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Analysis: Old flaws harpoon Arsenal in Champions League

“Arsenal’s defensive naivety and gung-ho attacking have long been used as sticks with which to beat Wenger, but his side seemed to have turned over a new leaf in last month’s 2-0 victory at Manchester City. After years of one-sided losses to rivals, Wenger appeared, belatedly, to have grasped the importance of defensive shape and to have accepted that a team can cede control of possession and still prevail. But against Monaco, and despite the fact Arsenal fielded £90 million of attacking talent in Alexis Sánchez, Danny Welbeck and Mesut Özil, all the old failings returned.”

My take for AFP on Arsenal’s calamitous Champions League defeat by Monaco can be read here.

Analysis: Five ways Rodgers has re-energised Liverpool

“Liverpool began the season with a four-man defence, but after losing seven of their first 16 games, [Brendan] Rodgers rejigged his team, introducing a three-man defensive configuration in a loose-limbed 3-4-2-1 formation. It has yielded defensive stability — Liverpool have conceded only seven times in their last 10 games — and greater zip and dynamism in attack, where the positional fluidity has allowed Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to thrive, plugging a void created by Daniel Sturridge’s long spell on the sidelines due to injury. “We have great control of the ball and we’ve got the ball longer in the opponent’s half, which means they don’t have to defend as much,” Rodgers has explained.”

I’ve had a look at the reasons behind Liverpool’s improved recent form in the Premier League and you can read it here.

Report: Figo keen on FIFA presidential debate

“The most eye-catching initiative in his sleek, 20-page manifesto is a proposal to expand the World Cup from its current 32-team format to a super-sized sporting extravaganza featuring 40 or even 48 national sides. Last year’s World Cup in Brazil was seen as one of the most successful tournaments in the competition’s 84-year history, but Figo said it was important to keep growing it for both financial and political reasons. When it was put to him that the proposals could ruin the tournament, he replied: “I don’t think so.””

I sat down for a chat with FIFA presidential candidate Luís Figo at Wembley on Thursday and you can read about our conversation here.

Analysis: English Premier League TV deal sparks fan fears

“English Premier League clubs risk losing a generation of supporters if their record-breaking new television rights deal does not translate into cheaper ticket prices, fan groups warned on Wednesday. The Premier League on Tuesday announced that broadcasters Sky and BT have paid £5.1 billion ($7.8 billion, 6.9 billion euros) to show live games in the period 2016-2019 — a 70 percent increase on the previous deal. Overall revenue could soar beyond £8 billion once a global TV rights deal is renegotiated, but it comes at a time when rising ticket prices are making it difficult for some supporters to attend games.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on calls for Premier League clubs to share the fruits of their blockbuster TV rights deal. You can read it here.

Profile: So much, so little for Liverpool great Gerrard

“Taken as a whole, in his club career — which began when he walked through the doors of Liverpool’s academy at the age of eight — Gerrard has scaled almost all the heights. From the header that sparked the comeback to end all comebacks against Milan in Istanbul to the sensational 35-yard thunderbolt that took the 2006 FA Cup final to extra time, he has swaggered through his Anfield career with the audacity of a comic-book hero. He came third in the voting for the Ballon d’Or in 2005 and was voted the greatest player in Liverpool’s history by fans in a 2013 poll. No less a judge than Zinedine Zidane observed in 2009: “Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo, but yes, I think he might be.””

My piece for AFP on Steven Gerrard’s departure from Liverpool can be read here.

French football quotes of the year 2014

Pleasantries

Marcelo Bielsa“There’s already one of ours who’s up there [Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa], and I wish him the best. Rémy, I think he deserves something else than Newcastle. I wouldn’t go there. You must get bored shitless in Newcastle.”
– Montpellier president Louis Nicollin on reports linking Rémy Cabella with a move to Newcastle United

“At Milan, they treated me like a king. People were courteous, welcoming and always willing to help. At a restaurant, in France, you sit down and not only do they make you wait for a very long time, but they treat you badly. It was disconcerting, but now I’ve adapted: if someone treats me badly, I treat them badly in return. I’m a real Parisian now.”
– Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva on the joys of life in the capital

Loïc Féry: “Thank you.”
Christian Gourcuff: “I’m not saying thank you to you [vous].”
Loïc Féry: “So we’re vous-ing each other now?”
Christian Gourcuff: “Yes, yes, we’re vous-ing each other now.”
– Terse exchange between Lorient president Loïc Féry and outgoing coach Christian Gourcuff, caught on camera by Canal+ after Lorient’s 4-1 loss at home to Lille on the season’s final day

“For him to be bad is one thing, but for him to be stupid is something else.”
– Nice captain Didier Digard hits out at referee Antony Gautier after being sent off for handball during a 1-1 draw at Saint-Étienne. He later apologised

“It’s not glasses he needs – it’s a Labrador!”
– Lyon midfielder Clément Grenier to referee Ruddy Buquet after a stormy 2-1 loss at home to Saint-Étienne

“I’m surprised by the unacceptable and immature attitude of Romao, who made vulgar remarks towards [Canal + pundit] Pierre Ménès and me because he couldn’t think of anything else to say after fouling me but insult me. I quote: ‘Go and suck that fat Pierre Ménès.’ Unacceptable.”
Bafétimbi Gomis, then with Lyon, on a dispute with Marseille midfielder Alaixys Romao

“So then Mr Gomis, about the ‘son of a whore’ and ‘tramp’ that you yelled at me on the pitch yesterday – I should tweet it, right?”
– Lorient midfielder Mathieu Coutadeur suggests Gomis is no angel himself

“The atmosphere on the pitch? The French were too arrogant, as usual.”
- Sweden Under-21 player Kiese Thelin after his side eliminated their French counterparts in an Under-21 European Championship play-off

“A coach is above all someone who works in the technical domain. And there are coaches who don’t coach, like Laurent Blanc at Paris, where it’s [Blanc’s assistant] Jean-Louis Gasset who takes care of it. I don’t like this model. A coach who doesn’t control the pitch, as far as I’m concerned, is not a coach.”
Christian Gourcuff

“I passed my coaching exams. Mr Gourcuff passed them 30 years ago. He should take them again and see that the job has evolved.”
Blanc responds

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Review: New money rises in England as old powers slip

“Manchester City and Chelsea, England’s nouveaux riches, appear poised to dominate the Premier League in 2015, with traditional powerhouses Manchester United and Liverpool working their way through periods of transition. United began this year as champions and Liverpool came agonisingly close to succeeding them, but it was City who prevailed in the 2013-14 title race and it is Chelsea who approach the New Year in pole position.”

My AFP review of the year 2014 in the Premier League can be read here.

Analysis: Back to drawing board for limping Liverpool

“With Sturridge and Balotelli both injured, the powerful but limited Rickie Lambert — a close-season recruit from Southampton — started up front, but lasted only 45 minutes. Both he and Balotelli were signed to provide alternatives to the mobility and guile of Sturridge, but in the former Chelsea striker’s absence, Liverpool look bereft of pace and inventiveness at centre-forward. Last season, when Liverpool narrowly missed out on a first league title in 24 years, their dominance of possession enabled them to push and pull teams out of position before either Suarez or Sturridge would pounce. With neither Suarez nor Sturridge in the team, there is an aimlessness to their ball circulation, and against Basel that was only exacerbated by the nerves of the Anfield crowd.”

My take on the reasons behind Liverpool’s recent struggles following their Champions League elimination at Basel’s hands can be read here.

CNN World Sport: Champions League review

I made a fleeting appearance on CNN’s World Sport programme on Wednesday to look back at Tuesday’s Champions League matches – you can watch it here. Fans of unkempt beards and wild hand gestures are in for a treat.

Analysis: New-look Liverpool left in starting blocks

“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.

Analysis: Falcao, Di María herald Man United’s age of excess

“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.

Analysis: Di María joins Man United in robes of saviour

“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.

Feature: Five great Premier League team goals

“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.

Soccer Central podcast: Premier League review

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.

Analysis: Man United false start shows depth of malaise

“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.

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