Chelsea Who are you (1): Very high highs and not so low lows

Jake: 'no cross words from Neil
Jake: no cross words from Neil

John McCormick writes: This being an important weekend, we’ve decided to double up on the “who are you” contribution. First up is my guest, Neil Tabor, like Colin and myself, exiled but keeping his faith for decades. Not that it has been difficult for him these past few years.

I didn’t ask Neil to predict the final places until after last weekend. I nearly didn’t ask him at all…

Read moreChelsea Who are you (1): Very high highs and not so low lows

Chelsea Who Are You?: view from The Bridge

For our latest WAY we turn to a young Chelsea fan, Scott Parsons who blogs as Chelsea HQ and reached the finals of the 2015 Football Blogging awards. ( Twitter + Facebook!)

Scott is old enough to have seen Chelsea in the days before the Russian Billionaire’s takeover, but not really old enough to remember them when they were consistently also rans and delighted in the Pensioners nickname. Here he share his thoughts on his team and what’s going wrong, the Blue’s manager who since the initial posting this morning is now their ex-manager for a second time, Sunderland AFC and a host of other stuff.

Jake wants answers ...
Jake wants answers …

Who’d have guessed it? It would be too cheeky to call our game a relegation six-pointer but what has gone so badly wrong?

On current form and the way things are going for Chelsea, I wouldn’t call it cheeky at all. It is very difficult to pinpoint one thing and I would say it’s a lot of collective things put together. The main reason for me is a poor summer transfer window. I know how privileged I am, as a Chelsea fan, to watch this team of world-class players every week – but you can’t stand still in terms of strengthening your squad if you want to retain the Premier League title.

Mourinho seems to have written off the top four already. Do you agree or do you feel Chelsea could still win just about everything between now and the end of the season and fight a way into the leading places?

So far, this Premier League season has been crazy. Top teams are dropping points on a weekly basis and you simply don’t know what is going to happen next. I was quite confident before our defeat to Bournemouth that there was a small glimmer of hope, but now it will take something that has probably never been done before. The best we can aim for now is probably a place in the Europa League – and even that is a big task.

If not already dealt with, when will Abramovich’s patience with the Special One run out and would you be inclined to say it should? (We obviously now know the answer to this question – asked before today’s decision Ed)

Chelsea fans in an unfamiliar spot this season.
Chelsea fans in an unfamiliar spot this season.

Abramovich deserves a huge amount of credit for his patience with Mourinho, as his club is in real danger of missing out on a lot of money at the end of the season. While I’m still fully behind our manager, I think a decision could be made if Chelsea still find themselves near the bottom three at the start of 2016.

I just spent a few seconds looking at your squad and it beggars belief that such an elite bunch of players has struggled to perform. From Costa’s indiscipline to Oscar and Pedro’s anonymity, who do you consider the worst culprits?

Cesc Fabregas has undoubtedly been our worst performer this season, closely followed by Branislav Ivanovic. While the right-back looks slightly better now, having recovered from an injury, both players look like they simply don’t care anymore. Diego Costa has also been terrible, but I am confident he will come good again.

And I bet you can almost hear the smug approval of countless neutrals who seem to have it in for Chelsea – why do you think so many dislike CFC?

While they would never admit it, jealousy plays a big part. The money, the success, there are many reasons. I don’t actually mind all the hate. What does annoy me, though, is that people like to ignore the fact that Chelsea had a very good team and won some decent trophies before Roman Abramovich showed up in West London.

On the same theme, the Paris Metro incident looked ugly and indefensible but do you feel your club has no greater problem with racism than others?

I was in Paris that day and was shocked to learn what had happened. Before the game, I was having drinks in a bar near the stadium, where Chelsea and PSG fans enjoyed a great night of football together. Like you said, the actions by a small minority are indefensible, but it did feel like the media paid much more attention because Chelsea ‘fans’ were involved.

Only a few months later, a group of Manchester United supporters were caught singing anti-Semitic songs on a train back from a football match. That incident was reported in a couple of local newspapers, but no major news agency picked up on the story. These incidents are equally horrible and it should not matter who is involved. It goes without saying that I fully support lifelong banning orders. It’s important to remember that these people do not represent their club’s fan base.

Jake: 'anything Bournemouth & Leicester do, we can better' Can't we?
Jake: ‘anything Bournemouth & Leicester do, we can better’ Can’t we?

But you’ve had great success in recent years. What have been your own highs as Chelsea supporter? I suppose this season is the obvious low.

Winning the Champions League in 2012 has to be the best memory I have as a Chelsea fan. We had come so close in previous years, and winning it the way we did, against all odds, is something that will never be repeated.

Another special day was at Bolton in 2005, when Frank Lampard secured Chelsea’s first Premier League title in 50 years – the start of a great era for Blues fans.

And from a long list of contenders, who are the greatest players you’ve seen in Chelsea colours?

Chelsea have had so many world-class players over the last decade and beyond, but Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard in particular are right up there. They were leaders on and off the pitch and lived through some of Chelsea’s greatest moments together. Not being able to replace two of them properly is one of the main reasons we are struggling so much this season.

Name any player/s who should never have been allowed near Stamford Bridge.

Khalid Boulahrouz, Tal Ben Haim, Minerio, Papy Djilobodji

And how badly do you need a big ground?

I think it’s essential for Chelsea to build the new stadium. Some pictures were released by the club last week and the concept looks stunning.

Tell us what you think about Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city & region, Big Sam.

It’s clear that fans up north are very passionate about their football clubs, and the Stadium of Light is always rocking. There’s a real fight within Sunderland and you always seem to avoid the drop. Big Sam is a decent manager and I think he will keep you guys up this season.

Would any of our players have a cat in hell’s chance of making your bench, even this season?

Jake's take on Yann the Man!
Jake’s take on Yann the Man!

Yann M’Vila has been a great signing for Sunderland. As things stand, I would even have him in our team ahead of Cesc Fabregas. I’d also have DeAndre Yedlin on the bench to challenge Branislav Ivanovic for a spot at right-back.

What will be the top four in order?

1. Manchester City
2. Arsenal
3. Manchester United
4. Tottenham Hotspur

Don’t feel obliged to spare our feelings: who is going down and where will our clubs finish if not already mentioned?

Premier League new boys Bournemouth won’t survive; they will be followed to the Championship by Newcastle and Aston Villa. Sunderland will finish in 16th, Chelsea in 8th.

Diving, the feigning of injury, trying to get opponents booked or sent off, crowding the ref. Is it high time we recognised cheating and boorishness as part of the game and just tried to get our players to do it better – or is it still something we should aim, to stamp out?

I would never encourage players to cheat, not even to our own advantage. Diving has gotten so much worse over the last couple of years and the football authorities should maybe be thinking about suspensions. The problem is, how do we prove it?

What single step should the authorities take to improve the lot of ordinary fans?

Ticket prices are ridiculous these days. Proper fans are being priced out while more and more tourists and corporates visit the big football stadiums in England. If we’re not careful, the next generation of football supporters won’t be able to afford to go to football matches and the atmosphere will die.

Will you be at our game and what will be the score?

Unfortunately not, but I will be keeping my fingers crossed for a Chelsea home win. 2-1

Finally: a paragraph or two on who you are, what you do, your history of supporting Chelsea and as big a plug as want about your site

Scott Parsons on himself: I am a 22-year-old student, who set up Chelsea HQ in 2010. When I don’t have to study for an exam, I spend most of my day trying to provide fellow Blues all over the world with news, rumours, stats and everything related to Chelsea Football Club. The likes of Gianfranco Zola, Ruud Gullit and Roberto Di Matteo made me fall in love with the club and I was lucky enough to experience a wonderful period before Roman Abramovich took over – which was a lot more enjoyable than people think.

Chelsea HQ was nominated for a Football Blogging Award in 2015 and you can follow me on Twitter + Facebook!

Sixer’s Man City Soapbox: effort and commitment come to naught

Jake: 'at least we made them work for it'
Jake: ‘at least we made them work for it’

Malcolm Dawson writes …….I watched this on the telly. Usually I shy away from talking about individual players’ performances when I haven’t been to the match because the small screen doesn’t allow you to see what is happening off the ball. Someone like Seb Larsson for example can frustrate the opposition by his positional play, blocking the route of an incisive pass or tracking the run of a player from deep. No such inhibitions on the first half at the Etihad as for most of that 45 minutes there were 10 Sunderland players in the picture, usually in two ranks, 18 and 24 yards in front of the goal line. Gus had set his stall and parked the bus and it appeared to be working but the tight marking and compact formation meant that when we did win possession there was no room for the player with the ball. On the odd occasion we did get into the City half we looked assured in possession but our attacks were by and large dealt with comfortably and City soon had us back defending deep. Those first half possession stats are frightening. That Yaya Toure should produce a wonder strike in the second half was not totally unexpected and this one was as good, if not better, than his effort at Wembley. Once behind we were forced to attack and looked a better side for it – at least on TV. Pete Sixsmith was there to witness things first hand.

MANCHESTER CITY (away) 01/01/15

SBOXMANC (2)New Year’s Day dawned without a hangover, a far cry from those days in previous decades when the head would be thumping and the stomach would be churning after quaffing too much Strongarm and scoffing an excess of corned beef pie. Now, a respectable senior gentleman, it’s a night of Mapp and Lucia and a single whisky with the next door neighbours before I was tucked up in bed, disturbed only by fireworks being let off in the next street. Up at 6.00, a good breakfast and off to Thinford for the coach.

We arrived in Bury at 10.45 to find no buses, no trams and nothing open. The clientele in one of the Wetherspoons seemed more concerned with coffee and tea than ale, so I went for a walk and ended up outside Gigg Lane, a ground that provokes fond memories for Sunderland fans after we wrapped up promotion there fifteen years ago.

My first drink of 2015 on the station bar at The East Lancs Railway – a rather nice pint of Titanic Lifeboat – and then we sauntered down the M60 and the A57 to Eastlands, where I was frisked and asked to remove my cap in case I was smuggling something in. Like what? A bottle of vodka? Four cans of beer? A flare? Stewarding gone mad and there is always a large number of them at this stadium. I wonder if the home fans are treated in the same way.

Jack Rodwell made a rare appearance against his former club and Connor Wickham was given an equally rare opportunity up front as he returned to the scene of the game where his renaissance started last season. City looked a little short without Aguero but had Jovetic back as their lone striker.

For 45 minutes, the Beswick Billionaires huffed and puffed and barely threatened The Giant Pantilimon. The entire Sunderland team dropped deep when they had to and forced City to move the ball, sideways and backwards, but rarely forwards and when they did get into the box, Jovetic showed all the composure and quality of Danny Graham. O’Shea marshalled his back four, while Rodwell was quietly effective in front of them. Johnson and Larsson were busy and Wickham worked hard up front against two large central defenders.

The best save in the first half came from Willy Caballero (crazy name, crazy guy) who pushed an excellent free kick from Larsson around the post just before the break and we trooped off at half time looking comfortable as long as City remained so (relatively) ineffective.

They didn’t and showed their quality in the second half by coming at us and forcing us deeper and deeper. When the opening goal came, it was hardly a surprise. That it was scored by Yaya Toure was even less so. In the absence of Aguero and Dzeko, Yaya is the man they go to for a goal. He had lined up a couple of shots in the first half but had been thwarted by some excellent tackles, but this time, he was set up on the edge of the box and he produced a fantastic strike to give them the lead.

A decent performance against his old club
A decent performance against his old club

Poyet responded positively by sending on Giaccherini for Gomez but we went two down in the 66th minute when the ineffective Jovetic flicked the ball in from Clichy’s cross. Game over we thought as the City crowd woke from their New Year slumbers. On came Alvarez and back we came. Larsson’s excellent corner was headed in by Rodwell and then, when Billy Jones was fouled by Zabaleta in the box, up stepped Adam Johnson to convert the penalty. We were back in the game and thoughts of a spectacular win began to appear. Giaccherini and Alvarez had both played a part in the goals and their pace was causing City problems.

Enter Frank Lampard, a player I admire and a man I detest.  His header restored City’s lead before we could settle after the euphoria of the equaliser. It came from a good cross which Brown should have cut out and Lampard sent in a beautifully placed header to put them back in front. From that moment on, they never looked like losing. They stretched us and ran at us down the flanks. TGP made three excellent saves to stop them inflicting even more damage on our goal difference and they ran out deserved winners in the end.

The other results were not helpful and they left us a mere three points above the bottom three with Liverpool and Spurs to come before we meet Burnley in what could be a vital game for both teams.  Leicester are flickering back to life, Palace and West Brom have appointed new managers and Hull have managed to beat a team that is not Sunderland. Everton are a point better off than us and are on the edge of the battle while Villa can’t score.

And what about us? There were things to like on Thursday – a commitment to the cause and some good individual performances. I thought Rodwell looked good and that Johnson had a fine game. Hopefully theirs were not performances solely to show the City hierarchy how good they were and that both can maintain this level of performance throughout winter and spring. Giaccherini indicated that he might just give us that little bit extra behind a striker. He runs at defenders and gives us a different approach to the game which the likes of Buckley and Gomez do not. Both are increasingly looking like championship players – which is what they were up until August.

On Sunday, we have an opportunity to move forward in the FA Cup. Defeat to what looks like a relegation threatened Leeds United side is out of the question and I hope that as strong a team as possible is selected. Giaccherini, Alvarez and Rodwell all need to start and all need to show that they can play a major part in lifting us away from our seemingly never ending struggle with relegation.

The journey home was enlivened by excellent commentary by Connor McNamara and Steve Claridge on the goal fest at White Hart Lane amidst predictions as to how Mourinho would try to explain this one away. Maybe he should take a leaf out of Gus’s book and accept that he was beaten by a better side.


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Jake flags the feature allowing you to have your say on topic or off
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Soapbox: forget moaning Fergie, smug Lampard. Just pity Plymouth

Right: a busy run-up to Arsenal at Saturday lies in prospect with at least two Who are You? features lined up. A good time, then, to let Pete Sixsmith get a few things off his chest about the state of modern football …

It’s a bright and breezy Wednesday and I have spent the day with ten 16-year-olds while suffering from a cold that has made me feel that my head is in a vice.

The papers and the internet are full of the usual Ferguson complaints about referees and there are pics of the incredibly smug Frank Lampard banging in the winning penalty at Stamford Bridge last night.

Read moreSoapbox: forget moaning Fergie, smug Lampard. Just pity Plymouth