Football Station


Silly Season 2010

James Milner or Bruce Banner?

Even as the World Cup droned on, players were changing hands, contracts signed and bridges burned all over the world of football.  David Silva made the rare choice to switch clubs during the World Cup while being involved with it, Yossi Benayoun moved south and David Villa made what is probably going to be the biggest move of the summer to Barcelona.

Those are confirmed switches.  However, even before a deal is officially complete, everybody usually knows about it.  So what are the budding rumours?

Arsenal – The Gunners need a goalkeeper and a holding midfielder, that’s why it’s no surprise that two top notch keepers are linked in Schwarzer and Handanovic.  Initially, it was thought that the £4m asking price for the Fulham man was too high, seeing as how he is 37.  Handanovic is only 26 years old and would be a great signing for Arsenal.  It seems unlikely that Cole will sign as Wenger said that they don’t need any players in the wing areas, so it makes it more unlikely that Hazard will sign as he is the same sort of player and probably more expensive.  Fabregas looks set to stay for the season at least, but next year may find Barcelona too much to resist.  The biggest problem for Arsenal is that they are fully staffed in nearly every area of the pitch, but they are all around 21 years old and need time to mature.  There is a lot of promise to be had in Arsenal’s squad, but it may not reach its potential for a few years time.

Ins – Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), Samir Handanovič (Udinese), Eden Hazard (Lille), Joe Cole (Free)

Outs – Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Sol Campbell (Celtic, Sunderland, West Ham)

Aston Villa – Other than everything that is being clearly reported by the press, Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill is being

The Former Spurs' captain could be set for just about anywhere.

characteristically tight lipped about his transfer plans.  Once again, he is attempted to hang on to one of his star players despite interest from another club (once again Manchester City).  McGeady gets a lot of mixed reactions from EPL fans and whether he makes or breaks in the Prem will be a mystery until he potentially signs and plays for the first time.  Robbie Keane would be a great signing.  He’s Prem proven and a well rounded forward who has more finesse than John Carew but is more physical than Gabby Agbonlahor.

Ins – Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Robbie Keane (Tottenham),

Outs – James Milner (Man City), Nick Shorey (Liverpool),

Chelsea – With Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco all walking out the door of Stamford Bridge, it’s hard to imagine that Ancelotti won’t look to replace at least one or two of them.  He is a manager known for not liking complete overhauls, so it doesn’t seem like several major summer signings are in order.  Fernando Torres looks like staying this season after Hodgson came out and said they had good talks, but this is “Silly Season” and anything can happen.  If he does leave, it will be for a sizable sum (reportedly £50m).  Kaká has been linked in numerous locations, but it’s hard to imagine that Mourinho would dump the former FIFA World Player of the Year without much of a chance.  Don’t bet on him moving.  Sergio Aguero has been long linked with the Blues, and it wouldn’t shock me if he ended up making the change.  The young Argentine is worth about £30m and could be well worth it, but whether he’ll be a fit for the EPL is still up for debate.  Ashley Cole could well be bound for Real Madrid along with team mate Frank Lampard, as both will be keen to link up with former manager Jose Mourinho.

Ins – Sergio Aguero (At. Madrid), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), Kaká (Real Madrid)

Outs – Frank Lampard (Real Madrid), Ashley Cole (Real Madrid)

Everton – Shrewd, yet brilliant would characterize David Moyes’s transfer style.  He rarely breaks bank, but he manages to bring in outstanding talent for half as much as other players are moving for.  Steven Pienaar signed for £2m, as did Mikel Arteta.  Tim Cahill joined the Toffees for only £1.5m!  These players are worth more than triple those figures now, and everybody (myself included) are interested to see who Moyes brings in next.  So far, Moyes has brought in 3 strikers, which says something about what he sees as needing improvement.  Moyes, like I said, is very shrewd and not much transfer whisperings leave Goodison until it’s a done deal.  His biggest task of the summer will be convincing Steven Pienaar to stay around, with Tottenham & co. waiting in the wings.  A big boost for all of Moyes’s transfer dealings is that most of his players owe him quite a bit of loyalty, because, if it weren’t for him, they could still be rotting in Championship sides.

Ins – Joao Silva (Desportivo Das Aves), Jermaine Beckford (Leeds), Magaye Gueye (Strasbourg), Jan Mucha (Legia Warsaw)

Outs – Steven Pienaar (Tottenham), Mikel Arteta (Manchester City), Jack Rodwell (Manchester United)

Announcing his hour long TV special, "The Decision" in the next few days...

Liverpool – Until they kick their campaign off against Arsenal at Anfield, many questions will be asked of Hodgson’s side (and will probably be asked after that, as well).  Obvious transfer rumours include Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano’s futures.  If Hodgson can convince at least two of them to stay, the Anfield faithful can breathe easy again.  Mascherano looks already out the door as he has made no secret that he wishes to join up with Benitez again at Inter Milan and is reportedly dodging Roy Hodgson’s calls and texts.  Liverpool have made an approach for Joe Cole, and though Spurs look the likelier destination, he may not be out of the question for the Reds.  Rafael van der Vaart has been linked as well, but that would concede Steven Gerrard to a more central role in the pitch.  That or…he could be leaving.  For once, it seems, most of the transfer rumours (In’s at least) have yet to surface, as Hodgson gets a better look at his squad.  They have, however, declared their interest in speaking to some of Manchester City’s more disenchanted players.

Ins – Joe Cole (free), Stephen Ireland (Manchester City), Shaun Wright-Philips (Manchester City), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Madrid)

Outs – Steven Gerrard (Real Madrid), Fernando Torres (Chelsea, Barcelona), Javier Mascherano (Inter Milan), Emiliano Insua (Fiorentina)

Manchester City – This could well take up 2000 words, so I’ll do my best to keep it short.  Linked with just about any player who has featured for a national team in a major competition, Manchester City’s strategy mirrors that of Chelsea’s.  Money talks.  If it doesn’t, try more.  Seemingly a band of well paid mercenaries, the Blues at Eastlands don’t seem to find much of an emotional attachment to any of their players.  Boys move seamlessly in and out, but it’s hard to ignore the talent that now forms their Starting XI.  Mancini is known to be an admirer of Fernando Torres, James Milner, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko.  All four of which are serious possibilites, however it is hard to see Torres moving to such a heavy rival to Liverpool.  But Milner and Dzeko look to be really itching to join ranks at Eastlands, where it looks like a matter of time for Balotelli.

Ins – Mario Balotelli (Inter Milan), Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), James Milner (Aston Villa)

Outs – Craig Bellamy (Tottenham), Joe Hart (Arsenal), Carlos Tevez (Real Madrid, Inter Milan)

Manchester United – The finances of The Red Devils are really a mystery.  Does Ferguson have the sales from CristianoRonaldo?  Do they have to sell to buy?  Regardless, like every summer window, United are linked with a host of top players.  Vidic looks set to move to Real Madrid, and then the question becomes: who will replace him?  Despite the fact that Ferguson came out and said they aren’t interested in Joe Cole, the gaffer is known as a master of mind games and may well be working a number in the transfer market.  Wesley Sneijder has been linked, but there looks little possibility that the Inter Milan man will leave.  He’s among the most talented players in the world at the moment and enjoying playing with the European champions and is coming off a trip to the World Cup Final.  Luis Suarez is another name that has popped up on the radar, but the striker would only be brought in should Berbatov be sold.

Ins – Luis Suarez (Ajax), Jack Rodwell (Everton), James Milner (Aston Villa), Steven Pienaar (Everton)

Outs – Nemanja Vidic (Real Madrid), Dimitar Berbatov (Bayern Munich, AC Milan), Patrice Evra (Real Madrid)

Tottenham – Top 4 new boys, Tottenham Hotspur will really be looking to show the Premier League that they are no slouches, and they won’t have to wait long as they open their campaign with Manchester City at White Hart Lane.  Then they enjoy an October by hosting Everton and Aston Villa and traveling to Old Trafford to finish up.  However, Harry Redknapp hasn’t made a lot of noise in the transfer window so far other than rumblings.  He’s set to sign 21 year old Internacional holding midfielder Sandro once their domestic campaign ends, but don’t put it past Redknapp to have more than a few lines in the water.  By the sounds of it, those include Joe Cole, Steven Pienaar, Craig Bellamy, and Luis Fabiano.  Clearly Redknapp sees improvement in the attacking aspect of his squad and looks to be doing his utmost to see talent brought in.  And with their newly attained Top 4 spot, not many of their players seem to be looking for the exit.

Ins – Joe Cole (free), Steven Pienaar (Everton), Craig Bellamy (Manchester City), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla)

Outs – Robbie Keane (Aston Villa, Celtic)

Allegedly one of Hodgson's "disenchanted" stars who could be on his way out of Anfield.

Summary – Joe Cole is one of the biggest English talents on the move this summer, and he looks set for either Tottenham, Liverpool or Arsenal, but his wages seem to be a sticking point for most of them.  Still, Spurs look likely.   Fernando Torres is a big name player who could be on the move, but looking at Hodgson’s comments today, he may be sticking around Merseyside for a season longer.  Somebody who doesn’t look to be is Javier Mascherano.  The Argentine captain seems to be ignoring the new manager’s calls and texts about his future.  If that is the case, then his professional attitude needs a serious adjusting.  James Milner to Manchester City could well be on the cards if Martin O’Neill doesn’t stand in his way…however the North Irishman has a nasty habit of doing just that.  Milner is about a 50/50 at this point to stay.

There is still much more than any regular fan can fathom at this point, and with the World Cup over, we can watch it all unfold.



Fresh Meat

NETHERLANDS – SPAIN

“Fresh Meat”

Final – Preview

July 11th, 2010

There’s a first time for everything, and for Spain, it’s a World Cup Final.  For the Netherlands, it could potentially be their first ever World Cup trophy after featuring in the final in 1974 and 1978.  Those appearances coupled with their Euro 1988 win give the Dutch the historical edge, but recently, Spain is the more accomplished of the two sides after winning Euro 2008.

Neither side is a sure bet for the win, as they are both more than capable of winning the tournament.  The pitch will be packed with talent as the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt will take on the Spanish Armada consisting of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and David Villa.  Ironically, both teams have been notorious for choking in the past, yet both find themselves thrust onto literally the greatest stage in world football.

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Netherlands –

The Oranje are a well oiled machine.  Any questions that were asked of them before the tournament have promptly been answered as the Dutch are now 6/6 in South Africa.  They’re not as flashy as some of their supporters would like, but you can’t argue with the results they’re cranking out.  Beating Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay is no small order but the Oranje have done it well.

In a rich vein of form, the Inter Milan man could win the Champions League and World Cup this year.

Stengths

The Dutch have world class talent littered across the pitch.  Wesley Sneijder is almost without question, the best attacking midfielder in the world and he’s flanked by Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt – two very different players but both extremely effective in their play.  Against Uruguay, their back line looked a lot better than it did in the first half against Brazil, and all four starters should be fit and ready to go against Spain.

Weaknesses

Their defensive unit.  Van Bronckhorst, their captain is 35, Joris Mathijsen is 30 and Andre Ooijer (should he be used) is 35.  Now Van Bronckhorst showed that he still has quite a bit of power in his screamer against Uruguay, but he still can be exposed by speed and trickery.  Notably, he will face quite a bit more of that against the Spaniards, who are brimming with confidence and skill.  If David Villa has a bad game (you never know), then it could really open the match up as Netherlands will be able to fortify the back line while using van Bommel to help defense flow seamlessly into attack.  Also, the Dutch will really have to hope that Robin Van Persie finds some kind of form, because their striking department has lacked bite.

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Spain

If there’s any time to buckle, this is not it.  However, you can’t help but feel that having never been to the finals, that this might be their most likely time to do so.  With so much expectation and playing such hot-and-cold football, who really knows what Spain team will show up against the Netherlands.

Strengths

What isn’t a strength for Spain?  The boast one of the best keepers on the planet, Pique and Puyol anchor the back line, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro/Busquets make up the midfield and they have one of the most in-form strikers in the world in David Villa.  They play classy and attractive football, and should they score the first goal, the Netherlands will find it incredibly tough to bounce back.  They’re the strongest squad on paper going into the final, but, as we all know well, that doesn’t mean much.

Weaknesses

The Spanish aren’t flawless, as many would like to believe.  They have tendencies and soft spots that can be exposed if rubbed the right way.  Playing with a lone striker allows teams to crowd them out and frustrate their attack.  Netherlands isn’t known as a counter attacking team, which isn’t good news for Spain as their style is tailormade for stiffling counter attacking play.  I’ve always said that Joan Capdevila is their weakest player, and while that says a lot about their starting line up (because Capdevila is a solid player), he will be facing Arjen Robben and likely Dirk Kuyt.  As the Germans tried to exploit (albeit unsuccessfully) were the soft spots behind the holding midfielder and in front of the defense.  And with Ramos pushing so far up the pitch, Sneijder will make a killing off those pockets in which he can work with Kuyt or Robben.

Gelson Fernandes scores the winner for Switzerland against Spain in the Group opener.

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Prediction – Both teams are formidable sides, but it’s hard to look past Spain now.  Germany was probably their sternest test, and with that out of the way, they look like they could well go on to win it.

Netherlands 0 – 2  Spain



Wing It – Netherlands v. Brazil Preview

NETHERLANDS – BRAZIL

“WING IT”

Preview

July 2nd, 2010

Port Elizabeth, South Africa

With no games today and no games tomorrow, the footballing world is left twiddling its thumbs and (if their side is still in the competition) throwing up a Hail Mary or two.  The competition was been slashed from 32 teams to 8, sending 24 squads packing home.  Saturday brings two world heavy weights and two relative underdogs toe to toe in the competition.  South America is represented in every one of the Quarterfinals (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, & Uruguay) , while Europe has three in Germany, Netherlands and Spain.  With the world’s finest footballers sharing the same field this weekend, there are bound to be fireworks.

NETHERLANDS – BRAZIL

Football purists are drooling over this tie and for good reason.  Bayern Munich team mates Mark van Bommel and Arjen Robben take the field against the Inter Milan defensive trio of Lucio, Maicon and Julio Cesar – whom they faced in the Champions League Final.

There isn’t much between the two sides, and it will be down to the wire on Saturday as Wesley Sneijder leads the Dutch against Kaká and the South Americans.  Brazil’s back line is deceptively versatile as it can turn all out defense to attack in seconds through the speedy outside backs who love to get in on the action.  Brazil have conceded only 2 goals in the tournament while scoring 8.  Both of the goals allowed came late against Brazil after they had seemingly won the game, which could be a warning sign that they could be more vulnerable towards the 90 minute mark.  Still, their squad’s overall solidity is nearly absurd, as they are all bonafide stars.  The spine of the team is Julio Cesar, Lucio, Kaká and Luis Fabiano.  Don’t tell me that doesn’t just bring a tear to your eye.

Robben will be hoping to expose Michel Bastos on Saturday.

Netherlands are a similar story, as they have also conceded only 2 goals but have scored 7 times, one less than the Brazilians.  They possess some of the trickiest wingers in the world with not only Arjen Robben, but Eljero Elia and Ryan Babel, as well.  Their strike force is almost second to none with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and their wingers frequently getting in on the action.  The Dutch flex their attacking menace insanely well and like to have Sneijder pulling the strings behind the strikers and spraying the ball wide for Robben and Dirk Kuyt to play with.  The former loves to cut in on his left foot and let fly from outside the box, and past experiences against Fiorentina in the Champions League and Slovakia just a few days ago will tell us he is more capable than anyone at making that cut pay dividends.

Key matchups are all over the field, as it happens when world class opponents face each other.  Take your pick.

Robben vs. Bastos.

Van Persie vs. Lucio.

Fabiano vs. Heitinga.

Felipe Melo vs. Sneijder.

Kaká vs. De Jong.

If you had to pick a weak spot in the tie, it might be the Dutch back line.  Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst is 35 and can be exposed by pace, as he will surely meet against Robinho and Luis Fabiano.  Joris Mathijsen is a sturdy central defender but, like his captain, is susceptible to trickery and the more fleet footed.  Also, Stekelenberg is a great keeper, but he will be up against one

The little magician certainly has some tricks up his sleeve.

of the top attacking lines in the world and might fall victim to a slew of Brazilian shots.  Also, the Dutch are perennial chokers.  They are known to cruise through qualifying, breeze past formidable opponents, only to fall to lesser ones.  Here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat it self and we are in for a real game.

If anybody on the Dutch squad can expose inexperience, it’s Arjen Robben.  Luckily for the Europeans, he will be matched up against one of the least experienced Brazilians in Michel Bastos.  While the Lyon full back is a very capable defensive player, he hasn’t face as much attacking power thus far in South Africa (and that’s saying something after coming out of Group G).

Also, the atmosphere for this game should be off the charts.  The famous Oranje supporters meet the world renowned Brazilian maniacs who live and die by their national team’s results.  Hopefully we can hear some songs now (considering that there isn’t an African team playing) other than the dull drone of the vuvuzelas.

Hopefully, Dunga and Bert van Marwijk will be looking to win the game, rather than trying not to lose.

This game will be made in the wings.  Robinho and Robben hold the keys to a game that will be poised on a knife edge.

Prediction

Brazil 2 – 1 Netherlands (after extra time)



A Clockwork Oranje

The Netherlands qualified for the knockout stages today with a 1-0 victory over a resilient Japanese side that were not without their own threats going forward.  Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder was the main man for the Dutch as he blasted a shot into the hands of keeper Eiji Kawashima who could only deflect it into his own net in the 53rd minute.

Sneijder nets his eventual winner from outside the area.

The Oranje weren’t as silky going forward as many people thought they would be.  Their 2-0 win over Denmark didn’t properly reflect the play on the pitch, and their win over Japan was hard fought and the Dutch showed signs of weakness.

Robin Van Persie and the front line were guilty of missing a handful of chances that could have been tucked away for a more convincing victory.  Ibrahim Afellay came on for the goal scorer in the 83rd minute and almost made his time count just a minute later in the 84th by forcing Kawashima into a fine low save and again in the 88th minute.

Shinji Okazaki fizzes a shot at Oranje keeper Martin Steklenberg.

For the Japanese Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo, and Marcus Tulio Tanaka all had great chances at leveling the score.  Honda has been a spritely winger, jinxing his way past outside backs, but his delivery was lacking for some of the match.  It also doesn’t help that the Dutch had a superior height advantage, which could explain their lack of long balls and crosses.

The Netherlands also survived a late penalty scare when Yuto Nagatomo was knocked down by De Jong in the 89th minute, but the referee didn’t award a penalty and instead penalized Nagatomo for flopping.

At the end of the day, Group E still is an open book, at least the runner up spot.  Cameroon and Denmark will battle for 3 points as Japan still sits in second with three points.  Should Cameroon lose, they’ll be sent packing.



“Squeaky Bum Time” in Group E

Group E

Netherlands

Denmark

Japan

Cameroon

Group E could be a tight contest, as the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon are all options for advancing.  Japan don’t have as much firepower as needed to advance, despite the fact that the Blue Samurai’s manager, Takeshi Okada is aiming for the Semifinals.  A bold claim, seeing as how the other teams Japan is grouped with have some world class talent.

Cameroon –

The big news out of the Cameroon Camp right now is Samuel Eto’o and his displeasure at the comments made by Roger Milla.

The Arsenal youngster will be out to impress in South Africa.

Should Eto’o decide to not participate in the World Cup, Cameroon still have a capable squad and have a chance of advancing.  That said, there is no way Eto’o won’t participate.  The World Cup is the biggest stage in football, it only comes along every 4 years and Sammy is 29.  He’ll be 33 next time around…this is his time.  He just needs to stop being a baby and suck it up.  Eto’o will play and he will have a good team lining up behind him.  Jean Makoun of Lyon and the fleet-footed Alex Song of Arsenal marshall the central of midfield with Stephane Mbia floating on the left wing as well.  Tottenham’s Assou-Ekotto and Bassong, and former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Newcastle defender Geremi and Rigobert Song will compose the back line.  Cameroon has the pace, technical skill and physical presence to boss around lesser teams.

Japan –

It’s always hard when a team has unrealistic expectations placed on their shoulders.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the case that the Blue Samurai are under with their Coach shooting for a Semifinal berth.  However, the team shows a serious lack of firepower and will struggle with the physical nature of the Danes and Cameroonians.  There is hope, though, in the form of talisman Shunsuke Nakamura, the freekick wizard and veteran midfielder.  Also, Yasuhito Endo was the Asian Player of the Year for 2009 and has had a fantastic year in the J-League.  He will partner Nakamura in midfield and could provide some brilliance going forward.  The one to watch is Keisuke Honda.  Honda is a tricky out-and-out winger who will terrorize right backs in Group E.  The Samurai will end up building their team around the 23 year old, and he will definitely be an interesting one to watch in South Africa.

Denmark –

The Danes are wild card for the World Cup.  They have several great players, but still have some glaring worries approaching June 11.  The spine of the team consists Stoke City keeper Thomas Sorensen, Simon Kjaer & Daniel Agger, Captain Jon Dahl Tomasson and Nikolas Bendtner.  To say the least, they are fully capable of attacking opponents as Coach Morten Olsen is so fond of.  Denmark is the only team in Group E who could be exposed by the quickness of Japan and the techincal ability of the Netherlands and Cameroon.  Problems for the Danes include their wingers, who are young and largely untested and Christian Poulsen.  Poulsen habitually finds himself in trouble by stepping on, punching and verbally taunting opponents.  If he plays against Cameroon, program the DVR, because, odds are, he’s going to do something rash against their physical midfielders.

The Netherlands –

What do you do with the Oranje?  Packed with talent, and oozing with potential, the Netherlands are always contenders for the

Back from injury, Van Persie will line up against Arsenal teammate Alex Song.

title…until they play in the later stages.  The Oranje are renowned for choking when they need to pull out a win.  In Euro 2008, the Dutch cruised through their first three games and then fell badly to the Russians in a 3-1 loss.  A demolition of their group should be guaranteed for them in Group E, but when it comes to the later stages, who knows?  Where to begin with their talent?  They have several world class players in Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and youngsters Eljero Elia and Ryan Babel.  The Dutch also have veterans in Dirk Kuyt, Rafael Van Der Vaart, and Mark Van Bommel who they will look to for experience and to steady the ship.  All things considered they should run their group and end up playing Slovakia or Paraguay in the next round which is a nice thing to think about if you’re a Dutch fan.  However, keep in mind their ability to blow it.  It could happen.

Prediction –

1. Netherlands

2. Cameroon

3. Denmark

4. Japan