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Euro 2012 Matches 23 and 24: Sweden vs France, England vs Ukraine pre-game predictions

When favorites win, predictions usually seem to be on.  That’s what has happened the last two days.  Will tomorrow be any different?

Sweden is supposedly going to be playing a lot of second string players now that they have been eliminated from the tournament.  If Ibrahimovic doesn’t play, it will obviously be a big boost for France.  Sometimes, when reserve players play – and these aren’t scrubs but full internationals – and they aren’t under any pressure to get a result, the underdog usually does well.  However, with France knowing that a loss could eliminate them from the tournament if the other game ends in a draw, they will go all out to win.   Add to that the benefit of not having to play Spain in the next round if France wins this match by enough of a margin – though it’s not entirely clear whether you would want to play Italy or Spain in a knockout match at this stage – and that’s enough for me to predict a France win.  Stone cold lock.

Pre-game prediction: France 2 Sweden 0

Benzema and Ribery to score for France.

The England game could go either way.  What does Roy do now?  Draw and England are through.  But, you are playing the host country who have to win to go through with Shevchenko possibly out… or possibly in for a glorious finish.  What if you sit back and give up a late goal – can you come back?  I believe he will choose the safe path.  Start Welbeck up front with Rooney in the slot.  Young on the left, Gerrard on the right and Milner and Parker at holding midfield.  I wouldn’t start Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott initially.  They are to come on for Young and Milner depending on what the score is in the second half.  The interesting thing will be to see how Rooney and Gerrard play.  My feeling is you should let Rooney have a free role in the slot and have Gerrard drop more centrally between Parker and Milner.  It would be a modified Christmas tree that let’s Roy see if the Manchester United trio can do the business at the goal end of the tree.

Pre-game prediction: England 1 Ukraine 1

England could easily score three again, but I think it will be Gerrard for England and Yarmolenko for Ukraine.

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Manchester United should sell Nani and buy Gareth Bale

Bale apparently wants out of Tottenham following Redknapp’s firing and Spurs unable to make the Champions League next season – http://www.metro.co.uk/sport/football/902089-gareth-bales-spurs-future-in-doubt-as-agent-admits-problem-over-euro-loss#ixzz1xmctmUeX.

Bale can’t go to Real Madrid where Di Maria just re-signed and Ronaldo is the left wing.  Barca are going to sign Jordi Alba at left back so there is no other place in the squad for him.  Bayern Munich have Robben and Ribery.  The only other places could be Milan and Inter, but Inter doesn’t have Champions League football next season and Milan probably doesn’t have the funds.  Chelsea probably doesn’t buy him after buying Eden Hazard.  That would leave maybe Manchester City, PSG and maybe Arsenal.  Doubt he wants to go to PSG and Arsenal probably doesn’t pay up with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the books.

Juventus apparently wants Nani.

Why doesn’t United sell Nani and buy Gareth Bale?  It would be a like for like winger signing except that Bale plays on the left – that would make Valencia the starter on the right wing and Ashley Young can play either wing or in the slot.  It would the Welsh Wing Wizard part 2.  Bale would get Champions League football and wind up where he should have gone in the first place.  And Nani looks like he needs a fresh start and probably isn’t an automatic selection for United’s starting XI.

Sign him up Fergie.

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Filed under manchester united, Transfers, Uncategorized

AND THE WINNER OF EURO 2012 WILL BE…

… the squad with the best physios!  It’s hard to predict the winner since the squads still haven’t finally settled following last minute injuries to key players and replacements still to come (see Cahill, Schweinsteiger and Bouma).  At the current rate of attrition, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Beckham is back in the England squad!  That said, let’s just step through the group stages and figure out how all of this should play out.  One thing is for certain, while Spain may have won the last World Cup after losing their first game to Switzerland, it’s going to be tough to recover in some of these groups if you lose your first game.  And there are a bunch of unbelievable matchups in the first set of group matches with Germany vs Portugal, France vs England and Spain vs Italy the picks of the bunch.  If Portugal, England or Italy lose the initial match, they will be behind the 8-ball right away as Netherlands, Sweden and Croatia will try to take advantage of the slip up.

Group A:  Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Russia

Russia

While Arshavin is the known star of the squad, Russia has a brilliant goalie in Akinfeev, a pacy winger in ex-Chelsea man, Zhirkov, and great forwards in Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak.  I believe Russia will qualify for the next round, but do they really have the belief that they can win this tournament?  I don’t think so.  Euro 2008 was their best shot at international honors and this group’s “win tournament” tag has expired.  Russia is clever with their movement in the final third but they just don’t have that extra magic that Spain has to compensate for their lack of true team speed.  I predict a quarterfinal bertha at best for Russia as they have to play the runner up from Group B in the next round, which will likely be Portugal or the Netherlands.

Key Player who has to do well: Andrey Arshavin

Breakout young star: Alan Dzagoev

Poland

Poland counts on Lewandowski up front, his Dortmund compatriot Blaszczykowski in the middle and Szczesny in goal.  That is the spine of the team.  Playing at home should inspire Poland to a showing more reflective of their past successes when they finished third the 1974 and 1982 World Cups.  This team can make it to the quarterfinals but that’s when it runs out for them against Germany or the Netherlands.  Look for more from this team in World Cup 2014.

Key Player who has to do well: Robert Lewandowski

Breakout young star: Wojciech Szczesny

Greece 

The Greeks are very good defensively and rode that defense to the 2004 Euro title against Portugal.  They were very good on set plays and retained that strategy throughout Otto Rehhagel’s, the prior manager, tenure from 2001 to 2010.  While the current coach, Fernando Santos, may have installed some tweaks to the system, the squad is largely the same and the way out of the group is going to be based on defending as a team and sneaking the odd goal.  The veteran captain Giorgos Karagounis will ably marshal the midfield, but, while defense is fine, they have to score as well to advance and that’s where Gekas has to play well up front to help Greece advance.  They can make the next round but that’s it for them.

Key Player who has to do well: Fanis Gekas

Breakout young star: Kyriakos Papadopoulos

Czech Republic

This isn’t the Czech team of the last three major tournaments.  Their veteran leaders, such as striker Jan Koller and defender Marek Jankulovski, have retired and left Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech as the only true stars on this team.  Scoring goals is the problem for this team as their leading scorer in the qualifiers was defender Kadlec.  Though this group is the easiest of the four at the tournament, it’s going to be three and out, summer holidays please, for coach Michal Bilek’s team.

Key Player who has to do well: Milan Baros

Breakout young star: Vaclav Pilar

Group Prediction: Russia will qualify from this group while the Czech Republic won’t.  The Russians benefit from the winter break they get as a result of the timing of the Russian league and are in good shape physically while the Czechs are too dependant on Milan Baros up front and just don’t have the firepower to get through.  The opening match of the tournament pits Greece against Poland and, while most opening matches end in a draw, the winner of this game will qualify along with Russia.  Though Greece was undefeated during qualifying and are very hard to breakdown, I just feel that Poland has enough players in form, a trio of Bundesliga-triumphant Borussia Dortmund players, and a great young goalie in Szczesny to ride the home support to qualifying for the knockout stage.  Russia and Poland to the quarters.

Group B: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal

Denmark

When you are ranked # 10 in the world, and then are ranked last in your group of four since the other teams are ranked #2, #4 and #5, you know you are in good shape because you have a great team but low expectations.  That’s the position the Danes find themselves in and it’s not a hope and a prayer that Denmark gets through.  Denmark has beaten Portugal in qualifying and has hungry young players in Eriksen, Bendtner, Kjaer and Lindegaard.  They can beat the Dutch and Portugal but will struggle against Germany.  Can they get three points against Holland – that will determine their progress in the tournament?  If they can get out of this group, the semifinals are possible as they can beat their probably opponents, Russia, to get there.

Key Player who has to do well: Nicklas Bendtner

Breakout young star: Christian Eriksen

Germany

Everyone picked Germany to win Euro 2012 once the 2010 World Cup was over.  The squad is young, fast, dynamic, deep but also has the traditional German mentality of machine-like relentlessness.  Their coach, Joachim Low, has been with the team for the last three tournaments (starting in 2004 as an assistant to current US national team coach Klinsmann).  Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Ozil are each among the top three players in the world at their position as goalkeeper, left back, holding midfielder and playmaker, respectively.  Klose and Podolski are proven goal scorers at the international tournament level and will be playing in their parents’ native Poland, while Gomez has been in great form for Bayern Munich and Germany.  The problem for Germany is at center back where it’s a scary thought that Mertesacker is considered a solution after coming back from a dreadful first season and bad injury at Arsenal.  Add to that the controversy surrounding Boateng, whose pre tournament partying may result in his being replaced at right back by Bender.  But Germany has more than enough depth and quality for them to win this tournament.  They lost to Spain in the finals of Euro 2008 (to a Torres winner) and the semifinals of World Cup 2010 (to a Puyol header).  They will reverse that in Euro 2012, in what is tantamount to home field for them in Poland, and should win the tournament.

Key Player who has to do well: Mesut Ozil

Breakout young star: Mario Gotze

Netherlands

The fortunes of the Dutch are tied to the form of Wesley Sneijder.  Period.  If Sneijder is on, they can get to the final much like in World Cup 2010, where only Iker Casillas’ right foot saved Spain on an Arjen Robben breakaway.  If not, they could lose in the first round.  As much as Robin van Persie has had a great season, he needs the ball delivered to him in the final third of the pitch to do his damage.  The same goes for Robben, who might not be recovered from missing a crucial penalty in extra time of the recent Champions League Final against Chelsea.  The Netherlands have very good holding midfielders in Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel, a very good right back in Gregory van der Wiel and a solid keeper in Maarten Stekelenburg.  However, the key weakness for the Dutch is the lack of pace in the defensive middle of the field with the center backs and the holding midfielders struggling against quick strikers.  Adding to the Dutch defensive worries is veteran Mathijsen’s hamstring problem.  That said, the Dutch could win this tournament.

Key Player who has to do well: Wesley Sneijder

Breakout young star: Kevin Strootman

Portugal

Bruno Alves and Pepe.  Moutinho and Meireles.  The spine is solid.  Ronaldo and Nani.  Those wingers are the best in the world.  However, the team’s over reliance on Ronaldo and its poor set of strikers make this group too much for Portugal.  I was thinking of picking Portugal to advance from this group, but their recent loss to Turkey at home showed why this is fool’s gold.  This is as talented a squad as there is, but they don’t have depth and their strikers are not world class.  If they were in Group D, they would win the group, but in this group it’s going to be hard to qualify.  They can get to the semifinals if they get out of the group but it will require Ronaldo playing like he plays for Real Madrid for them to win this tournament.

Key Player who has to do well: Ronaldo

Breakout young star: Joao Moutinho (though he’s not really that young)

Group Prediction: How can you not love, and hate, a tournament that has four of the top ten teams in the world in the same group?  It would be similar to having a group with Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Milan in the qualifying stage.  Germany will qualify from this group.  The other three all have a chance but I’m going to pick Netherlands based solely on Sneijder’s last game against Northern Ireland.  With Sneijder playing well in the slot, the Netherlands will always have a chance with van Persie and Robben up front.  Start strong or go home – this is truly the group of no second chances.  It won’t be a shock if Germany or the Dutch go home early.  However, the Oranje and the Meinschaft will go through.

Group C: Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain

Croatia

There’s more to Croatia than Modric as the team is sprinkled with top European club squad members in Corluka, Pranjic, Rakitic and Kranjcar.  Also, keep an eye on Nikica Jelavic who had a great second half spell at Everton and scored a critical brace against Manchester United in the title-deciding run in to the EPL season.  However, as the midfield maestro Modric goes, so goes Croatia.  This squad has experienced and talented players, but they are missing that extra team-wide spark that is going to be required to go far in this tournament.  Their opening match against Ireland is key – if they win that, they will go through to the next round, with the quarterfinals as far as they will go.

Key Player who has to do well: Luka Modric

Breakout young star: Luka Modric

Ireland

This is a tough squad who is due some of that Irish luck.  Ireland is my dark horse to qualify from this group.  The team has toughness and experience at the back in Dunne, O’Shea and Ward in front of Shay Given.  The middle of the park is where they have a lot more quality that in past teams – McGeady is very creative and well backed by pace on the wings from Duff and Sunderland star James McClean.  And finally, up front, Ireland have Keane, Long, Doyle and Walters to provide different options for the incredibly savvy Italian coach Trapattoni.  This Irish team doesn’t quite have quality depth but they have a solid starting team and enough tactical nous in their coach.  No one wants to play this team at this stage.  This squad can get to the quarterfinals.

Key Player who has to do well: Aiden McGeady

Breakout young star: James McClean

Italy

As usual, Italy is impossible to rate.  They always seem to get through qualifying and the group stages with the only question being how far they go in the tournament.  Much like the Germans.  However, this Italian team seems a bit more in disarray than most.  Yes, the World Cup winning team in 2006 had similar distractions going into the tournament, but this time the scandal seems a lot wider and more embedded.  It’s not often that the President of a country suggests the sport be suspended for a season.  Apart from that, while Italy has stalwarts in Buffon, Pirlo, Di Natale and De Rossi to complement the younger talent of Chiellini, Giovinco and Balotelli, this Italian team just doesn’t seem to have the toughness one expects from the Azzurri.  Going against Trapattoni is not going to be an easy task for Italy given Trap’s familiarity with their system and players (Italy coach Prandelli played for Trap), and Croatia has a good record against Italy.  It doesn’t help that Italy’s first match is a “can’t lose” against Spain.  It is going to be the quarterfinals at best for Italy.

Key Player who has to do well: Andrea Pirlo

Breakout young star: Mario Balotelli / Sebastian Giovinco (whoever gets more playing time)

Spain

It is ridiculous that Spain can start a replacement midfield of David Silva, Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas and Cazorla to back up starters Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.  Even if you put Brazil and Argentina together, you wouldn’t be able to put together a better midfield squad.  The biggest question mark for Spain is in central defense where Puyol is out for the tournament leaving Pique and Ramos in the middle.  Apart from missing Puyol’s quality and experience, Vicente del Bosque has admitted there is residual tension between Pique and Ramos from this past season’s encounters in La Liga.   If I were the coach, I’d move Ramos to his original right back position and have Javi Martinez partner Pique in the middle.  Also, while Jordi Alba is a rising star, he is 22 and has to replace the seasoned Capdevila at left back – will Alba be able to handle that responsibility on the highest stage at the same time he is distracted by ongoing transfer speculation linking him to Barcelona and Manchester United?  Finally, the absence of an injured David Villa means Spain has to trust a hopefully reinvigorated Torres to replace the critical goals that Villa consistently provided.  I want to believe in Torres because I think Torres’ pace is the key factor required to counter teams who pack it in successfully against the possession style Spain plays – it’s why Barcelona struggles without Messi’s pace against the stacked banks of four.  However it’s hard to see how Torres can lead the line after the season he has had.  A better bet is that Llorente and Torres together provide around 7 goals with Pedro, Iniesta, Xabi and Xavi providing another 3 or 4 between them.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Llorente takes over the starting role – and delivers.  Llorente has been in great form for Atletico Bilbao this season and his aerial prowess is a welcome change for this Spain squad that needs an alternative to their ground game.  It’s a tall order, but back to back to back (did Pat Riley say three-peat?) is a definite possibility for the latest version of the world’s best team.

Key Player who has to do well: Gerard Pique

Breakout young star: Jordi Alba

Group Prediction: Spain will qualify from this group.  The other three all have a chance but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Ireland gets through.  I just feel that Trapattoni will get them there.  If Ireland can get a point against Croatia in the first match, and Italy loses to Spain, it will set them up very well to get through.  The graft will be there in the Irish squad, but Aiden McGeady has to create for them to get through.  I think Kevin Doyle, one of my favorite small players, will get a key goal during this tournament.  Croatia just doesn’t inspire me and I think sooner or later the Italians have to pay the price for starting slowly.  This group is easier than the group of death, but it will still be tough for Italy to recover if Spain beats them in the opening match.  Pirlo and Buffon will keep Italy in every game but I just don’t think they get out of the group stage.

Group D: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine

England

At this rate, England might have to call Tony Addams out of retirement to start at center back.  If Terry’s hamstring tweak is not major, the loss of Cahill may not be as devastating since Lescott can slot in there and is obviously comfortable playing with Joe Hart, his City teammate and keeper.  However, there is no defensive cover as you are left with only Jagielka and Phil Jones.  If Glen Johnson gets reinjured, who is going to play right back other than Jones?  And then we get to midfield – no Lampard, no Barry (Hodgson couldn’t get Scholes or Carrick to even come to camp) and Parker not fully fit.  Oh, and no Rooney for the first two games, Defoe just left to attend his father’s funeral … and Welbeck just back from injury.  With all that as the backdrop you know what we are thinking now – England can do well since they have such lowered expectations that there is no pressure on the players!  It’s just too cruel to keep having hope in this squad.  If England can get two draws, they will go through as they will have Rooney back for the final game against Ukraine.  England’s tournament rests on not losing to Sweden.  England can lose to France, but not to Sweden if they want to get through.  Roy Hodgson’s system is to pack it in and hit the opposition on the break.  England has more than enough wing speed to pull that off – I just think that the injuries have robbed them of enough positional continuity and familiarity to play a solid defensive game.  I never go against England. So, while I think France can go deep in the tournament, England playing France in the first match of the group stage in a traditionally cagey affair will be a positive for the Three Lions.  Gerrard has to deliver – this time there is no Lampard for him to second-guess himself in midfield.  Gerrard has to play like he does for Liverpool.  I believe he will.  I think England is more likely to crash out before the second round – but if they go through, they could upset Spain in the quarters.  Not.

Key Player who has to do well: Steven Gerrard

Breakout young star: Joe Hart and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

France

A long unbeaten streak only means it is going to be hard to swallow when you lose one when it matters.  France hasn’t really played well in the post season, pre tournament friendlies – but neither has almost every other team.  Which France shows up?  If M’Vila’s injury is serious it will hurt France who needs his defensive midfield presence to backstop the offensive talents of Nasri, Ben Arfa, Ribery, Giroud and Benzema.  Sagna’s injury has deprived France of a solid right back.  However, this France team is well balanced, has decent depth and will be tough to beat.  They can get to the semifinals.  The good news is that they are not overly dependant on one player but do have a number of skilled players who can step up and change the outcome at the offensive end.

Key Player who has to do well: Karim Benzema

Breakout young star: Yann M’Vila (if he’s too injured to play, then Samir Nasri)

Sweden

Sweden is always strong in tournament play.  They have one of the best players in the world in Ibrahimovic who, till this year, had won the domestic title in each of the past eight years across Holland, Italy and Spain.  Sunderland’s Larsson, Galatasaray’s Elmander and AZ Alkmaar’s Elm are also very talented players who feed off of the creative genius of Ibra.  The defense is suspect though and that is the reason I believe they will not go far in this tournament with the quarters being the farthest they can go.

Key Player who has to do well: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Breakout young star: Rasmus Elm

Ukraine

When the country’s hopes are centered on the abilities of its coach, Blokhin (he starred for the Soviet Union in the 70’s and 80’s), that’s a bad sign.  More bad news – Shevchenko is still in the squad.  Enough said.  Gusev, Voronin and Tymoschuk are all well-known in Europe but it’s not enough to get through.  This squad will play like the Austrian squad at the last Euros.  Ukraine will generate some noise and a lot of effort, but few points.  They will not progress from the group stage.

Key Player who has to do well: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk

Breakout young star: Andriy Yarmolenko

Group Prediction: This one was the toughest choice to make but it is going to be France and England.  Yes, England is a mess and this is not about being EPL biased.  I am trusting in Roy and that Ibrahimovic and Elmander will not be able to make up for the ageing Swedish defense.

The knockout rounds

QF 1: Russia vs Netherlands (Netherlands to advance)

QF 2: Germany vs Poland (Germany to advance)

QF 3: Spain vs England (Spain to advance)

QF 4: France vs Ireland (France to advance)

Yes, all top four seeds to go through. Pretty predictable – which means upsets are sure to come.

Spain beats Netherlands in SF1 and Germany beats France in SF2 with Germany beating Spain in the finals.

The current odds have Spain and Germany more or less even at around 3/1, with the Netherlands around 6/1, France at 10/1 and England and Italy at about 15/1.  The dark horse in this tournament is the Netherlands (if you can call them a dark horse as the third best team), while my upset pick is Portugal (which at 20/1 is “well worth a flutter” as the Brits put it).  The Player of Euro 2012 will be Mesut Ozil.

I will post an updated set of predictions on the tournament winner once the first round of games in the group stage are over.

Twitter: @centerhalf12

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Filed under Euro 2012, Predictions, Predictions on winner

Man Utd vs Arsenal – Post Game

Well can’t say that I was surprised.  Arsenal backline was not good and Ronaldo did exploit their lack of understanding and ability.  United were great on the counter attack and the pitch was heavier so Arsenal didn’t really get going with their slick passing.  I predicted 2-2 and it should have been 4-0.  Either way, United is through and its a shame that Fletcher got a red card that wasn’t for a  penalty that wasn’t.  I don’t know that he would start against Chelsea and probably wouldn’t have done so against Barca either as I believe Giggs and Berbatov would be on for Fletcher and Park from this lineup.  Key question is whether Scholes or Anderson starts in the final.  However, Fletcher would have been first sub should United have a lead going into the last 25 minutes for either Giggs or Scholes.  But that’s for another time.

The things that jumped out to me:

Arsenal managed one real shot on goal in the first leg and had a weak Fabregas header the first half and a straightforward van Persie blast in the second half to show for offense (apart from the non penalty).  That is unbelievable.  Adebayor didn’t have a real shot on goal!  United’s defense is good but that’s not down to the defense.

It was a waste to start van Persie.  He was obviously not fit enough.  I would have started Bendtner and pounded United with high balls to get an early goal.  It’s tough to guard Adebayor when Bendtner is in there.  It’s hindsight, but Arsene should have started Eboue instead of Nasri initially to give more cover for Song and Gibbs down the left.

That was about as dominant a two legged semifinal performance over a quality team that I have seen.

Arsene has a problem next season trying to accommodate Fabregas, Nasri and Arshavin.  This might be the time to cash in on Cesc.  Let Arshavin play his spot.  Wilshere will be ready to take over in three years anyway, just when Arshavin is done.  If you keep all three, Wilshere’s opportunities to progress faster diminish.  Use the money to buy a couple of center backs and a holding midfielder.  They will have Eduardo back next season and then the four strikers they have are good enough.

Ronaldo is easily the best player in the world for all the hype about Messi being a genius and the player of a generation.  Ronaldo showed that he can be an incredibly effective striker today.  The man is two footed, has a rocket of a right foot, takes penalties and free kicks, is lightning quick with great feet, scores in the big games, rarely misses games from injury (the operation this season notwithstanding) and is great in the air.  Till Messi shows me he can smoke a left back who is quick and experienced, he’s not the best in the world for me (more on that in my next post).

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Filed under arsenal, champions league, Cristiano Ronaldo, manchester united, post match comments, Semi Finals, SOCCER

The Updated Crystal Ball

I was wrong on the Inter game, but the qualifier was that United wouldn’t have Evans or O’Shea. That said, here is a quick note with my predictions:

1. Liverpool eliminates Real in the second leg with a goalless or 1-1 draw.
2. Chelsea will squeak through against Juve on away goals as I believe they will lose 2-1 in the return leg.
3. Porto through over Atletico (after games with Barca and Real Madrid they are going to be spent), Bayern over Sporting (way out on a limb on that one!), Villareal over Pana (toughest one to pick but I just think Villareal will be better on the road in this one as they will be more solid at the back).
4. Arsenal is going to beat Roma in the second leg at the Olympic stadium. They are about to score a hatful of goals and I think some of it is going to happen in this match. At worst, they tie and go through.
5. While everyone thinks it will be Barca through to the next round, I feel like Lyon can cause an upset. If Barca’s lead is down to three or less in Liga by next weekend, I predict Lyon upsets Barca. If not, Barca wins through comfortably.
6. Finally United v Inter. This tie should have been over. I am shocked at how pedestrian Inter were at home. And I can’t believe Ronaldo didn’t score at least one of the six chances he had, not to mention Giggs’ one on goalie. That Cesar is awesome. However, United has to be worried about the away goal at OT. I still think United wins, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 2-0 United before Inter pulls one back and United has to sweat it out. I just don’t think Inter can keep United from scoring at home, so it’s only a question of whether Inter can score themselves. More importantly, it’s going to be based on who plays for United in the game and what the squad’s state is – go to my next thoughts before coming back to this.
7. If United beats Newcastle tomorrow, United will win the Premier League, no question. If United beats Fulham in the FA Cup on the weekend and if they don’t have to play one of the top 4 in the semis, then United will win the FA Cup. I personally think they will lose to Fulham or in the next round. More on that in a second. And if they beat Inter AND Newcastle and get knocked out before the finals of the FA Cup, they will win the Champions League. I think the Carling Cup OT is going to be a serious problem for United. It means Ronaldo and Scholes have to sit out the Newcastle game which begs the question of who starts at Fulham as the Inter game is coming up the following Wednesday. Also, with the disarray at right back, who is going to play Ibra when he floats to the left wing – O’Shea or Evans? I think SAF has to play Tevez with Welbeck at Fulham for the FA Cup along with the kids. Rest Giggs, Scholes, Carrick and Park. Play Fletch, Gibson, Tosic and Nani in midfield and Fabio, Evans, Vidic and Eckersley at the back. Forget the FA Cup if you want to progress in the Champions League.

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Filed under champions league, match predictions, SOCCER

Stay or Go – Which was the better decision looking back?

I’m back. Life took hold for a while and post Euro withdrawals made me take a break from blogging. But, like Rooney, I’m back. And let’s start with my last post where I stated very clearly that Ronaldo should stay at United. I want to revisit my logic and see what holds up.

1. He’s coming back to form now that his speed is returning following the ankle rehab. If he kicks it into high gear during the Champions League, he will once again be king – only and especially if he flatly denies wanting to go to Real since that nonsense has started again. Also, he needs to show more joy in the team’s performances.
2. Still stand by that. Now he has the Ballon D’Or. One more and he is at the top of the heap. And if they win a few more Champions League crowns – which they will if this team stays together – it’s guaranteed that he will be up there with Charlton and Giggs.
3. So Calderon is gone, Schuster is gone – and that was even before the season finished. Even faster than normal Real standards. And you still don’t know who the coach is going to be since Juande is only guaranteed through the end of the season. You will absolutely be the flavor till the next one comes around. And if Kaka is going to available, you might get played by Perez.
4. Still right. And United did win the World Club Cup so now they are also champions of the world. Whereas at Real you would be – well who can say given what impact you may or may not have had on the outcome. However, no quintuples on the horizon at Real for sure this year. Man U – get past Inter and draw Liverpool a few days later and I’d say you will win the league, win the Carling Cup, win the FA cup if you don’t play Arsenal before the final and will win the Champions League if you don’t have to play Barca before the final.
5. Still concur with my initial assessment. And with Berbatov at United, there’s even a better hold up man to distribute balls to you and to keep the central defenders honest instead of doubling up on you like Behrami did for West Ham.
6. Say you are staying and not going to Real right now and you will be a god.
7. Bet that. And then they will sign Aguero or the next best thing post WC 2010 and you will be like Figo once they signed Ronaldo.
8. All I can say is – Messi is a freak. He is currently like Jordan in his heyday. No one can stay with him. Ronaldo is lucky he is not playing in La Liga right now else he might not have won the Ballon D’Or.
9. Never mind that one. The way he is going with Portugal he might be back on the bench with Fergie in another six months though!
10. England is looking good though under Fabio.
11 and 12. Couldn’t agree with this more. Except you seem to keep on getting to win more trophies.
13. Kaka, Aguero and Benzema are going to move at the end of the season. Man City will throw around the cash and buy at least one or more stars – I bet Ronaldinho winds up there. Wait. This is not the time to leave.
14. La Liga is being propped up by Barca. Actually by Messi – note how they struggle when he doesn’t play a half. It’s now behind the Premier League and Serie A IMO.

All in all, Ronaldo, the answer is obviously that staying was the right decision. Look at the trophies you could win this year. And next and the next. The decision should be no different at the end of the season. But, and you heard it hear first, he will be gone after this season. And United, much as it pains me to say this, should sell him. Enough is enough. Take the 100MM – and make sure Real pays that since you have Man City as a counter to threaten both Ronaldo and Real – and buy Aguero and Valencia/Theo Walcott/Ashley Cole. I like Diego Capel as a left winger, but let’s see how Tosic and Nani pan out. Frankly, United could probably bank 50MM and let the chips fall where they may. If Ronaldo doesn’t shine at Real as brightly as he shines at United, where does he go from there? Inter?

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Stay or Go – What Should Cristiano Ronaldo Do?

I debated how to phrase the headline – as a definitive statement on what he should do or as a question. While it looks like a question, it is actually a rhetorical statement. The answer is so obvious that it doesn’t make any sense for me to drag out a pros and cons before coming down on one side. RONALDO – DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR MAMA: STAY WITH MANCHESTER UNITED. She’s right about Real Madrid being a dream – it’s a bad dream otherwise called a nightmare. He looks way better in red, doesn’t he?!

Why you should stay, you ask. Let me expound – in numbered, bulleted fashion no less.

  1. You are the king at United. This is your team, no matter the love for Rooney or Scholes or Giggs or Rio. Your team. At Real, Raul is king. And after him, it will be Casillas – and he’s only 27 and a goalie, so he will be around a long time. Oh, and he also just captained Spain to their first title in 44 years.
  2. You can be a United legend. While you didn’t come up the ranks at United like Scholes or Giggs, you came here at 18. That’s almost the same thing. To be a true legend at the club, if you join them early and stay for a long time, you are a legend. It will not be the same if you join Real Madrid. Are Zidane or Figo or Roberto Carlos or any of the other galacticos a legend? Yes, you are younger than they were, but if you think you will play at Real for 10 years, you are crazy. You won’t last long enough there. Why, you ask? Next point…
  3. You are the flavor of the election. Today, Calderon wants you to win his election. Once you are in the team, don’t you think the next guy contesting election is going to want his own galactico – maybe Bojan Krkic or the next freakishly talented Brazilian? At United, you will always be on a pedestal, much as Giggs and Scholes still are. Real is notoriously unstable because of the shenanigans that go on around the elections (Barca too). That’s why they keep changing coaches as well. Who is going to be your coach once Schuster doesn’t win the Champions League next season?
  4. You play on the best team in England and in Europe. It is a young team too. Other than Arsenal, there is no other young, world class team like it in the world. And Arsenal hasn’t won squat in four years. This team is the best team in the best league in the world. So, you are the player of the year in the best team in the world (and United will prove that by winning the World Club Cup later this year – BTW, you won’t play in that or the European Super Cup this year if you leave United) in the best league in the world – and a team that is poised to challenge (if not dominate) for a few years to come. And you want to trade that for a dream? Talk to Kobe for some pointers, son.
  5. Let’s talk about the platform a bit. First, the club. At United, Rooney and Tevez and the rest of the guys will do the tracking back that you don’t always have to do. You take the penalties and free kicks. No egos from guys like Rooney or Tevez or Rio or whoever. You really think that happens at Real? From players like Raul and Guti and Ruud and Robben? Forget what they say now. Wait till you are there. Ruud is going to take penalty kicks (especially after your recent two high profile misses, it is not a foregone conclusion that you get to push him aside for those) and Wesley Sneijder is going to take a fair number of free kicks. Then, the same thing will happen to you that happened to Torres. Defenders will not let you beat them with your pace as they won’t play up as much, won’t give you as much space and the midfield will be more compact as well so it is going to be harder for you to do your usual damage. The leagues are just different. The slower pace of La Liga is going to be to your disadvantage. Also, at United, you interchange with total freedom. Rooney, Tevez and whoever is playing attacking mid or opposite wing (Giggs or Nani) move around freely and let you move around freely. You come inside, switch wings, go crossfield, drop back, whatever. At Real, you will play like you do at Portugal. Except Real have players with even more ego and reputation. You will play more on the wing and have to serve balls to Ruud and Raul. Your goals will drop and so will your reputation. Trust me – we got a precursor at Euro 2008.
  6. The fans love you at United. Yes, they will love you at Real as long as you are doing well. Can you imagine white hankies waving at United? United fans embraced you after World Cup 2006 even though you were mischievous in your contribution to getting Rooney and England booted. The country even forgave you – somehow I don’t see that happening with a Portugese man in Spain.
  7. The blame will be on you if Real don’t win the Champions League within the next two years.
  8. Messi plays in La Liga. You don’t want to play in the same league as him since he will now be the showpiece at Barca and will come out of it as the player of the year in La Liga. Stop with the “I am a competitor; that’s a challenge I would relish” line. I am not saying he is better than you – just that he will come off better given his team situation relative to yours.
  9. Quieroz is at United and will probably be the next coach of United.
  10. Spain has just won Euro 2008. Casillas, Xavi, Cesc and Torres are going to be ahead of you in Spanish minds for a while – and God help you if they win the World Cup too. It’s more likely they win than England.
  11. You signed a contract. You are just one year in. I bet you United gives you more money, but at the level you are, does some more money mean more than winning and being the best?
  12. Karma is a mother. Loyalty seems to be an ugly word and yes, United and Fergie have thrown players out (see Becks and Ruud) after they were loyal to him and the club. However, this is ridiculous. The man protected you. The club and the fans embraced you. And you repay them like this?
  13. You are 23 years old. In two or three years you will enter your prime. Most United fans will not begrudge you your desire to move if you do so at that point. It would also be perfect reasoning as you can say it is contemporaneous with Fergie leaving. IF, that is, you decide it makes sense to move then. It makes no sense to do so now. Can you imagine how much of a bigger deal you would get if you solidified your United fan base and then moved after you had won a couple of World Player of the Year awards. It would be a much bigger move than doing so now.
  14. You will be joining a league where the rest of the teams have no real stars. Even Barca would have lost Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto’o and Gio Dos Santos. Contrast that with all the good players coming to the Premier League at Spurs, Everton, Portsmouth, Liverpool and Arsenal.

To be fair, let’s talk about some reasons to go:

The weather is better. Your girlfriend is Spanish. Playing for Los Blancos is a bit mythical. Fergie’s going to quit soon. It’s not going to be easy to top, let alone match, this season – on a personal and team level. The competition in England for the Premier League is going to be even more fierce. You will probably make more money from the image rights deal in Spain. You probably speak Spanish better than English. It’s your dream. Your mama wants you to go there.

The only thing that I have left to say is – if it’s your dream that’s great. Who says you have to wake up today to realize it – “wait a couple of years and then figure out if you want to live the dream or simply dream the dream while living the life you already have” CH12, July 1, 2008…

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