Bayern Munich reach near perfection in Eternal City

Bayern Munich's players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.

It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.

Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.

Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.

Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.

Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.

Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.

Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.

The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.

From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.

Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.

The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.

Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.

Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.

His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.

An illustration of Bayern's effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat's pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

An illustration of Bayern’s effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat’s pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.

Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.

Manchester United and Chevrolet Team Up to Auction Exclusive Fan Experiences‏

July 16, 2014 1 comment

Written by Chris Winterburn

Louis van Gaal touched down in Manchester early this morning to officially begin life as Manchester United manager. The experienced Dutchman comes to Old Trafford fresh from a wonderful World Cup campaign with the Dutch national team where he guided a team, not blessed with the masses of quality Dutch sides of the Cruyff, de Boer and Van Nistelrooy eras had at their disposal, to the semi-final of the competition. united chevrolet charity

Manchester United supporters eagerly anticipate the impact Van Gaal will have on the team’s fortunes with speculation surrounding moves in the transfer market likely to intensify following Van Gaal’s arrival at the AON Training Complex. 

Van Gaal himself is eager to start work as soon as possible, not even having a holiday following his adventure in Brazil and he will join Manchester United as the club fly out to America on Friday to begin the club’s pre-season tour.

Manchester United and Chevrolet are teaming up alongside ‘Charitybuzz.com‘ a charity auction site to give six lucky Manchester United supporters the opportunity to bid for exclusive fan experience packages for Manchester United’s pre-season tour match with Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium on August 2.

The auction is to support ‘United Way’ in Southeastern Michigan, an organisation which strives to improve lives by mobilising the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.

Here are details of the auction and how you can get involved:


Chevrolet Offers Ultimate Manchester United Experience
Proceeds of ticket packages auctioned for Manchester United-Real Madrid match to benefit United Way for Southeastern Michigan

July 8, 2014 — Chevrolet will offer six exclusive ticket packages for auction, including a once-in-a-lifetime “Ultimate Manchester United Fan Experience” for the highly anticipated match against Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium as part of the Guinness International Champions Cup (ICC) .

Proceeds from the auction hosted at Charitybuzz.com will benefit United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Soccer fans can place bids now through July 22 for a chance to win one of six ticket packages that include four tickets to the match, hospitality, pre-game access and more. Complete auction details are available at Charitybuzz.com/ManchesterUnited .

As the Official Shirt Sponsor of Manchester United, the team will wear Chevrolet-branded shirts during the Aug. 2 match that also feature a commemorative United Way badge. Each auction winner will receive one of the game-worn shirts from the team’s new kit, which debuted earlier this week.

“Like the athletes who give their all on the field and the lifelong fans who go the distance to support them, Chevrolet wants to connect everyone with the spirit that makes soccer the world’s favourite sport,” said General Motors President Dan Ammann, chair for the 2014-15 United Way for Southeastern Michigan Workplace Campaign. “From backyards to the ‘Big House,’ Chevrolet is proud to support our local communities and United Way.”

The auction extends GM’s and the GM Foundation’s ongoing support of United Way and its mission to improve communities and individual lives by focusing on education, financial stability and such basic needs as food and shelter.

In 2010, the GM Foundation pledged its largest grant ever – $27.1 million to United Way for Southeastern Michigan to establish a “Network of Excellence” in seven Detroit-area high schools. The grant is also helping to advance early childhood education in the area. Over the last two years, GM employees and retirees have contributed more than $11 million through the company’s United Way campaign, and have donated more than 7,200 hours of volunteer service at the Network of Excellence schools since 2011.

“United Way for Southeastern Michigan is honored to partner with Chevrolet for the Manchester United auction packages — these are two of the most storied and beloved brands in the world,” said Michael J. Brennan, president & CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “With the same spirit that soccer fans unite to support their team, we are committed to uniting the community in support of making Greater Detroit one of the best places to live and work. We are deeply grateful to GM for their partnership and for this exciting opportunity to move our mission forward.”

The Manchester United ticket packages available for auction include:

Ultimate Package Four (4) VIP tickets (8/2: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid)
Pre-Game pitchside walk
Game Worn Shirt – Signed
Meet & Greet with Manchester United Players
On-field Mascot escorting player on field (7-13 year old)
Attend Open Training Session
Four (4) tickets to a match at Old Trafford Stadium

VIP Package Four (4) VIP tickets (8/2: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid)
Pre-Game pitchside walk
Game Worn Shirt
Four (4) tickets to a match at Old Trafford Stadium

Executive Package Four (4) VIP tickets (8/2: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid)
Pre-Game pitchside walk
Game Worn Shirt – Signed
Meet & Greet with Manchester United Players

Fred the Red Package Four (4) VIP tickets (8/2: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid)
Pre-Game pitchside walk
Game Worn Shirt
On-field Mascot escorting player on field (7-13 year old)

Super Fan Package Four (4) VIP tickets (8/2: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid)
Pre-Game pitchside walk
Game Worn Shirt

Red Devil Package Four (4) tickets (8/2: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid)
Pre-Game pitchside walk
Game Worn Shirt
Attend Open Training Session

Head over to www.Charitybuzz.com/ManchesterUnited in order to take part in this auction for a what is a fantastic cause, and you may be lucky enough to win one of the aforementioned Manchester United exclusive fan experience packages.

Germany and Argentina look to end respective World Cup droughts in Rio de Janeiro

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Tonight sees the culmination of a month’s worth of hard work, drama and sheer excitement as the 2014 World Cup final takes place in Rio de Janeiro, however host nation Brazil are the notable absentees from their own showpiece event following their 10 minute capitulation against Germany in the 7-1 semi-final defeat. Instead, Brazil’s fiercest rivals Argentina will step into the cauldron of footballing history that is the Maracana and look to end a 28-year wait for World Cup success by overcoming Germany in a repeat of the 1986 final.Maracana-World-Cup-Schedule

Germany too have a World Cup drought of their own with the European giants having not lifted the famous trophy since 1990 despite reaching the 2002 final but coming up short against Brazil in Yokohama. Joachim Lowe’s side have looked irresistibly brilliant at times this tournament, but have also flattered to deceive, particularly in the Group Stage matches against Ghana and the United States.

The semi-final victory against Brazil, whilst a monumental surprise, looked a real turning point for Lowe’s team. Whilst the belief of success had always been there this was a true return to the nature of German teams from days gone by, the more successful teams.

In 2006 and 2010 respectively we have seen Germany try to play with rather more flamboyancy in order to make best use of the current crop of exciting attacking talent that have come through courtesy of the post-millennium restructuring of German football, however this has come at a cost. Gone was the admittedly stereotypical steel and organisation from the German team, mistakes were creeping into performances and players weren’t performing in the important matches.

Lowe has somehow managed to reintroduce these characteristics to the class of 2014 with the attacking flair still evident, there is the perfect balance. The way Germany simply relaxed, remained professional and managed to score seven goals in their semi-final against Brazil proved this and has the European side heading into tonight’s match with fantastic belief.

Argentina on the other hand have had a less than smooth run to the final with the Argentine media absolutely hammering coach Alejandro Sabella for what the perceived to be ‘poor tactics’ in the opening matches whilst others groups criticises the influence Lionel Messi appeared to have not just on his teammates but also his coach.

What cannot be ignored however is how Lionel Messi has dragged his side to the latter stages of the tournament. A lot is made of the mark Diego Maradona left on the 1986 World Cup winning side and many suggest Messi will never be able to have that impact however the Barcelona forward has been outstanding in Brazil.

His last minute winning goal against Iran, his influential second-half performance in the tournament opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina which changed the tide of the match and a orchestrating display against Switzerland in the second round where he provided an inch perfect assist for Angel di Maria’s extra-time winning goal are all moments where Messi has led Argentina from the front.

These are the moments that are remembered for years to come, especially if Messi lifts the trophy in Rio this evening.

There have however been concerns about Messi’s overall fitness heading into tonight’s match with his father being particularly vocal in his concern for his son who he claims is ‘exhausted’. This showed in the semi-final against the Netherlands with the 27-year-old failing to register a touch inside the Dutch penalty area throughout the entire match.

From a tactical perspective this match is so difficult to predict due to the similarities in playing style between the two teams, particularly when not in possession. Both Germany and Argentina love to press an opposing team high up the pitch with Sabella and Lowe both encouraging their forwards to put real pressure on defenders, particularly when a team tries to play out from the back.

In this respect the Dutch played right into Argentina’s hands in the semi-final with the South American’s putting the Dutch defence under pressure early and cutting out the easy build-up pass to one of Nigel de Jong or Georginio Wijnaldum. Even without the epitome of Argentinean energy in Angel di Maria’s absence the team still managed to press effectively.

Germany look to press in a similar manner and tonight’s match may see players having less time on the ball than in previous rounds. This could make for a rather ‘harem scarem’ match with both teams being rushed into making decisions on the ball which makes mistakes more likely or, and we certainly hope this isn’t the case from the view of neutral, we see a rather timid affair with both teams aware of the other’s strengths and on guard against making a mistake.

Argentina will be without Di Maria, which is a big blow, but the return of Sergio Aguero gives Sabella options up front. With Gonzalo Higuain’s shall we say, relaxed playing style, there have been times where Messi has had to kick the team into action. With Messi fatigue issues it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if Aguero is played through the middle as a centre-forward who can bring energy to that area, support Messi and put pressure on Mats Hummels who is still playing through the pain barrier having suffered a knee injury earlier in the tournament.

From a German perspective Toni Kroos has been one of the best players in the tournament. He has played in his naturally unassuming manner and influenced the outcome of every match he has played in. With a move to Real Madrid expected to go through following the World Cup, Kroos has done his worldwide stock no harm this summer and Argentina have to get to grips with him early on. He is almost at an Andrea Pirlo level of being able to dictate matches but rather more crucially he is mobile and can move further up the pitch and orchestrate attacks.

After a heroic performance from Javier Mascherano in the semi-final, with Kroos in full flow you would say the Barcelona midfielder has to put in a similar man marking job on Kroos to limit his effectiveness.

There is little left to do other than await tonight’s match. The World Cup final only comes around once every four years however there will be an iconic image. Be that Philipp Lahm lifting the trophy to signal the German approach to remodelling their footballing structure in 2000 was all worthwhile or Lionel Messi, launching himself into the pantheon of footballing gods alongside Diego Maradona, by lifting the famed trophy in Brazil.

World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi strike saves Argentina’s blushes

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Written by Chris Winterburn

Argentina survived a scare this evening with Lionel Messi’s 91st minute winning goal the difference between Alejandro Sabella’s side and Iran in a 1-0 victory for the South American giants.

The Iranians were once again well organised defensively as well as posing an efficient threat on the counter-attack and it wouldn’t have been too farfetched to suggest the underdogs deserved a victory, let alone the draw they so nearly earned.

The similarities between Italy’s performance against Costa Rica yesterday afternoon and Argentina’s against Iran were striking. Argentina had very little tempo when in possession of the ball however still squandered a number of chances in the first-half from set pieces with Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez both heading over the bar from close range.

Iran, as they were against Nigeria in the week, were defensively strong. Javad Nekounam performed well as a holding midfielder, often dropping in at centre-half whilst Alireza Haghighi looked confident when dealing with balls delivered into the penalty area.

Alejandro Sabella after staunch criticism for his use of a 5-3-2 formation at the beginning of the opening fixture against Bosnia and Herzegovina selected Gonzalo Higuain from the beginning however the Napoli forward was almost passenger throughout aside from one chance in the first-half, leaving Messi isolated when withdrawing into a deep midfield position to receive the ball.

Argentina in fairness did have the better of the opening 45 minutes with Iran looking to consolidate a strong defensive display. The aforementioned Higuain chance came just before the half hour with the Napoli forward firing straight into Haghighi’s midriff from close range. Iran’s confidence grew from there with the half closing with Carlos Queiroz’s side going close from a corner through central defender Jalal Hosseini.

The half-time break appeared to have refocused Argentina with Pablo Zabaleta, Marcos Rojo and Sergio Aguero all looking to create a chance in the opening five minutes. From this moment however Iran looked to take control.

Argentina in search of an opening goal left far too many gaps in defence and midfield and should have been punished in the 55th minute when Ashkan Dejagah was denied a penalty. Replays showed a mistimed Zabaleta challenge was in actual fact, a foul. Dejagah had Iran’s next big chance ten minutes later when the Fulham midfielder forced an excellent save out of Sergio Romero following a diving header.

Panic set in to the Argentine team with attacks becoming frenzied and first touches slack. Alejandro Sabella looked to respond by introducing Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi but both struggled.

Charlton’s Reza Ghoochannejhad had put in a lot in terms of closing the Argentinean defence down however luck deserted the frontman in the final third with Romero pulling off yet another fantastic stop four minutes from time after another counter attack.

Whilst not the most aesthetically pleasing of playing styles it was difficult not to admire the focus and determination of an Iranian side plagued by off the pitch troubles prior to the tournament. A side, who were reportedly told not to swap shirts at the end of matches due to a financial inability to replace them, looked set to secure their second point of the tournament until a largely quiet Lionel Messi weaved his wand of a left foot.

With just three minutes of added time remaining Messi produced the trademark cut inside onto his strong left foot from the right hand side of the penalty area, taking two Iranians out of the game before curling a shot into the top corner in just the manner he has done so many times before.

Initially the crowd in Belo Horizonte, made up mostly by Argentineans, erupted in a wave of audible delight however the full-time whistle was accompanied by a small amount of discontent from supporters who felt Iran deserved better.

The victory spares Argentina’s blushed on an evening when they really didn’t deserve one point, let alone all three however the passage to the knockout stage has been forged by Lionel Messi who looks to be in the goalscoring form to carry his team to the latter stages.

Domino’s Pizza are offering football fans a chance to change goals into prizes this summer courtesy of the brand new, free to download ‘Domigoals’ app.  To stand a chance of receiving great prizes such as:

·        1 goal = £5 off a £15 spend
·        2 goals (brace) = £10 off £20 spend
·        3 goals (hat-trick) = £20 off £30 spend
·        Consolation prize = 25% off £20

Then all you need to do is be ready to tap the app every time a goal is scored during a match and, if you’re one of the first 1000 off the mark each time, you’ll get one of these aforementioned prizes.

Try the app out for yourself, you can download on Android or iOS here: http://www.dominos.co.uk/blog/domigoals-app/

Juan Sebastian Veron talks Lionel Messi and Argentina at the World Cup

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Argentina’s opening victory of their World Cup campaign was not the straightforward result many were expecting from Alejandro Sabella’s side in their home continent. The first-half was a very difficult affair with Sabella’s tactical setup not benefitting Lionel Messi in the slightest, as I discuss here.

This opened up much half-time discussion on just why Messi couldn’t perform at the World Cup, however his second-half display put a kibosh on such talk.

Argentine veteran Juan Sebastian Veron has since spoken to adidas about Lionel Messi and Argentina’s chances in Brazil.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

One of the main talking points surrounding Messi’s legacy is his ability to lead his country to glory in a World Cup. People who use Pele and Diego Maradona as measuring sticks suggest that a true mark of greatness is being able to lift the famous trophy and with Argentina disappointing in 2010, it was muted that Messi might not be able to repeat the feat of Maradona.

Veron disagrees, pointing out that the FC Barcelona forward has already achieved more than enough to cement his status as one of, if not the, greatest player ever.

Messi is already one of the best players in history and that will never change.

He holds the key. He doesn’t have to win a World Cup to be regarded as the best ever.

He’s already proven so, and there are many great players who are great players and never won a World Cup. But, it will be incredible to see him win it for Argentina and his team, as well as for his own story.

An encouraging sign for Messi and Argentina is just how well he slotted into Sabella’s 4-2-3-1 system in the second-half. Gonzalo Higuain’s introduction gave him a player to play off and this saw the tempo of Argentina’s attacks increase. It is unlikely Sabella will deviate from this system for the upcoming match against Iran with Messi appearing so confident following his strike against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Juan Sebastian Veron was a key part of the Argentinean footballing setup since 1997. Although he missed the 2006 World Cup in Germany due to difficulties within his club career at the time causing a lengthy dip in form, the man himself says it feels strange not to be involved this time around, “Although I miss playing in a World Cup, for the first time I’m able to see it from a different perspective and really enjoying my time here in Brazil. I’ve been able to watch many great games.”

Argentina were one of the pre-tournament favourites and although the defensive line is lacking in individual quality, a Lionel Messi hitting form at the right time is enough to drive most teams to the latter stages. In the interview Veron suggests that the importance of gaining a victory in the opening group match is invaluable in terms of providing ‘tranquillity’ to a group with the pressure in the remaining two fixtures significantly lowered,

We’ve won our first game which is great, it’s important to start the World Cup winning and it will bring a lot of tranquillity to the next match.

The team also know that a lot more hard work is needed and some improvements are needed.

It’s very important for there to be a balance between our defence and attack and the team needs to stay together as they’re a collective of many components, with many solutions.

I’m confident we’ll do well, but remember, in football anything can happen.

Argentina next take to the field against Iran on Saturday before their final group game against a lacklustre Nigeria side on Wednesday June 25th.

Juan Sebastian Veron was talking as part of the adidas #allin or nothing campaign

Five players to watch at the World Cup

Written by Chris Winterburn

Every international tournament springs surprises. We’ve seen it all from the Czech pair of Patrick Berger and Karel Poborsky lighting up Euro 96 before earning moves to English giants Liverpool and Manchester United respectively, El Hadji Diouf’s exciting displays in the 2002 World Cup earning him a move to Liverpool and even Mesut Ozil’s creative masterclass in South Africa four years ago just prior to signing for Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

Lorenzo Insigne could be Italy's creative spark this summer.

Lorenzo Insigne could be Italy’s creative spark this summer.

With this in mind we are likely to see players having similar breakout tournaments in Brazil this summer. Here are five players to watch throughout the World Cup who could take the tournament by storm:

1, Lorenzo Insigne – Winger – 22 – Italy

Italy have come a long way since the hugely disappointing World Cup campaign in 2010. After having failed to progress past the Group Stage, Italy turned to Cesare Prandelli, a coach renowned for his methodical approach to balancing squad morale with discipline, and the results have been fantastic.

Italy have integrated young talent into the team whilst keeping a core of experienced players in key positions and success on the pitch has followed. Italy are the only team to have figured out a repeatedly successful manner of playing against Vicente del Bosque’s Spain side whilst remaining a threat on the attack at the same time. This has been possible through the use of exciting individual players such as Mario Balotelli and Emanuele Giaccherini.

Giaccherini however has fallen slightly out of favour following a difficult year at Sunderland and considering Lorenzo Insigne’s outstanding displays for Napoli it has become impossible for Prandelli to hold him back. Insigne has impressed a domestic Italian audience for the last two seasons now. Usually situated on the left wing but with the ability to play either on the right or as a shadow striker, Insigne has really taken his game to the next level this season.

He is quick and exciting on the ball. Whilst impossible to predict just what he will do next you can be sure Insigne is one or two moves ahead of his opponent. His footwork is remarkably similar to that of Arjen Robben, as is his low centre of gravity which allows him to escape challenges and find space when cutting inside from the flanks. The conditions in Brazil will see players tire more quickly and this serves as a further advantage to Insigne.

With Ciro Immobile and Mario Balotelli likely to be battling to be Italy’s first choice striker for the tournament it is likely Insigne will slip under the radar. That is until the tournament starts. The winger who will be twenty three by the time Italy take on England on June 14th is only going to get better and on his first experience of the international stage, you can fully expect him to be a shining creative spark throughout the tournament.

2, Son Heung-min – Winger – 21 – South Korea

Son Heung-min is another exciting young winger heading to Brazil this summer. Having made his breakthrough in Europe with Hamburg it became clear last summer that he had outgrown the struggling club. A move to German giants Bayer Leverkusen has simply served as the catalyst for a huge improvement in consistent displays of quality.

It seemed that whilst it was clear the talent Son had at his disposal, playing with a better team was all that was needed to truly unlock his full potential. The South Korean winger who doubles up as a second striker has enjoyed a fantastic debut campaign with Leverkusen scoring twelve goals in all competitions whilst contributing seven assists.

One of Son’s best attributes is his ability to play with both feet. In the past you have seen wingers excel on one particular flank but have flattered to deceive when shown onto their weaker side. Heung-Min is not such a player. It is believed he is naturally right footed although if you have seen much of his season with Leverkusen you would be forgiven for not being one hundred percent sure. It is this versatility that allows him to be so effective when playing just off a long frontman, almost as a second striker.

Son can pick the ball up in pockets of space and truly dictate how Leverkusen attack. With Leverkusen boasting Sidney Sam as the first choice wide player this term it has been difficult for Son to play in his natural position. However the decision to move him into the secondary striker’s role has been a masterstroke.

For South Korea Son is now very much the main man. Having taken the mantle from the recently retired Park Ji Sung it is Son who carries the hopes of the nation on his shoulders this summer. It is likely Son will return to his preferred position on the wing for the national team this summer and will be a real danger when in possession of the ball because of the option to either play a reverse pass in behind, cut in and shoot or even carry on down the flank before putting a cross in, such is the variety in Son’s game.

The current crop of South Korean footballers is in fairness not at the high level of years gone by and the team may well struggle in Brazil but with Son Heung-min in the team there is real potential for attacking quality.

3, Carlos Bacca – Striker – 27 – Colombia

At twenty seven years old this is perhaps a surprise inclusion however Carlos Bacca’s performances at Sevilla this season had propelled him into the limelight and the battering ram of a centre forward could play a huge part in Colombia’s plans at the World Cup.

Having played in Colombia for most of his career, Bacca finally made the risky move to Europe at the half way point of the 2011-2012 campaign when the Colombian forward signed for Club Brugge of Belgium. What came next was thirty one goals in all competitions over the next season and half however it must be noticed twenty nine of them came in the 2012-2013 campaign once Bacca had found his feet on the continent.

This form earned him a move to Sevilla. Admittedly the club’s interested stemmed from the fact they didn’t have much money to play with, despite the sales of Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo. Neither the club nor Bacca has looked back since. Bacca has been a revelation with the powerful striker netting fourteen La Liga goals and five Europa League goals en route to winning the competition.

Standing at just under six foot Bacca is the archetypal hard working striker. Think Carlos Tevez but with the technical ability to match. One of the most surprising revelations as the season progressed was just how talented a footballer Carlos Bacca is. His hardworking on pitch persona combined with physical stature often meant the clever touches and off the ball runs went unnoticed. However this wasn’t the case in the second half of the season with the eyes of Europe admiring as Sevilla reached another European final.

Bacca was key, not only in his goalscoring but in his overall linkup play and the hole left by Alvaro Negredo lessened each week. Bacca was always an option for Ivan Rakitic to play the ball into with the Croatian safe in the knowledge his teammate would hold the ball up and allow for the wide players to catch up to the move hence why Sevilla were such an attractive attacking force this term.

Bacca, in terms of the national team, has struggled simply due to the fact there is a certain Radamel Falcao in front of him. However with Falcao still fighting to make the World Cup after an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury suffered in January there is a real chance Bacca will play a starring role for Los Cafeteros.

4, Ricardo Rodríguez – Full-Back – 21 – Switzerland

Ricardo Rodríguez has the potential to impress at the World Cup. He is part of an exciting crop of Swiss youngsters.

Ricardo Rodríguez has the potential to impress at the World Cup. He is part of an exciting crop of Swiss youngsters.

At a time when top quality full-backs are a rarity Switzerland’s Ricardo Rodríguez has the potential to truly catch the eye in Brazil this summer. Having joined Wolfsburg in January 2012 the former FC Zurich defender has been a revelation.

The Swiss international is a well rounded full-back. Not only is he fantastic at going forward and supplementing attacking moves but the defensive side of his game has not suffered as a result. Rodríguez’s tackling is noted as a particular strong point amongst Wolfsburg supporters.

Physically Ricardo Rodríguez is also a handful. Standing just under six foot he is incredibly difficult to dispossess when on the ball. The closest player I can liken him to physically is Liverpool’s Jose Enrique. This is what makes him such a rounded player. He excels defensively through this use of his physical stature and innate tackling ability whilst able to retain possession when going on one of his frequent marauding runs down the left flank.

Rodríguez does have the ability to switch flanks and play on the right if needs be but seldom does this happen both for club and country.

For a full-back Ricardo Rodríguez’s numbers for the 2013-2014 campaign are tremendous. In thirty four Bundesliga matches the Swiss full-back scored five goals and added nine assists with ‘WhoScored‘ giving him an average rating of 8.02 for the season.

At just twenty one his potential for further development is exciting. The World Cup is the grand stage a player can use to really catch the eye and whilst being a defender is not usually a position which grabs headlines, Ricardo Rodríguez is an exception to the rule.

Switzerland are fortunate that arguably their finest crop of young players for generations is being guided by the vastly experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld. The Swiss team heading to Brazil, whilst very young, is also equally as exciting and Ricardo Rodríguez is just one of the players who could really catch the eye in Group E.

5, William Carvalho – Defensive Midfielder – 22 – Portugal

Arguably the most interesting name on this list for Manchester United supporters is Portugal’s twenty two year old midfielder William Carvalho. Although speculation linking the Sporting Lisbon player to Old Trafford has cooled significantly since David Moyes’ departure there is still interest in the player’s performances from supporters, even if just to see in effect what they could have had.

Carvalho is one of the more physically domineering members of Paulo Bento’s squad headed to the World Cup, standing at 6.1 feet tall Carvalho has the energy to really emphasise his physical advantage over many opponents.

One of the key components of Carvalho’s game is breaking up opposition attacks. Being such a physically domineering player that is not too difficult for him to do however it is his ability to cover ground quickly which is so impressive. Of course he is not at say for example the speed of Arjen Robben but by holding midfielder standards it is a trait which sets him apart from other players.

Manchester United have been searching for a central midfielder who can break up play since the departure of Roy Keane. Owen Hargreaves did provide significant rest bite on that front but his struggles with injuries meant the club never had the stability on the defensive side of midfield. Even if the move is probably not likely to happen this summer you do feel as though Carvalho would add a lot to United’s ailing midfield.

Carvalho has been the standout performer of Sporting Lisbon’s excellent season which has seen the club return to the Champions League once more. It has been said that Carvalho needs to move to a more competitive league to truly show his ability however whilst that is not the case, the World Cup in Brazil is highest stage of them all.

Portugal have been placed in Group G along with Germany, Ghana and the United States. These are all teams which boast quick attacking players. The counter attack is a threat Portugal have been susceptible to in the past, and will come up against this summer. However with Carvalho in place as a holding midfielder the extra protection for the back four is there. Whilst it might not be the clearest position to impress in, the holding midfield role is vitally important in a game where speed is such an advantage. Carvalho might not take the limelight like Cristiano Ronaldo will this summer but Portugal’s chance of success does rest heavily on the twenty two year old.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Real Madrid stars look ahead to European Cup Final

Written by Chris Winterburn

Ahead of Saturday’s European Cup final between newly crowned La Liga Champions Atletico Madrid and fierce rivals Real Madrid a number of Carlo Ancelotti’s players have been speaking about the honour of finally playing in a European Cup final and just what it would mean to be able to complete Real’s pursuit of La Decima with a victory over their most unloved of adversaries.

Lisbon and Adidas prepares for Saturday's UEFA Champions League final. Photograph courtesy of Adidas.

Lisbon and Adidas prepares for Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final. (Photograph courtesy of Adidas)

Angel di Maria has really enjoyed a breakthrough season at the Bernabeu under Carlo Ancelotti. After reportedly being one of two names the former Milan boss had to choose from to be sold last summer, di Maria earned a stay of execution through Cristiano Ronaldo who reportedly asked for the Argentine not to be sold and the former Benfica winger has certainly delivered.

There was absolutely no question about his talent however during the Jose Mourinho era at Madrid it appeared as though di Maria struggled to play with a team ethos and often that contributed to rather unbalanced Real Madrid teams, particularly in the UEFA Champions League. This term however it has been a completely different story.

The arrival of Gareth Bale was expected to spell the end for di Maria however the Argentine has thrived. His overall game has improved and a willingness to work across the line to support either Marcelo or Fabio Coentrao and this has earned him a key place in Ancelotti’s team. The crowning moment was the display in the most recent La Liga Clasico in late March. Di Maria was arguably the best player on the pitch and was a key element in Madrid’s three goals.

Di Maria’s performances in Europe have been equally impressive and it is expected he will play a key part in Saturday’s Lisbon showpiece with the former Benfica suggesting it to be a dream to play in a European Cup final,

“The truth is that to be in the Champions League final is a dream come true. There have been a lot of seasons where I have only reached the semi-finals, and missing the opportunity of reaching the final. It’s a real joy to be part of this final.”

Angel di Maria is an adidas ambassador and wears the Predator Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Asier Illarramendi has found first team opportunities rather limited since his £32million move to the Bernabeu last summer however the clever midfielder may well find himself thrust into action on Saturday evening courtesy of Xabi Alonso’s suspension.

Illarramendi was touted as the long-term successor to Xabi Alonso in the Real Madrid team although it appears this season has been rather more of a tool to get Illarramendi acclimatised to life with Los Blancos. When he has played he has impressed with a neat range of passing complementing the midfield tempo nicely and it is expected he will be more of a regular feature next season as Xabi Alonso enters his thirty third year

“We are fine. I think that during the season we have been up and down but now we are fine. We have the desire, the hope and above all the commitment to win it. Atletico will be a really difficult rival. This year they had an incredible season. But we are excited, motivated and we must win.”

A key point to pull out from that quote is the significance of the final three words, ‘we must win’. Defeat is not an option for Real Madrid on Saturday. After waiting twelve long years to reach another European Cup final since their triumph in Glasgow the club is finally in a position to complete La Decima, which according to former player Fernando Hierro has become ‘an obsession’.

Asier Illarramendi is an adidas ambassador and wears the Nitrocharge Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Angel di Maria has enjoyed a phenomenal season under Ancelotti and claims it is a 'dream' to take part in a Champions League Final.

Angel di Maria has enjoyed a phenomenal season under Ancelotti and claims it is a ‘dream’ to take part in a Champions League Final. (Photograph courtesy of Adidas)

Twenty one year old centre forward Alvaro Morata has been another bright point to come out of Real Madrid’s campaign. Whilst he isn’t playing as much as perhaps he would at other clubs due to the performances of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, Morata has still contributed a healthy nine goals in all competitions and the home-grown talent is eagerly anticipating Saturday’s final and the positivity it will bring to Spanish football,

“I think it’s a tremendous joy for Spanish football and for the city of Madrid. I’m very proud. I was born here in Madrid and the truth is that this is something really great. It will be a hotly disputed final, two teams which have had a very good season, especially with this trophy. The best team will win, and we hope to win.”

Alvaro Morata is an adidas ambassador and wears the Adizero F50 Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Much has been made of the impact Carlo Ancelotti has made at Real Madrid. After going through ten coaches since the 2002 final it finally appears as if the club has found the man to guide the team in Europe.

He is a coach who can keep control of the squad without being too divisive. Ancelotti’s experience as this level is well documented and both Alvaro Morata and Asier Illarramendi are keen to publicise the impact he has had on a team who finally looks to be reaching its undoubted potential,

AI: “He [Ancelotti] is a man that generates confidence. He is a quiet man and all the football players feel comfortable with him. He is helpful and the coaching staff in general is very good.”

AM: “The coach brought maturity most importantly he was a football player. He knows the players’ way of thinking, their behaviour and that’s important. If a player is not ok or needs help from the coaching staff, the coach knows it: he has been in the same situation as a football player.”

Alvaro Morata, Angel di Maria and Asier Illarramendi have all been speaking to Adidas this week in order to promote the newly released ‘World Cup Battle Pack’ boot range.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

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