The State of the Bridge Address: At a Crossroads

UEFA Champions League

It is two days before our first match of the 2010/11 Champions League campaign against Zilina, and as always, it is filled with excitement. However, there have been questions that have begun to haunt us. When will we win the Champions League? With our key players entering the twilight of their careers, is this our last great opportunity.

This season already has seen Chelsea get of to the hottest start in Premier League history. As a result, confidence has been at an all-time high at the Bridge. But as we all know, the football season is a marathon, not the 100-yard dash; we still have to approach every team with caution and respect.

As far as the UCL goes, the group stage has our name written all over it. The two wins over MSK Zilina are a must, at least one win against Marseille, and a sweep of Spartak Moskva.  It is in the knockout rounds where we should step up and show the heart of champions.

Although this has been out eighth consecutive year in the Champions League, we only have three men in our staff who have actually won the coveted trophy. Bosingwa and Paulo Ferreira won it with FC Porto in 2004,  and our boss Carlo Ancelotti won it with AC Milan both as a player and as a coach.

The real reason why I wrote this article is to address an issue that has affected us dearly, and that is age. Lampard, Drogba, Anelka, Ferreira, Terry, Essien, Cech, and Malouda are players who either are 30-plus or awfully close. And with these players playing an important role in the club, we should also be cognizant that they might have just a few seasons of top-quality football left in them. Young stars such as Kakuta, Bruma, and Van Aanholt might be rising through the ranks, but in no way should we expect them to be World-Class anytime soon. What worries me is that we might have to resort to another spending spree in order to continue competing until our youth system is up to par.

Although this season is starting out as what could be the best in recent memory, if not ever, I believe that we should make a serious effort at winning the Champions League if this season is to acquire any legitimacy. If it is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, let us get on the right foot with a win over MSK Zilina.

-As always, feel free to correct me on any and all of my points.

–KTBFFH

TPP’s UEFA Champions League Preview

Hello fans, and welcome to my first installment here. I could not be more excited for this year’s Champions League Draw. I think after watching the results and seeing how all the groups shaped up, I was quite thrilled with the perspective games on offer for us in the next few months. As we all know this competition is a primary source of money for all clubs involved. Even for the really small clubs, by European standard, depend on the revenue that can be generated by these forthcoming matches. But, as for the players, this is the next chance to up their worth and prove themselves on the European stage, or to earn some respect from other players and coaches. Now that the dust has settled from the draw, I can take this chance to give you my take on the shape of things at this point.

I am going to skip right over all the obvious front runners and focus for a moment on some things that stood out to me after I reviewed the draw and group stages. Given the current landscape that is European competition, I think there are going to be some serious and strenuous battles in the coming months. The first group that jumped out at me was Group B. Some of you may say this is a weaker group, but I say this will be one to watch. Lyon may have a chance to run away with this group, but Benfica is a respectable team with proven talent. However, they have taken a serious hit in their midfield, losing our new signing Ramires. This will prove to be the test of how strong they remain in his absence. Schalke, on the other hand, will have to push for results and have to use home advantage as best they can. However, these Schalke games will be one to watch, because I feel a certainty that Raul will start these games. They have brought in some talent with Metzelder and Raul. Both of whom have great Euro experience to bring to the team. These games will be ones to catch if you are a true fan of the sport.

I only have a few quick thoughts on Group C. Unfortunately, I see Manchester United as having a stroll in the park with their group. This is not to say I think the opposition in this group will just roll over, but I doubt they will give them too much trouble. Credit is due to Fergie for maintaining one of the top sides in football for almost 2 decades, but this year I don’t know if I see an immensely strong team there. Valencia has been seriously weakened this summer with the inevitable sales of the Davids. With out this combo of Villa and Silva they will struggle against experience like United and Fergie. Yes of course Rangers are in there with a shout, and I see them finishing second in this group. It would be great to see Bursapor compete but I doubt they will trouble anyone in this group.

And now to the important stuff, with Group F being the one we all will be watching with great expectations. Chelsea’s biggest tests will undoubtedly come from Marseille. With Ben Arfa leading from the midfield, they will be serious competition and Chelsea will most certainly look to play intelligently against a strong side. Drogba will also make his reunion with his former club. Undoubtedly, we will hear a round of cheers from the stands when Drogba walks out of the tunnel. Spartak Moscow looks to be interestingly heavy competition. The days of doubting Russian opposition seem to have become the past. I think they will field a strong side and look to finish well. Although, in the end, I think we see Chelsea and Marseille sitting in the 1 and 2 spots. MSK Zilina may be a storied club in the Slovak League, but I don’t see them troubling the Blues. They might be able to win one in the group, but I think it would have to come against Moscow.

I think Carlo will be looking to put last years defeat to Inter and Mourinho in the very distant past. This is his team now and the boys seem to love him. Although, I feel it must be said. We MUST find a way to settle Ashley Cole and John Terry. These two have lost a little desire and focus. This will not aid our efforts, so Carlo has to find a way to motivate them. I do hold onto the belief that by the time we reach the next round, our team will come together and these two will have found their form again. In Ashley’s case he needs to be happy and winning is a good start. Truly, Carlo will be looking to make a decent impression, if not a huge one, by the time they arrive in the next round.

As for my dark horse this year I am going to pick Spurs. I think Tottenham have a fire going, and I also think they have a strong amount of momentum at this point. Say what you will about Rednapp and his boys, but I think they will do well. Will they defeat Inter with Rafa “Bumble Boy” Beneitez at the helm? I can’t say. But, I think Rafa has been extremely fortunate to have landed the post he did at Inter, and I also think he may suffer from his “Bumbling ways” in Italy as he suffered in England. I truly believe that Rafa may have lost the plot, and will not be shocked when Inter finish 4th or 5th in the league. I think we all can agree that if Inter do NOT win the Italian League AGAIN this year, all blame will land on Tweedle Dumb. I am not so sure Rafa is the Talent manager Inter requires. And, I believe you will see that play out on the Euro stage. Bremen will also challenge and FC Twente cannot be discounted. They just toppled Ajax in a Dutch Cup competition. Have no doubt, this is a strong group, and will supply some exciting matches. I look to see Crouch jumping miles above defenders and smashing them home during these coming months. However, he has his work cut out for him when Inter come to town. With Lucio at the back, he will struggle to push through. I do see Spurs qualifying for the next round though.

Group G is clearly the “Group of Death”, and Jose’s chance to prove once again why he is the best. However, we have yet to see Mourinho’s new boys completely trump all who stand in their way. Yes he has one of the most talented groups at his disposal, and we have seen him turn all his teams to winners, or maintain their winning ways if you like. But, it remains to be seen how he will handle the helm of the biggest football ship in the sea. No one should be clouded when it comes to his ability to rally his team into winning and capably handling all foes before them, but this is a new beast to concur. This will be a real test of his talents, especially considering the massive talent to choose from. Milan will have a serious task in knocking them down a peg, but they maybe the ones to do so. And, how sweet it would taste to the Nerazzurri to defeat the man who frustrated them over the last couple seasons. Do not doubt Ajax in this group either. I think they are a sleeper and could pull of a shock and finish in a qualifying spot.

I think Arsenal will have their abilities tested again in Group H. And if I was Wenger I might just try to win the group. I would throw everything I had at these teams. Now is the time were Wenger must prove his “kids” can get it done. I absolutely respect Wenger’s approach to football, however he is not winning ANY trophies. That is a real problem to me, but not to the board of staff at Arsenal. I think Chamakh will be a ray of light in this group too. Look to these games for some heavy competition also. These will definitely be ones to watch. Especially with Fabregas and Chamakh likely to do real damage.

My final thoughts now fall to the undeniable favorites. Barcelona clearly will be the fright of the year for all teams. And I do mean fright. Most sides will have and element of fear come into play when facing up against these giants of modern football. Surely, we will see amazingly beautiful football from the Spanish Champs. Of course Messi will be brilliant. I think the real question is who will step up and challenge the men of Spain as men? What team or group of men will say “We fancy our chances and will have a go at them?” I truly believe we will have to wait until the later stages of this competition to see that scenario. Although, it must be said, many will be pulling for Rubin Kazan to pull off another shocker. I don’t see Copenhagen or Panthinaikos really troubling Pep Guardiola and his men of Spain.

In the End, I truly believe this fall will provide much needed excitement and joy for all of us fans. I think we can look forward to a couple barn burners, and a couple flops too. But given the shifting that has taken place this summer, and the current landscape that is this sport we all love, you can be sure there will be no loss of passion or excitement in the coming months.

Check back here after all the group stage matches and Chelsea’s League play for match and player analysis. And, also keep your eyes open for new content coming soon.