ANCELOTTI NEEDS TO TURN THE TIDE, QUICKLY

Carlo Ancelotti and Chelsea Football Club were rowing merrily along. Suddenly they found themselves flapping in the water when captain John Terry hit both the front and back headlines. Jose Mourinho in his big, blue and black Barco then proceeded to knock the Blues’ boat bang out of European waters. In the Straits that lead to the Isles of Domestic Success, Sam Allardyce then turned up and plonked his Blue and white Blackburn barge right between Chelsea and the open waters ahead. Now, Chelsea could well be up the creek.

After six months of relative peace and quiet, the Blues’ Italian manager had nothing to complain or even be mildly upset about. Although his team had been dumped out of the Carling Cup at the quarter final stage at Ewood Park, Chelsea were still in the FA Cup and they had dominated a Champions League group, which had included Porto and Athletico Madrid. Furthermore, they were sitting pretty at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

Then on 30th January, it was announced that a court gagging order had been lifted on a news item concerning the England captain John Terry. The revelations concerning the talismanic centre-back and his affair with the girlfriend of ex-teammate Wayne Bridge, provoked outrage and signalled the end of Ancelotti’s relatively peaceful and incident-free introduction into English football.

Despite the gossip and the constant fielding of questions completely unrelated to football, Ancelotti guided his men to a 2-1 victory away at Turf Moor just three days after news of Terrygate first emerged. This was followed by a 1-1 draw away at Hull and a Didier Drogba-inspired 2-0 win at home to fellow title challengers Arsenal. The mood around the Bridge looked to have lifted. The worry concerning John Terry seemed to have faded and Blues fans were looking ahead once more.

Cracks appeared however in Chelsea’s next game away at Everton after the Merseysiders came from one down to steal a 2-1 win. Although this loss was followed by wins against Cardiff in the FA Cup and then Wolves, Chelsea’s successful season seemed to be beginning to decrease in momentum; their train was being pulled off-track by incidents both on and off the pitch. More allegations came out again regarding Terry and tours behind-the-scenes in exchange for benefits and all those around Chelsea Football Club knew that this was not what was needed in the run-up to the return of the Champions League.

Wayne Bridge quit the English national team, on the grounds that he felt his position in the squad, alongside John Terry, was ‘untenable’. Cue Terry’s thrust back into the limelight.Then, when they needed it least, their date with their own club’s most successful ever manager Jose Mourinho, arrived.

The build up to the first leg of the last-32 Champions League match between Internazionale and Chelsea was dominated by the often-outspoken and feisty Portugese manager and the wonderful relationship he had forged with his double title-winning squad. Frank Lampard and John Terry both spoke of their affection for Mourinho, the man under which their games truly flourished and the tie was the talk of the footballing World. Funnily enough however, Inter were never really backed; the general consensus was that Chelsea would be far too strong for Mourinho’s Italian champions.

Fast forward twenty-five days. Chelsea are now third in the Premier League and they are out of Europe.

What happened? Firstly, Inter proved to be a much-improved team from the one that struggled in Europe in the 2008/2009 season. Out of the gaze of the British media, Mourinho had been busy over the summer chipping away at I Nerazzurri and the new-look attack of Eto’o, Pandev, Milito and Schneijder was just too good for Chelsea. Secondly, in the Premiership, the Blues lost at home to Manchester City after possibly the most famous handshake-that-never-was in the history of handshakes and earlier today, El-Hadj Diouf’s 67th minute goal at Ewood Park consigned Chelsea to a 1-1 draw. Ten out of a possible-eighteen points in their last six Premiership matches has resulted in Manchester United gazumping them of top spot and  Arsenal catching up and over-taking them into second spot.

Chelsea need to rediscover their early-season form if they want to occupy first place in the Premiership table come the final day of the season, and they need to do it quickly.

Carlo Ancelotti will be concerned that his captain John Terry seems to have made more mistakes in the past two months than he has made in his entire career. He will be concerned too about having to field an inexperienced Ross Turnbull in goal. As if to add to the Italian’s growing list of problems, Nicolas Anelka has not found the net since the end of January. Were Didier Drogba to get injured, Chelsea’s title challenge would quite simply come unstuck.

Roman Abramovich hired Ancelotti because the Italian had won the Champions League twice and the Russian oligarch wanted that big silver cup in the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet. Interestingly however, Ancelotti had only won Serie A once as a coach before joining the Blues despite being in charge of both AC Milan and Juventus. To have won twice as many European Cups than national championships, is a bizarre phenomenon.

Chelsea must face, amongst others, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa in the final eight games of the season and the pressure is well and truly on Carlo Ancelotti to deliver the Premiership to West London, now that the Blues are out of the Champions League. They have harder ‘run-ins’ than both Arsenal and Manchester United and have a trip to Wembley coming up soon. Ancelotti may appear laid back, but he has been in football long enough to know that a defeat to Aston Villa in the semi-final of the FA Cup and a third-place finish in the Premiership, added to an exit from the Champions League at the last-32 stage to a team managed by somebody who – despite winning the Premiership twice – had been seen fit for the sack by Abramovich, could well put his future as Chelsea boss in jeopardy.

In thirteen years of management Chelsea’s Italian manager has only won one domestic championship; if he wants to make that two, his team need to win week-in, week-out between now and 9th May. The Blues have slipped, no question and they face a difficult final six weeks. Thankfully for Ancelotti, he next takes his team to Portsmouth on Wednesday night and where better, than this famous naval city, to get the masts up, catch the wind and get the big blue Chelsea boat firmly back on course?

By Ross A. Fox

FOOTBALL LEAGUE WEEKENDER 20/03/10

Your online tipster has been busy at the Cheltenham Gold Cup this week, thankfully he had a better time than Kauto Star! Busy weekend of football coming up, which teams should you be backing?

A simple list this week as there are only a few hours until the 3pm kick-offs:

Aston Villa v Wolves        (HOME WIN)
Everton v Bolton        (HOME WIN)
Arsenal v West Ham       (HOME WIN)
Blackpool v Crystal Palace    (HOME WIN)
West Brom v Preston     (HOME WIN)
Nottingham Forest v Peterborough     (HOME WIN)
QPR v Swansea       (HOME WIN)
Charlton v Gillingham           (HOME WIN)
Torquay United v Lincoln City       (HOME WIN)
Dagenham & Redbridge v Macclesfield            (HOME WIN)

There’s nothing like a big-old ten team accumulator to get the heart racing at 4.40 on a Saturday afternoon!

Have a good weekend,

be lucky,

 
By Ross A. Fox

A (RATHER LATE) MIDWEEK TIP

Football Shorts looks to Europe tonight for a really rather late, midweek tip. Friday night isn’t just for drunken revelry, it’s also the night on which the second division of both France and Holland play their football. So as we always say, where there is football there is money to be made and where there is money to be made there is Football Shorts!

There’s some interesting matches on the continent tonight, but where is the money at?

Three from Holland:

MVV Maastricht v Fortuna Sittard
De Graafschap v Veendam
FC Omniworld v TOP Oss

(all home wins)

Three from France:

Ajaccio v FC Istres
Le Havre v Bastia
Guingamp v FC Metz

(all home wins other than Metz to win away)

One from Italy:

Cittadella v Salernitana

(home win)

Seven good teams and @ Paddy Power you can expect odds of around 40/1 on this accumulator.

Have a good Friday night,

be lucky.

By Ross A. Fox

FOOTBALL WEEKENDER 13/03/10

We are starting to get to the real nitty-gritty end of season stuff; the FA Cup is at the semi-final stage, the Carling Cup has been and gone and teams across the country only have eleven league games left. So as we head to into another crucial weekend of footy, who should you be backing?

THE PREMIERSHIP

Bolton v Wigan      (HOME WIN)

Tottenham Hotspur v Blackburn      (HOME WIN)

Chelsea v West Ham        (HOME WIN)

 THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Ipswich v Scunthorpe     (HOME WIN)

West Brom v Blackpool     (HOME WIN)

LEAGUE ONE

Bristol Rovers v Tranmere         (HOME WIN)

LEAGUE TWO

Chesterfield v Port Vale        (HOME WIN)

Northampton v Darlington       (HOME WIN)

THE REST IS UP TO YOU

be lucky.

By Ross Fox @ https://footballshorts.wordpress.com

A MIDWEEK TIP

There’s a lot of football being played tonight, and where there’s a ball being kicked around a muddy field there is always money to be made!

So, where’s the money at?

West Brom v Sheffield Wednesday      (HOME WIN)

Queens Park Rangers v Plymouth Argyle            (HOME WIN)

Bury v Darlington              (HOME WIN)

Notts County v Chesterfield          (HOME WIN)

Crewe Alexandra v Grimsby          (HOME WIN)

Oxford United v Hayes            (HOME WIN)

Other teams worth taking a quick peek at are Rangers, Kettering, Stevenage, Arsenal and York City,

The rest is up to you……

be lucky.

 

By Ross A. Fox

JUST ENOUGH TIME TO TINKER WITH TACTICS

Last Wednesday’s performance against Egypt was an important test for England. After an hour and a half, they may have secured a two-goal winning margin, but for large parts of the game they simply were not good enough. Just five months before the start of a World Cup, Fabio Capello will have wanted dominance, what he got was a flat, uninspired and meagre England display.

There were several points of concern from the  midweek international, first and not least was the performance of certain individuals.

At the back Capello chose Baines, Upson, Terry and Brown. All players who in their own right, play an important role for their respective clubs Everton, West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester United, yet on Wednesday, none shone brightly. At centre-back, both Terry and Upson started shakily and both didn’t fully get into their stride until midway through the second-half. The Chelsea captain in particular looked clumsy with the ball at his feet and his distribution was not up to his usually high- standard. Thankfully for Capello, the two central defenders are both quality players and one poor match alone will not harm their position in the national squad. They will have better days and they will start the World Cup as two of the top three (possibly four) in their position in the squad.

Unfortunately for Wes Brown, he simply looked out of his depth. Going into Wednesday night most people were wondering what Capello would do in the absence of Ashley Cole, now England fans are left pondering on the right-back position too – what would the gaffer do if Glen Johnson wasn’t fit in time for South Africa? Brown has been playing at centre-back – when he has started – for Man United this season and it showed; his roams into the opposition’s half down the right-hand touchline did not resemble the naturally progressive movements of other, better right backs such as Maicon of Brazil and Sergio Ramos of Spain, more of a man who has forgotten when to go forward and when to not. Defensively Wes Brown may be more consistent than Michah Richards who is Stuart Peace’s first-choice right back for the U-21s, but his movement off the ball when England are in possession is just not up to the international benchmark that a world-class full back has to meet.

Tactically too, there is a problem. Futher forward in the team, in midfield, it is becoming ever-clearer as we move closer to England’s first major tournament in four years, that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard do not look comfortable together. When Gerrard and Lampard start together in the centre of midfield, they don’t seem to fully click, but when Gerrard starts on the left hand side of midfield and Gareth Barry is added to the middle of the pitch, things look even worse.

It is quite simple yet incredibly frustrating. Steven Gerrard is used to being the lynch pin of the team, the pivot upon which everything depends. The thing about pivots however is that they do not and will not be satisfied staying out on the left wing, letting and waiting-for the ball to come to them – they go to the ball. Naturally the football spends most of its time in the middle of the pitch and Gerrard, the person and player that he is, cannot help but get involved. He strays away from his position on the left hand side of midfield and joins Barry and Lampard in the middle. The problem with this is that England are suddenly left with three central midfielders, when there clearly isn’t enough room and need, for there to be three. Gerrard drops into central midfield, the ball, more often than not, goes to and through him as he is a natural playmaker and in the blink of an eye, Gerrard’s movement and play has completely negated Frank Lampard’s presence in the starting XI. Because of Gerrard’s wanderings, England are left with absolutely no set presence on the left wing which means the team has to operate on a solely narrow basis. On Wednesday, England passed the ball around and were, eventually able to pick-off certain killer passes and beat Egypt through the middle; against teams with better defenders and better defensive midfielders in the World Cup however, England will struggle to break teams down if they rely solely on playing through the middle.

What is most frustrating about the way Capello set England up tactically on Wednesday night, was that Wayne Rooney – who at club level, has been sensational of late – had to drop deep into the spaces in which Gerrard should have been picking the ball up from. Every football fan in the country has watched Rooney of late and thought ‘Phwoar‘, his midweek performance against Egypt conduced words that rhymed with Phwoar, but which went more along the lines of Snore and Bore. Man Utd manager Alex Ferguson has clearly decided this season, that Rooney shall be a striker, the man who leads the line. With Antonio Valencia playing and attacking mainly on the right-hand touchline, Man Utd have been able to stretch their opposition’s defences laterally of late, and with the defence stretched Rooney has had more space to attack the glorious crosses coming in off the right wing with his (increasingly talked-about) head. England want to see the same Wayne Rooney, but seem to think he should be able to produce his club-level goods even by playing – tactically – in a way completely juxtaposed with Man Utd. The problem is that England struggle to give the ball to Rooney in the same attacking positions that Man Utd do, and as long as this is the case, Rooney will not be a regular goalscorer for the national side.

The other major concern raised by last week’s international friendly was over Theo Walcott’s contribution – his touch was way-off. He will always be Olympic-fast, but total, composed control of the football comes only with regular competition and it is clear that he is not getting this at the Emirates. Commentators who say Walcott is not living up to the standards that they expected he would be attaining by now, need to take into consideration that if the winger had of played as many games as somebody like Ashley Young has at club-level this season, he would probably look a lot sharper in an England shirt. If he does not get some serious game time at the Emirates between now and the end of the season, he will surely go to South Africa to be an ‘impact substitute’ and not the starting right winger. 

There is, of course, a danger of being overly-critical of the national team, but one gets the impression that England, with some minor tweaking, could be great. They are the national side of a country which possesses some of the very best club sides in the World and at club-level, the individuals which make up the England squad look and are, fantastic. If as England fans, we get a little too-passionate in our support from time to time, it is only because our national team should be brilliant. 

It is sad, but the general consensus is that based on a level of performance similar to that which we saw last week against Egypt, England cannot and will not win the World Cup. Fabio Capello cannot, in five months time, set his team up to play as narrow as they did five days ago – England do not have a central midfield to much the creativity of Spain and Italy. What the England team do have though, in Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, are central players who individually, are as dynamic as you will find. If Capello could just find a way to add menacing skill to both the left and right wings, England could attack and press their oppositions in more than one way, and Wayne Rooney would be able to concentrate on getting into the areas that any great striker should work their way into; at United, Rooney doesn’t have to worry about going and getting the ball because he knows it will be delivered to him on a silver platter and to get the best out of him, England need to do the same. If they do, they will fly. Furthermore, if Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson can get back to match fitness before the plane takes off for South Africa, then England would suddenly become a team no side would want to face. Fact.

By Ross A. Fox

OPINIONS OF TERRY WORSEN AS BRIDGE QUITS

You can but feel sorry for Wayne Bridge.

In case you missed it, the Manchester City full-back released a statement through his lawyers yesterday morning in which he announced his wish to not be considered for England selection.

He wrote ‘after careful thought, I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive…I feel for the sake of the team and in order to avoid what will be inevitable distractions, I have decided not to put myself forward for selection…I wish the team all the very best in South Africa‘.

Ouch. What a pity for Wayne Bridge, that just four months before the start of a World Cup, he has seen no alternative but to rule himself out of the tournament. Because of this decision, there is now a sense of injustice about the whole fiasco, from which the left-back will ellicit some serious sympathy.

Footballers and the lives that they live may seem a kin to something out of a Hollywood blockbuster and the parties, fast cars and mansions may seem to alienate them from the ‘common man’. But if you take the time to carefully consider the personal position Bridge finds himself in, it is easy to see why the full-back made the decision he did. Let me explain:

You are one of a group of friends who have been planning a holiday in Miami for the past two years. Months before you are due to depart, one of your married mates has an affair with your girlfriend, a woman with whom you have a young child. This is a situation which bares very real similarities with Terry-gate – and you are the Wayne Bridge character.

How would you react? Would you carry on as though nothing had happened and attempt to make peace with the man your partner had slept with? Or would you try and avoid the guy at all costs? Would you go on the holiday? Or, for the sake of your other friends, would you rip up your ticket and tell your mates that you just want them to go away, have a good time and not have to be caught up in the middle of this awful mess?

Some people in this position would be consumed by heartbreak. They would convince themselves that they would never again allow themselves to be hurt in the same manner; inspired by the scars of victimhood to take a more self-centred path forward. This type of person would go on the holiday and would take the fight directly to the friend that had betrayed them.

Some people would go on the holiday but would stay well out of the way of the friend-turned-foe, as much as was feasibly possible. Many people though, would react just as Wayne Bridge has to the scandal involving John Terry – they would pull out of the holiday.

Bridge’s statement made it clear that he believed his presence in any future England squad would be ‘divisive’. From this we can strongly infer that the Manchester City full-back knows that there would be an awkward siding of loyalties if himself and John Terry featured in the same squad (let alone team). This basic inference is the strongest indication yet to emerge from the England camp that certain players have pledged their allegiances to Bridge personally and have told him that they are his friend and not John Terry’s.

By taking himself out of the hat for national selection, Bridge has attempted to make life easier for his England team-mates. Without the left-back in South Africa, they will not have to field awkard questions from journalists concerning team spirit and they will not have to constantly be thinking about what they can and cannot say when they all sit down to dinner at a nightime. Of course this is probably not the only reason Bridge has pulled out, the chances are he just does not want to be around John Terry; (it is understandable but) obviously it sounds better though, if you say you are not going to because you don’t want to cause distractions to your teammates.

What is most interesting about Bridge’s decision is how it has changed people’s perspective on John Terry.

In the initial aftermath of the revelations, many people wanted John Terry to be stripped of the captaincy but nobody really questioned his place in the national squad. It was just presumed that the two ex-Chelsea colleagues would be able to co-exist and ‘get on with it’ as part of the same squad. Now that Wayne Bridge has deemed it necessary to rule himself out of the World Cup though, there seems to be an injustice that Terry shall be going to South Africa and Bridge will not – a seemingly strange situation as the former England captain is (if we are to apply characters here) the villain of the piece. Now that Bridge has made it clear he thinks his place in the national team squad is ‘untenable‘, a lot of people’s opinion of John Terry has worsened. They are now making it clear that if anybody should be missing out on the World Cup, surely it should be the centre-back.

It is worth bringing back into consideration, the aforementioned scenario when you took on the Wayne Bridge character. Now though, change character and become one of the other friends. Ask yourself this, which of the two mates involved in the affair would you want with you on the plane to Miami? The married friend who had caused such a rupture amongst your group of pals? Or the mate who had been cheated on?

Now I know the issue is not nearly as black and white as this. But most groups of friends would turn their back on their former friend who had cheated and would not want him on the holiday, instead preferring to take their cheated-upon mate instead.

The England players are professional footballers and they are assembled essentially to do a job, so the position they find themselves in is different from the scenario of the friends going on holiday, but if there really are players in the national squad who have sided with Wayne Bridge and feel sorry for the man, then it will be extremely interesting to see if any of them speak out in the wake of the full-back’s decision to not go to South Africa. The World Cup is the pinnacle of any footballer’s career; some of the England players may just be a little angry at John Terry for causing Wayne Bridge to make such a dramatic decision.  

Oh! To be a fly on the wall when Fabio Capello rounds up his charges for a meeting at the Grove Hotel near Watford on Monday.

By Ross A. Fox