Monday, April 28, 2014

World Cup Predicted Lineups: England

Here in the series, I will predict England's starting XI for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The Three Lions will be facing a tough test just to make it out of the group stage, drawn with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. I believe they will win their group, followed by Uruguay. The Premier League has had a very good season, and I think that will help the players reach a new level.

Here's a quick peek at England's road to the World Cup from ESPN FC

England will probably lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and will look to use the wings to attack opponents.

GK: Joe Hart - Manchester City F.C.

  • Hart had a troubling start to the season, making a couple costly errors. Notably, he failed in an attempt to clear the ball, leading to Fernando Torres scoring an injury time winner earlier in the season, as you can see below. However, after a short spell on the bench, he regained his form, and retained his spot as England's number 1. With no real competition to the starting spot, Hart can look forward to showcasing himself in Brazil.

RB: Glenn Johnson - Liverpool F.C.

  • The experienced right back has been the starter for Liverpool for the entire season. Although players like Nathaniel Clyne have played better this season, it is unlikely that Roy Hodgson will give an international debut on the world's biggest stage. Johnson is capable in defense, and can also add some width when attacking.
CB: Phil Jagielka - Everton F.C.
  • The Everton captain has been a key part in what has been a terrific season for the Toffees under new manager Roberto Martinez. The Blue half of Merseyside is fighting for Champions League football, and has troubled many of the big teams this season. Jagielka is a solid, consistent defender, who will surely ease some of the pressure off of Joe Hart.
CB: Gary Cahill - Chelsea F.C.
  • Cahill has had a spectacular season for Chelsea, earning himself a spot in the 2013-14 PFA Team of the Year. His partnership with John Terry have given Chelsea the best defensive record in the Premier League, conceding only 26 goals thus far. Cahill can also provide an aerial threat on set pieces, and has chipped in with a couple of goals this season.
LB: Leighton Baines - Everton F.C.
  • Baines has had another strong season for Everton, helping them to what will probably be their highest league finish since 2005. He is very strong defensively, and is a force to be reckoned with flying down the wing. He is one of the best crossers of the ball, and is also a very adept set-piece specialist. Baines should be the starter, with his predecessor, Ashley Cole, playing very little football this season.
CM: Steven Gerrard (c) - Liverpool F.C.
  • Captain of both Liverpool and the national team, Gerrard will be looking to motivate his team to success. Gerrard can help maintain possession in the midfield, and can also make the decisive pass to create a goalscoring opportunity. Stevie G. is also more than capable of unleashing a shot from distance, as many football fans know.
CM: Michael Carrick - Manchester United F.C.
  • With a severe shortage of defensive midfielders, Michael Carrick is my dark horse for a place in the starting XI. With Jack Wilshere suffering a long-term injury, the youngster may not be fully fit for the World Cup. Carrick is a better defender than many of the other options, namely Ross Barkley, Frank Lampard and Tom Cleverley. Carrick reads the game very well both defensively and in possession. He has never had a long run in the national team, but could make his case in Brazil.
RM: Adam Lallana - Southampton F.C.
  • Having a great season for the Saints, Lallana earned himself a place in the PFA Team of the Year. Less of a goalscorer than a provider, Lallana will be a change from the traditionally very fast wingers that England normally use. He will look to link up the midfield and attack, using his vision to find the true goalscorers that England possess.
LM: Danny Welbeck - Manchester United F.C.
  • Danny Welbeck has played sparingly this season, but he is a player with few doubts. His scoring is shaky, but with Welbeck in the lineup, you know that he will run for days, and can help cover for England's attacking fullbacks. He has some skill when it comes to dribbling, and can use his 6'1 inch frame to get on balls in the air.
CAM/ST: Wayne Rooney - Manchester United F.C.
  • Usually the first name on the team-sheet, Wayne Rooney has been England's most consistent player for a while now. Like Welbeck, Rooney is an engine who won't stop running until well after he hears the whistle. Rooney combines excellent vision and playmaking abilities, with an eye and a talent for goals. He can strike from distance, and can also get in a very good position to score. He can play as an out-and-out striker or he can sit behind the striker and create for his teammates. Rooney will also combine with Leighton Baines to create trouble for opponents from set-pieces.

ST: Daniel Sturridge - Liverpool F.C.
  • Almost an easy choice for the Three Lions, Sturridge has been scoring goals for fun since his transfer to Liverpool from Chelsea in January of 2013. He currently sits second in the Premier League in goals, and has also been named to the PFA Team of the Year for this season. Sturridge is a clinical finisher with a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He is also a skillful dribbler who can create an opportunity for himself. England fans will surely be hoping to see his goal celebration many times this summer.

  • There are quite a few players who are looking to return from injury to make the squad for the World Cup.
    • Jack Wilshere: The often-injured youngster was a key part in Arsenal's long run at the top of the Premier League. It is no coincidence that the Gunner's dropoff happened almost simultaneously with Jack Wilshere's injury. Wilshere is enjoying his best season for Arsenal, and will surely fight for a place not only in the squad, but in the starting XI.
    • Theo Walcott: Another long-term injury from Arsenal, Walcott will be looking to overcome both his exclusion from the 2010 World Cup and his injury in Brazil. Walcott is a regular for the Three Lions and can provide more experience on the wing than either Adam Lallana or Danny Welbeck can offer. Walcott has blistering pace, and can create trouble for almost any fullback.
    • Ashley Young: Returning from a hand injury, the winger made his return on April 26, in Ryan Giggs managerial debut. Young has struggled for games with United this season, but has usually been a good performer for the national team. He is a skillful dribbler and is versatile enough to play on either wing. He can cross the ball well, which can trouble defenders and goalkeepers alike.
What do you think of my prediction? Who will represent The Three Lions in Brazil this summer? Drop me a comment and let me know. Also, follow me on Twitter for more information.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

World Cup Predicted Lineups: Spain

Next in my series of predicted lineups for the World Cup is the defending champions, Spain. La Furia Roja come in as the only team ever to win three consecutive major tournaments. They did so in winning the 2008 and 2012 UEFA European Championships and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. They will be looking to extend that to four tournaments and join Italy and Brazil as the only nations to win consecutive World Cups. They are considered one of the favorites, and I believe they will certainly prove why they are a top team in this edition.

Here is a look at Spain's road to the World Cup via ESPN FC.

Spain should lineup in their traditional 4-3-3 formation, and will look to use their tiki-taka, quick passing style to dominate games.

GK: Iker Casillas (c) - Real Madrid C.F.

  • Saint Iker, as he is known in spain, will most likely be the number 1 for Spain, and will also captain the squad. Having played sparingly for Real Madrid this season, with Carlo Ancelotti following José Mourinho's selection of Diego López as the regular La Liga keeper, Casillas remains Vicente Del Bosque's top choice in goal. Casillas has shined when he has played, mainly in Real Madrid's Copa Del Rey triumph and in their active Champions League run.

RB: Juanfran - Atlético Madrid
  • In what is one of Spain's weakest positions, Juanfran has excelled for this year's domestic and Champions League surprise package, the Mattress Makers of Atlético Madrid. He is an integral part of one of the best back four's in the world, and looks to cement his spot in Spain's starting XI. His only real competition comes from Chelsea's César Azpilicueta who has had a great season in his own right, but has mainly featured at left back.
CB: Gerard Piqué - F.C. Barcelona
  • The easy choice for both club and country, Piqué has suffered from a couple of injuries this year, but should be fit for the World Cup. If he is healthy, he should be a lock at centre back with his terrific tackling ability and ability to play the ball from the back.
CB: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid C.F.
  • Another easy choice, Ramos has performed well enough to earn himself a spot in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI. He is a hard-nosed central defender, who is very strong in the air and dispossessing opponents. Sergio Ramos is, however, often at risk of getting sent off. His 19 La Liga red cards is an all-time record, and his combative style could lead to Spain playing with 10 sometimes.
LB: Jordi Alba - F.C. Barcelona
  • In what is probably Spain's answer to Dani Alves, Jordi Alba is a lightning quick fullback who loves to push forward and join the attack. He does also do his job in defense, and can frustrate opposing attackers with his quickness. 
CDM: Sergio Busquets - F.C. Barcelona
  • Probably one of the most underrated players in the world, Sergio Busquets has had another very good, yet quiet season. He is an integral part of Barcelona's dominant midfield and is essential in maintaining possession. He makes few mistakes, barring his performances at centre back this season.
CM: Xavi - F.C. Barcelona
  • One of the greatest playmakers of his generation, and maybe all-time, El Maestro is excellent at maintaining possession, and equally adept at finding the cutting pass to tear apart defenses. He has vision like no one else, and will most likely be responsible for many of Spain's set-piece responsibilities.
CM: Cesc Fàbregas - F.C. Barcelona
  • Another member of the strong Barcelona contingent, Cesc Fàbregas is only 26, yet still has loads of experience with the national team. Fàbregas has had a strong season for the Blaugrana, and currently sits second in La Liga in assists, one behind Atlético Madrid's Koke.
RW: Pedro - F.C. Barcelona
  • A winger with terrific acceleration and dribbling ability, Pedro is an omnipresent goal threat. He is capable of playing almost anywhere along the front line, but is probably most comfortable on the right wing. Extremely ambidextrous, Pedrito is capable of cutting in on either foot and having a shot at goal.
ST: Diego Costa - Atlético Madrid
  • Second in the race for the Pichichi, awarded to La Liga's top scorer, Diego Costa refused a call up to the Brazilian National Team to play for Spain. He is something Spain has been lacking recently, a true number 9. Costa is a strong force who can bring some directness to Spain's normally passive attacking style. He can head the ball, and hold up play from the front. He did not impress in his debut for La Roja, but I believe he will be able to develop the chemistry needed to become a regular in Spain's XI.

LW: Andrés Iniesta - F.C. Barcelona
  • For me, La Illusionista is the best midfielder in the game today. He is equally adept at playing on the wing due his ability to dribble past defenders with ease, and his incredible vision. He is a spectacular playmaker, but can also get himself on the score sheet. His goal in the 2010 Final, which you can see below, will go down in footballing history.

  • There are a number of players currently on the fringes of a spot in the squad, and they will surely be awaiting a phone call from Del Bosque.
    • Fernando Llorente: The Lion King has had a very good season with Juventus, and may have earned his first call-up since 2013. He is a very big striker, that is dominant in the air. I do not believe he will make the squad due to the lack of a need for many strikers. 
    • Fernando Torres: El Niño has had a slightly better season this year for Chelsea, but I do not believe he has done enough to earn a call-up for the World Cup.
    • Juan Mata: Mata has played very well since his record move from Chelsea to Manchester United, and does have some experience in representing Spain. He is best in a central attacking midfield role, however he can also play on the right wing. I do not believe he will be called up since Spain have no shortage of talented midfielders, and that spot may be used to provide some defensive cover.
    • David Villa: Last but not least, we have Spain's all-time leading scorer. Villa was not selected for Spain's friendly against Italy in March, and his for La Roja may be coming to a close. I have him making the cut into the final 23-man roster, partly due to his versatility, as he can play as a striker or on the left wing.

Who do you think will be starting for Spain come June? Do you think Spain have a chance to defend their title? Leave a comment with your opinion, and don't forget to follow me on Twitter.

World Cup Predicted Lineups: Brazil

So I have decided to start a series of posts where I post my predicted starting XI's for the World Cup this summer. I will also include the clubs that the players are with, as well as a short explanation for each player. In some cases, I will also include other notes that I think are worth a mention.

I will be starting with the host nation and one of the favorites, Brazil. A Seleção will be under massive pressure playing at home, and I do not believe they will disappoint. Their squad has a terrific balance of experienced players, and younger players that have shined.

Here is a link to ESPN FC's summary of Brazil's buildup to the World Cup.

I believe Brazil will lineup in a formation that is a mixture of a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1, with two more holding center midfielders and an attacking central midfielder.

GK: Júlio César - Toronto F.C. (On loan from Queen's Park Rangers)
  • César is the clear choice in goal, with loads of experience to his name. There is no real competition for this spot, with Jefferson of Botafogo as the second-choice having no competitive experience for Brazil.
RB: Dani Alves - F.C. Barcelona
  • Alves is arguably the best right back in the world, and should be a shoe-in for the starting XI. Although Maicon has had a good season for Roma, and Rafinha has been playing for Bayern Munich, neither have the ability and excitement that Dani can provide.

CB: Thiago Silva (c) - Paris Saint-Germain
  • Considered by many to be the best defender in the world, Thiago Silva will likely captain the Canaries in the World Cup. Silva has had another terrific season for PSG en route to his second consecutive Ligue 1 title.
CB: David Luiz - Chelsea F.C.
  • And here we have the enigma of David Luiz. He is not a regular starter for Chelsea, and when he does play, it is often as a central midfielder. With José Mourinho preferring the centre back pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill, Luiz has struggled for time. He has, however, been Luiz Felipe Scolari's choice to partner Thiago Silva. Luiz has impressed in his performances for Brazil, including a terrific performance in last summer's Confederations Cup Final against Spain.
LB: Marcelo - Real Madrid C.F.
  • Marcelo is the regular choice at left back, but has only recently returned to training with Real Madrid due to an injury. If Marcelo is unable to perform, another player based in Madrid may replace him, with Felipe Luís having played very well this season with Atlético Madrid.
CDM: Luis Gustavo - VfL Wolfsburg
  • Gustavo was a regular in defensive midfield for Brazil during their Confederations Cup triumph last year. Gustavo can read the game well from a defensive point-of-view and knows how to tackle well, and he would provide good cover sitting in front of the back four.
CDM: Paulinho - Tottenham Hotspur F.C.
  • Paulinho partnered Gustavo in midfield during the Confederations Cup, and performed well enough to secure a then club-record transfer to Tottenham. He is a box-to-box midfielder who will put in work going forward, and does very well in clogging up passing lanes defensively.
RW: Hulk - F.C. Zenit Saint Petersburg
  • Hulk is an obvious choice for Brazil, as he is a terrific blend of power and finesse operating on the right flank. He can beat you on the dribble, and can also fire in a rocket from long range. Don't believe me? Check out the video below.


CAM: Oscar - Chelsea F.C.
  • Oscar has had another great season for Chelsea, and has solidified himself as a top-class scorer and provider. He's put in some very good performances for the national team, and will probably be the starting number 10 for Brazil, sitting behind the main striker.
LW: Neymar - F.C. Barcelona
  • Neymar has had a very good debut season in Europe with Barcelona, but he will miss the remainder of the season for the Catalans. Coming off of a foot injury suffered in the Copa Del Rey Final loss to Real Madrid, Neymar will be trying to get back to the flashy style of play he is used to. Many have noticed that this season Neymar was restricted in his flair.

ST: Fred - Fluminense F.C.
  • Fred will be the only outfield player for Brazil not applying his trade in Europe. He was the hero of the Confederations Cup last year, but suffered a long-term injury afterwards, from which his is currently playing his way back to form and fitness. The striker position is the weakest part of Brazil's game. Fred is unlikely to live up to the hype of previous Brazil number 9's, such as Romario, Pelé and the all-time leading goalscorer in the World Cup, Ronaldo. Fred can still play a key part in holding up play, and connecting with the superstars on either side of him.

  • I believe that it would be a huge mistake for Luiz Felipe Scolari to exclude Ronaldinho from the squad. Although he is quite older than most of the players in the team, he can provide off the field leadership, and is quite possibly the epitome of Brazilian football. He has had a great performance playing for Atlético Mineiro, and is the holder of the South American Footballer of the Year Award. He is an icon of football in Brazil, and would surely bring back some of the atmosphere of the World Cup winning squad of 2002.

Who do you think should be included or excluded from the starting XI or the squad in general? Let me know in the comments section, and remember to follow me on Twitter 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Breaking Down the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League Semifinal Matchups

We're down to the last four teams in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League, and they are four of the best. The four remaining teams are Real Madrid, Chelsea, Atlético Madrid and defending champions Bayern Munich. Bayern have already won the Bundesliga title, as Chelsea, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid are all involved in title fights. The Blues of Chelsea sit second in the Premier League. Atlético Madrid lead second place Real by 3 points as they sit numbers one and two in La Liga.

They were paired up as follows: Real Madrid will face Bayern Munich and Atlético will face Chelsea.

Here I will break down these matchups, and say what I think will be some of the key battles in the ties.

Real Madrid - Bayern Munich
Leg 1: Madrid - April 23 - Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Leg 2: Munich - April 29 - Allianz Arena

Defending champions Bayern Munich will face a real test, as they take on the most successful team in the competition's history, Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to make his return for Los Blancos after missing two weeks and a Clásico with a hamstring injury. He will go up against arguably the best defender in the world on his left side, facing Munich and Germany captain Philip Lahm. Arjen Robben is facing his old club, and he will likely match up against another player making a return from injury, Marcelo. Both teams have incredible pace and play counterattacking styles. Between them, they have five of the best outside midfielders in the world and two Ballon D'Or finalists.

Player to Watch: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Coming off of possibly his best performance for Real Madrid against Barcelona, Gareth Bale will play a huge part in Real Madrid's attack. He can play on either wing, giving the fullbacks misery, or can attack down the middle, to exploit the inconsistent partnership of Jérôme Boateng and Dante.

Prediction: Bayern Munich advance on aggregate 5-3.

Atlético Madrid - Chelsea
Leg 1: Madrid - April 22 - Estadio Vicente Calderón
Leg 2: London - April 30 - Stamford Bridge

This year's surprise package comes from the other side of Madrid. Atlético Madrid have not only impressed in their Champions League run, but also sit on top of La Liga. Diego Simeone's men look to be solid in every position, and have one of the best attacking partnerships in Europe, with David Villa and Diego Costa. Costa is currently second in the race for the Pichichi, and has the strength and intelligence to worry any defender. Chelsea are coming off of a very disappointing loss to bottom-of-the-table Sunderland that has all but killed off their chances for the Premier League title. Eden Hazard, who was just named as a candidate for both the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year Awards, is doubtful for the first leg with a calf injury suffered against PSG. Fernando Torres will face the club where he made his name, and Tiago will also face the side where he spent one year, with much less success. Probably the biggest story is whether or not goalkeeping sensation Thibaut Courtois will be able to represent Atlético, as he is only on loan from Chelsea.

Player to Watch: Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid)
Costa has been a revelation for Los Rojiblancos, earning himself a spot in the Spanish National Team and competing for the title of leading scorer in La Liga. He is coming off a shin injury, but did score in Atlético's 2-0 victory over Elche on Friday.

Prediction: Atlético Madrid move on 2-1 on aggregate.

Who do you think will face of in the final in Lisbon? Let me know in the comments section. And for breaking news and information, be sure to follow me on twitter right here.