Scouting for Fixtures: Mar 13 – Mar 19

Scouting for fixtures is a weekly blog for people who love the beautiful game. As well as seeking out the most entertaining games, each preview weaves the clubs into a greater football narrative. Each article is a selection of hand picked upcoming matches worldwide that week, which looks set for 90 minutes of non-stop action. 

All times are GMT.

Chelsea vs Manchester United ( Mon 13 19:45 )

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Do we have a treble on the cards? The league cup, FA Cup and Europa League is a treble but to say it’s the same as the treble of ’99. It’s like saying Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger are twins; technically yes, but Danny is just objectively better*. Anyway, that is a possibility for Manchester United this season, and beating Chelsea would move them one step closer to that treble. Though Mourinho’s former side have the upper hand in almost every way possible. Chelsea has won more games, scored more goals, conceded less and are topping the Premier League as of right now. Some would say Mourinho was spiralling downhill at Chelsea but you have to look at the big picture. By finishing 10th last season this disabled any chance of European midweek fixtures so they could have enough recovery time for the domestic cup games.  The very same issue Mourinho now has to deal with in Manchester as the squad had a 17-hour roundtrip flight to FC Rostov and back. Head to Head Chelsea has the Red Devils beat 4 to nothing. As if MUFC could be any more disadvantaged, their main striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a 3 game ban effective immediately, all because ‘he jumped into my elbow’That treble looks like a pipe dream, not even opium could induce. But need I remind you fifth-tier side Preston join Man Utd in the quarter finals and Leicester won the premier league a few months ago. If I were to echo the sentiment of this fixture it would be through the words of my hero:

They never said winning was easy. – DJ Khaled

#Woke.

*Here’s another one.

Monaco vs Manchester City ( Wed 15 19:45 )

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This is unmissable, with the potential to go down as one of the great Champions League fixtures. – Myself, previewing the first leg of this fixture ( Tue 21 19:45 )

Well, after reflecting for 22 days and 8 goals later, it’s time to retract that statement. Because it HAS gone down as one of the great Champions League fixtures.

Why would the second leg be any different?

Monaco needs the goals if they want to progress to the next round. It’s counterproductive for Man City to park the bus, especially with their comedy duo in defence. It would only increase the inflammation that led to Monaco winning 1-3 by the 45′ minute. The thing is if either side could actually defend, the are capable of cake-walking this whole competition. But they can’t. So they won’t. In this case, an attack is the best form of defence, and that is exactly what they plan to do.

So, why would the second leg be any different?

Manchester City vs Liverpool ( Sun 19 16:30 )

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Defence is about the work you put into it. Defensive strategy is absolutely essential if I want to attack a lot. – Pep Guardiola

I know I just described the Man city defence as a comedy duo. With justification might I add (refer to the video above); but as a unit, the citizens are sound, in theory.

While being a preview this is also like a Football Tactics for Dummies, except it’s written by a real life dummy, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

I’m sure you’re familiar with a trampoline (ref fig.1).

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Fig 1: for the incompetent

So think of Man City as the trampoline and Liverpool as the person jumping on the trampoline, if you will.

Guardiola employs the 4-1-4-1 formation for the majority of games, especially against a high calibre side. It allows them to remain compact in defence with virtually no passing lines with tight banks between defence and midfield.

So when Liverpool attack, they are jumping down on the trampoline and compressing the fibres, in this case compressing the Manchester city midfield and defensive lines. If Liverpool fails to see an opening they will lose possession, flinging them uncontrollably in the air. As the fibres return to the original positions Man City can quickly transition into their attack and hit Liverpool on the

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Fig 2: The Mountain stands 6’9 tall, the UFC champion Connor McGreggor pales in comparison, a foot shorter and 115kg lighter

counter-attack. The stronger Liverpool’s intensity of the attack is, the more uncontrollably and higher they are flung into the air.

Or, of course, you could break the trampoline. No mere mortal can break this trampoline, but let us anthropomorphize Liverpool in this scenario. To account for their mountain of goals (highest in the PL), the person who represents them should share the same nickname, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (ref fig 2).

This guy would have very little trouble breaking the trampoline, as does Liverpool with their intensity, is capable of scoring against any defence.

Games I would’ve written about but was too lazy: 

Leicester vs Sevilla ( Tue 14 19:45 )

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Toronto FC ( Sat 18 20:00 )

Atletico Nacional vs Independiente Medellin ( Sun 19 00:45 )

Atletico Madrid vs Sevilla ( Sun 19 15:15 )

Paris Saint-Germain vs Lyon ( Sun 19 20:00 )

 

 

Scouting for Fixtures: Dec 26 – Jan 01

Scouting for fixtures is a weekly blog for people who love the beautiful game. They come out every Sunday and hand picks upcoming matches worldwide that week, which looks set for 90 minutes of non-stop action.

All times are GMT.

El Zamalek vs Al Ahly ( Thu 29 17:00 )

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Alongside spending 90 minutes in the yellow wall of Westfalenstadion, witnessing an Old Firm, Barca-Real and Boca-River, El Zamalek vs Al Ahly is the most elusive game on my football bucket list. It’s not the type of fixture you’d find on SkySports/BT Sports so your best chance of finding the live game is a live stream if you’re not in Egypt, where there is an estimated 50 million domestic TV audience. The Cairo derby has a backstory interwoven with politics, socio-economic changes, religion; the reoccurring theme being violence. You wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually all written up by Quentin Tarintino. Football offers people the precious gift of escapism. If you search Egypt on The New York Times website you will find the most recent stories include: ‘How Egyptian Democracy really works: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has figured out how to maintain a simulacrum of democratic process. For whatever that’s worth.’ and ‘Cathedral Bombing in Cairo leaves Egypt alarmed, and its president scrambling’ Couple the atmosphere created through escapism of those circumstances, with the trend that often what we see off-field is reflected on-field. If that is what is happening off the pitch, imagine the football itself. I dream of watching this game live but until then I will have to continue painstakingly searching through dodgy links to find a good quality live stream. To drive home the significance of this game, here is Scotland’s World Cup referee and Ahly-Zamalek veteran Hugh Dallas: ‘I’ve done 14 or 15 Old Firm matches and even they don’t come close to this. I genuinely believe that this is as big as it gets…’ 

Rangers vs Celtic ( Sat 31 12:15 )

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I know I just slated the Old Firm but it is, in fact, one of the most famous football fixtures in the world. But why? I doubt it’s because it’s the pinnacle of Scottish football (which it is), as my extensive research suggests otherwise:

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So why does a football derby in Glasgow be so far-reaching that it makes headlines in The Economist, The New York Times and Vice; the last news outlet making a 45-minute documentary dedicated to the Old Firm called: Football’s Most Dangerous Rivalry. The title gives it away in part, as there have been a fair few fights and even turning into riots during the game. I’ve watched enough Kevin Bridges and Frankie Boyle’s stand-up to assume all Scotsman have a dour, bleak outlook on life with an irritable disposition*. But there’s more than that to illicit this mass response. The tension between Celtic and Rangers has roots deep into polarising political ideologies and religion. If you have a basic understanding of Geography, you too realise that Celtic is of Irish heritage, formed by Irish immigrants at the time and therefore have a majority Catholic supporters. Without turning into a full essay on the Irish revolution, there is a deep hate between Rangers and Celtic fans involving the IRA and division between Catholicism and Protestantism. Now I hate to quote myself but, ‘often what we see off-field is reflected on-field’. Not literally (though Rangers did only sign their first Catholic player in 1989), but the passion, regardless of the reason, translates without losing any of its original meaning. The games are end-to-end in a very literal way, with the last match ending 0-1 but had a shot on goal every 2.1 minutes (a scathing stat on the state of Scottish football if there was any). That 0-1 was an outlier in another wise goal-fest of a game, averaging 3.5 goals per game in the last 6. If you’ve got no plans on Christmas eve, follow this fixture with another great game south of the border 3 and a half hours later.

*On the off chance any Scots think I’m being serious, let me clarify I’m not before I get barraged with four-letter words.

Liverpool vs Manchester City ( Sat 31 17:30 )

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If you walk into a pub in England, chances are you’ll find a TV in the corner with Soccer Saturday playing. It’s a pretty big deal here. For those unfamiliar, it could be the father of all reaction videos, like the ones you find on youtube but better. For those who can’t keep up with my very specific references, here’s a link to catch you up to speed. Caught up? Good. So when Liverpool legend and Soccer Saturday presenter Phil Thompson said ‘The best team has been Liverpool and I think we’ve got a better chance than most’ and today Michael Owen agrees ‘I’m going to go for Liverpool to win the league.’ it goes without saying the trolls will come out the woodworks. If they want to be champions these are the crucial games that Liverpool will have to win. The best attack in the league, 41 goals in 17 matches. As well as that, Liverpool is undefeated in 15 at home while scoring some amazing goals resembling prime Dortmund back in the day. So Guardiola walks into Anfield under these circumstances. Just last week Manchester City held Arsenal to 1 goal and 1 shot on target over 90 minutes. Winning at Anfield would be a turnaround for Manchester City after their back to back losses against direct rivals Chelsea, followed by Leicester. It so happens Liverpool have more immediate issues to take care of. Forty-eight hours is an interesting idea but less than 48 hours I cannot believe.’ What Klopp is referring to is the time between this game and his team’s next game against Sunderland. What he left out was that they would also play a match 3 days prior to this against Stoke with both Coutinho and Matip injured. Man City also have Aguero and Fernandinho out, but both teams still have the firepower to put on a show this new years eve.

Other Mentions:

Chelsea vs Bournemouth ( Mon 26 15:00 )

Newcastle United vs Sheffield Wednesday ( Mon 26 19:45 )

Southampton vs Tottenham ( Wed 28 19:45 )

Leicester vs West Ham ( Sat 31 15:00 )

Arsenal vs Crystal Palace ( Sun 01 16:00 )

Feel like I missed out any matches or want to give any feedback? Comment Below!

Scouting for Fixtures: Nov 28 – Dec 04

Scouting for fixtures is a weekly blog for people who love the beautiful game. They come out every Sunday and hand picks upcoming matches worldwide that week, which looks set for 90 minutes of non-stop action.

All times are GMT.

The stars have aligned to make up for last weeks debacle.

Usually, when making these articles, I sort out the fixtures in my head into 3 main types. Good games (it would be worth your while if you invested in either team), great games (you would watch just because of its build up) and the unmissable games. This week we have an unprecedented 3 (arguably 4) games that fall into the last category.

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And if we zoom out even further…

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But seriously, this is one of the best lists of fixtures I’ve seen in months.

Atletico Nacional vs Millonarios ( Mon 28 00:05 [ 1st leg ] ) (Wed 30 19:00 [ 2nd leg ] )

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Courtesy of Mundonets

Behind the obscurity of Colombian football and overwhelming links to organised crime, lies a truly worthwhile watch. The rivalry between the two clubs is doused in corruption and violence, as Bogota council secretary Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo laments: “We cannot celebrate goals while our children are being killed over the colour of a football shirt”. This Colombian rivalry fuelled by corruption and violence sets alight the passion and authenticity which earned the name: Super Clasico of Colombian football. The most famous moment was during the 1989 Copa Libertadores quarter-finals; both teams were looking to win Colombia’s first ever Copa Libertadores trophy. The games themselves were filled with short tempers, even shorter shorts and a questionable refereeing decision after Millonarios striker was taken out by Nacional goalkeeper Higuita in the penalty box. Thanks to that obviously honest mistake by the referee, Nacional won the game on aggregate and went on to be Colombia’s first ever Copa Libertadores champions. The fixtures are just as fierce now as they were in 1989, with 4 red cards in their last 6 games. Here we are again 27 years later. Atletico Nacional vs Millonarios, this time in the quarter-finals of the Primera A playoffs.

Manchester City vs Chelsea ( Sat 03 12:30 )

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Courtesy of Getty Images Europe

Let’s forget about winning, losing or drawing for a second. After the final whistle blows one of two things will happen. One, Manchester City will end their season-long unbeaten run at home. Two, Chelsea will end their 6 game winning streak without conceding, 1 game off breaking their current record. If you’re literally anyone but a Chelsea fan, it’s universally accepted that one would choose scenario two over one, as Chelsea remain the most hated club in the league. That doesn’t look like it’s changing anytime soon, as aforementioned thrashing is likely to continue, in part because Antonio Conte is a genius. And Italian. Previously managing the current greatest three back defence in the world (Barzagli, Chiellini and Bonucci) means Conte knows his 3-4-3 formation inside out. Add that to 10 years of managing Italian sides, where three at the back is bread and butter. Pep Guardiola would also join Conte in that small category of football geniuses. However, Manchester City is yet to regain that dominance that saw them surge into a noticeable lead till game week 6. The seventh game finished with Tottenham taking all 3 points from Man City, remaining the only side to do so in a league fixture. Bear in mind Tottenham is equivalent to a team of Jack Russel terriers on Red Bull with the amount of ground they cover per game. However, in that same vein, Chelsea possess N’Golo Kante who was nicknamed ‘The Rash’ by his teammates. Simply put, these are the two most polished sides in the league. If there was any way to undercut the tension of the game it would be through their nicknames. So let’s get ready for the spectacle that will be the Citizens vs the Pensioners!

Barcelona vs Real Madrid ( Sat 03 15:15 )

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Courtesy of Flickr

There are no amount of superlatives or hyperboles that I can use to justify the enormity of this game. Instead, I’ll let the stats do the talking for me. 500 million viewers. Imagine the population if Mexico and the USA joined together and formed a country* and all of them watched El Clasico, the viewership figures would still be short by the whole population of Italy. Of course, you have Messi vs Ronaldo, the incredible amount of money, history and success to marvel at. Back to the game itself, injuries leave Iniesta, Umtiti, Bale, Kroos, Mathieu and Casemiro unable to start for either team come Saturday. If you’re a football or sports fan you will end up watching this game regardless of anything I’ve stated because El Clasico is what football is all about.

*After re-reading I realise how much you’d have to suspend your disbelief, but just go with the analogy please and thank you.

Lazio vs Roma ( Sun 04 14:00 )

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Courtesy of Corriere Della Sera

It might not seem obvious from the picture above but Francesco Totti is in fear for his life. The men surrounding him are some angry Roma Ultra’s and off-frame is a thick sweeping red mist from the flares being set off and fights breaking out at various parts of the stadium, all during the 49’th minute. As soon as he could, the Roma captain told Fabio Capello ‘If we play on now, they’ll kill us’. The ominous security also hints at the importance of the occasion. This all adds more reason to believe that the Derby Della Capitale is the fiercest derby in Italy. There are reams of work dedicated to how a rivalry as visceral as this develops, which can be found here. As things stand, Roma has bragging rights in the capital as Lazio fail to win a game in their last 6 encounters. This may be Lazio’s chance to end the unbeaten streak as Roma are missing Totti, Florenzi and El Sharaaway all injured. Roma also comes into the derby after losing to Atalanta, shortening the point gap to 1. Though the point gap is unlikely to matter to the Roma and Lazio supporters as Paulo Di Canio states ‘Roma and Lazio fans care more about winning the derby than where they finish in the league.’ 

Scouting For Fixtures: Oct 24 – Oct 30

Scouting for fixtures is a weekly blog for people who love the beautiful game. They come out every Sunday and hand picks upcoming matches worldwide that week, which looks set for 90 minutes of non-stop action.

All times are GMT.

There will not be a post for the week of Oct 31 – Nov 6, but regular posts will continue afterwards. 

Liverpool vs Tottenham ( Tue 25 19:45 )

Courtesy of Mirror

 

The league cup has gotten a lot of flak over the years. Often described as a B-Tech FA Cup, as Jonathon Liew eloquently sums up ‘In terms of prestige, the League Cup sits somewhere between the Community Shield and a Blue Peter badge.’ The signs point to a very tight match. Both teams have an identical form (DWWWWD), separated by only 1 point and 1 place on the premier league table. The home side will be up for it, as it may be their chance to win their first silverware in 4 years; finally legitimising the famous (or infamous) this is our year meme. Tottenham however, does not have the same luxuries as Liverpool. After this cup game, Spurs have a terrible run of fixtures which include: Leicester, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, West Ham, Monaco and then Chelsea to round off a hectic November. For the most athletic team in the league (covering 114.8km per match on average), not even Pocchetino’s men can go for the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. Fingers crossed, Liverpool and Tottenham treat this match as it should be and we enjoy some entertaining midweek football.

Manchester United vs Manchester City ( Wed 26 20:00 )

Courtesy of GQ

 

Just under seven weeks would have passed since MUFC lost to their local rivals 1-2 at Old Trafford. After the 1-2, the two teams have diverged from their previous string of wins. Man Utd continued their losing streak, first Feyenoord and then Watford. They are yet to lose since; the catch being their only major obstacle was Liverpool until now. Man City continued an increasing winning streak until Celtic started a cascade of draw followed by loss followed by draw followed by a loss, yet to win a game in 32 days and counting. Also, Guardiola now also has Aguero and Gundogan at his disposal. Despite Paul Pogba’s brace against Fenerbache, the thorough scrutiny of his best position, quality and temperament are only getting worse. It’s only exacerbated by the £95.3 million price tag, endless dabbing and Paul’s recent statement: ‘I will need a little time to adapt in Manchester, time for the machine to start working. I am adapting.’ There is one constant, Claudio Bravo. In that 1-2 victory over Manchester United, the home side still nabbed one goal, in part due to Claudio Bravo’s poor clearance. Bravo’s most recent performance against Barcelona could be partially forgiven because 1) It’s Barcelona 2)  The defenders were a mess. What cannot be forgiven is another godawful, bizarre clearance followed by a red card.

Juventus vs Napoli ( Sat 29 19:45 )

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Courtesy of DreamTeamFC

 

When you go from euphoric highs like the spine-tingling rendition of the GONZALO HI-GUI-IIIN chant to realising your most beloved player is defecting to your richer, stronger, more successful rival, it’s enough to push anyone over the edge. In the midst of a tsunami of visceral hate, at least the Napoli fans are getting creative with it. The picture above tells a lot about the sort of reception the €90 million man should expect from the Napoli away support, except for the fact all Napoli fans are banned from attending the game  ‘due to the heated rivalry between the two clubs, which already developed in the past into seriously critical situations for public order’. The problems continue to snowball for Napoli, as they just cannot stop losing. First Atalanta, second is Roma, followed by Besiktas. Even if Napoli beat Crotone today, the psychological boost from winning is unlikely to overcome an inform Juve side, current Serie A champions and holding 1st place.

Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke 04 ( Sat 29 17:30 )

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Courtesy of Getty Images

 

Expect the Sudtribune to be bouncing just a bit more, a few more flares and a hell of a lot more security. The 149th Revier derby starts at a time when both teams are going through changes. For Dortmund, their form has fallen off a cliff, as their winning streak has been substituted by a winless streak similar to Schalke. The reverse applies to the away side, who’ve been struggling for points until recently, beating Borussia M. Gladbach 4-0 and drawing their most recent fixture. Lucky for Dortmund, form goes out the window in a game fuelled by passion and an electric atmosphere. Dortmund and Schalke are very similar despite the hatred of their opposition. Both teams are in the Ruhr region, separated by only 20 miles. The origin of both clubs can be found in the local coal and steel factories, both teams forming within five years of each other. If you know how a magnet works, putting two powerful ones of the same charge will only repel.

EURO 2016 Letdown XI & Panini cheapskates

 

England v Wales - Group B: UEFA Euro 2016
Courtesy of Getty Images. Joe you melt.

Euro 2016 has given us the Icelandic thunderclap (look forward to mediocre recreations at virtually every stadium come September), Shaqiri’s edge of the box scissor kick and now Will Grigg’s on fire indefinitely.

Lest we forget the under-achievers, flops and all round shoddiness that’s taken place over the last few weeks, have a look at the letdown team of the tournament.

To accompany the less than ideal performances are some drawings that fit the same description. If you want to see the whole collection of these unique and quirky portraits, head to @CheapPanini who draw knock off panini stickers in their very successful bid to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Macintyre Charities, currently at £4000 of donations and counting.

Goalkeepers:

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Some of the keen-eyed readers may have already picked up on my disdain for Joe Hart. Nothing wrong with him as a person, apart from his wrists which act more like overcooked noodles rather than properly functioning set. 4 out of 5 shots at his goal went in (group stages), including a 35-yard free kick and a tame shot against Iceland to seal the Euro exit.

De Gea kept clean sheets against Turkey and Cech Republic, but the weak parry leading to Chiellini netting and a sloppy near post goal against Perisic puts him in the mix. Granted he’s not even on Joes level when it comes to cocking-up. On the whole, the goalkeepers have done a fine job throughout, having the lowest goals per match (2.12) since England 96.

Defenders:

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Dragovic personified Austria’s disappointing campaign in France. The downward spiral of 65′ min red card in the first game resulting in a loss to Hungary, only to come back against Iceland, where his penalty miss cost the game and cemented his place in this team.

Ukraine defenders have the second most clean sheets in qualifying (6) so they’d be the last team you’d expect to concede 5 goals in 3 games. Dynamo Kyiv CB Khacheridi played all 3 games and in all of them failed to defend any crosses, resulting in Mustafi and McAuley netting. Who can blame him when you’re suffering from insomnia, by the looks of it anyway.

Vermaelen is worth a mention here, while not having any ‘shockers’ due to his overall poor but unnoticed work at the back. The Belgian committed the most fouls of any CB (8) and received 2 yellow cards despite only playing 4 matches.

Turkey’s downfall was in their defence, as in they had players in CB who you wouldn’t deem defenders in the strictest sense of the word. Topal would be one of those. The Fenerbahce midfielder (CM/CDM) filled in the CB role and the inexperience was, well, evident. Something is going very wrong when your defensive clearance puts the opposition striker one-on-one with your own goalkeeper.

Smolnikov (the one with the massive neck) was part of the Russian defence, conceding 6 goals and the 2nd worst goal difference (-4) only outdone by Ukraine (who played 1 extra game). Always looking 2nd favourite to every ball even with his blistering pace, he was responsible for Russia’s poor defensive performance in their short run in Euro 2016.

Midfielders:

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One defender and now two midfielders; Ukraine are having a shocker. The main source of goals rested on the shoulders of attacking duo of Yarmalenko and Konoplyanka. Ukraine failed to score a single goal at EURO 2016. The two 26-year-olds posed a very little threat despite 14.33 attempts on goal per game (43 in total).

Turkey joins Ukraine with their own midfield duo making the list. Hakan Calhanoglu has been on top form for Bayern Leverkusen at CAM, but only managed 41 passes in 180 minutes. Unable to replicate his la Liga form, Arda Turan was so poor that his own fans started booing him against Spain.

Much like England, Sterling was devoid of creativity. He wasn’t the only one to blame; the petition to send him back to England didn’t help either but it sums up his efforts quite well: ‘Let’s face it we’re all sick of seeing this guy mince down the wing and fail to deliver a half decent ball into the box’.

Strikers:

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Lewandowski netted 30 times in Bundesliga last season. He scored 13 goals in qualifying. In EURO 2016 he scored only once, registering 0 shots on target in the group stages.

A similar story fits Zlatan (8 goals in qualifiers) and Muller (9 goals in qualifiers). Both superstars ended their tournament with 0 goals and 1 assist. As for the big Swede, he’s now retired from international football. Muller the self-proclaimed ‘space investigator’ created 19 opportunities for himself, 7 on target, but the record still stands at 0 goals in EURO competitions for the Bayern Munich man.

Anyone who doesn’t watch the premier league will be wondering how Harry Kane won the golden boot. We witnessed 1st hand his specialist set pieces, inability to finish, pass a football, or even use general motor skills at points. What happened? His face says it all.

Worst XI of EURO 2016:

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Thoughts?

Agree or disagree?

Feel free to comment below!