Wanderers, who have now beaten their derby rivals just once in 16 meetings, had less threat once Baumjohann went off.

They fell behind when De Jong buried the scraps from a corner at the back post, and Sydney FC secured a fifth-straight win in the derby when Tratt headed home from the far post nine minutes from time.

Sydney FC are 17/10 to win their next game against Perth Glory, who are 6/4 with the draw 12/5.

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Bundesliga Preview: Can Fortuna Halt the ‘Autumn Champions’?

Fortuna Dusseldorf vs Borussia Dortmund

It was all set to be billed as a clash of bottom versus top.

Then defender Kaan Ayhan intervened with a double (his first goals of the campaign) against SC Freiburg and Fortuna Dusseldorf were out of the Bundesliga drop zone.

It was a much-needed morale boost for Friedhelm Funkel’s men.

They have already provided one of the Bundesliga 2018 news stories so far when they fought back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with Bayern last month, inspired by a Dodi Lukebakio hat-trick.

Now, can they raise their game again to trouble the best as they prepare to welcome the league leaders?

Talking Points

Dortmund have won their last six league matches and remain the only unbeaten team in Germany’s top flight this season. Can they continue their dominance?

There hasn’t been this much excitement at the Signal Iduna Park since the latter days of the Jürgen Klopp reign when skipper Marco Reus was joined up front by Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

They have become the team to beat – ever since what could prove to be a key win over the reigning champions last month.

They had sent out warning signs earlier with a convincing victory over Europa League holders Atletico Madrid and are safely ready for tomorrow’s Last 16 draw.

Paco Alcacer is all set to give another win for BVB as they visit Fortuna Dusseldorf for a Bundesliga battle

Paco Alcacer looks delighted after scoring a goal during Borussia Dortmund vs Werder Bremen match in Bundesliga

The ‘fantastic five’ as they have become known – Reus, Paco Alcacer (11 goals in his last 10 league games), Jadon Sancho, Christian Pulisic and Jacob Bruun Larsen – are playing key roles with the former two scoring in the weekend’s victory over Werder Bremen which maintained their nine-point lead at the summit.

Reus has now scored more goals against Bremen than any other team (12).

However, my focus is on the engine room in the Dortmund midfield.

Belgian Axel Witsel and Danish international Thomas Delaney may not have shared much of the limelight as Lucien Favre’s team have climbed to the summit, but they are the unsung heroes to me and many other observers.

Indeed, BVB have won 10 and drawn two of the 12 matches in which the duo have started.

With the supporting cast also including 2014 World Cup matchwinner Mario Gotze, there is hope that they have a chance of ending Bayern Munich’s domestic dominance if Dortmund can stay injury-free – Bayern are chasing a sixth straight title.

Dortmund are the only side still unbeaten in the league in 2018/19. Only seven clubs in the history of the Bundesliga have previously managed to avoid defeat in the first 15 matches of a season, and their victory over Bremen on Saturday ensured they became what is known as ‘Herbstmeister’, or autumn champions.

Although only an unofficial title, 38 of the last 55 Herbstmeisters have gone onto becoming German champions.

Alcacer’s goal in that victory lifted him above Robert Lewandowski – one of a number of key players Dortmund have sold to Bayern in recent years – in the Bundesliga goalscoring chart.

The Spaniard is also the first player in Germany’s top flight to score 11 goals in his first 378 minutes as a Bundesliga player.

A word of warning about Fortuna to finish, though.

Victory over Freiburg was only their third success of the league so far, but all three have come at home.

All the pressure will be on the visitors.

History

Although they have met in friendlies over the last few seasons, their last competitive meeting was in April 2013 when Dortmund won 2-1 at the Merkur Spiel-Arena, just a month before they were narrowly defeated by Bayern Munch in the Champions League Final.

That was helped by a man of the match performance from Nuri Sahin who scored the opening goal and then set up substitute Jakub Blaszczykowski for the winner.

Adam Bodzek nodded in a late consolation.

The meeting earlier in the season at Dortmund ended 1-1 as Stefan Reisinger cancelled out Blaszczykowski’s opener to earn Fortuna a point, although they were ultimately relegated.

Betting Tip

??
Fortuna Dusseldorf vs Borussia Dortmund First Half Asian Handicap -0.50 @ 2.03
December 19, 03:30 (GMT+8)

You won’t be surprised to hear the league leaders are clear favourites with the us set of Bundesliga 2018 betting odds.

Asian Handicap odds on Dortmund -1.25 are offered @ 2.07 with Fortuna +1.25 @ 1.83.

1X2 odds have the hosts well adrift @ 5.40 with Dortmund 1X2 available @ 1.47. The draw is priced @ 4.30.

Over 3.25 goals @ 2.11 suggests no one is expecting a clean sheet.

Fortuna have often raised their game for clashes with Dortmund but I think the hosts will start strongly.

A SHORT EXPLANATION ON HOW OUR (??) BETS ARE WORTH:
?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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Mulvey to turn to youth

Mike Mulvey's patience has run out with his Central Coast side, after they claimed an unwanted record with their 2-0 defeat away to Wellington Phoenix.

The Mariners have posted the worst start to an A-League season, with just two points from the opening eight rounds.

Their overall record stands at just one win in their last 26 league games, and Mulvey feels it's time to shake things up with his selections.

Mulvey admits the Gosford club are "way off the pace at the moment", and are being held back by fear.

The Mariners finished bottom of the table last season and risk being cast adrift by the other teams before the turn of the year.

They suffered a sixth consecutive defeat in Wellington, which could be the catalyst to a turn to youth.

Mulvey said: "We do have a plan but we need to now give some of our young lads a bit of a chance and next week [against Newcastle Jets] is a good opportunity to do that."

The Mariners coach said the Mariners were continuing to shoot themselves in the foot, conceding first-half goals against the Phoenix to Louis Fenton and Sarpreet Singh.

"We need to be on the ball, we need to be there in key moments and we weren't today," said Mulvey, who returned as an A-League coach in the off-season four years after being sacked by Brisbane Roar.

"We've got to give the young lads a go," he added. "We had a couple of lads come on towards the end of the game, Josh Macdonald and Mario Shabow and they deserve game time now.

"They don't have any fear; some lads unfortunately get a little bit gripped by fear."

Central Coast are 5/2 to win their next game against Newcastle, who are 1/1 with the draw 13/5.

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Phoenix pass ‘bigger test’

Wellington Phoenix had to adjust to going from huge underdogs to favourites in the space of a week, and did it well, according to coach Mark Rudan.

The Phoenix beat Central Coast 2-0 at Westpac Stadium, earning back-to-back victories after having gone to Sydney FC and won last weekend.

Three defeats from three games during November had suggested that Rudan's side would spend the rest of the campaign in the wrong half of the table, but the coach didn't agree with that assessment.

A performance widely seen as the team turning the corner came on 2nd December when they held leaders Perth to a 1-1 draw in Wellington.

It was only after being reduced to 10 men that the Phoenix conceded a late equaliser against the Glory, and they followed that up with a first-half blitz of Sydney FC last week.

They were 3-0 up against the Sky Blues before the break, and this time in beating the Mariners they again had a comfortable cushion courtesy of goals from Louis Fenton and Sarpreet Singh.

Rudan said that having surprised the reigning premiers away from home, he was very pleased to see his team cope with the unusual challenge of being favourites against the A-League's bottom side.

"We challenged the players at the start of the week. It was a fantastic performance and result last week, but we kept them calm and focused and it was a bigger test this week against a team, for the first time this year, that we were expected to beat," he added.

"That was the most pleasing thing, because it's a mentality more than anything else.

"We've shown that we can do it against the league leaders a couple of weeks ago, we've shown that we can do it away from home, but can we do it at home against a team we were expected to beat and I thought today that was key."

Wellington are 11/8 to win their next game against Brisbane Roar, who are 15/8 with the draw 12/5.

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Mariners make worst start

Central Coast Mariners hit a new low in their 2-0 defeat to Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium.

The Mariners have made the worst start to a season in A-League history, having picked up just two points from eight matches under coach Mike Mulvey.

They had an early chance, which Jordan Murray fired over the top from an acute angle, but trailed by two goals before the break.

Wellington made it two consecutive victories for the first time since April last year, strikes from Louis Fenton and Sarpreet Singh guiding them to a comfortable win.

The home side were rarely troubled at the back, and have now conceded just two goals in the space of three games.

Wellington broke the deadlock inside ten minutes, right wing back Fenton netting just his fifth league goal since February 2016.

Fenton was able to take advantage of having stayed just onside when the rebound from Mandi's long-range shot – deflected on its way to keeper Adam Pearce – fell to him.

Singh doubled the lead in the 45th minute, this time beating Pearce in a one-on-one.

He got his chance after Roy Krishna, released by a low pass from Liberato Cacace, drew two defenders before squaring the ball to him.

Coach Mark Rudan had to substitute defender Michal Kopczynski due to a hamstring injury, slotting Tom Doyle into the back three.

What chances came in the second half, though, were created by Wellington.

Nathan Burns couldn't profit from a couple of opportunities, continuing a goalless drought that has now lasted more than 2000 minutes.

The nearest the Mariners came was when Mario Shabow's long-range effort was palmed away by keeper Filip Kurto.

Central Coast are 5/2 to win their next game against Newcastle, who are 1/1 with the draw 13/5.

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Griezmann: Not at my best

Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann has admitted that he is still not quite at his best, as he is still overcoming the effects of his efforts last season.

The 27-year-old France international helped his club to Europa League glory at the end of last season, before playing a major role as Les Bleus went all the way to lift the World Cup in Russia.

And the talented frontman is aware that he is still not up to full speed at the moment, although he has still scored four goals in his last five games, including two in a 3-2 victory at Valladolid on Sunday.

Griezmann told reporters: "I'm not quite yet at my best, it's been a long year with many games. I'm maybe just lacking a bit of speed, but I keep going.

"I can still improve, but I'm very happy to be able to help the team.

"It's a very long year, we have a game and then a little rest and there are games when it is difficult to be loose and fast. Today was a day like that, but I was able to score two goals."

Ahead of the La Liga action on Sunday, Atleti are in second place in the table, having only lost one of their first 16 league games of the season, although they have drawn seven.

Los Rojiblancos are priced at 8/1 to win La Liga this season, with Barcelona available at 2/7 and Real Madrid 5/1.

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Burki urges no let-up from BVB

Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki has challenged his side to finish the first half of the Bundesliga season in a winning fashion.

BVB made sure that they will head into the winter break as the league leaders by claiming a 2-1 victory at home to Werder Bremen, with games against Fortuna Dusseldorf and Borussia Monchengladbach still to come before Christmas.

And Burki says it is vital that Dortmund maintain their superb form, which has seen them pull out a nine-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.

He told his club's official website: "We still have two important games left before the winter break and want to keep up the consistency we have shown so far until the end of the first half of the season.

"We have superb players, a superb team – everything is just right at the moment. We need to continue like this.

"We're enjoying the moment, but we also know that it can turn quickly. We need to do everything in our power to stay at the top."

Dortmund have won 12 and drawn three in the Bundesliga so far this season, scoring 41 goals and conceding 15.

They were last crowned champions of Germany in 2012, since when they have finished as runners-up on three occasions.

BVB are now priced at 8/13 to be crowned Bundesliga champions this season, with Bayern Munich available at 13/10.

As well as impressing domestically, Dortmund have also done well in Europe, progressing to the knockout stages of the Champions League as winners of Group A.

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Icardi welcomes statement win

Inter Milan matchwinner Mauro Icardi felt his side had sent an important message to their Serie A rivals by edging a 1-0 victory at home to Udinese.

Argentina striker Icardi scored the only goal of the game 14 minutes from time in the San Siro, as the Nerazzurri hit back from the disappointment of exiting the Champions League in midweek.

And Icardi believes that Inter simply had to deliver to strengthen their position inside the top four in the Italian top-flight.

He told Inter TV: "We had to send a message after Tuesday's game. We were disappointed, but we know that we're up there in the league and we can give it a good go.

"You can forget about disappointment by winning, doing well in the matches that we now have up until the break.

"We know that if we put in some good performances, then we can remain in pursuit and reach our objective of getting back in the Champions League."

Inter can be backed at 5/2 to top Serie A this season if Juventus were omitted, while Icardi is 8/1 to finish the season as the leading goalscorer in the Italian top-flight.

Meanwhile, Nerazzurri head coach Luciano Spalletti was full of praise for Icardi, adding: "When Mauro is playing like that it puts everything into place, he is the perfect striker.

"He pulls opposition defenders out of position and then goes to attack the space and in the past two games he has done it perfectly."

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Pellegrini eyes up top-six bid

West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini says it is nice to be able to look up and not down after his side made it four consecutive victories in the Premier League.

The Hammers have surged into the top half of the table on the back of their four-game winning streak, with their latest success a 2-0 derby win at rock-bottom Fulham.

That left Chilean Pellegrini delighted with the continued good form and also positive in his outlook for the second half of the season.

He told reporters: "We are very happy, to win four in a row is not easy in the Premier League.

"Is sixth place a target? It's more of a target than when we started with not one point from the first 12 – it's very unexpected to be just two points from a European spot.

"We are talking about what is happening in the upper parts of the table and not at the bottom, I think that is the change of target for this season.

"The first five teams have a lot of points, but we will try to continue winning and see where our spot is in the table."

Next up for the Irons is a visit from Watford next Saturday, with the Hornets having ended a six-game winless run with a 3-2 victory over Cardiff City on Saturday.

West Ham are 13/10 to win the game at the London Stadium and are  to do so by a 2-1 scoreline, with the Hammers now 1/2 to secure a top-half finish in the Premier League this season.

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