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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’ve 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.

Profile: Wayne Rooney at 30 – Man United’s talisman reappraised

“A recent BBC documentary about Rooney has helped to soften attitudes towards him in Britain. Renowned for his aggressive on-pitch demeanour, all angry scowls and expletive-strewn outbursts, the Rooney in the film came across as a shy and softly spoken family man. Viewers saw him chatting with former neighbours on the housing estate in the tough Croxteth district of Liverpool where he grew up and were treated to the surprising admission that the young footballer wooed his future wife Coleen with poetry. According to former England striker Gary Lineker, whose production company made the film, the public reaction on social media was “overwhelmingly positive”.”

Another day, another Wayne Rooney profile… This one’s to mark his impending 30th birthday. You can find it here.

Interview: Hennessey eyes new horizons with Wales and Palace

“Wales had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup and had accumulated a string of agonising near-misses, most notably when Paul Bodin hit the bar with a penalty in a qualifying match against Romania in November 1993 that could have sent the Welsh to the World Cup. Watching at home with his father on the island of Anglesey in north Wales was a six-year-old Hennessey, who remembers the match as much for an uncharacteristic error by Welsh goalkeeping great Neville Southall as for Bodin’s moment of misfortune. “I remember watching it because Neville Southall made a mistake in that game,” says Hennessey, now 28. “A shot popped right through him. I’m a big ‘Big Nev’ fan. He’s my favourite player in the whole wide world.””

I spoke to Wayne Hennessey about making history with Wales, emulating Neville Southall and the Crystal Palace fear factor. Read the interview here.

Feature: Klopp fuels England’s cult of the manager

“Mourinho is a self-confessed Clough admirer and he is not the first European coach to have been inspired by a British manager, as the enduring use of phrases like ‘le coach’ and ‘il mister’ across the continent demonstrates. It is testament to the influence of early-20th-century pioneers like the bowler-hatted Fred Pentland, Athletic Bilbao’s greatest coach, or William Garbutt, who gave birth to the professional manager in Italy during his time at Genoa. Whereas clubs on continental Europe have generally moved away from the old model of an all-powerful manager, with sporting directors widespread and coaches’ remits often extending little further than the boundaries of the training ground, the notion prevails in the Premier League. But while England still clings to the image of the authoritarian manager of yore, the profession is evolving rapidly.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on Jürgen Klopp, England’s cult of the manager and a managerial changing of the guard in the Premier League – you can read it here.

Analysis: Wales, Northern Ireland emerge from England’s shadow

“Lafferty was branded an ‘out-of-control womaniser’ by Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini after leaving the Sicilian club in 2014, but, carefully handled by O’Neill, the 28-year-old has become a talisman for his country, replicating the exploits of David Healy in previous qualifying campaigns. The Northern Irish squad is a blend of wizened old pros and up-and-coming talent, the experience of stalwarts such as defenders Chris Baird (33) and Gareth McAuley (35) supplemented by the verve of players such as young Manchester United defender Paddy McNair (20) and 24-year-old midfielder Oliver Norwood. O’Neill’s man-management has also been a key factor, helping the former Newcastle United midfielder rouse his players to climb from 88th to 35th in the FIFA rankings. “There was a period when Michael went a number of games without a win, but he stuck with it and never gave up,” said Nigel Worthington, one of O’Neill’s predecessors.”

I’ve written something on the stories behind and Wales and Northern Ireland’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaigns. You can read it here.

Interview: Krueger wants Saints to shed ‘seller’ tag

“‘The goal is of course over time that this is a final destination. Maybe it isn’t yet for players, but we’re moving towards that. We still understand where we sit in the whole balance of English football and we respect that. But we’re working hard at every level in the club to grow in a fashion that it becomes an end destination. We have to earn that.'”

Read about my meeting with Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger here.

Profile: Madcap Klopp to bring dash of daring to Liverpool

“Klopp, unmistakable with his stubble and glasses, built Dortmund’s game around the principle of gegenpressing, or counter-pressing. It soon became a buzzword in European football and fans in Germany grew accustomed to the sight of Klopp’s yellow-shirted hordes asphyxiating their opponents with high pressing and quick transitions. It was an approach that reached its apogee in a 4-1 demolition of Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, when Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals. Dortmund ran out of puff last season, finishing seventh in the league and losing to Wolfsburg in the German Cup final, but Klopp has had time to fine-tune his philosophy during a five-month sabbatical.”

Me and my AFP colleague Ryland James have had a look at how Liverpool manager-elect Jürgen Klopp is likely to approach the challenges facing him at Anfield. You can read our piece here.

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