Monday, 14 May 2012

Munich - 5 days to go

It’s only Monday, another 120-plus hours until kick-off in European football’s greatest club match and I’m already a nervous wreck. From grinning excitedly, to goosebumps, to rocking in the corner of the room, I’m certainly on that ever-clichéd emotional rollercoaster and it’ll only get worse as Saturday approaches.

Since the nerve-wracking wait to find out if I’d even get a ticket (as it turns out it was a lot more comfortable than my paranoia would have me believe!), I’ve been flipping between certainty that this has to be our year and blind panic that we’re missing not only our captain, but two of our three contenders for Player of the Year as well (and thankfully Raul Meireles).

But we will do it. We have to do it. I was one of the tens of thousands who witnessed the heartbreak in the Moscow rain. After an epic game, a superb Chelsea performance, it came down to penalties. The worst way to go. As Terry stepped up for a title-winning spot-kick, I was shaking with tears in my eyes. I thought that would be the moment, we all did. And who better and more fitting to clinch Chelsea history. But it wasn’t to be on that night four years ago. But all the best sides bounce back.

Since then we’ve reached another semi-final and now have a second shot. There’s no doubting Chelsea are the underdogs. But at what stage of the season's competition, since going 3-1 down away at Napoli, have we ever been favourites?

3-1 down in Naples, nearly blowing our lead at home to Benfica and then being drawn against football’s golden boys. Yet under the guidance of Robbie Di Matteo, we’ve made it to the promised land, on enemy territory and without three key figures.

For the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, this could be their last hurrah. Their last chance to lift Ol’ Big Ears. And boy do they deserve it. What careers those three have had, not to mention suspended skipper John Terry. No doubt Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Ramires et al will have many a big night to come, hopefully in Chelsea blue. But for the oft maligned ‘Old Guard’, those who have guided us to European football’s biggest stage, they deserve to go out on the highest of highs.

For Lampard, with 150 goals in 11 years of floorless service at Stamford Bridge, for Drogba with 100 goals in eight years and Ashley Cole who, against all the odds following his arrival from Arsenal six years ago, has become a Chelsea legend, with one Premier League title, four FA Cups and twice Player’s Player of the Year. These players deserve to make history.

Whatever the result on Saturday night, every one of the squad are heroes in my eyes. To get this far, with all this season’s ups and downs, when all looked lost at Camp Nou and to fight back, they’ve done their bit. One final push would just be the icing on the Chelsea bun... But I'll be bloody gutted if we don't!

Come on boys.  Do it for JT, Brana, Rambo & Meireles. Do it for the Moscow heartbreak. Do it for Robbie. Do it for Ossie, Matthew Harding & all those we've lost. Do it for the fans. But most of all do it for yourselves. Be the ones to make history. It may be the last chance for some, don't let it slip away. Walk onto the Allianz Arena pitch as players, walk off it as legends.

Come on you Blues!!!!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Di Matteo outwits Guardiola to put Chelsea in pole position

Well. What a night at Stamford Bridge. What a bloody night!! We really seem to have a knack of pulling out massive European nights at the Bridge. Barca in 2005, Liverpool in 2009 and Napoli, Benfica and now Barca 2012, to name just a few.

It wasn’t pretty, no-one can deny that, but if any coach of any team in the world wants to show their players how to defend, the dvd of last night’s game would be a very worthwhile investment.

There have been many reports of Barcelona being the ‘better team’, but I find it hard to agree with that. What defines the ‘better team’? The one who has most possession? The one who has most passes or attempts on goal? Or the one who gets their tactics spot on, plays with control, dedication and discipline for 90 minutes, takes the chances presented to them and defends for their lives? It’s a funny old game - of which defence is as much a part as attack and of which tactics are as much a part as class.

Don’t get me wrong, Chelsea’s performance wasn’t perfect. Although it had the desired effect in breaking up play and frustrating Barca, few Blues fans would’ve enjoyed Didier Drogba’s theatrics. And John Obi Mikel and Raul Miereles once again failed to shower themselves in glory on a footballing front, repeatedly playing themselves into trouble and relinquishing what little possession the Blues enjoyed.

And yes, Chelsea rode their luck at times, with Barca hitting the bar after just eight minutes. But other moments and alleged ‘sitters’ for the visitors were missed not due to their own poor finishing or even complacency, but due to Chelsea’s back line and the excellent Petr Cech, at the peak of his game. Ashley Cole, who had a fantastic night – arguably one of his best in a blue shirt – cleared one off the line in the first half due to reading the game and good positional play and forced Fabregas to shoot wide in the second half with his last-ditch attempt at a challenge enough to put the Spaniard off. And that’s not to mention the vital touches both Branislav Ivanovic and Cole got on the last minute effort that came off the post, only for Busquets to fire over. You make your own luck.

But Roberto Di Matteo must also been given enormous credit for masterminding an outstanding defensive display well worthy of the clean sheet. Playing Ramires out of position on the left wing was a sensational move. His attacking threat, pace and ability to run all day long kept Alves largely pinned back in his own half, negating a lot of Barca’s attacking springboard. Even without the run and pass for Drogba’s winner, the Brazilian was nothing short of outstanding.

One Chelsea player who really made a name for himself on the biggest domestic stage was January signing (and bargain) Gary Cahill. The centre-back put in challenge after challenge, block after block and worked tirelessly with John Terry to keep Messi and co. at bay. This time last year, he was losing 5-0 at Wembley against Stoke City. How times change.

And once again John Terry lead by example, at one point chasing Alves all the way to Barcelona’s own corner flag from the half-way line. The sliding challenge at the death epitomised everything that not only the Chelsea captain, but the whole team, were about last night. Rightly or wrongly, Andre Villas-Boas would never have got that performance out of that group of players.

But as the old cliché goes, it’s only half-time and Chelsea have a massive job to do at Camp Nou on Tuesday. An early away goal would make a huge difference to the outlook of the tie, requiring Barca to score at least three to reach Munich.

For what it’s worth, my tactics would be to go for it in the first 20 minutes. Barca wouldn’t expect the kitchen sink thrown at them and certainly not so early. It would allow Chelsea to catch them unawares and hopefully snatch that all-important away goal and they could then retreat into their defensive shell.

But I’m sure Robbie will have something up his sleeve.

C’mon the Chels!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Adidas launch revolutionary new Chelsea kit

After reading the 'techincal' description of Chelsea's kit for the 2012/13 season, released last week, it appeared the marketing team at Adidas have a pretty fun job making up an absolute load os rubbish, so I thought I'd give it a bash myself.

This is what was posted in an article on the official Chelsea site, regarding the new kit:

The 2012/13 shirt again features the adidas Techfit™
technology in the playing shirt which is proven to enhance
TechFit™ - The players' kit will incorporate adidas' cutting
edge TechFit™ technology to help improve speed, increased endurance capabilities
and enhanced awareness. This works by stabilising and focusing the muscles'
energy to generate explosive acceleration and deliver maximum power
Climacool™ -The shirts also feature adidas ClimaCool™ technology, a
mixture of heat and moisture controlling materials, ventilation channels and 3D
fabrics which improve air flow to the skin in the key heat zones.

And here's what other nonsense they could've come up with:

SuperSpeed™ - The kit features a hidden SuperSpeed™ button which, when deployed by the player, accelerates their legs at three times the usual speed. Adidas have designed this feature specifically for Didier Drogba who will benefit greatly from the enhanced speed and may even be in danger of breaking into a sweat, where Adidas’s unique ClimaCool™ system will come into its own.

BodyArmour™ - Also new for the 2012/13 season, Adidas have developed a weightless BodyArmour™ system incorporated within the shirt. This unique technology will allow players to receive countless blows to the body and remain completely unaffected – particularly useful for John Terry.

BrowBuster™ - The shirt also features Adidas’s state of the art BrowBuster™ technology, designed specifically with Jose Bosingwa in mind. The technology, unique to Bosingwa’s shirt, enables a hands-free eyebrow trim at the touch of a button, enabling Bosingwa to keep his unibrow in check for the entire 90 minutes. Adidas’s BrowBuster™ development team are certain their high-tech design will improve Bosingwa’s game, giving him unobstructed vision for the duration of a match, enabling him to pass to other Chelsea players, tackle opponents and locate the orthodox right-back position with ease.

UltimateAlert™ - Perfect for Ashley Cole, Adidas’s revolutionary UltimateAlert™ technology enables players to receive regular injections of Red Bull throughout the 90 minutes, keeping them alert and at peak concentration levels all through the game.

Gary Neville - What A Tosser

I’ve not written a blog in a while but Gary Neville’s comments on Sky Sports this week have riled me so much I’ve actually been enticed to put pen on paper (so to speak...).

On the subject of Ashley Young’s second theatrical dive to win a penalty for Manchester United in as many games, the former ‘United’ defender seemed to deem the act of diving as fair play.

After showing several examples of players, including Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard throwing themselves to ground in order to con the referee, he said, “I don’t think these players are cheats.”

Now they may not be serial cheats in the manner of Suarez, Drogba, Ronaldo and the like, but in the examples shown by Neville, they were undoubtedly involved in the act of cheating. There’s no two ways about it. If you fabricate or enhance the extent to which an opposition player has made contact with you, you are cheating, end of story.

And it’s attitudes like Neville’s which are ruining the game. The acceptance and even encouragement of cheating should be refuted not revered. Yes, it is part of the game. No, this does not make it ok, it does not mean the authorities should accept it and it does not mean self-respecting players or coaches should encourage it.

Of course, the situation is not helped by referees, whose actions seem to make players feel they have to exaggerate contact to be awarded the decision which they should have got anyway. And it’s helped even less by the likes of the FA, UEFA and FIFA who have taken little or no action against diving or ‘simulation’ as the footballing version of the PC brigade will describe it.

When then Arsenal player Eduardo dived in a 2009 Champions League qualifier against Celtic, Arsenal appealed against the two-match suspension he received – and won. From some angles, it looked like a clear-cut dive, from others a stone-wall penalty. But UEFA backing down opened the door for more and more players to realise they could get away with it, on the basis that at the speed top-level football is played at, it’s very difficult to ‘prove’ what everyone knows was cheating.

If the authorities took a firm stance and started banning players, whether through straight red cards during games or as retrospective suspensions, it would cut so much vile cheating out of the game. Even if it took a few players being harshly banned, more would try their utmost to stay on their feet and coaches would stop training players in the ‘art of diving’.

But His Royal Highness Neville had something to say on that too. Apparently, if you start banning players for three games there would be “total anarchy in football”. Sorry Gary, I fail to see the problem with that. If it cleanses the game and cuts down on cheating, surely a few managers throwing their toys out of the pram wouldn’t be a bad compromise?

Call my cynical, but I can’t help but think if it had been a Liverpool player diving to win a last-minute, match-winning penalty against Manchester United, he may have a slightly different outlook.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Betfair: Can the return of Tevez boost City's title chase?

Carlos Tevez has finally got down off his high-horse and apologised to Roberto Mancini for refusing to warm-up against Bayern Munich earlier in the season.

Now, in my humble opinion, he should've been booted out of the club on the spot - it's hardly like Manchester City need the transfer money. But now he's back in the picture, can Mancini make the most of the situation and use it to City's title-challenging advantage?

Read more on my Betfair column.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Monday, 13 February 2012

Will Drogba's return mean Torres is back to the bench?

Hi all. Here's my latest Betfair column. Keep checking Betfair every Wednesday for more of the latest news, views and odds from the world of football. It's not all Chelsea, I promise!

Will Drogba's return mean Torres is back to the bench?

Can AVB survive the Stamford Bridge storm?

I’ve been pondering this article or at least one of a similar ilk for some time now, but have always managed to hold off, not wanting to jump on the ‘Andre Villas-Boas is a useless twonk’ bandwagon. But like the hoards of Chelsea fans at Goodison Park on Saturday who burst into a rousing chorus of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’, my patience has been worn a bit too thin. It’s time to get it out of my system - *vaguely constructive rant warning*.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one for calling for managers’ heads every five minutes and demanding a plethora of shiny new trophies season after season. I am of the opinion that certain managers need to be given time...where would Manchester United be now had they not stuck out the difficult teething period when Alex Ferguson took the reins?

But that’s not to say clubs and fans should blindly support managers either, just for the sake of ‘giving them time’, when things clearly aren’t right in the camp.

Villas-Boas’s arrival at Stamford Bridge in the summer came as a surprise to many Blues fans, with strong rumours linking former interim boss Guus Hiddink with the job. And being a close friend of owner Roman Abramovich, popular with the Stamford Bridge faithful and players alike, it seemed the obvious move.

But Abramovich instead pulled a move out of left-field, appointing FC Porto manager and former Chelsea employee, Villas-Boas.

Despite the surprising appointment, Chelsea fans by and large seemed excited by the prospect of a young, up-and-coming manager who could potentially take the hot-seat for years to come – our very own Sir Alex. But despite Chelsea players crowing over how great and 21st Century pre-season training was (presumably with a gun to their heads...) and being the first side to knock Manchester ‘’ City off their perch this season, things have started to turn sour.

Draw has followed defeat has followed draw has followed defeat at regular intervals, across all competitions. Chelsea scraped through the Champions League knock-out stages, somehow topping the group, but look increasingly likely to accomplish the unacceptable at Stamford Bridge and miss out on qualification for Europe’s biggest club tournament next season.

One can only be left to wonder how the Great Rebuild of 2012 will go when the Blues fail to attract top youngsters or experienced heads with no offer of Champions League football.

And it’s not as if AVB has the right ideas but just doesn’t have the personnel to carry them out. His team selections are a mystery, his substitutions are nothing short of baffling and his infatuation with Jose Bosingwa...simply mind-boggling.

Take this week’s debacle against Everton for example. His back four were Bosingwa, Luiz, Ivanovic and Cole. Last weekend against Manchester United (the capitulation to end all capitulations), Branislav Ivanovic was a contender for Chelsea’s Man of the right back...the position he’s mostly occupied since his arrival in January 2008. He was nothing short of outstanding, dodgy penalty aside. Gary Cahill, who was finally awarded his Chelsea debut, was also on the better side of solid and was even unlucky not to clinch an undeserved three points right at the death, with a stinging shot tipped over by De Gea.

So this week, naturally, it was all change. Cahill was back getting splinters and Ivanovic was back in the centre babysitting David Luiz, to varying degrees of success. There’s a complete lack of consistency to enable the defence to gel and there’s even less appreciation for playing the best players in their best positions. That means Ivanovic at right back and Jose Bosingwa on the next plane back to Portugal, Andre.

Villas-Boas also seems to lack any tactical nous. He makes substitutions for the sake of it and the team often loses its shape and balance as a result. Up until Christmas, Chelsea were the only team in the Premier League to have used all three substitutions in every game. That doesn’t exactly point to level-headed tactical genius.

The game against Fulham at the Bridge on Boxing Day was a classic example. AVB hooks Frank Lampard, fairly enough as Lamps was having a Weston (Super-Mare!), and replaces him with Florent Malouda. Now my feelings towards Mr Malouda are best saved for a future blog for fear of this one turning into War and Peace with very ripe language, but that aside, replacing a centre midfielder with a wide player meant the middle of the park lost all shape, with none of the players seeming to know who was meant to be where. This also happened against Manchester City, when for reasons only known to AVB, we found ourselves with both Mikel and Romeu on the pitch at the same time. Two holding midfielders, four defenders, complete chaos.

That’s not to say AVB has been all-bad. The signing of Juan Mata was inspired and he’s an incredibly exciting prospect for the future. That’s not to, actually, that’s the only good point I can muster.

It seems that after 25 league games, seven draws and six defeats, maybe it’s time Abramovich cuts his losses and admits he appointed the wrong man. And with his ever-increasing training ground visits, maybe it’s just a matter of time until Chelsea call a press conference.