CHELSEA’S ‘KILLER’ COUNTERS
The result of the weekend came in the London derby as Chelsea hammered, obliterated and pulverized title-rivals Arsenal 6-0.
In Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, it was Jose Mourinho who embarrassed the Frenchman, with Chelsea’s devastating counter-attacks tearing Arsenal apart. The Blues were 2-0 up after seven minutes in the game Wenger had billed as “the game of the season.” Speaking to reporters afterwards, this is what Mourinho had to say.
“It was 10 amazing minutes, I knew that in 10 minutes we can win the game,” Mourinho said. “As we say in football, ‘we come to kill.’ In 10 minutes, we destroyed. After that it was easy. We got a penalty, they got a red card, 3-0. Easy. But my analysis of the game is about the first 10 minutes. We were very, very good. We pressed very high immediately, because we know they like to have the ball and pass it at the back. We pressed high and recovered the ball, attacking the space very fast. Those 10 minutes were amazing.”
That incredible high pressing and counter-attacking style has become a theme plenty of PL teams are credited with doing superbly this season, but none do it better than Chelsea.
When Mourinho sold Juan Mata to Manchester United and dropped the likes of Ashley Cole this season, many questioned why on earth he would do that. But it was to implement this style, and this plan with players who could carry it out. On Saturday, with David Luiz and Nemanja Matic reunited in the center of midfield, those two broke up so many attacks, and then Chelsea could pounce on the counter.
The term “counter-attack” is overused and has fairly simple connotations to most, but if you get it just right, it can be devastating. We saw that with Chelsea time and time again against Arsenal, and the pace, power and guile Mourinho’s men showed to clinically dispatch the chances they kept churning out when winning the ball back. Matic and Luiz were key to that, with the amount of tackles they attempted (see table on the left) in the middle breaking up the play and the sheer size and athleticism overpowering Arsenal’s central midfield area.
On Eto’o’s goal after four minutes, see the picture on the right which shows when the ball was given away By Arsenal after pressure from Luiz and Andre Schurrle. Then Oscar played in Schurrle to give the German a three-on-three counter which he seized at full-speed, which Eto’o eventually finished off superbly. In 12 seconds Chelsea went from winning the ball on the edge of their to the ball hitting the back of Arsenal’s net.
Mourinho set up his side to thwart the Gunners passing through the middle of the pitch, with Schurrle and Hazard tucking in to support Oscar in a tight three-man unit directly behind Eto’o. Every time Matic and Luiz would win the ball, Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar would career wide and create space to get in behind Arsenal’s shambolic defending. As you can see on the left, the average position of Chelsea’s attacking unit is so compact, that they stopped the Gunners playing in the engine room and then were able to spring intricate attacks whenever they won the ball back.
Mourinho has tweaked this style all season, as the Blues have gone from being an expansive unit which tried to play attractive soccer, to a ruthless machine which has handed him success in the PL, Portuguese Liga, Serie A and La Liga in the past. Basically, he’s gone back to what he knows best and has bought very well in the transfer market by adding players who can play these rapid two-way roles perfectly. Look at the stats of tackles and interceptions from Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, those full backs bomb up and down the flanks all day long and epitomize Chelsea’s incredible work-rate.
Asked if the 16th minute red card handed incorrectly to Kieran Gibbbs (more on that shortly) had a big say in Chelsea’s blowout win, Mourinho laughed.
“No, because after seven minutes it was 2-0… so after 70 minutes it should be 20-0,” Mourinho joked, “I am making fun. Obviously to play against 10-men is easier, but I think after the opening 10 minutes and the way we started, this game was our game.”
If Chelsea continue to be this devastating on the break for the rest of the season, this PL title could be their title.
As for Arsenal, Wenger didn’t show up to the post-match press conference after speaking with a few outlets in tunnel immediately after the match. The reason given for his no-show was that “the bus was leaving and he had to get on it.” But in his 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, Wenger’s future with the North London club seems to have been thrown into doubt after his side were “killed and destroyed” by Mourinho’s ruthless counter-attacking machine.
WHY VIDEO REVIEWS SHOULD STAY AWAY, FOR NOW
Sat in the cramped press box on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, there was already plenty of jovial slaps from myself and other journalists before the pivotal moment of the match arrived. Chelsea led 2-0 after seven minutes, against an Arsenal side unraveling before our eyes. But what myself, and over 41,000 others inside the Bridge were about to see defied belief.
Eden Hazard arrowed a shot towards the goal and as the ball passed Arsenal ‘keeper Szczesny and headed towards the bottom corner, a player came out of nowhere to flick the ball away with his outstretched hand. I say ‘a player’ because in real time, nobody where I was sat had a clue exactly who it was.
Referee Andre Marriner, who was at a similar angle to myself but 50-yards closer, paused, then walked, then paused, as Jose Mourinho ran around with his arms flailing like a madman, after jumping off the bench and spiraling in circles protesting (as only Jose can) at the handball we’d all just seen. Marriner, after much deliberation, gave the spot kick. And as he chatted away on his microphone, the PL referee would’ve wanted to hear some more information from his other officials in his earpiece. But nothing. A blank look adorned Marriner’s face, as he now realized he’d awarded a penalty for a clear handball… but had no idea who’d committed the crime.
Eventually, he chose to send off Kieran Gibbs. The Arsenal left back flipped out, as the cries of disbelief and squinting at the miniature screens began ferociously in the press seats situated just behind the team benches. Even as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the guilty party, had informed Marriner that it was his hand which had knocked the ball wide, but Marriner didn’t change his mind. Mourinho’s assistant coach Steve Holland turned to the press behind the dugout to ask who had handled it… even he didn’t know.
A few of us responded that it was Chamberlain and we got a thumbs up from Holland, but the damage was done for Marriner, who has since issued an apology, but this moment will go down in PL history. After he sent off the wrong man, Marriner will long be the butt of jokes across England and further afield.
But how can we rectify mistakes like this in soccer? Video reviews are the number one answer when this topic comes up. A small TV screen in front of the fourth official to help with controversial moments, which will then clear up any mistakes the referee makes on the spot. In theory it is a great idea, but my argument is: where do you draw the line?
Several contentious decisions take place in soccer throughout a 90-minute match, you can’t review all of them. Unlike the NFL, where video reviews are commonplace, soccer is not a stop-start sport. Having witnessed several atmospheres in NHL games hampered after lengthy video review decisions, I think bringing these reviews into the PL and elite levels of soccer would be a bad idea, for now. I’m all for suggestions as to how we can make referee’s decisions easier, but I don’t think stopping the game every five minutes to check replays multiple times on a TV screen is the way forward.
Marriner got it wrong, but in that split-second at Stamford Bridge, the vast majority of humans who walk this earth would’ve done the same. Having something, or somebody, to help with those kind of knee-jerk calls is needed. But I have to admit, debating the calls live on the stadium and for hours afterwards is a heck of a lot of fun. If TV reviews come in, would we lose that debate over a pint in a bar?
At a certain point of the season, commentators will run out of superlatives to describe Luis Suarez’s strokes of genius. That time could be about now.
On Saturday Liverpool were trailing Cardiff City 2-1 but managed to fight back and win 6-3, with a hat trick from Suarez stealing the show as the Reds have now scored 82 goals in the PL. The Uruguayan now has three trebles this season, and six for Liverpool in total. He also has 28-goals and counting, which equals Robbie Fowler’s record as the most goals scored in a single PL season by a Liverpool player.
Safe to say, Suarez will surpass that comfortably. Stunning finishes with his left and right feet, coupled with sublime set up play to get his strike-partner Daniel Sturridge on the scoresheet, leave me in no doubt that if Liverpool somehow win the PL, Suarez’s goals will be the main reason they’ve prevailed. A stunning striker called Suarez is scything down records on a weekly basis. And oh yeah, did anybody forget he was banned for the first five games of the campaign? Remarkable, checked out yet another signed match ball ‘El Pistolero’ gets to take home and wedge in the trophy cabinet.
WONDERGOALS GALORE: ROONEY ‘DOES A BECKHAM’
Last week in Playback, I stated that “I can’t remember seeing a stronger top five goals video” so far this season. Well, this week was even better. Wayne Rooney led the way with a volley from close to the halfway line in a goal reminiscent of David Beckham’s wondergoal for United back in 1996 against Wimbledon. That famous goal which help launched Beckham to stardom, as the commentator brands it as “a goal we will talk about for years.” He was right, nearly 20 years on that goal is the first thing we mention after Rooney’s sublime 60-yard strike. But the question is, will Rooney’s goal be mentioned in the same breath as Beckham’s two decades from now? On the volley and with a bouncing ball to control, in many ways Rooney’s strike is arguably better than what Goldenballs conjured up.
Becks was on hand to see Rooney’s magical strike, as the England star produced a moment of sheer brilliance. If it wasn’t for that, any of the next four strikes would’ve usually taken away the goal of the week gong, as the PL was rife with spectacular goals. Yaya Toure’s long-distance curler, Alex Tettey pulverizing the ball on the volley, Samuel Eto’o curler or Fernandinho’s blast. In Week 31 we were blessed with an incredible 42 goals, most of which were stunners. Watch the video below in awe at the PL’s top five goals from last weekend.
Bonus: Here is Beckham’s famous strike in ’96 to salivate over, and compare to Rooney’s wondegoal. Which goal from halfway was better?
U.S. STAR CAMERON: HOLDING MID IN BRAZIL?
Stoke City’s resurgence continued on Sunday, as the Potters hit back after going behind early to win 4-1 away at Midland rivals Aston Villa.
U.S. international Geoff Cameron was undone by Fabian Delph’s trickery who set up Christian Benteke for the first goa, but Stoke’s ‘Mr. Consistent’ made amends with another solid performance capped off by his second PL goal of the campaign. In the 92nd minute, Cameron strode forward as Stoke countered and looked to polish off an already resounding away win. As the ball broke on the edge of the box Cameron’s marauding run was timed perfectly, as the former Houston Dynamo star slotted the ball into the bottom corner to make it 4-1 and give him bragging rights over his U.S. teammate Brad Guzan.
With runs and finishing like that, could Cameron slot into Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield for the World Cup this summer? It is no secret that Cameron’s position in the USMNT starting XI is not secured. With the PL player playing at right back for Stoke for two-straight seasons since he arrived from MLS, many would pigeon-hole him as the starting RB in Brazil. But with Brad Evans pushing Cameron all the way, it may be elsewhere that the Bostonian flourishes with the U.S. national team. Given Klinsmann’s insistence on his players playing at the top level possible, Cameron is performing well week in, week out in arguably the toughest league in the world. Surely that means there will be a spot for him in the USA’s starting lineup in the WC opener against Ghana on June 16? Central midfield, central defense or RB, wherever he plays, you know you can count on Cameron.
RELEGATION PICTURE TAKING SHAPE
Down at the bottom of the standings, it was doom and gloom for many teams this weekend. However the big winners were Norwich City, who catapulted themselves up to 13th in the PL and are now seven points clear of the drop zone after a comfortable 2-0 win over Sunderland. The Black Cats remained intrenched in relegation battle after that defeat, so do Swansea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion after they all lost.
Elsewhere, West Ham have been dragged back into the equation as they have 31 points and are just six points ahead of Sunderland in 18th but Gus Poyet’s side have two games in hand. With three of the bottom seven in action midweek, the relegation picture will be clearer by the time Saturday rolls around, maybe. But it’s still anyone’s guess as to whose will be demoted to the Championship next season.
To watch the latest relegation struggles play out, and all the other goals, the video below gives you everything you missed from Week 31.
Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.