Monthly Archives: November 2010

Preview: A New King is Crowned

So for those of you who missed it, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing won his fifth race of the year at Abu Dhabi, and in doing so became the youngest World Champion in F1 history.  While the race itself couldn’t have been more anticlimactic and quite frankly the most boring of the season, the storylines surrounding it provided all the drama worthy of an epic sporting tale.  I promised you posts on the Korean Grand Prix, the penultimate race at Brazil, and the finale at Abu Dhabi.  Part 1 will come tomorrow, followed by the next two in the next couple of days.  2010 was a season for the ages for F1, and worthy of revisiting and preserving in the worldwide blogosphere.

MP

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The Worst of Times for Chelsea?

Bah. So Sunday’s thrashing at the feet of Sunderland at the Bridge should be a wakeup call to all of Chelsea nation. But let’s not overreact, it was one match, and true champions usually bounce back after a poor performance, which I expect us to do against Birmingham on Saturday. But still…

I think it’s safe to say that after the strength of our starting XI, we have some serious depth issues. I’ll admit I didn’t blink twice when the club jettisoned Joe Cole, Ballack, Deco, and even Carvalho, but now those cost cutting measures have come back to bite us in the butt.

Without JT and Alex, a makeshift backline of Ferreira and Ivanovic was ravaged repeatedly. Which begs the question, if the recent reports that both JT and Alex could be out for up to several months, exacerbated by Lampard’s continuing struggles to return back to health, Malouda and Essien battling nagging injuries, and Drogbazooka fighting off malaria, what’s a top flight team with a ravaged midfield and backline to do?

For one, why not give young Jeffrey Bruma some playing time, so that in the very real possibility that he’ll have to play in a match that really matters, he won’t be a deer in headlights. And same goes for Patrick Van Aanholt and Josh McEachran, who Ancelotti gave minutes earlier in the season but is now mostly relegated back to the bench. If Ramires, Zhirkov, and Ferreira aren’t going to pick up the slack, then let the kids play so that they can grow into men.

Drogba, Malouda, Lampard, Essien, JT, and Alex have all missed time with injuries, and some may miss even more. Is it time to revise our expectations for this year? Is it fair that we expect a win every match, or unrealistic? Probably both, and now isn’t a bad time to reassess our prospects for this season.

So what’s the prudent thing to do? If I’m Carletto, maybe it’s time to switch back to a 4-4-2 with Malouda either on the left or the attacking position in a diamond midfield where he can still run rampant, and Mikel(who’s quietly been a rock in the middle) anchoring the back.  We may no longer be able to regularly showcase our singularly beautiful style of attacking football, but it’s time to put a bandage on a hemorrhaging defense.  Whatever Ancelotti decides to do, he should park Lampard on his bed and make sure he doesn’t get up until he’s truly healthy, hell, give him all the massages from sultry masseuses he can handle; same for JT(eek); crack the whip gently on Zhirkov and Ramires, and get Bruma, McEachran, and Van Aanholt some minutes, hope that our veterans will stem the tide, and pray.

It’s a long season and there will inevitably be ebbs and rises in our form. If we can treat Sunday as the low mark of the season, then things can only get better, right? Right?

MP

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Sir Alex: The Venerable Curmudgeon of English Football

Bill Parcells. Larry Brown. And Sir Alex. What do all these men have in common? They are all highly revered as some of the greatest teachers in their respective sports. All three are masterminds in the locker room and on the playing field, and they manage their teams with a strong sense of discipline and order. And all three can be at times absolute d****, c****, or whatever expletive you can think of.

But what separates SAF from Parcells and Brown is he built his managerial castle in one location (I know he managed Aberdeen and St. Mirren, but my personal reference to him is only as the boss of Man United), while the other two were journeymen of coaches, rebuilding franchises only to leave for what they thought were greener pastures. So on that point alone, SAF stands head and shoulders above them all. So despite his legendary status not just in football but in all of sport, why do I find Sir Alex to be such a prickly old codger?

Because that’s what he is! And that is what makes him so brilliant. As a Chelsea fan, and I’m sure most of you will agree, the two matches that I unequivocally look forward to every season are the ones against Man United, if only because I know that SAF and his boys will undoubtedly bring a solid effort on the pitch (Sorry Arsenal, but a legitimate rivalry requires that both sides have a chance of winning).

To illustrate, here’s a sound bite given by SAF after our boys won the Premier League on the last day of the season: “Congratulations to Chelsea. After three years of coming up short, they managed to beat the greatest club in English football. Any trophy is more special if you won it beating Manchester United.” It’s utterly brilliant how he manages to congratulate us while still reserving praise for his own squad. Most of it is probably a smokescreen, especially when you contrast those words with these given to another reporter: “We applaud Chelsea. We know how hard it is to win the title – it’s the hardest league in the world and we’ve won it for the last three years. I congratulate Carlo Ancelotti on a wonderful achievement. He’s a good manager and a good guy.” That last blurb sounds more like a proper non-backhanded compliment, but there really isn’t much separating the two. So will the real SAF please stand up?

The truth is all of the stated above is the truth, and that SAF is the incontrovertible patriarch of English football. So are we starting to see a softer side of him as he starts to enter the twilight of his managerial career? It may seem so at times, but just when you think he’s starting to settle down and reduce his boisterous assertions to a low simmer, he unleashes a burn on some player, team, or sporting institution. In just the last month, he appropriately skewered Rooney, praised Guardiola (and by doing so added fuel to the fire of rumors as to who will succeed him), hated on the World Cup, and hated on Man City. Forget settling down, it seems SAF is only getting better with age, and more active for that matter.

So why am I mentioning him now, when he’s firmly parked his bus at Old Trafford for so long that most of his current squad wasn’t even born when he took over the reins? Because I think he has one final great symphony to conduct, and he’s biding his time, waiting for all the contenders (or pretenders) surrounding him to finish their opuses so that he can reclaim the grand stage.

Despite the Glazers’ precarious highly leveraged financial state, the Red Devils can still spend with the best of Europe, and they have a balanced mix of grizzled veterans and young lions. And despite all the drama that’s ensued this season, they are well positioned in the league table and in the CL. Despite how well Chelsea has played this season (for the most part) and how poorly Man United has looked at times, they’re only two points behind, and it’s practically a certainty that their level of play will improve. And don’t forget that they were only a Robben wonder volley away from making it to their third straight CL semifinal, which I think would’ve likely led to a third straight CL final.

We have big aspirations for our team this year, but I can also foresee a year like 2006-7, when Chelsea were in contention for four trophies until the very end of the season, but were overwhelmed by their schedule and eventually settled for winning just the FA Cup.

My personal take on the matter is Chelsea’s biggest challenge will come yet again from Man United, but the CL is the grander challenge, if not more difficult. Will we have to focus on one and sacrifice our dreams for the other? I hope not, but if SAF and his boys continue to push forward, then Carletto and Co. may end up having to make some tough decisions.

Let’s just hope that we maintain the right perspective, and that we don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

MP

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Where have you gone, Frank Lampard?

So it’s been almost a dozen games since our vice captain has been on the pitch, and one has to wonder about the true extent of his injury, and if management is putting up a smokescreen to keep Chelsea nation at ease.  After undergoing preseason surgery to treat a hernia, it’s obvious that Lamps has struggled to return back to playing form, suffering minor(or major) peripheral injuries related to his initial operation.  Any injury that involves the abdominal and groin area are notoriously difficult to recover from, and more often than not the only cure for these types of injuries is time and rest.  At worst, his injuries may very well affect his play for the rest of the season and/or beyond.

Lampard is known for being a workhorse; he’s reiterated his preference to not sit out for any match, and that he prefers the ebb and flow of playing an entire season, league and cup games and all.  It’s a respectable attitude to always want to be on the pitch for your team, but the toll of playing nearly 15 seasons of 50+ games must have taken its toll on Frank the Tank.  Time isn’t on his side, but he’s also at a point in his career where his mental capacity is arguably higher than his physical ability, which is saying alot.  It seems like management and the doctors are erring on the side of caution, which is the most prudent thing to do.  But will Chelsea will be able sustain their championship level of play for an extended period of time without Lamps?  They have so far, except for a few roadbumps against Man City and Aston Villa, but the injuries to other members of the squad, in particular the midfield, are starting to add up.  Ramires is hurt(but last heard is close to being match fit), Benayoun could be out for the season, and now Malouda, who arguably has been our best player this season, is out with an ankle injury.  It’s not exactly dire straits, but a team with multiple trophy aspirations like ours will need at some point in the season for every weapon in their arsenal to be cocked, locked, and ready to rock.

On the bright side, McEachran has earned the confidence of Ancelotti to play meaningful minutes, and Zhirkov could be on the brink of becoming a dynamic first team regular as a starter or reserve.  But there’s no doubt that Chelsea needs Lampard to come back, and the sooner the better.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and the sooner Lamps steps back out onto the field, the more likely that our boys in blue will stay on track for fulfilling what hopefully will be a season for the ages.

MP

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