How Chelsea Can Win the League, and Why They Probably Won’t. (Part 1)

Very excited to be asked by the lads to submit a guest post, let’s hope they will let me hang around a bit. As you can guess, I am true blue all the way through, however, this year’s campaign will be a tricky one for the west London boys. The following is a preview of the Blues upcoming season. I will start with the good.

The Reasons Why We Will See JT and Tubbylotti on the Winner’s Stand Come May:

The Essien factor

The Bison is back! There is no doubt that Michael Essien is a world class player, but the Ghanaian has only played in roughly 50 games for the Blues since 2007 due to ailing knees. When on the pitch he has produced several magical efforts including key FA Cup and Champions League performances, but can Chelsea really count on Essien for an entire season? The smart money says, no. Two major knee surgeries will do that to you. But when fit, Essien is just damn intimidating, see any Essien performance against Cesc Fabregas in the last 4 years. If Essien puts in a full season at Stamford Bridge Chelsea fans have every reason to think that his pace and incredible tackling will dominate any midfield-set that Chelsea will face.
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Why Bob Bradley At Villa Makes Sense

Bob Bradley has no Premiership or European managerial experience. He has never operated in the European transfer window. And his club coaching experience in MLS is hard to compare to the Premier League. Despite all of that, he makes a ton of sense for Villa.

There are a few atmospheric things working in his favor that have little to do with him.

First, he is easily gettable and comes cheap. He would jump at the job.

Second, the chairman would not have a manager that would pressure him into bankruptcy and would be able to control the finances by selling players they need to sell.

Third, he and US soccer is hot post World Cup. While Bradley has little experience in the European transfer market, there are very few people in soccer that have a better knowledge of the American talent pool. After the World Cup, this is now seen as a plus.

Fourth, the fan reaction has been more positive than I would have expected. Some say no way, the more delusional want Hiddink, but most sensible fans seem somewhat open to the idea. In Vital Villa poll on the next manager, Bradley is currently third with 12%, behind Hiddink 36% and Martin Jol 19%. That’s not a ringing endorsement, but since the other two aren’t really plausible that’s not too shabby.

Fifth, Villa are not in real danger of implosion. With O’Neill gone, Villa’s ambitions to challenge the top four are likely gone as well. Yet Villa also have the talent to avoid the drop should Bradley prove a disaster. This is what made Bradley a bit more of a risk at Fulham. The Cottagers are not as deep as Villa and a string of defeats and muddled performances under a new inexperienced manager and it is quite plausible that Fulham wouldn’t have the talent to lift itself out of the relegation battle. Yet Villa like Spurs a few years ago, have the talent to recover from a disasterous start. So in the event that Bob Bradley is a total failure – ie Villa get 2 points from their first 8 games as Spurs did under Juande Ramos – a change can be made to bring in a more veteran Premier League manager.

Yet, none of these make up for the fact that he still has no Premier League or European experience and that makes hiring him a real leap of faith. But a closer look at what Bradley’s attributes I think mitigates his lack of experience and makes him a safer bet than people realize and mitigates this a fair amount.

He is a motivator who controls the locker room. The come from behind spirit of the US, not just in the World Cup but throughout qualification, is a very good reflection on Bradley. When punched in the gut, Bradley’s teams responded. Additionally, there was little locker room drama or conflict throughout the entire World Cup cycle. A Premier League dressing room is a hell of a lot different than a more humble US locker room. At the very least he will get Villa motivated to play.
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O’Neill’s Late Departure – Makes Bradley A Very Plausible Option

Martin O’Neill’s shock resignation a week before the season has left Villa in the lurch. Finding a replacement that meets the new found expectations of Villa fans is not going to be easy.

Puff pieces are already being written portraying Martin O’Neill as the protagonist and Randy Lerner as the evil American owner that wouldn’t show the proper commitment by investing in the club. This is crap. Lerner has dumped a ton of money into what was a struggling Premier League club and given O’Neill, who is a great manager, the resources to compete. But there are limits. Rumors abound about O’Neill complaining about lack of transfer funds and conflict with the ownership over selling Gareth Barry and a willingness to sell James Milner to Manchester City for 20+ million and Ashley Young for there abouts. Frankly, if that is the reason why O’Neil resigned he was living on another planet and any Villa fan upset at American owner Randy Lerner should be slapped.

NOT every owner is as rich as a Middle Eastern oil barren or a Russian oligarch. Books sometimes have to be balanced. We are also not talking about a Manchester United here that expects to be not just on top in England but in world football. The idea that O’Neil should be patted on the head for not wanting to sell James Milner for 20 plus million is ridiculous. Think about it. For 25 million Villa could bank 10 million and probably sign Mezut Ozil for 15 mil.

Villa fans with visions of grandeur are dreaming of a high profile manager like Guus Hiddink (who has a job) fail to recognize that a degree of austerity is about to fall upon them. The economy is down, presumably so is Lerner’s willingness to excessively splash the cash. If O’Neill was willing to walk out because a lack of cash a high profile figure is not going to be recruited. But furthermore, even if it were possible to attract a glitz manager, the season starts in a week. All those high profile managers are gone or have been locked up. Martin Jol the former Spurs manager, has been locked up by Ajax after Fulham made a go at him. While Villa is a step up to a degree, I doubt this is persuasive enough so late in the day.
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Spurs Top 4 Finish Is Good For Premiership – From Big 4 to Great 8?

Overall, I think the biggest winner with Spurs dethroning one of the big four and fending off Man City’s riches is that the Premier league will be even more interesting next year. After a decade of dominance by the big four this reign of terror or era of harmony – depending on your perspective – may have given way to a new era of actual unpredictability in the Premiership.

With no Premier league clubs making the semifinals of the Champions league, with Man United staying in the title hunt despite seven losses, the top sides are just not as good as they were in the previous years. The financial crisis has clearly taken its toll on Manchester United and Liverpool. Both with highly leveraged American owners are struggling to splash the cash.

Man United despite being in the tile hunt and narrowly missing out on the Champions league semis, have at many times throughout the year looked shadows of their past selves and appear overly dependent on Wayne Rooney. They are in need of a talent injection. Arsenal’s few big purchases maybe due to Arsene Wenger’s frugality, but it may also be a result of a significant stadium debt burden. Chelski are doing fine in the cash department and as a result were able to win the league with a deep and talented squad. Yet with the talent at their disposal, one would have expected Ancioliti to have the league wrapped up a while ago.
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Spurs In Champions League – How They Did It

Not to pat myself on the back, but I had predicted Spurs to finish fourth as the season started. Much of this was simply due to my own homerness, but looking at the Spurs squad at the start of the season, the thing that was most notable about it was its depth. Spurs didn’t achieve top four because of one particular player, they got there because their depth.

Prior to the Man City-Spurs game yesterday there was a lot of talk that if City did reach Champions League it was due to their deep pockets essentially buying there way in. Spurs, while lacking the cash and the prestige to attract the high profile talent that City was able to bring in last summer, had been anything but frugal. Spurs had sold a lot of players, but they had also spent a very significant amount over the last five years. Unable to attract that established high profile players (both due to profile and wage demands), Spurs have often shelled out substantial sums for that up and comer who is supposedly about to be a star – the Darren Bent’s (16 mil), David Bentley’s (16 mil), Roman Pavlyuchenko (15 mil), Luka Modric (16 mil), Younes Kabul (8 mil), Kevin Prince Boateng (5 mil), Gareth Bale (5-10 mil), Dmitar Berbatov (7 mil) [disclaimer: there figures are based off memory]. Some of these players have become stars, some haven’t, others have seen mixed results.
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Assessing Altidore’s Year

I see that Martin Rogers at Yahoo is concerned about Altidore’s allegedly poor season at Hull with the head butt the “final embarassment.” I touched on the “head butt” incident yesterday, but is Rogers’ right that Jozy’s year was a disappointment:

Bradley goes into soccer’s greatest tournament with a first-choice forward who has managed just two goals this season and who failed to lock down a permanent starting role with one of the worst sides in the EPL.

I think, contrary to Rogers conclusion, that Jozy’s time at Hull was largely positive and that Bob Bradley going into the World Cup has a young player that took big strides this year and is much more of a complete player.

Let’s be clear, Jozy never set the league alight. He burst on the scene with an amazing first game, where he did everything but score. He then struggled to find his footing a bit in the fall, as he was in and out of the starting lineup and seemed to find his groove a bit just when Phil Brown got sacked. The last month of the season saw the new manager changing things up a bit.

But Jozy, contrary to Roger’s claims was a Hull mainstay. Jozy started 16 games and appeared in 12 others as a substitute. Remember he also missed a few games at the beginning of the year with visa issues and took a brief leave during the Haiti earthquake. Despite Rogers claim that Altidore couldn’t lock down a spot, he had started more games than Jan Vennegor of Hesselink. This is a lot of PT for a 20 year old Premier League newbee. I think that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.
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Overreacting to Jozy’s Red

Jozy Altidore received a red card at the close of the first half against Sunderland for “head butting” Scotsman Alan Hutton – queue the commentary of Jozy as an immature thug that is wasting away his talent.

Please.

The red card came after a mêlée in sued following Hutton provocatively picking up the ball and throwing it at Jozy as he laid face down on the ground. While Hutton’s act caused no bodily harm it was a deliberate effort to both disrespect and provoke. If this were baseball Hutton would have gotten a fastball in his ear the next time up. Jozy proceeded to get up and aggressively push Hutton and when leaning forward clashed heads with Hutton. Now by definition this was a “head butt” as the English media have pointed out. Steve Bruce went so far as to describe Jozy’s act as a deliberate effort to inflict “grievous bodily harm.”

I think this is bogus. Altidore did “head butt” Hutton, but from my viewing this was entirely unintentional. As Jozy started pushing Hutton he leaned forward and they clashed heads, with Jozy’s head lowered the contact had the effect of a head butt and Hutton went down as if he were shot. Now of course, only Jozy knows if it was intentional or not, but I find it hard to believe that Jozy, an American, would instinctively head butt someone. We aren’t Scottish after all. So in my view the red card offense, was not a deliberate act of aggression.

This doesn’t make Jozy’s red card stupid. Jozy got duped into losing his cool and that sense showed his immaturity. Could he have handled it better? Yes. But assuming the head butt was unintentional, Jozy had every reason to get in Hutton’s face and if heads did not clash both would have likely received yellow cards – something that would have been quite advantageous to Hull since a defender on a yellow means much more than a striker.

Alas things went poorly and Jozy deserves criticism. But a few have gone way over the top, such as Eric Altshule at MLS Talk, who wrote that:

Jozy Altidore is a wonderful soccer player from the neck down. Unfortunately, he is gaining a deserved reputation as a player with a million dollar body and a ten cent brain. Jozy needs to put away the twitter, stop with the silly antics on the field and become the outstanding professional he has the potential to be. Otherwise, he is destined to become another American journeyman player in Europe whose only honors will be the Clint-Mathis-Memorial-What-Could-Have-Been Award.

Now Eric writes some great stuff, but this is asinine.
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