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2 September 2012 – Liverpool vs Arsenal

Final Score – Liverpool:0/Arsenal:2

31′- Podolski, 68′-Cazorla

 

This was definitely the match of the week as the Reds hosted the scoreless Gunners at Anfield. However, both teams were without a win and both eager to take one from the other. Brendan Rodgers obviously really wants this win to show the fans that his place on the fabled side was not a fluke. However, the experienced Arsene Wenger shows that, regardless of losing a top striker once again, will always look for the win and attempt to score. The signings for the Gunners rarely showed any life in the earlier games, while the signings for Liverpool looked to be of better prospect. With both teams desperately needing a win and both looking incomplete after the transfer window, the teams look to see if they can start the marathon regardless of the head start from teams like Swansea and West Brom.

For a general summary, I think that Liverpool should feel undeserving of the loss. With about more than two-thirds of the game played as good or better than Arsenal, the Reds will need to wonder about what to do. Without consistent scoring, its hard to see Liverpool ever seeing the top four again. Yes, some can argue that the winter transfer window will make the second half of the season much better, but needing to hold out for fifteen more games is a hassle. Arsenal, however, decided to finally find the back of the net, as counter attacks were finished off by the two new recruits of Wenger’s, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski. Liverpool failed to do the same, although had opportunities to do so. Luiz Suarez found himself in front of the goal multiple times without prevail, while Borini looked as if he didn’t know how to make a correct decision. Regardless, Liverpool found themselves playing some great football for most of the game, including the first 25 minutes of the game. Sadly, the momentum was killed by a pair of mistakes from Steven Gerrard, who had an uncharacteristically bad game. However, the defense was not sound enough on counter attacks to carry the weight of not scoring, as both goals came of a mistake from the attacking third. While every mistake didn’t result in a counter, the “mistake” part was a key word. Rarely did the attacks for Liverpool result into a shot, and if they did, they were usually off-target. The defense did well for the most part, as well as coming out of the back line. New signing Joe Allen continued his work of spectacular passing for Liverpool but without an answer from the forwards. Arsenal, however, would constantly find themselves in their defending third. However, Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker did a good enough job of keeping the line strong, as they were called on more than once to create a strong tackle. However, Arsenal scored with the few chances they had, opening their early league drought and keeping a clean sheet simultaneously. Some other notes for the teams

Liverpool- It seems like Steven Gerrard is having a tough time settling to new manager Brendan Rodgers’ set up. I would prefer him to sit out a game or two to recollect his head as they are in desperate need of his expertise. Sterling needs to be kept as a strength. The kid works hard and is always a threat to the goal, and well-deserving of his starting role. I do believe that Rodgers is going to through a bout of bad luck. Against Manchester City, the defense was under-par, while the opposite in this match. Of course, having both is the key to a great team but Rodgers needs to find a way to facilitate both. I know he can’t decide when his strikers have bad days, but knowing that attacking options are limited, regardless of two great goals against the reigning champs, I feel like a more defensive approach should be used for the next couple games. The game will rise out of the back, as the combonation of Joe Allen and aware Stevie will prove to be a strong tool for Borini and Suarez. The 4-3-3 is a strong attacking formation, but switching to a more option based formation may be ideal. Other than that, Nuri Sahin looks like he will be of use when he gets match ready, and Reina needs to look stronger. I know he is a hero of Liverpool’s, but after giving up two easy goals, I would suggest giving young ones a try again.

Arsenal- For some reason I do not remember Diaby ever being this powerful. His midfield presence was felt on a constant basis, as his quick decision making and speed gave trouble to the defensing Reds. More of Diaby like this and Arsenal can see top four finish, despite my predictions. Both center defenders did their job well enough, and the first goal for Lukas and Santi should only mean more from them later. Oliver Giroud had a tough game today, but looked deadly at some parts of his attack. The strength of the Arsenal attack was something of a sight, as the absence of Robin van Persie almost seemed as if it didn’t matter today, regardless of Santi Cazorla’s goal being of some keeper mistake. Santi, in general, was strong and commanding in the midfield. He always found space and constantly gained much ground per attack. Jenkinson, subbing for the injured Sagna, looks like he is still working on his bearing, but some strength was shown in parts of the match. Overall, the Arsenal side was never too commanding of the game, but did score when they needed to. To some, that is all that matters. But this is a short-term solution to the non-scoring issue, as stronger teams will not allow easy counter attacks like Liverpool did. Arsene may need to be a bit more clever in order to topple the stronger teams.

Overall, great match to watch. I am excited to see how Liverpool evolve and whether the Gunners will continue to score. Regardless of the negative things I have said about the team, the strength can take points away from all who aren’t wary.

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Euro 2012 Pre-Semifinal Predictions and Thoughts

With the semifinal of the exciting Euro 2012 getting closer and my instant football withdrawal slowly taking over my life, it is time to talk about the next stage of the tournament. First off, I would like to say that all four teams who are in the semis are well deserved to be there. If you asked be right after the group stages, I would of said that Italy had a lucky game. But after their impressive showing against England, I believe that the next three games will be exciting and eventful. I wanna talk about each team, their possible plans and actions for their opponents, what I expect to see out of them, and anything else that affects the game of football before the glorious match.

Spain vs Portugal

What a game this will be. At my household, we have a Barcelona and a Real Madrid fan, so naturally, we have a Spain and a Portugal fan. This should make the game a lot more interesting for me. Anywho, everyone is now thinking about the 17th of November in 2010. The 4-0 win for Portugal have left people wondering how this game will actually go. One thing to note is that even though the teams still play the same way, they are both going in with different squads. Will it be a repeat of that fateful game so long ago, or will Spain have its revenge in order to take another step further to achieving the glorious three-peat? This is what I think.

Portugal– This is a side that has been tested over and over. Portugal did not have an easy road to the semifinals, arguably the hardest. But against all odds they came out of Group B, playing with the heart that the Portuguese are known for. That same heart is going to be essential if they want to take a shot at the finals. One thing that I do like from Portugal is that they have grown as a team throughout this tournament, whether they know it or not. In the second game against Denmark, they showed that Ronaldo does not need to be the man of the match every time for Portugal and that the world needs to stop putting this pressure on him if they would like to see him work his magic. In the third game, Ronaldo solidified his role on the team, shutting up all the haters and making sure that they should still consider him the biggest threat in the tournament. In their fourth game against Czech, Portugal showed some Spain-ish patience, as they kept going and going to break down the Czech defense. They stayed cool and collected and worked to get the goal slowly but surely. If they take all these topics that they learned from this tournament, beating Spain will be that much easier. A thing to note is that Portugal’s offense has the ability to put Spain on their back foot, which will be essential to not conceding a goal. Thinking about it, Spain’s defense does not have a lot of possible defenders. Yes, there is the back line and Casillas, along with Xabi, but after that it’s just bodies. Iniesta and Xavi just hustle, and as important as that is, they do not have actual defensive ability. This leaves Spain with five defenders and the most consistent solid keeper in the game at the moment. This is a lot, but it’s still something of note. This means that Portugal has to be sure not to extend itself too much. Not losing the ball to a bad pass or a misstep is key, and keeping the ball as much as they can is also key. Spain is a team that can only work with the ball, so the obvious thing to do is to take the ball away. Portugal is the hard counter to Spain, as the speed and talent all over will give Spain a lot to think about. People like Ronaldo and Nani will be getting the team close and taking some field to let the midfield rise, and from there magic can happen. The defense also has to be solid and safe, not going crazy with the amount of passes Spain is going to do and never over-extending. Keeping Spain out of the 18 is a rule to go by, and keeping that rule true will almost always mean no conceded goals. One thing to note offensively is that the defense on Spain is mainly Real Madrid, not to mention specifically Casillas. These are people who know how Ronaldo tick and know his thoughts in the game. They will obviously put much attention to him, so people like Nani and, who I’m assuming to take Postiga’s place, Hugo Almeida will have to step up for goals. Corner kicks are great for Portugal. Having Bruno Alves, Pepe, Ronaldo, and Almeida will give Ramos and Pique a lot to do, being that most of Spain is shorter than all four of those players. Players to note have already been said. If the normal defense that just stays solid, then Portugal should aim to strike first.

Spain– The team going for a three-peat is definitely going to have to earn it, as Portugal looks to stop them like they did two years ago. Something I love that has come to the surface after this quarterfinal is that people realize that Spain plays boring football. I don’t understand how a opinion is becoming a valid reason to think that a team is “no good”, despite this strategy winning the Euro 2008 cup and 2010 World Cup. I would list all the advantages of playing this style of football, but I may reserve that for another post. It’s tough to find faults in the top team in the world that play an expert tactic at the highest possible level with some of the highest praised players. But Spain has been defeated before, and I will say that they will need some major focus to beat the Portuguese. I feel like the same formation should do fine, having Torres up front along with the support of Xavi, Xabi, and Iniesta. The key will be holding the ball like they normally do and making sure that the Portuguese do not take space in their defensive third. Once that is breach, the wide array of talented shooters can give Casillas a bit to handle. Defense is obviously their weakest point, being that their defense usually is just not letting the other team have the ball. But if they do give the ball up and a patient Portugal decided to build up instead of sending Ronaldo balls through the air, then Spain will have major issues. Being that they don’t have defensive midfielders, Paulo Bento will play Ronaldo against Jordi Alba instead of his club teammate Arbeloa, which is where the defensive weak point is. Portugal do have air superiority, so giving free and corner kicks away is not an option, as the expert headers of Pepe and Ronaldo have proved to pass great keepers. The head defenders, Ramos and Pique, will have to coordinate very well in the air in order to keep that from being a threat. Keeping Casillas in the goal is preferable, as once he comes out, the mass numbers of Portuguese marksmen can put it away. Obviously, their main worry is Ronaldo. His blazing speed cannot be matched by any defender on the Spanish side. If there is an engagement away from the 18, Ronaldo and teammates can link two or three passes to put Ronaldo in the clear, or at least gain massive amounts of ground. This game needs to be played like a battle. Dictating the pace and flow of the game will either make or break Spain, and obviously these guys are the best at flow. The player of note is none other than Casillas. As much expertise as there is in the back line, they do snooze once or twice a game. Although this should be avoided, of course, Casillas is always there to pick up the pieces. A great keeper is on point even after long periods of inactivity. As long as he is on his toes, the Spanish can feel like they have a “Get out of Jail” card, but that should be used only once a game.

Germany vs Italy

June 28th 2012

To be honest I did not expect to see this match-up ever happening. I did not expect Italy to make it past the group stages but, as a Chelsea fan, I know that it’s not how you get there, it’s how you preform when you do. The weird thing about this match up is that Germany and Italy play conflicting formations, depending on situations and the variance of how it is played on the field, of course. Italy play a very traditional 4-3-1-2 with true strikers in the top spots. In this case, that would be Balotelli and Cassano, two deadly strikers that the Germans will need to worry about. This is a very traditional formation, and even though people say that it is an outdated formation, it still works for many teams. The main thing to note about this formation from Italy is its defensive play, as Italy was sure not to give up any free openings after the early incident in the England quarterfinal match. Germany, on the other hand, play a 4-2-3-1, mainly with a true striker as “1” and attacking supporters as “2”. This is a counter-attacking formation that is a more offensive version of the 4-5-1 and requires that the four mainly offensive players be able to work together as a unit at times but also able to handle themselves in dire situations. When this formation includes the “2” in the attack lined up with the defensive wingers, you achieve a strong attacking shape with a possible easy transformation to defense in case of a counter attack of their own. I personally LOVE this formation, but it takes the right assets to play it or it will fall through.vI do prefer this formation against teams like Portugal, who play a 4-3-3 and favor a more attack based formation, but it will work on a 4-3-1-2 if its twisted the correct way. Enough rant about formations, let’s talk specifics.

Germany– Although they are still my favorites for this tournament, I have some issues with the way they have been playing lately. Most of the concerns are defensively, of course, as anyone can see that their offense is pretty much set and ready to score. Therefore, I think there needs to be a focus on this when going to play against Italy. Relying on making a game a goal-fest is not a tactic, it is a gamble. Germany needs to make sure that their defense is set before offense is, because Germany’s offense does not need any tinkering to do what they need to do. I can say with almost complete confidence that Germany’s offense will score, but giving a simple goal to a counter-attack like they did against Greece will definitely make the game twice as hard for them. Their main focus should be not conceding goals, then trying to score. Some key players for this team will include Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil, Philip Lahm, and Manuel Neuer. Schweinsteiger had a below average game against Greece, to be frank. But he was also the key to moving past Netherlands in the group stages, slotting two balls for Gomez to put in the net. To cleanly move to the next player of note, Mario Gomez needs to be on his A-game. Obviously, I have no reason to think that he will not preform, but it is just something of note. He has been a major player in getting his side this far, and he needs to continue that. Another player that needs to continue his great gameplay is Ozil, who has been playing very well. Some say it is nothing special, since there isn’t very many pretty numbers behind him. Only someone who knows football can see that Ozil has played great throughout the whole tournament, and between him, Sami, and Bastian, Germany have an arsenal of assisting power. Sami Khedira has also been a force, as he has been playing great game after game and is constantly being a threat at all times at many different angles.  There is almost nothing to say about Philip Lahm and Manuel Neuer. These two have been the defensive backbone for the Germans and are constantly on top of their game. The consistency is great to see from the German defense, but everybody else on this German defense needs to step up to their level.

Italy– Italy is up against a sleep slope in my opinion. This is going to be a tough game on them, mainly because of the German offense. I don’t know how well the Italians will be able to hold off a German onslaught if they ever got in the rhythm, which could pose to be a major deciding factor for the whole game. I think that the Italians need to do one main thing to win this game, which is keeping the ball away from Germany. Italy played a very good touch ball games against England, leaving them no time to build or get a groove going. That is partly England’s fault, but instigating it is just as important. The German defense is not strong enough to hold off the Italian onslaught of their own, but obviously it will depend on them to put one away. Creating the first goal will be crucial in winning, as a desperate Germany will put more attackers up top, therefore making a strong counter attack possible to finish them off. If the Italians do create the first goal, focusing on strong defense is more important than looking for the killshot. Once Germany is in the hole, the focus should be keeping them there, not making a 50/50 chance on letting them out. Playing a secure game with strong tactics and less-variable movement will help them steer the game in their way. Three players to note for the Italians are Buffon, Cassano, and Pirlo, of course. First off, Pirlo is something amazing. After that cheeky but classy penalty kick against the English, everyone has seen the extent of Pirlo’s magic. He can create, attack, or orchestrate on the field, making him someone of note at all times. He will look to slip Cassano through the German defense, who do leave gaps from time to time. Cassano makes great runs, and can also handle a player or two if need be to create a chance, so the Germans will have to keep an eye on him. Bal0telli will obviously be lurking as well and shown that he is capable, but his awareness needs to improve. There are two ways to simply break the defense. You can have Balotelli and Cassano on far sides of the pitch, giving Pirlo more inside room and leaving the center more unattended than usual. This will let the strikers the ability to sneak around or wait for a open ball to slot or strike. Another way to play this is to play them closer, leaving the wings open and letting midfield advance to those areas. From there, creation has options,  including attacking the goal or crossing it in, but not limited to just working around the 18 and looking for an opening. Italian pressure was very pretty in the England game, and I feel if Italy brings the same pressure to Germany they will surely make a goal. On a side note, the last player of note, Buffon, is something great and will need some master work to pass him, so goals will not come easy for the Germans.

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Euro 2012 – Netherlands vs Portugal

Well its’ half time! I decided to watch this game over the Germany vs Denmark game for a couple reasons, mainly because of the huge controversy over Holland failing to get a point in this stage of the tournament. Still, some of my thoughts for the teams.

Netherlands- The defense looks okay at times, but this is not enough to hold down a Ronaldo that is back on his feet. The Dutch were hoping they weren’t going to have to worry about him, but this is definitely not the case today. Without the defensive help of Mark van Bommel, Holland are going to have to pick the defense up by at least twice the amount to ensure that no looks are found on the goal. Ronaldo has shown that he will stop at nothing to put in another one in, and with the history of the previous games, we know that other players can definitely do the same. Once this happens, Netherlands needs to work on building up to get a good feel on touching the ball and get into the rhythm again, something they haven’t done since the 28′ minute after Ronaldo’s goal. Also, they have decided to go with a very aggresively-based 4-2-3-1, so looking for counter-attacks is essential and might decide the match.

Portugal- After a shaky first part of the first half, Portugal looked great coming off the feel at the half. Ronaldo’s goal has given him great confidence, and hopefully he can take that on to the next half to score that second goal he is dying for. I usually refrain from saying such things, but Nani is playing out of his mind. Beautiful touches, experienced-based movement, and destroying defense is a small amount of things that he has done in this half. Using him will be key to gaining another goal. Portugal needs to feed the corners more balls and let Ronaldo and Nani work the magic that they have been using so far. Other than that, making sure that the defense don’t get lazy and the defensive wingers help the offense like they did on Ronaldo’s goal will help the pressure of Portugal, making Holland subside into their half for at least a great amount of time.

Final Score- Netherlands:1/Portugal:2

11′-van der Vaart, 28′-Ronaldo, 74′-Ronaldo

What an exciting game. If you asked me exactly nine days ago who would move on in Group B, I would of referred to the FIFA ranked 4th place team and predicted them to take the group. But after this crazy three games, Netherlands, for the first time in history, lost multiple games in a row and exited a tournament without any points. Although I’m disappointed to see one of the pre-tournament favorites to go, everything that happened in this game was not out of the ordinary. Holland came out guns roaring and ready to put themselves in a contending position for second place in the group, with a remarkable goal by Rafael van der Vaart in the 11′ minutes. My first impressions were to think that the Dutch could make the comeback of the year, but sadly fell short and a few moments later, Portugal up’ed the tempo and put Ronaldo in the pilot seat, leading the Portuguese offense.

After that, the Netherlands offense was not to be seen again, giving up a goal in the 28′ minute to a beautiful combination of Joao Pereira and Cristiano Ronaldo, who silenced all doubters for sure with that beautiful +40 yarder at Stekelenburg. I bring up this shot because I believe that this was a major turning point in the mental minds of Holland. That shot showed that Ronaldo’s goal was not a fluke, that he was truly there to put points up and take his team to the next stage of the tournament. That shot shut up everyone who said Messi’s name in the Denmark game, and further more, let his team know that this was not going to be easy for Holland. The lethality of that man is unparalleled in this tournament, and this is something that they will have to breed on in the upcoming games.

Holland were not there for the rest of the match, as I predicted. As history showed in the games before, the goal against Holland usually spelled their demise for the rest of the game. The second goal, which was expertly created by the old Manchester United teammates, killed the Oranjes off, and everyone on the pitch knew that this was the end for Holland. Holland’s tournament showing should not stop at the lack of wins, as maybe the chemistry is something that also needs to be improved on. The counter-argument is that this is basically the team that took runner up back in 2010, but my rebuttal to that would be that this is not the same team, obviously.

My words of advice to the Portugal team is to use this momentum against the Czech. They are a strong team who showed that the Russia game was just a misstep, and with the monster Petr Cech behind them, goals will not come easy. Headers near the goal will be tough because of Cech’s height and the tight defense that the Czech play will make it hard for the Portuguese to puncture the line like they did against Holland. With the beaming confidence that Portugal acquired in this game, I suspect to see them in the semi-finals in this tournament.

 

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Euro 2012- Portugal vs Denmark

Final Score- Portugal:3/Denmark:2

Pepe-24′, Postiga-36′, Bendtner-41′, Bendtner-80′, Varela-87′

A clinic of strong finishes, this game turned out to be high scoring game despite both teams have notably strong defensive players. The key to this game was finishing, as many players took their chances to finish. Many people are criticizing Cristiano Ronaldo on not being a finisher, but I will talk about that later. Regardless, this was an attacking game, and both defenses seemed out of wack and out of place. But all the goals were very clean and clinical, something that both teams would like to take to their final group stage game. With this win, Portugal has virtually put fate in their own hands.

Denmark- For a team that was prized for their defense in the earlier game against Holland, shutting out the mass array of superstars to no goals, they were outdone countless times. The line was constantly broken and easily manipulated by the attacking Portugal, making it easy to slip ball after ball behind their line. Although this isn’t how they scored, it is a problem that needs addressing. The defense needs to be more disciplined, making sure to keep their shape regardless of the tricky movement and responding to the ball accurately without leaving gaps. Another thing to note on the defensive end is that the midfield did not help on defense as much as they did on offense. Maybe this was a coaching choice, maybe they were tired and could not move around as much. Frankly, this game should of been over much earlier than it was, but the last first half goal by Bendtner kept them in the game for another half. Bendtner will have to be the key in order to pass the Germans in their next game, which will not be an easy feat. Also, they will need that tight defense that I referred to earlier, making sure that Bastian Schweinsteiger does not break the line.

Portugal- First off, Pepe played the international game of his life. A goal in the first half, another with constant beautiful defense was such a major part in the win. Another man who played unbelievably well was Pepe’s  club teammate, Fabio Coentrao, who played like Mourinho wanted him to when he made the decision to buy him. He attacked very strong  when he went up and defended strong and without fouls, something I saw out of him in the World Cup 2010 and loved him since then. Sadly, Real Madrid can’t say the same, but I guess we’re not worrying about that at the moment. Ronaldo will have a lot to think about after this, missing two easy goals that would of been in the back of the net had he be playing in a Real Madrid shirt. Portugal, being in a cup drought for quite a while now, have rested their hoped in ending that on Ronaldo, who his completely aware of his situation. In my opinion, this is his Achilles heel and until people can stop making him the savior of Portuguese football, he will not be of help. In the next game, he will need to be strong but should be reassured that he does not need to be the goal scorer against Holland. The greatest thing for Portugal in this game is that Ronaldo does not need to score to win, and both Portugal and Ronaldo specifically should take that to heart and move to the next game.

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