Euro 2012 preview: Italy

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Italy

In many ways, Cesare Prandelli isn’t a typical Italian coach. He’s a highly intelligent man, but one doesn’t think of him as a pure tactician like Marcello Lippi, Giovanni Trapattoni or Fabio Capello. He’s of an Arsene Wenger figure – he wants an overall, attacking philosophy rather than lots of specific tactics, and likes developing young players to suit his footballing identity.

He has attempted to move Italy towards a more positive style of play. That’s partly because it’s Prandelli’s natural style as coach, but also because Italy don’t have the secure defenders we’re accustomed to. The days of Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini have gone – Italy have good defenders, but not great ones. They’re more blessed in midfield.

Prandelli explains: “Many of the players felt that the time had come to play – I won’t say a different type of game because, in football, there is nothing new – but something else. Given that I have plenty of quality midfielders, I felt we should play to our strengths and with these players that means a much more attacking game.” Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Ireland

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Ireland

It is a decade since Ireland last qualified for a major international tournament, and the three biggest stars from the 2002 World Cup will represent Ireland again here – Shay Given in goal, Damien Duff on the wing and Robbie Keane upfront.

They’re probably still the three biggest stars, which rather sums up Ireland’s situation – they don’t have any world class footballers, and that has been foremost in Giovanni Trapattoni’s mind since he took charge of Ireland.

Trapattoni has focused upon creating a solid, reliable unit. Everything he says is about the system, about discipline. “I have given them balance, an equilibrium, and I have underlined that all 11 players attack and defend, without necessarily expecting to play well,” he once said. His quotes are celebrated, his playing style is not. Ireland are ultra-defensive. “In the past had ships with sails and they had to go wherever it was the wind took them,” Trapattoni says. ”Now, you can set a course and that is what I have done with this team. But if you depart from the course, then you end up on the rocks.” Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Germany

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Germany

They didn’t win the competition, but Germany hit the greatest heights at World Cup 2010. While Spain embarked on a series of controlled but rather uninspiring 1-0 victories, Germany hit four goals past Australia, England and Argentina.

The problem was, those matches tended to be won with predominantly counter-attacking football. It’s a little harsh to criticise in this respect – you can hardly blame Germany for scoring early, the opposition having to come forward more and then Germany hitting them on the break – but the contrast in styles during their defeat to Spain in the semi-final was obvious. Spain were about proactively pressing and winning the ball high up, Germany wanted to counter.

But once Spain went 1-0 up, Germany could no longer counter as Spain weren’t leaving spaces at the back. Furthermore, they found it difficult to come out of their shell and press to win the ball. They had to become a more proactive side. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Portugal

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Portugal

Such is their habit for producing a certain type of footballer, it rather feels like we’ve encountered a Portugal side with these strengths and weaknesses many times before.

Portugal is home to the superstar winger. For years their highest-profile player has resided on the flank – first Luis Figo, then Cristiano Ronaldo – with a slight overlap between the two. Simao Sabrosa, Ricardo Quaresma and Nani have all been hyped as a potential world beater – Simao has now retired from international football, Quaresma is on the fringes of the squad, and Nani will start on the opposite flank to Ronaldo, keen to make an impact having missed the 2010 World Cup through injury. “Our kids grow up learning how to dribble, how to run with the ball, how to have the ball at their feet,” Nani says of Portugal’s obsession with wingers. “They rarely play with their back to goal, that’s why I think there aren’t so many strikers in Portugal.” Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Holland

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Holland

After a reputation for playing beautiful football was undermined by Holland’s brutal performance in the 2010 World Cup final, Holland’s strategy in the past two years has been an interesting balancing act – Bert van Marwijk wants to look as if he’s moved on to a more open style of football, but remains reluctant to abandon the structure and functionality that took Holland to the World Cup final in the first place.

Despite retaining roughly the same core of players, Holland are a more attractive side than two years ago. They hold onto the ball for longer periods, and the circulation of the ball is quicker. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Denmark

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Denmark

It’s impossible to think of Denmark at the European Championships without thinking of their astonishing victory 20 years ago. Then, they triumphed at Euro 92 despite not qualifying for the tournament initially…yet they’re even more of outsiders this time around.

That’s not due to the ability of the side, but because of their group. Together with Germany, Holland and Portugal (three of the top five sides in the world, according to the FIFA Rankings), they have the worst draw of any of the 16 teams in the competition. In Group A, they might have been favourites. In group B, they’re expected to finish bottom.

Yet there are grounds for optimism. Denmark finished above Portugal in their qualification group, and thrive upon the role of underdog. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Czech Republic

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Czech Republic

Michal Bilek hasn’t been particularly popular during his time as Czech Republic coach, but he has assembled a well-organised, functional side that mixes experience with youth.

The three star names are the trio who featured prominently in the superb Czech side that might have won Euro 2004 were it not for Pavel Nedved’s cruel injury in the semi-final – Milan Baros upfront, Tomas Rosicky as the playmaker, and Petr Cech in goal. It’s a solid spine, but if the Czechs are to spring a surprise, it will be because of the younger, more mobile players located on the flanks.

“I’d characterise our system as a 4-2-3-1,” says Bilak. “But the system is not as important as how the players are able to carry it out. The advantage of this system is that it creates a strong midfield, and that there are fast and skilful players on the wings who can support Baros.” Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Greece

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Greece

Greece aren’t overwhelmingly different from the team that shocked Europe to win Euro 2004. They’re not as extreme in their negativity, and not as effective, but are still  broadly defensive and their main threat will come from set-pieces.

The continuity from eight years ago is obvious when looking at the midfield zone: dead ball specialist Giorgios Karagounis and the defensive Kostas Katsouranis are present and are expected to start. They have a good relationship from years of playing together for Greece, Panathinaikos, and going a few years back, Benfica.

Also at Benfica with those two was Greece’s coach, Fernando Santos, which helped him settle into the job having taken over from the legendary Otto Rehhagel. The two veterans play an important role in the dressing room, making their position in the side secure. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Russia

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Russia

There are many lessons to take from Spain’s dominance of international football over the past few years, and an important one has been the importance of bringing a solid club connection to international level.

Spain’s World Cup-winning side had a core of Barcelona players, played roughly the same style of football, and therefore benefited from long-standing relationships that couldn’t have been built in the minimal time international sides enjoy together.

Russia coach Dick Advocaat is well aware of this, and has been keen to follow a similar principle as Russia coach. “I just built upon a group of CSKA and Zenit players,” he says. “Both teams are doing well, and it has proved to be the right view.” Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Poland

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Poland

Poland come into this tournament with the lowest world ranking of the 16 competitors, but they are certainly not the weakest side in the competition.

Their ranking is unfairly lowered, of course, because they are the co-hosts and therefore haven’t been playing competitive games over the past two years. The last two years has made a big difference – 24 months ago Poland seemed to lack players established enough to compete at a major international tournament, but the rise of the Dortmund trio (Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczkowski and Robert Lewandowski) plus Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, means they do possess some fine footballers. Read more »

Euro 2012 previews: general themes

June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 previews: general themes

Team-by-team previews are on their way later today. But, to save repetition in many articles, here are some general themes based upon recent international tournaments:
1. For underdogs, being defensive and organised, then playing on the break is the best bet

Fans of outsiders in this competition have often complained that they’re not passing the ball well enough and that they want to see a more expansive game. That might be personal preference in terms of aesthetics, but the current success as Spain shouldn’t be seen as the template for more minor football nations in this competition.

Recent underdogs who have proved successful have generally been very defensive, have allowed themselves to be dominated, then relied on counter-attacking and set-pieces. Continental champions Greece in 2004 and Zambia in 2012 had the lowest pass completion rate of any side in the tournament. Uruguay weren’t quite so extreme in World cup 2010 and Copa America 2011, but were very reactive. For the likes of Ireland, Czech Republic and Ukraine, playing ‘good football’ is not on the agenda.

Being a knockout tournament, you can get far simply by being hard to beat – Paraguay reached last year’s Copa America final with five consecutive draws. Read more »

ZM’s European Team of the Year 2011/12

May 30, 2012
ZM’s European Team of the Year 2011/12

It’s that time of year again. Minimal explanation needed – eleven starts and eleven substitutes. Read more »

Bayern 1-1 Chelsea: Chelsea win it on penalties

May 20, 2012
Bayern 1-1 Chelsea: Chelsea win it on penalties

Chelsea lifted the European Cup after a tight match was decided on penalties. Read more »

Book recommendations

May 19, 2012
Book recommendations

This section is dedicated to book recommendations… Read more »

Bayern v Chelsea – European Cup final preview

May 18, 2012
Bayern v Chelsea – European Cup final preview

If Chelsea did an ‘Inter 2010′ in the semi-final against Barcelona, they need to repeat the trick here – Inter went onto beat Bayern in the final that year. Read more »

Wigan stay up after a switch to 3-4-3

May 16, 2012
Wigan stay up after a switch to 3-4-3

The surprise package in the second half of Premier League season was the only side who switched to a back three on a permanent basis. Read more »

Atletico Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao: Falcao wins the Europa League again

May 9, 2012
Atletico Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao: Falcao wins the Europa League again

Atletico Madrid lifted the UEFA Cup for the second time in three years. Read more »

Inter 4-2 Milan: Inter build up play down the left, then spread it to the right

May 7, 2012
Inter 4-2 Milan: Inter build up play down the left, then spread it to the right

This was a rather eventful Milan derby – not only were there six goals (including three penalties), but the result confirmed Juventus as Serie A champions. Read more »

Mancini’s switch puts City close to the title

May 6, 2012
Mancini’s switch puts City close to the title

It turned out to be the key substitution of the Premier League season. Samir Nasri off, Nigel De Jong on, and Yaya Toure higher up the pitch. Read more »

Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool: Chelsea lift the trophy

May 5, 2012
Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool: Chelsea lift the trophy

Chelsea won their fourth FA Cup in the last six years. Read more »

The relationship between possession and shots

May 4, 2012
The relationship between possession and shots

The graph below shows the relationship between average possession per game (along the bottom) and shots per game (along the side) for the 98 sides in the Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga and the Bundesliga. Read more »

England appoint Roy Hodgson

May 1, 2012
England appoint Roy Hodgson

If the decision was between Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson, England were choosing between two very different coaches. Read more »

Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United: City work the ball down right, United fail to test Hart

May 1, 2012
Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United: City work the ball down right, United fail to test Hart

Vincent Kompany’s header won the game – and City returned to the top of the league. Read more »

Athletic Bilbao’s movement v Sporting

April 26, 2012
Athletic Bilbao’s movement v Sporting

Athletic Bilbao are through to the Europa League final after a 3-1 second leg victory over Sporting Lisbon at the San Mames. Read more »

Real Madrid 2-1 Bayern Munich: Bayern through on penalties

April 25, 2012
Real Madrid 2-1 Bayern Munich: Bayern through on penalties

Bayern Munich will face Chelsea in the final, after overcoming Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Read more »

Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea: Chelsea do an Inter 2010

April 25, 2012
Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea: Chelsea do an Inter 2010

Chelsea produced an astonishing defensive display – and still created chances – to progress to the Champions League final. Read more »

How the 2000s changed tactics #1: The fall and rise of the passing midfielder

April 24, 2012
How the 2000s changed tactics #1: The fall and rise of the passing midfielder

This article was originally written two years ago, but in the wake of Pep Guardiola’s departure from Barcelona, it seems appropriate to re-publish. Read more »

Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid: Real on brink of title

April 22, 2012
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid: Real on brink of title

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner as Real Madrid effectively clinched the title at the Nou Camp. Read more »

Barcelona v Real Madrid: El Clasico tactical preview

April 21, 2012
Barcelona v Real Madrid: El Clasico tactical preview

Neither side would have wanted this game to be sandwiched between two European Cup semi-finals – especially since both find themselves one goal down in their respective ties. Usually these sides have had a full week to prepare for the Clasico, or at least the opportunity to rest players ahead of it. This time, the most important game of La Liga season has suddenly arrived. Read more »

Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona: Chelsea score the type of goal they were trying to score, and the type Barcelona were trying to prevent

April 19, 2012
Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona: Chelsea score the type of goal they were trying to score, and the type Barcelona were trying to prevent

Didier Drogba’s goal in first half stoppage time gave Chelsea a surprise victory. Read more »

Bayern Munich 2-1 Real Madrid: what type of player to use as the number ten?

April 17, 2012
Bayern Munich 2-1 Real Madrid: what type of player to use as the number ten?

Mario Gomez scored very late to give Bayern a slender advantage going into the second leg. Read more »