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IntoTheTopCorner’s UEFA EURO 2012 Awards

Spain created history on Sunday night in Kiev by winning their third successive major tournament, with a dominating 4-0 win over Italy in the UEFA EURO 2012 final at the Olympic Stadium in Ukraine.

UEFA EURO 2012 has been an exciting and very competitive tournament with some tight, action-packed and mouth-watering matches.  Looking back to last 23 days’ of action, IntoTheTopCorner brings you it’s own UEFA EURO 2012 awards.

TEAM AWARDS

BEST TEAM – SPAIN

Many have criticised La Roja for being boring at times during the tournament, but when it mattered the most they turned on the style and silenced all the critics with emphatic 4-0 win in the final over Italy. Although Vicente Del Bosque’s men have not been at their best throughout the competition, they have done what is needed to win the trophy and ended the campaign with an outstanding performance in the final.

WORST TEAM – REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

Some fans expected Ireland to cause some upsets or shocks in Group C, but it never happened. The team had a good blend of players but completely failed to perform when needed. They were completely out of depth and ideas. Giovanni Trapattoni’s men lost all of their three group games, conceding nine goals and scoring just one.

OVERACHIEVERS – GREECE

Most didn’t expect Greece to make it through to knockout stages from Group A, but in the end they were eliminated from the competition along with the likes of England and France. Coming into the tournament as huge outsiders to make it to the last eight, the 2004 winners stunned Russia in the last group game and then scored twice – without their inspiration skipper – against Germany in the quarter-finals.

UNDERACHIEVERS – NETHERLANDS

Group B or the “Group of Death’ was always going to be tough but everyone expected Netherlands to reach atleast the last four if not the finals. The 2010 World Cup finalists came into the Championships with virtually the same squad that was present in South Africa but yet they failed to deliver. The team showed no unity at all with every player playing for himself rather than the team. In the end, the Dutch ended at the bottom of the group with no points on the board.

WORST CHOKERS – RUSSIA

Russia came into the tournament as the favourites in Group A, and they made the best possible start with a win (4-1) and a draw (1-1) in their first two matches. With a point needed from their final group game against Greece, they were surely going through to the last eight. But they choked badly and lost 1-0 to the 2004 champions, which saw them drop down to third – from the top spot – in the group table and that meant they were going back home.

BEST MATCH – GERMANY 1-2 ITALY

Although this tournament has thrown up many great games to watch, the semi-final clash between Germany and Italy was a great game for the neutrals. Germany were the favourites to defeat Italy and progress to the finals, Mario Balotelli struck twice to give Italy a shock two goal lead in the first half. The second half had more end-to-end action and the game could have gone either way but Cesare Prandelli’s men held on to a 2-1 victory and made the final.

WORST MATCH – CROATIA 0-1 SPAIN

UEFA EURO 2012 has had very few matches which were boring or not entertaining, and the Croatia-Spain game was one of them. The final Group C game had a place in the quarter-finals up for grabs but Spain -who started the game without a striker – made it an one side affair by keeping possession with no real threat or penetration. Croatia had a couple of chances in the second half but Spain tired their opponents by keeping the ball and went on to score a late winner.

SHOCK OF THE TOURNAMENT – NETHERLANDS 0-1 DENMARK

There have been quite a few upsets throughout the tournament but this one was perhaps the biggest of them all. Everyone expected the Dutch to perform well in Poland/Ukraine but they were shocked in the first game itself. Netherlands completely dominated the possession and create a lot of chances but just failed to convert one of those chances. While on the other hand, the Danes had a very few chances but were very clinical and scored the only goal of the game in first half, which was enough in the end.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

BEST PLAYER – ANDRES INIESTA (SPAIN)

In the team loaded full of superstars, Andres Iniesta is one of the most underrated player. His control of the ball, accurate passing and deft touches lifts him way ahead of his teammates.   The Barcelona midfielder was the spark that carried his team forward. He was a constant attacking threat for the opposition and with Spain playing without a true centre-forward his penetration and positioning in the last third was very important. Completely deserves the Golden Ball award.

WORST PLAYER – ARJEN ROBBEN (NETHERLANDS)

After coming from a poor season with Bayern Munich, everyone expected Arjen Robben to show his true colors for his country in Poland/Ukraine but it didn’t happen so. The former Real Madrid and Chelsea winger was a complete failure and at times was very selfish. His behavior was no good and his worst moment came when he was substituted off against Germany. Rather than cross the pitch and complete the substitution normally, he merely stepped over the nearest touchline, ripped his shirt off and walked angrily around the side of the pitch.

BEST MANAGER – CESARE PRANDELLI (ITALY)

This one was a tough choice but the former Fiorentina boss deserves credit for his work with Italy. He dragged a team made up of players past-their-peaks and misfits all the way to the final. He did this with a combination of tactical innovation and expert man-management. Reinvented Italy as an attractive, attacking team, and showed himself to be a thorougly decent man on and off the field.

BEST YOUNG PLAYER – MARIO BALOTELLI (ITALY)

Mario Balotelli was already hyped for his on-and-off field antics prior to the tournament, but he showed his real talent and class on the field with his performances in Poland/Ukraine. The Manchester City man was not so impressive in the first two games but scored a classic volley against Ireland in the last group game and then put in a solid performance against England in the quarter-finals. His real moment came against Germany in the semi-finals, when he displayed his true talent, potential and class and also scored both the goals that helped his side reach the final.

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE – CRISTIANO RONALDO (PORTUGAL 2-1 NETHERLANDS)

After being heavily criticsed for his below-par performances in the first two games of the tournament against Germany and Denmark, the Real Madrid man came to life when it mattered the most. In the final group game against the Netherlands, Portugal needed a win to make it through and the former Manchester United star put in a man-of-the-match performance and scored twice which ensured his side won 2-1 after the Dutch had taken an early lead.

BEST GOAL – ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (SWEDEN 2-0 FRANCE)

With Sweden already out of the tournament with defeats to Ukraine and England in their first two games, the Scandinavians were playing for pride in their final Group D game against France. The AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was one of the stars of the tournament and he ended his tournament in style with an acrobatic volley past keeper Hugo Lloris from the edge of the area, which helped his side to a shocking 2-0 win.

BEST PENALTY – ANDREA PIRLO (ENGLAND 0-0 (2-4P) ITALY)

With Ricardo Montolivo already having missed one of Italy’s penalty during the quarter-final penalty shoot-out against England, the Juventus playmaker Andrea Prilo stepped up to the mark. With Joe Hart jumping around and making faces to put his opponent off, the former AC Milan midfielder causally chipped his spot-kick down the middle and completely fooled the Manchester City keeper who dived to his right.

BEST SAVE – IKER CASILLAS (CROATIA 0-1 SPAIN)

May not be the best save of the tournament, but surely was the most important one. Just after the interval, Luka Modric put in a cross from the outside of his right foot, which was perfectly met by the head of Ivan Rakitic from 6 yards, but the Real Madrid and Spain skipper produced a great reflex save to deny the Sevilla man from scoring the goal which could have knocked out the defending champions in the group stages itself.

BEST GOAL CELEBRATION – MARIO BALOTELLI (GERMANY 1-2 ITALY)

Having already scored the opener against Germany in the semi-finals, Mario Balotelli rifled the second past Manuel Neuer – which turned out to be the winner in the end – before running away towards the edge of the area, taking his jersey off and showing his upper body in Hulk style.

WORST MISS – CRISTIANO RONALDO (DENMARK 2-3 PORTUGAL)

With the Denmark-Portugal game finely balanced, the Portuguese skipper Cristiano Ronaldo had a glorious chance to gives his side 3-1 lead when he was one-on-one with the Danish goalkeeper Stephen Andersen.However, very unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, he placed his effort well wide of the right-hand post.

OTHER AWARDS

HIGHLIGHT OF THE TOURNAMENT – ENTERTAINING FINAL

Everyone expected the Spain-Italy final to be a cagey affair with both teams trying to keep the possession a lot and defend, but the it was anything but that. The game was an open, end-to-end affair with Spain – as expected – dominating the game with a lot of possession, but at the same time playing some attacking football and creating a lot of goal scoring chances. Italy, on the other hand, also had chances to score but they failed to do so. In the end, as the scoreline shows the final was an entertaining affair and the defending champions completely outclassed their opponents.

LOWLIGHT OF THE TOURNAMENT – RACISM AND UEFA FINES

Despite it being a good tournament played in the right manner generally, ugly incidents of racism reared their ugly heads at times. No place for this in society or the beautiful game. Another low point of the tournament was the ridiculous fines by UEFA. Most of the racist fans of various countries were fined way less than Nicklas Bendtner for showing the sponsors on his underpants.

BEST FANS – REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

Republic of Ireland didn’t give their fans much to cheer about in terms of performance or goals, but the travelling Irish fans created quite the noise at their side’s Group C games and at the same time were not involved in any trouble in and out of the stadium.

BEST TATTOO – DANIELE DE ROSSI

While most of the footballers opt to ink their wives’ or children’s names, tribal symbols or pair of angel wings on their skins, Daniele de Rossi’s road-sign design tattoo to leave his opponents in no doubt as to what is in store was by far the best tattoo and a true innovation up to which the rest of the football world show now be aiming to live.

WORST HAIRSTYLE – RAUL MIERELES

The Portugal and Chelsea midfielder’s pathetically scruffy skull-fuzz, stuck halfway between a total shave and a Mohican with the style points of neither, combine with his off-putting wall of tattoos on his whole body put him only one step away from the ‘Derelicte’ range of homeless fashion as invented by Will Ferrell’s Mugatu in ‘Zoolander’.

BIGGEST GAFFE – RUSSIA DAY CELEBRATED IN WARSAW

Biggest blunded was by the person who allowed 20,000 Russia fans to march through Warsaw to celebrate ‘Russia Day’. That’s 20,000 Russians marching through the Polish capital. What could possibly go wrong? It resulted in 183 arrests in the biggest incidence of hooliganism for decades.

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Portugal v Spain Preview

Defending champions Spain battle with their Iberian neighbours Portugal for a spot in the UEFA EURO 2012 final when they meet in the semi-finals at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk tonight.

Both teams enter the last-four clash on the back of three consecutive wins at the tournament, with Sunday’s final clearly in sight. Vicente del Bosque’s Spain produced an effective quarter-final victory against France, while their neighbours downed Czech Republic to advance.

Paulo Bento believes patience is key if his Portugal side are going to find a way past the holders and world champions in Donetsk. “Of course there are going to be moments in the game when we can link up and go forward,” he said in Tuesday’s pre-game press conference. We want possession of the ball but we are playing against a team that has played better than all the other teams. It’s going to be about patience. We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents in the right areas of the pitch. Our aim is not to defend all the time. You can’t do that against the world and European champions. We are aware that it’s going to be difficult but they also know that we can cause them problems. It was very easy to get motivated because we’re in the semi-finals. There can’t be a more beautiful opportunity than the one we have tomorrow.”

“We’ll intend to throw him (Cristiano Ronaldo) off his game, the best example of that is the second round win at the World Cup, where we managed the better result,” said Vicente Del Bosque of a 1-0 win over Portugal in Johannesburg. “The idea will be the same.” Spain has won its last six knockout round games at major tournaments by a combined score of 7-0. Although the team is not providing eye-catching scorelines, it has shown patience and maturity to break down opponents who nearly always ‘park the bus’, or take a completely defensive approach. “I would prefer if they play back in their own half, it’s a satisfaction for us to keep possession,” Del Bosque said of the Portuguese. “They have enough players that can provide alternatives to their attack, but I would like it if they played in a defensive way because we have solutions to combat that.”

TEAM NEWS

Portugal

Real Zaragoza frontman Postiga has been ruled out with a thigh injury, meaning coach Bento will be unable to field the same starting line-up which he has used in the last six competitive matches. Besiktas forward Hugo Almeida is expected to get the nod in Donetsk, with 20-year-old Nelson Oliveira, who has come on as a substitute three times in the tournament, likely to be on the bench again. Almeida will be flanked in the Portuguese attack by Cristiano Ronaldo, whose glittering displays against the Netherlands and the Czechs played a decisive part in sending Portugal into the last four.

Spain

Del Bosque reported no new injury problems following the quarter-final victory against Les Bleus. However, he must decide whether to start the game again without a recognised striker and allow Cesc Fabregas to fill the role. If Del Bosque decides against the quarter-final line-up, Fernando Torres could lead the line, while Pedro could also get a start in the Spain midfield.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 34
Portugal Wins – 6
Draws – 12
Spain Wins – 16

FORM GUIDE

Portugal – WWWLL
21-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal
17-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
13-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal
09-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-0 Portugal
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – Portugal 1-3 Turkey

Spain – WWWDW
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Pepe (Portugal)
The Real Madrid defender has been as solid as a rock in the heart of the Portuguese defence. The hard tacking defender has had an excellent tournament so far, and has been one of the reason why Portugal are in the semi-finals. He was solid against the Czechs on Thursday. Another performance like that against the Spaniards today and Portugal could be through to the finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
He would undoubtedly be the key man for his side, as he is the only player who looks capable of breaching the solid Spanish defence and getting past his Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas. He has been in tremendous form in the last two matches, scoring three goals and hitting the post four times and is sure to be the biggest test yet for his opposing Captain Casillas.

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Spanish captain hasn’t been troubled a lot so far in this tournament and this will be arguably his toughest test in Poland/Ukraine.  He has been in good form throughout the year for both Real Madrid and Spain and today he will face his club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. If Casillas is able to keep Ronaldo quite and not let him score any goals today then La Roja have a huge chance of progressing to final.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona star has undoubtedly been one of the best players in attack for Spain and has hardly let anyone feel David Villa’s absence. Although kept quiet for most of the last game, he did deliver the beautifully weighted pass that let in Jordi Alba to cross for the first goal. He would be raring to go and make an impact against arch-rivals Portugal today and help his team progress to the final.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Perreira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao; Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho; Nani, Hugo Almeida, Cristiano Ronaldo (C).

The Portuguese would match Spain’s 4-3-3 formation. However, with Helder Postiga set to miss the clash due to the injury sustained in the quarter-finals, Hugo Almeida is expected to start as the centre man in the front three. He would be the target man and long balls would be hit straight at him, which he would be expected to hold up and then bring the dangerous wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani into play. The rest of the team would be the same which has taken field in all four matches.

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The defending champions are expected to line-up in the same 4-3-3 formation that started against the French and completely dominated the game. Fabregas was not too impressive, but would still be expected to start ahead of Fernando Torres as he fits better in the team whose emphasis is on passing football and keeping possession. Plus he has better understanding with the other Barcelona players in the squad. Del Bosque would keep the same team players that have delivered the results.

MATCH ODDS

Portugal 10/3 Draw 23/10 Spain 10/11

PREDICTION

The rivalry will be there for everyone to see and it is set to be a tough battle. Portugal have played to their potential in the UEFA EURO 2012 and arguably the same cannot be said for Spain. Spain will play as expected and dominate the possession, while the Portuguese will b looking to catch them on the counter with their pacey wingers. It’s very hard to see Spain losing today as they have the experience and the extra bid of quality in their midfield which could be the difference between the two sides in Donetsk.

Predicted Score – Portugal 1-2 Spain

Czech Republic v Portugal Preview

The group stages are done and dusted and the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals get under way today when the Czech Republic take on Portugal at the National Stadium in Warsaw.

Both teams arrive at knockout stage having bounced back from opening defeats in their respective groups to win their other two games. Portugal were beaten 1-0 by Germany in their first outing but stormed back with victories over Denmark and Holland to finish second in Group B. The Czechs reached the last eight as Group A winners, rebounding from an opening 4-1 defeat to Russia to beat Greece and co-hosts Poland.

The clash is a repeat of the Euro 1996 quarter-final, when the Czech Republic stunned the Portuguese with a 1-0 win thanks to Karel Poborsky’s memorable scoop goal. Their only other meeting since the split of Czechoslovakia 19 years ago came at the 2008 tournament, when Portugal gained revenge with a 3-1 victory in the group stage.

TEAM NEWS

Czech Republic

The Czechs have been dealt a blow with the news Tomas Rosicky will not feature in the starting line-up after struggling to make a full recovery from an Achilles injury. The Arsenal midfielder, who flew back to Prague earlier this week to receive treatment, left his decision until after training on Thursday morning because he wanted to see how the injury would react. Team manager Vladimir Smicer told Czech Television: “Tomas will certainly not play from the first minute. But if we should be in trouble towards the end of the match we might use him.”

Portugal

On the other hand, Portuguese manager Paulo Bento has no injury worries and is expected to field Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo in support of Helder Postiga up front. Ronaldo scored twice against Holland to increase his tally for Portugal to 34 goals.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 2
Czech Republic Wins – 1
Draws – 0
Portugal Wins – 1

FORM GUIDE

Czech Republic – WWLLW
16-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Czech Republic 1-0 Poland
12-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Greece 1-2 Czech Republic
08-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Russia 4-1 Czech Republic
01-Jun-12 – Friendly – Czech Republic 1-2 Hungary
26-May-12 – Friendly – Czech Republic 2-1 Israel

Portugal – WWLLD
17-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
13-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal
09-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-0 Portugal
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – Portugal 1-3 Turkey
26-May-12 – Friendly – Portugal 0-0 Macedonia

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

Petr Cech (Czech Republic)
The Chelsea goalkeeper has had a shaky last 12 months for both his club and country, yet he remains the main man between the sticks for his country. The 30-year-old who is set lead his side in the absence of the injured Tomas Rosicky would surely be his side’s main man as they look to face Cristiano Ronaldo and co tonight. The Czechs would need him to be at his best, if they have stand any chance of upsetting the Portuguese and booking themselves a place in the semi-finals.

Michal Kadlec (Czech Republic)
The Bayer Leverkusen man has been playing out of position in the center of the Czech Republic defence, and has been very impressive so far at UEFA EURO 2012. He kept his side in the tournament by making an important in the last minute of injury time against Poland and will have to be at his brilliant best on Thursday to help his team contain Portugal and most importantly Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The Real Madrid star has silenced all his critics by scoring a brace against the Netherlands, when it mattered the most, and he will be keen to continue with that form and prove to everyone that it wasn’t just one of performance. His pace, trickery and shooting from range will be the key to unlock Michal Bilek’s side’s defence. The Portuguese will be dependent on their skipper to produce the good and take them through to the semi-finals.

Pepe (Portugal)
The Real Madrid defender has been as solid as a rock in the heart of the Portuguese defence. The hard tacking defender has had an excellent tournament so far, and has been one of the reason why Portugal has made it through the Group of Death and to the quarter-finals. He was solid against the Dutch on Sunday. Another performance like that against the Czechs today and Portugal are through to the final four.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Czech Republic(4-2-3-1): Petr Cech (C); Theodor Gebre Selassie, Tomas Sivok, Michal Kadlec, David Limbersky; Tomas Hubschman, Jaroslav Plasil; Petr Jiracek, Daniel Kolar, Vaclav Pilar; Milan Baros.

The Czech have an extremely dangerous attacking force down the wings, with both full-backs Theodor Gebre Selassie and David Limbersky supporting Jiracek and Pilar at every given opportunity. Rosicky has been ruled out to start this game but may make an appearance from the bench, in his place Daniel Kolar will continue to deputise. Baros and Kolar will be the men down the middle, with Tomas Hubschman and Jaroslav Plasil protecting the midfield from the deep positions. Tomas Sivoc and Michal Kadlec have grown in stature as the tournament has progressed and their presence in the centre of defence will once again prove to be vital.

Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Perreira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao; Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho; Nani, Helder Postiga, Cristiano Ronaldo (C).

The Portuguese have a settled 4-3-3 formation with Ronaldo and Nani flanking with Postiga in the middle. Miguel Veloso will be tasked with shielding the back-four while Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles complete the midfield trio. The central pair of Pepe and Bruno Alves will have Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao for support on either side, with Rui Patricio between the posts.

MATCH ODDS

Czech Republic 4/1 Draw 13/5 Portugal 8/11

PREDICTION

The Portuguese have a lot of attacking talent to trouble the Czechs and in Cristiano Ronaldo they have got the second best player in the whole world. But at the same time Czech Republic are equally dangerous especially attacking from the wide areas. The game will have a cautious start with both teams making sure they don’t concede an early goal. As the two teams settle down, they will start playing some free flowing attacking football and Cristiano Ronaldo will be the key. If the Czech defence can keep the former Manchester United star quiet for the whole game then they are in win a huge chance, but I can’t see that happening with the form he is in.

Predicted Score – Czech Republic 1-2 Portugal

UEFA Champions League Final Preview – Chelsea v Bayern Munich

Munich is the place to be on Saturday night when two giants of the game, Chelsea and Bayern Munich go head to head against each other with European glory up for grabs in the Champions League final at the Allianz Arena.

Bayern Munich, who are only the 4th team in the history of the Champions League to make it through to the finals in their own backyard, have won four European cups compared to Chelsea’s none. Both teams have had fair share of pain heartbreaks, as far as this competition is concerned, and on both occasions, it was Manchester United that inflicted all the pain. While the Bavarians will never forgot what happened in the dying minutes of the final in 1999 at Nou Camp, the Blues still have nightmares of John Terry’s fateful slip during the penalty shoutout in 2008.

Both sides earned surprise victories over their fancied Spanish opponents in the semi-finals, thus killing the dream of an El-Classico Champions League final. Munich have history on their side as the record twenty-two-time Bundesliga winners march into their 9th Champions League final, while Chelsea on the other hand have made it to the big stage only once previously. Bayern have a good record against English sides in the competition, winning 7 of the 17 ties against teams from the United Kingdom. Although they have lost the final to English opposition on two occasions, against Aston Villa in 1982 and Manchester United.

TEAM NEWS

Chelsea

Chelsea will have defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill available for selection, with the duo appearing to be winning their fitness battles following hamstring injuries. The news will come as a boost to interim boss Roberto Di Matteo, as regular defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are serving suspensions along with Ramires and Raul Meireles. Winger Florent Malouda (hamstring) is a doubt, while Didier Drogba should get the nod up front ahead of Fernando Torres.

Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich will be without suspended trio Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luiz Gustavo. Defender Breno (knee) is out and Daniel Van Buyten is short of match fitness, so Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Diego Contento are likely to deputise for Badstuber and Alaba respectively. Thomas Muller should get a recall to the starting XI, with Toni Kroos dropping into a deeper midfield role alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger.

ROAD TO MUNICH

Chelsea

13 Sep – Group E – Chelsea 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Torres, Mata)
28 Sep – Group E – Valencia 1-1 Chelsea (Lampard)
19 Oct – Group E – Chelsea 5-0 Genk (Meireles, Torres(2), Ivanovic, Kalou)
01 Nov – Group E – Genk 1-1 Chelsea (Ramires)
23 Nov – Group E – Bayer Levekusen 2-1 Cheksea (Drogba)
06 Dec – Group E – Chelsea 3-0 Valencia (Drogba(2), Ramires)

21 Feb – Rnd of 16, 1st Leg – Napoli 3-1 Chelsea (Mata)
14 Mar – Rnd of 16, 2nd Leg – Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (Drogba, Lamaprd, Terry, Ivanovic)
27 Mar – Quarter Finals, 1st Leg – Benfica 0-1 Chelsea (Kalou)
04 Apr – Quarter Finals, 2nd Leg – Chelsea 2-1 Benfica (Lampard, Meireles)
18 Apr – Semi Finals, 1st Leg – Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona (Drogba)
24 Apr – Semi Finals, 2nd Leg – Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (Ramires, Torres)

Bayern Munich

14 Sep – Group A – Villarreal 0-2 Bayern Munich (Kroos, Rafinha)
27 Sep – Group A – Bayern Munich 2-0 Manchester City (Gomez(2))
18 Oct – Group A – Napoli 1-1 Bayern Munich (Kroos)
02 Nov – Group A – Bayern Munich 3-2 Napoli (Gomez(3))
22 Nov – Group A – Bayern Munich 3-1 Villarreal (Ribery(2), Gomez)
07 Dec – Group A – Manchester City 2-0 Bayern Munich

22 Feb – Rnd of 16, 1st Leg – Basel 1-0 Bayern Munich
13 Mar – Rnd of 16, 2nd Leg – Bayern Munich 7-0 Basel (Robben(2), Muller, Gomez(3))
28 Mar – Quarter Finals, 1st Leg – Marseille 0-2 Bayern Munich (Gomez, Robben)
03 Apr – Quarter Finals, 2nd Leg – Bayern Munich 2-0 Marseille (Olic(2))
17 Apr – Semi Finals, 1st Leg – Bayern Munich 2-1 Real Madrid (Ribery, Gomez)
25 Apr – Semi Finals, 2nd Leg – Real Madrid 2-1 Bayern Munich (Robben)

OVERALL FORM

Chelsea – WLWLW
13 May – Premier League – Chelsea 2-1 Blackburn
09 May – Premier League – Liverpool 4-1 Chelsea
05 May – FA Cup Final – Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea
03 May – Premier League – Chelsea 0-2 Newcastle
29 Apr – Premier League – Chelsea 6-1 QPR

Bayern Munich – LWWLW
12 May – DFB Pokal Final – Dortmund 5-2 Bayern Munich
05 May – Bundesliga – FC Koln 1-4 Bayern Munich
28 Apr – Bundesliga – Bayern Munich 2-0 Stuttgart
26 Apr – Champions League SF, 2nd Leg – Real Madrid 2-1 Bayern Munich
21 Apr – Bundesliga – Werder Bremen 1-2 Bayern Munich

HEAD TO HEAD

12 Apr 05 – Champions League QF, 2nd Leg – Bayern Munich 3-2 Chelsea
06 Apr 05 – Champions League QF, 1st Leg – Chelsea 4-2 Bayern Munich

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Chelsea

David Luiz and Cahill have been training this week and Chelsea will hope the centre-backs can make it in time for Saturday. Di Matteo needs at least one of the pair to be fit to avoid a major catastrophe. If they do make it through, Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole will start on either side, with Jon Obi Mikel holding fort ahead of the backline. Frank Lampard will drop into a deeper midfield role and although Michael Essien is available, the Ghanaian is unlikely to garner a starting berth. With Malouda suffering from an injury too, Di Matteo must decide f he wants to go with both Dider Drogba and Fernando Torres, with the Spaniard starting on the right. Juan Mata will once again be the creative force in the centre while Salomon Kalou is expected to take the left-wing position.

Probable XI (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, David Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Mikel, Lampard(c), Mata; Kalou, Torres, Drogba.

Bayern Munich

The suspensions could actually force Heynckes into a more attacking line-up although Bayern will start in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Antoliy Tymoschuk might move into the centre-back position alongside Jerome Boateng, with Danijel Pranjic also an option. For the full-back positions, Rafinha could come in at right-back while Phillip Lahm moves to the left or the manager could stick with Lahm on the right and bring in Diego Contento on the left. Bastian Schweinsteiger will be the general in midfield and he is expected to have Kroos for company. With Kroos dropping deep, Muller looks set to join the attack, sandwiched between Ribery and Robben and behind Gomez.

Probable XI (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Rafinha, Boateng, Tymoschuk, Lahm(c); Kroos, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Muller, Riberty; Gomez.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mario Gomez – Bayern Munich

He has been phenomenal for Bayern Munich this season. He has completely defined the world ‘goalscoring machine’. The German international who joined Bayern from Stuttgart in 2009, has managed to score 40 goals this season out of which 12 have come in the Champions League.

Didier Drogba – Chelsea

He is the man for the big games. Drogba loves playing high-profile matches as it tends to raise his game. He was Chelsea’s key man against Barcelona in the first leg where he scored the all important winner. This may be his last game for Chelsea and he would love to finish his Blues career on a high by winning the coveted Champions league trophy.

Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich

The ex-Chelsea plays has been Bayern’s star since joining the Reds from Real Madrid. The ex-Chelsea man, who scored the all important goal from the penalty in the 2nd leg of the semi finals at the Bernabeu, would be eager to showcase his skills and talent against his former employees.

THE STADIUM

Home to FC Bayern München and TSV 1860 München, the Fußball Arena München will host the 2012 UEFA Champions League final following a decision made by the UEFA Executive Committee in January 2009. The showpiece will take place on Saturday 19 May 2012.

• The Fußball Arena München took less than three years to build from start to finish, and was completed on 30 April 2005. It was conceived following a referendum in October 2001 when 65.8% of Munich’s citizens voted to construct a new arena rather than regenerate the Olympiastadion, venue for the 1972 summer Olympic Games and previous home of Bayern and 1860 München.

• A year to the day after that vote, work commenced on the stadium, including the construction of the unique exterior. The Fußball Arena München’s transparent outer wall is comprised of foil panels which are lit from the inside and can change colour depending on who is playing; red for Bayern, blue for 1860 München and white for Germany.

• The arena opened its doors to competitive football on 5 August 2005 when a full house of 66,000 watched Bayern defeat VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-0. In January 2006, city authorities approved a 3,901 increase in capacity which means the stadium can now house 69,901 supporters. Some of these reside in standing terraces which are created for domestic games by converting 10,400 seats in each of the north and south stands.

• Located on Werner-Heisenberg-Allee – named after famous German atomic physicist and 1932 Nobel Prize for Physics winner Werner Heisenberg – the Fußball Arena München played host to the opening game of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Germany’s 4-2 victory against Costa Rica. A further five matches in the tournament were played at the arena, including France’s 1-0 semi-final win against Portugal.

• While some 106 VIP boxes, 400 media seats and 11,000 parking spaces cater for those attending the game, the players make do with two warm-up rooms, a nursery and four changing rooms – one each for Bayern, 1860 München and their respective opponents.

• The Olympiastadion hosted three European Champion Clubs’ Cup finals. Trevor Francis’s strike earned Nottingham Forest FC victory against Malmö FF in 1979 and there was also only one goal in it 24 years later when Olympique de Marseille beat AC Milan to claim the inaugural UEFA Champions League title. In 1997 two Karl-Heinz Riedle efforts set BV Borussia Dortmund on course for a 3-1 win against Juventus.

(source: uefa.com)

THE MATCH BALL

The official match ball for the 2012 UEFA Champions League final – the adidas Finale Munich – has been officially presented at the venue for this season’s showpiece match, the Fußball Arena München.

As the 12th adidas supplied match ball for a UEFA Champions League final, the adidas Finale Munich will be the first “final ball” to be used throughout the UEFA Champions League knockout stages and not just for the final itself.

The ball’s graphics are inspired by the shape of the Fußball Arena München and they enhance its iconic starball logo design, while the blue and acqua tones are strongly influenced by the reflection of modern local architectural materials, which also build the UEFA Champions League Final Munich 2012 brand identity.

The adidas Finale Munich makes its debut tonight when the UEFA Champions League resumes with two of the eight round of 16 ties – the first leg matches between Olympique Lyonnais and APOEL FC, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Barcelona. The UEFA Champions League final takes place in the Bavarian city on Saturday 19 May.

(source: uefa.com)

THE TROPHY 

The current UEFA Champions League trophy, which stands 73.5cm tall and weighs 8.5kg, is the sixth overall and dates back to 2006.

A rule introduced in the 1968/69 season allowed the cup to become the property of any club which won the competition five times or three years in a row. That means Real Madrid CF, AFC Ajax, FC Bayern München, AC Milan and, since 2005, Liverpool FC all have an original in their trophy rooms. Under new regulations, any club which wins the trophy three consecutive times or five times in total receives a special mark of recognition, with the club then starting a new cycle from zero.

The trophy that the winning captain will lift at Wembley Stadium in London is the fifth version of the current design. After Real Madrid were allowed to keep the original in 1967, UEFA’s General Secretary, Hans Bangerter, decided to create a new design and called in a local specialist in Berne, Jürg Stadelmann.

“My father Hans and I went along to Herr Bangerter’s office and covered the whole floor with the drawings,” recalled Stadelmann. “He made comments like, ‘The Bulgarians would like the bottom of that. The Spaniards would like that, but the Italians would prefer that and the Germans would go for this bit.’ We put the design together like a jigsaw puzzle. It was a design constituted of many parts yet I like it and I think everyone in football likes it as well.

“I remember that it had to be finished before 28 March,” Stadelmann added, “because I was getting married and taking my wife on a ten-day boat trip to Los Angeles. The trophy took 340 hours to make. I did the finer work, then it was finished off by the engraver, Fred Bänninger. On time, I am glad to say.”

(source: uefa.com)

THE REFEREE

Pedro Proença of Portugal will take charge of Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final between FC Bayern München and Chelsea FC at the Fußball Arena München (Munich, 20.45CET).

Proença, a financial director from Pinhal Novo, will be assisted by countrymen Bertino Miranda and Ricardo Santos. The fourth official will be Carlos Velasco Carballo from Spain. The two additional assistant referees are Jorge Sousa and Duarte Gomes, while reserve assistant referee – Tiago Trigo – completes the lineup of the officiating team.

The 41-year-old Proença, who made his international debut in 2003, has officiated more than 65 UEFA matches in a refereeing career that has been on the rise ever since he took charge of UEFA European Under-19 Championship final in 2004.

He refereed the 2007 and 2010 Portuguese Cup finals and also ran the rule over two FC Porto successes in the domestic Super Cup in August 2003 and 2006. The Portuguese took charge of two UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers and was at the 2009 UEFA European U21 Championship, overseeing three games as a referee and acting as fourth official in Germany’s 4-0 final defeat of England.

Promoted to UEFA’s Elite category at the start of 2009/10, he oversaw four games in that season’s UEFA Champions League group stage and five in the 2010/11 competition, including Manchester United FC’s defeat of FC Schalke 04 in the semi-final second leg.

Proença has handled five UEFA Champions League matches since the beginning of the current season, including, among others, the round of 16 second leg between FC Internazionale Milano and Olympique de Marseille, as well as two UEFA Europa League matches, including the first leg of the quarter-final between FC Schalke 04 and Athletic Club.

(source: uefa.com)

THE AMBASSADOR 

Having lifted the European Champion Clubs’ Cup for FC Bayern München, scored in Germany’s victorious FIFA World Cup final in Munich and been brought up just 50km away there are few people better placed than Paul Breitner to act as ambassador for the 2012 UEFA Champions League final at the Fußball Arena Munchen on 19 May.

The former Real Madrid CF midfielder saw it all in a glittering 13-year player career, but the return of club football’s biggest game to Munich for a fourth time, and first at the new stadium, is a source of great pride for the 60-year-old. “The Champions League final next year in May is the highlight of the whole season, for the city of Munich and for Bayern,” he told UEFA.com. “The people of Munich, including me, think we have the most beautiful city in the world.”

As well as being a tourist attraction, Munich is also a footballing hotbed and the Fußball Arena Munchen, which opened in 2005 and houses almost 70,000 spectators for Bundesliga matches, is home to both TSV 1860 München and Bayern, Germany’s most successful club. And it was with the three-time European champions that Breitner first made his name in some 41 years ago.

“In 1970, it was a time of evolutionary change at Bayern Munich. Uli Hoeness, the current club president, and I arrived at the right time to grow into the team, to learn from Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller. We went through a development phase which led us, after our fourth season, to play in our first European Cup final, winning against Atlético Madrid in a replay after drawing the first match.”

That victory came in May 1974, two years after Breitner had helped West Germany win the UEFA European Championship, and two months before he lifted the World Cup. He would go on to become one of his country’s most successful footballers, winning five Bundesliga titles with Bayern and two Spanish championships with Madrid. In 1982 he became only the third player after Brazilians Vavá and Pelé to score in two World Cup finals (an elite club since joined by Zinédine Zidane).

(source: uefa.com)

BETTING ODDS

Match Result
Bayern Munich – 5/6
Draw – 14/5
Chelsea – 16/5

Correct Score
Bayern Munich 1-0 – 11/2
Draw 0-0 – 10/1
Chelsea 1-0 – 10/1
Bayern Munich 2-0 – 7/1
Draw 1-1 – 11/2
Chelsea 2-0 – 20/1
Bayern Munich 2-1 – 15/2
Draw 2-2 – 16/1
Chelsea 2-1 – 12/1
Bayern Munich 3-0 – 14/1
Draw 3-3 – 66/1
Chelsea 3-0 – 50/1
Bayern Munich 3-1 – 12/1
Draw 4-4 – 150/1
Chelsea 3-1 – 33/1

Half Time/Full Time
Bayern Munich / Bayern Munich – 15/8
Draw / Bayern Munich – 7/2
Chelsea / Bayern Munich – 20/1
Bayern Munich / Draw – 16/1
Draw / Draw – 5/1
Chelsea / Draw – 16/1
Bayern Munich / Chelsea – 28/1
Draw / Chelsea – 17/2
Chelsea / Chelsea – 13/2

Under/Over 2.5 Goals
Under 2.5 Goals – 4/5
Over 2.5 Goals – 10/11

Both Teams to Score
Yes – 5/6
No – 5/6

To Lift the Trophy
Bayern Munich – 4/9
Chelsea – 7/4

Goalscorer
No Chelsea Goalscorer – 11/8
Didier Drogba – 11/4
Mario Gomez – 11/4
Fernando Torres – 3/1
Arjen Robben – 7/2
No Bayern Munich Goalscorer – 7/2
Franck Ribery – 4/1
Frank Lampard – 9/2
Nils Petersen – 9/2
Daniel Sturridge – 9/2

Winning Margin
Bayern Munich by Exactly 1 Goal – 5/2
Chelsea by Exactly 1 Goal – 11/2
Bayern Munich by Exactly 2 Goals – 4/1
Chelsea by Exactly 2 Goals – 14/1
Bayern Munich by 3 or more Goals – 11/2
Chelsea by 3 or more Goals – 40/1

(source: skybet.com)

PREDICTION

The defensive absentees could make this game an open game of football and as with any final one can only hope this doesn’t turn out to be one boring cagey affair. Drogba will be a threat for any centre-back pairing that Bayern start with but at the same time the same thing can be said about Mario Gomez at the other end. With John Terry suspended and both David Luiz and Gary Cahill just coming back from injuries it would be very difficult for the Blues to defend against a very strong and attacking Bayern side. Expect Bayern to attack a lot, while Chelsea would be happy to hit the hosts on the counter.

Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea

Top 20 Worst Premier League Signings Of The Season

As we draw near the end of a thrilling season in the Premier League, almost everything is still up for grabs – relegation, UEFA Champions League qualification, and the title itself.

While we wait for those matters to be decided, let’s debate who the worst signings of the season have been. Here are Into The Top Corner looks at the top 20 worst signings of this season. Tell us whether you agree or not in the comments section.

20. Romelu Lukaku – Anderlecht to Chelsea for £18m

Dubbed as the next Drogba, he joined the Blues in the summer for a huge fee. Everyone expected him to get a run in the team under the then new manager Andre Villas-Boas’ policy of giving young players a chance but it never happened. Lukaku was behind the likes of Drogba, Torres and Sturridge in the pecking order and made just six appearances this season – all as a substitute – and is expected to spend the next season out on loan. People would say he is the one for the future but spending that much amount of money and giving him just six appearances from the bench is a waste of money.

19. Raul Meireles – Liverpool to Chelsea for £11m

Decided to follow Fernando Torres and join Chelsea in the following transfer window and I have no clue why he did that. He was having a great time at Liverpool and was performing well for the Reds but since his move to the Stamford Bridge he has been very inconsistent this season. Apart from that one Manchester City game at Stamford Bridge, where he scored the equaliser, his season has been poor compared to his first season in the Premier League.

18. Owen Hargreaves – Manchester United to Manchester City for Free

Everyone was shocked – including me – when Hargo signed for City on deadline day. He used youtube to attract clubs and prove his fitness but that plan was a complete waste and it backfired. England’s player of the 2006 World Cup, was troubled by his injury nightmare again and was able make just a single league appearance this season. According to reports City are ready to release him again at the end of the season.

17. Sylvain Marveaux – Rennes to Newcastle for Free

Marveaux was reported to be very close to signing for Dalglish’s Liverpool at the end of last season but the two parties failed to agree a deal and so the winger joined Newcastle United for nothing in the summer. After recovering from an injury picked up in pre-season, Marveaux was a regular part of Newcastle’s Carling Cup team and made a handful of appearances in the league. He picked a groin injury against Everton which would keep him out for some week and later in November it was confirmed he would require a hip surgery in US, which will make him miss the whole season. The France U-21 international was able to make just six appearances for the Magpies in the Premier League this season.

16. Craig Gardner – Birmingham City to Sunderland for £6m

Gardner was Birmingham star last season and was signed up by Sunderland at the start of the season. Gardener started the season as he had ended the last one with Birmingham, on song. But soon his form dropped and subsequently he was dropped to the bench. Arrival of Martin O’Neill at the club saw a change of fortunes for the former Aston Villa man and an injury crises at Sunderland helped him to regain his place back in the team. There were some rumours in the press of him being homesick but the Black Cats rejected a loan offer from a Midlands club for him in January. Gardner who has scored three goals in 19 appearances this season hasn’t produced the same performances as he did for the Blues last season and will be hoping to get a chance next season.

15. Jordan Henderson – Sunderland to Liverpool for £16m

Many people would say he should be a lot higher in this list but I don’t think so. The 21-year old joined the Reds for a hefty transfer fee in the summer and has made 37 league appearances this season but the England U-21 international has been consistently inconsistent this season. Liverpool fans call him the next Steven Gerrard and he has the talent in him to follow the footsteps and maybe even replace the inspirational skipper but it’s still in the future. This season he has been used by Dalglish in different positions in the midfield and that’s probably the reason why he has shown us just blinks of his talent and not the real talent. Expect him to come good next season.

14. Stefan Savic – Partizan Belgrade to Manchester City  for £10m

The 21-year-old joined City in the summer for a fee which could have been more than 80% less had they signed him a season ago. The Montenegro defender was brought in as a backup for Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott but he failed to fill in the boots of Kompany, when the Belgium international was sidelined with injuries or suspended. Savic scored a goal in his 12 league appearances but he struggled to cope up with the pace of the English game and was badly exposed in Liverpool Carling Cup win at the Etihad.

13. David Goodwillie – Dundee United to Blackburn Rovers for £3m

The Scot came to the Premier League with a reputation of scoring goal but when he leaves, he will leave with a bad reputation. Rovers expected him to make the headlines with some goals and he did but for all the wrong reasons. The Scotland international has made just 16 appearances for Blackburn this season and has able to find the back of the net just two times. With all the controversies surrounding him this season, I expect him to be the first player Blackburn getting rid of in the summer.

12. Matthew Upson – West Ham United to Stoke City for Free

The West Ham United skipper joined Stoke City for free in the summer. He stated that his main reason of joining Stoke was Europa League football. Upson who was once linked with the top Premier League sides is now a backup for Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth at Stoke. The former Arsenal defender hasn’t had the best of the season at the Britannia with most his appearances coming in the Europa League or of the bench. The England international who scored in the World Cup 2010 against Germany, will be looking to move and try his trade in some other league perhaps.

11. Joey Barton – Newcastle United to QPR for Free

The one-cap England international had a successful campaign with Newcastle before falling out with owners in the pre-season and then deciding to leave the club for nothing. The busy man on twitter, joined the Rs in August and was handed the captaincy by the then coach Neil Warnock. Barton started the season impressively and scored his first goal for the club against Wolves but soon his formed dipped and has been largely inconsistent since. As expected, he was involved in controversies with Wolves skipper Karl Henry and was also shown a red card in a match against Norwich.

10. Gabriel Obertan – Manchester United to Newcastle United for £3m

The failure of Obertan in the Premier League is one thing that surprises me. The winger has a lot of pace in him to beat any defender in the Premier League and also has the talent to succeed at this level but he has never shown it. When he moved to Newcastle from Manchester United in the summer, everyone expected him to be one of the best buys of the season but he has been very poor for the Magpies also. Started the season in the first team, Obertan was then dropped to the bench because of unimpressive performances and now with the return of Hatem Ben Arfa he just makes the bench. The France U-21 international has made 23 appearances this season, most of them from the bench, but has managed to find the back of the net just once.

9. Scott Dann – Birmingham City to Blackburn Rovers for £7.7m

Dann was a solid player for Birmingham last season and with the Blues relegating a move away from St. Andrews was imminent. Speculation of a move to Arsenal was probably the highest point in his career. But Blackburn came in for him first and what looked a like a great buy at first has eventually led Rovers to a relegation battle. Dann has looked a completely different player that he was last season with Birmingham and maybe a season in the Championship will help him get his career back on track.

8. David N’Gog – Liverpool to Bolton Wanderers for £4m

Was very disappointing during his time with Liverpool and I can’t understand why someone would even pay £4m for him. Looked at as a possible replacement for Kevin Davies, N’Gog has scored just three goals this season in 32 league appearances for the Wanderers. Maybe a season or two in the Championship can help him prove his potential.

7. Shaun Wright-Phillips – Manchester City to QPR for £4m

It’s very sad how his career has declined since the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea. Wright-Phillips who has 36 English caps to his name was told he is not wanted anymore by City at the start of the season and so he joined QPR on deadline in August. He started the season impressive and also won the Man of the Match award for his performance against Newcastle on his debut. But soon his form deserted and that saw him being dropped onto the bench. Wright-Phillips who has a Premier League winners medal to his name has made just 23 appearances for the Rs this season and hasn’t scored a single goal yet.

6. Wilson Palacios – Tottenham Hotspur to Stoke City for £6m

After falling down in the pecking order at White Hart Lane, Palcaios joined Stoke on deadline day along with Peter Crouch. He made his debut as a substitute against Liverpool in the 1-0 win but his start to his Stoke career was restricted by a by a knee injury and tonsillitis. He eventually made his first league start against City in December, but by March 2012 he still hadn’t managed to become a regular in the side playing mostly in cameo roles. His poor fitness levels and a long-standing knee injury restricted him to just 18 league appearances for Potters this season and hopefully with a good pre-season he would be back to his best.

5. Charlie Adam – Blackpool to Liverpool for £8m 

He was Blackpool’s performer of the season last term and proved to be a brilliant sale for his former employers. His performance with the Seasiders attracted a huge amount of interest from top teams in the Premier League and Anfield was his destination in the end. The Liverpool faithful were delighted with his arrival and expected a lot of him and probably even fill the boots of Steven Gerrard, as the skipper was injured for the most of the first half of the season with a hamstring injury. But the Scot has failed to stand to the expectations and his inconsistency has been one of the reasons for Liverpool poor season.

4. Roger Johnson – Birmingham to Wolves for £7m

He formed a formidable partnership with Scott Dann at Birmingham last season but this season he is right up there in the flops of the season. He costed Wolves a huge fee of £7m and was named the skipper of the team but he led to relegation. At the same time he was booed on and off the field by the Wolves supporters, maybe the sacking of Mick McCarthy has something to do with that. But the skipper turning up drunk for training and his one field bust-up with his own team-mate Wayne Hennessey is not at all good for the club and its image. In the Championship next season he will be too good for the other teams and will again attract good amount interest from the Premier League sides.

3. Park Chu Young – AS Monaco to Arsenal for £5.8m 

The Korean international joined the club with a reputation of scoring goals in the French league but it looks like Arsenal signed him just to sale shirts in South East Asia. The striker who has 25 goals to his name for his country in 59 appearances failed to settle in England and has also been troubled with injuries since his move to London. The former FC Seoul striker has made just a handful of appearances for the Gunners this season with his only goal coming against Bolton in the Carling Cup. The Korean international will be hoping to get some more opportunities next season before he leaves for national service.

2. Charles N’Zogbia – Wigan Athletic to Aston Villa for  £10m

N’Zogbia was one of the reasons of Wigan’s survival in the Premier League last year and that’s why Aston Villa paid a huge fee to get him to Villa Park. He was also seen as a replacement to both Stewart Downing and Ashley Young, who left the Villains for Liverpool and Manchester United in the summer, but the French international failed to live up to the expectations of the Villa fans. With just two goals and three assists to his name in 30 appearances this season, N’Zogbia has failed big time under Alex McLeish and maybe a change in manager may well get the best out of him.

1. Stewart Downing – Aston Villa to Liverpool for £20m

No prizes for guessing who our flop of the season is. Yes, it’s Stewart Downing. Liverpool paid a huge amount of £20m to get the England winger from Aston Villa in the summer. Everyone including Dalglish thought Downing could be the perfect player to get best out of Andy Carroll but it didn’t work out. Downing, an England hopeful and will probably always remain one, has made 34 appearances for the Reds in the league this season and has – wait for it – zero goals and zero assists to his name. Yes, Liverpool fans, yes, you can argue that he was the Man of the Match in the Carling Cup final against Cardiff City but you can’t argue to the fact that he has been a complete waste of money and the worst signing of this season.

Chelsea’s Expected Summer Departures & Top Ten Transfer Targets

By Chelsea’s standard this season has been a disappointment. With the Blues currently two points off the pace in the race for fourth spot in the Premier League, Roberto Di Matteo’s men are staring at the prospect of missing out on Champions League football next season. And while they are into the semifinals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League, Chelsea could well end the season trophy-less—for the second successive year.

A massive overhaul of the squad is needed and if rumours are to be believed then Roman Abramovich is finally ready do it this summer.  A huge clear-out is expected at the Stamford Bridge along with many new players joining the club, with the Russian ready to give his new manager a huge transfer budget. Here, Into The Top Corner looks at the expected departures this summer and also Chelsea’s top ten transfer targets.

Expected Departures

1. Didier Drogba

Has been Chelsea’s key performer since his arrival in the summer of 2004 from Marseille, but at 34 years old he is not getting any younger and his time at the club is coming to an end. The Ivorian who has scored just 5 goals in 19 Premier League games this season is out of contract at the end of the season. With the huge wage demands of the striker it is highly unlikely a new contract will be agreed.

2. Salomon Kalou

The Ivorian played a vital part in securing the 2nd place in the Premier League last season under Carlo Ancelotti, but he has been hardly used this season, especially by Andre Villas-Boas after the player failing to agree a contract extension with club. Kalou, who joined the Blues from Feyenoord in 2006, started in both the legs of the Champions League quarter-final win over Benfica but is expected to leave Stamford Bridge this summer having made just 15 appearances all season.

3. Paulo Ferreira

He was one of the first signings of Jose Mourinho when ‘The Special One’ took over as the manager. But since the departure of Mourinho and the arrivals of Juliano Belletti, Branislav Ivanovic and Jose Bosingwa to Stamford Bridge, Paulo Ferreira has fallen down in the pecking order but whenever given a chance he has always delivered a solid performance. Having featured just 6 times this season in all competitions the Portuguese is surely expected to leave the club in search of some regular first team action.

4. Florent Malouda

The Frenchman performed really well under Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti but has fallen down in the pecking order behind Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge this season. With more than half of his appearances this season coming from the bench, the Blues will look to sell him this season and make some money before his contract expires at the end of next season.

5. Raul Meireles

Joined the Blues on deadline day this summer from Liverpool for a transfer fee in the region of £12m. Played very well in first half of the season under Andre Villas-Boas, but since the departure of AVB in March, Meireles’ form has gone missing. Many Chelsea fans have come out and criticized his performances in the Premier League especially in the match against Manchester City at the Etihad.

6. Jose Bosingwa

A big-money arrival in 2008, Jose Bosingwa has failed to make a long-term impact on the starting XI. The right back has shown stretches of being an excellent footballer, but his lack of consistency will be the reason why he is likely to depart. He has made 24 league appearances this season but regular lapses of concentration has resulted him in conceding some vital goals. His refusal to sign a contract extension will most probably see him leave this summer for nothing.

7. Yossi Benayoun

Joined the club in the summer of last season from Liverpool as a straight forward replacement for Joe Cole. Benayoun started the season impressively but a bad injury kept him out for almost the entire campaign. He was loaned to Arsenal at the start of this season as he was not needed at the club any more after the arrival of Juan Mata from Valencia and the return of Daniel Sturridge from Bolton. The Israeli is set to have talks on his future with Chelsea sooner than later but is expected to leave the club.

8. Hilario

Not much analysis required here. Hilario has served as Petr Cech’s backup since 2006 and has only appeared in 20 games over that stretch. Now 35, Hilario can look to finish up his career as a starter for a less-reputable club.

9. Romelu Lukaku (Loan)

Having made just 10 appearances for the club this season since his big money move from Anderlecht in the summer, the teenage is expected to spend the next season out on loan to gain some vital first team experience. With reports suggesting talks have already taken place, the Belgium international looks set to be on his way back to Anderlecht for atleast a season.

Top 10 Transfer Targets

1. Mario Gotze (Dortmund)

Gotze is one of the hottest properties in world football at the moment with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona all interested in his services. Having just signed a new long-term contract and Dortmund favourites to retain the Bundesliga title this season, a move away from Westfalenstadion looks highly impossible and it would take a huge amount of money to make that happen.

2. Edinson Cavani (Napoli)

The Uruguayan has already scored 28 goals this season and has been linked with move away from Napoli to Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City all season. Chelsea are in need of a regular goal-scorer given that Didier Drogba’s contract is set to run out this summer and Fernando Torres is still unable to make a consistent impact. Cavani could be the perfect man to fill the Ivorian’s shoes at Stamford Bridge.

3. Eden Hazard (Lille)

The young Belgium playmaker is set to leave Ligue 1 at the end of this season and that will sparkle a transfer scramble with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter all interested in him. Hazard, who has 16 goals and 12 assists to his name this season, could be a great long term successor for Frank Lampard.

4. Alvaro Pereira (Porto)

Uruguayan international wing back has been a very impressive and a consistent performer at FC Porto since his move to Portugal in 2009. Andre Villas-Boas tried to get the defender with him to Chelsea last summer but the Portuguese champions rejected the move. The former CFR Cluj defender has stayed on Chelsea’s radar is looked at as a possible long-term replacement for Ashley Cole.

5. Cesar Azpilicueta (Marseille)

Spain Under-23 international is one of the most promising right-backs in Europe. He would be a welcome addition to the Chelsea squad, as current first-choice right-back Branislav Ivanovic often struggles to link up with the attack and his deputy Jose Bosingwa is struggling to rediscover his form and is expected to leave this summer.

6. Luka Modric (Tottenham) 

Tottenham playmaker was continuously linked to a move to Chelsea last summer but the Spurs hierarchy, however, stood its ground and refused to sell their prize asset. Despite having failed to reproduce last season’s form so far, Modric is still a much-needed addition to the Chelsea squad and will surely leave White Hart Lane if Spurs fail to qualify for the Champions League next season.

7. Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid)

He may be in great form this season having scored 24 goals so far, but he is still just a back-up option behind Karim Benzema & Cristiano Ronaldo for former Blues’ boss Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid. A move to London and the regular first-team football could be a tempting offer to rejected for the Argentina striker.

8. Hulk (Porto)

The strong and pacey Porto striker who can also play on both the wings and has been linked to a move to the Premier League for some time now, is apparently high up on Abramovich’s shopping list for the summer. But clearly the Portuguese champions would have reduce the Brazilian’s reported £88m release clause fee if they want any deal to be done between the two clubs.

9. Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli)

The Argentine international has been Napoli’s star performer this season along side Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani. The versatile forward who can also play on both the wings performed well against Chelsea in the Champions League scoring twice in the first leg. The 26-year-old who has scored 11 goals this season will be a very good addition to the Chelsea squad.

10. Falcao (Atletico Madrid)

The Colombian, who was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge last summer when Andre Villas-Boas took charge of the club, has taken to life in La Liga very well, netting 21 goals in the league this season. But as Atletico Madrid are unlikely to secure a spot in the Champions League a move to Chelsea may well appeal to the 26 year old former Porto striker.