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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.

Chelsea to move for Wesley Sneijder? Why?

Following Jose Mourinho’s reappointment as manager of Chelsea, rumours are rife over a host of players that the Portuguese coach will look to bring to Stamford Bridge. The Blues are certain to bolster their squad this summer, but one surprising name reportedly on Mourinho’s hitlist is Wesley Sneijder.

A new striker is surely on Chelsea’s wishlist, with Bwin odds suggesting Fernando Torres could leave Stamford Bridge this summer. The likes of Hulk and Edinson Cavani are constantly linked to the Blues, and this is understandable. A central defender would also be a sensible purchase, given that John Terry’s future is up in the air, while Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz are happier playing in other positions.

Sneijder did play a significant role in helping Mourinho’s Inter team to the Champions League crown in 2009-10, and the pair are said to have a good relationship. That said, surely with the likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata in the west London club’s squad, another playmaker is the last thing the Blues need?

Jose Mourinho

Sneijder’s purchase would be a surprising one given that he only moved to Galatasaray at the turn of the year. The Netherlands international certainly is a class act, but he has failed to show the kind of quality of late that Mourinho was accustomed to during their time together in Milan.

There is an argument that Sneijder could play as one of the two holding midfielders in the current 4-2-3-1 system, and look to use the ball from deep. Mourinho likes to play players of experience and that he knows, and Sneijder still has the ability to play at the highest level, if on form.

However, given Chelsea’s deficiencies in other areas, Mourinho’s initial transfer focus should not be on Wesley Sneijder. Despite the amount of money that Chelsea are likely to give Mourinho to spend, it could be used more wisely than in bringing in another playmaker – which is the main strength of the current squad.

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?

Tottenham’s Bale, Liverpool’s Suarez and Manchester United’s Van Persie – but where is Swansea’s Michu?

The nominees for the Premier League Player of the Year award have been named, with a notable absence amongst the six candidates. All the discussion about the accolade have rightly focussed on Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, however the addition of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Eden Hazard leaves me scratching my head that a certain Spaniard missed out.

I am not saying that Michu of Swansea City should be awarded the Premier League Player of the Year awaed, however the versatile attacker has had a fantastic debut season in England and was certainly great value for a nomination. It will boil down to Bale, Suarez or Van Persie, however Michu’s excellent season should have been acknowledged with a nomination.

Michu

Carrick has long been the unsung worker in the United midfield, and is only now being recognised for the tireless work he puts in and the range of passing he brings to the soon-to-be champions. Juan Mata has grown in stature this season and deserves his place in the six. The ex-Valencia playmaker has been superb throughout the season and will play a key role in Chelsea’s attempts to forge a Premier League title challenge next season. Hazard at times has shown brilliance, especially towards the start of the season, however I feel he has not done enough to warrant a place on the shortlist.

It is unfortunate that bargain £2 million buy Michu is not included. He has netted 21 times in all competitions for Michael Laudrup’s men, 17 in the league, and been a figurehead in the Liberty Stadium side overcoming the often tricky second season to become a well-established Premier League side. He also played his part in the club winning the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in the Welsh club’s history.

Michu was never going to be the Player of the Year, but a nomination would have been just reward for a cracking debut campaign. The fact that he plays for one of the less glamorous sides in the division has clearly worked against him, the powers that be should have widened their net to include the likes of the Spaniard in their shortlist.

Chelsea’s returning starlets will form the nucleus of an exceptional team

With all the hysteria surrounding Chelsea this season it is easy to forget that they have the core of a young and potentially devastating team. Along with the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta, who are already in the first team, they own some of Europe’s top young prospects who are thriving out on loan in various leagues.

So let’s take a look at the best of these starlets who will be coming home in the summer and what their future at the club could look like.

Thibaut Courtois

The Belgian goalkeeper is currently starring for Atletico Madrid in La Liga, and is one of the best goalkeeping prospect in the world. In his two seasons in Spain he has played 84 games, keeping 41 clean sheets, which is an incredibly high ratio. He is an unbelievable shot stopper and has total control of his box and defence.

Thibaut Courtois

I would personally argue that he is already better than Petr Cech and is only going to keep improving if he is given the opportunity to play more first-team football. There have been rumblings that he may just stay out in Spain for a couple more years but he is ready for Premier League action right away. Chelsea have leaked a lot of silly goals this year and Cech is not what he was a few years ago. In two years Courtois could well be considered the best in the world.

Romelu Lukaku

The Belgian striker is having a big season in the Premier League for West Brom. He has already scored 13 goals despite Steve Clarke’s bizarrely infrequent use of him. He is scoring at a rate of a goal every 106 minutes in a team where he isn’t surrounded by the likes of Hazard and Mata creating chances for him. Incredibly to look at him, he’s only 19. The comparison to Didier Drogba is not just because he plays for Chelsea but because he does play like Drogba when he first arrived in England.

Romelu Lukaku

His combination of pace and strength is ridiculous and his finishing is calm and composed. Look at his goal at Anfield where Daniel Agger bounced off him before he calmly slotted home. Chelsea have been criticised for loaning him out but it was the right decision. How much would a 19-year-old scoring in the Premier League at near enough a goal a game cost to buy? Something astronomical. But Chelsea will have him ready to lead the line for next year. He’ll be better than Demba Ba once settled in, and I won’t bother comparing him to Fernando Torres.

Kevin de Bruyne

The third Belgian, but probably the least known. However, he could well turn out to be the best of the bunch. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder combines express pace with trickery and goals. Think Hazard and you won’t go far wrong.

Kevin De Bruyne

In the Bundesliga at Werder Bremen this year he already has eight goals and six assists in a team where he is always going to be the main focus for opposition defences. Imagine the damage he could cause with Mata and Hazard distracting defences. He will be ready to play for the first team next year.

Nathaniel Chalobah

An Englishman for a change, 18-year- old deep-lying passer Chalobah is having an outstanding season in the Championship with Watford. With an almost frightening calmness on the ball and supreme balance and elegance, Chalobah glides around the midfield a bit like a Paul Scholes or Mousa Dembele, and has the full range of passing to match.

Nathaniel Chalobah

He has also started to pop up with more goals recently to add to his armoury. He isn’t quite ready for the Chelsea first team, but a year on loan in the Premier League would do the trick. Gianfranco Zola says he is the future of Chelsea’s midfield.

There are also the likes of defender Jeffrey Bruma and midfielders Josh McEachran and Lucas Piazon, who should all have a future in the first team picture with another season or two of football. Not forgetting Ryan Bertrand who seems to be being readied to take over at left back from Ashley Cole.

In a couple of years time they could have this; Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Bruma, Bertrand; Oscar, Chalobah; Hazard, Mata, de Bruyne; Lukaku.

The future is potentially very bright for Chelsea but it depends entirely on how they manage the situation. They need to have patience and faith in these youngsters and give them the opportunity they deserve. This would be best done by investing in and believing in a manager who has experience with such a project.

The ideal man to get would be Jurgen Klopp but a Michael Laudrup or even Jupp Heynckes would be good choices. If they do things properly and add a few other players elsewhere, then they could build a team to play the beautiful winning football that Roman Abramovich dreams of.

Chelsea’s Champions League triumph – written in the stars?

When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in July 2003 his main target was to see his side lift the Champions League. After Saturday’s dramatic final in Munich, the Russian billionaire’s dream has finally come true.

Many people will say that Chelsea were lucky to win the trophy; Bayern Munich completely dominated this final. The statistics in this case do not lie; the Germans had 35 shots compared to Chelsea’s nine and had 20 corners compared to just one from the west London outfit. This is where Bayern have only themselves to blame for not winning this final. They looked nervous in front of goal, particularly Mario Gomez, who wasted three golden chances in the first half and from those 20 corners they created very little mainly due to the poor delivery from Arjen Robben. Compare this to Chelsea however, whose one corner came in the 88th minute, and Juan Mata’s floated delivery was met by Didier Drogba, who showed great intent to win the ball ahead of the Munich defence.

If Chelsea had been beaten then there may well have been questions as to whether Roberto Di Matteo got his tactics right. His decision to start with Ryan Bertrand at left midfield would have been most under the microscope. The Italian trainer clearly did this to try and combat the threat of Robben and Lahm down that wing, but it seemingly backfired when Robben spent much of the first half controlling the game from the middle of the pitch and the opposite wing. Chelsea looked far better balanced when Malouda came on for Bertrand as a more natural left-sided midfielder.

The biggest tactical mistake of the night though may have come from Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes. As soon as Thomas Muller had put Bayern ahead in the 83rd minute, the Bundesliga team’s coach took him off and replaced him with the more defensive Daniel Van Buyten. This caused a major reshuffle for Bayern with the breaking up of Boateng and Tymoshchuk at centre back, who had both dealt well with Drogba, to allow Van Buyten into defence. This invited pressure onto the Bayern defence for the first time in the game and allowed Chelsea more of the ball for the final ten minutes.

There is a belief in football that sometimes a team’s name is already destined to be on a trophy before the final outcome has been reached. This was also spoken about when Liverpool won the tournament in 2005. Certainly there were instances along Chelsea’s route to glory that made you believe it was destiny for them to win it. Ashley Cole’s goal line clearance late on against Napoli that prevented them from falling 4-1 behind, the numerous Barcelona chances missed at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final and then missed penalties by two of the biggest names in world football, Messi and Robben, in the semi and the final.

The script of this final was clearly written for Didier Drogba also. In possibly his last game for Chelsea he came up with the stunning header for the equaliser. When Chelsea lost the final in 2008 to Manchester United, Drogba was sent off so was unable to take the decisive fifth penalty in that final which John Terry took and missed. This time though the Ivory Coast international was on the pitch and showed great coolness and composure in front of the Bayern fans to give his team the greatest prize in European club football.

What next for these two clubs though? Chelsea still do not have a permanent manager, but Di Matteo could not have done any more to put his name forward. But is he a big enough name and is the style of football that he has used good enough to satisfy Roman Abramovich? As for Bayern, major questions may now be asked of Heynckes. A few months ago they would have been eyeing up three trophies. Dortmund though have blown them away in the league through sheer consistency and then beat them for the fifth time in a row to win the domestic cup in Germany. Add to that losing on Saturday in front of their own fans and the board may decide it’s time for a change in Munich.

By Chris Newman

Chelsea’s Mata, Man United’s Evans and the undervalued Premier League XI for 2011-12

It is that time of the year when everywhere you look there is a Premiership Best XI or team of the season, but what about all those unsung heroes and subs that have contributed to their team’s success in one way or another? Here is Ninety Minutes Online’s Undervalued XI of 2011-12.

GK: Tim Howard – The former Manchester United shot stopper has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the division for some time now. Capable of excellent reflex saves and with a commanding presence, the United States international has lead the Everton defence in conceding just 39 goals all season, which has included keeping 12 clean sheets. Having played every Premier League game this term, the goalkeeper has once more proved invaluable to the Merseyside team.

RB: Bacary Sagna – With the Arsenal defence being inconsistent, this man has been their shining light. Excellent defensively and dangerous going forward, the full-back has come to the fore this season, and is just as effective as Kyle Walker, Micah Richards etc. Another leg break at the tail-end of the campaign is a massive blow for the Gunners, and Arsene Wenger will hope to have the France international fit for the start of next season.

CB: Branislav Ivanovic – With John Terry seemingly in the limelight on a weekly basis, Ivanovic has been there going about his work effectively. Contributing three goals to the cause, including the decider against Napoli in the Champions League, and armed with an array of defensive capabilities, the Serb’s versatility and combativeness has been showcased this term.

CB: Johnny Evans – Evans has been a squad player in recent seasons, but with injury to Nemanja Vidic the centre half has had a run in the team and finally had the chance to show what he is capable of. The Northern Ireland international has played 27 games this year, and has been the subject of praise from Sir Alex Ferguson.

LB: Leighton Baines – Despite Ashley Cole being considered by many as England’s number one left-back, Leighton Baines has had an excellent campaign and will push the Chelsea man for a starting jersey at Euro 2012. With a deadly left foot and excellent delivery, the Toffees defender has been linked with a move to Manchester United this summer.

RM: This position was a hard call, but it is going to Stephane Sessegnon of Sunderland. Assured on the ball and with an eye for goal to match, the attacking midfielder seems destined for bigger things. Ten assists and seven goals for The Black Cats this year has confirmed the attacker’s importance to the Stadium of Light outfit; it remains to be seen whether he will stay or move on to a top six club.

CM: With a mass of players to choose from, the first central midfielder is Moussa Dembele from Fulham. He is quickly becoming integral in the Cottagers’ set up and seems another player with potential for the big time. Martin Jol’s men have had a steady season, and with Dembele providing athleticism, stamina, tackling, and scoring an occasional goal, he really is a lynchpin in the side.

CM: Yohan Cabaye – With Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse hogging the headlines, the strikers’ supply line can be overlooked. Cabaye is a critical member of Alan Pardew’s starting XI, and the talented midfielder drives their possession game. With eight assists and four goals, the France international has been one of the signings of the season.

LM: This position goes to Juan Mata of Chelsea. His countryman David Silva has been phenomenal in Manchester City’s challenge for the title, but Mata at the other end of the country has provided 13 assists and 6 goals in Chelsea’s inconsistent season.

CF: Jermain Defoe – Despite starting on the bench in 20 games this year, Defoe has still contributed vital goals for Spurs. One of England’s deadliest finishers, the diminutive marksman may be looking for a move away from White Hart Lane if he is not assured more than a bit-part role for next term.

CF: Grant Holt – The Norwich City targetman has led the line for the newly-promoted side, scoring 14 goals this year, to keep the Canaries safely up on their return to the Premier League. A potential candidate for Euro 2012; as the second highest scoring Englishman in the top flight behind Wayne Rooney, Holt is sure to be in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts.

There were literally dozens of players to choose from when compiling this team; it was almost impossible to choose. We may be blessed with the Rooney’s, Bale’s, Aguero’s, and Van Persie’s, but the competitive nature of the league means there is a vast array of talent that can at times get overlooked.

By Stephen Reid

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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