Match reports and reaction 2015-16

A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2015-16 season:

Reaction: Sun will shine for Liverpool youngsters – Klopp (FA Cup)
Report: Last-gasp Ogbonna header stuns Liverpool
(FA Cup)
Report: Costa and Chelsea keep heat on Van Gaal
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal toasts win with wine from Woodward
(FA Cup)
Report: Blind, Mata lift Van Gaal with win over Derby
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Martinez ‘hurt’ by Everton’s League Cup exit
(Capital One Cup)
Report: De Bruyne sends Man City to League Cup final (Capital One Cup) 
Reaction: Klopp pins hopes on all-Merseyside final
(Capital One Cup)
Report: Mignolet save sends Liverpool to Wembley
(Capital One Cup)
Reaction: Arsenal don’t have Chelsea block, says Wenger
(Premier League)
Report: Costa checks 10-man Arsenal’s title charge
(Premier League)
Reaction: Anfield win will fire title belief, says Van Gaal
(Premier League)
Report: Liverpool felled by Rooney sucker-punch
(Premier League)
Report: Man Utd give Van Gaal respite in Chelsea draw
(Premier League)
Reaction: Wenger lauds sick Özil’s amazing recovery
(Premier League)
Report: Walcott wows as Arsenal steal march on Man City
(Premier League)
Reaction: Defeat exposes ‘crazy’ Liverpool hype – Klopp
(Premier League)
Report: Wijnaldum and Newcastle halt Liverpool surge
(Premier League)
Reaction: Hat-trick star Origi has to learn – Klopp
(Capital One Cup)
Report: Origi, Sturridge fire Liverpool into last four (Capital One Cup)
Reaction: Van Gaal worried by United’s attacking woes (Champions League)
Report: Man United made to wait after PSV stalemate
(Champions League)
Reaction: Spurs title talk is premature, says Pochettino
(Premier League)
Report: Kane brace sets Spurs on Arsenal’s tail
(Premier League)
Reaction: Etihad win can be Liverpool base camp – Klopp (Premier League)
Report: Firmino and Liverpool punish sluggish Man City (Premier League)
Reaction: Blind hopes friendlies can fire idling Dutch
(friendly)
Report: Robben sinks Wales as Holland bounce back (friendly)
Reaction: Wenger likes Giroud when he’s angry
(Premier League)
Report: Gibbs thwarts Spurs in north London derby (Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal relieved after Man Utd end goal drought
(Champions League)
Report: Rooney ends Man Utd goal drought to down CSKA
(Champions League)
Reaction: Mourinho unbowed as Chelsea crisis deepens
(Premier League)
Report: Coutinho gives Mourinho Halloween horror show (Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal shields Rooney after derby drudgery
(Premier League)
Report: Man Utd and Man City misfire in shot-shy derby
(Premier League)
Reaction: Klopp dismisses saviour tag after Rubin draw
(Europa League)
Report: Klopp thwarted by 10-man Rubin on home bow
(Europa League)
Reaction: Pellegrini purrs over ‘perfect’ De Bruyne (Champions League)
Report: Last-gasp De Bruyne shoots down Sevilla
(Champions League)
Reaction: Klopp backs ‘fun’ Origi to fill Liverpool gaps
(Premier League)
Report: Liverpool held by Spurs in Klopp’s first game
(Premier League)
Reaction: Hodgson heartened by burgeoning Barkley
(Euro 2016)
Report: Walcott and Sterling extend England’s winning run
(Euro 2016)
Reaction: Beating Man Utd answers critics, says Wenger
(Premier League)
Report: Arsenal bulldoze Man Utd to give Wenger solace (Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal castigates Man United for carelessness
(Champions League)
Report: Mata magic gets Man United up and running
(Champions League)
Reaction: Mourinho and Wenger clash over bothersome Costa
(Premier League)
Report: Zouma and Hazard punish nine-man Arsenal (Premier League)
Reaction: Pellegrini says Man City strikers must sharpen up
(Champions League)
Report: Juventus stop rot with comeback win at Man City (Champions League)
Reaction: Van Gaal hopes Man Utd win is turning point
(Premier League)
Report: Martial makes splash as Man Utd down Liverpool
(Premier League)
Reaction: Hodgson sets record-breaker Rooney trophy goal
(Euro 2016)
Report: Tearful Rooney nets record 50th England goal (Euro 2016)
Reaction: Coleman rues Wales’ missed opportunity (Euro 2016)
Report: Israel douse Welsh fires in Cardiff stalemate (Euro 2016)
Reaction: Record will soon be Rooney’s, says Hodgson (Euro 2016)
Report: History man Rooney sends England to Euro 2016
(Euro 2016)
Reaction: Van Gaal hails Man Utd hat-trick hero Rooney
(Champions League)
Report: Rooney treble seals Champions League return for Man United
(Champions League)
Reaction: Wenger rues offside call in Liverpool stalemate
(Premier League)
Report: Arsenal and Liverpool share spoils in slugfest
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal goes giddy for Man United match-winner Depay
(Champions League)
Report: Depay double gives Man United play-off edge
(Champions League)
Reaction: Benteke gives us new dimension, says Rodgers
(Premier League)
Report: Disputed Benteke goal sinks Bournemouth
(Premier League)
Reaction: Etihad derailment leaves Mourinho stewing
(Premier League)
Report: Agüero leads way as Man City sharpen Chelsea’s pain (Premier League)
Reaction: Victorious Van Gaal wants more from Man United
(Premier League)
Report: Januzaj tames Villa on Man United return (Premier League)
Report: Toothless Chelsea beaten by Fiorentina (International Champions Cup)
Reaction: Mourinho seethes as Arsenal land Wembley blow
(Community Shield)
Report: Oxlade-Chamberlain ends Wenger’s Mourinho jinx
(Community Shield)

Related link: Match reports and reaction 2014-15

Interview: Infantino pledges to kick down FIFA’s walls

“Infantino only joined the presidential race in October after UEFA president Michel Platini was provisionally suspended over a $2 million “disloyal” payment from Blatter, which eventually saw both men banned for eight years. But he rejected the suggestion that he would be seen as a second-choice candidate and said he had felt a moral responsiblity to act after US and Swiss authorities targeted FIFA in wide-ranging corruption probes. “It’s true that until a few months ago I was not thinking about being a candidate, but in life sometimes there are situations where you have to take decisions,” Infantino said. “When I saw what is going on, I thought you simply cannot sit and lean back and watch everything being destroyed or destroy itself. You have to do something. You have to do something for football.””

Find out what happened when I met Gianni Infantino to discuss his plans for the FIFA presidency. Read about it here.

Analysis: TV cash scramble pushes English spending past £1bn

“Whereas close-season spending was driven by the leading clubs — Manchester City twice breaking their transfer record to sign Raheem Sterling (£44 million rising to £49 million) and Kevin De Bruyne (£55 million); Manchester United betting the house on unheralded French teenager Anthony Martial (£36 million rising to £61.5 million) — in January it has been a different story. Sky and BT Sport’s blockbuster £5.14 billion domestic TV rights deal kicks in at the start of next season, with the sale of overseas rights — expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks — set to swell that figure to £8 billion for the period 2016-2019. It means that the cost of relegation has never been higher, and it is the clubs at the wrong end of the Premier League table who have been opening their wallets the most eagerly during the mid-season transfer period.”

A look at how the looming TV rights cash bonanza has affected the January transfer window in the Premier League – you can read it here.

Related link: English clubs impose Martial law in Europe

Review: Premier League titans roar in boardroom, squeak on pitch

“Untold riches will rain down upon the English Premier League in 2016, but for all their resources, the country’s leading clubs currently seem incapable of staking claims to the title. The record £5.14 billion ($7.72 billion, 7.06 billion euros) television rights deal due to kick in next year will reinforce the English top flight’s status as European football’s financial behemoth. But champions Chelsea have imploded, Arsenal and Manchester City remain hit-and-miss and while Liverpool find their feet under Jürgen Klopp, Manchester United appear to be stagnating under Louis van Gaal. It has fallen to Leicester City to make the early running in what former United captain Gary Neville has described as “the most bizarre league that I have seen in a long time”.”

My review of the year 2015 in English football can be read here.

Related link: New money rises in England as old powers slip

Analysis: Pluck and pizza propel Leicester to summit

“Ranieri was derisively labelled ‘The Tinkerman’ during his four years at Chelsea, due to his habit of rotating his team, and his appointment by Leicester in July following Nigel Pearson’s sacking unleashed a tide of mockery. Former England striker Gary Lineker, probably Leicester’s most well-known alumnus, summed up the disdain when he tweeted: “Claudio Ranieri? Really?” “I had mixed thoughts, to be honest,” former Leicester captain Steve Walsh told AFP. “But he’s ‘tinkered about’ and added some good tactical things, so it’s worked out really well.” The genial Italian, 64, has been converting cynics to admirers with each victory, all the while maintaining the irreverent tone that made him a popular figure during his first spell in England between 2000 and 2004.”

I’ve written a piece on the improbable rise of Leicester City – you can read it here.

Analysis: Hope springs for Liverpool as Klopp effect takes hold

“Klopp promised “full throttle” football and he has been true to his word, with Liverpool’s aggressive high press central to their recent transformation. Opponents have been quick to catch on and it was noticeable that Southampton looked to hit frontman Graziano Pelle at the earliest opportunity at St Mary’s in a bid to negate the effects of the Liverpool press. Lucas Leiva, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Adam Lallana are among the players who are thriving under Klopp, whose tactile man-management style is characterised by effusive bear hugs.”

A piece for AFP on how Jürgen Klopp has brought the smiles back at Anfield can be found here.

Profile: From factory floor to record books for Leicester’s Vardy

“”He was always first for training and last out,” recalls Stocksbridge chairman Allen Bethel. “He was also the life and soul of the party, a Jack the lad.” Vardy’s roguish streak occasionally caused him problems — he was sent off four times in his last season at Stocksbridge, deterring suitors Sheffield United — and he had trouble controlling his temper off the pitch. A conviction for a late-night assault temporarily obliged him to wear an electronic tag and observe an 18:30 p.m. curfew, which would see him substituted midway through games so that he could get home in time. Remembering one such mid-match dash, former Stocksbridge manager Gary Morrow said: “He jumped straight over the railings and into his parents’ car without even getting changed.””

A piece on the rise and rise of Jamie Vardy.

Analysis: Comebacks wither as English counter-punchers thrive

“With teams now more adept at defending leads, playing on the counter-attack has become the preferred modus operandi for many Premier League sides. The knock-on effect is that away victories are on the rise, borne out by the fact that there have been 42 away wins to 43 home wins in England’s top division so far this season. Conventional wisdom dictates that home sides are more likely to win due to familiarity with their surroundings, support from home fans and the onus traditionally being on the hosts to attack. But several teams are subverting the theory, with Arsenal, West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Everton, Liverpool, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa having all picked up more points on the road than at home.”

Here’s a piece on the demise of the Premier League comeback, the rise of the counter-punchers and the erosion of home advantage.

Report: Wembley unites to honour Paris victims

“A moving rendition of the French national anthem reverberated around London’s Wembley Stadium on Tuesday as fans of England and France paid tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks. In a crowd of 71,223 that included British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William, many stood to sing ‘La Marseillaise’ four days on from the attacks, which left 129 people dead and over 350 injured. England won a subdued match 2-0 courtesy of goals from Dele Alli and captain Wayne Rooney, but the outcome of the contest was a mere anecdote on a night thick with poignancy. “Emotionally, it was a very, very strong moment,” France manager Didier Deschamps told his post-match press conference.”

Having spent four years living in Paris, and two years living just around the corner from where some of last week’s attacks took place, I found it very moving to be at Wembley on Tuesday for the friendly match between England and France. You can read my report on the night here.

Related link: Fans calm, defiant ahead of England-France game

Analysis: Bayern rout exposes Arsenal’s limitations

“A run of five straight wins, including a ruthless 3-0 defeat of Manchester United, has left Arsenal level on 25 points with leaders Manchester City after 11 games. With Chelsea flatlining and United enduring a chronic goal shortage, Arsenal are widely seen as City’s most credible rivals, but it is often a case of one step forward, two steps back. Arsenal can outclass United and beat Bayern 2-0, in the reverse fixture, but also lose to Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb and crash out of the League Cup after a 3-0 defeat at second-tier Sheffield Wednesday. It is a paradox that means that, in spite of their nascent title ambitions, they have now lost six times at this stage of the season, across all competitions, for the first time since 1991.”

I wrote a piece for AFP on how Arsenal’s drubbing by Bayern Munich underlined vulnerabilities that threaten to become fatal flaws. You can read it here.

Analysis: Chelsea sack reports leave Mourinho exposed

“Once again, Mourinho seems to be succumbing to the curse of ‘third season syndrome’, which has dogged him throughout his career. Though unparallelled in his ability to quickly forge winning teams, Mourinho has never worked at a club for four full seasons, as results invariably slope off after his second campaign. He angrily dismissed the theory when it was put to him recently — “click Google instead of asking stupid questions” — but Chelsea’s current woes are bearing it out more starkly than any of his previous experiences. When Mourinho last left Chelsea, in September 2007, it was because his relationship with owner Roman Abramovich had broken down and although he was recently given a public vote of confidence, there are suggestions that his abrasive antics may have upset the club hierarchy.”

I’ve written a piece looking at the problems facing José Mourinho, which you can read here.

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