Preview of Chelsea’s 08-09 Season

Chelsea’s last campaign offered a telling commentary on the high stakes of modern top-flight football and the narrowness of the margin between success and perceived failure. For the Blues it was a season dominated by a generally unloved manager’s attempt to take the team beyond where his adored predecessor had led them.

Following Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge was always going to be the tallest of orders but anyone other than Avram Grant, with any boss other than Roman Abramovich, would probably have been lauded for taking Chelsea so close to treble glory. Beaten in extra-time of the Carling Cup final; edged out by two points in the Premier League title race despite accumulating 85 points (the first time a team had gathered so many without securing the title); and beaten in a penalty shoot-out after extra-time in the Champions League final – Grant’s stab at footballing immortality with the Blues was heroic.

But it was failure nonetheless, and his reward – after being doubted, derided, and damned with faint praise – was the sack, within a couple of days of John Terry’s kick hitting the post in the Moscow shoot-out to hand Manchester United the coveted European crown.

Chelsea had lost only two Premier League games out of 32 under Grant – his first, against United at Old Trafford, and then against Arsenal at Ashburton Grove. In the critical later stages of the season the Blues beat both the Gunners and United at Stamford Bridge – and indeed they kept the title race against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side alive until the final day of the campaign, which said much for their determination and consistency.

They were relentless in their pursuit of the title, overhauling Arsenal at the end of March to go second and coming within a whisker of overtaking the defending champions. But two dropped points in a home draw against Wigan, for whom Emile Heskey scored a 91st minute equaliser on 14th April, proved costly, although United’s significantly better goal difference was always worth an extra point if push had come to shove.

That reflected the Achilles’ heel of Grant’s side: they played without the attacking flair and panache of United or Arsenal, and in fact scored fewest goals among the top four. Although they kept a remarkable 21 clean sheets at the other end, Abramovich had demanded ‘expansive’ football after Mourinho, but got more of the same prosaic, pragmatic stuff under Grant. Without being able to lace that with silverware, or to win over a sceptical home crowd, Grant was always on borrowed time. Speculation about his future, which reached fever pitch after the Carling Cup final defeat by London rivals Tottenham and an embarrassing FA Cup quarter-final defeat by Barnsley, was a constant accompaniment to Grant’s reign.

His team showed character and resilience, especially defensively, but often struggled for creativity and goals, with Didier Drogba netting only eight in the League, and January import Nicolas Anelka managing only one, though he was mostly played out of position. Dynamic central midfielder Michael Essien also spent too much time filling in at right-back, while the manager failed to get anything like the best out of expensive summer buy Florent Malouda. There was a consequent over-reliance on midfielders Frank Lampard (who had his own injury and personal problems last season) and Michael Ballack (who emerged as the Blues’ most influential player in the final third of the campaign). Their goals and dynamism helped take Chelsea so close to the glittering prizes, though it was symptomatic that pundits and many fans felt their contribution was despite rather than because of Grant’s leadership. That was the burden the Israeli’s perceived lack of charisma saddled him with.

Summer Activity

The managerial soap opera at Stamford Bridge was ended when Grant was unceremoniously sacked, and his successor announced during Euro 2008 as Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazilian comes in with everything Grant lacked: gravitas, a hugely impressive CV, charisma, the authority that accompanies a reputation as a disciplinarian, and the respect of the players. Scolari is, after all, a World Cup winner who also won the Copa Libertadores twice.

If there are reservations because he has been out of club football for seven years, the risk seems a small one. The 59-year-old has been there and done it before, and if dealing with the English tabloid press is an aspect of his new job that probably won’t appeal, he is unlikely to find it more uncomfortable than dealing with the media in his native Brazil.

Scolari is the fourth Chelsea manager of the Abrasmovich era; the previous three – Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho and Grant – were all sacked despite delivering what at most clubs would pass for relative success. So Scolari knows what to expect, and what is expected: to recapture the Premier League title from United and to win the Champions League for the first time in Chelsea’s history. The other imperative is to achieve both through an exhilarating brand of entertaining, attacking football. Simple really. The key question is: can Scolari adjust to the demands of club football quickly and effectively enough to deliver what’s required in his first season back at the coal-face?

He has got off to a decent start. Drogba and Lampard, both widely tipped to join Mourinho at Inter Milan, are still at the Bridge and seem likely to stat for at least the next season. Portugal full-back Jose Bosingwa, well-known to Scolari, was recruited and waiting for him, and another familiar face, the creative and motivated Deco, has since arrived. Speculation persists that Robinho could yet join them, and that would certainly strengthen their attacking options and sharpen the goal threat, where the Blues were deficient last season. The fans would probably feel happier to have an additional quality striker on board, unless the form of Andriy Shevchenko and Claudio Pizarro has undergone a dramatic transformation over the summer.

As for the departures, Claude Makelele’s return to France should be adequately covered by the emergence of John Obi Mikel in the holding midfield role, while Steve Sidwell, good player though he is, was never really used so won’t be missed. Nor will the transfers of Tal Ben Haim (Manchester City) and Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart) leave gaping holes in Scolari’s forces.

Pre-season has been useful if tiring: the goodwill trip to China and Malaysia was excellent PR but possibly of only limited value to Scolari in terms of preparation. But going on to Moscow for the Railways Cup offered a more pertinent test and, losing another shoot-out in the Russian capital aside, Chelsea can reflect on last weekend with satisfaction. The emphatic 5-0 demolition of AC Milan will have caused many to sit up and take notice, as will Anelka’s four-goal salvo in the rout.

Scolari has said he is more or less clear now in his head about what his starting XI will be for the Premier League opener against Portsmouth, so at least one of the main objectives of pre-season has been accomplished.

Analysis & Prognosis

There will be huge interest in how well and how quickly Scolari fits into his new job. He will have the benefit of the doubt, something Grant never enjoyed; but there will still be the spectre of Mourinho, who won the Premier League and the League Cup in his first season at the Bridge after arriving from Portugal. The parallels are there for direct comparison. His press conferences promise to be entertaining, but it is on the pitch where the entertainment quotient will be most under scrutiny.

The addition of Bosingwa should add genuine right-sided quality to an already formidable defence, behind which Petr Cech is due a bit of luck after a miserable spell, so Chelsea will again be one of the hardest teams to score against.

And in midfield they have a veritable cornucopia of riches. With Essien restored to the centre where he is at his best, Ballack in the sort of form he showed during the latter stages of last season and at Euro 2008, Deco’s vision adding a new creative dimension to Chelsea’s game and Lampard fit and focused, Mikel offering running power and muscle, plus the likes of Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Malouda to provide pace and width on the flanks, Scolari’s challenge will be to find the right blend and balance while keeping all his stars happy.

Anelka fired a warning in Moscow and Scolari may be prepared to play to his strengths, through the middle, at Drogba’s expense in a way Grant hesitated to do. The fact that Drogba is likely to miss the start of the campaign through injury could facilitate that decision. Salomon Kalkou impressed last season but too often chose the wrong option with his final ball, so we can expect an improvement there.

Scolari has indicated that Shevchenko will not be in the starting line-up, at least initially, but the Ukrainian has said he is determined to make an impact at Chelsea and if he is fired up rather than diffident when coming off the bench then he’ll give his manager a useful option.

Chelsea are certain to challenge hard for the title, and with their squad strength in depth and seemingly impregnable home record they are likely to be in the top few places for most of the campaign. They have the playing resources and now, they hope, the right manager to win major honours again. But much will also depend on United, Arsenal and Liverpool, at least, so how Scolari reacts to the Big Four challenge, and how he plots his tactics in the head-to-heads, could prove decisive.

I expect the Blues to be challenging on all fronts until the latter stages, and possibly collecting a cup; but winning the Premier League title at Scolari’s first attempt, after being out of the club game for a long time, might just prove a bridge too far. A top-three finish then, but not first place.

Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari

Stadium: Stamford Bridge (42,055)

2007-08 Position: 2nd

2007-08 Record: P-38 W-25 D-10 L-3 GF-65 GA-26 GD-39 Pts-85

Players In:

Jose Bosingwa (FC Porto, £16.2m), Deco (Barcelona, £8m).

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Chelsea’s Didier Drogba Suspended

Unquestionably the player has been a great invest for the Chelsea FC, being a tremendous striker and the type of player who needs no signal on the field to move along, but he is as well again and again in the headlines for polemic issues.

Drogba is bad tempered and has petulant personality. If you think that Rooney’s humor and Cristiano Ronaldo’ super-ego personalities can be difficult, imagine then Drogba’s situation having both Rooney and Ronaldo’s negative qualities.

On the past week, Drogba was charged with violent conduct during a League Cup game against Burnley FC. The problem was that while Burnley fans were throwing objects on the field after Drogba scored, he grabbed one of the objects (a coin) and threw it back at the supporter’s stands. If that was not enough, many saw him making obscene gestures at the people in the stands.

Due to his polemic long soccer trajectory, his case was taken seriously by the FA (Football Association) and after studying videos of the incident and talking to witnesses’ he received a 3 game suspension; as stated in the rule book players should not interact with fans in an aggressive approach.

Unfortunately this is not the first time Drogba is in the eye of the hurricane. During his second season with Chelsea, three years ago, he was accused of cheating to score in an encounter vs. Man City, as he used his hand to run the ball. There is also the issue many rivals have complained about, the «elbowing», which is something apparently he does during matches and thus some alleged he should be punished by FIFA. Back in the 2007/08 season he created chaos in the club after manager José Mourinho was release from duties, telling media he wanted to leave the club as well and complained about the clubs management. If all these problems were not enough on April 2008, he injured Man United’s defender Nemanja Vidi

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Does Mo Salah Have a Shot at Winning the Ballon D’Or?

This question has been on the minds of many football fans as they witnessed the performance of the 25-year old Egyptian forward over the course of the season. Sir Alex Ferguson had once told that Inside Forwards are more dangerous than traditional forwards. The Egyptian seems to be trying to prove Ferguson’s remarks true. He has shown explosive bouts of pace, exceptional fitness levels, extraordinary shooting accuracy and the form of his life.

So, once again, does Mo Salah have a shot at winning the Ballon d’Or? Not Quite Yet!

The reason is rather simple- Liverpool as a team have not won any silverware this season as of yet. So does this count? Yes, it does. Despite all his exploits, the team has not been successful in any major competition apart from the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool just won the first-leg of their semi-finals against AS Roma 5-2. Salah proved to be instrumental in this trashing of his old club yet again as he ended the match with 2 goals and 2 assists. He had managed to score seven goals in his 7 outings in the Champions League during the leadup to the Semi-finals. He has shown out of the ordinary striking form through-out the Premier League season. But unless Liverpool win the Champions League, his dream of winning the Ballon d’Or will remain just that, a dream.

But things have not always gone according to script for the Egyptian. His initial entry into the Premier League was with Chelsea, who bought him from FC Basel. But he could only make 13 appearances and score 2 goals before being loaned-off to Italian side, Fiorentina. He was then loaned to AS Roma who bought him from Chelsea for a complete transfer. He enjoyed considerable success at the club. Liverpool then bought from Roma before the start of the 2017-18 season. Many of the experts voiced their doubts about Salah’s ability to adopt to the Premier League. But all of them have been silenced now, given his performance and sheer attacking prowess he has shown.

Salah also helped Egypt qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2018, their first appearance since the 1990 World Cup. He emerged as Egypt’s top scorer during the qualifying tournament and scored both the goals in the all important match against Congo. He has so far scored 43 times for Liverpool during this season and is only behind Ian Rush in the all time top goal scorer’s for the club in a single season.

Mo Salah has already been named as the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the year. So let us hope Liverpool will maintain their momentum and take their current form into the second leg against AS Roma.

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World Cup Goalkeepers – Jean-Jacques Tizie

Jean-Jacques Tizié started his career as a handball goalkeeper. But he later developed interest in football and started playing for local clubs. Among the major clubs that he played for were Lazer FC, Africa Sport and Stade d’Abidjan. In 2001, he moved to Espérance in Tunisia, and has been their goalkeeper ever since.

The 1.83 meters tall Tizie, who was born in 1972, has also been keeping the goal for his country Ivory Coast. He is considered a good shot stopper but not a complete goal keeper. The two major complaints against him are: one, he is weak against crosses; and two, he starts early in penalty kicks forcing the shot to be retaken.

But overall Tizie is considered a good goalkeeper, and has been instrumental in saving several goals for his club and country. He had a particularly good African Cup of Nations in 2005. It was these performances and the ones during the qualifying matches for World Cup 206 that won him the number one goalkeeper slot.

Tizie has had several glorious moments under the bar, but he has had one freak moment too. In this accident he lost one of his testicles.

However, Tizie is not one to be easily cowed down by reputations. He considers the goal his home, and defends it dourly against the fiercest strikers of the ball.

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Chelsea Merciless Against Arsenal FC

Chelsea FC again at the weekend proved their superiority over their counterpart Arsenal FC; thanks to the brace by their talisman, Didier Drogba. The match was tagged a grudges match by Arsenal fans having lost at home 0-3 to us in the first round of the season.

Arsenal provoked us last season by beating us 2-1 in the first round of the season at Stamford Bridge courtesy of 2 great goals by Fabregas. Ever since they have lost 3 straight games against us- they lost 1-4 at Emirates stadium in the second half of last season, 0-3 again in the first half of this season and the 0-2 loss yesterday. We beat them home and away this season.

The match had started on a good note for them, with the boys attacking seriously and showing some flair. They had revenge at the back of their mind to prove to the world that their loss to us in the first half was by error. But before the 10th minute of the first half the pendulum of victory was already swinging in our direction; Didier Drogba had netted the first goal thereby putting the Arsenal players under intense pressure The first half ended 1 goal in our favour, but the second half saw more fire works by the visiting team.

Our goal keeper Petr Cech proved too had a nut to crack; cordoned off the post making it practically impossible for the Arsene Wenger boys to score. The more they tried to equalize the farther the match got beyond them. And before anyone could say Jack Robinson, Didier Drogba had added a second goal for Chelsea thereby sealing the victory for us. Arsenal were lucky that his free kick hit the cross bar for what would have made it a hat trick for Drogba. The free kick was professionally taken and of course Arsenal’s goal stood rooted to the ground as the watched the ball return after hitting the cross bar.

By his performance at the weekend Drogba has shown that we missed him while he was away on national assignment during the Nations’ cup tournament in Angola. Wayne Rooney gave him a gap on the scorers’ list because of his days of absence from the league, but he has announced his comeback by scoring in his last 2 games. He may catch up again and possibly overtake Rooney to get the top scorer award. Chelsea is really making tremendous progress as far as the contest to this year’s premier league title is concerned; and now that they are playing more compact football, I believe they can win the league again and stop Manchester United from getting the title for the fourth time in a roll.

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