The transfer window has now closed and the Premier League sides will have to make do with what they have until January. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the top signing made by each club whose name begins between M and W.
Fernando (FC Porto, undisclosed). Fernando was signed to bolster City’s options in midfield and has slotted seamlessly into the side thus far. He is a strong and powerful midfielder who will do the dirty work in midfield to allow Manuel Pellegrini’s attacking options more freedom so they can maximise the damage they inflict on the opposition.
Other notable signings: Willy Caballero (Malaga, undisclosed), Eliaquim Mangala (FC Porto, £32m), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal, free).
Angel di Maria (Real Madrid, £59.7m). Louis van Gaal has smashed the British transfer record by acquiring the services of Argentine winger di Maria. Di Maria was influential in Real Madrid’s Champions League victory last season and was a key member of the Argentina side that reached the World Cup final. United have signed a world class player and one that has the ability to turn their fortunes around.
Other notable signings: Daley Blind (Ajax, £14m), Radamel Falcao (AS Monaco, loan), Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao, £29m), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon, £16m), Luke Shaw (Southampton, £27m).
Jack Colback (Sunderland, free). Sunderland fans were furious that Jack Colback was allowed to move to their bitter rivals for no fee. Sunderland’s loss is Newcastle’s gain and Colback should play a big role at the heart of their midfield. He was recently called up to the England squad and, although he had to leave the squad with an injury, has a bright future in front of him.
Other notable signings: Remy Cabella (Montpellier, undisclosed), Karl Darlow (Nottingham Forest, undisclosed), Facundo Ferreyra (Shakhtar Donetsk, loan), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord, undisclosed), Siem de Jong (Ajax, undisclosed), Jamaal Lascelles (Nottingham Forest, undisclosed), Ayoze Perez (Tenerife, undisclosed), Emmanuel Riviere (AS Monaco, undisclosed).
Steven Caulker (Cardiff, £8m). QPR manager Harry Redknapp has been keen to add solidity to his back line this summer and highly rated English centre-back Steven Caulker fits the bill perfectly. QPR kept their first clean sheet of the season in their last match against Sunderland and there were encouraging signs that the Caulker-Ferdinand partnership is ready to blossom.
Other notable signings: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United, free), Leroy Fer (Norwich City, £8m), Mauricio Isla (Juventus, loan), Alex McCarthy (Reading, undisclosed), Jordan Mutch (Cardiff City, £6m), Jack Robinson (Liverpool, undisclosed).
Fraser Forster (Celtic, £10m). A lot of the focus of Southampton’s summer spending has been on replacing the key players who left for pastures new. There are question marks over how successful their recruitment drive has been, however, one position they have certainly strengthened is in goal. Forster is a top young goalkeeper who has the potential to challenge Joe Hart for the England goalkeeping jersey and represents a major coup for The Saints.
Other notable signings: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid, loan) Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, loan), Florin Gardos (FC Steaua Bucharest, £6m), Shane Long (Hull City, £12m), Sadio Mane (Red Bull Salzburg, £10m), Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord, undisclosed), Dusan Tadic (FC Twente, £10.9m).
Victor Moses (Chelsea, loan). Mark Hughes has largely spent the summer bolstering his attacking options and Victor Moses represents a good piece of business for The Potters. After an uninspiring loan move at Liverpool, he will be keen to get back on track with Stoke and rediscover the form that made him heralded as a highly rated prospect.
Other notable signings: Oussama Assaidi (Liverpool, loan), Phil Bardsley (Sunderland, free), Bojan (Barcelona, £3m), Mame Biram Diouf (Hannover 96, free), Steve Sidwell (Fulham, free).
Jack Rodwell (Manchester City, free). Rodwell’s career may have stalled at Manchester City but The Black Cats have pulled off a major coup in landing him. He is a tall combative midfielder but has rediscovered the attacking side to his game that was evident in his goal against Manchester United. Sunderland fans can expect Rodwell to really kick on and become a key player for them.
Other notable signings: Patrick van Aanholt (Chelsea, undisclosed), Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan, loan), Will Buckley (Brighton and Hove Albion, £2.5m), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool, loan), Jordi Gomez (Wigan Athletic, free), Billy Jones (West Bromwich Albion, free), Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City, free), Santiago Vergini (Estudiantes, loan).
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Spurs, undisclosed). Sigurdsson has been one of the stars of the Premier League season so far and has played a large part in guiding Swansea towards the top of the table. Swansea fans will expect more of the same from a man who looks to be enjoying his football again after an indifferent spell at Spurs.
Other notable signings: Tom Carroll (Spurs, loan), Marvin Emnes (Middlesbrough, undisclosed), Lukasz Fabianski, Federico Fernandez (Napoli, undisclosed), Bafetimbi Gomis (Lyon, free), Raheem Hanley (Blackburn Rovers, undisclosed), Stephen Kingsley (Falkirk, undisclosed), Jefferson Montero (Morelia, undisclosed).
Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon, £4m). Spurs haven’t splashed too much cash this window as Mauricio Pochettino has been briefed to bring the best out of the players already at the club. However, the signing of Eric Dier looks to be an excellent piece of business. Not only is he solid at the back, he is also a threat going forward and already has two league goals this season. He is still a young prospect and will be a major asset to Spurs in the future.
Other notable signings: Ben Davies (Swansea, £10m), Federico Fazio (Sevilla, undisclosed), Benjamin Stambouli (Montpellier, £4.7m), Michel Vorm (Swansea, £5m), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC, undisclosed).
West Bromwich Albion
Joleon Lescott (Manchester City, free). It’s been a summer of change for West Brom. The Baggies have brought in more new faces than any other side in the Premier League as they hope to draw a line under last season. Their most impressive signing is that of Joleon Lescott. Lescott has vast amounts of Premier League experience as well as playing international football and in the Champions League. Once fully fit, he will be a vital part of West Brom’s plans to stay in the division.
Other notable signings: Chris Baird (Burnley, free), Sebastian Blanco (Metalist Kharkiv, undisclosed), Jason Davidson (Heracles Almelo, undisclosed), Cristian Gamboa (Rosenborg, undisclosed), Craig Gardner (Sunderland, free), Brown Ideye (Dynamo Kiev, £10m), Sebastien Pocognoli (Hannover 96, undisclosed), Georgios Samaras (Celtic, free), Andre Wisdom (Liverpool, loan)
West Ham United
Alex Song (Barcelona, loan). Sam Allardyce has been told he must bring style rather than just substance to Upton Park and he has brought in some exciting attacking prospects to do just that. However, The Hammers’ most high profile signing is Alex Song who has joined on loan from Catalan giants Barcelona. The former Arsenal man is a quality defensive midfielder who has an excellent range of passing and will drastically improve the quality of the London club’s midfield.
Other notable signings: Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich Town, undisclosed), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, loan), Cheikhou Kouyate (Anderlecht, undisclosed), Diego Poyet (Charlton Athletic, free), Diafra Sakho (Metz, undisclosed), Enner Valencia (Pachuca, £12m), Mauro Zarate (Velez Sarsfield, undisclosed).
The transfer window slammed shut last night and the Premier League sides will have to make do with what they have until January. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the top signing made by each club whose name begins between A and L.
Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona, £30m). Similarly to the capture of Mesut Ozil last summer, this signing has caught the imagination of Arsenal fans and has generated belief that The Gunners can be genuine title contenders once more. He may not have made a flying start to life in the Premier League but the Chilean should prove to be an excellent piece of business.
Other notable signings: Calum Chambers (Southampton, £16m), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle, £12m), David Ospina (Nice, £3m), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal, £16m).
Philippe Senderos (Valencia, free). The arrival of the Swiss centre-back was greeted with caution by Villa fans as Senderos had never really proved himself as a totally reliable defender. However, he has struck an instant understanding with Villa skipper Ron Vlaar and Villa’s defensive woes now seem a thing of the past. If he can keep up this form, he will prove to be a marvellous addition.
Other notable signings: Aly Cissokho (Valencia, undisclosed), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United, loan) Joe Cole (West Ham United, free), Kieran Richardson (Fulham, undisclosed), Carlos Sanchez (Elche, undisclosed).
Matt Taylor (West Ham United, undisclosed). Burnley have had a tough set of opening fixtures and, despite performing valiantly, they will know how difficult it will be to stay in this league. They were a side who needed to add Premier League experience to their ranks and Taylor certainly fits the bill. His know-how at this level could prove vital to The Clarets survival hopes.
Other notable signings: George Boyd (Hull, £3m), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea, loan), Matt Gilks (Blackpool, free), Lukas Jutkiewicz (Middlesbrough £1.5m), Michael Keane (Manchester United, loan), Michael Kightly (Stoke City, undisclosed), Steven Reid (West Bromwich Albion, free), Marvin Sordell (Bolton Wanderers, undisclosed), Stephen Ward (Wolves, undisclosed).
Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid, £32m). Costa has been a revelation since signing from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid and has scored four goals in his opening three matches. What has been more impressive, however, is his work-rate off the ball and willingness to battle and make defenders lives a misery. Jose Mourinho will be delighted with his contribution so far and he could easily prove to be the best signing of the season.
Other notable signings: Didier Drogba (Galatasary, free), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona,£30m), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid £20m).
Brede Hangeland (Fulham, free). Hangeland has been a quality performer in the Premier League for many years now and will be an excellent addition to Neil Warnock’s defence. He is a natural born leader on the pitch who is dominant in the air and will happily battle with opposition attackers.
Other notable signings: Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City, £900k), Kevin Doyle (Wolves, loan), Martin Kelly (Liverpool, undisclosed), Chris Kettings (Blackpool, free), Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United, loan).
Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, £28m). Roberto Martinez smashed Everton’s record transfer record by bringing in burly Belgian frontman Romelu Lukaku. He was the top scorer for The Toffees last season and is a constant menace going forward. Everton have put a lot of faith in him with such a big outlay and will hope he can fire them to Champions League football this season.
Other notable signings: Christian Atsu (Chelsea, loan), Gareth Barry (Manchester City, free), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros, undisclosed), Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea, free).
Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United, loan). Hull were very busy on deadline day and surprised many fans with their capture of Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa. Ben Arfa fell out with his parent club when he was fined for being overweight but has been given a lifeline by The Tigers. There is no doubting Ben Arfa’s quality if he can stay fit and Hull fans will be eagerly anticipating his debut.
Other notable signings: Michael Dawson (Spurs, undisclosed), Mohammed Diame (West Ham, undisclosed), Tom Ince (Blackpool, undisclosed), Jake Livermore (Spurs, undisclosed), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United, £2.5m), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United, £2.9m), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City, undisclosed).
Leonardo Ulloa (Brighton, £7m). Ulloa, Leicester’s record signing, has made an excellent start to life in the Premier League and scored the equaliser in their most recent draw against Arsenal. He’s a powerful striker who is deadly in the air and The Foxes will be hopeful that his goals can keep them in the Premier League.
Other notable signings: Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa, free), Jack Barmby (Manchester United, free), Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan, free), Ben Hamer (Charlton Athletic, free), Matthew Upson (Brighton, free).
Mario Balotelli (AC Milan, £16m). Balotelli has returned to English football, much to the delight of the media, and Liverpool fans will be hopeful that he can produce the world-class form that we know he is capable of on a regular basis. If he can put his troublesome ways behind him and focus on his football then he will be a steal at £16m.
Other notable signings: Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, £8m), Adam Lallana (Southampton, £25m), Rickie Lambert (Southampton, £4m), Dejan Lovren (Southampton, £20m), Javi Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, loan), Lazar Markovic (Benfica, £20m), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla, undisclosed).
For the first time since November 2012, Aston Villa have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League with their goalless draw with Newcastle building upon their opening day away victory against Stoke.
At the end of last season, Villa’s leaky defence had conceded 12 goals in their final four matches to round off a miserable season where they had shipped 61 goals. However, Paul Lambert has used the resources available to him this summer to strengthen his back line to add some much needed solidity.
Of the back four he largely deployed last season, only Ron Vlaar has retained his place in the side. Bomb squad castaway Alan Hutton has replaced Leandro Bacuna, a winger converted to a fullback last campaign. Although Bacuna offered several moments of attacking magic, he rarely looked comfortable in his primary defensive role and it is a wise move to allow him to return as an option further up the field. Conversely, Hutton has added much needed defensive strength and mettle with defending his primary objective. Hutton deserves particularly wholehearted praise for his incredibly positive attitude on his return having been ruthlessly pushed aside in previous seasons.
Aly Cissokho was drafted in as a replacement for the unconvincing Antonio Luna and the equally unreliable Joe Bennett. Cissokho may not have enjoyed the most successful spell at Anfield but he seems to have found his feet at Villa Park. His pace and power are huge assets and he caused Newcastle countless problems in the first half with his overlapping runs and dangerous crosses. Cissokho did unfortunately limp off towards the end of the match but Villa will be praying it’s not too serious.
Most importantly, however, is the addition of Philippe Senderos who has formed a formidable partnership with World Cup star Ron Vlaar. The Dutchman will be delighted to have the Swiss international alongside him rather than the clumsy Nathan Baker. Jores Okore is also regaining full fitness and will be hoping to push both centre-backs for a starting berth.
The key element that has been added to Villa Park over the summer is experience. Hutton, Senderos and Cissokho are all internationally capped defenders who have played for some of the top clubs in their respective leagues. Baker, Bacuna and Luna/Bennett are largely unproven and inexperienced. Teams will find it tough to break down this Villa team this term, particularly with the addition of the impressively industrious Carlos Sanchez who will be deployed in front of the back four.
Villa fan Andrew Philpot was critical of both sides attacking performances during his description of Saturday’s match by claiming: “both teams decided it was best to bring butter knifes to the sword fight today.” He is right in the sense that neither side was particularly fluent in attack, however, he can take heart from the fact that, for the first time in two years, Villa have kept two clean sheets in a row and have a solid base to build upon.
Germany vs Argentina: Sunday 8pm
This is a clash between two of the World Cup’s most decorated teams. It will be Germany’s record-breaking eighth final in the competition, but they have been victorious on only three occasions. The Argentines will equal the Germans’ World Cup titles by defeating them on Sunday. This is a battle between the best team and the team with the best player, which should make for an intriguing encounter.
Germany have waltzed into the final with relative comfort and never really looked likely to exit the tournament at any point. This was particularly the case in their semi-final match where they were at their rampant best, spanking the hosts Brazil 7-1. Conversely, Argentina have not performed particularly well in any match during the tournament and have been largely reliant on moments of magic from their talisman Lionel Messi to drag them through. They were taken to penalties in their semi-final match in which Sergio Romero, the often-maligned goalkeeper, proved an unlikely hero by saving 2 penalties to secure Argentina’s passage to the final. Having not performed to the best of their ability at any point thus far, many people believe that this is Lionel Messi’s time to engrave his place permanently alongside the greatest players of all time. The Germans, however, will be no pushovers and enter the match as favourites.
It is unlikely that there will be too many changes for either side coming into the match. The Germans were in scintillating form in the last match and will probably keep faith in the XI that performed so ably. That said, Andre Schurrle has made some impressive cameos throughout the tournament and could possibly replace Miroslav Klose if Joachim Low does decide to implement a change. Argentina will be praying that Angel Di Maria can return to full fitness in time for the match but there is at least positive news regarding Sergio Aguero. The Man City man came through his brief involvement against the Netherlands unscathed and should replace Enzo Perez in the starting line-up should Di Maria be declared unfit.
Tactically, I think both sides will keep it pretty much the same. The Germans will believe they can outplay and break down any opposition whilst also being able to pick off any opposition attacks with consummate ease; a deadly combination. Argentina won’t be fazed, though. They boast a wealth of attacking options such as Messi, Aguero and Higuain who have the ability to turn a match on its head in a matter of moments. On top of this, in Javier Mascherano they have an excellent defensive midfielder who has had a wonderful World Cup and has the ability to upset the German midfield’s rhythm and break down their attacks continuously for 120 minutes if necessary. It should be an enthralling contest that both sides will be confident of winning.
There are also a large number of sub-plots within the match. Firstly, both Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller could win the golden boot. Messi needs a hattrick, which is always possible with a player of his quality, whereas Muller only requires one goal to become the first man to win the golden boot in consecutive tournaments. In addition to this, the world’s best attacker Lionel Messi will be testing the world’s best goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer and arguably the world’s best player at breaking up play, Javier Mascherano, comes up against some of the most incisive passers of the ball in the game today: Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil.
All in all, this should be a fabulous contest and one that is extremely tough to call. My heart says that Lionel Messi will guide Argentina to victory and declare himself to be the greatest player of all time once and for all. However, my head knows that the Germans have no room for sentiment, have more quality than their opponents and should have enough to win. Whilst it would be a fairy tale ending for the Argentinians to emerge victorious in South America, I can’t look past the rampant Germans raising the trophy aloft after a fabulous contest this Sunday evening.
Prediction: Germany 3-1 Argentina
Brazil vs the Netherlands: Saturday 9pm
On paper this is a game in which both teams can restore a bit of pride for their nations. Both these sides will be bitterly disappointed with the manner in which they crashed out their respective semi-finals. The Netherlands, on the one hand, lost on penalties after a dour 120 minutes with no goals and barely a chance of note. Their fans will be furious that at no point their team really tried to go and get a goal, with Van Persie offering nothing and Robben below his usual high standards. Brazil, on the other hand, were well and truly mauled by Germany who fired 7 past Julio Cesar. It was a shambolic performance from the hosts, with their whole team looking as if they’d never played with each other before. If truth be told, neither side will particularly want to play this match and would much rather trudge home. Sadly for them, that is not an option and both sides will be keen to avoid further humiliation before leaving the competition.
Whatever the result of this match, the Netherlands have surpassed expectations in this tournament. They were superb in the group stages and claimed the maximum 9 points from a group containing both Spain and Chile, but they looked to have run out of steam in their last game. They do not have the strength in depth when compared with the likes of Germany; reaching the semi-finals signals a good performance for them. Brazil will be disappointed but they were always up against it without their two most important players in Neymar and Thiago Silva and facing a terrifyingly strong German side. However, that is still no excuse for losing by 6 goals, a game that will go down as one of the greatest embarrassments in World Cup history.
It remains to be seen whether either side opts to experiment with the rest of their squad or whether they stick to the players that served them well in reaching the semi-final stage. The Netherlands are in the easier position in this regard. Despite not playing at their best, they were only narrowly defeated in a shootout by the Argentines and although the loss will be painful, they will be in far superior mental place than the heavily wounded Brazilians. Scolari has some really important decisions to make. Does he give the 11 who were humbled by the Germans another chance with the risk of a similar thrashing from the Dutch? Or will he give some peripheral squad members the opportunity to shine and prove that they are deserving of a chance in future international competitions. The Brazilians do have players with top-level experience in reserve such as Dani Alves, Maxwell, Ramires, Hernanes and Willian, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see all five make an appearance. Scolari will also almost certainly recall the suspended Thiago Silva, which should hopefully bring some organisation to their defence. The Netherlands are less blessed with depth in their squad, but the likes of Memphis Depay, Jeremain Lens and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could be given an opportunity.
Regardless of the squad selections, I feel Brazil will come out on top in this encounter. This is largely down to the fact that it will be a more important game for them to win to save some face after the complete and utter humiliation suffered at the hands of the Germans. Their fans will be desperate to see a positive performance and show of character from their team to prove that while they may be down, they can come back stronger from this set back. The game will be more open for the Netherlands than it was against Argentina and they will expect to score but Brazil should have enough to seal victory in front of their home fans.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Netherlands
Brazil are shell-shocked. Never have they been picked apart with such ease and faced such humiliation in a World Cup finals. They may have been without their two most valuable players but that offers no excuse for the shambolic and utterly useless display produced in their 7-1 humbling. There was not a single player on the pitch in a Brazil shirt who did himself justice but the buck does not stop with them. Luis Felipe Scolari, an experienced coach who won the World Cup in 2002, made several inexcusable tactical errors in the match and, arguably, in his squad selection prior to the tournament.
Beginning with his squad selection for the tournament, Scolari made several odd decisions. There was a lack of balance in the squad and should something happen, as it did, to Neymar there was no obvious replacement. Lucas Moura would have been a far more suitable option to replace him than Bernard and his absence from the squad seems strange. Moreover, Alexandre Pato, despite not hitting his best form for some time, is an infinitely more mobile and dangerous option than the lumbering Fred and Jo who would, frankly, struggle to get anywhere near any top side in the world. They would even be a long way off being picked for England’s squad, and we are hardly blessed with top of the range front men. If Scolari had his time again, I’m sure he would include both men at the expense of Jo and one of the centre midfielders such as Paulinho or Hernanes. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and Scolari was unlucky to lose Neymar, but his job is to foresee all circumstances and ensure there is cover for every position; the balance was just not there.
Returning to the match itself, Scolari created more problems than he solved with his selection. In the piece I wrote prior to the match (https://originalfooty.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/brazil-vs-germany-preview-tuesday-9pm/), I mentioned that Bernard was an option to replace Neymar but was unlikely to be selected due to his lack of defensive capabilities, yet Scolari thought otherwise and it backfired. Marcelo may have had one of the worst matches of his life but Bernard never helped him and his selection reeked of naivety. Ramires or Willian would have undertaken the dirty work that Bernard was not willing to do and been a far more suitable selection.
Tactically, Brazil were also naïve. Rather than sit back, let the German’s have the ball and then hit them on the counterattack, Brazil decided to take the game straight to them with miserable consequences. Germany have the superior squad of players and will have been over the moon that Brazil decided to take them directly on rather than make life difficult for them by sitting back and making the German’s break them down. Had they sat deep and defended as a unit with the ball in front of them, the German’s would have struggled to find the space they needed to create opportunities and Brazil could have pressed and quickly capitalised on any errors that they made. Whilst Brazil were the inferior team on paper, they made life unnecessarily difficult for themselves and gifted the victory to their opponents. Germany do not need an invitation to march to victory and Brazil let them walk all over them through an accumulation of poor tactics, odd selections and unforgivable performances.
Whilst Brazil were awful, it is worth noting that Germany were very good indeed and thoroughly deserve to be in final. They will rightly be considered the favourites for World Cup victory after that performance and it will be no surprise to see them lift the trophy on Sunday. Finally, we at @0riginalfooty would like to congratulate Miroslav Klose on becoming the top scorer at the World Cup finals. None of the goals have been particularly wonderful but they all count and it’s a skill in itself to get yourself in the positions that he finds himself in and he has been a terrific striker at this level.
The semi-finals are upon us and what a selection of games they are. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the second match between the Netherlands and Argentina.
Both sides come into this match having been involved in nervy contests in the last two rounds. The Netherlands needed two late goals against Mexico and then heroics from substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul in a penalty shootout against Costa Rica to reach this stage. Argentina required a Di Maria goal deep in extra time to secure victory over the Swiss and then a brilliant and instinctive volley from Higuain to give them a lead to hold on to against the Belgians. This will be a far bigger challenge for both sides and it remains to be seen who will step up to the plate and deliver.
Argentina have been rocked by the news that Angel Di Maria will miss the match through injury. This is a huge blow for the Argentines as, behind Messi, Di Maria is one of their most creative forces and has the ability to cause problems for any side he faces. Sergio Aguero is due to return but he has been so injury prone this season that it could be seen as a gamble to see him risked from the start. The Netherlands are without Nigel De Jong for the rest of the tournament, a player that really adds bite to their midfield and he could be sorely missed against the Argentines on Wednesday evening.
There is one standout player for each side that we can expect to make the difference: Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi. Both players have been vitally important to their respective sides in their path to the semi-finals and will be crucial to both teams’ hopes of reaching the final. Messi will really fancy his chances running at Holland’s three centre backs and they will have to be extremely careful in guarding against his runs from deep, whilst also keeping Gonzalo Higuain at bay. Equally, Robben will happily run at Basanta or Rojo all day long and Garay will have to be mindful to offer cover to his left back whenever he needs it. I’m expecting both players to get some joy in this match so don’t be surprised to see them grab a goal or an assist each. Whoever copes with the opposition’s superstar better will most likely come out on top.
The Netherlands will be aware that this Argentina side are yet to be behind in the competition and will be keen to change this, placing pressure on the Argentine’s that they are yet to experience in the tournament. Both sides do seem to be full of battle and bite and although reliant on Messi and Robben there have been character-filled performances from the likes of Javier Mascherano and Ron Vlaar who are players who won’t give up without a fight and could play just as important a role as the flair players who are expected to get them over the line. I’m expecting, and hoping, that we will be treated to a thrilling, high-scoring encounter between two sides craving victory frantically. It’s a tough match to call and could come down to a moment of misery or magic but I’m backing Messi and Argentina to scrape through. Messi is desperate for World Cup glory and there seems to be little anyone can do to stop him.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-3 Argentina
The semi-finals are upon us and what a selection of games they are. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the first match between Brazil and Germany.
Remarkably, this is only the second time in World Cup finals history that these two sides have met. A very surprising statistic given that these are two of football’s powerhouse nations. The first meeting was in the final in 2002; a match won by Brazil 2-0. However, it is a stretch of the imagination to think we will see that score line again this Tuesday evening.
Germany, whilst yet to hit top form, have been fairly comfortable in qualification to this point. They were rarely troubled by France in the quarter-finals and demonstrated their ability to hold on to a lead once they’ve got it. Brazil, on the other hand, are in turmoil. They face the prospect of testing themselves against, arguably, the biggest blockade to World Cup glory without their two best players (the extent to which their problems could prove damaging is explained here: https://originalfooty.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/is-this-the-end-for-brazil/).
So what can we expect from this match? As mentioned in the article linked above, Scolari has a major selection dilemma as to who will replace Neymar and it also remains to be seen if he sticks with Maicon or recalls Dani Alves. We should expect Brazil to let Germany have the majority of possession and look to hit them on the counter. Germany’s approach will be to wear Brazil down and unlock them with continuous, methodical approach play. Never has a first goal been so important for Brazil to score in a match. If the German’s get a lead in this match, it’s hard to see them surrendering it as they will begin to invite the Brazilians on to them and look to deliver the sucker-punch with conventional, ruthless German efficiency. If Brazil do manage to score first, however, it will completely change the complexion of the match. Germany will be forced to be more adventurous and faster in their approach play that could lead to more errors that Brazil will hope to seize upon to quickly break and create opportunities for themselves.
The match will be won and lost in the midfield. The likes of Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Ozil will be attempting to pick holes in the modified Brazilian back line whilst Fernandinho, Luis Gustavo and, if selected, Ramires will be working their socks off attempting to disrupt the German rhythm and launch fast and penetrative breaks. Whoever is more successful in their role will, ultimately, decide the outcome of the match and it’s fairly difficult to decide who it will be. So difficult, in fact, that I am going to opt for a draw and then expect the Germans to go through on penalties. For the sake of the neutral, we must crave a Brazilian goal to come first. If Germany score first they won’t lose but if Brazil nick a lead then we should have an open and exciting contest on our hands.
Prediction: Brazil 2-2 Germany (Germany to win on penalties)
The euphoria surrounding Brazil reaching the semi-finals has quickly turned to despair. The delight at Thiago Silva’s and David Luiz’s goals guiding them past Colombia last night was replaced by extreme anxiety as Brazil face the prospect of taking on Germany without suspended captain Thiago Silva and injured key player Neymar. Will Brazil be able to cope without their star duo? Here we look at the impact that each loss will have on them.
Thiago Silva’s absence is a crushing blow in two senses. Whilst Dante is a ready-made replacement of Champion’s League quality, he does not provide the leadership and assured nature that Brazil’s captain brings to the table. Thiago Silva is a leader in everything he does for Brazil. He not only leads by example with his quality on the pitch but also with his battling qualities and complete desire to win. However, the bigger problem for Scolari may be the shift in defence he is forced to implement. Dante is a left-footed centre back and will most likely play on the left side of defence next to Marcelo. This is where David Luiz has been playing throughout the tournament and he will now most likely have to move to the right side and play next to either Maicon or Dani Alves. This may not sound like that big an issue, but a settled back four is the foundation that every good side builds upon. A like for like positional replacement would have been an issue but now Thiago Silva’s absence means it is likely that every player in that backline will be playing alongside someone they are yet to play next to in the competition. This a disruption that Big Phil could really have done without.
Whilst Thiago Silva’s absence is problematic for Brazil, Neymar’s injury, that has ruled him out of the tournament, is utterly disastrous. There is no ready-made replacement for Neymar. He is unique in this Brazilian squad and their most important player. This is not only because of his superior playing ability, where he strikes fear in to any opponent he faces, but also because of the belief he instils in his teammates. When he is on the pitch, the rest of the team and the fans believe that a moment of magic is possible at any given moment and that Brazil will win. This gives the whole side a huge lift. Will that unfazed belief be there without him? It seems that this injury could really rock the Brazilian’s boat and it will be a huge test of character; one that they may not be able to come back from.
So who will replace Neymar in the side? Assuming Scolari keeps faith in the rest of his forward line, I see there being three options available to him: Willian, Bernard or Ramires. Willian would be the obvious replacement. The Chelsea wide man enjoyed a good season in the Premier League but is a very different player to Neymar. He is not on the same level as Neymar in terms of ability to take on a man but what he lacks in terms of beating a man, he makes up for with his industrious approach to the game and he will provide plenty of cover to Marcelo. Bernard is brilliant with his feet and more than capable of taking on a defender but he would offer little cover for Marcelo, which could see him ruled out for a match against the Germans. Ramires, whilst not being a natural winger could actually be Scolari’s first choice as a replacement due to his tactics against Germany.
It is likely that Scolari will allow Germany to have the majority of possession in the match and look to hit them on the counter. This could lend itself to playing Fernandinho, Luis Gustavo and Ramires in the midfield, players who have the ability to break up the play and launch a pacey counter-attack. Oscar could be forced to play wide on the left as Brazil attempt to shake-up their approach. Ramires is the perfect player to launch a quick counter-attack with; his energy levels know no bounds and he will happily run himself into the ground for the cause.
It remains to be seen which option Scolari takes but I think regardless of what he opts for, Brazil’s tournament will end on Tuesday against a German side who are rapidly becoming the favourites. The German’s will be keen to avenge their defeat in the 2002 final at the hands of Brazil and the losses of Neymar and Thiago Silva will prove too much for the Brazilians to recover from.