With Real Madrid playing at the Club World Cup, all eyes in La Liga turn to Atletico Madrid's trip to Athletic Bilbao this weekend. It could be brutal...
Plus Cristiano Ronaldo, who looks 'heart-breakingly well-suited to a Real Madrid shirt' according to one United fan. Plus, words from the good doctor and plenty more...
The Champions League returned to our screens this week, a sure sign that the golden-laced leaves and low mists of autumn are on their way.
We welcome it with open arms and a flutter in our heart. Admittedly, this may be just be the butter we have put in our coffee hardening in our arteries but we're fairly sure it's real, actual excitement.
There's no denying the Technicolor wonderland that is the Champions League. A cavalcade of talent and the chance, for a few weeks this year at least, to support five British clubs in the group stages. But who to cheer?
We're old enough to remember when most English fans would get behind the British clubs in Europe but things have changed today. We're far more educated about European football and less wedded to the idea of supporting home nation teams. Some amongst us even claim to "support" a European side. Oddly enough this is never Malmo, Torino or Dinamo Tbilisi but almost always Barcelona or Real Madrid. Funny that. Perhaps it's cantankerousness, or the goosefat eyedrops, but we really find the jumped-up little Herberts one sees around the town in their Barcelona shirts terribly annoying. Unless, of course, they are actually from Catalonia in which case, carry on. Up to a point. You are an adult; ought you really to be wearing a football shirt in a non-sporting scenario? This is a matter for another time.
However, one thing hasn't changed, one tradition is maintained from the past and that is of domestic commentators being biased in favour of the home clubs. Despite the fact that the old habit of wanting the British clubs to do well is dying out, especially amongst the under 30s, your Clives and your Martins and your Alan Greens are still unashamedly on their side.
Our question is: does it matter if commentators are biased towards UK teams?
We'd argue that on many occasions, the emotion that goes with wanting one side to win actually invests the commentary with more passion. Alan Green's "Drogba to win it...come on, Didier" seconds before Didier's extraordinary conclusion to last season's final being a good example.
This sort of naked bias is often regarded as unprofessional, as much by the commentators themselves as by critics. And there are occasions when it is very annoying. ITV's England coverage regularly turns a blind eye to English inadequacies and overstates players' contributions. We remember Clive, apropos of one decent-ish 45 minutes in an England friendly, declaring that Kieran Gibbs was "ready" for international football. This hyperbole, born of wishful thinking and one-eyed bias, lowers the quality of the work.
But we don't mind anyone in football having a favourite. Even-handed impartiality is over-rated in a sport that is supposed to excite. What we're after is entertainment, not necessarily rigorously balanced expositions. Anyway, football is notoriously subjective, so what does balanced mean anyway?
That being said, in the modern era, in a country which is diverse and multi-cultural and with a less UK centric football culture, and at a time when our English football clubs have never been less English in playing staff and ownership, it does often feel misjudged for the commentator to be in paroxysms of delights because Manchester United or Arsenal have scored.
There is a difference between favouring one team and insularity, prejudice or downright ignorance and sometimes many of us in football probably get these concepts confused.
Smaller foreign clubs are patronized, albeit probably subconsciously, by commentators who talk of them being in awe of the big stage at Old Trafford or wherever. It's also often an assumption that unfashionable or unheard-of European club players might not be as good as the familiar domestic players. This is especially the case during home internationals against "smaller" countries but happens on other occasions too. The fact that your top, top Fwanks and Stevie Gs are year after year after year shown to be technically and tactically inferior to whatever swarthy midfield schemer is presently handing England their ass seems to be simply forgotten prior to each match. Perhaps Adrian Bevington has one of those flashy stun-gun wipers from 'Men In Black' with which to erase the memories of commentators after each England football match, ensuring that every international kicks off with the man on the mike expecting only comfortable victory over whatever shambolic bunch of foreigners are there to make up the numbers.,
This week Tony Adams told us that Galatasaray would lose to Manchester United. Good call Tony, because that's what happened. However, his reasoning was because "the Turks don't travel well," which is the sort of insular, hackneyed, outmoded notion that really doesn't do anyone any good. So, in short: yes to commentator bias; no to parochialism. With the exception of arriviste Barcelona fanboys, that is.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Alan has ghost-written a book for Premier League legend Ronnie Matthews. It is called 'I Kick Therefore I Am' and you can check it out here.
And read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here.