The sight of Klopp on the touchline — squawking at his players, pumping his fist in celebration of Divock Origi’s first-half goal — will have been immediately familiar to Dortmund’s fans, who granted him a touching send-off at the final whistle. So too the tactics employed by his team, whose aggressive, front-foot approach prevented the home side from settling into any kind of rhythm and whose counter-attacks kept the Dortmund rearguard on constant alert. While Dortmund have become more of a possession-based team under Klopp’s successor, Thomas Tuchel — the legacy of the new status his seven-year tenure left them with — Liverpool are exhibiting the same underdog mentality upon which he built his success in the Ruhr valley. Speaking earlier this season, former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson said the team’s best performances were “reminiscent of Borussia Dortmund at their best under Jürgen Klopp”.
Ahead of the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, here’s something I wrote on how Jürgen Klopp is using the tactics that took Dortmund to the summit of the European game in his rebuilding job at Anfield.
An urbane, understated figure, Pellegrini has already brought one Premier League title and two League Cups to the Etihad Stadium, but although it took the might of Barcelona to oust City from the Champions League in his first two seasons, he has been seen as something of a tactical ingenu. Pellegrini, it was said, was too closely wedded to attacking football to achieve success in Europe, but the manner of the triumph over PSG showed that City could play on the front foot in the Champions League, and prosper. City were sloppy defensively in the first leg, but scored opportunistic away goals through Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho, and their reward for refusing to sit on their advantage in Tuesday’s return leg was the 76th-minute De Bruyne strike that sealed a 3-2 aggregate win. That PSG were their last-eight victims was rich in symbolism — the other club buoyed by vast Middle Eastern wealth, already French champions and supposedly several developmental stages ahead of City, sent back to Paris with their tails between their legs.
A piece for AFP on a night of personal vindication for Manuel Pellegrini.
Handed United’s fabled number seven shirt after a club-record £59.7 million ($84.3 million, 74 million euros) transfer from Real Madrid, Di María could scarcely have arrived at Old Trafford amid greater fanfare. But despite a promising start, including a delicious lob at Leicester City, Manchester would not prove a happy home for the man nicknamed ‘Fideo’ (Noodle) on account of his skinny frame. Van Gaal continually changed his role, even fielding him as a lone striker at one stage, and a succession of injuries prevented him from finding any rhythm. The nadir arrived in late January last year when a group of burglars armed with scaffolding poles attempted to smash their way into Di María’s luxurious home while he, his wife and one-year-old daughter cowered inside.
I’ve written something on Ángel di María’s trip to the Etihad Stadium with Paris Saint-Germain, which gives him an opportunity to add a footnote to the chapter marked ‘Manchester’. You can read it here.
I caught up with the crew on Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast on Thursday to look back at the week’s Champions League quarter-final first legs. Our conversation took in the link between tiki-taka and Fernando’s moment of madness against Paris Saint-Germain, Zlatan Ibrahimović’s likely next move and Fernando Torres’s crazy sending-off against Barcelona. You can listen here.
Cruyff, who died from lung cancer aged 68 on Thursday, was a balletic, dazzlingly elegant player who came to embody the brilliant Ajax and Holland teams of the mid-1970s. Together with visionary coach Rinus Michels, he popularised the concept of ‘Total Football’ — a fluid playing system based on aggressive pressing, swarming attacks and positional interchanging that seemed to depend on an almost telepathic understanding between players. Cruyff, given licence to roam from his nominal position as centre-forward, was the on-pitch conductor, calculating angles, cajoling his team-mates into position and launching vertiginous dribbles into opposition territory with the ball at his feet.
My piece for AFP on Johann Cruyff’s role as a style icon and football innovator can be read here.
Hailing from the French island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, Payet was released by mainland club Le Havre at 16 and had to be persuaded not to abandon his dream of becoming a professional by his father, Alain. Offered a path back to Ligue 1 by Nantes, he acquired a reputation as a flamboyant but errant talent. At Nantes he clashed in training with former France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. At Saint-Étienne he headbutted team-mate Blaise Matuidi in the middle of a match. At Marseille he fell out with Florian Thauvin. It partly explains why Matuidi — now of Paris Saint-Germain — has 41 France caps to Payet’s 15, despite the two being born less than two weeks apart.
A piece on Dimitri Payet, once one of French football’s enfants terribles, now the last darling of the Boleyn Ground.
The FA is determined to arrest a slide in the number of England-eligible players playing in the Premier League, and has already introduced rules tightening up the visa application process for non-EU players. Wayne Harling, a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), believes that leaving Europe would smooth the development path for home-grown players such as 18-year-old Manchester United newcomer Marcus Rashford. “Rashford is only playing because of an injury crisis, but the problem with having so many EU players in the Premier League is that people like him usually wouldn’t be given a chance,” Harling told AFP. “The academies aren’t able to push players on to full-time contracts because they find it cheaper to recruit an established player from overseas.”
I’ve written a piece on how a British exit from the European Union might affect the Premier League – you can read it here.
Celebrity fan Piers Morgan, the newspaper editor turned chat-show host, continues to fire up the #WengerOUT campaign on social media, while a banner held aloft during the recent FA Cup win at Hull City read: “ARSENE, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, BUT IT’S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE.” The banner was condemned by Arsenal players past and present — as well as David Beckham — but it illustrated the deep discontent felt by certain fans, as glimpsed in the scuffles that broke out outside the Emirates following Sunday’s 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final defeat by Watford. Arsenal are on course to qualify for the Champions League for the 20th season running, but after six successive last-16 exits they have become the competition’s perennial wallflowers — always at the party, but never on the dance-floor.
Loath to cite Piers Morgan, but here is a piece on where Champions League elimination leaves Arsenal and Arsène Wenger.
Having started just two of Chelsea’s final 16 Premier League games under José Mourinho, Mikel has started nine of 12 under Hiddink in the only notable non-enforced personnel change that the Dutchman has made to the starting XI. As well as being unbeaten in their 12 league games to date under Hiddink, Chelsea’s average number of goals conceded per game has dropped from 1.625 to 1, and Mikel’s defensive nous has been an important factor. “He’s the ideal player to bring balance to the team,” Hiddink said earlier this year. “He knows where the strength of the opponent is and he knows exactly how to cope with that. He doesn’t do it in a very brutal way — he’s very, very elegant. What I like to see very much is not just a quality player, but a player who can defend so smoothly. It’s beautiful to see.”
A piece for AFP on the role that John Mikel Obi has played in Chelsea’s return to form.
After becoming frustrated about his lack of progress at first City and then Chelsea, Sturridge did not begin to consistently showcase the staggering ability first glimpsed during his teenage years until he joined Liverpool in January 2013. An intelligent, technically accomplished and elusive striker, he scored 11 times in his first 16 games and contributed 21 goals to a mesmerising 52-goal partnership with Luis Suárez as Liverpool came agonisingly close to Premier League glory in 2013-14. Fondly admired by England manager Roy Hodgson, he went to the 2014 World Cup with the number nine shirt on his back and scored in their opening game against Italy. But since then a litany of niggling injuries has restricted him to 28 appearances from a possible 101 for Liverpool and kept him away from the international scene for over 18 months.
A piece for AFP on Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge, who will be seeking to make up for lost time in Sunday’s Capital One Cup final.