How will the English teams perform in the Champions League group stages?

The Champions League group stage has been drawn and even though English teams are usually very good at qualifying through their group it may not be as easy this team.

No doubt, Manchester City have the hardest group with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund. Madrid may pose the biggest threat with Jose Mourinho as their manager and he will be desperate to win the trophy again. Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously one of their biggest threats but they have quality all through their side and if City want to prove they are one of the best teams in Europe they will have to top the group and show up the former Chelsea manager. But, City may not even get in the top two because Ajax have a lot of quality themselves with players like Christian Eriksen in their side and you cannot discount Dortmund as they should never have been in the bottom pot anyway and have won the German league twice in a row.

Now, neighbours Manchester United have a much easier task as they should top the group if they play to their potential and I can’t see Braga, Galatasaray or Cluj topping this group. The current Galatasaray squad contains a few former Premier League players in Milan Baros, Emmanuel Eboue and Johan Elmander so they will want to show their quality and show everyone they are good enough against English opposition. Braga are an interesting side but unfortunately for them they can never seem to take that extra step and compete right at the very top and are seen as the customary third place team in Portugal. Cluj will probably be the whipping boys of the group however it is worth noting that they have beaten Roma and drawn with Chelsea in the past so they may be dark horses.

Arsenal will face Schalke, Olympiakos and Montpellier in their group matches and they will also be hoping that they don’t have too many problems. Arsenal new boy Olivier Giroud will travel to the club he signed from a lot sooner than he probably expected and the French champions will want to show Giroud that he was wrong for leaving and should have stayed but I can’t see them posing too much of a threat. What separates Schalke from the rest in this group is they have a goal scorer that is feared all over Europe and can score all different types of goals and that man is Klaas Jan Huntelaar, he will try and show Arsene Wenger that maybe he should have tried to sign him instead of Lukas Podolski and Giroud. Olympiakos will always cause problems at home for any team so they will be relying on that and goalkeeper Roy Carroll may have a lot of work to do in the group stages.

Finally, reigning champions Chelsea will be hoping to start their campaign comfortably and they will surely progress but may not get things their own way with Shaktar Donetsk, Juventus and Nordsjaelland in their group. The standout team is Juventus but they are not the team they once were even though they were very impressive in Serie A last season. But, if Chelsea can stop Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in midfield they will have a great chance of winning the group. Shaktar are also a decent side and have won the Ukrainian title for the last two seasons so they may put more of an effort into trying to topple some of the bigger teams in Europe this year and it is always difficult to play away in Eastern Europe so that could be difficult for Chelsea. Nordsjaelland are the current Danish champions but not a lot is known about them so everyone is expecting them to lose all of their games but this could work in their advantage and they could pull off a few shocks

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Who will Robin Van Persie sign for if he is allowed to leave Arsenal?

The transfer saga that will dominate the headlines this summer will once again involve Arsenal and their captain.

This time it is Robin Van Persie when in previous years it has been Cesc Fabregas, however it does still go even further back than that with both Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira getting linked away from the club every summer. I am not going to go into whether Arsenal are a ‘selling club’ or not because they in my opinion work the transfer market the right way by basically living within their means and even though the fans may not like it, they must accept it.

Van Persie has scored 132 goals in 279 games for Arsenal

I am going to focus more on Van Persie and you can see why he is being linked with the champions from a lot of countries around Europe after last season as he was phenomenal and was probably the best player in the Premier League. He scored 37 goals last season in all competitions but Arsenal still failed to win a trophy and you can understand the reason he wants to leave the club as even with his impressive goal tally, they never looked like winning the Premier League (mostly because of a poor start) and were easily knocked out of the Champions League after a very poor first leg.

Most clubs in the world would love to have the Dutchman in their squads but surely there are only a few that he would want to join. Unsurprisingly, Manchester City are the favourites to sign him and out of everyone in the Premier League I personally think this is the only team he would contemplate signing for. City have bought quite a few players from Arsenal including Samir Nasri last summer so they know they can do business with Arsenal and they won’t refuse to sell RVP to them. But in my opinion they would have to sell a striker first as they have Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli all fighting for a first team place already. Personally, I would only have Van Persie over Dzeko so I don’t see the need of them signing him but they will probably try anyway.

Juventus are also heavily linked with RVP and you can see it is because they lack a real goal scorer in their team and if they want to challenge for the Champions league next season then they most definitely need more goals in their side with Alessandro Matri only getting 10 league goals and Mirko Vucinic not even hitting double figures, they need someone that is going to get at least 20 goals. Andrea Pirlo showed at the Euros that he can still be a brilliant player and RVP would score goals for fun with his playmaking abilities. At times, Van Persie made Alex Song look like a pass master with his movement so imagine how good Pirlo will look.

Finally, Barcelona are also linked with him and yet again it is not very surprising to see their name come up however some of the rumours are. If they sign the Arsenal man, they may be looking to offload David Villa who is now 30 and has been out for eight months with a broken leg. If I was negotiating this deal I would definitely try and make it a swap deal. I think Villa is a better player than Van Persie and if he can recapture his form before he suffered his injury then he could actually make Arsenal a better team.

Player of the day- Xavi

Spain have created history by winning their third major international competition in a row and they deserved their victory after yet another scintillating performance.

Firstly, though I did feel sorry for the Italians and it is always sad to see professional footballers crying on the pitch and to see players like Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo looking on with tears in their eyes was not easy to watch. They were gracious in defeat even though they lost 4-0 and in all honesty were never in the game. David Silva opened the scoring after some good work from Cesc Fabregas and it was all downhill from there, as Jordi Alba scored a second just before half time after an exquisite through ball from Xavi. The game was almost over and then when Thiago Motta had to go off injured, that was it they had no chance of getting back into it as they had already used all three substitutes. Then the game turned into the Fernando Torres show who had been wrote off a few times during the tournament but the man could be back as he has finished with the golden boot as he got a goal and the assist which he needed to take over Mario Gomez. His finish was superb as he beat the onrushing Buffon with ease then after being played through again he played it to his Chelsea teammate Juan Mata to put the ball into the net.

Man of the match- Xavi- For me he was the difference between the sides and he played slightly different to usual as it seemed like he was told to push on more. Not only did he dictate play for Spain, he also stopped Pirlo playing and made him look his age. His through ball to Alba for the second goal was in my opinion the pass of the tournament and not many other players in the world could have played it with the right amount of weight. It was a perfect performance from him as he hardly gave the ball away and won the ball high up the field. Italy didn’t have an answer to him and he just outshone Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso.

Xavi has 115 caps for Spain

My Team of Euro2012

Euro 2012 has been one of the better international tournaments in recent years

Goalkeeper- Gianluigi Buffon- The Italian has been in fantastic form and has produced a number of wonderful saves throughout the tournament. But the main reason I have chosen him as my number 1 is the fact that he has marshalled the defence in front of him superbly even though there have been a number of changes at the back for them.

Right Back- Joao Pereira- For me he did a very good job and was consistent in every game, although he didn’t stand out because of other players in the team, he did not let them down and was very good defensively with little support from Nani on the right hand side. He clearly has a very good footballing brain as he knew that when Coentrao went forward he had to stay back. He has possibly been the most underrated player in the tournament.

Left Back- Jordi Alba- The new Barcelona man wasn’t even a left back until recently but now he looks like he was born to play in that position. He was rarely beaten by a winger and stopped a lot of crosses coming in. But his main strength is going forward and his movement was sublime at times and he gave Spain a bit more width which they lack at times.  You have to be a special player if you add something to the World and European Champions.

Centre Back- Sergio Ramos- Another player that has changed position recently and has done very well there. The Real Madrid defender has carried on his club form for Spain and hasn’t given their opponents a sniff and that is why they have only conceded one goal this tournament. He still adds a threat going forward and he has shown when the pressure is on he remains calm with a wonderful penalty against Portugal.

Centre Back- Mats Hummels- He may not have been very well known outside of Germany but the 23 year old will have caught the eye of a lot of clubs during the tournament. He has everything a centre back should, he is quite quick, good positioning and his marking was on a whole superb.

Centre Midfield- Steven Gerrard- The England captain for me was their best player and seemed to be lifted by getting the armband for the tournament and he didn’t let anyone down. His free kicks were always dangerous and his defending was top class, he blocked a lot of shots and covered a lot of ground. If only England had got him into more attacking positions they may have gone further in the competition.

Centre Midfield- Andrea Pirlo- My player of the tournament by a long way. This has been competition, by himself basically he has dominated teams like England and Germany and even in the opening group game against Spain he looked like the best player on the pitch. His passing accuracy must be one of the best in the tournament but it’s not just his accuracy, it seems like very pass he makes has been well thought out and will create something.

Centre Midfield- Xabi Alonso- You have to have a Spain midfielder in your team and Alonso has been the best in the competition in my opinion. He is the most important to the team as he plays a very unique role, basically he sits alongside Busquets who gives him the ball at every opportunity and looks for a playmaker. Without him in the side I think a lot of their attacks would break down a lot earlier and is irreplaceable in the side.

Right Winger- Alan Dzagoev- Remember him from the group stages? Russia in their opening game and it was largely down to this man as he scored twice and ripped the Czech Republic defence to shreds. Then in the second game he scored against Poland with a header which just showed another attribute that he has. The most disappointing thing about Russia going out was that I couldn’t get to see more of him but he did enough to be in my team of the tournament.

Left Winger- Cristiano Ronaldo- Ronaldo started off the tournament pretty slowly and missed guilt edge chances against Denmark but after the Holland game, I’m sure a lot of people were asking whether this would be Ronaldo’s tournament and when he scored against Czech Republic it seemed even more likely however it wasn’t to be and his decision not to take a penalty against Spain cost the team.

Striker- Mario Balotelli- If he didn’t produce against Germany in the semi final he wouldn’t have got near this team however he did and could now win the Euros and the golden boot. He had been performing quite well, and causing problems for defenders but he wasn’t putting away his chances which meant he was criticised. However, the England defence couldn’t get to grips with him and the Germans had no answer to him.

Player of the day- Sergio Ramos and why I’m glad I watch the Premier League

Spain are through to the final of the European Championships but in all honesty it was a very poor game.

Portugal looked threatening in the first half but then Spain took control and created the better chances in the second half and extra time. Andres Iniesta should have done better when the ball was pulled back to him in the box but the Portuguese keeper pulled off a good save. So the game went to penalties and what did we learn from it, well Spain can hold their nerve and Portuguese footballers clearly aren’t the cleverest first with Bruno Alves being fourth on the list trying to take his third. So who was more stupid Alves for stepping up too early or Nani for letting him walk all the way to the edge of the box before realising he was supposed to be first? In my opinion Crisitiano Ronaldo’s ego cost them the game as he is surely their penalty taker, why didn’t he step up and take it first? Instead it seemed like he would want the glory. However, I may be wrong and he may not have took one but that is very unlikely.

So all in all what did I learn from this game? That even though England aren’t great, the Premier League is the best in the world. There is very little chance of a game being like this and only one shot on target in the first 90 minutes from both teams is a disgrace, even when bottom of the league play top they do still usually get a chance or at least a shot on target. I am already counting down the days till the football season starts again in England as I think there would be more passion, heart, determination and drive in a League 2 game than there was in this game. Some people may argue that it was because their quality cancelled each other out but I don’t believe that as the better players should be able to create at least something in 90 minutes instead we got them overreacting to challenges, surrounding the referee and trying to get their opponents booked.

Man of the match- Sergio Ramos- It was so difficult to choose a man of the match as I was hardly watching the game as I was so bored at times, but the Real Madrid man was very good at the back and showed his strength as well as his composure on the ball. He stopped Ronald from producing his best and was always across to cover his fullback when needed. The penalty that he put away was also very confident and similar to Andrea Pirlo’s against England. Spain will have to up their game in the final but it wouldn’t surprise me if they performed exactly the same and won the tournament as teams seem to now be scared of them and not believe in themselves and try to attack.

Ramos won the European Championships in Euro 2008 playing at right back

Player of the day- Andrea Pirlo and would the Italian get in the Spain team?

England have crashed out of yet another tournament after losing in a penalty shootout against Italy, however they were massively outplayed by their opponents.

The Italians deserve their place in the semi finals and they will give Germany a better game than England would have so at least it will be a good game to watch. It is disappointing that England have gone out on a personal level but to be fair to the players and Roy Hodgson nobody really expected us to win the group so that should be seen as a massive achievement. But, onto the game and it was all Italy and they had numerous chances to win the game and had a lot of attempts on Joe Hart’s goal. Mario Balotelli was threatening in behind with his pace and was almost through one on one but was blocked out by John Terry. The game finished 0-0 and in extra time the pattern of the game didn’t change and the Italians poured more and more men forward with Antonio Nocerino having a goal disallowed just before it went to the dreaded penalty shootouts. Italy won 4-2 with Ashley Young and Ashley Cole missing. I enjoyed the Italian penalties actually as they mostly showed their composure and showed the English how it was done. Balotelli’s was brilliant as no keeper would have saved and Andrea Pirlo’s well it is difficult to describe it as he was under so much pressure and he had took it like he didn’t have a care in the world and it wasn’t in front of millions of people around the world.

Man of the match- Andrea Pirlo- The Italian midfielder is my player of the tournament as he has just been fantastic, every time he gets the ball he produces something special, his through ball to Balotelli was outstanding and his awareness was incredible. He picked up the ball near his own box and casually chipped the ball through right into the path of Balotelli who just couldn’t take the chance. He could have got man of the match just for his penalty but his passing is in my opinion unrivalled as not many players can drop in deep and play little one twos then play a cross field pass with so much accuracy. A lot of people will argue that Spain’s midfielders are better because they have a better passing average but Pirlo dictates a game by himself whereas Xavi and Xabi Alonso etc do it more as a partnership. That is just my opinion and I think if he was Spanish he would get into their first 11.

Has Pirlo been the best player at Euro 2012?

Players of the day- Franck Ribery and Theo Walcott

Sweden are the second team to be knocked out of Euro2012 after their 3-2 defeat to England while France beat Ukraine.

The first game was suspended after the fourth minute because of terrible weather conditions and it eventually got under way almost an hour later. The first half saw both teams come close but neither could really take control of the game, although France had more of the possession they couldn’t quite carve the Ukrainian defence open. However, early in the second half the game was all but over after two goals in three minutes from Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye. Both goals were finished off brilliantly after some wonderful passing. Cabaye deserved his goal and once again was sublime in the centre of the midfield and along with Andrea Pirlo, has been the most consistent player in the tournament. Ukraine had a few half chances but couldn’t find a way past Hugo Lloris in the French goal.

Man of the match- Franck Ribery- The Bayern Munich winger was in and out of the game but whenever he had the ball he frightened the life out of the Ukraine defenders. His pace was crucial in the first goal and he looked the most likely all through the first half to open the scoring. France’s other flair players were slightly disappointing in my opinion with Samir Nasri never getting out of first gear and Menez being very wasteful at times. Ribery was the one that added some much needed creativity to the game and outshone the rest.

Ribery made his international debut in 2006

England managed to beat Sweden in a thrilling game with both teams pushing forward for the win. Andy Carroll gave them the lead with a good header from an accurate cross from Steven Gerrard and England seemed in control without every really posing a threat. The second half was very different as the Swedes knew that defeat would mean they were eliminated from the competition and when Glen Johnson couldn’t clear an Olof Mellberg shot, they looked confident and were forcing the issue a lot more and then Mellberg once again popped up from a free kick to score a header. This left the England fans with a feeling of oh no not again but Roy Hodgson made a positive substitution and brought on Theo Walcott who scored with one of his first touches. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson should have done a lot better though. The winner was scored by Danny Welbeck who flicked in a Walcott cross with an inventive effort that not many other players would have been able to pull off or even try.

Man of the match- Theo Walcott- He may not have been on the pitch for that long but he changed the game and proved to be the difference between the sides. James Milner hadn’t been able to get much out of the fullback Martin Olsson but he looked awful against Walcott. His goal may not have been the best but at least he had a try and it lifted everyone. For the Welbeck goal he was vital as he picked up the ball and was very direct, driving at the defence and pulling the ball across for the Manchester United striker. He may not have been involved a lot but when he did have the ball he caused problems and maybe will get a chance to start in the next game.

Walcott now has four goal for England

Players of the day- Luka Modric and Fernando Torres

Ireland were the first team to be knocked out of Euro 2012 after they were beaten by Spain which leaves the rest of the group wide open.

The first game of the day saw Italy take on Croatia and the game was very interesting as in my opinion it was the most tactical game so far. Both teams lined up the same way they did in their first group matches and they were very evenly matched for most of the game with nobody taking real control. However, Italy were slightly more dominant in the first half and took the lead through a fantastic free kick from the very impressive Andrea Pirlo. The midfielder controlled the half and mad Italy tick and is at the moment my pick for player of the tournament. The second half was different as Croatia came back into it and managed to get more dangerous crosses into the box and it was Mario Mandzukic who profited from one of these balls as he scored his third of the tournament. The game finished 1-1 and both teams know that a victory is needed to make sure they qualify for the next round.

Man of the match-Luka Modric- The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder was clearly not put off by the news that Harry Redknapp had left his club side as he dictated play and when he was needed most by Croatia he answered the call. In the second half in particular he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and made sure his team got an equaliser. He is a remarkable player that can find space anywhere on the pitch and he was the only one that looked like creating anything. It seemed that he realised that the threat was coming from the left and he made sure left back Ivan Strinic had the ball as often as possible to put a cross in so it was fantastic awareness from him.

Modric has been at Spurs since 2008

Spain destroyed Ireland 4-0 and they dominated from the first whistle to the very last. Ireland conceded early yet again which basically ruined any chances they had of coming away with something from the game. Fernando Torres scored his first with a powerful effort that Shay Given possibly could have done better with. David Silva then scored early in the second half with a clever finish and Torres added another with a confident finish. Substitute Cesc Fabregas finished off the scoring but he was helped by the Ireland defence who by this time were out on their feet.

Man of the match- Fernando Torres- He showed today that all teams (except Barcelona) need a central striker to put the ball in the back of the net. Against the Italians, Spain seemed to just want to pass the ball one more time before shooting and this allowed the opposition to get blocks in and last ditch tackles. But in this game within four minutes he showed just how clinical he can be. Simply he adds something different to the side, he wants to run in behind and he isn’t looking for little one twos, he just wants to be given a through ball so he can shoot. This tournament could be where his career gets back on track and now he is off and running it wouldn’t surprise me if he finished top scorer.

Torres with the World Cup in 2010

Players of the day- Andrea Pirlo and Mario Mandzukic

The games in Group C kicked off and all eyes were on Spain, Italy, Croatia and Republic of Ireland.

The first game saw Spain kick of the defence of their European Championship against Italy in what showed two very different styles of football. Spain with their short, sharp passing style and Italy with their focus more on defending and counter attacks. As expected Spain had more of the ball but strangely they decided to start the game without a recognised striker so they had six midfielders in their starting line up. However, it was the Italians who had the better opportunities and looked the more likely to score the opening goal which they did through Antonio Di Natale who scored with almost his first touch after coming off the bench with a fantastic finish. But, Spain hit back quickly with a very good goal themselves, David Silva slipped through a perfect through ball for Cesc Fabregas to run onto and score past the advancing Gianluigi Buffon. That is how it ended, but not before Fernando Torres missed two very good opportunities to win the game.

Man of the match- Andrea Pirlo- The midfielder proved his worth to the team and a lot of people that don’t watch Italian football would have been surprised that a player of his age still gets into their national side. Bu for Juventus this season he contributed a lot to their title winning side and provided a lot of assists. His game today was slightly different as he got through a lot of work defensively and had to follow the Spanish midfielders around and he was always there putting them under pressure, forcing them into errors. His pass to set up the goal in my opinion could be the pass of the whole tournament as it was perfectly weighted and allowed Di Natale to finish first time.

Pirlo got 13 assists for Juventus this season

In the second game, the goals came at perfect times for Croatia, just a few minutes into the game they scored, then just before halftime they added another. They finished the game off just after halftime. Ireland did manage to pull back an equaliser to Mario Mandzukic opener through Sean St Ledger but were never really at the races, although they should have had a penalty when Robbie Keane was fouled and Keith Andrews put a few efforts wide. The Croatians just looked the better side and they may not be the best at the back but going forward they will cause Spain and Italy problems.

Man of the match- Mario Mandzukic- The striker looked on top form and scored twice (the second one did hit the post and then Shay Given but I think it should be his goal). He caused the Ireland team so many problems in the air and on the floor, Richard Dunne couldn’t handle him in the air and Sean St Ledger couldn’t handle his movement so they will be happy to see the back of him. He even outperformed Nikica Jelavic which not a lot of players have done since he joined Everton in the Premier League so that shows how well he played. I’m sure Croatia’s playmakers Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic love playing with him as he always makes himself available for a pass and wants to get balls both into his feet and in the air.

Mandzukic has 30 caps for Croatia