Between The Lines

Between the Lines

Posts tagged chelsea

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Chelsea the Favourites, but Hazards Lay Ahead

Following Arsenal’s impressive victory against a distinctly preseason looking Man City, the start of the season proper is now upon us. While the Community Shield rarely gives substantial clues to the destiny of the coming season’s Premier League title, it usually does give an impression of how prepared two of the likely competitors are, going into the the opening weekend. As such, Arsenal unsurprisingly look ready for one of their early season sprints, while City look as though they’re prepared to pace themselves, especially with key players yet to return to full fitness. 

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The Importance of Statistics

Recently on the website football365.com, regular pundit John Nicholson wrote a diatribe against the modern obsession with statistics and claimed that they can only illuminate pundits and the fans on the approaches of teams rather than yielding any light on what actually happens. He warned against the obsession to equate possession stats with performance and said that what is important is how the team uses that possession. He didn’t go as far as to extol the age old adage that the only statistic that matters is how many goals each side scored, but he did deny the priority that statistics seem to have taken in modern football analysis when saying that “no stats will ever prove that Team A plays better football than Team B but they can illuminate how they choose to play and what the consequences of those choices are”.

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Top Quality Football Overshadowed

Yesterday’s clash between Man Utd and Chelsea was the first genuine title clash of the season. With the title race looking to be a scrap between the Manchester clubs and Chelsea (Arsenal and Tottenham both have a lot to prove to suggest that they can compete with those three), Man Utd went to Stamford Bridge needing points with Chelsea having set an impressive pace so far this season. Chelsea so far this season had showed a flamboyance to go with the famed Champions League winning resilience. New signings Hazard and Oscar have combined with the excellent Mata and the improving Torres to play with a zip and pace that has been missing from previously more bombastic Chelsea sides. Man Utd haven’t struggled for goals either – nor should they with such a plethora of goalscorers in their squad – but defensive frailties (especially in the first halves of games) has made their season a flawed one so far. With two sides designed to attack, this match was set to be entertaining, and it certainly disappoint in that regard.

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Big Guns Blazing

This weekend’s Premier League action saw wins for all of last year’s top 5 as the elite are all finding form after the opening skirmishes. Chelsea continue to lead the way as goals from Torres, Lampard, Hazard and Ivanovic marked a ferocious response after falling behind to Grant Holt’s opener. The movement between the likes of Oscar, Hazard and most of all Mata was mesmeric at times. The interplay leading to Lampard’s goal in particular showed that this year’s Chelsea crop have the players to play the intelligent, possession based football that chairman Abramovich has for so long craved. They remain four points clear at the top and are carrying plenty of momentum having so far remained unbeaten this season.

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Malaga in danger of doing a Portsmouth?

Last summer it seemed that Malaga were poised to become the biggest threat to el Classico dominance in La Liga. Sheikh al Thani bought the kind of funds needed to pose a threat to the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona whose dominance is partly fuelled by the disproportionately large shares of television money that the two great clubs annually receive in comparison to other Spanish clubs. With Valencia prevented from genuinely challenging them for a number of years by their perennially precarious financial situation, Malaga had the foreign investment that is probably needed to genuinely challenge. The signings of Toulalan, Joaquin, Mathijsen and Santi Cazorla from Villarreal among others, were a signal of intent. With former Villarreal and Real Madrid Pelligrini in charge, Malaga were certainly building a team to gain entry to the Champions League. And they did. Well they finished 4th allowing them the chance to enter the competition via what can be the tricky playoffs (they may end up having to play Italy’s fourth best team (Udinese) to qualify). So the first step towards challenging for the title should be taken – Champions League football. And yet, this summer has seen zero transfers in with rumours that they are unable to pay wages and owe other clubs money from transfers. There are rumours that they are going to have to sell their best players to raise funds to eradicate these quite serious problems – Cazorla has notably been linked with a move to Arsenal in the last couple of days.

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Can PSG challenge in Europe?

There’s no doubt about it. Money can buy you trophies. Three titles, a Champions League and various FA and Carling Cups for Chelsea and a title and FA Cup victory already for City. While Man Utd have undoubtedly been successful without the luxury of a billionaire owner it’s hardly as though they’ve not been able to spend money over the last decade. In Spain Barca and Madrid dominate the La Liga television money thus giving them a significant head start over all of their rivals, while in Scotland Celtic and (until recently) Rangers have been able to dominate the SPL for decades on end due to their larger revenues and fanbases. France is no stranger to the influence of money such was the financial aid to Lyon’s domination of Ligue 1 during the 00s. Now it’s PSG, under their Qatari owners, who are splashing the cash out at similar levels to Madrid and City. They somehow contrived to finish second last season, being beaten by the relatively tiny Montpellier, but in signing Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Thiago Silva already this season (while Montpellier’s stars are being bought by teams abroad) PSG are such strong favourites to win the title this year that you might as well hand it over now – there’s less chance of Woking FC winning the FA Cup according to some (albeit fictional) punters. Such is the money spent by PSG that Ligue 1 is but a dot on their ambitions – to spend the money PSG have already spent on the kind of players they have suggests European ambitions. But is it feasible that a team from a league that is decent but hardly of the level of La Liga or the Premier League to be able to sustain such mammoth ambitions?

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One month to go, what can be done to stop City?

So it’s a month or so until the football’s back and Premier League 2012/2013 begins. With the England vs South Africa test series, the Olympics and Wimbledon a couple of weeks back filling the football gap between the end of the Euros and the start of the upcoming season, there’s no real cause for complaint.  But after one of the most exhilarating seasons ever concluding with that ridiculous Aguero title winning goal, Chelsea’s fairytale Champions League victory and Spain’s tiki-taka masterclass at the Euros, there’s plenty of reason for excitement. Strangely, in comparison to previous summers, the behemoth that is the transfer window has not been so prominent. City seem relatively content with their title-winning squad, as do Madrid in Spain, Man Utd seem determined to go with youth and the Venkys no longer have being in the Premier League to aid their fantastical attempts to entice Ronaldinho and David Beckham to Ewood Park (Danny Murphy’s a fine coup though and Nuno Gomes!). The biggest money spenders this summer have been Paris Saint German with the bombastic signings of Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic, while Chelsea look determined to build on the European victory and also seem to be attempting to build a new post-Drogba brand of football relying on speed and youth rather than the Drog’s sheer power. It would seem then, apart from Chelsea, we have no reason to expect much change amid the top of the table tussles. How, with a month to go, can this all change?

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