Andrea Pirlo, false nines, and Spain-Italy: Sunday’s Euro 2012 final playlist


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It’s strange to think of Italy as upstarts, but given what the Azzurri have been through since their 2006 World Cup, their presence in Sunday’s Euro 2012 final is a minor shock. They floundered at Euro 2008, leading to the dismissal of their coach. They finished last in their group at South Africa 2010. Grouped with Spain and Croatia at this tournament, Italy weren’t a sure bet to make the quarterfinals, particularly given a squad that lacked proven international scorers.

Three weeks later, Italy has earned a rematch their chance to claim another improbable title. In 2006, the Azzurri won their fourth world championship while their country’s domestic league was in the middle of the calciopoli scandal. This year, with another match-fixing probe engulfing Italian soccer, Italy has made another strangely timed run. That they’ve done so with a less-talented team than the one that won Germany 2006 emboldens conspiracy theorists ascribing undo connections between scandal and success.

Spain – the defending world and european champions – aren’t worried about the mystical as much as the practical. Italy has neither lost nor trailed in the tournament, having already claimed an opening match draw from the Spaniards. That the world’s top-ranked team played well against Italy and wasn’t able to get a win had to be engender some doubts.

Doubts or not, Spain still go into Sunday’s final marked favorites. They haven’t allowed a goal since Toto Di Natale scored in the teams’ first meeting, setting a record Euro record for the longest span without allowing a goal (a streak now up to 419 minutes). Between European Championships and World Cups, Spain have not allowed a knockout round goal since World Cup 2006.

Their quest to extend that streak begins at 2:45 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, when they’ll meet Italy in Kiev for the title of 2012 European champions. Here’s your playlist:

source:  1. Stories of threes and nines

Italy and Spain’s first meeting nearly broke the internet, with tactics freaks freaking out when a sweeper system went up against a team employing a false nine. Crudely translated: One team (Italy) was playing with too many defenders against another (Spain) with not enough forwards. Somehow, we got two goals out of a match that’s turned out to be one of the tournament’s best.

On Sunday, Italy will start with a conventional back four, though it’s unclear what Spain will do. They could see their first match struggles as caused by their lack of a striker. That would almost assuredly push Cesc Fabregas to the bench, even though Fabregas has arguably been their best attacker (when playing). He scored the goal versus Italy and was the team’s best playmaker when coming on against Portugal.

In that match, Vicente Del Bosqure gave Alvaro Negredo his first start of the tournament, trying yet another striking option. Negredo was also Del Bosque’s first sub after the Sevilla striker never properly utilized. Ultimately, the choice was little more than a hint that Del Bosque doesn’t have things figured out. Who knows which direction he’ll go in on Sunday.

2. Andrea and Mario

Italy’s had been a one-man show throughout most of the tournament, but with Mario Balotelli bagging two goals against Germany, Andrea Pirlo’s no longer the only star Spain will have to worry about. Fortunately for Vicente Del Bosque, the holders are well-equipped to handle both.

Against Pirlo, Spain will have a number players capable of pestering him. Xavi Hernandez is most likely. If Spain goes striker-less from the start, Cesc Fabregas will help. Also expect David Silva and Andres Iniesta to help, with Italy having almost no threat from the fullback positions. All of Spain’s players are used to the kind of high-intensity pressing that could disrupt Italy.

At the back, the holders have two defenders who match up well with Balotelli, even if a Sergio Ramos-Mario Balotelli confrontation could be explosive. But both Ramos and partner Gerard Pique have a combination of footspeed, athleticism, and strength that will keep them from being overmatched in one-on-one situations.

The bigger worry for Spain is whether their defense can avoid the mistakes that befell Germany – the type of mistakes that were responsible for Italy’s only goal during the teams’ group stage meeting.

source:  3. Relying on Andres

Even through all three of Spain’s forwards played well against Italy, Andres Iniesta was by far Spain’s most effective player. His willingness to dribble at and through defenders was Spain’s most reliable tactic, with the Barcelona star often forcing sweeper Daniele de Rossi into evasive action to snuff out movements.

Unfortunately, that tactic didn’t produce any goals in the first game. Though Iniesta started the movement that led to Spain’s equalizer, that goal came via combination play through the middle (David Silva finding Cesc Fabregas running through the left channel). It didn’t come through Iniesta’s ability to beat a man.

On Sunday, Iniesta will be going at a right side anchored by Andrea Barzagli. His injury during Italy’s first two matches caused Cesare Prandelli to go to a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation. Since he’s been back, Italy’s gone 4-4-2 (or, 4-3-1-2) and have not allowed an open play goal.

Iniesta may be one of the best players in the world, but Italy’s performance since Barzagli’s return serves as a cautionary note. If Spain’s relying on Iniesta to break down Italy’s right side, the tactic’s unlikely to be more successful than it was three weeks ago.

4. No more patience

Last round, we noted many of Spain’s opening goals during their string of knockout round victories have come in the second half. Although they didn’t break through against Portugal, Spain certainly looked better at minute 120 than minute one, hinting Spain’s still capable of winning an attritional battle.

Italy doesn’t seem likely wilt by attrition. Though Cesare Prandelli has Italy playing with the ball more, they remain very comfortable ceding control of the game and waiting for their opponents to make mistakes in attack. That’s how they got their two goals against Germany.

That leaves Spain in the uncomfortable position of needing to increase pressure on Italy while maintaining more than a mere safety net at the back . You would think, given Germany’s problems breaking down Italy, one of those two things would have to give. Spain would either have to be more aggressive – more readily push the likes of Jordi Alba and Xabi Alonso higher into the attacking third – and push for a goal, or they could prioritize their shape at the back and perhaps end up waiting for an Italian mistake.

That paradoxical tension will define Sunday’s match. The more aggressive Spain are, the more they play into Italy’s hands. But if they aren’t aggressive enough, they risk Italy taking the game from them, as the Italians almost did in group play.

In that way, this will be the most difficult of Spain’s three major finals since 2008. Both Germany (`08) and the Netherlands (`10) were there for the taking. The Spanish could control the game without worrying about how that fed into their opponents’ attack. On Sunday, unless they’re careful (or happen to score early), the qualities that make Spain so dominant could become their undoing.

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.

Erling Haaland injury: Manchester City assess star


Manchester City star Erling Haaland left the Norway squad during the international break after suffering a groin injury.

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Haaland, 22, joined up with Norway for their EURO 2024 qualifiers but has been sent back to Manchester City for treatment.

The Norwegian striker has been in stunning form in recent weeks, scoring nine goals in his last three games in all competitions for City (including five against RB Leipzig in the Champions League and a hat trick against Burnley in the FA Cup) before the break.

He has scored 42 (yes, forty two) goals in all competitions for Man City this season.

However, Pep Guardiola and Man City now face an anxious wait as an injury to Erling Haaland is the last thing they wanted before a pivotal final few months of the season as they chase the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.

What is the latest update?

Norway’s team doctor, Ola Sand, gave an update on Haaland’s injury.

“We hoped that this was just a familiarity that would carry over to Saturday, but after doing tests and examinations yesterday it became clear that he will not make it to the games against Spain and Georgia,” Sand said. “It is better that he receives medical follow-up at the club.”

Norway face Spain on Saturday and Georgia next Tuesday, so it seems like Haaland is in a race to be fit for Man City’s games after the international break.

Which games could he miss?

After the international break Man City are playing in the first game of the weekend as they host Liverpool on Saturday, Apr. 1 at the Etihad Stadium.

It seems like Haaland could be struggling to be fully fit for that game, and maybe even the trip to Southampton on Apr. 8, so Pep Guardiola may choose to rest him for their massive UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Bayern Munich on Apr. 11.

Given the form Haaland is in right now, it will be a blow for City if he does miss the next few games but the last thing they want is any long-term damage. Plus, it’s helpful to have the likes of World Cup winner Julian Alvarez in reserve to step in for Haaland.

Ever Wonder what happened to Leicester City’s title-winning team?


Our ‘Ever Wonder’ series will run throughout the 2022-23 Premier League season and focuses on key stories behind the history, tradition and culture of all 20 Premier League clubs.

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Have you ever sat there and wondered why certain chants became iconic at a club? Why a team has a certain nickname? Why they play in those colors? How they were founded? Yep, us too.

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This season we will be digging deep to tell the stories of the rich history, tradition and culture from around the Premier League and give you the answers to things you want to know more about.

Ever Wonder where the Leicester title-winning team is now?

With odds of 5000-1 to win the Premier League title in 2015-16, Leicester City pulled off one of the greatest shocks in sports history.

But have you ever wondered ‘hey, what is that Leicester team up to now? What happened to them?’

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Club legends and captains

After captaining them to FA Cup glory and being the main man in recent years, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel left Leicester in 2022 and is now starring for Nice in France.

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Right back Danny Simpson, center backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan and left back Christian Fuchs have all retired with the latter playing for Charlotte FC in MLS in 2022.

Morgan lifting the Premier League trophy alongside beloved manager Claudio Ranieri, who is still coaching in Italy in Serie B with Cagliari, is an image that is in sporting folklore.

Superstars move on to even more glory

In midfield, N’Golo Kante has gone on to win the Premier League again and Champions League, among other trophies, with Chelsea. Internationally – he started every game for France as they won the World Cup in 2018.

His midfield partner at Leicester – Danny Drinkwater – also joined Chelsea, but is currently without a club after loan moves across the Premier League, Turkey and the Championship.

Winger Riyad Mahrez is a star at Manchester City, winning three more Premier League titles, while on the other wing, Marc Albrighton left Leicester on loan in January 2023 for West Bromwich Albion in the Championship but is still contracted to the club.

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Veterans still plugging away and one continues to party…

Striker Shinji Okazaki is playing in Belgium for Sint-Truiden, while fellow forward Leonardo Ulloa retired after spells in Mexico and Spain.

Meanwhile – veteran striker Jamie Vardy is of course still at Leicester, and will forever go down as a club legend.

He played a key part in their FA Cup triumph and recent European exploits, and won the Premier League Golden Boot award three years ago. He never misses a party.

As for the other key contributors off the bench, Demarai Gray is at Everton, Jeffrey Schlupp is at Crystal Palace, Ben Chilwell is at Chelsea and is England’s second-choice left back, Richie de Laet is still playing at Royal Antwerp, Andy King is at Bristol City and Nathan Dyer has retired.

Wherever they are now, this group of players will always be known as the team who pulled off one of the greatest upsets the sporting world has ever seen.

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Manchester City vs Liverpool: How to watch live, stream link, team news


Manchester City host Liverpool in a huge game for both teams as they battle for the title and a top four finish respectively.


Pep Guardiola’s Man City can momentarily cut the gap to leaders Arsenal to five points but there are question marks swirling around the fitness of goalscoring machine Erling Haaland heading into this game. City are looking for a three-peat of Premier League titles and five in the last six seasons, but Arsenal don’t look like they’re going to slip up anytime soon. So City can’t afford to either. They’ve won six in a row in all competitions, scoring 23 and conceding once in that run. We all know they love to kick on at this point of the campaign, so let’s see if they can do it again.

As for Liverpool, well, it has been one step forward and one step back pretty much all season long for Jurgen Klopp’s side. After their 7-0 shellacking of Manchester United, they then lost at Bournemouth to infuriate Klopp and their fans further. The front three of Salah, Nunez and Gakpo are all clicking through the gears nicely but Liverpool have to become more consistent and dominant games in midfield if they’re going to close the gap to the current top four. They’ve had success against City in recent years as their contrasting style of play match up well but this seems like a different, more fragile, Liverpool this season.

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Here’s everything you need for Manchester City vs Liverpool.

How to watch Manchester City vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 7:30am ET, Saturday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium

Key storylines & in-form players to watch

The fitness of Haaland is obviously a huge concern for City as he suffered a groin issue and did not play for Norway over the international break and returned to Manchester for treatment. If he isn’t fit to start then expect Julian Alvarez to come in. Elsewhere, City are flying with Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gunodgan having a big role to play with Phil Foden out following his Appendectomy. As always, Kevin de Bruyne is the main man and will relish this chance to cut Arsenal’s lead atop the table.

Liverpool just can’t find consistency right now. They have improved defensively but they are a real Jekyll and Hyde team. Jurgen Klopp isn’t a fan of that and showed his frustration after their defeat at Bournemouth, which was their last Premier League game and was way back on March 11. He’s had a few weeks to stew over that loss and it will be intriguing to see what plan he has come up with. For this game as earlier this season Liverpool beat Man City 1-0 at Anfield by playing a front four which pinned City in.

Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

QUESTIONABLE: Erling Haaland (groin) | OUT: Phil Foden (appendix removed)

Liverpool team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Calvin Ramsay (knee), Stefan Bajcetic (groin) | QUESTIONABLE: Luis Diaz (knee), Darwin Nunez (ankle), Kostas Tsimikas (rib), Thiago Alcantara (hip), Joe Gomez (undisclosed)

Chelsea vs Aston Villa: How to watch live, stream link, team news


Chelsea and Aston Villa clash at Stamford Bridge on Saturday and a win for the visitors will move them above Chelsea in the table.


Graham Potter’s Chelsea were pinned back before the international break as they drew 2-2 at home against Everton after leading twice. However, they are unbeaten in their last five games in all competitions and have reached the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. Things are looking a bit better for the Blues in their 3-4-3 formation and the pressure has eased on Potter slightly as players continue to return from injury. A win against Villa this weekend will keep their slim hopes of a top four finish alive but a top six finish is probably as good as it will get for them this season.

Unai Emery has done a phenomenal job at Villa with the Spanish coach leading them from a relegation scrap to a quest for European qualification within just a few months. Villa are resolute defensively and have a clear playing style as they love to catch opponents out on the counter and they did that brilliantly in their 3-0 win against Bournemouth last time out. With three wins in their last four, can Villa continue their surge and push for a top six finish?

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Here’s everything you need for Chelsea vs Aston Villa.

How to watch Chelsea vs Aston Villa live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 12:30pm ET, Saturday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via

Key storylines & in-form players to watch

Chelsea have so many players stepping up in recent weeks but Joao Felix and Kai Havertz have really got going in attack. The duo are scoring goals, creating chances and Chelsea look much more confident when they get into the final third. Enzo Fernandez and Benoit Badiashile have both slotted in seamlessly following their January moves. Yes, Chelsea are still a long way back when it comes to the top four but they are they kind of team who can go on a long unbeaten run and they certainly have so many options with a massive squad of players all pushing to start in this new fluid 3-4-3 system.

Villa’s recent success has been built on solid defense and Emiliano Martinez in goal and Tyrone Mings at center back have been back to their best. Ollie Watkins leading the line always causes problems and midfield creators and wingers always seem to be ready to counter and cause a surprise. Emery has done a remarkable job at Villa and it will be a lot of fun to see how close they can get to a top six finish this season.

Chelsea team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Thiago Silva (knee), Armando Broja (knee) | QUESTIONABLE: Raheem Sterling (hamstring), Mason Mount (abdominal), Edouard Mendy (shoulder), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (back), Cesar Azpilicueta (head), Reece James (thigh), Wesley Fofana (thigh)

Aston Villa team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Jed Steer (calf) QUESTIONABLE: Philippe Coutinho (thigh), Matty Cash (calf), Boubacar Kamara (ankle), Leander Dendoncker (hand)