It was proclaimed as the ‘great power shift’, German football had simply swept away Spanish football in the semi final of the Champions League, as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund outperformed Barcelona and Real Madrid. It raised the big question- What are the ramifications on the international scene?
It looks likely Spain may be knocked off their perch, the Barcelona machine is running out of steam with Xavi and Iniesta not looking as effective as they once were. Both played no real significance in the Champions League Semi Final as both disappeared across the two legs. Xavi has claimed it is not ‘the end of era’, however it’s hard to argue against it when age is beginning to take its toil on the Barcelona midfielder. Defensively Spain are far from strong, Gerard Pique has largely had a poor season, while Carlos Puyol’s injury worries mean he’ll struggle to make an impact on the international scene anytime in the future. Spain also lack a striker, the false nine system deployed in the Euros with Cesc Fabregas played as the front man was effective then, but now it could seem all too predictable.
The Confederations Cup provides a massive chalk board for Del Bosque, a movement of the old guard could be in order. Many young players are knocking on the door of the Spanish national team such as Inigo Martinez, Isco and Benat. Even the highly rated Sergio Canales could make his leap to the national scene, injury has thus far blighted his career, but Valencia seem confident he can maximise his potential. All of these players have had a much better campaign than the current Spanish contingent, Isco has made a lasting impact on the Champions League, Martinez has been solid in a Sociedad side that has lost just twice this year and Benat has been the catalyst in a successful season for Real Betis.
The Confederations Cup provides diverse opposition, Uruguay who are looking to rejuvenate themselves provide a test against world class players. Tahiti provide a unique test, it cannot be pin pointed what they will set up like. And Nigeria provide African opposition that is building with some excellent talent.
Germany domestically rattled Spain and the national team could easily do the same. They are very much the contrary to Spain, a side full of experienced youthful players. They are well prepared to conquer the world, after two disappointments at the World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. The World Cup in 2014 will surely be theirs. The squad is well balanced and adaptable, Neuer is the solid basis behind the side as arguably the most solid goalkeeper in the world. The centre back pairing of Badstuber and Hummels is arguably the best in international football. In the midfield there is a mixture of control and energy: Reus, Gotze and Muller provide the pace and versatilely. While Ilkay Gundogan and Sami Khedira provide the graft and control. If Germany can emulate the form and style of their domestic sides- they are certainly the team to beat.
Italy could be a side to watch in 2014, at Euro 2012 they showed how much they have grown since the disappointment of the World Cup 2010 by reaching the final in style. Andrea Pirlo who earned so many plaudits on the way to the Euro 2012 final will again be able to push out another tournament. Mario Balotelli’s return to Italy has only been encouraging for Italian football, he has seemingly matured massively and is turning into the World Class striker that was promised. His partnership with Stephane El Sharaway could be massive in terms of Italy’s standing in world football. Strike partnerships are a dying breed, but a success with Italy could help revive the whole notion of them.
Like Spain, Italy are also in this years Fifa Confederations Cup. Cesare Prandelli will welcome what will be a very testing tournament as they face Brazil, Mexico and Japan. All three sides have lofty ambitions at next years World Cup with the former having the pressure of trying to impressing their fans before next year.
Scolari has not had it easy since returning as Brazil manager, with no wins thus far. The fans patience is beginning to wear thin, recently the pressure was a fever pitch as he stormed out on a press conference after being asked whether he would step down if they failed to win the Confederations Cup. In their recent friendlies they have been poor, Neymar has so far failed to impress the European football scene. While it does seem worrying when suggestions are being made that Oscar has been the best player. For his talents, at 21 he should be nowhere near Brazil’s best player. Their play recently has been lethargic with no real purpose or direction. At Wembley they looked extremely average, against Russia they were outplayed for spells in the game.
The Confederations Cup is make or break for Brazil. If they win it confidence will escalate that they can win the World Cup, if they lose they will be calling for the head of Scolari.
Argentina seem in a much better position to win the World Cup than Brazil. They have the best player in the world at their disposal in Lionel Messi, who is maturing into a top performer and leader at both club and international level. Erik Lamela has sent shockwaves around Italy for his talents for Roma and Angel Di Maria has arguably been one of Real Madrid’s most consistent performers this season. The transfer window could be big for Argentina, their centre back Ezequiel Garay could be set to make his big move from Benfica. While Gonzalo Higuain could rejuvenate his career away from Spain. Currently harbouring what could be perceived as the best attacking unit in international, it is difficult to argue against Argentina’s challenge.
Just over a year to go till the World Cup, 2013 is a massive year for international football. The Confederations Cup could provide some pointers in where Italy, Spain and Brazil end up. While the transfer market will be massive in terms of players flourishing at club level to ignite their international careers.
Neat and classy, Josh McEachran clearly has an abundance of talent. During his loan at Middlesbrough he showed such contrasting form, at times he was phenomenal in his vision with the pass. A pass that sliced completely through the Wolves defence back in a 2-0 win for Middlesbrough was a reminder of the precision he brings to a side. At times however, he was bullied in the midfield, too many times it was common for him to become lost within the play. That was where it was evident something was lacking, physicality in his game.
It displayed that he is still far from breaking the Chelsea first team, there was certain lack of variety to his game. One thing that was notable about his style was his reluctance to shoot, even when the chance came begging in the box. He would continually look for the pass, not ideal for someone who could be tipped to replace Lampard in the Chelsea midfield. His lack of goals was something that Mowbray highlighted throughout the season:
”He undoubtedly has the talent, and he’s been in one or two situations in the last month where he’s had a mazy run and the keeper has blocked things right at the death, otherwise he would have scored a wonder goal.”
Mowbray puts it well here, McEachran needed to push himself further. There was certainly more he could have offered than a sometimes one dimensional style to his game.
His competency on the ball was never in question, at times he looked like an established midfielder. His close control is a significant trait to his game and it did make him look a cut above the rest at times. If a push is made to increase his physicality, there is no doubt he can push onto to bigger things.
The current situation means he won’t be making a significant run in the Chelsea team anytime soon, 18 year old Nathaniel Chalobah has appeared to have had a better loan spell at Watford. There has appeared to be a much wider range of style in his game, his goal against Leicester paid dividends to that. The most encouraging thing for Chelsea fans is he enjoyed his time at Middlesbrough:
”Playing week in, week out for Boro has really helped me. The Championship is a tough division and it has helped me grow up and become a better player.”
There is still some growing up to do, but it was important for McEachran to experience first team football after a disastrous loan spell at Swansea.
The summer will be massive for Josh McEachran, the Under 21 Championships in June will give him valuable experience of establishing himself in an international midfield. It could be a pivotal tournament for the future of Chelsea, with the potential chance that Chalobah & McEachran could partner each other at some point.
Next season another loan should be in order, perhaps with a Premier League side. Watford or Brighton depending on whether they gain promotion would be a excellent destination because their direct nature may encourage more energy in his game. Another crack of the whip at Swansea would be interesting, however it does seem unlikely that Laudrup could fill up a space for him.
Match of the day 3 made their Premier League line ups using only one player from each side, Alan Hansen pitted himself against Robbie Savage as the pair picked a line up. I thought it was great idea, so here’s my line up.
Formation: I have used a 4-1-3-2, the reason of which becomes clear when I name the side.
GK- Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion)
Foster has had an excellent season and has shown the reason he can challenge Hart for the England number one shirt. It was excellent to see the former Manchester United goalkeeper return to the national side as it had long awaited him.
RB-Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
The best right back in the Premier League this season, Pablo Zabaleta has been the only consistent player in what has been a largely disappointing campaign for Manchester City. Strong both maundering forward and in defence, he is the ideal Premier League full back.
CB- Jan Vertonghen(Tottenham Hotspur)
Signed from Ajax in the summer, it was expected the Belgian international would an impact, perhaps not to the extent he has. A highly solid performer in the Spurs side, he and Dawson have complimented each other this season. He has also shown his attacking prowess by scoring 4 league goals.
CB- Chico Flores(Swansea City)
Chico has easily adapted both to the Premier League and Swansea’s style of football. Hardly putting a foot wrong in the heart of the defence, he has been the solid rock that drove Swansea to league cup victory. It was one of football’s sadder moments when he had to miss the Cup Final.
LB-Leighton Baines (Everton)
His link up play with Pienaar has been simply glorious this season, something that has been the catalyst in Everton’s european challenge. A few years back it may have seemed crazy to suggest Baines could overhaul Ashley Cole as England’s permanent fixture at Left Back. Now it seems mad to put Cole ahead of Baines.
RM-Robert Snodgrass(Norwich City)
Snodgrass has been a player that must be admired for his work ethic, an excellent player at Leeds he rightly earned himself a Premier League move. This season he has been Norwich’s brightest spark giving them energy and graft.
CDM- Mohamed Diame(West Ham United)
Mohamed Diame has been the engine room of West Ham this season, rightly chased by the likes of Arsenal. He has shown his midfield versatility most recently with his goal against Manchester United. On his day, he is as good as Yaya Toure.
Santi Carzola has flourished in the Premier League, with 12 goals and nine assists in the league, he has been an integral part of Arsenal’s side. A few more additions to the Arsenal side and they could challenge for higher honours, building around the likes of Carzola & Wilshere.
LM- Juan Mata (Chelsea)
The most under-praised player in the Premier League, Juan Mata has been awesome at heart of the Chelsea midfield. Extremely adaptable to all scenarios, he should be guaranteed a place in the Spain eleven at the next World Cup.
ST- Robin Van Persie (Manchester United.)
It might sound cliche but RVP has practically won the Premier League for Manchester United. His goals have been the ultimate difference between the two Manchester clubs. His set piece contribution should not go unnoticed, he has contributed eight assists this season in the Premier League.
ST- Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Completely disregarding his issue in controlling his temperament, it can not be disputed that Suarez has been Liverpool’s player of the season. A high range of abilities from twisting through a tight space unscathed and hitting a glorious freekick. Suarez is clearly on top of his game.
Here’s the link to this week’s Motd 3-
An idea came into my head to create the ideal young side, here’s my selection for the best players that are under 25 currently in the game.
David De Gea
It should be reminded that David De Gea is still only 22, a very young age for a goalkeeper. The way he has coped with the criticism in his early days at United should earn him many plaudits. There is no better shot stopper in the Premier League as the stats show with the best saves to shots ratio in the league. There is a reason he was bought by Sir Alex Ferguson. With Casillas set to retire when De Gea may be hitting his prime, there is still chance he can become Spain number one.
Mattia De Sciglio
This young full back has earned plenty of praise since breaking into the Milan team this season. With a great ability to get forward, he is the right fit for the modern full back. Such a talent he is, former Milan player, Giuseppe Pancaro claimed he was a one off “De Sciglio is destined for greatness. He is an extraordinary player and someone like this is born once every 20 years.” Yet to make his debut for Italy, there will be a huge expectation for him to follow in the foot steps of many great Italian players.
One of the main reasons behind the success of Dortmund in last few years, Mats Hummels has been a consistent for club and country ever since he made his debut for Dortmund in 2009. Signed from Bayern Munich, the Bavarian club will be kicking themselves for letting depart to their closest Bundesliga rivals. With top performances for Germany in Euro 2012, there is a guarantee that he will continue to be part of the Germany side that will be the ones to beat at International tournaments.
Varane has been at the forefront of Madrid talk in recent weeks, the young French centre back has shown traits of a world class with his ability to read the game. A certainty to take a first choice centre back position at Real next season it is little wonder that Zidane claimed he would be the finest French centre back since Laurent Blanc.
After making a big career move following Euro 2012, Jordi Alba has signed up to be part of the next great Barcelona side. With his expectational talent of threatening runs down the wing, he can be tipped to be Europe’s best left back for the next ten seasons.
Since he move from Sao Paulo, Lucas Moura has instantly adapted to European football with ease. With pace and strength on the football he should be the main player in the PSG project. With all these attributes Carlo Anchelotti has been quick to praise Lucas ”Physically, he’s good, technically, too” For many Brazilians they struggle to deal with physicality of the European game, Lucas has found no such problem. There has been a sense a certain Neymar may struggle.
A very mature player, the Chelsea youngster has looked like a veteran manning the centre of an impressive Watford side. He also looked like a player ten years his senior during the Under 19 Championships, playing as the cement in the England midfield. Gianfranco Zola has tipped him to make a massive impact for Chelsea, tipping him to fill Lampard’s boots “ Nathaniel and Lampard share several similar attributes. Frank is an offensive midfielder who scores crucial goals for his team. Similarly Nathaniel can play in an offensive position and he is capable of making telling impact in the game from that position.”
Very similar in style to Mario Gotze, the young Schalke midfielder should break in to the team next season. With some excellent performances in the Under 17 Championships he come out as another player who will be part of Germany’s golden generation.
Another Schalke youngster, he was very surprised when he was called into the provisional squad for Germany for Euro 2012 noting ”The nomination came, for me, quite unexpectedly. When I listened to my voicemail this morning, during the school break, I had a message from Joachim Loew.’ Quiet a surprising thing to receive for such a young player, but he rightly deserved it. He has come of age this season, the last outing with Wolfsburg paid homage to that.
There was a reason Blackburn forked out 8m for the young Scotland international, his goalscoring instincts. There is constant threat that he will put the ball in net in the 18 yard box, there is no forward in the football league currently that possess as much menace in the penalty area.
His move to Milan could be the best thing to happen to Italian football since Fabio Cannavaro lifted the world cup in 2006. A failure at City, only on a few occasions could he show his excellent footballing talents to the English fans. The best performance to date was against Germany in Euro 2012, he was seemingly mature. The finish embodied the fine traits in his game, now in Italy he can only improve. With the world cup in his sights, Italy have a striker than can propel them to surprise.
After three weeks of football, Africa’s festival of football is over. Nigeria made it three titles with a 1-0 win over Burkina Faso. The tournament had its moments, flashing into life every so often. It was the true ‘Sporadic’ tournament. It was unfortunately a slight disappointment, due to lack of goals, poor officiating and poor standard of pitches.
One thing the tournament does say is an African team is further away from winning the World Cup than they were twenty years ago. The standard of football was some way from the quality needed to win a World Cup. If an African nation is going to win the World Cup, the standard of CAF needs to improve, the bad pitches marred the tournament. The football wasn’t allowed to be beautiful- certainly in Nelspruit. There is also no side that strikes as real front runners to be a challenger from Africa. The first names that would be suggested: Ghana and Ivory Coast don’t even have the desired grit to make the final of the African Cup of nations. To suggest Ivory Coast can challenge the World Cup is ludicrous, world football’s biggest ‘bottlers’, can’t even grind out a success in Africa, never mind the world. The golden generation has now come to an end- a sad end.
Player of the tournament
If Alain Traore had survived into the knockout rounds, it is a certainty he would have been the player of the tournament. His explosive style made him an exciting watch, his presence was majorly lacking when Burkina Faso needed to force the issue in the final.
A Burkina-be player does claim the player of the tournament. Jonathon Piotripa was a great watch, his improvisation in the sandy pitch at Nelspruit was fantastic. He added flair to the tournament, a handful of big name clubs will be definitely tracking him.
Goal of the tournament
There was very few screamers in the tournament, which was disappointing. Alain Traore’s strike against Ethiopia for Burkina Faso’s second goal was the best long distant goal of the competition. The goal of the tournament however came in the final. Sunday Mba’s fine piece of skill and neat finish was simply breath taking. A goal to win any game and any tournament.
What to expect in Morocco 2015?
The next edition of the African Cup of Nations 2013, to be played in Morocco,are set to be thrilling. The hosts, Morocco will launch into the tournament in a serious attempt to avenge their lousy performances in 2012 and 2013. The squad will have evolved and may learn some lessons between now and then. Their flair could be the signature of the tournament in 2015.
The big talking point heading into the next tournament will be whether Didier Drogba decides to put his boots on for a final time. It was saddening to see Ivory Coast crash out, as great as it was for Nigeria. It was difficult not to feel for Didier Drogba, a real servant of the game. It is a footballing crime if he ends his career without the African Cup of Nations.
Panic on twitter set out as Jordan Henderson won young England player of the year. Many concluded that England have dismal future. However they have ignored many of the top class talent that English football still possesses.
Jack Wilshere would have won the award, if he had been fit. It is in no doubt his performances would have excelled England in Euro 2012, he was exactly the sort of player they were missing. Another creative midfielder that has a bright future in front of him is Ross Barkley. Part of the Under 19 squad in last years European Championship, he was a very bright spark in the midfield. Causing danger on plenty of occasions.
Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge still have some way to go, but they have proven recently they are top footballing talents. Sturridge will certainly excel now he is at Liverpool, he is able to blossom and try new things. Something he was unable to do at Chelsea. Danny Welbeck may be low in the pecking order at United, but whenever called on. He delivers.
England’s goalkeeping future is also bright. Joe Hart is still yet to hit his goalkeeping prime and many describe him as one of the world’s best already. Jack Butland proved what a quality keeper he was in the Olympics, many a time proving to be the pivotal part in Team GB’s run to the Quarter Final. Jason Steele is another keeper that is worth a mention, his performances for Middlesbrough are the reason they sit in the playoff places in the Championship.
Chelsea have a few talented youngsters coming through their ranks. Two of which are on loan at Championship clubs. Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah have proved themselves as highly controlling midfielders for high-flying Championship teams. Expert readers of the game, they definitely have a future with the National team.
England u21 will embark on the Under 21 Championships in the summer and they will certainly be favoured to give the tournament a real go. A highly talented contingent exist in the current game, possibly more gifted than the ‘Golden’ generation of the early 2000s.