‘Premier League’

Analysis: Champions Chelsea unloved but unstoppable

“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.

Analysis: Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool to-do list

“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.

Analysis: Man City déjà vu leaves Pellegrini exposed

“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.

Analysis: Echoes of Moyes as Van Gaal grasps at straws

“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.

Analysis: Five ways Rodgers has re-energised Liverpool

“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.

Analysis: English Premier League TV deal sparks fan fears

“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.

Profile: So much, so little for Liverpool great Gerrard

“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.

Review: New money rises in England as old powers slip

“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.

Analysis: Back to drawing board for limping Liverpool

“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.

Analysis: New-look Liverpool left in starting blocks

“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.

Analysis: Falcao, Di María herald Man United’s age of excess

“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.

Analysis: Di María joins Man United in robes of saviour

“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.

Feature: Five great Premier League team goals

“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.

Soccer Central podcast: Premier League review

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.

Match reports and reaction 2014-15

A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2014-15 season:

Reaction: Hodgson lionises England record-chaser Rooney (Euro 2016 qualifying)
Report: Rooney sees off Slovenia to close on record
(Euro 2016 qualifying)
Reaction: Coleman foresees glory for conquering Wales
(Euro 2016 qualifying)
Report: Bale sinks Belgium to fire Welsh dreams
(Euro 2016 qualifying)
Reaction: Hodgson tells under-fire Sterling to toughen up
(friendly)
Report: England and Ireland draw a blank in Dublin
(friendly)
Reaction: De Gea uncertainty clouds Man United’s horizon
(Premier League)
Report: Arsenal thwart Man United as De Gea departs
(Premier League)
Reaction: Liverpool prepare for life without ‘irreplaceable’ Gerrard (Premier League)
Reaction: Gerrard ‘devastated’ after final Anfield game
(Premier League)
Report: Gerrard says farewell as Crystal Palace poop party (Premier League)
Reaction: Arsenal manager Wenger irked by Swansea ‘accident’
(Premier League)
Report: Arsenal sunk by Fabiański and Gomis
(Premier League)
Reaction: Rodgers accuses Fàbregas as Liverpool’s top-four bid fades
(Premier League)
Report: Chelsea close Champions League door on Liverpool
(Premier League)
Reaction: Mourinho steels Chelsea for challenges ahead
(Premier League)
Report: Hazard storms Palace to give Chelsea title
(Premier League)
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)

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