Report: Chelsea raid robs Man City of home comforts

“Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Chelsea defied Manchester City’s scintillating home form with a superb 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium on Monday that injected fresh intrigue into the Premier League title race.”

My AFP match report on Chelsea’s victory at the Etihad can be found here.

Reaction: Mourinho talks down title chances for ‘little horse’ Chelsea

Tactics: Ligue 1′s leading lights find diamonds in the rough

James RodriguezParis Saint-Germain and Monaco may have stockpiled all the money in Ligue 1, but the playing fields of the French top flight have been awash with diamonds this season.

Over the past few months, a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond – known as a milieu en losange in France – has become the must-have tactical system for the league’s leading teams, with Lille, Monaco and Lyon successively enjoying improved fortunes after adopting the tactic and Marseille potentially poised to follow suit.

Lille were the pioneers, with coach René Girard installing the system within weeks of his arrival from Montpellier during the summer. Having initially declared an intention to persist with the 4-3-3 formation favoured by his predecessor, Rudi Garcia, he jettisoned the tactic after only 45 minutes of the club’s first friendly match, a 3-2 win over Dijon in July.

The system he introduced was designed to get the best out of Marvin Martin, who operates in the number 10 role ahead of a three-man midfield. Once seen as France’s answer to Xavi, he endured a disappointing debut season after signing from Sochaux but has spoken positively of the “freedom” afforded him in the new system. It is a set-up with which the 26-year-old is familiar, having come to prominence at Sochaux by supplying the bullets for Brown Ideye and Modibo Maiga as the club from eastern France recorded a surprise fifth-place finish under Francis Gillot in 2011.

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Report: Sunderland stun United in League Cup semi-final

“Manchester (United Kingdom) — Manchester United’s desperate season met with fresh degradation on Wednesday as they sensationally lost on penalties to Sunderland in the League Cup semi-finals at Old Trafford.”

My AFP match report on yet another miserable night for Manchester United at Old Trafford can be read here.

Reaction: Man United not good enough, admits Moyes

Report: Eto’o hat-trick sees United sink deeper

“Manchester United’s Premier League title defence died another death on Sunday as Samuel Eto’o's hat-trick earned Chelsea a 3-1 win that left the champions 14 points off the pace.”

My AFP match report on another chastening day for Manchester United and David Moyes can be read here.

Reaction: United won’t give up on title, vows Moyes

French football quotes of the year 2013

Zlatan IbrahimovicFrom post-match brawls and Twitter spats to weather vanes, broken televisions and Justin Bieber, Football Further proudly presents its seasonal compilation of the year’s best French football quotes.

Argy-bargy

“People have a good image of me. It’s not these tramps who are going to tarnish my image. They should stop lying to the French people. It annoys me that people talk about ‘your image’. My image is great in France. When I’m abroad, I don’t even talk about it. But in France it’s just these people, these parasites.”
- Patrice Evra on his friends in the media

“I go to talk to the referee. At that moment, the delegate blocks me and pushes me towards the referee. As a result, I touch the referee with my back. It happened exactly like that. I didn’t push the referee.”
- Leonardo‘s not entirely accurate account of his encounter with referee Alexandre Costa after Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-1 draw with Valenciennes in May. It ultimately costs him a 14-month suspension, effectively forcing him out of French football

“This year we’ve lost lots of players, as always, but we’ve lost something very important: the pillars of Valencia, players like [Roberto] Soldado, David Albelda or Tino Costa who talk in the changing room. Now there are lots of boot-lickers who don’t say things to your face. That’s why things aren’t going well between me and Đukić.”
- Adil Rami explains why his relationship with Valencia coach Miroslav Đukić has broken down. And is promptly frozen out of the squad

“There was an altercation that I wasn’t involved in. My goalkeeping coach, Fabrice Grange, was surrounded by a load of people who were pushing him. Jean-Michel Aulas arrived – I don’t know why. All I did was push him back. He says that I hit him in the back, which is scandalous. If I’d done that, he wouldn’t have been able to do an interview with Canal+ three minutes later.”
- Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier rejects an accusation from Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas that he punched him during a tunnel scuffle after a heated derby du Rhône

“And what’s the other one called, Screwdriver? Rolland Screwdriver. All he does is talk.”
- Evra again, unwittingly rechristening manager/pundit Rolland Courbis ‘Rolland Tournevis’

Les Bleus

“After the Euro, the media attention was very difficult to digest. I’d say that it ruined my season a bit. Everyone talked to me about it. I handled the situation badly, I accept that. I should have given a mea culpa. I shut myself off and, with hindsight, I realise that I was wrong.”
- Samri Nasri reflects on Euro 2012

“If I had to do everything again, if I had the possibility to relive exactly the same life, I’d do it, I’d want the same one. I’d do everything the same. It’s beautiful, all the same. I’m happy with what I’ve experienced up to now.”
- Éric Abidal on his battle with liver problems

“Above my mantelpiece, in the living room. My wife’s prepared everything.”
- Asked where he would put the Ballon d’Or trophy if he won it, Franck Ribéry reveals that he’s barely given it any thought at all

“When the coach told me I was playing, I said: ‘We’re going to Brazil.’ It doesn’t matter how. If I’d had to score with my hand, the ball would have been in the back of the net.”
- Mamadou Sakho, who scores two goals as France overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Ukraine to book their place at next year’s World Cup

“I’d never seen such an atmosphere at the Stade de France. It was a beautiful moment to experience, all those people behind us, the flags, the chants. From the hotel to the stadium we felt that force pushing us.”
- Captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris

“RESPECT.”
- So often the scourge of the national team, L’Équipe takes its cue from Ali G with a simple one-word headline the day after the match

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Feature: Ferguson exit sparks England’s year of change

“The year had started in familiar fashion, with United romping to an unprecedented 20th league title, but at 09:17 on the morning of Wednesday, May 8, everything changed. A tweet published by the United press office confirmed the jaw-dropping rumours that had first emerged on the Daily Telegraph website the previous night: Ferguson, the father of the modern United, the most successful manager in British football history, was stepping down after 26 and a half record-breaking years.”

My AFP review of the year 2013 in English football can be found here.

Analysis: Five problem areas for Tottenham to address

“While Spurs demonstrated impressive defensive solidity in the season’s opening weeks, conceding only two goals in their first six league fixtures, they have since shown a worrying tendency to collapse when circumstances conspire against them. They conceded three goals in 13 second-half minutes in a shock 3-0 home defeat by West Ham United in October and went 5-0 down at [Manchester] City after only 55 minutes. The 63rd-minute dismissal of Paulinho against Liverpool, meanwhile, was the catalyst for a calamitous 14-minute spell in which they shipped three late goals.”

I’ve identified the five most pressing issues awaiting attention in the in-tray of André Villas-Boas’s successor as Tottenham Hotspur manager, and you can read about them here.

Analysis: What’s gone wrong for Manchester United?

“Moyes pledged not to tinker with Ferguson’s winning formula, but he has already overseen sweeping changes, notably with the introduction of a completely new set of coaches. Pundits including former United defender Gary Neville have observed that United appear to be taking up deeper defensive positions on the pitch, while they have also become more vulnerable at set-pieces. For his part, Moyes has emphasised that the club are going through a “great transition”.”

My take for AFP on the problems at Old Trafford can be read here.

Report: Deulofeu late show stops Arsenal pulling away

“London — A fine 84th-minute goal by substitute Gerard Deulofeu earned Everton a 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Sunday that prevented the Premier League leaders from moving seven points clear.”

My AFP match report on an engaging and open-ended tussle at the Emirates Stadium can be found here.

Reaction: Wenger feels Arsenal merit title recognition

Report: Rooney gets United out of trouble at Spurs

“London (AFP) – Wayne Rooney scored a brace as Manchester United twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Tottenham Hotspur in an entertaining Premier League encounter on Sunday.”

My AFP match report from White Hart Lane can be read here.

Reaction: Villas-Boas rebukes reporter after Spurs draw

Analysis: Mourinho still searching for winning formula

“Upon returning to Chelsea, Mourinho pledged that he would introduce a more proactive, passing style, but he is struggling to find an alternative to the counter-attacking approach that is his trademark. Chelsea have averaged a healthy 56.9 percent of possession in their 12 league games to date this season, but they seem happier when they have taken an early lead and can pick off their opponents on the break. Of their 12 victories in all competitions, 10 have come after they went ahead inside the first 33 minutes and on the five occasions when they have conceded the opening goal, they have come back to win only once, in last month’s 4-1 win at home to Cardiff City.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on José Mourinho’s search for a winning formula at Chelsea, and you can read it here.

Report: Early bird Wilshere takes Arsenal to brink

“London (AFP) – Jack Wilshere scored two goals, the first after only 27 seconds, as Arsenal beat Marseille 2-0 on Tuesday to move to within touching distance of the Champions League last 16.”

My AFP match report on a straightforward night’s work for Arsenal, and another steep learning curve for Marseille, can be read here.

Soccer Central podcast: Champions League preview

I put on my posh podcast voice to speak to Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast about Laurent Blanc’s winning formula at Paris Saint-Germain, Olivier Giroud and Arsenal, Frank Lampard and Chelsea, and David Moyes’s tactical conundrums at Manchester United. You can listen here.

Report: Mertesacker gives England sinking feeling

“London — Germany procured a smash-and-grab 1-0 victory over England in a friendly at Wembley on Tuesday, consigning their old rivals to successive home defeats for the first time since 1977.”

My AFP match report on England’s final game of 2013 can be found here.

Reaction: Hodgson values England gains above losses

Report: England caught cold by Sánchez and Chile

“London — England’s World Cup preparations began with a whimper on Friday as Alexis Sánchez scored twice to give Chile a 2-0 victory in a low-key friendly game at Wembley Stadium.”

My AFP report on a chastening night for Roy Hodgson’s experimental England side can be read here.

Reaction: Hodgson primes big guns after Chile setback

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