Thursday, May 31, 2012

Euro 2012 Preview: Group C, the Group of Debt

Group C has taken on the moniker of the Group of Debt due to its members being affected by the economic downturn and effects of harsh austerity measures on their populations.  With the economy in turmoil, it is no wonder that so many in these countries have turned their attention to football as an escape from political rallies, riots, and the harsh realities of everyday life.  With added pressure of having the hopes of their downtrodden nations, these teams will be eager to achieve glory in Poland/Ukraine.


Croatia comes into Euro 2012 as heavy underdogs.  They will be playing in a difficult group in their manager Slaven Bilic’s final tournament with the squad before leaving to join Lokomotiv Moscow.  Bilic’s decade of stewardship has seen qualification for three consecutive European Championships, and they will be fortunate to repeat their 5th place performance from 2008.  Bilic views the underdog label as something that can galvanize his squad and looks forward to the challenge of playing the defending World Cup and Euro champions, Spain. 

Bilic’s squad boasts a number of experienced veterans to go along with attacking creativity and efficiency.  Captain Darijo Srna is likely to feature in a right midfield role rather than his traditional right back role with Shakhtar Donetsk.  Srna is equally capable at both positions, with the ability to move up the flank in counter attacking opportunities and composed enough to direct attacks in the opposing half.  Srna claims that the squad will be able to play up to their opponent’s high standards, but the squad has not played a top ranked team in the past 12 months.

Croatia will likely field a 4-4-2 for the matches against Italy and Spain, but is also capable of sending out a 4-5-1, employing Everton’s Nikica Jelavic up front as the lone striker.  The 4-5-1 formation allows the Croatian midfield to play a more expansive passing game while Jelavic’s deft finishing makes him a threat anywhere in the opposing half. In a 4-4-2, Jelavic will be paired either with Bayern’s Ivica Olic or Eduardo. 

The midfield is led by creative genius Luka Modric, whose expansive passing and vision has created problems for top European defenders for several years now.  Modric is joined in the midfield by his Tottenham teammate Niko Kranjcar to go along with winger Mario Mandzukic.  Defense must be considered the weakest area of the team, with long-serving top choice defender Josip Simunic lacking the pace to keep up with speedy Italian and Spanish attackers.  Domagoj Vida is a young defender capable of playing in either the right or center back role, and could garner attention from top clubs with good performances in the tournament.

Croatia’s opening match against Ireland could very well be the squad’s only opportunity for a victory at Euro 2012, but if the squad is capable of playing up their underdog moniker could cause problems for Italy and Spain.  Qualification for the knockout stages is an unreasonable expectation, but the Croatians will certainly not back down from the challenge.

Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb), Danijel Subasic (AS Monaco)
Defenders: Jurica Bulijat (Maccabi Haifa), Vedran Corluka (Tottenham Hotspur), Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munchen), Gordon Schidenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb)
Midfielders: Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Tomislav Dujmovic (Dinamo Moskva), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburger SV), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham Hotspur), Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kyiv)
Forwards: Eduardo (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg)


Italy has undergone a transformation under the leadership of manager Cesare Prandelli.  Rather than stick to the traditional Italian tactic of a rigid defensive back line, Prandelli has introduced a possession oriented style in the same vein as Group C members Spain.  The new style of play has works thus far, with Italy finishing at the top of their qualifying group undefeated, and enjoying more possession in the qualifying campaign than any other squad but the Spaniards. 

Prandelli’s preferred 4-3-2-1 formation, gives them the defensive security necessary with Thiago Motta and Daniele Di Rossi playing in holding roles that allow the legendary Andrea Pirlo to play his inventive string pulling role.  Claudio Marchisio can also be employed in a holding role, while Antonio Nocerino offers a dangerous playmaking skill set that can be paired with Pirlo.

The Italian squad is captained by their goalkeeper, national treasure Gianluigi Buffon.  Buffon is coming off a title winning Serie A campaign with Juventus and he brings along a trio of Juventus defenders (Barzagli, Bonucci, and Chiellini) that aim to keep the Italian keeper’s sure hands from being tested.  The formidable defense that conceded only two goals in their qualifying campaign features two newer additions to the squad with left back Balzaretti and right back Abate.  It will be up to these new additions to fill the gaps left by legends Fabio Cannavarro and Alessandro Nesta.

If there is a weak area of this Italian squad it would have to be their forwards.  With Antonio Cassano’s fitness coming into question, Prandelli may have to deploy all-action Super Mario Balotelli.  Balotelli has caused controversy already for Euro 2012 after saying he would walk off the pitch if he came under racist abuse from fans.  Despite his penchant for mischievous behavior, Balotelli is one of the most exciting young players at the tournament and will have his first chance to prove his worth to the Italian fans at major tournament next week.  The veteran Antonio Di Natale provides a more experienced option of front should the Italian side require his influence on a match.

Italy has a difficult first match against Spain, but after that should be able to handle both Ireland and Croatia to reach the knockout stages.  Once there, their solid back line and the safe hands of Buffon will be difficult for any opposition to break down.  I expect a run into the late stages of the tournament, provided the squad remains as disciplined and opportunistic as they were in qualifying.

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain)
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino)
Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Alessandro Diamante (Bologna), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Antionio Nocerino (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Fabio Borini (AS Roma), Antonio Cassano (AC Milan), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Sebastian Giovinco (Parma)

Republic of Ireland:

Former Italy manager Giovanni Trapattoni and the Ireland squad have recovered well after being cheated out of a World Cup 2010 birth after Thierry Henry’s notorious handball.  Their qualifying campaign concluded with a 5-1 win on aggregate over Estonia, making it their first qualification for a major tournament since the 2002 World Cup.  Trapattoni has endeared himself to the Irish fans by producing results with his rigid tactics, and his press conferences in broken English are simply delightful.

Trapattoni’s rigid 4-4-2 has been instituted since his first match as Ireland manager, and it is a familiar sight to any fans following Trap.  The inflexibility allows each player to know their expected role in the squad and their defensive tactics will be no surprise to opposition.  Ireland will look to keep a clean sheet in every match, demanding top performances from goalkeeper Shay Given and his defense. 

That defense will be without Wolves defender Kevin Foley, who was passed up in favor of the more versatile Paul McShane.  Richard Dunne and John O’Shea will be the two main centerbacks in Trapattoni’s formation, with Darren O’Dea at left back and Fulham’s Stephen Kelly on the right.  The defensive line will be well drilled and prepared for anything Spain and Italy can throw at them, but it will be a question of how long the Irish can withstand the assault from the football giants.

The Irish midfield is lacking a creative influence, with the central midfield roles being held by Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews.  Darron Gibson and James McClean were at the center of controversial declarations to play for Republic of Ireland, despite being born in Derry (Northern Ireland).  McClean, a winger, was given a spot in the squad after an impressive Premier League campaign for Sunderland. 

Captain Robbie Keane will lead from his role as striker, he has been an inspiration, scoring seven goals during Ireland’s qualifying efforts.  Kevin Doyle serves as the target man in the Irish attack, while the crafty Aiden McGeady will join in the attack from the left side.  Shane Long can provide pace in the attack, which is something Ireland lacks overall.

If they are able to produce a win against Croatia and the defense remains solid against Spain and Italy, Ireland will still have a lot of work to do to qualify for the quarter finals.  Three losses are the predicted results for the Irish squad, and any results they earn will be a credit to the management of Trapattoni and the determination and grit of the Irish players.

Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Aston Villa), Kieran Westwood (Sunderland), David Forde (Millwall)
Defenders: John O’Shea (Sunderland), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Sean St. Ledger (Leicester City), Darren O’Dea (Celtic), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Paul McShane (Hull City)
Midfielders: Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Keith Andrews (West Bromwich Albion), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moskva), Darron Gibson (Everton), Paul Green (unattached), Damien Duff (Fulham), Stephen Hunt (Wolverhampton Wanderers), James McClean (Sunderland)
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Simon Cox (West Bromwich Albion)


The reigning World Cup and Euro champions come into Euro 2012 as heavy favorites.  Eight consecutive wins in qualification earned the Spaniards their berth in Euro 2012, and they have conceded only a single goal thus far in 2012.  Vicente del Bosque’s squad is aiming to become the first squad to win three consecutive major tournaments, and they are hoping to perform with style and aplomb that has made the Spaniards the envy of the footballing world.

What is already considered to be a Golden Generation for Spain is led by their keeper Iker Casillas.  At the age of 31, Casillas is one of the most decorated players of this era.  Possessing lighting quick reflexes, on field leadership, and the respect of the entire footballing world, Casillas has rarely turned in a poor performance during his 12 years with the national squad.  It will be up to Casillas to lead the squad that will be missing its other defensive stalwart Carles Puyol.  Puyol will be capably replaced by his Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique, while Raul Albiol or Sergio Ramos will likely be next to him at the other center back position.  A combination of Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, and Alvaro Arbeloa will play in the full back roles.

The Spanish midfield has been the envy of the entire world over the last 4 years, led by passing machine Xavi.  Xavi’s inventive, expansive passing game will be joined by Barcelona teammates Cesc Fabregas and Andreas Iniesta.  David Silva’s creative genius will be on display throughout the tournament to join the efficient and effective Xabi Alonso in midfield.  Whether Del Bosque chooses to play a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 will make little difference to their tactics, Spain hopes to pass all of their opponents into submission.

The absence of striker David Villa means that the forward role is one of the few in question for the Spanish squad.  Fernando Torres has struggled to regain form for Chelsea, while his teammate Juan Mata has excelled in the Premier League.  If neither of them is able to perform, Barcelona’s Pedro offers another attacking option, but Del Bosque may prefer the precise finishing of Fernando Llorente or Alvaro Negredo.  
With so many attacking options, this is surely only a perceived weakness for the Spanish squad.

With so much talent and experience at their disposal, Spain is the tournament favorite for a reason.  Expect the Spaniards and their expert passing displays to easily progress through the group stages.  They could run into some trouble against squads that decide to park the bus, but with all their quality it would take a tremendous performance to oust the defending champions.

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Victor Valdes (Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Liverpool)
Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Juanfran (Athletico Madrid), Javi Martinez (Athletic Club)
Midfielders: Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Forwards: Fernando Llorente (Athletic Club), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla)


While Croatia and Ireland have been eager to embrace their status as underdogs, it is unlikely that either will emerge from this group.  Italy and Spain simply have too much quality for the significantly less talented squads and the opening matchup between the European rivals should be a joy to watch.

Back tomorrow with the final installment, Group D.

Posted on Thursday, May 31, 2012 by Lex

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Euro 2012: Group B Preview, The Group of Death

Group B has been dubbed by many to be the “Group of Death” for Euro 2012.  Boasting 3 of the top 5 ranked squads in the world with Germany, the Netherlands, and Portugal and rounded out by 22nd ranked Denmark.   Top talents like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, and Arjen Robben will provide exciting football to go along with the boisterous crowds they will likely attract.  Many have the eventual champion of Euro 2012 coming from this group.


This year Denmark celebrates the 20 year anniversary of their shocking Euro 92 victory over Germany in Sweden and will look to repeat these results in Poland/Ukraine.  They will certainly have their work cut out for them, drawing into what is considered by most to be the most difficult group in the tournament.  Morten Olsen is the longest tenured manager in Euro 2012, having successfully led the Danes to qualification for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and Euro 2004. 

Olsen’s tactical preparation and acumen is on par with any of the tournament’s top managers, and Denmark will be ready for the stiff competition they will face.  The Danes could employ either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 depending on fitness and opposition tactics.  One certainty will be Nicklas Bendtner leading the attack from a central striker position.  The controversial Arsenal/Sunderland man will be flanked by the Brondby tandem of Michael Krohn-Dehli and Dennis Rommedahl. 

Rising Ajax star Christian Eriksen will be a player to watch for the Danes, the creative 20 year old attacking midfielder has attracted a lot of attention and was named 2011 Danish Footballer of the Year.  His creative influence and flair will be juxtaposed by hard tackling, industrious midfielders like Christian Poulsen, Niki Zimling, and William Kvist. 

Captain Daniel Agger will anchor the Danish defense that conceded only 6 goals in their qualifying group, but who his defensive partner will be is still a question.  Simon Kjaer is coming off a season where he failed to impress at Roma, while Andreas Bjelland lacks international and top club experience, creating controversy at the center back position.  Simon Poulsen of AZ Alkmaar will feature at left back, offering a balance of attacking and defensive skills.  Lars Jacobsen will feature at right back, lending his cultured talents to the squad. 

A lack of depth overall is the main flaw of the Danish squad, to go along with having no certain first choice keeper.  Manchester United’s Anders Lindegaard, uncapped Kasper Schmeichel, or Evian’s Stephan Andersen could take over goalkeeping duties after Stoke’s Thomas Sorensen was left out of the final squad due to a back injury. 

Ultimately, this Danish squad lacks the depth and quality overall to come out on top against teams like Germany and the Netherlands.  Despite being familiar with qualifying group opponents Portugal, they would still need positive results against two of the top 5 clubs in the world according to FIFA rankings.  Qualification for the knockout stages looks to be a bridge too far for the Danes.

Goalkeeper: Stephan Andersen (Evian), Anders Lindegaard (Manchester United), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Defense: Lars Jacobsen (FC Koebhavn), Daniel Wass (Evian), Daniel Agger (Liverpool), Simon Kjaer (Roma), Andreas Bjelland (Nordsjaelland), Simon Poulsen (AZ Alkmaar), Jores Okore (Nordsjaelland)
Midfield: Christian Poulsen (Evian) Jakob Poulsen (Midtjylliand), William Kvist (VfB Stuttgart), Niki Zimling (Club Brugge), Thomas Kahlenberg (Evian), Christian Eriksen (Ajax), Michael Silberbauer (Young Boys), Lasse Schone (NEC Nijmegen)
Forward: Dennis Rommedahl (Brondby), Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Brondby), Tobias Mikkelsen (Nordsjaelland), Nicklas Pedersen (FC Groningen)


The run up to Euro 2012 has not been as smooth as manager Joachim Low may have liked, but after a perfect qualifying campaign, Germany stumbled this weekend suffering a 5-3 defeat at the hands of Switzerland.  Low took the opportunity to experiment in the friendly, but will likely field a more familiar squad in the opening match against Portugal.  Low is a tactical genius that has introduced a new brand of football to the national team, now displaying an expansive, counter-attacking style that is hard for opposition to match.  After finishing as runner-up at Euro 2008 and finishing third in the 2010 World Cup, Low and Germany have their eyes set on European glory.

Germany boasts one of the deepest and most talented squads at Euro 2012 and with an average squad age of just over 24, one of the youngest.   Miroslav Klose is the sole player over the age of 30, and the legendary striker needs just 5 goals to equal Gerd Muller as Germany’s all-time goal leader.  Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez will be the other attacking option at the front of Low’s 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3).  Lukas Podolski or Thomas Muller will flank the lone striker, but depending on the circumstances Germany may appear to play a 4-2-4 with all the available attacking options at Low’s disposal.

Mesut Ozil looks to follow up his La Liga title success with a Euro title to match and the midfield maestro will be joined by German phenom Bastian Schweinsteiger and Madrid teammate Sami Khedira.  The midfield is one of the deepest in Europe, rounded out by emerging talents Toni Kroos, Andre Schurlle, and Lars Bender. 

Leadership of the German squad is the job of full back Philipp Lahm, who is captain of both club (Bayern Munich) and country.  Lahm leads a contingent of eight players from Bayern Munich in the German squad and his calm leadership is essential in the young squad.  Apart from Lahm at left back, the rest of the 
German defense has been a revolving door throughout qualification.  Lahm’s Munich teammates Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber could feature at right back and center back respectively, while questions still remain whether Mats Hummels or the aging and injury prone Per Mertesacker will be utilized by Low. 2011 Bundesliga Player of the Year, Manuel Neuer, will don the gloves and provide back line instruction from the goalkeeper position.

Germany comes into Euro 2012 as the second favorite team of bookmakers and pundits alike.  With a surplus of talent capable of producing breathtaking football, Low’s squad is poised to make history in Poland/Ukraine.  If they are able to emerge at the top of Group B, they will have to be considered favorite in the group stages.  The burden of expectations of their fans and manager may be too heavy for the young squad to handle and Ze Germans will have to produce a result in their opening match against Portugal if they hope to advance.

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munchen), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96)
Defense: Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munchen), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munchen) Benedikt Howedes (Schalke 04), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munchen), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
Midfield: Lars Bender (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munchen), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munchen), Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Marco Reus (Borussia Monchengladbach), Andre Schurrle (Bayer 04 Leverkusean), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munchen), Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund), Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund)
Forward: Miroslav Klose (SS Lazio), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munchen), Lukas Podolski (FC Koln)

The Netherlands: 

After falling to Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, the Flying Dutchmen are looking to capture the glory that escaped them in South Africa two years ago.  Manager Bert van Marwijk has revolutionized the Dutch national team from a free flowing attacking team into an efficient, tactically disciplined side that has yielded enough results to keep his many vocal critics at bay.  Despite facing criticism from Dutch footballing legends like John Cruyff, van Marwijk remains committed to his style of play that has achieved results.

Van Marwijk’s style is exemplified by his captain Milan midfielder, Mark van Bommel.  Van Bommel’s hard tackling, physical style is a factor that opposing squads must contend with.  Together with his defensive midfield partner, Nigel de Jong the duo forms hard tackling, ball-winning base 2 of their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation that allows the Dutch attack to flourish.   At times van Marwijk opts to deploy deep lying playmaker Rafael van der Vaart in place of de Jong, which offers the squad tactical versatility and creative genius to unleash the surplus of attacking options at his disposal.

The Dutch boast attacking options that make them hard for any team to compete with.  Wesley Sneijder has undergone a transformation under van Marwijk, moving from the left side of the formation to a trequartista role behind the striker in the center of the attack.  Sneijder offers ambidexterity, top notch playmaking skills, and free kick expertise that have made him a Champions League winner.  Arjen Robben will look to recover from his Champions League Final gaffes on the right side of the attack.  Robben is a force to be reckoned with cutting in from the right side and unleashing ferocious shots with his notorious left foot. 

Van Marwijk’s toughest decision will be who to employ at the striker position.  Klaas-Jan Huntelaar led the Dutch qualifying campaign with 12 goals, but Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie is enjoying the form of his life at the moment after winning the English Premier League Golden Boot with 30 goals.  Dirk Kuyt rounds out the main Dutch striking options, offering his unparalleled workrate and leadership.

The one flaw of the Dutch squad is their defensive third.  John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen are the first choice center backs, but could be exploited by attackers with pace.  Wilfred Bouma and Gregory Van der Weil will feature at left and right back respectively while the tournament’s youngest player, Jetro Willems could make appearances in place of Bouma.  What questions remain in the defensive line are buoyed by three top rate goalkeepers. Maarten Stekelenburg will be the first choice, but his backups are two emerging Premier League stars Michel Vorm and Tim Krul.

The Netherlands will begin their tournament with Denmark and should be able to produce a result there, but their final match against Portugal will be crucial in determining whether the Dutchmen advance to the knockout stages.  The Netherlands are equally capable of producing beautiful attacking football along with brutal hard tackling “anti-football”, making them one of the tournament favorites along with Group B member Germany.

Goalkeeper: Tim Krul (Newcastle), Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma)
Defense: Khalid Boulahrouz (VfB Stuttgart), Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga CF), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord) Gregory van der Weil (Ajax), Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven)
Midfield: Mark van Bommel (AC Milan), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (Sporting Clube de Portugal), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham)
Forward: Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04), Luuk de Jong (FC Twente), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Luciano Narsingh (sc Heerenveen), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munchen)


Cristiano Ronaldo is the man that will garner full attention from fans, opposing managers, and players throughout Portugal’s Euro 2012 campaign.  If Os Navegadores are going to navigate their way through the troubled waters of Group B, it will be because of tremendous contributions from their captain, Ronaldo.  The high profile Real Madrid attacking midfielder will have the eyes of the entire world on him throughout the tournament and it will be up to him to perform where he has fallen short in the past.

Paulo Bento took the managerial reins after a horrendous start to the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign under 
Carlos Quieroz.  Bento has shaken things up throughout the campaign, helping the squad rebound and 
qualify through the playoff against Bosnia & Herzegovina.  Bento also led the squad to a 4-0 win over reigning World Cup and Euro 2010 champions Spain in November of 2011.  Bento also ousted long time Portugal squad members Jose Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho, vowing the duo would never again feature for Portugal. 

Bento’s side boasts tactical versatility that few squads can match, capable of using 4 different formations, (4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-2-3, and 4-3-1-2) using Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in various roles to make up for a lack of a top talent at striker.  Bento’s midfield usually consists of a player or two in a deep enforcer role, with Raul Meireles or Miguel Veloso capable of fulfilling such a role.  Joao Moutinho can be deployed in a playmaking role providing service to the talented attackers Nani and Ronaldo.  The role of striker will be a question mark for Portugal, with Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida, or 20 year old Nelson Oliveira all fighting for the opportunity to become the first choice striker.

Bruno Alves and Pepe will anchor the Portuguese defense at the center back positions, while Pepe’s Real Madrid teammate Fabio Coentrao will play alongside them at left back.  The Valencia tandem of Ricardo Costa and Joao Pereira will take over right back duties, depending on Bento’s selection.  The remainder of the Portuguese defensive selection is made up of Porto defenders Rolando and uncapped 25 year old Miguel Lopes. 

Portugal boasts depth in the center of midfield and two of the best wingers in the tournament with Nani and Ronaldo, but their lack of a true top choice striker could impede the team.  If Nelson Oliveira emerges as a first rate striker in the tournament, Portugal could emerge from Group B, especially if they get a result in either of the matches against Germany or the Netherlands. 

Goalkeeper: Eduardo (Benfica), Rui Patricio (Sporting Clube de Portugal), Beto (CFR Cluj)
Defense: Joao Pereira (Sporting Clube de Portugal), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Bruno Alves (Zenit St. Petersburg), Rolando (Porto), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Pepe (Real Madrid), Miguel Lopes (Braga)
Midfield: Raul Meireles (Chelsea), Miguel Veloso (Genoa), Joao Moutinho (Porto), Ruben Micael (Real Zaragoza), Hugo Viana (Braga), Custodio (Braga)
Forward: Nani (Manchester United), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Silvestre Varela (Porto), Helder Postiga (Real Zaragoza), Nelson Oliveira (Benfica)


With all of the hype surrounding the Germans, I see them as the one tournament favorite that will fail to impress.  With eight players still with the devastating loss in the Champions League final still weighing heavy on their conscience, a young squad, and the burden of a nation of desperate for a trophy, I view them as poised for collapse.  If they are unable to produce results in their first two matches against Portugal and the Netherlands, they may already be eliminated before facing Denmark. 

I see the Netherlands coming out on top of the group with Portugal finishing in second. 

Tomorrow we’ll have a preview of the Group of Debt, Group C.  

Posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 by Lex

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

With 10 days remaining in the lead up to Euro 2012, now seems like a fitting time to preview the teams that will be participating.  Managers have submitted their squad lists after this weekend’s friendlies and the final preparations are underway for Poland/Ukraine.   Later in the week I’ll discuss the controversy the tournament hosts have already attracted controversy thanks to a BBC Panorama documentary highlighting potential danger to visiting minority fans.  To start here’s a preview of Group A:

Group A:

Czech Republic: 

After finishing second behind Spain in Group I qualifying, the Czech Republic defeated Montenegro 3-0 over the two legged playoff to earn their qualification to the Euro 2012 final.  The Czech side is managed by former Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic midfielder Michal Bilek in his first major tournament campaign.  The former Sparta Prague manager will lend his watchful eye to the squad looks to return to their 2004 glory where they surprised many by making it as far as the semi-final. 

Bilek will likely field a 4-2-3-1 formation, after experimentation with a 4-2-2-2 formation led to disastrous results.  The squad is still led in attack by Euro 2004 Golden Boot winner Milan Baros and a lack of depth at the striker position leaves the 30 year old Galatasaray striker as the lone option up front.  CSKA Moscow’s striker Tomas Necid and Nurnburg’s Tomas Pekhart are both young strikers that could emerge during the tournament, but expect Baros to see the majority of playing time up front.

Tomas Rosicky will captain the Czechs coming off a season where he helped Arsenal to a 3rd place finish in the English Premier League.  The injury prone midfielder has managed to avoid the physio room over the last nine months and The Little Mozart will attempt to dictate the majority of play in the Czech midfield.  He will be joined by defensive midfielders Tomas Hubschman paired with Petr Jiracek, who will provide the physical presence in front of the defensive line. 

Michal Kadlec was the leading scorer for the Czechs in the qualifying campaign, and could be a danger during overlapping runs from his left back position.  His counterpart on the right side Theodor Gebre Selassie is also a danger in the preferred counter-attacking strategy of Bilek.  The Czech defense is led by goalkeeper Petr Cech, coming off arguably his best season where he was instrumental in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph.  The squad lacks depth at center back with the preferred tandem of Roman Hubnik and Tomas Sivok lacking pace and experience. 

Bilek’s squad boasts seven players from the domestic league, with four representatives from Viktoria Plzen including talented winger Vaclav Pilar.  If this Czech squad is going to advance they will need a bit of luck and dominating performances in the midfield from Hubschmann and Jiracek.  If their defensive line holds strong, Tomas Rosicky and Michal Kadlec are dangerous option in the counter attack.  Their one known quantity is Petr Cech who should provide solid goalkeeping regardless of the opposition; the rest is a squad full of question marks.  If the Czech Republic are able to find some goals they may be able to emerge from what is expected to be a very low scoring Group A, but still expect them to finish out of qualifying for the knockout stages.


2004 Euro winners Greece are looking to return to past glory, following disappointing finishes in both Euro 2008 and the World Cup 2010.  Greece enjoyed a very successful qualifying campaign in which they emerged at the top of Group F without losing a game.  Managed by the highly experienced Fernando Santos, Greece will employ a tactical discipline that will be difficult for opposing squads to match.  They also possess the combination of veteran leadership and youthful talent that may make them dangerous in the knockout stages.  With 16 members of the squad playing in the Greek league in the previous season, they will look to provide a much needed distraction for the austerity stricken nation.

Despite claiming to be more expansive and attacking minded than his predecessor, Greece’s main strength lies in their defense.  Their preferred formation should be a defensive 4-3-3, although Santos could employ a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield or a 4-2-3-1.  The Greek’s main weakeness is their lack of a certain first choice striker, despite having four attackers with over 50 CAPs the attack will likely be led in attack by Celtic’s Giorgos Samaras. 

Throughout their qualifying campaign Greece scored only 14 goals, but their defense remained solid conceding only 5 goals.  Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Avraam Papadopoulos provide the backbone of the Greek defense, joined by dangerous right back Vasilis Torosidis who provides a counter-attacking threat, a fantastic work ethic, and endless endurance.  The left back and goalkeeper positions are question marks for Greece, with no candidate setting himself apart from the rest.  The left back spot will likely be filled by Giorgos Tzavelas or Jose Holebas, while the goalkeeper spot will be filled by the aging Kostas Chalkias.

Giorgos Karagounis leads the midfield and should become Greece’s all-time leader in career appearances during the tournament.  He is joined in the midfield by two of his Panthanaikos teammates Sortis Ninis and Kostas Katsouranis.  Ninis is a talented young winger who looks to recover from an injury filled 2011-12 campaign, with good performances in Poland/Ukraine.  He possesses a superb first touch and vision of a much older player and has already made a name for himself as Greece’s youngest ever scorer. 

Greece possesses several aging options in attack to go along with Samaras.  36 year old Nikos Liberpoulos and Theofanis Gekas lack the creativity and quality in attack that would make Greece attack dangerous.  Look for the majority of their goals to come off the counter or set-pieces.  Despite lacking a quality goal scorer, Greece is a dangerous team because of their solid defense.  Their fate likely hinges on their result against hosts Poland, but expect Greece to make it to the knockout stage where their solid defense makes them a team to fear.


The co-hosts Poland are the lowest ranked team in the Euro 2012, but may become a threat due to playing all three group stage matches in their home nation.  Manager Franciszek Smuda is one of the most decorated managers in Polish football history, and was given the job after being considered a top candidate for a number of years. 

Since being given the management position, Smuda has experimented with a number of formations, but will likely settle on a 4-3-2-1 formation.  The squad boasts only four players from the Polish domestic leagues, with the majority of the squad playing abroad and nine coming from Germany alone.  The heart of the squad is led by the reigning German champion trio from Borussia Dortmund of Lukasz Piszczek (right back), captain Jakub Blaszczykowski (right wing), and Robert Lewandowski (striker).   What the rest of the squad lacks, this trio looks to make up for with creativity, determination, and skill.  Lewandowski poses a real attacking threat and could cause trouble to any opposition defense and a combination with Blaszczykowski or the newly capped emerging talent Rafal Wolski could provide some attractive attacking football.

Poland’s main weakness lies in their defense.  Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny is the only dependable option for the Polish defense.  Their defense will be led by center backs Marcin Wasilewski and French-born Damien Perquis, both of whom are inconsistent at best at the international level.   Sebastian Boenisch will likely feature at left back after a successful season with Werder Bremen

Despite being the co-hosts, Poland are widely regarded as the tournaments weakest side.  Despite playing in the comparatively weak Group A, Poland would do well to win a single game, and qualification for the knockout stages seems out of the realm of possibility.  However, strange things can happen at these tournaments and with the enthusiastic support expected, anything can happen. 


After an impressive campaign in the 2008 Euros, Russia shocked many by failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup after falling to Slovenia in the qualifying playoff.  The squad looks to rebound featuring many of the same players that captured the hearts of neutral spectators during the 2008 competition in Austria/Switzerland with their attacking flair.  The majority of the squad plays their club football in Russia with only two members spending the previous season playing abroad.

Dick Advocaat has taken over the squad previously manages by Guus Hiddink, but has stuck to Hiddink’s 4-3-3 formation, preferring the tactical versatility and squad depth with that formation.  The squad will rely heavily on its contingent from Zenit St. Petersburg that has sent six players including captain Andrei Arshavin.  Despite falling out of favor with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, Arshavin has returned to form since being loaned to Zenit in February.  He is joined by central striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, midfielder Igor Denisov, and right back Aleksandr Anyukov as the members of the Zenit contingent most likely to have an impact on the squad.

Kerzhakov will feature in the center flanked by Arshavin and CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev, giving them a potent attacking force.  Kerzhakov’s backups are equally competent in the form of Tottenham’s Roman Pavluchenko and Fulham’s  Pavel Pogrebnyak.  34 year old midfielders Konstantin Zyryanov and Igor Semshov will provide Russia with an experienced influence, despite much of the squad remaining unchanged under Advocaat’s leadership. 

The defense is seen by most as the weakest point of the Russian team, but that may be overstated because Russia conceded only 5 goals throughout the qualifying campaign.  Yuri Zhirkov will lend his versatile talents well to the left side of the defense, while Aleksei Berezutskiy will be without his twin brother Vasili to partner at center back.  Instead, Vasili will be replaced by Sergei Ignashevich who is a the most capped member of the squad.  Igor Akinfeev is still recovering from a knee injury, but his steady hands should be ready when called upon for the competiion.

Russia has to be considered the favorites of Group A, boasting what has to be considered the most formidable squad in the group.  With manager Dick Advocaat leading the squad in his final competition as manger before returning to PSV for the 2012-13 season, they will look to go out with a bang, hoping to improve on their 2008 semi-final appearance.  Russia is also likely to be the squad with the most attack minded style of play and their superiority at striker and in the attacking midfield will be for other Group A members to compete with.


Look for Russia and Greece to emerge from this group, with all except Russia expected to play defensive minded tactics.  I predict Alan Dzagoev will be the top scorer from Group A going into the knockout stages and Russia being the only real competitor with a chance of reaching the finals. 

Group B Preview will be tomorrow, followed by C and D on Thursday and Friday.  

Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 by Lex

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

This past Saturday was one of the most exciting and memorable days of my life.  There are thousands of Chelsea fans around the world that can say that, but I feel it is my duty to fully inform you of my experiences on the day my cherished club lifted their first UEFA Champions League trophy. 

Anthony and Erin are two of my best friends in the world; I’ve known Anthony since we were children playing football together and Erin since the earliest stages of their relationship in the Delaware Valley cafeteria.  Anthony is a colossal Spurs fan (I don’t hold it against him) and last year after nine years of dating, he proposed to Erin.  Their wedding was a model of perfection, taking place on a lovely Saturday afternoon in May, directly conflicting with the Champions League final.  When Chelsea defeated Barcelona at the Camp Nou a few weeks ago, the first thing Anthony said to me was “We’ll find a way for you to watch the match.”

Sure enough when Saturday came around, Anthony kept his word. This is not only a testament to how much we love our respective clubs, but to our friendship as a whole.  As the time grew closer to kickoff and the marriage ceremony, Anthony and I grew nervous together, but for vastly different reasons.   Twitter had revealed that Chelsea would be beginning the game with 5 defenders on the pitch; Di Matteo was locking into the siege mentality meaning it was going to be a nervous day for Chelsea supporters around the world. 

As the ceremony began, the match kicked off, Erin made her way down the aisle, while half a world away Chelsea absorbed the beginning of a German onslaught that would continue through the evening.  Anthony and Erin exchanged their beautiful handwritten vows in front of the Justice of the Peace and shared a passionate kiss amid the cheers of those assembled.  They made their retreat down the aisle and the celebration was underway.  My celebration would have to wait longer.

While the wedding guests greeted each other and congratulated the bride and groom, I retreated to the house that contained the facility’s lone television.  I arrived just as the second half began and settled in for what I knew would be an intense half of football.  Repeatedly I watched the waves of attacking Bayern players have their efforts blocked, parried, punched, and deflected away by the brave Chelsea defense and Peter Cech.

The bride and groom briefly joined me to escape the heat and the crowd gathered to enjoy a semi-private moment amongst themselves.  They soon returned to their guests, while I returned my attention to the television where yet another corner was conceded and cleared by Chelsea, but as the minutes drew closer to 90 I knew something had to give. 

Surely enough, Thomas Muller was able to find the goal off a header that bounced off the ground and over the head and hands of Petr Cech.  I was devastated; all the excitement I had felt immediately vanished, replaced by bitterness and defeat.  Chelsea hadn’t showed much promise on the attacking end and it looked like Bayern would triumph in their home stadium.

Didier Drogba restored my faith just a few short minutes later, by sending Juan Mata’s corner kick into the goal off the hands of Manuel Neuer.  It was an incredible moment, a cathartic excitement over came me and I screamed.  Drogba had redeemed himself from the shame of the 2008 Final in the best way possible, giving Chelsea a glimmer of hope off of their only corner kick of the match.  Fernando Torres’ introduction had changed the game in Chelsea’s favor and I believed they had the upper hand when the end of the second half was signaled.

Just a few minutes later, my world was turned on its head again, as Didier Drogba conceded a penalty by clipping the heels of Franck Ribery.  While Arjen Robben strode forward to take the crucial penalty, I prayed that Peter Cech would be able to redeem Chelsea for that mistake.  He did.  Robben scuffed the penalty, and Cech made the save, giving Chelsea another chance. 

While my hysteria reached a fever pitch, various friends and family members became aware of my absence as dinner was beginning shortly.  I didn’t care, my friends would understand, this would all be worth it.  Time slipped away as Bayern squandered chance after chance.  Ashley Cole, David Luiz, and Gary Cahill all gave incredible performances to ensure the Chelsea back line held strong.  When the full time whistle blew, I felt no relief at the prospect of penalties. 

Juan Mata’s first penalty was stopped by Manuel Neuer, putting Chelsea’s backs against the precipice of defeat yet another time.  Only this time there was hope that was replacing despair. That didn’t waiver when Neuer sunk his penalty and Luiz responded by thumping his own.  When Olic and Robben strode to the penalty spot, I knew that Cech had the upper hand and the massive keeper responded appropriately by stopping both.  As Drogba took the long walk to the penalty spot it felt like destiny.  As he rolled the ball past Neuer, it became destiny.

While Drogba celebrated with his teammates, I screamed with joy.  I was alone in my happiness, but united with thousands of Chelsea fans around the world.  As I returned to the celebration with my friends I was greeted with scowls and stares from people wondering how I could be so selfish.  They wouldn’t understand, but I wouldn’t want them to. Later, Anthony shook my hand and congratulated me and the celebration continued long into the night.

Posted on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 by Lex


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

With Saturday’s Champions League final creeps closer on the horizon and Euro 2012 looming in the not so distant future, Roy Hodgson announced his first (and possibly last) squad for the early summer tournament.  Hodgson’s Euro 2012 England Squad is as follows:

Joe Hart (Manchester City), Rob Green (West Ham), John Ruddy (Norwich City), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), John Terry (Chelsea), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Leighton Baines (Everton), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Scott Parker (Tottenham), Ashley Young (Manchester United), James Milner (Manchester City), Jermaine Defoe (Tottenham), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United), Andy Carroll (Liverpool)

Standbys: Jack Butland (Birmingham City), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea)

Steven Gerrard was announced captain of the squad, in a somewhat shocking move that means Scott Parker’s reign as England Captain is limited to a single match.  John Terry was passed over for the role due to the controversy surrounding him (alleged racism, dreadful form, suspension for Champions League final).  Former England Captain Rio Ferdinand was completely left out of Hodgson’s plans, with Hodgson remarking that all decisions were made for “footballing reasons.”

Curiously not included in the squad or standbys are Micah Richards and Michael Carrick, both coming off of solid seasons with their clubs.  PFA Young Player of the Year, Kyle Walker, will miss the Euros due to his toe injury, while Goal of the Season candidate Peter Crouch will also miss out.  Grant Holt is also absent from the England squad, despite scoring the second most Premier League goals by an English striker. 

The squad is also equally balanced between top clubs with 4 players each coming from Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United, a keen diplomatic move by Hodgson possibly intended to prevent any existing camp from dominating the dressing room.  This is the only reasonable explanation I could come up with to explain Stewart Downing’s inclusion in the squad.  After finishing the season with zero goals and zero assists, and a season full of missed opportunities, Downing’s inclusion over Aaron Lennon, Adam Johnson, and Daniel Sturridge has many scratching their heads in confusion.

The squad chosen by Hodgson can provide England with a useful starting XI at a number of formations.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could give the England squad a creative, attacking option coming off the bench.  The Manchester United strike duo of Welbeck and Rooney could make an appearance as well. It will be interesting to see if and how the squad changes before the beginning of the tournament.  It is also nice to see the (largely symbolic) inclusion of John Ruddy as the third keeper, but the soon to be married squad member will have to reorganize his honeymoon in order to travel with the squad.  

This is the squad faced with the impossible task of not disappointing the British public.

Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 by Lex

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Papiss Demba Cisse all but cemented his status as Premier League signing of the season with two spectacular goals that gave Newcastle a crucial 2-0 win over Chelsea.  The first goal came off a beautiful cross by Davide Santon, that Cisse controlled with one touch and volleyed into the net with his left foot.  His second came in the ten minutes of stoppage time at the end of the match when he struck what could be the goal of the season. Cisse was over 30 yards from goal when he struck with the outside of his right foot and sent a majestic curling shot over the outstretched hands of Peter Cech into the goal.  It was a top quality goal from a striker who has wasted no time making his mark on the Premier League.

After beginning his career with Douanes, Dakar in his home country of Senegal, Papiss Cisse was transferred to French club FC Metz in 2005.  After playing a single match for the club in Ligue 1, he was loaned out to French third division side AS Cherbourg.  He contributed significantly during his loan spell with 11 goals in 28 league appearances and immediately was slotted back into the FC Metz squad during their Ligue 2 winning campaign, earning 12 goals in 35 matches.  FC Metz faced considerable difficulty in Ligue 1 and Cisse was loaned to Third Division LB Chateauroux after going scoreless in 9 Ligue 1 matches for Metz.  He rejoined Metz the following season when the club was relegated to Ligue 2 where he added 24 goals in 54 matches over the next two seasons. 

After a fantastic start to his 2009-10 campaign with Metz, Cisse caught the attention of the German club SC Freiburg when he scored a goal and an assist in a match between Freiburg and Metz.  After failing to agree on a transfer fee during the summer window, the clubs reached an agreement shortly before the winter transfer window opened and Cisse was transferred for a fee of €1.6 million.  Cisse was quick off the mark for Freiburg, scoring 6 goals in 16 matches to finish their 2009-10 campaign. 

The following season is when Cisse truly announced his arrival in the Bundesliga.  Cisse massively improved in his first full season with the club by scoring 22 goals in 32 league appearances.  He finished the season with the second most goals in the Bundesliga and broke Tony Yeboah’s record for goals scored by an African player in the Bundesliga.  Cisse also earned the EFFIFU award for most efficient striker in Europe.
Cisse’s form carried over into the current season which he began with Freiburg adding 9 goals in his first 17 matches.  

Cisse’s considerable skill and impressive goal scoring rate attracted the attention of larger clubs and on January 17, 2012 Newcastle announced Cisse would be joining fellow Senegalese striker Demba Ba at St. James Park.  A fee in the area of £10 million was negotiated between the clubs and after being given the number 9 jersey for Newcastle, Cisse made his debut just over two weeks later on February 5 against Aston Villa.  After entering the game for the injured Leon Best, Cisse immediately endeared himself to St. James Park by scoring the winning goal in the 71st minute. 

Cisse’s adept positioning and precise finishing touch continued in the following string of games and on March 25, his brace against West Brom made him the fastest player in Newcastle history to reach 5 goals.  His stunning form continued by adding a brace in the following two matches against Liverpool and Swansea City, as he led the way for Newcastle’s charge up the Premier League table.  He added several more over the next few weeks before his brace yesterday against Chelsea, and as it currently stands he is the most efficient goal scorer in the history of Newcastle United. 

In their second season back in the Barclay’s Premier League, Newcastle United is now in position to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.  The Alan Pardew led squad has been bolstered by the emergence of Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, and the stalwart leadership of Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez.  Tim Krul has been a revelation in goal for the Magpies, earning 15 clean sheets so far this season.

Overall, this Newcastle squad looks to be a drastically improved squad from a year ago and they will see European football in some form regardless of how the final two fixtures shape up.  Newcastle’s form relies heavily on Papiss Cisse and he signaled his arrival as a real Premier League star with his incredible performance yesterday. After playing what he called “the game of my life”, Newcastle now has their sights on 3rd place Arsenal and look to play spoilers to Manchester City’s title dreams.  It has been a fantastic campaign for Newcastle and their fans, we will see over the next two weeks if they can end it with a fitting finish.  

Posted on Thursday, May 03, 2012 by Lex

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vincent Kompany gave Manchester City the victory on Monday evening when he soared above the Manchester United defense to head home the game’s only goal.  It was a tight, hard fought match between the cross town rivals, but City looked firmly in control throughout the match.  As it stands, Manchester City now lead Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title thanks to an 8 goal lead in goal differential.  This deadlock at the top means that the title will be decided over the next two weeks of fixtures that has Manchester City facing Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers, while Manchester United will face Swansea and Sunderland.

United appeared to take a conservative tactical approach to this match and excluded several younger members of from the starting lineup in favor of the aging yet talented midfield trio of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Park Ji-Sung.  Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to go with experience over the youthful talents of Valencia, Young, and Welbeck may have worked against him, as Manchester City thoroughly dominated the midfield for much of the game thanks to the tireless work of Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry anchoring the midfield.  For long periods of the match, Premier League leading scorer Wayne Rooney was lacking support in attack, and it showed on the stat sheet, with Manchester United failing to register a shot on target during the match.

After an early yellow card from Vincent Kompany, the first half settled into a relatively tame affair given the circumstances, with both teams attempting to poke and prod their way through the opposing defense.  Sergio Aguero was relentless in his attempts running at and around the United defense, but his finishing touch was lacking, and he was denied repeated chances to earn a goal in six consecutive games.  City’s repeated attacking efforts were rewarded just before half time when they earned a pair of corner kicks.  David Silva’s second corner found Vincent Kompany who rose above the United defense to head home the deciding goal.  As the captain Kompany celebrated jubilantly, the Ethiad Stadium erupted with applause that United would have to wait until after the break to silence.

After being sent out of the changing room quite early by Sir Alex Ferguson, United responded by having several scoring opportunities thwarted by City’s defense. The ensuing corners came to nothing for United and it began to look as if United would not take away anything from this match, as a result they turned up the pressure.  Rooney and Nani began piling the pressure on Manchester City and the introduction of Danny Welbeck for Park Ji-Sung gave United a new attacking option that they quickly utilized. 

United appeared to be in the ascendency before the introduction of Nigel de Jong for Carlos Tevez.  The Dutchman’s introduction brought the beginning of a new period of the game, because just two minutes later Phil Jones was booked for bringing down Gareth Barry.  This was the first in a string of incidents that would climax with both managers exchanging words along the technical area and having to be separated by their assistants.

Just after Jones’ yellow card, Yaya Toure and Paul Scholes appeared to exchange words and Toure called for Scholes to be booked, but play resumed without incident.  De Jong made an impact with his trademark devastating style with a tackle from behind on Danny Welbeck.  This incident was the spark that caused the managers to come together and conclude with Roberto Mancini’s pantomiming as the two were separated.  Just after the incident, Sergio Aguero nearly put the game out of reach, but only found side netting.  The dirty play would conclude with Michael Carrick receiving a yellow card for a late tackle on Gareth Barry and play carried on.  Valencia was introduced for Scholes just before Yaya Toure almost found the net with a left footed effort that hit the stanchion behind the goal. 

Micah Richards replaced David Silva for City while Ashley Young took over for Nani as the managers exchanged their tactical jabs for the final ten minutes.  City enjoyed a pair of opportunities in the final 5 minutes of regulation, but Clichy’s shot from the edge of the area was stopped by De Gea.  Samir Nasri made an excellent run beating two defenders, but when the time came to shoot he could not pull the trigger and was dispossessed.  Five additional minutes were added to the match and the referees signaled for a final City substitution, James Milner was introduced for the gun-shy Nasri.  Over the last several minutes, United enjoyed a couple half chances and a corner that was scrambled away by Joe Hart as he was fouled. 

When the final whistle blew, the Ethiad immediately exploded into applause and “Blue Moon” could be heard echoing throughout the stadium.  As it currently stands, City are in the driver’s seat for the final two fixtures and two wins will likely ensure their place in history as Premier League champions.  However, with a difficult upcoming test against Newcastle, their fate has not been sealed.  

Posted on Tuesday, May 01, 2012 by Lex

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