Match reports and reaction 2015-16

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

Report: Vardy atones for Kane miss as England edge Turkey (friendly)
Report: Lingard rocket ends Man United’s 12-year FA Cup wait (FA Cup)
Reaction: Van Gaal upbeat on future despite Man Utd boos
(Premier League)
Report: Van Gaal booed as Man United sign off in fifth (Premier League)
Reaction: Ranieri braces Leicester for big team backlash (Premier League)
Report: Drinkwater spares Leicester from closing defeat at Chelsea
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal refuses to blame bus attack for top-four setback
(Premier League)
Report: Violence, drama as Man United’s top-four hopes shredded
(Premier League)
Reaction: Pellegrini pins hopes on favour from West Ham (Premier League)
Report: Sánchez upstages Pellegrini to hit Man City’s top-four bid
 (Premier League)
Reaction: Ranieri dodges corks as Leicester cut loose (Premier League)
Report: Morgan lifts trophy to complete Leicester fairytale
(Premier League)
Reaction: Europa exploits set Liverpool benchmark
– Klopp (Europa League)
Report: Sturridge sends Liverpool into Europa final
(Europa League)
Reaction: Lunch with mum trumps Spurs game for Ranieri
(Premier League)
Report: Martial strikes as Man Utd make Leicester wait (Premier League)
Reaction: Man City ‘not afraid’ of Real Madrid – Pellegrini
 (Champions League)
Report: No Ronaldo, no goals as Man City, Real Madrid draw
(Champions League)
Reaction: Ranieri hails Leicester’s unconquerable heart
(Premier League)
Report: Understudy Ulloa propels Leicester eight points clear
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal refuses to look beyond FA Cup final
(FA Cup)
Report: Ice-cool Martial sends Man United to final
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Unfair to single Arsenal out for criticism, says Wenger
(Premier League)
Report: Sánchez sinks West Brom to settle Arsenal nerves
(Premier League)
Reaction: Klopp invokes spirit of Istanbul in Liverpool comeback
 (Europa League)
Report: Last-gasp Lovren sinks Dortmund in Anfield thriller
(Europa League)
Reaction: Van Gaal struck by rational Rashford
(FA Cup)
Report: Dazzling Rashford brings Man United FA Cup cheer
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Man City can win Champions League – Pellegrini
(Champions League)
Report: De Bruyne downs PSG as Man City reach last four
(Champions League)
Reaction: Man Utd ‘still ahead’ of Spurs, says Van Gaal
(Premier League)
Report: Spurs stun Man Utd with six-minute blitz
(Premier League)
Reaction: Ranieri keeps calm amid Leicester maelstrom
(Premier League)
Report: Captain Morgan sends Leicester seven points clear
(Premier League)
Reaction: Hodgson laments lost England momentum
(friendly)
Report: Janssen, Narsingh bring England back to earth (friendly)
Report: Church converts penalty to thwart Northern Ireland
(friendly)
Reaction: Man Utd derby win gives Van Gaal top-four belief
(Premier League)
Report: Rashford ends Man City title bid as United rise again
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal wants derby response from Man Utd
(Europa League)
Report: Classy Coutinho sends Man Utd out of Europe
(Europa League)
Reaction: Pellegrini banks on Man City experience
(Champions League)
Report: Injuries mar Manchester City’s history night
(Champions League)
Reaction: Ranieri still in denial over Leicester title bid
(Premier League)
Report: Okazaki upstages Benítez as Leicester march on
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal admits Man Utd blown away by Liverpool
(Europa League)
Report: Sturridge and Firmino punish sorry Man United
(Europa League)
Reaction: Ibrahimović silenced his doubters, says Blanc
(Champions League)
Report: Avenging Ibrahimović fires PSG past Chelsea
(Champions League)
Reaction: League Cup triumph vindicates me – Pellegrini (Capital One Cup)
Report: Caballero saves earn Man City glory
(Capital One Cup)
Reaction: Arsenal fightback gives Wenger title belief (Premier League)
Report: Welbeck late show breaks Leicester hearts
(Premier League)
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

Analysis: ‘Iron Tulip’ Van Gaal wilts in Man United spotlight

Having influenced both José Mourinho, the man due to succeed him, and Pep Guardiola, who is set to alight at cross-town rivals Manchester City, Van Gaal, a former PE teacher, was seen as one of the fathers of modern coaching. But his much-trumpeted “philosophy” was revealed to be an anachronism, his insistence on robotic ball circulation light years behind Guardiola’s turbo-charged attacking or the high-octane pressing game employed by Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp or Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino. Under Alex Ferguson, the United fans’ chant of “Attack! Attack! Attack!” was the rallying cry for a team that never seemed to give up. Under Van Gaal, it became an exasperated lament for a team that never seemed to wake up.

His exit was unedifying and clumsily handled, but Louis van Gaal’s two-year tenure at Manchester United exposed him as a spent force. My piece on his Old Trafford reign can be found here.

Profile: Mocked Martial becomes Man United’s FA Cup charm

Analysis: Leicester change landscape as TV cash flood looms

While the feats of Jamie Vardy (£1 million), Riyad Mahrez (£400,000) and N’Golo Kanté (£5.6 million) demonstrated a new way of spending, Leicester’s football revealed a different way of winning. In an age when many teams continue to worship at the altar of tiki-taka, Claudio Ranieri’s well-drilled, hard-running side averaged 44.8 percent of possession — the third-lowest in the league — and had a pass completion rate of 70.5 percent — the league’s second-lowest. With Tottenham Hotspur, another high-intensity team, challenging for the title under the inspirational Mauricio Pochettino, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke was moved to exclaim: “The old order has broken.” The Professional Footballers’ Association Team of the Year told its own story, with Leicester and Tottenham contributing four players each. Excepting Harry Kane, the division’s 25-goal top scorer, who came through Tottenham’s youth system, all were signed for fees dwarfed by the £49 million that City spent on Raheem Sterling.

In my review of the Premier League season, I wrote about how Leicester City’s fairytale title triumph has moved the goalposts in English football. You can read it here.

Report: Morgan lifts trophy to complete Leicester fairytale

Analysis: Meek Man City cry out for Guardiola guidance

But at least in Agüero, De Bruyne, Sterling and the injured David Silva, Guardiola possesses the nimbleness of thought and foot in attack upon which he has built success with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. City have been the top-scoring Premier League team in all three of Pellegrini’s seasons at the helm, but although he loudly espouses attacking football, victories often owe more to flashes of individual brilliance than a cohesive, identifiable attacking strategy. There is also work for Guardiola to do in defence, particularly as captain Vincent Kompany’s physical vulnerability — he succumbed to the 33rd injury of his eight-year City tenure in Madrid — is becoming a serious concern. Neither Nicolás Otamendi nor Eliaquim Mangala, both acquired at lavish expense, have convinced, but Guardiola’s work with Javi Martínez — a holding midfielder turned centre-back — at Bayern shows that he has the patience for defensive grunt work on the training ground.

Following Manchester City’s tame Champions League semi-final defeat by Real Madrid, some thoughts on the task awaiting Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

Analysis: Rag-tag Leicester turn tables on English elite

There was only one real wobble — a run of one win in five matches immediately after Christmas — and to date they have been beaten just three times. Even when, no longer misdiagnosed as over-achieving minnows, Leicester found opposing teams massing themselves behind the ball, they ground out five 1-0 wins in six games to move to within sight of the title. Leicester’s triumph also owes a debt to the perfect storm that saw defending champions Chelsea collapse, Manchester United toil and Manchester City and Arsenal fail to last the course. But for an unheralded team composed of players with almost zero title-winning know-how, their success in leading from the front represents an astonishing feat of fortitude and sporting courage.

My piece for AFP on how Leicester City pulled off one of the most extraordinary successes in the history of professional sport can be read here.

Related link: Joy as Hazard brings Leicester historic title
Related link: Rough-cut Vardy embodies Leicester’s rise
Related link: Opportunity and uncertainty await for champions Leicester

Feature: World’s press flock to cover Leicester fairytale

A sweep of the press room before Leicester City’s recent victory over Swansea City confirmed the extent to which their pursuit of Premier League glory has captivated global audiences. Journalists from as far afield as Finland, Turkey, South Korea and Australia mingled in the queue for a pre-match meal, while a 10-strong Japanese contingent sat around a table discussing how Shinji Okazaki would fare in the absence of his suspended strike partner Jamie Vardy. The team that narrowly avoided relegation last season are now just three points from the league title and their Cinderella story has won them admirers in the most unlikely locations. “Last season, no-one really wrote about Leicester in the US and no-one really talked about them,” says Joe Prince-Wright, the lead soccer writer for American broadcasting giant NBC. “This season it’s been incredible — people like [New England Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady and NFL players have been sending them messages. All of a sudden there’s this clamour to latch onto the underdog story.”

How the global media have gone giddy for the Foxes – read my AFP piece here.

Analysis: Champions League spotlight beckons again for Hart

The Champions League has at times been a steep learning curve for City, but playing against seasoned elite-level contenders has given Hart a chance to shine. Against eventual champions Barcelona last season, he pulled off 10 saves in a 1-0 second-leg defeat at Camp Nou, which moved Lionel Messi — whose penalty he had saved in the first leg — to brand him a “phenomenon”. “He saved everything,” said the awestruck Argentine, while Barcelona coach Luis Enrique described Hart’s display as “incredible”. When City lined up against Juventus, last season’s beaten finalists, in September, Buffon said “you won’t think of a better goalkeeper in the world”.

Ahead of Manchester City’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, I’ve written something on Joe Hart, who often saves his best appearances for the competition. You can read it here.

Analysis: Raging Vardy leaves Leicester in a bind

The scrawny striker’s gritty back story, fiery temperament and hard-running playing style have turned him into something of an anti-hero for Leicester’s supporters, who have never seen their club win the title. “Jamie Vardy’s having a party, bring your vodka and your charlie!” is a regular chant at Leicester’s King Power Stadium. Meanwhile, an enigmatically aggressive Facebook post made by Vardy in October 2011 — “Chat shit get banged” — has become the go-to put-down among British youngsters on social media. But while Leicester’s fans revel in Vardy’s outlaw status, the West Ham incident suggested that the rough edges that once saw him convicted of assault during his non-league days have not been smoothed away.

Will Jamie Vardy’s angry dismissal against West Ham United cost Leicester City the title? My piece for AFP can be read here.

Analysis: Dortmund blueprint serves Klopp in Liverpool rebuild

The sight of Klopp on the touchline — squawking at his players, pumping his fist in celebration of Divock Origi’s first-half goal — will have been immediately familiar to Dortmund’s fans, who granted him a touching send-off at the final whistle. So too the tactics employed by his team, whose aggressive, front-foot approach prevented the home side from settling into any kind of rhythm and whose counter-attacks kept the Dortmund rearguard on constant alert. While Dortmund have become more of a possession-based team under Klopp’s successor, Thomas Tuchel — the legacy of the new status his seven-year tenure left them with — Liverpool are exhibiting the same underdog mentality upon which he built his success in the Ruhr valley. Speaking earlier this season, former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson said the team’s best performances were “reminiscent of Borussia Dortmund at their best under Jürgen Klopp”.

Ahead of the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, here’s something I wrote on how Jürgen Klopp is using the tactics that took Dortmund to the summit of the European game in his rebuilding job at Anfield.

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