Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Looking forward from Group A after Day 5

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Group A “Power” Rankings

1. Russia – Pushed by Poland in a game they could have very well lost, Russia remains the best team in Group A. As threatening as Poland was, Russia still controlled how the game was played, even if Poland generated all the good open play chances.

2. Poland – Tuesday’s result was less about Russia coming back to earth than Poland playing (closer) to their potential. Against a Czech defense that got a pass against Greece (after being taken apart by Russia), Poland has a viable path to the quarterfinals.

3. Czech Republic – Given how bad Greece was, it’s hard to know how good the Czechs are. The potential loss of Tomas Rosicky will hurt, as the team may have to find a way to augment their wide play against a Poland team more defensively sound on the flanks. They only need a draw to go through, so while Poland appears to be a better team, the odds may be in the Czech Republic’s favor.

4. Greece – They still have a chance to go through, but a Saturday match against Russia presents a series of unfavorable matchups. As captain Giorgos Karagounis pinged the ball around the field in the second half against the Czech Republic, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for a highly decorated international forced to deal with another major tournament disappointment. (Don’t feel too sorry for him; he was a part of the team that won Euro 2004.)

Crystal Ball: What Need to Happen Next Round

Group D resumes play Saturday, with both matches kicking off simultaneously

Czech Republic vs. Poland

On Tuesday, Poland showed their last 60 minutes versus Greece were out of character. Call it nerves or inexperience or whether you want. Going blow-for-blow with the Russians showed their true quality.

It’s better than we’ve seen from the Czechs, even though the Czech Republic got three points from Greece (where Poland got one). Likely to be second-best in midfield while having their strength wide neutralized, the Czechs are finally going to have to answer their questions up top. How do they get something out of the striker position, where Milan Baros has been invisible? And what do they do behind the striker if Tomas Rosicky can’t go?

If you’re Poland, you have to assume that if you play your game (and play to your potential), you’ll go through. The Czech Republic’s defense was terrible versus Russia and untested versus Greece. You have to think you can take them.

Greece vs. Russia

Greece’s left side has been consistently exploited. Unless they make major changes, Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Anyukov are going to have big days. When Andrei Arshavin comes in from the left, Greece will be outnumbered in midfield, and with Avraam Papadopoulos out, they’ll be shorthanded in defense.

Even if they figured all that out, they have to find a way to win, which means solving their issues going forward. Goalkeeper errors have given them their two goals, and Vyacheslav Malafeev has been one of the tournament’s best `keepers.

Russia gets through with a draw, but they know they’ll avoid Germany (presumably) with a win. That’s incentive enough to avoid drawing.

They also have a question to answer at forward. Aleksandr Kerzhakov has been effective when acting like a false nine, but his inability to convert on Friday and Russia’s lack of chances on Tuesday will give Dick Advocaat pause.

Saturday may serve as a final chance for Kerzhakov. Advocaat may loathe the idea of 90 minutes of Pavlyuchenko, and he won’t want to break up the synergy another Zenit player provides. Still, if he doesn’t have an impact against Greece, the scales my tip against Kerzhakov.

PST’s Euro 2012 “More Powerful” Rankings

There’s no movement in out top eight today. Russia still showed enough to keep from falling, while Poland, for however much promise they’ve showed, has yet to take full points.

1. Germany (-)
2. Spain (-)
3. Italy (-)
4. Russia (-)
5. France (-)
6. Croatia (-)
7. Denmark (-)
8. England (-)

… and PST’s Player of the Tournament Wunderlist

1. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
2. Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine
3. Mario Mandzukic, Czech Republic
4. Andres Iniesta, Spain
5. Daniele de Rossi, Italy
6. Andrea Pirlo, Italy
7. Andrei Arshavin, Russia
8. Jakub Blaszczykowski, Poland
9. Simon Poulsen, Denmark
10. Vyacheslav Malafeev, Russia

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.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).