It was Shrove Tuesday the other day and it kind of caught me by surprise. Not because of the usual reasons; like thinking you’re Tom Cruise in Cocktail, trying an elaborate frying pan toss and ending up with batter on the floor and in your hair. It was because I wasn’t really expecting it. It’s normally later, isn’t it? Have the EU bigwigs in Brussels changed the calendar around this year, what’s going on?
Still, despite the fact there’s a big clue in the name and the morning papers ran various pancake related articles, it wasn’t until I got to the shop that I remembered… I say remembered, in truth there were Jiff lemons everywhere and giant signs saying ‘Pancake Day Today.’ The point is, the day kind of sneaked up on me. I might still be high on sugar and pancake mix but in some way it’s similar to Chelsea’s approach for the title.
Most of the title talk has centred on the top two teams and with grudgingly good reason. Arsenal and United have played some great stuff; the last few weeks have seen some incisive breakaways, fluid play and thunderbolts into the top corner. Ronaldo looks set to walk away with every individual award going, the ones he may miss out on then Adebayor will no doubt sweep up. However, edging forwards under the radar, has been the Blues, nine wins on the bounce have sent us to within touching distance of the pacesetters. Also note some great goals and fluid football then throw in four trophies (count ‘em) up for grabs and things look tantalising poised. All this has been without some our top players due to injury (Terry, Lamps etc), or to the African Nations (Essien, Drogba). We’ve played some great football over the last few weeks and the team have shown tremendous grit and character in the face of adversity. A lot of credit for this has to go to the manager; Avram Grant.
The onus on passing football has brought out the best in many of the players. Most notably Ballack and Wright-Phillips, and after indifferent starts they have found their form and some freedom in the midfield. The ball is now passed on the floor, from the goalkeeper, out to the flanks with some intricate triangles in the centre. It’s rare the ball is punted upfront from the defence, long balls tend to be aimed for space on the flanks. Ballack has seen more of the ball and is able to dictate play and Wright-Phillips continues to excite from the wings or bursting forward from the centre.
We’ve lacked more players than at any other time in memory but we haven’t heard a single gripe from the management. Personally, I think this is great man management. The players that have come in have been given confidence by Grant’s refusal to bemoan absentees, as he says; we have a quality squad and the players to do it. That confidence has been reflected in the players not previously considered as regulars; the likes of Bridge, Alex, Wright-Phillips, Kalou, Belletti and Sheva’s displays, before the back injury.
This trust and belief in the squad of players has contributed to a great run of wins, matching a club record. Grant is no Mourinho in terms of public relations but in football terms he couldn’t have done much better. If anything Avram’s dour interviews and generally undead appearance have worked in our favour. Like the boss, we’ve been understated and gone about the business of winning games. Quietly we’ve sneaked up and making a real challenge for the title.
Sunday is a massive game for us and one we need to win. In what is a huge month for the club, victory could set up the second half of the season for something special. Rafa roulette is still in play so who knows what the reds line up will be. Likewise we’ll have returning players and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod. Lampard, Mikel and Carvalho seem likely to return to the eleven on Sunday and help give us the edge. Still to come back over the coming weeks will be Drogba, Sheva, Kalou, Essien and JT. It’s an awesome prospect. How the manager sets up the system should be intriguing.
Anelka has been superb in attack since his move and should stake a place upfront with Didier. Where that leaves the likes of Malouda, Cole, Wright-Phillips etc remains to be seen. One thing for certain is Chelsea will have a lot of options to change tactics, rest players and bring on world class attacking players to win us games. That’s something we have struggled to do all season.
This team is more than capable of going on another winning run. The rest of the league should watch out, Chelsea may just win the league on the quiet.