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Euro 2012 QF 3: Spain vs France pre match predictions

Prevailing logic says that France’s loss to Sweden and their ensuing internal arguments will result in the usual result – France getting summarily eliminated from a major tournament.  Normally I’d subscribe to that notion.  However, Spain hasn’t been special and France made lineup changes that didn’t work out, so look for Blance to go back to a more familiar lineup when the game kicks off tomorrow.  Spain should be slightly favored but a French upset, while not probable, would be only a mild surprise.  Spain be hoping this match doesn’t go to extra time – that will hurt them against the well rested Portugese.  France will be hoping for penalties.

Why France will win

  1. Menez and Cabaye will re-enter the lineup replacing Ben Arfa and possibly M’Vila or Diarra.  That will provide more offense for France, especially from Menez who was very lively against Ukraine in the group stage.  If he has a good game, it will force Jordi Alba to stay back and help even out the imbalance in midfield that any team playing Spain has to face.
  2. Ribery will dominate Arbeloa.  Puyol’s absence has moved Ramos to central defense from the right back slot and his replacement, Alvaro Arbeloa, is competent but slow.  Ribery has to have a big game for France to have a chance and he is likely to enjoy going against Arbeloa.  Just like Menez, if Ribery has a good game, it will force Silva to drop back to help on defense, thus evening numbers in midfield.
  3. Benzema has assisted on the majority of the French goals, but has yet to get on the scoresheet.  It bodes well for France as he goes against a familiar defense in his club teammates Arbeloa, Ramos and Casillas.  The Benz is due.
  4. Spain is not the usual Spain.  Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level.  Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure.  Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage.

Why Spain will win

  1. France’s undefeated run is over, there is infighting and neither Ribery nor Benzema have scored at Euro 2012.  That is a not a great recipe for success at this stage.  Spain is seasoned, used to winning and the manner in which they ground out their World Cup win will help them as they get to the business end of this tournament.
  2. Mexes is suspended which probably means that Koscielny gets the start.  While Mexes didn’t cover himself with glory against Sweden, and Koscielny does have more pace and has played well against Messi and Barcelona the last few times they have met in the Champions League, starting at center back in a tournament for the first time in a quarterfinal match against the defending World and European champions is a daunting task for Koscielny.  He is prone to making errors and there is a high likelihood that happens again today.
  3. Spain’s midfield domination will result in France struggling to score.  Cabaye or M’Vila have to have huge games in order for Nasri, Ribery, Benzema and Menez to get enough touches to score.  That will be tough.  Add in the fact that France doesn’t really have aerial threats to score off of dead balls and it just means they will have to have a lot of luck to beat Spain.
  4. Iniesta.  And Cesc.  Iniesta has been in great form and Debuchy will struggle to stay with him.  Cesc continues to do what he has done so well for Barcelona this past season – score off of well timed late runs into space behind the defense.  That should be enough to Spain to win this match.

Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 France 0

Spain will score a goal in the second half and hold France off.  Iniesta or Cesc to score for Spain.

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Euro 2012 Match 15: Ukraine vs France pre-game predictions

Ukraine is not going to surprise France.  Shevchenko is not going to surprise Mexes.  Yarmolenko is not going to surprise Evra.  Blokhin is not going to surprise Blanc.  France hasn’t lost in 22 games.  This will not be the first loss.  I also don’t  believe they can be comfortable with a draw as that would put too much pressure on their last game against Sweden.

This is going to be a more open game and France will have more space than they did against England.  I respect Ukraine’s front three and Tymoshchuk did a great job in the holding midfield position.  However, Ribery and Nasri will be too much for the Ukrainian defense.  I would like to see Blanc be more aggressive and putting Ben Arfa in the starting lineup.

Pre-match prediction: Ukraine 1 France 2

Benzema and Ribery will score for France and Yarmolenko to reduce the margin for Ukraine.

 

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Euro 2012 Match 7: England vs France pre-game predictions

No Lampard, no Beckham and no Zidane.  Will this matchup live up to the one in Euro 2004 when Lampard scored first, Becks missed a penalty that would have put the match beyond doubt and then England were defeated courtesy of a late double by Zidane?  I doubt it.  France comes into the tournament on a long unbeaten streak, but they haven’t hit the heights in the lead in to Euro 2012 and England seems incapable of scoring more than one goal in any match with the lineup and tactics Hodgson is employing.

Why England will win

  1. Hodgson has instilled his traditional game plan of being solid defensively with two banks of four and speed utilized to break on the counter and grab a goal against the run of play.  It’s pragmatic and he certainly has the speed in the lineup.
  2. England’s injuries, new coach and absence of talismanic Rooney has reduced expectations and the accompanying pressure that has seemed to paralyze past England squads.  Not much is expected of this England squad and that could be the key to unlocking the potential of the squad – with a lot of luck.
  3. England finally has a top goalkeeper in Joe Hart.  It’s been ten years since David Seaman played in goal (and if you don’t consider him a top keeper, you have to go back to 1983 for Ray Clemence).  Since then the “Golden Generation” has had to play with the likes of Scott Carson, Rob Green, Ben Foster, Chris Kirkland, Paul Robinson, David James and Richard Wright in goal.
  4. They have game changers in the speedy Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  If Welbeck is fit, his partnership with Young will be dangerous.
  5. Group stage games aren’t decided on penalties.

Why France will win

  1. England’s injuries mean that there is no real continuity in defense.  It is tough to play a coordinated defensive strategy that Hodgson’s system requires when you haven’t had enough time to familiarize yourself with it given Roy’s recent hiring and you have had to change the central defenders following Rio’s withdrawal and Cahill’s injury.
  2. Rooney is not playing, Welbeck is just returning from an ankle injury and Defoe has just suffered a personal tragedy.  England has no depth to spare at the moment.
  3. France has game changers across the park in Ribery, Benzema, Nasri, Ben Arfa and Giroud.
  4. Blanc is a great coach and has the team mindful of their duty to perform at a higher level after their disastrous outing at the World Cup.  They are solid defensively, have a long unbeaten streak and the only question mark is the potential absence of Yann M’Vila.

Pre-match prediction: France 1 England 1

I wonder if England can score in this match.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the only way they get one is on a dead ball.  Ashely Young delivers great corners and free kicks.  Terry or Lescott to score for England and Benzema to get one for France.  A draw would be a great result for England who can get through as long as they don’t lose this match.

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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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Barca v Arsenal – CL 2nd Leg

Barca wins.  That’s the easy part.  Except, I have a feeling this is not a foregone conclusion.  Here’s why its obvious:

1.  Arsenal’s personnel issues: No Cesc or Arshavin to attack and no Song or Gallas to defend.  That leaves Campbell at the center of defense playing his second game in three days.

2. Barca is playing at the Nou Camp

3. Barca has better depth to deal with its missing personnel:  Assume Messi starts.  Barca then has to pick two from Henry, Krkic, Iniesta (if he’s fit) and Pedro.  No problems really there.  Yes, Pique and Puyol are missing.  But they beat United with Puyol at right back and Yaya in the center with Pique and Sylvinho playing left back!  So,in the center and Abidal or Maxwell at left back.  You could also move Abidal to the middle and use Maxwell at left.  Shouldn’t be an issue.  Then you can play Sergio, Keita and maybe even Rafa Marquez as the defensive midfielders around Xavi.

That said, Arsenal have nothing to lose, are used to playing on a big field and have skillful players to make it happen.  The key is to keep it close.  If they can get to the half only 2-1 down, they have a great shot.  Rosicky, Denilson, Eboue, Walcott, Nasri behind Bendtner is pretty decent.  Eduardo off the bench if they need another goal late.  They have a shot.  However, lots have to go their way.  Absolutely can happen.  If Messi is kept quiet again, Barca will lose – you heard that here.

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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

Man Utd v Arsenal: Champions League Semifinal 2nd Leg – Pregame

I have a hard time believing Man United doesn’t go through.  It absolutely can happen, but hard to see.  It’s not that the Gunners can’t score a couple of goals nor that they can’t win.  They have done that this season.  However, no way does that defense keep Man United from scoring at least one goal.  It’s been a long time since Arsenal has kept United off the scoreboard.  And it’s hard to see it starting tomorrow.

So if United score one, Arsenal need three scores to win.  Hard to see that.  The only shot Arsenal has is if they score first and score the first one early.   The longer it goes, the more they will come forward and the easier it will be for them to be caught by United on the break.

Issues for United: Rooney played 90 minutes on Saturday and is on a yellow.  Will he melt down late in the game or if he gets a yellow which means he knows he will be out of the final.  I feel as if Sir Alex purposely played him 90 minutes on Saturday as he is not going to allow Rooney to play the full 90 on Tuesday in order to save him for the final assuming that United is up going into the last 25 minutes.  The other issue is that Evra may have an ankle knock and is also on a yellow.  I have to think that Walcott is going to get one of them on a yellow during the game.  Which means – Rooney needs to play in the middle and Park plays on the left with Berbatov and Tevez potentially on the bench.   Tough to see that happening but you never know.

Issues for Arsenal:  They are screwed if Silvestre is fit enought to play and screwed if he is unfit to play.  If they play to win from the start, they will play Robin Van Persie up front with Adebayor along with Fabregas, Walcott and Nasri in midfield.  Which means only one holding midfielder.  Bad news against the  United break.  If they play it conservative like the first leg, they will not be able to deal with the United midfield and defense.

Prediction: Man United 2 Arsenal 2

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Filed under arsenal, champions league, manchester united, Predictions on winner, Semi Finals, SOCCER