Tag Archives: Chelsea

Transfer round-up

Rafael van der Vaart

In which I publish a list of notable transfers, in no particular order:

Rafael van der Vaart to Tottenham: For a measly £8 million, Spurs added an excellent player in Rafael van der Vaart. He’ll give the offense a bit of class and a lot of punch. I never understand why he didn’t feature prominently at Real Madrid, not do I understand why he doesn’t play more for the Dutch national team. And I don’t understand why Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t all over this move, especially at only £8 million. Their loss is Tottenham’s gain.

Robinho to AC Milan: For €18 million, AC Milan added a supremely talented striker and malcontent. He’s one of those guys who needs constant attention, which must be exhausting, to be honest. However, I think he’ll provide a good return on the money because he’s motivated and he’s wanted at Milan.

Asamoah Gyan to Sunderland: Ambitious Sunderland added World Cup hero Gyan in a bid to give the offense a boost. I, for one, think it will work out just swimmingly.

Javier Mascherano to Barcelona: A terrible move for both club and player. Mascherano doesn’t fit Barcelona’s system at all. This is a vanity signing, pure and simple. And it’s destined for failure.

Raul Meireles to Liverpool: A good move for Liverpool because Meireles is a gifted player (despite his comically bad tattoos). I think he’ll work out fine.

Mario Balotelli to Manchester City: And City add another player. And overpay for the privilege, too. Of course, that’s been the story of the last couple of years. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Ramires to Chelsea: A good move by Chelsea. And cheap-ish, too.

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Chelsea wins the Premiership

There is a tendency, in disciplines like literary criticism, historical writing, and journalism, to look at the negative aspects of any positive act. Call it an attempt to be controversial or perhaps uncreativity or whatever you want. It is, in many respects, the propagation of the “whole is greater than the sum” argument; that beneath every triumph are a series of mistakes that had to be overcome. In the absolute, that’s true. Every triumph results from hurdling mistakes in a steady climb to the top. It’s true that if you look at Chelsea’s season, you’ll see let-downs as well as triumphs. Let the belittlers focus on the former. I’m looking at the latter.

Three times this year – indeed, three times since January – Chelsea scored 7 or more goals. Seven. They scored 103 goals and had a goal differential of 71, which speaks volumes about their offense. Offense was expected, though. Didier Drogba is a gifted striker. Nicolas Anelka, for all his sulkiness, has considerable talent. The question was defense. Everyone knows about John Terry. The former England captain is an excellent defender. The question, in my mind, was everyone else.

Way back in July 2009, Chelsea came to the United States and wowed most commentators. An excellent run of form followed through August, September, and half of October. They took both games from Arsenal and both from Manchester United. Though they lost both to Manchester City, it didn’t hurt them as much as United’s week of stumbles that began, appropriately enough, with a loss to Chelsea. But I’m rambling. Look at the defense. The back line allowed 3 or more goals in exactly two games. That’s impressive. What does it mean, though? Defending is about cooperation and, to a degree, intimacy. Familiarity allows defenders to move around and know that coverage is there. Chelsea had that this season. Following Terry, the Chelsea defenders did their jobs and allowed Drogba, et al. to do theirs. It’s a beautiful thing when a team is firing on all cylinders.

In the end, Chelsea played well enough to win. It is my opinion that they were better than 86 points and that United was lucky to hang around until the final day of the season. Although Ancelotti sees flaws – apparently on the right side – and really, really, really wants Alexandre Pato next season, the team, as constructed has a better than decent chance to repeat next year, which is bad news for United.

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Premiership Matchday 12: Manchester United 0-1 Chelsea

fergie talks to 4th official v chelski (getty)

Sir Alex talked to the 4th official about Martin Atkinson's calls v. Chelsea (Getty Images)

Although the result was hardly unexpected – Chelsea are, perhaps, the best team in the Premiership this season, something I’ve been saying since the summer – it was still disappointing. Perhaps it was the way it happened, on a free kick that shouldn’t have been given and with Drogba pulling Peanut Head down in the box. But John Terry headed it home for the only goal in a 1-0 final.

That isn’t to say that United didn’t have any chances. More than once, Wayne Rooney should have scored while Ricardo Carvalho made a spectacular play to get in front of Darren Fletcher’s screamer. Luck and referee decisions aside, Chelsea outplayed United. Simple as that. I will not complain about a just result (despite the fact that the free kick should not have been awarded, perhaps the soccer gods were making things even, karmically speaking, for Jonny Evans’ kick to Drogba’s chest in the box a few minutes earlier. Evans should have been tossed for that. Of course, Martin Atkinson had a bad day overall, methinks).

That makes two bad results in a row for United in the Premiership and 3 losses in total. In and of themselves, the losses aren’t a huge deal but taken together… well, it’s getting awfully close to a big deal. I don’t think any team can win the Premiership with more than 5 losses. So that means United have to put on a good run of form and shore up the back line. Evans and Peanut Head can play against Burnley or other lower sides but Vidić needs a partner for the big games (and he needs to get healthy, but I digress) as Rio Ferdinand is toast. So it’s up to Sir Alex to be proactive, to fix the clearly apparent problems (another thing that would help is not playing Rooney alone up top; he doesn’t do well like that no matter how much you wish he will).

United have been very up and down lately and I can’t put my finger on why. The easy way out is injuries. The harder answer to face is that Antonio Valencia, Nani, and Anderson are all overmatched at the moment. I am having serious doubts that either Nani or Anderson will develop as expected. But here’s were Sir Alex earns his money. That’s right: I’m calling out one of the better managers in the game. He needs to earn his keep by getting the team on form PDQ. I think it will happen but I don’t know when. Consider me worried.

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Saturday Night Links: fans’ protest edition

st james park protest

Fans protest at St. James' Park

Mike Ashley is an idiot. He renamed St. James’ Park “sportsdirect.com @ St. James’ Park Stadium” which is way, way worse than Citi Field or any corporately named stadium in North America or, really, anywhere else in the world. It should be protested on principle. Of course, Mike Ashley is an idiot so that doesn’t help.

Well, Arsenal are making me look like a dumbass. They won today, rising to second in the league, just ahead of idle Manchester United and just behind idle Chelsea (United and Chelsea play tomorrow). The point is that the Arse are playing well lately.

The MLS playoffs are in full swing. Did you notice? No? Shame on you! Fortunately, you still have time to catch LA Galaxy v. Chivas (tomorrow at 7.30pm EST) and Seattle v. Houston (tomorrow at 3pm EST).

Finally, the big game tomorrow is Manchester United v. Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Both managers are busy scheming but I expect a fast-paced game and I expect everyone to be excited for it.

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The Premiership at the quarter-ish pole

prem trophy

Premiership trophy

Being an analysis of the Premiership at the quarter-ish pole of the season. With 10 games down, who’s looking good and who’s looking bad? Well, read on, dear reader, for that and much more.

LOOKING GOOD

Obviously, Chelsea is looking pretty good right now. Check out their goal differential (+20) and the fact that they’re pretty much running on all cylinders. Sure, that’s a clichéd cop-out, but still. The fact is that Chelsea have looked good since their summer tour of the US and I don’t see a drop in form coming anytime soon. Perhaps it’s due to Carlo Ancelotti. Or Didier Drogba hitting the net more often than Adriano hits the clubs. Too soon?

Not to be too much of a homer, but I have to include Manchester United in this category, too. Other than the Anfield slip-up, Sir Alex has done a masterful job getting the boys ready to play. And Ryan Giggs has been nothing short of amazing; I don’t know how he does it, but the man keeps playing and playing and playing. I am truly impressed. The only downside is Rio Ferdinand’s inexplicable loss of form (well, maybe it is explicable: back injuries can be career-enders). I look for Sir Alex to go get a central defender or two in January.

Surprisingly, Spurs are doing well this season so far. I think that’s deceiving, though, because their goal differential is only +4. Perhaps a couple of reliable defenders and a keeper should be brought in because, Lord knows, they have enough firepower should they ever harness it. I’m still waiting for Giovani Dos Santos to show the form in the Premiership that he did for Mexico this summer; that’s the Gio I’ve been waiting for for what seems like ever.

LOOKING NOT SO GOOD

I know this puts me in the minority, but I’m not convinced that Arsenal have what it takes to compete. They have to beat back Manchester City’s challenge and catch Chelsea and United. I simply don’t think they have the personnel to do that.

Liverpool is cursed this season. Injured bodies are stacked like cordwood outside of Anfield and that’s not a good thing, especially when it’s the captain. Pool are a two-man team (those two men being Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard) unless Alberto Aquilani (and his stunning girlfriend) can make a difference. I do like some of their players but it’s my position that they need one or two more to truly compete. Actually, what they need is Xabi Alonso. Shame, really.

I’m hoping for the best when it comes to Sunderland and Stoke City but I’m reasonably certain that my hope is misplaced. Which is too bad. I’d love to see them cause some chaos.

And, finally, it’s too bad Aston Villa couldn’t maintain their form. Hardly unexpected but too bad nonetheless. And Hull City is well and truly forked, methinks. Phil Brown needs to go and Jozy Altidore needs to play, dammit!

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Saturday Night Links: college football edition

Gael Kakuta

Gael Kakuta

Where else to start but with FIFA handing Chelsea a 1-year ban on signing new players for illegally signing Gael Kakuta, a French striker formerly attached to Lens, a French club? Wow. Just wow. FIFA really laid the hammer down on Chelsea, which is great, if the precedent stands. They also have to ensure that this new precedent is applied to all clubs fairly, from the biggest to the smallest. Apparently, something similar happened to AS Roma when it signed Philippe Mexès from Auxerre in 2005. In that case, the penalty was reduced to 1 transfer window (rather than 2) and a €7 million fine. On another note, how come the victims are always French?

Not surprisingly, Chelsea has filed the “strongest possible appeal” to the ban. Perhaps that appeal will carry more weight than just a regular-strength appeal. Or it’s just hyperbole. I expect Chelsea to get at least the same punishment as Roma, even with their strong appeal. Manchester United might be in for the same problem when FIFA gets around to ruling on its signing of Paul Pogba (yet another Frenchman… seriously, what’s up with that?).

Speaking of appeals… Arsenal are going to appeal Eduardo’s 2-match ban for diving. It says here that the appeal will be rejected and he’ll be gone for 2 matches.

Silly season update: how the hell did Hull get Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink? And why did Celtic release him? What’s going on there? I’m thoroughly confused by all of this. Though he’ll make a good partner for Jozy Altidore.

Hype from CONMEBOL in that Dunga doesn’t like Diego Maradona. Does anyone really like Maradona, though?

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Saturday Night Links: New season edition

Cristiano Ronaldo scores v. TFC (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Cristiano Ronaldo scores v. TFC (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

We’ll start over at SI.com, where The Limey has their Premiership season preview. They predict the top 4 will be Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. I agree that Chelsea is probably the best team in the Premiership this year, esp. given how they looked on their US tour. I’m not convinced that Arsenal will be in the top 4, though I’m unconvinced that Manchester City will put everything together soon enough. Fergie agrees with me.

Real Madrid crushed Toronto FC 5-1 in a friendly on Friday night, a result that is only a surprise to those who are idiots. On the negative side, TFC got run out of the park. On the positive side, they got run out of the park by a vastly superior team and they looked far, far better than they did against Puerto Rico last week. That’s pretty much par for the course for Toronto sports: play to the level of your competition.

Michael Owen was left out of the England squad. The folks at F365 were somewhat surprised by that. I am not, mainly because Capello’s policy is to not select players who aren’t fit. A good run of form for Manchester United will put him back in consideration, methinks.

In sad news, Espanyol captain Daniel Jarque died of heart failure. He was 26 years old. RIP, Daniel.

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What does the World Football Challenge mean?

Frank Lampard scores (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Frank Lampard scores (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

So what does the World Football Challenge mean, in the larger sense, for soccer in the US?

1. Attendance through 12 games was 670,000 and tickets were selling for 10 times face value. What does that tell you? It tells me that US fans will pay to see the best teams and players. But that has been clear since the 1994 World Cup. It also tells me that European teams are taking these games seriously.

2. MLS needs to stop expanding and develop the grassroots game. The best way to do that is to integrate USL-1 and USL-2 and improve loaning and player-development deals. It also needs to clarify its relationship with the NCAA. Most of it, it needs to develop and retain good American players will utilizing the DP slots more effectively. At its best, the slot is a way to generate good publicity and to help the team take a significant step forward. At its worst, the slot is a financial boondoggle. It’s up to MLS GMs to make sure it’s the former rather than the latter.

3. All those fans who are going to the World Football Challenge need to wake up and support their local MLS teams. That esp. goes for all the fans of Mexico who believe they are above MLS; they’re not. If they love soccer, they’ll watch it be played at its highest level in this country, even if they do, for some godforsaken reason, like América. Scratch that: América can keep all their fans. Every other one should check out FC Dallas or Houston.

4. All of those fans who are going to the World Football Challenge need to support the Gold Cup. It’s only natural.

The World Football Challenge is instructive in that it shows there is a kind of soccer elitism in the US. They will
come out for the best club teams and their players but they will not support their own league. If they ever want to
see the best players and best club teams every week, like the NFL or the NBA or MLB, they must start supporting MLS.

Alexi Lalas said that in 1994 he saw tonight coming (75,000 people at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD) even then. But what he saw coming was not 75,000 people showing up for a friendly between an English team and an Italian team. No, he saw 75,000 coming to see American players. And that day isn’t here yet.

So, how do we get rid of the elitism? Through exposure. MLS needs more than one game per week on ESPN. It also  needs local television exposure and it needs to be on networks. I’ve no idea why ABC and ESPN don’t show a Saturday double-header every week during the summer. In addition to the momentum gained by World Cup Qualifiers and the Confederations Cup, it would build good momentum for MLS.

Have at it, ESPN.

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Saturday Night Links: Lazy Sunday edition

Yesterday, Javier Aguirre was banned for 3 matches for his stupidity against Panama. In my eyes, that’s not nearly enough. It should be 5 or even 10 matches because a coach’s contact with an opposing player is unforgivable, let alone a coach kicking at said player. There’s something to be said for maintaining one’s discipline.

Apparently “one-club man” John Terry has had a meeting with Roman Abramowich in which he said he wanted to talk to Manchester City. The transfer would be for about £50 million while Terry would sign a contract worth £250,000 per week and receive a signing bonus of £5 million. That’s a lot of green. F365 suggests that the transfer fee would go toward a bid for Milan’s Alexandre Pato while the hole at center back would be filled by Porto’s Bruno Alves.

Over at SI.com, The Limey analyzes why Rafa Benítez is having such a rough time in the transfer market. As usual, Benítez does not blame himself but instead everyone else. He says he just can’t compete with the large sums of money spent on transfers. He’s right, of course, but he’s also the guy who paid £18 million for Glen Johnson.

Grant Walh’s list of thrilling players is interesting.

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Does stability mean championships?

Over at F365, Pete Gill has written that today’s culture of instant gratification means that managers are under increating pressure (something I agree with) and that boards are more likely to pull the trigger sooner rather than later (also something I agree with). Where I disagree with Gill is when he contends that boards virtually have to operate this way, given the big money nature of the game today.

Boards can operate however they want; they simply choose to bow to fan and/or media pressure quicker than before. I humbly submit that if you choose a manager you think is right, stand by him. The board went to the trouble of picking him, so why not give him a shot? Is it realistic to expect titles every year? That depends who you are; for Manchester United or Chelski or Real Madrid or Bayern, that’s the minimum expectation. But should that be the case? I submit that it shouldn’t because, by definition, there can only be one champion per year. It’s all well and good to expect to compete until the end but it’s not well and good when a manager pays the price unfairly.

The examples for stability are Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, as pointed out by Gill. At the other end are serial manager changers like Real Madrid and, lately, Chelski. On the surface, it appears that patience brings benefits; look at Fergie’s reign lately and Wenger’s undefeated year, both of which came after some early stumbles. Would Man Utd or the Arse be where they are without their managers? I doubt it.

But, as Gill points out, the era of the long-term manager is likely over, which is too bad. Short-term specialists, like the Special One, are the future. I, for one, think there should be more patience unless a manager is clearly unqualified. That means that Mark Hughes shouldn’t be fired from Man City (as he likely will in the summer). I think stability is good for a club and for the players. But that’s just me.

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