|photo by DownTown Pictures||via PhotoRee|
Columnist Ed returns from a rather lengthy dry spell to appear once again in our pages:
1. Chelsea's Imploding
Chelsea is a good story this week, made better by their loss to Napoli in the Champions League last evening. Napoli run a 3-4-3, a system not seen in the EPL very often. They've also got two and half top-level strikers. But that's all they have. Their back three are average at best, as is their midfield. Yet the score last evening could have been 6-1 in favor of Napoli if not for several easy chances missed by the Italians. So what's going on at Chelsea...?
Well, first of all, Andre Villas-Boas is trying to phase out the wrong players at the club, and he's doing it all wrong. The first rule of the phase out is that you don't phase someone out until you have someone better to replace him. That would seem obvious, right? The best player at the position should start until he's no longer the best player. Age alone should not be the trigger.
It follows that Raul Mereiles -- who was absolutely painfully awful last evening, both in possession and on defense -- should not start over Frank Lampard. Until Luka Modric or Wesley Sneijder is on the team, Lampard's the guy.
And with all due respect to Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge may now be better. Fernando Torres is, of course, not close to either of these two. And ABV had an opportunity to phase out Drogba by giving Sturridge a chance at the top spot. Instead, he stuck it out with Torres. Granted, this may not be his fault, but wow, I'm not sure what teams Torres would start for right now. And on the other end, Sturridge could be leading the league in goals if he played for Manchester United or Spurs, or even in the appropriate position at Chelsea.
Finally to pile on -- Chelsea's defense has been abysmal this year. David Luiz plays with the confidence of someone who believes he's twice as good as everyone else, when, unfortunately for Chelsea, he's actually about half as good. This leads to constant mental errors.
It's hard, though, to chalk up the defensive problems solely on account of the players. I can imagine almost any manager in the league would be delighted to have Ashley Cole, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill in his back line. Which brings us back to the Manager: I have a theory that his biggest problem is his lack of ego. I suspect he's being pushed around by the players and the ownership. Ultimately, AVB seems like too nice a guy to get it done in the EPL. His players don't fear him; I suspect they find him to be weak. As such, all it takes is one more bad loss and his brief tenure will be over at Chelsea.
2. Manchester's Greek Problem
It turns out that Manchester United are still splashing around in $700 million dollars worth of debt. It would be easy to explain all of United's problems on this debt, and perhaps it has and will keep them a step behind the mega-clubs like Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc. That said, they did bring in an astounding $227 million in revenue last year. That's a monster number. Plus they were able to spend $72 million on new players. That's not exactly poverty. Interestingly, though, I think the problem is more a result of how they spent their money than how much they brought in.
At the beginning of the season, United's brass knew the team's biggest problem was in the middle: Scholes and Giggs were two top talents that simply could not play a full season any longer because of their age. But instead of a replacement like the aforementioned Modric or Sneijder, United purchased a winger in Ashley Young. This was particularly odd, considering they already have two top-tier talents at wing. And while the center backs were getting old, Phil Jones is clearly a future center back at best. Finally, David De Gea's problems have been widely (perhaps too widely) reported, but he certainly hasn't been worth the price, as of yet.
Let's speculate: just how good would United be if instead of Young, Jones, and DeGea, they'd signed Sneijder or Modric and Scott Parker? Well, they wouldn't be perfect, but I suspect they'd still be in the Champions League.
3. The BPL
City and United are out of the Champions League. Arsenal has just effectively been ejected after a brutal beatdown at AC Milan, and Chelsea just got thrashed by Napoli. You are what your record says you are, and the EPL's record in the Champions League is making it pretty clear that the EPL is having a down year right now.
Why are Newcastle and Spurs doing so well? I suspect it's at least in part because the top teams simply aren't that "top" right now. This doesn't mean they'll stay that way -- the money at City, Chelsea and United is hard to bet against -- but this year they're simply not that good.
This is farlieonfootie for February 22.