‘Champions League’

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.

Feature: Europe resonates to Champions League anthem

The swelling crescendo and rousing melody are the creations of Briton Tony Britten, who composed the anthem in 1992 at the request of UEFA’s marketing department to mark the competition’s re-branding. “Football had a pretty tawdry name back in the late 80s, early 90s,” Britten told AFP in a telephone interview. “There’d been Hillsborough, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. There was a lot of terrible stuff going on — inadequately equipped stadia, appalling hooliganism. It was horrible. And UEFA, to their eternal credit, said that the Champions League needed to reflect all that was best in this wonderful game.”

My colleague Yann Bernal and I have written a piece looking at the story behind the famous Champions League theme music – you can read it here.

Match reports and reaction 2015-16

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

Reaction: Hodgson defends England’s toiling trio (friendly)
Report: Smalling saves England against 10-man Portugal
(friendly)
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

Latest Tweets
Archives