‘Champions League’

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.””

Me and my colleague Yann Bernal 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: 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

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)

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