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No pain, no gain.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Have Chelsea blown it?

The opportunity to seize control of their own destiny for the first time since before Christmas was lost by Chelsea away at St. James' park. This week both Manchester United and Chelsea face extremely tough tests in the Champions League, and although they will both be fully focussed on these first legs, a sense of missed opportunity could end up seeing Chelsea lose to Liverpool.

They were poor. Of that there is no doubt. They looked fragile in defense (Ashley Cole and Carvalho both out), and even more lacking in attack. Drogba was a shadow of his former self, and Shevchenko's arrival onto the pitch towards the end of the game had Mourinho tearing his hair out on the sidelines.

Newcastle defended admirably, but Liverpool will present a much sterner task. In many ways, the reds from Liverpool are Chelsea's bogey team in much the same way that Middlesborough are to Manchester United. Any Chelsea fan would be lying if he said that he felt confident of beating Liverpool over the two legs, and it may just be this respect towards their opponents that will guide Chelsea through to the final. Here's not counting my chickens.

posted by teedoubleyou
20:28

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Money can't buy Luck

Thursday, April 19, 2007


The financial roundabouts regularly occuring within and without the F.A. are alarming. A stadium costing £757 million pounds seems to be such a normal phrase in today's media, and although Wembley is a terrific sight, it doesn't exceed the sight presented by the Emirates Stadium, much less eclipse it like it does regarding cost. The new home of the Gunners cost a "mere" £390 million.

Recently, the F.A. were "delighted" to have sealed a deal worth £425 million, a total of about £300 million more than their previous TV deal, and ridiculously, this extra 300 million pounds will only garuntee ITV and Setanta Premiership football for 3 years. At best, the F.A. has made 100 million pounds a year out of Premiership football.

The recent debates about the self-proclaimed "best league in the World" actually being just that, seem to revolve heavily around two issues; that of "luck" (or fate as it is sometimes referred to) and "money".

There is no doubt that "Luck" has had a great influence on English football in recent seasons; witness Liverpool's miraculous come back in the CL final two seasons ago, and Arsenal's progress to the final last year. This year that luck has culminated in the presence of three English teams in the semi-finals of the CL, garunteeing an English finalist for the 3rd successive season. The product of the best league in Europe, or the combination of money and luck?

Perhaps that is all it has ever been. La Liga has been a dominant force in World Football for the last two decades, certainley witnessing their own fair share of luck. Also, Calcio has never been too far from the "best league in the world" title, clearly showing off their financial muscle in being able to secure the services of world-class players whose stars are finally fading (the Figo's, Maldini's, Del Piero's, Seedorf's and so on). There was a time when we were younger when the league to play in Champo was the Italian league.

But the financial side of the game is not due to luck. It is no coincidence that a dodgy billionaire from Russia chose to invest in a struggling West London club. Nor is it a coincidence that the purchase of Liverpool makes it the 3rd club to be owned by Americans. And as recently as last night, we witnessed the departure of a certain David Dein, a man who stood for everything that Arsenal represent, but whom reportedly fell out over the question of foreign (American too) ownership.

These foreign investors know how to make money, and how to keep making money and they have all identified a money making opportunity in English football, potentially garunteeing top class football for years to come. Abramovich could've invested his money in Spain, in an already proven league where the overseas attractions are there for all to see (shirt sales for Beckham reportedly paid off the cost of the player within weeks). He could've chosen to invest in coffins in Zimbabwe, or rape alarms in Ipswich, yet he chose Chelsea. The Glazier's made the obvious choice, however Randy Lerner seems to have walked into a blind alley, as as Magnusson. Yet they won't have done it without considerable investigation and a sound business model.

The point is, that these investors placed money in a league whose star is in ascendancy and as a result they will garuntee that that star shines brightly for many years to come. Money generates good football, and good football generates more money.

Money will not buy you a championship winning side, but with a bit of luck, you can get anywhere.

posted by teedoubleyou
19:57

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Best League in Europe, Or Luck Of The Draw?

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Is the Premiership the strongest league in European football, or have we just witnessed the luck of knock-out football?

Liverpool beat a weakened and frankly demure Barcelona, and then knocked out another side, far from their peak; PSV Eindhoven.
Chelsea beat Porto at home, after coming from behind, and then again had to do the same in two games against Valencia.
Manchester United played a poor side in Lille, and performed an exceptional one-off performance against Roma.

In the UEFA Cup, Spurs had to play such outstanding opposition as Dinamo Bucuresti, Braga and are now struggling to Sevilla. Before that, they received a bye and skipped passed Feynoord.

Could it be that far from being the best league in Europe, with the strongest sides, they have been nothing short of fortunate? At first appearance, this seems to be the case once the facts have been given nothing short of a casual glance.

This however, isn't the case.

Liverpool topped their group and didn't have any particularly tough games, against Barcelona in the Nou Camp they played some outstanding football. Yes, Barca were tired and clearly not at their best, having suffered in the weeks leading up to the tie. However it wasn't all rosy for Liverpool either. In the week prior to the game an internal bust up had occurred featuring the two players who later scored against Barca.
Although they lost in the home-tie, the result had already been attained, and Liverpool played the cautious game they needed to at home, where their defensive record speaks for itself.
Against PSV, they went away and scored 3, and Crouch (again) scored at home to put the tie beyond PSV.

Chelsea played extremely strong football. In much the way a small child will try to fit the square peg in the round hole and relentlessly bash at it until he is successful, Chelsea attack with no remorse. They refuse to be beaten, and have scored 25 goals in the last 10 minutes of games this season, a frightening statistic that teams ignore at their peril. They came from behind in their last 3 CL ties and outperformed Valencia at the Mestalla, being the first English team to triumph there this century.

Manchester United dominated Lille, and hardly broke a sweat. They challenged Roma by attacking and showing no fear, and in their recent 7-1 demolition of the italians (a result Totti referred to as the worst moment of his sporting career, which when you consider has seen him dismissed during the Euro 2004 for spitting at opposition, losing the Euro 2000 final and never winning the Scudetto, means it must have been pretty poor), United proved that they are no longer the lucky side of '99, and are a force to be reckoned with. 7-1 isn't lucky.

Tottenham may have had luck on their side when not having to face Feynoord, but they dispatched the resulting opposition with the sublime ease expected of challengers to the "big four". Only now do they face their greatest test, and were unlucky to have lost 2-1 away to Sevilla in the Sanchez Pijuan. They have the ability, talents and skill to beat the Spaniards at home, and having rested key players over the weekend, Martin Jol's side are in a position to do so.

An English team will be present in this year's CL final in Athens. For the third year running a Premiership side will have a shot at the big time, to get their name in the record books. This is no coincidence, and although fortune cannot help but play a part in any knock-out tournament, surely it is time for the doubters to look towards to the Premiership and place them on the same pedestal as the Spanish and Italian leagues.

On the other hand, should an English team fail at the last hurdle like Arsenal did last year, then this blog will be erased from history.

posted by teedoubleyou
07:20

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Consistent Jog For The Title

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Last weekend, Blackburn were 1-0 up against Manchester United and this blog was amongst many other fans in hoping that somehow the so called "Race For The Title" (even though a race suggests speed, which in turn makes the Premiership more of a marathon of endurance. "Consistent Jog For The Title" doesn't have the same ring to it) was finally becoming just that; a race.

Alas we were all drastically let down, as United once again demonstrated just why they are in first.

That was all until they visited Portsmouth. Perhaps it was the double blow of losing Vidic and Neville in the same week. It could even have been the demoralising defeat to Roma. The fact that Chelsea had psychologically closed the gap to three points after beating Tottenham could also have played some part. Objectively, this blog even believes that making Rio the captain when more senior players such as Giggs and Van der Sar were on the pitch was responsible. But whatever the reasons, the fact remains that Manchester United were beaten.

A casual observer might have put it down to luck, and more importantly, bad luck in United's case. However, the nerves seemed to get the better of the men in red, and a succession of poor mistakes and lazy defending resulted in Manchester United dropping points, and allowing Chelsea to close the gap to 3 points for the first time since Christmas.

David James' role in the game cannot be ignored, and it seems that the ex England man chose the best day to showcase his ability where Paul Robinson was once again beaten from distance with a frankly tame and speculative shot from Carvalho. James' saves were top drawer, and his composure throughout the game was of vital importance. Portsmouth took the game to United and were rewarded, had Tottenham perhaps done the same elsewhere, they too may have left with some dignity. Instead they put in a languid performance obviously tired from their late week exertions, and no matter how fit and professional you're meant to be in this sport, 39 hours is no time to rest a squad still jostling for position on 2 fronts.

Lawrenson and Hansen still put their belief behind United, and although Gabby Logan refused to be drawn to comment (probably in the knowledge of the gagging order imposed on Lineker regarding the ITV/Sentanta TV rights deal), this blog isn't so sure.

This Chelsea side have achieved a lot under Mourinho, and most of them are natural winners. They are a squad of players who know what it feels like to win, and who never give up as has been demonstrated on various occasions this season. They will chase this title to the end, and whether or not the presence of a fat lady is garunteed, the Blues will be there on the last day. Manchester United have played some of the finest football in Europe so far this season, they have in their midfield, the most in form player in Europe, and they have the desire to win. That winning desire may not be enough to stay ahead of Chelsea, and they will be punished should they show a similar lapse in concentration against the potential banana skins lining their run in; West-Ham, Everton, Man City and most notably a visit to Stamford Bridge.

This isn't to say that Chelsea have it easy. Far from it, Chelsea have yet to play Arsenal, West-Ham and Bolton, 3 games against teams either struggling to survive or struggling for Europe. These final 6 games will not be simple tasks for either team, and clichéd as it is, they will all be "Cup Finals" for both.

Then there is the simple matter of the F.A. Cup semi finals, and the return legs of the Champions League quarter finals where both squads face daunting tasks which will test them to the hilt.

To suggest that this is a "race" is folly, it is more about the survival of the fittest, a battle only time will tell.

Labels: , ,

posted by teedoubleyou
22:45

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38 hours and about 45 minutes

With fewer than 40 minutes remaing to the Chelsea v Spurs game at Stamford Bridge, this blog would just like to apologise for an earlier misprint.

Didier Drogba is the first player in 22 years to score 30 goals in all competitions for the Blues, since Kerry Dixon, not since Tamling in '62 (that was indeed 30 goals in the First Division).

Spurs have had all of 38 hours and a few minutes to rest since their overseas battle with Sevilla, a gap which doesn't give anyone much hope that Spurs can be the first domestic club to beat Chelsea on their home turf since Mourinho's arrival.

posted by teedoubleyou
11:06

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CL: Winner and Losers

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


WINNERS

Peter Crouch

The man standing at somewhere approximating gigantism, has now scored 7 in his last 7 games for the reds, his last coming against a PSV playing how Mourinho likes to call "parking the bus" in front of the goal. His hat trick against Arsenal was exceptional, and the goal against PSV cannot be underestimated.

Wayne Rooney

Finally ending his goal scoring drought, "Wazza" netted a very well taken finish at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Although United lost the game, Wayne's contribution may turn out to be the most important goal he's scored in 2007.

Joe Cole

After a long absence, Ashley Cole's "brutha from anotha mutha" took part in Chelsea's campaign for European domination. Substituted on with about 20 minutes remaining, Joe Cole finally saw some footballing action -- his first touch went wayward, but he displayed fitness, speed and hunger to take the game to the Valencians.

Quique Sanchez Flores

It's no secret that Valencia have been experiencing internal turmoil which can only be approximated to that of Eastenders, but Quique's squad scored what could be a crucial away goal (and what a goal it was) and perhaps, just perhaps may have given Carboni the result he needed to prove that all is not lost.

Roma

Manchester United's form of late has been exceptional. Even though this blog predicted United's triumph at the Stadio Olimpico, Roma played a safe game, and were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty or have made it 3-1. They will take the game to United at Old Trafford, and it will take an exceptional peformance from the Red Devils to progress to the semi-finals.

LOSERS

Shevchenko

Sheva's purchase by a deep pocketed Russian was meant for these exact competitions, although the exact value paid for him is unkown, it can be certain that it was enough to buy European goals (whatever their average cost may be in the modern age of "self-made" billionaires). Shevchenko was made for nights like this, and his performance against Porto was indication of his natural explosive talent. However, against Valencia, Drogba was made to do all the work and the Ukranian star was nowhere to be found on a night where his skill would have been the catalyst to a revolt.

Scholes

Paul Scholes' form this season has been a renaissance, a joy for all to watch, culminating in an incredible goal against Blackburn at the weekend. How he went from hero to zero against Roma was once again due to his absolute blindness in the tackle. No amount of skill can save him from his atrocious tackling, and a first half red card is testimony to that. His reckless nature may prove costly to United's European quest.

Chelsea

Once again, the men in blue went behind due to individual excellence. They started poorly against Porto, and suffered due to a Quaresma goal, and again against Valencia started weakly and were forced to pay from another piece of individual brilliance. How many times will Chelsea have to fight back before they realise their own potential? A trip to the Mestalla with an away goal in mind is hell for any team, and Chelsea will have to be at their utmost best to turn this result in their favour, a performance we haven't seen them give since their late equaliser at the Nou Camp in the group stages of this same competition.

Heavens 11

This blog is the biggest loser this week, for predicting every score incorrectly. Manchester United's game did indeed end up 2-1, however it was not the visitors who added goals to their tally.

FINALLY...

A quick mention should go to Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba. Stevie G has now entered the Liverpool record books as their most prolific European scorer of all time, and Drogba is the first Chelsea player to score 30 goals in a season since Bobby Tambling in '62 (could be wrong here).

posted by teedoubleyou
21:14

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Dirty Sanchez Pizjuan

Tottenham Hotspur will be facing their sternest European test of the season tomorrow when facing Spanish title contenders Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Spurs have given some of their best performances in this season’s Uefa Cup having beaten teams like Bayer Leverkusen, Besiktas and Club Brugge convincingly, teams that have oft participated in the Champions League in the last 5 years.

The young Tom Huddlestone will be out through injury and Ricardo Rocha, who is beginning to establish himself as the first choice to replace the injured Ledley King until the latters recovery, is cup tied. Nevertheless, Jol will keep the Zokora-Jenas partnership that has worked well in the past few games as the Ivorian gradually comes to terms with the premiership’s playing style. Sevilla on the other hand can count on Kanoute, Palop and Daniel Alves who were rested at the weekend.

The city of Seville is deep in religious celebration this week as it is Semana Santa, or holy week, which could prove be a distraction for the Andalusians. This game will be a closely run affair but both sides are not afraid to go forward with Seville being particularly lethal with the use of their wingers, Jesus Navas and Daniel Alves. Kanoute has had a little Renaissance in la Liga and is as dangerous as he has ever been in his hardly distinguished career and boy would he feel good if he could inflict damage on his old employers. Spurs have been good on the road in Europe and Berbatov has been in sparkiling form against continental opposition. Sevilla’s centre back pairing of Alfaro and Javi Navarro are renowned for their ‘physical’ nature having broken many a proud striker with crunching tackles and below board professional fouls that tend to hoodwink the most experienced of referees due to sheer practice and experience. I hope for Spurs’ sake it won’t be a Dirty Sanchez Pizjuan night for Dimitar.
Prediction: Spurs to equalise late on, 1-1.

posted by teedoubleyou
10:28

1 comments

Champions League Preview

Chelsea face a resurgent Valencia at home tonight. Hailed as the perpetual unachievers of La Liga, Valencia have twice been to the final of the competition in recent years, and twice returned home with runners-up medals. Chelsea have twice progressed to the semi-finals 03/04 and 04/05, where they were defeated by Monaco and Liverpool respectively. Neither are reknowned for their European pedigree.

A lot has been made of Chelsea's recent run of form, and of the fact that they have never hit top gear throughout this season. The return to fitness of Joe Cole will certainly add to team morale, however the loss of the creative spark provided by Arjen Robben will be a blow, especially in these European games where teams like to stand off. Bridge has returned to fitness after surgery, but is unlikely to play any part.
Valencia will no doubt be experiencing the fallout of their post-match brawl with the Nerazzurri, and their away form in the CL is poor, not having won any of their last 3 away games and only progressing past Inter due to the away goals rule.
Prediction: Chelsea take it 2-0

posted by teedoubleyou
07:52

2 comments

Reading Royally Outclassed

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Anyone taking a cursory glance at Sunday’s result at White Hart Lane could be excused for assuming the match was a dour encounter decided by a run-of-the-mill penalty. Wrong.

This encounter between Spurs and Reading was more than just a fight for the final UEFA Cup berths. It was about a quest for vengeance after Reading’s convincing win at the Madejski earlier on in the season, it was about Reading out to prove that they were not one season wonders (West Ham and Wigan spring to mind) but a decent footballing unit playing to win. It was about Tottenham turning their backs on their languid start to the season and about Martin Jol justifying his words back in December before these two teams clashed in the first round when he said ‘If we lose to teams like Reading then we are in trouble.’ Events on the pitch were worthy of the significance of the match, of that there is no doubt.

Spurs began the match brightly and could have been 3-0 up by the fifth minute if it wasn’t for some good goalkeeping from the bearded American Marcus Hahnemann. He did well to deny Robbie Keane when the latter was provided with a gilt edge chance by Berbatov’s shrewd ball as the Irishman failed to strike the ball either side of the goal. Malbranque, who was Tottenham’s best player on the night causing the Royals’ defence no end of headaches, hit the post when he was released by Lennon almost immediately after kick off. Reading responded well as Glen Little provided Lita with a free header six yards from goal which the brawny forward contrived to aim at the post (which was a harder feat than hitting the net).

This frantic pace continued throughout the game with Reading unafraid to press forward seeking their wingers more often than not but leaving themselves heavily exposed on the counter. Lennon and Malbranque ruthlessly attacked the spaces left by Reading players supporting their teams attacks. Tottenham’s breakthrough came in the 41st minute when Keane and Halford, making his first premiership start for Reading, were tussling for the ball. Halford managed to get the ball between his thigh and his hand, the contact was there but the intent was not so clear. Alan Wiley blew his whistle and Keane delivered as good a penalty as he has done all season. Spurs were up at the break.

The second half saw Reading fail to make any headway in the Tottenham half and the only reason why the score remained 1-0 was because of wasteful finishing from Berbatov and Defoe. Time and again the Spurs strikers failed to beat Frederici, who by this point had replaced Hahnemann at half time due to the latters rib injury. Despite the modest score line Spurs produced a footballing display packed with verve and creativity showing what is to come when this young team has fully gelled. With some finely tuned finishing Spurs must be taken seriously as one of the contenders for the top four next season, most probably (and hopefully) to the detriment of the self styled kings of beautiful football, Arsenal.

posted by teedoubleyou
13:50

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Champions League Preview

So after a week of frankly poor international football, we were treated to a weekend return of our domestic leagues. Now, as dessert, we are offered the spectacle that is the Champions League.

Tonight sees Liverpool do battle with PSV Eindhoven, a side managed by former Benfica boss, Ronald Koeman. Last season saw Koeman and the Aguias knock out Liverpool inlcuding an away triumph at Anfield, a rare occasion indeed. Koeman was also the architect of Manchester United's group phase exit, and this year has knocked out Arsenal.
His proven record at European level cannot be underestimated, yet Liverpool will be bouyed by the return to fitness of Bellamy, and their recent 4-1 demolition of Arsenal over the weekend. It seems that even scoring the "perfect" hat-trick cannot garuntee Crouch a position in the ever rotating starting line-up.
Prediction: 0-0

Manchester United face Roma, both underachievers at Champions League level. Domestically, United are unrivalled for form and goal scoring ability, however, in Europe they have consistently fallen short of the mark. Even their Champions League success in '99 was due to some extremely lucky goal mouth scrambling and lack of concentration from Bayern Munich. Since then, they have failed to progress past the quarter-finals, and they will have to be at their best against Roma. Rumour has it that both Saha and Fletcher are to play a part in the game, in which case we can't expect anything special.
Roma are missing Pizarro through suspension, and Panucci is having to play at left-back, two changes which threaten to end Roma's streak of 9 undefeated home wins in European Competitions. Totti remains the danger man, and Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand are going to have their hands full.
Prediction: 2-1, United remaining on full steam.

...More atfer lunch...

posted by teedoubleyou
12:21

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A Weekend Review

Sunday, April 01, 2007



This weekend saw Manchester United and Chelsea play each other's opposition of the F.A. Cup semi-finals, but more importantly witnessed Liverpool's 4-1 revenge over an Arsenal struggling for form.
Recently, Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions League, the F.A. Cup and lost the final of the Carling Cup. This poor run of form has seen Wenger comment on how he thinks that perhaps Arsenal should've paid more attention to the league, a comment that one can't help but wonder might not have surfaced has Arsenal either won, or continued a run of success in said competitions.
Peter Crouch was magnificent up front, causing Lehman difficulties throughout the match. Aside from a very well taken hat-trick, his play demonstrated intelligence and class, both elements which were clearly lacking in England's performances over the last week. Perhaps the time has come for McClaren to look to Crouch to solve England's recent poor performances.

Elsewhere, Ronaldo once again demonstrated why he is indeed the player at the top the game, with a scintillating performance at Old Trafford against a strong Blackburn Rovers. Although Rovers got the first goal after some clever play from Pedersen, United never really looked like they were in trouble. Had Friedel not put in some exceptional saves, Manchester United would've been in front a lot sooner.
Paul Scholes' equaliser demonstrated exactly why United are in first, by having a squad who can contribute goals from the midfield when the front line are experiencing a goal-scoring drought. Skipping past three challenges with the deftest of touches, Scholes placed the ball at the far post and brought the game back to life. Unfortunately, Blackburn's second half performance lacked the zest of the first, allowing Ronaldo to once again establish his game plan and create open spaces all over the park. He crossed smartly to Carrick on the far side of the box, and the ex-Tottenham player didn't disappoint.
A saved free kick resulted in Park putting in an easy finish, and Solksjaer slotted in the last goal for his 7th of the season. Aside from an early injury to Vidic, United demonstrated why they have the skill and class to obtain the trophy this season.


Chelsea visited Vicarage Road, to play a club with 52 fewer points, a tally which would currently place a club in 5th. The game was not the easy ride expected, Lampard sporting a cast from an injury obtained from a Rooney strike whilst on international duty was the most wasteful of the first half. Together with Uriah Renney's dismissal of a penalty call on John Terry, Chelsea were lucky to still be on level terms. Cech made an excellent save early on from an overhead kick, while at the other end, Foster seemed to be making up for his gaff at White Hart Lane by stopping everything Chelsea threw at him.
Only in the 92nd minute were Chelsea able to break the deadlock with a well taken header from Kalou. Although Mourinho and Boothroyd certainly looked to be enjoying each other's company on the touch line, the tension on Abramovich's face was there for all to see. Watford's survival in this league is hanging on the balance, as is Mourinho's.

At the foot of the table, Charlton and West-Ham both won crucial games, with Charlton gaining 3 points over relegation rivals, Wigan. Pardew seems to have instilled a new sense of belief in his side, and only time will tell if West-Ham made a mistake in forcing him out of Upton Park.

posted by teedoubleyou
19:38

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