Soccer

Butler: Look no further than Chelsea as story of new year

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Noel Butler
2/7/2014 9:39:02 PM
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Adam Johnson and Manuel Pellegrini may well have walked off with January's BPL Player and Manager of the Month Awards, but no other club have had a better new year than Chelsea.

Seven matches played, six clean sheets, wins heaped upon wins. The copy book only blighted by an inability to deal with West Ham's so termed 19th century tactics.

Having just returned from spending three weeks in the city of the 2012 Summer Olympiad, much time spent within the century plus old Stamford Bridge walls, it's as if the clocks have been turned back to circa 2004-05.

It was Mourinho's debut season, and the little horse galloped away from the entire BPL field.  Chelsea winning the title by a very distant 12 points. Most remarkably, conceding an improbable 15 goals through the 38-match season - numbers Gary Bettman apparently salivates over.

Such was Chelsea's dominance of the Champions for almost the entire second half they played in reverse gear. Ryan Giggs couldn't watch as he continually covered his face in his hands. He likely would have thrown in the towel if he could have found one.

The only passion on display that afternoon from anyone in a red shirt came from the quite magnificent Manchester United support - 6,000 strong, and as one in their complete support for club.

The true definition of what the word supporter actually means. There in the midst of yet more adversity and not once did they veer from the full encouragement, slap on the back script.

Hopefully, someone at the club shot a video which David Moyes has had time to watch. If there's one man in world football who needs to fully understand the inherent value of positive body language, additionally to be classically re-conditioned it is the boy set adrift by Ferguson.

I've witnessed more sideline encouragement during the traditional park life early Sunday morning pub league football. When most are still feeling the awful side effects of a very late and mostly liquid Saturday night.

The Chosen One? More like The Shrugged Shouldered One.

Such was Manchester United's public demise at Stamford Bridge, Sir Alex Ferguson had to slum it sat next to yesterday's soul man, Mick Hucknall. Meanwhile, Miami FC's David Beckham took pride of place over in the regal confines of Roman Abramovich's private suite.

Court side seats at a Lakers game are renowned as the ultimate status symbol of the celebrity and glitteratti set. As I walked the Fulham Road streets before the match, there was more jewellery than scarves on display in London SW6.

I even caught sight of a man not often associated with the jet set.

England manager Roy Hodgson walking with his assistant Ray Lewington as they purposefully mingled amongst the crowd making their way to the ground. Not an air of grace about them. For England's Brazil 2014 sakes, let's hope the WAG's will have taken notes.

Next up for Chelsea was an FA Cup fourth round tie against Stoke City. Late that morning, Mata completed his £37.1m ($69m million) move to Old Trafford, Matic made his Stamford Bridge debut that afternoon.

Now over my time, I have seen some monsters on a football pitch. Not all of them dressed in football shirts. Nemanja Matic is almost completely unrecognizable from the person and footballer that he was in his previous stint.  He hardly got a look in then, against Stoke he hardly put a foot wrong.

Oscar's sublime free kick separated the sides. Matic though was the talk of the press room at full time.
That was until a 51st birthday celebrating Jose Mourinho walked into the room.

It was only mere minutes after it had been announced the win against Stoke set up a highly tasty fifth round encounter at the Etihad.

Hours previously, the twice straight player of the year had been sold. To Manchester United of all clubs,  and a transfer which had Wenger and Pelligrini going into a lather.

First question to the manager?

“When Rafa Benitez was Chelsea manager, on his birthday he bought a cake in for the media. Where's your cake?”

Not to be outdone by Rafa, the Happy One promised champagne for when next he would meet the media 48 hours later.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

When the subject did finally get round to Mata, Mourinho let it be known it was not his sole decision to discard the best left foot in the BPL.

“Only the big boss makes sole decisions.”

The manager made it abundantly clear it was a team decision that the 25-year old Spaniard was surplus to requirements. 

We've all witnessed Oscar and Hazard on the ball. From the comfort of your sofa or bar stool, what the camera doesn't tell you though is the staggering amount of tracking back these two highly gifted players do through the course of a match.

Out of possession sometimes, it seemed Oscar was so deep in his own half he was paired in defence with John Terry.

Hauled off soaking wet with 10 minutes left and the Sunday evening sky darkening, one clever hack suggested the Brazilian's mother had sent a text to Mourinho reminding him the fresh-faced youngster had to be at school Monday morning.

There was nothing fresh-faced about Oscar, nor Mourinho, 72 hours later when Big Sam's Claret and Blue Army [and I'm speaking about the West Ham players] made the short hop over from London's East end.

Those gale-forced winds and pouring rain that has battered the south west of England for much of   winter showed up too.

Attending the match as a Chelsea supporter, with the trouble ‘n strife [wife] in tow, we took our seats in the lower tier of the West Stand. Mercifully under cover, but such was the ferocious wind we were rain lashed for the entire 90 minutes.

The action on the pitch was not one bit as exciting as a sole Chelsea fan sat directly behind us. He made more noise than the thunder - his humour hotter than the tea. As he performed all the Chelsea classics in a virtuoso solo performance worthy of any Grammy winner.

For all the plaudits bestowed on Mourinho following Monday's Etihad ‘title decider,' he got it wrong against West Ham. In fact, it started with his Stoke line up when Frank Lampard captained the side and played the full 90-minutes.

Lampard plays West Ham with fire in his belly and a goal in his feet. Not coincidental the best chance that evening fell to Chelsea's leading goal scorer of all time in the 96th minute. But for a superb save from Adrian in the West Ham goal and Chelsea could be a magnificent seven straight wins through 2014.

Matic should have started. Not as Mourinho did, only introduce him with less than 30 minutes left. Oscar struggled. Not so much with coming to grips with West Ham's iron-like resolve, the conditions were so soggy and about as far removed from ball playing, he must have wished for the Copacabana.

Of late, David Luiz has been spraying balls up field for Hazard to run onto. Luiz didn't leave the bench. Hazard for all his crafty guile was able to turn opponents inside out but where ever he went another West Ham player was in very close proximity. Baton down the Belgian on a windswept Stamford Bridge night they did. 

The Happy One, though wouldn't have swapped a moment of that ‘19th century' like opponent for what was achieved against modern football's shining knights, Manchester City. Hung, drawn and no Mourinho quarter given.

As we get set later this month for the start of the knock out stages of the Champions League - the manner in which Etihad victory was achieved will have instilled a certain fear in Europe's finest.

That though is for the future. Speaking to Chelsea future, Samuel  Eto'o may have slayed Manchester United. The Cameroonian's hier apparent is Islam Feruz.

An 18-year old Somalian refugee who was signed from Celtic is currently ripping it up in Chelsea's reserves. Scoring goals from all over the pitch, seemingly just for fun.

Thoroughbred lightening quick, just maybe Feruz is the ‘little horse'- The Especially Happy One was referring to after Chelsea made a mockery of Manchester City's perfect BPL home form.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

Eden Hazard (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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