Cobblers topple Wobblers, Real bore everyone and Old Lady beaten at home

It never rains but pours at Anfield as awful defender makes even worse striker

A long but interesting week in European football, defined largely by how badly its biggest teams performed, gives PTWCB a lot to get through this Friday morning, and where better to start than a sodden and downtrodden Anfield where Woy’s Wobblers were knocked out of the League Cup by League 2 side Northampton.

There was much smiling when Phil Thompson pulled the Cobblers, the lowest of all teams still in the competition, out of the hat to face his beloved side when he made the draw last month, but those grins would have faded pretty quickly on Wednesday evening as Liverpool’s second string (Gerrard and Torres weren’t playing) were dumped out by Northampton on penalties.

And things were no better for bitter rivals Everton who themselves went out on spot kicks to League 1 Brentford in a third round dominated by upsets.

Chelsea were edged out by a last-minute Shola Ameobi header that gave Newcastle a thrilling 4-3 win at Stamford Bridge and Manchester City fluffed their best chance of silverware as they crashed out at the hands of West Brom.

Yet there were no such problems for holders Manchester United who enjoyed a relatively easy 5-2 victory away at Scunthorpe, where the much-hyped Bebe was finally given his debut.

The Portuguese….winger? striker? Errrrr. The 20-year-old was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson despite the Scot never having seen him play, and due to being in Valencia to watch his Champions League rivals in action, he still hasn’t.

Ferguson, with trusted goalkeeper coach Eric Steele in tow, seems to have taken the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone at the Mestalla where he saw Los Che take on Atletico Madrid in the clash of the La Liga pretenders, as it gave him the opportunity to cast his eye over talk-of-the-town goalkeeper David De Gea.

The United boss will no doubt be eager to do a little more homework on his next prospective signing and will be encouraged that the 19-year-old Atleti ‘keeper followed up his heroics against Barcelona last weekend with another excellent performance that deserved a clean sheet.

Alas, it was not to be and Aritz Aduriz finally breached De Gea’s goal to cancel out Simao’s early strike and earn his side a point that saw Valencia go joint top with Real Madrid.

It’s a story of contrasting expectations and outlooks at the summit of la liga, with Unai Emery’s cash-strapped side just happy to be troubling the established bourgeoisie, while it seems that nobody is smiling at the Bernabeu. Sure, they’ve won their last four games and seem to be finally scoring goals, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to be enough.

Not many teams can grind out 3-0 wins, but it seems that Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid can after their lifeless victory over Espanyol. A game which involved a re-taken Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, three red cards (including two yellows for Juan Forlin after he complained to the referee after each of the last two Madrid goals, scored by Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema), was not ample entertainment for the home crowd who whistled and jeered as the fourth official indicated another four minutes to be added at the end of the 90. Cries of “Blow up ref! I want to go to bed! Blow up!” were heard from a small boy near the press box as the clock ticked towards midnight in the Spanish capital.

Mourinho was unhappy with the pitch and Espanyol boss Mauricio Pochettino was unhappy with the referee, but not as angry as his President: “Clos Gómez should be refereeing in regional leagues.” At least he’d be issuing cards on better pitches than the Bernabeu.

“It’s not easy to play on a potato field.” Jose Mourinho on the Bernabeu turf.

But if the ‘loyal’ Madridistas were left a little uninspired by their side then thankfully, they might be saying for once, they’re not Barcelona. The Lionel Messi-less side faced a Sporting Gijon outfit who, in a Mick McCarthy-esque selection policy, started with only two players from the XI that faced Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

But what followed was as sloppy a performance as you’re ever likely to see from this Barcelona side as the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves failed to get into their rhythm. The win was eked out when David Villa found himself in space to score his fifth goal in five games against his former club.

Dani Alves was amongst several Barca players to struggle on Wednesday

The lacklustre performance could well mean nothing and be quickly forgotton, but with a trip to the San Mames to face an in-form Athletic Bilbao late on Saturday night Pep Guardiola’s men can ill-afford to turn in a similar performance.

If I was a betting man (and I am, albeit a very, very poor one), then 5/1 on an Athletic victory looks to represent excellent value.

Moving away from relative problems with form to real problems with results, Pickles arrives in Italy where the country’s biggest clubs are struggling on the pitch against a back-drop of threatened strikes and yet more Calciopoli allegations.

If Luigi Del Neri’s Juventus had turned the corner after their 4-0 win away at Udinese last weekend then they must have taken the wrong turning because they were quickly back on Dead End Street with a humbling 3-1 ‘home’ defeat to Palermo last night.

The game, held at Torino’s Stadio Olimpico while the Delle Alpi is revamped, represented a real chance for the Old Lady to build on the Udinese result against a Palermo side who were winless in their first four games.

But Juve found themselves a goal down in under two minutes and never recovered as goals from Javier Pastore, Josip Iličić and a thumping free kick from Cesare Bovo helped the visitors into a three-goal lead before Vincenzo Iaquinta grabbed a consolation goal that was nothing of the sort.

The defeat means Juventus find themselves a disappointing 15th in Serie A with just one win in five, but not to be outdone Roma can boast an ever worse record of no wins in five as under-fire Claudio Ranieri’s side sit second bottom.

Ranieri hit back at the media, as well as World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi (who has been piling the pressure onto the ex-Chelsea boss just as he did last year when he was struggling at Juventus), before his team went down 2-1 away at Brescia.

Roma are two points off rock-bottom Udinese and defeat this weekend could see Ranieri out of a job despite, somewhat ironically, finishing just two points behind Inter last season. And who do they welcome to the Stadio OIimpico this weekend? Table-topping Inter.

Rafa Benitez’s side are one point ahead of Chievo and Brescia after two goals apiece from Samuel Eto’o, liberated from his advanced wing-back role this season, and Diego Milito helped the Champions to a 4-0 win over Bari, despite missing the influencial Wesley Sneijder.

Speaking of table-toppers, there are none more impressive than the lesser-known Mainz 05 of the Bundesliga.

The south-western club have taken a maximum 15 points from their first five games, including that impressive foul-goal turnaround against Wolfsburg (or ‘Steve McClaren’s Wolfsburg’, to give them their full title) on matchday two, as well as a hard-fought win over FC Köln in midweek that saw manager Christian Heidel hail “the best football since I’ve been here”.

The O-Fives sit three points ahead of the increasingly impressive Borussia Dortmund, who have a game in hand, after Jürgen Klopp’s men swept Kaiserslautern aside with a breath-taking  5-0 win on Wednesday night that shows yet more signs that the partnership of Lucas Barrios and Robert Lewandowski could bag a first Bundesliga title since 2002.

Dortmund players celebrate after thrashing Kaiserlautern

Bayern Munich, who have endured a shakey start to their title defence, survived a very early scare to squeeze past Hoffenheim after Vedad Ibesevic had given the home side the lead in the first minute. Louis van Gaal’s men cranked up the pressure and finally picked up their first league win since they raised the curtain on the new season when Thomas Müller grabbed an equaliser and Daniel van Buyten pounced in injury time.

And it is Bayern and Hoffenheim who stand in the way of Mainz if they are to claim the Bundesliga record for best start to a season, but you’ll have to check back later for Pickles’ European preview for more of that.

That is just about everything from a surprising week of football, check back later on for that preview and please feel free to comment.

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