‘Champions League’

Match reports and reaction 2017-18

My match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2017-18 season:

Reaction: Guardiola proud to beat ‘best opponents’ Napoli (Champions League)
Report: Jesus earns Man City narrow win over Napoli (Champions League)
Reaction: Mourinho and Klopp at odds over Anfield stalemate (Premier League)
Report: Man Utd held at Liverpool as Mourinho parks the bus (Premier League)
Report: McClean breaks Welsh hearts as Ireland reach play-offs (2018 World Cup)
Reaction: Southgate admits England have long way to go (2018 World Cup)
Report: Kane sends lacklustre England to World Cup (2018 World Cup)
Reaction: Man City’s show of force thrills Guardiola (Champions League)
Report: Chelsea old boy De Bruyne gives Man City crucial win (Champions League)
Reaction: ‘Amazing’ Lukaku won’t lose focus – Mourinho (Champions League)
Report: Lukaku and Martial lead Man United in CSKA rout (Champions League)
Reaction: Klopp says Liverpool on track despite stalemate (Champions League)
Report: Coutinho scores as Liverpool held in Moscow (Champions League)
Reaction: Man United part of ‘second level’, says Mourinho (Champions League)
Report: Fix-it Fellaini gets Man United off the mark (Champions League)
Reaction: De Bruyne masterclass leaves Guardiola purring (Premier League)
Report: Mané sent off as five-star Man City crush Liverpool (Premier League)
Reaction: Alli gesture takes shine off England win (2018 World Cup)
Report: Rashford redemption sends England closer to Russia (2018 World Cup)
Reaction: Klopp hopes Euro progress yields transfer lift (Champions League)
Report: Can brace gets Liverpool back into big time (Champions League)
Report: Sterling rescue act spares 10-man Man City (Premier League)
Reaction: Conte happy for Chelsea to play the hunters (Premier League)
Report: Alonso ruins Spurs’ Wembley house-warming (Premier League)
Report: Lukaku double fires Man United to winning start
(Premier League)
Reaction: Wenger lauds Giroud after Arsenal edge Leicester (Premier League)
Report: Giroud earns Arsenal madcap opening win (Premier League)
Reaction: Wenger fearful of another slow Arsenal start
(Community Shield)
Report: Courtois and Morata gift Arsenal victory at Wembley (Community Shield)

Related link: Match reports and reaction 2016-17
Related link: Match reports and reaction 2015-16
Related link: Match reports and reaction 2014-15

Match reports and reaction 2016-17

A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2016-17 season:

Reaction: Southgate heartened by England resolve (2018 World Cup qualifying)
Report: Captain Kane rescues England against Scotland (2018 World Cup qualifying)
Reaction: ‘Young boy’ Ronaldo still hungry for glory
(Champions League)
Report: Two-goal Ronaldo keeps Real Madrid kings of Europe
(Champions League)
Reaction: Wenger in the dark as Arsenal verdict looms
(FA Cup)
Report: Ramsey fires Wenger to record seventh trophy (FA Cup)
Reaction: Mourinho relishes Man Utd’s ‘victory of pragmatism’ (Europa League)
Report: Pogba sends grieving Man United to emotional triumph
(Europa League)
Reaction: Arsenal hurt by ‘horrendous’ atmosphere – Wenger
(Premier League)
Report: Wenger and Arsenal’s Champions League run ends
(Premier League)
Reaction: ‘Don’t kill me’ for playing kids, begs Mourinho
(Premier League)
Report: Romero at the ready in Man United stalemate
(Premier League)
Reaction: Conte expects Chelsea great Terry to play on
(Premier League)
Report: Fàbregas foils Watford in Chelsea title party
(Premier League)
Reaction: Pochettino foresees golden future in Spurs’ new home
(Premier League)
Report: Kane sinks Man United in Spurs’ Lane farewell
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho vows to keep Man United fresh for final
(Europa League)
Report: Bailly sent off as Man United squeeze into final
(Europa League)
Reaction: Chelsea one ‘little step’ from title, says Conte
(Premier League)
Report: Fàbregas condemns Boro as Chelsea close on title
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho goads Wenger after defeat at Arsenal
(Premier League)
Report: Hope for Arsenal as Wenger breaks Mourinho hex
(Premier League)
Reaction: Top-four race not over yet, warns Klopp
(Premier League)
Report: Can cracker tightens Liverpool’s hold on third
(Premier League)
Reaction: Pochettino eager to tighten screw on Chelsea
(Premier League)
Report: Alli and Kane earn Spurs stirring derby win
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho sets sights on Liverpool and Arsenal
(Premier League)
Report: Fellaini sent off as Man Utd, Man City draw blank
(Premier League)
Reaction: Conte lauds Chelsea for passing Saints test
(Premier League)
Report: Half-ton Costa gives Chelsea breathing room
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho braced for bad news on Ibrahimović, Rojo
(Europa League)
Report: Ibrahimović blow mars Man United’s semi-final progress
(Europa League)
Reaction: Shakespeare savours Leicester’s taste of big time
(Champions League)
Report: Vardy in vain as Atlético end Leicester fairytale
(Champions League)
Reaction: Chelsea’s title chances ’50 percent’ – Conte
(Premier League)
Report: Revenge for Mourinho as Man United stun Chelsea
(Premier League)
Reaction: Pochettino vows Spurs won’t repeat 2016 meltdown
(Premier League)
Report: Milestone man Kane keeps Spurs in hunt
(Premier League)
Reaction: Conte sets Chelsea 18-point title target
(Premier League)
Report: Hazard tames Man City as Chelsea tighten grip
(Premier League)
Reaction: Wenger hopes Arsenal build on Man City draw
(Premier League)
Report: Respite for Wenger as Arsenal hold Man City
(Premier League)
Reaction: Southgate opens World Cup door to Defoe
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Report: Defoe marks comeback as England toil to win
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Report: Coleman broken leg horror mars Ireland-Wales draw
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Reaction: Goals the missing ingredient for Man City – Guardiola (Premier League)
Report: Agüero leveller keeps Liverpool at bay
(Premier League)
Report: Pogba injured as Man Utd labour to win over Rostov (Europa League)
Reaction: Shakespeare says Leicester can be surprise package (Champions League)
Report: Schmeichel thwarts Sevilla as Leicester rekindle fairytale
(Champions League)
Reaction: Kanté confounds Conte as Chelsea sink West Ham
(Premier League)
Report: Hazard and Costa restore Chelsea’s 10-point lead
(Premier League)
Reaction: I’m ready for Leicester job – Shakespeare
(Premier League)
Report: Vardy lifts Leicester to post-Ranieri win
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola vows more of same after Monaco goalfest
(Champions League)
Report: Agüero stars as Man City sink Monaco in thriller
(Champions League)
Reaction: Wenger relieved to beat ‘astonishing’ Sutton
(FA Cup)
Report: Ton-up Walcott ends Sutton’s FA Cup dream
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Mourinho upbraids unfocused Man United
(Europa League)
Report: Ibrahimović treble downs Saint-Étienne
(Europa League)
Reaction: ‘Don’t let this slip,’ Conte tells Chelsea
(Premier League)
Report: Hazard jewel cuts Arsenal 12 points adrift
(Premier League)
Reaction: Klopp irked by Liverpool fans’ impatience
(Premier League)
Report: Mignolet atones to keep Chelsea tethered
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola revels in glimpse of Man City’s future
(FA Cup)
Report: Jesus lights Man City’s path to fifth round
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Mourinho mocks Klopp as Man Utd reach final
(EFL Cup)
Report: Man Utd survive Hull scare to reach final
(EFL Cup)
Reaction: Conte applauds Chelsea’s show of unity
(Premier League)
Report: Returning Costa gives Chelsea breathing space
(Premier League)
Reaction: Jesus can’t be Man City saviour, says Guardiola
(Premier League)
Report: Spurs fightback thwarts Guardiola’s Man City
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho wants Man United to sharpen up
(Premier League)
Report: Ibrahimović rescues Man Utd in Liverpool draw
(Premier League)
Reaction: Spurs showed heart of champions – Pochettino
(Premier League)
Report: Spurs and Alli deny Chelsea record win
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola primes Man City for top-four scrap
(Premier League)
Report: Liverpool’s Wijnaldum dents Man City title bid
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola pins hopes on Chelsea wobble
(Premier League)
Report: Sterling sinks Arsenal to reignite Man City
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho defends fans’ right to boo Fellaini
(Premier League)
Report: Mkhitaryan tames Spurs to stop Man United rot
(Premier League)
Reaction: Roberts friendly fire makes Guardiola take note
(Champions League)
Report: Iheanacho up to speed as Man City, Celtic draw
(Champions League)
Reaction: Conte hails reformed match-winner Costa
(Premier League)
Report: Costa keeps Chelsea flying as Man City lose their cool
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho buoyed by ‘beautiful’ Man United
(EFL Cup)
Report: Ibra, Martial see Man Utd through, Arsenal crash
(EFL Cup)
Reaction: Conte urges leaders Chelsea to stay ‘humble’
(Premier League)
Report: Moses downs Spurs to send Chelsea back to summit
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho sets Rooney Europa League goal
(Europa League)
Report: Record man Rooney gives Man Utd Europa lift
(Europa League)
Reaction: Ranieri gears up for another Leicester ‘fairytale’
(Champions League)
Report: Okazaki and Mahrez fire Leicester into last 16
(Champions League)
Reaction: Sniping Mourinho says United’s luck will change
(Premier League)
Report: Giroud sucker-punch earns Arsenal draw at Man Utd
(Premier League)
Reaction: Stand-in Southgate proud of England impact
(friendly)
Report: Aspas, Isco deny Southgate’s England victory
(friendly)
Reaction: Southgate and Strachan coy about job prospects
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Report: England boost Southgate with win over Scotland
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Reaction: Europe no burden for Arsenal, says Wenger
(Premier League)
Report: Returning Kane thwarts Arsenal’s summit bid
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola urges Man City to build on Barcelona win
(Champions League)
Report: Guardiola glee as Gundogan guns down Barcelona
(Champions League)
Reaction: Penitent Mourinho humbled by Man Utd support
(EFL Cup)
Report: Mata sinks Man City, West Ham stun Chelsea
(EFL Cup)
Reaction: Mourinho, Conte keep mum over touchline spat
(Premier League)
Report: Chelsea humiliate Mourinho on Stamford Bridge return
(Premier League)
Reaction: Two-goal Pogba still needs time – Mourinho
(Europa League)
Report: Pogba purrs as Man United trounce Fenerbahçe
(Europa League)
Reaction: Ranieri irked by Leicester’s split personality
(Champions League)
Report: Mahrez takes Leicester to brink of last 16
(Champions League)
Reaction: Liverpool shown up by Man United, says Mourinho
(Premier League)
Report: De Gea defiant as Man United stifle Liverpool
(Premier League)
Reaction: Rooney boo brigade baffles Southgate
 (2018 World Cup qualifying)
Report: Southgate makes winning start with England
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Reaction: Guardiola asks for patience after setback at Spurs (Premier League)
Report: Razor-sharp Spurs deal Guardiola first Man City defeat
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho bemoans ‘poisoned’ Man United schedule
(Europa League)
Report: Ibrahimović gets Man Utd moving in Europa League
(Europa League)
Reaction: Guardiola urges Man City to learn Celtic lesson
(Champions League)
Report: Dembélé at double as Celtic check Man City charge
(Champions League)
Reaction: Ranieri heartened by return of Leicester ‘spirit’
(Champions League)
Report: Leicester’s ‘Dragon Slayer’ Slimani cuts down Porto
(Champions League)
Reaction: Wenger hungry for more after ending Chelsea hex
(Premier League)
Report: Happy anniversary for Wenger as Arsenal outclass Chelsea
(Premier League)
Reaction: Klopp shies away from Liverpool title talk
(Premier League)
Report: Henderson humdinger sinks Conte’s Chelsea
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola urges City fans to embrace Champions League
(Champions League)
Report: Agüero triple gives Man City belated lift-off
(Champions League)
Reaction: Mourinho points finger after Man Utd derby loss
(Premier League)
Report: First blood to Guardiola as City win Manchester derby
(Premier League)
Reaction: Coleman expects Bale to break Rush record
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Report: Bale fires Euro 2016 stars Wales in Moldova stroll
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Reaction: Rooney plays where he wants, says Allardyce
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Report: Last-gasp Lallana gives Big Sam winning start
(2018 World Cup qualifying)
Reaction: Klopp confident Liverpool are on right track
(Premier League)
Report: Liverpool pricked by Rose thorn in draw at Spurs
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola stands by unpopular Hart decision
(Champions League)
Report: Fans hail Hart as Man City reach group phase
(Champions League)
Reaction: Wenger rails at Arsenal transfer focus
(Premier League)
Report: Stalemate keeps Leicester and Arsenal grounded
(Premier League)
Reaction: I’ll give Pogba Man Utd freedom, vows Mourinho
(Premier League)
Report: Ibrahimović slays Saints as Pogba makes Man Utd return (Premier League)
Reaction: Conte defends Chelsea match-winner Conte
(Premier League)
Report: Costa late show gets Conte’s Chelsea off the mark
(Premier League)
Reaction: ‘We’re not ready,’ says Wenger after opening loss
(Premier League)
Report: Coutinho fires Liverpool to thrilling Arsenal win
(Premier League)
Reaction: Guardiola gives Hart and Touré Man City hope
(Premier League)
Report: McNair gifts Guardiola opening Man City win
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho ‘proud’ of record-breaking Pogba move
(Community Shield)
Report: Ibrahimović fires Man Utd to Community Shield win
(Community Shield)
Report: Mané sparkles as Liverpool crush Barcelona
(friendly)
Report: West Ham at home already, Europa woe for Éder
(Europa League)

Related link: Match reports and reaction 2015-16
Related link: Match reports and reaction 2014-15

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: 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: Man City breakthrough shows Pellegrini still punching

An urbane, understated figure, Pellegrini has already brought one Premier League title and two League Cups to the Etihad Stadium, but although it took the might of Barcelona to oust City from the Champions League in his first two seasons, he has been seen as something of a tactical ingenu. Pellegrini, it was said, was too closely wedded to attacking football to achieve success in Europe, but the manner of the triumph over PSG showed that City could play on the front foot in the Champions League, and prosper. City were sloppy defensively in the first leg, but scored opportunistic away goals through Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho, and their reward for refusing to sit on their advantage in Tuesday’s return leg was the 76th-minute De Bruyne strike that sealed a 3-2 aggregate win. That PSG were their last-eight victims was rich in symbolism — the other club buoyed by vast Middle Eastern wealth, already French champions and supposedly several developmental stages ahead of City, sent back to Paris with their tails between their legs.

A piece for AFP on a night of personal vindication for Manuel Pellegrini.

Profile: PSG’s Di María out to banish Manchester ghosts

Handed United’s fabled number seven shirt after a club-record £59.7 million ($84.3 million, 74 million euros) transfer from Real Madrid, Di María could scarcely have arrived at Old Trafford amid greater fanfare. But despite a promising start, including a delicious lob at Leicester City, Manchester would not prove a happy home for the man nicknamed ‘Fideo’ (Noodle) on account of his skinny frame. Van Gaal continually changed his role, even fielding him as a lone striker at one stage, and a succession of injuries prevented him from finding any rhythm. The nadir arrived in late January last year when a group of burglars armed with scaffolding poles attempted to smash their way into Di María’s luxurious home while he, his wife and one-year-old daughter cowered inside.

I’ve written something on Ángel di María’s trip to the Etihad Stadium with Paris Saint-Germain, which gives him an opportunity to add a footnote to the chapter marked ‘Manchester’. You can read it here.

Soccer Central podcast: Champions League review

I caught up with the crew on Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast on Thursday to look back at the week’s Champions League quarter-final first legs. Our conversation took in the link between tiki-taka and Fernando’s moment of madness against Paris Saint-Germain, Zlatan Ibrahimović’s likely next move and Fernando Torres’s crazy sending-off against Barcelona. You can listen here.

Analysis: Wenger in firing line as Arsenal crumble again

Celebrity fan Piers Morgan, the newspaper editor turned chat-show host, continues to fire up the #WengerOUT campaign on social media, while a banner held aloft during the recent FA Cup win at Hull City read: “ARSENE, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, BUT IT’S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE.” The banner was condemned by Arsenal players past and present — as well as David Beckham — but it illustrated the deep discontent felt by certain fans, as glimpsed in the scuffles that broke out outside the Emirates following Sunday’s 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final defeat by Watford. Arsenal are on course to qualify for the Champions League for the 20th season running, but after six successive last-16 exits they have become the competition’s perennial wallflowers — always at the party, but never on the dance-floor.

Loath to cite Piers Morgan, but here is a piece on where Champions League elimination leaves Arsenal and Arsène Wenger.

Profile: Elegant enforcer Mikel steadies Chelsea ship

Having started just two of Chelsea’s final 16 Premier League games under José Mourinho, Mikel has started nine of 12 under Hiddink in the only notable non-enforced personnel change that the Dutchman has made to the starting XI. As well as being unbeaten in their 12 league games to date under Hiddink, Chelsea’s average number of goals conceded per game has dropped from 1.625 to 1, and Mikel’s defensive nous has been an important factor. “He’s the ideal player to bring balance to the team,” Hiddink said earlier this year. “He knows where the strength of the opponent is and he knows exactly how to cope with that. He doesn’t do it in a very brutal way — he’s very, very elegant. What I like to see very much is not just a quality player, but a player who can defend so smoothly. It’s beautiful to see.”

A piece for AFP on the role that John Mikel Obi has played in Chelsea’s return to form.

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.

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