Poland v Russia - Group A: UEFA EURO 2012

Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Group A’s second round memories, team of the day, and lessons

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How we’ll remember …

Czech Republic 2, Greece 1 As another reminder that Greece just aren’t that good, and we still can’t quite figure out what happened in 2004. Their second half recovery against Poland tricked us. Today they gave the tournament’s worst performance, going down two goals within the first six minutes. Their only consolation was Petr Cech’s second half gift, but in a Czech uniform, he gives one to everybody. Cech’s obligatory donation leaves a flattering scoreline.

Poland 1, Russia 1 – One of the tournament’s best-played games defuses a tinder box packed with Russian nationalism and Polish reaction. Thousands of Russia supports took to the streets of Warsaw to demonstrate on Russia Day (celebrating the country’s independence). Counter “demonstrations” saw hundreds arrested. Despite a potentially incendiary banner of great and unusual size being unfurled at the National Stadium, the action stayed on the field, with Poland taking a point from the group favorites.

Team of the day

G: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Russia
LB: David Limbersky, Czech Republic
CB: Sergei Ignashevich, Russia
CB: Damien Perquis, Poland
RB: Theodor Gebre Salesse, Czech Republic
M: Thomas Hübschman, Czech Republic
M: Eugen Polanski, Poland
W: Petr Jiracek, Czech Republic
W: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Poland
F: Alan Dzagoev, Russia
F: Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Subs: Aleksandr Anyukov, Russia; Vaclav Pilar, Czech Republic; Andrei Arshavin, Russia

Three lessons to take home

1. Wide is back en vogue – Who dominated the middle of the park? Today, who cares.

Yesterday’s matches highlighted the development. Today’s reinforced it. Bringing anger from the edges (as they’d say in helmet-pad football) is how the Czech Republic and Poland got it done.

The first instance came three minutes into the day when Petr Jiracek came from the Czech Republic’s right flank, beat left back José Holebas, and gave the Czechs a lead they’d never relinquish. In the second game, Poland got wide midfielders Ludovic Obraniak (playing wide today) and Jakub Blaszczykowski on the right to exploit Yuri Zhirkov.

Tomorrow, Thomas Müller (Germany) and Michael Krahn-Dehli (Denmark) will be back in action, each having the chance to continue the trend. The Netherlands’s defense is vulnerable, with Müller set to be matched up against 18-year-old Jetro Willems. Krahn-Dehli will be wide versus a 4-3-3 which, thanks to Portugal’s approach, needs its wings to serve as outlets high (we’ll see if Paulo Bento opens up against Denmark).

2. Fullbacks matter. They really matter – We saw two 4-3-3 formations on Tuesday (Russia and Greece), each showing why fullbacks are important both executing and attacking the systems.

Russia’s fullbacks were integral to an attack that dominated possession (57 percent, per UEFA). Yuri Zhikov was solely responsible for Russia’s width on the left, allowing Andrei Arshavin to cut in and orchestrate the attack. Aleksandr Anyukov was able to get forward and exploit a flank left vacant when Alan Dzagoev cut inside. Zhirkov and Anyukov kept opposing fullbacks Sebastian Boesnich and Lukasz Piszczek true to their original positions, preventing them from compacting the defense by collapsing inside.

At the other end, Russia and Greece’s 4-3-3 were exposed after failing to protect their fullbacks. Earlier today, I mentioned Jose Holebas has been the worst player of the tournament, but somebody who wanted to argue otherwise could offer he’s received little help from his left wing. Be it Girogios Samaras or Kostas Fortounos, Greek’s left-sided attacker either has no defensive responsibility or has abdicated it.

For Russia, they can’t leave Yuri Zhirkov by himself, but Andrei Arshavin doesn’t have the fitness to help. In the past, when Arshavin’s has been health enough to track back, he’s been ineffective (Guus Hiddink often used Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to help, but the former Everton midfielder’s not in the team).

The 4-3-3 leaves Zhirkov exposed, and while most teams won’t be able to take advantage of it, the weakness is the difference between Russia being a dark horses and legitimate contenders. Teams like Germany and Spain will not be as forgiving as the Czech Republic and Poland.

3. Group stage will start to take its toll – Long after I forget the result, I’ll remember Andrei Arshavin at the end of today’s Poland-Russia match.

Late in the game, as Russia set up to pursue a winner, the ball was worked to right-center back Aleksei Berezutskiy, who wanted to play the ball forward to Arshavin (about 12 yards in front of him). All of Russia’s attacked where going through there playmaker, but if Arashavin had anything to say about it (if he could catch his breath to get the words out of his mouth), this one was going to be different. Arshavin points back to Sergei Ignashevich (the other center half), which Berezutskiy seemed to take as a joke before playing the ball to Arshavin anyway. Of course, Arshavin immediately got rid of it, hitting it to Ignashevich before resuming his exercise in respiratory stress.

It’s an extreme example but still a reminder: Three games in nine games is going to be a lot from some of these players. Two games in four days is more than most have to deal with during their club seasons. Managers rotate their stars, protect their veterans, and only in must-win situations are players pressed. Even Chelsea, during their run to their Champions League title, had to develop two lineups to protect the team they used in Europe.

Injuries are an issue, too. Tomas Rosicky, coming off a career high in games played, left today’s Greece-Czech Republic game at halftime. An Achilles problem has him doubtful for Saturday’s match with Poland.

A fragile player even when he’s being preserved, Rosicky enters a danger zone when you try to turn him around on three day’s rest. It’s unlikely he’s the only player being pushed to (and beyond) his limits.
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.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.