Andres Iniesta, Franck Ribery, and Spain-France: Saturday’s Euro 2012 playlist


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If Sweden was France’s wake-up call, what do we call Spain? Les Bleus face the defending world and European champions Saturday in Donetsk, a match that asks France to complete one of the more remarkable one-match turnarounds in recent memory. On Monday, the Group D favorites lost to a Sweden team that had failed to record a point through two rounds. In the process they gave up first place in their group. Just under one week later, their tournament lives depend on beating a team that has lost just two competitive matches since 2007.

Stylistically, it’s a bad matchup for France. The two losses Spain’s suffered have come to teams that played for counter attacks – defending deep and rarely challenging Spain’s control of the game. The United States defeated Spain 2-0 at 2009’s Confederations Cup by sitting on the early lead gifted them by some horrible Spanish defending. Switzerland upset Spain 1-0 at the last World Cup on the back of one lightning bolt counter attack. If this type of approach is in the French repertoire, we’ve yet to see it.

Of the teams that qualified for the quarterfinals, France may have been the least efficient in the final third. They’ve had a lot of the ball and at times have looked quite fluid, but they’ve generated a disproportionately small number of chances, scoring only three times. The biggest concern when they face Spain: Two of their three goals have been the product of a possession-based attack. Against Spain, they won’t see much of the ball.

Not proficient at counter attacking, without a killer dead ball specialist, and not particularly good on set pieces, what can France lean on against Spain? The same thing the United States used in South Africa: Patience and opportunism. Perhaps the United States are a better counter attacking team than France, and surely they were more used to playing without the ball, but there’s always a chance Spain (or any team) can replicate those errors. No matter the style Laurent Blanc employs on Saturday, France is going to have to make the most of those few chances Spain grants them.

Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. Eastern time. Here is your playlist.

source: AP1. Let’s be, Franck

France does have one option beyond pure opportunism. On their left, they have one of the best wide attackers in the world: Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery. When Laurent Blanc sketches out the Spanish formation, the pairing of right back Alvaro Arbeloa opposite his best attacker carries a lot more promise than any other match up.

The problem comes in getting the ball to Ribery. Think back to Spain’s three group games, and it’s hard to remember very many players having a lot of chances on the ball. Luka Modric stands out, but he played through the middle. Italy’s Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli had a few opportunities thanks to Andrea Pirlo, a combination that provides France some hope. Blanc may need Yohan Cabaye to do his best Pirlo impression in order to take advantage of Ribery.

2. More left versus right

In the corner opposite Ribery and Arbeloa, Spain will be pressing one of their advantages: Andres Iniesta on anybody. By formation, it should be France right back Mathieu Debuchy, though with Iniesta often coming inside, midfielders Alou Diarra and Yann M’Vila will be pressed into action. It will likely take a team effort to slow down a man making a claim as the tournament’s best player.

The battle could be the biggest test of M’Vila’s young career. The highly touted defensive midfielder is projected to be one of the world’s best at his position, precisely the reason why Arsenal has considered spending some very un-Arsenal-like money to get him from Rennes. But to live up to that hype and price, he’ll be expected to perform in these types of situations.

M’Vila won’t be expected to completely shut down Iniesta, but he must prevent him from influencing the game coming in from the left. While M’Vila providing that deterrent means Debuchy will likely see more of the Barcelona star, at least it will be in a less dangerous spot on the field. And Debuchy’s unlikely to have to handle him alone.

source: AP3. Haven’t missed you so far

One of our major reasons for downgrading Spain’s prospects going into the tournament was the absence of Carles Puyol. The holders’ best defender underwent knee surgery last month and won’t be available against until late summer. That’s forced Sergio Ramos inside, Arbeloa into the starting XI, but most importantly, it’s deprived Spain of the player most likely to handle people like Karim Benzema.

France’s number nine hasn’t had a huge impact challenging for goals mostly because he’s been playing like a nine-and-a-half or ten. While Samir Nasri orchestrated the attack against England, Benzema has served as the focal point in the matches that have followed, providing both assists on France’s goals versus Ukraine.

Against Benzema, Puyol could be particularly missed. Benzema’s willingness to drop from his position and take the ball to feet will require strong decision making from Spain’s central defenders. If they can break up the play, follow him, but they better be sure. One touch to Nasri or Cabaye gives another skilled passer a chance to target the space that’s been vacated.

With Puyol, you have somebody who makes the right decision almost every time. Can we say the same about Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique? It’s a high standard to meet.

4. Too soon?

France has come a long way in two years, and by almost anybody’s post-South Africa expectations, they are ahead of schedule. Their status as Group D favorites showed the regard the rest of Europe’s cultivated for their new core. With nine of their potential starters 26 or younger, France’s best days are ahead of them.

This game, however, seems like too much, too soon. The steep climb from South African’s trough to where they are now leaves them a promising but untested team. This core doesn’t have the experience of leading a team into must win games. That may have shown against Sweden.

Spain’s a big ask for any team, and as we saw when Germany and the Netherlands met La Roja in the World Cup, the champions have a way of taking the best teams out of their game. It all just feels like a little too much, too soon for France to handle. Saturday may prove to be a valuable if disappointing learning experience.
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.

Leyton Orient announce COVID-19 positives, stadium closure before Tottenham game

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Leyton Orient have issued a statement after multiple first team players tested positive for COVID-19 and they’ve been forced to shut their training ground and stadium just one day before they were due to host Premier League giants Tottenham.

The fourth-tier club were due to play Tottenham in the League Cup third round on Tuesday but that game is now in severe doubt and the east London club (located 11 miles from Tottenham’s home stadium) said they will be announcing more details in due course about what will happen.

Here is the Leyton Orient statement in full about their current situation:

“Following our game on Saturday 19th September, COVID-19 testing was conducted on all of our first team playing squad. Today (Monday 21st) we received formal confirmation which shows that a number of our first-team squad have tested positive for COVID-19. We have informed the EFL and Tottenham Hotspur and will make a further announcement regarding Tuesday’s match shortly.

“We have also informed Mansfield Town, Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic, our three most recent opponents, prior to the public release of this information. Leyton Orient’s priority is the health and well-being of its players and staff. Those who have tested positive will now strictly follow government self-isolation guidelines. The Breyer Group Stadium and training ground facilities will be closed until further notice. At this time, the club will make no further comment.”

The problem here is that Tottenham don’t have any other available dates to play this game.

With their Premier League and UEFA Europa League qualifying commitments, Tottenham are already stretched to the limits and this game at Leyton Orient is one of four games in seven days for Jose Mourinho’s side.

The rules also state that if a team cannot fulfil the fixture due to COVID-19 positive tests, they will have to forfeit and Tottenham will move on. Leyton Orient are a small team who Harry Kane, a former loanee, has helped raised money for and there’s a very good relationship between the two clubs. This game was also due to be broadcast on TV in the UK and would have helped Leyton Orient out financially at a time when fans still aren’t allowed into stadiums in large numbers. These positive tests have now put all of that in doubt.

Lower league teams will run into similar issues like this when it comes to the FA Cup too, as testing is less prevalent and regulated lower down the professional pyramid in England. EFL clubs are only mandated to test their players during every international break and have stopped testing players twice a week. That has led to Premier League clubs paying for their lower-league League Cup opponents to be tested before games. In this case, multiple Leyton Orient players have tested positive.

Mourinho: Bale could return from injury quicker due to desire

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Bale injury update: So, Tottenham fans would be hoping that a Gareth Bale injury update wouldn’t be coming soon but he is nursing a knee injury he picked up on international duty earlier this month.

Judging by their 5-2 win at Southampton on Sunday, Tottenham will be just fine in attack without the Welsh star they’ve signed on loan from Real Madrid for the 2019-20 season. There is no reason for him to rush back, especially considering his recent history with injuries.

That said, Mourinho is hopeful that Bale can return from injury quicker due to that trust remedy: desire.

“I don’t know when Gareth can be back,” Mourinho said on a Bale injury update. “The only thing that I know is that the motivation is high, he is so happy to be with a club of his heart, he is so happy to play for us and when a player has this motivation, many, many times you can shorten the period of recovering and shorten the period of getting fit and ready to play and we want to help him. So when he is available to train with the team, we are more than happy to have him and to be back to a level that [is] maybe one of the best players in the world.”

This is textbook Mourinho.

It has been noted many, many times that he hates players missing games due to injury and is less than sympathetic when someone is in the treatment room.

This seems like a challenge to Bale, 31, to prove just how much he wants to be back at Tottenham after spending the last seven seasons at Real Madrid. ‘Oh, you want to be back here? Prove it. Patch yourself up and be ready for next week.’ That will definitely probably be Mourinho’s chat with Bale next week.

There is no reason to risk Bale right now but when he is fit, having him play alongside Harry Kane and Heung-min Son in attack is a mouthwatering prospect for Mourinho and Tottenham. Their counterattacking prowess was clear for all to see in the second half at Southampton on Sunday and a fired up and fit Bale will add a lot to this attack.

Hurry up and get that dose of desire rubbed onto your knee, Gareth…

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

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Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

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Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.

3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.

Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

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Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

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Klopp reaction on Thiago debut, Fabinho; loved ‘perfect’ Liverpool’s hunger

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The Klopp reaction from Chelsea v. Liverpool was full of smiles and laughs as he called the win ‘perfect’ in every way.

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Jurgen Klopp is a happy, happy man. He usually is, but his side took care of a much talked about Chelsea with minimal fuss at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to make it two wins from two this season for the reigning Premier League champions.

Sure, Andreas Christensen’s sending off right on half time shaped the game but so too did the hunger of Sadio Mane to strike twice early in the second half to secure the win.

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A penalty save from Alisson and a debut for Thiago Alcantara made Klopp even happier and as long as captain Jordan Henderson didn’t suffer a serious injury, he said the trip to Chelsea could not have gone better.

Thiago debut showcases why he was bought?

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk after the game via a Zoom call, we asked for the Klopp reaction on Thiago Alcantara’s debut display and if it underlined exactly why he was signed from Bayern Munich.

Thiago came on at half time and completed 75 passes in 45 minutes, a new Premier League record, as the Spanish international slotted in superbly and allowed Liverpool to dictate the tempo of the game against an opponent which sat back deep and was only focusing on defending.

“We signed Thiago for different reasons and only one of them is against deep defending sides. We improved in that department a lot, I have to say, with all of the players who were already there before. But, yes, it is something that suits him. It is natural to him. I like that. Of course it is good. It is one reason of a lot,” Klopp said.

Fabinho dazzles as a stand-in center back; Jurgen Klopp reaction

ProSoccerTalk also asked Klopp about Fabinho’s display, as the Brazilian switched from his usual position of holding midfield to center back due to injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

“Fabinho, yes! If Sadio wouldn’t have scored two goals then I think Fab would have been a proper contender for Man of the Match!” Klopp smiled. “I loved his performance, he played outstandingly well. He helped us a lot, with the ball and in defending as well. A proper performance.”

With Thiago arriving in midfield, Fabinho at center back could be something we see a lot more of this season, especially as Gomez and Matip have a nasty knack of picking up small injuries consistently.

Liverpool send out a message

Klopp admitted that his team are only focused on the three points each week, but when asked about making a statement early in the season by winning at a Chelsea side who has spent over $250 million on new players, the Liverpool boss raved about the performance of his side.

“I liked the performance a lot. We are not playing for two things, for three points and then showing everybody you ‘better be ready when we arrive’ or something. That’s not us,” Klopp said. “The next game will be incredibly difficult for their own reasons because Arsenal is obviously flying since a few months already, it is going to be really tough.

“For ourselves, and that we feel the way we play, with adaptations and improvements, with development, that made us successful and will make us successful if we really throw it consistently on the pitch. This Chelsea game away will, for the next 500 years, be one of the most difficult games you can ever play and it will become even more difficult now when all things things are settled for Chelsea. That is clear. For today, it was difficult enough but we did it and I’m happy enough.”