Are You Starting Ibrahimović? ESPN Euro Manager – Group Stage 1

The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship kicks off this Friday in Warsaw when co-host nation Poland takes on the 2004 Champions – Greece.  The start of the tournament couldn’t come any sooner for international football fans, fantasy managers, and the 16 nations battling for the Euro 2012 crown.  Over the past two weeks several key players, such as England’s Frank Lampard, have withdrawn from the tournament due to injury.  The talent pool is thinning out and a few teams are going to have to get creative if they want to dethrone Spain.

With the start of the tournament only days away, it’s time to finalize your starting eleven for the first stage of ESPN Euro Manager.  Avoiding injuries and suspensions is just the beginning of assembling a solid 4-4-2 formation.  Last week I discussed 6 Ways to dominate the game without any specific players or matchups in mind.  International friendlies are now complete and each nation’s 23-man roster is set, so let’s take a look at the best options for the first set of fixtures.

If the color of the kits gets confusing, just check the scoreboard. Sweden will be the team with all the goals when they face Ukraine next Monday in Kiev. Photograph: Andreas Rentx/Getty Images

GK – Just like a real international football manager, Euro Managers are looking for saves and clean sheets from their goal keepers. They earn 1 point for every 3 saves and 3 points for a clean sheet. The savvy Euro Manager can identify the GK’s that will face and save the highest number of shots during each stage.  With that in mind I like Spanish goal keeper Iker Casillas this Sunday against Italy.

I am not under estimating the Azzuri, they did defeat the World Cup Champions 2-1 back on August 10th, 2011. However, this matchup does offer Euro Managers with an excellent chance to grab 6+ saves and a potential a clean sheet.  Italy just lost to Russia 3-0 and were shutout in recent matches versus Uruguay and USA. Spain’s defense is arguably better than any of these other countries.

Top 5 GK:  *Casillas (ESP), Isaksson (SWE), Steklenburg (NED), Szczesny (POL), Lloris (FRA)

* – Indicates Player is in the GoPro Starting 11

DEF – Goals and assists carry more weight than clean sheets, so you’ll want to line your back four with counter attacking defenders that possess the speed and dribbling skills to stay involved in the offensive side of the game.  If you’re worried about giving up too many goals you should diversify your defense, meaning never start any two defenders from the same country.  If you need to mix it up, Sweden has the best chance for a clean sheet against Ukraine.

Top 5 D:  *Lahm (GER), *Corluka (CRO), *Mellberg (SWE), *Ramos (ESP), Clichy (FRA)

MID – This is not the spot for clean sheets.  In 6 Ways to Dominate ESPN Euro Manager I urged managers to use an aggressive, attacking approach when making their midfield selections.  Attacking midfielders are your best source for generating points from goals and assists and that’s the name of the game.  I expect Franck Ribery to dominate England’s depleted defense in France’s opening match.

Top 5 M:  *Ribery (FRA), *Ozil (GER), *Modric (CRO), *Arshavin (RUS), Robben (NED)

FWD –  You’re going to need a few multi-goal performances from your forwards if you want to dominate the leader boards this summer, so don’t miss out on your best chance grab a hat trick during Group Stage 1.  I expect Sweden’s superstar striker Zlatan Imbrahimovic to destroy the back of the net on Monday against Ukraine.  Ibrahimovic is coming off his highest goal scoring campaign in the Serie A.  He netted a league best 28 goals for AC Milan in 32 appearances this season.

Top 5 F:  *Ibrahimovic (SWE), *Van Persie (NED), Gomez (GER), Lewandowski (POL), Llorente (ESP)

5 Players to Avoid:  F – Wayne Rooney (ENG) SUSPENSION!!!, M- Schweinsteiger (GER), M – Xabi Alonso (ESP), D – Kadlec (CZE), D – Chiellini (ITA), GK – Hart (ENG).

My squad is set for Group Stage 1: GoPro City – Starting 11

If you’d like to discuss tactics for ESPN Euro Manager please email me at goprofantasysports@gmail.com or find me on Google+ and Twitter @GoProFS24.

Thanks for reading & enjoy the opening round of Euro 2012!

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