Ahead of our match against Chelsea, RoM and The Chelsea Blog teamed up for a discussion to put you in the mood for Sunday.
The Chelsea Blog: The first thought that came into my head was Drogba. Why? Well, I might not be his biggest fan but he’s been phenomenal for us so far this season. He’s showed us his better qualities – his aerial ability not just in attack but defensively as well, his power – often from distance, his physical strength and presence. When he’s not busy auditioning for platoon, he’s just a nightmare to play against really.
If I’m honest with myself though, I’d have to say Rooney. His game is about so much more than scoring goals and whilst Drogba’s contribution to Chelsea isn’t just about the goals he scores, I think it’s fair to say if he wasn’t scoring regularly then it would be because he wasn’t in his best form. I don’t think the same can be said of Rooney though, he’s more of a provider than Didier and whilst Drogba will always put himself in the box to defend, he doesn’t track back in the same way Rooney does. Add to that the fact Rooney’s just 24 compared to Didier at 31 and there’s quite obviously much more to come from Rooney.
STR: Unsurprisingly, I totally agree with you. There’s no denying Drogba is an immensely talented player but like you say, age isn’t on his side and there’s more to Rooney’s all round game. I would also argue that Rooney is completely in love with football whilst Drogba seems to go through phases. It wasn’t long ago he was dragging his heels when coming back from an injury and you can never imagine Rooney behaving like that.
TCB: Seeing as though you recognise the quality of Drogba, you must be looking forward to the African Cup of Nations?
STR: You won the league in 2006 despite the ACON but I suppose that was a different era for Chelsea. That’s not me knocking Ancelotti in comparison with TNSSO but Chelsea’s best players in 2006 are still your best players now, but deeper in to their 30’s!
Still, Drogba has scored in 10 of the 13 games he’s played in, so of course I’ll be glad that he’s gone. Drogba has scored twice as much as any other player in your squad, Essien’s appearance record this season is only bettered by Lampard in midfield, Kalou has clearly had a lot of game time, with only one less appearance than Drogba and Mikel, well, ok, I’m sure you’ll survive without him… we certainly have done!
TCB: Unfortunately I have to agree, the loss of someone in the sort of form Didier Drogba has been in for us lately is going to have a huge impact. Michael Essien will be another big miss although we managed without him last season and although Mikel filled in (sort of), he’s barely seen the ball this campaign so we wouldn’t notice if he was there or not. Some might miss Kalou I guess but I wouldn’t be one of them.
We’ve still got Nicolas Anelka (who’s under-rated in my opinion), Sturridge (who isn’t under-rated in my opinion) and Di Santo will be back by then, so we’ll just have to get by. Getting by doesn’t win trophies though.
STR: Speaking of trophies, what do you believe to be Chelsea’s priority this season? Joe Cole recently claimed the Champions League was the most important trophy for you to win this year. Do you agree with players putting preference to Europe over the league?
TCB: I think he’s entitled to his opinion although I’d hope that isn’t the opinion held by the team as a whole. What concerns me about players coming out with comments like this is firstly the worry they’ll maybe commit themselves more in our European games than they would in the league, although on the evidence so far this season, that wouldn’t appear to be the case. More than that though, whilst the Champions League might be regarded as the big prize, a couple of titles under Mourinho doesn’t even come close to the success of our nearest rivals. We need to be looking to win those titles consistently. After all, as nice as it must be to win the ‘holy grail’, it’s all a bit of a lottery at times – it’s the consistent wins in the Premier League over a sustained period of time that really demonstrate a club’s worth.
STR: Definitely. Cup competitions, regardless of prestige, don’t prove an awful lot, whilst the league proves who the best team in the country is. From the group stages to the final, there are just thirteen games in Europe and I believe Liverpool won just eight of them when they were last crowned ‘Champions of Europe’. If you beat the best of the best then go on to win the final, you’re making a pretty good argument for being the best side in Europe, but nothing is conclusive.
Although you have to understand Cole’s urge for it, given how close you have come. Had John Terry buried his penalty, it would be a very different story for Chelsea. It’s a bit rich that a year later he would leave his ‘beloved’ fans hanging for almost a month whilst talk of a City deal spread like wild fire. Do you think he can still be considered the loyal captain he likes to paint himself as?
TCB: Unlike the vast majority of Chelsea supporters, I thought he was out of order. I’d always bought into the ideal that John Terry really was ‘Mr Chelsea’ so for him to leave supporters guessing for 23 days whilst he apparently wasn’t considering City’s ridiculous offer, was out of line. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t because I believed he gave the offer serious thought because you’d have to at least consider such an obscene amount of money at his age, it was the lack of honesty that really pissed me off.
STR: Yeh, to claim afterwards that he hadn’t considered it for a second was rather insulting to the Chelsea fans’ intelligence… unless he really was telling the truth, and the sole motivation was to keep the club on their toes so they would fork out even more money to make him the best paid player in the league. Now that’s loyalty for you!
TCB: Clearly not JT’s biggest fan then! But which of our players do you rate? Who would you have in your team if you could?
STR: Michael Essien. It’s no secret we were in for him but he chose the then more successful team who would pay him more money. But I’d still take him at United in a heartbeat and I imagine the manager would too!
TCB: I could see a player like Joe Cole making an impact at United but I’m not necessarily surprised at this choice particularly given United’s deficit in this position. Essien’s lengthy absence was glaringly obvious for us, and he highlighted that the minute he came back from injury in true Essien style. I’m sure he’s happy with his choice.
STR: Yeh, who needs lots of medals anyway? Like Mad Rafa said the other day, who needs trophies? Hmm… Moving swiftly on… a lot of the media had Liverpool down to finish first, Chelsea to finish second and United to finish third. How true do you think that prediction was now?
TCB: Well obviously it’s Liverpool’s year although bearing in mind they’re not quite as keen to pay off managers at the same rate as us, they’ll probably keep the FSW and the title will be in their dreams again. The press might be about right placing us second though. Obviously I’d love to think we could nick it but realistically the ACON could disrupt our season, particularly with a transfer ban preventing us from strengthening the squad at all. I’m not sure how the press decided United would finish third, possibly in the wake of Ronaldo’s departure although it was clearly a premature prediction. I suppose you have to consider the fact that Arsenal seem to be quietly doing ok right now as well although given that they usually lose their momentum as soon as the business end of the season is in sight, maybe I’m being a bit generous?
STR: Arsenal are a funny lot really. You look at their squad and they’ve got some top quality players, their manager has proved his worth time and again, yet they don’t seem to have any real bottle and haven’t won anything for coming up to five years! It’s make or break for them really though because you have to think Fabregas will be there for just one more season at most, and for all their talented players, Cesc is far and away their best player.
I’d have to say Chelsea are the biggest threat to us winning an unprecedented fourth title in a row. Ancelotti seems to know what he’s doing and you have some important returns in Essien and Joe Cole.
Of course there has been an impact on the team with Ronaldo’s departure though but the hole left by him isn’t the only weakness in our team though.
TCB: Go on…
STR: Well, our midfield in general. When you compare what we looked like in 99, with Giggs, Keano, Scholes and Beckham, we’re some way short of that now. Our depth is far superior to what it was then but we’re a player or two short of a really scary midfield. We’ve got a lot of good players in midfield but not enough great players. I’d like to think it will be a different story if/when Hargreaves comes back, but we’ve been waiting for a long time now.
TCB: Your defence seems to have leaked a bit so far this season although that’s hardly surprising given the constant changes enforced through injuries. Mind you, if you had a quality defensive midfielder in the Roy Keane mould, it wouldn’t be as big a problem although the return of Fletcher will help. If Hargreaves does ever come back, do you honestly think he’ll be the same player he was though?
STR: Well, who knows? Ruud van Nistelrooy had two lengthy lay-offs thanks to operations on his knees but that hasn’t stopped him from going on to have a long and successful career, with close to 600 professional appearances to his name, and counting. But he wasn’t a gritty central midfielder who had to put the boot in, so I dunno.
TCB: You seem well aware of your team’s weaknesses, but what about Chelsea’s?
STR: It’s hard to find one area really. I don’t particularly rate the players in Chelsea’s defence but the proof is in the pudding for them this season with the fewest goals conceded. Chelsea’s weakness is probably the depth. You’ve got a good first XI but there isn’t a lot of quality on the bench.
TCB: Our defence is strange really, as you say you don’t rate them and if I’m honest, the games against Wigan and Villa highlighted our flaws at set-pieces. Having said that, Ancelotti promised to address that and those two games aside, our defence has been pretty solid. If there’s a weak link there this season it has to be Ricardo Carvalho who’s been a bit suspect on occasion but we’ve got the option of Alex again now and he’s looked pretty strong since his return from injury.
You’re right about our lack of depth though. When Scolari came in, he pared the squad right back (and rightly so at the time) but none of these were ever really replaced – or at least not with any quality. Not that I hold with spending vast amounts of money or anything, but I think Abramovich has cut his nose off to spite his face a bit here. If Chelsea didn’t plan to bring their young players through and develop them into players good enough for the first XI, then they needed to bring in players of the required standard. The fact is, they didn’t and with the transfer ban they won’t be able to do it now before ACON which could cost us dearly.
STR: It seems as though we’re both aware of our team’s weaknesses, although fortunately for my team, we can strengthen those weaknesses sometime soon… but let’s think forward to Sunday, whose weaknesses will cost them then and who are you looking out for?
TCB: The biggest threat to us oddly enough could be Darren Fletcher. He’s a vastly improved player and probably a lot more dangerous than he’s given credit for. Whilst our players are all too aware of the threat from players like Rooney, Berbatov, Owen etc and keep an eye on them accordingly, I don’t think they’ll necessarily be paying as much attention to Fletcher – and that could cost us.
As for predictions – the odd bit of handbags, maybe a couple of controversial decisions – same old, same old.
STR: I think however much United players want to win this one, there can be no accounting for the feeling Chelsea players have towards ours. We’ve won the league for the past three seasons and we beat them in the European Cup final. That will give the Chelsea lot something to fight against for some time to come I suppose, a point to prove.
Honestly, despite how long it’s been since we’ve won at Stamford Bridge, I usually fancy us to nick at least a point. This is probably the least confident I’ve been in some time, given we seem forced in to changing our back four on a weekly basis and are conceding goals left right and centre. But maybe that lacking confidence is a good thing, because these games often seem to favour the underdog!