This isn’t intended to be a list of excuses from a True Blue apologist. Chelsea lost the league, and deservingly so, two months into the season with their worst run of games in 14 years. We briefly threatened towards the end, and put United on the hot seat, but the Red Devils delivered a stunning masterclass that reminded everyone just why the league title will be heading to Old Trafford even if this United side are from all-conquering champions.
A Jinxed Uniform
A lot of Chelsea fans questioned the inclusion of red streaks on the collar, and the sleeve edges of Chelsea’s official jersey. It was in honor of the Pensioners, the bedrock of our club’s support. But something still felt out of place. The Blues were suddenly not entirely “blue”. Now call me superstitious, but when we’re distinguished from the erstwhile Big 4, on the basis of our unique electric blue color – the honorable thing to do, would be to stick with it. If we’d wanted to support a side in red, we’d be wrestling between Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. It’s never a good idea to tempt the gods of fate, by wearing your characteristic blue shade lined by blood-red. With half the team making the medical staff earn their wages, throughout the season, you tend to get paranoid and superstitious in retrospect.
A Tricky End Of Season Schedule
It might sound silly expecting people to buy the idea that Chelsea ought to have faced United at Old Trafford earlier in the season, probably even with an injury-ridden squad. But having to play United on their turf, at the end of the season, when the onus was on us to win was asking for trouble. We might have a pretty decent away record, but United would always go into this game as favorites. Even if Chelsea had done a Liverpool, and beaten United convincingly at home, it remains to be seen if the Blues would’ve beaten Everton at Goodison Park. David Moyes’s men have had the measure of Chelsea for several seasons now, and it would take an extremely blinkered view to pretend that clash was going to be a stroll in the park (pardon the pun) for Carlo Ancelotti.
From the moment he scored against us, in the Community Shield, you knew United had found themselves a star in the making. Not only was he a star, he hit the ground running from Day One. The closest Chelsea ever came to pulling off a Hernandez this season, was when it landed David Luiz in the winter transfer window. Not too little, mind you, but certainly too late. Hernandez has run circles around the Blues’ defense, and is perceived as an eternal threat, even if his game at Stamford Bridge was not up to his usual high standards. Having Hernandez in your line of sight, keeps you wary. And a wary defender, is easy pickings for Wayne Rooney. United found a strike partnership that works – after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Chelsea have found nobody to partner Drogba, and Torres is an expensive replacement for the Ivorian, while Anelka has gone missing in action.
The Defensive Midfielder Role
Chelsea, for all their maneuvring in the transfer windows and their ability to spend the big bucks, have been strangely uninterested when it comes to purchasing someone for the Makalele role. John Obi Mikel is unreliable at best, capable of wowing audiences on one day and making headlines the next for all the wrong reasons. Ramires, whose purpose remains a mystery to all, is another poor buy. The Blue Kenyan, from Brazil, lacks the physicality or the sense to play in such a crucial role. Chelsea need to scour the market and find an established star for that position, in the summer, even if it means having to sell Mikel who would be surplus to requirements
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to blame him for not setting the scoresheet alight, or disrupting the team after his arrival. I’m blaming him for both our losses, when we played Liverpool. When Chelsea played Liverpool at Anfield earlier this season, the misfiring Red Torres suddenly put on his scoring boots, ostensibly with a view to impressing Roman Abramovich into making a move for him. He scored two goals, and inspired the Reds in their demolition of us Blues. Three points lost there that would come back to haunt us. Then after the purchase of Torres, Ancelotti committed the cardinal sin of fielding the Spaniard in the starting line-up against the visiting Liverpool side. As if Kenny Dalglish’s men needed anymore prodding for such a big clash, Torres then claimed it was his destiny to score against his former team. He didn’t, but he more than fired up Carragher and company to exact revenge on us for prizing their prize asset from their arms. Another three points down the drain.
Carlo’s Plan B
What’s common to Carlo’s Plan B, the continent of Atlantis, dragons and Bigfoot? None of them exist. The Italian may have an enviable record in the Champions League, with Milan, but is almost always found wanting in the domestic league format. Carlo Ancelotti, is a man completely at sea, if his first team fails to turn up. You’ll barely see an attempt from him to change things around, and bring on a game-changing, high-impact substitution. In fact, you’re more likely to see him shoot himself and the team in the foot, by taking off the team’s best performer in a crucial stretch of the game. Without Ray Wilkins to assist him, and Michael Emenalo, a man whose counsel the Italian clearly does not trust, staring blankly into space on the bench, Carlo is fighting a lone battle that he does not have the resources to win. Also, the Italian style of gradually building your game into a tempo is an invitation to get shot dead with your pants around your ankles., in the English Premier League.
This might seem like the most obvious of the points, because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Chelsea’s already lean squad is weighed down by a bunch of overpaid, under-performing over-the-hill stars and uninspiring bit-players. A cursory glance at the squad will reveal big names like Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda among the stars weighing the Blues down. Jose Bosingwa, Yossi Benayoun and Obi Mikel might be mentioned in the same breath too. But yet, there remains the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. No, it’s not Ashley Cole, who was to many a surprising inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year. It’s Michael Essien. The Ghanaian has been a woeful performer, bringing little to the side in terms of physicality or goal scoring. Gone are those long-range scorchers and the bossy presence in the midfield. Now you have a man, seemingly only interested in fighting his media-obsessed father. Unless Michael Essien reclaims the Makelele role with aplomb, he just might find himself on the bench next season. There’s only so much you can ride on the basis of stats.
The FIFA World Cup
The tournament blew Wayne Rooney’s brains out, for the most part of the season. It drove him to exhaustion, turned him into the laughing-stock of the nation, and nearly blew a hole in United’s title campaign. There’s something about the World Cup, and what it does to England’s players that deserves a whole lot of government-funded research into it. Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole all faced the brunt of a disastrous World Cup campaign, and quickly ran out of steam as the league progressed. As the team with the most English stars in it, it almost seems inevitable Chelsea would implode at some point in the season.
It might seem out of place to blame the Englishman, an editor and television personality, for United finding the spark to best Chelsea and wrench the title from our cold, dead hands. But Piers, hollered his prediction out loud that United wouldn’t finish in the Top 4, primarily because Rooney had lost his magic. For quite a while it looked to be true, but then United are the pastmasters at keeping themselves alive in the league, no matter how dire their situation might seem. To Piers’s credit, he did claim Berbatov would finally come good. And yet, United sealed the title with a resurgent Rooney and without the Bulgarian, almost as if to prove Piers wrong. There are sides that stay down, when you kick them. Piers knocked United and Fergie down publicly at the start of the season, but that might just have stoked the embers of desire in them a little more.
Nothing To Play For
United had a lot to play for. Fergie wanted to prove he could win the 19th without Cristiano Ronaldo, after having lost last season’s title to Chelsea. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes wanted to add one more medal to add to their already impressive individual cabinets, and prove they weren’t analog men in a digital world. Wayne Rooney wanted to prove he could bounce back, after everything the world threw at him. Hernandez wanted to prove he deserved his presence in the team.
Contrast that with Chelsea’s squad. Didier Drogba threw a huff, after Fernando’s arrival, insisting that he had his former club Marseille serving as a safety net. Carlo Ancelotti, in the meantime, probably figured out that his position was getting increasingly tenuous and began flirting with a return to Roma. Nicolas Anelka figured his time was up at the club too, and his performance post said realization has crash landed. The aged stars see no need to turn up their performances a notch, knowing full well that the club might still sell them off for a pittance. The bit-players are unsure of what roles they are expected to fulfill and are content to make up the numbers for now. The spine knows they won’t be touched. And what you have, is a team that is lesser than the sum of its parts.
It all seems just so obvious now, doesn’t it?