- Five burning questions for Match-week 30 of the Premier League season
- Predictions for all the weekend’s games
Premier League – Match-week 30 rolls around with a Merseyside Derby to add a little extra spice as we take a look at this week’s fixtures.
How much will Lallana be missed in the Merseyside Derby?
The two Merseyside teams lock horns in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday, Everton have not won at Anfield since 1999 but go into the game confident after back to back convincing wins over Hull and West Brom, in which they scored seven goals and kept two clean sheets.
Liverpool currently sit in 4th place in the league, the two Merseyside rivals are six points apart and both in the race for a Champions League spot. Everton boss Ronald Koeman will feel confident going into the game after the great form the Blues have been in, especially their Belgian star man Romelu Lukaku who tops the race for golden boot with 21 goals so far this season.
The last thing Liverpool needed to hear at the end of the international week was that attacking midfielder Adam Lallana has picked up an injury which could be a decisive factor in their battle for a top four spot. If he does miss the whole month as reported by Eurosport then it could be just as significant as the absence of Sadio Mané during the Africa Cup of Nations – which effectively ended their title challenge.
Everton also had a nightmare of an international break with both Seamus Coleman and Funes Mori picking up injuries. Coleman is expected to be out until next year after his horror double leg-break in Ireland’s clash with Wales.
LAST FIVE GAMES:
LIVERPOOL – DWWLW
EVERTON – WWLWD
Can The Eagles upset the apple cart at Chelsea?
Antonio Conte and his Chelsea side are now only seven wins away from being crowned Premier League champions, this weekend they welcome Sam Allardyce‘s Crystal Palace side to Stamford Bridge.
Ten points now separate first place Chelsea and second place London rivals Tottenham Hotspur with ten games remaining
Crystal Palace and Allardyce are busy thinking about the other end of the table as Palace fight for their top-flight survival, though the Eagles have been in fine form of late, winning three of their last three games to nil seeing them climb four points clear of the relegation zone.
Conte will have to re-shuffle his side this weekend as Eden Hazard is likely to miss the Palace game after being ruled out of action for Belgium during the international break with a calf injury.
Fellow Belgian Thibaut Courtois may also be a doubt for the game, the goalkeeper missed out on the Red Devils’ friendly against Russia on Tuesday with a hip complaint.
As well as all of that Conte faces the usual midfield dilemma over whether to start Cesc Fabregas or Nemanja Matic. The Spaniard’s creativity in the midfield could be key to unlocking Palace’s new-found defensive solidity, though Conte may favour the Serb for extra insurance against a potential upset.
LAST FIVE GAMES:
CHELSEA – WWWWW
CRYSTAL PALACE – WWWLL
Can Spurs get a win in a tough test at Turf Moor?
We all know how strong Burnley are at Turf Moor this season, they have only tasted defeat three times at home this season. Mauricio Pochettino will know Tottenham need a top performance on Saturday if they are to take any Premier League points away from Burnley.
Sean Dyche‘s side sit 13th in the table almost purely down to their superb home record, with the Clarets picking up 29 of their 32 points this season at Turf Moor.
As good as they are at home, Burnley are far from safe from relegation just yet with eight points separating them from the drop zone, it’s also a worry that they haven’t won in their last seven matches.
On the other hand, Spurs are on a rich fame of form with seven wins from their last ten and they will need this run to continue as they look to tighten their grip on second place and more importantly confirm a Champions League spot for next season. Burnley won’t make it easy for Spurs this weekend – especially without the injured Harry Kane.
Danny Rose, Kane and Erik Lamela will all be sidelined this weekend and striker Vincent Janssen is a doubt after illness forced him to withdraw from the Netherlands squad in midweek.
LAST FIVE GAMES:
BURNLEY – DLLDL
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – WWWWD
More misery for Wenger?
The Gunners have since dropped to sixth in the table following their recent defeat at West Brom and now face an uphill battle to qualify for the Champions League next season.
Manchester City, who drew with Liverpool before the international break, were leapfrogged by Spurs into second. They’ll be hoping to put Arsenal to the sword when the two Premier League giants meet at the weekend. City are all-but out the title race as they sit 12 points behind Chelsea, However they know a defeat at the weekend will see Arsenal close the gap between the two sides to just four points and heat up an already smoking race for top four.
Positives for Man City going into the game are that Silky Spaniard midfielder David Silva can’t stop scoring for both club and country, he netted in both of Spain’s international games this week. The Gunners could be without key man Alexis Sanchez. The striker played the full 90 minutes for Chile this week despite manager Arsene Wenger’s claims that his ankle was in a “terrible state”.
Sanchez will have his ankle assessed on Friday when he returns to London and a decision will then be made. Goalkeeper Petr Cech will be out of the encounter as he continues his recovery from a calf injury.
Kevin de Bruyne is a doubt for City with a groin strain whilst Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan are still sidelined with long-term injuries. With both teams fighting for a top four spot as well as struggling to find some consistency in form, this looks to be quite the spectacle for a Sunday afternoon.
LAST FIVE GAMES:
ARSENAL – LWLLW
MANCHESTER CITY – DLWDW
What else is happening?
Manchester United host West Brom who come into the game off the back of an impressive win over Arsenal, United need these three points more than ever with both Top Four rivals, City and Arsenal facing off against each other.
Watford can almost count themselves safe from relegation with a victory over Sunderland this weekend, whereas for Sunderland a win here could see them edge closer to the great escape.
Craig Shakespeare is still yet to lose a game in charge of Champions Leicester City and they host an inconsistent Stoke City side, The Foxes can make it a very impressive five wins in a row with a win over the Potters. Hull City will fancy their chances of a crucial three points when they welcome West Ham, who haven’t won a league game since 4th February.
A very big game down at the foot of the table takes place on Sunday in Wales when Swansea will look to move six points clear of their opponents Middlesbrough as well as relegation rivals with a victory. The South Coast clash between Bournemouth and Southampton will conclude Saturday’s action as Bournemouth try not to get dragged down into a relegation scrap.
Liverpool 2-1 Everton
Manchester United 2-0 West Brom
Leicester City 2-2 Stoke City
Burnley 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea 3-0 Crystal Palace
Hull City 1-2 West Ham United
Southampton 3-1 Bournemouth
Swansea 2-0 Middleborough
Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City
The International break is back this week in the form of the World Cup Qualifiers, all four home nations are in action and I am are delving into preview each one of them.
Bale to the rescue for Wales?
LAST FIVE GAMES:
REP OF IRELAND – WWWDW
WALES – DDDWL
Starting the weekend of World Cup Qualifiers off for us is a fierce encounter between Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland and Chris Coleman’s Wales side at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night. Both sides had a summer to remember in France with inspired performances throughout the tournament and will be looking to build on this with qualification to Russia 2018. With four games gone in Group D it is Republic of Ireland who top the group with 10 points, avoiding defeat so far this campaign. Coleman and his men have failed to get off to the start most would have expected, only picking up one win and drawing the last three means they currently sit outside qualification territory in third.
Liverpool teenager Ben Woodburn has been included in the Wales squad, and the 17-year-old could win his first cap from the bench.
However of course Wales’ main dangerman remains Gareth Bale – and Coleman says the Real Madrid forward has made a full recovery from ankle surgery, Bale completed the full 90 minutes in Real’s 2-1 La Liga win at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, this was only his sixth appearance since the end of November.
As simple as it looks for England?
LAST FIVE GAMES:
ENGLAND – DWDWW
LITHUANIA – DWDWD
England kick their 2017 off by welcoming Lithuania to Wembley, England boss Gareth Southgate named his side earlier in the week and while some familiar faces return, Southgate hands first call ups to Southampton duo Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse.
Michael Keane of Burnley, West Ham United’s Michail Antonio as well as Southampton pair Redmond and Ward-Prowse will all be hopeful of winning their first competitive caps away in the international friendly against Lithuania at Wembley Stadium in the very important World Cup qualifier match.
England will be without Captain Wayne Rooney through injury, however an addition that shocked many England fans is the inclusion of in-form Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe, who made his debut for The Three Lions against Sweden in April 2004 – coincidentally this was Southgate’s final game in an England shirt. Despite the Sunderland striker’s incredible goal scoring ratio, Defoe is 34 years old now and has not featured for England since 2013.
Jake Livermore of West Brom has previously only picked up one senior international cap in a 2-1 victory against Italy in August 2012. Steve Hunt was the last outfield West Bromwich Albion player to appear for England back in 1984.
England, who are expected to breeze through qualification in Group F currently sit top of the group with 10 points from four games. Southgate’s men are yet to concede a goal and you’d fancy their chances for that streak to continue against Lithuanian opposition on Sunday afternoon.
The last time these two met was back in 2015, England came out victorious both times in a 4-0 and 0-3 win. Although Southgate will see this International period as a great chance to scope out some fresh new English talent, Lithuania have already upset one British side in Group F back in October when they travelled to Scotland and were unfortunate not to get all three points!
Is the dream over for Gordon Strachan and his side?
LAST FIVE GAMES
SCOTLAND – LLDWL
SLOVENIA – DWDWD
Scotland currently lie four points off second placed Slovenia in their qualification group, who they happen to be playing at the weekend.
Slovenia have managed to pick up an impressive eight points in four games, their highlight so far was another defensive master-class against England, just like we saw at EURO 2016. However, Scotland can use the Hampden Roar to take the scalp of the second placed side in Group F.
The in-form West Brom winger Matt Phillips and Crystal Palace’s James McArthur are both ruled out of Sunday’s game James Morrison will miss the midweek friendly with Canada but has not yet been ruled out for the Slovenia match. Slovenia also have injury issues going into the tie with Josip Ilicic almost certainly missing the tie with a stress fracture to his ankle (as reported by the Scottish Sun). Of the 24 men in manager Srecko Katanec’s squad, just nine completed a full 90 minutes for their clubs over the weekend
Northern Ireland ready to secure second spot.
LAST FIVE GAMES
NORTHERN IRELAND – LWLWD
NORWAY – LWLLL
You can imagine being placed in the same qualifying group as Germany is not ideal, but Michael O’Neill’s team have every chance of taking second spot and entering the play-offs come November.
In the race to finish second behind world champions Germany, Northern Ireland are ahead of Azerbaijan but only on goal difference. However, they hold a comfortable two-point and four-point leads over Czech Republic and Norway respectively after four games played.
The Green and White army have certainly backed up their impressive display last summer in France with a positive start in Group C, thrashing minnows Azerbaijan and San Marino, and drawing away to the Czech Republic, but Sunday’s home game with Norway is hugely important. Skipper Steven Davis believes it could have a huge bearing on who finishes second behind Germany to clinch a play-off spot.
With Azerbaijan – whom they are locked together on seven points with – playing Germany, Northern Ireland would fancy their chances in opening up some breathing space with victory against a Norway side that is not as good as past.
About JKMARTWORK –
James started up his own business in the summer of 1999 after 3 years at chesterfield college where i achieved 2 A levels in art and design and graphic design .
whilst everyone in his class went on the various universities he decided he wanted to try and start making a living from my art .
in 2001 James found a pricture he had painted of Liverpool treble that year that was on a wall on the set of BBC TV Show Holby city, In 2010 James was honoured to paint Chesterfield FC’s final home match of the season vs Bournemouth for the club which they went on to sell 300 prints.
Do you love football but support a team who you find hard to buy any form of merchandise for?
Well… James Muddiman a very creative artist from Chesterfield caters to almost every football fans needs… From The likes of Carlisle United to the likes of Chelsea. If you visit his site you will find a unique spin on football art with both artwork of inside and outside some of the best stadiums around the country!
What types of Products does he sell?
iPhone leather phone case –
Matchday Photos –
Coaster Prints set of four:
Keyrings (printed both sides)
Outside Stadium Artwork:
ALL THESE FOOTBALL MERCH & MANY MORE ARE AVAILABLE AT jkmartwork.com
On All Orders in UK (overseas customers please email for prices )
Thanks for reading,
With the UEFA European Championships kicking off tomorrow in France, here are my predictions on what I think will go down in France this summer:
1st – France
2nd – Switzerland
3rd – Romania
4th – Albania
Starting with Group A and France, the hosts and favorites to lift the trophy on Sunday 10th June. Coach Didier Deschamps will lead out a talented squad with quality in defence, midfield as well attack. I suppose you to could highlight the absence of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema for reasons I won’t get into, however I can’t see that being too much of an issue when France have likes of Giroud, Lloris, Matudi and Paul Pogba as well as players like Payet, Kante and Griezmenn who have had incredible seasons with their clubs.
France’s class should outshine the other three sides and in my opinion they will quite easily top the group.
Star Player: Paul Pogba
Romania, Best known for their gloriously attacking 1994 World Cup quarterfinal side, Romania haven’t played like that in some time. Romania are a great side defensively, they conceded the fewest goals in qualifying – two goals in 10 games – but the question is will they be able to keep out both France and Switzerland? I think the new system which allows 4 out of 6 3rd placed teams to qualify out of their groups will do Romania a massive favour as I can see Anghel Iordănescu’s side coming third in this group, sneaking a victory against Albania and qualifying for the knock-out stage.
Star Player: Vlad Chiriches
Firstly, what an achievement for Albania just to reach this stage and it’d be the cherry on the top of the cake if they were to get out their group. However, I can’t see that happening! From what I’ve seen and heard, they play some nice football and Elseid Hysaj their Right back who plays his football for Napoli is one to watch!
Upon qualification, during which they beat group winners Portugal, the entire team was awarded Albania’s highest civilian award, the Honour of National Order. Who knows what they’ll be awarded if they can get a victory aganist the hosts France!
Having said all that, Albania to finish bottom of the group in my opinion
Star Player: Elseid Hysaj
Euro 2008’s co-hosts benefit from a youth development program that has produced a steady stream of promising players, many of them from immigrant backgrounds, such as Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri, who is of Kosovar extraction, as is new Arsenal midfield signing Granit Xhaka. England made rather pretty work of them in qualifying in beating them home and away, and it required a rescue job from coach Vladimir Petkovic to haul the Swiss through to the final. Like I said early, Group A looks ready made for the French to make easy, untroubled progress to the round of 16, but who wins the fight to finish second is much more difficult to predict. Each of Switzerland, Romania and Albania – none of them poor sides but definitely not world-beaters but the Swiss will fancy trying to land second or even third place, which might still be enough. The Swiss as well as having a very good midfield and defence, have a highly rated Goalkeeper called Yann Sommer who currently plays his football in Germany, don’t be surprised if he pulls some great performances out of the bag for Switzerland and gets a big money move during the Summer!
Star Player: Xherdan Shaqiri
1st – England
2nd – Wales
3rd – Russia
4th – Slovakia
Group B, England’s group!
They won all of their qualifying matches, yet the us fans are still unconvinced by the team, especially after a disastrous 2014 World Cup. Manager Roy Hodgson will have a young squad, much changed from two years ago and including 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, Delli Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Harry Kane and many more!
England will be rather more confident of escaping this group than they were in Brazil in 2014 after Italy and Uruguay were pulled from that draw, but each opponent presents difficulty, and especially that opening match against the Welsh. A defeat there could make life hard for Hodgson, whose in-game management in Brazil was found badly wanting.
I highly expect us to top the group, whether that’s with the full 9 points or 7 points, I’m yet to decide that!
Star Player: Harry Kane
The Russian qualifying campaign veered toward disaster, and it required the removal of coach Fabio Capello to pull them through, with CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky called in last June to rescue the campaign while continuing to coach at his club. Slutsky presided over victory in the rest of Russia’s matches, but faces the same problems Capello openly complained about.
Russia have a lot of talent in their side, but reports of a number of their midfielder’s missing out on the tournament through injury have dented their chances of competiting with England for 1st place as well as 2nd due to Chris Coleman’s Wales side looking in great shape! Artem Dzyuba up front for Russia can do the business for them so don’t count out this Russian side just yet!
I suspect Russia to finish 3rd and be one of the four 3rd placed teams to qualify out of their group.
Star Player: Artem Dzyuba
Wales and England in the same group, how fantastic!
Having made their first finals tournament since 1958, Chris Coleman’s Welsh team are determined to prove that reaching Euro 2016 is not the end of the journey, even if France will be the trip of a lifetime for long-suffering Welsh football fans. The team is set up to serve one man above all, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, whose deluge of goals and assists fired them through qualifying; his nation will be hoping he can retain that level of inspiration, even if he is bound to be a marked man. Making the second round would be a considerable but wholly possible achievement.
But it won’t be just Gareth Bale, Wales will look to rely on throughout the tounrtment, the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies and Robson-Kanu have all had impressive season and that is why I’m confident in the Welsh and think they will finish 2nd in Group B.
Star Player: Gareth Bale
Little is expected of Slovakia in only their second international tournament, but very little was expected in their first — the 2010 World Cup — and they ended up knocking Italy out and progressing to the Round of 16. Jan Kozak’s side went off like a firework in their qualifying campaign by beating Ukraine away from home, stunning Spain and, in all, claiming wins in their first six games. Of more recent concern was the way Slovakia then went three games without even scoring and only confirmed qualification with a nervy win over Luxembourg. But don’t write them off. They’re tactically versatile, can adapt their shape to suit any situation, and they pose a big threat with Napoli star Marek Hamsik in their ranks.
With Russia’s injures, Slovakia could sneak in at third but I think they’ll finish 4th.
Star Player: Marek Hamsik
1st – Germany
2nd – Poland
3rd – Ukraine
4th – Northern Ireland
Winning back-to-back trophies is the measure of a great team. France followed up the World Cup in 1998 with the European Championship in the Netherlands and Belgium 2000. But can Germany now repeat the feat?
Joachim Low has an abundance of talent available to him; a new generation is coming through to suggest the future is very bright for Die Mannschaft. Even so, Low’s selection decisions have raised a few eyebrows, particularly the inclusion of Andre Schurrle and Lukas Podolski at the expense of Julian Brandt and Karim Bellarabi. You also feel for Dortmund winger Marco Reus who will miss consecutive major tournaments through injury. Germany topped their group in qualifying. However, they have struggled in recent friendlies. Having said that, Germany seem to always turn up when the tournament rolls around despite their form in friendlies.
Thomas Muller is an all round player, he seems to have skills in almost everything and more importantly he knows how to find the back of the net.
I expect Germany to win all their games and top the group comfortably.
Star Player: Thomas Muller
If Ukraine catch a member of the elite on a bad day there is a sense that they have the ability to do damage. Few countries are able to count on the attacking width like Ukraine can.
Out on the left, Ukraine boast Yevhen Konoplyanka, a member of Sevilla’s Europa League winning squad. Out on the right is Andriy Yarmalenko who inspired Dynamo Kyiv to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 1999 and also scored in both legs in Ukraine’s playoff against Slovenia. Taras Stepanenko made of habit of releasing Ukraine’s flying wingers in qualifying, while the dynamism in midfield tends to come from Denys Garmash. Other than that, Ukraine are quite limited. The goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov is error prone and the defence is unremarkable. A bust up between Stepanenko and Yarmolenko during a heated clash between Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv has also put squad harmony in jeopardy.
I think Ukraine will finsih 3rd and most probably do enough to mean they qualify out of their group.
Star Player: Yevhen Konoplyanka
Poland have Robert Lewandowski who is arguably the best centre-forward in the competition. Comparisons with Marco van Basten for his elegance and technique are by no means sacrilegious. Top scorer throughout all of qualifying, Lewandowski found the net 42 times for Bayern this season in all competitions, while his partner at international level, Arkadiusz Milik, hit 21 in the Eredivisie for Ajax. No attack was as lethal as theirs in qualifying and, as a whole, the team is well-balanced. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has a mistake in him but can look unbeatable on his day; Kamil Glik is a dependable centre-back and a threat from set-pieces; Kuba Blaszczykowski is spirited and offers great endeavour; while Grzegorz Krychowiak has been the heartbeat of a Sevilla midfield that has won the Europa League three years in a row. Dark horses, Poland could be set for their best major tournament finish since the World Cup in 1982.
I’m confident in Poland finishing 2nd in this group.
Star Player: Robert Lewandowski
The lowest seeded team ever to win their group, Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait to appear at the European Championship. Astonishingly, Michael O’Neill’s side would have clinched a place in France even under the old 16-team format and have come a long way since losing to Luxembourg in September 2013. Undefeated for more than a year, spirits are high and the dream is to emulate the 1958 and 1982 World Cup sides that got through their groups. To do so would be to upset the odds all over again.
We’ve upsets all over the shop this season but I think Northern Ireland will struggle in this group and finish rock bottom.
Star Player: Steven Davis
1st – Spain
2nd – Croatia
3rd – Turkey
4th – Czech Republic
Reigning champs Spain were stunned 5-1 by Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they abdicated their throne earlier than expected, Spain have lost their aura but remain among the favourites for the Euros, as nine wins out of 10 through qualifying suggest. They are not to be underestimated. Spain can become the first team to three-peat in this competition, and with the tournament experience and depth they have in midfield, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, Vicente Del Bosque does have issues between the sticks where David De Gea must surely be picked ahead of the veteran Iker Casillas. Then there is the small matter of who to go with up front given Diego Costa was not picked, Alvaro Morata’s big-game reputation and Nolito’s fine form. Planning to retire after the tournament, might Del Bosque, one of the game’s true gents, go out on a high?
Tough group but Spain will finish 1st.
Star Player: David De Gea
Can’t see the Czech’s getting out this group even if they did win their qualifying group in decent style. Aside from captain and veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech, they no longer feature a host of names from the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A. Pavel Vrba’s big decision was whether to include Tomas Rosicky or not. The team has guile in midfield; Vladimir Darida has impressed at Hertha this season and Borek Dockal is a late bloomer. The Czechs also have goal-scorers:David Lafata is a four-time top scorer at home but hasn’t been able to translate his prolific nature at international level; Bursaspor’s Tomas Necid offers more height. They both scored as the Czechs warmed up with a 6-0 win against Malta and Milan Skoda also gives Vrba another option.
Like I said earlier I can’t see Czech Republic doing much and I think they’ll finish 4th in Group D.
Star Player: Petr Cech
Back in the Euros for the first time since 2008, we can only hope Turkey are as thrilling this summer as they were then when they reached the semifinals in style. Fatih Terim was in charge at the time and is again now. Turkey didn’t need a playoff to book their place in France; they qualified as the best third-placed team and were undefeated in 13 games until their defeat to England in Manchester in May. Technically accomplished, a midfield comprising one of the world’s best free kick takers, Hakan Calhanoglu; the Barcelona winger Arda Turan; and deep-lying playmaker Selcuk Inan makes the midfield makes them a nice side to watch. Terim is optimistic of making the knockout stages and so he should, I fancy their chances!
It’s a toss up between Croatia and Turkey for 2nd but I think Croatia will just pinch 2nd, I filly expect Turkey to still get out the group when finishing 3rd.
Star Player: Arda Turan
If Croatia come together as a team, then there is no reason why they can’t match their achievements in 1996 and 2008 and reach the last eight. A lot of the attention falls on the midfield and understandably so. Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic play for Real Madrid; Ivan Rakitic is a regular for Barcelona. The depth and variety in those positions is impressive too. In defence, Croatia have excellent full-backs. Darijo Srna is a great leader. Sime Vrsaljko is one of the best crossers in Serie A. Up front, Mario Mandzukic is a warrior and has had a fine season at Juventus; Ivan Perisic offers width and goals. But the question marks come at centre-back as Dejan Lovren has been left out amid differences with coach Ante Cacic. Confidence in Cacic in general is not the greatest, however if he gets the balance right, this team has what it takes to do very well.
With the likes of Modric and Rakitic pulling the strings in midfield I can easily see Croatia sailing out this group in 2nd.
Star Player: Luka Modric
1st – Belgium
2nd – Italy
3rd – Republic of Ireland
4th – Sweden
A lot is being made of this very talented Belgium side, manager Marc Wilmots has been beset by bad luck. First, he lost captain Vincent Kompany to injury. Then, one by one, Nicolas Lombaerts, Dedryck Boyata and Bjorn Engels all went the same way. It could be worse. They still have Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen, who paired up at the back in the 2-1 victory over Switzerland last week. And Jan Vertonghen, generally used as a left-back, is still standing too. Of course, any team that boasts the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard has to fancy its chances.
They should finish first ahead of Italy. But they can’t afford any more injuries.
Star Player: Kevin De Bruyne
Outgoing manager Antonio Conte would dearly like to sign off with success before he leaves for Chelsea, but that’s easier said than done for Italy. They were the runners-up in 2012, but are not the force they once were, as two calamitous group stage exits from the last two World Cups prove. Italy scored only 16 goals in 10 games in qualifying and were obliterated by Germany in March. A workmanlike 1-0 victory over Scotland offered evidence of their solidity, but only one player in the squad, Daniele De Rossi, has scored double figures for the Azzurri, and he might not make the cut. Nevertheless, they should be confident of making the knockout stages.
Like I said, I think Belgium will beat Italy to 1st but Italy will have no problem finishing in 2nd.
Star Player: Gianluigi Buffon
Republic of Ireland
Ordinarily, Ireland would take confidence from a 1-1 draw with Netherlands on the eve of an international tournament. Sadly, it’s no great signifier of anything these days as the Dutch failed to even make that tournament. What is significant is that Ireland only conceded seven goals in qualifying and that they took four points from world champions Germany. Much will depend on the fitness of captain Robbie Keane and, as manager Martin O’Neill has admitted, their success at set-pieces at both ends. Their first game, against Sweden in Paris, will be absolutely crucial to who can possibly sneak out of the group in third place.
I think Republic Ireland will get the better of Sweden and finish 3rd in Group E.
Star Player: Shane Long
Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic be fit enough to save Sweden? The 34-year-old enigma wasn’t able to help his nation past the group stages of the last two European Championships and wasn’t fit enough to take part in Sweden’s 0-0 draw with Slovenia on Monday. Without him, the Swedes look pretty ordinary. He’ll have to hit the ground running because with just one win in their past six games, the omens aren’t good for Eric Hamren’s side.
Even with Zlatan, Sweden don’t feel be with a lot of confidence and I think they’ll finish in 4th.
Star Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
1st – Portugal
2nd – Austria
3rd – Iceland
4th – Hungary
So much depends on the condition of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star looked well short of fitness in the Champions League final and manager Fernando Santos will be praying that he recovers in time. Without him, Portugal are worryingly light on goals, though a 3-0 victory over Norway will settle a few nerves on that front. But this will probably be the 30-year-old Ronaldo’s last tournament at the peak of his powers, so don’t expect him to offer any less than everything he has. And that should be enough to see off this group.
Austria and Iceland look good but Portugal should have to win this group!
Star Player: Cristano Ronaldo
One of the many Cinderella stories of this tournament, Iceland are the smallest nation ever to qualify for the European Championship, but they’re by no means the weakest. They beat Netherlands home and away in qualifying, for whatever that’s worth these days, and they kept six clean sheets in their 10 games. Joint-managers Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson have forged a settled, cohesive squad with enough quality in every department to make the second phase. Defeat to Denmark and a scare against Greece in the March friendlies will cause concerns, but Iceland should take a strong third place.
Third place will be enough to see Iceland progress to the next round I think.
Star Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson
If Portugal slip up, I expect Austria to fill the gap. In fact, they could be the dark horses of the tournament, provided they avoid any embarrassing moments like David Alaba’s own goal against Malta. They’re a hard-working, quick-countering side and can be absolutely ruthless on the break. After drawing their first qualifying game against Sweden, they won every other game and stormed Group G. Look out for well-travelled striker Marc Janko. At 6-foot-5, he looks awkward, but he usually gets the job done.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Austria can provide in this tournament, I am expecting good things and think they’ll finish 2nd in Group F
Star Player: David Alaba
Hungary’s qualification wasn’t exactly straight-forward and sadly, there’s little to suggest that their stay in France will be a long one. Once the greatest team in the world, these have been hard times for the once magical Magyars of the ’50s. Indeed, this is their first tournament since the 1986 World Cup. They worked their way through three managers in qualifying, scored more than one goal in only two of 10 matches and somehow managed to lose to free-falling Greece. They will need to bring their very best to this tournament if they’re to avoid finishing last.
The fact that Hungary have used to most players in their qualification campaign just shows they are unaware of their best starting XI, I expect them to struggle and finish 4th in Group F.
Star Player: Balazs Dzsudzsak
EURO 2016 Winner: Germany
Golden Boot: Antoine Greizmenn
How I think England will get on?: Semi Final’s
Player of the Tournament: Thomas Muller
Amount of Goals: 76
Amount of Cards: 34
Surprise Team I think will shine: Croatia
Surprise moment I predict to happen: Two Red Cards in one match
I wrote a piece about Oxford United for ITV, have a read: