Manchester XI

I will begin by stating on record for those that don’t know, that I am a Manchester United fan.

Sure, it is easy therefore for my judgement on this particular line-up to become a little clouded. I have though tried my utmost to keep my bias under control and have tried to deliver here what I honestly believe to have been the best Manchester XI up to now this season based on a combination of form and statistics.

Manchester United Manchester City

City’s fans may be on top in this picture, but…

In order to counter those who think this will be based purely on a huge bias towards United, I will remind you that I predicted that City would win the title this year and that I believe that one to eleven that they have just as good a side as United.

I would also hasten to add that I would have picked a similar imbalance of City and United players this time last year, but the imbalance would have been in favour of City and the team would have included the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, and Sergio Aguero along with the City representatives who have also made the cut this time around.

My selection is as follows:

(4-2-3-1)

David De Gea

Joe Hart my have out-statted De Gea in terms of clean-sheets, 14 to nine, but he has also been far more error-prone and cost his side more points than De Gea has. The fluffy-lipped Spaniard has come one leaps and bounds this year and has arguably been the best keeper in the league.

Pablo Zabaleta

Zabaleta is probably the only must-pick from City in this entire XI. His form has been so steady all year and he has continued from where he left off last season where he became the bedrock of City’s title push. He has been outstanding this term, and that can’t be said for a single other City player.

Rio Ferdinand

He may not be in favour with most English football fans after his recent antics, but he has had a great season, of that there is no doubt. I have always been a huge admirer of what Rio offers, but even I had thought that we had seen the best of him before this season, but he has had a bit of a renaissance and has been terrific.

Jonny Evans

I never thought I’d say this, but Mr.Evans has grown in to a cracking centre-half. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have always found it hard to put much faith in Evans until this season. He and Rio have gelled superbly and this has helped David De Gea no end.

Patrice Evra

One of the easiest selections of the lot. City haven’t contributed a great deal in the left back department this year, Patrice Evra of United on the other hand has been outstanding. As well as sharpening up his defensive game, which had waned a little last year, Evra has also chipped in with four league goals, and five league assists, a fantastic and well deserved return for the Frenchman.

Yaya Toure

He hasn’t been quite as good as last year when I would have rated him as my player of the year, but Yaya is a huge asset for City and has still contributed five goals and three assists despite his lengthy absence caused by the African Cup of Nations. It will be a great relief to City fans that his contractual wranglings appear to have been sorted out, as they desperately need him in the heart of their midfield.

Michael Carrick

He may not have scored a single goal this season, but that is almost the only criticism you could target at Michael Carrick this season. He has been consistently brilliant all year, and the four assists to his name don’t do him any justice. The number of important interventions he has made this season, and the number of goal-scoring moves that he has started or played a big part in must be through the roof. First name on this particular team-sheet.

David Silva

Silva, like Toure, hasn’t quite been at his best this year but he has still been a vital cog in City’s attacking machine and not many have played better in sky blue this term. Four goals and seven assists certainly doesn’t make for bad reading.

Wayne Rooney

Many have targeted a lot of criticism at Mr. Rooney this season, and have indeed suggested that this is to be his last at Old Trafford, but I can’t see why. He has only managed 21 appearances this season, but in these appearances he has scored twelve times (as many as any of City’s players), and has notched an impressive haul of 9 assists (more than any City player). He hasn’t been as good as last season, but his role has changed since RVP’s arrival and he has had some injury bother. Nevertheless his contribution has still been sizeable and I think we are slowly seeing his transition into one of the best attacking mids in world football rather than an out and out striker.

Danny Welbeck

Stats may well be the best indicator around for form and contributions made, but in this case ignore them. He hasn’t been banging in the goals, and he hasn’t been a prolific assist maker either but his work ethic has been immense. So rarely has Welbeck failed to contribute this season, so much so that Ferguson has picked him in most of the big games this year and Welbeck has never let him down. This may just be a personal preference pick, but I think he has had a very decent season in spite of what the stats might tell you.

Robin Van Persie versus Manchester City

Robin ruled triumphant at the Etihad

Robin Van Persie

If Michael Carrick wins the nod for the ‘first name on the team-sheet’ in this line-up, then RVP runs him a close second. He has scored 19 goals in the league and made 8 assists, a brilliant contribution and the sort that must irk Roberto Mancini beyond belief as he tried to sign the prolific Dutchman last summer before United beat them to their target. The brilliant thing about Van Persie’s season has been that most of his goal have been important. Many have been winners or goals that turned the tide in matches. He has been off the boil of late, but don’t hold that against him.

United 8 -3 City

Euro 2012: Semi-Finals Predictions

Portgual Vs. Spain:

Though the reigning champions Spain will go into the first semi-final as big favourites to win and progress to a third straight final in major tournament football, their opponents and next-door neighbours Portugal are arguably in better form and will be keen to get one over on their more celebrated neighbours.

Ronaldo Casillas

This international ‘derby-match’ makes for a mouth-watering semi-final clash at the Euros

It isn’t as if ‘getting one over’ on Spain is Portugal’s only huge incentive to take this run further either, they are also hugely driven by their failure to capitalise on their run to the final on home turf in 2004 and to some extent are still embarrassed by their loss to huge underdogs Greece in that final and they are more than keen to try and erase such bitter memories with an incredible rise to prominence at this tournament.

If Portugal were to defeat Spain and then whoever would be lying in wait in the final then the Portugese will have landed the trophy in the most spectacular of fashions having come through the ‘group of death’ defeating Denmark and Holland along the way and then having defeated rivals Spain and then either one of footballing super-powers Germany or Italy in the final.

Typically, to win a major tournament you have to have overcome some serious opposition along but with their quarter-final draw aside, if Portugal were to win the tournament come Sunday evening then they would surely have had one of the more amazing runs ever seen in a European Championships.

Portugal will need to keep their dreams in check though for now, as they must try and do what nobody has done since France in 2006 and find a way to get the better of Spain in the knockout stages of a major competition.

Spain have been on the receiving end of a wave of criticism in this tournament for their perceived negativity in not selecting an ‘out-and-out’ striker  in half of their games but their record stands up against any criticism and scepticism as they have won three out of their four matches and drawn with fellow semi-finalists Italy.

Arguably their most criticised performance was their quarter-final showing against France but the facts are that they won the game 2-0 against very strong opposition and that they hardly ever looked even remotely troubled throughout. People have begun to turn against Spain as they do with many sides that are successful over a long period of time, as success does grate on some and any complaints about Spain’s strategy at this tournament and also the lack of excitement for the neutrals in a couple of their matches is just grown out of bitterness.

It is very hard indeed to justifiably have a pop at Spain and Vicente Del Bosque’s preferred tactics as they have once again found themselves unbeatable up to this point of the tournament. However, if Portugal harbor real hopes of becoming the first team since France to get the better of Spain in a major tournament then they would do well to follow in the footsteps of Croatia who may have ended up losing to Spain but along the way they caused some major concerns for their more celebrated opponents and could really have won the game had they made the most of their chances.

I think Portugal are actually quite well set up to cause Spain some issues and I think that inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo they will draw the game 1-1 in normal time. If this predicted score is to materialise then I will back Portugal to win either in extra-time or on penalties even if just to make this score prediction a little more ballsy.

 

Italy Vs. Germany:

The second of the semi-finals is set to be a very intriguing game indeed and in the wake of Germany’s performance against Greece in the quarter-finals which was full of attacking intent and ambition, their coach Joachim Loew now has some very tough selections to make in his side to face an Italian team who are likely to pose a greater threat and greater defensive resistance than Greece were capable of.

Pirlo Italy

Pirlo’s ‘Panenka’ spot-kick capped a wonderful night’s work against England both for him as an individual and for Italy as a whole

Arguably the toughest of Loew’s decisions regarding his line-up for the semi-finals will be whether he can find a place for the very impressive Marco Reus. Reus was behind much of Germany’s best play against the Greeks and he got his name on the score-sheet in emphatic style and may well have played his way in Loew’s thinking ahead of the Italy clash, as this individual performance was arguably more impressive than any other by one of Loew’s usual first-choice trio of attacking midfielders Thomas Mueller, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil thus far in this tournament.

It seems a formality that Mario Gomez will come back in for Miroslav Klose as the lone striker and Germany will be heavily reliant upon Gomez to prove himself just as clinical this time around as he was in the opening two games of the tournament, which saw him score three goals having had possession of the ball for just 22 seconds throughout these two matches. This conversion rate was staggering and it proved many of Gomez’s doubters very wrong indeed and now Germany will hope he can return to the side in similar goal-scoring fashion.

Germany’s opponents Italy may not have frightened the life out of any potential opposition at this tournament with their failure to score over 120 minutes of football against England who they had on the back-foot for much of Sunday night but they did play well and they will be hugely encouraged by Andrea Pirlo’s glorious exhibition of passing football and one of Mario Balotelli’s more persistent, determined and perhaps most importantly mature performances in an Italian shirt.

Italy are under no illusions about the task lying ahead of them if they are serious about winning the Euros and they know they will have to be more clinical if they are to have any chance of doing so but there were many more positives than negatives to come out of their quarter-final performance and consequentially they will head into the Germany game with greater self-confidence.

I think that Italy will find it hard to adapt to being fronted up to when it comes to possession and in terms of territorial domination in this semi-final clash after the dominance they experienced in their game against England and what I think will hurt them the most is that Andrea Pirlo in particular is far more unlikely to have a huge say in this game as Germany are better equipped to deal with the significant threat which he poses.

I think Germany will win the game 2-1 and I still have them down as my favourites to win the tournament as I have throughout the entirety of the competition.

Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 1 Prediction

Portugal Vs. Czech Republic:

In the first of the quarter-finals we have two sides that it would be fair to say weren’t fancied by most in terms of their chances of progression to this stage, however, both sides have overcome losing their first games of the tournament with Portugal finishing second in ‘the group of death’ and the Czech Republic topping Group A in spite of a crushing 4-1 defeat to the now eliminated Russians in their opening fixture.

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal

In their final group game against the Dutch Ronaldo’s performance for Portugal was arguably the best individual performance of the tournament so far

Since this opening day confidence knock the Czech Republic side have recovered their position valiantly and though their squad isn’t blessed with tremendous depth or individual quality, they have found a way to win games and that has been no easy feat when you consider the sides they have beaten in their last two games. First, they had to beat Greece who so famously mastered the art of punching above their weight and winning games they shouldn’t have and then having conquered the former champions they had to muster a result against Poland in their own backyard.

These two wins demonstrated admirable and impressive resilience and a surprising ability to be clinical when match-deciding chances came their way, however, I simply can’t see any way that they can beat Portugal who have better options than the Czechs in arguably every single position on the field.

Though I don’t expect the Czechs to just lie down and take a beating, I think that this quarter-final tie will be fairly reminiscent of the events of the Czechs opening game against Russia. In the Russia match the Czechs battled hard throughout and at times they even brought the fight to their opposition on the offensive but eventually the superior quality of the Russian side told and they bagged a couple of late goals to underline their dominance.

I am going for a 3-1 win to Portugal and though I expect them to once again be heavily reliant upon their skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, who was at his unstoppable best against the Dutch in Portugal’s final group game, I hope to see the likes of Nani and Helder Postiga and perhaps even midfielders Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles start to contribute more meaningfully to the goals tally.

Euro 2012: Day 2 Predictions

Denmark Vs. Holland:

Both sides will head into their opening game with real optimism having both qualified for the Euros in very convincing fashion. Holland will be the favourites courtesy of their wealth of high profile and world class performers as well as being buoyed by their run all the way to the final of the World Cup in 2010 but they will have to be on their guard to avoid dropping points to a very decent Denmark side.

Holland Denmark

Holland overcame Denmark at the World Cup in 2010 and will be expected to do so again at the Euros

The favourites to win the opening game of Group B are blessed with an attacking contingent that is the envy of most sides in international football and they will be heavily reliant upon the threat that this unit provides as their defence is by comparison a little weak.

Denmark will have to be willing to attack Holland if they are to avoid defeat as it will be very difficult indeed to keep the Dutch’s attacking threat at bay for the whole of the ninety minutes. Their attacking burden may have to be shouldered by the promising Christian Eriksen whose pace and craft has caught the eye of many.

I think this is a game which looks like it will contain a few goals as Holland’s ambitions are based upon their lethal attacking options and because Denmark will seek to exploit any weaknesses that their opponents may have in their rear-guard. I am going for Holland to win 3-1 but I expect Denmark to carry a decent threat throughout and to cause a few scares.

Germany Vs. Portugal:

In arguably the most anticipated match of the tournament so far we are likely to find out a little more about how far Germany’s youthful squad have come since the World Cup in 2010 and whether Cristiano Ronaldo will be supported strongly by his Portugese team mates in their quest to prove not only that they aren’t a ‘one man team’ but also that they have the ability to exceed expectations and qualify from the ‘Group of Death’.

Germany Portugal

Ronaldo is undoubtedly the key man for Portugal but most fancy Germany to limit his threat and dominate against the Portugese

I think Germany are undoubtedly one of the stand-out teams in the tournament and I think their blend of youth, in the form of players like Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, and experience, in the form of players such as Philip Lahm, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose, looks set to provide the platform for a genuine crack at winning the competition.

Portugal on the other hand are being almost written off by many and they will be determined to prove that they do have a chance not only of progressing to the latter stages of the competition but also that they should be considered contenders to win the tournament. I think it would be grossly unfair to label the Portugese a ‘one man team’ as they have plenty of world class performers such as Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Moutinho, Danny and Nani, however, their will undoubtedly be a great reliance upon Ronaldo to weigh in with a heavy goals contribution if they are to prove to be a serious threat.

Germany will have to be at their best to ensure victory in a game which most people fancy them to win and I think they’ll get the result. I am going for a 2-1 win for the favourites in a closely contested match but I am not totally writing off Portugal who possess a great threat to some of the more fancied sides in Group B. Expect to see Germany control the possession of the ball and Portugal to have real menace on the counter-attack.

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.