Sunday, 31 January 2010

Burnley and those glasshouses

Burnley was my second trip to Lancashire in a week - the previous week's trip to Preston was delightful... decent fans, decent pubs, no intimidation and a fantastic visit to the museum ...  topped off by a £70 fine on a Virgin train for having the audacity to leave the city an hour earlier than I had booked! So just £140 return all in for that away trip then which makes it around £1,000 worth of fines in the last 12 months following Chelsea!
In contrast, this visit to Turf Moor which is barely 25 miles away was dark and depressing. There was an ominous police presence and the ridiculous kick-off time (did ESPN not know that there were no trains back to London if they scheduled a match at this hour?) meant that Chelsea attracted a polarised set of fans - a large minority of extreme right-wing thugs and the rest made up of the decent die-hard scarfers who watch the team through thick and thin.
Although it is always nice to be in a traditionally old stadium, the away end was a death trap in the making with only two exits for the 3,000+ fans to get out of. There was desperately little atmosphere from the home fans and at half-time the squeeze in the concourse to access the toilets was ridiculous and the facilities simply disgraceful.
Chelsea deserved to win and it pleased me much to see John Terry put in a performance that makes you forget his off the field misdemeanours. Ivanovic stood out in particular for me and must surely be just behind Anelka and Ashley Cole as one of the revelations of the season. As we left the ground into the darkness I was pulled back by a police officer for covering my mouth with my scarf even though it was bitterly cold. If only they were that quick to pull up the people who stole my wife's purse out of her handbag a few months ago!
The trip back to London was a pain too - it took 45 minutes to drive out of Burnley and speed restrictions on the M6 meant that in total the return journey took 5 hours. What made it more nauseating was listening to the Radio 5 phone-in after the game to hear to some of the criticism pointed at John Terry.
Now what he did was simply stupid and even worse it occurred behind the back of an England teammate... but when I hear Liverpool fans calling for his head when they are happy to sing Gerrard's praises as Liverpool captain having punched a man in the face in a bar brawl then you really have to ask if some fans understand the word "hypocrisy". Even more ridiculous was one Liverpool fan who in comparison reminded us all what a great professional Emlyn Hughes was... didn't he kill the career of a certain Peter Osgood by breaking his leg in a disgraceful tackle? I see as per usual the murderers have a selective memory and are more pious posturing about a player's love life than remembering how their fans got English clubs banned from Europe for five years.
The question is whether a player's private and professional life can be mutually exclusive. If you were to observe any high-profile job then look at how people in power are allowed to philander and still stay in office. Even if Terry was to lose his captaincy who would you replace him with - Rooney? He was caught shagging a granny in a brothel. Ferdinand? He received a nine-month ban for missing a drugs test and is currently serving a four-match ban. Gerrard? The only innocent Scouser in the world... The irony is that if Capello does strip him of the England captaincy then the most natural replacement would be... Frank Lampard!
It should be no surprise that another stupid footballer has done something stupid off the pitch, but if you were to look at that England team and ask who would you want to be leading and fighting in the field of battle then JT is the only choice.

Monday, 18 January 2010

4-5-1 as easy as 1-2-3

There is no coincidence that Chelsea’s midfield flourished when playing 4-5-1 with individuals finally in their most favoured roles. The team looked balanced and confident – something I have not seen for quite a while.
With Joe Cole on the right pinging crosses in and Malouda opening up space for Ashley Cole to attack on the left, Chelsea’s central midfield could push forward and destroy Sunderland. It was an exhibition match and we could have reached double figures. Having said all this, Chelsea have had more chances to score against other teams this season but not been aptly rewarded – only in this case I have rarely seen so many clear cut chances on goal.
A special mention must go to Ashley Cole who scored one of the greatest Chelsea goals I have ever seen. Considering the stick the player gets from opposition fans on the terraces (which shows me how much they are scared of him!) and press his contribution and consistency to this side makes him arguably the best left back I have seen since beginning to attend Chelsea matches.
The problem Ancelotti now faces is whether to keep this formation when the players return from the ANC – who will he play if he has a fit Drogba and Essien to pick from? Does he drop Joe Cole who flourished playing in his favoured position?
Preston this weekend. As usual a silly kick off time for ITV – at least it wasn’t an evening kick off as there would not have been any trains to get us home on time but at least I get to go to a new ground and finally visit the national football museum. Let’s hope they have some badges on display!