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The proud Bostonian tells us what life is like behind-the-scenes in England’s top-flight with Q&A’s, first-person pieces and more. This week Geoff recaps his day in the studio with the NBCSN crew for Arsenal vs. Chelsea, Stoke’s progress, Chelsea’s defense and the relegation battle.
Take it away, Geoff…
Looking back at last weeks game against Sunderland on Saturday, we were disappointed to not win but after a bad start we recovered well to get a point. I came off in the 85th minute with a bit of a fascial strain near my hamstring, so I was disappointed to go down with an injury but I am focused on trying to do everything possible to make sure I am fit and ready to go for this weekends big game against Swansea City.
On Sunday it was a privilege to be an analyst in the NBC studio at Arsenal vs. Chelsea and work alongside Gary Lineker, Graeme Le Saux, Lee Dixon and Arlo White. It was very cool to be a part of that with the entire production crew behind-the-scenes and to get that experience in the studio. Watching two of the best teams in the Premier League, it was a game where Jose Mourinho really showed his brilliance.
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Tactically, everybody questioned him before the match because he wasn’t playing with a striker but Chelsea defended so well with John Terry being the leader back there. The way he organized the defense was sensational. Mourinho, tactically, made it very, very difficult for Arsenal to break them down and that is why they walked away with a point and they are a point closer to clinching the title. That’s the way he will look at it.
For Chelsea, the key to defending as good as they do is the partnerships and familiarity they have back there. Speaking from experience, the more you play with the player next to you then the better you get. You get more comfortable in the partnerships and you learn their habits and vice versa. That breeds faith in each other. That is one thing that Mourinho has done really well with all of his teams when you look throughout history. He has always had that team camaraderie and cohesiveness. That really resonates on the field and you see that players love to play from him and after chatting with other guys who have played under him before, they all say he’s “a players coach” and guys want to play for him and doing anything to win. That is the main thing, that winning mentality. And the fact that he is always there to back up his players means a lot. That relates to the field because you see his guys throwing their body on the line and blocking balls, plus after the game you see how excited they were to get that point.
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A lot of people aren’t fans of the way Chelsea are playing lately but they got a result and its very difficult to defend the way they defend, especially when they were playing a team like Arsenal who are very good on the counter and in possession of the ball. When they keep the defensive and midfield lines very tight, it just shows how well organized and disciplined they are. That is not easy to do, believe me.
But this way of playing is nothing new to Mourinho either. I remember watching them play in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal against Barcelona back in 2010. Mourinho set Inter up to defend away at the Nou Camp and they lost 1-0 but limited Barca and made it to the Champions League final, which they ended up winning thanks to another superb defensive display against Bayern Munich. His teams are okay with not having the ball in certain games and I think Mourinho knows Chelsea haven’t played their best football since January but they are finding ways to win. That is what good teams do. At Stoke, that is what we are trying to do. We have done a good job at that but it is very hard to be consistent throughout the season. Being able to not play well when lots of players are struggling but grind out results and play well defensively, to make sure everything goes your way, that is very hard to do.
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Moving on to Stoke, if you look at the form everyone is in above us they are doing well. The likes of Southampton, Tottenham and Swansea are ahead of us right now. Then you have all the big boys ahead of them. We have beat some big teams and we want to stay in the top 10 and we will be very disappointed if we don’t finish in the top 10. Our goal is to finish higher than we did last year and if we finish ninth then that is one step closer to getting to the next goal. We play Swansea this weekend and if we beat them, we move up to eighth and we just want to finish the season strong and keep improving. Every year you have to get better and better, finish in a higher place, get more points and more wins. Everything.
Looking down below us right now… man, it is a madhouse down there! The relegation battle is going to be huge and one of the big storylines in the league between now and the end of the season. Anything can happen. You cannot predict anything. Who would have thought Liverpool would have lost to Hull on Tuesday? It all depends on who shows up that day. That is the great thing about football and sports in general. On any given day anybody can beat anybody. Look at Leicester City, I know Robert Huth very well and as soon as he turned up at Leicester on loan from Stoke he told me “I think we are going to stay up” and he has believed it and the players there obviously have faith in each other. They are one of those teams where everyone is playing for one another.
At Stoke we were in a bit of a sticky situation a few years back, not quite as late in the season as this, but it was anxious around the locker room and the entire club. Everybody is on edge and it is a tough situation to deal with. When you see teams like Leicester, the big reason for their resurgence is that they have faith and they have shown their resilience over the last four weekends. With things so close at the bottom, it makes the games more entertaining and it will make the end of the season very interesting. For teams at the bottom, there has to be no fear right now. The fact that everybody doubts them already, that means they have to go out with the mentality of saying ‘hey, let’s play every game like its our last.’
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To finish off with, I just want to give a big shout out to everybody in the production staff at NBC. The likes of Pierre Moosa have been wonderful in helping me along with my broadcast work and it was great to be involved in the studio show last Sunday and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting involved in a few more coming up to get some more experience. It was a long day but was really fun, entertaining and I felt comfortable. Have to give a huge thanks to Gary Lineker and Graeme Le Saux, both of whom are legends, for being so welcoming and we had a really good time in the studio. It helped me settled in to things because it is not an easy thing to do but I’m looking forward to the next one.
And oh yeah, afterwards I got to meet Ted Lasso, otherwise known as Jason Sudeikis! That was a real honor, I love his movies. He is hilarious and we managed to get this group photo, below. Great, right? It was a pleasure to meet Jason and he’s a really cool dude. Down to earth but boy, he is one funny guy. I told him he needs to start wearing a Stoke jersey around and support us, so he said he’s going to come check out a game…
Let’s all look forward to that! Anyway, thanks for all the support from across the pond. Until next time, peace!