Malaga striker Ruud van Nistelrooy promises not to celebrate if he scores against former club Real Madrid on Saturday. Judging his recent form, that's a good bet - he hasn't been scoring, period.
FOOTBALL AROUND EUROPE: An empty pledge for Madrid from Van Nistelrooy
Based on his performances so far, the veteran Dutchman, who was Madrid's top scorer in the title-winning seasons of 2007 and 2008, perhaps should have said nothing rather than invite the inevitable invective.
Van Nistelrooy, 35, has been prolific throughout a career in which he has starred for PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Hamburg and Holland.
With a solitary goal to his name from seven starts on the Costa del Sol, he has been anything but since joining big-spending Malaga in the close season.
The Dutchman has been the most disappointing of Malaga's big-name signings, but unlike at other clubs, where he joined teams who enjoyed well-established patterns of play, he is part of a work in progress at La Rosaleda. Van Nistelrooy does have the benefit of service from wingers Santi Cazorla and Joaquin.
Cazorla is a Spanish international and Joaquin was Spain's pre-eminent winger during his blistering early years at Betis.
Van Nistelrooy is used to good service from wide-men, such as Ryan Giggs and David Beckham at Manchester United. He wastes few chances, but he is in the unenviable position of both wingers having scored more than him so far this season.
Van Nistelrooy, who scored an astonishing 44 goals for Manchester United in 2002/03, was substituted at half time in last week's 3-0 defeat at Levante, the fifth game in succession that he has been taken off.
Malaga's No 9 did not expect to play 90 minutes every week when he signed in the close season, but he will be aware of the need for improvement if Malaga are to close the gap on Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Van Nistelrooy will not be around to see Malaga's ambitious project reach fruition, and he will be fortunate to feature at all if he does not start scoring. His form has been a microcosm of Malaga, who sit sixth without playing well. A win against Real would take them level on points with Jose Mourinho's side, but goals remain an issue. Manuel Pellegrini's side have scored 10 from seven games so far, Barca have hit 26 and Madrid 24.
Van Nistelrooy's former strike partner, Gonzalo Higuain, is one reason why Real have netted so many. The Argentinian has hit top form after a year of injuries and limited chances. Higuain has scored three hat-tricks in his last four games for club and country before replacing strike rival Karim Benzema in the 71st minute of Real's 4-0 demolition of Lyon on Tuesday. The fans showed their approval by awarding Higuain the night's loudest cheer, but the fact that he did not start showed the problem he faces.
Real usually play with one frontman, supplemented and supported by the outrageous attacking talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil. After a crisis of his own at the start of last season, it is to his credit that that frontman was Benzema for much of the last year, but the French striker started on the bench last week as Higuain was rewarded with a start for his hat-trick in the previous game against Espanyol. He reacted by scoring another treble.
Mourinho has a pleasing dilemma and the solution of one Spanish newspaper was to merge Higuain and Benzema's face to make one "perfect striker" from the pair.
Malaga would settle for just one at the moment.
R Santander v Espanyol 8pm
Sporting v Granada 8pm
Malaga v Real Madrid 10pm Barcelona v Sevilla midnight
Real Betis v R Vallecano 2pm
Real Sociedad v Getafe 6pm
A Madrid v Mallorca 8pm
Osasuna v Zaragoza 8pm
Valencia v A Bilbao 10pm
SERIE A: Elbegdorj an Inter fan
Tsakhia Elbegdorj, the president of Mongolia, talked of Genghis Khan and famous horses during a visit to Inter Milan this week, but coach Claudio Ranieri will have more mundane things on his mind against Chievo on Sunday.
His side have only four points from six Serie A matches so far this season.
“It’s a black period but we want to turn over the page,” said Ranieri this week.
Inter’s troubles have certainly not discouraged Elbegdorj, a self-confessed Inter fan, who said he stays up at night to watch their matches.
“There are thousands of Mongolians who are fans of Inter,” he said. “We’re proud of our history and our conquests. Everyone knows Genghis Khan. In our country, there are more horses than people. They are the most famous horses in the world. I hope that in the future our country can also be famous for football.”
Fiorentina v Catania 8pm
Juventus v Genoa 10.45pm
Lecce v AC Milan 2.30pm
Cagliari v Napoli 5pm
Inter Milan v Chievo 5pm
Roma v Palermo 5pm
Siena v Cesena 5pm
Udinese v Novara 5pm
Bologna v Lazio 10.45pm
BUNDESLIGA: Podolski finds form early
Lukas Podolski, the Cologne forward, will be the biggest threat to champions Borussia Dortmund’s three-match winning streak when the sides meet on Saturday.
Germany international Podolski, 26, has shot out of the blocks this season, scoring six times in nine league games and setting up another three goals for his best-ever start to lift usual relegation candidates Cologne into mid-table.
His performances have also helped him withstand a fierce assault on his national team spot by Bayer Leverkusen’s Andre Schuerrle.
“He’s just incredible. We just need to keep a clean sheet and we know he is going to take care of things up front,” teammate Miso Brecko said.
Podolski’s two left-footed goals against Hannover last week lifted Cologne to 10th, and coach Stale Solbakken said: “Maybe [Barcelona’s Lionel] Messi has more finesse in his left foot but Podolski’s power is unique in the world.”
Dortmund v Cologne 5.30pm
Hertha v Mainz 5.30pm
Hoffenheim v M’gldbach 5.30pm
Kaiserlautern v Freiburg 5.30pm
Nuremberg v Stuttgart 5.30pm
Hamburg v Wolfsburg 8.30pm
Leverkusen v Schalke 5.30pm
Hannover v Bayern 7.30pm
LIGUE 1: Pair look to rebound
Lille and Lyon are looking to bounce back from midweek European defeats when the French league contenders clash on Sunday.
Real Madrid outclassed Lyon 4-0 while Lille dominated possession and chances but still lost 1-0 to Inter Milan in the Champions League.
Defending champions Lille are four points off league leaders Paris St-Germain and one point behind Lyon.
“We were below par in terms of aggressiveness and commitment,” said Remi Garde, the Lyon coach. “You can feel the difference when we miss such key players as Maxime [Gonalons] and Lisandro [Lopez]. It’s up to us to quickly turn the page.”
Both could return from injury for the match.
“There will be no need to motivate my players. They will show desire,” said Rudi Garcia, the Lille coach.
Bordeaux v Brest 9pm
Caen v Montpellier 9pm
Marseille v Ajaccio 9pm
Nancy v Nice 9pm
St Etienne v V’ciennes 9pm
Sochaux v Nice 9pm
Lorient v Toulouse 11pm
Auxerre v Rennes 7pm
PSG v Dijon 7pm
Lille v Lyon 9pm
EREDIVISIE: Koeman cautious
Ronald Koeman, the Feyernoord manager, fears the threat posed by Ajax midfielder Theo Janssen in De Klassieker on Sunday.
The rival clubs go head to head at the Amsterdam ArenA with just a point separating them in the Eredivisie.
Ajax have not won any of their last four league games but responded well with a 2-0 Champions League success at Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday night.
Janssen was instrumental in the victory and Koeman is wary of the former Twente player.
He told www.adsportwereld: “That Theo Janssen now plays in a different position for Ajax is good for Theo himself.
“And of course [it is good] for the attackers that he is now free, closer to the goal. From his earlier, more defensive position, that was not the case.
“And for us, it is unfortunate that he now plays as a left midfielder. I’d rather he played against us in a more defensive role.”
VVV Venlo v RKC 8.45pm
Den Haag v NEC 9.45pm
Excelsior v Heracles 9.45pm
Utrecht v H’veen 10.45pm
Ajax v Feyenoord 2.30pm
Alkmaar v Roda 4.30pm
Groningen v Twente 4.30pm
Vitesse v PSV 6.30pm
SCOTTISH PREMIER LEAGUE: Hearts is McCoist's focus, not Whyte
Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, says he is more than happy with his working relationship with owner Craig Whyte, and said they are both focused on events on the field despite ongoing issues off it.
Whyte has instructed his lawyers to begin legal proceedings against the BBC over allegations made against him in a documentary aired in Scotland on Thursday night that explored his business dealings before his takeover of the club in May.
The Scottish champions withdrew co-operation with the broadcaster earlier in the week, while the BBC strongly rejected claims of bias against the club and insisted the content of the programme was accurate and in the public interest.
McCoist spoke with Whyte yesterday morning and claims their only concern is Sunday’s game against Hearts.
He said: “He’s been great, absolutely smashing. I spoke to the owner this morning, as I always do, and we had a good chat. We’ve got a good working relationship.
“We are both in total agreement that the most important thing that we have to focus on is Sunday’s game at Tynecastle.
“I will not comment on any television programmes."
Motherwell v Kilmarnock 3.45pm
Dundee Utd v St J’stone 6pm
Inverness v Dunfermline 6pm
St Mirren v Hibernian 6pm
Hearts v Rangers 3.30pm
Celtic v Aberdeen 6pm
* With agencies