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Euro 2012 preview – Keep an eye on…

With last season’s heartbreak only three weeks old, watching football over the summer could be seen as slightly masochist by the vast majority of United fans.

Sure, the buzz when watching England is nowhere near as big as when watching our club from August to May (in some cases it is virtually non existent) and the summer is seen by most of us a chance to regroup our social lives, after girlfriends and wives have been neglected for almost every weekend of the last nine months.

But, with the transfer window rapidly approaching, Euro 2012 will provide the perfect opportunity to look at talents from around the continent, as Europe’s top clubs’ scouts will move en-masse to Poland and Ukraine.

To spare David Gill the trip, Red Rants picked two players for each group – not players already classified as starts, for obvious reasons – that are likely to shine throughout the tournament and, perhaps, attract interest even from M16.

Group A

Joint-host Poland will hope to cause a surprise and reach the quarter-final in front of their fans, provided that Howard Webb doesn’t cross their path in the group stage as Polish fans haven’t forgotten the English ref’s decision to award Austria a late penalty four years ago which meant Poland crashed out of the tournament.

Those hopes will rest firmly on Robert Lewandowski’s shoulders, as the Borussia Dortmund striker will hope to translate his domestic form onto the continental stage.

Lewandowski scored 33 goals in all competitions for Dortmund this season, as they retained the Bundesliga title and lifted the German Cup following a 5-2 thrashing of Bayern in the final.

The 23-year-old has been linked with Manchester United in recent weeks and has a price tag of around £13 million around his neck, with another two years left on his contract.

Two years younger than Lewandowski, Alan Dzagoev is the latest Russian player to attract interest from Western Europe.

The attacking midfielder joined CSKA Moscow when he was only 17 and has scored 37 goals in 153 games since, one of them in a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in 2009 which was enough to alert top clubs around Europe.

The Messi look-alike (the similarity in look is quite remarkable) has admitted that he’d rather play in Spain or Italy but that if United came calling he’d definitely jump at the opportunity.

 

Dzagoev costs around £14 million but has only six months left on his contract.

Group B

Runners-up four years ago in Vienna, Germany arrives at Euro 2012 with great chances of going one step better this time around thanks to a crop of talented youngsters.

The pick of the crop is surely Mario Gotze, the Borussia Dortmund playmaker who has recovered from his hip surgery four months ago, helping Borussia to retain the Bundesliga title they had won last season.

Described by former Germain captain Mathias Sammer as the “one of the best talents that Germany has ever had,” Gotze played only 17 games in the Bundesliga this season due to his injury, but still managed to contribute with 6 goals and 5 assists and will be one of the key players for Joachim Low’s side and could spark a bidding war between Europe’s elite clubs even though the youngster, still only 20, is valued at around £26 million and has a contract that runs until 2016.

Danish fans will hope Christian Eriksen can provide the spark Denmark need if they’re to get out of the so called “group of death” which includes them, Germany, Holland and Portugal.

The young Danish, comfortable with both feet, has drawn comparison with former Denmark’s legend Michael Laudrup and has helped Ajax to back-to-back Eredivise titles.

United fans will remember him as he played twice against the Reds in the Europa league, as Ajax were knocked out by Fergie’s men.

This season Eriksen has scored 7 goals in 33 league games and provided 19 assists, and it is believed that a move away from the Amsterdam Arena might be on the cards very soon.

Eriksen’s contract expires in 2014 and, should he perform well in Poland and Ukraine, Ajax could ask more than the current £11 million.

Group C

Following their 2006 World Cup glory Italy hit a rocky patch which saw them parting ways with two managers, crashing out to eventual winners Spain in 2008 before being knocked out at the group stage in 2010 in South Africa.

With the arrival of Cesare Prandelli, though, Italy have changed their approach as the former Fiorentina manager decided to move forward and give a chance to a crop of promising youngsters who have impressed during the last 12 months.

Nobody has impressed more than Sebastian Giovinco, the diminutive striker had a wonderful season on loan at Parma, scoring 15 goals and producing 16 assists in 36 league games this season, as Parma achieved mid-table respectability.

Giovinco can also play as attacking midfielder or out wide on the left, as he likes to cuts in and deliver dangerous crosses with his favourite right foot.

The 23-year-old’s future will be decided in the summer and his £11 million price tag could almost double up.

A soon-to-be Spain captain, Javi Martinez has had a wonderful season with Athletic Club as Marcelo Bielsa steered the Basque to two finals.

Despite the disappointment of losing both, Martinez is just one of the players highly tipped to leave the San Mames in the summer, with his £19.5 million value unlikely to discourage potential buyers.

The 23-year-old started the season as defensive midfielder but quickly evolved into a commanding centre-back who thrives on his stature (1.90m) to win aerial battles at both ends of the pitch.

As United fans know all too well, Martinez is also gifted with extremely educated feet and can play in the middle of the park, either in the holding role or in the middle of a flat four midfield, much as Phil Jones did last season.

Martinez’s contract expires in 2016 but it’d be extremely surprising to see him in the same colours for the next four years.

Group D

We all know about England’s form (or, rather, lack of) and controversies that surround Roy Hodgson’s men ahead of their first game against France, who might be without their talismanic midfielder Yann M’Vila.

The Rennes midfielder, 21, was one of the debutants in Laurent Blanc’s first game as manager of Les Blues, and has led his team’s statistics during the qualifying in terms of successful passes (643), tackles (12) and interceptions (24).

M’Vila was reportedly close to signing for Arsenal but, at the time of writing, nobody had yet met the £17.5 million demand for the midfielder, who played all 38 league games this season and was his club’s most present player with a total of 3,309 minutes played in the league as he completed another excellent campaign.

For a holding midfielder M’Vila, who in 2010-2011 led Ligue 1 in passes attempted (2,341) and completed (1,989) in 2010-11, has an excellent disciplinary record with only 18 yellow cards in more than 130 appearances.

Despite being 29, Kim Kallstrom could still surprise a few people this year.

The Lyon midfielder is a veteran of three major tournaments, having played at Euro 2004 and 2008 and the World Cup in 2006 and has 90 caps for his country.

Once hailed as one of Europe’s hottest properties, Kallstrom has completed his fifth season at the Stade Gerland, with 2 goals and 11 assists in 55 games as Lyon tried to recapture the glory days of the early 2000s.

Given his age, he’s unlikely to be a transfer target for United but his ability to play as attacking midfield as well as in the middle of the park and his relatively modest price – £7.9 million – could definitely prove value for money.

 

Note: Market values and contracts’ lenght according to http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/

 

Dan (@MUFC_dan87)