Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chelsea has had an astonishing return to form during the past two weeks, with wins over Newcastle, Valencia, and now Manchester City.  The three consecutive wins has seen them go through to the Champions League knockout stages at the top of their group and seen their return to the third position in the English Premier League table. 

The early stages of yesterday’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City did not go as Chelsea had planned. It took less than two minutes for Manchester City to find the net. Mario Balotelli was played in on goal after a fantastic dribbling display and even better pass from Sergio Aguero.  After the Italian striker found himself in on goal he successfully eluded keeper Peter Cech and Branislav Ivanovic to slot home the game’s opening goal.

The disaster start for Chelsea continued throughout the opening fifteen minutes of the match, with City dominating in attack while Chelsea looked unable to string together more than a couple passes.  City’s attack continued during this opening period, aided by some errant Chelsea passing, but ultimately proved fruitless.

As the game closed in on the half hour mark, Chelsea looked to have regained their senses and was now attacking with regularity.  Didier Drogba tried several shots from distance, but was unable to find the mark and Ramires’ surging runs came more frequently.  Just after the half hour mark the game changed when Daniel Sturridge found some space on the right side, dribbled into the box, broke down City’s Gael Clichy with some dazzling footwork, and delivered a bullet cross to Raul Meireles who hammered it home for the equalizer. 

That goal changed the game as Chelsea immediately began dropping deeper to contain the Man City attack that can be overwhelming at times.  City was struggling to cope with Chelsea as the first half drew to a close.

The second half began with Gael Clichy receiving a yellow card for holding back Daniel Sturridge who again found himself space on the right side.  Mata’s role in the game increased in the early stages of the second half as well and Chelsea was beginning to find more space during their attack.  It would take just thirteen minutes for these attacks to pay dividends when Gael Clichy earned his second yellow card for a lazy challenge on Ramires.

The next ten minutes saw Chelsea squander several opportunities to test the Manchester City backline.  Roberto Mancini elected to sub off Sergio Aguero for defender Kolo Toure.  Chelsea elected to use one of their substitutions to bring on Frank Lampard for goal scorer Raul Meireles.  Andre Villas-Boas urged his players to attack and his team responded. 

In the 82nd minute, Daniel Sturridge again found space, cut inside from the right and fired a shot that struck the raised arm of Joleon Lescott.   The referee blew the whistle and pointed to the penalty spot. Frank Lampard stepped up to the penalty spot and after a short discussion with Juan Mata blasted the ball down the center past the diving Joe Hart to give Chelsea the 2-1 lead.   He rushed over to celebrate with the raucous Chelsea crowd that was delighted to see their hero deliver the go ahead goal.

The last few minutes of the match proved to be a frustrating affair for Manchester City as Chelsea was content to maintain possession and let the clock run down.  After some trickery from Didier Drogba, the final whistle blew and Chelsea held their ground for a victory at Stamford Bridge.  The defeat was the first of the season for Manchester City who still hold the top spot in the Premier League. 

Chelsea’s return to form comes at the expense of some of its prized possessions.  Andre Villas-Boas seems to have found a starting formation and squad the work after an early season full of experimenting.  That formation includes new signings Raul Meireles and Oriel Romeu starring in the midfield, but this comes at the expense of seasoned Chelsea veterans like the beloved Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel.  Ramires has really found a role similar to the injured Michael Essien, with surging runs forward that are essential to Chelsea’s attack. 

While much has been made of AVB leaving both Alex and Nicolas Anelka (and Anelka’s transfer to Shanghai) out of senior squad training, even more questions are being asked of Frank Lampard’s role in AVB’s squad.  Lampard has played well in recent matches, but has expressed his displeasure at being substituted and does not appear to enjoy the role of being a substitute.  Today Lampard said that he is willing to see out the remaining 18 months on his contract and fight for a place in the starting XI. 

With Sturridge, Mata, and Drogba up front, Chelsea has a new found flair in their attack.  Spectacular play from Mata has allowed Didier Drogba to regain his form that had dipped early in the season.  Sturridge has played very well for Chelsea on the right side, earning himself a goal in the Newcastle match while having his hand in the two scored against City.  As a result of this preferred selection, Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou have also found themselves in roles similar to Lampard.  It will be interesting to see if Villas-Boas’ commitment to injecting the side with young players will continue as the season progresses or if he will decide to stick with the golden generation that has brought Chelsea its past glory.

Highlights here:

JT and Super Frank get the background for their loving embrace.

Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 by Lex

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Monday, December 5, 2011

The term “Renaissance Man” is heard less and less in today’s world where specialization is favored, but it was the perfect term to describe Brazilian football legend Socrates.  The man’s expertise transcended the football pitch, where his technical abilities were on display, it was his voice and actions that found their way into Brazil’s hearts.

After beginning his career at Botafogo SP while completing his medical studies, he was transferred to Corinthians where he spent the majority of his career.  He boasted an impressive scoring rate with the club having 172 goals in 297 appearances and also led the team to Sao Paolo state titles in 1979, 1982, and 1983.

As the captain of the 1982 World Cup Selecao, Socrates was not the most gifted player, but it was his leadership, technical ability, and imagination that helped the squad become regarded as one of the best to ever play the beautiful game.  Despite their loss in the second round to eventual winners Italy, Socrates’ squad played some of the most dynamic and exciting football the world has ever seen.

Socrates’ most important contributions to his club and country came away from the football pitch.  Along with full-back Wladimir and with the consent of the Corinthians team president, Socrates organized the Corinthians’ Democracy.  The ideological movement came during a time when the ruling military dictatorship’s philosophy of “Brazil - Love it Or Leave” was coming into question.  The Corinthians’ Democracy allowed squad players to vote on the management of the club by a simple raise of the hand.  The experiment proved to be successful with team members eventually overturning the practice of concentracão, where players were sequestered for the days leading up to matches.

The most famous decision made by the Corinthians’ Democracy was when Corinthians players decided to print “Vote on the 15th” on the back of their jerseys to encourage Brazilians to vote in the 1982 elections.  This marked the first multi-party democratic elections since the 1964 military coup.  The Corinthians’ Democracy marked the first attempt at management through player votes, and the successful experiment has not been repeated since.  Socrates continued his part through speaking with crowds at pro-democracy rallies, and engaging the Brazilian public through his writing and appearances, speaking not only about football, but politics and the economy as well.

After Corinthians, Socrates went on to have stints with Fiorentina, Flamengo, Santos, and finished his career retiring as a Botafogo SP player.  During his early career he finished his medical studies and when he retired became a practicing doctor in the town of Ribierao Preto.  His ongoing dialogue with the Brazilian people continued until the very end, just last month he came out against Brazil hosting the World Cup, as he viewed it as “a private product that is using public resources.”

For all his gifts and talents, Socrates was still a flawed man.  A notable heavy drinker and smoker, his eventual demise can be attributed to two vices that Socrates himself appeared to be at terms with.  One of Socrates’ most famous quotes “They don’t want me to drink, smoke, or think, well, I drink, smoke, and think.”  Socrates’ style, cool nature, and back heel trickery continue to inspire footballers and fans alike.  The news of his death brought tributes from dignitaries such as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, footballers Rivaldo, Ronaldo, and Zico, and even NBA star Steve Nash.  The praise he has received comes from people as diverse and multi-talented as the man they are praising, showing the true influence that Socrates has had.

The happy ending to this sad story, Socrates’ beloved Corinthians faced off against local rivals Palmeiras in a game that could clinch the Brazilian League for Corinthians.  The two sides played a tenacious 90 minutes, complete with a late match brawl, with both sides receiving red cards.  Corinthians was able to hold out for a 0-0 draw that allowed them to clinch the Campeonato Brasiliero Serie A title. 

Socrates was a man that was incredibly talented, a hero for democracy, and one of the greatest people associated with the beautiful game.  The midfield magician who took a stand for democracy will continue to remind future generations that “Being sensible isn’t always the best thing.”

Rest in Peace Dr. Socrates Brasiliero Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliviera 

Posted on Monday, December 05, 2011 by Lex

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