“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.
“London (AFP) – Jack Wilshere scored two goals, the first after only 27 seconds, as Arsenal beat Marseille 2-0 on Tuesday to move to within touching distance of the Champions League last 16.”
My AFP match report on a straightforward night’s work for Arsenal, and another steep learning curve for Marseille, can be read here.
“London — Chelsea shook an unexpected loss to Newcastle United out of their system by overcoming Schalke 3-0 on Wednesday to close on a place in the Champions League knockout phase.”
My AFP match report on a night to forget for Timo Hildebrand at Stamford Bridge can be read here.
Related link: Agüero, Negredo fire Man City into last 16
“Manchester (United Kingdom) — Defending champions Bayern Munich proved they remain the team to beat in the Champions League with a classy 3-1 win at Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.”
My AFP report on Bayern Munich’s breath-taking performance against Manchester City can be read here.
“MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Wayne Rooney reached 200 Manchester United goals with a brace to give David Moyes a 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen in his first Champions League group game on Tuesday.”
My AFP match report on Wayne Rooney’s milestone moment for Manchester United can be read here.
Reaction: Moyes salutes ‘world-class’ Rooney
The closing weeks of the 2012-13 season represented one of the most seismic periods in the recent history of English football: Sir Alex Ferguson sensationally retired as Manchester United manager, bowing out after an astonishing 5-5 draw at West Bromwich Albion; David Beckham called time on his perpetually headline-grabbing career; Wigan Athletic stunned Manchester City in the FA Cup final; Chelsea claimed a last-gasp victory over Benfica in the Europa League final; Arjen Robben netted a dramatic late winner for Bayern Munich to settle a pulsating Champions League final at Wembley; and then shy, retiring José Mourinho returned to Chelsea.
I was privileged to report on all of it, and below are links to some of the pieces I produced for AFP as the season reached its crescendo:
Sir Alex Ferguson
Profile: Alex Ferguson, the man who rebuilt United
Analysis: Following Ferguson, United’s impossible job
Report: Ferguson bows out as United share 10-goal epic
Reaction: United look forward after Ferguson says goodbye
Analysis: Late-season retirements hint at Premier League flux
Report: Wigan stun Man City in FA Cup final upset
Europa League final
Report: Chelsea claim last-gasp Europa League triumph
Report: Beckham calls time on stellar career
Champions League final
Report: Redemption as Robben gives Bayern fifth European crown
“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.