Guys - heres a cut n paste of my editorial on how i think CFC will do next this season.
The Battle of Stamford Bridge – The good ship Chelsea’s return to action.
So here we are again, and it’s all got a feeling of strange familiarity about it. Not a lot has changed. We’ve been here before:
*We are still hated by the press.
*We are still accused by people of trying to buy the Premiership.
*Charlton still hate us.
*Tottenham still haven’t beaten us.
*Arsenal are still arrogant and crassly predicting another season unbeaten in the league and the whole shebang over and done with by February.
*We still don’t have an obvious first choice midfield.
*We still have too many players.
*Season tickets are still far too expensive.
*We still bought one anyway.
*We are still linked with every player whose agent is angling for a big money windfall for himself or a wage rise for his client at his current club.
*Man United are still not buying anybody we’ve ever heard of, and still claim they will win the Premiership at a canter.
*Tottenham have another new manager. They are still claiming their glory days are just around the corner.
*Liverpool are still a bigger team than us and will put us in our place with a barnstorming premiership win in the coming season, so say their fans. *Newcastle is still buying good players, and you still know that it’s not quite the finished article yet.
*Three more premiership wannabes have come up again, and no matter how poor they are in the coming season, Everton, Villa, Fulham, and Man City will all struggle.
*Boro’ are still looking ominous in close season, and threatening a Champions League charge.
*West Ham are still crap.
*Everyone else is praying for Mr Abramovich to get bored and leave us high and dry, though STILL nobody has worked out that he owns the club, and so has to find a buyer if he wants to dump us out in the cold, as everyone is praying he will.
*Everyone still hates us.
*The press are still trying to destabilise us by sniping at our players.
*We still worry about Birmingham City at home and Southampton away in the coming fixture list, while Arsenal fans are already counting how many points they will get by Christmas.
*We are still very cynical about everything.
We are still longing for the football season to return like sailors who haven’t seen land for at least two weeks. The press are still telling us that all is not well on the good ship Chelsea. But we can’t wait. The anticipation is still palpable. It has been for four years.
In the words of the great Jarvis Cocker, Something Changed. There is no ebullience about Chelsea these few months. No smiles and veiled pledges of trophies this time. Ranieri has gone. All the players we abused last season, with the exception of Baba and Geremi have also departed. Crespo and Veron have retreated to Italian boltholes. We’ve got no Marios. Desailly has departed, and it feels strange without him. The Gronk has gone to Brum. Jimmy has headed further north. Our team has a distinctly English spine, and there’s a grim workmanlike air to the pre-season. Everyone is all smiles, but they are determined smiles, rather than nervous, embarrassed smiles. Parker, Cole, Terry, Lampard, Gudjohnsen, Mutu, Johnson, and Carlo have all spoken out about how much they are looking forward to getting stuck in, rather than praising our rivals. You get the impression that there is a really strong team spirit at the Bridge, and for the first time, there is more excitement based on pride and conviction than was based on hope. It dawned on us that we were a world-class team last season, and this season feels bigger, less parochial somehow. We are not worried about meeting Arsenal in the premiership anymore, though deep down we still know what’s going to happen. So what is the catalyst for these sweeping (and very welcome) changes? Wrong question. Who.
Jose Mourinho is it. What a fickle bunch we are. I sang as loudly as the rest of you in support of our beleaguered Mr Nice Guy last season. But I was as impressed as all of you when Jose walked, no, strutted into the pressroom and gave session. He was never on the defensive. This guy knows how to handle these scum. He is honest, blunt, brave, and hard-working. He gives the impression of ruthlessness and iron will that we could only secretly admire in Fergie and Wenger until now. Ranieri was a nice guy, but Mourinho is the guy we need. He’s trimmed the squad, and brought an air of seriousness and reality to the proceedings. No hugs for Wenger this time when his team have cheated their way to another three points at the Bridge. No shaking hands with Fergie. No sympathy for the dead-men walking in the Premiership hotseats. No mercy.
Mourinho gives me the impression that he would be an excellent naval Captain. Like Aubrey or Hornblower, dashing, brave, innovative, cunning, smart, dynamic, charismatic, merciless, but above all, hard as nails.
I’m happy to have him on the Bridge. We will not be blindsided and left rudderless by Fergie or Wenger again. At the risk of carrying this watery metaphor too far, I will no longer dread those messy boarding actions. On the one hand you have Jose Mourinho. He replaced Ranieri – who reminds me of Admiral Villeneuve. He was the pre-eminent French Naval Admiral at the time of Nelson. Obsessed with some details and oblivious to others, he was very popular as a “nice guy” and loved all the pomp and ceremony, but had no answers when the chips, or indeed the ships, were down. Time and again he would take far, far superior forces into battle, and make bizarre decisions when well placed which ultimately cost him. He would keep altering his formations to suit the situation, not realising that these changes affected the whole fleet. He was soundly beaten at the Battle of the Nile, and then annihilated at Trafalgar soon after, by a smaller, but more organised and more determined British force that, basically, wanted it more, and fought for it more. They were better organised, better at the simple things, and more willing to stand firm. History tells us that Mourinho, in 18th Century Naval Terms at least, is a better prospect to lead us to glory.
Then, as now, it has to do with formations, and correct usage of your big guns. So where does this leave Chelsea? How do I, by no means an expert on football, or even naval history for that matter, think that leaves us?
I’ll say this. We are far more balanced than last season. And any naval captain worth his salt will tell you that balance is very important when it comes to fighting ships, and indeed, with football teams.
I love the 4-3-3 formation. There’s nothing better than watching Chelsea all sheets to the wind surging forward and destroying teams. And I’m delighted that Mourinho thinks the same as I do. Carlo has a good understudy in Cech, who I am sure will be our number one keeper soon, though it he can displace the current keeper incumbent then he deserves to be. I’d say that Cudicini will have the nod for now. Ferreira has signed from Porto, and I am glad we signed him. Dependable, solid, and quick, scores goals, and is much, much less of a liability than Melchiot. Of course, but for a shocker of a displaced pass (wince!) at Euro 2004, he would have been a regular, and we would have seen more of him. I saw a lot of him last season and remarked what a good buy he would be then. Johnson can keep his place, but Ferreira will push him all season for it, and they must both strive to be as solid as the other fullback, Wayne Bridge, who for me was the buy of last season, no question. JT and Billy Gallas are the central defensive partnership as normal, and I like the settled line-up at the back. Melchiot was our weak link last season and he’s been replaced. All good.
The three midfielders will be one holder, and two box to box midfielders. I feel that Makelele is still the man for the holding role, though any repeat of his shameful antics in Monaco will not be tolerated, and Smertin or Parker can do a top class job there. Lamps will have divine right to one of the others, to that leaves Joe Cole and Scott Parker to fight it out for the berth alongside him. Given that we have three attackers already, I’d go with Parker – more stable and a better work rate. Able to influence a game more and can keep possession, which Cole cannot do as well. Tiago is another option if we sign him, and can fill any of the three berths, though I don’t know much about him.
New guy Kezman gets the right-side attacking berth, and I’ll be interested to see him run at defenders and play those great quick one twos with Lampard to take the full back out, that Gronk couldn’t do. On the left, its Duff or Robben, and I would go for the Irishman just to be loyal after his great work last season. Truly, when he is not injured and fully-match fit he has to be one of the top left-wingers in world football. I’m so glad he plays for us. That said, I’m very pleased we signed Robben too. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be delighted with the way he basically carried the Dutch side in Euro 2004, and when he sorts out the Van Nistelrooy-style diving, I’m sure he’ll be a top player for us. He can also swap flanks like Duff does, so this could be an option if 4-4-2 is played.
Who to play through the middle? I would have said Crespo, but he’s been shipped off to the dunce’s corner somewhere in Milan, and that leaves us with Gudjohnsen. Mutu is not a target man. If we sign Drogba then he’s the boy. Very, very quick, aggressive, skilful, and bags of power, he’s a bit like Saha, only bigger and meaner. If he gets the service he’ll be devastating for us. More than anything I’m delighted to see Kezman, Robben and Drogba (if he signs) added to a front line that was criticised last season for having no pace. All three are greased lightning quick, and this will help us have something different to break teams down. This was my main grumble last season. We were too good up front, yet too easy to defend against, and we didn’t have enough options. How many times did we have long-balls being pumped up to Mutu and Duff last season after only ten minutes – effectively showing that we’d run out of ideas. We didn’t have enough pace, Gronks excepted, and long-ball tactics against packed ranks of determined defenders – we know how this works out. Lots of skill just no punch up front – nothing penetrative. No decent final ball from the flanks into the box last season until Bridge took some responsibility later on, and hopefully our set pieces will be much more threatening this time. At least Jimmy wont be taking the free kicks any more. Anyway, Arsenal have showed that pace is the most potent weapon in breaking teams down, and when you add skill, guile, and quality service, the product, i.e.: Henry, is devastating. The Arsenal battleship is formidable indeed, and we will have to be at our very best to sink her. We have a faster, leaner, meaner, and younger and less vulnerable man o’war now though...
How do I think we will do? I can see a nil-nil draw against United on the opening day, and I suspect that we will have a feeling of how the season will go by late October. I think we will need a long run of good results, and more than that we need to stop looking like we are there for the taking. A lot of teams came to the Bridge last season knowing and worse, looking like they were knowing that we were there for the taking. These are the same teams that go to Highbury and tamely roll over. I think a few really heavy drubbings dished out to a couple of teams should signal our intent, and I’d like to see a head of steam built up, where the team builds momentum, and this can carry us through our bad days. Hopefully. I’d love to see other teams be filled with dread and awe when they see a fixture against us come up on the horizon, see the blue flags fluttering proudly in the wind, as we run out the big guns. I think we are well capable of winning the league next season. I still think it’s between us, Man United and Arsenal, and I can’t see Liverpool or Newcastle spoiling the party.
I think if we can beat Arsenal at least once next season, then I’ll be delighted. Even if we trade wins, we have not lost ground on them, whereas we gave them six points last season, and these proved crucial at the end. We were good enough to win it last time, but we are DEFINITELY good enough to win it this time. I think we are deluding ourselves if we think Arsenal will crumble and fade next season. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go unbeaten all of next season too, and we have to expect this. The infuriating thing about them is, they don’t screw up. They don’t drop silly points or concede late winners, and to expect them to invites trouble. The only way we are going to win the Premiership this season is by expecting them to perform as well as they did last time, and by measuring ourselves against that. Fergie will be saying the same thing, I guarantee it. We are capable of doing what they did last season. It’s a magnificent achievement (and don’t they LOVE telling us?) but its what you need to do these days to win the trophies, so lets no delude ourselves that losing 4-2 miserably away to Charlton, failing to break down Birmingham City TWICE in one season, getting torpedoed at home by Liverpool and losing at home to Bolton, is the way to do it.
So, to return to the clumsy metaphor of the Chelsea man o’war. All hands to battle stations. Man the fighting tops, run out the guns, dump the rest of the ballast, clear the decks, and follow the Master on the Fighting Bridge. Lets all get behind him, and hold fast at all costs. Battle is not far away, and how we have all longed for a return to action, and an opportunity to avenge old defeats, and renew old rivalries. Raise the colours! Keep the blue flag flying high!