All posts by Ben McAleer

Joe Cole on the verge on West Ham return

As this is being written, Joe Cole is waiting on the last finishing touches for his move to West Ham be completed, a move which would bring him back to the Boleyn ground, his boyhood home.

West Ham through-and-through and like so many others in the early 2000’s, Cole was plucked at the height of his potential. Along with Cole, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson and Rio Ferdinand were all bought from the Hammers at key times in the players development, with the only difference between Joe and the rest is, Cole’s coming back.

Yes, that may be via Chelsea, via Liverpool, via France and via the treatment table, but you try stopping the Hammers fans saying he’s coming home!

Long had it been discussed early in his career Cole would be the next big thing with his speed, ability to beat a man, dribbling, confidence, versatility to play wide or central, drawing obvious comparisons to a certain Mr Gascoigne, but Joe was his own man.

At 16-years-old, Manchester United offered a reported £10 million for a lad who hadn’t played a competitive match, then a year later at 17 it all started for him. He made his debut in the claret and blue and by the time he was 21 he even captained the side, but that’s when he left.

Chelsea came calling and so did a winners medal, but he gradually got frozen out at Stamford Bridge with injuries no doubt playing their part. Competition was aplenty and he ended up leaving on a free transfer to Liverpool, a smart move a lot of people thought, others a shrewd one, but a year later he was loaned out to Lille after an injury hampered season at the Reds.

Lille was a success in some sense. Better form, injuries were kept at bay but more importantly, Joe got games under his belt, something that hadn’t happened consistently for a few years and this gave him and Liverpool supporters a glimmer of hope.

However he is again on the move and is praying that he can establish himself as a key figure in Sam Allardyce’s squad.

Good luck Joe, but more importantly, good luck West Ham.

 

Falcao ready to light up 2013

As the January transfer window moves into full swing, Chelsea Football Club are in their usual, frenzied state, people are wondering, who are they going to buy next?

Well, with recent reports of striker Daniel Sturridge being sold to Liverpool in the window, that’ll then leave the club with just one recognised forward, the struggling Spaniard Fernando Torres. Usually, we see a swirl of rumours, of forwards from across the globe being linked with a club like Chelsea, but this time only one is being mentioned; Radamel Garcia Falcao.

The Colombian forward has been in immaculate form this season with 20 goals in just 16 games, a record which would be worshipped around the world, if it weren’t for the ridiculously talented lad at Barcelona, Messi is it? Nevertheless, a Falcao-insipred Atletico Madrid, often called Real’s ‘little brother’ have risen to second in the league table, providing Barca with their biggest challenge, as their so called big brothers continue to flounder in La Liga.

Last Sunday’s match at the Nou Camp may have ended in a 4-1 loss for Atleti, but Falcao silenced the 90,000 crowd with the opener, and for a good half an hour they were harassing the home team, getting in their faces and giving them a run for their money. Alas, goals came from unusual sources, right-back Adriano scoring a spectacular equalizer, before Sergio Busquets put them 2-1 up just before half-time, after which Messi dominated, preventing Falcao and Atletico from a famous win. It was sign of intent though, both from the challengers and their talismanic number 9, they mean business and look on course for a top 3 finish at the least, and a return to the Champions League, the question is, will Falcao make it back with them?

Let’s rewind back to Summer of 2011. Our Colombian hero had finished his second season at Portuguese treble-winning Porto, and a huge 38 goals in all competitions, with 17 in the Europa League success, which saw a new record set. Atletico, on the other hand, were in a slight state of flux, having suffered an average season, 7th in the table and early exits from the cups and selling their two world-class forwards, Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan, to new homes in England and Italy, respectively. Fortunately, for Atleti, with their financial gain came the arrival of Radamel Falcao, paying the £40million buy-out clause Porto had inserted into his contract, which turned into a bit of a bargain.

He fit like a glove, becoming the Spanish side’s number one player, everything revolved around him. Excelling in the Europa League once again, but with his side floundering in La Liga, in came Argentine Diego Simone in a move that has revitalized the club entirely. Ever since Simone’s arrival, Atleti have been on fire, winning a 2nd Europa League title in 3 seasons, and 2 out of 2 for Falcao. Perfect start! This season’s exploits have been well documented, but are Atleti about to lose their star man, as they’ve become accustomed to with the departures of Aguero, Forlan and, previously, Fernando Torres?

Some have even questioned whether Torres might be up for a return to the Vincente de Calderon, to rediscover the form that made him one of the world’s most feared forwards, and saw him idolised by Atleti’s boisterous support. A swap deal then could be a good option for both parties, with Torres’ time at Stamford Bridge not having too many highs and Atletico surely snapping off Roman Abramovich’s arm for the reported £60million transfer fee that’s being banded about Europe. Of course, Simone would love to keep him until the Summer when he’d most likely have the golden carrot of Champions League football to tempt his star man to stay, but Atleti must have contingency plans for this inevitable departure.

Personally, I think Falcao would relish the Premier League. It’d suit his ‘targetman’ style of play, and on first look he would appear to be a clumsy, slow forward, but you’d be a fool to think that’s all he has. He’s shown in his time in mainland Europe that he’s capable of scoring many different types of goals, long-range strikes, a poachers tap-in, headers galore and cheeky backheels. Infact, in the recent 6-0 rout of Deportivo La Courna, in which our man scored 5 out of the 6, he showed many of these attributes, the explosive pace, the superhuman strength and his unnerving presence in the box, unnerving for defenders that is!

With Chelsea employing a system of constantly ‘buzzing’ playmakers this season, the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata, he’d fit in beautifully, allowing a couple of the trio to play off him to great effect. That seems to be the one thing Chelsea are missing this season, a confident, consistent front man. For all the millions spent, this is the one area they haven’t gained much in, which may just convince owner Abramovich to support his interim boss Rafael Benitez and make one more significant outlay in the squad, in a topsy-turvey season for the Blues so far.

Of course, if the move goes through, Falcao will have his doubters in England, every foreigner tends to, but he can point to one massive example of his talent, proof he can score against English sides, and something fresh in the minds of every Chelsea supporter. Just this September, Atleti and Chelsea faced off in the UEFA Super Cup, for winners of Europe’s top two competitions, everyone assumed Chelsea would stroll to a meaningless trophy win, but that’s not what Falcao had in mind. He hit a superb hat-trick in a game which, ironically, started the rumour mill off, and led to then manager Roberto Di Matteo’s dismissal. A 4-1 victory was the outcome, but will the eventual outcome be Radamel Falcao in a blue shirt come the end of January? Who knows, but whatever he decides, wherever he may go, he’s going to have a phenomenal 2013.


Top Five Worst January Transfers

Happy New Year. As resolutions are broken and Christmas decorations come down, the sense of hope that the January transfer window offers a football fan is at least some comfort at a bleak time of year.

The window presents the opportunity for teams at both ends of the table to strengthen their squads for the long and bitter months ahead, as well as giving the media a chance to make wild claims such as Lionel Messi going to Russia.

Names such as Radamel Falcao, Demba Ba, Wesley Sneijder and David Villa are all floating around as well as some more likely movers (David Bentley, Wayne Bridge, Robbie Keane etc.) Evidence, however suggests the window is little more than speculation. In the past few windows, very few big transfers have been made. Last year’s window was used mainly for mid-lower table clubs to secure loan deals for squad players and to off-load bench-warming squad players onto lower clubs.

The reason clubs tend to avoid spending big in January is that new-recruits are often ineffective. It is difficult for a player to adapt to the style of an already bonded team mid-way through a season. Players are brought into make an instant impact, but would need time to gel with a set-up, and therefore can often be seen as a flop and replaced in the summer.

That’s not to say the winter transfer window is a complete waste of time; stars such as Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez were all able to adjust to their new surroundings and become vital players. However even they were not at their most effective in their first half season, but were fortunate enough to be given a chance the following year.

However not every team can afford to give players a second chance in this way. New recruits can lead to a well-earned break for first teamers and make a small contribution, but history has shown it is a mistake to break the bank in January. Here are my five biggest January signing flops;

Robbie Keane LiverpoolTottenham 2009 (41 games 10 goals)

After Keane’s dream transfer to Liverpool turned into a nightmare, the Irish forward returned to previous employers Tottenham on a £12m transfer. Returning to a former club is often a mistake, and Keane struggled to match a heavy price-tag. Weighed with expectation of days gone by, Keane found himself with less and less playing time, and was loaned out to Celtic and West Ham before being sold to LA Galaxy.

Darren Bent SunderlandAston Villa 2011 (48 games 20 goals)

Hit-and-Miss striker Bent had enjoyed the form of his life at Sunderland before being sold for a club record £24m to Aston Villa. The pricey transfer seemed initially to have paid off as Bent scored in his debut and scored 9 goals in 16 games in an impressive first half-season. That, however, was as good as it got for Bent, who could only manage 9 goals in his second season and has been largely overlooked this season. 

Andy Carroll NewcastleLiverpool 2011 (44 games 6 goals)

Liverpool, after just selling star-striker Fernando Torres, had a striker to find, money to spend and not very much time as they bumbled into this £35m transfer for the highly rated 21-year-old Andy Carroll. Carroll had played well for Newcastle, but £35m was a crazy sum to pay for a striker with only a half-season of premiership experience. Unsurprisingly Carroll struggled to make an impact, seemingly unable to adjust to the Liverpool style of play. He was later loaned out West Ham, but luckily for Carroll he didn’t face too criticism in the light of Torres’ poor form at Chelsea.  

Ricardo Quaresma Inter-Chelsea 2009(4 games 0 goals)

Once upon a time Quaresma was one of the highest rated wingers in Europe, but after an unhappy period at Inter, he was loaned out to Chelsea in 2009. A classic example of a quality player being wasted through the January window, the highly paid Quaresma was left to rot on the bench after not fitting in at Chelsea

Pascal Chimbonda SunderlandTottenham 2009 (3 games 0 goals)

Pointless is a word that comes to mind when recalling Chimbonda’s ill-advised return to Spurs in 2009.  The French defender had a productive first spell at spurs, but left after being deemed surplus to requirements. Chimbonda was strangely bought back by Harry Redknapp for £3m and then was only played 3 further times.

Will Mata

Luis Suarez …Football’s modern day Artful Dodger?

Kudos must be credited to Martin Tyler, of Sky Sports, for the provision of this thought provoking comparison. Tyler made the comment in the aftermath of a late Luis Suarez equaliser at Stamford Bridge in November. The Uruguayan forcefully shoved Chelsea’s Brazilian Ramires within the 6 yard box, engineering himself the space to head in from close range, earning Liverpool a hard thought 1-1 draw at the home of the European Champions. However, with closer reflection, Tyler’s throwaway remark could carry levels of high credibility, as close comparisons run deep between the Uruguayan forward and the deceiving character that utilised his cunning mannerisms to run amok in Charles Dickens acclaimed novel, Oliver Twist.

To indulge in a commonly utilised comparison, Suarez could comfortably be branded The Premier League’s equivalent of Marmite, a renowned food spread with the attached marketing slogan of, ‘love it or hate it.’ Since his £22.8million move to Anfield from Ajax in January 2011, Suarez, 25, has become a quintessential fans favourite at Liverpool, showcasing not only inhumane levels of technique but also an incredible work rate, endearing to many fans in what remains a largely working class sport. However, before analysing the reasons behind this seemingly perpetual love affair between Liverpool and its iconic number 7, we must first remind ourselves why Suarez is loathed by many, with feelings of exasperation and anger that run far deeper than a typical begrudging of a rival’s star player. 

Those that follow our sport across the continent will be aware that controversy and the mercurial talent, that is Suarez, went hand in hand long before he arrived upon Merseyside. In November 2010, towards the end of his highly successful days at the Amsterdam Arena, Suarez bit PSV’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder, culminating in a 7 game league ban for the striker. The aforementioned incident is just one example of several unsavoury, internal and external, events during his time in the Netherlands.

Since his move to The Premier League almost 2 years ago, the striker has continued to be embroiled in controversy. Suarez was infamously fined £40,000 and banned for 8 matches after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Partice Evra.  It should also be noted that as the FA panel gathered evidence of the Evra’s accusations, an elongated process in itself, Suarez was again charged with misconduct and awarded a one game ban for making an offensive gesture to fans during a damaging defeat at Fulham.

The striker has also been caught up in incidences of diving, with Stoke boss Tony Pulis calling for retrospective action from the FA after some amateur dramatics during a 0-0 draw this season. In a similar vein to Gareth Bale, it appears that previous misdemeanours are now somewhat hampering Suarez when it comes to unjust refereeing decisions. However, if truth be told, a game barely goes by without Suarez showing at least brief glimpses of petulance, a personal gripe is the way less than eloquent way he goes about demanding a hand ball off the referee.

As with many of the game’s elite players over recent eras, we must see beyond these flaws to appreciate the prestigious talent that Suarez undoubtedly is. Suarez is charismatic, with a wonderful work rate that acts as a highly effective backdrop to his undeniable flair and technique. This desire to win is infectious, he carries his side at times and almost certainly now surmounts his captain, Steven Gerrard, as Liverpool’s most influential player. Furthermore, the fact that the forward appears to be the beneficiary of many deflections and scrambles is no co-incidence. He has a desire to constantly be involved and extremely rarely finds himself on the periphery of a game.

If there was one underlying criticism it was that Suarez was not as clinical as he had proved at Ajax, often showing a lack of prolificacy when faced with the whites of the goalkeepers eyes, as well as being seemingly cursed by woodworks throughout the nation. Playing in an inconsistent outfit, the striker has more than rectified any issues this campaign. With a further brace against perennial strugglers QPR yesterday, Suarez now has 13 league goals for the season, already two more than he managed in the entirety of last season’s campaign. Perhaps his most resplendent moment of this campaign to date was his equaliser at home to Newcastle. Receiving a pin-point diagonal from Enrique, Saurez displayed an impeccable first touch and a drop of the shoulder, deceiving both Coloccini and Krul, before rolling the ball into the empty net infront of the Kop.

Much has been made of the manner in which Brendan Rodgers is trying to change the style of play at Anfield, undertaking a seemingly long-term project, hopefully concluding in a successful and aesthetically pleasing style of play. Signs of progress are increasingly evident, however in a season in which the club and many of its players, including the once integral Steven Gerrard, have been riddled with levels of inconsistency; Rodgers must be delighted with the sumptuous manner in which Suarez has reacted in the face of adversity.

A similar concoction of prosperity and contentious issues are mirrored whilst reflecting upon Suarez’s international career. Many will immediately point to arguably the most notorious incident of the 2010 World Cup, in which Suarez was sent off for hand-balling a late goal bound header, indirectly denying Ghana a place in the last 4. Lest we forget that in this instance the striker acted as a martyr, sacrificing an appearance a World Cup Semi Final to give his nation an unlikely route of progression. To this point, Suarez played a distinctive role, scoring 3 vital goals, including a group stage winner against Mexico and a decisive double against Denmark in the last 16.

A year later, Suarez was again instrumental as Uruguay won a record 15th Copa America title. He was named player of the tournament, scoring four goals in the process, including a semi final brace and the opening goal in a 3-0 triumph over Paraguay. Since making his debut in 2007, a game in which he was sent off, Suarez has become an iconic national treasure, with an impressive 29 goals in 61 appearances to date. Uruguay’s advances towards Brazil 2014 haven’t been as smooth as they may have hoped, with bruising Autumnal defeats in Argentina and Bolivia hindering progression. The form of the enigma that is Suarez, along with that of Edison Cavani, is fundamental to the South America’s hopes of qualification and any serious impact that may be made upon the tournament itself.

To return to the unflattering comparison offered at the outset, in many ways Luis Suarez does indeed resemble the Artful Dodger. The Uruguayan is undeniably sly and cunning, and will go beyond ethical means to find a way in which to win a football match.

However, if one is prepared to look beyond these patently obvious flaws, you will discover a player that effectively harnesses high levels of individual brilliance with a burning desire to be part of a successful group of players. The Artful Dodger was ultimately banished ashore for his betrayals and sinful ways. Although in highly incomparable circumstances we must hope that for the good of the English game, Suarez is neither tempted by the bright lights of, say, the Santiago Bernabeu or hounded out by the continuous haranguing of the English media. 

Michael Dobson

 

West Ham United – 2012/13 mid-season review

Getting promoted to the Premier League was as much of a relief as a joyous occasion for West Ham fans. Another season in the Championship would have done a lot of damage to the club, not just financially but to the squad as many of the players probably would have left. The players did a great job to beat Blackpool in the play-off final at Wembley, with Ricardo Vaz Te scoring the winning goal in the 87th minute.

Pre-season didn’t go as well as the Irons would have hoped though. Four defeats and two draws may have left fans worrying about the season ahead, but as the first few games were played it became clear that the fans should have no cause for concern unless something were to go drastically wrong. Only one loss in the first five games left West Ham 8th in the Premier League, two places above their rivals Tottenham.

After the first 5 games, it was obvious that West Ham’s most important player was going to be Mohamed Diame. He bossed the midfield in every game, stopping the opposition’s attackers from threatening the goal as well as getting forward when needed.

Wins against QPR and Southampton pushed West Ham up to 7th place and a home defeat to Arsenal sandwiched between those two wins did nothing to stop the players performing in the way they had been in the previous games. After the 4-1 win over Southampton, the Irons played poorly against Wigan and lost 2-1. An early goal from Ivan Ramis, (a player who almost made a switch to West Ham over the summer) scored after 8 minutes and West Ham never seemed to recover.

The next game was against the Premier League champions Manchester City. The expectations of West Ham fans were understandably quite low but a good home record gave them some hope. They defended resolutely and were unlucky to see Kevin Nolan’s volley ruled offside. City were unable to break down the Hammers’ defence and the game ended 0-0, a very good result for West Ham indeed.

The next two games gave West Ham 4 points, an away win against Newcastle which was an unexpected result in many ways and a home draw against Stoke. This wasn’t the result the fans would have hoped for. though the Potters dominated the first half and scored after 13 minutes, although they couldn’t extend their lead. The second half belonged to West Ham and a rare goal from Joey O’Brien levelled the game, but his team were unable to go on and win the game.

Two defeats in a row against Spurs and Manchester United left West Ham in 10th place, but they got up to 8th win a superb win over Chelsea. Many must have thought it was going to be the Hammers’ third defeat in a row when Juan Mata scored after 13 minutes, but the Blues couldn’t take advantage. A goal from Carlton Cole mid-way through the second half put his side the front foot. Mohamed Diame put West Ham 2-1 up with only 4 minutes remaining and Modibo Maiga got the winner in the 93rd minute. It was the best game of their season up until then and will probably end up being the best win of their season.

Since then, things haven’t gone quite as well for the Irons. They probably should have got something out of the game against Liverpool but it was pretty much lost when Diame went off with an injury. The next match saw West Ham drawing 0-0 with West Brom, a good result for the Irons and a deserved point in the end.

West Ham suffered two defeats in a row in their next two games, including a 2-1 home loss to Everton which was extra painful as Carlton Cole was sent off and the circumstances surrounding it arguably led to the game ending in defeat for the home side. Losing away to Reading didn’t come as a surprise as they were just starting to find their feet in the Premier League and needed to win that game. In the end it was obvious that they wanted it more than the visitors.

It hasn’t been a bad season at all for the Irons – 6 wins, 5 draws and 8 defeats after playing 19 games is pretty good for a team fresh from the Championship. Games against Sunderland and Norwich stand out as games they should have got more out of, but a win against Chelsea and draw against Manchester City go some way to making up for those draws. If things go as they have been so far this season, West Ham should finish mid table. They won’t be challenging for a place in Europe but won’t be sucked into the relegation battle.


 

Arsenal – The Transfer Window

Arsenal go into the New Year 5th in the Barclays Premier League after an already up and down season. They have qualified for the second round of the Champions League, but were knocked out of the domestic cup competition by League 2 opposition Bradford City. Now comes the time for change, the time when you can add and dispose, it’s the January Transfer window.

As per, December has been full of transfer rumours and 31 days in January rarely let us down. Last minute transfers, shock transfers, it has the lot. This season it should be no different.

Arsenal have been heavily linked with a few players already, Barcelona’s David Villa, West Ham’s Diame and Schalke’s Klaas Jan Huntelaar to name but a few, but do Arsenal really need to change a lot?

This season (especially early season) they have impressed me. Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski look like top signings but if they do need to do anything this January it is offload before they import.

Arsenal have a number of players who are below average or just simply not cut out for the Premier League and they need to go. Arshavin, Gervinho, Djourou, Santos, Chamakh are first to spring to mind. Arsenal also have a number of players who are out on loan who, in my opinion, will never make it at Arsenal, Park (Celta Vigo), Denilson (Sao Paulo), Nicklas Bendtner (Juventus), and Emmanuel Frimpong (Charlton).

The above 9 names need to be disposed of by Arsene Wenger as soon as possible, not only will this free up squad space but will increase the funds available to Wenger to bring in fresh faces. Arsenal have a fantastic first team, however when injuries and suspensions come into play, they lack quality back up.

After watching Arsenal – Newcastle yesterday, Arsenal need to move to 4-4-2 pairing Giroud and Walcott in attack. The 4-3-3 was leaving Arsenal vulnerable at times and I believe this new formation could make them more compact as a unit therefore harder to break down. Another striker is needed; Giroud, Walcott and Podolski, there needs to be a fourth and as shown above the name that has been on everyone’s lips is Barcelona and Spain international David Villa.

Villa is now 31 and in footballing terms he has passed him peak. After his horrific leg break he has not seemed the same player and rumours have been thrown across Europe that he will be leaving Spain in the near future. I for one believe this is not what Arsenal require. David Villa will cost at least £10,000,000 and at his age I can not see much of a return on that price.

A name recently on Arsenal fans lips is Atletico Madrid’s attacking midfielder Arda Turan. The Turkish international has impressed this season in a budding Madrid side and this in turn has sparked interest from across Europe. Turan will cost around the same price as David Villa and at 6 years younger Turan would be the way to go. Another option, I believe the better option, is Newcastle United’s want away striker Demba Ba. Demba is a proven Premier League goalscorer and in recent years this is what Arsenal tend to shy away from, but with a £7,000,000 release clause this is too good to miss.

In midfield Arsenal need an anchorman, they need a Patrick Viera. Abou Diaby is the answer for some Arsenal fans but with the injuries, names have been mentioned and rumours have been circulating this December. Yann M’Vila (Rennes), Etienne Capoue (Toulouse), Mohamed Diame (West Ham) are a few names to be linked with a move to the Emirates.

One player that hasn’t been mentioned and I believe would be a fantastic signing for any club is West Bromwich Albion defensive midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu. I have watched Mulumbu a few times this season and each time I have been impressed, he is solid in the tackle and plays the simple game. He does the classic defensive midfielder job, breaks up play and distributes the ball. This what Arsenal need and as we all know Arsene Wenger is tight when it comes to spending, so maybe snapping up the Congo international would be a cheaper and a wiser option.

Anything can happen with Arsenal as we know, but Arsene needs to be clever in January to secure that lucrative top 4 position. Arsene has been living on the edge this season, and after the defeat to Bradford many were calling for his head. The second half of the season needs to start well at Southampton and as a Portsmouth fan I hope Arsenal kick off 2013 in style.

@TaylerWillson


 

The Case of the Blues: Chelsea’s shaky start to the 1st half of the 2012-2013 campaign

Last May, Chelsea surprised both its fans and neutrals alike in winning the Champion’s League for the first time in its 107-year history, defeating favorites Barcelona in the semi-finals and edging out Bayern Munich on penalties to become the first London-based club to win European football’s most prestigious competition. And hence, despite finishing in 6th place following a roller-coaster season which saw them start out with one coach and finish with another, the Blues qualified for next season’s edition of the CL at the expense of rivals Tottenham who had to settle for a Europa League spot.

Their pre-season tour in the U.S. was by no means a success—they had only one solitary win over MLS’s Seattle Sounders before finishing with a tie vs. PSG and consecutive losses to MLS All-Stars and AC Milan, and upon returning to England lost 3-1 to mid-table Championship side Brighton. Still, one could argue that pre-season performances aren’t an entirely accurate predictor of how a team will fare in the actual season—Real Madrid, who won all 4 fixtures of their U.S. tour, yet is currently languishing in 3rd place, 16 points behind rivals Barcelona—is a prime example.

Yet, despite their disappointing pre-season tour and starting off the season with a 3-2 loss in the Community Shield to Manchester City as well as a 4-1 drubbing by Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, Chelsea started the season off solidly, and in the earliest rounds of action were undefeated and sitting on top of the table. They’d also started the CL group stages off decently, tying Serie A champions Juventus 2-2 in their opening match and easily brushing aside Danish minnows Nordsjaelland 4-0 in their first away fixture. However, over the next few weeks in October, their good start to the 2012-2013 campaign began to crumble: in the span of a week they not only lost their first CL match to Shakhtar, but also followed it up with their first PL loss to Manchester United. By the following month, they had lost the top spot in the table after drawing 1-1 to Swansea, and despite a victory against Shakhtar thanks to a stoppage time goal from winger Victor Moses which propelled them to the top of Group E, they still continued to struggle in league play, falling further behind leaders Man U and failing to register a victory in the entire month of November.

 The Blues’ November nadir continued with a 3-0 defeat to Juventus in their away fixture, their heaviest loss in the CL group stage and left them on the brink of elimination from Europe’s premier football completion. And, as we’re all aware, despite defeating Nordsjaelland 6-1, Juventus managed to defeat Shakhtar thanks to an own goal by the Ukrainians and Chelsea became the first team to receive the ignominious honor of winning the CL and failing to get out of the group stage in the next season.

Given the fact that under Roman Abramovich’s 9-year ownership, the Russian czar has gone through a whopping 9 coaches thus far—something more commonly seen in the Italian league and unheard of in the EPL—not surprisingly, following their defeat in Turin, manager Roberto di Matteo was sacked in favor of former Liverpool and Inter Milan manager Rafael Benitez, a man, whom, to put it frankly, didn’t have Chelsea fans singing his praises. Under their new coach, the team didn’t start off well—losing their first game before finally winning their first league fixture in 7 against Sunderland. Yet, the roller-coaster continued: despite getting through to the CWC final, they lost, 1-0, to Corinthians, only to come back from Japan and score 14 goals in 3 games—a 5-1 comprehensive victory over Leeds in the League Cup, a 8-0 mauling of Aston Villa (the highest PL victory thus far this season), and earned a much-needed 3 points in a scrappy 1-0 defeat of Norwich City.

Currently, they sit in 5th place, a massive 16 points behind Manchester United, so re-claiming top spot in the table is definitely out of the question. Still, as they prepare for their last league game of the 2012 calendar year vs. Everton, who sits 2 points behind them, albeit with an extra game in hand, one might be wondering where things went awry, especially in the Champion’s League. Certainly, Chelsea’s fans weren’t anticipating their team playing in the Europa League and being in the unique position of possibly winning Europe’s premier and secondary competitions in consecutive seasons, and whether Benitez is still at the helm of the London-based club come end of the reason remains to be seen. But one thing is certain—fans will be hoping that after the bumpy ride thus far, smoother sailing is in the forecast for the second half of the season in 2013.

Michelle Bonsu