Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 3 Prediction

Spain Vs. France:

Throughout the group stages both France and Spain struggled for fluency at times and both flirted with elimination from the competition on match-day three of the groups when they were each given a real scare by ‘inferior’ opposition.

Spain France Euro 2012

Spain and France have struggled to find their best form so far in the competition

France in particular struggled to find form in the group stages and qualified from group D as runners-up having managed a total of just four points from their three matches, their most disappointing performance of all coming in their final game against Sweden where they were beaten 2-0 by a side already assured of elimination from the competition.

Arguably their best performance of the groups was against England in their opening game where they dominated the game for long periods but even with the amount of territory and possession they managed against the English they still didn’t look hugely threatening as they were all too often limited to long range strikes at goal.

If France are to have any hope of shocking the reigning European and World Champions Spain then they will have to find much more fluency and will have to find ways of getting in behind their opponents which is something they have really struggled to do in their group matches against England and Sweden.

When the French are at their best they find a way of getting their danger men into the action on a regular basis and it is essential that they provide the likes of Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery with plenty of ball so that they can use the full width of the pitch and stretch the game. If they don’t manage to do so then it is likely that Spain will be allowed to play within their comfort zone in the narrow areas of the pitch where they can really hurt France with their tight and slick passing.

If Spain have their own way then they will try and dictate the play as mentioned and keep the game in the central areas of the field where they are arguably more blessed than any other nation. In their final group game against Croatia they may have eventually snatched the points through Jesus Navas’ late tap-in but for long periods of the game they looked fragile against the counter-attacking willingness and talents that Croatia had at their disposal and they should really have been punished in the last half an hour when Ivan Rakitic failed to head home the easiest of his side’s chances.

Had Rakitic applied the finishing touches to Croatia’s most threatening break then Spain could well have been the tournament’s biggest opening round casualty but they managed to pull through in the end and they will be hoping they can re-find their best form in the knock-out stages where it really counts.

Spain’s finest performance of the competition thus far came when they defeated the Republic of Ireland by four goals to nil. In this match they found a balance between their suffocating midfield play and their ability to stretch the game when required and as such they created several good chances and made their opponents look horribly out of their depth.

Tonight Spain will have to do much the same if they are to get the better of a France side who will arguably provide Spain with their toughest challenge so far in tournament if they can find anything like their best form. I think that Spain will just about get the job done but I expect them to find the going tough throughout periods of the match before coming out of the game on the right side of a 2-1 final scoreline.

Euro 2012: Day 7 Predictions

Italy Vs.Croatia:

Both of the sides involved in the first of Thursday’s matches will be very pleased with how they acquitted themselves in their opening fixtures of Euro 2012.

Di Natale Italy

Di Natale’s finish was sublime and he may well start against Croatia

Italy dealt well with Spain’s unusual ‘4-6-0′ formation for the first hour of the game and looked consistently threatening on the break with Balotelli and Cassano both spurning decent opportunities before second half substitute Antonio Di Natale popped up with a delightful finish to give them a surprise lead.

Unfortunately for Italy the lead wasn’t theirs for long as Spain hit back quickly through Cesc Fabregas’ equaliser but ultimately the Italians will be fairly pleased with the draw and with how they dealt with Spain’s unexpected formation and typically constant threat in and around the box.

Croatia will also be in good spirits heading into the Italy clash as they were at their clinical best against an Irish side who are often very difficult to break down. Croatia manager Slaven Bilic set his team up in a positive fashion and knowing that Ireland would play on the back foot seemed to grasp the fact that his team would need to make the most of any opportunities that came their way and his players

Mandzukic Croatia

Mandzukic was the two goal hero Croatia in their opener

delivered.

The game between these two sides is arguably the most pivotal of the entire group stage as many believe it will decide who qualifies from the group along with tournament favourites Spain. However, if Croatia win and Spain fail to beat Ireland in the second of Thursday’s matches then Croatia will already be through as group winners.

Italy will be pleased with their point against Spain and will back themselves to beat Ireland so a draw on Thursday wouldn’t be an awful result and I think that is what the outcome will be, I’m going for a 1-1 draw.

Spain Vs. Ireland:

Ireland and their fans may well just be happy to be in the Euros as many are suggesting but they will still be feeling a little flat after a disappointing defeat in their opening game of the tournament.

McClean Euro 2012

The Ireland manager has been put under great media pressure to start James McClean against Spain

Spain on the other hand certainly have more lofty ambitions about the tournament as a whole and though they may view Italy as their greatest challengers in Group C I think they too will be left a little underwhelmed by their opening day performance and result.

Time will tell of course whether Spain’s point against the Italians was actually a very good point in the context of the group but with the players that Spain have at their disposal they would surely have hoped they could start building some momentum with a win right from the off. The second round of group fixtures though provides Spain with the perfect opportunity to kick-start the defence of their European crown against an Irish side who looked a little lacklustre at this level in the opening round of fixtures.

Fabregas Spain

Fabregas was probably the most advanced player in Spain’s surprise ‘4-6-0’ formation

The reason Ireland’s performance was so disappointing was that not only did they try and play defensive minded football as everyone had expected them to, but their display at times crept beyond this and into the realms of negativity and damage limitation. Within the context of major tournament football they simply appeared a little shell-shocked.

Sadly for Ireland I simply can’t see how they are going to drastically improve on Sunday’s showing and avoid being eliminated from the tournament on Thursday and I expect Spain to win comfortably. I’m going for the reigning champions to win 3-0 but if they play with an ‘out-and-out striker’ then they could even win by more.

Euro 2012 Group C: Can anyone topple Spain?

Italy:

The Italian national side may have endured a few years of indifferent form but they remain the most recent side to have won a major trophy aside from Spain who accompany them in group C.

Spear-headed by ‘Super-Mario’ Balotelli the Italians will go into the Euros knowing that in being drawn with the reigning champions they have immediately become only the second favourites to progress from their group but also that they have a huge chance to send out a statement of intent by either beating Spain or by finishing above them in the group.

Balotelli Italy

Balotelli will have to keep his emotions in check if he is to deliver for Italy at the Euros

As ever with the Italian national side there is plenty of experience to call upon in the form of players like Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgo Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi, Anrdrea Pirlo and Antonio Di Natale but the squad they’ve named for the Euros is arguably their most exciting and refreshing selection for quite some time in major tournament football.

In and around the experienced figure-heads of the squad there is plenty of youth and plenty of talent and it isn’t limited to just one area of the field either. At the back the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and Ignacio Abate look like big prospects and up top they have included the likes of Fabio Borini and Sebastian Giovinco to support the ever-eccentric Balotelli.

One to watch… Mario Balotelli: It may well feel like Balotelli has been around forever given the antics on and off the field which have made him so well known but this will be the very first major tournament appearance for Italy. There is no doubting his ability to succeed and be a star at the Euros but huge questions still remain about his temperament and it will be interesting to see if he can keep his emotions in check.

Euros nostalgia: Italy have a rich history in World Cup football but their Euros record is poor by comparison. In two of the past four tournaments they have failed to get out of their group but they did reach the final in 2000 when they were felled by an extra-time winner from France’s David Trezeguet. The only time Italy have won the tournament was way back in 1968.

Tournament prospects: It appears to me as if Italy will be hugely reliant on the ability of Balotelli up-front as he is their real stand-out player. There is a decent blend of youth and experience at Italy’s disposal for the Euros and in spite of the turmoil in domestic Italian football at the moment it would still be a surprise if they weren’t to make it out of the group.

Spain:

Reigning champions Spain have an awful lot to live up to this summer given their fantastic performances in the last two major international competitions but their technically gifted squad should be confident of landing a third straight piece of silverware.

Iniesta Xavi

Spain’s ‘Golden Duo’ in midfield will team up once again

One area which could be exploited by other teams is their defence which will be missing their rock of a centre-half and the man that would have been their captain, Carles Puyol. Any potential problems at the back for Spain may not just be caused by Puyol’s absence but also the form and versatility of their other defensive options.

Their other truly world class centre-half, Gerard Pique, hasn’t enjoyed his finest season with Barcelona this year and he may well be partnered by Sergio Ramos, a man far more accustomed to playing at full-back, in the heart of Spain’s defence.

Another potential creak in the Spanish rear-guard is their lack of a natural left-back. They will probably opt to play Valencia’s Jordi Alba in this position but he isn’t exactly a natural defender. He is very strong going forward has the pace and stamina to get up and down the left flank all game long but it is unclear up to now whether he possesses the discipline to play in such an important position on one of world football’s biggest stages.

Another major miss for Spain this summer is that of David Villa who hasn’t recovered in time from a broken leg suffered at the back end of 2011. However, as much as Villa is a big loss one would have to think that Spain have more than enough in reserve to cover his absence as their squad still possesses so much attacking strength and depth that players such as Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Fernando Torres all might struggle to find a place in the starting line-up.

One to watch… Fernando Llorente: The powerful Athletic Bilbao forward has played a huge part in his clubs impressive cup runs both in Europe and in domestic football this season and in the absence of David Villa and the absence of Fernando Torres’ best form it could be down to him to lead the line for Spain and to provide the bulk of goals needed to win a tournament like the Euros.

Euros nostalgia: The previous European Championships in 2008 saw Spain underline their undoubted potential. Inspired by the coinciding rise to prominence of Barcelona and their famous ‘tiki-taka’ brand of football, Spain passed their way to the most elegant of major tournament victories sealing their triumph with a 1-0 win over big-tournament specialists Germany in the final.

Tournament prospects: Given their recent successes in major tournament football Spain will go into the Euros as the team to beat and rightly so. They may appear a little damaged by a couple of major injury-enforced absences but the depth of quality at their disposal should allow them to cope with such losses and go deep into the competition. I have a hunch that this might be the tournament where they are finally denied victory but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get to the final once again.

Republic of Ireland:

This is the first time that the Republic of Ireland have qualified for a major tournament since the World Cup in 2002 and their Italian-heavy coaching contingent deserve an enormous amount of credit for the work they’ve done in getting their side back to this level.

There are a few survivors from the World Cup in 2002 still present in Ireland’s squad for the Euros and they will be hoping that these more experienced players can help them try and stand up to the likes of reigning champions Spain in the group stages.

James McClean Ireland

McClean has been a great find for Sunderland and he hopes to be much the same for Ireland

To be drawn in the same group as Spain on their return to major tournament football might appear a little unlucky for Ireland but their players and their fans will just be delighted to be back at this level and to be being thrust into direct competition with the world’s best side.

One to watch… James McClean: Sunderland’s power-house of a winger was plucked from the relative obscurity of the Irish leagues last summer and since Northern-Irishman Martin O’Neill has taken the helm at the North-East club McClean has been thrust into their starting line-up and has excelled . The youngster’s meteoric rise to prominence was sealed when Giovanni Trapattoni named him in Ireland’s squad for the Euros and now he has the opportunity to impress on an even bigger stage.

Euros nostalgia: Ireland’s only previous taste of the Euros came under Jack Charlton’s management back in 1988. They narrowly missed out on a semi-final place but took away with them the precious memory of defeating England 1-0 in their opening game of the tournament.

Tournament prospects: Ireland go into the Euros as huge underdogs and most people, myself included, will expect them to end the group stages propping up the rest of teams in Group C. The excitement surrounding them competing in one of world football’s biggest competitions will undoubtedly inspire them and I expect them to give everyone in their group a good game but ultimately I can’t see how they will get enough points on the board to challenge for a place in the quarter-finals.

Croatia:

Ever since Croatia took their first steps into international football as an independent nation in the early 1990’s they have never looked back and they have often impressed and punched above their weight in major tournaments.

Modric Croatia

Modric will be key to Croatia’s hopes at the Euros

This time around the Croats will head into the Euros armed with a squad including one of world football’s most highly-rated attacking midfielders in Luka Modric and they will hope that their chief playmaker can help them compete strongly in the group stages and get them into the reckoning for a place in the last eight.

Though they might not possess one of the more eye-catching squads in European football Croatia should not be underestimated as they have a lot of very decent players to accompany the likes of Luka Modric and perhaps none more so than their striker Nikica Jelavic who has been a major hit at Everton since signing from Rangers in January.

One to watch… Nikica Jelavic: Having established himself as the most threatening striker in the SPL in his time with Rangers, Jelavic has now made the big move south of the border and into Premier League football and in his first few months in England he has proved himself time and again and his form towards the end of the season was as good as pretty much any other striker in the league. If the Croatian front-man can carry this form into the summer then Croatia could spring a few surprises once again.

Euros nostalgia: Croatia are responsible for one of the most famous nights of English football’s recent history after defeating them by three goals to two at Wembley in the final game of their qualification group for the 2008 tournament. This victory saw Croatia become one of the teams to qualify at England’s expense and thus denying one of Europe’s finest sides on paper a place in the previous European Championships.

A brief summary of Group C:

On paper it appears as if reigning champions Spain will be the huge favourites to win Group C and I can’t see anybody preventing them from doing so.

Beyond this though I am struggling to work out exactly what the outcome of the group will be but I suspect that Ireland will finish bottom of the group and therefore I think that it is between Italy and Croatia in the battle to qualify for the latter stages of the tournament.

If it were simply down to the quality of the sides on paper then I would plump for Italy every time but Croatia have demonstrated several times in the past that they aren’t afraid of a challenge and Italy may well be inhibited by the ongoing investigations into corruption and match-fixing in their domestic leagues. It is a really tough call and I am clueless as to who will progress alongside Spain.



A tale of two diminutive Spaniards

As we all know too well, English football is deprived of creative attacking midfielders with superb craft and much sought after ‘end product’. One particular area of the world though is thriving in this department and you may not be surprised to hear that this is Spain.

Silva and Mata

Silva and Mata are amongst a wealth of creative talent at Spain's disposal

Think Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales and Javi Martinez and on the basis of the weekend’s performance Mikel Arteta and you arguably have a list of 8 or 9 experienced and/or enormously talented individuals capable of unlocking defensive doors, playing the killer pass and even getting themselves in the mix for plenty of goalscoring opportunities themselves.

In England on the other hand we are really limited in this crucial area. Gerrard and Lampard still have their moments but it would be hard to deny that they are past their best, Paul Scholes is re-emerging since his brief retirement period as arguably England’s best ball-playing midfielder but he too his way beyond the wrong the side of 30 and beyond this I’m struggling to think of any match-winning playmakers that we have at our disposal.

Jack Wilshere is probably England’s up and coming force in this role but he has already been on the receiving end of a string of injury concerns and may miss out on the Euros this summer and even putting such issues aside is he really better than the likes of Thiago, Canales, Mata and Martinez the emergent midfield forces in and around the Spanish squad? I personally don’t think so.

The other hope for England in this sort of role is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is very unclear just where he will end up being best utilised in the future for club and country as he is very much in the developmental and fledgling stage of his career at present.

The lack of current and emerging options in this pivotal attacking role is alarming and perhaps why the major English forces in the Premier League have turned to Spain to find their diminutive playmakers.

Manchester City have David Silva operating ‘in the hole’ behind the forwards as their most trusted playmaker, Chelsea have Juan Mata fulfilling much the same role in their line-up and Vicente Del Bosque must be licking his lips when thinking about how two of his dead-certs for the Euros have plied their trade in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata Chelsea

Silva and Mata have been two of the most impressive playmakers in the Premier League this season

At times, both Spanish attacking central midfield players have been the driving forces behind their team’s runs of form and when they have been at their best they have been almost impossible to handle.

Silva may have looked a little ‘burnt out’ in the latter stages of this season, which of course will be of concern to the Spanish management as well as Manchester City’s but perhaps this is just a knock-on effect of his fellow team-mates’ slumps in form? Even if it is just a personal form issue, one good thing for Spain to come out of Silva’s stuggles to light up the Premier League in the second half of the season is that City have been lost without him, which suggests that he is a hugely influential and instrumental player when he is at his best.

This theory might be for those of a sunnier, glass-half-full disposition but it is a theory that I’m sticking too. I think that as soon as Silva is re-united with his international team-mates before the Euros that he will feel refreshed and will have a new lease of life not often seen in City’s recent struggles.

While City have struggled in the absence of Silva’s best form, Chelsea have begun to flourish as a result of Mata’s rise to prominence.

Perhaps it is the way that Mata was being deployed by Andre Vilas-Boas that was slightly inhibiting the Spaniard’s form in his first few months at the Bridge or perhaps it is just a case of him taking a while to settle in but one thing is for sure and that is that Mata has now begun to express himself as we know he can and that Chelsea are reaping huge benefits as a result.

Mata has far outdone David Silva’s efforts of late and it is little coincidence that their two sides have had coinciding contrasting fortunes, so much so that Chelsea could yet be contesting a Champions League and an FA Cup final whereas Manchester City now look like ending the season trophy-less and dejected.

One might even go as far as to argue that Mata’s recent efforts mean that he deserves to jump Silva in the queue to be part of Spain’s starting play-making unit at the Euros. Whether this will be the case or not though, it is clear that Spain’s finest ball-players are a step ahead of England’s at present and that they have an embarrassment of riches in this role which could well drive them to a third consecutive major tournament win this summer.

One interesting point which I will make though is that England have no one closer to such talents and such attacking influence than Paul Scholes and that his contributions since returning to United this season mean that whoever takes the England to the Euros this summer simply must try again to persuade him out of retirement. If Scholes isn’t a part of the England squad then do we really have anybody who can compete with Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata not to mention a couple of other huge talents?

 

 

Stars of the Premier League season so far…

With the Premier League readying itself for the busy festive season and the season reaching it’s mid-point I felt it was time to pick out my players of the season so far. With Manchester City currently ruling the roost it is hard to look beyond their star turns but I have endeavoured come up with a few alternative selections that I feel are also worthy of significant recognition. First up: The man who would make everybody’s list…

David Silva:

What can I say about Silva that hasn’t already been said by a thousand pundits and sports writer’s in 2011? Well, in truth, very little indeed. So here goes a rather predictable homage to the brilliance of the man that is known by his team mates as “the magician”…

Couple speed with superb balance, great feet, and an almost unrivalled eye for a defence splitting pass and you have the make-up of the Spaniard’s game. His majesty in the roaming central midfield role for City this season has inspired their charge to the summit of the Premier League and if he continues in the same vein for the remainder of the season then it is hard to see how anyone will be able to handle either him individually, or him as part of an entirely potent attacking force at the Etihad. I can’t recall a single player ever to grace the Premier League that has provided so much in terms of creation in the first half of a season as Silva has so far and there really is no greater compliment that I could afford him than that.

Yaya Toure:

When he signed for the club I was entirely sceptical about the sum of money that City parted with to secure his services and the reported weekly wage outlay of over £200,000 that they were set to give him. Add to this Mancini’s seeming desire to turn him into a more attacking central force than a defensive one and I became even more of a synic, but as it turns out my scepticism was wholly unfair.

Mancini’s decision to give him far greater attacking license than that which he had been afforded at former club Barcelona has proved to be an inspired move. Since joining City, Toure’s ability to gobble up the yards with consistently strong and rangy surges has become a trademark of his both in attack and defence and it has demonstrated his immense value all over the field of play. Many have delved deep to lavish his more celebrated team mate David Silva with every superlative they can find, but I believe that Toure has been equally brilliant for City this year. He has very rarely failed to deliver a high-class performance this season and his strength, determination and appetite for getting from box-to-box has been utterly essential to City’s rise to prominence.

Michel Vorm:

Unbelievably the man between the sticks at Swansea City (the team most fancied for the drop at the start of the season) has managed to keep eight clean sheets in sixteen games this season. Such statistics sound befitting only of teams harbouring serious aspirations of competing for the title, but Mr.Vorm has risen from anonymity amongst Premier League fans to become a cult figure in Swansea and one of the most respected keepers in the English league.

Following his low-key summer transfer to the Premier League new-boys he has fast-established himself as their number one and arguably the most impressive keeper of the season so far. His penchant for saving penalties and making some quite frankly outrageous reaction stops has endeared himself to all who follow the Premier League, and sadly for Swansea, his form has been so good that it is hard to see him staying when the bigger fish of the footballing world come circling in as they inevitably will.

Robin Van Persie:

Fifteen goals in sixteen Premier League games pretty much tells you all you need to know about RVP’s most impressive season to date and there is no team in world football who wouldn’t benefit from his presence when he is in this kind of form. Since being handed the Captain’s arm band at the start of the season the Dutchman has elevated his already brilliant game to a new level. If it weren’t for his inspirational goalscoring exploits then I shudder to think where Arsenal would be in the league. The technical genius that he demonstrated in his match-winning strike against Everton this month epitomised all that has made this season one to remember for a man who is undoubtedly one of the world’s finest centre forwards.

Phil Jones:

Whether it be at right back, centre back or centre midfield Phil Jones has surpassed all expectations so far in his first season at Manchester United, and he has made a complete mockery of his £16 million transfer fee.

In the modern game it is hard to buy any player of real quality for anything less than around £20 million, but in recruiting Jones from Blackburn Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to pull off an absolute steal. Not only has he signed someone of real quality, but in Jones he has landed a player that I think could go on to be one the best players of his generation. His speed and technical ability must be the envy of all other defenders in world football at the moment, and they’re enabling him to demonstrate something of an ‘X-Factor’. Couple these defining characteristics with the more stock abilities for a central defender such as strength, awareness and aerial ability (all of which he has in abundance) and you can see why he is fast becoming United’s man for a crisis.

When you consider the premium placed on the head of English footballers in the transfer market (for example: Andy Carroll to Liverpool £35 million, Stewart Downing to Liverpool £20 million and Jordan Henderson to Liverpool £20 million… spot the trend…) it is verging on miraculous that United managed to land Jones for such a reasonable price, and the more he continues to impress the more of a coup it will become.

Other close contenders: Wayne Rooney, Scott Parker, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Collocini, Joe Hart, Sergio Aguero

Team of the season so far: (4-1-1-2-2)

GK: Michel Vorm

RB: Micah Richards

CB: Vincent Kompany

CB: Phil Jones

LB: Luis Enrique

CDM: Scott Parker

CM: Yaya Toure

AM: David Silva

AM: Gareth Bale

STR:Robin Van Persie

STR: Sergio Aguero

Liverpool’s Lesson in Silva-Service provides a fitting tribute to the career of Gary Speed

On an incredibly emotional day for football the Premier League’s leaders were pushed all the way at Anfield as they struggled to a draw against Kenny Dalglish’s improving Liverpool side. Perhaps spurred on by their fantastic late win over Chelsea last week and maybe even the saddening events of Sunday morning, Liverpool became the first team to prevent Manchester City from scoring twice in a Premier League game so far this season and in all honesty probably deserved more than their reward of a solitary point.

On Sunday afternoon Anfield, infamous for it’s roaring atmosphere, provided the perfect stage for a huge Premier League game that did justice to the memory of Gary Speed who will forever be regarded as one of the Premier League’s most dedicated and fondly remembered players. Aside from this shocking news there were two other sad stories within the footballing world in the form of Liverpool’s reserve keeper Brad Jones’ son’s passing away, and the tragic death of Togo international players in a fatal bus crash. How fitting it was then that the crowd and players at both of Sunday afternoon’s Premier League fixtures behaved and performed with magnificent valour and respect.

The encounter at Anfield was a terrific showcase of fast-paced and exciting Premier League football and the home side will go away feeling immensely proud of their team’s showing against the division’s outstanding side thus far this season, in spite of how close they came to snatching what would probably have been a deserved victory.

The key to Liverpool’s successes lay primarily with their admirable handling of the division’s outstanding individual so far this season; David Silva. Up to this point no outfit has appeared capable of handling the Spanish playmaker’s incredible league form which has furthered his reputation as one of world football’s most exciting talents. The man whose own team mates call ‘The Magician’ has been electric in nearly every one of City’s league games this season, but Liverpool today somehow mustered up the defensive strength and nouse to limit his impact upon the game.

For the first twenty-to-twenty five minutes City looked every bit the League’s strongest side and were moving the ball around with great confidence and class, spurred on almost inevitably by Silva’s dynamic movement and smart dictation of play. However, from the moment their early dominance put them in front, Liverpool came storming back at them with enormous courage and eventually deserved to walk away with the three points. The way they pressed Silva while he roamed freely behind City’s strikers was magnificent and for almost an hour they completely marked him out of playing a significant role in the match. As the game wore on he cut more and more of a dejected figure as Liverpool’s consistently ferocious pressure denied their opponents the opportunity to feed their diminutive playmaker.

Testament to their unrelenting commitment throughout the game came in ironic fashion when for just a split-second their guard dropped and Silva was presented with the most glorious chance to win the match right on the ninety minute mark. With Edin Dzeko outdoing them on the flank, Liverpool were left bare and seemingly helpless for one of the first times all game only for the Spaniard to spurn his side’s golden opportunity with an uncharacteristic momentary hesitation, which allowed the home side’s dedicated defensive unit to regroup and man the goal-line as Silva eventually conjured up a tame attempt.

The major plaudits for Liverpool’s immense cohesiveness on the day must go to the outstanding Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam who never shirked their respective duties to squeeze City’s most-prized asset out of extensive periods of the game whilst also launching their own side’s numerous counter-attacks. Their commitment to the cause and effective use of possession inspired those around them to produce the best defensive performance that Manchester City have faced thus far this season. Watch and learn Manchester United, watch and learn… This was a performance worthy of a push for a Champions League place and the emotion and honesty conjured up by Liverpool’s players on the day was reflective of Gary Speed’s own and enormously respected football stylings.

Congratulations Liverpool, and I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say R.I.P Gary Speed.