Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Spain 1, Italy 1

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Man of the Match: Andreas Iniesta was just on another level. There were so many small instances where he showed himself as clearly the best player on the field. It’s hard to pick out one or two, and given how subtle and mundane each instance was, the few I could pick out would surely understate his brilliance.

Every time Iniesta got the ball, he moved with a directness and intent that consistently threatened the Italian defense. He had not trouble beating one, two men off the dribble before finally having to give up the ball in the penalty area.  He teamed with David Silva and Cesc Fabregas to produce almost all of Spain’s significant chances, and the work he did off the ball guaranteed him constantly getting touches.

NBC Sports: Italy earns tie with defending champs Spain

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The match was amazing, if subtly so. Italy was well organized and found ways to constantly challenge Spain, keeping the favorites from bearing down on them. Spain incessantly asked questions but just couldn’t find the right combinations to unlock the Italian defense.
  • The buzz prematch surrounded Spain going without a striker, through the choice was barely noticed. Cesc Fabregas came in where David Villa might otherwise be, but Spain employed the same, short passing, possession, movement-based approach. It’s been a while since Villa played like a traditional striker, with the national team gravitating more and more toward Barcelona’s tactics. Today was just an extension of that.
  • It was Barcelona except Del Bosque still insisted on using both Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Alonso was superfluous, yet as Spain spent the last half hour looking for a winner, he stayed on. Between that choice and bringing on Fernando Torres for the last 20 minutes (more on that, later), I’m convinced Vicente Del Bosque is either a Liverpool fan or Rafa Benítez’s uncle. At this point, it’s a reasonable suspicion.
  • Spain’s best tactic was building through Iniesta on their left, avoiding the side defended by Giorgio Chiellini (with Thiago Motta in front of him) while targeting Leonardo Bonucci, Christian Maggio and Claudio Marchisio. Daniele de Rossi, dropped into a back three for the game, was called on a number of times as Iniesta and Silva picked the side apart.
  • The approach had the unfortunate consequence of marginalizing Jordi Alba. All the building on the left blocked Alba’s runs from left back. When Del Bosque brought off Silva for Jesus Navas (who played right wing), Alba came alive, his flank opened up.
  • On the other side, it seemed Spain missed Sergio Ramos at right back. Alvaro Albeloa (another former Liverpool man) was adequte, but he provided nothing going forward. The one time he ventured into attack, he put a cross out for a goal kick. With David Silva naturally cutting inside, that flank is wide open. Ramos could take advantage of it. Arbeloa can not.
  • But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Italy didn’t just sit back an let themselves be picked apart. With Antonio Cassano and the center of all their first half changes, Italy hit intermission having come closer to an opener. Cassano created three chances (two by taking on Alvaro Arbeloa), drew a foul that led to a Andrea Pirlo crack at Iker Casillas’s net, and put two shots of his own on goal.
  • Italy eventually found an opener, but Cassano wasn’t involved. Spain broke down on multiple levels, allowing Pirlo to carry a ball from deep to the edge of the attacking third, where he let go of a pass that beat Gerard Pique, allowing substitute Antonio Di Natale to run onto a go-ahead goal. Either Pique and Sergio Busquets, who allowed Pirlo to dribble around him, could have prevented the goal.
  • Spain responded two minutes later with Iniesta playing a ball to Silva, who turned near the arc and found Cesc Fabregas sprinting through the Italy defense. Fabregas buried an equalizer and, from then on, Spain was largely the more dangerous side (save a late chance for Claudio Marchisio).
  • source: Getty ImagesWithin seven minutes, Del Bosque had taken both his goal scorer and his assist man off. David Silva never saw another play, with Jesus Navas coming on before the kickoff. That change worked out well, even if it would have been better to sacrifice Alonso. The next change, bringing off Fabregas for Fernando Torres, turned comical:
    • In the 71nd minute, Torres was put in alone on Gianluigi Buffon only to have Buffon take the ball off his foot without needing to go to ground. Torres, taking the ball 28 yards from goal, had plenty of time to set up Buffon.
    • In the 82nd minute, Torres was set up for one-on-one against Chiellini, and after backing him down to the edge of the six, he failed to get provide a ball for either of his two oncoming teammates. Again, the ball was taken off his feet.
    • In the 82nd minute, he was yellow carded.
    • In the 85th minute, he was played into space between Italy’s central defenders and chipped a ball over the crossbar.
    • In the second minute of injury time, he gave away a ball with Spain on a mini-break.
  • On final note on Italy: The pressure their forwards provides really helped limit the amount of effective possession Spain could keep. Whether it was coming back to challenge Spain’s midfielders or forcing Iker Casillas into long kicks where he might otherwise want to play to defenders’ feet, the Azzurri’s pursuit high up the pitch provided a small distraction.
  • It’s a great point for Italy, but it’s unclear how much it will matter as it concerns advancing. They still have to face Croatia and Ireland, but they can do so with the certainty that they’ve left South Africa being them.
  • For Spain, it’s a disappointing result, but they didn’t play bad. They just played bad by their standards. There’s lot of room for improvement, even if Del Bosque’s unlikely to ditch Alonso. They saw what Alba can provide with a less congested left flank, and they saw the possibilities presented by their three interchanging forwards. Now Del Bosque just needs to find the right tweaks.

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

Watch Live: Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen miss out as sickness-hit Tottenham Hotspur visits struggling Southampton at St. Mary’s on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

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That opens up spots in the lineup for Michel Vorm and Moussa Sissoko, as Spurs aim to go level on points with fourth-place Liverpool.

Saints dipped into the drop zone when Stoke City won on Saturday, but will sit 14th if they can spring a home win over Spurs.

Mauricio Pellegrino is giving Mario Lemina and Manolo Gabbiadini, as well as in-form James Ward-Prowse, the starters’ chance to stop the rot. Southampton is winless in 10 league matches, but has drawn three of the last five.

LINEUPS

Southampton: McCarthy, Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand, Lemina, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Hojbjerg, Gabbiadini. Subs: Forster, Pied, Bednarek, Davis, Boufal, Redmond, Obafemi.

Tottenham Hotspur: Vorm, Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Dembele, Sissoko, Dele, Son, Kane. Subs: Gazzaniga, Foyth, Trippier, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Lamela, Llorente.

Making sense of the Silva firing: Should’ve let him walk?

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Watford fired manager Marco Silva on Sunday, blaming Everton’s recruitment of the Portuguese boss for his failure, and it seems his replacement has already been identified as Javi Gracia.

I mean, holy smoke: So much for “easy like Sunday morning.”

The Hornets have been poor for some time, and their drop from chasing an unlikely European position to a spot on the fringes of the relegation race does stretch back to time Everton was repeatedly asking to hire Silva.

Funny thing: Perhaps letting him walk would’ve been the right decision.

What Silva did in the first quarter of this season and his lauded attempt to save Hull City last season may recall his overachievement at Estoril in Portugal, but the 40-year-old worked wonders at league powers Sporting CP and Olympiacos.

In the case of the latter, Silva led Thrylos to an absurd record of 38W-3D-7L before quitting after one season.

There’s another piece of the puzzle to consider, too: Watford under owner Gino Pozzo has been quick to change manager, which is a sign the club values — to quote longtime Buffalo basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon — “Jims and Joes more than x’s and o’s.”

As Sam Allardyce, the man who was hired by Everton, has joined Ronald Koeman as bosses unable to get the Toffees’ talented roster humming, it’s worth asking whether both Watford and Everton would’ve been better off had the Silva “transfer” went down at Goodison Park.

Watford has eight losses in 11 matches, handing three points to a variety of teams who’ve struggled to find wins this season: Swansea City, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Huddersfield Town. The Hornets have also drawn Southampton.

Everton under both Koeman and Allardyce has done the opposite: the Toffees have too much talent to religiously fail against the lower clubs. This season, which also saw a short run for caretaker boss David Unsworth, their wins are over Stoke City, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle and Swansea.

The Toffees big slump has seen a pair of draws with woeful West Bromwich Albion and a loss at Bournemouth.

Which brings us back to Watford under Silva. Despite its long slump, the club is performing in a way more suited for Everton’s talent than the Hornets’ bunch (which certainly isn’t poor). Consider:

Consider that Watford has 49.5 percent possession on the season, behind only Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Southampton (Everton has 46.4 and that number has regressed under Allardyce).

Also, Watford is ahead of Everton in pass completion percentage, shots per game, goals, shots allowed per game, and dribbles per game.

All this with the Toffees getting some of the finest goalkeeper performances in the league from Jordan Pickford. His 81 saves are second to Lukasz Fabianski and his seven in the six-yard box are joint-top with Mat Ryan.

So, yeah, Everton probably had the right idea in trying to get Silva, who was obviously interested in the job. The Toffees’ buys of Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott are only going to up the ante at Goodison Park, and Allardyce does not have the record of getting talent to reach its potential (at least not in a decade).

Everton’s top performers this year according to advanced stats sites WhoScored and Squawka are ranked 82nd in the Premier League (Mason Holgate) and 103rd in the league (Ashley Williams), respectively.

All this goes to not just say that Silva has done a decent job at Watford, but beg why they’ve decided to fire the boss midway through a transfer window. And considering the Hornets would’ve received compensation of some sort for the move, it’s even more of a head scratcher

Multiple reports: Watford set to hire Gracia as manager

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Watford looks set to appoint Javi Gracia to its managerial position, hours after firing Marco Silva and blaming Everton for the manager.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.

Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.

Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point, still five points clear of the drop after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.

Latest: Sunday medicals for Mkhitaryan, Sanchez

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan has agreed to join Arsenal from Manchester United, clearing the path for Alexis Sanchez to join the Old Trafford set.

[ MORE: 2 Robbies on the deal ]

The BBC is reporting that both players will undergo medicals at their proposed new clubs on Sunday ahead of a straight swap deal.

Sanchez, 29, has scored 80 goals for Arsenal since arriving before the 2014-15 campaign, including 30 last season.

Mkhitaryan turns 30 this summer, and has struggled at Manchester United since posting five assists in his first three matches of the season.

[ MORE: Watford sacks Silva ]

He was, however, a combination of Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in his final season at Borussia Dortmund, scoring 23 goals with 32 assists.

This could be win-win, as Mkhitaryan at his best is a like-for-like replacement for Mesut Ozil should the German leave in the summer and Sanchez is a more proven PL commodity (though his attitude should be a major question for the United room).