BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for September 2012

John Terry relishes the limelight as Chelsea march on

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Phil McNulty | 20:00 UK time, Saturday, 29 September 2012

At the Emirates Stadium

John Terry was in his usual position as centre of attention, milking the applause of Chelsea's celebrating fans before placing his boots carefully into the hands of an appreciative youngster.

Terry was inevitably the headline story after a week which saw him end his England career ahead of a disciplinary hearing that resulted in the Football Association fining the man twice stripped of his country's captaincy £220,000 and handing out a four-match suspension.

He figured in Chelsea's 2-1 win that saw them stay top of the table and inflict a first defeat of the season for Arsenal as he considers an appeal against this verdict.

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Brief fans' exchange should not overshadow fitting tribute

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Phil McNulty | 06:23 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2012

At Anfield
The mosaics had been removed and the 96 red balloons had long since flown away from Anfield when the truce agreed in exchange for decency was briefly broken.

Liverpool and Manchester United - the clubs and their supporters - offered up so much that was good on a day when the separation between unity brought by injustice and tribalism associated with a football match was marked by clearly defined lines.

The old differences between English football's two most successful clubs were put to one side in support of the families and victims of the Hillsborough disaster which claimed 96 lives at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989.

The release of the findings of an independent panel that cleared Liverpool's fans of blame and exposed a cover-up allowed these fiercest of rivals to find common ground. They stood firmly upon it as they met in the Premier League at Anfield on Sunday.

It was a day heavily laden with poignancy and only seriously marred in the minutes after the final whistle when Anfield was deserted except for a few stray Liverpool fans and the Manchester United supporters kept behind.

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Boy from Brazil emerges as new Blues hero

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Phil McNulty | 09:20 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2012

The final dramatic chapter of Didier Drogba's Chelsea story made him an act that was almost impossible to follow.

But a boy from Brazil called Oscar has stepped into his shoes to write the next compelling scenes.

Drogba's last kick for Chelsea was the penalty that won the Champions League against Bayern Munich in their own Allianz Arena in May. When he stripped off his blue number 11 shirt in celebration, it was for good.

It is a sign of Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo's confidence in his 21-year-old summer signing from Internacional that he handed Oscar both Drogba's shirt and the responsibility of being their Champions League inspiration.

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Champions League: British chances of success

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Phil McNulty | 11:17 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2012

The Uefa Champions League's power to surprise was illustrated perfectly by the hazards Chelsea negotiated to claim the prize owner Roman Abramovich craved most last season.

On the brink against Napoli, Abramovich sacked Andre Villas-Boas and handed the levers to his right-hand man Roberto Di Matteo to take control of an unlikely journey to success.

Survival against Napoli and victory against Benfica acted only as the starter for the main courses of victory over holders and overwhelming favourites Barcelona - achieved largely without the ball - and ultimate triumph on penalties against Bayern Munich in their own Allianz Arena.

As the journey starts again for holders Chelsea this week, Premier League champions Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Scottish champions Celtic will be aiming to go as far as they can.

Here's my assessment of their chances...

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Contented Villas-Boas finally feels some warmth

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Phil McNulty | 20:55 UK time, Sunday, 16 September 2012

At the Madejski Stadium

The recognition came 72 minutes into Andre Villas-Boas's fourth Premier League game in charge of Tottenham, moments after Gareth Bale's scuffed shot secured his first victory.

Spurs led 2-0 at Reading and the travelling contingent of supporters felt confident enough in that margin and their manager to demand a wave from Villas-Boas.

He stepped forward to issue instructions, the trademark squat on his haunches now seemingly abandoned in favour of a straight-backed stance, and briefly raised an arm towards one corner of the Madejski Stadium as he returned to the dug-out.

Hardly lift-off in his relationship with those who view him with scepticism after succeeding Harry Redknapp.

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Margin for error narrows after England stumble

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Phil McNulty | 08:19 UK time, Wednesday, 12 September 2012

At Wembley

"Let The Games Begin" proclaimed the match programme's front-page headline for England's World Cup qualifier with Ukraine - and how Wembley revelled in the great British summer of sport.

Or at least it did for a few minutes during the half-time interval as Team GB's Olympic and Paralympic heroes were paraded on the pitch to the great appreciation of the crowd.
The words were an obvious attempt to tap in to the Olympic spirit that fortified the nation through London 2012 before receiving the not inconsiderable extra tonic of Andy Murray's US Open triumph.

It left Roy Hodgson's England with almost impossible acts to follow and when the great moments of these remarkable last few weeks are recalled, we can say with some assurance that this struggle to a 1-1 draw will not be among them.

Frank Lampard's 87th-minute penalty claimed a point Hodgson felt they deserved, and they probably just about did, but there was the distinct whiff of "After The Olympic Parade" about an out-of-sorts England display that left players and manager grateful for a draw.

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Easy assignment but England can feel optimistic

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Phil McNulty | 08:58 UK time, Saturday, 8 September 2012

England fitted in seamlessly with their surroundings as the World Cup journey they hope will end in Brazil in two years started with the smoothest of passages in Moldova. Chisinau's Zimbru Stadium offers a mix of Moldova's old and new.

The neat and tidy arena was completed only six years ago but is overshadowed by a selection of typically old-style grey eastern European tower blocks that rise imposingly around it.

It was in this setting, far removed from the legend of Rio's Maracana and the sands of the Copacabana, that England manager Roy Hodgson entrusted the next phase of his tenure to a mix of England's old guard and the new breed.

As the World Cup qualifying campaign began, he revived a time-served partnership - and a generation-long debate - by pairing captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield.

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Hodgson begins the long road to Rio

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Phil McNulty | 23:01 UK time, Thursday, 6 September 2012

Chisinau, Moldova

England's road to Rio starts on Dacia Boulevard and in Chisinau's Zimbru Stadium - compact and as far removed from the legendary Maracana as manager Roy Hodgson is likely to get.

The 10,400-capacity stadium was completed in 2006 at a cost of less than £9m and it is in these surroundings that England's campaign to reach Brazil in two years' time starts on Friday evening.

Euro 2012 was regarded in some circles as Hodgson's "free hit" after arriving in the job on the eve of the tournament and with limited time to put his own stamp on the team Fabio Capello left behind.

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Arsenal defeat adds to Liverpool's off-field worries

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Phil McNulty | 23:45 UK time, Sunday, 2 September 2012

Liverpool's inner workings will soon be exposed to public gaze via a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It may be to their eternal relief that the cameras stopped rolling before transfer deadline day.

The events of the last 72 hours would have held huge appeal for football voyeurs - but may have made grim viewing for manager Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool's owners Fenway Sports Group.

Liverpool's 2-0 loss at home to Arsenal left them without a Premier League win this season and the bright new dawn of the Rodgers era has coincided with their worst start for 50 years. Thousands of empty seats and the ominous sound of silence at the final whistle told the tale.

It was the sub-plot to the defeat that carried the more disturbing undertones, with Rodgers facing an inquisition into his relationship with his American paymasters so soon into his tenure.

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