Italy like Brazil won their opening match in the Confederations Cup after a 2-1 victory over Mexico in Rio on Sunday and as a result can secure their passage into the Semi Finals with a win over Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan side in Recife this evening. Japan on the other hand head into tonight’s fixture with Zaccheroni knowing he must record a positive result against his country of birth in order to stay in the competition and Japan will certainly have to improve both their sharpness and effectiveness in the final third in order to test a physically strong Italian defensive line.
Cesare Prandelli surprised me with his decision not to select Stephan El Shaarawy for Sunday’s opener against Mexico with the AC Milan attacking midfielder still recuperating from an injury, it is expected El Shaarawy is close enough to full fitness to start today although whether Prandelli will risk him is another matter. To me it would seem nonsensical to leave El Shaarawy out again if he is indeed as we are told, match fit simply due to the partnership he could form with Mario Balotelli with the two having proved their ability to link up well together in the final third at AC Milan since the latter’s January move to the San Siro. Emanuele Giaccherini of Juventus did put in a useful performance against Mexico however the Talla born midfielder was often not on the same wavelength as Balotelli and Italy’s attacking moves on the left hand side on more than one occasion broke down. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Prandelli shuffle his attacking trio of players in the 4-3-2-1 system in order to improve cohesion in the final third against a Japanese defence which against Brazil looked very frail.
Defensively was the area where Italy impressed the most against Mexico with Mattia De Sciglio putting in a performance fitting of a seasoned veteran let alone a twenty year old youngster at left back with the early comparisons to Rossoneri legend Paulo Maldini looking accurate. De Sciglio showed an air of calmness when asked to deal with situations in his own penalty area but also showed a willingness to get forward and support Italian attacks down the left hand flank. De Sciglio played Mexico’s Javier Aquino out of the game in Rio on Sunday and with Keisuke Honda struggling for fitness it is expected Japan will get very little out of Italy’s defence on the left.
Central defender Giorgio Chiellini put in a reasonable performance against Mexico with the Juventus centre half marking Javier Hernandez out of the game for the most part with the Manchester United striker being allowed to make only a handful of effective forward runs in behind the Azzuri backline. Andrea Barzagli on the other hand had a testing evening with individual errors contributing to his poor performance, taking too long on the ball deep in his own half allowed Giovani dos Santos to steal the ball away before Barzagli brought the Mallorca playmaker down inside the penalty area with Barzagli very fortunate to escape a red card with the situation most certainly falling into the category of a goal scoring opportunity. Prandelli will keep faith with Barzagli for the fixture against Japan today however the former Wolfsburg defender will certainly have to put in an improved performance with Leandro Bonucci waiting in the wings to take his place.
Cesare Prandelli has been known to favour a 4-3-1-2 system which features a trequartista filling in just behind the two strikers and being given the responsibility of orchestrating all Italy’s play in the attacking areas however on Sunday Prandelli changed his system slightly to a 4-3-2-1 with Mario Balotelli leading the line up front on his own. Whether this was down to Prandelli wanting more control in midfield with the creativity of El Shaarawy missing or he wanted to trust Mario Balotelli with a great level of responsibility, however in the most simplest sense it worked with Balotelli putting in a performance of the highest quality with the AC Milan forward looking to get involved with the game at every possible opportunity, Balotelli would even come deep into the midfield to win possession of the ball and then look to quickly pass it on to Giaccherini on the left or Montolivo on the right hand side and then quickly get back into his central position further up the pitch.
This was a new Mario Balotelli that fans in England had very seldom seen with Balotelli often willing to just wait for the likes of David Silva, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure do much of the creative work and then expect the ball to be given to him inside the penalty area, what we saw on Sunday evening at the Maracana was a much more proactive Mario Balotelli who made best use of his physical strength to give the Mexican central defenders numerous difficulties throughout the ninety minutes. When you consider trouble Japan’s defence were given down the right hand side by the physicality of Hulk in Saturday evening’s Confederations Cup curtain raiser it is hard to imagine how they will fare any better against Balotelli and as a result we may just see Prandelli keep with the 4-3-2-1 formation to again ensure we see a proactive Mario Balotelli.
Japan admittedly had the toughest of opening fixtures against the host nation Brazil however Alberto Zaccheroni will have been disappointed with his side’s inability to make best use of possession when they had it with Keisuke Honda in particular being slow to make decisions on the ball which often led to it being lost. Shinji Kagawa whilst displaying small glimpses of quality looked fatigued after a long European season which has been disrupted by injury and the lack of a quality centre forward who could hold the ball up and bring the likes of Kagawa and Honda into play was painfully evident.
Endo and Hasebe playing at the heart of the Japanese defence were bulldozed out of the game by Brazil’s combination of Luis Gustavo and Paulinho with Endo unable to move forward as he so likes to do when on the ball and Hasebe being forced to drop deep into his own half in order to stop the surging runs of Paulinho. Italy’s midfield will play at a far slower tempo than Brazil’s with Pirlo preferring to take time on the ball before playing a pass and De Rossi and Marchisio not as energetic as Gustavo and Paulinho. This will allow Hasebe to stay in the middle of the pitch which could give Endo a degree of freedom to play his natural game and work Honda and Kagawa into the more dangerous positions.
Zaccheroni ahead of tonight’s fixture does have to make a decision on what he wants from his centre forward, there was a degree of confusion on Saturday as to whether Keisuke Honda was expected to play as a ‘false striker’ or whether Okazaki was put in as a quick forward who looking to get in behind the Brazilian defence. Zaccheroni has to make this clear beforehand and make a decision on whether he wants Maeda or Okazaki to start up front and not have to keep interchanging players during a match which disrupts rhythm when done more than once or twice.
Zaccheroni was left unhappy with his side’s performance against Brazil and was quoted as saying his team only played to half their maximum ability, “We weren’t able to demonstrate our abilities. We’ve only shown about 50% of what we can do.” Zaccheroni ahead of the clash with Italy has urged his team to play to their strengths which is obviously their technical ability rather than physical strength with Japan slender in body all over the pitch which Hulk took full advantage of down the right hand side on Saturday, “We should adopt not a physical approach but a technical one.”
Japan’s fitness was also called into question during the latter period of the match against Brazil with several of their players struggling to keep up to the pace of the match and Zaccheroni attributed this to a less than perfect pre-tournament preparation, “On June 4, we played Australia and several players just joined up with us the day before as they were playing abroad so there was not much chance to rest.”
Prediction: Italy were very impressive against Mexico on Sunday with their playing style really suiting their personnel. Andrea Pirlo as ever looks to be in irresistible form and Mario Balotelli is working hard for the team. The reintroduction of Stephan El Shaarawy will give the Italians more flair going forward and that will be too much for a Japanese side that are still searching for their identity as team ahead of next Summer’s World Cup. Italy can only improve on their 2-1 victory over Mexico and I expect will put Japan to the sword in Recife this evening, goals could come at a premium. I will say 3-0 Italy.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Brazil head to Fortaleza on Wednesday evening to face Mexico in their second group match of the 2013 Confederations Cup, in the knowledge that a win would secure them a place in the Semi Finals of the competition. Luiz Felipe Scolari saw his side run out 3-0 winners against Japan on Saturday evening in the tournament opener however it was a performance that needs to be improved on if Brazil are to walk away from the match with Mexico with three points. Mexico on the other hand are heading into their clash with Brazil following a 2-1 defeat to Italy where the Gold Cup holders came second best in every area against a sizeably impressive Azzuri outfit.
It is expected Scolari will resist national pressure and keep Hulk in his starting line-up ahead of Lucas Moura with the host nation’s public wanting to see a much more explosive attacking performance than the organised way in which Brazil have become accustomed to playing under Scolari. The impressive performance of midfield duo Luis Gustavo and Paulinho was one of the plus points from Saturday’s game against Japan with the Bayern Munich and Corinthians pair dominating all aspects of the midfield with Japan’s pairing of Endo and Hasebe being unable to build any sort of rhythm to their own game with Hasebe in particular being forced to drop back much deeper than expected as a result of Luis Gustavo’s pressing game when off the ball and Paulinho’s willingness to push forward with the ball to create space for Neymar, Oscar and Hulk in the attacking midfield trio.
Julio Cesar despite looking nervous when having to deal with Keisuke Honda set pieces was in reasonable form on Saturday evening making a small number of impressive stops and is likely to keep his place in goal on Wednesday. Scolari in picking Marcelo for the match against Japan surprised everyone with Filipe Luis being his favoured left full back in the Confederations Cup warm up matches against England and France and Marcelo rewarded his coach by putting in a stellar performance on the left hand side with the Real Madrid man getting forward and giving Neymar somebody to work one-two passes with however Marcelo was never really tested defensively on Saturday with Keisuke Honda being positioned on the right hand side of Japan’s attacking midfield three and with the CSKA Moscow playmaker not at full fitness it was always going to be a routine evening for Marcelo however against Mexico with Giovani dos Santos and Andres Guardado impressing significantly against Italy it could well be a tougher night for Marcelo should Guardado and Aquino swap flanks.
Brazil whilst never really moving out of second gear to beat Japan, did impress with the aforementioned midfield duo of Paulinho and Luis Gustavo looking like they could cope with anything the stronger teams in the competition such as Spain and Italy could throw at them. Alongside this we saw Neymar alleviate all pressure upon himself and his team with his third minute wonder strike to open proceedings in Brasilia on Saturday evening and if as we expect he has hit top form then Mexico’s defence which did look shaky when trying to shackle Mario Balotelli on Sunday is in for a tough ninety minutes especially with the raw power of Hulk and the incisiveness of Oscar also being present for them to attempt to deal with.
There was however one chink in the Brazilian armour and for me that was at central defence, with Thiago Silva captaining the side and playing well it looked as if David Luiz who is not known for his outstanding defensive ability was the area where teams could get at Brazil. We have all seen the way Javier Hernandez has excelled for Manchester United against Chelsea in recent matches with the Mexican boasting a record of seven goals in ten appearances in all competitions against the Blues with David Luiz having struggled to cope with the quick, intelligent movement of Hernandez. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if we see Dante moved into the starting line-up against Mexico in place of Luiz with the Bayern Munich central defender having been a key component in the Bavarian side that won the treble this past season with the Brazilian’s performances particularly in the European Cup showing he is a very capable defender as well as being technically gifted when on the ball, very similar to Gerard Pique of Spain. I feel Dante would be far more reliable against Mexico’s quartet of quick attackers in the shape of dos Santos, Guardado, Aquino and Hernandez than David Luiz.
Jose Manuel de la Torre was in a defiant mood following his team’s 2-1 defeat to Italy on Sunday with the Mexico coach stating that he believed his side had controlled the game, “We had a lot of moves when we were in good positions. I believe we could have had better luck.” However this was not the full story, Italy in fact dominated possession with Andrea Pirlo on his one hundredth appearance for the Italian national side expertly illustrating how to play the pivot role behind two central midfield players and Mario Balotelli putting in a very mature performance which saw him link up a lot of play with his teammates in attacking positions and utilise his physical attributes to cause problems for Rodriguez and Moreno at the heart of the Mexican backline.
Mexico did however impress going forward with Giovani dos Santos looking like the player his potential promised when he was at Barcelona causing all sorts of problems for Andrea Barzagli who endured a troubling evening littered with individual errors. Javier Hernandez was at points in the match isolated up front and that is something Mexico will have to work on with Thiago Silva and Dante having the physical prowess and vision of the game to mark him out the match. Guardado’s energy on the left hand side was impressive as was his ability to track back and defend with the Valencia man who has played a lot of his football at Left Back at the Mestalla this past season, often breaking up Italian counter attacks.
Aquino on the right hand side was quiet however a lot of this was down to the eye catching performance of twenty year old AC Milan full back Mattia De Sciglio who defended as a player far beyond his years, very aware of his surroundings when on the ball and how to work his way out of troubling situations at the heart of Italy’s defence. De Sciglio was also an option moving forward when Buffon worked the ball into the wide areas which made Gerardo Flores’ evening on the right hand side all the more difficult. I would expect Aquino to get far more chances going forward against Brazil with Marcelo far less defensive minded than De Sciglio.
I would expect Mexico to keep the same line-up despite supporters wanting Gerardo Torrado out of the central midfield area to make room for the energetic Hector Herrera who was unfortunate to miss out on a starting place against Italy. It is expected de la Torre may make this change with Mexico needed to get more support up to Javier Hernandez and Herrera in the role of a box to box midfield may offer this.
Prediction: I suspect Brazil will put in a much improved performance against Mexico than what they did against Japan and they will have to in order to come away with the win and keep home crowds rife with political turbulence happy. Mexico at times in the match against Italy looked like the impressive side we have come to know following successful Gold Cup and Olympic campaigns however weren’t consistent enough to really trouble Italy too much. I suspect a lot of this was down to fatigue and lack of acclimatisation to their surroundings and the performance against Brazil will be much more of a reflection of their overall quality. I suspect coach de la Torre who knows a second successive defeat will all but send Mexico out of the competition will base his team selection around giving his attacking players far more support and Hector Herrera may well come in to support this. I do think Brazil will be too strong for Mexico and given Neymar’s mood and current form he could be a real handful for the Mexican defence short on confidence albeit a defence stronger than Japan’s. I think Brazil will run out winners at a scoreline of 3-0.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
I don’t personally know the exact reasons as to why Derek Llambias has left his role as Managing Director at Newcastle United, or at least he has according to incoming Director of Football Joe Kinnear however one thing I do know however is the situation at Newcastle United is nowhere near dire enough to bring in Joe Kinnear.
There are no doubting Mr Kinnear’s achievements within the game as the former Wimbledon boss was all too quick to point out on TalkSport yesterday evening “I have played in five cup finals, I have won the lot. I had over 400 games for Tottenham Hotspur, been manager of the year three times.” However Newcastle United are most certainly not in a position where they need to entrust player recruitment to Joe Kinnear. Understandably Mike Ashley is unhappy with the events of last season where Newcastle somehow dropped from a fifth place finish in the 2011-2012 campaign to a relegation battle in the 2012-2013 season despite the Sports Direct mogul spending a significant amount of money on transfers to improve the squad, notably Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko although both these transfers arrived in January with problems already rife within the Newcastle squad. You can understand that Mike Ashley would want an improvement on last season considering the money he has spent but the problems at Newcastle were nowhere near as deep as people are making them out to be.
Yes performances last year were at times really very poor with goal scoring being the major problem following Demba Ba’s transfer to Chelsea in January, however Newcastle have in their possession, a very good collective group of players who realistically need to spend a pre-season together in order to gel properly and form a ‘team’. It also must be said that Newcastle had a lot of off the field problems last term with Steven Taylor’s long term injury plaguing Newcastle United in the second half of the season as well as an injury to Fabricio Coloccini following all the discussion surrounding his desired return to Argentina in the January transfer window which undoubtedly unsettled the player.
You cannot overlook these problems in the way Joe Kinnear appeared to do in his radio interview last night and state that wholesale change was needed with any player he didn’t deem good enough for Newcastle United being sent on his way, that sort of fire sale is exactly what sends teams towards the relegation trapdoor not away from it. A summer of significant change in playing personnel is only going to replicate the effects an influx of new players had on Newcastle United last season but maximise the negative impacts tenfold. What Newcastle United needed was to keep going in the same direction, bringing in supremely talented players but allowing them time in pre-season to settle into the team and build a rhythm ahead of the start of the next Premier League campaign.
Newcastle’s policy of giving Chief Scout Graham Carr the freedom to go and scout a selection of players, most frequently in France has been an effective one with Carr reporting back to manager Alan Pardew on the player first and advising him on how the player(s) in question could fit into Pardew’s side, following this a decision would be made on the player and Mike Ashley going off the advice given by Carr, Pardew and Llambias would give the go ahead for the money to be spent to bring the player into St James’ Park. You would find it hard to say this model wasn’t working, good players were being brought into the football club and for the most part fans were seeing an improvement to their team in both results and quality of football being played, yes it wasn’t quite like the days of Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan beforehand but the Premier League is a completely different animal to what it was even ten years ago let alone fifteen or more.
This policy contrary to what Joe Kinnear stated yesterday evening is not going to be able to stay the same, at the very least Kinnear, Pardew
and Carr will have to take at least one pre-season to acclimatise themselves to each other’s work and preferences in transfer targets in order for this venture to have any chance of success however this then surely means Newcastle United will either spend this summer stagnating in the transfer market and not improving straight away which would represent a complete polar opposite to what Mike Ashley appears to want to do by bringing Joe Kinnear in as Director of Football, or it would see Newcastle United purchasing a whole host players Alan Pardew doesn’t necessarily want or players that haven’t been scouted extensively which could see Alan Pardew and or Graham Carr walk away from the club which would be a disaster.
What does seem odd is that Newcastle United have yet to officially announce Joe Kinnear as their new Director of Football despite the former Spurs full back talking about his new role to the media since Sunday evening. In all fairness to Joe Kinnear he did speak with a degree of sense on TalkSport last evening with regards to Newcastle United’s forward situation, “In my opinion we need a striker and I see that desperate, as my opinion… if you look at the goals tally last season I think we lost our top goalscorer in Demba Ba… we need a prolific goalscorer to come in there and assist Cisse.” This if you look at Newcastle United’s goal scoring record in the Premier League last season, is true, with the Magpies netting just forty five goals which was less than both Wigan and Aston Villa. Newcastle United in order to improve on last season do need to bring a striker in, it says a lot that Alan Pardew’s side looked weak in numbers up front even before Demba Ba’s departure and if Joe Kinnear is headed to St James’ Park intent on bringing in a striker as his first duty then at least he is beginning in a positive, and the correct way.
However I somehow feel that the striker he will look to bring in might not suit Newcastle United at this current time with the club having too many gifted technical midfield players to try and find Andy Carroll over the top on a regular basis. The club has to look towards more technical gifted, quick attacking players to bring in to the club to really bolster the creativity in the Newcastle forward line. A player in the mould of Luis Suarez would be perfect with that degree of energy up top likely to make Papiss Cisse’s job as a target man a whole lot easier. Rodrigo currently of Benfica would be the perfect choice with Newcastle having seen him first hand in their Europa League Quarter Final against the Lisbon side however I expect the former Bolton Wanderers loanee would prefer to stay with Benfica.
Finally a point to make away from the football side of things, Joe Kinnear in his more recent years does not have a natural rapport with players with the 2008 incident of calling Charles N’Zogbia, ‘Insomnia’ being one of the main factors that prompted N’Zogbia who was one of Newcastle’s better players at the time, to leave the club. This was thought of as a simple, harmless mistake by Kinnear himself and many others which is a perfectly reasonable belief to have with very few claiming Joe Kinnear intentionally mispronounced Charles N’Zogbia’s name but there is a degree of respect which comes when addressing people, especially people you have to interact with in a professional capacity and mispronouncing individuals names to the degree Joe Kinnear did on TalkSport last night was bordering on the ridiculous with Yohan Cabaye being called “Yohan Kabab”, Hatem Ben Arfa “Hatem Ben Afrey” and finally experienced forward Shola Ameobi being called “Amemobi” to which younger brother Sammy took particular exception to on Twitter, “Wow at least get my name right.”
If this is making players unhappy then surely it makes no sense to appoint someone who is rattling so many cages if you will, inside the club. Newcastle United weren’t in a disastrous position, they had a strong group of players and as we saw in throughout their Europa League campaign were capable of playing eye catching attacking football. All this needed following the disappointment of last season was to be nurtured along in pre-season with players gelling together and the odd signing brought in however I feel the appointment of Joe Kinnear could do far more to derail the club than improving it.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Following Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
The 2013 Confederations Cup rolls into Rio this evening as Mexico take on Italy in the newly refurbished Maracana Stadium in the second fixture in Group A. Mexico enter the competition in the midst of a golden age for their national teams following victories in the Gold Cup and the Olympics and boss Jose Manuel de la Torre is hoping his side can add the Confederations Cup to the countries’ recent list of honours. Italy will too under Cesare Prandelli be hoping to build on their impressive performance which took many by surprise at last summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine with a good offering in Brazil this summer ahead of next year’s showpiece event.
With Brazil having gotten off to a near perfect start with a 3-0 win over Japan last night both sides will know the importance of avoiding defeat today and as such we may well see less of an open game than the neutral would hope, especially with Prandelli’s Italy being very concerned with ball retention and slow passing build up play as we saw last summer with Andrea Pirlo used absolutely perfectly in the pivot role in Italy’s 4-3-1-2 formation.
Prandelli will look to continue to utilise the 4-3-1-2 formation which was so successful last summer in the hope they can restrict Mexico’s exciting attacking prowess by preventing them from getting hold of the ball for large periods. We first saw Italy do this last summer against Spain in the opening group match of Euro 2012 with the Italian’s restricting Spain’s possession of the ball by keeping it to themselves with Pirlo at the heart of their midfield and as a result Spain were unable to play their favoured way and could have quite easily found themselves on the wrong end of a defeat that afternoon but for an outstanding goal from Cesc Fabregas.
Twelve months on from Euro 2012 however and there are a number of different personnel in Cesare Prandelli’s thinking with Stephen El Shaarawy that one year older and wiser following a season where he was arguably AC Milan’s most important player going forward. It is expected El Shaarawy will find himself in the position just behind the two strikers allowing him to link the midfield and attacking well just as he does with Milan. El Shaarawy also has the capability to move to the wider areas should Italy’s play require him to do so which is not beyond the realms of possibility with Ignazio Abate having a great deal of pace and desire to move forward on the right flank and Mattia De Sciglio being able to do the same on the left. We expect Italy will start with a defensive pair of Bonucci and Chiellini due to the absence of Barzagli yet this is a very physically domineering defensive duo and will be very tough for Mexico to break down especially with the height of their forward line being rather small with Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos.
Italy’s 4-3-1-2 will see Mario Balotelli start up front alongside what we expect will be Alberto Gilardino, despite his recent sending off against the Czech Republic on June 8th in a World Cup qualifier, Cesare Prandelli urged Balotelli to learn from his mistake in getting a red card against the Czechs as well as preaching the importance of discipline ahead of the Confederations Cup, “Players need to have greater tolerance at times.” With Riccardo Montolivo struggling for fitness heading into tonight’s fixture against Mexico it is expected Prandelli will go with a midfield trio of Pirlo, De Rossi and Marchisio with the latter expected to perform a very energetic role in winning the ball back and joining El Shaarawy as an attacking two. Marchisio has been ask to play the very same role numerous times for his club side, Juventus with Arturo Vidal being able to sit and hold the space behind him. Italy are very much set up to keep possession in the 4-3-1-2 in a very similar manner to a 4-2-3-1 formation however the two up front in Balotelli and Gilardino ensure that when Italy get the ball in the final third they are not short of options and have to slow the move down especially with Mario Balotelli and Alberto Gilardino not known best for their ability to hold the ball up.
Mexico will favour the more widely used 4-2-3-1 formation in the Confederations Cup with de la Torre being known to favour such a system which utilises Javier Hernandez as the lone striker up front with there being a number of attacking midfield players to be selected to play off him. With Andres Guardado in the squad it is unlikely Mexico will go with the conventional 4-2-3-1 formation which for example we see Chelsea use, with Oscar, Mata and Hazard staying relatively close together in a narrow formation. Mexico will look to use Guardado’s pace further wide on the left hand side and as a result play a much wider set of three attacking midfield players with Giovani dos Santos sitting just behind Hernandez often running ahead of Hernandez and in behind defenders to try and score himself as well as feeding the two wider men.
Pablo Barrera formerly of West Ham United is likely to be preferred to Javier Aquino on the right hand side due to his willingness to play further wide on the flank and therefore fits into de la Torre’s preferred wider attacking midfield trio.
Herrera and the experienced Torrado are the likely midfield pair with Herrera very much the stereotypical box-to-box midfielder with the Pachuca man being expected to not only break down Italian attacks but look to get past De Rossi and Marchisio and move the ball on to either dos Santos or one of Guardado or Barrera. The quick tempo of Mexico’s play will be key to them disrupting Italy’s slow passing rhythm and Mexico may have to look to a high pressing game when off the ball to try and stop Andrea Pirlo dictating the play from deep in the Italian half. There is no doubt this Mexico side has goals in it with dos Santos being supremely creative and Javier Hernandez as everyone will all by now know having an eye for goal like nobody else. With Italy’s preferred choice of defender being physically dominant in the case of Bonucci and Chiellini there are some occasions where the two appear cumbersome and this is where the quick short passing and cleverness of dos Santos could really hurt Italy if he can find Hernandez in behind.
Prediction: It all depends on how Mexico stop Italy playing their natural passing game which Prandelli had drilled into his team since taking over in 2010, if Pirlo is allowed to play how he wants then Mexico have absolutely no chance however if de la Torre’s side can use their quickness to put the Italian defence under pressure then they are halfway there with their quality and ability to score goals being proven beforehand. I fully expect this match to hinge on the first goal with Mexico likely to go into their shells if they are to claim it with Italy also more than willing to do the same, with the competition still in its infancy I don’t expect to see too many risks taken by either side. I am going to go for Italy to take the three points in a 2-1 scoreline simply based on the quality they have across the board, especially up front with El Shaarawy and Balotelli having the potential to do something special in the blink of an eye.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Brazil, a host nation under a level of pressure beyond the realms of belief for most people yesterday got their Confederations Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 3-0 victory of Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan side on home soil in Brasilia. The widespread booing of both FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff looked like it could to set the tone for the evening with the partisan crowd needing somewhat of a release and a Brazilian victory would be the only way to achieve this.
The fans crammed into Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha were given something positive to cheer about as early as the third minute when
Neymar singlehandedly lifted the pressure on both himself and his team with one sweetly struck right footed half volley into the top left hand corner of the net. The strike came after a fantastic piece of chest control from Fred gifted Neymar a smidgen of space around twenty five yards out from goal before the Sao Paulo born striker fired the ball home with what looked like relative ease. The expression of relief upon Neymar’s face was plain to see with the Barcelona man having struggled to impress and make an impact in Brazil’s recent friendly matches against both England and France and the twenty one year old was quick to describe his goal in post-match interviews “It all happened in a flash, I connected full on and happily the ball found the target.”
Japan set out surprisingly in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Zaccheroni electing not to utilise his favoured 3-4-3 from the beginning as many expected, and this led to a forward four of Keisuke Honda on the right hand side, Shinji Kagawa in the central role just behind the main striker Shinji Okazaki and Hiroshi Kiyotake stationed on the left hand side of the attacking midfield trio. One assumes that Zaccheroni deployed four men at the back to counter against the significant pace and skill of Brazil’s forward line with Hulk, Oscar and Neymar making up the Selecao’s attacking midfield triad, the use of Uchida and Nagatomo as right and left full backs respectively was to maintain a level of attacking threat for Japan however the two never really managed to make an impact on the match with Japan for the most part struggling to retain possession.
Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda were probably the brightest sparks of a limp Japanese effort last night with the Manchester United attacking midfielder looking considerably battle weary after a long debut season in England. The very few positive points to come out of Japan’s performance yesterday evening would be that Honda managed to play eighty seven minutes without any recurrence of his recent injury troubles and Shinji Kagawa looked like he could create chances when on the ball but aside from this it was pretty much a Brazil dominated affair.
The midfield duo of Luis Gustavo of Bayern Munich and Paulinho of Corinthians worked fantastically well with the Bundesliga based Brazilian operating as the physical ball winner which allowed Paulinho to really express himself when in possession of the ball with many of his passes splitting the Japanese defence and finding either Neymar and Hulk in space on the flanks. It is interesting to note that prior to this opening match it was confirmed that the agent of Paulinho was in London with Tottenham Hotspur the favourites to secure the twenty four year olds signature and a midfield duo of Sandro and Paulinho could well be seen at White Hart Lane next season which will not be too dissimilar to the one Brazil employed last night with Luis Gustavo. Gustavo’s ability to win the ball in most situations and Paulinho’s quick distribution to the flanks made it really difficult for Japan to get any real rhythm and tempo going through their own midfield pairing with the often explosive Endo unable to get on the ball and Hasebe being forced to sit back and try and hold a bit of shape to his side’s midfield. The way Gustavo and Paulinho dominated and dictated the way the game was played yesterday evening could well be an indication as to how Brazil will look to set up against teams that are more capable themselves of retaining possession i.e. Italy and Spain.
The dynamic of Brazil’s aforementioned midfield two is frighteningly similar to the pairing that led Brazil to World Cup glory in Japan and Korea in 2002 under Luis Felipe Scolari with Gilberto Silva playing the role of Luis Gustavo in anchoring the midfield as well as winning the ball and Kleberson replicating the role Paulinho plays now, being entrusted to be the deep playmaker from midfield.
Brazil were to get their second goal just three minutes into the second half through Paulinho with Japan caught out at the back after pressing forward from the kick off just minutes earlier, Dani Alves powered a cross across the penalty area which Paulinho somehow brought under his control with an admirable easy single touch before rifling the ball past Kawashima in the Japanese net although the Standard Liege goalkeeper would be disappointed with the way he got a strong hand to the shot but failed to keep it out. This was to be the last real action worthy of note until late on in the match with the fatigue of the players becoming a factor and only Neymar’s geeing up of the crowd as he approached to take a corner being something to get fans off their seats.
Neymar himself after a difficult build up to the tournament plagued by pressure from Brazilian supporters who feel he is given too much freedom within the Selecao system as well as pressure from a European audience for him to impress following his monumental move to Barcelona seemed to relish the occasion in Brasilia yesterday with his early goal giving him the licence to try things on the pitch without worry of them going awry. The magnitude of Neymar’s performance last night was summed up perfectly in the seventieth minute when Neymar’s substitution was greeted with boos of disappointment that their star man had been removed despite having picked up a knock just minutes earlier. The clever flicks, the back heels and the explosive runs at the full backs were all present in Neymar’s game against Japan with Zaccheroni’s right full back Uchida given a very tough evening although the Schalke defender did impress with his ability to shackle Neymar and continue to try and stop him where weaker defenders would have buckled. This was credit to the Japanese who even at 2-0 down didn’t give up and attempted to test the nervous looking Julio Cesar in the Brazilian goal however Japan’s only real threat was to come via Keisuke Honda set pieces.
Fred after a hardworking performance which didn’t really bear any fruit for the Fluminense forward with Neymar stealing the limelight, was substituted with nine minutes to go giving Jo an appearance in the Confederations Cup that would have come as somewhat of a surprise to the former Manchester City forward following the injury to Leandro Damiao which ruled the Internacional striker out of the tournament. Jo would go onto score his first ever International goal two minutes into injury time following a powerful run from Chelsea’s Oscar before a sublime reverse pass set Jo free in the penalty area and he duly placed the ball through the legs of Kawashima into the back of the Japanese net to ensure the match finished 3-0.
To keep this result into perspective Brazil were playing against a Japanese side far behind them in terms of individual quality as well as fitness however this result is exactly what Scolari and his side needed heading into the rest of the tournament. The heavy pressure upon Brazil was somewhat relaxed by the 3-0 scoreline although the performance from Brazil was not necessarily a 3-0 performance with the upcoming matches against Italy and Mexico likely to be much more of a challenge however Brazil can approach those matches on the back of a victory with the home crowds behind them and possibly more importantly Neymar, with the enigmatic forward full of confidence heading to Fortaleza on Wednesday.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Tonight we see the official opening of Brazil’s Confederations Cup, traditionally a warm up tournament ahead of the following summer’s World Cup. With all the hectic confusion surrounding Brazil’s readiness to host such a tournament in terms of infrastructure and recent police conflicts in certain areas of the country there is also a great deal of trouble on the football side of things with Brazil heading into the Confederations Cup under a great deal of pressure following a disappointing start to Luis Felipe Scolari’s second spell in charge of the Selecao. There is yet to be a system settled on by Scolari with changes made before each friendly under the former Chelsea coach’s stewardship and there have also been a number of inconsistent personnel changes. This added to the mass pressure weighing on Neymar’s shoulders to lead his country glory sets Japan up with a real opportunity to this evening upset the applecart if you will.
Japan led by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni head into the Confederations Cup as 2011 Asian Cup winners with stars such as Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo at their disposal. Japan head into the tournament in a not to dissimilar situation to Brazil with the Japanese arriving in Brazil on the back of a 1-0 away World Cup qualifier win against Iraq in Qatar which followed a 1-1 draw with Australia in another World Cup qualification fixture. Zaccheroni will be hoping his side can take advantage of a Brazilian team under enormous pressure and put the Maracana crowd on their own team’s back with an early goal.
Alberto Zaccheroni bemoaned his side’s collective fitness at the end of May following two disappointing defeats and since then has been working with his side to improve their fitness ahead of the testing, energy sapping conditions of Brazil “We need to improve our overall fitness first, but I don’t worry about that.” Zaccheroni has been known during his near three year spell in charge of the Japanese national team, to utilise his famed 3-4-3 formation yet make changes to it midway through a match should he feel the situation requires it, Zaccheroni can easily switch this 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1 due to the versatility of a number of his players. Yuto Nagatomo for instance can play either on the wing of a 3-4-3 and work the full channel tracking back to defend however when Zaccheroni feels the time is right to deploy the 4-2-3-1, Nagatomo can drop back and play as a left full back in the defensive four.
Zaccheroni has shaped his team in a way that embraces the 3-4-3 formation which was one of his earliest tasks as Japan manager with the known 4-2-3-1 being reserved for qualification matches until the players were confident enough with the stereotypically Italian 3-4-3 system which we will see Japan use in the upcoming Confederations Cup. If Japan as expected start in a 3-4-3 then Shinji Kagawa may well be positioned on the left hand side, where he spent much of the second half of the season at Old Trafford much to the dismay of some Manchester United supporters who felt he was most effective playing through the middle, in the ‘false nine’ position just off the striker. Keisuke Honda will play in the same role on the right hand side although both will find themselves drifting into the centre with Uchida and Nagatomo moving forward with pace on either flank. Due to the pace Japan have got in these wide areas the 3-4-3 Zaccheroni employs becomes much more fluid and interchangeable with players able to move regularly whilst in and around the attacking third which will no doubt cause Brazil’s defence difficulties.
Depending on variations to the starting line-ups Zaccheroni might make based on injuries to Honda and Nagatomo heading into the Brazil fixture and this is how Japan could set out in tonight’s fixture against Brazil, both in the 3-4-3 and then the 4-2-3-1 which could easily be achieved during the match via a rotation in position and one, or two at the most substitutions.
Brazil under Scolari on the other hand have to use a system which accommodates their number of attacking players such as Neymar, Oscar, Hulk and Lucas Moura with one of the three inevitably having to miss out on the starting line-up as we saw with Lucas Moura in the recent friendly at the Maracana against Roy Hodgson’s England. Scolari sets out with a 4-4-2 shaped system, however it quickly develops into either a 4-2-2-2 formation or a 4-2-3-1 not too dissimilar to the Japanese system. Fred is the lone striker in each case with Neymar playing just off him in the central role of the 4-2-2-2 or the 4-4-2 however Neymar is given a degree of freedom to roam wherever he likes which is something which has caused a degree of unhappiness amongst sections of the Brazilian supporters which in turn has increased pressure on Neymar to deliver on the big stage tenfold.
The central midfield pairing will be Luis Gustavo and Paulinho with the Corinthians midfield player’s technical ability when passing the football complementing Luis Gustavo’s tough tackling approach well although the Bayern Munich man is not at all one dimensional in the middle of the park make no mistake about that. Dani Alves will start the match at right full back with Thiago Silva and David Luiz at the heart of the Brazilian defence however the left back position is one that has caused much debate amongst Brazilian journalists and supporters. Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid has been given the nod in recent friendly matches ahead of Real Madrid’s Marcelo which many do not believe to be the right call with the general belief being that Filipe Luis offers nothing that Marcelo didn’t already bring to the table in terms of defensive ability and going forward down the left hand side.
In Scolari’s second term much of the focus has been on organization and solidity rather than the fluid, expansive attacking football which Brazil has become known for and this to a degree has unsettled supporters, as it did in 2010 with Dunga at the helm. Neymar is given a lot of responsibility to drive the team forward with his position just behind Fred and as a result may try to do too much on his own with the ball which many football watchers see as selfishness.
Brazil head into tonight’s fixture under immense pressure, they are playing in front of their own fans, they are favourites to win this competition and indeed next summer’s World Cup yet have not been able to produce any sort of rhythm to their football since Scolari took over in November however the lack of competitive fixtures played by Brazil since then may have something to do with it. With expectations so high there is a very real chance Japan could surprise Brazil this evening, especially if they find their rhythm early on and can manipulate their 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 system throughout the match, much of this depends on the fitness of Honda and Nagamoto however with both potential doubts ahead of tonight’s Group A opener.
Prediction: I think Brazil will probably edge this match however Neymar will have to shrug off the pressure imposed upon him and really make an impact. Any slow start or slip-ups from Brazil or Neymar tonight could set a disastrous tone for the rest of the tournament. Japan will no doubt test Brazil but I think they too haven’t had the best preparation for the competition and could struggle with fitness late on in matches with the majority of their squad having just completed full European seasons although this is also the case with Brazil. With Brazil’s advantage in quality despite all their pre-tournament troubles I think they will just edge it 2-0.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
I’ll start with a quote from Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, “Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing” “My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes.” These emotive words for Jurgen Klopp certainly fit into the confines of his charismatic personality however they are not too far from the truth.
Shinji Kagawa has struggled to make a real impact on the Manchester United team on a regular basis this season although injuries have played a sizeable role in that, the Japanese international’s favoured position is without doubt just behind the forwards in the ‘false nine’ mould set by Lionel Messi and David Silva of Barcelona and Manchester City respectively however Kagawa has found himself unable to play there on a regular basis due to the struggle to fit Wayne Rooney into the starting line-up. With the recent rumours of Wayne Rooney’s potential Old Trafford exit picking up speed over the past week there may well be far more positives to Rooney leaving the club than negatives, with Shinji Kagawa being able to play in his preferred position being one of them.
Kagawa began the season impressively well with his performance against Everton in the season opener particularly catching the eye with the former Dortmund man being centric to anything Manchester United attempted to create in the attacking third, in this game Kagawa was playing in his favoured ‘false nine’ position just behind Wayne Rooney who was in the centre forward role due to new signing Robin Van Persie’s lack of fitness and it looked as if Manchester United had finally filled one of the few areas where Manchester City were considered better in the previous campaign. Kagawa’s early season form led to former Manchester United right back Gary Neville to vehemently praise the player and the improvement his signing had made to the dynamic of the Manchester United team however then came Robin Van Persie who inadvertently created a problem called Wayne Rooney.
Robin Van Persie was an instant hit with the Old Trafford faithful, his wondrous strike against Fulham on his home debut set the tone for the rest of the Dutchman’s debut season with the Champions and Sir Alex Ferguson had a new focal point for his attack. This left Wayne Rooney unable to play in his preferred centre forward position as often as he would like with United’s number ten being forced to drop deeper into the number ten position which Kagawa should have occupied, instead Kagawa was forced to play on the left wing or switch to the right hand side should the game situation require him to do so which did not utilise the majority of his talents.
Make no mistake however Kagawa still impressed on the wing with a hat trick against Norwich at Old Trafford being ultimately the highlight of his season from his own personal perspective however it was all too inconsistent. Kagawa was never really given the chance to play himself into a rhythm as a result of all the changes to his position and being left out of the starting line-up on a regular basis, a prime example of this was in the first leg of Manchester United’s European Cup first knockout round tie with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, where Kagawa was positioned on the left hand side and asked to play a more disciplined, tactical game to help his team secure a result. Kagawa’s job was not to play in an attacking manner but to use his energy and pace to help Patrice Evra on the left hand side of the defence with Madrid having three supremely talented attacking players all capable of giving Evra problems when switching to the left in the forms of Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and the enigmatic figure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Kagawa struggled in this game with the Japanese international being exposed as having little defensive nous and why should he? If a player was bought as an attacking link man between the midfield and the strikers he shouldn’t have to play in a position he isn’t comfortable with in such an important game but I digress, fast forward from Kagawa’s impressive display against Everton whilst playing in the ‘false nine’ role to the final game of the season against West Bromwich Albion when Kagawa once again played in his preferred role.
With Sir Alex Ferguson confirming Wayne Rooney’s desire to leave the club coupled with the impending birth of the former Everton man’s second child it was an easy decision for Wayne Rooney to take no part in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in football. Kagawa took his place and performed fantastically well with everything that United did impressively going forward coming through Kagawa. He showed an exquisite eye for a pass splitting the West Bromwich defence often and was given the freedom to spend time on the ball and run at defenders in the most dangerous of areas, just like in the season opener against Everton. This was a Shinji Kagawa that Manchester United fans had seen too little of during the course of the season just completed and it is imperative that Kagawa is given much more playing time in his favoured position by David Moyes next season if United fans are to see the best of last summer’s acquisition and if Wayne Rooney is to leave the club then this is far more likely to occur.
With Rooney potentially out of the picture Kagawa would have the freedom to play in the link position just behind the forwards on a much more regular basis with the manager not having to desperately scramble to fit Wayne Rooney into the team which near the end Sir Alex Ferguson was not prepared to do if it wasn’t for the good of the team, as we saw against Real Madrid at Old Trafford when Rooney was, and rightfully so, left out of the starting line-up for the second leg. The best case scenario would be for Wayne Rooney to accept he is no longer the main man in the forward line and put in a concerted effort to rounding his game in order to allow himself to drop even further into the heart of Manchester United’s midfield, which those who have watched Wayne Rooney develop over the past half decade know he is more than capable of.
However Rooney doesn’t appear to be willing to do this and as a result may find himself forced to move to accommodate both Shinji Kagawa and any other potentially new signings this summer, which would be for Wayne Rooney and a large majority of fans a real shame albeit a real shame that could prove to be better for Manchester United.
Written by Chris Winterburn
@Chriswin4 on Twitter