Pitchside

  • Firefighter Ranieri gets Inter back on track

    Claudio Ranieri has a strong record in Italian derbiesFor a man who has coached some of the world's greatest teams, Claudio Ranieri does not always garner a great deal of respect. Unceremoniously sacked by both Chelsea and Valencia (in his second stint at the Mestalla), he became only the second Juventus coach to be relieved of his duties before the end of a season in May 2009 and lasted only 17 months at Roma despite leading the club to within a whisker of the Serie A title (and the Coppa Italia) in 2009-10.

    Derided as 'The Tinkerman' during his Stamford Bridge tenure, his perceived shortcomings were once summarised in a cutting remark by Jose

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  • European Match of the Weekend

    Massimiliano Allegri and Claudio Ranieri do battle on Sunday

    Claudio Ranieri will need inspiration as he becomes the fourth Inter coach to try and beat Massimiliano Allegri in a Milan derby.

    Inter, eight points behind Serie A joint leaders Milan and Juventus, have leapt up the table to fifth after winning five matches in a row since the start of December and conceding only one goal in the process.

    Their form is a remarkable turnaround for former Chelsea, Juventus and Roma coach Ranieri, after Inter managed only one win in their opening nine Serie A games of the season.

    "We don't need this match to know how much he is worth as a coach," said Milan

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  • Ten questions for 2012

    Borussia Dortmund celebrate

    As the major continental leagues resume following the winter break - Serie A and La Liga returned to action over the weekend, with Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga set to follow suit in the next fortnight - Pitchside Europe looks at ten issues that will help determine the balance of power across Europe in the 12 months ahead.

    1. Can Borussia Dortmund hold it together?

    As Pitchside Europe observed last May, the average length of time that has elapsed between Borussia Dortmund's seven league title successes is nine years. The summer sale of key midfielder Nuri Şahin to Real Madrid weakened the

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  • Ballon d’Or candidates: In numbers

    MessiLionel Messi is the odds-on favourite to collect a record-equalling third consecutive Ballon d'Or tonight.

    Messi's Barcelona team-mate Xavi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo are also shortlisted for football's highest individual award.

    Messi, who won the Ballon d'Or in 2009 and 2010, would complete a hat-trick of titles after his man-of-the-match performance helped the Spanish side beat Manchester United in the Champions League final in May.

    Former France international and current UEFA President Michel Platini won the Ballon d'Or for three consecutive years from 1983.

    Last year, the FIFA

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  • European Match of the Weekend

    Ahead of Sunday's Liga match between Espanyol and Barcelona, we check out some vital statistics.

    Barcelona have been imperious at their Nou Camp stadium this season but will be keen to improve their patchy away form when they take on city rivals Espanyol on Sunday as La Liga swings back into action after the winter break.

    Pep Guardiola's side, chasing a fourth straight domestic league title, are three points behind leaders Real Madrid after 16 games despite humbling their rivals 3-1 in the capital last month.

    While Barca are unbeaten at home, where they have won eight and drawn one and scored

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  • European team of the season so far

    Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cristiano RonaldoXavi, Lionel Messi and Cristiano RonaldoWith Europe's major leagues closing down for the winter break, Pitchside Europe selects a team of players who have distinguished themselves in the season to date.

    *Note: Premier League players not considered for selection*

    (Formation: 4-2-3-1)

    Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)

    Hostility from Bayern's fans initially made Neuer's chances of success at his new club appear remote, but he proved his quality - and his nerve - by going a club record 1,147 minutes without conceding a goal between August and October. With Edwin van der Sar in retirement, Gianluigi Buffon still re-establishing

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  • Five-goal Dost fits classic Dutch mould

    Bas DostbasdostThe buccaneering Brazilian full-back, the classy Italian central defender, the battering-ram English centre-forward - football is populated by archetypes and few are as immediately recognisable as the rangy Dutch striker.

    From Faas Wilkes to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, via Marco van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy, no nation specialises in tall, technically-gifted forwards quite like the Netherlands. In Heerenveen's Bas Dost, they may have unearthed another gangly goal-getter to uphold the tradition.

    When Dost looks back upon his career, he will have reason to remember December 10, 2011 with special

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  • El Clasico: Head-to-Head

    Ahead of Saturday's Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, we check out some vital statistics.

    With stats gurus Opta, we look at the two teams' records this season, and compare their star players - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

    REAL MADRID v BARCELONA: HEAD-TO-HEAD

    CRISTIANO RONALDO v LIONEL MESSI: HEAD-TO-HEAD

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  • Marseille chase another unlikely comeback

    In August, Pitchside Europe looked at how losing the first game of the season affects a team's chances of winning the league and found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, opening-day defeats often prove fatal to sides with title aspirations.

    But what about teams whose starts to the season are even more damaging? Could a team who, for example, had registered just one win in their opening 10 matches hope for anything more than a long and arduous struggle against relegation? Marseille certainly hope so.

    The 2010 French champions endured a similarly challenging opening to the 2007-08 campaign, winning

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  • Sociedad star joins exclusive club

    Pelepele

    Ever since Pele tried, and narrowly failed, to lob Czechoslovakia goalkeeper Ivo Viktor from just inside his own half in Brazil's opening game at the 1970 World Cup, scoring a goal from the vicinity of the halfway line has been seen as something of a holy grail in top-level football.

    Few are the players to have tried it and succeeded. Fewer still are those who have pulled it off twice, but as of Sunday afternoon and a glorious injury-time winner at Real Betis, Real Sociedad's Inigo Martínez is a member of that exclusive band. Pitchside Europe looks at some of the players who, like Martínez,

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