Monthly Archives: June 2012

Chasing History

Spain advanced to the final of Euro 2012 in less than convincing fashion, but, in the end, it only showcased another weapon in their impressive arsenal.With Iker Casillas in goal, and Barca and Madrid players used to high-pressure scenarios taking the penalty kicks, Spain will be the favorite in most penalty shoot-outs for a long time to come. How do you beat them?

The main goal of Spain’s tiki-taka is increasingly becoming a negative one— if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score; if you can’t score, you can’t beat us— eliminating upsets like Switzerland’s at the 2010 World Cup, but the possibility of keeping a clean sheet against Germany is a slim one.

Spain have been down this road before. It took a shoot-out, and a Fabregas winner, to advance to the semifinals of Euro 2008— and with Buffon in the opposite goal, no less—while their 2010 World Cup win was notable for a string of 1-0 wins.

The frustrating thing about yesterday’s game is that, had Portugal scored in the first eighty minutes, Spain would almost certainly have gotten a goal. Instead, both teams were happy with a penalty shoot-out.

Portugal’ s effort has to be commended, as they were able to limit Spain to 64% possession and “only” 84% completion percentage, while making the midfield zone very competitive. They failed to put even one shot on target, but if they did it would probably have been a goal, due to their tactics in this match. Portugal’s counter-attacks were unusually sloppy, and Spain had to make several professional fouls.

It should be noted that Portugal had two extra days of rest. Had the situations been reversed, Spain would probably have won in normal time.

Spain is accustomed to playing extremely tired opponents in the last twenty minutes; indeed, their strategy almost depends on it.

Remarkably, Portugal did look the more tired team in extra-time, but only because Del Bosque had  cunningly instructed his team not to press at the beginning of the game, which would probably account for Portugal’s good play. Paulo Bento, meanwhile, decided to employ very open tactics, surprising considering his negative ones against Germany, and Portugal pressed heavily, forcing the Spanish defense into several mistakes. By extra-time, though, the roles had been completely reversed.

Spain’s vaunted midfield was not able to handle the press particularly well. It is hard to remember a game in which Barcelona and/or Spain were given so little space, and, with only Negredo up top, Xavi and Iniesta were not nearly as good as usual.

Incidentally, Spain also won Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 despite getting considerably less rest than their knockout opponents.

0-0 after 120 minutes was fair, and with Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, and Iker Casillas on their team, Spain were clearly the favorites for the penalty shoot-out, even with Xavi substituted off.

Del Bosque’s decisions have at times seemed baffling, but, whatever the personnel, all of Spain’s games have been similar— out-played for large portions of the first half, but relatively eventless until Spain inevitably finds the breakthrough. In Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012 combined, Spain have scored 9 first-half goals, 18 second-half goals, and 1 extra-time goal. The point is, though, that, assuming the same midfield base, Spain’s games will likely end the same way whether Jesus Navas or David Silva plays, whether Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres plays. Either player will pass the ball around for 70 minutes, then get out of the way of the midfield.

The quest for the treble continues. Never before has a side won three major international tournaments in a row.

Germany-Italy

Meanwhile, we are only ninety minutes away from a truly amazing spectacle, possibly the greatest international ever, the Euro 2008 final 2.0, only with both teams much improved. In the mean-time, Germany-Italy should be a very good game as well, with more goals in the works than yesterday’s affair had.

In the end, Germany should dispose of Italy rather more easily than Spain did of Portugal, but the game offers a very interesting tactical clash.

Both teams play through one player— here Spain are unique again— and stopping this player will be key to the teams tactical game-plans. For Germany, that player is Mesut Ozil.

The problem for Italy is, the way the formations are set up, Pirlo will be on Ozil. That’s fine when Italy attacks, but it isn’t going to scare the German midfielder when he has the ball. If De Rossi, a natural defensive midfielder, moves into the center, Ozil will have a much tougher time getting space, but Italy’s main play-maker will be forced wide.

Because Ozil naturally drifts right, expect De Rossi to start very narrow on the left, but tracking Ozil whenever Germany has the ball.

Unlike Ozil, Pirlo is a deep-lying play-maker, and, if Germany spend most of the game attacking (Italy’s coach suggested they wouldn’t), could have a much more effective performance than he did against England, where he dominated statistically, but could not penetrate the Three Lions’ deep defense. Pirlo is a master at picking out weaknesses in a defense, which in this case means that Holger Badstuber will have a long night. The player Badstuber is marking is Balotelli, who is also Italy’s better forward in terms of creating space.

Prandelli could completely change the story by unexpectedly switching back to the 3-5-2.

Elsewhere, there are the usual questions: Italy’s lack of width could finally be exploited, while Low has three momentous selection decisions. Reus and Podolski have been better than Muller and Schurlle, respectively, and should be the starting wide men, while the Klose-Gomez decision will likely come down to whether the manager prefers an intelligent (Klose) or physical (Gomez) forward. Look for Klose to start, with Gomez coming on if the offense is not clicking.

Both teams are strongest in midfield, and the formation choices make this a particularly interesting battle, as a central-midfield heavy formation (Italy; 4-1-2-1-2) takes on a team that likes to spread the ball wide.

Because of how (not) clinical their forwards have been, the Italians may have to dominate the rest of the field to win— entirely possible, given they way they have played so far.

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Group C Review: Why Ireland went out, The fascinating three-way race for advancement

THOUGHTS ABOUT EVERY GROUP C TEAM

Ireland: When a team has less talent than its opponent, and naturally uses less possession, relying only on defensive shape, it must react to its opponents game-plans, rather than try to force through a rigid, inflexible one of its own. Ireland failed to do that at this tournament, the main reason for its unceremonious exit, scoring one and allowing nine.

It is hard to teach a team a new formation, especially when that team needs to be extremely solid at it, but they didn’t play the 4-4-1-1 particularly well either. Ireland were never likely to get far in the tournament, and Trappatoni can take it as a lesson, as Ireland progress as a footballing nation. He has already pledged to add a new formation to the team’s repertoire during World Cup qualifiers.

There is some truth to the theory that, if Ireland had gotten a different group, they would have done much better, but that is understating how terrible they were at this tournament. Certainly, the possession-focused, midfield-heavy styles of Croatia, Italy, and Spain were part of the reason Ireland succumbed so easily, but this was the same draw that Irish fans were so excitedly touting two weeks ago— they were naturally suited to the style every team uses against Spain, Trappatoni always beat Italy, and Croatia was their easiest game.

Every team used very similar formations against the Irish—- Italy and Croatia used four central midfielders and two strikers, Spain five central midfielders and one striker, and everybody pushed their full-backs very high up the pitch.

Most importantly, however, none of the teams Ireland faced used a flat midfield, while the Irish themselves stuck to the 4-4-1-1 through-out the tournament.

Take the Croatia game. Vukojevic and Modric tended to play in the space between Ireland’s midfield and forward lines, with Rakitic and Perisic between Ireland’s two banks of four. Even if Ireland covered all four— and two of Ireland’s midfielders were naturally wingers, not meant for covering central midfielders, Croatia simply pushed their full-backs up. Ireland’s full-backs failed to step forward, and Croatia won the flanks, while keeping two forwards on Ireland’s two center-backs.

Spain was actually the best match for Ireland’s formation. If Simon Cox dropped back into midfield, Ireland could have a five-on-five in that soon, and a spare man at the back. Once again, Ireland’s opponents pushed their full-backs far up the pitch, and once again, O’Shea and Ward refused to mark them.

Cesare Prandelli, despite using a 3-5-2 for the first two games, decided to switch to a midfield diamond for Italy’s last group game, relying on the full-backs to provide width, just as Croatia did. Italy never got out of first gear, and still won comfortably.

Defensive mistakes were also a feature of Ireland’s games, and, for a team that relies almost solely on tactical discipline, that was a killer. They also allowed three goals for set pieces, including two in the game against Croatia that effectively eliminated them, which was supposed to be one of their biggest strengths.

Ireland had by far the least talent of any of the teams at the Euro, but Trappatoni, frustratingly— he was quite a tinkerer when in charge of Italy—did little to help their chances of progression.

Croatia: A very interesting lesson in how minor tactical changes can make a huge difference. Ever-bold Slaven Bilic used a 4-1-3-2 in his opening match, slicing Ireland to pieces, a game which both teams badly needed to win. Such an attacking formation would obviously not work against a team which was more of a threat going forward, and Bilic switched to a formation which could broadly be described as 4-4-2. Italy dominated, but were not clinical, leaving Croatia only one goal down at half-time. Making Modric the central playmaker again, this time in a 4-2-3-1, changed everything. Bilic didn’t even have to make a substitution. Italy, just like in the first game, tired in the second half, and Croatia deservedly picked up a point to keep its hopes alive.

Going into the Spain game, Croatia knew they had to score if Italy won against the Republic of Ireland, still humiliated from the 4-0 loss to Spain. Italy, predictably, did just that, but Croatia were unable to find the back of the net, playing a 4-2-3-1, but making several changes to the starting lineup.

Spain were again un-enterprising, while Croatia made the most of their 28.1% possession. They ended their tournament having created the best legal scoring chance of the game— Navas’ goal should have been called offside—and earning two legitimate penalty claims, neither of which was given.

This team showed the could play with Spain and Italy, and only played one bad half the entire tournament; too bad they couldn’t advance.

Italy: They dominated large portions of the games against Spain and Croatia, scoring first, but eventually tiring. 1-1 draws against teams of semi-final caliber are not bad results, and the team showed they have a great defense and a brilliant tacticians, although Cesare Prandelli does seem to be too slow to make substitutions, too reliant on only a select few players, which explains the tiring at the end of the game. If Italy had been more clinical in either game, they would have won easily, and that is another problem heading into the knock-out rounds, but the forward line did everything else well. The Ireland game was Italy’s worst game, as if the team really believed Spain and Croatia would fix the other game. The Spain-Croatia game almost ended 1-1, the only situation which would have come to goal difference, and Italy made a late surge but couldn’t score the third goal they needed.

In the end, Spain won, and Italy advanced. They will be happy to face England, and have a very good chance of winning the trophy.

Spain: In a tournament characterized by a level playing field— as well as attacking football— and with no team having clinched advancement after two matches, Spain provide a very good example. They have been called unimpressive, people say they were lucky not to lose to Italy and Croatia, they are supposedly not even close to top form. All of those are partially correct, but in the end, as expected, they won their group, picking up seven points, worse only than Germany.

Tiki-taka is being criticized like never before, but it is too late to change styles now. In any case, most of their possession does have a purpose, albeit for a defensive one. If the other team doesn’t have the ball, they can’t score, and Spain’s creativity usually creates a goal at the other end. Apart from the Ireland game, Spain has only scored twice in two games, allowing only one.

Being outplayed in the first half, and coming back strongly in the second is not a coincidence either. It is hard to beat teams only with possession at first, but when they tire, Spain will dominated. All but one of their goals have come in the second half.

Playing for a 1-0 win can lead to an upset, but, in all likelihood, the final will be the expected mouthwatering clash with Germany, another team that has gone for effectiveness, rather than dominance, with off-the-ball movement just as impressive, and overlooked, as Spain’s possession.



Five Transfer Targets Who Could Improve Chelsea

Yann M’Vila: Chelsea’s biggest position of need is arguably defensive midfielder, and M’Vila, at 21, is already one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, or, more accurately, deep-lying playmakers. M’Vila lead France in successful passes, interceptions, and tackles in qualifying, and has completed the most passes in Ligue 1 the past two seasons. Current Rennes manager Frederic Antonetti wasn’t exaggerating by much when he claimed that M’Vila “reads the game like Makelele, has the presence of Viera and can pass the ball like Yaya Toure.”

M’Vila is also very athletic and incredibly disciplined. With a little bit more consistency, and that will come with time, in the right club, he will play like a better version of Xabi Alonso.

Hulk: This signing looked wrapped up weeks ago, but Porto were reluctant to sell, and several other teams jumped into the mix.

Hulk is Chelsea’s main transfer target right now, and for good reason— he is extremely fast and physical, can score or assist from anywhere on the pitch, and could adapt well to the Premier League—but, with many other options out there, Chelsea must be wary of paying an over-inflated transfer fee.

Alan Dzagoev

The best alternative to Hulk is undoubtedly Alan Dzagoev, also a right winger. While buying a player right after a breakout tournament is normally not a good idea, Dzagoev has stated that he is a fan of Chelsea, and Abramovich has connections with CSKA, so Chelsea might be able to snag Dzagoev before the bidding rose too high. Besides, Chelsea have the money, and Dzagoev’s performance has been coming for a time.

Russia were eliminated in the group stage, which could also lower prices, but Dzagoev was truly extraordinary. He scored three of Russia’s five goals on only 11 shots, and was their past offensive player in the lackluster game against Greece, creating seven chances, and putting two dangerous headers narrowly off target. Even more impressively, despite being a winger-forward, he lead the team in tackling, and was successful in all twelve of his tackles this tournament.

Overall, Dzagoev is younger and less expensive than Hulk, and has at least as much potential, but is far less likely to successfully adapt to the EPL.

Mathieu Debuchy: In the crisis position of right-back, Van der Weil has been the name linked most often to Chelsea, but, like many others, they seem to have been left disgusted by his performances this tournament, and have been linked with a much solider player, Mathieu Debuchy, who will only cost 6 million pounds.

If true, it will be the deal of the summer, as Debuchy is a player who has Champions League experience, and is now starting for France at Euro 2012, but Debuchy may prefer to stay in Ligue One. More on Debuchy here.

Jakub Blaszczykowski: The Pole is not one of my favorite players, as I believe he isn’t good enough defensively to make up for his brilliant attacking play. However, he has been great this season for Dortmund, and could well be worth taking a risk on, as Dortmund have been known to let players go for relatively cheap prices, and Blaszczykowski, or Kuba, is not likely to start for them next season.

If Abramovich wants to add another winger, and it seems that he does, Willian and Ben Arfa are also options.

Others: Marouane Fellaini and Joao Moutinho are two of the world’s most underrated players; they could fit into the “2” in the 4-2-3-1, possibly as a long-term replacement for Lampard. Both players won’t come to Chelsea, but one is a must, even with M’Vila, to build squad depth.

The team could also use another forward, especially if Torres leaves. The latest club linked to the Spaniard are Juventus, but a trade with Atletico Madrid for Falcao might be a better option.

If the Blues doesn’t need a world-class striker (if Torres doesn’t leave), they could still use a back-up here. Using Hulk as forward was likely the original plan, but, if he doesn’t arrive, there are a lack of realistic targets that have been linked to Chelsea. Newcastle’s Demba Ba, who came out of nowhere to have a great 2011-12 season, is the probable signing, but he might regress again.

Worryingly, but predictably, there have been very few rumors about potential defensive targets. The defense is very thin, and, instead of making a panic buy in the January transfer window, they should adress this issue now. At the very least, a right-back, preferably Debuchy, is needed.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

We get Hulk, M’Vila, Fellaini, Debuchy, and a Center-back.

CLUB NEWS

-Chelsea got a very favorable 2012-13 schedule; they host both City and United right after European action.

-RDM was named manager earlier this week, but only for two years.

Euro 2012 Group D Scenarios With One Matchday To Go

France beats Sweden, England beats Ukraine: England and France advance, but in what order? If they win by the same amount, or France by more, France finishes first. If England wins by two more than France does, England is first. If England wins by one more, it comes to goals scored, in which England currently has a one-goal lead. If goals scored finishes the same, it comes down to UEFA Coefficient, on which England finishes first.

France beats Sweden, England draws with Ukraine: France finish first, England advance in second.

France beats Sweden, Ukraine beats England: France, Ukraine

France draws with Sweden, England beats Ukraine: England, France

France draws with Sweden, England draws with Ukraine: France, England

France draws with Sweden, Ukraine beats England: Ukraine, France

Sweden beats France, England beats Ukraine: England, France

Sweden beats France, England draws with Ukraine: England, France

Sweden beats France, Ukraine beats England, France loses by same amount or by less than England loses: Ukraine, France.

Sweden beats France, Ukraine beats England, France loses by two+ more than England: Ukraine, England.

Sweden beats France, Ukraine beats England, France loses by one more than England, England scores the same amount, one less, or more than France: Ukraine, England.

Sweden beats France, Ukraine beats England, France loses by one more than England, England scores at least two less than France: Ukraine, France.

 

ENGLAND:

Advances with win or tie.

Advances with loss if Sweden wins and they beat France on the tie-braker (they trail by one in the first tie-braker, goal difference, lead by one in the second, goals scored, and win the third, UEFA Coefficient)

FRANCE:

Advances unless they lose, Ukraine wins, and England finishes ahead of them on tie-brakers (see above). Because they have a better goal difference than England, a one-goal loss is enough to advance.

SWEDEN:

Eliminated.

UKRAINE:

Advance with win. Eliminated otherwise.

Updated Euro 2012 Group C Scenarios With One Matchday To Go

Italy beats Ireland, Spain beats Croatia: Spain finishes first, Italy second.

Italy beats Ireland, Spain draws 0-0 with Croatia: Italy, Spain

Italy beats Ireland by one, Spain draws 1-1 with Croatia: Spain, Croatia

Italy beats Ireland 2-0, Spain draw 1-1 with Croatia: Spain, Croatia

Italy beats Ireland by two (other than 2-0) or three, Spain draws 1-1 with Croatia: Spain, Italy

Italy beats Ireland 4-0, Spain draw 1-1 with Croatia: Spain, Italy

Italy beats Ireland by four (other than 4-0) or more, Spain draw 1-1 with Croatia: Italy, Spain

Italy beats Ireland, Spain draws with Croatia while scoring at least two: Spain, Croatia

Italy beats Ireland, Croatia beats Spain: Croatia, Italy

Italy draws with Ireland, Spain beats Croatia: Spain, Croatia

Italy draws with Ireland, Spain draws with Croatia: Spain, Croatia

Italy draws with Ireland, Croatia beats Spain: Croatia, Spain

Ireland beats Italy, Spain beats Croatia: Spain, Croatia

Ireland beats Italy, Spain draws with Croatia: Spain, Croatia

Ireland beats Italy, Croatia beats Spain: Croatia, Spain

SPAIN

Unless Spain loses, and Italy beats Ireland, Spain qualify

CROATIA

Qualifies if Italy does not beat Ireland

Qualifies with a win

Qualifies with a scoring draw, unless draw is 1-1, Italy wins by two or more, and not by the score of 2-0.

ITALY

Must win to qualify

If they win, advance with definite result or scoreless draw in Spain-Croatia.

Also advance with two goal win or more (but not 2-0) if Spain and Croatia draw 1-1.

IRELAND

Eliminated.

Euro 2012 Group B Scenarios For Advancement

Germany beats Denmark, Holland beats Portugal by one: Germany 1st, Portugal 2nd

Germany wins, Holland wins by two or more: Germany 1st, Holland 2nd

Germany wins, Draw: Germany, Portugal

Germany wins, Portugal wins: Germany, Portugal

Draw, Holland: Germany, Denmark

Draw, Draw: Germany, Portugal

Draw, Portugal: Germany, Portugal

Denmark, Holland: Denmark, Germany

Denmark, Draw: Denmark, Germany

Denmark 1-0 win, Portugal: Portugal, Denmark

Denmark wins by two or more or 2-1, Portugal: Denmark, Portugal

Denmark 1 goal win while scoring at least three, Portugal: Denmark, Germany

Germany

Advances with a win or draw. Advances with loss, unless Portugal wins. Loss by one goal while scoring at least two will be enough to advance, no matter the Portugal score.

Portugal

Advances with win, unless Denmark scores at least three and wins by one.

Advances with draw, unless Denmark wins.

Advances with one-goal loss if Germany wins.

Denmark

Advances with win, advances with draw if Holland wins.

Holland

Advances only with two goal win (or more) and Germany win

Updated Euro 2012 Group A Scenarios With One Matchday To Go

Russia defeats Greece, Poland defeats Czechs: Russia 1st, Poland 2nd

Russia wins, Draw: Russia, Czech Republic

Russia wins, Czechs win: Russia, Czech Republic

Draw, Poland wins: Russia and Poland tied for first; goal difference, goals scored, then Russia by UEFA Coefficient; loser of tie-braker second. Poland needs to win by four goals, or win by three and outscore Russia by four to finish first.

Draw, Draw: Russia, Czech Republic

Draw, Czechs win: Czech Republic, Russia

Greece, Poland: Poland, Greece

Greece by one, Draw:  Russia, Greece

Greece by 2-5, Draw: Greece, Russia

Greece by six or more, Draw: Greece, Czech Republic

Greece, Czechs: Czech Republic, Greece

Greece

Advance with win; otherwise eliminated

Poland

Advance with win; otherwise eliminated

Czech Republic

Advance with win; advance with draw unless Greece beats Russia by less than six goals.

Russia

Advance with win or draw

Advance with loss by less than six goals if CZE-POL tie.