EURO 2012 Group Summaries + Predictions

So begins the EURO! The World Cup is still the iconic sporting event that rallies countries together and leaves footy fans in awe when the miracles unfold in the knockout stages. Late injury time goals and last gasp saves are the things we cling to when watching two titans battle it out on the pitch… but all of these things are more frequent than just once every 4 years. The EURO provides a ton of action every 2 years in between World Cups, as well as the majority of the big soccer stars  on the planet; only Messi, Neymar, and a few others will be absent this June/July.

So what to expect in this years quest for the European Championship? a whole lotta goals, I think. Offense is up across the continent now, perhaps because of a good number of defensive injuries to some notable players. Spain and Germany’s defense has conceded an unusual number of goals in recent games. On the flip side, teams like France and Sweden seem to be finding their scoring touch. Let us go group by group and breakdown the teams who could be playing into the advanced stages of the competition

GROUP A:
I think we can all agree, this is the weakest group of the tournament. Poland’s automatic qualification as a Pot #1 team waters down the competition, but groups them with a team that scored one goal last Euro (Greece) and another who looks fondly back at their prime which is now passed (Czech Repub). That leaves Russia, one of the darlings of Euro 2008, but a recently troubled team who have seen some of their stars show their age and run into a string of poor performances. For Russia, they have really struggled against weaker opponents lately, and face teams like Poland who will look to showcase their scoring abilities in front of their home crowds.

Who will advance from the Group: Russia, Poland

Player to watch in Group A: Robert Lewandowski

GROUP B:
We all know by now that this is the Group of Death. Now that’s out of the way… who exactly looks best suited to top the toughest group in the EURO? From most accounts it’s either the Dutch or the Germans. Both teams have finished an agonizing second place to Spain in recent tournaments. The Dutch look to avenge the loss in extra time of the World Cup Final, and their team is still stacked, boasting a potent attack that scored 6 goals in a friendly on Saturday. The Germans are tournament favorites in their own right, with a confident side full of many players ready avenge a loss in last month’s Champions League final. Let’s not fail to mention the steady Danish side who causes issues with many favored sides they play. Finally, what to make of Portugal? The pressure lies squarely on Ronaldo’s shoulders as he captains a side that has underperformed in recent tournaments. The offense is there, but a suspect defense is their main issue with such strong offensive opponents in this group.

Who will advance from the Group: Netherlands, Germany

Player to watch in Group B: Christiano Ronaldo

GROUP C:
In what looks to be a two team group, all may not be what it seems. Italy is on the heels of a match fixing scandal, while thier form on the pitch has left much to be desired. Spain will likely run away with this group, but can we stop to remember that the only man seemingly able to score in South Africa was David Villa (injured for this year’s EURO)? Ireland has been playing solid football lately, and can probably secure advancement with a couple of steely performances and a stingy defense. Meanwhile, Croatia is no stranger to making surprising runs at major tournaments (WC 1998, Euro 2008) and can do so again this year if they capitilize on playing teams not clicking on all cyclinders at the moment

Who will advance from the Group: Spain, Ireland

Player to watch in Group C: Fernando Torres

GROUP D:
While the English team clearly gets the most press out of all the teams in Group D, they clearly have the odds stacked against them. While this isn’t the group of death, there is a shortage of easy fixtures across the board. France could prove to be a dark horse in this tournament, with Laurent Blanc whipping his team into shape as of late. The Swedes could contend as well, as a team that’s been together for a while, and has lots of weapons to choose from, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ukraine is pegged to finish last, but never count out a team playing on home soil. England’s mass of injuries doesn’t help much either. I’ll bet Wayne Rooney rues the day he got sent off, and thus suspended, for quite some time to come.

Who will advance from the Group: France, Sweden

Player to watch in Group D: Franck Ribery

So where does that leave us? See the mock up of the knockout stage below:

As you can See I like Netherlands over France in the final. Tough knocking out Germany in the semis, but there’s results like this in every tournament. Off to the games. ENJOY!

EURO 2012 Lineups – all 16 teams

I’ve taken the time to put together some projected line-ups for the 16 countries participating in the upcoming EURO 2012. Now just 1 day away, the buzz is reaching a fevered pitch, and people will soon sit down across the globe to catch some of the best football the world has to offer.

Quick note, these are not confirmed line-ups, just very likely formations and the players I expect to see on their teams’ starting XI this week. A few adjustments for injuries have already been made, but there are always some players that wont be able to shake off knocks this season. That being said this info is a compilation of each teams history based on recent trends and squads fielded. Enjoy!

GROUP A

POLAND

GREECE

RUSSIA

CZECH REPUBLIC

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

GROUP B

Netherlands

Denmark

Germany

Portugal

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

GROUP C

ITALY

SPAIN

IRELAND

CROATIA

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

GROUP D

ENGLAND

FRANCE

UKRAINE

SWEDEN

SO that’s that, feel free to go ahead an make your fantasy team lineups now. Lots of great players to choose from

Cheers!

England Looks Ahead to Euro 2012

Ok, so today felt like a slow football day. After watching the Cisse goals like 50 times each, I decided I needed something better to do, and work simply wasnt an option… so I decided to focus a little on the upcoming EURO, especially with Woy being appointed manager of England (more on that another time).

The obvious question for Roy Hodgson, as it was for Fabio Capello ahead of the World Cup 2 summers ago, WHO will be in the squad? …more importantly who should be on the pitch? After all, Joe Cole and Peter Crouch were in the squads last time but neither saw more than 20 minutes of action.

No-brainers:

Joe Hart will try and avoid emulating Robert Green’s performance from 2010

GK – Joe Hart- England’s best Keeper by far
CB – John Terry- may not wear the armband, but could be England’s key veteran depending on other lineup decisions
CDM – Scott Parker – without Wilshere, there’s nobody else for this job
ST – Wayne Rooney – has had a great 2012, will be bent on proving his worth after missing the first two games of the competition

Then I came across several really interesting battles at certain positions:

RB – Glen Johnson vs Micah Richards vs Kyle Walker… this might be the biggest competition on the team. Richards seems like the best actual defender out of the three

CB – Rio Ferdinand vs Ledley King… both of these guys should be taken out back with a shotgun Old Yeller-style. How about they bring up a guy like Joleon Lescott or Phil Jagielka to pair with Terry

LB– Ashley Cole vs Leighton Baines… not only do I think Baines deserves a shot, I think he’s a better offensive threat… plus, no more questions over who’s taking free kicks 12 yards outside the box

Could Cashley lose the spot he’s had a stranglehold on for so long?

CM – Frank Lampard vs Steven Gerrard… ahh the classic “do I hafta?” realistically neither of these guys, but if I have to choose one, it’s Gerrard, seems like he’s still got a goal or two left in him, while more prone to join in on the breakout too

LM – James Milner vs Ashley Young vs Stewart Downing… I have to go Young here mainly because he’s shown he can score goals at the international level this year. Milner rots on the bench most weeks at City, and Downings seen a lot of the pine as well

RM – Theo Walcott vs Aaron Lennon… these are like the same player, and put-together they’re still not as good as a Robben or Hazard. Roy should find a way to squeeze their youth out somehow and revive Stevie G’s legs

Then we come to the Forward position, the following guys are essentially competing for 2 spots in games 1&2, and then just one spot when Rooney’s suspension ends. Here’s the list which I’ve broken down into two sections

If you see this man, do NOT let him put on an England kit under any circumstances

Duds
Jermaine Defoe – I’m fine with him on the team… if he can grow like 6 inches by June
Emile Heskey – don’t even get me started, shouldn’t be allowed into Poland or the Ukraine this summer, even as a spectator
Darren Bent– this guy hasn’t played a competitive game since February… OUT
Danny Welbeck– just not proven, I know Michael Owen was a monster for England when he was given the chance at that age, but Welbeck is NOT the second coming of Michael Owen
Frazier Campbell– even less proven than Welbeck
Bobby Zamora– has like one or two good games a season, he’s old too.
Gabby Agbonlahor– the fact he’s even in this discussion is disturbing. How many crappy forward does Aston Villa employ?

Studs
Peter Crouch– boasts a great goalscoring record internationally, 22 goals in 42 Caps… also gives England height, which they seriously lack up front
Andy Carroll– that’s right you heard me, for the very reason I put Crouch in there too,  size!
Daniel Sturridge– would be a great pit bull to fill in #2 role for the games Rooney misses. Was a beast at the U-17 through U-21 Euros

Crouch was denied much of an opportunity to do the robot in South Africa

Overall, there are plenty of choices at multiple positions, and who even knows if there is a right combination that could achieve success at the upcoming EUROs. Should Hodgson rock the boat and field a much changed (and inexperienced) line-up when the Three Lions face off against France? What’s your take on England’s squad options for this upcoming summer?

Red Title Blow

It’s official. Nemanja Vidic will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured cruciate ligament. Sir Alex Ferguson and United officials confirmed during a press conference that the Serbian Centerback will not be available for the rest of their title chase this year.

So what’s the impact you ask? Huge is the first word that comes to mind. Ferguson will now have to rely on the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Johnny Evans… yes the same Johnny Evans that single-handedly cost United their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of League leaders Man City a few weeks back. Vidic is a towering presence at Old Trafford, and the likes of Rio Ferdinand, who himself could go down with injury at any moment, is United’s only experienced central defender remaining. The Reds will depend on his veteran leadership, and pray he too can stay of the medic’s table.

Fans praying for more Fergie magic

One quote that will surely give United fans an ulcer is that from Fergie this morning. “I thought Rio had his best game of season on Wednesday. His experience will be vital.” A defender, who surrendered two crucial goals in the team’s most important game of the year, had his best game of the season?!?! Certainly won’t help the fans sleep better at night.

To add injury to insult, United host a slew of other absentees at the other end of the pitch. Berbatov, Chicharito, and Michael Owen will all be unavailable for at least the next week, with the latter two missing upwards of a month. Throw in knocks to Tom Cleverly, Anderson, and both da Silva twins. The retirement of Paul Scholes seems to hurt more and more as the months play out.

Phil Jones will be crucial from here on out

The question will soon become. Will Fergie buy this January to offset some of his shortcomings? He has a history of defending his squad, no matter how young, but it’s starting to seem as though a few injuries can really hurt, especially when you’re 5 points off the title lead, and already out of the Champions League.

This has been one of the darkest weeks at Old Trafford in recent memory, perhaps all-time. United fans are begging for a spirited win against Wolves this weekend, and who could blame them. Carling Cup = gone (at home), Champions League = gone, Captain = gone too. Not looking very good in the red half of Manchester.

Time for Liverpool to Splash some Cash?

The news came down last week… Lucas Leiva will miss the remainder of the season, and it’s safe to assume that the Anfield faithful will certainly miss him, whether they realize it or not. In my mind, Lucas is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League. It wasn’t always the case, but the young Brazilian has really shown his worth over the past few seasons.
When Lucas started appearing in the Premier League for the Reds, I was quite skeptical. Who was this funny looking Brazililan who didnt seem to be much of an offensive threat, and who didnt even really look like a typical Brazilian? After a few seasons I got past the initial impression and realized his potential value to Liverpool. When skipper Steven Gerrard went down with prolonged injury spells starting in the 2009 season, Lucas stepped up big time, making 35 appearances and showing much improvement. Javier Mascherano left for Barcelona a few months later leaving then-manager Rafa Benitez with a huge hole in the center of midfield.

It was then that I realized how important a player like Lucas was at Anfield. Someone had to be there to thwart opposition if the likes of Torres, Suarez, and Gerrard ever wanted a chance at the offensive end of the pitch. You won’t find Lucas on the stat sheet very often, because most meaningful stats don’t showcase what he provides. After a bit of digging, I found that Lucas leads the league in tackles and tackle success percentage this season, and has been near the top in these categories for the past few years now. He also consistently ranks near the top of the PL in passes completed and pass %. Overall, it’s safe to say that he’s at the top of the League at his position.

So when the news came down that Liverpool would be without the effective midfielder for the next 6 months, I immediately looked at the Reds’ roster. Who would take Lucas’ place in the line-up? I came up with three options.

1– Liverpool have already announced that Jonjo Shelvey has been recalled from his loan at Blackpool. The teenager is quite unproven at the top level, and has large shoes to fill. However, he has scored 6 times in 10 appearances for the Tangerines this year.

2Charlie Adam gained notoriety at Blackpool for being a box to box midfielder. Since coming to Anfield he’s shown more of an offensive mindset, playing ahead of Lucas on most cases. He’ll need to drop back into the holding role now; can he be as effective?

3– Sign a new defensive midfielder as cover. This is surely a last choice move considering Liverpool seems content with their current squad. Nevertheless, the English media rumormill will certainly turn on in less than a month, so let’s just start it now.

All in all, this is a blow for Liverpool, and the situation is now up to Kenny Dalglish to make the proper adjustment. Liverpool is within striking distance of their coveted top 4 finish, and won’t be able to miss a beat if they intend to catch the growing number of teams ahead of them in the table. Liverpool still has much of the season ahead of them, but their first test will be tonight at Craven Cottage.

It’s a QB Injury Epidemic

As Jerry Seinfeld might say… what’s the deal with QB injuries? I mean really? broken thumb, cracked ribs, sprained toe… who ARE these people?! In all seriousness, the king of sitcom reruns has a point, what’s up with the casualty count in the NFL right now? Sure there have been years where a large number of players get injured, but typically they are at the skilled positions like RB, WR, CB, etc. When was the last time this many playcallers went down?

The number of players out right now is staggering (Manning, Henne, Vick, Cutler, Schaub, Collins, Campbell, Leinart, Cassel, and Kolb)… plus injuries to Bradford, Romo, Stafford, Vince Young, Hasslebeck, and Tarvaris Jackson, who have since recovered from their dings. Add 1 more if you count Roethlisberger‘s broken finger and questionable status going into Kansas City this past Sunday. Realistically that’s 15 teams who have had to wonder about the status of their QBs at some point 11 weeks into this season. That’s nearly half the teams in the NFL, and at least one player in 7 out of the 8 NFL divisions!

As predicted by many, Vick took a pounding and didn't hold up this season

This doesnt even count those players that have been benched due to poor performances… McNabb, Gabbert, Grossman, Beck, Freeman, Painter, and Orton. Adding it all up, we see that 59 different Quarterbacks have thrown a pass this year. That’s right FIFTY NINE! An average of nearly two QB’s per NFL team. Unfortunately the stat department at WhitSport isn’t nearly the size of that at ESPN, but going back over the past few seasons an interesting revelation was found… The 2010 NFL season featured 70 different QBs, while the 2009 season saw 68 different passers.

So why does the 2011 season seem so much more brutal in terms of playcallers going down? Simply put, it’s the magnitude of the QBs that are hurt. Six of the QBs that have been mentioned in the above paragraphs played in the post-season last year, and two were in MVP discussions. With guys like Manning, Schaub, Cutler, and Vick on the shelf, NFL fans have been exposed to the likes of Curtis Painter and John Kafka. Even Matt Leinart got in on the action. The other reason these injuries have garnered such attention is due to the playoff implications. The Texans will still likely run away with the AFC South division crown, but may have to rely on the arm of a rookie QB once they make their first ever post-season appearance. The same situation unfolds in Chicago, where the Bears were on a roll, up until Jay Cutler broke his thumb.

Tebow gets in on the action while a disappointing Orton looks on (before eventually being cut)

In the end, several conclusions can be drawn. The Quarterback position is one of the most vulnerable in all of sports; injuries are prevalent and being benched is never an unthinkable option. Though we didn’t delve this deep, it was fairly evident that teams which started more than 1 QB during a season have far less appearances in the playoffs. Overall, the QB position remains one of the most crucial spots in football in terms of solidarity and consistency. It also becomes fairly clear why Offensive Linemen are drafted in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Keeping a top-tier QB is essential to success, and an upright passer is a healthy passer. Overall, this season has surely seen its fair share of injuries to the NFL’s marquee players. Let’s hope the rest can remain healthy and set up another wild finish to an already-entertaining season.

Water Under the Bridge?

Tick… tick… tick… the clock is winding at Stamford Bridge…. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for giving his managers a very short leash. Iconic boss Carlo Ancelotti was sacked just one season after winning the Premier League and FA Cup, and other managers can attest to some short spells too.  Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked after just league matches, and was one of 6 different managers to take the helm at Stamford Bridge since 2007.

He's available, will Roman turn to Guus yet again?

So here’s the question of the hour. Will the Russian billionaire sack his still-fresh manager before Christmas? Chelsea has already lost 4 matches, and have yet to fire on all cylinders. Dropping 12 points off the league lead with just 12 matches played cannot sit well with the business tyrant… I mean tycoon. Despite splashing his cash, recent signings highlighted by Fernando Torres have not lived up to the hype that surrounded them.

So what needs to change at Chelsea? Perhaps a manager is the first step. Villas-Boaz is still just 33 years old, and perhaps has taken over a team that he never had a chance of gaining full control of. Guus Hiddink, with his numerous years of experience has already taken this post once, could the mad scientist/owner try this concoction again? Perhaps a new approach is in order. Chelsea haven’t had a full-time British manager since Glen Hoddle in 1996. Instead of hoping for lightning in a bottle with a youthful novelty such as Mourinho or Guardiola, Chelsea may need to consider a wiser more experienced coach to lead the team out of their current funk. Other names that come to mind are Marco Van Basten, Mark Hughes, and of course Hiddink.

In terms of their actual play on the pitch, multiple issues are evident. First off, the Blues have struggled to keep the ball out of the back of their own net, conceding more goals than 11 other Premier League teams at the moment, and keeping just two clean sheets this season. Offensively it’s clear that some changes are becoming necessary. Torres’ struggles have been well documented, but there’s another culprit here at the moment. Didier Drogba is a shell of the player he once was; recording just 1 goal this year compared to an average of 21 goals per year since joining the Blues in 2004.

An overall change in the offensive system may be more effective, though. Juan Mata, to me, looks more like a wizard each week I see him play, and would be best used down the center of the pitch where he sees more of the ball. Raul Miereles, David Luiz, and Nicholas Anelka also need more playing time. Daniel Sturridge has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride, but he consistently finds the back of the net (scoring Chelsea’s only goal on Sunday). Overall, some tinkering may need to be done to find out which players are in form, and which are on their way out.

Both Nino and AVB are under immense scrutiny

The underlining theory here is not that one thing will fix whatever plagues the Chelsea squad at the moment. Heck, the John Terry sagas (yes plural) alone can be a factor in distracting the team! But all in all, the man making all the calls will need to be careful in his next move. If Abramovich decides to sack AVB, he’ll need the right manager for March, not November. The season is still young, and plenty of teams have won the PL with 4+ losses; the need for panic isn’t upon us, but it is starting to set in. Your move Roman…