“Klopp, unmistakable with his stubble and glasses, built Dortmund’s game around the principle of gegenpressing, or counter-pressing. It soon became a buzzword in European football and fans in Germany grew accustomed to the sight of Klopp’s yellow-shirted hordes asphyxiating their opponents with high pressing and quick transitions. It was an approach that reached its apogee in a 4-1 demolition of Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, when Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals. Dortmund ran out of puff last season, finishing seventh in the league and losing to Wolfsburg in the German Cup final, but Klopp has had time to fine-tune his philosophy during a five-month sabbatical.”
Me and my AFP colleague Ryland James have had a look at how Liverpool manager-elect Jürgen Klopp is likely to approach the challenges facing him at Anfield. You can read our piece here.
“Obliged to lead the line alone in manager Louis van Gaal’s single-striker system, he has looked isolated and off the pace, his touch betraying him, his famous explosiveness diminished. It has brought to mind the words uttered last year by Paul Scholes, Rooney’s former United team-mate, who said that Rooney’s premature emergence as a teenager means he may have reached his peak some years ago. Rooney himself has dismissed suggestions that he is past his best and has pointed with justification to a historical record that shows his fallow periods are frequently followed by flurries of goals. And yet there is no escaping the fact that he is no longer the game-changing force of nature, the rampaging bull, that burst onto the scene with Everton at the age of 16, earning him the nickname ‘the White Pelé’.”
A piece on Wayne Rooney, and the gulf between the player he threatened to become and the player he actually is.
“Thierry Henry, with whom Martial is often compared, was similarly raw when he left Monaco for Juventus in 1999, but he was two years older, had twice as many games behind him and had already won a World Cup. Henry himself has described the deal as a “massive gamble”. Like Henry, Martial is a striker who started his senior career as a winger and he is similarly drawn to the left flank, from where he can cut inside onto his right foot and shoot at goal. The fact he has been handed the number nine shirt, coupled with Rooney’s early-season struggles as United’s lone striker, suggests he will be given a chance to play through the middle.”
I’ve written a piece on the challenges facing Anthony Martial at Manchester United and you can read it here.
Related link: English clubs impose Martial law in Europe
“While big-money arrivals at United, City and Chelsea have long been the norm, it is the sight of Yohan Cabaye in Crystal Palace’s colours or Xherdan Shaqiri lining up for Stoke City that hammer home England’s financial might. The structure of the Premier League’s TV deals means that money is shared evenly across the division and English clubs are also reaping the rewards of slick commercial operations. United’s new kit deal with German sportswear firm Adidas is worth £750 million, on top of several commercial contracts including a £330 million sponsorship agreement with American car giant Chevrolet. “We’ve seen in recent years tremendous commercial growth from the largest clubs and that’s helping fuel some of this transfer spending,” Alex Thorpe from Deloitte’s Sports Business Group told AFP.”
A piece on how English clubs have come to distort the European transfer market can be found here.
“United, who finished fourth last season, deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation in pre-season, but Van Gaal has pledged to revert to the 4-3-3 system that belatedly brought the team success in the latter part of the 2014-15 campaign. It means that Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini (who is suspended for the first three league games) will be competing for only three starting berths. With the exciting Memphis Depay, a £25 million acquisition from PSV Eindhoven, expected to start on one flank, Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj — and potentially reported target Pedro Rodríguez — must vie for a place on the other side of the pitch.”
I’ve written something for AFP on how Manchester United are shaping up ahead of the new Premier League season. You can read it here.
Related link: Five youngsters eyeing Premier League stardom
A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2015-16 season:
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 Premier League title beckoned for Chelsea from the moment André Schürrle put them ahead after 20 minutes and 45 seconds of their opening fixture at Burnley on August 18. Diego Costa’s first Chelsea goal cancelled out Scott Arfield’s opener and four minutes later Schürrle converted a sumptuous, half-volleyed pass from Cesc Fàbregas at the culmination of a superb 25-pass move. Branislav Ivanović’s 34th-minute goal completed a 3-1 win that took Jose Mourinho’s side above defending champions Manchester City on goals scored at the top of the table, and they have been there largely ever since. “They’ve definitely been the best team in the league,” admits Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey. “They’ve only lost twice this season. Their consistency has been the best and that’s what you need.””
I wrote a piece for AFP on how Chelsea won the Premier League title and you can read it here.
“With Luis Suárez having left for Barcelona and injuries restricting Daniel Sturridge to only seven starts, Liverpool have struggled for goals badly, averaging 1.38 per game compared to 2.66 in 2013-14. Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, brought in to soften the blow of Suárez’s departure, have failed, and Liverpool’s four recognised strikers (Sturridge, Balotelli, Lambert and Fabio Borini) have mustered only eight league goals between them. Promising Belgian striker Divock Origi is due to arrive during the summer, having been loaned back to Lille after being signed last July, but Liverpool also need to find a proven goal-scorer (or goal-scorers) if they are to recapture the heights of last season. “You can’t hide the fact we’ve lost over 50 goals,” Rodgers said after Tuesday’s defeat at Hull. “We have to look to improve the squad. It’s always great if you can get marquee players to come in and help you. The owners will support that.””
I’ve written a piece on the five issues Brendan Rodgers needs to address in order to get Liverpool back on track and you can read it here.
“Having snatched the crown from Manchester United’s grasp on the final day of the 2011-12 campaign, City stagnated and finished the following season 11 points adrift of their derby rivals in second place. Manager Roberto Mancini paid the price with his job, sacked two days after a shock defeat by Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final, and a similar fate may lie in store for Pellegrini. Heralded as the antithesis to the spiky and combative Mancini, the urbane Chilean steered the club to a league and League Cup double in his first season. But Pellegrini’s position now appears under serious threat, with British bookmakers offering odds of 2/7 that he will no longer be at the helm on the opening day of next season.”
Who is to blame for Manchester City’s failure to defend the Premier League title? Some thoughts in this piece for AFP.
“For Manchester United’s fans, manager Louis van Gaal’s attempts to explain their team’s shortcomings may be beginning to carry faint echoes of the reign of his doomed predecessor, David Moyes. United’s regression under Moyes was spectacular, but it was his continued insistence that progress was being made — despite stark evidence to the contrary — that particularly irked supporters. Fans could just about countenance the team slipping back after the departure of Alex Ferguson, but hearing Moyes claim that his side should aspire to play like Manchester City or that Liverpool were travelling to Old Trafford as “favourites” was impossible to stomach. With United still on course for Champions League qualification, Van Gaal’s stock has fallen no way near as low as Moyes’s did, but the excuses he gave after Monday’s FA Cup elimination by Arsenal raised more than a few eyebrows.”
I wrote a piece for AFP on Manchester United’s FA Cup elimination and Louis van Gaal’s inability to explain away their failings, and you can read it here.