Imperious Chelsea Crush Maribor

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 21st 2014)

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Unbridgeable Gulf

Albeit with some decisions going their way Chelsea thoroughly outclassed Sloveniaʼs champions and conquerors of Celtic, Maribor 6-0 at Stamford Bridge tonight. The injuries woes piled up as Loïc Rémy scored, but immediately succumbed to a groin injury that will keep him out for a fortnight. Diego Costa is also injured, meaning that veteran striker Didier Drogba in his second coming at Stamford Bridge will most likely start against Manchester United on Sunday.

Maribor certainly didnʼt have the rub of the green. Two debatable penalties against them and a goal that ought to have been disallowed never help, but Mariborʼs coach Ante Šimundža made no excuses. The better side had deservedly won. “It was obvious that was a team that is a serious candidate to win the title in this yearʼs Championʼs League and the quality of the players was out of reach for us – their individual quality also”, Šimundža said. “Chelsea was just the better team and deserved to win all there points”.

CIMG9333José Mourinho was more circumspect. “We played well”, Mourinho said. “The best way to respect is to play the best possible way and I think this was a good thing of the team. From minute one to the last minute we tried always to play and to play well and even defensively we respect the opponent. We know the qualities they have. The strikers are good players and the wingers are dangerous players. They deserve our respect and we respect them so much and because we respect them so much we manage to have such a solid performance in both ways with or without the ball… We won three points. We have seven. We are happy. We are top of the group. We played very well”.

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Demolished

With less than 15 minutes played Rémy opened the scoring after latching on to John Terryʼs pass on the right flank. It was Rémyʼs last touch after looking sharp. The former QPR man made way for Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. To the cheers of the Stamford Bridge faithful Drogba stepped up to take the penalty ten minutes after Rémy had given Chelsea the lead.

Slovenian international Aleš Mewrtelj was adjudged by Dutch referee Danny Makkelie, making his Championʼs League debut, to have handled Willianʼs pass at close range. To Mourinhoʼs disapproval Drogba was allowed to take the penalty by regular penalty taker Eden Hazard. “I donʼt like it”, Mourinho said. “They have the freedom to do it. They can do it, but he has score”.

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And he did. Drogba sent keeper Jasmin Handanović the wrong way to score his first goal for Chelsea since winning the Championʼs League two years ago under newly appointed Schalke coach Roberto di Matteo.

A magnificent counter-attack from a Maribor corner put the table-toppers three ahead. Drogba cleared to Hazard who dribbled into the heart of the Slovenians defence before releasing Cesc Fàbregas on the overlap. Terry made up the ground to score from close range from Fàbregasʼ cross. It ought to have been disallowed for offside, but didnʼt really affect the result.

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After the break Chelsea pursued more. Willian fed his compatriot Filipe Luis on the left wing. Some neat footwork bamboozled the defender, but the cross went across the goal to Hazard whose cross clipped Mitja Vilerʼs heel for an own-goal after 54 minutes. Ten minutes later Agim Ibraimi went down under Nemanja Matićʼs challenge. Summing up Mariborʼs night Ibraimiʼs penalty hit the post with Petr Čech beaten.

With less than 15 minutes remaining Branislav Ivanović won a penalty for a shove in the back by Marko Šuler. Again it looked a bit soft, but the Serbian international could have gone down under a previous challenge if he had wanted to for a clear penalty. Hazard scored. Just before that goal Willian a nice run and shot from distance by Willian beat everyone, but the crossbar. Still Chelsea were not satisfied. In injury time Hazard got his second after latching onto a raking pass from substitute Nathan Aké and making space to beat the disconsolate Handanović for the sixth.

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The Legend

Strikers like to score goals”, Mourinho said. “He [Drogba] was not for a long time on the pitch in previous matches. He just had a start against Schalke. His last goal for Chelsea was the most important in the history of this club, so to be back and to score again at Stamford Bridge is nice for him. Good”.

Drogba is far from up to the pace of English football yet, but the injury crisis that has developed seems to leave Mourinho with little option but to play the Ivorian against Manchester United on Sunday.

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I was not expecting him to play 75”, Mourinho said. “I spoke with him yesterday and we spoke about 30, but circumstances, he had to come on and the game went in a direction where he could manage the intensity and he could manage his range of movements and he was comfortable to play 75 minutes, so in the end it was very, very important for Didier, because the best thing for a player to improve his condition is to play, so very good for him”.

Mourinho thought it too early to think of being contenders for the trophy. “We are in the group phase”, he said. “We played three matches. To be in the final we have to play 12 and qualify for the final. Long, long way to go. I think itʼs premature to speak about that. We are not even qualified for the next phase, so step by step. First objective is to qualify, second objective is to finish first in the group, so letʼs go step by step”.

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Chelsea held by Schalke

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar )September 17th 2014)

Held

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Captaining Schalke04 in the absence through injury of World Cup-winner Benedikt Höwedes, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar latched onto Julian Draxlerʼs through-ball to beat Thibaut Cortois. Huntelaarʼs strike just past the hour equalised Cesc Fàbregasʼ controversial opener after 11 minutes. The Spanish midfielder fouled Max Meyer and then linked up with Hazard to put the Blues ahead.

Croatian referee Ivan Bebek waved Schalkeʼs protests away and booked Huntelaar for his. To some it was poetic justice that Fàbregas appeared to be fouled in the build-up to Schalkeʼs equaliser and that Huntelaar scored it.

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The Legend Returns

Without a win so far this season Schalke faced a hard task, but emerged from Stamford Bridge fully deserving the point they won by holding José Mourinhoʼs in form Chelsea. Didier Drogba got his first start since his return to Chelsea two years after playing a vital role in bringing the Championʼs League trophy to Stamford Bridge. The Ivorian was off the pace, but having played in China and Turkey for the last two seasons that was to be expected.

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Drogba spurned chances to add to Chelseaʼs lead. Five minutes into the second half, Nemanja Matić dispossessed Huntelaar and passed to Hazard who switched ball from left to right. Willian pulled the ball back across Ralf Fährmannʼs goal, but Drogba couldnʼt connect. Ten minutes later Eden Hazard,, poised to become one of the highest earners in football aged just 23, put Drogba through. The striker should have scored, but a heavy touch made the angle harder than it should have been and Drogba shot wide.

Nip and Tuck

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Ten minutes before half time Fàbregas spurned a golden opportunity to add to Chelseaʼs lead. Branislav Ivanović set him up, but the former Arsenal prodigy shot over the bar from near the penalty spot. The former Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boataeng drew a save from Belgian international Thibaut Courtois from 20 yards out midway through the first half.

The impressive Draxler ought to have levelled just before half time as he carved a swathe through Chelseaʼs defence before shooting wide. He wanted a corner that never came.

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Ten minutes into the second half Hazard was on the end of a move begun by Matić. It involved Fàbregas and a one-two with Drogba before Hazard shot wide. Shortly afterwards Boateng drew a save from Courtois from a 35 yard effort and John Terry thought he had a scored a stunner rather than earn the booking that Bebek gave him. Draxler shot with just under 20 minutes remaining required a decent save by Courtois and Hazard tested Fährmann again in the final ten minutes as well as spurning another chance to take all three points.

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Opening Round

Meanwhile, a late equaliser in Slovenia gave Celticʼs conquerors Maribor a point after Naniʼs late strike gave Sporting Lisbon the lead. Juventus beat Malmö 2-0 after Carlos Tévez scored his first goals in the competition since leaving Manchester United. Olympiacos beat last seasonʼs beaten finalists Atlético de Madrid 3-2. Liverpool left it very late – a Steven Gerrard penalty – to beat Bulgarian newcomers Ludogerets Razgrad. Real Madrid put recent woes behind them, by thrashing Basel 5-1. André Villas-Boasʼ Zenit St Petersburg defeated Portuguese champions Benfica 2-0 in Lisbon and Monaco beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0.

Arsenal prop up Group D after Jürgen Kloppʼs Borussia Dortmund beat them 2-0. Anderlecht drew 1-1 with Galatasaray in Turkey. Jérôme Boatengʼs injury time strike gave Bayern München a 1-0 win over Manchester City, while AS Roma thrashed CSKA Moscow 5-1. Gerard Piquéʼs goal was enough to ensure that Barçelona beat APOEL 1-.0 while Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax drew 1-1.

The champions of Belarus BATE Borisov were taken apart by Porto 6-0. French-born Algerian international Yacine Brahimiʼs hat-trick makes him the leading scorer in this seasonʼs Championʼs League so far. Ukraineʼs Shakhtar Donetsk held Athletic club 0-0 at the San Mamés Stadium.

Football Returns – And Not Before Time

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (August 21st 2014)

The Morning After

Segun at Wembley

It is the morning after. I am counting the number of the victors and the vanquished! I am quite aware that the premiership is a marathon race and not a sprints event. In a sprint a fractional faulty start would have a catastrophic consequence. Not so in a marathon.

Arsenal clearly illustrate this from the marathon race of the EPL last season when they started off disastrously with a loss at the Emirates to Aston Villa. Many did not think they could recover from it but a few matches down the line they not only recovered but began a sensational climb that would see them come within touching distance of winning the league trophy but for some injuries to key players and a dip in form (probably due to fatigue) to their talisman – the man that anchored that resurgence – Mesut Özil.

The Missing Elixir

After last Saturday, Manchester United FC must now be taking some consolation and lessons from Arsenalʼs experience. They have also started the 2014-15 Barclays Premier League on the worst possible note – losing their first match on home ground, under the tutelage of a manager whose credentials were considered good enough to succeed the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.

To the horror and consternation of their supporters Manchester United FC put up an ordinary performance that left their millions of global fans wondering where Sir Alex kept the concoction that made Manchester United FC a fighting machine throughout his time as manager! This used to be a team whose cutting edge was fighting until the last second. The number of matches won in the last few seconds, or minutes of many of their matches, is innumerable.

Last Saturday night the team looked like a wandering ghost of its past. Ok, so, it is still only the morning after the first round of the league. It may be premature to start to draw conclusions, even though the twilight of dawn may already be revealing the faint outlines of what the rest of the season may look like. 

So, Manchester United must be looking at the script of the Gunnersʼ formula last season. Doubt, fear and worry have crept into their pre-season excitement and the magical turn-around promised by Louis Van Gaal’s entry.

What happens this weekend when they face Sunderland FC away from home is going to be critical. Will the great Manchester United recover? That is the million-Dollar question that has everyone of their millions of supporters worldwide tottering on the edge of anxiety.

I have only one comment to make from my observatory. Manchester United may consider looking closer at the performances of David De Gea Quintana since he joined the team last season from Atlético de Madrid. Every team that will win the championship must have a very safe pair of hands in their goal! De Gea has been ‘leaking’ at the wrong times. I need not say more!

Quick off the blocks – Manchester City and Chelsea

On the other hand their city rivals, Manchester City FC came off the blocks steaming! Their two-goal margin against Newcastle United was emphatic. It sent a clear message to the rest of the league and testified to their current status as defending champions. They simply took off from where they left off the last season, with an even stronger and more confident squad.

But Chelsea look impressive too. With the introduction of Diego Costa at the head of the attacking pyramid Chelsea have injected pace, sharpness and very intelligent movements off the ball in attack that will drastically alter the style of the team. We saw it already in the first match. They played masterfully like champions!

The Blues change their style!

Only José Mourinho’s Chelsea FC bettered the start of Manchester City FC with a highly entertaining performance in the match against Burnley FC that had everything including some beautiful goals.

One goal, in particular, will resonate for the rest of the season – a beauty that came off the boots of André Schürrle from a series of quick interchange of passes from midfield involving Cesc Fàbregas and Eden Hazard,  seamless movements and a final superb visionary lob that tore apart the helpless and hapless defence of Burnley FC, the German striker was left clear to deliver a low cross from the right flank to the far side of goal beyond a bewildered Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul. It was a superb goal signalling Chelsea’s intent to be serious contenders again for the title.

My only comment on Chelsea is their refreshingly different style this time around. Far from their usual boringly defensive system that had typified Mourinho’s philosophy in past years, we saw an uncharacteristically freely attacking Chelsea playing at an incredibly delightful fast pace.

Beyond that, Mourinho has typically again commenced his mind games. He delivered the first salvo at a recent press conference with some snide remarks aimed at his greatest threat to the league title this season – Arsène Wenger!

Wenger has not responded. I guess his players will do the replying for him on the field when both their teams meet.

The Gunners on course!

Arsenal FC played well last weekend. But they were lucky to have won their first after struggling against a hard-fighting Crystal Palace FC until the dying seconds of the match.

The presence of Alexis Sánchez to compliment the array of attacking options (Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud) has added an exciting new dimension to the front-line. Alexis’ dazzling pace, dribbling skills, superb vision and finishing power up front will pose plenty of trouble for most opposing defenders.

When Mesut Özil finally returns to form and gets back into the team, the full potency of the new Arsenal FCʼs attacking arsenal will be revealed for all to see.

Liverpool FC – again?

I have deliberately not written anything about Liverpool FC so far this season because I do not see them, still, as possible champions. They won their first match at home against Southampton FC but did not look really convincing.

One of the most successful teams in the history of English football have had their ups and downs in past seasons. In 2012 crept like thieves to win the League Cup but have not maintained that sparkle until last season again when with the mercurial Luis Suárez they could have stolen the championship title at the tail end.

They have joined Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the league table as day breaks on the championship.

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So far, so good, the EPL has lived to expectations!

Protection (Part Two) – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2010)

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the magazine in May 2010. We republish it now as we think it is topical that even with rules in place the big clubs – in this case FC Barçelona – are being treated differently to smaller clubs like Cardiff City and FC Midtjylland.

Derek Miller

Selfish

Former professional footballer and FA coach Noel Blake1 has a different outlook to that of the Director of Cardiff Citys academy, Neal Ardley (for further information on Ardley’s opinion see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/protection-part-one-archive/) – one he admits is selfish.

While academies and centres of excellence just want the best players regardless of nationality or racial origins, Blake wants more from them. He wants English academies to develop English talent.

“From a selfish point of view I wouldn’t want foreign boys to come to the academy anyway in all honesty, because this is England”, he told us exclusively. “Obviously I’ve got a selfish point of view. I want to see English players developed in England. At the appropriate time – senior level – fine, but I don’t think our academies should be encouraging young players from far afield, who can’t play for the national teams, to come to England. I don’t think it’s right.”

Developing Young English Talent

Blake wants English academies to concentrate on developing English players. “Forget that I was working for the FA, because I was saying this before”, he said, “I had a couple of foreign boys in the academy, but they played for their nation. The fact of the matter is as I have said previously and I stand by this statement, I wouldn’t like to see our academies or youth development programme flooded with non-English players, because for me we’ve got to get back into a system where the English players come through our academy system”.

His main concern is ensuring that young English talent comes through and benefits first and foremost from the academies and centres of excellence of English clubs. “My views are in terms of youth development programmes”, said Blake. “I don’t think it would be wise for young players from further afield to be allowed academy places, so I can’t sit here and endorse twenty or so foreign players coming to our academies”.

Quality Imports

But Blake has nothing against foreign players in principle. English leagues have benefited from top foreign talent. Gianfranco Zola was one of the most skilful foreign imports, becoming a Chelsea legend in the process. He helped to bring through young players at Chelsea. Zola remembered when he was a young player in Italy and had the opportunity to learn from top foreigners that made Serie A the envy of Europe at the time.

Zola found himself denied opportunities at Napoli because he was behind two foreigners in the pecking order – one was the Brasilian, Careca. The other was one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game – Diego Armando Maradona. Zola makes no complaint about it. They were better than him at the time and he had the opportunity to learn from them in training. It made him a better player.

He eventually moved to Parma and was a great success there before being forced out of the club by Carlo Ancelotti – the Chelsea manager accepts that he made a mistake letting Zola go. Parmas loss was Chelseas gain, but Blakes concern over foreigners is not at first team level.

It is domestic talent in English academies that Blake wants to protect. “In terms of senior players that’s a different matter”, said Blake. “If the club then want to sign senior players at first team level, that’s down to them”.

But if a European club had the opportunity to sign a schoolboy Lionel Messi or Cesc Fàbregas, should they refuse? Barçelona didnt and nor did Arsenal and nor would other clubs when offered the chance to sign such talent so cheaply. They could have waited, but the price would have been significantly higher and thats the bottom line.

1After seven years as an FA coach including spells in charge of England Under-19 and Under-20, Blake left in June 2014. He joined Blackpool despite the chaotic situation at that club.

Protection (Part One) – Archive

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the magazine in May 2010. We republish it now as we think it is topical that even with rules in place the big clubs – in this case FC Barçelona – are being treated differently to smaller clubs like Cardiff City and FC Midtjylland.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2010)

Opportunities

Cardiff Citys academy has to operate under the rules governing all academies or centres of excellence. Under-14 year-old players must live within an hour commute of the ground, whereas Under-16s have an extra half hours grace. There are loopholes’ in the system, although these favour the richer clubs.

Families can be relocated with jobs provided, but only wealthy clubs can afford to do this – ironically because they want to avoid paying fees to a smaller club that developed a player. Even clubs like Barçelona – one of the biggest in the world – has lost talent in this manner. Cesc Fàbregas is the most famous player that Catalunya’s top club lost to the English Premier League.

No Angels

But Barcelona are no angels. They have scouts all over the world – other top clubs do as well – and if they spot a player they believe will make the grade, they too will flex their muscle. This was how the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi left Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina in 2000 for Barcelona’s academy – la Masia – a stone’s-throw from the Camp Nou.

Messi and his family left for the city that the architecture of the great Antoni Gaudi dominates – lured in part by Barcelona’s promise to provide treatment for the young superstar in making’s growth hormone deficiency. And Messi is far from the only player that Barca has done it too.

So how can smaller clubs compete, both with the lure of playing for bigger clubs and their financial clout? The answer is they can’t can’t – they have to compete within their price range and spend shrewdly at every level, especially after the experience of Danish club FC Midtjylland.

Foreign Links

Cardiff City is a small club. Last year they comfortably broke their transfer record by over a million to sign Michael Chopra from Sunderland. The fee was £3m. They compete on the pitch through a strong youth policy and wise spending and investment in talent. They start early. Even their academy has to find ways to recruit top talent and cling onto it without breaking the bank.

We have a lad from Canada – a goalkeeper”, says the Director of their academy Neal Ardley1. “We just set up a little link with a club over there and they look to send some players over for us to have a look at once in a while, but that’s just purely neutral, giving players an opportunity to see what level they’re at”.

Different Rules

This is not the only foreign link that the Bluebirds academy has. “The only other foreign area we’ve gone into is over in Ireland”, Ardley told us. “We’ve got a lad from Northern Ireland and a lad from Southern Ireland and we’re trying to create links with clubs over there. What we’re trying to do is create a link with the clubs. We can maybe give some of their players a chance to come over and see if they’re good enough”.

But it is not a one-way thing. The Irish clubs benefit as well. “We in turn come over there and coach and coach-educate,” said Ardley before a note of frustration creeps in.

I know that UEFA are trying to put rules in place that even if the two clubs agree that they want to do this little system, there’s got to be compensation, which would take Cardiff out of the equation really in many ways”, Ardley said. “For me that’s the wrong rule because it comes back to the big clubs win again. The clubs with the money can afford the compensation and will get the best players”.

1Ardley was appointed Director of Cardiff City’s the day after his retirement in 2007. He stayed until 2012 when he became the manager of AFC Wimbledon. He is still their manager.