El Cashico – When Attack Meets Defense and Money Speaks

Arsene Wenger and his army have topped the Premier League for a considerable number of months, but the bookies still fancy Manchester City or Chelsea to grab the title. This shows the importance attached to today’s fixture: the league’s meanest attack coming against the tidiest defense, in a tale where money (in the form of world class players) speaks.

With Arsenal overthrowing City at the summit of the league after their victory against Crystal Palace on Sunday, the onus is on either of the cash-loaded clubs to work their way up. The home team’s last away hammering of Tottenham has done well to remind Mourinho’s youngsters just how much ruthless they can be. In this fixture now generally dubbed as El Cashico, a win, loss or draw for either club might just shift the advantage to any of the current top three teams. With the clubs boasting huge talents – Manchester City’s wage bill for 2012/2013 was £202 million while Chelsea’s was £173 million – expect this game to be a cracker.

Manchester City

Pellegrini’s side has been in imperious form at home this season. They’re enjoying the scintillating home form that has previously been the trademark of their red neighbour. The Etihad is now a fortress and does not bode well for visiting teams – they boast an 100 percent record this season! Perhaps the scariest part of this record is that they have scored a whooping 42 goals at home and conceded just 8 goals. In total this term, they have scored 66 goals and are well on course to break the goals record created by today’s opponent, Chelsea. Their lethal attack has placed three of their players in the top 10 highest goalscorers – the most of any team. In January alone, they scored 35 goals against as many teams they faced. The team has averaged 325 chances created and 86 percent pass completion, meaning Mourinho’s midfield would have to work harder to get something from this game. With the likes of Fernandinho and the impeccable Yaya Toure sure to start today, it becomes all the more an uphill task for Chelsea. Manchester City are not afraid to bang the goals in past big teams, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham can testify. A series of slow shaky away performances have been replaced with recent superb performances and if City can keep this up, the sky is the limit. The big stat in City’s favour is that they have won their last four (4) home league fixtures against Chelsea.

Chelsea

If there is one team that can alter Manchester City’s domineering run, it is Chelsea. Statistically, Chelsea boasts the best defense in the league as they have conceded just 20 goals all season (although they’re yet to taste Manchester City at Etihad – as Arsenal has already done). The central defensive pairing of Gary Cahill and the experienced John Terry has been resolute. Captain John Terry has rolled back the years and his sidekicks at the full back are sizzling as well – enter Ivanovic and Azpilicueta. They have ensured Chelsea has kept three consecutive away clean sheets and this is a big bonus going into this game. Also, they have conceded just three goals since December 7 and have racked up nine clean sheets this season. Mourinho is well known for his defensive rigidity and that is exactly what he is building. Despite today’s game being an ‘Attack vs Defense’ game, the bulk of the game will stem from the midfield. The London team has a 52 percent average duel success and this shows they can break opposition attacks well; this is where Nemanja Matic and Ramires come in play. Not to be undone by their opponent, Chelsea boasts an 83 percent pass success rate which is slightly less than City’s. In addition, Eden Hazard is a ‘foul-magnet’, getting fouled 66 times, he is the most fouled player in the league and with City’s relatively higher foul rate, Chelsea can rely on free kicks to help their cause. This is one of the dimensions of Chelsea’s new style of play – by getting the ball more to Hazard to dribble or draw foul. With just one defeat in the previous 13 League outings and with the 39 shots they accrued against West Ham, Chelsea are looking a strong team, even without a proper striker.

This is going to be one tough game to predict, and even the bookies are not sure the right odds to place. With money, both teams boast world class players and coaches. On one side, City looks destined to beat Chelsea. On the other side, Mourinho’s stubbornness and shrewdness coupled with his team’s form tilts the balance to his favour. Perhaps, this might be the time for Pellegrini to finally beat Mourinho only the second time, or for Mourinho to extend his win run against the Chilean.

David Moyes signs Mata

JUAN MATA’S MOVE TO UNITED – EVERYONE WINS

I think it is a purely financial reason. That is the first time I come to that conclusion with Chelsea

-Arsene Wenger

The football world was agog at the news of the imminent transfer of Juan Mata from Chelsea to Manchester United. This was a move no one expected because Mata has been Chelsea’s Player of the Season for the two previous seasons, is a firm fans’ favourite and there had never been a transfer from the Blue side of London to the Red side of Manchester. Juan Mata, however, completed a £37 million move to Manchester United a few days ago. Despite that Mata evidently adores his Chelsea supporters (as seen in his emotional open letter), this is a move that benefits himself, Manchester United and Chelsea – the three parties involved.

JUAN MATA
Mata is an extremely gifted player and is second only to the amazing David Silva in creating goals in the past three seasons. All Mata needs is game time, and he is going to get plenty of that after becoming the most expensive signing of his new club. Mata truly loves and adores Chelsea, the fans and London, but he would not mind a new challenge especially one that sees him play week in – week out. Aside boosting his confidence levels and improving his fitness level, he now finally has a genuine opportunity to prove to Del Bosque that he deserves to be in the Spanish team come Brazil 2014. Perhaps the biggest bonus to Juan Mata (although it is obvious that Mata plays for heart than for money) is his greatly improved wage from £70,000 a week to £150,000 a week, amounting to a whooping £7.8 million a year! Nice going, Juan Mata!

MANCHESTER UNITED
Some say playing Juan Manuel Mata might mean less traditional wing play from Manchester United. However, it should be recalled that in the previous seasons with Chelsea, Eden Hazard thrived from Mata’s central free-roaming play. This is a good deal for Manchester United (sorry, Shinji Kagawa) because Rooney and the in-form Welbeck can demonstrate their lethal talents in front of the opponents’ goals. When the attack of any team is formidable, it relieves pressure from the defense and this is exactly what Moyes needs for his shaky defense. Mata can also instigate a lethal classic United counter-attack and can also score directly from free kicks. Juan is just 25 years and is nowhere near his peak.

Mata provides ample creativity

Mata provides ample creativity

This might prove to be a long-term deal breaker for Manchester United. Mata’s current deal means he would earn £7.8 million a year, meaning by the time he gets to 28 (Rooney’s current age), he would have cost Manchester United only £60 million in transfer and wages (assuming of course, conditions remain as they are). Compare this to £47 million that would be given to Wayne Rooney in wages alone over three years if his current contract talks bear positive fruits – this shows value for Mata’s purchase, not forgetting the fact that he will propel the club’s position.

CHELSEA
Critically, this transfer is as much tactical for Chelsea as it is financial – that’s where Prof. Wenger gets it wrong. With the impending arrival of the UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP), Chelsea is simply making a statement of intent. Aside cashing in on an extra £14 million on Mata’s sale (a huge figure considering his immense role in that successful period), Chelsea is trying to meet up with the Break Even deficit of the FFP rule. In the year ending June 2013, Chelsea announced a £50 million loss; this does not help their cause to meet up with the FFP deficit of a loss of not more than €45 million. The one viable solution here was to sell Mata – an unused talent deemed surplus to requirements – at an inflated fee, because they knew Moyes’ desperation and frustration at failing to land big names signings would propel him to dip his hands into his wallet. For this financial year ending June 2014, Chelsea cannot afford to lose more than £4.5 million to comply with the FFP. Stamford Bridge accommodates 41,837 people and ticket sales alone might not make a considerable input. It was either they sold Mata and essentially ‘balance the books’ or they continue to rely on Abramovic to subsidise the loss. This is one of the reasons Chelsea has recently been recruiting young players they can deal on should in case the moves prove to be a fail.
It does not take one to be a football pundit to realise that Chelsea’s apparent hijack of Willian’s deal from Tottenham was initially a tactical move – to weaken a direct opponent and strengthen the club itself. The same can be said about Mata’s sale to Manchester United, as it acts firstly to water the ground for a possible Wayne Rooney bid and secondly to derail other possible title contenders. Chelsea and Manchester United cannot come against each other again this season (unless in the Champions League, of course, which Mata still won’t play in). It is no doubt that Juan will elevate United’s play and can help his new team win matches against Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool – all title contenders this season. This could all be Mourinho’s tactical plan; besides he has £37 million in the bank to buy players he wants, from selling a player he does not want. In this vein, Chelsea (and Mourinho especially) has also considerably won.

I wish Juan Mata the best of luck as he begins his new journey.

All images are courtesy of Google

DISSECTING THE JUAN MATA CONUNDRUM

There is one thing that is obvious, which is I can’t change the rules and I can’t start the match with 12, 13 or 14. I’d love that because many people deserve to play and Juan is one who deserves to play because of the way he works, behaves, the way we see him every day. But if I play him and I don’t play (Eden) Hazard or Oscar, you are asking me about Hazard or Oscar in this moment. It’s a consequence of the squad we have where, for these positions behind the striker, we have so many options. It’s hard for me. I don’t have a special pleasure leaving players out. I enjoy playing them and making them happy, but there’s nothing I can do.

– Jose Mourinho, November 2013

When it was announced that Mourinho would be taking over the helm from Rafa Benitez, few would have expected Azpilicueta to start more games at left back than Ashley cole. Even, fewer would have expected Mata to be resigned to just three starts in as many games. None would have expected Mikel Obi to have scored more goals than Mata at this time; but that is the current situation. Juan Mata, famously Chelsea’s Player of the Year for the past two seasons, finds himself resigned to the bench, a place he’s only well accustomed to when playing for Spain.

On the surface, it looks like Mourinho’s decision is more personal than professional, but I see no yardstick for such conclusion. Some conspiracy theorists even suggested that Mourinho was against Spanish players; but his apparent belief in Fernando Torres coupled with his decision to pick Azpilicueta over Ashley Cole at left back blatantly indicates otherwise. Mourinho has a knack of controversy and he’s no stranger to high profile radical decisions. If you take Mourinho’s word for it and keep sentiments aside, you’d see he has a point. For a player that can easily walk into most teams in the world to be left in the shade, there has to be a rational reason.

From the moment news came that Chelsea was pursuing Willian, it was evident one of the midfield triumvirate was going to be left out. When a coach comes into a club in the off-season period, he spends time to analyse his players and see those he can work with. During training sessions, he notes the abilities of each players and picks his team using that ability. Of course, in the course of the season, a coach’s preferred starting lineup might change when players’ attitude changes in training. Mourinho simply iterated that his decision to fade out Mata was because he (Mata) does less defensive work than his midfield counterparts, however amazingly talented he is offensively.

Oscar, Hazard and Willian are in sizzling form. Mourinho’s preferred formation is 4-2-3-1, meaning there’s only room for three playmakers behind the striker. Oscar made 109 tackles in the 2012-2013 season, compared to 69 tackles from Mata and Hazard combined. Surely, Mourinho observed this defensive work he does! This season, he has a 61% successful tackle rate. He loves to shoot and is arguably Chelsea’s best long ranger behind Lampard – this season alone he has racked up 34 shots. He also has the added advantage of using the Confederations Cup to woo Mourinho to his side, hence Mourinho already saw his work rate competitively. Oscar could easily be Chelsea’s next Frank Lampard as he has all the qualities to get him there. He thrives when he plays the No. 10 position, just behind the striker – which coherently is Mata’s preferred position too.

If Oscar had sent out a message that he was the man of the moment, Hazard has done well to show otherwise. The young Belgian possesses a quality that none of his other competitors have – his quick feet and mesmerising dribbling (he has completed 65 dribbles, more dribbles than any other player in the league). This brings a different flavour to Chelsea’s attack and this somehow makes him untouchable. Not only is he one of only two players in the league to have surpassed 100 attacking contributions (assists, dribbles, crosses, shots on goal), he has the second best shot accuracy rate of any player in the league to have had more than 25 shots, with 66.7%. His talents make the opposition drawn to him thereby creating space for the rest of his teammates. With a sudden, explosive change of pace or a powerful curler, Hazard can change a game in seconds.

When a club with many midfield talents buys another midfielder for £30million, one would expect the new player to feature often. In all honesty, this was a no-brianer! William was expected to play often otherwise he would not have been bought at such fee. Willian is the most hardworking of the trio – he has played less games than Mata but has made more tackles – something that Mourinho craves . He is a player that can hold unto the ball and fits perfectly for Mourinho’s aim of mixing rigidity with flair. If Mata (and maybe Schurle) was to displace any one of the midfield trio, it would have been Willian. However, his superb work rate makes him the best fit for Mourinho’s desire for ‘hardworking’ players. He, like Ramires, never gets tired of running and chasing down oppositions when his team isn’t with the ball, a reminisce of Arjen Robben. If Mourinho was looking for a hard worker, he certainly got one!

Having said this, we can see why Mata is struggling to fight his way through. The trinity of Oscar, Hazard and Willian are performing and it’d be unfair to blot anyone of them from the starting lineup. It has to be said though that Mata is an extremely gifted player – blessed with a sublime first touch, ability to give eye popping passes, very deadly at delivering those set pieces, calm and has a great personality. He is very good when his team is on the ball, but when the opponents are in possession, Mata isn’t the one you can rely on to win the ball. The game literally passes by him until a twist of fate brings the ball to his teammate. However, he makes a team tick very much offensively, no wonder Mourinho keeps reiterating his desire to keep him, insisting he has ‘a big role’ to play.

The Deadly Trio: Oscar, Hazard and Willian are I'm scintillating form and it'd be unfair to faze anyone out for Mata

The Deadly Trio: Oscar, Hazard and Willian are in scintillating form and it’d be unfair to faze anyone out for Mata

What then is the way forward for the Spaniard? His talent is one that’s needed in very many (if not all) teams, Chelsea included. Mata has a wealth of clubs to pick from, should he finally decide his time at Stamford Bridge is over. Chelsea will be understandably unwilling to sell a player of such calibre to rivals team as Arsenal and Manchester United. The first club has a rich array of world class midfielders so it is unlikely that they’d need him. The latter club is well in need of Mata’s services, and valued at £30 million, he will be a good buy. He can play behind the striker and sometimes operate from the flanks, giving room for the wingers to dip in the crosses, United style. Again, Chelsea don’t need to sell Mata to a rival club; they don’t need to sell him at all. Other clubs like Atletico Madrid and PSG could see Mata ply his trade with them, but if reports from the press are anything to go by, it seems likely that Juan Mata will wait till the summer and force a move to Bayern Munich; after all, it isn’t like he is guaranteed a berth in the Spanish team, come Brazil 2014.

He is undoubtedly the best player not getting what he deserves in Europe, but for the right reasons for Mourinho. With time, I hope his situation is resolved because such talent should not be left to rot.

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Stephen Keshi for CAF Presidency in 2018? – By Akintayo Ayo-Bamisaye

Plausible

A Monk's Words

The thoughts around the next CAF president have been swirling round my head since the re-election of Isa Hayatou for another 5-year term in 2013. I will not go into the intrigues of how that election transpired or the events that led to it. The fact of the matter is that the man Isa Hayatou is firmly in the driver’s seat as far as African football is concerned.

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MANCHESTER UNITED WILL NOT FINISH WELL UNLESS…….

Rome was never built in a day, not even a year! With the departure of arguably the greatest manger ever, having served for close to three decades, we don’t expect his replacement to have an easy ride. David Moyes was hand-picked by Sir Ferguson himself; perhaps because the Sir sees Moyes as a younger version of himself. Manchester United is a great brand and club and the position of the manager is a very grave one. With the Sir Ferguson continuity over the years terminated, it should be accepted that a miracle cannot just happen overnight. Moyes has all the stats stacked against him but he is still in a relatively safe zone. To avoid a colossal fall and return to being among the ‘elites’ as quick as possible, Manchester United must:

Reinforce Midfield With World Class Players
The strength of this decade’s all-conquering Barcelona lies in their scintillating midfield build up. This isn’t to imply that all teams must apply tiki-taka; Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal boast arguably the strongest midfield in the Premier League, and unsurprisingly are in the top three. Take Arsenal for example, the apparently missing piece of their jigsaw was Mesut Özil. The German has injected life and vigor to the team, even though Wenger already had other talented midfielders. The same can be said about Yaya Toure plus Fernandinho and Oscar plus Ramires in City and Chelsea respectively. These gifted players offer protection as well as production. The point isn’t that one must have Brazilian midfielders to excel, but that a world class team needs world class midfielders, and Manchester United needs at least two of them! The United midfield has offered only seven goals in as many games and only four assists. Yaya Toure alone has 10 goals to his name and his midfield counterparts have helped the team provide 20 goals; five times that of United!

The good news for Moyes is that he has been given financial backing, meaning he can delve into the market and buy a creative midfielder and a defensive one. Against Everton, United were flat, as Barry, Pienaar and Barkley ran the show, giving room for both their full backs to inflict damage. This is supposed to be United’s play: run the show from the midfield and create room for wingers and full backs to whip those dangerous balls in the opponents’ danger areas. Manchester United have the weakest midfield of all the top six or seven teams. Sir Ferguson’s experience and aura was the winning factor last season, working with those midfielders and wingers. Cleverly is not playing as we expect from a Paul Scholes’ protege, maybe he needs more time. Carrick and Fletcher simply cannot cope with the immense pace of the EPL week in, week out. Anderson is more a liability than an asset. Giggs needs to realise his time is up and hang up his boots. Kagawa has not made the most of the little playing time he was given. Valencia and Young are struggling to outperform the upcoming but hugely talented Adnan Janujaz.

Moyes is right in his pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. He is a player that will pick the right pass almost every time and supports attack superbly. He is dangerous at set pieces and has that Spanish flair about him. If Janujaz and Rooney want more of the ball, Cesc is the man. With the knowledge that Moyes has a knack for caution in the transfer market and Barcelona’s likely resistance, options as Marco Reus, Adam Lallana and Joao Moutinho are super replacements. Looking at Özil’s impact at Arsenal, we can see what a world class midfielder can do.

Cesc Fabregas could be the missing piece in Moyes' jigsaw

Cesc Fabregas could be the missing piece in Moyes’ jigsaw

To protect the frail back four, a defensive midfielder is needed. Players as Ikay Gundogan and Nemanja Matic can hold unto the ball, build play from behind and give that ultimate protection to the back four. Another approach would be to give more game time to their fourth most expensive signing, Marouane Fellaini. On a very good day, the Belgium is a football beast and can best the like of Yaya Toure offensively and defensively. Money cannot buy the title, but it can buy you players that can win something.

Organise the Defense
Moyes is yet to decide on a suitable back four, even at this later stage of the season. More painful is that his defenders are either in decline or aren’t initially up to par. Although they are shipping in a handful of goals, they are not effectively doing their defensive tasks. The once impenetrable pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand departed with the retirement of Sir Alex. The most faithful United fan will admit that Evra is in decline. He gets exposed every now and then and doesn’t whip in those dangerous balls as he used to. Perhaps he needs competition or to be replaced. In either case, players as Leighton Baines and Fabio Coentrao are suitable candidates. The centre two needs to be more reliable, as they are either inefficient or injury-prone. Passing the chance to sign Joleon Lescott might prove a loss for Moyes. Thomas Vermaelen is a decent alternative and can be also provide the required danger from set-pieces. Whatever is Moyes’ decision, he has to act fast and pick a suitable back four before it gets too late.

Decide on Strong Formation
David Moyes has alternated irregularly between the classic United 4-4-2 (and it’s variations) and 4-2-3-1. Moyes needs to pick a formation that will suit his proposed playing style and players at his disposal. He alone knows the best formation for the team as he picks the team himself. At the end of this January transfer business, Moyes should be expected to pick a suitable formation for whatever players he has. A good coach is one that is fearless and adventurous, making important decisions (Rio Ferdinand admitted that Moyes usually waited two hours to kick off before deciding on his lineup). Moyes should take special time out in training sessions and in games to observe and experiment formations.

Keep Wayne Rooney
Although it looks unlikely that Manchester United will lose their season’s stand out performer this January, this possibility should not be written off. With the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid and PSG snooping around, seeing Rooney out of Manchester is becoming more a possibility than seeing him in there. All aforementioned clubs are cash loaded and can woo Rooney away, with guarantee of a top four finish at the end of the season. Take Rooney’s goals and assists away from United and they would be somewhere 10th or 12th on the log. His dynamic play injects life into United and improves Welbeck’s play (Welbeck is the standout recognized striker in the team this term). A top team that boasts the biggest talent in England should keep such talent, if they want to remain revered.

Support David Moyes
To be fair, look at the players in the clubs in top six or seven. They have either amazing individual players or fantastic world class coaches or a combination of both. This is where fans should be rational and accept that Moyes is filling a very big shoe. He needs time to adjust to a massive club with expectations of winning trophies. Even the adored Sir Alex took a while before winning any trophy for Manchester United. Fast forward years of experience later and he singlehandedly picked David Moyes obviously after scrutiny, and his decision should be respected. In his last speech at Old Trafford, he begged the fans to ‘stick by your new manager’ as even he knew it was not going to be a bumper ride.

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ROBBIE DI MATTEO – THE MOST UNFAIRLY TREATED MANAGER

Truly gutted with Roman Abramovich’s amateur knowledge of football. A wealthy club owner with a pen on one hand and an axe on the other hand, he’s been pivotal to Chelsea’s turnaround to become a powerhouse in Europe.

However, the man whose name is now the synonym of ‘Impatience’ needs to learn more about perseverance….and fast!!

Chelsea has had 17 coaches in the last 25 years; 10 coaches being replaced by Abramovich in his 9 years as the club owner of Chelsea FC. That’s averaging a whooping record of 1 manager per season. In the same 25 year span, Manchester United has had only Sir Alex Ferguson as Team Manager.

Although hugely successful during the Abramovich era (with a club accolade of 3 Premier League Trophies, 3 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and 1 Champions League Trophy. You can add 2 Community Shields), these club feats are marred by unruly, unjustly and occasionally premature end to the tenures of managers that are already bonding with the fans. The truth remains however that Chelsea has been the most successful English club since Abramovich era.

This is not the first time of seeing a sack of such magnitude. In 2007, Jose Mourinho was ‘sacked’ having won 6 trophies for Chelsea in 3 years. He is Chelsea’s most successful manager. In 2011, Carlo Ancelotti was sacked after winning Chelsea’s first double – a historic one for the club. The most recent and arguably the most painful sack is that of Di Matteo.

The much renowned Sir Alex Ferguson has even had to go once on a 9 match winless streak, and at another season, 6 defeats in 8 games. It also took SAF over 3 years to win his first major trophy for manchester United – a FA Cup win over Crystal Palace. But the faith in SAF has been resolute. He’s remained manager since his 1986 appointment. One can quickly see the stark contrast here; Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo all have won a myriad of trophies for the club, in less time than Sir Fergie did. Their reward – a big axe from Roman himself.

Chelsea fans are now gnashing their teeth in seeing both Mourinho and Ancelotti do wonders in Real Madrid and PSG respectively. We can only but hope Robbie Di Matteo takes the same path.

He has been the most unfairly treated of the lot. His relationship with the club dates back to his days as a player for the club. On 4th March 2012, he was appointed Chelsea manager and given the difficult job of getting Chelsea past Napoli. In truth, at first glance, this job looked as easy as lifting a truck with your finger, but Robbie did this with ease. His tactical masterplan in eliminating Barcelona was also genius!! He delivered Chelsea and Abramovich their most coveted trophy, in a season where it looked the least likely!! Again, he showed the tactical mind of an Italian in the Champions League Final win over Bayern Munich. This is a feat to be matched yet, and I don’t see any manager do it anytime soon, considering the fact his stay was just a little over 250 days.

Few managers have left their stamps on the heart of Chelsea Faithfuls than RDM. If there is one thing sure, it is that Abramovich ‘does not give a damn’ about what the fans think. He makes and breaks as he pleases. Let us just hope he does not appoint Rafa Benitez. Rafa is a good coach, but his mere name angers Chelsea fans and stirs their stomachs.

But what can be done?? Roman Abramovich is a modern day tyrant and simply does not understand that football is a game of patience and perseverance. Abramovich never wanted Robbie Di Matteo as full coach. Di Matteo’s job was always hanging by a very thin thread. Abramovich only needed a catalyst. The defeat to Atletico Madrid came all too sudden and this is just the perfect time he needed.

Right now, the only obvious way of bringing back happiness is to appoint Jose Mourinho. The question still lies…….WHAT HAPPENS NEXT??

I wish Roberto Di Matteo all the best!!!