“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.
“Liverpool began the season with a four-man defence, but after losing seven of their first 16 games, [Brendan] Rodgers rejigged his team, introducing a three-man defensive configuration in a loose-limbed 3-4-2-1 formation. It has yielded defensive stability — Liverpool have conceded only seven times in their last 10 games — and greater zip and dynamism in attack, where the positional fluidity has allowed Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to thrive, plugging a void created by Daniel Sturridge’s long spell on the sidelines due to injury. “We have great control of the ball and we’ve got the ball longer in the opponent’s half, which means they don’t have to defend as much,” Rodgers has explained.”
I’ve had a look at the reasons behind Liverpool’s improved recent form in the Premier League and you can read it here.
“English Premier League clubs risk losing a generation of supporters if their record-breaking new television rights deal does not translate into cheaper ticket prices, fan groups warned on Wednesday. The Premier League on Tuesday announced that broadcasters Sky and BT have paid £5.1 billion ($7.8 billion, 6.9 billion euros) to show live games in the period 2016-2019 — a 70 percent increase on the previous deal. Overall revenue could soar beyond £8 billion once a global TV rights deal is renegotiated, but it comes at a time when rising ticket prices are making it difficult for some supporters to attend games.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on calls for Premier League clubs to share the fruits of their blockbuster TV rights deal. You can read it here.
“Taken as a whole, in his club career — which began when he walked through the doors of Liverpool’s academy at the age of eight — Gerrard has scaled almost all the heights. From the header that sparked the comeback to end all comebacks against Milan in Istanbul to the sensational 35-yard thunderbolt that took the 2006 FA Cup final to extra time, he has swaggered through his Anfield career with the audacity of a comic-book hero. He came third in the voting for the Ballon d’Or in 2005 and was voted the greatest player in Liverpool’s history by fans in a 2013 poll. No less a judge than Zinedine Zidane observed in 2009: “Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo, but yes, I think he might be.””
My piece for AFP on Steven Gerrard’s departure from Liverpool can be read here.
“Manchester City and Chelsea, England’s nouveaux riches, appear poised to dominate the Premier League in 2015, with traditional powerhouses Manchester United and Liverpool working their way through periods of transition. United began this year as champions and Liverpool came agonisingly close to succeeding them, but it was City who prevailed in the 2013-14 title race and it is Chelsea who approach the New Year in pole position.”
My AFP review of the year 2014 in the Premier League can be read here.
“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.
“It is in attack, however, that Liverpool’s problems are most clearly apparent. While Raheem Sterling continues to excite, it was only in the impressive victory at Spurs that Liverpool showed anything reminiscent of the dazzling football with which they laid waste to their opponents last season. A thigh injury to Daniel Sturridge has robbed them of their attacking spearhead and Mario Balotelli is yet to convince as a replacement for the mercurial Suárez. Where the scurrying Suarez fizzed with energy and enterprise, Balotelli has a tendency to amble around the pitch, making it harder for Liverpool to pull opposition defences out of shape.”
My take on the reasons behind Liverpool’s underwhelming start to the season for AFP can be found here.