Chelsea Football Club: The Next Fallen Giant?

By , February 18, 2011 3:50 pm

According to Frank Lampard, “It would be a disaster” if Chelsea don’t qualify for the Champions League. At this point in time, there is a fairly decent sized question mark over whether the West London club will indeed capture fourth place. With Tottenham grabbing fourth spot by securing a win last weekend while Chelsea could only manage a draw at Fulham, and Liverpool insistent on nipping at both their heels, nothing is a guarantee. Such is the shock of how far they’ve fallen that Lampard now insists it’s hugely important to reach the finals of the cup competitions they remain in, as well as keep their eye on the ball when it comes to finishing in the top four at the end of the season.

Champions No More - Frank Lampard Laments Chelsea's Downward Spiral

It is no surprise that the Chelsea and England midfielder is concerned about his team’s position. At the start of the season, Chelsea looked to run away with the title leaving the rest of the pack to chase after the remaining three spots for the Champions League. A massive shift in the last few months has seen Chelsea go from first to fifth. They have remained strong in the cup competitions, but their league form has taken a massive nosedive.

It may be a bit cheeky as a Liverpool supporter to say that Chelsea’s downward spiral began when Liverpool (with Fernando Torres) beat them 2-0 back in November. But since then, their record has been Won: 5, Drawn: 6, and Lost: 6. The dropping of 30 points in the matter of three months is enormous and has left Chelsea floundering for a Champions League place with twelve games left to play.

For all the talk this season of just how bad Liverpool have been, they are six points behind Chelsea in sixth place. Granted, Chelsea have a game in hand, but the gap is not as wide as it may seem based on Liverpool’s performance in the first half of the season.

It remains to be seen where each team will finish come May; such is the nature of this up and down season. And Chelsea may well surprise everyone and climb their way back to the top. Not to the top of the league, but at least into the top four.

Just a year ago, finishing seventh was a new low for Liverpool, and being out of the Champions League for the first time in years was a huge blow. It never occurred to most Liverpool fans that that was even a possibility until it happened. It signaled the end of a successful era, as well as the end of Rafael Benitez.

There seems to be a longstanding view from rival teams that Liverpool has an attitude of entitlement, and that the club feels its rightful place is firmly in the top four. Whether or not that’s true, that belief was shattered after finishing seventh.

But if other clubs can paint Liverpool with this entitlement brush, than surely they must be painted as well? For Frank Lampard to say it would be a disaster if Chelsea finished outside the top four, than it was undoubtedly a disaster for Liverpool when they did.

It was a tough season to endure, compounded by the following six months of negative transfer dealings, Roy Hodgson, and the worst run of games in over 50 years. That season truly set Liverpool back further than just being out the Champions League. The owners’ and manager’s relationship became untenable, the club sold one of their best players in Javier Mascherano, and they brought in players not nearly up to the level that Liverpool normally requires. All this combined with Roy Hodgson’s clueless undertaking at the helm eventually lead Fernando Torres to his Liverpool exit, under very acrimonious circumstances.

Fernando Torres Has So Far Failed To Live Up To Expectations In Chelsea Blue

The attitude toward Liverpool has remained one of “they deserve it,” “they’re not good enough,” “their players are rubbish.” In the span of a year and a half when the team barely missed out on a first placed finish, they went from hero to zero. Yet somehow you don’t get the same feeling when it comes to Chelsea. All you ever seem to hear is how Chelsea have the quality needed and shouldn’t be finishing outside the top four, it just wouldn’t be right if they did.

The press and Chelsea fans seem to think that because of having one of the most expensive and successful squads in recent years, they can do no wrong and that they too are now “entitled” to finish in at least the top four. Well Chelsea, welcome to Liverpool’s world, where nothing is a guarantee when it comes to football.

That’s not to say that Chelsea aren’t capable of finishing fourth. They are more than capable. But then, you could say, so were Liverpool.

Chelsea need to face facts just as Liverpool were forced to. They have a squad with multiple players perhaps having had their best days behind them, and this includes Fernando Torres. Whatever he’s done, £50 million was still an enormous amount for a striker about to turn 27 and with a massive history of injury problems. Chelsea were definitely looking to him to salvage their season with a cup win, but you have to say that outside the FA Cup, it’s not looking likely with the strength of teams in the Champions League this year.

Liverpool have had to endure a very difficult eighteen months, and with Fernando Torres leaving in January, things only seemed more bleak. But now there’s a new sense of renewed pride in the team that has been instilled by Kenny Dalglish. With new owners taking over in the fall, two new strikers signed in the January transfer window, and the youth team looking frighteningly good, the future seems quite bright for Liverpool and the hard times look to finally be over.

For Chelsea, the future is a little less certain. Ancelotti has the massive weight of expectations on his shoulders to deliver Chelsea back into the Champions League while he keeps one eye looking over his shoulder to see if Abramovich is ready to wield his axe. And with more financial losses announced, plus the gargantuan £70 million plus outlaid for players last month, it’s a wonder how Chelsea will cope with the Financial Fair Play rules. Without the bottomless bank account to recruit players for a team on the precipice of an immense overhaul, you wonder just how they will handle the seasons to come.

As Liverpool have had to put up with the disappointment that came with not being in the Champions League, so too will Chelsea if they don’t manage to finish fourth. Perhaps it is what they need to be reminded that no club is entitled to anything in football.

Would Liverpool Have Been Worse Off Losing Pepe Reina?

By , February 3, 2011 9:20 pm

Don't Worry, La. I'm Not Going Anywhere

As the debates rage on about Torres and his untimely departure from Liverpool Football Club, an interesting question has started to creep up. There’s no doubt in most supporters’ minds that losing Fernando Torres, no matter how much he didn’t want to play for the club anymore, was a massive blow. The hurt feelings combined with the fact the club would be lacking one of the most talented strikers in the world was always going to be hard to take. Everyone felt used, mistreated, and saddened by his sudden change of heart. In the wake of his new desire to play for another team, fans were so disheartened by the treatment they felt Torres had put them under that they didn’t stop to look at the bigger picture.

Since Torres was, is, and most likely will be a top class striker, for the remainder of his career anyway, it’s easy to see why any club would miss him. But while we all sat around dismayed and disillusioned, the manager and owners were busy working at a way to overcome that feeling of loss. Dalglish couldn’t have said it better than when he told the press, “The football club will always be here, and no person is bigger than this football club.” Right on.

And strikers, while top class ones are always hard to find, are definitely out there. And I personally think the top brass did a magnificent job in acquiring the likes of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. The feeling around the club is that the team will be better off in the long run. Goals will keep flowing, and perhaps the burden will now be shared from one to many.

And as we watched all this drama unfold, you had to look around and think: if we had lost another massively important player other than Torres, would we still have been better off? I think the answer to that is no. And the player I’m referring to Liverpool losing is Pepe Reina.

It’s a matter of coincidence that I prepared to write this piece over the last number of days when just this afternoon, Twitter was abuzz with rumors of Pepe ‘apparently’ stating he wants out now as well. And I use apparently because the rumors appeared primarily on Twitter and then one small, what looked like slapped together article in the Metro UK, regarding his desire to leave Liverpool and go to Manchester United. While I am no more in a position than the Metro UK to claim this is true or not, I have to say it all sounds a bit strange.

For all we believed Torres when he said he loved the club and would never leave, I just don’t think Reina is the same kind of person he is. Couple that with the fact that goalkeepers have much longer careers than outfield players (which is why Torres felt he needed to leave now before it was too late), and you just don’t get the sense there’s any merit to the silly rumor. (It seems Simon Clancy and Ben Smith were having a little conversation of their own on the micro-blogging site, nothing but harmless speculation, and somehow the Metro believed this to be word on high regarding the Spaniard’s current position.)

Back to the question at hand. If the fans and the people involved in managing Liverpool had a choice, would they be worse off seeing the back of Fernando Torres, or the back of Pepe Reina? As mentioned before, as sad as most are to see Torres go, I think it’s an easy question to answer.

A quality goalkeeper, as Arsenal knows all too well, gets you about 10 extra points a season. This can be the difference between safety and relegation, European qualification and mid-table mediocrity, and winning the league and coming in second. When losses are turned into draws and draws turned into wins because the man between the sticks makes some world class saves, it becomes more clear that his position may be even more important than the ones scoring the goals.

Don’t misunderstand and think that I’m saying strikers are insignificant, that’s not my point at all. But key to grabbing points is not just up to how many the team scores, but how many you keep out in the end. You’ll never lose a game if you don’t concede a goal and all that.

Reina Has Two Golden Glove Awards And Numerous Broken Records To His Name

After the game against Stoke, two wonderful things happened. First, Liverpool managed to finally gain a positive goal difference. It took 25 games, but at least they got there. Second, and most importantly, Pepe Reina kept another clean sheet, his third in a row to be exact. And on top of that, Reina passed Elisha Scott for third highest clean sheets in LFC history. That’s an amazing feat for a keeper who has only been at the club just over five years, and also managed to beat Ray Clemence’s record of fewest goals conceded in their first 50 games by notching 28 clean sheets in his first 50 appearances. Add to that his two Premier League Golden Glove awards for most clean sheets for three years in succession (three if you count 2008 when he tied Petr Cech), and you see what an incredible asset Reina is.

On top of that, Pepe Reina has the reputation of a lovely and jovial young man. He celebrates more than most when his team wins and score important goals, and he, we’d like to believe, is Liverpool through and through. He has even joked that his kids have scouse accents. The fact that he’s been made captain in the absence of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher speaks volumes about his leadership, commitment, and talent. Gerrard even testified last season as to the immense character of Pepe Reina, and believes that he will indeed one day captain the club.

Reina made his intentions clear last year by signing a contract extension, and committing himself to Liverpool for many years to come. He was one of the first to do so in a season filled with low points, which just goes to show the perseverance and faith he has in Liverpool. He was quoted as saying during the most recent transfer window, when his position at the club may have been in doubt, “Obviously, I want to be part of a team that has the chance to win the title, win major trophies and to play with the best players – but I expect that to happen here at Liverpool, and for the club to return itself to that level. I plan to stick to my contract.” I imagine Pepe might have had one or two things to say to his Spanish compatriot about loyalty before he walked out the backdoor.

At the end of the day, Liverpool Football Club and its fans want players that want to play for them. In Reina they have a world-class talent and loyal servant to the club. If I had to make a choice this past transfer window, as difficult as it would have been, I would have chosen for Reina to stay. And while Liverpool may once again be fooled into taking a player’s word as his bond, you get that feeling that Pepe means it – really.

Liverpool Transfer Saga 2011: Adios Torres, Hello Carroll And Suarez

By , February 1, 2011 12:06 am

It’s amazing what can happen in football in the span of a few days. As I sit and reflect on what turned into a turbulent weekend for Liverpool Football Club, it’s hard to decipher through all the mixed emotions. There have been ups, there have been downs, and there has been a lot of anxiety in between waiting to find out which one was coming next. In the end, the January transfer window closed with us saying goodbye to a player who disappointed many with the manner of his departure, creating a gaping hole in our collective heart where the love for him used to be. And while this pain may be the legacy he has left behind, it’s much more important to now look to the future.

Cue Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. Don’t worry; I will get back to Fernando Torres, as his becoming an official Chelsea player does not mean he’s nothing to do with Liverpool at all anymore. But for now, I’m going to focus on the positive, and for the first time in a long time, there is a lot to be positive about.

This is the first transfer window in eons that Liverpool has been truly involved in. Let’s just step back for a minute and appreciate this. I know many fans (especially those at other clubs that don’t quite understand LFC or know what we’ve gone through) are quick to point out the massive transfer fees splashed out by club owners FSG in the last few days. Many are saying the £55 million or so was a ridiculous amount spent on two largely unproven strikers, one who last played in Holland, and one who just entered his maiden year in the Premier League. But when studied a little more closely, they may just prove correct and perhaps in time, a bargain.

Let’s first look at Luis Suarez. He’s a young (24), versatile striker who can play off a central striker, on the wing, or in a partnership. Anyone who has watched videos of his goals on YouTube can attest to his natural and predatory striking ability. He’s quick, he’s feisty, and he has a hunger to play at Liverpool. He arrived at the club thrilled to be there and has since been caught on film at Melwood with an enormous smile plastered on his face.

A Beaming Luis Suarez Can't Wait To Play For Liverpool

He is quoted as saying in his first official interview as a player, “I’m very happy to be here, to me this is the most important club not just in England, but in the whole world.” He claims to have watched Liverpool as a boy and followed the English league, while also pointing out that the Liverpool fans are the greatest in England. He says it’s a dream to play there. There’s not much more you can want from a new star signing, and Luis has endeared himself to the fans almost immediately with his warmth and excitement for the club. His goal scoring record speaks for itself with 49 goals in all competitions for Ajax in the 2009-10 season. It remains to be seen whether he can replicate this sort of form in England, but he looks to be a fearsome and electrifying prospect.

Andy Carroll, the other new addition about to don the famous number nine shirt, came as a bit of a surprise to Liverpool and its fans. With Torres so abruptly putting in a transfer request at the end of the window, it left Dalglish and Co. scrambling. In the circumstances, you might expect some rash and silly decisions to be made. Liverpool needed a replacement striker fast with Torres on his way out, but FSG was not about to throw away all their plans on building for the future simply because they had little time to make a snap decision. They were never going to buy just anyone, even if it was with one eye on the summer to make the real purchase. Bringing in the right player was paramount, but FSG also had an opportunity to make a real statement of intent.

When the name Carroll was first mentioned, I was skeptical. Although he has shown a lot of skill over the first few months of the season, this was still Carroll’s first time in the Premier League. And immediately the colossal transfer fee Liverpool offered for him took me aback. But once I had some time to look past the inflated fee (some of which is due to the Man City effect, some due to the fact he is English), I was able to see the potential of the player. For starters, he is a mere 22-years-old, and only just turned 22 this month. He has the ability to play well for a number of years to come and if successful, could potentially offer Liverpool a sizable return on their investment should they wish to sell in the future.

Dalglish Welcomes Liverpool's New Number Nine

According to Kevin Keegan, Carroll is one of the three best headers of the ball he’s ever seen. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s also technically sound with his feet. Watching him earlier this season, you could see the way he was able to use his strength to power into the box, challenge extremely well for headers, and score some lovely goals, of which he already has 11. From the initial evidence, you get the feeling that he has a lot of the skill Torres has, combined with dominant heading prowess, and most of all, the ability to hold the ball and link up play. For all Torres’ strengths, the latter was never his cup of tea.

What could also prove quite exciting is something else Torres lacked: the ability to play as part of a strike partnership. With the attributes of both new strikers, it seems clear they have the opportunity to compliment each other very well. Carroll could play up on his own with Suarez on one side and Maxi, Kuyt, Cole, Jovanovic, or Gerrard flanking the other, but the pair could be lethal with Suarez playing just in behind. With Carroll’s ability to hold up play and create around the box, coupled with Suarez’s finishing and ability to join in the play, the partnership is starting to seem mouthwatering.

And how it all comes full circle is the partnership of Torres and Suarez was also looking quite tasty before Torres’ oddly timed decision to leave was thrust onto the club. Upon more reflection, it’s key to remember that Torres was never very good at playing in a partnership. All the times it was tried with him at Liverpool, nothing ever seemed to work. And for those that say the surrounding players at Liverpool just aren’t good enough, then what excuse can be made when Torres plays with Spain, up front with David Villa, and always looks out of place and ineffective?

This begs the question of how the Spaniard will fit into the Chelsea system. With Drogba, a player who is also used to playing up front on his own, it will be interesting to see how the two combine. And this means of course that Anelka will have to be dropped to make way for the new striker. Or perhaps Drogba will be dropped. Or maybe even one of the coveted midfielders of Lampard, Essien, or Malouda. Abramovich may have been keen to finally get the prize he’s always wanted, but Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti may not be thanking him anytime soon for the re-think he will have to do with his squad.

As was mentioned in the previous post regarding Torres’ poorly timed (and possibly ill-advised) decision to leave Liverpool, Chelsea are an aging team looking more on the verge of a slide rather than an ascent. While they may continue to have an inordinate amount of funds to invest, they will need to replace the most important positions on the team, all at the same time, very soon.

This is compounded by the fact that Torres will turn 27 before long and could very well have played his best days at Liverpool. Take Michael Owen as an example of a striker who has looked a shadow of the player he once was. His speed was exhilarating to watch, and while his finishing skills have never really waned, the consistent injuries and time on the sidelines has affected him mentally and physically. Speedy players tend to burn out younger as their hamstrings continue to give way more easily. The evidence of this was clear the last 18 months or so with Torres, and Liverpool fans had to put up with a number of spells of him injured or lacking in confidence due to his injuries. This was always something that should be a concern for Chelsea, and one they might be worried about sooner rather than later.

It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Fernando Torres, and at this moment in time, I’m not quite ready to forgive and move on. I believe the way he handled his departure from the club was unprofessional and disrespectful to everyone at Liverpool, especially the fans. The timing, the motivation, and the exact reasons for his desire to leave a team that idolized him are still not clear, and it will be an interesting few weeks ahead as some of the truth comes out.

At the end of the day, it’s a shame that Torres couldn’t see to give Dalglish and the new owners until at least the end of the season to prove him wrong about Liverpool moving in the right direction. That is of course if we are to believe his main reason for joining Chelsea is to win trophies. He tarnished what could have been legendary status at the club, similar to the one the current manager still has. In my opinion, I feel he will one day regret the decision he has made (if he hasn’t already), and he will have no one to blame but himself.

Even Ryan Babel, a much maligned and indifferent player to most of the fans left with parting words of appreciation and gratitude for his time at Liverpool, even going so far as to say he wishes everyone at Liverpool luck and hopes they end up in the top four where they belong. Torres’ parting words, as he joins Chelsea tonight, so far have been, ”This is the target for every footballer. To try to play at one of the top-level clubs in the world and I can do it now.” Make of that what you will, but as his respectability amongst Liverpool fans is currently rock bottom, not even mentioning the club and his time there strikes yet another cruel blow.

It’s difficult to say when I’ll be able to look at Torres with appreciation and respect once more. I’m sure it will happen one day, but the way in which he deserted the team when it had a bright future to offer him is still fresh in my mind.

But what is important now are the two new players that have joined Liverpool today. Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez are the future of the football club. And as Kenny Dalglish said in his laconic comment today regarding players, “The most important people at Liverpool Football Club are the people who want to be here.” And right now, those people are two young lads named Luis and Andy. Welcome to Liverpool.

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