Since Brendan Rodgers  took over at Liverpool, he has won only five of 26 matches against the big four of Chelsea, Arsenal and the Manchester clubs. Photograph:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool again faltered when playing one of the league’s big clubs

Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal: football now merely a part of the bigger equation that is commercial success at Old Trafford. Photo:  Michael Regan/Getty Images

They look certain to overtake Real Madrid as football’s biggest-earning club by 2017

 Martin Keown of Arsenal goads Ruud Van Nistelrooy of Man Utd after Van Nistelrooy missed his penalty at Old Trafford in 2003. Photo:  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Wenger’s outfit unlikely to be the ones to expose the cracks in United’s facade

Manuel Pellegrini has lost the last two matches with a basic 4-4-2 system which suggests that under pressure, his selections are defined less by detailed consideration of the likely patterns of the game, than by a gambler’s faith in the ability of his forwards to outscore the opposition. Photograph: Getty Images

With half an hour to go, a team of millionaire champions looked ready to settle for a draw

Louis van Gaal: a developmental technocrat whose proudest boast has always been that he knows how to get the best out of young players. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters

Club went out to sign biggest names but the Dutchman is not a chequebook manager

Greg Dyke’s recent FA commission concluded that one reason why England doesn’t develop as many good players as Germany is a relative shortage of facilities. Photograph: Getty Images

Back in 1988 footballers weren’t even sure there games should be shown on television

Gareth Bale has fallen from grace as Real Madrid go through a sticky patch since the start of the year. Photograph: Reuters.

A 4-0 thrashing at city rivals Atletico prompts fans to whistle world’s most expensive player

Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger watches from the touchline during his side’s victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Photograph: AFP

In strange way, Wenger’s reaction to win gave credence to West Ham manager’s opinion

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal is expected to win his fourth Ballon D’Or. Photograph: Getty Images.

Comment on Lionel Messi being best starts the age of Cristiano Ronado

Steven Gerrard will leave Liverpool at the end of the season, with manager Brendan Rodgers unable to guarantee him a place in the side. Photograph:  Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Liverpool midfielder too pessimistic to ever feel happy sitting on bench for mediocre side

Ken Early on how a line from Alex Ferguson got the world wondering just how good the Liverpool and England midfielder really is (...)

Gèrard Depardieu’s Jules Rimet is scrupulously politically correct for a man who was born in 1873

Something very wrong with world football’s organising body’s celuloid depiction of itself

Soldiers of the 5th London Rifle Brigade with German Saxon regimental troops at Ploegsteert Wood during the Christmas Truce of the first World War in  December 1914. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Football may well have potential as a ‘universal language’ – certainly Uefa like to think so

 Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers during the 3-0 Barclays Premier League defeat to   Manchester United   at Old Trafford.  Photogreaph:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool’s manager has no time to feel sorry for himself – not when his team needs leadership

Los Angeles Galaxy’s  Robbie Keane issues instructions to a teammate as Jermaine Jones of the New England Revolution looks on during the MLS Cup. Photograph: Getty Images

Discarded by Liverpool and then Spurs, Keane was left with no good options in English football

Luis Suarez: “Baby Football in Uruguay is physical and it’s aggressive.” Photograph: Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero offer accounts of how young talent develops

Robbie Keane (centre)  of the Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates after scoring a first half goal against Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the Western Conference semi-finals at StubHub Center on November 9th, 2014, in Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Ken Early meets the MVP of MLS ahead of the LA Galaxy’s final clash with New England Revolution

Steven Gerrard applauds the Liverpool fans as he warms up at Anfield during Saturday’s match with Stoke City. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

As Brendan Rodgers struggles for clarity , Gerrard is the least of his problems

 John Delaney: “I now understand that while I was travelling and uncontactable there was some confusion through a third party around the background of a video which appeared and where it happened which led to misunderstanding.”

Did John Delaney lie in an effort to cover up a story he feared would cause him embarrassment?

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal (centre) at the Emirates Stadium. “ Van Gaal’s new style looked more like Italian football – let the others play, then kill them on the counter.” Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

New book shows how the former Dutch boss’s ideas on the game have evolved

Rangers manager Ally McCoist:  target of abuse from unhappy supporters. Photograph: Getty Images.

Angry men, quiet children, apologetic players: everyone’s in a bad mood at Rangers

Richard Keogh heads the ball clear during last night’s European Championship qualifying match at Celtic Park in Glasgow. Photograph: AFP/Ian MacNicol

On night of crash bang wallop, wee bit of craft adds up to a whole world of difference

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar with Russian deputy prime minster Igor Shuvalov and Fifa president Joseph Blatter (centre) in December 2010 after the announcement of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Photograph: EPA.

Findings of summary asks more questions of governing body’s integrity

Alex Ferguson, former manager of Aberdeen FC and Manchester United. Photograph: Eric Luke/Irish Times

What has happened to Scotland, once perennial World Cup participants?

Morlock, West Germany’s inside right, scores against Hungary in the World Cup Final at Berne, Switzerland in 1954. Germany went on to become world champions with a 3-2 victory. Photo: Getty Images

Football is never truly important, but the Miracle of Bern in 1954 is probably as close as it gets

When Liverpool’s new signings arrived, they appeared to increase the options available to Rodgers, but in fact, between them, they don’t offer as many options as Suárez did by himself. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Liverpool’s brilliance last year owed more to Luis Suárez than to coach’s philosophy

Luis Suarez was the sun at the centre of Liverpool’s solar system but he starts out at Barca as a peripheral satellite.  Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

Neymar has bedded in nicely, but erstwhile Liverpool striker needs to be given his head

Willingness to suffer used to be essential for a footballer. Now young players know better

O’Shea gave us our sweetest moment since that other late equaliser in 2002

German national team coach Joachim Löw (right) with (from left) general manager  Oliver Bierhoff, goalkeeper coach Andreas Koepke and coach assistant Thomas Schneider. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters.

Researchers are pioneering new statistical methods of analysing soccer

Dortmund’s charismatic manager Juergen Klopp with his players in front of the Südtribune prior to their Champions League clash with Arsenal.

From the largest terrace in Europe, Dortmund’s fans exemplify a club with the best of football traditions

Cesc Fabregas in action during the match between Chelsea and  Arsenal at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Mourinho’s teams don’t always give the impression of joy, but their focus never falters

Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard celebrates after scoring against bitter derby rivals Everton. But critics have wondered whether he has the mobility to cope with a league that is speeding up as he is slowing down. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

The Liverpool captain’s goal against Everton will quieten pundits, at least for now

Bulletproof self-confidence:  Frank Lampard responds to fans after yesterday’s   match between Manchester City and Chelsea. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

Steven Gerrard may have had more natural talent, but Lampard has ended up with more goals and more medals

 Jack Wilshere of Arsenal given ‘brutal reminder of how far he still has to go, as Arsenal were flattened by a supposedly understrength but actually superb Borussia Dortmund.’ Photograph:  Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

Wenger’s first-choice team undone by understrength but superb German side

Danny Welbeck  during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

At Arsenal, he’ll have a manager who’ll trust him to get on with it his own way, and that could be exactly what he needs. The tran(...)

Republic of Ireland’s Jonathan Walters out-jumps David Kvirkvelia of Georgia European Championship Qualifier, Boris Paichadze National Arena, Tbilisi, Georgia. Photograph: Inpho

If Ireland do qualify for Euro 2016 it will unlikely be by more than the two points that were not lost

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill: “You have to remember what the object is, which is to try and break in and score some goals.” Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

‘Every minute of these matches will be very, very important for us,” says Republic of Ireland boss

West Ham United’s Mark Noble. He is a decent Premier League midfielder who played 20 times for England U21s but never made the senior squad

The news that Mark Noble is seriously considering declaring for Ireland has caused a stir

Everyone agrees Mario Balotelli would be a hell of a player if only he would take the game more seriously. But to do that, he would have to be a different person. Photograph:  Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Anyone hoping the enigmatic forward is about to “grow up” – that is, to start playing with the commitment of a Luis Suarez or a S(...)

Manchester United assistant manager Ryan Giggs speaks to Louis van Gaal  during Saturday’s defeat to Swansea. Photograp: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Van Gaal won’t accept failure to add quality players to squad

Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a key figure in Germany’s triumph,  with  the World Cup trophy after last Sunday’s victory in Rio. Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

Germany’s triumph is the fruit of smart evolution – and sweet vindication for manager Joachim Löw

Lionel Messi of Argentina  during the 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil Final against Germany at the Maracana   in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph:  Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Argentine looked a shadow of himself despite picking up yet another award

Thomas Müller scored scored five goals for Germany at the 2014 World Cup prior to the final against Argentina. Photograph: EPA.

The romantic notion of journalists working alone falls short in reality

Argentina players celebrate after their Maxi Rodriguez scored the decisive goal during a penalty shoot-out against the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup semi-finals at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo.

Germany favourites but still time for Lionel Messi to have moment for Argentina

Fernandinho of Brazil after a goal scored by Toni Kroos of Germany during the hosts’ heavy semi-final defeat at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Photograph: Robert Ghement / EPA

Fans hardly recognise a team spawned at home but adrift on international stage

Javier Mascherano celebrates after Belgium defeatedg Belgium 1-0 in the World Cup quarter-final. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Despite Lionel Messi wearing the armband midfielder displays his own brand of leadership

 Germany’s Toni Kroos  celebrates with Miroslav Klose  and Sami Khedira at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

This was not just a match but the most incredible result in World Cup history

 Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Germany saves a shot from France’s Karim Benzema of France during their World Cup quarter-final  at Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph:   Marcus Brandt/EPA

The Bayern Munich man has all the elements that make up a top goalkeeper

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari gestures on the sideline during the  World Cup  semi-final defeat to Germany at  the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Photograph: Felipe Trueba/EPA

Brazil coach takes full responsibility for humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany

Brazil’s Fernandinho commits one of several fouls on Colombia’s James Rodriguez during the World Cup quarter-final in Fortaleza. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters.

A game plan based on beating up Colombia was never going to end well

USA’s DeAndre Yedlin gives chase as Belgium’s Eden Hazard closes in on goal during their last-16 game. His coach, Marc Wilmots, will be looking for some inspiration from the Chelsea midfielder.

Marouane Fellaini will be dangerous in the air on set-pieces but he may struggle on the ground against Lionel Messi

Good job . . . Germany’s Miroslav Klose is congratulated by coach Joachim Löw after their victory over France at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Victory over France was tense, error-strewn and largely uninspiring

Joachim Löw has lasted this long because his team has spent eight years roaming in the gloaming between success and failure.

Has the Germany coach brought his much-admired team as far as they can go?

 Angel Di Maria celebrates  with team-mate Lionel Messi after scoring Argentina’s winning goal in extra-time during the World Cup Round of 16  game against Switzerland at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo. Photograph: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

Argentina needs a few more stars to come out to play in Brazil

Lionel Messi: made it clear a five-man defence is not a formation of which he approves. Photograph: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Argentina’s taciturn midfield maestro confirms preferred team shape of 4-3-3

Riot police face protesters in Recife. “The cheerfulness of the police again belied their thuggish reputation.” Photograph: Reuters.

‘I thought about the joy the thief must have felt as he unpacked my electronics-laden bag’

Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz (left) celebrates his goal with team-mates  at the Pernambuco Arena in Recife. Photograph: Yves Herman / Reuters

Five flawless penalties after a 1-1 draw in Recife books meeting with the Netherlands

A woman takes a photo next to an advertisement featuring Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, mocking the biting incident against opponent Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup match against Italy, on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Getty Images

Even the Uruguayan president backs the biting striker’s cause

Germany’s Thomas Müller  celebrates after scoring against the United States   during the World Cup Group G match at  Arena  Pernambuco  in Recife. Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

Ken Early from Recife, where Jürgen Klinsmann’s side joined his homeland in last 16

USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann insists his boys could only ever play to win as he prepares for tonight’s game against Germany in Recife.

The loser in Recife tonight could be eliminated. A draw, however, takes both sides through

Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini  complains to the referee and claims he was bitten by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.

Fifa charge Uruguay striker and he has until tonight to provide evidence to support his case

Luis Suarez of Uruguay  during the  Group D match against Italy  at Estadio das Dunas on June 24th, 2014 in Natal. Photograph:  Clive Rose/Getty Images

Striker at the centre of another biting controversy as Italy knocked out in Natal after Godin winner

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez during yesterday’s press conference where he criticised the English media.

Front page of Sun newspaper on day of England-Uruguay game seems to have upset striker

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (centre)   during the FIFA World Cup 2014 Group A between Brazil and Croatia at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo. Photograph: EPA

Rich Brazilians don’t want Brazil to win . . . they fear it could propel Rousseff to a second term

Germany’s Miroslav Klose celebrates after scoring the equaliser against Ghana. The strike tied Ronaldo’s all-time World Cup record of 15 goals. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Battling Ghana take fight to ex-champions with aggressive and direct performance

Germany striker Miroslav Klose  does a flip in celebration of scoring his team’s second goal during the  World Cup  Group G match against Ghana  in Fortaleza. Photograph: Francois Xavier Marit/Getty Images

Stunning second half sees Ghana come back from goal down to lead 2-1

 Luis Suarez: did something against England that superficially resembled Maradona’s immortal feat in 1986.

The true heir to Maradona arrived at this World Cup in São Paulo last Thursday night – Luis Suarez

France’s Karim Benzema scores against Honduras during the opening game in Group E.

Didier Deschamps has beautifully balanced French side in a good place

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas was culpable for Chile’s second goal in the World Cup Group B match at the Maracana on Wednesday. Photograph: Getty Images.

Coach Vincente Del Bosque made wrong calls but it’s hard to argue with most of his decisions

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was reluctant to indulge fans who pestered him for photographs. Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

A city of bright lights and frenetic activity runs according to its own curious Latino sensibilities writes Ken Early

Brazil’s coach Luiz Felipe Scolari shouts instructions to his players during their 2014 World Cup Group A match against Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza. Photograph: Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters

Loyalty to certain players may be undoing of Big Phil

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo during their 2014 World Cup Group G defeat to  Germany at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador. Photograph: Jorge Silva / Reuters

World Player of the Year’s superpowers deserted him on a bad day out

Italy’s Mario Balotelli celebrates after heading the ball past England goalkeeper Joe Hart to score the decisive goal in the Azzurri’s 2-1 victory  at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Hodgson’s decision to play Rooney on the left amounted to a waste of the player’s talent

 England’s Wayne Rooney takes a free kick during the friendly match against Honduras last week in Florida. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

His task in this World Cup is to prove he is still world-class at something other than securing pay-rises

Neymar celebrates his opening  goal against Croatia. Photograph: Murad Sezer/Reuters

Dubious penalty decision turns the game in hosts’ favour, as they come from behind to delight fans

Brazil Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari addresses a press conference ahead of tonight’s opening game in the 2014 Fifa World Cup against Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The manager may be conservative but a settled team know exactly what he wants

Wayne Rooney reflects on England’s defeat at the hands of Germany in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

At Euro 2004, Wayne Rooney touched fleeting, sensational greatness. Since then, England fans have had little to celebrate

Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill at the end of the game against Italy in Craven Cottage. Photograph: Inpho

O’Neill spends so much time talking of his assistant one feels sure he would manage without him

The wealthier the club the further it will go and the underdog’s fate is consigned to follow

The Atlético Madrid defence is finally breached in the third minute of added-on time when Real’s Sergio Ramos headed home from a corner.

Real Madrid defender heads home equaliser in added-on time to break Atlético hearts

Atletico Madrid’s striker Diego Costa walks off the pitch after the final practice session of his team at the Luz stadium one day ahead of the Champions League soccer final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in Lisbon. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Self-styled Kings of Europe have chance to win record 10th European Cup

 Diego Simeone, coach of Club Atletico de Madrid, celebrates after winning the La Liga after the match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou  in Barcelona, Spain. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid weren’t prepared to accept fate. Can they do it again in the Champions League?

It’s not all about money at the top, but deep pockets have helped some to prosper

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti with  striker Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real Madrid boss might sometimes be lost for answers, but he never loses his deep respect for the talent of exceptional footballer(...)

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho keeps the ball from Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard during yesterday’s match at Anfield. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

Rodgers played into Mourinho’s hands by doing exactly what he was expected to do

David Moyes looks on as his two biggest signings, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini, celebrate a goal earlier this month. Photograph: Paul Thomas/Getty

Financial realities of modern football mean Glazers can’t afford to gamble any longer

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho exchanges comments with referee Mike Dean after coach Rui Faria confronted Dean following what proved to be Sunderland’s winning goal in the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, Photograph: Chris Ison/PA

A fascinating study of Jose Mourinho explains why his winning formula has been coming up short

Steven Gerrard reacts at the final whistle as Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-2 yesterday

The Liverpool captain has led his team to this point by metamorphosing into the kind of player many of us believed he never could (...)

Everton manager Roberto  Martinez inherited a solid goalkeeper, strong central defenders and intelligent attacking fullbacks. He arrived to find that half his work had already been done.

In Chelsea’s Lukaku and Moyes’s durable legacy, Martinez found considerable talent at his disposal

Liverpool striker  Luis Suarez   scores against Tottenham Hotspur during their  Premier League  match at Anfield. Photograph:  Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

In football as in most things timing is everything and the Anfield wait for that league success may soon be over

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. Maintained his unbeaten record against Arsenal and rival manager Arsene Wenger in spectacular fashion.  Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

For the third time this season, Arsenal have imploded when faced with the challenge posed by one of their main rivals

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez: Thorn in Manchester United’s side  scored the third and decisive goal. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The theatre of dreams is fast becoming nightmarish for the Old Trafford boss

  Tim Sherwood:  His  contract runs until summer 2015, but Daniel Levy has not spoken up to dispel rumours that the manager’s time will be up at the end of this season. “The silence has been deafening,” Sherwood said.  Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Sherwood’s career as manager of Tottenham Hotspur does not look promising any more

 David Moyes during the first-leg game against Olympiakos in Athens.

Problem with the Manchester United boss is if he was ever going to stamp his authority, he probably would have started by now

Former Italy goalkeeper Dino Zoff  holds the slip showing “Republic of Ireland” during the  qualifying draw in Nice yesterday.

Germany has obvious advantages over Ireland in terms of resources

San Francisco Giants baseball star Barry Bonds, accustomed to whacking 95mph fastballs, proved helpless against Team USA softball player Jennie Finch’s 68mph underarm softball. Why? Because top players do not have extraordinary reaction speed, but they do have exceptional eyesight. Photograph: Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport

Free of grand conclusions and glib theorising, this sporting study is all the more fascinating as a result

The Chelsea boss is incapable of taking responsibility for failure, which is never his fault

Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker competes with Luis Suarez of Liverpool during Saturday’s Premier League match at Anfield which Liverpool won 5-1. Photograph:  Michael Regan/Getty Images

Striker’s goals dividend proving a winner with fans and team-mates alike this season

Cardiff City manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates his side’s victory against Norwich with Craig Bellamy. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

If the former Wales international is to remain influential in the dressingroom he will need to find the net more often

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