EURO 2012 Group B: ‘The Group of Death’

Denmark:

Having been handed pretty much the roughest draw possible Denmark look like the weakest of the four sides in Group B on paper but as the old saying goes ‘football matches aren’t won on paper’ and the Danes will be hoping that this footballing cliche lives up to it’s billing.

Eriksen

Eriksen has made a major impression at Ajax and now he will look to impress in a major international tournament

They may appear to have a somewhat inferior squad to those of their rival teams in Group B but they actually have a squad made up of some very decent international footballers as well as Christian Eriksen who is one of the most highly rated young midfielders in world football. It is too early to right off Denmark’s chances of causing an upset in ‘the group of death’ but one would have to say that there would be little shame in propping up the rest come the end of the group stages if that were to be the case.

One to watch… Christian Eriksen: Eriksen has attracted the interest of many top European clubs over the past couple of seasons with his pace, creativity and ever-developing class clear for all to see. This could be the tournament where he becomes a star.

Euros nostalgia: Denmark were surprise winners when Sweden hosted the tournament in 1992. Inspired by Peter Schmeichel’s phenomenal form in goal and the playmaking skills of Brian Laudrup the Danes came through tough group consisting of hosts Sweden, France and England and then defeated reigning champions Holland in the semis before beating Germany 2-0 in the final.

Tournament prospects: It is very hard to see Denmark getting out of the ‘group of death’ given the competition but that was also the case back in 1992 when they were victorious. They will probably finish bottom of the group but don’t write them off as they are a very decent side.

Netherlands:

Over the past few years the Dutch national side have re-established themselves as one of the super-powers of international football and that has been in no small part down to the starring roles of attacking midfielders Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder and front-man Robin Van Persie.

Robben

Robben may not have many more chances to land silverware with the Dutch national side

Another key part of the Dutch’s re-emergence has been their willingness to trial and persist with the inclusion of young and talented players on the international stage. Over the past few years players such as Gregory Van Der Wiel, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Ibrahim Affellay and Eljero Elia among others have been thrust right into the thick of international football and they have had to develop at a rate of knots in order to meet the standards required.

Their blend of world class talent, experience and a wealth of young and talented players has seen them become a real force to be reckoned with and they will hope to go one further than their runners-up finish at the World Cup in 2010.

One to watch… Gregory Van Der Wiel: Holland’s squad is brimming with young and attacking talent and Van Der Wiel definitely comes within this bracket. The young right back has attracted the attention of huge clubs such as Real Madrid already and perhaps he is just a few strong performances at the Euros away from sealing such a move.

Euros nostalgia: The Netherlands won the trophy in 1988 with a squad containing legends such as Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten who scored probably the best goal ever to grace the final of a European Championship.

Tournament prospects: The Dutch squad is up there with the best in the competition and their recent qualification and major tournament form suggests that they are prime candidates to win the tournament. However, they are in the toughest group of the draw and they will have to hit the ground running to avoid an embarrassing first round exit.

Germany:

Germany are nearly always key players when it comes to major international tournaments and it appears as if that will be the case once again.

If their showing at the World Cup in 2010 is anything to go by then their young and developing squad could well be ready to take the Euros by storm. Since then they have promoted youngsters Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrie and particularly Mario Gotze to the forefront of their thinking and their already young and exciting squad has picked up some even younger and more exciting recruits.

Ozil and Gotze

Ozil had a huge impact in 2010 and now partnered with Gotze in the playmaking department he could impress once again

If their more recent additions to the squad can impact in a similar fashion to how the likes of Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller did in South Africa in 2010 then Germany could be the team to watch in Poland and Ukraine.

One to watch… Mario Gotze: The diminutive Dortmund attacking midfielder has become a key part of Germany’s full international squad having graduated from the youth ranks since the World Cup in 2010 and he looks set to have a major impact in his first major competition for the national side.

Euros nostalgia: Having overcome England on penalties on their own turf in the semis of Euro 96, Germany went on to inflict defeat on the Czech Republic in the final and that remains as their most recent major tournament win.

Tournament prospects: Armed with a fantastic squad bursting to the seams with potential Germany could definitely go all the way and win this one. The bulk of their squad is made up of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund players and if they can re-produce the domestic form shown by Dortmund and the European form of Bayern then they will surely rival the likes of Spain. They may have a tough group but I think they will top it.

Portugal:

Over the past decade Portugal have often shown the worst of themselves in qualification for major tournaments by scraping through groups which their capable squads should have been more than able to deal with but when it has come to the big stage they have a decent record. They have managed to get out of the group stages in each of the last four European Championships and in amongst this record they should really have picked up the trophy in 2004 when they lost out to shock winners Greece on home turf.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo suffered the heartbreak of defeat in the final in 2004 but now he captains his country

It is rough on Portugal that they have been drawn in a group that contains two of the best sides in the world as they would have looked a decent bet to go through in any of the other three groups but don’t rule them out of contention in Group B just yet.

At their disposal they have an experienced and talented back line including Real Madrid’s Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, a versatile and energy-packed midfield including the likes of Joao Moutinho of Porto and Raul Meireles of Chelsea, and, to top it off they have one of the fiercest looking attacking contingents in the competition with the likes of Nani, Quaresma, Varela and Helder Postiga providing able support to the tournament’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo.

One to watch… Cristiano Ronaldo: Off the back of his best season in La Liga to date (and that’s saying something!) the eyes of the whole tournament will be on Ronaldo as he hopes to set a captain’s example and inspire his side to qualify from the tournament’s toughest group.

Euros nostalgia: The football loving nation of Portugal was left devastated by their side’s failure to defeat Greece in the final of Euro 2004 the tournament which saw their star player of the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo, take his first steps in a major international tournament and saw their former star man, Luis Figo, play in his final European Championships.

A brief summary of Group B:

It is nearly impossible to predict the outcome of this group given the calibre of the teams and the individuals on show but it is hard to look past Denmark being the bottom side. I don’t think they’ll be whipping boys by any means and I expect them to push each of their opponents really hard but ultimately I think their efforts will prove a little futile.

Given that it is ‘the group of death’ it means that one of the tournaments stronger sides will have to take an early bath and face the indignity of a first round exit. I don’t quite know why I think this will be the case but I have a feeling that the Netherlands will prove to be the major casualty of the first round and I think Portugal will come second in the group behind Germany who I expect to fare very well throughout the tournament. I think that the winner of the competition will come from Group B and I think Germany look the most likely.

Advertisements

Euro 2012 Countdown: Group A

Greece:

The 2004 champions head into this tournament with just a very small group of survivors from their shock triumph eight years ago. Goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias and midfielders Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis remain from their heroic efforts in Portugal and they will hope to use their experience to guide an otherwise pretty young squad.

Ninis

Ninis could shine amongst Greece’s seemingly lacking squad

With so few remaining members of their triumphant 2004 squad it is going to be hard for Greece to make a real impact this time around but their are some decent talents in their squad. Sotiris Ninis, the highly-rated young Panathanaikos midfielder catches the eye as does 23 year-old centre-back  Sokratis Papastathopolous who has impressed with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga and was bought by Italian giants A.C Milan just a couple of years ago.

One to watch… Sotiris Ninis: Greece’s versatile young midfielder is establishing himself as very decent play-maker and perhaps the lack of real quality in Group A will provide the platform for him to shine.

Tournament Prospects: The lack of a real depth of quality will probably result in Greece failing to make it out of the group.

Euros Nostalgia: Winners against all the odds in 2004, Angelos Charisteas scoring from a corner to sink the host side Portugal in the final.

Poland:

The co-hosting nation aren’t blessed with a large number of household names but they certainly do possess a threat within their ranks.

In addition to the positive thinking that comes with the territory of hosting the tournament they also have several players who have tasted domestic success in recent times, perhaps most notably their trio of Borussia Dortmund stars Lukas Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski (Kuba, as his shirt would have him known) and Robert Lewandowski who have all featured heavily in their sides back-to-back Bundesliga triumphs and their recent completion of a domestic German double with victory in their premiere cup competition.

Dortmund

Poland’s Dortmund trio have all tasted major success this year

The latter of the aforementioned Dortmund stars, Robert Lewandowski, is perhaps the pick of Poland’s squad and if he re-produces the form that has seen him become one of the Bundesliga’s most feared front-men in the Euros then his stock will rise further and he will become an even more attractive prospect for some of Europe’s top clubs.

One to watch… Robert Lewandowski: He has been prolific in the Bundesliga this season and his country will need his goals if they are to make it through to the knock-out stages.

Tournament Prospects: Home advantage and a genuine goal-getter might well see them through the group stage but they appear unlikely to threaten beyond the quarter-finals.

Euros nostalgia: Not much to speak of unfortunately. They have never gone beyond the group stages so what better time to do so than now when they co-host the tournament.

Czech Republic:

Though the Czech’s have sprung a few surprises in some of the more recent European Championships, most notably in 2004 where they were semi-finalists and in 1996 when they were runners-up to Germany at the old Wembley Stadium, it is hard to see them producing similar success this time around.

Baros Czech Republic

Baros shone at EURO 2004 and will hope to lead the line again this summer

They do still have some talented and high profile names in their squad such as Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros who was prolific in their 2004 campaign but gone are the days of Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller, Karol Poborsky and Patrik Berger the players who have served their country so well throughout the past 15 years or so and who have provided the depth of quality needed to succeed at this level.

One to watch… Milan Baros: Their trusty front-man has long since been at the peak of his powers but he has an international strike rate of a goal every two games and has always been a strong finisher. His performances in 2004 have seen him labelled a ‘man for the big stage’ in international football but that was fully eight years ago and it is unclear whether he can hit such heights again.

Tournament Prospects: In many ways they are lucky to have even qualified given the nature of their triumph over Scotland in their qualification group and I expect their lack of real quality to be exposed and that they will fall at the first hurdle.

Euros nostalgia: The Czech Republic’s run to the final at Euro 1996 captured the imagination of European football fans but sadly they lost out to Germany in the final where Oliver Bierhoff starred.

Russia:

Semi-finalists last time out, Russia, will head into this tournament knowing that they are strong favourites to progress from their group. They may not be one of European football’s real super-powers but they do possess a decent balance of youth, talent and experience in their squad and this should serve them well.

Dzagoev Russia

Dzagoev looks a very decent prospect and he could be the heir to Asharvin’s throne as Russia’s chief playmaker

Their squad for the tournament includes many names which will be familiar with English football fans such as Andriy Asharvin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak and their squad is anchored upon their strong and robust defensive unit which will be marshalled by their keeper Igor Akinfeev who is up there with the very finest keepers in Europe.

One to watch… Alan Dzagoev: Russia’s smart young attacking midfielder has craft and vision that defy his tender age of just 21 and he has been a big hit for his club CSKA Moskow in the Russian league. He has a strike rate of a goal every four games in the Russian top flight and just 18 caps into his international career he has racked up a similar rate.

Tournament Prospects: So long as the weight of expectation doesn’t weigh too heavy upon their shoulders given their performances in 2008 and their relatively very decent group draw for the competition, Russia should breeze through the group and will give any side a good game in the knock-out stages.

Euros nostalgia: Russia were fantastic en-route to reaching the semi-finals in 2008 and Andriy Asharvin was the spark at the heart of their fantastic run.

A brief summary of Group A:

On paper this is the weakest of the four groups in the competition but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a bad one to watch.

Neutral fans may find it hard to get excited by the prospect of seeing a match-up such as Greece Vs. Poland given the lack of household names on show but I actually think this could be a very entertaining group to watch as three out of the four teams appear to be pretty well matched.

Russia should really win the majority of their three group games and should top the group as they possess the strongest squad but don’t rule out Poland who I think could go through the the quarters by finishing second in the group. I expect the Czech Republic to push for progression from the group but ultimately fail and end in third place and I think Greece will finish bottom of the pile.

Beware of the Drog: Premier League Icon Seeks Pastures New

In the wake of Didier Drogba’s announcement that he is to leave Chelsea this summer I have pondered about just where the Ivorian ranks amongst the Premier League’s best ever front-men. 

Drogba

Drogba has been one of the true entertainers of the Premier League era

In eight years as a Chelsea player, Drogba’s record matches up with most and he is leaving Stamford Bridge having accumulated an impressive haul of 10 major trophies, the most hard-earned and most significant of the lot of course being last Saturday’s Champions League win.

From the moment he signed for a seemingly over-inflated fee of £24 million to the moment he slotted the decisive penalty in the Champions League final and momentarily appeared to be worth that money a hundred times over, Drogba has been a captivating footballer to watch and I would almost certainly rank him as the best signing of the Roman Abramovic era.

To be labelled such a success is hugely complimentary given the enormous sums of money that Abramovic has poured into transfers and the following players provide just a small sample of the high profile and high valued signings which I would rank him above in a list of Roman’s greatest captures at Chelsea:Arjen Robben, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Fernando Torres, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Nicholas Anelka… the list could go on….

Indeed, there are few more flattering things that you could say about Drogba’s time in England than to label him “the best Abramovic-era signing” and perhaps the only greater context in which he could be placed as a Premier League footballer would be to rank him amongst the finest front-men ever to grace our top flight.

The bad side of Drogba:

I am in no doubt as to whether or not he deserves to leave behind him such a lofty legacy from his time in England. He has been phenomenal for Chelsea and though I have not always been particularly fond of him I do and always have rated him very highly indeed.

Below is my list of the best strikers ever to grace the Premier League…

 

The Top 10 (Not in Order):

 

1. Thierry Henry: The classy Frenchman combined raw pace with great technical ability and lethal finishing.

  1. Didier Drogba: Drogba has proved himself a master in the art of playing as a lone striker.
  2. Wayne Rooney: Rooney is arguably the most technically gifted centre-forward ever in the PL.
  3. Alan Shearer: Goals by the bucket load and an inspiring and down-to-earth demeanour.
  4. Eric Cantona: Goals, creation, skill, arrogance beyond compare and an overwhelming presence.
  5. Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Probably the best goal-poacher the PL has ever seen.
  6. Denis Bergkamp: Rooney’s rival in the technical ability department, oozed class.
  7. Fernando Torres: Prolific for Liverpool, not so far Chelsea thus far but could still be.
  8. Andy Cole: Great movement, great finisher. Shame he couldn’t re-produce it at international level.
  9. Michael Owen: If it weren’t for a string of long-term injury problems then he would have broken records.

 

Honourable Mentions: Robbie Fowler, Dwight Yorke, Nicolas Anelka, Robin Van Persie, Gianfranco Zola, Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham

 

For me Drogba is definitely one of the top five strikers to have played Premier League football and his contributions for Chelsea have been unrivalled throughout his time at the club. He may not have endeared himself to all Premier League fans given his penchant for a manic outburst at officials and for an over-dramatic collapse to the deck but few can question the enormity of his contributions to Chelsea and to the Premier League as a whole.

The great side of Drogba:

It was entirely fitting that Drogba not only scored the decisive spot-kick in the Penalty Shoot-out triumph against Bayern but also the thumping header deep into the ninety pre-planned minutes of play, and though he hasn’t always been my cup of tea I was thrilled to see him contribute more than any other in Chelsea’s success.

I would argue that even at the age of 34 that there is still no better player in world football at playing as a lone striker than Drogba and though I never thought I would say this… I will miss you Didier.

The Key Head-to-Head battles in Munich

This evening’s Champions League final pits firm-favourites Bayern Munich against underdogs Chelsea both of whom have had to defy the gods en-route the final.

Heynckes Di Matteo

Bayern’s Manager and Chelsea’s Interim Manager will have a huge say in tonight’s final

Bayern Munich, who I tipped as my Champions League winners in a blog post at the start of the season, will have the huge advantage of playing the final of European football’s showpiece event on their own pitch, in front of a lot of their own fans and in the comfort of their own stadium.

As nice as it is for Bayern to be playing on home turf, if some were to level criticism at them for winning the trophy in favourable circumstances then that would be grossly unfair given that they have overcome the likes of Real Madrid en-route to the final.

Madrid who early in the second leg of their Semi-Final clash had a 3-2 aggregate lead and a 2-0 lead on the night, were eventually out-gritted and out-done by the kings of German football who somehow found the strength to claw their way back into the tie and win it on penalties.

It is also hard to estimate just how much of an advantage it will prove to be for the giants of German club football to be playing at the Allianz Arena given that their home fans will theoretically have a far smaller ticket allocation than they would usually have for matches in their own ground. However, given that Munich are hosting the final it is more than likely that the ‘neutral’ sections of the ground will be awash with the red shirts and this anticipated wealth of support should give them the edge if they didn’t already have that in terms of their arguably superior playing personnel.

Opponents and ‘visitors’ Chelsea have endured a very strange season indeed. They have already slumped to a pretty dismal sixth-placed finish in the Premier League but they have also managed to land themselves some silverware in the FA Cup.

The other major positive in Chelsea’s season of contrasting fortunes has been their rise from the ashes in this season’s Champions League which has seen them recover from 3-1 down against Napoli after the first leg of their Second Round tie and from 2-1 down and a man down half an hour into their Semi-Final against a much-vaunted Barcelona side.

The man who must receive the most credit for dragging Chelsea’s season up from the cusp of a crisis is undoubtedly their Interim Manger Roberto Di Matteo. The young Italian has led the side he once played for with admirable calmness and confidence and should he fulfil the Chelsea Owner, Roman Abramovic’s, dream of landing the Champions League then surely he will be named the full-time boss come next week.

The outcome of the final could well be result of the team selection’s which both of the manager’s make and the reason for this is that both of them will be without several key players due to suspension.

Bayern will be without youngsters Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luis Gustavo who all would have been probable starters and Chelsea are missing their captain, John Terry, the ever-reliable Branislav Ivanovic and energetic midfielders Raul Meireles and Ramires who performed brilliantly against Barcelona in the Semis.

The probable line-ups for tonight’s game are as follows:

FC Bayern: (4-2-3-1)

Neuer

Lahm

Tymoschuk

Boateng

Contento

Schweinsteiger

Kroos

Robben

Muller

Ribery

Gomez

 

Chelsea FC: (4-2-3-1)

Cech

Bosingwa

Luiz

Cahill

Cole

Mikel

Lampard

Kalou

Mata

Bertrand

Drogba

 

I think the key battles to look out for tonight at the Allianz Arena will be as follows:

 

Bosingwa Vs. Ribery

Chelsea’s probable selection at right-back will be Jose Bosingwa who isn’t exactly renowned for his exemplary defensive strength and discipline but in the absence of the suspended Ivanovic he has to play ahead of Paolo Ferreira as he has the pace to try and deal with the rampaging runs of Franck Ribery.

Ribery Robben

Ribery and Robben will give Chelsea a lot of problem’s down each flank

Ribery is one of the the most talented players in the Bayern side and although he has failed to truly prove himself on the very biggest stages of world football thus far, maybe tonight will provide him with the chance to shine. Going up against Bosingwa will have it’s difficulties in terms of Bosingwa’s speed which should help him keep with the Frenchman but Ribery’s craft and dribbling ability could cause the Portugese full-back to have a torrid evening. If Bosingwa keeps Ribery in his pocket then much of  Bayern’s threat will be negated.

Boateng Vs Drogba

In the absence of first-choice centre-halves, the versatile German international Jerome Boateng provide’s Bayern with their only obvious option to command the central area of their back-line and the task ahead of him could hardly be more difficult than having to deal with Drogba.

Drogba Boateng

Drogba looks to have the beating of Boateng but the young German could emerge as the star for Bayern if he keeps Drogba quiet

There is arguably still no better player on the planet than Drogba when it comes to playing up top as a solitary front-man and if he is at his best then I would be surprised if Boateng and co keep him quiet for long. If Boateng is partnered at centre-back by an out of position and perhaps more importantly rather short Anatoliy Tymoschuk then much of the defensive burden may fall on his shoulders and he could be almost solely reliant for taming the undoubted threat which Drogba poses.

Schweinsteiger Vs. Lampard

Two of this final’s veteran players could have a huge say in the outcome of the match as both of them hold the key to their side’s passing games.

Lampard Schweinsteiger

Could these two decide the outcome of the final with their possession-play in midfield

Both Lampard and Schweinsteiger are seen as their side’s dictators of play and much will rest on each of their shoulders as they seek to win the possession battle which could prove very significant on the night.

Cahill Vs. Gomez

Having played very little football over the past few weeks due to injury, tonight could go one of two ways for Chelsea’s January recruit Gary Cahill. One possibility is that this short-term absence has kept him fresh and ready to take on Bayern tonight, but the other possibility is that he may be under-cooked which he simply cannot afford to be when taking on the likes of Mario Gomez who has already scored 41 goals this season in all competitions.

David Luiz

Gary Cahill will need to be at his very best after a brief injury lay-off

Gomez has some similarities with Chelsea’s target-man Didier Drogba in that they are both part of a rare-breed of tall and strong strikers who aren’t merely physical presences but who are also very mobile and very technically sound footballers. If Gomez performs to something like the best of his abilities then Cahill will have to produce an epic performance to try and keep him under wraps as his likely parter at centre-back will be David Luiz who in spite of an improving level of awareness still represents something of a liability.

 

My Prediction:

I think that both sides will provide a threat due to their respective absences of key players in key positions but I think Bayern will come out on top and deny Chelsea from winning a first Champions League title.

Score: Bayern 2 – 1 Chelsea:

Scorers (In order) : Gomez (First Half), Robben  (Early Second Half), Drogba (15 minutes to go)

 

 

England’s Euros Squad: The Ups and Downs of Roy’s first squad and what I would have done differently

In the wake of one of the most protracted squad releases ever known to man, the world and his wife have begun to let their feelings be known about Roy Hodgson’s first England squad selection and it must be said that most are a little bit irked by a few omissions and selections.

Hodgson England

The headlines in short are that Steven Gerrard has been named captain, Rio Ferdinand misses out, John Terry makes the cut in spite of the on-going race row, Kyle Walker misses out through injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and John Ruddy are in despite never having played for the national side and Micah Richards, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent, Daniel Sturridge and Phil Jagielka have all missed out.

If I were in charge my squad would be as follows:

Joe Hart, Rob Green, John Ruddy

Glen Johnson, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines

Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Andy Carroll

Reserves: David Stockdale, Phil Jagielka, Adam Johnson, Aaron Lennon, Peter Crouch

I think the goalkeeping selections in ‘my squad’ are the same as what Roy’s because, quite frankly, there are only very few other viable options. The likes of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson would be hard to tempt back into international football given that they would only be back-up options to Joe Hart who in reality will probably start every game of the tournament even if he plays really poorly.

My defensive selections are also very similar to Roy’s. I too would have ignored Micah Richards as he hasn’t been able to find a place in City’s line-up in recent weeks which I believe speaks volumes about a lack of faith in his ability to be trusted in big games. The only alteration between my selection and that of Hodgson is my inclusion of Rio Ferdinand as an eighth defender. I think Ferdinand has performed admirably at times throughout the latter half of the Premier League season and if his omission is down to “footballing reasons” and not an unwillingness to partner John Terry then I would still have him alongside JT in my starting line-up.

My midfield selections are also fairly similar to Hodgson’s. I though would never even have considered Stewart Downing for a place in the squad given his dismal form this season and I would have instead taken an extra central midfielder in the form of Michael Carrick who I think has had a very strong season in Manchester United’s midfield. Another player who has made Hodgson’s squad but would fall short of making mine is James Milner who has struggled to find a starting place at Manchester City over the second half of this season. I know his omission would be a little controversial given his very strong and determined character and his versatility but I am wary of taking too many players that are either out of form or struggling to get into their club sides.

My four striking options would consist of Rooney, Welbeck, Carroll and Sturridge. Rooney and Welbeck are must haves after their respective campaigns at Manchester United, Carroll would provide a direct, target-man option and Sturridge would provide flexibility and versatility with his ability to play either through the middle or out a little wider as part of a front three. I would omit Jermain Defoe from my squad for the same reasons as I stated about James Milner, he is undoubtedly a very good finisher and he does have decent experience of international football but I struggle to see him making a huge impact when he has been limited to a place on the subs bench for much of the Premier League season.

In summary I think the positives of Roy’s selection are as follows:

John Ruddy’s selection as the third keeper: It is nice to see Ruddy’s development this season rewarded with a call up and I think his form has warranted acknowledgment of this nature.

Micah Richards’ omission: I think Micah Richards offers a lot in the Premier League but when up against the world’s best wingers and full-backs I still think he lacks discipline. I think he will be a part of England’s World Cup squad for Brazil in 2014 but for nowI think he still needs to do more.

The selection of Gerrard and Lampard in midfield: Many were calling for one or both of England’s veteran centre midfielders to be axed in favour of a promotion of younger options but they are both still well worth a place in the squad for me.

Picking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: This was a decision that took a lot of guts and I definitely think it’s the right call. I would go as far as to consider the Ox for a starting berth as I think he has the ability to provide a real surprise factor at the Euros. If he were German or Dutch then I think that their coaches would be throwing him straight into their line-ups as their policy of promoting young talent on the big stage in recent times has proven successful.

Andy Carroll taken as one of England’s strikers: Many will point to Carroll’s poor form since moving to Anfield in arguing that he isn’t worth a place but I think his more recent signs of life and in particular his strong performance in the FA Cup Final as a second half substitute are enough to suggest that he could be a key player for England next month.

And now for my thoughts on what I think are the glaring mistakes in Hodgson’s selection…

The  ‘Downs’ of Hodgson’s squad selection:

The omission of Rio Ferdinand: He may not be the force of old but I think Rio is definitely still one of the four best centre backs in the country and should therefore have been selected.

Stewart Downing making the cut: I don’t understand how a player so horribly out of sorts can make England’s national squad in a position which we are actually quite well stocked in. I simply cannot fathom how he has been preferred to other wide men such as Adam Johnson and Aaron Lennon. For me this is the worst selection in the whole of Roy’s first squad.

The omission of Michael Carrick: I have forever been fighting the corner of Michael Carrick as being someone worthy of a place in the international set-up but it seems that yet another England manager doesn’t much fancy him. I may be a touch biased given that I am a United fan but I think he has had a very decent season and that he offers the defensive qualities of someone like Gareth Barry whilst also offering a superior ability to distribute the ball. Sadly it now appears as if he is ready to turn his back on international football.

The omission of Daniel Sturridge: He may have struggled to hold down a place in Chelsea’s starting line-up since Di Matteo took over at the club but before that he was arguably one of Chelsea’s best players this season. Versatility is crucial for sides hoping to go deep into major tournaments and I think he would provide that in abundance.

Premier League Predictions: The Final Weekend

Rooney Aguero

Rooney and Aguero will be hoping to score the crucial goals in the title deciding games this Sunday

 

Chelsea 3-0 Blackburn

In the grand scheme of things this game means very little as Chelsea are resigned to relying on a Champions League final win to secure Champions League qualification and Blackburn are already relegated after their loss to Wigan in the week.

The game will however provide both managers with a chance to prove why they deserve to keep their jobs. Di Matteo has done a fantastic job with Chelsea since he took over but the success he has delivered to the Blues in the Champions League and the FA Cup hasn’t quite been replicated in the league. His opposite number, Steve Kean, would be well advised to wear a tin hat as he sits in the dug out at the weekend as his own fans are sure to give him yet another rollocking off the back of their slump to certain relegation. I think Di Matteo will sign off in style at the Bridge and hopefully in doing so might convince Abramovic that he is right for the job.

Everton 1-1 Newcastle

Newcastle’s loss to City last weekend has probably ruled them out of grabbing a Champions League spot but that should do nothing to dampen the praise that Alan Pardew and his men have been rightfully receiving for their efforts this campaign. I think that they will struggle to break down David Moyes’ Everton who could live to regret not defeating the likes of already relegated Wolves as they may just miss out on finishing higher than bitter rivals Liverpool. I think this will be a really close game and I wouldn’t be surprised if star January signings Nikica Jelavic and Papiss Demba Cisse score a goal apiece in a score-draw.

Man City 2-1 QPR

Surely the pick of the games on the final Sunday of the season! City must win to secure the title (bar a cricket score at the Stadium of Light where United take on Sunderland) and QPR must draw to guarantee survival (bar another cricket score at the Britannia where Bolton travel to Stoke).

I think City will come out all guns blazing, for want of a better cliche, and will create plenty of chances but I wouldn’t be surprised if the nerves get to them a little on the day and they miss a few gilt-edged chances en-route to a victory by perhaps a smaller margin than should be the case.

I think QPR must try and score because I can’t see them shutting out City at the Etihad. If they can produce a similarly uncompromising and forward thinking performance as they managed earlier this season at home to the champions-elect then maybe, just maybe, they can make this one of the most memorable final days of all time. I reckon City will go a couple ahead within the first hour but that QPR will get one back and send some jitters around the Etihad.

Norwich 1-1 Aston Villa

I can’t see this game setting the world alight and now that Villa are effectively safe from the drop there is actually very little riding on it.

Norwich have had a fantastic season and deserve an enormous amount of praise as I am one of many who though their squad was way too lightweight for them to survive let alone find themselves in mid-table come the end of the season. On the other hand I thought that Villa would have done a lot better than they have this campaign but in fairness to their manager Alex McLeish they have had a rotten season on the injury’s front. This game could even prove to be a scoreless bore-draw.

Stoke 2-2 Bolton Wanderers

I think Bolton will push the home side all the way in this one as they try desperately to avoid the drop but I think their efforts will eventually prove to be futile.

I am surprised to see them struggling so low in the table but they have got themselves stuck in a rut and now I think they will go down. For the sake of the fans and in fact the club as a whole I truly hope they don’t get relegated as they have had an awful lot to deal with this year given the stress and mental torment caused by the Fabrice Muamba’s heart-breaking (no pun intended) collapse against Spurs. I also think that the loss of Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-Yong to injury has been fatal to their hopes of Premier League survival as they were both very impressive throughout last season.

This game will give the likes of Peter Crouch the opportunity to prove that they are worth a place in England’s squad for the Euros and I expect to see his name on the scoresheet in a score-draw.

Sunderland 1-3 Manchester United

United need to win to have any hope of leap-frogging rivals Manchester City on the final day of this year’s title race and I think they will get one against a Sunderland side who appear to be playing just for pride.

Sunderland won’t simply bow down and they do have players that can harm United but I think the stakes are too high for Manchester United to fluff their lines so I can see it being a decent win for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men as they hope for a slip-up at the Etihad Stadium.

Sir Alex will hope for a couple of early goals in order to try and send a message of intent and to try and send a wave of nervousness and tension back home to Manchester where the worries of the City fans could translate into impatience and panic on the field.

Swansea 1-2 Liverpool

Swansea have had an amazing season and their manager Brendan Rogers must surely have attracted the interest of some higher powers at some of the Premier League’s more established clubs. The way he has encouraged Swansea to play ‘real’ passing football and made it a successful match-winning strategy is truly admirable and I think he would make for a fantastic replacement to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal at some point in the future.

Liverpool’s league campaign has been dreadful but their emphatic win over Chelsea in midweek will have instilled them with confidence and I expect them to win this game and finish one point ahead of rivals Everton in the race to be the highest placed club on Merseyside. Watch out for Andy Carroll in this one as he aims to continue his half decent form and push for a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad.

Tottenham 3-1 Fulham

Tottenham have struggled over the past three months but have shown major signs of a revival in their past couple of games as their Champions League hopes have got back on track. They may now need Chelsea to miss out in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich but that is certainly better than not having any hope at all which would be the case if they dropped out of the top four.

Fulham have done very well to have a chance of reaching what could yet be a record points tally for them in the Premier League after a tough start to the season but I think they will lose out to Spurs who have a far greater prize to play for on the final day. If Bale and Lennon find their marauding best as they have done in the last couple of games then Spurs should win.

West Brom 1-2 Arsenal

West Brom have had a very good campaign en-route to further establishing themselves as a Premier League club and departing boss Roy Hodgson must be praised highly for his role in their development…oh wait, he already has…

However, I think the Baggies will lose out in a game which is of far greater importance to their opponents Arsenal who will be keen to finish third and avoid the uncertainty of potentially missing out on the Champions League if Chelsea were to beat Bayern in the Champions League final.

Without the brilliance of Robin Van Persie I think Arsenal would have finished outside of the top five this season but I expect him to score yet again in this crucial final game of the season. If they do secure a Champions League place then it is vital they hold onto their captain as the prospect of him partnering new recruit Lukas Podolski up-front next season is pretty tasty.

Wigan 2-0 Wolves

The visitors to the DW this weekend, Wolves, have endured a pretty torrid season and they might be glad to get this last game out of the way as they plan for life back in the Championship.

Their opponents on the final day, Wigan, might have feared that this weekend would also mark the day that they dropped back out of English football’s top flight given the precariousness of their league position a couple of months ago but manager Roberto Martinez has worked wonders.

Neither side has too much to play for given Wigan’s guaranteed survival and Wolves’ certain departure from Premier League football but I expect Wigan to keep their staggering run of form going with a comfortable win. Martinez might actually want to use this game as something of a scouting mission as Wolves do have a couple of very decent players on their books such as Matt Jarvis and they could be within budget for Wigan over the summer as they try to build on their season of flirting with relegation.

 

 

The Summer Sales: Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao amongst those likely to pay for their success

As the summer draws closer and the vast majority of Europe’s domestic leagues are winding up for the summer break and the transfer window that comes with it, rumours are rife about who could go where and why they might seek pastures new.

It is the time of year when all sides who have either performed beyond their means or who have been outgrown by their leading lights fear the most as they head into the year’s most lengthy and protracted period of transfer-related vulnerability.

We have already seen clear examples of what this summer’s transfer window may have to offer as the Bundesliga’s relegation threatened Cologne have lost their talismanic local hero Lukas Podolski to Arsenal for what appears a bit of a bargain. Arsenal have also moved to try and avoid last season’s mad rush for recruits on deadline day by attempting to secure a deal for Yann M’Vila who is also fast becoming too big a fish in the small pond that is Rennes.

Podolski

Podolski has a fantastic international record

In addition to  players like Podolski and M’Vila shining at their clubs and attracting attention from ‘Big-Time’ clubs from around Europe, there are also whole clubs around Europe who may pay the price for their success and they could be set to lose multiple players over the forthcoming summer.

Benfica, having forced their way ahead of Porto in Portugal’s domestic pecking order for much of the Portugese league season and having entertained en-route to a place in the last eight of the Champions League are now surely set for a summer of fending off interest in their most-prized assets.

Gaitan impressed against United and will have attracted interest from SAF

Arguably the hottest property at the club is their versatile attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan who has attracted many potential suitors with his strong performances both in Portugal and in the Champions League. It is the creative talents of the 24 year-old Argentine which have earned himself a now regular slot in amongst Argentina’s rather special attacking contingent in the national squad and that have drawn interest from huge club’s like Manchester United who have been linked more closely with securing his services than any other side.

Another huge talent plying his trade at Benfica is Swiss international Axel Witsel who has this season emerged as one of Europe’s most talented and

Witsel has shone this season and a big club will surely come calling

combative central midfielders. His consistently strong and disruptive performances amongst Benfica’s talented midfield impressed has I’m sure impressed many scouts at the top European clubs, and perhaps never more so than in Benfica’s Champions League group games which resulted in them outdoing both Manchester United and FC Basle.

Benfica’s impressive displays this year may have gone some way towards re-building their reputation and improving their financial outlook but if they don’t manage to hold onto the likes of Gaitan and Witsel then it could well have cost them dear when it comes to the strength of their playing personnel.

Another club who could come under the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs are Borussia Dortmund who have for the second season running overcome Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race.

Shinji Kagawa

Kagawa and Gotze both look set to fly the nest at Dortmund

Already it is being said that Shinji Kagawa might have agreed a deal with Manchester United which would be a major loss for the German club and others may well follow him out of the door as Dortmund have failed to cash in on their domestic success with a strong return to European football.

Centre-backs Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels have both impressed greatly over the past couple of seasons and have also become key players in their respective national set-ups and it would be absolutely no surprise if Europe’s major forces tried to recruit either one of them.

The jewel in Dortmund’s crown though is Mario Gotze the diminutive, young attacking midfielder and he again is being linked with a move away having featured regularly in transfer talk throughout much of the past two years. If he were to part company with Dortmund it would perhaps be the greatest loss of them all as he is very much the golden boy at the German Champions and he is the very embodiment of all that has been positive about their re-emergence as a major force in German football.

Another side likely to be the subject of a lot of transfer attention are Athletic Bilbao who have won many admirers during their European adventures this season. Though their Europa League campaign ultimately ended in major disappointment when they lost 3-0 to fellow Spanish side Athletico Madrid, many of their young and talented squad have caught the eye of on-looking scouts and as they are a side struggling to break into La Liga’s upper echelons and into real contention to secure Champions League football they will surely lose a hold of some of their stars this summer.

Iker Muniain Javi Martinez

Bilbao have entertained in the Europa League

The two most sought after members of their squad would appear to be versatile holding-midfielder and captain Javi Martinez and their star striker Fernando Llorente both of whom were a part of Spain’s world cup winning squad in 2010.

Martinez, who has for a long time been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona, has starred for Bilbao and has demonstrated great maturity in captaining a side who have impressed under his leadership in spite of his relatively tender age. Not often is one so young placed in such a position of responsibility at a football club but Martinez has led by example providing much of the thrust which has made his Bilbao side such a dynamic force this season. He may be reluctant to leave such a prominent and valued role at his boyhood club but he will also be aware that he must be playing Champions League football if he is to fulfil his ambitions of becoming a regular in Spain’s line-up.

The same can also be said of Llorente who’s sublime volley against Manchester United in the Europa League will live long in the memory. If his talents aren’t also taken onto the next level, which is surely regular Champions League football, then perhaps he will miss out on the opportunity to stay ahead of the likes of Fernando Torres in Spain’s pecking order.

It would be a surprise if Bilbao managed to hold on to both Martinez and Llorente in the wake of their hiccup in the final of the Europa League and their consequent failure to secure Champions League football for next season but perhaps they can be hopeful of holding onto another of their prodigious talents Iker Muniain who is maybe a step behind the likes of Martinez in terms of his development.

The diminutive forward has provided great support for Llorente over the course of this season and though Bilbao have the means to hold onto him for now it might well be beyond their power if he decides that he is already primed for a first crack at Champions League football. There will certainly be no shortage of sides willing to look into the possibility of tempting him away from the San Mames if he does want out so expect rumour a plenty about where his future might lie this summer.

A big factor in Bilbao’s attempts to hold onto their emerging stars could be whether they manage to hold onto their Coach Marcelo Bielsa who has a fine record since taking charge and could perhaps be on the hit list for many of Europe’s top clubs. The club’s directors will though be breathing a huge sigh of relief that Barcelona have turned to Tito Vilanova as Pep Guardiola’s successor as Bielsa was the name on everbody’s lips as soon as the job became seemingly up for grabs.

If Bilbao’s agonising shortcoming in trying to secure Champions League football hasn’t already proved enough for their skipper and other key players, then surely the loss of Bielsa would put the final nail in the coffin in terms of sealing their respective decisions to part company with the Basque club.

It is indeed sad for football that many emerging sides tend to lose the best of their playing crop every time they show any major signs of development and bridging the gap that lies between them and the more dominant clubs in Europe but that is the nature of the modern game. Money talks and so does the opportunity to play at a higher level on a more regular basis, so expect the likes of Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao to pay for their success and have to fight valiantly in order to hold onto their most prized assets.

Other names to watch out for in this summer’s transfer market:

Radamel Falcao (Athletico Madrid), Hulk (Porto), Papiss Demba Cisse (Newcastle), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Eden Hazard (Lille), Loic Remy (Marseille), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon), Ola John (FC Twente), Luuk De Jong (FC Twente), Cristian Eriksen (Ajax) Gregory Van Der Wiel (Ajax), Leighton Baines (Everton), Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli)

The Winner and Losers of Roy Hodgson’s England Apoointment

The Winners:

 

Roy Hodgson (obviously…)

Image

 

Though Hodgson was always viewed as a creditable dark horse in the race to land English football’s top job, it is more than safe to say that most people either thought Harry Redknapp was the right man for the job or that he was going to be the one chosen by the FA to take England forward.

 

Sadly for Hodgson, who as I mention was always a worthy candidate, there probably will always be a sense of lingering doubt amongst the England fan community given most people’s preference was Redknapp and that the FA seemingly didn’t see fit to formally approach the Spurs boss. As a result of the FA’s recruitment process and what we publicly know of it, it would be absolutely no surprise to hear fans moaning about Hodgson’s appointment and bemoaning Redknapp’s omission if things go a little pear-shaped at any point in Roy’s tenure.

 

My personal view is that Hodgson is a good manager with a solid track record. This isn’t exactly a gleaming review I know, but there are certainly a few question marks over his lack of success in a couple of his bigger roles which take away a little from the wealth of both club and international managerial experience he has accrued and the success he has enjoyed most notably in his time in Sweden and more recently with Fulham and West Brom.

 

There is certainly fuel in the argument against Hodgson’s record at the bigger clubs on his CV but it would be hard to argue against his knowledge and experience of the game. I would have preferred a more dynamic and exciting choice such as Mourinho or Pardew if the FA weren’t gunning for Harry but I can see why they have opted for Hodgson and I wish him all the best.

 

Everyone needs to cut him some slack and give him a decent crack at the job, it isn’t his fault the FA have chosen him so the players and fans alike just need to let him do the job he has always dreamed of doing and hopefully he will be a success.

 

Rio Ferdinand

 

Roy Hodgson is a very wise manager and has been around the block way too many times for him to not grasp the importance of experience and Rio is a player with a wealth of it.

 

He may not have featured in the side for quite some time due to form, fitness and perhaps more recently because of personal problems with a certain Chelsea and England centre-half but towards the back end of this season he has played a lot of football and appears to have come through it relatively unscathed whilst having produced some very decent performances.

 

For me, Ferdinand is a must for England’s Euros squad if his fitness stays in-tact up until the end of the domestic season and Hodgson’s first press conference a the national team manager suggested that he believes so too and that he must act in order to ascertain whether he and Terry can put aside any personal qualms they might have about playing with one another. Both men would make my England starting line-up still and I think Mr.Hodgson is on the same wavelength as me on this. If Rio is willing to be paired with JT then he will go, I’m not totally sure this would have been the case if other potential candidates for the job were appointed.

 

Bobby Zamora

 

He may be embroiled in a relegation dogfight with his new club QPR and he may be suffering a bit of a lean season in front of goal but Zamora, who Fabio Capello says only missed out on the World Cup squad in 2010 due to injury, may come into the selection reckoning now his former boss is in charge of assembling England’s squad.

 

England are looking bereft of out-and-out strikers in the absence of Rooney for their opening two games at the Euros and the potential absence of Darren Bent due to injury so there are definitely at least a couple of places up for grabs in that department.

 

Zamora is one of only a few options to fill such a void if Bent doesn’t make the plane and his record in Fulham’s outstanding Europa League campaign under Hodgson’s guidance a couple of years ago would certainly hold him in good stead. I don’t think many other managerial candidates for the England job would have given Zamora a second look but Roy certainly will and I would perhaps go as far as to say he has a good shout of bagging himself a place.

 

Ben Foster

 

Though there have been some reports to the contrary, Roy Hodgson’s appointment could well convince Ben Foster to change his mind and come out of international retirement at least for the forthcoming European Championships.

 

Foster is probably the second best English goalkeeper going at the moment and if Joe Hart were to suffer an injury then it is vital that England have the next best man available to step into the breach.

 

If anybody has a chance of getting him to come back then it is almost certainly Hodgson who has been his manager at West Brom this year and who has consistently picked Foster and praised his contributions between the sticks. I would be very surprised if Roy hasn’t already or isn’t planning on talking to Foster about a return to the international game.

 

 

The Losers:

 

Harry Redknapp (obviously…)

 

There is very little to say that hasn’t already been said about Harry missing out on the job so I’ll keep it brief.

 

I think Redknapp could have been a terrific manager for England but now he will never get the chance and he knows it. In typical Harry fashion he has taken the news in good grace and congratulated Hodgson on getting the job and wished him well in his future endeavours with the national side.

 

If you look at England’s two most successful managers of the modern-ish era (Bobby Robson and Terry Venables) and the way they handled the job and the players that came with it you would have to credit them for their fantastic people-skills and man-management. They were/are massive characters with a very honest and likeable persona and it would be more than fair to say that Harry Redknapp seems to be a man after their own hearts in this respect. His strengths might not lie in financial management or tactical plotting but it is arguable that the England job requires a more personal approach than such methodology. I am sure that Redknapp would have brought back some memories of the Venables era and that he could have had just as positive an effect on the squad as El Tel but now we’ll never know.

 

Paul Scholes and England

 

If Harry Redknapp had been given the job then I am near-certain that he would have approached Paul Scholes about returning for one last month of international football. I also, happen to think that Harry is one of a very small minority of people who could have worked their charm on Scholes and lured him back into the fold.

 

As it is though, Hodgson is a little more straight-laced than Harry (make that a lot…) and as such I can’t see him pleading with a 37 year old to come back and save his country and even if he does then I don’t think he will have the pulling power necessary to tempt United’s flame-haired playmaker into a return.

 

If Scholes doesn’t come back I can’t see England winning the Euros. With him in tow they are dark horses given their relative lack of international success which could see them go under the radar but without him I think they are big outsiders. If you are going to compete with the likes of Spain and Germany then possession and pass success percentages become utterly vital. I don’t think there is a single player in Britain who can still mix it with Scholes in this department when playing at the highest level and I don’t think there are many people out there who would disagree with me.

 

I’m not suggesting that he is a miracle cure. We could also bomb in the Euros even if he does get persuaded to join up with the squad but I think his inclusion would greatly enhance our prospects.

 

Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Grant Holt and any other striker hoping to make the cut

 

As a direct result of Bobby Zamora’s likely rise up the pecking order in the wake of Roy’s appointment, I think that many other hopefuls in the striking department may have just dropped down the list of potential squad-members.

 

Each of the above have a decent argument in their favour and it will be interesting to see if Hodgson is tempted by the prospect of linking back up with his former Fulham star or whether he favours another option.

 

Spurs’ potential squad-members (Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Kyle Walker, Ledley King, Michael Dawson…)

 

With Harry Redknapp being the overwhelming favourite to land the job before the announcement that the FA had opened talks with Hodgson, all of Spurs’ England hopefuls will have been buoyed by the news that their club manager could take the England job as it would probably have raised their chances of making the Euros.

 

However, now Roy is in charge and not Harry it is far from clear as to whether any of these players will be a part of the new manager’s plans. The only player mentioned from Spurs’ long line of England hopefuls who is almost guaranteed of a place in the England squad is Kyle Walker and one would think even his hopes have been dealt a blow in that Redknapp would very possibly have given him a starting berth. Hodgson may also really rate Walker and his Spurs team-mates but this appointment makes things a little less clear for now at least.