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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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Euro 2012 Match 12: Netherlands vs Germany pre-game predictions

This is the match up of round 2 and the second most anticipated match outside of Germany vs Spain.  If Germany wins, they qualify for the next round.  Lose and the Netherlands is out of the tournament.  If Denmark wins, Holland will know that only a win will keep them in the tournament.  So, playing second should help them determine how aggressively they will need to play in this match.  It should be fascinating as Robben plays against the defense he practices against every day – Lahm, Badstuber, Boateng and goalie Neuer are all part of the Bayern Munich defense.

Why Netherlands will win

  1. Sneijder was in great form in the first match.  He helped create a lot of chances for the Netherlands and they can expect that their finishing will be sharper today.
  2. Hummels was a rock in defense for Germany.  However, the German defense did give up a number of chances – especially late on – to Portugal, and were lucky not to be scored against.  If the German defense performs similarly today against the Dutch, they will be punished.
  3. Huntelaar was the top scorer in the Bundesliga this past season.  Expect him to come off the bench early if van Persie isn’t firing.  A ready made striking solution off the bench is a necessity and in the Hunter, the Netherlands has one of the best.
  4. They are very familiar with the Germans.  Just like Germany is due a win against Spain, the Netherlands is due a win against Germany
  5. Mathijsen is expected to return to central defense to bolster a shaky central defense for the Netherlands.

Why Germany will win

  1. They know the Dutch players very well.  Robben, van Bommel, de Jong, Huntelaar – all of them have played or are playing in the Bundesliga.
  2. Germany beat Portugal while playing a sub par game relative to their own standards.  Quick ball movement and team speed, which are hallmarks of this German team, were absent.  Low will fix that and I expect Podolski, Ozil and especially Schweinsteiger to have much better games.
  3. A win puts them into the next round.  Germany will look for that here to stay on course for winning Euro 2012.
  4. The Netherlands will be a lot more attacking than Portugal.  That should open up more space for Muller, Ozil and Podolski to operate.  In a battle of two offenses, I would go with the Germans who have more offensive depth in midfield that the Dutch since van Bommel and de Jong are more defensive minded.

Pre-game prediction: Netherlands 1 Germany 2

Podolski and Muller score for Germany and van Persie scores one for Netherlands.

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Euro 2012 Match 11: Denmark vs Portugal

Both teams will feel like they have to win.  Denmark doesn’t want to have to go into the last game against Germany on four points – defeat to Germany and a win by Portugal against Netherlands could put Denmark potentially out on goal difference.  Portugal has got to want to go into the last game knowing that a draw would put them through instead of having to win.  A loss will probably end Portugal’s tournament.

Why Denmark will win

  1. They’ve beaten Portugal in qualifying after having finished ahead of Portugal and qualified directly from their group.  They were also in the same group during World Cup 2010 qualifying – their record over these last four matches is 2-1-1.  Denmark know they can win.
  2. In Silberbauer they have someone capable of competing defensively with Cristiano Ronaldo.  He did so adequately in the group stage and will have help from Agger, Kjaer and the midfield so he’s not on an island against the best winger in the world.  It will be interesting to see if Silberbauer or Poulsen start at left back.  They may deal with Nani instead as Ronaldo usually plays on the left with Nani on the right.
  3. Denmark beat a loaded Dutch team in the first group match and controlled the second half of the game.
  4. Agger and Kjaer have looked good in the central defense.  That gives them enough confidence to deal with Portugal and their still unsolved striker position.

Why Portugal will win

  1. Denmark did give up a number of chances to Robben and van Persie.  While Robben is one of the best right wingers in the world, so is Nani.  The difference is you also have Ronaldo to deal with on the weak side when Nani has the ball – will Jacobsen at right back be able to handle Ronaldo?  Nani has scored three times against Denmark so the wing position is going to give Denmark trouble.
  2. They have to in order to have a chance at qualifying.
  3. Pepe and Bruno Alves did stifle Gomez for the most part and Bendtner shouldn’t be any different.  While Eriksen should have more space and time in the middle of the park, he will find it hard to work his magic against the work rate of Meireles and Veloso.  Chances will be few for Denmark.
  4. Ronaldo had a decent game against Germany.  However, he didn’t receive the support required to open up more space for him to operate as Portugal played defensively against Germany.  That will change against Denmark – expect Ronaldo to be unleashed and move to the middle a lot more.  He should have switched flanks with Nani in the last game and gone against the much shorter Lahm.  I believe they will be more flexible on the wings this time.

Pre-game prediction: Portugal 1 Denmark 0

Nani scores one for Portugal in a tense but offensive minded match.
  

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Netherlands vs Denmark: post-game comments

You can’t really call it an upset when the #10 team in the world beats somebody, but this was a surprise result.  The Dutch did outshoot the Danes, Robben did hit a post and Huntelaar was denied what should have been a penalty for a Danish handball late in the game, but the Dutch didn’t really play like potential champions.  Sneijder did his part (his outside of the right foot 40 yard pass to hit Huntelaar in stride in the penalty box was sheer class), but van Persie and Robben were off color and the coach should have brought van der Vaart and Huntelaar on earlier.  Nonetheless, it was a great win for Denmark and Kjaer, Poulsen and Agger did very well.

This result means that, assuming Germany performs as expected, the second team to go through in this group will be determined by how many points each of them can win off of Germany.  Head to head performances are the first tie breaker prior to checking on goal difference.  So, if we assume Germany beats Portugal next, Portugal beats Denmark in the second round and Netherlands beats Portugal in the last match – those are a lot of assumptions – all the teams will have a chance to go through if they can get at least 1 point off of Germany.  This group is thoroughly in flux and could be even more so if Portugal beats Germany shortly.

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Euro 2012 Match 3: Netherlands vs Denmark pre-game predictions

The Group of Death is going to have step up to match the Greece vs Poland tournament opener that provided more drama than most Champions League second legs with two red cards, a penalty saved by the substitute goalkeeper and a disallowed goals.  Everyone is eagerly awaiting Match 4 between Germany and Portugal; however, the prior game between Netherlands and Denmark will probably have more bearing on the outcome of the group as the loser is going to face an incredibly difficult time qualifying for the next stage given that the loser will have to probably beat both Germany and Portugal to move on.

Why Denmark will win

  1. This is a cohesive team that isn’t under pressure as the expectations are not high for the lowest ranked team in the group.  However, Denmark is ranked #10 in the FIFA World Rankings and so has quality in the side to beat any side on any given day – as evidenced by the fact that they finished above Portugal in qualifying.
  2. Denmark has highly skilled players at the key positions:  Nicklas Bendtner is a tall striker who is good in the air and supremely confident in his own abilities; Christian Eriksen is a brilliant creative midfielder and the favorite to win the Young Player of Euro 2012 award after having debuted as the youngest player in World Cup 2010; Daniel Agger is an experienced central defender with a wicked left foot.
  3. The Netherlands’ Mathijsen is out with a hamstring injury and left back is a potential problem with 18 year old Jetro Willems slated to start.
  4. Netherlands might be a bit distracted by the furor surrounding the racist treatment of some of their players earlier this week during practice.

Why Netherlands will win

  1. Wesley Sneijder, Robben and Robin van Persie are in good form.  If any of the three have an off day, they can be replaced by van der Vaart, Afellay, Kuyt and Huntelaar.  That level of skilled offensive depth is unique.
  2. Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong are tough and positionally sound holding midfielders who can protect some of the defensive frailties of the Dutch back line.  They will corral young Eriksen and cut off Bendtner’s supply.
  3. This is an experienced team that reached the quarterfinals of Euro 2008 and almost won World Cup 2010.

Pre-match prediction: Netherlands 2 Denmark 1

The Dutch offense will be too much for Agger, Kjaer and Stephan Andersen (Thomas Sorenson’s replacement in goal).  Alternately, while veteran Dennis Rommedahl is still fast, Denmark is collectively not quick enough to take advantage of the Dutch lack of speed in the middle of the park.  Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder to score for the Netherlands and Rommedahl to pull one back for the Netherlands.

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World Cup 2010: Pre-Cup prediction on who will win

No time to really sort this out.  There are less than 8 hours to go to kickoff.  And the crystal ball is looking murky.  So, lets do the whys and why nots for the favorites IMO.  I will update this after the first round, but let me not shy away from it right now.

Brazil:  They win because they are solid in the defensive half of the field and have depth.  Julio Cesar, 2 great right backs (they should play Dani Alves at left back just to get him on the field as he will be behind Maicon at right back),  Lucio, Juan and Luisao to play the middle, Melo at holding and Kaka, Robinho and Fabiano up front.  Also, they are the only ones who have won outside of their continent (apart from Argentina in Mexico which sort of doesn’t count as a really different continent) – in fact, they have won in North America (1994), Europe (1958) and Asia (2002).  Seems to make sense that they should win in Africa.  They won’t win because there is magic missing up front.  Efficiency is great, but you need some magic.  Kaka has not been fit all season.  Hard to get there at the World Cup.  Plus, its a hard road through Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea to start the tournament.  They should win the group but that’s a work out unlike for Spain and England.

Spain:  They win because they have the most talented passers and total football team.  Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Xabi – what a foursome of passers in midfield.  Then you have Silva, Pedro and Jesus Navas (the biggest key for Spain after Torres IMO because the Achilles heel for Spain is a lack of real speed) on the wings (though Iniesta could play down the left as well).  Finally, Iker in goal and Torres and Villa up front.  That’s a squad.  Why they don’t win – I don’t think their defense is good enough.  I know I identified it as an issue in the Euros and they made me eat my words (though I did pick them to win pre tournament), but I just don’t get comfort in Capdevilla at left back and Ramos goes AWOL every so often at right back.  Also, Cesc, Iniesta and Torres are coming off injuries that caused them to miss the end of the season and Xavi is carrying a calf injury according to Pep Guardiola.  Also, the USA showed how you beat Spain.  Send them to the wings and overpower the strikers when they are forced to cross the ball – press Xavi at the same time.  Navas’ speed on the wing helps and Torres seems to be coming along.  They also have a relatively easy group to work Cesc, Torres and Iniesta back into playing shape before the knockout round.  However, I am still uneasy.  A big miss is going to be Marcos Senna at holding mid.  So, I want to say Spain but I just hesitate.

Argentina:  They win because they probably have one of the best forward pools in the history of the World Cup.  Messi and Higuain led La Liga in scoring, Tevez was near the top in the EPL as was Milito.  And then there is Aguero and Di Maria.  Did I mention Messi?!  Decent first round group to warm up with.  Mascherano at holding is solid.  And I’ve always liked Veron’s touch though he is a bit slow.  Wish Diego had brought Zanetti and Cambiasso.  That’s a big mistake.  They don’t win because their defense is too slow and old.  Heinze, DiMichelis and Samuel are just not up to snuff.  And Brazil and Inter showed you how to stop Messi.  And then you have the craziness of Maradona.

Holland: The win because Robben and Sneijder are two of the five most in form players in the world (I’d put Messi, Ronaldo and Milito in that bracket as well) at the end of the club season.  Then there’s Robin van Persie who is fresh after missing most of the season.  Rafael vdv is in decent form as well.  Kuyt provides work rate and balance up front.  They don’t win because their defense and keeping is not up to snuff.  And they tend to run out of steam as tournaments progress.

England: They win because they are the second best team from top to bottom in terms of depth (after Brazil).  They have Rooney and great veterans in the spine of the team – James, Terry (too bad Rio’s out, but King and Upson are good), Gerrard, Lampard.  They have speed on the wings (Fabio should have included Walcott instead of SWP).  Great coach.  They haven’t lost a World Cup game in a while if you exclude penalty kick knockouts.  They don’t win because too much depends on Rooney, Glen Johnson is a terrible defensive right back and the holding midfielder position isn’t settled.  Also, the weight of expectations will become very heavy the further we get in the tournament.

These are the only real favorites in my opinion.  A dark horse is Portugal, but with Nani out, their chances dropped significantly.  Never count out Germany (but Ballack is a big miss and they seem a big young) or Italy (this is one of the worst teams they have fielded though) or one of the African countries.  I would have put Ivory Coast as the top African team, but even if Drogba plays (as it seems to indicate in the latest news), its hard to have a brand new coach and expect to win the World Cup.

Two big factors and then I’ll make my pre Cup prediction.

The ball: with the movement in the ball, free kicks and corners are going to be very important.  That makes Ronaldo, Dani Alves, Sneijder, Lampard and Xavi very dangerous.  It could be the difference between winning and losing the Cup.

History: No European team has won the World Cup outside of Europe.  Argentina and Brazil have won outside of their  continent.  Yes, it is winter in South Africa so the heat is not going to be as big a factor as it has been for tournaments outside of Europe in the past.

My pick: Brazil if they win their group.  Holland if Brazil doesn’t win their group.

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Chelsea vs Barcelona: Semi final 2nd Leg Pre game prediction

I know what Barca did to Real Madrid on the weekend.  I know Messi is supposed to be the player of this generation.  I know Iniesta and Xavi are incredibly talented midfielders and Eto’o is one of the best strikers in the world.  But the only things that are matter are these:

Barca has the away goals shut out of Chelsea in its favor.  If Barca scores at least one goal, Chelsea needs to win the game.

Messi is going to be determined to show he is the best in the world after the performance Ronaldo put on today.

The game is being played at Stamford Bridge where the pitch feels smaller than the Nou Camp which means less room for Messi and company to play their football.

No Marquez and no Puyol in the middle.  That means Pique, who for all his game is a relative rookie, and Caceres in the middle with the mercurial Valdes behind them.

Eric Abidal got skinned by first Robben and then Ramos for the first goal.  Hiddink, if I were you, I’d start Kalou on the right.  Dani Alves on the right is at best an average defender.

Henry might not play due to a knee injury.

Hiddink is a scarily successful coach no matter the squad he has – and he has a tough, experienced, motivated squad playing at home.

Based on these factors, while I still think its going to be tight, I think Chelsea goes through.

Guus, this is what you need to do to win.  As I said in the prior post, (1) water the pitch well to slow Messi down.  (2) Start Kalou on the right and Malouda on the left.  Lampard in the middle.  Drogba up front.  Essien and Mikel holding midfielders.  If you go one down, then bring on Anelka up front in the second half for Mikel.  For now, Ballack needs to start on the bench.  (3) Make sure Cole doesn’t give Messi the sideline – funnel him inside and then have Essien pick him up.  Not Mikel who gives away too many fouls on the edge of the box.  If Messi tries to go to the middle as he did against Real Madrid, even better for you.  That’s when you have Essien man mark him with Mikel sitting in a holding position behind him.  (4) If Henry doesn’t start, I believe Keita or Busquets will play in holding midfield along with Yaya Toure to help out the two kids at the center of defense.  Resist the temptation to play Ballack even with the reduced Barca team speed if Henry is out.  Yes, he may be good for headers off set pieces, but that’s a luxury you can’t afford in this game.  (5) Make sure Chelsea pumps more diagonal balls into the box.  See how Barca was all at sea during the Real game with crossed balls – they scored both goals on balls like that.  Cech was wasteful with his long clearances straight to Valdes.  (6) Keep possession better than you did at Barca.  Don’t be so nervous.  Barca isn’t that strong at pressing.  You play in the EPL.  You can hang with Liverpool and Man U.  Why be so concerned about Barca’s pressure up the pitch.  Pass your way out.  You always have Drogba to hold the ball up.

Pep, this is what you need to do.  (1) If Henry is out, then play Iniesta down the left and start Keita and Yaya at holding mid behind Xavi, Eto’o and Messi.  Hold Chelsea first, give cover and confidence to Pique and Caceres and wait for Messi to deliver.  If it’s tough going, then bring on Bojan for Keita and push Eto’o wide.  (2) Score a goal.  In fact, score two.  Because I think that’s what you are going to need to win with the defense you have for this game. (3) Shave and get a decent tie.  (4) Start Messi going up the middle to confuse the crap out of Chelsea’s backline and then move him back to the right.

Prediction:  Chelsea 2 Barcelona 1

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