“MANCHESTER — Cristiano Ronaldo scored the decisive goal as Real Madrid controversially came from behind to win 2-1 at Manchester United on Tuesday and reach the Champions League quarter-finals.”
“LONDON — Chelsea interim coach Rafael Benitez did his best to focus on the positives after the holders went out of the Champions League at the group phase despite thrashing FC Nordsjaelland.”
My AFP reaction piece from Stamford Bridge can be read here. You can read my match report here and there’s an analysis piece on what the short-term future holds for Chelsea here: Chelsea failure leaves little room for manoeuvre.
“The spine of the side — Petr Čech, John Terry, Frank Lampard — remains largely intact from the team that [José] Mourinho built, and [André] Villas-Boas paid the price for his clumsy attempts to ease players like Lampard out of the picture. [Roberto] Di Matteo galvanised the old guard for one last hurrah and took them to Champions League glory, before he, too, sought to shake up an ageing squad packed with domineering figures. The young attacking triumvirate of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar thrilled as Chelsea stormed four points clear in the Premier League, but they were unable to arrest the slump that ultimately cost Di Matteo his job. The quandary facing Benitez is that the Mourinho-era core has still not been replaced.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on the challenges facing Chelsea’s new interim coach, Rafael Benitez, and you can read it here.
And here’s my match report on the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid that saw Manchester City eliminated from the Champions League: Real Madrid send Man City to another early exit.
I’ve been fortunate to report on some fantastic games of football since starting my new role at AFP in London four weeks ago. Here are some of the match reports from my first month in the job:
“COPENHAGEN — Juan Mata scored twice as Chelsea belied an off-key performance to win 4-0 at competition debutants FC Nordsjaelland on Tuesday and record the first victory of their Champions League title defence.”
My AFP match report on Chelsea’s slightly flattering 4-0 win over a spirited Nordsjaelland side can be read here.
“Ibrahimović’s year-long stint at Barça was widely seen as a failure, and yet he finished his one season at Camp Nou with a haul of 21 goals in 45 games and winner’s medals for La Liga, the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Supercopa de España around his neck. The 30-year-old has been named Serie A’s Best Foreign Player on four occasions and won the award for Best Player on three occasions, and yet the suspicion persists — particularly in England — that he is a myth. A flat-track bully. A big-time Charlie.”
This week’s Pitchside Europe blog, on how Zlatan Ibrahimović is still to leave his mark on the latter stages of the Champions League, can be read here.
The eight remaining teams in this season’s Champions League are drawn from seven different countries and range in experience from quarter-final debutants APOEL to nine-time champions Real Madrid. They are nonetheless united by a number of tactical factors. All eight sides deployed four-man defences in their last-16 ties, while the majority of the teams preferred single-striker formations. Benfica and Milan were the only two teams to play with no wide midfielders.
The diagrams below depict the eight teams’ tactical line-ups from the first legs of their last-16 ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.
NB: The diagrams (screenshots from the UEFA website) show average positions from the first 15 minutes of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.
In the first leg of their tie at Lyon, APOEL played in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation and placed so much emphasis on defending their penalty area that they did not muster a single shot at goal until Gustavo Manduca tested Hugo Lloris with a rising drive in the 88th minute. Ivan Jovanović’s side were more proactive in the return leg, however. Esteban Solari played up front in support of Aílton, while Manduca was named in the starting line-up and scored the goal that levelled the tie in the ninth minute.
[Squad numbers: 22. Dionisis Chiotis; 7. Savvas Poursaitidis, 3. Paulo Jorge, 4. Kaká, 98. William Boaventura; 26. Nuno Morais; 10. Constantinos Charalambides, 31. Hélder Sousa, 23. Hélio Pinto, 11. Ivan Tričkovski; 8. Aílton]
“MARSEILLE, France — A dramatic 93rd-minute header from André Ayew gave Marseille a 1-0 victory over luckless Internazionale in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie here on Wednesday.”
André Ayew’s injury-time goal prompted a hasty re-write of my AFP match report on Marseille’s game with Internazionale on Wednesday evening. You can read it here.
“LYON, France — Lyon secured a slender advantage in their Champions League last 16 tie with APOEL FC by beating the Cypriot underdogs 1-0 in the first leg at Stade Gerland on Tuesday.”
My AFP match report on Lyon’s 1-0 victory over APOEL on Tuesday can be read here.
“Critics will be quick to point to the absence of a creative central midfielder in United’s ranks, and Ferguson could have been forgiven for casting an envious eye at Basel’s bustling Xherdan Shaqiri as he made raid after raid into United territory on Wednesday.”
Read my analysis for AFP of the task facing Sir Alex Ferguson following Manchester United’s Champions League exit at the hands of Basel here.
“MARSEILLE — An injury-time goal by substitute Aaron Ramsey gave Arsenal a 1-0 win at Marseille on Wednesday that enabled Arsene Wenger’s side to leapfrog their opponents to top spot in Champions League Group F.”
My AFP match report can be read here.
“LISBON — Manchester United were indebted to a superb Ryan Giggs goal as they drew 1-1 with Benfica on Wednesday despite a below-par performance in their Champions League Group C opener.”
You can read my AFP match report here.
After a one-sided defeat in the first leg, Schalke will tonight attempt to make history by overturning a 2-0 deficit in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final with Manchester United. I spoke to Dan Levy about the tie on this week’s episode of The Bundesliga Podcast and you can hear our preview of the game here.
“GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — Manchester United produced a devastating attacking performance to record a 2-0 win over Schalke 04 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.”
Read my AFP match report here.