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Posts Tagged ‘ Yaya Toure ’

World Cup 2014: Predictions For Every Team

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With the kick-off of World Cup 2014 now less than a week away, the excitement is starting to build. Coverage of the event is starting to really pick up, as the footballing world gets ready for the beginning of it’s biggest event of any calendar year. With that in mind, I would like to put forward my predictions for every team and how they will fare, including all the teams who will fall at the group stage hurdle, all the way on to who I predict will be the eventual winners.

Group stage eliminations

Cameroon

The most likely victim of what is a very tough draw, Cameroon seem like long shots to emerge from Group A. Hosts Brazil, potential dark horses Croatia and Mexico make up the rest of the group, and it may well prove too much for Cameroon to claim enough points to sneak in to the knockout stages. An experienced squad led by captain Samuel Eto’o as well as veterans Alex Song and Jean Makoun, Cameroon also boast young defensive talent in Nicolas N’Koulou and Joel Matip. Unfortunately for them, it seems unlikely that they will prove good enough to edge out two of the other teams, and so it looks like three games and out for Cameroon.

Mexico

It looks quite likely that Brazil and Croatia will emerge from this group, especially if the Croatians can get a point in the tournament’s inaugural match. Mexico had a very ugly qualifying campaign to even reach Brazil, finishing fourth in their group, behind the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras. They eventually beat New Zealand comfortably in a play-off, but it does not augur well for them in such a tough group. Still, Mexico boast a very experienced squad, with the likes of Rafael Marquez still around to organise them. If the likes of Javier Hernandez (who has a scoring rate of better than one every two games for his country) catches fire, then maybe they have a shot. But all signs point to an early exit for Mexico.

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A Beautiful Game No More

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In the last number of weeks, we have been treated to a flurry of high-profile football games, with clashes at the top of the Premier League, big name ties in the FA Cup and the return of the Champions League with the first knock-out round. But did any of those big games bring about a truly enjoyable and competitive game? And if not, why not?

This week’s Champions League ties saw Barcelona take on Manchester City and Bayern Munich against Arsenal. All four teams would have to be considered expansive and attacking in their play, and with both English sides at home, the onus was on them to come out and attack. In theory, we were set up for two classic encounters with sides attacking and counter-attacking constantly. Yet the City game in particular was a huge disappointment. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have averaged 3.5 goals per home game, but ceded ground to the Catalan side from the off, which must have been why Aleksandar Kolarov was picked to play from the left wing. They only looked vaguely threatening and hugely dependent on Yaya Toure to roam forward from midfield and David Silva to create the chances. In fairness, it almost came off when Silva played in Alvaro Negredo, who rounded the goalkeeper only to be driven too wide to apply the finish. By and large though, City were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure, and their attacks were few and far between.

They were largely successful in containing Barcelona until their defensive unit were complicit in giving up the lead. Barca won the ball up the field, Vincent Kompany dropped too deep too fast and played on Lionel Messi, and Martin Demichelis brought him down, giving up the penalty and earning a red card, and changing the complexion of the game from then on. It’s almost impossible to play gung ho against this Barca team at the best of times, but with ten men it becomes time to batten down the hatches. It is interesting to note that it was Jesus Navas, as well as Kolarov, who got withdrawn, as he had the genuine pace that could have offered City a swift counter-attacking option.

The Arsenal game was fairly similar, in that it was changed by the red card to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, but really by that time Munich had taken hold of the game. But Arsenal did come out and play hard and fast for the first fifteen minutes, making Bayern look like a ragged bunch of journeymen. This spell culminated with the penalty won and missed by Mesut Ozil, who was presented with the chance to answer the bandwagon jumpers who have blamed him for most of Arsenal’s problems of late. Unfortunately for him and that game, he missed and the belief seemed to transfer from the Arsenal players to Bayern’s almost immediately. Arsenal barely had an attack of note after that, and certainly none after the red card.

In the case of Champions League ties, the home tie is a tricky one, given the importance of away goals. Even though the crowd are roaring you on and looking to take a lead for the away leg, it may suit a lot of teams to come out with a nil-nil, knowing a score draw in the next leg would see them through. For instance, if City had registered a scoreless draw the other night, would it have seemed farfetched that they could have nodded in a couple of goals from corners or free kicks in the Camp Nou, and put the game beyond Barcelona? Down a man, it is obviously pertinent to minimise the damage, and the couple of away goals both sides gave up mean they are highly unlikely to overturn the deficit and win their ties.

Pellegrini clearly has a lot of fear when thinking of this Barcelona side. Who wouldn’t? He has seen this team first hand a little too often for his own good in the last ten years, as he managed Villareal, Real Madrid and Malaga against them in La Liga during their pomp. It is unlikely he didn’t carry battle scars from all those encounters, and they possess great weapons. But Man City went away from their own strengths in the face of all this, when really they might have been better served by trying to put them on the back foot. Going forward, Barca’s most impressive player was Dani Alves, but he was on a yellow card from early on and is not the most accomplished defender on the planet, could they not have looked to exploit him more? Fortune favours the bold, and Man City had the team that could have troubled Barca a lot more than they did.

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What made these games in particular quite dull affairs was the possession-based game plan of both winning sides. As Bayern and Barca camped out in the English sides halves for the second half of their games, who was visibly enthralled? Toni Kroos smashed in a beautiful goal from outside the box, but Bayern didn’t really carve Arsenal open. Rafinha and Alves as full backs were the most incisive players of the midweek action as they had lots of space when defenders were already sucked in, but Bayern had to resort to lumping on big centre forwards to get the second goal. Nothing wrong with it, but they weren’t exactly cutting holes in the Arsenal rearguard by passing slowly and laterally outside the box. It was dull.

There is a trend in football now, largely thanks to the successes of Barcelona in the last decade, to play possession-based attacking games. Hog the ball, wear down your opponent, wait for your moment when the concentration levels drop, then pounce.  This has seen the rise of the offensive full-back, who is seemingly the player with the most space available to them. In turn, it now seems the centre-back is the new full-back, as the wider areas are closed down and the middle is where the space lies, so if you are lucky enough to have a centre-back with good ball skills they can drive forward and pick a pass, allowing your team to recycle possession effectively. But it is this type of dominant attacking that is making games less open. Opponents are generally pinned back and have to play with a defensive mind-set. There have been examples of teams capable of getting results with strong counter-attacking, such as Gareth Bale’s Spurs (no offense, AVB) and Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan team. These sides were able to take advantage of the major weakness of teams like Barca and Bayern, which is the defensive side of the game. Inter were able to knock out Barcelona and eventually win the Champions League by attacking when the moment was right, and defending solidly otherwise. But teams down the bottom of the league rarely have the speed of thought found in that Inter team’s Samuel Eto’o or Wesley Sneijder, nor the clinical finishing of Diego Milito. Thus, they spend the whole game defending and more or less awaiting the inevitable.

Even away from the elite teams in Europe, this trend can still be the case. The Europa League game between Swansea and Napoli had a similar plot. Swansea were always going to enforce their possession game too, but with all due respect they are not at the same standard as Barca or Bayern. The Napoli line-up was also one that boasted great talent, particularly going forward with the tremendous Gonzalo Higuain and the high profile Marek Hamsik, as well as winger Lorenzo Insigne who has played for Italy and Jose Callejon, who came through the ranks for Real Madrid before making a summer move to Naples. Add in counter-attacking away-leg specialist Rafa Benitez (see; any successful Liverpool European tie during his reign), and this should have been a rip-roaring tie with back and forth attacks. Unfortunately, not the case. Swansea played well but didn’t create too many clear chances, while Napoli were quite poor and resigned themselves to defending from early on.

Liverpool have played Arsenal twice in the last few weeks, with the first game a one-sided slaughter as Liverpool exposed Arsenal’s defence repeatedly in the first twenty minutes. The game was over after those early exchanges, and the second game could have gone the same way, with Daniel Sturridge having two great chances early on. Admittedly, the FA Cup game was a much more competitive game than any of the others mentioned, particularly in the second half. But it still wasn’t an end to end kind of game, as Liverpool dominated possession while pushing for an equaliser. The dross served up in the Arsenal versus Manchester United fixture was perhaps explainable by the frailty of both sides. Arsenal were just coming off the hiding at Liverpool, while United have struggled all year as a particular game plan and style remains unclear.

This is not to say anything is wrong with being a strong defensive side. Some of the best games in history have been based on a strong defensive effort defying a ferocious attack, like the Italian win over Brazil in the 1982 World Cup. There is certainly an art to defending, and it seems to evade the Pep Guardiola inspired teams like Munich and Barcelona. But if opposing teams are unwilling or unable to launch attacks and get at their back four, they will continue to get steamrollered. A fascinating encounter (not unlikely after the first leg results) would be a two-legged affair between these two teams down the Champions League line. None of the other games mentioned were uninteresting in their own right, but a tie between Bayern Munich and Barcelona might give us the furious, frenetic end to end game we’d all love to see.

Images courtesy of uefa.com, uefa.com/AFP/Getty Images

Top 5 Most Under Rated Footballers In The Premier League

World football is full of many talents but some never reach their through potential while others merely live in the shadow of four time world player of the year Lionel Messi and his arch rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

mcThe Premier League has long been regarded as one of the best if not the best league in the world, although recent events such as the world team of the year possessing eleven Spanish based players would tell you La Liga has a huge stake to that claim.

Nontheless despite the snub the Premier League is brimming with talent and here we chart the progress of the top five most underrated players currently plying their trade on English soil.

1) Michael Carrick

Six years ago the vast sum of £18 million brought Michael Carrick from Spurs to Manchester United, a team that were seen to be in a period of great decline. Carrick was handed the number 16 shirt and immediately tasked with replacing former United captain Roy Keane.

His early days weren’t as prosperous as he would have liked but nonetheless his talent was there for all to see as United went on to beat Chelsea to the Champions League title on that faithful night in Moscow.

There have however been incidents where the former West Ham ace was hounded as a scapegoat for United’s defects, none more so than the forgettable 2009 Champions League Final when Barcelona ran out 2-0 winners.

He has however moved on from then and Carrick is now having his finest season to date and is United’s second most influential player behind the potent goal threat that is Robin Van Persie.

The Newcastle born star is not known for his goalscoring ability but his ability to control a game and his precision passing have been at times comparable to the great Andrea Pirlo.

The Englishman, now 31, is the genuine complete article. A model midfielder. His influence on United’s game is more pronounced than ever before. He pulls the strings in attack – dictates the tempo, rhythm and style of their play. His short passing is equally as good as his long. His strength in defence has even resulted in featuring as a make-shift centre back when injuries and suspensions depleted United’s ranks.

It’s a damning indictment of English football that a player Sir Alex Ferguson proclaims is as good as Yaya Toure, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard has started only 16 England games in 12 years.

Is Carrick the most underrated player in world football? Arguably so.

2) Steven Pienaar

Everton have a world class left side, with Steven Pienaar combining brilliantly with Leighton Baines this season. The Toffees have been buoyed by the South Africans return from a spell at Spurs and he’s hitting form at the right time.

Pienaar has always flourished under the radar and while not been held in the same regard as other world class wingers his ability is second to none on his day. Passing, crossing and an eye for goal are all key components of his play and he has prospered since returning home to Goodison Park last summer.

3) Mohammed Diame

Diame joined West Ham last summer, opting to move to Upton Park despite many big name suitors including Liverpool. The former Wigan Athletic star is one of the brightest prospects in the Premier League and it’s no wonder that there is increased speculation about another move been on the agenda in this transfer window.

The combative midfielder covers more ground than most players and his tackling and drive have been key components in helping to re-establish Sam Allardyce’s side in the top flight. Indeed his tackling and dribbling abilities far outweigh those of Man City star Yaya Toure and the Hammers will be hoping to keep hold of their prized asset.

4) Leon Britton

30 year old Britton is the only British player whose passing and ball control abilities can ever be comparable to Barcelona magician Xavi. Last January it was revealed that Britton had the highest pass completion rate of any footballer in the world at that point of the 2011/12 season with a 93.3% rate, 0.3% better than his illustrious opponent.

His control, vision and knack for picking out the inch perfect pass make watching Swansea City a treat for any pure football fan. Although this is not to say that the Swans are by any means a one man team.

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5) Ryan Shawcross

Fresh from signing the longest contract in the history of Stoke City, Shawcross is playing the best football of his life, throwing his body on line to block shots. He leads a very stubborn back four with his brute force and physical presence.

His command and reading of the game make him a big asset to any team and Tony Pulis has done well to secure the services of Shawcross, who had been catching the eye of former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

At 25 he represents the future of the English national team and 2013 will be a big year for the Stoke skipper to cement his place in Roy Hodgson’s plans.

 

Super Sunday Should See United Pull Clear As City Slip Up

Robin van Persie of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal of the gameTwo huge games on Sunday see four of the biggest names in the Premier League come up against each other. Liverpool travel to Old Trafford to play the table toppers at 1.30 and at 4pm Arsenal host Man City. Man United should come out on top of the earlier tie, the match at the Emirates is harder to call. Yaya Toure’s departure to the African Cup of Nations is going to leave a massive hole in the City team over the next few fixtures, and Arsenal can prosper from this. However, Arsenal’s defensive frailties should be exposed by Man City’s attacking threats. The bookies are offering shortened odds on the draw for this match, and I can’t help but agree that both sides will earn a solitary point.

We’re going to invest our accumulator interest in the Saturday fixtures however, starting at the Madejski Stadium. Fulham stuffed West Brom and so too our bet in the previous round of Premiership matches, and I don’t think the Baggies’ away tie against Reading will be a fruitful endeavour either. They come into this game on the back of three games without a win and are seriously depleted; Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob are unavailable and the sad news that Zoltan Gera will miss the rest of the season will resonate like a death bell for Albion. Reading on the other hand are showing signs that they have shored up their defence. Narrowly beaten by a late Gareth Barry header against City, their next two home games saw them preventing both Swansea and West Ham from scoring. If they can continue this sort of defensive performance on Saturday, I think that 9/4 are generous odds for the home side to earn a draw.

Next off to Carrow Road, where two teams on a dismal run of form come up against each other. Both teams have lost their last three Premier League games but there can be no doubt which side are cowering in the darker realms of depression. Languishing two points above the drop zone, injury ravaged, knocked out of the FA Cup by Brighton for the second year running and having just lost their one beacon of hope light to Chelsea, Newcastle’s season just seems to relentlessly continue to go from bad to worse. The one lonesome positive of the winter is the signing of French right-back Mathieu Debuchy, but I can’t see him dragging his new teammates to victory on Saturday. Chris Hughton will be out to get one over on his former club who senselessly sacked him months after he had inspired the Magpies to promotion back to top flight football. His Canaries should overcome their opposition whose hopes now rely on Papiss Cisse, who may prosper from his fellow countryman’s departure. Norwich are available at 6/5 to win.

The final leg of our accumulator finds us focusing on the match between Sunderland and West Ham, two teams who are looking somewhat busy during the current transfer window. The Hammers have welcomed back one of their many long lost sons in the figure of Joe Cole and he made an instant impact in his homecoming match, creator of both goals in a 2-1 victory over Norwich. West Ham will be heartened by their 2-2 draw with Man United in the FA Cup, whereas Sunderland’s identical result with Bolton should have the opposite effect. The home side are lacking in defense but still pose a threat up front with the exciting Stephane Sessegnon and Steven Fletcher always dangerous. I think this one will end up in a draw; it’s available at 9/4 and means that this week’s accumulator packs odds of about 22/1.

Premier League Results

Chelsea 2-0 Blackburn Rovers

Goals from Branoslav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka lifted Carlo Ancelotti`s side back into the Champions League places.

Man City 4-3 Wolves

Wolves battled valiantly at Eastlands but were undone by a Carlos Tevez strike. Nenad Milijas gave Wolves a shock lead early on when he prodded home from narrow range. A Kolo Toure goal and a Tevez strike either side of half time but Man City 2-1 up. Yaya Toure scored shortly after and Tevez added his second. Kevin Doyle kickstarted the fight back scoring from the penalty spot after he was brought down by former Wolves player Joleon Lescott. Mick McCarthy`s side further cranked up the pressure four minutes from time when Ronald Zubar scored but the equaliser was not forthcoming. This win was enough to lift City to the top of the table.   

Stoke 2-0 Bolton

A Danny Higginbotham goal and a penalty from Matthew Etherington ensured Bolton`s away day blues continued.

West Brom 3-2 Blackpool

An 87th minute goal by Peter Odemwingie ensured West Brom took the spoils in a pulsating match. A sublime chip from David Vaughan had given Blackpool an 11th minute lead before Odemwingie drew things level. James Morrison put the Baggies ahead in the second  half and when Gary Taylor Fletcher equalised for the Tangerines it seemed as if a draw would be the outcome. Odemwingie broke Tangerine hearts when he poked home his second strike of the day. 

West Ham 0-3 Arsenal

A double from Robin Van Persie, one of which was a penalty and a Theo Walcott strike ensured West Ham remain rooted to the foot of the table.

Wigan 1-1 Fulham

A late Andy Johnson goal secured a point for Mark Hughes` men ,cancelling out Hugo Rodallega`s goal.

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