Tag Archives: Chelsea

Review – Champions League 2010/11

Another guest writer, John Burn-Murdoch, throws his hat into the ring with a fabulously detailed review of this year’s UEFA Champions League, which has produced thrills, heart-break and some delicious football.

Last night the 2010/11 edition of the UEFA Champions League came to a close. A thrilling 90 minutes of football saw Barcelona crowned thoroughly worthy winners, but theirs is not the only great Champions League story to have played out this past year…

On June 30th2010 the current iteration of the tournament got underway when Montenegrin champions FK Rudar Pljevlja beat San Marino’s Tre Fiori 3-0. Rudar won the second leg 4-1 in front of a crowd of roughly 400 partisan supporters and thus progressed to the second qualifying round in this, their first ever season in European competition, giving the 2010/11 Champions League its first great night.

First game of the Champions League season. Tre Fiore of San Marino and Rudar of Montenegro battled it out. Unfortunately, neither side made it to the group stages.

Other great sagas began before we reached the tournament proper, and among these was that of provincial Portuguese side, Braga. Making their Champions League debut after a wonderful second place finish in the league, Braga made their way past first Celtic, and then Spanish heavyweights Sevilla, as they won a place in the group stage. After a hard-fought 1-0 win at their rock-hewn stadium, Braga travelled to the ancient Spanish capital and pulled of a staggering 4-3 win, thanks largely to a poacher’s hat-trick from Brazilian forward Lima.

The group stages threw up a number of wonderfully entertaining clashes of their own, beginning in group A where Champions League novices Tottenham were drawn alongside reigning champions Inter Milan. A superb performance from Gareth Bale – albeit for the losing side – at the San Siro precipitated media hyperbole of all new proportions, but will live long in the memories of any and all who were watching. A 100% home record for Spurs, including a hard fought victory over the champions at White Hart Lane, saw them finish top of their group and set in motion a memorable – if brief – European journey for all associated with the club.

Elsewhere, Braga’s adventure continued, and among the biggest talking points of the round was their humbling defeat of English powerhouses Arsenal. With Shakhtar Donetsk breathing down their necks, Arsene Wenger’s side needed a win to ensure that they remained on course for top spot in the group, but despite fielding a relatively strong side they were caught by surprise, and having thoroughly demolished Braga in the reverse fixture slumped to a 2-0 loss. While the Portuguese club bowed out at this stage of the tournament, they had given an excellent account of themselves during their short time at Europe’s top table and went on to round off a wonderful season by reaching the final of the Europa League, seeing off the likes of Liverpool along the way.

Moving into the knockout stages, the round of sixteen provided plenty of talking points, with two of the biggest involving North London clubs. Having slipped to second place in Group H, Arsenal knew they would be drawn against a club who had won their group. Nevertheless, Wenger and co would certainly have hoped not to be drawn against Barcelona. Billed by the media as an exhibition of footballing artistry, the first leg provided one of the most thrilling five minute segments of football on offer in this season’s Champions League. Goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin turned the match on its head and had the oft-subdued Emirates transformed into a cauldron of noise when the Russian fired past Victor Valdes. The second leg will be equally memorable for Arsenal fans, but for contrasting reasons. Having just about held their own for almost an hour, the controversial dismissal of van Persie turned what was already a difficult task into an impossibility, and the Catalans went on to seal a relatively comfortable victory. This match was also notable for Lionel Messi’s first goal, surely the goal of this season’s tournament – yes, I personally rate it above that goal in the first Clasico. Demonstrating levels of technique staggering even for the little genius himself, Messi collected Andres Iniesta’s perfectly timed through ball and deftly clipped the ball over the advancing form of Manuel Almunia, leaving himself the simple task of firing into an empty net.

Neighbours Tottenham had already humbled one Milan side and were given the opportunity to complete something of a clean sweep when they were drawn against the rossoneri. A fiery first leg saw Spurs move ahead through Peter Crouch’s late goal, but was arguably notable more for the verbal – and ultimately physical – exchanges between Milan’s snarling midfielder Gennaro Gattuso and Harry Redknapp’s assistant manager Joe Jordan. A disciplined performance back in London saw Tottenham complete an historic victory and thus reach the last eight, out-lasting arch rivals Arsenal in doing so, much to the delight of their supporters.

Tottenham Hotspur were refreshingly exciting and successful in their first ever Champions League campaign.

Another epic in the last sixteen took place in Munich, where Leonardo’s Inter Milan overturned a 1-0 deficit from the home leg, securing their place in the quarter-finals through a last minute winner at the Allianz Arena. Having trailed 2-1 for much of the game and watched as Bayern spurned chance after chance to extend their lead, Inter equalised through Wesley Sneijder and then snatched the victory in the dying minutes when Samuel Eto’o played in Goran Pandev, the Macedonian firing emphatically past Thomas Kraft before racing away in delirious celebration.

The quarter-finals were dominated by the shattering of dreams. Tottenham’s escapades were cut short by a far superior Real Madrid side, much fancied Shakhtar were outclassed by Barcelona, Chelsea’s domestic tribulations caught up with their European form, and deluded Inter Milan fans saw their side unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament by Germany’s sole remaining representatives Schalke.

Tottenham fans were delighted to have drawn Madrid and having seen off one-time European giants Milan, were confident of causing another upset. Jose Mourinho had other ideas; however, and to make matters worse an ex-Arsenal man was the chief protagonist in the first leg.

Shakhtar’s fearless attacking football, and Brazilian-heavy line-up were attracting a lot of fans – myself included – and some were even going as far as to tip them to cause the upset to end all upsets and dump out Pep Guardiola’s team of footballing deities. Any such ideas were quickly laid to rest at the Camp Nou in the first leg; though, as the Catalans tore through the Ukrainian champions, opening the scoring inside two minutes and running out 5-1 winners on the night. There wasn’t even the consolation of a home result for Shakhtar, a Messi goal enough to give Barcelona a 1-0 win at the Donbass Arena.

Coming, as it did, relatively soon after Chelsea’s victory over United in the league, the first leg of the all-English tie took place with fans of the Blues optimistic that Ancelotti’s side were on their way back to something bearing a resemblance to their early season form. Unfortunately, such notions proved short-lived. Chelsea were undone by the excellence of Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, and despite their best efforts thereafter, succumbed to a home defeat. Their task was always going to be difficult at Old Trafford, but after Didier Drogba levelled proceedings at one apiece their fans once again dared to dream. Ji-Sung Park was the destroyer on this occasion, the Korean securing United’s passage to the last four and piling on the misery in an already disappointing campaign for the Blues.

Ever since their group matches against Tottenham, Inter’s defending had come in for criticism, but no-one was expecting quite the demolition that took place at the San Siro. In front of their own fans Leonardo’s side shipped a staggering five goals and left the pitch at full time to jeers having contrived to lose 5-2 despite twice taking the lead. The one positive for Interistas was Dejan Stakovic’s sublime 45 yard volley which soared into the net after Manuel Neuer had raced off his line to intercept a through ball. The second leg offered little by way of consolation, though at least Julio Cesar only had to pick the ball out of the net on two occasions.

The semi-finals were dominated by the Clasicos which made up part of the now infamous series of fixtures between the two arch rivals who met four times over eighteen days. The first leg will be recalled as an example of what football should not be about, and was marked by play-acting posturing and – ok, I’m stretching it for the sake of alliteration and tricolon – pugilism. The negative narratives born out of the disrespect and ill-discipline shown by both sets of players throughout the match and by Mourinho in his post-match comments have scarred the fixture and for years to come it will be all too easy for critics of Barcelona to hark back to “that night in Madrid”. Messi scored a goal that was glorious in its intricacy and yet also breathtaking in its simplicity – guiding the ball past the obstacles in his path and slipping it beyond a final obstruction on its way into the back of the net. On another occasion this would have been the iconic image associated with the 2010/11 Champions League, but the other eighty-nine-and-a-half minutes put paid to that. While the second leg was played out in a less heated atmosphere and showcased two highly talented sides playing attacking football, there was never any hope that it could eclipse what had gone before, and the 1-1 result at the Camp Nou will soon be consigned to the history books – that is if it is not already forgotten.

The other semi-final passed without much fuss, with the headlines largely devoted to the excellence of Schalke’s stopper Manuel Neuer, and more specifically his heroics in the first leg. It has widely been written that United’s performance in Gelsenkirchen was their best of this season, and the fact that they were limited to only two goals pays tribute in itself to Neuer’s magnificence. The second leg was less enjoyable from his perspective as United ran out 4-1 winners on the night. One of the more lasting narratives from these ties concerned neither United or Schalke, this being the assertion that Schalke’s dominance over Inter and subsequent inferiority to United showed how far Serie A has fallen away from its competitor leagues of late, and more specifically how far Inter have fallen since winning the competition twelve months ago.

Manuel Neuer's one-man resistance of Man Utd's irresistible display came to an end eventually

And then we have the final. While I am not anti-Manchester United, there was something satisfying, something right, about the way the match played out. Having watched a wonderful Barcelona side fall to Mourinho’s negative – albeit superbly well drilled and tactically exquisite – Inter side last season, for such a beautiful footballing outfit not to receive the honour it so thoroughly deserved yet again would have been a travesty of aesthetic justice. I found the opening ten minutes, when United gave as good as they got and looked in fact to be on top, just as enthralling as the eighty that followed, but to see such a brilliant group of players playing to the best of their ability and receiving the rewards that they so richly deserved appealed to me above all else. Pedro giving Van der Sar ‘the eyes’ for his goal, Rooney’s composed and unerring finish, Messi’s Ronaldinho-esque footwork in the lead up to Villa’s strike, Xavi’s metronomic conducting of proceedings from the middle of the park. Tonight was one of those rare occasions in football where everything happens as it is meant to happen.

FC Barcelona - Champions League Winners 2010/11

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Arsenal Season Review – 2010/11 Edition

We know him as 15yearoldgooner or, mysteriously, ‘Sam’. Either way, he’s TheMakéléléRole’s first ever guest writer. And we couldn’t have asked for a better start. Here, he writes passionately, analytically and – perhaps most impressive – realistically about Arsenal’s topsy-turvy season.

As another season falters to an uninspiring halt, Arsenal fans everywhere will be analysing what caused our failure to lift a trophy.

Tea Lady - not her best season

Tea Lady - not her best season

Was it the players? The manager? The tea lady? All three? It’s difficult to tell.

While there were amazing moments, like the victories over Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United at the Emirates, those moments were overshadowed to crushing defeats in the Carling Cup final, FA Cup, Champions League, and mostly, the Premier League.

There are a few games that have been perceived as the moment things all started to go wrong. The incredible 4-4 draw against Newcastle, when we gave up a four goal lead in the second half. The 2nd leg of the Champions League knockout round when Barcelona overcame us in disappointing fashion – the outrageous sending off of van Persie a huge factor. Or of course, the heart-breaking defeat to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final.

I was there that day – it was my first game that I had attended away from home. Without Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, we were always going to find it a little more difficult, but still, in the build-up to the game, it had seemed like we were the inevitable winners. Some had even discussed who would be lifting the trophy ‘when’ we won. That air of confidence/arrogance may have cost us dearly. In the end, Birmingham were clearly more up for it than us.

That sentence could have summed up a lot of our games previously. The woeful 3-1 defeat to Stoke; the miserable 2-0 loss at Chelsea and, of course, the shocking 3-2 collapse against Tottenham.

In previous years it had been our away form that had let us down, with our form at home strong. The tables turned somewhat this season, as we maintained a formidable away record, while turning in some poor performances at home. The 3-2 defeat to West Brom at the Emirates was a good example of how bad we’ve been at times this season.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we have had our moments – despite the outcome of the tie on aggregate, the Barcelona game should go down in Arsenal history; indeed, I will never forget that night. Right now, the moment when Andrey Arshavin curled home the winner late on is my favourite memory of my 15 years. Laurent Koscielny’s headed goal to beat Everton at the Emirates on an evening of injustice was also a high point.

But the irrevocable feeling of this season is about what could have been. We could have so easily been champions. Taking nothing away from Manchester United of course – they’ve deserved it, as they’ve capitalised on other teams’ mistakes. We haven’t. The amount of missed opportunities is almost unbearable.

And for once, we can’t really make the excuse of injuries. While Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas have missed fair chunks of the season, we’ve had enough resources to win the league. In the make-or-break games, like Bolton, Tottenham or Liverpool late on in the season, we’ve had pretty much full strength teams, but we didn’t win.

The question is why – why could a team that could beat the world’s greatest side fail to win against Bolton? It’s either down to the manager or the players (we’ll have to let the tea lady off, although I have it on good authority that she’s used tea bags beyond their expiration dates once or twice) – or perhaps both. Wenger was maybe at fault for not making the most of the January window and not giving our tactics a little more variation. Some players were maybe at fault for not pulling their weight, while others – van Persie, Wilshere – put absolutely 100% into our title challenge.

RVP and Wilshere - The only two who gave 100%?

And now it seems like we’re coming fourth. How we managed to do so in what seemed to be a two-horse race, I don’t know. Next season will perhaps be Arsene’s last chance to deliver, despite all he’s done in the past. And you could forgive me for being pessimistic, but to be honest, I’m just as optimistic as ever. Come on Arsenal.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and if you’d like to see/hear more from Sam, you can find him at @15yearoldgooner on Twitter, or if 140 Carraghers (characters) aren’t enough for you (which we can well understand), get your head round the longer form of the game, at: http://15yearoldgooner.blogspot.com/

Message to Chelsea fans: Why Patience is a Virtue

Who can tell me what happened on the 16th of May, 2010, almost exactly a year ago? TheMakéléléRole can, because it was there. If some of you need your memories jogged, Lampard chanted ‘Didier Drogba, lalalala’, Ancelotti sang ‘Volare, wooaaahh! Cantare, wooaaahh’ John Terry croaked out a rendition of ‘We’re makin’ ‘istory’, and thousands of Chelsea fans roared along with them, throwing celery and decibels in equal measure at the open-topped bus which was carrying the Premier League and FA Cup trophies. TheMakéléléRole had spent the day before at Wembley watching Chelsea win the FA Cup and the weekend before watching them demolish Wigan at Stamford Bridge to win the Premier League. The man in charge was hailed as a genius, having guided Chelsea to a famous and unprecedented Double.

Ancelotti singing 'Volare' - 16th May 2010

That man was, of course, Carlo Ancelotti. Yet, one year on, many Chelsea fans are now harrumphing and murmuring their way towards an ‘unacceptable’ second place in the League Formerly Known as the Best League in the World™. How can they be so inclined to forget something that happened less than a year ago? Have they forgotten the first 4 seasons in the Premier League when Chelsea were in the dreaded bottom half? What about the seasons in the 80s when Chelsea weren’t even dining at English football’s top table? What TheMakéléléRole is trying to get at is that if there is one thing out of the innumerable  ‘gear-grinders’ that currently plague top-flight football, there is one that grinds not only TMR’s gears but also its brakes, pistons and axels. That is fickle, spoilt fans.

The main point of the article (which will not have been obvious from TMR’s indecipherable ranting so far) is that patience is a commodity that must be thought of on the same level as money in terms of importance. The easy examples of patience paying off are those of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, who took 6 seasons to win his first league title and can now count 12 (presuming United don’t go all Devon Loch on our ass), as well as FA Cups, League Cups, and Champions League trophies. Arsene Wenger, despite recent form, has been successful as Arsenal manager (and if you don’t agree with TMR, kindly leave the premises before you are escorted off by our bodyguard, Geremi). Even if we take out the money, have a look at David Moyes and what he has done at Everton when backed by his chairman and fans.

However, more importantly, let’s go back to Carlo Ancelotti. TMR really enjoys the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’, and it is rarely as apt as it is now for Chelsea fans. If Ancelotti is sacked, Chelsea will be back at Square One, just like 2 years ago when he took over. TheMakéléléRole wonders whether, realistically, Chelsea could hire a manager this summer who would win the Double straight away, in their first season at the club? Villas-Boas , the Porto manager, seems an attractive choice.

Hey guys, remember that time when we hired that young Portuguese manager who came in, wowed us all, and won Chelsea their first League title for 50 years, the FA Cup and the League Cup twice? Well 4 months after winning the FA Cup trophy, with captain John Terry and Frank Lampard draped all over him like the cheap hookers, he walked away from the club (albeit with one of ‘Oh sorry, did I just barge into you by mistake?’ shoves from Roman) after three games where Chelsea failed to win. Laughable.

Finally, TheMakéléléRole wants to mention another issue – Fernando Torres. Oh, Fernando. How to solve a problem like Fernando? Frankly, our first thought is to give him one of our speacial and famous bear-hugs. But we’re glad you asked, because TMR has ideas. Call us crazed, but we’d like to give him a little more time until we call him a flop, a failure, a waste of money. And here is why: bear in mind, if you will, the general theory that players who play long seasons for their clubs, pick up knocks, and then proceed to play in major international tournaments, tend to be exhausted at the start of the season. Then bear in mind, if you can stand the thought of cutting the man some slack, the fact that in 2008, Fernando Torres (after scoring 24 league goals in his debut season at Liverpool) went to Euro 2008 and came back victorious. In 2008/2009 he tore his hamstring, Sellotaped it back together, then the Sellotape ripped a little bit and then he picked up an ankle injury for good measure. Torres then proceeded to go to South Africa for the Confederations Cup. Back at Liverpool, injuries plagued him further, not helped by The Waiter depending on him so badly that he was often rushed back from injury, a sure-fire way of exacerbating the problem.  Of course, that summer he was back in South Africa becoming a World Champion, before getting straight back into the thick of it this season with more injuries and the occasional goal. We could also go on to mention that Fernando has been playing under the most immense pressure since the age of 17, when he was thrown in at the deep end at Athletico Madrid.

Fernando Torres scores his first goal for Chelsea vs West Ham

Now TMR is patiently disposed.  It always has been and that’s why people like it. But even if we weren’t, we reckon it would be within reason to suggest that this man has been under more physical and mental pressure in his career so far than we would experience if we lived to 200 years old. What we suggest is that we give Fernando the summer off for the first time in 4 years, let him blow the top off a couple of San Miguels and get the hair back to its former glory (incidentally, is this the first time that hair has been the subject of footballing pathetic fallacy? So beautiful when scoring for fun, so dark, dank and lifeless these days) and then let’s see if he doesn’t repay us by scoring 40 goals next season, firing Chelsea to League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League glory. And hell, TheMakéléléRole is feeling generous, so we’re going to let Carlo Ancelotti stay a little longer as well, because he’s such a nice man. And if not, well, let’s just sack them both. And get Ray Wilkins and Zola back. They’ll win it all for us.

TMR doesn’t know what Chelsea’s fickle and impatient fans like to do to calm themselves, but we suspect it involves the coming together of darts and pictures of Ancelotti/Torres/Kalou/Mikel/Bosingwa and everyone else who is a massive waste of space, isn’t fit to wear the shirt/tight-fitting hand-made Italian suit etc. TheMakéléléRole’s message to these fans: go and do some dart-throwing, get all that anger out of your system, and then let’s give this ‘patience’ thing a try. Oh, and be careful what you wish for…

Welcome to TheMakéléléRole

Hello and welcome to TheMakéléléRole, my first foray into blogging.

This is an exciting new football blog, without a particular theme à la Les Rosbifs and The Seventy Two. Those blogs are an example of blogs that, while being brilliantly written (that goes without saying), also follow a very specific theme (Englishmen abroad and The Football League respectively. Having a theme requires a regular and specific work ethic and passion. TheMakéléléRole, for the moment at least, will be more general. The main reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, it is not clear to me at this time of my ‘blogging career’ that there is one particular, specific path for me to follow. I am still learning about the beautiful game on a global scale, and as such am still discovering new footballing cultures, rivalries and styles of play. Secondly, working 9-5, Monday through to Friday is not a facilitatory way of living when trying to keep a consistent blog running. Luckily, come October I shall be a student studying French, and as such should have some time on my hands.

On a long term scale, I have a utopian vision of how this blog ends up and, true to its name, it mirrors the career of the only man to have a position named after him: Claude Makélélé. Let me run you through this dreamlike hallucination:

Currently, I am grafting through my youthful days at Brest (or the blogging equivalent). Then Nantes will provide a step up, where I’ll discover the real pleasure of blogging. Nantes will develop me and encourage me, maturing me until I’m ready to play at a high level. A year in Marseille and I’m ready to go abroad, though big European clubs still don’t rate me as highly as I rate myself. I reluctantly go to Celta Vigo, but enjoy a wonderful 2 seasons alongside Mostovoi, Karpin and Salgado.

Then, like all hallucinations, we reach the part that seems so believable yet ridiculous – a few years at Real Madrid and Chelsea, filled with wonderful performances, adoration from the fans and, finally, recognition from critics and colleagues. I’ve made it, and I can afford to retire to my hometown club, with numerous cars, houses and superinjuctions. Maybe, one day, I’ll even be unique enough to have something named after me. The Maxwell Tricolon sounds like it could work…

But let’s cross that myriad, that phalanx of bridges when we get to them. For the moment, I should probably start writing.

This was the ‘End of Level Boss’, so if you’ve got this far, congratulations. I think I’m going to like you. Go to level 2.