Wayne Rooney, bamboo forests, and England-Ukraine: Tuesday’s Euro 2012 B-Side

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Sunday’s great moment in old time-y overthink came courtesy of the ITV studio panel  One of England’s broadcasters for Euro 2012, the network has Roy Keane and Roberto Martínez as part of their rotating panel analyzing his year’s championships. When asked how Wayne Rooney should be re-assimilated into England’s team, Martínez said from the bench. You not only don’t want to mess with a good thing, but the competition for spots in the starting XI would be a good thing. Surprisingly, there were no snickers, with Keane going so far as to agree with Martínez, saying the team that beat Sweden deserved to keep their places.

The strangest part about this is the near-180 degree turnaround that’s happened since Wayne Rooney’s suspension. When he earned a three-match ban (later reduced to two) after seeing straight red to close qualifying, the apoplexy was comical. What will England do without Wayne, the papers bemoaned. Probably play three group games like everybody else, I thought to myself. Now that England’s undefeated through two matches, Rooney’s only slightly more meaningful than Jermain Defoe or some other potential impact sub? You can just imagine Alex Ferguson on the phone to the FA, If you’re not going to use the boy, send him home already.

If English soccer isn’t thrilled to have Rooney back, then they’ve got something in common with Ukranians, who surely aren’t happy that an already difficult opponent will be bolstered ahead of a potential elimination game. Between that, their tournament’s only goal scorer being doubtful (Andriy Shevchenko, knee), the pressures of potentially becoming the fourth straight co-host to fall in group stage, Ukraine has three too many things to worry about.

Then again, this is exactly the type of scenario that tends to bring English soccer’s downfall.

The match kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern. England goes through with a win or a draw and can win the group with either result, depending on what France does against Ukraine. England could also get through with a loss, provided Sweden works some magic.

Here’s your playlist:

Side 2: England vs. Ukraine

5. Shock and awe

Word broke late Monday that Theo Walcott may not only be cleared to play (after suffering a hamstring injury) but could start in place of James Milner on the right of midfield. With Rooney set to partner Danny Welbeck up top and Ashley Young likely to retain his spot on the left wing, England’s suddenly putting together the counterattacking team we dreamed about in our preview. No team in this tournament will be as dangerous on the break as an England led by Welbeck, Rooney, Walcott and Young.

This is absolutely amazing. I can’t explain how excited I am about this, which is bad, because I’m a writer (I get paid to explain how I feel). I just spent a good six minutes walking around my kitchen trying to get my head around the feeling. And I don’t even like England that much. Just the idea of watching the game with that constant, gut-hallowing anticipation that something amazing can happen?  It’ll be like having Axl Rose back in his prime.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this way about an international soccer game. It’s not that the move makes England all that great. It just makes them a hell of a lot fun.

6. Beating expectations

One of the pleasant virtues of England’s pre-Euro preparation was the lack of expectations. Usually England treats every major tournament like it’s the finale of LOST, and they’re always left to deal with Jack’s pathetic regress into a bamboo forest. This tournament was more like the New Girl. Everybody expected it to be terrible only to find it was pleasantly tolerable.

Things are changing, though. England expects to beat Ukraine. Worse, so do their supporters. For a country that has habitually failed to meet expectations, the switch from let’s hope for quarterfinals to Wayne’s back, `nuff said feels like somebody’s tempting fate.

Does anybody else see where this is going? Bamboo forest, people.

7. No options?

Look at Ukraine’s talent and how England play and you wonder how the co-hosts can break their opponents down. But in England’s aggression, the co-hosts could find hope.

Ukraine’s best options are wide with Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. If Hodgson does drop James Milner, that will leave Theo Walcott and Ashley Young wide. Particularly on the left, where Konoplyanka can get to Glen Johnson, Ukraine has hope. On the right Oleh Gusev overlapping Yarmolenko could also prove problematic for Ashley Cole.

The problem is what Ukraine does if they beat England wide. Nobody besides Shevchenko has scored, and if he can’t play, who’s left to capitalize should the wingers create chances? Andrei Voronin, who has scored eight international goals in 74 appearances? Behind Shevchenko, Ukraine’s most prolific scorers are Gusev and central midfielder Sergey Nazarenko. Each have 12 career international goals, but neither will be play in a positions where they’ll be expected to score.

Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin said Shevchenko was “50-50” to play. Given speculation he may retire after the tournament, you’d expect him to play unless his leg’s falling off.

8. Destroy on command

Even before news of Walcott’s potential start came out, defensive midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk was going to play an important role. He’s the man who would me matched up with Wayne Rooney, more often than not. Thirty-three and capped 118 times, Tymoshchuk would leave the team with one icon should Shevchenko be unable to go.

But with Walcott’s potential inclusion and England ready to unleash the counter attack to end all counter attacks, Tymoshchuk’s role has gone from important to vital. In front of a back line that lacks foot speed, Tymoshchuk must prevent England attackers from meeting the defense at full speed.

If he can’t, England won’t have to worry about failing to meet expectations.

 

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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”