‘Champions League’

Interview: Ballack urges Guardiola to unshackle Bayern

“Of course he likes to keep the ball, to have possession as much as possible. Sometimes I miss the up and down, an open football game like you have in England. This kind of football that he played in Barcelona, it’s different, it’s more tiki-taka, but if you play against teams that are really defence-orientated, it turns into a boring football game sometimes. It’s not nice to watch from a football perspective, if one team plays around the box, passing the ball and having 70 or 80 percent of ball possession, but not many chances. It’s about finding a balance between having the ball and targeting the offensive.”

I sat down for a chat with Michael Ballack on Monday and you can read his thoughts on Pep Guardiola’s Barcelonification of Bayern Munich and Mario Götze’s post-World Cup problems here.

Related link: Ballack tips Juventus to beat ‘vulnerable’ Barcelona

Analysis: Why have English teams flopped in Europe?

“Any evaluation of the English teams’ woes in this season’s Champions League must, however, also take into account the major club-specific failings that led to each side’s elimination. Chelsea showed complacency by electing not to press home their advantage following the dismissal of PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimović in the second leg of their last 16 tie, enabling the French champions to claim a 2-2 draw that sent them through on away goals. Arsenal paid the price for kamikaze attacking — a habitual failing — in their 3-1 first-leg loss to Monaco, while in setting City out in a porous 4-4-2 formation, Pellegrini allowed Barcelona to take control of their tie with a 2-1 first-leg win.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP analysing why England’s Champions League representatives came unstuck in this season’s competition. You can read it here.

Feature: Mourinho ‘monsters’ meet in Matić-Motta duel

“In building his teams, Mourinho has often used the number six as a cornerstone. At Porto he had Costinha, another wiry, combative player, and the scorer of the goal against Manchester United during the 2003-04 Champions League that sent Mourinho sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline and into the wider football consciousness. At Chelsea there was Claude Makélélé, the tip of the inverted midfield triangle with which Mourinho swamped the central midfield pairings that prevailed in England at the time.”

My AFP piece on José Mourinho and the search for the perfect number six can be read here.

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: 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.

Match reports and reaction 2014-15

A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2014-15 season:

Reaction: Hodgson lionises England record-chaser Rooney (Euro 2016 qualifying)
Report: Rooney sees off Slovenia to close on record
(Euro 2016 qualifying)
Reaction: Coleman foresees glory for conquering Wales
(Euro 2016 qualifying)
Report: Bale sinks Belgium to fire Welsh dreams
(Euro 2016 qualifying)
Reaction: Hodgson tells under-fire Sterling to toughen up
(friendly)
Report: England and Ireland draw a blank in Dublin
(friendly)
Reaction: De Gea uncertainty clouds Man United’s horizon
(Premier League)
Report: Arsenal thwart Man United as De Gea departs
(Premier League)
Reaction: Liverpool prepare for life without ‘irreplaceable’ Gerrard (Premier League)
Reaction: Gerrard ‘devastated’ after final Anfield game
(Premier League)
Report: Gerrard says farewell as Crystal Palace poop party (Premier League)
Reaction: Arsenal manager Wenger irked by Swansea ‘accident’
(Premier League)
Report: Arsenal sunk by Fabiański and Gomis
(Premier League)
Reaction: Rodgers accuses Fàbregas as Liverpool’s top-four bid fades
(Premier League)
Report: Chelsea close Champions League door on Liverpool
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho steels Chelsea for challenges ahead
(Premier League)
Report: Hazard storms Palace to give Chelsea title
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho feels the love despite Chelsea jibes
(Premier League)
Reaction: Arsenal ‘boring’, not Chelsea – Mourinho
(Premier League)
Report: Arsenal stalemate delays Chelsea coronation
(Premier League)
Reaction: Fight for final places, Sherwood tells Villa
(FA Cup)
Report: Aston Villa end Gerrard’s FA Cup dream
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Mourinho calls for caution as title beckons
(Premier League)
Report: Hazard fires clinical Chelsea closer to title
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal says Man United top dogs after derby romp
(Premier League)
Report: Man City blown away by Man United fightback
(Premier League)
Reaction: Hodgson urges Kane to build on perfect debut
 (Euro 2016 qualifying)
Report: Rooney, Kane on target in England stroll
(Euro 2016 qualifying)
Reaction: Van Gaal beams after Man United storm Anfield
(Premier League)
Reaction: Gerrard sorry for red card against Man United
(Premier League)
Report: Gerrard off as Mata brace ends Liverpool run
(Premier League)
Reaction: PSG revel in Champions League breakthrough
(Champions League)
Report: Thiago Silva and 10-man PSG claim Chelsea revenge (Champions League)
Reaction: Wenger thrilled as Welbeck proves point
(FA Cup)
Report: Old boy Welbeck fells Man United in FA Cup
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Rodgers rues cost of Liverpool resurgence
(FA Cup)
Report: Blackburn intrude on Gerrard’s FA Cup dream
(FA Cup)
Reaction: Wembley win leaves Mourinho feeling ‘like a kid’
(Capital One Cup)
Report: Clinical Chelsea earn Mourinho third League Cup
(Capital One Cup)
Reaction: Man City stirrings give Pellegrini Barça hope
(Champions League)
Report: Suárez scores brace as Barcelona down Man City
(Champions League)
Reaction: Rodgers plots Liverpool assault on top four
(Premier League)
Report: Coutinho rocket sinks seething Southampton
(Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal defends Man United’s ‘long-ball’ tactics
(Premier League)
Report: Blind late show rescues spluttering Man United
(Premier League)
Reaction: Pellegrini remains hopeful as Mourinho sulks
(Premier League)
Report: Silva keeps Man City on Chelsea’s heels (Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho cries foul over Costa ‘stamp’ claims (Capital One Cup)
Report: Ivanović sinks Liverpool as Chelsea reach final (Capital One Cup)
Reaction: Odds were against Man United – Van Gaal (FA Cup)
Report: Minnows Cambridge hold Man United in FA Cup (FA Cup)
Reaction: Rodgers buoyed by Sterling-inspired Liverpool
(Capital One Cup)
Report: Sterling slalom checks Chelsea in League Cup (Capital One Cup)
Reaction: Arsenal masterclass sets standard, says Wenger
(Premier League)
Report: Cazorla stars as Arsenal stun Man City (Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal defends methods after United defeat
(Premier League)
Report: Tadić strike punishes shot-shy Man United (Premier League)
Report: Bloodied Skrtel earns Liverpool a point
(Premier League)
Reaction: In-form United ‘forcing luck’, says Van Gaal (Premier League)
Report: De Gea stars as United deepen Liverpool gloom (Premier League)
Reaction: Liverpool will ‘fight’ for return – Rodgers (Champions League)
Report: Basel thwart Liverpool to reach last 16 (Champions League)
Reaction: Van Persie rescued United, admits Van Gaal (Premier League)
Report: Van Persie sends lacklustre Man United third (Premier League)
Report: Agüero undoes Southampton as Man City go second (Premier League)
Report: Stunning Agüero treble gives Man City hope (Champions League)
Reaction: Hodgson dismayed by England fan chants (friendly)
Report: Rooney at the double as England silence Scots (friendly)
Report: Rooney, Welbeck inspire England fightback (Euro 2016 qualifying)
Report: Tevez returns as Argentina overcome Croatia (friendly)
Reaction: Man City have ‘crisis of confidence’ – Pellegrini (Champions League)
Report: Nine-man Man City left on brink by CSKA Moscow (Champions League)
Reaction: Van Gaal says beaten Man United getting closer (Premier League)
Report: Agüero gives City spoils against 10-man United (Premier League)
Reaction: Shocks are warning for England, says Hodgson (Euro 2016 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)

Report: Atlético sink Chelsea to set up all-Madrid final

“London (AFP) – Atlético Madrid set up a Champions League final against city rivals Real Madrid after coming from behind to win 3-1 at Chelsea in their semi-final second leg on Wednesday.”

My AFP report on how José Mourinho was denied a Champions League final reunion with Real Madrid can be read here.

Reaction: Mourinho rues Courtois friendly fire
Reaction: Simeone ‘excited’ by all-Madrid final
Analysis: European exit exposes Chelsea’s limitations

Report: Ba breaks PSG hearts as Chelsea scrape through

“London (AFP) – Demba Ba scored in the 87th minute to give Chelsea a last-gasp 2-0 win at home to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday that swept them into the Champions League semi-finals.”

My AFP report on a night of knife-edge tension at Stamford Bridge can be read here.

Reaction: Spirited Chelsea leave Mourinho aiming high

Report: Bayern held by resurgent Man United

“Manchester (United Kingdom) — Under-performing Manchester United produced a vastly improved display to hold  defending champions Bayern Munich to a 1-1 draw in the home leg of their  Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.”

My AFP report on an evening that stirred old passions at Old Trafford can be read here.

Reaction: Guardiola ruffled as Man United frustrate Bayern

Compulsive risk-taker Verratti relegates Cabaye to sideshow

Marco VERRATTINewcastle United fans, look away now. If losing Yohan Cabaye was painful, it probably won’t help to learn that he’s not even getting in the Paris Saint-Germain team at the moment.

As one of the stars of Lille’s 2010-11 double-winning team and a core member of the France side that engineered November’s famous comeback against Ukraine in World Cup qualifying, Cabaye is not short of admirers in his home country, but he is not playing for PSG for the simple reason that he is not Marco Verratti.

Since swapping the Bigg Market for the Champs Elysées in January, Cabaye has made only four starts. Instead, he is becoming the player that Laurent Blanc turns to when Verratti needs a breather, starting in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 encounter with Bayer Leverkusen (after PSG had put the tie to bed with a 4-0 victory in the first leg) and coming into the team for Friday’s 1-0 win at Nice, when Verratti was rested ahead of this week’s meeting with Chelsea.

French pundits believe that PSG’s neatly balanced midfield trio of Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi will give them the edge in their quarter-final against Chelsea, and if Motta supplies the brains and Matuidi the lungs in that triumvirate, Verratti is the wildly and erratically pumping heart.

Continue reading »

Report: Van Persie rescues Man United in Champions League

“Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick as Manchester United kept their season alive by storming back to beat Olympiakos 3-0 and reach the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday.”

My AFP report on a stirring European comeback at Old Trafford can be read here.

Reaction: Moyes defiant after Man United fightback
Analysis: Giggs and Van Persie buy Moyes time

Report: Olympiakos bring listless United to their knees

“PIRAEUS, Greece (AFP) – Manchester United were shunted towards an unscheduled exit in the Champions League after crashing to a shock 2-0 defeat at Olympiakos in their last 16  first-leg match on Tuesday.”

My AFP match report on yet another bleak night for David Moyes and his team can be read here.

Reaction: Moyes mystified by Man United’s Greek tragedy
Analysis: Spirit of resolve deserts flatlining Man United

Report: Messi, Alves give Barca edge over 10-man City

“MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) — Goals by Lionel Messi and Dani Alves saw Barcelona take control of their  Champions League last 16 tie against Manchester City with a 2-0 win in Tuesday’s  first leg.”

My AFP report on a night of regrets for Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium can be read here.

Reaction: Pellegrini turns on referee as Man City lose to Barcelona

Analysis: Mourinho still searching for winning formula

“Upon returning to Chelsea, Mourinho pledged that he would introduce a more proactive, passing style, but he is struggling to find an alternative to the counter-attacking approach that is his trademark. Chelsea have averaged a healthy 56.9 percent of possession in their 12 league games to date this season, but they seem happier when they have taken an early lead and can pick off their opponents on the break. Of their 12 victories in all competitions, 10 have come after they went ahead inside the first 33 minutes and on the five occasions when they have conceded the opening goal, they have come back to win only once, in last month’s 4-1 win at home to Cardiff City.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on José Mourinho’s search for a winning formula at Chelsea, and you can read it here.

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