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Euro 2012 Contenders: Germany

With the Euro 2012 fast approaching us, we look to previewing one of the strongest teams and one of the favourites for the tournament- Germany.
Introduction

Germany would arrive in Ukraine and Poland with the tag of being heavy favorites in a tournament in which they have historically been the most successful and dominant team. Their period of dominance spans decades which has seen ‘Die Mannschaft’ lifting the European Championship trophy on no less than three occasions and finishing runners-up a further three times.

As for the upcoming tournament, the German squad bears a rather settled look with a core that hasn’t been altered much since the last World Cup where they won hearts of the people worldwide with their slick, attacking football. At the helm of the affairs is Joachim Low, who has astutely built a tactical framework that allows the creative players like Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski to express themselves going forward, while having the likes of Sami Khedira anchoring the midfield. It is a successful formula that saw the Germans win all 10 of their qualification matches scoring an incredible 34 goals along the way and conceding just seven.

History

There is not a football nation in Europe that can quite match up to the history and tradition that the wily Germans have had over the years. Germany not only holds the record for most appearances(10) in the European Championships, but have made it to the finals on no less than six occasion, winning and losing three times each. To go along with their heroics in the Euro, ‘Die Mannschaft’ have also been World Champions on 3 occasions, making them the most successful European nation in international football with 6 major trophies. The current crop of a rather young German team have proud history to defend while making a name for themselves on one of the biggest stages in world football.

The Manager

German gaffer Joachim Low enjoyed a rather unspectacular playing career that was played out predominantly in the 2.Bundesliga , except for a short spell with Southern Germany’s prominent club Vfb Stuttgart. Low has managed clubs such as Fenerbahce, Vfb Stuttgart and Austria Vienna before taking the plunge into management with Germany in 2008 replacing Jurgen Klinsmann. Under his reign, the Germans have continued their revival with a Euro final and World Cup semifinal with a rather young core of the team. A man for sound football tactics, Low’s Germany have played attacking football against all and sundry in recent years without compromising much in the defensive third, and have witnessed defeat just 11 times in 77 matches under Low.

Key Players

After years of redeveloping their football structure post their debacle in the Euro 2004, the country stands on the precipice of reward as their restructuring finally seems to be coming to a successful fruition. The entire squad is blessed with several world class players at the moment, each of whom have the potential of being a match winner on their day.

Bastian Schweinsteiger – The Bayern Munich midfield dynamo suffered the agony of missing the decisive penalty in the Champions League final that cost his side the title. But given his mentality over the years, that would only harden Schweini’s will to win and win big in a major tournament, and much would depend on him mastering the midfield battles if Germany are to lift the title.

Mesut Ozil The Gelsenkirchen native broke through the scene with some breath taking football in South Africa two years ago. Now much more experienced, Ozil would be at the centre of Germany’s attacking fulcrum with the responsibility of being the tormenter-in-chief for the opposition teams with his mazy runs, awe inspiring dribbles and defense shattering passes.

Philip Lahm– The captain and the leader of a young German brigade, much would rest on Lahm’s shoulders. Not just for being the best ambidextrous fullback in the world, his leadership skills to command his forces would be put to a stern test come June 8 and the German fans would sure hope that Lahm passes his test with flying colors.

Absentees

Former favourite and one of the most recognizable German players of the last decade, Michael Ballack has already had his swansong and would not feature in the tournament. Some other players to have missed out on the plane to Ukraine-Poland are Marko Marin, Simon Rolfes, Arne Friedrich and Rene Adler due to a variety of factors such as lack of form, injury concerns or them not fitting into the team’s structure.

Tactics and Formation

The Germans are most likely to continue with their 4-2-3-1 shape that they have kept for the best part of the last two years that has seen them win all 10 of their Euro qualification matches.

Between the sticks for them would be Manuel Neuer, who has had a few errors lately but is among the best in the world. Tim Wiese would serve as an able backup for him. In defence, Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber would most likely be the center halves with Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker serving as backup for the young duo. At right back, the German’s have one of the best fullacks in the world in Philip Lahm but on the other flank at left back is where they have bit of a blind spot. Both Marcel Schmelzer and Jerome Boateng would fight it out for it, with Boateng seeming an early favourite.

Coming to the midfield, their shape and personnel are very settled. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira make a fearsome midfield combination meaning Toni Kroos would most likely serve as back up. With Mesut Ozil carrying the central attacking duties, on the flanks would be Lukas Podolski on the left and despite some great form all season by Marco Reus, he would most likely be behind Thomas Muller in the pecking order for a spot on the right wing.

In attack, Low has favored Miroslav Klose but with his recent injury troubles and Mario Gomez having an astonishing season scoring over 40 goals, the latter seems to be one to lead the frontline.

Formation(4-2-3-1): Neuer- Boateng, Badstuber, Hummels, Lahm- Khedira, Schweinsteiger- Podolski, Ozil, Muller- Gomez

Players such as Toni Kroos, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze would also play a heavy role for the Germans, coming off the bench or from the start depending on the opposition and their tactics.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of Germany’s greatest strength at the Euro’12 would be the strength in depth of their squad. They have able deputies for most positions with players such as Kroos and Gundogan behind Khedira and Schweinsteiger in the pecking order. With the likes of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze on the bench, the Germans have heavy game changing artillery on the sidelines that could be handy as substitutes.

Just as much, their team has been fairly settled and the players understand their game and the tactics fairly well meaning they consistently play their trademark refreshing football.

However, there are concerns as well around the camp, none as much as their left back situation. Jerome Boateng is best as a center half and Marcel Schmelzer has failed to take his chances at LB with Germany. The position could serve as a weak spot for an overall well balanced unit.

The fans would also hope that Germany’s Bayern contingent get over the hangover of their defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final completing a horrid treble of second-best finishes after also losing the German(DFB Pokal) Cup final to Dortmund and finishing 2nd in the league, because the likes of Neuer, Schweinsteiger,Lahm, Gomez, Kroos and Muller would be crucial to Germany’s hopes.

Expectations at EURO 2012

There is immense breadth in the spectrum of quality among the German players for the upcoming tournament. They have an able tactician as a coach at the helm. And, a lot of their key players such as Ozil, Khedira, Neuer, Schweinsteiger, Lahm et al have gained great and often vital big match experience in the last couple of years. Anything less than a victory at Euro-2012 wouldn’t suffice and be termed a failure by their fans who have not seen a major tournament win for Germany since 1996. If there was ever a time to end the drought, and a team capable of doing it, it is this one. It’s their time to shine, and football romantics would hope that their dream of winning comes to fruition this time.

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January calling, so what do you need Juventus?

Not many Juventus fans even in their wildest of dreams foreseen the kind of impact Antonio Conte would have at Juventus, at the start of the season.  Cut over to the festive period and Juventus are in a dog fight not for Champions League places but in a race for the Scudetto, at joint top in the standings, still to lose a game in the league.

The summer gone by was a vital time for Juventus, for it was a club trying to get back to its lost glory and several names were brought in to begin afresh after the disappointments of the last couple of seasons, the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal, the play making genius Andrea Pirlo and none more important than Conte himself who vision for a Juventus of old is seemingly heading for fruition. However, with a few holes still to cover and the impending Financial Fair Play(FFP) regulations coming into effect next summer, January is going to be a busy period for the Bianconeri. So who could Juventus buy in January?

In the current Juventus setup, if there is one area of immediate concern for the club, it is the left back situation. Paolo de Ceglie doesn’t quite seem cut out for the role after having returned from his injury which has resulted in arguably Italy’s best centre half Giorgio Chiellini being played as a left back. Not that the system hasn’t worked, but playing your best defender out of his natural position is not a long term solution. Sevilla’s Martin Caceres is the odd’s on favourite to be brought in for the role, albeit on loan or a permanent deal,  for his second spell at the club. The Uruguayan’s previous spell was quite eventful and the ambidextrous fullback still enjoys popular support among the Juventus faithful and would be heartily welcomed back to put Juventus out of it’s left back paradox and as a valuable add on, he would also provide an alternative to Lichsteiner should the marauding Swiss fullback ever need a rest.

Could Caceres’ return resolve the fullback paradox?

Staying with the defensive side of things, another name linked with the Bianconeri lately has been that of German international center back Mats Hummels, not that Juventus urgently need a centre half, but Hummels could prove to be a vital cog in the Juventus machinery should Conte wish to predominantly use Chiellini as a leftback and not as a central figure in defence. Hummels has only recently stated his feeling of being honoured about Juventus’ interest in him. Should a move be made for the German, it would be a long term solution  but would come at quite a steep cost.

The cheaper alternatives to a potential center half signing would that of the Brazilian pair- Rhodolfo and Alex. The former was continually linked with Juve during the summer and is rated as one of the best center backs playing his trade in Brazil, while the latter is much more established in Europe and currently on the transfer list at Chelsea after having falling out with his manager Andre Villas-Boas and would certainly play no more part for the Londoners.

The need for a center back is not immediate and certainly is not a pressing concern for the Bianconeri but a cut price deal for Alex especially who is quite experienced in Europe could be in the offing and one that would provide a vital and experienced alternative in the Juventus backline as well as the room for maneuvering to Conte.

In central midfield, Juventus has some of the best players in all of Europe with summer signing of Andrea Pirlo proving to be a master stroke and fellow new arrival Arturo Vidal adding the much needed bite and tenacity to the midfield. To complete the trio, Claudio Marchisio has sounded his arrival as one of the best players in Italy. However, the situation around the backup of the trio is more dodgy, currently only Michele Pazienza and youngster Luca Marrone serve as back up and at a club where three in midfield is a norm an addition should be vital for a title push.

Time to get your big move Montolivo?

The rarely accurate and widely off the mark rumour mill has linked Juventus with two midfield players in particular – Angelo Palombo and Riccardo Montolivo. Both are quality and both would be heavily involved in the first team action should a move be made but one potential hinderence for Palombo could be his reluctance to leave Sampdoria. He stayed loyal to them despite relegation last season and a big bid and contract could be needed to turn his tide towards Turin.

Montolivo meanwhile is not only a more viable option but also a more long term one. The Italian international would be available on a free in the summer and with no maneuvering available to Fiorentina his price would be low. In midfield, Montolivo would be a good alternative to Pirlo with his passing range and would with equal ease fit alongside him and the quartet in midfield would essentially be base on which Juventus’ success shall be built.

And finally, in terms of the attacking options, this ‘mercato’ might finally see the end of the much derided Amauri in Turin and former Italian internationals Iaquinta and Luca Toni both seem headed for the exit door as well, while Quagliarella’s fate hangs in the balance. Quite naturally Juventus would be interested in acquiring reinforcements to shore up their attack. Man City’s Carlos Tevez was briefly linked and would have been a key mix of creativity and finishing ability to lead the Juventus attack but with  the Argentine seemingly headed rivals Milan, Juventus seem to have their sight set on Roma’s Marco Borriello. How Boriello would be an improvent over the current options at Juventus is baffling but as the reports suggest, he might be the closest to signing for Juventus.

The season has gone rather well for the Bianconeri thus far, better than what most would have imagined and a few key additions in the January mercato could help give Juventus the vital push towards elusive Scudetto.