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Chelsea would be mad to sell Juan Mata

Of all the silly season transfer chatter, the most bizarre is that linking Juan Mata with a move away from Stamford Bridge. Even more ridiculous is the expression ‘surplus to requirements’. That is something you would use to describe Marko Marin perhaps but not Juan Mata. As with discussion on the future of David Luiz much of this is based around total misunderstanding of a ‘Jose Mourinho’ player. In the case of David Luiz, as Martin Keown put on commentary last night, he is not a Mourinho defender because he is not ‘like John Terry’. Of course, this is because in England Mourinho has only managed Chelsea with a brief bothersome overseas adventure. Never mind the fact that Sergio Ramos, Lucio and Ricardo Carvalho, Mourinho’s key men at Real, Inter and Porto/Chelsea were more than a little David Luiz like. The same misunderstanding is true of Juan Mata.

‘Oh, he’s too small, he’s too slow, he doesn’t work hard in defence’. These are the apparent flaws in Mata’s game that make him ill suited to Jose Mourinho. Contrary to that though, Chelsea are being linked with Wesley Sneijder with whom Mourinho won the Champions League at Inter Milan. Sneijder is ‘too small, too slow, and doesn’t work hard enough in defence’ for Mourinho too though right? How about Mesut Ozil? He’s not a bulldozer. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t work hard in defence, neither did Arjen Robben, neither did Samuel Eto’o. Goran Pandev wasn’t quick. Deco was his key man at Porto, he was small, slow and didn’t work hard in defence.

Juan Mata

It is through this prism that you start to understand the press linking Mata away from Chelsea. They think a ‘Mourinho team’ constitutes Chelsea circa 2004-06. No other type of player is desirable for Mourinho according to opinion in England. Never mind that at Porto, Inter and Real Madrid he operated a pure number 10. Deco, Sneijder and Ozil are very similar players to Juan Mata. They scored goals, they made goals, they play ran through them, and they offered the spark of inspiration and invention in attack. Last time at Chelsea he didn’t, but he had Frank Lampard scoring a ton of goals and was blessed with Claude Makelele and Michael Essien in midfield. Remember though, when Mourinho first arrived one of his first targets was Deco and he only lost out on him to Barcelona. Mourinho has always had a Mata type in his team so it’s nonsense to say he doesn’t fit the prototype.

That isn’t to say Chelsea certainly won’t sell him, they are perhaps the most unpredictable in the transfer market. But who are they selling him to? Maybe Real Madrid? Possibly. But who else? And why?

The other apparent reason is the stack of attacking midfielders Chelsea have at the club, but other than Oscar there’s no one else that can play the role Mata can play. Looking in Mourinho’s history, he already has the personnel he needs there. At Inter he had the trickery of Pandev opposite the directness and speed of Eto’o. Sound like De Bruyne/Oscar and Hazard/Schurrle? At Real he had the trickery of Angel Di Maria and the directness of Ronaldo. Sound like De Bruyne/Oscar and Hazard/Schurrle? Even at Chelsea he had Damien Duff and Robben in those roles.

Only Juan Mata has the silkyness, fleet feet and creativity to play in that spot right now and frankly, there aren’t many better players in the world at that job. If they sold him and played Hazard there they’d get worse in two spots. Hazard is a quality player but best out wider so they’d be using him inefficiently and playing someone worse than him out wide. There is literally no set up in which they get better after selling Mata.

Chelsea would be mad to sell Juan Mata but they’re not going to. The talk has begun because of a lack of understanding of Jose Mourinho’s tactical history. In England a Mourinho man is one that he used between 2004 and 2006 and so he therefore wants to get rid of anyone that isn’t a big physical player at Chelsea. It explains why he is constantly linked to inferior players like Edin Dzeko and Hulk up top and big but red raw defenders like Eliaquim Mangala. His last team at Chelsea happened to have world class footballers who were all big and athletic. But at every club in Mourinho’s career he has found space for small, creative attackers who have been his key men. There’s no reason for Mata not to follow in the footsteps of Deco, Sneijder and Ozil as Mourinho’s little genius.

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Chelsea to move for Xabi Alonso?

With all the names being bandied about in connection to Chelsea it can be difficult to know what to focus on, but among the links, the name of Xabi Alonso stands out for various reasons. For a start, unlike Edin Dzeko, or Wesley Sneijder or worst of all Hulk, this actually makes sense. A lot of sense. Secondly, unlike those names, this one would be a true test of the pull of Jose Mourinho and of whether or not he burned his bridges in Madrid. If he can persuade Xabi Alonso to follow him it will put much of that to rest. Lastly, and most importantly, Alonso only has one year left on his contract and doesn’t seem likely to sign a new one. Madrid may be willing to sell him now and focus on going after the likes of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez with the money.

Chelsea could have great success with Xabi Alonso in their midfield because they already have the personnel the like of which he has had success with before. At Real he plays alongside Sami Khedira, a box-to-box player known for his relentless energy and ability to nab a goal. Chelsea have Ramires and Frank Lampard who can do that. With Spain he plays behind Iniesta and Silva, little technicians that he can supply intricate passes to. Chelsea have the three amigos. At Liverpool he was able to supply a rapid and constantly moving Fernando Torres with endless supply. Chelsea seem likely to sign Edinson Cavani. And do also have a now broken version of Fernando Torres just in case.

Xabi Alonso

The Chelsea midfield lacks a little for tactical intelligence and sensible positioning. Ramires can be a little reckless, like an untamed colt desperate to show what he can do. Jon Obi Mikel is pedestrian and prone to defensive error and Lampard is much more dangerous on the front foot. Alonso has won the World Cup, two European Champions, the Champions League and La Liga, so knows how to organise a team. He also possesses a passing range that none of Chelsea’s options do and is always open to receive the ball.

At times last year Chelsea got a bit frenetic, lacking a calming presence in the midfield. Whilst Ramires and David Luiz were buccaneering options and Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar needed the ball supplied to them quickly and often, this left them liable to getting split open. Alonso can bring the calm and control and make himself available to receive an easy pass and change tempo.

Mourinho has had success with Alonso in that role at Real Madrid and has usually liked a player of his type. At Porto he had Costinha, at Chelsea he had Claude Makelele, at Inter he had Esteban Cambiasso. Chelsea don’t have one at the moment so a move for Alonso could be ideal. Real would probably hold out for £10-12m and although he is 31 and only has a year on his contract it’s an acceptable amount.

The final advantage with signing Alonso is the effect it could have on Nathaniel Chalobah. The 18 year old was a star on loan at Watford last season and has a lot of Alonso about him. If Alonso is signed, he will be coming for a three year stint as the starter, during which time Chalobah can be readied to take over from him and learn from him.

Signing Alonso would give Chelsea exactly what they need right now and help them plan for the future.

Is Jose Mourinho the right man to turn Chelsea’s young stars into superstars?

To all intents and purposes Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea has been secured, and there are already questions being asked about the futures of David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres. What’s not being asked so much is what effect the appointment of Mourinho will have on Chelsea’s recent policy of stocking up on young talent. At Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Mourinho has been much more comfortable working with experienced players, using their already high levels of talent to make and shape his teams. He doesn’t have a record of promoting young players from the youth departments of these clubs at all. He doesn’t have a good record of loaning players and then playing them when they have been improved. He has pretty much built his success on signing ready-made players.

The reason that this could sit incongruously with Chelsea’s recent transfer policy is that he will be overseeing a young first-team squad that has a fully stocked and successful youth squad and an assortment of potentially world-class players out on loan around the world. They have building towards the next couple of seasons for the last three years or so, they have a plan. Despite the circus of managerial changes at first-team level, behind the scenes the player recruitment and development policy has been exemplary. They have been preparing for this season and even more so 2014/15 when the likes of Lukaku, Chalobah, McEachran, Courtois and De Bruyne will be nicely polished up ready for action. Not to mention how good the already sublime Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will be by then and the continued improvements of Cesar Azpilicueta that could make him the starter for Spain at the World Cup.

So where does Jose Mourinho fit in to this policy? Is he really willing to give youth a chance? Can he make them better players than they are at the moment? When you hire Jose Mourinho you agree to buy him players. That’s what happened first time around, and that’s the rumour this time around. He doesn’t rate Torres or Ba, so the talk is of them trying to sign Edinson Cavani or Karim Benzema. They are both readymade, plug and play options. But how about Romelu Lukaku. He has the potential to be one the best in the world given his physical gifts, youth and proven output. If they spend £40-50m on a striker they are not signing him to sit on the bench behind Lukaku. Mourinho will certainly prefer the known package Petr Cech over Thibaut Courtois, who could also turn in to the best in his position.

Jose Mourinho

In his last stint at Chelsea no academy players made the breakthrough to first team level. Inter Milan’s top homegrown starlet, Mario Balotelli, was clashed with and sold on, as were a ream of other young Italians who are now starting around Serie A. Mourinho won the Champions League with a team that averaged over 30 years old. Three years later they finished ninth, having been hamstrung by a squad that got too old all at once. At Real Madrid the likes of Canales, Callejon and Morata showed a lot of promise but were not often utilised. The only young player who got significant game time was Rafael Varane but he broke in due to injury to Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe.

The other cross against Mourinho’s name is his supposed weakness in developing young first team players, taking them on to the next level. This criticism isn’t as fair as that he doesn’t blood young players but there is some credence to it. When he first arrived at Chelsea he improved the likes of Lampard, Terry, Cech and Robben plenty but since then his record is more erratic. Jon Obi-Mikel levelled out as did Salomon Kalou. At Real Mesut Ozil, Marcelo and Higuain haven’t really improved from the level they were at when he arrived. Is it something that he has lost his touch with? As he has become more entrenched in his ways he has found less time to develop players. This is a big concern with Mata, Hazard, Ramires and Azpilicueta. Will he be able to take them on to be amongst the best players in the world?

Mourinho will get Chelsea winning games and probably trophies but he has never played players from his youth teams and has recently struggled to improve players as individuals. He has improved the team concepts and winning mentality of Inter and Real but has left them with problems to deal with long term. Can he use Chelsea’s wealth of young resources this time around?

Didier Drogba 2011-2012: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Didier Drogba has finished his Chelsea career on a high after their historic victory in the Champions League final against Bavarian giants Bayern Munich. However, as well as experiencing extreme highs, the African legend’s last season with the Blues has also seen its lows.

The AVB regime

Just a few games into the 2011-12 season you could already see that the arrival of Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas had caused an upset amongst the old guard at Chelsea. His micromanagement of the west London outfit was heavily criticised; there were even reports that he would stand and watch players who were coming in late at the Blues’ training ground in Cobham. Along with this, his handling of the players came under the microscope after failing to restore £50m Fernando Torres to his former self, and leaving Chelsea legend, Frank Lampard, out of the starting line-up on numerous occasions.

Many will see Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Championship side, Birmingham City, as one of the biggest turning points in AVB’s sacking. After not only failing to beat Chris Hughton’s side on their own turf, a media uproar was caused by a supposed Didier Drogba half-time team talk, that Villas-Boas rashly denied. As well as this, the 3-1 loss at the hands of Napoli, and a 1-0 defeat to mediocre West Bromwich Albion, tipped the balances and forced Roman Abramovich to make the bold and brave decision that paid off massively.

The Di Matteo turn-around

When Andre Villas-Boas’ assistant manager, Roberto Di Matteo, was announced as caretaker for the rest of the season, no one would have thought that they would be holding the Champions League trophy, for the first time in their history, a few months later. The former Chelsea midfielder started off by picking up from where his ex-colleague left off, with a 2-0 away win over Birmingham City in the FA Cup. Almost a week later, Robbie was in charge of turning around a 3-1 deficit against Napoli in the last sixteen of the Champions League, and he delivered with an astonishing 4-1 home win, including an opening goal from Didier Drogba.

The re-ignition of the golden oldies and the new-found harmony in the dressing room was crucial to the 41 year-old Italian’s success and led him on to do an unprecedented double, winning both the FA Cup, with a 2-1 defeat of Liverpool in the final, and the Champions League, after getting through both Barcelona and Bayern Munich – yet again the Ivorian talisman getting on the score sheet for each of those games.

Drogba’s impact

Forever will Didier Drogba be known as the best performer on the big stage after scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool and heading in an 88th minute equaliser in the Champions League Final, not to mention finishing the game with the winning penalty. At the age of 34-years-old, there is no doubt the African powerhouse is still a magnificent player and many will say he is the best in the world at what he does. In both the Champions League semi-final and the final, Chelsea were playing with their backs against the wall, and if there is one man you want to boot it up the field to and bring it down under control, it is Didier Drogba.

The ‘nine goals in nine cup finals’ hero will always be remembered as a Chelsea legend, and his humble exit will be have a bittersweet effect on the fans, who will be somewhat disappointed he was not offered a new contract. For many supporters, it is an end that has come too soon and there is no doubt that fans will be devastated that he’s going, but the monumental symbolism of his last kick of the ball for the Blues will stay in the hearts of Chelsea fans forever.

By Jacob Tucker

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

Champions League Final: Why Chelsea can upset Bayern Munich

It has been quite the Champions League campaign this season, with a number of shocks, surprises and upsets, none more so than the fact that Chelsea ousted Barcelona in the semi-finals to set up a final against Bayern Munich. With the last fixture taking place at Die Roten’s Allianz Arena home, the Bundesliga giants will be favourites, but the Blues should not be written off; here’s why:

Roberto Di Matteo and recent resurgence

The Chelsea side that was comprehensively beaten 3-1 in San Paolo by Napoli earlier this campaign, Andre Villas-Boas’ last European fixture in charge, looks like a different team to the current crop. Under interim boss Roberto Di Matteo the Blues have only lost one game in their last 17, with the playing squad seemingly rejuvenated under the former Chelsea midfielder. Despite being favourites, Bayern will have to work hard to overcome a team in form.

A last hurray for the old guard

With the signing of Marko Marin announced for next term, Chelsea are expected to bring in a host of younger players this summer to inject a fresh feel into their squad. This may well mean the end for a number of the established players that have been the basis of the Stamford Bridge side over the last five years. The likes of Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and even Frank Lampard may well make an exit from west London at the end of the campaign, making them more motivated to end on a high.

Bayern’s questionable defence

Although the Bavarian side’s rearguard has improved since last season, there are still question marks over their central defenders. Jerome Boateng has been used in the middle of the defence despite playing the majority of his football on the flanks, whilst Holger Badstuber is suspended for the game against the Blues. The Premier League side will be aware of this and look to attack the heart of the hosts.

Didier Drogba

Given the unconvincing nature of Bayern’s backline, Didier Drogba will look to use his considerable ability and experience to take full advantage. The Ivory Coast international looks to be one of the players certain to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer, as an expiring contract has not shown any signs of being renewed. The African marksman scored the winner against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge and in the FA Cup final, and will be the west London club’s main attacking weapon in Germany.

Published – Bleacher Report

Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph: The collapse of King Kenny as the Blues ride their luck

A resilient backline and a spectacular attacking force made a wonderful day for Chelsea fans and club, as the Di Matteo turn-around was finally credited with a domestic trophy, leaving Kenny Dalglish’s management, once again, under huge criticism.

If there was one way to describe the FA Cup Final this year, it would be a game of two halves, as we saw the first half dominated by the men in blue, until the 60th minute when substitute Andy Carroll scored a revitalising goal that transformed the Anfield outfit into a dangerous attacking force. The first 45 minutes held a sense of déjà vu for Liverpool fans, as they saw a performance lacking creativity, chances, and momentum. Not only were the forwards under-performing, but another weak defensive performance was to blame, when Ramires slotted a strike home in the 11th minute, beating Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina at the near post, who was once again to blame with poor judgement and positioning.

More chances came from the Blues after Salomon Kalou made a steaming run through Liverpool’s defensive third but was stopped by a desperate Martin Skrtel tackle inside the box. Early into the second half another goal came for the west London side as a beautifully measured pass by Frank Lampard saw Drogba into a dangerous position, who in turn hit it perfectly into the far right corner of the net. A few minutes after Chelsea had a great chance to finish it off when a fluid attacking move from the Stamford Bridge outfit saw Kalou into a dangerous position, but the Ivorian put it high and wide, leaving him hoping that he wouldn’t come to regret that opportunity.

The turning point of the game was the substitution of Andy Carroll for Jay Spearing, and many will be wondering why the huge powerhouse did not play from the start. Chelsea’s first scare came half-way into the second part of the game, when the substitute scored a reasonably lucky goal after a tackle by Stewart Downing swooped the ball out from the feet of Jose Bosingwa and favourably into the path of the £35m target man, who converted with an unstoppable shot above Petr Cech. For the last 25 minutes, the Blues were once again playing a back-against-the-wall performance, suffering wave after wave of attacks from a newly-revived Liverpool side. Countless crosses were delivered into the box before another great chance came when Carroll got his head onto a back post ball and thought it was in, but the Liverpool forward was denied by Petr Cech, who made a fantastic goal-line save to keep Chelsea in the game and allowed them to go on and secure their victory.

There is no doubt, Kenny Dalglish will be harshly criticised for picking a very wrong starting XI – playing an inexperienced Jay Spearing at the important role of holding midfielder, and assorting themselves in a 4-5-1 formation with Luis Suarez playing a very isolated role upfront. When Carroll came on, it allowed the Uruguayan to drop deeper and play a creative role as a second striker, as well as having the danger-man in the box waiting on those vital crosses – all in all giving Liverpool an eye for goal. Taking nothing away from Chelsea, Didier Drogba had a particularly good game, and was crucial in holding the ball up and bringing the midfielders into play with his awareness and experience; complemented by the creative Juan Mata, and speedy wingers Salomon Kalou and Ramires, the Chelsea forwards were a force to be reckoned with. Their sturdy defence should not be overlooked, with captain John Terry putting in a stunning performance to keep the Blues in the game.

Dalglish will be worrying about his future with the Reds, whilst Di Matteo will be over the moon with his team. Chelsea fans will be hoping that the Blues can ride their luck to Munich in the Champions League final, which will surely be the deciding factor in the Italian’s chances of landing the manager’s role on a permanent basis.

By Jacob Tucker

England and Euro 2012: Who will be in the squad, and how will they fair in Group D?

England interim manager Stuart Pearce has this week revealed that the nation’s squad for Euro 2012 will be named before the end of the Premier League campaign, whether a new permanent boss is in place or not. With the last game of the season on Sunday 13th May, it is reasonable to expect the successful and unsuccessful players to be unveiled a couple of days before this. With this date only two weeks away, who will be stepping out for the Three Lions in Ukraine and Poland?

Goalkeepers – Joe Hart is a shoe-in, and the Manchester City stopper is an outside shout to be the next national captain. Consistent, agile and assured, Hart is a real attribute to the home nation.

GK to go: Hart, Carson, Stockdale

GK to miss out: Ruddy

Defenders – John Terry’s inclusion or exclusion could well depend on the new boss, with the consideration of Rio Ferdinand also entering into the equation; the Chelsea centre half is to stand court for racially abusing the Manchester United man’s brother Anton. Other central defenders to be included should be Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Joleon Lescott.

At left back Ashley Cole will travel, whilst Leighton Baines is currently injured but will recover in time. On the right, PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker will expect to be included, as will seasoned international Glen Johnson. Micah Richards has been an outcast under Fabio Capello, but under-21 boss Pearce would surely select his former player, potentially to the detriment of the Liverpool man.

DF to go: Walker, Richards, Cahill, Terry, Lescott, Jones, Cole, Baines

DF to miss out: Ferdinand, King, Johnson, Dawson, Smalling

Midfielders – England will most likely play four across midfield, and this will be the most tightly-contested element of the squad. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard are almost certainties, Steven Gerrard hangs in the balance depending on fitness, Paul Scholes is an outside shout, whilst Tom Cleverley, Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere will miss out through injury.

On the flanks, Ashley Young will travel if he stays fit, as will Stewart Downing despite an inconsistent campaign. Aaron Lennon needs to get back to his best, Jordan Henderson looks unlikely whilst Arsenal team-mates Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well be in direct competition for a place.

MF to go: Young, Downing, Barry, Parker, Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Walcott

MF to miss out: Wilshere, Rodwell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lennon, Henderson, Joe Cole, Cleverley, Carrick, Milner, A.Johnson

Strikers – Although Wayne Rooney will be suspended for the first two group games of the tournament, it will take a brave manager to leave out the Manchester United forward. Darren Bent faces a risk against time due to his knee injury, whilst Andy Carroll will need a strong end of season to convince the selectors. Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge should be included, whilst Jermain Defoe is a 50-50.

ST to go: Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge, Defoe

ST to miss out: Bent, Carroll, Crouch

Group Games

England vs France, June 11: Old enemies renew their rivalry in the Group D opener, and these two will be favourites to progress. Without Rooney England may lack direction in attack, and will need to be regimented to stave off the advances of Ribery, Benzema and Remy.

Prediction: 0-0

England vs Sweden, June 15: The Three Lions have suffered disappointment against the Scandinavian nation in international competitions in the past, and Sweden are a slightly unpredictable entity. Led by AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes will be no pushover.

Prediction: 1-1

England vs Ukraine, June 19: With a tight group likely to go down to the wire, England will face co-hosts Ukraine in the last round of fixtures in what will be a test of their character and resolve. Rooney’s return will be a boost, but England must be at their best to quell a pumped-up opponent and crowd.

Prediction: 2-1 win

Published – Soccerlens

Chelsea vs Tottenham: The Blues’ traditional hex over the White Hart Lane club no longer apparent

Chelsea and Tottenham meet in the second FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday, with the London rivals’ fate this season tied in with that of their opponent. With one or the other set to miss out on a top four finish in the Premier League also, progression in the cup takes additional importance this season.

Chelsea have improved since the axing of Andre Villas Boas, with club man Roberto Di Matteo instilling confidence and a belief in the side. The Blues have made strides in the league to give them a chance of making the Champions League qualification places, and a memorable comeback against Napoli in Europe has set up a mouth-watering clash with Barcelona.

The main difference in Di Matteo’s approach is the respect and responsibility handed back to the club’s senior players. With the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Ashley Cole feeling devalued by the Portuguese coach’s squad rotation system, the Italian has made the old guard feel more valued, and this has paid off for him.

The Stamford Bridge club have the distraction of a Champions League date with the Spanish giants upcoming, and although the clash with Pep Guardiola’s men will be in the back of their minds, Spurs could capitalise on any lack of concentration. Chelsea have traditionally had something of a hex over their London neighbours, but the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in the league a couple of weeks ago, in which Harry Redknapp’s men dominated, will have given the White Hart Lane club confidence.

Tottenham have come unstuck slightly over the last couple of months, with an excellent start being counteracted by a poor second half to the season. Defeat against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton could almost be understood given the difficulty of the opponent, but a loss to Norwich and draw with Stoke at home have the White Hart Lane faithful nervous.

Ahead of the game at Wembley, Spurs are still in fourth place but are level on points with Newcastle, and two ahead of Chelsea. With a five-point gap opening up to Arsenal in third, it is a safe bet to say that one of Sunday’s competitors will miss out on the top four. Spurs fans will look to win their first piece of silverware since their League Cup triumph in 2008, where they beat Chelsea in the final.

A couple of key matchups may well decide the outcome of what should be a close game. With Branislav Ivanovic suspended, the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will look to get at makeshift fullbacks and take advantage of possession down the flanks. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard will hope to be team-mates this summer at Euro 2012, but will go head-to-head in the battle to win possession and shield their back fours. Finally, second strikers Rafael van der Vaart and Juan Mata are the playmakers that can create chances that will ultimately win the match.

Published – Soccerlens

The draw of home: Why Chelsea could face losing Oriol Romeu

With Spanish football on an all-time high, there is no wonder that Premier League clubs are eager to bring players from La Liga to England.

With Pepe Reina’s current and Xabi Alonso’s past importance to Liverpool, Juan Mata’s immediate impact at Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas’ legendary status in North London and David Silva leading Manchester City’s title charge, the English top flight has been blessed with incredible talent from Spain in recent times.

However, seemingly more than any other nation, Spanish players yearn for home and have left English teams at the peak of their individual abilities.

An emerging talent at Stamford Bridge is quickly proving his worth and may well one day be added to the impressive list of world-beating Spanish players that have graced British shores.

Oriol Romeu joined Chelsea from Barcelona last summer, and despite only making one solitary substitute appearance for the Catalan giants before departing, he has become a crucial member of Andre Villas Boas’ squad almost instantly. Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires and even Frank Lampard have seen their time on the pitch impacted this season by the Portuguese coach’s use of the youngster, and Romeu is already one of a host of players that Andre Villas Boas is building a new-look Chelsea team around.

Romeu has a great blend of the traditional Spanish qualities, and a battling nature that has suited the pace and aggression of the Premier League. Technically gifted with the ball at his feet, Romeu has an eye for a pass and calmness when in possession that is uniquely distilled through the ranks at La Masia. Add to this his ability to read the game, a keenness to put in a tackle and excellent positional play and Romeu is already at 20 years old an accomplished defensive midfielder.

However, just like in the case of Fabregas and Alonso, the draw of his homeland may hamper Chelsea’s long-term ambitions and plans for the Ulldecona-born man. Reports have emerged that Barcelona have a buy-back option integrated in Romeu’s contract, which can be implemented at the Camp Nou outfit’s request in the summer of 2012 or 2013.

With the abundance of midfield talent currently at Pep Guardiola’s disposal it is unlikely that the European champions will opt to bring Romeu ‘home’ this summer, but given another season of Premier League and European football and it may well be deemed that the starlet could be an asset in the Catalan senior squad.

With Xavi and Andres Iniesta currently at the peak of their powers, Sergio Busquets filling the defensive midfield slot, Fabregas being deployed as a second striker and Thiago Alcantara an impressive back-up, Guardiola’s options in the centre of the park are simply salivating.

However, given another 18 months, the two current dominant playmakers in Catalunya may well be starting to feel their age, and with Busquets gradually making the transition to central defence, Romeu could be summoned.

This would be a big blow for a team like Chelsea, who are not accustomed to losing key players; anyone who leaves Stamford Bridge is generally surplus to requirements. With Roman Abramovich’s billions, an ambitious young coach in place and an exciting team being built around the Spaniard, surely Romeu would be tempted to knock back Barcelona’s potential advances?

Not very likely. The draw of La Liga’s top sides is huge, not least to those who have witnessed their allure up close. The fact Romeu is a Barca youth product means he has been instilled with the mindset that playing for the Blaugrana is the Holy Grail since the age of 13, and Chelsea now have a problem.

One only has to look at the demise of Liverpool since the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid to see the potential effect of losing a Spanish midfield general. Cesc Fabregas openly admitted to ‘feeling English’ during his time in North London and frequently spouted his love for the Emirates outfit.

He was part of a team unbeaten for an entire season in England, played in a Champions League final and had the adoration of one of the most respected coaches in world football, his fellow players and fans. Nevertheless, he could not resist the appeal of home.

An equally concerning thought that Chelsea will need to keep in mind revolves around Juan Mata, and like his countrymen, whether or not he would be able to resist either Barcelona or Real Madrid’s charms in a year or two’s time.

Mata is a Madrid youth player who again did not make the first team, and was later farmed out to Valencia. One feels there may be unfinished business at the Santiago Bernabeu for the attacker. Finally, even Sheik Mansour’s unlimited financial resources would probably not stop David Silva doing all in his power to forge a move away from Manchester City if one of Spain’s big two came knocking.

Spain’s World Cup-winning golden generation is currently the best crop of players in the game, with the country’s top two domestic teams the biggest clubs on the planet. For an English side to snag a leading Spanish player must be seen as a massive coup, however it should be advised that over-reliance on this superstar may end in tears; only time will tell in the case of Romeu.

PublishedFourFourTwo

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