Andrea Pirlo, changing perfection, and Germany-Italy: Thursday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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source: AP

Germany will be the fourth team in FIFA’s top eight on Italy’s road to Kiev. Nobody thinks FIFA’s rating are worth much, but as a quick-and-dirty way to describe Italy’s level of competition, they work pretty well. Spain, Croatia and England are all good teams, as is Germany. Yet to this point at the European championships, Italy remains undefeated.

It’s a strange kind of undefeated, though. They’ve only won one match, beating Ireland 2-0 – the fewest goals Ireland allowed in a match. Based on those results, it’s hard to describe how good Italy actually is. Conclusions have to be succinct. They’re good at prevention, seemingly bad at goal creation and stay close to any opponent. Aside from Italy’s ability to induce draws, we don’t have much to go on.

That’s what makes projecting their semifinal versus Germany so difficult. Reflexively, Germany has to be favored. The implied logic: We’ve seen Germany play to a certain level; Italy’s highs haven’t reached that level; Therefore, Germany is the better team.

And they may truly be the better team, in a cosmic, irrelevant, let’s run Monte Carlo simulations until we can tease this out kind of way. All that matters on Thursday is how they match up with Italy, and based on what we’ve seen throughout this tournament (and through most of the Azzurri’s history), the Italians will be able to hold their own.

Whether Germany will be able to do the same is a more interesting proposition. The favorites are talented, skilled, and prolific, but they’re far from perfect. The malaise they’ve shown during second halves is the type of characteristic Italy can exploit. Against the Azzurri, Germany’s going to have to play much closer to mistake-free soccer than we saw in the quarterfinals, when an underdog Greek side was able to pull even in the second half.

Germany’s going to have to play their first complete game of the tournament. Thursday at 2:45 p.m. Eastern, we find out if they have it in them.

1. Attrition condition

Right back Ignacio Abate had to leave the England match with a leg injury. Midfielder Daniele de Rossi came out with symptoms of sciatica. Central defender Giorgio Chiellini missed the match with a thigh injury. All three are expected to be back for Germany, which is good because with Christian Maggio suspended, Abate’s the squad’s only natural right back.

Antonio Cassano can’t play a full match. Andrea Pirlo looked to be slowing before a long rest ahead of the quarterfinal. Head coach Cesare Prandelli admits the squad is tired. Throw in injured Thiago Motta, and more than half of Italy’s choice starting XI have questions surrounding them coming into Thursday’s match.

Italy is losing a battle of attrition. With Germany coming in off two extra days rest already having a deeper squad, fatigue may cancel out all of Italy’s guile, leaving the Azzurri there for the picking.

2. Our one launching pad

Against England, Italy again showed that everything goes through Andrea Pirlo, a dangerous proposition given the 33-year-old’s apparent trouble with short rest. But even if the Juventus maestro is fine for Thursday’s match, there’s the tactical aspect to Italy’s lack of other options.

Over their quarterfinal’s first 15 minutes, Pirlo had trouble dictating play. England forwards Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck did a good job of either preventing the ball from getting to him or hassling him once it had arrived. Then they stopped, and Pirlo went back to being his normal orchestrating self. Italy dominated the rest of the game.

Are the Germans as likely to sacrifice marking for shape? Or, if you don’t feel like giving England the benefit of the doubt, are they as likely to ignore Italy’s best player?

It’s hard to imagine Joachim Löw being so brazen about his team’s chances. Pirlo’s likely seen his last free ride of the tournament.

3. Not afraid to change

Löw made three surprise changes for Greece, shaking up a team that went undefeated through the “Group of Death” – an effort to craft a more fluid attack. In hindsight, this seems less a response to Greece’s defense than preparation for the England-Italy winner. Defeating Greece was never going to be a problem, but getting an attack in place that had the movement and skill to best the Italians? Perhaps Löw didn’t think he could just flip a switch.

If that was Italy was in his sights when Löw picked his Greece XI, Miroslav Klose will almost surely play in place of Mario Gomez again. Marco Reus will also likely find a way into the team, his work with Mesut Özil too much to resist. The only question is whether Lukas Podolski or Thomas Muller will make way.

The midfield could also change. Löw and Bastian Schweinsteiger insist the German midfielder will play despite the player’s confirmation that a late winter ankle injury has not fully healed. The effect on his movement has been obvious, even if he’s been able to compensate in other ways. Against Italy, having Schweinsteiger as a fulcrum at the base of midfield wouldn’t be a bad thing, though if Löw feels he’s too limited to have the needed impact in a Euro semifinal, Toni Kroos could get the call.

4. No more like before

Having allowed only three goals at Euro 2012, Germany’s far from a leaky ship. That all three goals were very preventable begs the question of whether the Germans will be able to contain an Italy team attuned to exploiting their opponent’s errors.

Granted, every team tries to take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes, but for Italy, it’s the prime directive. Almost everything they do is predicated on being ready to exploit others, and while Cesare Prandelli is slowly trying to change this, Italy’s still a team that sacrifices the ability to generate their own chances for the possibility they can take advantage of others’.

Instead of Mats Hummels losing Robin van Persie for the goal Germany allowed the Dutch, it could be Mario Balotelli on Thursday. Instead of Michael Krohn-Dehli being the beneficiary of poor corner kick marking, it could be Claudio Marchisio. Instead of Georgios Samaras getting ball side of Jerome Boateng to score after the German defense was caught out, it could be Ricardo Montolivo.

And then the Germans would see Italy’s real danger: They can make that one goal hold up.

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.

Brighton sign Aaron Mooy on permanent deal

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Aaron Mooy has signed for Brighton and Hove Albion on a permanent deal after impressing while on loan from Huddersfield Town.

Mooy, 29, has signed a three-and-a-half year contract with the Seagulls as the Australian international midfielder has become an integral part of Graham Potter‘s side who started the season well but have suffered a dip in form in recent months.

The former Melbourne City and Huddersfield star initially joined Brighton on loan in the summer but he move has now been made permanent and the reported transfer fee is in the region of $6.5 million. Pretty good business for a goalscoring midfielder with supreme quality from set piece situations.

Speaking about his permanent move to the Amex Stadium, Mooy revealed he is delighted to be at the club, totally feels at home and is enjoying the open, attacking style the Seagulls play.

“I feel like I’ve progressed, but of course you can always improve and do more,” Mooy said. “It’s about playing well consistently, but I am quite happy because you never know what can happen when you move clubs. You have a new manager, teammates and a new environment to adapt to, but it’s been really good. I like the way we play and it’s enjoyable to be a part of.”

Mooy has scored twice and added an assist and those contributions have all come in the last six weeks as he’s become extremely important to the way Brighton play. His eye for a pass, composure on the ball and ability to dictate the tempo of games from a wide left or central position has been key to Brighton hanging in games.

That said, they are just two points above the relegation zone so they will need plenty more goals like the one from Mooy below if they’re going to pull away from the drop zone in the weeks and months to come.

Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed

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A list of possible new strikers for Manchester United has been revealed and it includes players you probably weren’t expecting to suit up for the Red Devils.

According to our partners Sky Sports in the UK, forwards Odion Ighalo and Islam Slimani are possible loan options for United this month.

With Marcus Rashford out injured until March, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to bolster his forward line with only Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood as center forwards.

But Ighalo and Slimani I hear you cry…

Well, in short, both are available and both would obviously be very willing to move to Man United on a short-term basis to put themselves in the shop window for either a permanent move or to give themselves another crack at the Premier League for next season.

Ighalo, 30, is currently playing for Shanghai Shenhua in China and the forward Watford forward has been pushing for a move back to England for some time. It seems that the Nigerian international (who scored 39 goals in 99 appearances for the Hornets in two-and-a-half seasons from 2014) is linked with a PL move each and every window.

As for Slimani, 31, the Algerian striker cost Leicester City $35 million in 2016 but has been out on loan to Newcastle, Fenerbache and most recently Monaco as things just haven’t worked out for him with the Foxes. Slimani has been playing well in France so far this season, scoring seven goals in 13 Ligue 1 games for Monaco, and like Ighalo he is a target man who can hold the ball up and bring others into play. That would be perfect for United’s fast wingers and both men would be good short-term loan options.

With other forwards such as Edinson Cavani, Fernando Llorente and even Carlos Tevez mentioned as short term options, the deals for Ighalo and Slimani seem more realistic if not slightly uninspiring. With the move for Bruno Fernandes stalling as United are $14 million off Sporting Lisbon’s asking price plus youngster Jude Bellingham a target but one for the future, their attack needs immediate help to try and stay in the top four hunt in the final months of the season.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Solskjaer has revealed United are pushing hard to complete one or two deals before the January transfer window shuts next Friday, Jan. 31.

Nobody would have speculated that Slimani and/or Ighalo would be the deals United are trying to make happen.

Chelsea issue update on Abraham injury, striker search

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has issued an update on Tammy Abraham‘s ankle injury and has also been talking about their search for a new striker.

Lampard isn’t shy when it comes to admitting the Blues need help up front as he’s already lavished praise on Edinson Cavani this month and given the uncertainty around Abraham’s injury, he looks set to dip into the market in the final days of the January window.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Hull City in the FA Cup, Lampard gave this update on the knock Abraham suffered in the closing stages of their wild 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Tuesday.

“The good news is that he hasn’t fractured anything, we were worried about a hairline fracture,” Lampard said.  “The other news is we will have to see how he develops. It’s not clear cut,” Lampard said. “He’s not fit for the weekend, whether he’ll be fit for Leicester we’re still not sure. It’s not clear at the moment.”

In short, they aren’t sure how long Abraham will be out for and that is concerning as he’s been their main man up top all season long.

Lampard was perhaps more candid than he has ever been when discussing Chelsea’s ongoing hunt to find some help for Abraham, who has

“I think the impetus to bring in a striker or a player to get on the end of chances is there and we have to be honest about that,” Lampard added. “Recent games have shown that if we are creating chances that’s one problem, but if you’re creating 20 chances a game then it can be crucial. It doesn’t absolutely change [the situation], but with Tammy being our main source of goals it’s very relevant. I think there is choice. It is not the ideal window. I think history has proved that though there have been good acquisitions in the short term and long term. It is about getting it right. The club know my thoughts on it.”

When it comes to strikers leaving Chelsea, both Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi have been linked with moves away from Chelsea in the final week of the window and Lampard admitted Giroud, 33, could leave as Inter Milan circle.

“With Olivier, we are still in the same position. We will keep contact with other clubs and if and when that’s agreed then we will let you know. So he’s still our player on those terms,” Lampard said.

Unless Chelsea bring in a new striker it would be wild for them to let one of Giroud or Batshuayi leave with the severity of Abraham’s injury not clear.

Even if Abraham does return soon, he needs help as his goals have dried up. The Chelsea academy product was on fire at the start of the season, scoring 10 of his 14 Premier League goals by the start of November. He also scored his first England goal in November but has hit a bit of a barren spell with three goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions. The chances have been created but Abraham just hasn’t been putting them away like he was earlier in the season.

An experienced striker like Cavani or someone else is a must and they can help ease the burden on Abraham who is now set for a spell on the sidelines. Fourth-place Chelsea have a six-point gap to Man United in fifth and if they want to keep their Champions League qualification hopes on track they need a new striker to arrive in the final week of the window.

New Premier League schedule for March announced

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The Premier League have announced their new schedule for March as date and times have been switched for certain games.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Some of the matches changed to new windows include the Manchester Derby on Mar. 8, a potentially huge clash in the top four battle between Tottenham and Man United on Mar. 15 and what could be a very special Merseyside Derby (for Liverpool, anyway) as the Reds travel to Everton on Mar. 16 with the title surely in reach by that point.

Chelsea v. Man City on Mar. 21 is also a very tasty looking clash as there are a smattering of local derbies and intriguing clashes in the battle for Europe which have also been switched to new dates.

Below is the new schedule for March in full and remember, due to Daylight Savings kicking in there will be just four hours time difference between ET and GMT for a few weeks in March.

That means extra time in bed on weekend mornings and that, above all else, is the gift dedicated Premier League fans across the USA truly deserve.


Saturday 7 March 2020
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Bournemouth
12:30 p.m. ET: Burnley v. Tottenham

Sunday 8 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Everton
12:30 p.m. ET: Man United v. Man City

Monday 9 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Leicester v. Aston Villa

Saturday 14 March 2020
8:30 a.m. ET: Watford v. Leicester
1:30 p.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Chelsea

Sunday 15 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Wolves
12:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Man United

Monday 16 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Everton v. Liverpool

Friday 20 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. West Ham*

Saturday 21 March 2020
8:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Man City*
1:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace*

Sunday 22 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: Leicester v. Brighton*
12:30 p.m. ET: Southampton v. Arsenal*

*Matches subject to FA Cup participation