Nani for sale? Why Manchester United should think again

It looks like this summer, which is already a transitional one at Manchester United, much of the old Trafford faithful may get one of their long held wishes. For a few seasons now, the majority of the Champion’s supporters seem to have been of the opinion that Portuguese winger Nani doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It now seems that the club are ready to let the player go.

The reason for the large contingent of fans that want to see the wide man moved on is that Nani can be an incredibly frustrating player. Admittedly his crossing is inconsistent, his form often patchy and his decision making below the standard of other top wingers. Despite his failings, Nani is, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s own words, a match-winner. The 26 year old has pace, trickery and can shoot with both feet. United fans seem to forget that for stages of the 2011-12 season, the former sporting man virtually carried the side. In several games when United were struggling to break down opposition, it was his individual brilliance and flair that unlocked the door. If Nani does end up leaving United this year it will also be with a few spectacular goals in his scrapbook. Frustrating-yes, a textbook confidence player-yes, but United’s worst winger, no, not by a long shot.

Nani

Granted, as an attacking wide man, Nani is a few classes below the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s and Bale’s of this day, but If the club are ready to sell wide players, they should perhaps look at some of their other options first. Antonio Valencia for example had a terrible season. He generally offers a steadier and more consistent option to his team-mate and he applies himself better in his defensive duties. Valencia though, lacks the creative spark offered by Nani. He cannot frighten the full back the way the Portuguese can and the amount of United moves which ground to a halt last season because the Ecuador man put his foot on the ball are countless. Ashley Young is another who failed to deliver last term. Young is more similar to Nani in that he is dangerous in a shooting position and can worry defenders but he has become injury prone, is a year older and failed to net a league goal last term in 17 appearances. Nani scored twice in 10 and Valencia just once in 29.

With Wilfried Zaha arriving and Shinji Kagawa also in the mix for an attacking midfield berth, competition will be fierce but even if Nani doesn’t start he can provide an injection of pace and attacking threat from the bench. New manager David Moyes will of course be forming opinions on which members of his new squad he rates highly and will have his own plans of who to bring in but he would be unwise to dismiss the winger’s effectiveness.

It would appear that Moyes and the club may have already made up their minds with Galatasaray claiming United have set an asking price of £8.5 million. That would surely represent a bargain for any side looking to add some creativity. Nani will never be a Cristiano Ronaldo, but he can be a devastating weapon. United don’t have to keep him but he certainly shouldn’t be the first to leave. His chances were very limited last term and regardless of where he is strutting his stuff come the start of the new campaign fans can expect excitement as long as he gets a chance.

Change of Face, Change of Pace. The shift in Strategy of Manchester United’s attack

Change of face, change of pace; the shift in strategy of Manchester United’s attack

When Manchester United sold Dimitar Berbatov last summer it was no surprise given the arrival of Robin Van Persie and the lack of playing time afforded to the former Spurs man over the previous season. It has become a bit apparent recently though that the move signalled more than just a change in terms of bringing in one gifted front man for another. One of the reasons the Bulgarian cited had been given to him by Sir Alex Ferguson was a shift in the Old Trafford side’s attacking ethos. Berbatov had been told that he did not fit in with a move toward a faster and more direct attacking style.

In the derby on Monday night, United’s new methods were particularly apparent and interestingly a slight weakness in the plan was also on display. Many of the Reds’ wide players in particular regularly seem to overrun the ball when sprinting and on several occasions when the home side were surging at the City backline a heavy touch saw the move break down. Rafael was the main offender on Monday, but an out of sorts Antonio Valencia has been doing this for months. Danny Welbeck displays a good first touch at times but at top speed often resembles a cart horse attempting to dribble a beach ball. Ashley Young is not immune, nor is Nani or reserve left back Alexander Buttner.

Dimitar Berbatov

This may seem harsh given how potent United have looked in attack this season with the addition of Van Persie to an already well-stocked squad of strikers and wingers, but it is something that needs to been fine-tuned before Sir Alex Ferguson’s new design is the finished article. Perhaps Wilfried Zaha’s dribbling ability will improve the situation next term.

United sides of old held an ability to patiently probe for an opening. Slow build-up followed by a devastatingly quick interchange would often see defences unlocked after 30 or more passes had gradually pulled them out of position. Perhaps the demise of Paul Scholes has something to do with the death of this style in Ferguson’s plans. Neither Scholes nor Berbatov would have ever made the local sprint relay team, but their styles complimented an ability to attack while controlling possession for long periods.

The Premier League is faster and quicker than ever and even the top European ties are not the games of chess they were 10 years ago. Intensity, if it isn’t king, was certainly eyeing the throne amid the ferocious pace of Monday’s derby. Ferguson is a master of transition and building new sides, but it would be a shame if his current charges could not revert to a more patient approach if need be. In Michael Carrick they have a player who can take on the Scholes mantle in terms of dictating tempo at least. Wayne Rooney and Van Persie seem currently focused on attempting to spin their man or lay the ball off once before making a run in behind.

Perhaps on Monday this was due to specific instructions from the boss but both front men have the quality to get involved in build-up while waiting for the right time to strike. Regardless of how direct United’s game plan is, expect them to continue to challenge, as their ability to adapt has always been one of their greatest strengths.

Manchester United’s wingers must show they are up to the job

This was going to be a piece about the worrying decline of Antonio Valencia, whose abject display against Chelsea on Sunday was that of a man who has forgotten what he is good at. But the truth is none of Manchester United’s first-team wingers have had a season to write home about. In fact you would be hard-pressed to recall the last great performance from any of Valencia, Nani or Ashley Young.

When Valencia moved to Old Trafford in 2009, he was talked of as one of the league’s best wide-men, and as he began beating fullbacks and supplying inch-perfect crosses, it was clear why Sir Alex Ferguson parted with £12million for his services. The Ecuadorian made wing-play look easy.  He broke it down to its simplest form – knock it and run. And his speed meant he won the race more often than not.

Antonio Valencia

When Wayne Rooney enjoyed arguably his best season to date, when everyone started referring to his head as a goal-scoring threat as deadly as his feet – that was down to Valencia. There were no tricks in his armoury, no step-overs or showboating. He ran. He crossed. And United invariably scored.
So who was the player wearing number 7 on Sunday? The player who beat himself more often than his opponent? It certainly wasn’t the man who was voted both fans’ and players’ Player of the Year last season, nor the man who came back from a horrific ankle break to become one of his team’s most consistent performers.

It would be easy to say the pressure of the number on his back has got the better of him. But do players really notice what is behind them when they are so focused on what is ahead? Can a number so significantly alter a mind-set?

With the impending arrival of Wilfried Zaha, many expected Nani to make way. But in United’s last two games it was the Portuguese player’s departure (for two very different reasons) that had a detrimental effect on the team. So perhaps Zaha will be taking the place of Valencia next season, a man who has forgotten that in football, if you can win the race, the goal is all but scored.

Nani

And yet two brief cameos and being championed in his absence should not disguise the fact that Nani has been equally erratic this season. Unquestionably talented, there came a time – back in 2010 – when it all made sense. Outstanding displays against Manchester City and Arsenal showed a winger of terrifying ability, clinical, incisive, a man very much in tune with his talent.

It seemed that finally the penny had dropped. But three years later, it is clear that Nani is a man for whom the penny drops often, only to be forgotten again shortly after. Both United fans and the wider football world must sometimes wonder what he could achieve with consistency. But perhaps that is a trait to be born with or learnt as much as any other in football.

The last of United’s three wide-men, Ashley Young, is the least so in the traditional sense. A right-footed player on the left, it is his natural and often effective inclination to cut inside and cross. He doesn’t beat a man, he stands up to them and relies on his foot to find the box regardless. It was a skill that led his former manager at Aston Villa, Martin O’Neill, to call him “world class”. And it was a skill that has resulted in some truly outstanding goals for his current club, most notably an unstoppable double in the 8-2 win over Arsenal in 2011.

Ashley Young

And yet the truth is United lack pace; which is something of an indictment on the three men employed to supply it. It is no coincidence that Ferguson did all he could to secure Lucas Moura in the summer. In his short time at PSG he has shown just what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps on his arrival, Zaha will share the fearlessness of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, adding directness to his new team and shaking up the old guard.

But whatever happens, if United’s current wingers wish to remain, they need to find the form that some have displayed for seasons and others only for games.

What does 2012-13 have in store for Aston Villa?

To say that 2011-12 was a blow-par season for Aston Villa is something of an understatement. The Midlands club avoided the relegation places by two points, struggled to score goals, and with the lowly total of seven wins all season, the Villa Park faithful suffered at the hands of mediocre performances for the bulk of the campaign. However with Alex McLeish being shown the door, what does 2012-13 hold in store for Villa?

Villa’s season seemed doomed from day one, as ex-Birmingham City boss McLeish’s appointment was treated with contempt from the fans, a lack of money was spent in last summer’s transfer market and main creators Stewart Downing and Ashley Young left the club. Despite a plucky start, the club quickly spiralled into lacklustre performances, too many draws and not enough goals.

The days of Martin O’Neill, where Villa on their day could go toe-to-toe with most sides in the division, especially at home, have felt like a lifetime ago. Under the Northern Irishman the side posed an attacking threat, were confident and proved dogged when their opponents were in possession – none of these traits seemed overwhelmingly evident in the recently-concluded campaign.

Randy Lerner’s appointment of McLeish’s replacement is now critical for the side’s future. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emerged as a surprise candidate before turning his back on the club to stay in his homeland; this may well be a blessing in disguise. Although the Norwegian trainer would more than likely offer a more progressive style than McLeish, Villa need a boss with Premier League experience and a track record of success.

Wigan’s Roberto Martinez turned the job down a year ago, but he and Paul Lambert are being touted as possible contenders. The Spaniard was Lerner’s first-choice last year, but with the Liverpool job now available the Latics boss may reject Villa once more. Lambert would be a bold choice, whilst the likes of Steve Bruce and Alan Curbishley are available immediately; however there is no real frontrunner screaming out to be hired.

Whoever the new man is, there is work to be done at the Birmingham-based side. Looking at the side’s rearguard, experienced campaigners like Shay Given, Richard Dunne and James Collins provide a solid base for the team, however additional strength at full-back looks necessary. Despite 53 goals conceded in 2011-12 being too many, the core is there to shore up the backline but other areas needed more imminent attention.

In midfield, due to the departure of Downing and Young, added creativity is needed. Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia are able, but another winger to supply opportunities for the attackers would be a welcome addition. With the blow of Stiliyan Petrov’s fight against Leukaemia, Villa have been robbed of the bite in the centre of the park, and the side are crying out for strength in depth, with Fabian Delph and Barry Bannon needing an older head to lead them.

Up front, Darren Bent remains the side’s shining light in the hunt for goals, and the Villa Park faithful will hope the England man can return to fitness and form ahead of 2012-13. Gabriel Agbonlahor has been inconsistent but is still a threat, whilst Andreas Weimann has shown glimpses in breaking into the first-team squad. With Emile Heskey departing, Villa could use a new forward with an eye for goal to compliment the existing trio.

Australia international Brett Holman will join the side on a Bosman ruling this summer, and comes highly-rated after a successful spell at AZ Alkmaar. A move for Heerenveen targetman Bas Dost has been speculated also, without any concrete progression. The likes of Junior Hoilett, Matt Jarvis, Mohamed Diame and Steven Fletcher will be available and are names Villa should be monitoring, whilst other stars from the continent need to be unearthed by the side’s scouting system.

All in all, Randy Lerner needs to do two things this off-season to get Villa back into the top half next season; pick an experienced manager with an attacking outlook, and back him with money to strengthen in the summer.

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

Manchester United, Liverpool and the biggest Premier League losers of 2011-12

Despite a fantastically entertaining season with a raft of Premier League winners this term, it has been a campaign to forget for some teams and individuals. Euro 2012, the Olympics and the summer transfer window are approaching, and for some 2011-12 could not come to an end quick enough. Here are Ninety Minutes Online’s biggest losers of 2011/12.

Liverpool

Despite lifting the Carling Cup with victory over Cardiff, 2011/12 has been the worst campaign for Liverpool for quite some time. The Anfield outfit’s fans expected their side to be challenging for a top four berth, but a eighth place finish, 17 points adrift of Tottenham in fourth, has been a massive disappointment.

From Fenway Sports Group’s ill-fated home-grown transfer policy, to Luis Suarez’s racism ban, defeat in the FA Cup final to embarrassing home defeats to some of the division’s lesser lights, Liverpool fans will want to forget 2011/12.

Andre Villas Boas

After leading Porto to an unbeaten league title and lifting the Europa League in 2010/11, Andre Villas Boas was heralded as the next Jose Mourinho and the man to lead Chelsea back to the summit of the Premier League. However, an at times bullish squad rotation system saw the senior players at the club alienated, the Blues floundering outside of the top four and Villas Boas given Roman Abramovich’s axe.

The £13 million Chelsea paid Porto for AVB’s services was not rewarded, and the young trainer is still out of work after seeing his stock drop in west London.

Wolves

Wolves have been in a fight to stay in the Premier League over the last number of seasons, but Mick McCarthy has led them to survival and commanded the respect of the squad. Steve Morgan’s decision to sack McCarthy, despite a poor run of form, was an ill-sighted one, and the appointment of assistant Terry Connor a disaster.

The Molineux club reportedly interviewed the likes of Alan Curbishley and Steve Bruce for the role, but were reluctant to offer the experienced pair long-term contracts. The appointment of Connor has backfired, with the club finishing bottom with a woeful five wins all season.

Sir Alex Ferguson

2011/12 will be a season to forget for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. The Old Trafford outfit are known for their will to win and mental toughness at the business end of the season, but the relinquishing of an eight-point lead is sure to give the legendary Scottish manager nightmares for years to come.

A lame Champions League exit in the group stages, a 6-1 hammering from City at Old Trafford and FA Cup elimination to Liverpool have been hard to take for the defending champions’ fans.

Alex McLeish and Aston Villa

Alex McLeish was a shock appointment at Villa Park last summer given his links to rivals Birmingham City, and the club’s supporters have not warmed to the Scot since. A toothless tally of seven wins, weak defending, a lack of creativity and the division’s second-lowest goal tally have had the Villa fans with their heads in their hands.

McLeish’s position as Villa manager must come under scrutiny this summer, but Randy Lerner must also invest in new players if the team are to have a better 2012/13 – Stewart Downing and Ashley Young have simply not been replaced.

Honourable mentions

  • Venkys – With Blackburn relegated this term, Steve Kean has received most of the flack from the media and the club’s fans. However, the Lancashire outfit’s Indian owners Venkys have not given the Scottish coach any funds to spend, and the side are now reportedly in financial trouble.
  • John Terry – Due to stand a court case in July for reportedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, the Chelsea skipper has lost the captaincy of his country and there is a train of thought that Terry may be excluded completely from Euro 2012. Add to this a sending off against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals for petulantly kneeing Alexis Sanchez, and Terry has had better years.
  • Jermain Defoe – The diminutive striker has proved time and again that he can score goals at the top level, but has simply not been given enough time on the pitch this season. Harry Redknapp’s preference for Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart could cost Defoe a place at Euro 2012.
  • Jack Wilshere – The talented Arsenal midfielder has not seen one minute of action this season, with consecutive knee cruciate injuries keeping him on the sidelines throughout. Wilshere will also miss Euro 2012 due to injury.
  • Joey Barton – Barton is no doubt talented and able when in the correct mindframe, but stupidity, ill-discipline and a terrible attitude have continued to blight his career. A red card against Manchester City on Sunday cost his team the game and his constant abusive and opinionated Twitter comments should see Mark Hughes ditch his troubled ‘captain’ this summer.

Published – Soccerlens

Aston Villa need a win over Norwich to give their long-suffering fans something to cheer about

Aston Villa finish their 2011-12 season with a tricky trip to take on Norwich at Carrow Road on Sunday, but will know that their Premier League status is safe after picking up a point against Tottenham last weekend. Despite this, it has been a massively mediocre season for the Midlands club, one to forget even and Alex McLeish will look to give the travelling support something to cheer about before the summer break.

The main problem this season for the Villa Park club has been a lack of incision, which has meant few goals. With Darren Bent injured and potentially missing Euro 2012, the club have struggled to hit the back of the net, and with 37 strikes in 37 games have the second-lowest tally in the division after Stoke. Seven wins out of 37 games has been painful viewing for the club’s supporters, whilst 17 draws is five more than the nearest side this term (Sunderland have drawn 12).

Randy Lerner and the Villa board have some real soul-searching to do in the summer, and a few important questions to answer. The first originates around the team’s manager Alex McLeish, who started on the backfoot due to his ties to rivals Birmingham City, and has failed to capture the imagination with lifeless performances by his team on the pitch.

The Scot is not solely to blame for the poor season however, as the sales of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young were always going to take their toll, and replacement Charles N’Zogbia has found the pairs’ boots difficult to fill. Despite attacking midfielder Steven Ireland coming back into the fold, the club needs to replace the two creative players that it lost last summer, and the American owner should put his hand in his pocket and stump up some much-needed financial backing. The signing of Brett Holman from AZ Alkmaar is a start, but more new faces are needed.

The team face a stern test against Norwich this Sunday, who have been one of the standout sides in the division this season. Their fearless and attacking approach has drawn many plaudits, and Paul Lambert’s men have never even looked vaguely in danger of being relegated, which cannot be said for Villa. The Canaries boss has been mooted as a potential replacement for his countryman McLeish should a managerial change be in order, but the current incumbent will look to prove that he is the right man to lead the club forward with a win at Carrow Road.

Richard Dunne and co will have their hands full with Grant Holt and maybe Steve Morison, and the attacking threat of Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan in midfield should not be overlooked. However, with nothing but pride and a more flattering league position to play for, hopefully McLeish will send his side out to entertain and play free-flowing football; something the Villa faithful have seldom seen this season.

Published – Villa Talk

Manchester City take the Premier League initiative, but did Sir Alex Ferguson get United’s tactics wrong?

In a tight and nervy encounter on Monday night, Manchester City took the initiative in the Premier League title race with a 1-0 win over rivals and current champions Manchester United. The noisy neighbours are now equal on points with the Red Devils, but are top due to their superior goal difference and have destiny in their own hands. United have slipped up in recent weeks, and failed to really test Joe Hart in the derby clash; did Sir Alex Ferguson get his tactics wrong?

Against a City side containing the attacking talent of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Samir Nasri, United opted to pack the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation. Although admittedly this limited the hosts to sparing opportunities on goal, it also shackled United’s attacking ambitions and meant that the champions have given City the advantage without really testing their title rivals in the clash.

Wayne Rooney started by himself in attack and largely cut a forlorn figure, as limited support saw the visitors’ main attacking weapon isolated, frustrated and ineffective. Nani played on the right flank and was the closest player to the England international, but the pair failed to effectively counter-attack, and the Portuguese winger failed to majorly contribute or create chances for the lone striker. One feels that Sir Alex had adopted the blueprint of previous seasons in away Champions League fixtures, where Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were left to try and hit teams on the break; unfortunately Nani does not have the ability or clinical touch in the final third of his countryman, and United’s attack proved toothless at the Etihad Stadium.

In midfield, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park fought to limit City’s creative players, and in fairness the hosts’ usual free-flowing play was not evident as a result. However, in possession the quartet failed to keep the ball for any lengthy periods of the game, and the South Korean in particular was guilty of giving the ball away on a too frequent basis.

Most of City’s joy in attack came down their right flank, as Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta found space against Patrice Evra, with the midfield quartet failing to get out to help their colleague. The selection of either Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia instead of Park would have levelled out the midfield, providing more cover out wide and still allowing United to play three in the centre of the park. Valencia has been one of United’s standout performers this term, whilst one of Young’s strengths is to come off his wing and pop up in central positions, in support of Rooney; although both came off the bench, neither was given sufficient opportunity to influence the game.

Ferguson’s frustrations were evident as he clashed with counterpart Roberto Mancini on the touchline, but the Scot’s annoyance was probably down to the ineffective nature of his team rather than the antics of the Italian. United fans will be hurting after City completed the season double over them, but to be beaten without providing an attacking threat or putting their opponents under any concerted pressure will make the blow doubly hard to take. With Young, Valencia, Danny Welbeck, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez all on the United bench, such a defensive team selection suggests that Sir Alex played for a draw, or, unlike any United team of recent years, was wary of going toe-to-toe with an attacking opponent.

City have by no means won the title yet, as a trip to Tyneside to face Champions League qualification candidates Newcastle will test Mancini’s men. However, United’s relinquishing of a seven-point lead at the top of the table at the business end of the season will have the powers that be at Old Trafford scratching their heads, and suggests that the Red Devils’ usual collective superiority over the division is no longer apparent.

Published – Soccerlens

England and Euro 2012: Who will be in the squad, and how will they fair in Group D?

England interim manager Stuart Pearce has this week revealed that the nation’s squad for Euro 2012 will be named before the end of the Premier League campaign, whether a new permanent boss is in place or not. With the last game of the season on Sunday 13th May, it is reasonable to expect the successful and unsuccessful players to be unveiled a couple of days before this. With this date only two weeks away, who will be stepping out for the Three Lions in Ukraine and Poland?

Goalkeepers – Joe Hart is a shoe-in, and the Manchester City stopper is an outside shout to be the next national captain. Consistent, agile and assured, Hart is a real attribute to the home nation.

GK to go: Hart, Carson, Stockdale

GK to miss out: Ruddy

Defenders – John Terry’s inclusion or exclusion could well depend on the new boss, with the consideration of Rio Ferdinand also entering into the equation; the Chelsea centre half is to stand court for racially abusing the Manchester United man’s brother Anton. Other central defenders to be included should be Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Joleon Lescott.

At left back Ashley Cole will travel, whilst Leighton Baines is currently injured but will recover in time. On the right, PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker will expect to be included, as will seasoned international Glen Johnson. Micah Richards has been an outcast under Fabio Capello, but under-21 boss Pearce would surely select his former player, potentially to the detriment of the Liverpool man.

DF to go: Walker, Richards, Cahill, Terry, Lescott, Jones, Cole, Baines

DF to miss out: Ferdinand, King, Johnson, Dawson, Smalling

Midfielders – England will most likely play four across midfield, and this will be the most tightly-contested element of the squad. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard are almost certainties, Steven Gerrard hangs in the balance depending on fitness, Paul Scholes is an outside shout, whilst Tom Cleverley, Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere will miss out through injury.

On the flanks, Ashley Young will travel if he stays fit, as will Stewart Downing despite an inconsistent campaign. Aaron Lennon needs to get back to his best, Jordan Henderson looks unlikely whilst Arsenal team-mates Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well be in direct competition for a place.

MF to go: Young, Downing, Barry, Parker, Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Walcott

MF to miss out: Wilshere, Rodwell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lennon, Henderson, Joe Cole, Cleverley, Carrick, Milner, A.Johnson

Strikers – Although Wayne Rooney will be suspended for the first two group games of the tournament, it will take a brave manager to leave out the Manchester United forward. Darren Bent faces a risk against time due to his knee injury, whilst Andy Carroll will need a strong end of season to convince the selectors. Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge should be included, whilst Jermain Defoe is a 50-50.

ST to go: Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge, Defoe

ST to miss out: Bent, Carroll, Crouch

Group Games

England vs France, June 11: Old enemies renew their rivalry in the Group D opener, and these two will be favourites to progress. Without Rooney England may lack direction in attack, and will need to be regimented to stave off the advances of Ribery, Benzema and Remy.

Prediction: 0-0

England vs Sweden, June 15: The Three Lions have suffered disappointment against the Scandinavian nation in international competitions in the past, and Sweden are a slightly unpredictable entity. Led by AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes will be no pushover.

Prediction: 1-1

England vs Ukraine, June 19: With a tight group likely to go down to the wire, England will face co-hosts Ukraine in the last round of fixtures in what will be a test of their character and resolve. Rooney’s return will be a boost, but England must be at their best to quell a pumped-up opponent and crowd.

Prediction: 2-1 win

Published – Soccerlens

Villa to look to Marc Albrighton in the wake of Young and Downing departures

Aston Villa fans will not have enjoyed watching England international wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing leave the club to move to Manchester United and Liverpool this summer, and Alex McLeish will be slightly worried about his side’s lack of width in their absence. Although difficult and expensive to replace, the new man at the helm at Villa Park will be mightily relieved that he has the pace, versatility and quality of Marc Albrighton to call upon.

With Charles N’Zogbia’s transfer to the club from Wigan, Villa have replaced like for like, and the France international will harbour the responsibility of recreating some of Downing’s exploits down the left. The ex-Newcastle player contributed valuable goals to the Latics successful relegation escape last term, and like Downing likes to drift in-field and provide support to the strikers.

On the right of midfield the Scottish coach has the option to play someone like Stephen Ireland, but this would narrow the side’s play, and Albrighton offers a more dangerous option, as the team look to make chances for the frontmen. Ireland will find opportunities more forthcoming in the centre of the park, as Albrighton takes the step up to start for the team on a more regular basis on the right wing.

The 21-year-old progressed through the youth ranks to take his place in the senior squad along with a number of other promising youngsters, and has showed vast improvement over the last two seasons. The Tamworth born winger has pace to burn and a trickery that Premier League full-backs will not look forward to having to face, but the main attribute in the player’s locker is his delivery.

McLeish will most likely rotate Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor in partnering Darren Bent in attack in 2011-12, and the trio have a physicality and presence in the box that will be difficult to contain. Villa have depended on the quality of service from the now departed England duo, but in their absence the level of supply to the attackers will not diminish, as Albrighton has is an excellent crosser of the ball.

With N’Zogbia on the left and Albrighton on the right, the pair are equally as comfortable in swapping flanks, and with Stiliyan Petrov and Ireland’s passing ability in the centre of the park, the Villa midfield should not be diminished too much from Downing and Young leaving. Despite this, more strength in depth is needed, as if one of the wingers was to get injured it limits the Midlands club as an attacking unit.

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