“It is in attack, however, that Liverpool’s problems are most clearly apparent. While Raheem Sterling continues to excite, it was only in the impressive victory at Spurs that Liverpool showed anything reminiscent of the dazzling football with which they laid waste to their opponents last season. A thigh injury to Daniel Sturridge has robbed them of their attacking spearhead and Mario Balotelli is yet to convince as a replacement for the mercurial Suárez. Where the scurrying Suarez fizzed with energy and enterprise, Balotelli has a tendency to amble around the pitch, making it harder for Liverpool to pull opposition defences out of shape.”
My take on the reasons behind Liverpool’s underwhelming start to the season for AFP can be found here.
“United’s absence from European competition for the first time since 1989 has not prevented them from acquiring elite players, but the new signings do not appear to have been the fruit of meticulous forward planning. Whereas many observers have pinpointed central defence and central midfield as United’s weak points, they finished the transfer window having signed one central midfielder, a winger, a striker, and three players who played at left-back at the World Cup. As former England striker Gary Lineker joked on Twitter: “If you can’t defend, just out score ‘em!” Two of those left-backs can play in other positions — Rojo at centre-back, Blind as a holding midfielder — but like Di María and Falcao, their hastily finalised transfers, ratified late in the window, suggested an element of panic.”
My analysis of Manchester United’s transfer-window dealings for AFP can be read here.
“The Dutchman has introduced an innovative 3-4-1-2 formation since taking up his role in July, but there is no obvious role for Di María in the system. His attacking instincts would have to be curbed at left wing-back and in any case, United did not lavish £29 million on Shaw in order to leave the England teenager on the bench. Di María can operate in the centre of the pitch, but if Van Gaal is determined to use Juan Mata as a number 10, it would leave him with only one berth in the team for an orthodox central midfielder. With Rooney and Robin van Persie also apparently guaranteed to start, Van Gaal may have to consider changing tack if he is to give all of his attacking stars the best conditions in which to work.”
I wrote a piece for AFP on where Manchester United’s record signing Ángel di María will fit into their starting XI, and you can read it here.
“During a 7-0 end-of-season rout of Everton, Arsenal scored a dazzling goal that showcased the sharply honed creative gifts of Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutchman began the move by chesting a Lauren throw-in to Edu, who fizzed a pass forward into the feet of Robin van Persie. Van Persie laid the ball off to Bergkamp and he bisected the visiting defence with an exquisite chipped pass that allowed Vieira to steam in and nonchalantly loft the ball over goalkeeper Richard Wright.”
In honour of Chelsea’s sublime second goal in their 3-1 win at Burnley on Monday, I’ve compiled a list of five great Premier League team goals for AFP. You can see the list (with videos) here.
I spoke to my friends at Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast about the opening round of Premier League fixtures, Louis van Gaal’s defensive problems at Manchester United, the battle for number-one status at Chelsea between Thibaut Courtois and Petr Čech, and Tony Pulis’s abrupt departure at Crystal Palace. You can listen here.
“With untried youngsters Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard in the line-up, United looked uncertain in Van Gaal’s favoured 3-4-1-2 formation and at half-time the manager abandoned it, reverting to a 4-2-3-1 shape. But although United equalised through new captain Wayne Rooney, Sigurdsson soon restored Swansea’s lead and the hosts’ attempts to find a second equaliser were incoherent. Juan Mata was largely anonymous, despite the fact that United’s new system is designed partly to give the Spanish playmaker optimal conditions in which to work. And with Marouane Fellaini — gangling symbol of Moyes’s failures — thrown on to chase high balls into the Swansea box, the final stages of the game resembled the darkest days of the previous campaign.”
My piece for AFP on why Manchester United’s opening-day defeat by Swansea City suggests that Louis van Gaal will not be able to revive their fortunes overnight can be read here.
A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2014-15 season:
Reaction: Shocks are warning for England, says Hodgson (Euro 2017 qualifying)
Report: Rooney on mark as England school San Marino (Euro 2016 qualifying)
Reaction: Mourinho urges Chelsea to stay grounded (Premier League)
Reaction: Wenger plays down Mourinho touchline spat (Premier League)
Report: Hazard, Costa sink Arsenal in stormy derby (Premier League)
Reaction: Pellegrini rues carelessness after Roma hold City (Champions League)
Report: Totti makes history as Roma thwart Man City (Champions League)
Reaction: Rodgers heartened by Liverpool resilience (Champions League)
Reaction: Van Gaal wants more from match-winner Di María (Premier League)
Report: Falcao debuts as Man United crush QPR (Premier League)
Reaction: Hodgson hails Welbeck for biding his time (Euro 2016 qualifying)
Report: Welbeck gives improved England winning start (Euro 2016 qualifying)
Reaction: Angry Hodgson dismisses England statistics (friendly)
Report: Rooney rescues England in turgid Norway win (friendly)
Reaction: Wenger backs Sánchez to fill Giroud’s shoes (Champions League)
Reaction: Pellegrini gladdened by Jovetić display (Premier League)
Report: Jovetić at the double as Man City sink Liverpool (Premier League)
Reaction: Ancelotti predicts ‘new cycle’ for Madrid (UEFA Super Cup)
Report: Ronaldo still the boss as Madrid win Super Cup (UEFA Super Cup)
Reaction: Wembley win sets tone for Arsenal – Wenger (Community Shield)
Report: Vibrant Arsenal down Man City in Community Shield (Community Shield)
Reaction: ‘Lethargic’ Arsenal not ready yet – Wenger (Emirates Cup)
Report: Falcao scores comeback goal to sink Arsenal (Emirates Cup)
Reaction: Wenger enthused by Sanogo-Campbell double act (Emirates Cup)
Report: Sanogo upstages Sánchez in Arsenal romp (Emirates Cup)
“Gaël Kakuta, a precociously skilful attacking midfielder, joined Chelsea from French club Lens at the age of 16 in 2007, sparking a row that momentarily saw the English side banned from signing players. After he made an eye-catching debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers in November 2009, then-coach Carlo Ancelotti was moved to declare: “At that age I have never seen a player with this talent.” However, with established players such as Joe Cole and Florent Malouda cemented in Chelsea’s starting XI, Kakuta found his route to the first team blocked. There followed a succession of underwhelming loan moves — to Fulham, Bolton Wanderers, French club Dijon, Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem, and Lazio — and at 23, his career is still awaiting take-off.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on the uncertain futures faced by young Premier League players who go out on loan, and you can read it here.
“Whereas Maradona seemed to grow with each match as Argentina surged to the title in 1986, scoring braces against England and Belgium in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, Messi appeared to shrink. After dazzling in the group phase with four goals, he made the winning goal for Ángel di María against Switzerland in the last 16, but in his own encounter with Belgium he flickered only sporadically, and in the semi-final against the Netherlands he was anonymous. Messi has now gone four games without scoring for the first time under the stewardship of coach Alejandro Sabella, misplacing his gift for making a difference at precisely the wrong time.”
My final report for AFP from the World Cup, on a disappointing end to the tournament for Lionel Messi, can be read here.
“In his 91 appearances, [Diego] Maradona played at four World Cups and carried Argentina to two finals, turning the 1986 tournament into his own one-man show. In contrast, Messi, as Holland coach Louis van Gaal observed, “hasn’t always pulled it off” at international level. So should he drift through the final, as he did the semi-final, but still end up a champion, can he be said to have matched Maradona? Judged against the lofty standards that Messi’s talent demands, the trophy alone may not suffice.”
Why Lionel Messi needs a signature performance in the World Cup final before he can be considered a true great. Piece here for AFP.
“When the 22 players representing Germany and Argentina step out onto the Maracanã pitch for Sunday’s World Cup final, roughly half will be fulfilling prophecies made in the previous decade. From Argentina captain Lionel Messi to Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the team-sheets will reflect the fact that glory for both teams has been in the pipeline for some time. The backbone of the Germany team who eviscerated hosts Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals was drawn from the Under-21 side that triumphed at the European Championship in 2009. The source of Argentina’s achievements in Brazil, meanwhile, can be traced back even further, to the World Youth Championship — later rechristened the Under-20 World Cup — in the Netherlands in 2005.”
My piece for AFP on the two gilded generations that will face off in Sunday’s World Cup final can be read here.
“Sao Paulo (AFP) – Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved two penalties in a shootout with the Netherlands on Wednesday to take his country through to the World Cup final for the first time since 1990.”
My AFP match report on the ‘other’ 2014 World Cup semi-final can be read here.
“Brasília (Brazil) (AFP) – Gonzalo Higuaín smashed home an early goal as Argentina dashed the World Cup dreams of much-fancied Belgium with a 1-0 win in the quarter-finals in Brasília on Saturday.”
My AFP match report from the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha can be read here.
“Eden Hazard, then a small, slender 11-year-old, was making a name for himself as a skilful winger with the junior sides of hometown club Royal Stade Brainois. Vincent Kompany, the current captain, was embarking on his youth career with Anderlecht, while Adnan Januzaj, the Manchester United winger, was only seven years old — but already a member of FC Brussels. In their homes and football club social rooms, they will have watched on television as a side led by pugnacious midfielder Marc Wilmots progressed from the group phase, only to lose to Brazil in the last 16. Twelve years later, in Brazil, they are the players carrying the hopes of their country, and Wilmots is the figure urging them on from the technical area.”
A piece for AFP on the genesis of Belgium’s’ golden generation’ can be read here.
“Maradona was said to have carried Argentina to glory in Mexico, scoring five goals and laying on five assists as his country claimed their second title, and 28 years on, Messi is doing the same in Brazil. Having scored four goals in the group phase, Messi’s creative side came to the fore in Tuesday’s last-16 win over Switzerland in São Paulo. While his team-mates toiled around him, Messi was a ceaseless hub of invention, and with penalties looming, it was his burrowing run and pass that allowed Angel Di María to stroke home the 118th-minute winner. In total, Messi carved out eight chances against Switzerland, which is more than any Argentine player – Maradona included – has ever created in a single World Cup game.”
A piece for AFP, on the ghost that will stalk Lionel Messi in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against Belgium, can be read here.