Predictable rubbish, an A-League renewal, Milan sunshine, Chelsea’s chaos
Written By: Joe Byatt on Friday 1 March - 7:38am
Often when Stoke City play I get a warm thrill of nostalgia.
If we get a corner and the Stokies present give a roar of excitement it sounds like an old friend. A good Delilah still gets the blood pumping. When the TV cameras scan the aforementioned Stokies I instinctively look for faces I recognise and smile when one is located. Saturday night’s game at Craven Cottage was certainly not one such occasion. From the start our team seemed set up to try and squeeze out a grim 0-0 draw. Those few seconds before half time exposed one of the great failings of our approach. Dimitir Berbatov’s volley was the kind of brilliance nobody can really legislate for and the original gameplan has to be altered to get back into the game. From that stage, especially against a side as devoid of creativity as Stoke are, it’s pretty simple to hold onto a lead…. you just keep discipline and hold positions and play the game out. Predictably, Fulham easily managed to stifle our laboured efforts to reach parity. This wretched ‘performance’ also carried some absurd displays of indisipline. Steven Nzonzi was outrageously, undeservedly fortunate not to get a red card for smacking Ruiz in the mouth. That Nzonzi was fired up and seeking retribution for his earlier elbow in the face proves his intent. Robert Huth hasn’t been so lucky. His elbow on Senderos was sheer thuggery. He now faces a three match ban and he can have nobody to blame but himself. Did he really think he could get away with it? Surely he’s fully aware that every moment of every match is filmed. Our away displays are now worse than at any time since promotion. For a side known to be combative and resilient, away from home we are increasingly easy to beat, a soft touch, dull, insipid and predictable.
There was good news for the A-league last week with confirmation that Alessandro Del Piero will stay with Sydney FC for at least another season. Despite his clubs lowly league position Del Piero is a huge success for the game here. His arrival raised football’s profile on the Australian sporting landscape and his decision to activate the second year of his contract increases the league’s credibility. In addition to all this He can still show moments of intrinsic skill few others can match. Many of us are already excited about seeing him next season!
Milan’s 2-0 victory over Barcelona was thoroughly deserved. The Rossoneri played with focus and discipline and stifled Barcelona’s glittering collection of superstars. Even Lionel Messi couldn’t get out of the red and black cage. Milan pressed, took their chances and emerged worthy victors. At the final whistle the San Siro almost exploded with delight, 80,000 together as one! The cameras scanned to manager Massimiliano Allegri who was most entitled to savour the euphoria. At the start of the season Allegri was under serious pressure. His employers indicated they wanted Pep Guardiola to replace him and his sacking seeemed a formality, every match they played had the air of a public execution. It’s a cliche, but Milan’s passage to the quarter final is far from guaranteed. While they are in a strong position to go through, Barcelona are fully capable of overturning the deficit. The point has to be made however, having weathered the early season storm Allegri must have cherished last weeks sunshine.
Next weeks Champions League 2nd leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United could prove to be a defining moment of Jose Mourihno’s reign at the Bernebeau. The tie is finely poised with Manchester United securing a precious away goal in Madrid but knowing the sheer quality of Real Madrid’s players (one player in particular) suggests deciding to sit back and invite pressure could be football suicide. The remains of the tie will be shaped by the next goal. Most importantly Manchester United must make sure thay aren’t in a position where they have to chase the game. When Real Madrid took the lead at the Nou Camp Barcelona were forced to press forward in search of an equaliser. The visitors played the ball forward with unerring accuracy to expose the spaces behind the hosts increasingly populated attack. You can be sure Alex Ferguson will have taken note.
The malaise at Stamford bridge continues. Talking to the media after the FA cup victory over Middlesborough, Rafael Benitez criticised Owner Roman Abramavic and the supporters. During his press conference Benitez made it clear he was disappointed to be given the title ‘interim manager’. His contract only lasts until the end of the season but it’s hard to imagine him lasting that long. Some may suggest his outburst was ill advised but if he is being undermined by his employer why shouldn’t he speak out? It’s almost ten years since Roman Abramovic bought and bankrolled Chelsea. Despite the bottomless pit of spending money, and the chance to work with some very talented footballers, Chelsea remains a very difficult club to manage.