“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: Shocks are warning for England, says Hodgson (Euro 2017 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.
“London (AFP) – Manchester City secured a second Premier League title in three seasons by comfortably defeating West Ham United 2-0 at a jubilant Etihad Stadium on Sunday.”
My AFP report on the final day of the 2013-14 Premier League season can be read here.
“Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester City are within touching distance of the Premier League title after overwhelming Aston Villa 4-0 on Wednesday to close to within a point of the championship.”
My AFP match report from a soggy but satisfied Etihad Stadium can be read here.
“Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Teenage debutant James Wilson scored twice as Manchester United rang out the old and ushered in the new in a 3-1 win at home to Hull City on Tuesday.”
My AFP match report on a night of hellos and goodbyes at Old Trafford can be read here.
“London (AFP) – Liverpool’s Premier League title bid was left in ruins after Crystal Palace mounted a sensational comeback from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 at Selhurst Park on Monday.”
My AFP match report on an extraordinary night at Selhurst Park can be found here.
Reaction: Rodgers proud despite Liverpool collapse
“London (AFP) – Norwich City all but ended Chelsea’s Premier League title challenge and gave themselves a fighting chance of avoiding relegation by recording a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.”
My AFP match report on the day that Chelsea’s title dream died can be read here.
“Liverpool (AFP) – An untimely slip by Steven Gerrard inadvertently helped Chelsea claim a 2-0 win over Premier League leaders Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday that reignited their title ambitions.”
My AFP match report on the day that Liverpool appeared to let the Premier League title slip through their fingers can be read here.
“Whereas United had not lifted the English title for 18 years when [Alex] Ferguson was appointed in November 1986, [David] Moyes’s job was to take command of the juggernaut that his predecessor had built. Ferguson hoped the structures he had put in place would allow Moyes — who failed to win a trophy in his 11 years at Everton — to slot seamlessly into place, thereby enabling United to maintain a tradition of appointing promising, hungry, British managers. It was for these reasons that United opted for Moyes, rather than a brash upstart such as José Mourinho, but the former Everton manager’s subsequent failure laid bare the shortcomings in their recruitment process.”
I wrote a piece for AFP on how the David Moyes affair exposed the fallacy of the club’s attachment to tradition, and you can read it here.