“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.
“United’s absence from European competition for the first time since 1989 has not prevented them from acquiring elite players, but the new signings do not appear to have been the fruit of meticulous forward planning. Whereas many observers have pinpointed central defence and central midfield as United’s weak points, they finished the transfer window having signed one central midfielder, a winger, a striker, and three players who played at left-back at the World Cup. As former England striker Gary Lineker joked on Twitter: “If you can’t defend, just out score ’em!” Two of those left-backs can play in other positions — Rojo at centre-back, Blind as a holding midfielder — but like Di María and Falcao, their hastily finalised transfers, ratified late in the window, suggested an element of panic.”
My analysis of Manchester United’s transfer-window dealings for AFP can be read here.
“The Dutchman has introduced an innovative 3-4-1-2 formation since taking up his role in July, but there is no obvious role for Di María in the system. His attacking instincts would have to be curbed at left wing-back and in any case, United did not lavish £29 million on Shaw in order to leave the England teenager on the bench. Di María can operate in the centre of the pitch, but if Van Gaal is determined to use Juan Mata as a number 10, it would leave him with only one berth in the team for an orthodox central midfielder. With Rooney and Robin van Persie also apparently guaranteed to start, Van Gaal may have to consider changing tack if he is to give all of his attacking stars the best conditions in which to work.”
I wrote a piece for AFP on where Manchester United’s record signing Ángel di María will fit into their starting XI, and you can read it here.
“During a 7-0 end-of-season rout of Everton, Arsenal scored a dazzling goal that showcased the sharply honed creative gifts of Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutchman began the move by chesting a Lauren throw-in to Edu, who fizzed a pass forward into the feet of Robin van Persie. Van Persie laid the ball off to Bergkamp and he bisected the visiting defence with an exquisite chipped pass that allowed Vieira to steam in and nonchalantly loft the ball over goalkeeper Richard Wright.”
In honour of Chelsea’s sublime second goal in their 3-1 win at Burnley on Monday, I’ve compiled a list of five great Premier League team goals for AFP. You can see the list (with videos) here.
I spoke to my friends at Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast about the opening round of Premier League fixtures, Louis van Gaal’s defensive problems at Manchester United, the battle for number-one status at Chelsea between Thibaut Courtois and Petr Čech, and Tony Pulis’s abrupt departure at Crystal Palace. You can listen here.
A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2014-15 season:
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)
“Gaël Kakuta, a precociously skilful attacking midfielder, joined Chelsea from French club Lens at the age of 16 in 2007, sparking a row that momentarily saw the English side banned from signing players. After he made an eye-catching debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers in November 2009, then-coach Carlo Ancelotti was moved to declare: “At that age I have never seen a player with this talent.” However, with established players such as Joe Cole and Florent Malouda cemented in Chelsea’s starting XI, Kakuta found his route to the first team blocked. There followed a succession of underwhelming loan moves — to Fulham, Bolton Wanderers, French club Dijon, Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem, and Lazio — and at 23, his career is still awaiting take-off.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on the uncertain futures faced by young Premier League players who go out on loan, and you can read it here.
“Following his parents’ divorce, Giggs adopted his mother’s surname and it was with that name on the back of his shirt that he was to become an international sporting icon. Giggs was the first member of United’s feted ‘Class of ’92’ youth team to infiltrate the senior squad, setting an example that David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers would go on to emulate. A wiry, jet-heeled left-winger, Giggs’s weaving runs made him one of the stars of Ferguson’s first great United team and moved team-mate Gary Pallister to comment that he gave his opponents “twisted blood”.”
My AFP profile of Ryan Giggs, who announced his retirement on Monday after an era-defining 23-year career, can be read here.