BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for April 2011

Dzeko justifies Mancini's faith

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 09:17 UK time, Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Ewood Park

Edin Dzeko was a grateful beneficiary of the turmoil that swirled around Fernando Torres as the Chelsea striker struggled to adapt to life at Stamford Bridge.

As a harsh spotlight was trained on the Spaniard and his quest for a goal following his £50m move from Liverpool, Dzeko was able to lurk beneath the radar as he toiled away fruitlessly following his £27m move to Manchester City from Wolfsburg in January.

Torres, who had gone 732 minutes without a goal in Chelsea colours, emerged from the darkness and into the light with a strike against West Ham United on Saturday, turning attention towards Dzeko and his own efforts to hit the target in the Premier League.

And the Bosnian finally delivered when City needed him most against Blackburn Rovers.

If he was billed on arrival as the man whose goals would push City towards the Champions League, then he may just have lived up his label at Ewood Park.

Read the rest of this entry

Torres pushes West Ham to brink

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 22:32 UK time, Saturday, 23 April 2011

Stamford Bridge

The gathering storm clouds were black and ominous, although the lights just about stayed on. It was as if West Ham United's current state was being reflected in the prevailing conditions at Stamford Bridge.

The lightning that flashed in west London's leaden skies did not strike, but Fernando Torres finally did to end West Ham's push for a point and conclude 732 tortuous minutes without a goal for Chelsea on his 14th appearance since a £50m move from Liverpool in January.

Avram Grant stood soaked and frustrated in the technical area as stifling summer heat was replaced by the cracking of thunder and a downpour of epic proportions that fused a few floodlights, leaving West Ham's manager bemoaning the weather, the fates and a man called Fernando.

Some of Grant's gripes were justified after a West Ham display that contained much to satisfy, but others were rendered hollow by a glance at the Premier League table. The team that is bottom with four games to go cannot blame ill-fortune alone.

Read the rest of this entry

Arsenal fall short in derby classic

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 00:53 UK time, Thursday, 21 April 2011

White Hart Lane

Arsene Wenger fell back on the cushions that have provided constant comfort throughout Arsenal's barren years - but nothing can offer protection from the brutal reality that unfolded before him at White Hart Lane.

Despite seeing the Gunners drop to third in the Premier League table behind Manchester United and Chelsea, Wenger praised his players for their mental fortitude, commitment and attitude in a 3-3 draw with Tottenham that was a classic of its kind.

And yet the agitated, animated behaviour of the Frenchman in his technical area as Arsenal cast aside a two-goal lead, betrayed torment at the latest wasted opportunity.

Wenger, whose side lie six points behind United with only five games left, rightly stated that Arsenal can still claim the title but the body language of manager and players as referee Martin Atkinson called time on a wonderful game suggested this may well be the setback that takes the goal tantalisingly out of reach once more.

Read the rest of this entry

'Noisy Neighbours' kick-start derby party

Phil McNulty | 22:34 UK time, Saturday, 16 April 2011


"Joined by geography - separated by success" read the T-shirt commissioned by Manchester United fans before the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City. And no one can argue against the accuracy of the statement.

Manchester City had to start closing the gap somewhere and, with the strains of "Blue Moon" echoing in London's Saturday night air, there seemed no better place than Wembley after a deserved victory ended United's hopes of repeating their 1999 treble feat.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, in a withering put-down, once described City as the "noisy neighbours" and the sky blue wave of elation sweeping around one half of Wembley was happy to live up to that label after Yaya Toure's winner sent them to their first FA Cup Final for 30 years.

The next step on the road to rehabilitation and renewed respect for City is to actually win a trophy, an act that will end another long-running taunt, the ticking banner tucked in a corner of Old Trafford's Stretford End reminding their rivals that it is 35 years since their last major honour.

Read the rest of this entry

Spurs face crunch after Euro exit

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 01:24 UK time, Thursday, 14 April 2011

White Hart Lane

Jose Mourinho continues to flirt outrageously with England by describing the Premier League as his "natural habitat". Now Harry Redknapp and Tottenham must make the Champions League their second home.

Mourinho makes no secret of his intention to return to the scene of great personal success once his work at Real Madrid is done.

And as the former Chelsea boss turns his attention to four games in 18 days against Barcelona following a 5-0 aggregate win over Spurs, Redknapp will attempt to fashion a finish to the domestic campaign that ensures White Hart Lane can savour Champions League football again next season.

Tottenham's adventure, which had started in Berne, effectively ended in the Bernabeu last week, a 4-0 defeat virtually rendering the second leg a dead rubber.

Any hope they may have had of securing a victory in front of their own fans on Wednesday was dashed when goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes gifted Cristiano Ronaldo the winner.

Read the rest of this entry

Torres pick backfires on Ancelotti

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 01:49 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Old Trafford

When Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich handed over a £50m cheque to Liverpool in exchange for Fernando Torres, it was with nights like a Champions League quarter-final at Manchester United specifically in mind.

Torres has been portrayed as the ultimate vanity purchase, with even Sir Alex Ferguson convinced his arrival was a sign of Abramovich's grand, but unfulfilled, obsession with Europe's elite competiton.

So it was no surprise, at least not to Ferguson, that Ancelotti was unable or unwilling to resist the forces guiding him to play Torres ahead of Didier Drogba in a game that may well define the immediate future for both the Italian and Chelsea.

Ancelotti's decision backfired spectacularly in front of his notoriously impatient owner as Torres suffered public humiliation on a grand scale, lasting only 45 minutes before being hooked off as United ran out deserved winners, not only on the night but over two legs.

Abramovich slipped away into the Manchester night seconds before the final whistle, leaving Ancelotti to admit he may have botched the biggest decision of his Chelsea career and that his destiny is now out of his hands.

Read the rest of this entry

Mancini must deliver promises

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 23:21 UK time, Monday, 11 April 2011


The last manager to sit in what used to be Anfield's famous old bootroom and make a promise he failed to keep paid for it with his job. Manchester City's Roberto Mancini must hope fate can resist the temptation to inflict similar punishment.

Rafael Benitez's inability to deliver his "guarantee" of Champions League football became a suicide note for his Liverpool career - and yet Mancini was in the mood for similarly bold claims despite the catalogue of grim evidence before his eyes on Monday.

Liverpool's fully deserved 3-0 win exposed the problems Mancini faces balancing the egos, talents and fragile temperaments in his squad, which, lest we forget, has been assembled at vast cost.

Throw in an injury to Carlos Tevez that surely rules him out of the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Wembley this weekend, the sight of £25m substitute Mario Balotelli suffering the indignity of being replaced himself and another blank night for £27m Edin Dzeko and this was hardly the foundation stone for assertions that City would qualify for the Champions League and reach the FA Cup final. Mancini made them anyway.

Read the rest of this entry

Arsenal and Wenger live in hope

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 20:02 UK time, Sunday, 10 April 2011

Bloomfield Road

Comedian Frank Carson kept Arsenal's supporters amused outside Bloomfield Road with a few one-liners even older than Jens Lehmann. Time will tell if they have the last laugh this season.

Arsenal's win at Blackpool puts them seven points behind Manchester United at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand and a meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson's side at the Emirates on May Day.

Surely a cause for optimism and excitement as the season approaches it climax - and yet Arsenal's current circumstances have been shrouded in pessimism as well as the sight and sound of manager Arsene Wenger passionately defending his recent record on Friday.

So why do so many dismiss Arsenal's title credentials despite the possibility, admittedly an outside one, that they could yet chase down Manchester United and deprive them of a record 19th championship?

Read the rest of this entry

Rooney and fate smile on Man Utd

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 00:56 UK time, Thursday, 7 April 2011

Stamford Bridge

Wayne Rooney scored with a smile for the cameras rather than a snarl as he let his natural talent do the talking. And how eloquently it spoke as Manchester United set the platform for Champions League progress at Chelsea's expense.

The lens was Rooney's constant companion from the moment he emerged to warm up at Stamford Bridge until he departed in triumph after the goal that gave United a crucial away victory in the quarter-final first leg.

Rooney will be punished with a ban for his expletive outburst into a pitchside camera after completing his hat-trick in United's win at West Ham United on Saturday - so it was almost inevitable that fate decreed he would produce something to capture attention again at Chelsea.

The moment arrived 24 minutes into the contest when he showed touch and technique to steer in Ryan Giggs' pass. How would he react? The answer came as he smiled, slid and tumbled for the cameras before celebrating with arms outstretched in front of Chelsea fans gathered in the Matthew Harding Stand.

It was an unashamed outpouring of happiness from Rooney, giving the lie to the suggestion that the joy has somehow been sucked out of his game by a year of frustration.

Read the rest of this entry

Should Drogba or Torres face Man Utd?

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 09:52 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

Carlo Ancelotti's hopes of silverware - and arguably even his long-term future as Chelsea manager - now hinge on success in the Champions League.

Chelsea's failure to get three points at Stoke City, coupled with Manchester United's comeback from two goals down to win at West Ham United, pushed the destiny of the Premier League a little further in Old Trafford's direction.

So, as Chelsea and United prepare to meet in the Champions League quarter-final first leg at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, will Ancelotti risk leaving the man who broke the British transfer record when he arrived for £50m in January on the bench?

Ancelotti is likely to make a choice between Fernando Torres, that bank-breaking arrival from Liverpool and a scourge of United in the past, and Didier Drogba.

The decision, and its subsequent success, may go a long way towards shaping the rest of Chelsea's season and Ancelotti's destiny under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.

Read the rest of this entry

Hodgson escapes Dalglish's shadow

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 20:47 UK time, Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Hawthorns

Roy Hodgson spent 191 days at Liverpool failing spectacularly to escape from Kenny Dalglish's shadow - but emerged into the light with perfect timing as his rehabilitation continued at The Hawthorns.

Hodgson, sacked in January after a brief and tortuous Liverpool tenure, admitted he fought a losing battle with Dalglish's iconic status after beating the Scot in the race to succeed Rafael Benitez.

He walked alone at Anfield as The Kop demanded Dalglish's return with every setback, helped by the ammunition provided for them by Hodgson in the shape of poor results and signings of the standard of Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen.

Hodgson side-stepped all talk of revenge as Dalglish watched from close quarters while his predecessor enjoyed the satisfaction of The Baggies' vital 2-1 win against the club that dispensed with his services so swiftly.

And, while hardly expecting Hodgson to draw solace from such a scar on his record, it is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that this has turned into a "win-win" for both West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool.

Read the rest of this entry

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.