Manchester United were deservedly victorious against Chelsea in the weekend’s meaningless Community Shield. Whilst the press and Jose Mourinho will be keen to tell you the injuries were to blame, it might do us all some good to look at things realistically.
Chelsea struggle without John Terry, which we witnessed last season, but this is more a psychological issue than a physical one. Chelsea let themselves off the hook because he is injured, in the same way United did with Keane in his last season with us. Despite claims that Chelsea lost the league last season because of their injuries to Cech and Terry, it is important to note they boasted the best defensive record in the league. The real issue behind their failure to win the title three times in a row was a lack of creativity and their lack of goals. Despite having Drogba and Lampard in their team, who scored an impressive 31 league goals between them, Chelsea couldn’t find enough goals from other areas. They relied far too much on these players, who by the end of the season, quite frankly, looked completely knackered, and could no longer carry the rest of the team. Whilst United saw their defenders picked off one by one to injury in the last third of the season, Chelsea, with JT and Cech fighting fit, failed to capitalise on this. Why?
Chelsea do not have enough creativity in their side. Whilst being efficient and defensively strong does the trick when you don’t have strong enough opposition (which was the case in 2005/2006 when they finished eight points ahead of us, and in 2004/2005 when they finished twelve points ahead of Arsenal), it is not sufficient against top quality opposition. United won four more matches than Chelsea last season, Chelsea drew six more games than United. Despite being defensively stronger, conceding three fewer goals than United, Chelsea scored nineteen less than United.
Yet still, the absence of John Terry is heralded as the reason why Chelsea lost out on the league. Out of the twenty six league games John Terry played in last season (up until the point the title was decided), Chelsea lost two and drew six. In the twenty five league games Nemanja Vidic played in last season up until the point the title was decided, United lost two and drew three. Chelsea still dropped 18 points in the games John Terry played in before the title was decided.
There’s always an excuse, and whilst this may save the Chelsea fans and manager from the “shame” of not retaining the title for the third season, it does them no favours in going out to win it from us this season.
The season before last, the United team were ravaged by injuries, without key players for far longer than Chelsea were able to complain about last season. With no Neville, Brown (who at the time, was our starting centre back), Keane (who was arguably our most influential player as well as our captain), Giggs, Heinze, and Ronaldo who was coming back from injury (coming on in the second half), we travelled to the Riverside. Bardsley had been thrown in to the first team that season, and after half an hour, came off injured, and was replaced by Richardson. With striker Alan Smith playing in midfield alongside Fletcher (with first choice stand in JoS being required in defence due to injuries there) we got completely bossed around the field.
After the embarrassing 4-1 scoreline, with six of our first eleven out injured, Carlos Queiroz was asked how he could account for the way we played. We made mistakes, Boro played well, and we lost control of the game. There was not a single mention of the fact we were missing over half our first team to injuries. When Ferguson spoke about the game, again, not a single mention of the injuries. “It was a shocking performance,” said Ferguson. “We conceded some terrible goals and we can’t afford do that with what we’re trying to achieve. On that form, we couldn’t beat anybody. Defensively, we were very disappointing. But we will get the right response all right, that is without question.” And he was right. The next game in the league we beat Chelsea, ending their 40 game unbeaten run.
If you can’t acknowledge your mistakes and weaknesses, then how are you going to address them, and how can you improve?
Jose Mourinho, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard are among the people from the Chelsea camp to place heavy emphasis on their injuries. Rather than acknowledging their level of football was nowhere near Manchester United’s, to one degree or another, they talk about the mountains they had to climb to finish second. Out of the 38 league games, Chelsea scored just one goal in 17 of them, and scored no goals in 4 games. When your main rivals are scoring, on average, more than two goals a game, this is not something you can afford to do. Yet, not a word has been said about Chelsea’s lack of goals. No acknowledgement of their inferior goal tally has come from Stamford Bridge, which is easily masked by the amount of goals Drogba had to his name.
As the season ended and we revelled in our glory, after watching months of United playing some of the most attractive and exciting football, excuses poured from the second placed team. This is in direct contrast to just twleve months previously, when the second place team were talking about how we were to improve, that one cup wasn’t good enough, and what had to happen to win back a title we hadn’t won since 2003. And it worked.
For several reasons, the Community Shield gave me more confidence over retaining the title than any signings, than any statement from Ferguson or any pre-season game. Why? Because the Community Shield is so important and both teams were desperate to win it? Of course not. The Community Shield in itself means very little, but we were able to tell certain things from it.
It appears as though Mourinho, whilst wrapped up with talk of injuries, has failed to address his problem of last season, the lack of creativity. Getting rid of Duff and Gudjohnsen was a massive mistake the season before, and he paid for it when Robben and Joe Cole spent months at a time out injured. This season they have Malouda, who made a mug of Rio on Community Shield day, but rather than being a new addition to the squad, he is likely just to be a replacement for wantaway Robben.
After the Community Shield game, which was nothing to get too excited about, but still, entertaining in parts, Jose Mourinho was interviewed. He reeled off a list of injured players, and compared that to Manchester United’s injury list, which apparently, only included Paul Scholes. Maybe he was watching a different game, or maybe he isn’t very clued up on our starting XI, but it doesn’t include Wes Brown at right back, Silvestre at left back, Evra on the left wing, O’Shea in midfield or Giggs up front. Injuries to Neville, Saha, Park, Scholes and Solskjaer left us with no option but to bring in squad players and play our first team players out of position.
Jose Mourinho also claimed, “we controlled the game against the champions so why should we be afraid of the future?” If I was a Chelsea fan, that statement alone would fill me with fear. It illustrates how out of touch with reality Jose really is. Maybe, again, he was watching a different game, but our superior possession, our nine shots on target to their three, our four shots off target to their three, and our eight corners to their four, would suggest otherwise.
The Community Shield confirmed to me that Chelsea have not dealt with their problems of last season. Claudio Pizarro, the striker who bagged only 8 goals in 33 games for Bayern last season, featured from the 50th minute on, and his only lasting impression was his weak penalty attempt. Sidwell will be decent enough cover for Chelsea, if Essien, Lampard, Ballack, Makelele, Diarra and Mikel are injured.
To improve, you have to learn from your mistakes. At the very least, you have to be able to admit you have made mistakes. For as long as the not so Special One continues deluding himself, our chances of retaining our title increase. Year by year Ferguson is addressing the problems with the squad, strengthening areas we need strengthening, and this year, we look closer to perfect than we have in years. Roll on 2007/2008.