Alright ... back on the horse. Three main topics of examination this summer will be: (1) the 2012 European Championships, beginning in 2 weeks and held in Poland and Ukraine; (2) transfer season drama, and its attendant discussion of formation and tactics; and (3) possible management and front office turnover. I'm certainly willing to talk about other stuff, too, if anyone has ideas, but the Euro 2012 tournament is the biggest story for the near future. So I've put together a preview/overview of the tournament and its participants. I'll obviously do more in-depth examinations of individual matches and clubs as the tournament begins, this is just an overall preview to get everyone ready.
Before beginning, a quick note: I had to delete a few comments from the previous 2 threads. Just so we're clear, any kind of hateful or bigoted language is prohibited, and this includes slurs based on sexual preferences. In other words, the word "fag" is offensive and wrong, and is absolutely not allowed. And just in general, we've had a large number of new readers during and immediately after the CL Final, and we're glad to have you guys on board. But, we've had a mostly nice family here for a while, and I won't hesitate to ban users and shut down new accounts if necessary to keep it that way. Thanks for your cooperation.
So ... let's go group-by-group
Notable players: the 3 Dortmund guys, Kuba, Piszczek, and Lewandowski, and the 2 Arsenal goalkeepers, Fabianski and Szczesny. Our thanks to B-P-31 for the correction here. I believe Szczesny is currently starting for Arsenal, so I guess he'd likely get the start this summer for Poland, too. Fabianski is known for making a few bone-headed mistakes in England, but both are generally competent and can keep their side in the match.
Bayern connection: None, although tons of Bundesliga guys. In addition to those 3 Dortmund players, Mainz, Werder Bremen, and H96 are represented on their 26-man roster. They also have young middie Adam Matuszczyk, who played for Fortuna this season on loan. I'm keeping an eye on him.
Outlook: I'm very bullish on these guys. Home-field advantage is often huge in this sort of tournament, the Kuba-L'owski combo will probably be effective, and their group is not the toughest. I think they have a really good chance to get through.
Notable players: Can I say "none?" Is that rude? Striker Georgios Samaras has been solid for Celtic in Scottish Premier League play, and Konstantinos Katsouranis was a border-line star for Benfica a few years ago. That's about it.
Bayern connection: None, although Schalke's Kyriakos Papadopoulos is one of their most important players.
Outlook: Hard to believe these guys won the tournament in 2004. They crashed out with 3 straight losses in 2008 and failed to get out of Group Stage play in South Africa at the World Cup. Still, this is a relatively weak group, and Greece does have some experienced guys who've been playing together for a while. If they can steal a win in the first match (vs. Poland), they have a chance to get out of the group stage.
Notable players: Andrei Arshavin and Marat Izmailov are the 2 whose names I immediately recognized. Also, they have Pavel Pogrebnyak, who played really well for Fulham this season, including scoring a match-winner vs. QPR.
Bayern connection: None that I can ascertain. Have we ever had any really good Russian players?
Outlook: For some reason, I don't see these guys as a huge threat, although Arshavin and Pavel Pogs are a pretty threatening pair. It will be interesting to see how many Russian fans make the trip. If it comes down to their final Group Stage match vs. Greece, I have to think Russia will have more supporters in attendance.
There are also all kinds of historical and ethnic hard feelings between Russia and Poland and between Russia and Ukraine. We can only hope the tournament isn't marred by violence and hell-raising. if you're headed there, please be careful and don't walk around drunk and get into trouble.
Notable players: Tomas Rosicky, Michal Kadlec, and ... Petr Cech. The less said here, the better. Also, they have some dude who plays for Galatasaray named Milan Baroš who, apparently, is awesome.
Bayern connection: None, although again, several of their better players earn paychecks in the Bundesliga.
Outlook: Not a lot of huge star-power, but a good 'keeper and a few breaks can get you out of the group. I think the first match vs. Russia will be big - if one team wins that, especially by a big margin, they have the inside track. Right now, if I had to pick 2 to advance from this group, I'd pick Poland and Czech Republic.
I think I'll do a separate post for Die Nationalelf. So stay tuned this weekend or early next week for that.
Notable players: Tons of them. Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Huntelaar, Rafa van der Vaart, and Mark van Bommel, just to name a few.
Bayern connection: Robben is one of their and our biggest stars, and Mark van Bommel is their current and our former captain. If there were one national team in this tournament outside of Germany that could win and leave Bayern fans feeling OK about it, it would probably be these guys
Outlook: A tough group, but I still think these guys are going to be a threat. I guess their line-up looks tougher offensively than it does defensively, but they held Spain scoreless for all of regulation in the World Cup final. And they will not hesitate to kick you in the fucking ribs if you try to win a loose ball.
A few years ago, there were rumored to be some hard feelings between the various players (and Sneijder is apparently a world-class dickhead). But that has seemingly been smoothed over. And if van Persie can score this summer like he did in England, these guys have a real shot at winning the tournament.
Notable players: Cristiano Ronaldo is their biggest name by far. But Nani, Pepe, and Raul Meireles are all top-shelf players. Or, perhaps, one half a shelf below top-shelf. But they have talent at every level of the formation. Even Eduardo, the 'keeper, is pretty decent.
Bayern connection: None, only since we thankfully passed on Fabio Coentrao. I'll note that I personally went there just last month and it was fun, so I guess I wouldn't mind seeing them do OK (not against Germany, of course).
Outlook: You never know what's what in a group with 4 tough teams. During the World Cup, Portugal looked a little overly cautious. They got out of the group stage in South Africa, but in their loss to Spain in the knockout stage, they certainly didn't look like a team that could win the whole thing. They might have found their level as one of those "best-of-the-rest" sides - always giving a credible performance, never likely to win a major international trophy.
But, in a short tournament, anything's possible. If they score first vs. Germany and then turtle up for a 1-0 win, they could roll into the next round.
Notable players: Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal-slash-Sunderland fame, Christian Poulsen, who's played for several big clubs, and Stoke City goalie Thomas Sorensen. Their defense is also solid, anchored by Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger
Bayern connection: None right now, although we were linked by rumor with both Simon Kjaer and Bendtner. Also, some of my smartest readers are Danish, so I'm hoping their national team does well for the sake of you guys.
Outlook: Same as Portugal, really - it's a tough group, they can't expect to get through just by showing up and putting in a decent shift. But if they get a lucky break and make one or two big plays at a key time, it's possible. I'd say the odds on these guys getting through are pretty long, though.
Notable players: Several big stars on the Italian roster, including Cassano, Balotelli, and Buffon. Also, did you know that Antonio di Natale had 29 goals across all competitions for Udinese this season? What else is going on down there that I should know about?
Bayern connection: Apparently Luca Toni isn't on the Euro 2012 roster. So, I guess "none." They don't even appear to have anyone playing in the Bundesliga.
Outlook: Won the World Cup in 2006, haven't accomplished much since then. They're sort of stuck between generations, and I don't think the younger generation (Fabio Borini, Balotelli, etc.) are quite ready to take over at this level yet. I have a hunch the opening match (vs. Spain) will show them how far they have to go. But, I'm wrong about this stuff a lot.
Notable players: Pretty much the whole team.
Bayern connection: None, other than having 2 guys on the club who just beat us for the CL title (Torres and Mata).
Outlook: Today's news is David Villa will not recover from his leg-break in time to play. Their other options (Torres, Fernando Llorente, Soldado ... hell, even Mata could play striker if he had to) are still very dangerous. But if you remember how deadly Villa was in South Africa, you realize this is a huge blow. They also have several weird battles at positions all over the pitch, which could lead to internal dissension (not to mention the Real - Barca rivalry).
But, they're still defending champs until someone knocks them off, and still a good bet to advance deep into the tournament and compete for the crown.
Notable players: Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Shane Long, and a bunch of other upper-mid-level Premier League guys.
Bayern connection: None, although they do have a rather decent record vs. Germany - 5 wins, 4 draws, and 7 losses in 16 meetings. Which is weird, because their record vs. England, Spain, and Brazil is not good at all.
Outlook: Probably too tough a group, too little firepower, not enough depth. But it's nice to see them make the tournament after the Henry-handball incident before the World Cup.
Notable players: Lucky Luca Modric, Ivica Olic, Niko Kranjcar, Dario Srna, and Ivan Perisic. Modric and Kranjcar play on the same club team, so that could give them a bit of synergy, along with ...
Bayern connection: Olic and Danijel Pranjic, who both play for Bayern (though perhaps not for long). Not quite the same as having van Bommel and Robben, but I wouldn't mind seeing Olic score a few goals.
Outlook: Along with Poland, my dark horse pick to surprise some people. In fact, I'll go out on a limb right now and say Croatia advances past the group stage and Italy does not.
Notable players: Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Dynamo Moscow's Andriy Voronin are the only 2 who don't play professionally in Ukraine. Shakhtar and Kiev have been decent over the past few years, so that's not an insult or anything, but there's a certain lack of firepower here.
Bayern connection: Tymo, whose strong play in the CL Final answered the doubters and may have earned him a continued place on the Bayern roster.
Outlook: They'll really be counting on that home-field advantage, because this is a team that's otherwise probably outgunned.
Notable players: Hugo Lloris, Ribery, Gourcuff, Benzema, Malouda, Samir Nasri, Philippe Mexes. Not a bad core for a team that was thought to be going through a down period
Bayern connection: Ribery, obviously, but also Olivier Giroud, who looks like he'll be brought in to give Gomez some competition. If Willy Sagnol were still around, I'd be rooting for France in this tournament.
Outlook: Their performance in South Africa was embarrassing, but there's no denying the talent here. In fact, I'll make another bold prediction: Benzema wins the Golden Boot (or whatever it's called) for this tournament.
Incidentally, I've spent probably 30 percent of my waking hours this week kicking around the idea of a Gomez + cash for Benzema swap. Any takers? Real Madrid wouldn't have to get rid of Higuain, they get Higuain/Gomez as a striker duo (rather than Benzema/some new guy, they'd need to buy), Gomez is half Spanish ...
Alright, some other time.
Notable players: Basically a bunch of bums who whine a lot.
Bayern connection: Owen Hargreaves is no longer with the national side, so not much for Bayern fans to root for here. We were briefly linked with Leighton Baines a few weeks ago, but that's not really all that likely ... but, if you're in the mood, tune in and see what he looks like
Outlook: May I refer you to the last section of this column?
Notable players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Larsson, and a few other decent players. I think they're mostly a play-defense-and-kick-it-up-to-Zlatan side.
Bayern connection: None, but striker Markus Rosenberg has turned into a quietly effective striker for Werder B in the Bundesliga. I always thought "Der Tiger" Effenberg was some kind of Scandinavian, but it turns out he was born in Hamburg.
Outlook: No easy matches, but probably none they'll get blown off the pitch in, either. A good coaching job could by Erik Hamren could keep them eligible for knockout stage play. Their country is actually not that far from Poland, but it's just water between them. Are there any ferries that run across the Baltic sea? I wouldn't be shocked to see some Swede supporters in the house.
So, those are the basics. As always, leave a comment or write me at email@example.com if I got anything wrong. We'll be doing previews, Match Day Threads, and all the normal stuff for this entire tournament, so stick with us. First match kicks off June 8, which is 2 weeks from tomorrow. In the mean time, we'll look at the German side and hopefully have a few other cool things lined up. Thanks for reading.