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.

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All Italians are equal, but some Italians are more equal than others.

The dismal failure of England at the world Cup has been hashed over so many times and by so many people there can’t be much left to say, but there is one element of the press feeding frenzy that has turned into English football’s boomerang, in that no matter how hard you throw it away it keeps on coming back; the national football academy.

The idea has been promoted in one form or another since 2003, but is unlikely to be open this side of 2012. Some say it should focus on taking the elite of young English players and turning them into tomorrow’s three lion’s stars, others say that it is better coaches that are needed and that, like Italy’s Coverciano, a national university for coaches is the answer. Fabio Capello, who attended Coverciano in the early 1980s, is probably the current highest profile promoter of the idea. And it certainly did seem to work for a lot of years, establishing Serie A as the foremost league in the world, where the best international players went to ply their trade.

Of course everything has a down side, and for Italian coaching it’s been the coaching-drain, never more stark than in this new season of Serie A, where not one domestic coach has won the title in the past. Three championship winning coaches now grace English football, Capello, Ancelotti and Mancini and, like Capello before them, Ancelotti (1997) and Mancini (2001) are graduates of Coverciano, but does this mean that they’re all equally good? Not necessarily.

Back in 1984, when Capello was writing his study of the zonal marking system pretty much all teaching, of both children and adults, was firmly stuck in an old mode called pedagogy. As a style it carries with it some assumptions, the most important of which is that the teacher is the fount of all knowledge, and the learner a blank slate. The teacher, or coach in this case, is there to teach, and the player is there to listen and learn. And although pedagogy still works with kids, particularly the younger ones, it doesn’t work nearly so well with adults. The more modern style of teaching adults is called andragogy, where instead of assuming the learner is a blank canvas, on which the teacher is going to paint, it’s accepted that the learner comes with a whole set of life skills and experience. And in andragogy the teacher expects the learning process to be a two way street, where not only does the student learn from the teacher but the teacher also learns from the student. In fact the best adult educators take it a stage further. If a teacher only teaches that which he knows he sets a limit on what can be learnt, but if he’s prepared to get his ego walking to heel and accept that others know things about his subject that he doesn’t, he can facilitate the learner becoming better and more knowledgeable than he is. Which of course is how the student gets to surpass the master, the hallmark of only the very best teachers.

Football coaches are no different, and the best modern coaches listen to their players and accept that they have a store of knowledge and experience of their own that they can contribute to the coaching process, particularly the older, senior, professionals.

When the wheels started to come off Chelsea’s first season under Ancelotti, instead of following the boring old path, where the manager tells the media that senior players have to ‘step up and take responsibility’, Ancelotti took the androgogical way forward. The whole team and coaching staff got together and talked about it in a free exchange of ideas, and it was that which created the platform from which Chelsea went on to win the double.

Now compare that to Capello’s performance as England manager at the World cup. Instead of expecting to learn from his players, which you’d think was entirely reasonable, coming as they do from a different culture to that in which he had spent the majority of his football career, he imposes on them a ‘boot-camp’ kind of set up where they become bored and listless after what had been a long hard domestic campaign. He doesn’t communicate with them, when he talks at all he talks at them. And instead of getting them up for a new campaign on top of what they’ve already done he succeeds in de-motivating them.

If Italian coaches were all equal surely he would have been finessing players into a second athletic peak, rather than turning them off! And when John Terry, an important leader in the team, whether captain or not, speaks up, knowing that if changes don’t get made, and quick, they might as well pack up and head off on holiday, he’s vilified by the media, and Capello attempts a public humiliation as payment for his knowledge and honesty – instead of looking at his own performance, as any good self-reflective adult educator should. So what did Capello think, that after playing as many games at the highest level of football Terry had no store of knowledge of his own? Plain daft; John Terry might not be Mr Brain of English Football, but he has a wealth of experience that only an egotist pedagog would ignore.

You may not like Jose Mourinho, but you have to admit he’s one of the very best coaches in world football, so when he goes on record as saying that Capello’s one dimensional approach was to blame for England’s poor performance you at least have to give it some thought. Particularly when it is as a man-manager that Mourinho is supreme.

So what about Mancini? Does he have the ‘golden’ touch? And on the basis of his performance to date it doesn’t look like it. Steven Ireland was Manchester City’s player of the year only a season or so ago, but under Mancini he’s gone, which, as the longest serving City player has to be seriously akin to shooting yourself in the foot given the new squad rules. Craig Bellamy was one of the best players in the EPL last season, and he’s gone too. Mark Hughes showed Bellamy a sensible degree of respect by allowing him to structure his training to protect his suspect knees, yet Mancini imposes the same double sessions that the rest of the players get.  Would Robinho, the EPLs most expensive signing, have fizzed out like a wet firework under Mourinho? It seems unlikely. And now Shay Given and Adebayor are talking about leaving too. Yes it’s early days, and yes we have to give him more time, but there’s no guarantee that this Italian is going to succeed any better than Capello in the long term.

Ancelotti may not be the darling of the media, and he certainly doesn’t entertain in press conferences by shooting from the lip a la Mourinho, but I know who I’d want to be coached by out of the three. There are a lot of managers that pay lip service to the idea that no individual is more important than the club, but Ancelotti doesn’t just talk, he walks the walk. Plus he has that very rarest of qualities in football managers; honesty. To date every time he’s made a statement regarding transfers time has proved him right.    

The title of Ancelotti’s thesis in his last year at Coverciano was ‘Il Futuro del Calcio: Piu Dinamicita’ – ‘The Future of Football: More Dynamism’, and it’s that philosophy that Chelsea bring to life on the pitch, where it counts. Clearly, some Italians are a lot more equal than others.

© Andy Beck – 2010

Saturday 21st August – Away to Wigan.

Chelsea starting line-up:

Petr Čech, Ivanovich, Alex, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Essien, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka.

In 2009 Wigan inflicted a rare defeat on Chelsea, testament to manager Roberto Martinez’s determination to play expansive attacking football at home. And although Wigan started well, shading possession and looking very capable during the first 15 minutes or so there was to be no slip-up this time round.

Chelsea continued to look a little diffident up to the first goal on 33 minutes, with some sloppy passing and Wigan playing a high offside line that saw Anelka and Drogba repeatedly caught out. But the first time Chelsea found their game, with what has come to be a trade-mark team goal, the likelihood of Wigan having a good day at the office receded rapidly. Kirkland managed to palm Lampard’s effort out, but only as far as Malouda, whose reaction was just that bit quicker than the Wigan defence.

For the remainder of the first half Chelsea seemed content to concede occasional possession to Wigan as long as attacking chances were limited to shots from outside the box, and although several were on target none troubled Čech, who looked confident and in control throughout.

Shortly after the break another such Wigan attack broke down and Mikel found Anelka with a perfectly weighted 50 yard diagonal pass. Kirkland’s attempt to limit Anelka’s angle couldn’t prevent him finding the net with a very welcome, and well deserved, first goal of the season for the French striker. And just a couple of minutes later Didier Drogba’s assist helped Nico to his second.

We’ve become accustomed to Anelka operating more as a playmaker than striker since Drogba returned from injury last season, and he’s certainly reinvented himself very successfully in this new role, his change of pace, ability to hold the ball up and vision an often decisive factor in Drogba’s winning the golden boot. Gone are days of pundits saying the two couldn’t play together, and that Ancelotti would have to settle on one or the other. But when the partnership started to gel even the most farsighted of them never suggested that it could work both ways, with Drogba supplying the assists and Anelka putting the ball in the back of the net. And it’s not hard to imagine this turning into a very potent weapon in the search for the elusive Champions league success this season.

Wigan didn’t give up, with Boselli finding the back of the net on 61 minutes, only to have his effort ruled offside. And shortly afterwards Ivanovich, whose tackling had, deservedly, earned him a yellow card in the 36th minute, was replaced by Paulo Ferriera in a reverse of the game against WBA, when Ferriera’s card saw him replaced. Neither of the two are likely to be first choice on the right side of the back four should Jose Bosingwa regain full fitness and the form he enjoyed before his lengthy time out of the side due to injury and a series of complications, with Ivanovich arguably offering better cover to Alex in the center of defence. Ferreira’s value has often been seen most in European games, where his understanding of the continental game adds an extra dimension. Without Bosingwa Chelsea still look weak on the right when compared to the channel driven by Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda, both of whom gave the Wigan defence serious problems.

The Wigan wall was less generous than WBA had been the previous week, when it opened nicely to let a Drogba free kick through, and his attempt on 69 minutes failed to penetrate. Ivorian team-mate Saloman Kalou was substituted for Malouda, who looked as if he may have taken a knock, and was soon on the score sheet with another goal from a silky counter attack. Lampard intercepted on the halfway line and found Drogba with an intelligent and finely judged pass, and although Drogba could have taken the shot himself he unselfishly laid on an easy finish for Kalou, whose post goal ‘shoe-shine’ routine appeared to cause a little embarrassment. And perhaps that little cameo perfectly sums up the new Drogba. No more of the petulance and ego that used to be so much a part of his mercurial game under Mourinho; Didier has matured into the consummate team player and senior professional, looking happier, and more fluid in his movement than at any time during the last couple of seasons.

The return of Michael Essien to the team after his own long battle with injury has been a revelation, heralded as being equal to a new signing – and rightly so. His strength and drive create constant problems for opposition midfielders, inject pace and energy in attack, and power in defence. What has changed under Ancelotti is his partnership with John Obi Mikel. Previous managers have tended to play Mikel in a very tight and restrictive role, so much so that when Ancelotti went on record back in 2009 with the prediction that he would become a valuable playmaker it was greeted with mild derision in some quarters. Playing the two in this fluid partnership allows both to show a wider range and scope to their game, and with Europe in mind the obvious benefit of their acting in a dual holding role should allow Chelsea to lock the midfield down when needed.

Benayoun replaced Essien on 78 minutes, and Wigan soon brought two of their own substitutes on, partly in an attempt to shoe up their flagging energy levels, and partly to replace Figuroa, who was stretchered off following a collision with his goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Wigan Boyce and McCarthy were unable to shore up the home side’s flagging concentration, and Drogba again supplied a perfectly flighted cross, this time from the left of the 18 yard box, for Kalou to nod in his second of the game, and goal number 5 for the rampant Blues. And it could very easily have been 6, when Kalou just failed to pull the ball back for Lampard, at the end of one of his trademark runs into the box from halfway, to fire home. But the last goal came just two minutes later when Benayoun rolled the ball home for his first goal in a Chelsea shirt from a Ferreira pull back after a sprint down the right. You sense that it’s going to take a lot of doing before Yossi replaces Joe Cole in supporter’s affections, but this is certainly a better way to go about it than red cards and missed penalties.

So ended a veritable master class in taking your chances when they come; 10 attempts on target, for a shot to goal conversion rate of 60%. For many, Chelsea have simply taken up where they left off last season and, certainly in goal scoring, that’s true – but unlike the past, when large numbers of opportunities were sometimes missed on the way to impressive score lines, this display suggests that more clinical finishing has been added to an already potent mix.

Jose Mourinho may inhabit a special place in the hearts of Chelsea fans, but you always felt that his own ego always took precedence. With games like these Carlo Ancelotti is laying the foundations of a dynasty full of character and creating a shrine to Joga Bonito in the Fulham Road.

Chelsea 6-0 Wigan – The Match Report

Drogba and Ivanovic celebrate Malouda's goal

Scoring Report:
Chelsea-  Malouda (34) Anelka (48,52) Kalou (78,90) Benayoun (90)
Wigan- N/A

       Chelsea once again produced a masterclass as they hammered Wigan Athletic 6-0 at DW Stadium.

      It started out as a close game, with Wigan enjoying the lion’s share of possession and shots on goal through the first 30 minutes of match time. It took a successful Chelsea counterattack to break the deadlock, with Malouda mopping up a messy rebound conceded by Wigan ‘keeper Chris Kirkland. The score remained 1-0 entering halftime, and it looked like Wigan needed to find a little extra to equalise and turn the tide back to the Latics.

      Instead, they lost it all. Another Chelsea breakaway saw Anelka take a beautifully weighted ball from John Obi Mikel and clinically finish it into the bottom corner; the lead was doubled 2-0. A third goal was added when Malouda’s cross found Drogba in the box, who laid it off for Anelka to nod it home. The rout was on.

     After Malouda gave seventy minutes of valiant Chelsea football, he was substituted for Salomon Kalou; this turned out to be the best substitution of the Premier League so far. In the 77th minute, Drogba broke free of the dismal wigan defence and laid another beautiful ball for Kalou, who slotted it home for a fourth Chelsea goal.

      Kalou made it five in the 90th minute after being on the recieving end of a beautiful cross byDrogba (surprised?) And Chelsea new-boy Yossi Benayoun put the cherry on top after recieving a pass from Paulo Ferreira.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Didier Drogba. 3 goals 1 game, 3 assists another. He proves that at 32, he still can be the fulcrum of a world-class attack.

ON TO STOKE–Blue is the Colour

Match Report by BBLBDB

A Sad Day; Hutchinson forced to retire due to knee injury

Sam Hutchinson

The 21-year-old youngster has struggled with his fitness for several years, leaving him unable to build on a career that saw him handed his first senior game at the end of the 2006/07 season by former coach Jose Mourinho

The Portuguese coach spoke of his ability to become a key member of the first-team, however despite his immense potential he has consistently been hampered by a recurring knee injury and has now chosen to quit professional football.

Hutchinson had bright prospects after several appearances for the reserves and also earned a place in England’s Under-21 squad, as well as making three appearances last season.

He will now be given support by the club to study sports science at university and will work on his coaching qualifications as part of Chelsea’s coaching academy.

It is a sad day, I was hoping that he would make some cup appearances. I though that he would be an eventual replacement for Ashley Cole, who is entering the twilight of his career.

-KTBFFH

Blue is the Color: My First Season

6-0. 6-0, that was my introduction to Chelsea football. A 6 nothing thrashing of a team recently promoted. This is the way all people should be introduced to the sport. One nothing games hold a special place later in the season.  A zero draw at old Trafford is an acceptable outcome.  But for your first real match – you want lots of goals and a win.

This is my first season following Chelsea. That’s not entirely true. I knew that Chelsea was good last season. That Drogba was a goal machine and that Lampard was the captain, but that was about all I knew. I did not know that they were title condensers or that they won the FA cup.  Drogba has been one of my favorite players for a while – I heard a story that he helped end the civil war in the Ivory Coast by demanding that a match be played in a dangerous region – a great story for an African studies minor.  So I was familiar with parts of the team.  This is the first time that I knew every player from Alex to Terry.

Over the summer I fell in love with the beautiful through the world cup. I found myself caring about Chelsea players.   Ever day I checked to see if Mikel had started, if Drogba was fit, and what the hell was going on with France.  It was during the Ghana – USA game that I knew I had to choose an EPL team.  I will go into that decision process later.

Back to the game: what’s left to say. It was fantastic. Drogba’s hat trick, Essien’s outstanding midfield play, and Czechs continued dominance in the goal- though he was hardly tested. Seeing the Bridge on game day was special. I can not wait to visit the bridge.   There are something’s I would have liked to have seen more of: better play from Mikel, more play from Yossi and Kalou, and maybe even a Sturridge appearance, but overall these are minor points.  The game was beautiful and I can not wait for Wigan this Saturday.

KBFFH!

My first “State of the Bridge” address

Florent Malouda celebrates his goal in the 6-0 WBA win

         Just two days ago, Chelsea started on the Premier League marathon with style in a 6-0 bashing that sent a message to the league that they intend to retain their premier league title. Although Chelsea played like champions, what struck me was West Brom’s horrible set-piece defending. Also the fact that three of the four players that made up the WBA backline were making premier league debuts. But enough about sorry WBA, this is a Chelsea blog.  

       Didier Drogba was again world-class, scoring a hat trick. Florent Malouda added a brace, and Lampard put himself on the scoresheet as well. What really impressed me was the stabilility Chelsea played with, as if they knew each other. In my opinion, this will work in Chelsea’s favor as the season wears on. 

Ramires Santos do Nascimento

               This also marks the beginning of what I think is a new era of Chelsea football. We have lost the likes of Ballack, Deco, Joe Cole, and Belletti, among others. Bringing in Ramires was a great signing, a young midfielder with potential whose immense ability as a box-to-box midfielder will free up Michael Essien to make the trademark attacking runs we have sorely missed in his past two injury plagued seasons. Yossi Benayoun might turn out to be a better midfielder than Joe Cole; he is a more tactically aware midfielder who can be used in various positions around midfield.

Neymar

          Another Brazilian that has been in Chelsea’s sights is Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, or simply Neymar. Touted as the best 18 year-old in world football, he definitely seems like a great add for a Chelsea side with two forwards over the age of 30. A major stumbling block would be his price, with current club Santos demanding the buy-out price of £29million. Also, his small, lanky build leaves doubts in some Chelsea supporters’ hearts as to if he can stand the physicality of the Premier League. I say we don’t rush; we pay the money, and have him injected as a sub in games against major to mid table opponents. Also, he should get starts against relegation-threatened sides and in cup matches. If we do that for at least a year, he can get used to England’s physicality; hell, he can build some muscle of his own. By 21, this guy might just be the real deal. In essence, what I am saying is that he doesn’t need to be world-class now.

       In this address, I should also take some time and talk about the next match, against Wigan. Last time these two sides met, Chelsea won 8-0. But by no means am I expecting the same result (although I wouldn’t be surprised.) Against a disorganized and unspirited squad, Chelsea should win by a score of 4-0, and we should see a cameo appearance for Ramires.

       In conclusion, the season looks bright for our Blues. We started the season in the best way possible, showing the determination and resolve of champions. I believe that currently we have a squad that can compete on all fronts, despite calls for 1-2 more signings. In the words of Terrell Owens, you “better get your popcorn ready,” because I believe our Blues putting on a show at the DW stadium-or any other stadium for that matter.

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

–BBLBDB