Friday, July 30, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Tottenham Hotspur

A promising start to the 2020/21 Premier League season gave way to a second half collapse and a seventh-place league finish for Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs led the league as late as December 13th but were to fall to as low as ninth in the table during a stretch of five losses in six matches which began with a late January loss to Liverpool. March brought misery in the Europa League when Spurs squandered a 2-0 opening tie advantage by falling 3-0 in the reverse fixture with Dinamo Zagreb in the round of sixteen. Spurs manager Jose Mourinho, hired with a mandate to win trophies, would be ironically fired just days before an April Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.

Despite knocking Leicester from a Champions League berth with a final day 4-2 victory over the Foxes, Spurs’ losses to Leeds and Aston Villa in two of their final four matches dashed their own Champions League hopes. Instead, the North Londoners were consigned to the inaugural Europa Conference League for the upcoming season. At least some form of European qualification and, more importantly, a finish above rival Arsenal can provide some consolation for Spurs fans who were teased by early season success. A four-match winning streak in October saw Spurs score 19 goals, a total inflated by a manic 6-1 defeat of Manchester United, Mourinho’s former employers, at Old Trafford.

Spurs boasted impressive attack capabilities as Harry Kane would lead the Premier League in both goals and assists. Teammate Son Heung-min would finish tied for fourth and third in Premier League goals and assists, respectively.

Despite the output of his two stars, Mourinho would suffer heavy criticism for employing a conservative style of play which failed to mask defensive deficiencies. Serge Aurier and Davinson Sanchez were susceptible to lapses. Eric Dier has yet to prove he can successfully transition to center back from his former defensive midfield role. Sergio Reguilon, having started well after his purchase from Real Madrid, suffered an injury and was abject upon his return. Reguilon’s own goal in the late season loss to Aston Villa was a devastating moment for the team’s season. Former Wolves right back Matt Doherty also suffered through a difficult first season in London. Joe Roden, acquired form Swansea, showed early promise but disappeared from the line-up under interim manager Ryan Mason. 32-year-old Toby Alderweireld was perhaps the most consistent defender, despite having lost a step, but has left the squad to play professionally in Quatar. Defensive midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, acquired before the season from Southampton, played well in stretches and flashed even greater potential with his recent Euro performance for Denmark.

Clearly, Tottenham Hotspur approach next season with uncertainty. Nuno Espirito Santo, formerly of Wolves, is the new manager. Gareth Bale, after a lackluster one-year loan, has returned to Real Madrid. Most critical to the club’s future is the stated desire of club captain and legend Harry Kane to leave for better trophy opportunities elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: West Ham

West Ham delighted fans as the club moved from near relegation in the prior season to climb to sixth in the table, qualify for Europa League, and post the club’s highest top-flight finish in 22 years. A 26-point improvement over their 16th place 2019/20 campaign provided redemption for manager David Moyes. The Scotsman enjoyed his best season as a manager since a successful final 2012/13 season at Everton before embarking on an odyssey of failed projects at Manchester United, Real Sociedad, Sunderland, and a previous stop at West Ham. The building of a squad which posted West Ham’s highest ever Premier League point total is a credit to the veteran manager as well as long criticized West Ham ownership.

Transfer dealings, a subject of criticism prior to the season following the sale of young defender Grady Diangana, proved critical to the Hammer’s rise. Former Slavia Prague teammates Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal were essential to the turnaround in their first full year with the club. Midfielder Soucek was joint top scorer for the club with ten goals. Coufal was second on the team in assists, his total of seven matching the output of Liverpool fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. 24-year-old Jarrod Bowen, who along with Soucek joined the club midway through the prior season, played in all 38 league matches and accounted for eight goals and five assists. Jesse Lingard, a mid-season loan acquisition from Manchester United, energized the team with nine goals and four assists in only 16 league starts. Craig Dawson was a valuable contributor in defense, making 22 league starts on loan from Watford. Said Benrahma, signed from Brentford, struggled to impress before finding consistency toward season end. Benrahma has the potential to be a key contributor going forward as Lingard appears unlikely to return.

The transfer additions complemented existing talent within the Hammers’ ranks. Striker Michail Antonio was joint top scorer with Soucek, despite continuing hamstring injury problems. Aaron Cresswell led all league defenders in assists. English international Declan Rice continued his rise as one of the best young defensive midfielders in the league.

The Hammers found their footing by winning eight of 11 league matches to open the calendar year and showed their mettle with two wins and a draw in their final three matches to cinch European competition. A heavier match schedule will now challenge the depth of a Hammer squad which needs an additional striker option to complement the oft injured Antonio and adequate replacement of Lingard’s production should the midfielder not return. The club also needs to retain the services of young captain Declan Rice who is attracting the attention of larger rivals. The fairy tale 2020/21 season resulted in a new three-year contract for Moyes.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Leicester

season which saw Leicester capture the club’s first FA Cup title also saw the team fall agonizingly short of a top four finish for a second consecutive year. The Foxes defeated Chelsea in the FA Cup final only to fall to the same Chelsea team just days later in league competition to fall from the top four. A final day home loss, to a beleaguered Tottenham Hotspur side playing under interim manager Ryan Mason, sealed Leicester’s fifth place finish and failure to qualify for the Champions League. The late stumble detracted from what had been an impressive league season which saw Leicester improve on its point total from 2019/20 and occupy third place in the Premier League for 15 consecutive weeks before the loss to Chelsea in the penultimate league match. Manager Brendan Rogers has built a consistent top four contender which may lack the depth of key competitors. An injury to center back Jonny Evans was particularly crippling to the Foxes in the fateful run in. An injury sustained earlier in the season to young striker Harvey Barnes, however, provided the opportunity for one of the season’s more positive developments. Kelechi Iheanacho stepped forward to deliver on the potential hoped for when he was acquired from Manchester City four years earlier.
Iheanacho scored all twelve of his league goals from February through season’s end while collaborating seamlessly with club legend Jamie Vardy. The 34-year-old Vardy, meanwhile, continued to defy time by leading the Foxes with 15 goals and contributing a team high nine assists. Before his injury, the 23-year-old Barnes delivered nine goals in his 25 appearances. Barnes, midfielder Youri Tielemans and defender Wesley Fofana are three rising young stars for the Foxes. Tielemans, the Belgian international, scored the winner in the FA Cup on a stunning strike against a vaunted Chelsea defense. Young midfielder James Maddison disappointed after signing a new contract entering the season and engaged in a breach of COVID protocols. Leicester’s fifth place finish provides another opportunity for Europa League success after the Foxes suffered a home defeat to Slavia Prague in being eliminated from this past season’s competition. Poor performances at King Power Stadium were a problem all season as the final day loss to Spurs marked nine home losses in the league. Only the three relegated teams lost more home matches than Leicester. Despite their poor home performance, Leicester finished with an improved point total, a second consecutive fifth place finish, and a historic FA Cup victory as Manager Brendan Rogers continued his successful run in the East Midlands.

Transfer News: Jadon Sancho Signing Announced by Manchester United

Manchester United announced the signing of Jadon Sancho to a five-year contract with an additional one-year option. The club had pursued the English international since demurring at a transfer price asked in excess of £100 million last summer. The reduced transfer fee now payable to Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund is £73 million. The long-rumored deal for the winger upgrades Manchester United’s right flank with one of the more productive players in Europe. Over the past two years, Sancho’s 2.8 chances created per 90 minutes of play is comparable to that of Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and far surpasses that of other young stars such as Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Chelsea’s Mason Mount, and new Manchester United teammate Marcus Rashford. Sancho’s combined 78 goals and assists for the past three seasons is equal to that of Harry Kane, the 2020/21 Premier League goals and assists leader.

Following a promising youth career at Manchester City, Sancho left the English club in search of senior level playing time four years ago and became the first English player to start a match for Borussia Dortmund. Surprisingly, Sancho did not figure prominently for England manager Gareth Southgate during the recent European Championship before the London native missed a kick in the final penalty shootout. Sancho’s ability to break down defenders is a boost for a Red Devil side which has struggled at times to penetrate packed defenses.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Chelsea

Manager Thomas Tuchel took over a ninth place Chelsea in late January and proceeded to deliver a top four finish and the club’s second Champions League trophy. The change in fortune was stark and dramatic as Tuchel became the first Chelsea manager to go undefeated in his first fourteen matches across all competitions. Major off season transfer outlays by Chelsea on attacking talent such as Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech had not paid off for dismissed manager Frank Lampard and Chelsea’s trajectory changed when Tuchel implemented a greater emphasis on defense. Employing a three-man back line and ruthlessly pressing opponents, Chelsea would go on to finish the league season with more clean sheets and fewer goals conceded than any team but Manchester City.
Fittingly, it was Manchester City, the only team to accumulate more league points than Chelsea after Tuchel’s arrival in London, that was smothered by Chelsea in the 1-0 Champions League final.
Antonio Rudiger emerged from Frank Lampard’s doghouse to join captain Cesar Azpilicueta and 34-year-old Thiago Silva to form Tuchel’s first choice back three in front of outstanding keeper Edouard Mendy. Rising young center back Andreas Christensen, who starred for Denmark in the recently completed Euros, also saw time for Chelsea at center back and ably stepped in when Silva became injured early in the Champions League final. Chelsea’s dominant defense, which also relied on the efforts of French international and two-time Premier League winning midfielder N’Golo Kante, helped compensate for a frustrating lack of production by its attacking players. Chelsea scored fewer goals than any team in the top seven places in the league as midfielder Jorginho led Chelsea with seven Premier League goals, all on penalty kicks. Striker Tammy Abraham, who had led the team with 15 goals the prior season, was unable to impress Tuchel and played little after the new manager’s arrival, not even being named to the squad in critical late season games. Former Bundesliga stars Timo Werner and Kai Havertz managed just 10 goals between them in their first Premier League season. Christian Pulisic, in yet another injury damaged season, contributed only four goals in league play, one less than defender Kurt Zouma. Former Ajax star Ziyech had but two Premier League goals in his first season with the Blues.
Other negatives in an otherwise successful run under Tuchel included an FA Cup final loss to Leicester and a rocky league run in, with two losses in their final four matches almost costing Chelsea a top four berth. The Champions League victory, however, will be the enduring memory for a 2020/21 Chelsea team which will hope to contend for Premier League honors next season.
The team has a good mixture of experience and youth with five of eleven starters in the Champions League final being age 25 or under. This past season saw the blossoming of Mason Mount into Chelsea’s most consistent player as the academy product led the squad in appearances and minutes played across all competitions. The 22-year-old was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year by fans after finishing joint second in both league goals and assists for the club and feeding Kai Havertz for the winning goal in the Champions League final.

Friday, July 16, 2021

European Championship: Team of the Tournament

The UEFA Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament includes five representatives from Premier League teams. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, a question mark as to whether he would have a starting role for manager Gareth Southgate entering the tournament, scored both goals by England during their undefeated group stage and delivered the opening goal in England’s defeat of Germany in the round of sixteen. Chelsea’s Jorginho, a winner of both this year’s Champions League and the European Championship, marshalled the midfield for champion Italy and had the winning penalty kick against Spain in the semi-final match which propelled the Italians to the final. Joining Jorginho in the midfield is Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg who played every minute for an inspirational Denmark team which made it to the semi-finals.

The Premier League placed two defenders on the Team of the Tournament. Manchester United center back  Harry Maguire’s commanding presence in the heart of England’s defense earned him a place despite his not playing in England’s opening two matches due to an ankle injury. Kyle Walker justified his starting selection at the crowded right fullback position for England as the Manchester City man continued to exhibit his trademark recovery speed at the age of 31.

In addition to Jorginho, Euro champion Italy placed forward Federico Chiesa, defenders Leonardo Spinazzola and Leonardo Bonucci, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma on the Team of the Tournament. Chiesa’s tournament performance has made the Juventus player, on loan from Fiorentina, a rumored transfer target for clubs such as Chelsea in the Premier League and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Spinazzola, like Kyle Walker, displayed exceptional pace before the Italian suffered an Achilles injury versus Belgium. Bonucci anchored Italy’s defense along with long time center back partner Georgio Chiellini. Bonucci’s scrappy goal in regulation and successful penalty kick were critical to Italy’s final win. Italian goalkeeper Donnarumma was honored as Player of the Tournament after excelling in penalty shootouts versus both England in the final and Spain in the semi-final. Donnarumma becomes only the second goalkeeper to win the award, former Denmark and Manchester United keeper Peter Schmeichel having won in 1992. Donnarumma was named the top goalkeeper over England and Everton keeper Jordan Pickford who led the competition with his five clean sheets.

Rounding out this year’s Team of the Tournament was Spain midfielder Pedri, a young Barcelona player who had a breakout tournament, and Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, the former Everton and Manchester United star now playing for Inter Milan. Controversial omissions from the squad were Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick of Czech Republic who tied for most goals in the tournament but failed to crack the Team of the Tournament line-up.

Manchester United’s Luke Shaw would have been another understandable selection after his three tournament assists and opening goal for England in the final. The Red Devil fullback often played a more attacking tournament role in England Manager Gareth Southgate’s scheme.

The Team of the Tournament was selected by 16 UEFA technical advisors from across the continent, including West Ham manager David Moyes. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

European Championship

Italy is European champion after the Azzurri defeated England in a penalty shootout on Sunday. England, playing in front of home fans at Wembley Stadium, again employed a conservative style of play which brought them just close enough for heartbreak. England manager Gareth Southgate was left to ponder decisions he made at the end of the game which left many fans confused. Southgate’s decision to start Kieran Trippier, one of seven defensive players in England’s starting lineup, seemed validated when England scored just two minutes into the match as Trippier crossed to Luke Shaw for the early lead. The goal was the fastest in a European Championship final.
Shaw’s goal added to an outstanding tournament performance for the Manchester United left back who, surprisingly, was lauded by former manager, and longtime Shaw critic, Jose Mourinho in postgame remarks. With a lead in hand, however, England settled into a greater defensive mindset. Including 30 minutes of extra time, England was to launch just one further shot on target. Italy controlled 66% of the possession, making almost 400 additional passes than their opponent (820 versus 426). The breakthrough for Italy came 67 minutes into the match off a corner kick and an ensuing scramble in front of the England net following a save by Jordan Pickford. Leonardo Bonucci became the oldest player to score in a European Championship final as he was first to the ball and put in the rebound of Pickford’s save.Italy continued to dominate play as England generated little in the way of attack. England striker Harry Kane played deeper and deeper as England responded to Italian pressure and generated little offense of its own. Kane, the leading scorer and assists man in the Premier League this past season, failed to have a shot or create a scoring chance for only the second time in his 61 matches for England. Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, who was to play a key role at the match’s conclusion, entered for Tripper at the 71-minute mark but added little. Southgate waited until extra time to insert Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish in place of an ineffective Mason Mount who had a poor tournament after his successful season at Chelsea. Two other players who might have added life to the England attack, Marcus Rashford and new Manchester United teammate Jadon Sancho, entered play in the 120th minute of play, too late to have influence in the run of play with both inserted specifically for purposes of the penalty shootout. The strategy backfired as both players, with the pressure compounded by their approaching the shootout “cold,” missed their penalty tries. Rashford’s attempt agonizingly glanced off the post after he had beaten Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Sancho was stopped on a good save by Donnarumma on England’s fourth attempt, setting the stage for Southgate’s most curious decision. With the championship on the line, 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, having never attempted a competitive penalty kick at the senior level for club or country, was assigned England’s final chance. Unfairly put in that position, Saka missed. England lost the shootout, missing its final three attempts in succession, despite England’s Jordan Pickford stopping two of the Italian attempts. The Everton keeper set an England record for consecutive minutes without conceding earlier in the tournament and Bonucci’s goal in regulation was only the second goal allowed by England in seven Euro matches.
Despite the final disappointment, the English national team and its array of Premier League talent took another stride forward, reaching their first major tournament final in 55 years and building from their semi-final elimination in the 2018 World Cup. The future is bright for the current generation of England stars approaching the 2022 World Cup. Italy, meanwhile, celebrates an amazing renaissance by a proud football nation distraught after not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Roberto Mancini, who managed Manchester City to its first Premier League title in 2012, was hired to restore Italy to prominence and he has succeeded magnificently. The win over England extended Italy’s unbeaten run to 34 matches. Manchini has employed an attacking element in a well-balanced scheme which starkly contrasted with the approach of England. Forward Federico Chiesa was a constant threat until becoming injured in the 86th minute. The Italian midfield, featuring Chelsea’s Jorginho and PSG player Marco Verratti, was solidly in control and provided an element of creativity absent from England’s midfield. Defensively, Italy again relied on veteran warriors Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini, the veteran pairing from Juventus who are a combined 70 years old. Donnarumma, though largely unchallenged before the penalties on Sunday, solidified his reputation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers during Italy’s run to the title. The former AC Milan goalkeeper, recently signed by PSG, was Player of the Tournament. Italy’s victory was its second European Championship, adding to a resume which includes four World Cup titles. 

Copa America

Lionel Messi secured his first major championship with his national team as Argentina defeated rival Brazil. The 1-0 final featured a 22nd minute goal by Angel Di Maria who chipped the winner over the head of Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson after masterfully securing a long lob from teammate Rodrigo de Paul. Messi was Player of the Tournament, scoring four goals, though missing a late opportunity for a fifth goal in the final.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez was little troubled by the Brazilians, needing to make only two saves, one on a shot by Everton’s Richarlison. Ederson equally faced only two shots on target in a grueling match which saw 41 fouls and nine yellow cards. Argentina 15th Copa America triumph, its first since 1993, matches Uruguay for the most by a country. Argentina is currently on a 20-match unbeaten run while Brazil lost for the first time since a 2018 World Cup quarterfinal loss to Belgium.

Friday, July 9, 2021

European Championship

England will face Italy in the Euro final on Sunday after Tottenham Hotspur and England captain Harry Kane scored on the rebound of his failed penalty kick in extra time to defeat Denmark 2-1 in their semi-final matchup. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling drew the critical penalty, an art form for which he is well known in Premier League competition, as he was fouled dribbling toward the Danish goal. Kane’s fourth goal of the tournament was his tenth at major international tournaments, equaling the England record.

Everton’s Jordan Pickford had earlier surpassed Gordon Banks’s English record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal before conceding the match’s opening score on a direct free kick by Denmark’s Mikkel Damsgaard. Damsgaard became not only the first player to score against England in this year’s Euros but also became the first player to score by direct free kick in this year’s tournament. England responded to the Danish challenge before the first half ended when Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka took a through pass from Kane deep into the box before laying off for Sterling. Denmark’s Simon Kjaer intervened, only to knock the ball into his own net. The two clubs then battled through a scoreless second half and into extra time, with the Denmark bus firmly parked, before Sterling and Kane completed the comeback win for England.

Italy secured its place in the final by defeating Spain on penalty kicks after extra time concluded with the teams tied 1-1. Chelsea’s Jorginho scored the winning penalty with his trademark hop and skip approach to the ball which helped him score seven penalties in Premier League play this season.

Italy’s Federico Chiesa had opened the match’s scoring with his second goal of the tournament at the 60-minute mark, making Italy just the second team to have five players score two or more goals in a European Championship. Spain forced extra time, and ultimately kicks, through an 80th minute goal by Alvaro Morata, a second half substitution for Manchester City player Ferran Torres. Unfortunately for Morata, the star crossed former Chelsea striker offered only a weak attempt on his later penalty try, just before Jorginho’s winner, and thus positioned himself once again for adverse social media attention. Though Morata’s regular time goal made him Spain’s leading all-time scorer in the Euros, his tournament performance will be marked by the poor penalty attempt and other wasted chances in this year’s competition.

Italy, unbeaten in 33 straight games, will be in their fourth Euro final, having won in 1968, and will make their 10th visit to a major tournament final. England, who will be playing in front of at least 60,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday, are in a major tournament final for the first time since 1966.

Copa America

The Copa America final is set for a clash of traditional South American powers Brazil and Argentina. Brazil edged Peru in their semi-final match, successfully protecting a first half margin delivered in the 35th minute on a goal by Lucas Paqueta after better known teammates Neymar, Richarlison, and Casemiro were stymied by Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. Gallese plays club football for Orlando City of MLS. Brazil had eight shots on goal versus two for Peru though Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson was forced to a critical second half save as he posted his sixth consecutive clean sheet for the Selecao. Peru played a largely defensive game, having conceded four goals to Brazil each of the last two matches between the teams. Argentina required penalty kicks to get by Colombia and set up the final matchup with rival Brazil. A second half goal by Colombia’s Luis Diaz negated an Argentina lead provided by a Lautaro Martinez first half strike as the clubs moved directly to penalties at the end of regulation time. Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who posted the third highest number of clean sheets in Premier League competition this season, stopped three of the Colombia penalty kicks to boost Argentina to the final.Everton center back Yerry Mina and Tottenham Hotspurs defender Edinson Sanchez were two of the unsuccessful penalty takers for Colombia. Messi will be seeking his first major championship with Argentina as his country take a 19-match unbeaten streak into the final with Brazil, the country which inflicted Argentina’s last loss in the 2019 Copa America semi-finals. Colombia and Peru play for third place on Friday before Saturday’s championship match.


Monday, July 5, 2021

European Championship

England easily sailed by an overmatched Ukraine squad, 4-1, to book a place in the semi-finals against Denmark. A Harry Maguire goal just five minutes into the second half seemed to take the life out of Ukraine as the game began to get out of hand with Harry Kane scoring a second goal and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson becoming the third Premier League team captain to score on the day. Henderson’s score was his first international goal.

Everton’s Jordan Pickford established a Euro record with a fifth consecutive clean sheet as the Three Lions are unscored upon across seven consecutive matches overall, a club record. Luke Shaw continued his outstanding Euro performance, assisting on Manchester United teammate Maguire’s header and on Kane’s second goal. Gareth Southgate becomes the second manager to take England to the semi-final of both a World Cup and a European Championship as the Three Lions return home to Wembley Stadium to face Denmark on Wednesday.

The Danes were 2-1 winners over Czech Republic, continuing their inspiring journey after star Christian Eriksen suffered his medical emergency in their opener and Denmark dropped its first two group stage matches. Protecting a two-goal halftime lead, Demark’s defensive back line of Chelsea’s Andreas Christiansen, Southampton’s Jannick Vestergaard and AC Milan’s Simon Kjaer, in front of Leicester City  goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel, was able to see out the win despite conceding a goal to Czech Republic’s Patrick Schick. Schick’s fifth goal tied him with the previously eliminated Cristiano Ronaldo for leading goal scorer so far in the tournament. Kaspar Dolberg’s third goal of the tournament provided the winning margin for the Danes.

The other side of the Euro bracket will see an Italy versus Spain encounter on Tuesday. Italy received two outstanding first half goals from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne in a 2-1 win over Belgium’s “golden generation”. Former Premier League star Romelu Lukaku scored a penalty kick for the Belgians in first half injury time before the two teams played a scoreless second half which featured unrealized chances by each side. Italy notched a 13th consecutive win during a current 32 match unbeaten run. An aging Belgian squad, meanwhile, were again frustrated in their quest for a first major title with their star-studded line-up. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne played versus Italy but was clearly limited by his injury issues. Italy star wing back Leonardo Spinazzola sustained an Achilles injury bersus Belgium and will miss the rest of the tournament.

Spain advanced by defeating Switzerland on penalty kicks. After converting all five of their penalty kicks to eliminate France in their previous match, the Swiss were unsuccessful on three of their kicks against the Spanish who missed two of their own kicks in a poor display of marksmanship by both sides. Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri’s 68th minute goal had negated a first half own goal by the Swiss to send the match to extra time and penalties.

Spain once again raised concern as to whether they have sufficient striking power to become Euro Champions as the club failed to score on 28 shots, 10 of which were on target against the Swiss, and would have been eliminated but for the 8th minute own goal by Swiss defender Denis Zakaria, filling in for suspended Arsenal player Granit Xhaka. The 10th own goal of this year’s tournament surpasses the combined total of all previous European Championships.

The Euro final is Sunday July 11th.  

Managerial Carousel

Crystal Palace has named Patrick Vieira as their new manager. The appointment ends a difficult search for the Eagles which saw close encounters with both Nuno Espirito Santo and Lucien Favre fail to result in signed agreements before Palace found its man in the former Arsenal legend. Vieira captained the Arsenal “Invincibles” during a stellar playing career which he finished at Manchester City. The Frenchman gained experience coaching Manchester City youth players before leading sister club New York City FC (NYCFC) to two consecutive playoff berths in Major League Soccer. Vieira left NYCFC for Nice in Ligue 1 where he led them to seventh and fifth place finishes before being sacked this past year. Vieira faces a difficult challenge at Crystal Palace which has only 18 players under contract as they enter preseason.

Copa America

The Copa America semi-finals are Monday and Tuesday.  Host country Brazil will face a Peru side which got past Paraguay on penalty kicks last round. Brazil won its quarterfinal match 1-0 over Chile, hanging onto its one goal lead after Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus was dismissed with a red card at the 48-minute mark. Colombia will meet Argentina in the other semi-final after the Colombians eliminated Uruguay on penalty kicks after a scoreless match. Two assists and a goal by Lionel Messi were all Argentina needed to move past Ecuador 3-0 to set up a semi-final meeting with Colombia. The Copa America final will be Saturday, July 10th

Friday, July 2, 2021

European Championship

The quarterfinals begin Friday with Spain, extra time winners over Croatia, facing a Switzerland team which eliminated heavily favored France in penalty kicks. Spain becomes one of the tournament favorites, though they would face a difficult semi-final battle with the winner of Belgium and Italy if defeating the Swiss. Switzerland, playing with house money at this stage, will be without Granit Xhaka who is suspended for red card accumulation. The Arsenal man delivered a man of the match performance against the French and will be sorely missed.

The Spanish have scored five goals in each of their last two games, the first team to do so in the European Championship. Manchester City player Ferran Torres has become a critical element of the Spanish attack, scoring seven times in his last nine appearances for Spain. Switzerland’s Haris Seferovic, meanwhile, has three goals in his last two matches.

Friday’s marquee game is Italy versus Belgium. Italy breezed through the group stage before being pushed to extra time by Austria in the round of sixteen. Belgium entered the tournament ranked number one in the world and swept through their group stage undefeated, as did Italy. Belgium emerged battered, however, from a bruising victory over Portugal in the round of sixteen and could be without both Manchester City ace Kevin De Bruyne and former Chelsea star Eden Hazard. Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku features for Inter Milan in Serie A and will be familiar with many of his Italian opponents on Friday.

Czech Republic, which eliminated a Netherlands team which had been undefeated though group play, will face a Denmark side which survived two losses in their group before embarrassing Wales 4-0 in the round of sixteen.

Quarterfinal play concludes with England facing Ukraine. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has been the most dynamic figure in attack for an England squad focused on defense, a strategy which has worked to near perfection with no goals conceded by the English after four matches. Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish has been providing some spark for the Three Lions off the bench as an impact player. Everton’s Jordan Pickford has been outstanding between the sticks. There is speculation as to whether England Manager Gareth Southgate might reach to his bench for Jadon Sancho, reportedly being acquired by Manchester United, should more offensive dynamism be required. Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and West Ham’s Andrij Yarmolenko are key players on a Ukraine side which eliminated Sweden in extra time in their round of sixteen match.


Managerial Carousel

Tottenham Hotspur has named Nuno Espirito Santo as their new manager. The former Wolverhampton manager, rumored earlier this cycle to be headed to Crystal Palace, provides closure to a lengthy managerial search by Spurs’ Chairman Daniel Levy. Santo led Wolves’ promotion to the Premier League and notched consecutive seventh place finishes in the top division before the club stumbled badly this past season following an injury to striker Raul Jimenez. Santo now faces the loss of Spurs striker Harry Kane unless the Portuguese skipper can convince Kane that titles can be won at Spurs. Santo’s acceptance by the fan base could hinge on style of play with some concern being raised regarding the negative tactics and counter attacking style he employed at Wolverhampton.

Copa America

The Copa America quarterfinal round begins Friday. Peru will face a Paraguay squad who will be missing injured Newcastle player Miguel Almiron. Brazil has named Manchester City’s Ederson to start in goal over Liverpool’s Alisson Becker when the Selecao face Chile. Liverpool’s Bobby Firmino and Everton’s Richarlison have been key figures in a Brazil attack which hopes to have  Neymar back versus Chile. The Chileans, meanwhile, are hoping for a return by former Arsenal and Manchester United player Alexis Sanchez. Saturday will feature an attractive matchup between Uruguay and Colombia which will see Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani facing Colombia’s Premier League center backs Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham Hotspur and Yerry Mina of Everton. Argentina face Ecuador in the final match of the weekend as Lionel Messi continues to chase international success. Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez provides Argentina with perhaps its best goalkeeping option in many years. Ecuador has yet to win a match in this year’s tournament.