Euro 2012: Day 8 Predictions

France Vs Ukraine:

In the opening game France were undoubtedly the side dictating the play against England but they did seem to lack real drive and creative ability in the middle of the park. This is a problem which needs to be sorted very quickly if they are to fulfil their ambitions at this tournament, as the likes of Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema were forced to drop deep on too many occasions which meant that the French struggled to make real inroads into the heart of the English defence in spite of their possessional and territorial superiority.

Shevchenko Ukraine

Andriy Shevchenko re-captured some of the old magic against Sweden and will need to be even more clinical against the French

It is arguable that the Ukranian defence will present greater openings for the French to take advantage of than England afforded them  but still the French must focus on using the ball more effectively and supplying their more dangerous players with greater opportunities to harm the opposition.

France’s opponents on Friday are the co-hosts Ukraine who pulled off one of the results of the first round when they defeated Sweden by two goals to one in Kiev. Inspired by their ageing talisman Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine managed to fight back from a goal behind and in doing so proved that they may well do better than people expected them to.

In addition to Shevchenko it was Ukraine’s young attacking midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko that caught the eye for the co-hosts  in their opening victory. He looked strong, full of energy and technically very sound when crossing from wide positions. If the Ukraine are to push for qualification to the latter stages of the competition then he will surely be key to their hopes and France and England must both be wary of the threat that he poses.

Even though I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the co-hosts in the opening game they did seem constantly troubled by the presence of Sweden’s real world-class talent Zlatan Ibrahimovic and I think they will struggle to keep the French at bay as they possess more than just one major attacking threat. I think France will win this game 3-1 and will put themselves in a very decent position in the group.

England Vs. Sweden:

Whilst England will be fairly pleased with their first performance of the Euros, today’s opponents Sweden will be more than a little irritated with their own progress to date.

Carroll Welbeck

If England do opt for two front-men then Carroll and Welbeck could cause the Swedish back four some real problems

The Swedes performance in the 2-1 loss to the Ukraine was very disappointing and it is of no real surprise that there are rumours circling of division in the camp in the wake of such a disorganised outing against a side who they will feel they should have beaten.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic for long periods of the game seemed the only player in the Sweden side capable of causing any damage at all but even he was a little wasteful at times and at the back their experienced campaigners Olof Mellberg and Andreas Granqvist appeared as if they had under-estimated and were ill-prepared for the threat posed by Andriy Shevchenko in terms of his movement and his aerial ability.

It is this lack of defensive organisation which will excite England the most going into the second game of the tournament as their side is likely to be packed with players capable of causing the Swedish defence a lot of problems in the air.

It sounds as if England are going to opt for two front men in this game with Andy Carroll expected to take the place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whose likely omission will mean that Ashley Young will switch to a wider role on the left. I for one think that this switch in formation is a sensible one going into the game against Sweden given their apparent weaknesses in defence and if Ashley Young and James Milner can provide decent service from the wings then Danny Welbeck and Carroll should have plenty to feed off of.

I think England will win the game 2-0 and will sit joint top of Group D with France come the end of today.

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Premier League Preview: Title battle, Relegation fight or Mid-table mediocrity

With the Premier League returning this weekend here is my run down on what is to come for each of this year’s teams…

Arsenal:

How Arsenal fare is dependent entirely upon the result of the next few weeks regarding the transfer window. If Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leave the club then Arsenal could be battling for a place in the top 5. It really could be that bad. However, for now they still do have these two truly world class players and with them they are title contenders.

Sadly for them it seems a formality that Fabregas will depart as soon as Barcelona meet Arsenal’s asking price, I think that they need to act fast and sell Fabregas in order to allow them time to spend his money wisely on players who could just about keep them in the hunt for silverware.

Arsenal must endeavour to hold on to their best players

Key Players: Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri (if they stay!)

Ones to watch: Gervinho and Jack Wilshere, Prediction: Struggling to make the top four

Aston Villa:

For a club with European ambitions Villa underachieved by far last season and have now lost their two best players from the last campaign. Downing and Young have moved on and this is a huge blow for the club, but replacement signing Charles N’Zogbia is a great coup. He has been outstanding for Wigan and I believe he will shine at Villa Park, and if new gaffer Alex McLeish manages to bring in someone of Shaun Wright-Phillips’ calibre on the other wing then we could see a return to the top 7 for Villa.

A strong centre-back pairing of Dunne and Collins should thrive under McLeish’s guidance, and ‘Big ‘Eck’ will hope that record signing Darren Bent can cash in at the other end of the pitch in his first full season at Villa. Another great piece of business is the signing of Shay Given, he is a world class keeper and will more than fill the void left by Brad Friedel’s departure.

Villa’s marquee signing of the summer

Key Players: Charles N’Zogbia and Darren Bent

Ones to Watch: Shay Given and Marc Albrighton, Prediction: Pushing for Europe

Blackburn Rovers:

This season could be a long hard slog for Steve Kean. He was left to deal with the aftermath of Sam Allardyce’s unjust sacking last season and from the moment he took over the club were on a progressive downhill slide. However, eventually Kean did manage to exact some character from his troops and they narrowly avoided the drop.

This time out Kean should be hoping for at best a return to mid-table mediocrity but I’m not sure that will satisfy the new owners. It is absolutely essential that Chris Samba remains at the club, as they would probably have finished bottom last season without his defensive qualities. If he does go then the replacement must be top class or Kean could soon be out of a job and Blackburn could be struggling to survive.

Key Players: Chris Samba, Paul Robinson

One to Watch: Mauro Formica, Prediction: Relegation battle but ultimately survival

Bolton Wanderers:

Last season was a very strong year for Owen Coyle and his charges. I’m sure that more of the same would content most Bolton fans, but Owen Coyle is a man who is unlikely to rest on his laurels. His drive to make Bolton succeed as a club that can play ‘real’ football rather than as a ‘long ball’ outfit is incredibly admirable and thus far it seems to have been a roaring success. A top half finish is again attainable, but they will greatly miss the services of Daniel Sturridge who was outstanding whilst on loan at the club from January.

Key Players: Gary Cahill and Kevin Davies

One to Watch: Chris Eagles, Prediction: Mid-table

Chelsea:

How will A-V-B cope with following in Jose’s footsteps? The comparisons are certainly their to be drawn but it would be unfair to expect Andre Villas-Boas to have the same impact upon the club that Mourinho did. Jose was a phenomenon and happened to time his arrival at the club perfectly to receive the greatest of Abramovic’s financial generosity whereas A-V-B has thus far not been able to explore the full depths of his owner’s bank account.

This season will be a huge test of character for Chelsea who just about managed to save an immensely disappointing campaign last season with a late charge back up into second place. For a while it seemed that they may not even make the top four, but it is testament to their experience and character that they did recover. At present they have a very good squad but maybe one more world class ball player wouldn’t go amiss if they hope to challenge on multiple fronts this time out. The major concern for their new manager must be the fitness and form of Fernando Torres, who could be the key to their title challenge if he begins to fire.

Can A-V-B put Chelsea back in contention

Key Players: Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres

Ones to Watch: Romelu Lukaku, David Luiz, Prediction: Title hopefuls, 2nd place

Everton:

You can’t help but feel a little sorry for David Moyes. Year upon year his thread-bare squad keep coming up with the goods and keep finishing in and around the European places. For a lot of clubs this would provide the foundation for challenging for bigger and better honours, but the limited funds at the club have persistently prevented such a rise to prominence.

I have no doubt that David Moyes and his squad will again do well this season and a top 8 would yet again be a great achievement. One can only wonder how long such a quality manager can put up with a lack of resources, a shortcoming which has scarcely allowed for any real progress in recent years.

Key Players: Leighton Baines and Mikel Arteta

One to Watch: Jack Rodwell, Prediction: Mid-table

Fulham:

Martin Jol is a very good manager and a very likeable man. He is the sort of manager who people want to do well, as he did with Tottenham, and I think he will do well again at his new club. If Fulham can hole on to their key players like Bobby Zamora and Brede Hangeland then they can expect to challenge for a top-half finish this season.

Key Players:

Bobby Zamora and Brede Hangeland

Ones to Watch: John-Arne Riise and Andy Johnson, Prediction: Mid-table

Liverpool:

More big spending from King Kenny seems to have breathed new life into the Anfield faithful. For the first time in quite a while there is real reason for optimism and a return to the top 4 is not out of the question.

The new signings made my the Kop hero need to be given time to gel and as such it could be a tricky start to the forthcoming campaign, but I can see this being a strong campaign for Liverpool. The players that Kenny has brought to the club are not only high-class players but they are also full of Premier League experience. It will be exciting to see how they get on this time around and the budding partnership of Carroll and Suarez should be looked forward to with particular relish.

Could Adam prove another major Scottish success at Anfield

Key Players: Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam and Luis Suarez

Ones to Watch: Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, Prediction: European qualification

Man City:

As much as it pains me to say it City are genuine title contenders. I personally believe that this year might be little too soon for them but their squad is far too strong to rule them out.

If they can hold on to Carlos Tevez and keep him sweet for at least half the season then they have a real chance of keeping pace with the likes of Chelsea and United throughout the season. Their squad now boasts an impressive array of talent and they will only improve with time, if the likes of Aguero settle quickly then they are a force to be reckoned with.

Will he stay or will he go?

Key Players: Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Carlos Tevez (if he stays!)

One to Watch: Sergio Aguero, Prediction: Title battle, 3rd

Manchester United:

The champions look like the favourites again this season and their second half performance in the Community Shield was full of promise. It seems that the youthful new signings are out to prove a point, and the products of their youth system likewise.

Trying to fill the void left by super stars Van Der Sar, Neville and Scholes is a thankless task but Sir Alex’s young hopefuls seem to be up for the challenge and they’ll need to be. Once again it seems that Ferguson has moved smartly in the transfer market and if the rumours are true then Wesley Sneijder could yet be on his way to Old Trafford. At present United might be short of one more truly world class player is they are to challenge Barca for European honours but Sneijder could go some way towards bridging the gap between them and the current kings of Europe.

The man to fill the Paul Scholes void?

Key Players: David De Gea, Luis Nani and Wayne Rooney

Ones to Watch: Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley, Prediction: Title defence

Newcastle:

Will quarrels between Newcastle fans and the board ever end? Probably not if the club keep offloading their best players and fail to bring in suitable replacements…

If the likes of Joey Barton and Jose Enrique follow Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll out of the exit door then Newcastle could be in for a tough season. The four previously mentioned players were amongst Newcastle’s best performers last season and if they were all to leave then it would be a terrible shame. On the plus side though, they have managed to bring in some quality. Young Frenchman Yohan Cabaye looks a good buy if he settles in quickly and Gabriel Obertan could also be a steal at £3 million. The former Manchester United player never quite broke through at Old Trafford but he has shown more promise in their pre-season campaign.

More tough times ahead for the owner

Key Players: Cheick Tiote and Joey Barton (if he stays!)

Ones to Watch: Yohan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan, Prediction: Mid- to-lower table, potential relegation threat

Norwich City:

The surprise package of last year’s Championship season have it all to do to maintain their Premier League status this season. Anything 17th or higher would be a great result for Paul Lambert and his players and they must make a couple of late signings if they are to achieve this.

At the moment Lambert’s squad looks a little lightweight and lacking in real quality. They desperately need to find an ace in the pack just as Blackpool did last season with Charlie Adam and David Vaughan and even that might not be enough to keep them up.

Key Players: Ritchie De Laet and Grant Holt

Ones to Watch: James Vaughan and Simeon Jackson, Prediction: Straight back down
QPR:

Last season was a real triumph for Neil Warnock as QPR romped to the Championship title. Now Mr.Warnock finally has the chance to avenge his misgivings over how his former club Sheffield United were relegated from the top division last time he was managing at this level.

If the club can keep the super-talented Adel Taarabt happy then they could very stay up on their return to the Premier League.

All the ability in the world, but can QPR get the best out of their main man?

Key Players: Adel Taarabt and Jay Bothroyd

Ones to Watch: Alejandro Faurlin and Kieron Dyer, Prediction: Survival

Stoke:

Tony Pulis has built a reputation for upsetting the odds with his Stoke team which is founded upon a strong defence. This pre-season has proved that more of the same is set to continue as Pulis has brought in two more proven quality centre-backs in Woodgate and Upson both of whom have a great wealth of Premier League experience.

In addition to this strong defence Pulis will be replying on their other major strength in the wide positions to provide the attacking threat. Another top half finish is possible for the Potters.

Key Players: Ryan Shawcross, Matthew Etherington

One to Watch: Jonathan Woodgate, Prediction: Mid-table

Sunderland:

The revolving doors at the Stadium of Light have certainly been in use this summer. 11 signings have been made and 14 players have left the club in what has been an exciting summer for the club.

Often when clubs have such a high turnover in a transfer window it can mean that marquee signings are few and far between but no one can acuse Steve Bruce of a lack of ambition in the market. He has managed to bring in two top quality defenders with Champions League experience from Manchester United and he has beaten the likes of Liverpool to the signing of young Conor Wickham who could be part of a dangerous front pairing alongside Asamoah Gyan.

Key Players: John O’Shea and Asamoah Gyan

One to Watch: Conor Wickham, Prediction: Top half

Swansea City:

Last year Swansea proved that you can be successful in the nitty gritty of the Championship when employing an attractive brand of football. Like QPR I think that Swansea have a real chance of staying up this year and they have an array of attacking talent.

This season is an incredibly exciting prospect for Wales’ first ever Premier League team and it will be down to likes of Scott Sinclair to carry the burden of scoring the goals that they will need if they plan on hanging around at the top of British football.

Key Player: Scott Sinclair

One to Watch: Leroy Lita, Prediction: Relegation battle, could stay up
Tottenham Hotspur:

This season will be a true test of Spurs’ desire to cement themselves in the group of teams at the peak of English football. With the re-emergence of Liverpool as a threat and the ever-improving Manchester City it will be a tough scrap for Tottenham to keep themselves  in the top 5.

It is absolutely essential that they manage to keep a hold of their best players and Luka Modric is certainly one of those. If Chelsea were to prise away Spurs’ star playmaker then they could struggle to pose any real threat to the top 4.

Wanted Man

Key Players: Rafael Van Der Vaart and Luka Modric

One to Watch: Gareth Bale, Prediction: 4th-6th

West Brom:

Last season’s dismissal of manager Roberto Di Matteo came completely out of the blue and at the time seemed rather unfair. However, once Roy Hodgson took over at the Hawthorns the team really seemed to fire.

The Baggies will be looking to build on their promising second half of the season and have made a couple of very useful signings this summer. The arrivals of Ben Foster and Shane Long could well be enough to see further improvements this season.

Could Mr.Hodgson impress the FA in their search for a new England boss?

Key Players: Ben Foster and Peter Odemwingie

One to Watch: Shane Long, Prediction: Bottom half
Wigan Athletic:

Roberto Martinez worked wonders last year to keep a lacklustre Wigan side in the Premier League. What price a similar story this season?

Well.. it looks set to be another tough one for them following the departure of there best player, Charles N’Zogbia, to Aston Villa, but as ever Martinez is confident in his ability to keep them up. Another major loss is that of last year’s loaned in Tom Cleverley who has returned to parent club Manchester United after a very useful spell at the JJB. They will do well to avoid relegation again.

Key Players: Ali Al-Habsi and Hugo Rodallega

One to Watch: James McCarthy, Prediction: Relegation battle

Wolverhampton Wanderers:

Big Mick McCarthy has his work cut out again if Wolves are to avoid relegation for a third season in a row. New Captain Roger Johnson looks like a very decent signing from Birmingham City where he was very impressive but their squad still looks short of real quality.

Key Players: Roger Johnson and Kevin Doyle

One to Watch: Matt Jarvis, Prediction: Bottom