I was only a juvenile when Ryan Giggs was at his peak years as a footballer. When Giggs blitzed through the Arsenal defence on the way to an unprecedented treble winning season for his career long club Manchester United. United were reduced to ten men due to Roy Keane’s red card and the Red Devil’s needed inspiration. Giggs delivered with aplomb by cooling finishing away from David Seaman in what was to become one of the most remembered goals in United’s folklore.

At this time in my life I was only in primary school but as I progressed through life I became engulfed in football and due to Giggs’s prodigious longevity at the highest level of the game at one of the finest clubs in Europe, I was able to watch Giggs performances on a regular basis. At this point in his career he had lost much of his pace that made him a renowned winger throughout Europe but Giggs would never lose his instinct for the game, his anticipation of play, his indirect leadership qualities that can go unnoticed at times and his knack of knowing when to set the tempo to the game in the middle of the park. He can hold onto the ball,orchestrating build up to attacking movement or if United are chasing a game he has the ability to play a long range pass to switch the play or score that match winning goal as he’s been doing since the semi final replay in Villa Park in 1999.

ryan-giggs_2491067bThe everlasting Ryan Giggs is set for his 1000th game on the most fitting of occasions if as expected he plays a role in tomorrows nights crucial Champions League tie versus Real Madrid. The Welshman could also be set for his 13th title this season as United look set to win the Premier League title at the expense of city rivals Manchester City. Add that to two Champions League winners medals, four FA Cups and three League Cups and you have a player worthy of applause that he received by both sets of fans by coming on at the Bernabeu in the first leg of the Real Madrid tie. My memories of Giggs are as an elegant midfield playmaker. His role for United in 2011 upon reaching the Champions League final ( which Barcelona won) was brilliant. Sir Alex Ferguson played with a midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs, both played as deep lying playmakers with freedom to roam whenever opportunity allowed. This worked a treat as United brushed aside Schalke 04 with Ryan Giggs scoring the first goal. Giggs was to continue in this position for the next few season although he never quite got a consistent run in the side. However fleeting his appearances for the reds, when he has played he was as good as any midfielder in his position. He offers tireless energy, technique that must amaze even himself at times and clever movement and awareness that have been routinely portrayed for 999 games. His highlights this season have been that sensational pass to Robin Van Perise which led to the equaliser against a stubborn West Ham team in the FA Cup. In his last game for United he dominated against disorganised QPR team,scoring the teams second goal and nearly scoring an outrageous chipped finish.

BaleRyan Giggs has been an inspiration to many players. One of these is Gareth Bale who is in my opinion the most exciting player in the league at the moment ( and this is coming from a Chelsea fan). There’s been enough plaudits for Gareth Bale at this moment of time but instead of me reiterating the same compliments, I’m going to share with you stats of Gareth Bale that I’ve received courtesy of WhoScored.com.

  • Gareth Bale has contributed to 33% of Tottenham’s goals in the Premier League.
  • Gareth Bale averages 4.8 shots per game in the Premier League this season second only to Luis Suarez
  • Bale’s current tally of 16 goals is his best ever tally in the Premier League his previous best was 10 goals last season.
  • Bale has scored or assisted in his last 7 Premier League games.
  • Bale has scored 8 of Tottenham’s 10 goals in their last 5 games.

 

 

Christian-Benteke_2877090There have been a host of Belgian footballers that have consistently made the headlines this season for their outstanding performances for their clubs in the Premier League, but none of them have carried the fortunes of a club in a relegation dog fight and still received glowing plaudits like Christian Benteke.

His match winning prowess are invaluable for a club like Aston Villa who need players to lead the club to safety, 20 year old Benteke is taking the initiative with Aston Villa getting points every time Benteke has scored so far this season.

The highlight so far in his Villa career was a sensational performance away at Anfield where his combination of creativity and athleticism demolished the Reds with the Belgian scoring two goals and assisting another to complete a shock result.

But seven days later he was the lone striker as Aston Villa surrendered to an eight goal defeat away at Chelsea. After all the deserved praise from the previous weekend, Benteke was smothered by Ivanovic and Cahill leading for Benteke to play “off the shoulder” far too often and was constantly offside.

Christian Benteke was a late transfer from Belgian club Genk where he had scored 19 goals in 41 games in the 2011-12 season. 7 million was steep figure for a player with little experience at such a competitive level that the Premier League demands week after week.

Benteke was introduced to the Premier League at Villa Park in the fixture versus an in form Swansea City. Benteke had an instant impact as a he scored coming on as a late sub. At the early stages of his career, his place in the Villa starting lineup was questioned as his first touch seemed heavy while a proven Premier League striker in Darren Bent didn’t even make the substitute bench.

Benteke established himself as the spearhead of the Aston Villa attack in the absence of Darren Bent with goals in important matches such as the equaliser versus Norwich and the late winner versus Reading.

One of the standout games for Benteke in a Villa shirt was in the Capital One Cup where after 85 minutes he had bulldozed through the usually air tight Norwich defence. His subtle combination play with Andres Weimann led to him unselfishly playing in the Austrian for his second goal of the night, while scoring from 20 yards himself in the 90th minute to complete a 4-1 victory.

December 15th was the date where I feel that Benteke began to really stand out. The Claret and Blue’s encountered Liverpool at Anfield. Villa needed a win as they were slowly creeping into the relegation zone at this time. Lambert changed Villa’s system to shore up the backline by changing to 5-3-2 counter attacking system.

Aston Villa lined out with the youngest average age for a starting eleven this season but the roars of the Kop didn’t affect them. Suddenly Benteke nonchalantly pushed the ball out of his feet and unleashed a low shot inside Pepe Reina’s near post from 25 yards out.

The Belgian then turned provider when in arguably the best team goal of the season he raced onto a Weimann pass, then returning the play to Weimann through a sublime backheel for Weimann to score. In the second half, Benteke collected a sloppy Joe Cole pass and bounced off a Martin Skrtel challenge before slotting past the helpless Reina.

The Christmas period left Villa with zero goals and thirteen conceded so that in itself states that Benteke didn’t influence games as much as he would have liked during this period. But he has scored in consecutive away games against Swansea and the opener, a stunning shot coming in at 68mph from 28 yards out in the local derby versus West Brom. In the second leg of the of the Capital One Cup tie with Bradford, Benteke despite scoring the opener was on the losing side over both legs.

Benteke has impressed me in his debut season by finding consistent goalscoring form but can still improve in his timing of runs and hold up play. His strength and aerial ability give him great tools for goalscoring, which he has used to score seven premier league goals this season.

Aston Villa have won five and drawn four in of the nine games Benteke has scored in for all competitions. Expect top clubs to be monitoring his situation at Villa over the summer if he continues this form for the rest of the season.

 

2012 in review

December 31, 2012

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It’s been a year in football that had crucial goals, costly errors, matches to remember and winners who prevailed through their skill but also through a large degree of luck which comes hand in hand with success. I hope you’ve enjoyed the year of 2012 and look forward to 2013 as I continue to analyse the major tournaments, focus on our specialist categories such as Player Profiles and Off the pitch matters.In this upcoming year I will reflect on the genius as Jose Mourinho,whom the blog is named after. What’s next for the “Special One” will he succeed at Real Madrid or continue his quest at another club.

But before we look to far ahead let’s look back on the first year of IsittheSpecialone.com .

Click here to see the complete report.

There was nothing unconventional about 19 year old Paul Pogba signing for Juventus, who had won the Scudetto in an unbeaten season.The former Le Harve youth player traded the red of Manchester United for the the black and white of Juventus (although formerly of Notts County since 1903). It seems to be a given that Paul Pogba can continue the tradition of French midfielders establishing themselves for La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady).

Now it would be naive to compare Pogba to the great French midfielders of Juventus such as Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini but having seen glimpses of performances for Juve, I can say with confidence that Paul Pogba has the ability to lead Juventus from the center of the midfield just like how Zidane brilliantly did for Juventus in the late nineties.

Tired of waiting for Sir Alex Ferguson to give him a consistent run in a midfield that a player of Pogba’s ability should be in contention for, he looked for game time elsewhere. He only has to look at Tom Cleverley who is 23 years of age and is subject to rotation at Manchester United to see that he was due a prolonged wait at United.

So Pogba took a risk, a massive gamble to leave a club of the stature of the Red Devils to join Juventus on a four year deal. Ferguson, clearly frustrated at losing the six foot two and half inch midfield dynamo, took his anger out on Pogba’s Italian based agent Mino Raiola, who is renowned for persuading top footballers to move clubs in return for a bigger salary.

The goal that has everyone talking about Pogba for all the right reasons was his exquisite volley from outside the box to settle a top of the table clash between Italian heavyweights Juventus and Napoli. The goal was scored following a failed clearance by Hugo Campagnaro with Pogba judging the flight of the ball in the fashion of a young Zinedine Zidane, and volleying it first time with his weaker foot past the onlooking Morgan De Sanctis.

After the match, Sky Italia and former international striker Gianluca Vialli, cheekily asked the midfielder if he expected a text message of congratulations from his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Pogba, quite taken aback from the question answered: “Er, no, I don’t think so”.

A month later he started against Bologna and Pogba was endowed more leeway to contribute going forward as Andrea Pirlo was starting in his acclaimed deep-lying position. Pogba showed technique beyond his years as he touched the ball with his right foot to set up a bending shot with his left, which curled past Fedrico Agliardi and hit the post.For Fabio Quagliarella’s poached goal, it was Pogba who provided the chipped pass for Emanuele Giaccherini to assist the goal.

In the dying moments of the game, Pogba headed home to stifle the resilient Bologna side. Thankfully for Pogba after this goal there was no embarrassing questions by pundits but only praise for a possibly world class player in the making.

   While taking a quick glance at the team sheet before the ‘Super Sunday’ encounter between Liverpool and Manchester City I noticed that not one of former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish’s expensive British signings had made the starting lineup. Was I surprised ? Not at all when considering their below average performances led to Liverpool getting their lowest points haul since 1980-81 last season. The three players in question are Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll. While I feel the latter could still have a future at Anfield as a Plan B, I’m sure Henderson and Downing will be muscled out of contention in the starting team by the latest signings by new manager Brendan Rodgers.
With Dalglish’s departure followed by director of football Damien Comolli it wouldn’t go so into the extravagant to suggest that the over-priced and failure of both Henderson and Downing to deliver the talent their transfer fee would merit – was the cause of the pairs departures.
One could say that Carroll too has failed to deliver on his price tag. While others could suggest that he has age on his side and can deliver goals and strong performances if the team revolves around his aerial ability.
All of these signings share the common credo of British players being grossly overvalued and therefore crumbling under the weight of their inflated transfer fee. But I want you the reader to understand why British players at Premier League clubs are so over-priced and where the alternative markets are for the Premier League club you support.
The main reason is as a result of last seasons dramatic climax where Manchester City won the title in such a spectacular fashion. The accomplishment by the Citizens made for prime time television entertainment. Basically that it was a match that could not be foretold or written. City’s league title triumph in the last few seconds was met with a domestic TV rights deal that will see clubs receive more than £3billion over three years, from the 2013-14 season. The deal struck by with BSkyB, represents a 71 per cent increase on the current domestic TV deal and will guarantee that even the bottom team in the league receives more than the £60.6m Manchester City earned for finishing last term as champions. 
    This will result in Premier League teams trying desperately to stay in the division and if they were to sell one of their prized asset (player), they would require a hefty transfer fee stretching beyond the players capabilities as a footballer.
The recent change in transfer proceedings by Liverpool has interested me but still left me puzzling towards the overvaluation of British players. Rodgers has brought Welsh international Joe Allen with him from Swansea in a £15m deal. Now I must say that I am a great fan of Joe Allen and he has started the season brightly. But when compared to current loanee and teammate Nuri Sahin then you start to question Allen’s valuation. Sahin used his deep-lying play making prowess to guide Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title in the 2010/11 season and in turn received the Bundesliaga award for player of the season the same year. He then transferred to Real Madrid for £8m, only to be sidelined with various injuries and lack of form. Yet I feel the Turkish international is not half the player Joe Allen is as the price tag suggests.
But it was the transfer dealings of new Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup that interested me the most as Swansea kick started their Premier League season with an opening 5-0 thrashing of Queens Park Rangers on their own turf. Summer signing from Rayo Vallecano, Michu was the pick of the bunch as he glided through Rangers defence – scoring twice and his debut while at the Liberty stadium he introduced himself further to the Swansea faithful with a goal against West Ham. All this heroics from a player signed for only £2m – an early contender for bargain of the season. But Laudrup has also done clever business in La Liga, with the signings of defender Chico (£2m) and Jonathan De Guzman (loan deal) following Michu to joining Swansea. All look astute signings whether it be Chico for his aerial ability, De Guzman for his dead-ball technique and Michu for his goalscoring. Premier League clubs should take note of these Iberian signings as Swansea look comfortable in second place in the Premier League.
But Spain is not the only country nor La Liga the only league to discover cheap quality footballers. I will list the countries/leagues where I think Premier Leagues should be looking to buy players at reasonable prices.
Chile: Chile are now producing high skilled and versatile players who can rotate in different formations, with the prime example being Universidad de Chile – commonly known as La U. This side won the Copa Sudamericana by varying between 3-4-3, 3-4-1-2 and 4-3-3. The countries star export to date is Alexis Sanchez at Barcelona. While Manchester United have signed 18 year old Angelo Henriquez for a ‘day light robbery fee of £3m’ the new signing has been described by Chilean football expert Joel Sked as a ‘ future king of Chilean football’.
Honduras: Wigan Athletic are the sole beneficiaries of the nations talents. They have so far propelled the careers of Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa – both have played in the 2010 World Cup since arriving to England. Honduras also looked impressive at the Olympics with Jerry Bengston standing out as he scored the winner to knock out Spain from the football games.
Japan/J-lEAGUE: New Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers states that he basis some of playing philosophy on the Japanese U-17 side of 2011 that won the U-17 World Cup.That’s a compliment to Japanese football in itself. Many Bundesliga clubs are scouting the J-League intensely following the discovery of Shinji Kagawa, so why shouldn’t the Premier League clubs be doing the same. Again, I mention Kagawa as Dortmund found themselves the bargain of the century when they bought him from Cerezo Osaka for just £275,000. Manchester United ended up paying £12.5m for the Japanese import which even looks a bargain in itself considering how much he has improved his overall game.
Spain/La Liga: The poor distribution of TV commercial deals in La Liga has resulted in Spanish clubs building up massive debts. Arsenal were the first to take advantage of Malaga’s meltdown in finances by signing Spanish International Santi Cazorla for £12.7million fee. Last year Cazorla would have cost £10m more, thus proving how bad a situation Malaga and other clubs are in. Spain’s youth players will be given more of a chance this season in La Liga subject to the financial debt so expect Premier League clubs to invest on promising young talent if they can find it.
United Kingdom/N-Power Championship,League 1, League 2: The lower leagues are producing some fine technically sound young players, Wilfried Zaha, Thomas Ince and Jordan Rhodes are just a few stars yet to arrive to Premier League clubs.Again I mention Manchester United as they trust the lower league standard in signing young Nick Powell from Crewe.The lower leagues have produced 10 England internationals featuring in the England Euro 2012 squad who made their debuts in the lower tier of English football.

Written off before they were even started. Swansea brought a welcome change to the Premier League from aimless long ball passing to short intricate play that could be used as defensive approach as well as an attacking one. Swansea used their passing identity to success as they finished their first Premier League season in a comfortable 11th place. Under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers – Swansea based their success in midfield on the play making trident of Leon Britton, Joe Allen and Gylfi Sidgurosson. Perhaps the most crucial of all was goalkeeper Michel Vorm – a talented goalkeeper who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet. Swansea supporters were concerned when regular goal minder Dorus de Vries signed for Wolves but fans where tamed by the consistency of his Dutch apprentice. Vorm, protected by Welsh duo Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor who were apt at winning and then recycling possession to their teammates whether to relive the pressure our building attacks. In attack the chances were finished by Danny Graham accompanied occasionally on the score sheet Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer. In the twilight of the campaign Sidgurosson became the focal point of chance creation and goals. His departure to Spurs is blow to the squad as is the departure of Joe Allen and manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool. The Swans acted swiftly confirming former Don Balon winner Michael Laudrup as manager which brought universal acclaim to all involved with Swansea. The Dane will bring his experience from Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” where he was a key figure in a similar tiki-taka style to Swansea.

I’ve spoken to the chairman and I’m very pleased to sign for Swansea City … It’s going to be a new experience for me and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve spoken to many people about Swansea and watched a number of their games on DVD. Everyone knows the style of football Swansea play and it suits my way of thinking” – Michael Laudrup, Swansea manager.

Laudrup’s managerial CV includes a successful stint at Madrid’s third club, Getafe, a short ill-fated stay at Spartak Moscow and his last club, Real Mallorca. Clearly influenced by his time spent playing under Johan Cruyff at Barcelona and his fling at Ajax, his teams employ an attractive 4-2-3-1 formation which transits to 4-3-3 when attacking. This formation has become a blueprint for teams who love to dominate possession so the Swansea team should see little change in playing philosophy and formation from the system used by Brendan Rodgers.Swansea are almost certain to retain their style of play under Laudrup although some key players such as Caulker, Allen and Sidgurosson will have to be replaced if the system is to function as efficiently.

Brendan Rodgers was recently asked to sketched out his formation and explain his approach to the game to journalist Duncan White. First he divides the pitch into eight zones and then plots out his formation. The division of zones is suggestive that each player when in possession should play a particular role, including the goal keeper and two centre backs:

“When we have the football everybody’s a player. The difference with us is that when we have the ball we play with 11 men, other teams play with 10 and a goalkeeper.” ( Brendan Rodgers 2012)

This style is based on the “Dream Team” of Barcelona – where Michael Laudrup was a key player so there should be no problem continuing and adding to the style set by Rodgers and Roberto Martinez before him. Steven Caulker has returned to Spurs from his loan spell at Swansea leaving a void at the back where Swansea where so formidable throughout last season. Together with Williams, a formidable defensive partnership was formed – keeping 16 clean sheets last season. Jose Manuel Flores, aka Chico has replaced Caulker at the back and needs to form a similar partnership with Williams as Caulker did. Laudrup knows Chico from his days at Real Mallorca and will have noted the players passing and aerial power prowess upon signing the Spanaird. Well suited to the playing style from the back is more of a question of whether Chico can adapt to the pace of the Premier League than in the Swansea side.

In midfield lost midfield pair Joe Allen and Gylfi Sidgurosson. The pair occupy zone 5 on Rodgers constructed formation above. To replace them Swansea have again ventured to La Liga and purchased Jonathan De Guzman from Villareal on a loan deal and signed Michu from Rayo Valllecano. The signings are likely to make Swansea slightly more direct in their attacking play but will continue the high pressing game from midfield as illustrated below.

Relegated club Villareal signed Jonathan De Guzman for £8.5m in 2011. But the Canadian didn’t get much game time in the “Yellow Submarine’s” relegation season. Nevertheless De Guzman’s pedigree cannot be questioned and I assure you that he will be a welcome signing in the “Valley’s”. Despite being so young he is already a seasoned veteran and can carry the burden of expectation and responsibility for such a young age. Finally injury free the attacking midfielder likes to run down the middle of the park, direct the play and support the attack. An impressive passer he is also deadly from set pieces. A lack of imagination at crucial moments and a lack of concentration here and there defensively are his weak  points.

Michu looks a snip at £2m but seems an unnatural fit to the Swansea style of play. You might say who can a 15 goal return last season for Rayo not be good enough for Swansea.He only averaged 1.1 key passes per game, picking up just 3 assists. His pass accuracy of 68.5% is poor. But Michu is a strong presence on the ball only being dispossessed 1.2 times per game which will be good for Swansea’s ball retention.

I will conclude with my prediction for Swansea this season. Swansea should continue to use their passing style as a defensive mechanism – Laudrup’s experience should help the progress of attacking players such as Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham. I don’t see any major problems to see Swansea as relegation candidates and I doubt they will suffer from second season syndrome. Will other clubs suss out their style ? Well Norwich did last season by playing Swansea at their own pressing game and crossing into the box where Vorm can be suspect. If other teams follow this pattern the Swans could struggle but Swansea should dominate possession in the majority of matches and finish around mid table as they did last season.

Factfile of Lucas Rodrigues Moura da Silva

  • Country : Brazil
  • Club : Sao Paulo
  • Position : attacking winger/ forward
  • Honours : Sao Paulo, Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior  2012. Brazil, South American Youth Championships 2011,  Superclasico de las  Americas
  • Linked with : Manchester United, Inter Milan, Chelsea

Lucas Moura [ pictured on the right with Neymar left] has so far benefited from all the spotlight being on fellow International teammate Neymar.Both will feature at the London 2012 Men’s Olympic tournament vying to win the only tournament to have alluded the Brazilian national team in their illustrious history. Both were born in 1992 but so far it has been Neymar who has had  his profile raised to profound stardom not only in his native Brazil but around the globe.

People even recognise me in New York, some strange things do happen sometimes .”A guy once asked me if he could have my shirt. It wasn’t even a Santos shirt.It was just a regular shirt!” – Neymar, former Ballon d’Or nominee 

Above is a video containing all the goals from Brazil’s thumping 6-0 win over Uruguay in the Under-20 championships in Peru last year. It was in this match that Lucas Moura shone and the consequence of a magnificent hat-trick led to Sao Paulo  adding a 80 million euros release clause to his contract to fend away European suitors who’s scout reports gave rave reviews on the promising young Brazilian. In the final of the Under -20 championships the fixture was tight for the first 4o – until Lucas scored twice in quick succession. The first a well timed run to receive the ball from the left and hit a precise shot past the opposing goalkeeper. The following goal was a superb solo effort, racing from the halfway line leaving defenders chasing his shadow to slip home from a narrow angle. And with ten minutes remaining on the clock he completed the rout with a vicious cross-shot.

Lucas Moura is unlike Neymar in the sense that he is not “a craque [a star; an expert],” according to Ronaldinho’s description of Neymar. Lucas does not have the media attention of Neymar which suits the Sao Paulo player.Neymar is a walking headline -often for the obtuse and absurd reasons. Brazilian football newspaper Lance! even accused Neymar of racism when he starred in a music video dressed in gorrila suits. With Neymar considered Afro-Brazilian, the video was accused of linking black Brazilians with monkeys.Lucas Moura has never hit the headlines for the wrong reasons which maybe a reason why many European clubs are interested in signing the Brazilian. An interesting fact about Lucas Moura is that he was formerly known as Marcelinho, the consequence of a perceived likeness with 1990s star Marcelinho Carioca.But as he had made his name in the Sao Paulo first team it hardly seemed appropriate that the name belonged to an idol of local rivals Corinthians.

Lucas Moura is raw especially at International level where at times he has looked out of his depth in the Brazilian national team. But his quality is undisputed. His versatility to play anywhere across the frontline and ability to hold onto the ball and dribble at speed around the opposition.Lucas Moura uses the wide areas to good effect whether it be taking the opposing full back to the byline or cutting inside leaving the defenders chasing at his heels with his explosive pace.Using his dancing feet and surprising strength giving he is only 5″8″ he can compete physically with opponents which would be particularly useful in the Premier League.Lucas’s weaknesses include the winger playing like he is in a tunnel at times,with no peripheral vision.He can be sometimes selfish, a worrying trait considering how much teamwork and profitability from patient build up is used in football today where the stronger sides aim to keep the ball for prolonged spells in matches before attacking.Small details such as tactical nous and aerial ability will improve with more games at the highest level .

International appearance timeline of Lucas Moura : Key SUU: Sudamericano U20, FRI: Friendly, COA: Copa America

18/01/11 SUU Brazil U20 4-2 Paraguay U20,  21/01/11 SUU Colombia U20 1-3 Brazil U20, 23/01/11  SUU Brazil U20 1-1 Bolivia U20, 26/01/11  SUU Ecuador U20 0-1 Brazil U20, yellow card for Lucas, 1/02/11 SUU Chile U20 1-5 Brazil U20, Goal for Lucas, 4/02/11 SUU Brazil U20 2-0 Colombia U20, 7/02/11 SUU Argentina U2o 2-1 Brazil U20, 10/02/11 Ecuador U20 0-1 Brazil U20, yellow card for Lucas, 13/02/11 SUU Uruguay U20 0-6 Brazil U20, Hat-trick for Lucas and yellow card, 27/03/11 FRI Brazil 2-0 Scotland, 4/06/11 FRI Brazil o-o Netherlands, yellow card for Lucas, 8/06/11 FRI Brazil 1-0 Romania, 3/07/11 COA Brazil o-o Venezuela, 9/07/11 COA Brazil 2-2 Paraguay, 14/07/11 COA Brazil 4-2 Ecuador, 17/07/11 COA Brazil o-o p Paraguay, 29/09/11 FRI Brazil 2-0 Argentina, goal for Lucas, 8/10/11 FRI Costa Rica 0-1 Brazil, 12/10/11 FRI Mexico 1-2 Brazil,

28/02/12 FRI Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-2 Brazil, 26/05/12 FRI Denmark 1-3 Brazil, 31/05/12 FRI USA 1-4 Brazil, 3/6/12 FRI Brazil 0-2 Mexico, 9/06/12 FRI Argentina 4-3 Brazil.

Lucas Moura could be compared with fellow Olympic teammates Hulk and Neymar for his movement, versatility off the ball and technical skill; but the most accurate comparison could be with Jairzinho, one of the stars of 1970 World Cup winning Brazil side. Even his second goal against Uruguay was similar to the skill of Jairzinho- scored after he dribbled past two players and nutmegged another.Even their statures  ( 5 feet 8 inches)  are identical, and when Lucas represents Brazil at the Olympics later this month he will wear Jairzinho’s number seven shirt.

Lucas Moura looks destined switch continents from South America to Europe with Manchester United jousting Inter Milan for his signature. It was confirmed in January that then manager Andre Villas Boas of Chelsea had bid £32 million for the Sao Paulo player but it was rejected. Inter Milan inquired to his agent about his availability but proceedings went no further as Manchester United matched Chelsea’s £32million bid, roughly £6 million more than Inter were reported to be offering. Sao Paulo would take 80% of the transfer fee with the further 20% going to a third party who own his economic rights. Sao Paulo are holing out for £38 million according to reports from Brazil and Lucas Moura will make his decision after the Olympics.

‘We let Kaka go for no more than 9 million euro’s years ago, that was peanuts to Milan’ – Sao Paulo director Joao Paulo de Jesus Lopes seems to be determined to cash in big for Lucas Moura to erase previous undervaluing of departures.

You never know what can happen . I don’t have a crazy desire to leave but, when the time comes, I will speak for my family and see what is best for my future’ – Lucas Moura 

 

Lucas Moura would become the third signing this season by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson adding the Brazilian to purchases of fellow midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell. If this transfer was to be completed it would give Manchester United more options in the final third and Lucas Moura’s pace and trickery on the ball could prove successful in United’s most lethal attacking weapon of counter attacking football. Ferguson seems to have fallen out of love with Nani along with some supporters and Lucas could be the ideal replacement as both can cross and shoot off either football and run at the opposition at pace. United having sent a so called ‘delegation’ to conduct transfer dealing of Lucas in Brazil, has excited United fans and also left them puzzling at where the money for such as transfer has come from. United might be the most valuable could in the world but they are supposed to be riddled in debt. Others are contemplating whether the money could be spent elsewhere. A centre midfield is more of a priority for most supporters sense the club had to give retired midfielder Paul Scholes an SOS call to compete for the title with Manchester City.

This is the first part of the player profile of Lucas Moura. The second will be completed after Lucas takes part in the Olympics and maybe completes his transfer away from Brazil.

 

Euro 2012 The Review

July 5, 2012

My Euro 2012 review includes – The full story from all 31 matches including all the goals and analysis on each match

- In depth analysis of Roy Hodgson’s Engalnd side and opposition

- Are you watching Jack; How Jack Wilshere can learn from Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo

- Tiki-taka  with a midfield twist: Dossier on Spanish style of play Parts 1 & 2

- Fifth in line ; Ronaldo fails to show leadership as Portugal exit in the penalty shootout to Spain

- Andrea Pirlo : “Renaissance Man”

- How the final was won and lost with match statistics provided by Opta

- Is this current Spanish crop the greatest of all time ?

- Player of the tournament: Andres Iniesta

- My Euro 2012 XI

Introduction

Euro 2012 promised to be one of the biggest tournaments in recent years and it didn’t disappoint.Before the big kick-off some of footballs most crowned and capable footballers such as Xavi Hernandez and Wesley Sneijder had stated that the Euro’s is harder to win than the World Cup.This is very true when considering all the nations taking part are within the top 30 mark in the FIFA world rankings apart from host Poland and Ukraine who neither had played a single competitive match since 2010.The final will be remembered for the good and bad reasons. It’s fair to say UEFA failed in their attempt to prevent racism. Unfortunately racism has a unsavoury reputation in both host nations Poland and Ukraine. The first incident was in Krakow where the Dutch squads black players were subject to monkey chants by the locals during an open training session. UEFA said it had no plans to launch an investigation into the alleged racism, saying the abusive chanting was in protest against Krakow not being chosen as one of Euro 2012 host cities. During the Group C game in Poznan between Italy and Croatia, Italian frontman Mario Balotelli was racially abused by around 300-500 Croatian fans. The Italian had previously implied he would walk off the pitch if such racism was aimed at him. Uefa  opened disciplinary proceedings against Russia as Anti-racism campaigners claimed Czech defender Theodor Gebre Selassie was victim of monkey chants by Russian fans.The Russian fans were once again the center of attention as a minority clashed with Polish fans on the streets of Warsaw as a result of tension between the rival fans. UEFA again had to react and fine the Russian Football Federation.These incidents marred an otherwise delightful championship opened by the opening fixture between Poland and Greece.   Competitive football’s acerbity proved to be difficult challenge for a young Poland team with very little combative football. The average age of their squad is between 23-24, their inexperience showed but fortunately for the Poles they could call on super sub goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton who came on for Wojciech Szczesny after he was sent off to save a penalty and as a result maintain a 1-1 draw against Greece. Pre-match all the focus was on coach Frabciszek Smuda, who stated that Dortmund trio Lewnadowski, Piszczeck and Blaszcykowski could all move away to foreign ventures with Lewandowski in particular linked with a move to Manchester United.And it was he who opened the scoring with fellow Dortmund colleagues combining down the right wing to set up the opening goal of the tournament.Greek defender Papastathopoulos, already hit with a yellow card for fouling Lewandowski, saw red four minutes from half-time for bring down Murawski. As Poland struggled through the second half Salpigdinis scored to level proceedings and won the penalty which was missed by captain Karagounis .The match ended a draw, Tyton the hero in Warsaw. Having topped a major tournament qualification group for the first time in five attempts,  hopes were high for the Euro 2008 semi -finalists. The Russians arrived strongly supported despite the team playing in Poland instead of Ukraine .Going to Ukraine, where Russian is widely spoken and where Russians do not need visas , would definitely been preferable.Nevertheless Russia went top of the group as Alan Dzagoev’s double helped them to an impressive victory over the Czech Republic at the Municipal stadium in Wroclaw. Despite the slow start the Russians soon found their stride to take a 2-0 interval lead through midfielders Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov.Vaclav Pilar gave the Czechs hope by pulling a goal back shortly after the break but Dzagoev and substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko on for the profligate Aleksandr Kerzhakov sealed the win. The Danes have a romantic history as  underdogs in the European Championships, built around their triumph in 1992. Denmark took the lead against the run of play with a well-executed goal after 24 minutes, picking up a half-clearance just outside the Holland penalty area, Krohn-Dehli gained himself space to line up a low left footed drive and his shot passed between Maarten Skekelenburg’s legs on its way in. The few Bronby fans in Kharkiv supporting the Danes could be heard serenading Krohn-Dehli with the line “you are the love of my life, you can knock up my wife” to celebrate the frontman. Holland had reached EURO 2012 with a blizzard of goals in qualifying and had brought to the competition the leading goalscorers of the Premier League and Bundesliga in Van Persie and Schalke’s Klaas Jan Huntelaar, though the latter was resigned to the bench to accommodate creative trio of Robben ,Sneijder and Afellay. A lack of quality in the final third and serious problems in defence cost the Dutch a result .The romance continues for now at least. Joachim Low’s young side had to deal with with the pressure of being pre-tournament favourites by many pundits and experts but finished their opening night in the “Group of Death” with three well earned points courtesy of a explosive header from Mario Gomez which was guided away from Rui Patricio’s fingertips. The Nationalmannschaft principally took the counter- attacking route at the 2010 World Cup, but they have since become more confident in taking the initiative based on the vision of playmaker Bastian Schweinsteiger.The Germans started strongly versus the Ronaldo lead Portugal side looking solid defensively and penetrating going forward. The glitzy presence of “CR7″ was a shadow of his Real Madrid performances but a burst of stepovers leading towards the goal are was stopped by a brave tackle from Boateng. Germany finished overall winners of the match after Gomez had added his first goal in a major international championship despite already having 21 goals to his name. Tiredness is a major issue for Spain in their attempt to retain the European Championships and complete the “trirecord” Research shows that performance levels drop when footballers have played over 3500 minutes of football. Many of the Spanish players have exceeded the 4000 minute mark with some have reached 5000 minutes. To overcome this problem Vincent Del Bosque had to rotate, although he surprised many by starting without a proven striker and instead playing Fabergas or “Cesc” as his jersey displays. Watching Spain was like a World Champion boxer limited solely to jabbing. Italy’s rigid defending didn’t help them and the Italians took control through a goal from Antonio Di Natale. The lead lasted only minutes as Cesc equalised in the 61st minute. Torres late lack of confidence cameo as a substitute failed to unlock the sealed scoreline. Playing in an outdated 4-4-2 formation Irealnd conceded defeat to the hands of the Croatians as they failed to show any of the fight and character that qualified them for the European Championships. Mario Mandzukic  scored after three minutes and it looked as the match would end in embarrassment for the Irish and their supporters. Ireland won a free kick and an Aiden McGeady cross set up Sean St Ledger for Irelands first goal in ten years in an international championships. The Croatians skill mastered by magical virtuoso Luka Modric proved too much for the boys in green as Mandzukic again and Jelavic scored to announce Croatia’s rise to the top of Group C. Despite Hodgson’s illustrious career, managing 18 teams, including three national teams this is by far the sternest test for the former Inter Milan and Liverpool coach. Hodgson was not the favourite to succeed Fabio Capello. Still, his appointment was met with admiration from top football experts for his contribution to the game to date. The first challenge was overcoming a French team who entered the tournament in a 21 unbeaten match run under the leadership of Laurent Blanc. It was the “Three Lions” who opened the scoring with a header scored by Joleon Lescott from a sweat Gerrard cross from the second time of asking. France responded through Samir Nasri who’s shot flew passed the onlooking Joe Hart. The spotlight was on young “Gunner” Oxlade Chamberlain, a bold choice to start by Hodgson but shows the managers eye towards the future for his England side. At present it ended 1-1 a strong start for Hodgson. In-depth focus on Roy’s England : Analysing England v France : Location Donetsk

As expected England lined out in a 4-4-1-1 formation with the midfield of Milner- Parker-Gerrard- Oxlade Chamberlain protecting the back four of England producing a shield of eight players which France found difficult to pass. The stats above show that France dominated possession for most periods of the game. This was no surprise to Hodgson who witnessed Yohan Cabaye against his West Brom side earlier this season, was again to discover the French gem who commanded the play and got froward as England dropped deeper in the second half. The main reason why France were able to retain and recycle the ball back in their possession so easily was due to the no-nonsense tackling and intelligent use of the ball by Alou Diarra. He forced Ashley Young out of the center scoring zones through his positioning which was a credit to him when considering Young already has five England goals to his name. Diarra proved vital for France by completing all of his tackles and completing 100% passing to his teammates. He had played little for Marseille this season and he looked sharp in the holding midfield position. Andriy Shevchencko has once again scored the winning goals for Ukraine totaling his goal tally to 48 for his country a record which will not be matched for some time. It was a man who plies his trade at Sheva’s former club AC Milan who scored for Sweden. That man is the temperamental Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is in the form of his life at club level and added to his tally of 30 international goals. Ukraine never gave up and the co-host’s were in jubilation as their hero Shevchencko scored the goals that placed Ukraine top of Group D. A spectacular strike by captain Jakub Blaszcykowski ( Kuba) helped Poland to draw 1-1 against Group A favourites Russia in a game marred by violent clashes between rival fans outside the stadium. Poland dominated the early exchanges looking dangerous from set-pieces. But Russia, who had never beaten Poland in their home soil, took the lead when Dzagoev sent a looping header into the net from captain Andrey Arshavin’s inswinging free kick after 37 minutes.The Poles responded strongly in the second half, however, and Kuba cut onto an Obraniak pass on the edge of the box and hit a scorching drive into the corner of the net to send thunderous applause around the stadium. The Czech generation of Euro 2004 is closing with only Baros, Rosicky and Cech remaining. It was time for fresh blood to be introduced into the Czech side. These mix of recent debutants rapidly repaid manager’s Michael Bilek faith in them as Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar both scored within six minutes to give Czech Republic. Wolfsburg midfielder Jiracek showed his composure to finish a left foot shot past the Greek goalkeeper. Pilar, who has agreed to join Jiracek at Wolfsburg scored the on the sixth minute for his second of the tournament. However in the second half Cech gifted Greece a lifeline after fumbling Giorgos Samaras’s cross and Fanis Gekas responded to the Chelsea goalkeepers error. Those who questioned that Holland had peaked in the World Cup Final in 2010 got their answer as Holland slumped to a second defeat at Euro 2012. And as if losing wasn’t bad enough they had to surrender defeat to the hands of rival nation Germany. Holland with their failure to keep up with the Germans which in turn backfired their tactic of aggressive and compact play.They had to envy the Germans as they marshaled “Total Football” a method which was always renowned and in fact invented by the Dutch. Mario Gomez was on the scoresheet yet again adding his total to three at Euro 2012.If Gomez was executioner, the Dutch were sentenced to defeat by Schweinsteiger who made both goals. Van Marwijk rotated his frontline in drastic measures. The brilliant Robin Van Persie turned sprinted clear and hit a clear strike on goal to give Holland their first of the championships. Nicklas Bendtner [above right] has scored for Denmark every time he has lined out against Portugal and this fixture was no exception he scored two goals but could not safeguard Denmark to a victory over Portugal. Bendtner known as a confident figure. He dramatically over-exceeded an Arsenal psychologist’s scale in a confidence test scoring 10 despite the test being out of nine was how Wenger described it. The Dane was at the center of controversy again as he dropped his shorts to reveal “Paddy Power” bookmakers boxer shorts and was subsequently fined.Through Pepe, Postiga and sub Valera, Portugal claimed victory in a thrilling encounter. Balotelli retained  his position upfront for Italy partnering Antonio Cassano once again. Both mercurial and talented in their own right but it was neither who opened the scoring for Italy. The scoring duty fell to Andrea Pirlo who rifled a free kick into the corner of the net leaving Pleitikosa no chance between the sticks.Pirlo the silent leader he speaks with his feet – Marco Lippi, World Cup winning coach with Italy. Croatia were building on momentum and eventually responded through Mario Mandzukic to level the score. Howard Webb blew the final whistle and it finished 1-1 in the Municipal stadium in Poznan. Vincent Del Bosque ditched the 4-6-0 formation for now at least and favoured Fernando Torres upfront for the Group C fixture versus the Republic of Ireland.  The Irish conceded early again through clumsy defending the ball sprung to the lurking Torres who unleashed a powerful shot over Shay Given and into the goal. There was no let up as the World and European champions went in search of a second goal. Spain doubled their advantage as Given fumbled Iniesta’s drive and the ball fell for David Silva to score. Torres dispatched his 30th international goal to make it three and Cesc completed the rout and it resulted in a 4-0 scoreline with Ireland being the first team knocked out of Euro 2012. Even through the constant song of the Irish supporters of James Joyce poems was not enough to spoil La Roja’s night. The sequel to the game of two halves before and after the thunderstorm.It looked unlikely that the game would continue due to the torrential rain and lightning affecting the television coverage – it would be unfair to blame Ukraine for the Donetsk thunderstorm, that was just bad luck, Ukraine’s 2-0 loss to France was not due to bad luck. It was more to do with poor defending exploited by the crafty French frontline. Menez replaced Malouda in the starting lineup and subsequently scored his first international goal for France. Shevchencko was ruled out with an injury  which reduced Ukraine’s threat upfront and their morale. Newcastle playmaker Cabaye also scored his first in a French jersey to end all hope for the home fans. Sweden made a game of it. The Swedes look brighter and easier on the eye since the departure of former coach Lars Lagerback who was replaced by Erik Harmen. Harmen’s side lost to England last November in one of Capello’s last games as England manager. His replacement Roy Hodgson has experience of management in Sweden coaching and influenced their style of play using a back four with zonal marking which is still used today by Sweden. Roy was surely upset at they way England conceded to Sweden in set-pieces, Melberg and a Glen Johnson own goal. The England boss looked rejuvenated when his young strikers Carroll, Walcott and Welbeck [above] scoring crucial goals to give England a 3-2 victory.

In-depth with Roy’s England : England v Sweden : Location Kiev Defensive fatalities were ratified by scoring three goals in a single match not done since 02.09.11 when the Bulgarians were trounced 3-0 away from home in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. The introduction of Theo Walcott was vital to the comeback as he added more pace and penetration going forward than the defensive minded winger James Milner.Walcott’s running in behind the Swedish defense forced them to drop deeper giving the midfield more time on the ball and less pressure being put on the back four. At no point did England play any good football and struggled to retain possession against weak opposition. this is an area that Hodgson needed to focus on. With possession set at 50-50 it was down to set pieces where the most damage would be inflicted to either sides. Sweden’s terrible record for conceding headed goals continued and they were eliminated from the group.

All matches in Gameweek 3 where played at the same time so both fixtures will be divided into one paragraph. Greece came into Gameweek 3 bottom of Group A with only one point. Qualification seemed unlikely against Russia and they needed a victory to go through. Qualification places where also up for grabs in the Czech Rep versus Poland match. Petr Jiracek scored the only goal of a scrappy game in Wroclaw to break Polish hearts and send Czech Republic through into the quarter finals as Group A winners. The Polish looked jaded as early as the second half and failed to equalise Jiracek’s opener eighteen minutes from time.  Built around both young and talented centre halfs Papadopoulos and Sorkratis, Greece where able to claim their first win and clean sheet against Russia and qualify second from Group A against all expectation. Karagounis, a mainstay of the Euro 2004- winning side was the hero but was unfairly booked in the process of the victory and was suspended for the quarter final versus Germany. The planet’s most expensive player has shattered Real Madrid’s single- season scoring records and Cristiano Ronaldo fired Portugal into the quarter finals with a confident double ruling out Dutchman’s Van Der Vaart’s early strike.Both Nani and Ronaldo combined to give Portugal hope of scoring again through their captain, His second, a swift counter attack ended with Nani feeding a long pass to Ronaldo who dummied then cool shot into the Holland net. Germany insured qualification to the quarter finals finishing top of the Group B with full points after sub Lars Bender scored his first for the Nationalmannschaft versus a brave Denmark worthy of a strong mention in the “Group of Death”. Jesus Nevas’s tap in goal or ” sweaty goal” as it is comically described, completed Group C, Balotelli had just outmuscled John O’Shea minutes before the Sevilla man scored to end all hopes of qualifying for the quarter finals for Croatia. But lets not forget the Republic of Ireland they failed to win any games and had equally the worst record at the Euro’s but their fans still sang to their hero’s in pride. Qualification for Euro 2012 was a success story in itself for the boys in green and their loss to the Italians meant the Azzuri qualified second in Group C a feat which seemed impossible before Euro 2012 after the “Last bet”  scandal where Criscito was arrested at the Italian training ground and their embarrassing friendly defeat to Russia. Sweden played without fear and shocked France by defeating them by two goals to nil, the most accomplished being Ibrahimovic’s wondergoal to upset Les Bleus. Sunerland’s winger Seb Larrson wrote off any chance of a French comeback on 90 minutes. The defeat proved that all is not well within the French camp as Samir Nasri admitted to lambasting coach Laurent Blanc. Rooney returned after his two-match suspension to score the only goal of the game for England but this goal overshadowed his disappointing contribution to the team. Steven Gerrard was the provider, his cross bounced off Khacheridi, fumbled by Pyatov and Rooney was lurking to seize the opportunity. Russian born Andriy Yarmolenko tried a mazy dribble to little effect but the Zhovto-Blatykni (Yellow Blues) kept attacking. Ukraine claimed for a disallowed goal as the ball was clearly past the line as John Terry cleared the ball heroically. The disallowed goal brought mixed reaction as Blatter, the contorversial FIFA president  called goal line technology a “necessity”, while UEFA president Michael Platini said goal line technology would be a “historic disaster”. Plenty of debate as England reach the Last 8.

“I don’t give a s**t who wins it now. I’m going on holiday” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, not a man afraid to speak his mind.

In-depth with Roy’s England: England v Ukraine : Location Donetsk

With the midfield congested, most space was found down the wings. Through their home support urging them on and England’s deep defending ,Ukraine were using the flanks in their forward play. On the right is Andriy Yarmolenko, a winger with good potential but needs to track back. He was paired up with Ashley Cole, Yarmolenko often moved inside onto his stronger left foot and played between the lines of England’s midfield and defense letting Husiev overlap. Ashley Young failed to follow Husiev’s run’s putting strain on Ashley goal doubling up with Yarlolenko and Husiev. On the left wing Glen Johnson had the task of marking Dnipro Dinropetrovtsk midfielder Yevhen Konoplyanka.  Most of the play went down the left flank as maybe Blokhin thought Johnson was the weakness in the England back four. It was debated whether Johnson was to start before Kyle Walkers injury ruled him out of Euro 2012. From what I have seen this guy is talented. Pre-tournament he had scored against top sides such as Uruguay and Germany despite being only 22. He set up Shevchencko’s winning header from a corner versus Sweden. Konoplyanka threatened the English goal he had only on shot on target, although he did express his individual skills and powerful shooting. Hodgson needed to express to his defenders that although the game was won players with greater ability and more experience are among the Italian side and that they need to be closely marked in order to get a result.

Quarter Finals Cristiano Ronaldo finally ended the Czech Republic’s stubborn resistance as he headed the only goal of the first UEFA Euro 2012 quarter final to send Portugal into the last four. Ronaldo headed in Joao Moutinho fine cross with 11 minutes left in the quarter final, to capture his third goal in two games, and his second match winning contribution in succession. Ronaldo threatened throughout the game hitting the woodwork twice. Bilek had set his team to contain Portugal’s attacking threat, centre back partnership Sivok and Kadlec were formidable in front of the experienced Petr Cech. Ronaldo’s penetrating and clever movement was what decided this quarter final encounter. The Iberians were celebrating victory courtesy to “Maquina” (machine). A hint of complacency as Joachim “Yogi” Low changed his successful lineup which collected 9 points in the group stages. The German side included Marco Reus ( in for Muller) Schurrle (in for Podolski) and Klose (in for Gomez). Reus and Schurrle are both raw at international level were a gamble chosen by Low, but displayed confidence in the “Die Nationalelf ” jersey in Germany’s quarter final 4-2 victory over Greece. Low’s plan was to provide unpredictability along with speed and mobility and it worked with Reus in particular  impressing. Germany took the lead on 39 minutes through full back Philipp Lahm, Samaras’s goal ten minutes leveled the score. Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus all found the net prior to Dimitris Salpigdinis’s late spot kick.Germany march into the semi’s continuing their winning record at the Euro’s. France may have been the last team to beat Spain competitively but they could not repeat the heroics of 2006. Short sharp and purposeful on the ball La Roja looked capable of unpicking the French lock whenever they pleased. Spain were never going to batter the door down, simply shimmy it open. For the opening goal the on running Xabi Alonso timed his run, was not followed in his run by Malouda and met an delightful cross on the back post with a diving carefully placed header. False centre forward Cesc Fabergas was subbed as Del Bosque switched from a 4-6-0 formation to adding Fernando Torres to the match to spearhead the attack. Pedro was also introduced as France continually failed to deliver to their pre tournament form. Xabi Alonso converted from the penalty spot to complete his double on his century of caps to give Spain a 2-0 win.

Tiki-Taka with a midfield twist : Dossier on Spanish style of play  Part 1

The key to Spain’s long spells of possession in matches is now commonly known as tiki-taka , a Spanish nonsensical phrase that roughly means “touch, touch”. There was no team at Euro 2012 that completed as many passes as la seleccion, and they move the ball with pace as well as precision. The pace in which Spain play the ball has slowed than in previous tournaments, which is understandable considering that that the majority of players play for Real Madrid and Barcelona. Both teams reached the semi finals of the Champions League they both eagerly contested the fight for the La Liga crown.Thirteen players from the squad contested the Spanish Cup Final in the fixture between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao on the 25th of May.

Tiredness is an issue, no in fact another challenge that Spain have overcome. Well critics in their minority will say they keep the ball for so long that they couldn’t be tired. That sentence has the reverse effect on opponents.”When we did eventually win the ball back we were so exhausted from chasing it we couldn’t do anything with it” admitted Miroslav Klose after the 2010 World Cup semi final. Germany ran 1.2 miles more than their opponents in that match.

In my recent publish pre- Euro 2012 “Injuries pave the way for new Spanish stars” I mentioned who Spain would play in a 4-6-0 formation bemoaned by critics and lovers of fast attacking football containing mistakes which open up the play. Spain played with Cesc Fabergas as the False no.9. In my recent publish I figured that David Silva would play this position as he thrived in that role in the fixture against Scotland. Silva instead played on the right and was encouraged to play through the lines to find gaps as did Fabergas. The problem is that in order to fully complete the tiki-taka style a striker is needed to run in behind and get into goalscoring positions.At Euro 2008, Spain had 56.6% of the ball and shot every27.4 passes ; in South Africa, that was 65.2%, with Spain taking a shot every34.2 passes. This time around it is 67.4%, with Spain taking a shot every 42.9 passes. With no out and out striker Spain’s passers have to take more passes in the hope of getting a through ball on goal leading to a shot.

As a result Xavi Hernandez   influence in the attacking third has decreased as they are less players going forward to express his expert froward passing and vision. Xavi and Iniesta are key to the tiki-taka style of play. Xavi the metronome that keeps the Spanish side ticking over while Iniesta is more of a ball-playing attacking midfielder, who likes to run and weave through defenders. Through these players Spain’s style is now non-neogotiable – which means dominance of possession and a game built around their passing ability, through tiki – taka. Amid the eulogies surrounding Spain’s ball retention and the team’s creative qualities, one thing have been overlooked, possession has been as valuable defensively as when attacking- opposition teams simply can not get the ball to test Spain’s defence , only one goal conceded so far in the championships says it all.

In order for Spain to compete in the final against Italy they need to be be more direct and still stick to the tried and beautifully tested tiki-taka style. In Euro 2008 and in the World Cup 2010 Spain could call on David Villa for goals. Without him through injury, Spain have lacked that sharpness in front of goal. “There are two sides of football – the defensive and offensive – and we are getting it completely right in the first of those two areas,” . The solution for the the offensive could be starting Fernando Torres their most threatening striker or Fernando Llorente, who was has been overlooked so far. A third triumph in a row for Spain would cement tiki-taka style into the history books.

Alessandro Diamanti struck the decisive penalty after Gianluigi Buffon had denied Ashley Cole as Cesare Prandelli’s side booked a semi final with Germany. After an electrifying opening in Kiev, the imperious Andrea Pirlo took the baton and much of the play took place at his sumptuous tempo. This was a quarter final that began as it ended – with heart in mouth. Either side could have ahead inside five minutes. The most breathtaking chance was Daniel De Rossi’s shot that rattled of the upright. England defended deep. Italy’s forward forays were studied, full of elegance and elan as Antonio Cassano and Pirlo picked at the English armour.The additional half an hours extra time came with very little incident and penalties proceeded, the first of the tournament. Italy through to the semi’s. England fail yet again on penalties. Pirlo’s elegant chipped penalty to live long in the memory.

Penalties scored/missed

England :  Gerrard, scored  Rooney, scored  Young,  missed  Cole,  missed

Italy : Balotelli, scored  Montilivo, missed Pirlo, scored  Nocerino, scored  Diamanti, scored    Italy win 4-2 on penalties.

In-depth with Roy’s England : England v Italy : Location Kiev

In the little time given to Roy Hodgson managing the England national team he can count topping Group D and qualifying for the quarter finals as a success. Roy’s first objective was to tighten the back four. That was a success which can be built upon those foundations for the 2014 World Cup. Joe Hart, however animated in the penalty shootout is the best keeper England has produced since Peter Shilton, Hart will be vital for the future. John Terry, although aging was dominant at centre back, England where held together versus Italy by his rigid and effective defending. Pace was never a key factor in Terry’s game, he thrives with defenders around him which gives him confidence to tackle bravely and attack every ball. Even the great Bobby Moore had no place but was still a legendary player. Steven Gerrard assisted three of England’s goals the key player in Ukraine for the “Three Lions” He will captain England in their quest to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil and will be key as England try to develop a passing game along with Jack Wilshere.

Are you watching Jack?  How Jack Wilshere can learn from Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo

Jack Wilshere must has been siting at home or indeed at the match witnessing the playmaking gift of Andrea Pirlo and thinking to himself ” I want to play that way for England”. One mistake Hodgson made was leaving Pirlo free to roam the midfield, he made 30 more passes than anyone on the field and they weren’t just sideways passes [as shown on the image above ] his passes fed the hungry forward duo of Cassano and Balotelli causing Terry and Lescott horror all night but they maintained the pressure in an assured fashion. The narrowness of this Italian side suited England when making blocks and tackes. When comparing a future England side with Wilshere as playmaker, you would assume they would play with more width and give the young Arsenal midfielder space to spread the ball into dangerous areas. Wilshere will continue to watch Pirlo into the final, learning the key elements to such an extraordinary player one to which Wilshere should emulate to .

Semi finals

Cesc Fabergas scored the winning penalty in the penalty shootout  to send Spain into the final in Kiev against Portugal their Iberian rivals. Thoughts before the match were with Miki Roque- the Real Betis defender who died aged 23 from cancer on Sunday – Spain paid their respects by playing with black armbands.Spain started the match under intense pressure from Portugal looking jaded in possession and really struggling to get to grips with the game.The pace of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani meant Paulo Bento’s men posed a latent danger, coiled and ready to spring and the pair spearheaded the pressing of the Spanish in possession. As the second half grew to a close Spain continued their “passing carousel” which was not revolving at its smoothest and the match came to penalties. Rui Patricio saved the fist spot kick from Alonso, Moutinho followed for Portugal but missed, Iniesta scored next, although forgotten post match by Spanish reporter Sara Carbonero. Pepe and Nani scored for Portugal from the penalty spot but unfortunately Bruno Alves missed his spot kick and Cesc scored the crucial decider to put Spain in the final.

Penalties scored/missed

Portugal : Moutinho, missed  Pepe, scored  Nani, scored  Bruno Alves, missed.

Spain: Alonso, missed  Iniesta, scored  Pique, scored  Ramos, scored Cesc, scored.  Spain win 4-2 on penalties

Fifth in line; Ronaldo fails to show leadership in the penalty exit to Spain

After the stunning performance against the Czech Republic, all those flattering tributes resurfaced. Don’t get me wrong, his compliments where earned, with Euro 2012 only enhancing his reputation. Journalist and experts alike where brought back down to earth in there compliments of Cristiano Ronaldo. They thought he would expose the often jaded Spanish side and captain Portugal to the final. How they were wrong. Instead he fires a series of blanks, and fail  to take any of his team’s four penalties, condemning them to so depressing exit.

“Injustica” were the words used to describe Ronaldo’s disappointment after the shootout, no need for translation. Cristiano Ronaldo had earlier wasted a chance in the 90th-minute to prevent the “extras”, the Real Madrid forward, taunted by chants of “Messi” by a small band of Spanish suppporters. Ronaldo missed again after snatching a shot from a Raul Meireles pass. Ronlado failed to trouble Casillas with any trademark tormenting strikes and his famous free kicks all went for nothing.

Placing Ronaldo as fifth in succession of Portuguese penalty takers against Spain seemed to border on insanity, Ronaldo first choice taker of penalties for Real Madrid and  Portugal ( at least until the penalty shootout confusingly) in the Champions League Final in 2008 Ronaldo took Manchester United’s first penalty and missed he also took the first penalty and missed in this seasons Champions League semi final against Bayern Munich. International and former club teammate Nani says Ronaldo demanded the fifth penalty. Why not take the first though ? As captain show leadership score the first and get Portugal on a strong start in the shootout, instead two centre backs are let take penalties ahead of Ronaldo. The question is did Cristiano Ronaldo go for for the glory penalty by going fifth or did he bottle under the intense pressure, I doubt so with his ego. Why with Ronaldo so deadly from six yards left at the back of the queue ? The ultimate responsibility most fall on manager  Bento who should have demanded Ronaldo take one of the first penalties. “Ate a vista” the Portuguese term for goodbye to to Ronaldo and co. Unlucky to lose in the lottery that is penalty shootouts. Portugal paid the penalty for poor decision making ( pardon the pun ).

Mario Balotelli, half  of the Azzuri’s double act of enigmatic strikers was the hero for Italy scoring the winning goals as they secured their place in the final alongside Spain. The controversial character provided Italy with the cutting edge and two first-half goals. The first was set up by his heir in extravagence Antonio Cassano as his cross was directed past German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and “Super Mario” headed Italy in front after 20 minutes.Then the Sicilian added his second with a thunderous shot measuring 75mph from Riccardo Montilivo’s long ball forward. Mesut Ozil’s late penalty provided Italy the briefest of anxiety but “Gil Azzurri” proved victors with Balotelli to warm to the embrace with his mother upon his celebrations .

A poor performance by the fallacious  Mario Gomez was subbed at half time and his stats are shocking compared to the younger and more talented Mario Balotelli. But it wasn’t just the Bayern frontman’s fault that Germany failed to compete with the Italians. Their back four was found out. Hummels looked solid in the early group games against an out of sorts (at the time) Ronaldo and a woeful Dutch team. Mats Hummels poor positioning and basic defending abilities were discovered, looking more David Luiz than Franz Beckenbauer. Lahm tired but failed to keep a steady line for playing offside for the second goal they conceded. Bastin Schweinsteiger gave away possession too often for a player of his standard. Maybe he is suffering from the effects of injury but it could also be a sign of a player that peaked in 2010 yet to rediscover that form. Well, Bastin look no further for inspiration. Andrea Pirlo, again pulling every string, orchestrating every movement. Kroos failed to keep the shackles on the Juventus man who is looking like the “Renaissance man”

Andrea Pirlo “Renaissance Man”

“Entrusting him with the ball is like investing in German federal bonds”  - reckoned Gazzeta dello Sport

“Pirlo is a silent leader on the pitch. His feet do the talking for him”  - Marcelo Lippi, Italy’s World Cup-winning coach

“I thought,’God exists’, because it is just embarrassing how good Pirlo is ” – Juventus teammate and Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon

Stately, sedate and aloof. Not a set of adjectives deemed especially desirable for a player in the rough-and-tumble of modern football.But Pirlo is all this and more. A dead-ball expert as superbly shown against Croatia in the group stages and can make a five yard pass look like Da Vinci’s last Supper. And what about that penalty. Equaling the great Panenka, after who the chip penalty is named after. Pirlo left a psychological blow to the animated and cocky England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

“You do what you do spontaneously, you see the keeper move and you hit it”. “I decided that way before I had kicked it” I dedicate the goal to all Italians. ” You don’t train to hit a penalty that way, just like you don’t think about missing it” – Andrea Pirlo

Also having an Indian Summer with Juventus, playing a major role in their Seire A unbeaten run leading to the title. Surely Pirlo the “Renaissance man” will live  long in the memeory.

The Final : Spain versus Italy : Location Kiev

Spain saved their best football until last, conjuring up a stunning scoreline against the Italians. A statement of intent, a thrilling 90-minute advertisement of the most beautiful football which not be matched by any other national side for the rest of  our generation. The 4-0 scoreline was a powerful statement, a masterclass performance all round with no shortage of entertainment. Spain’s style has been described as passenachio, tiki-taka but they started in the final with far greater tempo, pressing high in their usual fashion but were progressing with a fast passing game in the Italians half, rarely seen in their first encounter in the group stages.

“Nosotros hachemos la fiesta,” – we will party. And the Spanish started the celebrations. Andres Iniesta found himself with space near the 18 yard box. His personified vision and extraordinary technique to find Fabergas behind Chiellini. The False no.9 meet the pass with a good first touch then crossed to the on running David Silva. Goal 1-0 to Spain. At this stage Spain had already six shots on goal after only 14 minutes of play.On the half hour fans of La Roja could be heard in their majority with endless chats of “Ole”. When Thiago Motta got injured in the second half, Prandelli had ran out of subs. The crowd more clear and loud chanting “Campeones”. The match had still 34 minutes left to play.

Spain’s second goal was scored by Jordi Alba, a converted winger to attacking wing back. The interception made by Alba after some pressure by Italy going forward. Alba pushed the ball in front of him, weighed up his passing options and played the ball to midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez . Xavi waited for Jordi Alba forceful drive outsprinting the Italian back four with ease. Xavi released the ball timed perfectly to Jordi Alba’s run finished of by a composed strike by the wing back. During the tournament Barcelona agreed to pay Valencia £14m for his services. That looks a bargain now.

When Italy went down to ten men there was no way back for them. Looking jaded after a long tournament,Pirlo and Balotelli both a shadow of the players they were during the tournament. Not through their own fault they just couldn’t get the time and space to work their magic. A compliment to the Spanish controlled defending.Speaking of controlled, Xavi equaled his sumptuous standards playing a major role in three of Spain’s four goals. Manager Vincent Del Bosque could smell blood from a wounded Italian side. He chose Fernando Torres as his warrior adding a new dimension to Spain’s forward line. Torres repaid his managers faith in him,adding his second goal in successive European final the only player to do so. The last finished by Juan Mata with his first touch of the match assisted by Torres. Fellow Chelsea fans will remember a similar goal between both players in our Champions League winning campaign. Torres showing an unselfish streak with a scything run and pull back to Juan Mata against Bayer Leverkusen.

Teamwork and trust in each other was what won this final for Spain. Key understandings between players most club teammates alongside exclusive side with technique and an undescribeable desire to win trophies again and again. Much like their tiki-taka style,playing it again and again.Bring on Brazil in 2014 their next objective.

Match stats, kindly provided by Opta

What They Said…

“We were lucky, we played a great match and everything went for us,” “It was an extraordinary performance against a difficult opponent” ‘The team played a great match, all the players were at their top level we are very happy’.  - Vincent Del Bosque  Spain coach

” They totally dominated this evening,” These are experiences you have to deal with and have to accept” – Cesare Prandelli  Italy coach

“We have from worse to better … we have set a high standard.Now we must enjoy the moment” – Winning captain Iker Casillas

“Today I feel comfortable on the pitch. I’m very happy with two assists. There was a lot of pressure on us, now we must enjoy ourselves”. – Xavi Hernandez  Spain midfielder

“Scoring in the final of your first big tournament is something very special. Xavi’s assist was perfect”.  - Jordi Alba  Spain defender and scorer in the final

Is Spain’s current crop the greatest of all time ?
Spain look  to have risen above the shadow of greatness of the  Brazilian heroes of 1970 led by Pele ,the “Black Pearl”

The four international  teams that I would even consider on being the best international team of all time are. Brazil’s brilliant immortals of  1970, Holland’s Total Football’s pioneers, West Germany, captained by Franz Beckenbauer winning the European Championship in 1972 and World Cup in 1974 and finally Spain who have won successive European Championships and the World Cup in 2010.

Led by Rinus Michels, a manager that was influential in Holland’s style of play branded “Total Football” In Total football, a player who moves out of position is replaced  by another in his team, thus the retaining the team’s intended organisational structure. In this fluid system, no outfield player is fixed in a nominal role; anyone can be successfully an attacker, midfielder and a defender. Their style of play at the 1974 World Cup was very pleasing on the eye, orchestrated by Johan Neeskens and their star Jordi Cruijff. Holland lost the final to West Germany despite their dazzling display. The Dutch took the plaudits but Germany take the prize.

The famed West Germany side began their hunt for international trophies by beating the Soviet Union by three goals to nil. “Der Bomber” Gerd Muller scored two in the final . That year West Germany took the first three places in the 1972 European Player of the Year poll, with Franz Beckenbauer narrowly beating Gerd Muller and Gunter Netzer who were tied for second spot. In 1974 the World Cup was hosted by Germany and they won narrowly beating Holland 2-1. Although it was a great West German side both trophies were won in Belgium and the World Cup hosted in Germany meant they an overwhelming support from fans and an advantage of not having to travel far to them competitions.

The second best international side ever in my opinion behind Spain. The Brazilian team of 1970 won the World Cup hosted in Mexico by beating Italy in the final 4-1. Brazil featured Pele, Jarzinho, Tostao, Rivelino and captain Carlos Alberto. They won all six games on the way to the final scoring 19 goals they had showed how attacking free flowing football could deliver a World Cup. Brazil were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy permanently. This side is generally perceived as the greatest of all but I have to disagree. Their defense was hopeless their attack peerless. They cannot match Spain’s longetivity. This Brazil side won just one trophy and looked a thuggish rabble by the 1974 World Cup.

Spain are the greatest international side of all time. Another World Cup victory in Brazil in 2014 would spread the reality into the misbelievers. They are the history makers because quite frankly they had no history to their name beforehand apart form a European Championship win in 1964. Compared to Brazil already with two World Cups under their belts. The crop of 1970 were feared especially of Pele, who was pretty much an unknown star at the time. Spain had to build from rock bottom. Sometimes peoples “dark horses” at tournaments, they would always let you down. After 2008 Spain were no longer doomed to failure. The key game was against Italy in the quarter finals when Fabergas scored the winning penalty in the shootout.

” We knew after the penalty shootout against Italy that we were on a road to greatness, We had belief that we could win”. – Fernando Torres goalscorer in both European Championship finals victories

Spain believe now; the weight of history no longer drags them down.  Following their triumph in Vienna against Germany, Spain won the World Cup against Holland with Andres Iniesta scoring the winner and becoming a national treasure. They then became “Kings of Kiev” destroying Italy by fours goals in the final therefore completing the “trirecord” (Euro,World Cup and Euro) something that had never been achieved in world football before.

Spain have developed a winning mentality from players who were rivals for a long La Liga season with tensions always high from “EL Clasico. Yet Spain are the team with the shared winning mentality and philosophy with no disputes in the dressing room.

“If it wasn’t for Iker, Xavi and Del Bosque. Spain wouldn’t have come this far.Clasicos caused tensions”. – Joaquim Hernandez ( father of Xavi)

Spain have evolved over the last four years, although their game can be described in one phonectical phrase “tiki-taka”. Few sides have had such a consice identity with Holland’s Total Football in 1974 perhaps the only equivalent. Not since that has footaball been so dramactically redefined. And all this in the modern game with sides filled with turbo charged athletes and ultra defensive approach of opponents. Spain are unique. The touch and technique is unrivalled as is the dominance of possession. When they attack they do not hammer away at defences. Instead, they pick off the opposition, removing their armour piece by piece, playing with patience and precision. In tight spaces, they are often breathtakingly brilliant.

Spain are not a team defined by great moments, they are defined are defined by the trophies they biennial and by the breathtaking style that they win with. They are one of the greatest sporting dynasties of all. History makers and doing it in style.

Tiki-Taka with a midfield twist : Dossier on Spain’s playing style   Part 2

It was the manor in which Spain completed the “trirecord” that has international managers in tandem as to how Spain will be stopped in their gallop of winning their hauls of trophies. How can they be so composed on the ball under pressure? How can they trust their natural instincts and stay true to their style in when they have played so many games in succession over the years?

The answer lies in Barcelona who used the “Total Football” style of play accordingly with the style of play handed  down to Johan Cruyff by Rinus Michel. Cruyff imposed “Total Football” to Barcelona and improved youth facilities leading to the famed youth academy La Masia. Cruyff became Barcelona’s most successful coach with 11 trophies but has since been surpassed by Pep Guardiola who achieved 15 with the same principals. Now major stars for club and country, both Xavi and Iniesta idolised Guardiola in his playing days at Barcelona. Guardiola showed great respect to both helping them expand their game and made them the players they are today using the tiki-taka style. Xavi had once pondered a move to Manchester United before Pep arrived as manager and Iniesta was forced to playing on the wing by Rijkaard. The tiki-taka style would fail unless midfielders like Xavi and Iniesta are utilised to there highest capabilities. Barcelona and Spain are simply following the talent available to them and their traditional style of play.

“In Barcelona it is understood that you can win a thousand ways. All ways are valid. All work”  - Pep Guardiola

Spain are similar to Barcelona in other ways than those that seem obvious. Of course Spain are going to play the way Barcelona do. It is a successful way to play proving dozens of trophies and most of the squad play for Barcelona. Spain employed the much criticized 4-6-0 formation. People fail to realise that last season, the last of the Guardiola era, Barcelona played the same formation. Messi plays in the False no.9 role that Fabergas plays for Spain. Only Messi is not criticized as he is one of the best of players of the game scoring 73 goals and 29 assists last season. Fabergas could not be expected to achieve such stats with Spain.

Former Swansea and now recently appointed Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is an advocate of tiki-taka football. Brendan Rodgers recently sketched out his formation in possession  based on the tiki-taka style approach to the game to journalist Duncan White. He divides the pitch into eight zones. I will use these zones to explain how Spain’s tiki-taka style of play can be improved in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.

Here are the roles Brendan Rodgers has assigned to his Swansea side last season. For my analysis on how Spain can improve in their goalscoring I will focus on zones 7 and the zone Rodgers has assigned as G where the chance conversion occurs. This is the area Spain have lacked in. Although Spain have scored 12 goals in Euro 2012 you have to consider 8 of them goals came in the matches against the Republic of Ireland and in the final against Italy. Fabergas is represented in the formation above by the player in zone 7. I have no problem with Fabergas occupying this position as he has the vision, technique and finishing ability to perform in that role. But I feel a natural striker should occupy this position as a natural striker has the instinct to read in between the lines, make penetrating runs, and play on the shoulder of the defender. Fernando Torres or David Villa could easily occupy this role and would be a natural goalscorer compared to Fabergas. When Fabergas plays this position he drops deep to receive the ball, therefore no striker is available to make a penetrating run in behind. Unlikely goal sources such as David Silva occupying the poachers position for the first goal in the final and Jordi Alba’s goal which provided a Olympic like sprint from the full back provided that Spain won against Italy. But in the semi final fixture versus Iberian rivals Portugal Xavi lacked options to showcase his wonderful range of passing as no player was willing to run in behind the Portuguese defense. If Del Bosque decides to employ a striker in zone 7 I can only see Spain getting stronger and maybe be the first European side to win the World Cup outside of Europe.

Andres Iniesta : An in-depth look at the player of the tournament at Euro 2012.

UEFA have named Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta as player at the tournament but was followed closely by Italian deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo. He follows fellow midfield partner for club and country Xavi Hernandez who won the player of the tournament at the 2010 World Cup. Iniesta plays higher up the pitch for Spain than for Barcelona. He starts on the left wing but is allowed the freedom to roam from his position to find space in crucial ares. In this position Iniesta helped Spain to a second successive  European Championships playing a key role alongside Xavi in Spain’s four goal victory over Italy to become the first country to retain the title.

“Andrea Pirlo was magnificent for Italy, Xavi  won last time and could have won it again. Xabi Alonso was magnificent but Iniesta sends a message about creative and incisive football and was superb throughout.” – Andy Roxburgh, head of UEFA’s technical group.

World and European champion Andres Iniesta has multiple strings to his bow, and is a constant menace with the ball especially when dribbling at defenders. Iniesta is also in a league of his own when it comes to scheming deep in midfield, picking out a killer pass or arriving in and around the box at the right time to score the winner as he did on the biggest stage against Holland in the World Cup Final. His sublime range of passing, dribbling ability and extraordinary football brain are at the core of the finest International team on the planet.

When Iniesta scored in the 116th minute against Holland in 2010 he brought all football fans together in Spain. He was applauded onto every opposing pitch he ran onto and even the most die-hard Madridstas have to admit they have a soft spot to the playmaker known as “El anti-galactico” because of his modesty and work rate on the pitch. After scoring in 2010, Iniesta took of his shirt to reveal a slogan on his vest saying “Dani Jarque, always with us” who had died of heart failure little under a year earlier. After winning the player of Euro 2012 thus year, Iniesta donated his £300,000 bonus from winning the tournament to those affected by housefires in Valencia.

Analysis of the statistics of Andres Iniesta

They say that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. But sometimes the stats are true. Sometimes there is no arguing with numbers. This is one of these cases when analysing the stats of Andres Iniesta. This time, the arithmetic goes hand in hand with the aesthetic.  Euro 2012 stats courtesy of WhoScored.com.

Andres Iniesta had the most shots per game for Spain with an average of 3.3 per game and had two successful dribbles per game.

Andres Iniesta had the most shots on target (6)  from shots inside the box at Euro 2012.

Andres Iniesta also had the highest amount of key passes for Spain with 2 per game.

Iniesta’s stats look even better while playing in La Liga. Stats courtesy of Opta Stats show the unique ability of Iniesta to dominate the game with a fusion of flair and precision.

Andres Iniesta Lujan Fact File:  Natinality Spanish, Age 28 (11.05.84) P.O.B  Fuentealbilla Albacete, Spain, Height 1.70m (5ft 7in), Position midfielder, Teams Barcelona 2002-present, Honours Spain: World Cup 2010; European Championships 2008, 2012, Barcelona: Club World Cup 2009, 2011; Champions League 2006, 2009, 2011; Spanish League 2005,2006,2009,2010,2011; Spanish Cup 2009, 2012; Spanish Super Cup 2005,2006,2009,2010,2011.

My Euro 2012 XI: Formation 4-3-3 ( No not a Del Bosque style 4-3-3, I actually have a striker in it)

Key: Name; Position;Country; Bio

Iker Casillas ; GK; Spain;Casillas only conceded 1 goal throughout the championships and if it weren’t for his crucial save against Croatia in the last game of the group stages, maybe Spain might not have qualified for the knockout rounds. Deserves great credit for controlling the dressing room as tension could have rose between Barcelona and Real Madrid players as a result of “El Clasico”.Casillas equaled Edwin Van Der Saar’s number of clean sheets at the Euro’s with 9.

Federicio Balzeretti; RB; Italy; The Palermo full back preformed effectively at both left back (his prefered position) and right back where he preformed assuredly in traditional Italian fashion and has a very good positional sense and slide tackle. Came on as a sub for the injured Chiellini in the final.

Pepe; CB; Portugal; Pepe formed a formidable partnership with Bruno Alves at the heart of Portugal’s defense keeping two clean sheets all in the knockout rounds including holding out  Spain for 120 minutes bringing the match to penalties. Strong and aggressive, Pepe showed his composure scoring against Spain in the penalty shootout. He also scored in the group stages against Denmark.

Sergio Ramos; CB; Spain; After some shaky performances in the group stages Ramos really upped his game in the knockout rounds. Keeping 5 clean sheets is mainly due to the Real Madrid mans athleticism. Against Portugal he matched Cristiano Ronaldo for both pace and strength. Scored in the penalty shootout with a delightful chip.

Jordi Alba; LB; Spain; Barcelona looked to have found themselves a bargain signing Alba for £14m. The former Valencia wing back has solved Spain’s left back problem. His expert link up play with Iniesta and surging forward runs lead to his goal in the final as he made an Olympic like sprint towards goal.

Andrea Pirlo: CM; Italy; Pirlo will be forever remembered for his spooned goal in the penalty shootout against England which was similar to European Championships legend Antonin Panenka famous penalty. Despite his age Pirlo was controlling the midfield proceedings in every match apart from the final. Unlucky not to win player of the tournament.

Sami Khedira ; CM; Germany; Consistent performer for Germany scored his second international goal against Greece. One of the few box to box midfielders at the championships combining technique with great athleticism and determination.

Xavi Hernandez; CM; Spain; Really got into first gear in the final where he had a fantastic game. Xavi has made the most passes in European Championship history with 843 after Spain’s victory over Portugal. Xavi assisted 3 goals at Euro 2012 all in the final.

Cristiano Ronaldo; WF; Portugal; Despite a poor performance in Portugal’s semi final defeat to Spain, Euro 2012 only enhanced Ronaldo’s already glowing reputation scoring three goals and hitting the woodwork four times. Had a record total of  12 shots against Holland and had 70 long range shots without scoring. Failed to take a penalty against Spain.

Fernando Torres; CF; Spain; Only started one game against Ireland but still won the Golden boot. He added to his double against Ireland by scoring and assisting in the final against Italy. When coming of the bench he added a new dimension to Spain’s frontline.

Andres Iniesta; WF; Spain; Player of the tournament and was consistent throughout the tournament. His dribbling added excitement to Spain’s tendency to over pass and his passing was excellent with a 89% pass completion.

Although I have five Real Madrid players in my team I am not a Madrid supporter. In fact I prefer watching Barcelona and they are my favourite team outside England. Agree or disagree with my XI, Why not comment your team below.

Worthy mentions most go to football statistics sites such as FourFourTwo.com/statszone/ , WhoScored.Com and OptaSports.com for the completion of this review. My tiki-taka dossier could not have been completed without the help of football writer Jed Davies. From his popular and well-written blog  http://thepathismadebywalking.wordpress.com I could gather extra information on tiki-taka from his complete handbook on the style.

At the time of writing Chelsea have yet to decide on their new manager faced with the challenge of defending both the Champions League and the FA Cup titles are defended and guaranteeing that a top four place in the league is achieved. I would expect that Roberto Di Matteo would be handed the role after winning the Champions League as interim manager but the change of heart by former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola on his decision to take a break from football means that Roman Abramovich prolonged attempt to secure him as manager could renew itself. The owner loves beautiful football but he also loves winning the Champions League which Di Matteo provided in only a matter of months . The recent signing of Eden Hazard shows the ambition still within the owner after the triumph on the 19th of May but the question is why did Hazard chose Chelsea an ageing side playing negative football over the two Manchester clubs both who looked in fine form in the closing season .

Tottenham were the first to be alerted when despite claims that he wanted a move to La Liga , the  Belgian International claimed “Maybe I will play there next season ” It’s a nice club with a lot of good players and absolutely top coach . “The transfer is still pending” he said ,I have not signed anything yet but hopefully it will happen in the near future. These we strong signs that he was heading for North London. Then with all  the commotion of Harry Redknapp rumoured to get the England job Spurs formed dipped dramatically so did Hazards interest in the club.

When news broke that he wanted a big move away from LOSC and that he stated “I can learn the most in England” .”You play a big game every week with great atmosphere ” Sir Alex Ferguson declared interest in the 21 year old and watched him live in Lille  2-1 defeat to Lyon .Despite Scholes surprise announcement to come out of retirement to pull on the red jersey once more United still looked undernourished in the midfield area. Hazard told La Voix du Nord ‘Of course [ United interest me ] this is a club that excites everyone , but for now my focus is on Lille. But yes it is a pleasure to be watched by one of the best if not the greatest manager in the world’.

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini described him as a great player with great potential but distanced himself from a move from the player until after the season was over . Some could say he tried to sabotage Uniteds attempt to sign the playmaker but the City coach did a U-turn on his earlier intentions and decided to watch Hazard live as did Ferguson. Mancini witnessed a stunning performance capped with two goals and later hails Hazard as the perfect destination for City despite an abundance in playmakers already in the likes of David Silva and Samir  Nasri.

At this stage Chelsea had jousted to success past Champions League holders Barcelona and were lining a date with destiny against Bayern Munich in Bayern’s own stadium. Chelsea winning belief had alerted Hazard who got his agent to meet with Chelsea officials just days before the final according to French magazine L’Equipe . The Blues Champions League and FA Cup triumphs force Hazard to reconsider plans to locate in Manchester. LOSC manager Rudi  Garcia suggested he had to rethink his proposed transfer . Hazard signed off with the 2011 French Champions by scoring a hat-trick  in his last game . Hazard still had the cards in his hands and was plotting rather pretentiously on where he would be playing his football next season on Twitter.

With so many clubs interested in his signature he was going to leave some fans disappointed , to call him “Big-headed” as the cartoon [above inset] illustrates is a bit harsh. But he lead himself open to criticism by announcing that he was going to sign for the “Champions of Europe” on Twitter despite Chelsea nor any of his representatives confirming the move to West London. The transfer is supposed to total to around £35m and £170,000 a-week in wages or £9m a year also agent Jorge Bico wants £6m himself in agent fees  which altogether amounts to £78m a substantial investment to make on a 21 year old even by Chelsea’s inflated  standards. As Chelsea are currently without a manager the transfer was conducted by Michael Emenalo who has also added Marko Marin to the squad as Chelsea reshape their squad with Didier Drogba being the main departure . It is thought that Hazard could wear the number 11 jersey but first he has to live up to all the hype .

His stats look the part and according to @OptaJean he is alongside  Messi as the only player to assist or score more than 15 goals/assists in the top 5 European leagues. I’m also impresssed that he managed to play all 38 games proving his natural fitness is similar to Ronaldo and Messi despite his young age . The consecutive Ligue 1 player of the year winner has won an array of praise from fellow Frenchmen Christophe Duggarry ” He reminds me of  Cristiano Ronaldo especially in acceleration, Hazard is really for a great career”. Resemblances with Ronaldo and Messi are premature and not earned yet , besides his stlye is more suited to Frank Ribery ‘ taking on the full back with mazy runs instead of performing unimaginable  acts of gifts portrayed Messi and Ronaldo.

The Premier League will provide a wider showcase for his talent and there is no doubt he will gain more praise from top Premier League managers . Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson “Hazard is a very good player. He has many qualities .He is rapid over 10 yards . Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger “His creative ability, his talent for unbalancing players his vision of the game , and the consummate skill in making the final pass mkes him all make him a top class player “. Many will want to see him fail at Chelsea but I wish him the very best as a Chelsea supporter and hopes he leads us to more silverware . After signing for the Champions League winner’s he is in turn putting to bed one of the biggest transfer saga’s in football history.

Vincent Del Bosque is not known for major tactical changes could have his hand forced into making radical changes due to the injury of both David Villa and Carles Puyol .Villa suffered a broken leg in the Club World Cup in 2011 versus Al Saad in the semi-final. He is yet to start since for Barcelona since his injury and is a major doubt to be selected for Euro 2012 .In the case of Puyol, he suffered discomfort in his knee following Barcelona’s weekend thrashing of Espanyol.Reports are that he requires arthroscopic surgery and a six -week  lay-off is the prognosis.This is a major blow for the Barca captain who expected to retire after the 2010 World Cup but stayed on and is unlikely to feature for “La Roja” again.

These injuries mean Del Bosque will have to shuffle the World Cup winning sides line up. Although he has introduced players such as Llorente and Jesus Nevas who can give different options rather than the “tiki-taka” stlye this Spanish side has become renowned for. In his usual starting line-up Puyol and Villa were important figures who will be difficult to replace.

Reigning world and European champions Spain do not solely owe their dominance to their attacking panache and brilliant Barcelona-inspired short-passing game.

As well as the aesthetically pleasing ,La Roja have substance and desire in abundance ,and no player in their  ranks has more of the  gladiatorial about him than shaggy-haired Barca stalwart Carles Puyol .Spain certainly cannot do without his legendary fighting spirit, leadership qualities, extraordinary mental strength and capacity to rise to the big occasion – such as his winner in the 2010 World Cup semi-final against Germany.

Javi Martinez is likely to partner Pique at center back in Puyol’s absence , although Segio Ramos could swap to center back where he has played for Real Madrid for the majority of this season. This would mean Del Bosque would lose a vital attacking threat down the right flank. 

Marco Bielsa’s Athletic  Bilbao has played some of the best football in Europe this season.One of the cornerstones of their play has been the placement of Javi Martinez arguably a world class midfielder,  proven also to be an accomplished center half. It was clear that Martinez would suit the orthodox centeral defensive roles. His reading of the game and using an all round  intelligence got from his midfield experience .His main factor is his passing ability which suits Spain style of football, short or long he can find his man with ease and has obtained the knack of a high pressing game from Bilbao’s style of football based around the “tiki taka” panache of Spain. As a result of these factors it is likely that Del Bosque will start him alongside Pique for Euro 2012 .

Other national team managers must envy the depth of Spain’s squad . With David Villa’s injury a replacement is required . Fernando Llorente offers Spain more options in attack , his height brings an aerial threat that could be relied on to break down stubborn opposition in Group c such as Italy and Ireland . Robert Soldado is a born poacher.The former Real Madrid man scored a hat-trick in a recent friendly against Venezuela . And lets not forget Fernando Torres a flurry of recent good form could push his place in the squad but is unlikely to start.

David Silva was the forgotten man of the 2010 World Cup, but is likely to play a far more important role at Euro 2012 in an advanced forward role. One of the stars of Euro 2008 a change in management and tactical switch meant Silva appearances was limited to an opening loss to Switzerland in the World Cup. Also a tactical shift from one deep-lying midfielders to two – Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso playing together meant one fewer for the creative gang of Spanish little men, no place for Silva.

But another tactical shift , a little over a year later , might mean there is now a place after all .It might mean a starring role as “Spain’s Leo Messi ” at this summer’s European Championship . Silva gives the Spanish that touch , technique and skill of creativity and fantasy as Messi does to Barcelona . Also England proved that as any doubts that Silva could cope with the pace and physicality of the Premier League so he should be able to weave through opposition defences at the Euro’s.

It did not matter that Silva had performed impressively since moving to Manchester City , he no longer appeared to be central part of Spain’s plans. Even his fantastic start to the season was not making an impact , he was the Premier Leagues best player yet could not get in the Spain team . Del Bosque insisted that he  was following Silva’s progress – and the Canary Islander continued to be included in every squad , even getting the occasional goal – but he had not been to England to see him.

Silva may have been playing brilliantly , but Spain were hardly short of great players and they had won the World Cup without him . Helping City to the League title and a 6-1 win at Old Trafford certainly did is prospect no harm neither did Champions League football no matter how fleeting. However it was Silva’s shift from the flank to a more central role  that finally made a case for his inclusion in the national side .

Playing with greater freedom meant he cintributed more assists more goals and more key passes. Prompted by David Villa’s injury and Torres’ drop in form , Del Bosque  found a role for City’s playmaker .There was a difference  though , while City’s Silva dropped deep starting as well as finishing moves , and often receiving possesion behind Yaya Toure rather than in front of him ,Del Bosque  pushed Spain’s higher .

Against Scotland in November the coach played Silva in the position known as the “false number nine” .Silva scored twice and set up one . Against England Del Bosque opted for a similar approach .Spain didn’t win but were still in control of most of the match. Against Venezuaela Silva scored another wonderful goal to complete an astonishing first half performance .

A tactical shift once took Silva out of the team  now he is back where he belongs The world and European champions had found a place for him , going this way and that catch me if you can David Silva is forgotten no more.

 

 

 

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