A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2015-16 season:
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
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
“LONDON — Chelsea reached the Europa League final for the first time in their history after surviving a first-half scare to defeat Swiss champions FC Basel 3-1 in the second leg of their semi-final on Thursday.”
My AFP match report from Stamford Bridge can be read here.
“LONDON — Gareth Bale resumed his torment of Internazionale by scoring one goal and creating another as Tottenham Hotspur won 3-0 at White Hart Lane on Thursday to place one foot in the Europa League quarter-finals.”
My AFP match report on Tottenham’s superb victory over Internazionale can be read here.
Manchester United have already demonstrated this season that they are capable of overwhelming teams despite fielding what on first glance appears to be a conservative 4-5-1 formation, notably in the 3-1 Carling Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City in January.
They were at it again in the 4-0 win against Milan last week, when a side fighting hard for the Serie A title were simply torn apart by a United team fielding only one dedicated attacking player in the form of Wayne Rooney.
United’s tactics in that match (see right) saw Rooney fielded once again as a lone striker. Nani and Antonio Valencia were stationed on the flanks, with Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher occupying deep positions in central midfield. Park Ji-sung played a crucial role in the middle of the pitch by breaking forward to harass Milan’s deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo.
“Park made a sacrifice, and showed intelligence and discipline. We needed that against Pirlo who’s a very good player for Milan,” said United coach Sir Alex Ferguson.
Park subsequently spent a significant amount of time just in front of the Milan defence but his role was principally a destructive one. In United’s defensive phase, Rooney was the only player in the remote vicinity of the Milan centre-backs, with Park dropping back alongside Fletcher to present Milan with a five-man wall in midfield.
The key to United’s victory, as it was against City, lay in springing Park and Fletcher forward from midfield to add weight to United’s attacks. With Rooney having converted a cross from either flank to put United 2-0 up, Park and Fletcher killed the game off with late strikes in the second half. Both, crucially, had drifted into Milan’s penalty area unseen.
The principal purpose of the 4-5-1 is to give the team a solid base in midfield, but one by-product of the system is the manner in which it renders deep-lying opposition midfielders redundant by vacating the space usually inhabited by playmakers and attacking midfielders. One of the reasons for deploying midfielders to shield your defence is to prevent your opponent’s attacking players from exploiting the space that used to exist between defence and midfield in a traditional 4-4-2. But by completely withdrawing his midfielders from Milan’s defensive territory, Ferguson left Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini marooned – unable to engage with United’s attacking midfielders but prevented from picking out a team-mate upfield due to the wall of opposition midfielders ahead of them.