So Chelsea have been knocked out of the Champions League by Paris St. Germain amid much opinion and controversy. According to Sam Allardyce, who is the master when it comes to making excuses for defeats, the reason Chelsea lost was because their precious players are tired because they didn’t have a two week holiday over Christmas.
This whole issue as to whether or not there should be a Christmas Break in the English game has become a trendy topic of debate over the last few years. Sir Alex Ferguson was the first manager to broach the subject on these shores, and other managers have picked up the baton in his stead since he retired.
The long and the short of it is this, Chelsea lost because their manager insists on making his players play one of the most negative brands of football I have ever seen. Chelsea is awash with talented and technically gifted footballers. Footballers who should have a little more faith shown in them than Mourinho currently does. By making them play such negative football, Mourinho is essentially telling them, “I don’t believe that you can play freely against Paris and still win”.
The thing that makes it all the more frustrating is that when other teams play against Chelsea the same way that they did against Paris last night, Mourinho is the first to criticise them. He moans about their “anti football” and how their tactics are preventing Chelsea from playing a beautiful and free flowing game. The man’s hypocrisy is breathtaking.
For years now, when the England national team have lost at major tournaments, the same old tired excuses have been churned out, and it is rare that the management and players hold their hands up and admit that they lost to better teams filled with better players. It seems as though the same thing is beginning to happen at club level, or at least when Sam Allardyce is involved.
As already mentioned above, Chelsea lost because they got their tactics horribly wrong. It had absolutely nothing to do with the players being tired or because there is no Christmas break in England. It’s not just Chelsea either. Take a look at the other English sides who have struggled in the Champions League this season.
Arsenal continue to falter in Europe, and it isn’t because their players are tired. Any Arsenal fan who knows anything about football will tell you that Arsenal are missing a world class goal-scorer, a midfield powerhouse to protect their back four, and a centre-half of true quality who has pace. Arsene Wenger’s stubbornness in accepting these shortcomings in his playing squad coupled with his hesitant dealings in the transfer market have resulted in Arsenal becoming predictable, staid and spineless. If these issues were addressed, then Arsenal would once again be a force to be reckoned with, both domestically and in Europe irrespective of whether or not there is a Christmas break.
Manchester City are currently facing the same issues that Chelsea encountered when Roman Abramovich arrived on the scene. It is all well and good filling your squad up with two teams’ worth of outstanding talent, but there is more to it than that. You need to keep all the players happy. The modern day professional footballer tends to have an enigmatic mix of giant ego but fragile self esteem. They love to show how brilliant they all are, but if they are substituted, dropped or don’t have a birthday cake given to them by the club’s hierarchy, then they start to rock the boat. Clearly things are not well at City right now, and the manager has struggled to keep all the players happy or develop a style of play that can be associated with City.
Indeed, if you think about Manchester City’s style of play now, what comes to mind? Are they a team that plays possession football? Are they defensive minded? Are they a counter attacking team? I don’t know, and at times it seems as though they don’t know either. For the time being, it seems to be a case of City getting results by relying on the individual brilliance of the Yaya Toures, David Silvas and Sergio Agueros of this world. City still play like a group of eleven individuals rather than as a team, and they will continue to struggle until a manager comes along and does for them what Mourinho did for Chelsea first time around. Hopefully they’ll do it with a little more style though, rather than just ruthless pragmatism.
Liverpool struggled this season in the Champions League for several reasons. It was Rodgers’ first time managing in the Champions League, and a lot of the players’ first experience of playing in it. That inexperience, along with a lack of squad depth resulted in Liverpool falling at the first hurdle. Rodgers does seem to be heading in the right direction at Liverpool though, and I genuinely believe that if they finish in the top four again this season, then they will fare better in the Champions League next season. Rodgers, unlike Wenger, Mourinho and Pellegrini, seems to have more than just a Plan A. For the time being at least, he allows his team to play without restraint. His more experienced and illustrious counterparts ought to take note, instead of complaining about Christmas breaks!