Has Fabio got it Wal-wrong?

Theo Walcott's World Cup dream is over

As Fabio Capello swung the axe on seven World Cup dreams, no one could have imagined the debate and controversy which the Italian’s final decision would have invoked.

The FA’s reputation for farcical gaffes was hardly improved by the shambolic manner of the squad announcement. The waiting public resorted to Twitter and various other methods of hearing the news as it filtered through in instalments. No doubt that the players were as confused as everybody else.

It was a ridiculous decision not to simply announce the news in one early statement as other leading nations have done in a quiet and efficient manner. Instead, the public was subjected to speculative whispers and murmurings leading up to the announcement. It seems the hype of the media circus surrounding the England team will never go away.

In 2006, there was a great furore around a surprise inclusion in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad. Four years on, the same player has sparked a surprise; this time for his exclusion.

Even with his mediocre form recently, not many expected Theo Walcott to be left out of the final 23. The breaking news that he had been omitted must have been a devastating blow personally to the player, and to his friends and family.

It is no real secret that Walcott’s performances this season for Arsenal and England have been below par, with the player making little impact in the recent friendlies. His performances against Mexico and Japan left a lot to be desired in terms of his final delivery and end product and it is those culpable weaknesses which has ultimately proved to be his downfall.

He still lacks the decision making of a top international class player and often plays his way into trouble. Capello showed him a video tape of his failings against Mexico but the player contrived to make the same mistakes against the Japanese.

The Italian wanted the 21-year-old to attack his full back on the outside and then cross, but too often he turned inside and lost possession. Once the same mistakes were made against Japan, Capello had no choice but to axe him. The manager does not tolerate disobeyed orders easily.

However, even his biggest critics would surely not begrudge him a place on the plane- he still had something to offer to the squad. There is no doubt Aaron Lennon is firmly in possession of the right wing berth, however Walcott had a place as a devastating impact player off the bench with good finishing ability.

His lightning pace scares defenders and the impact which he had against Barcelona at the Emirates in the Champions League is testimony to his ability to ruffle tired defences coming on as a substitute. Arsenal came back from two goals behind to draw level and Walcott scored the crucial first, as well as terrorising the Barca leftback Maxwell.

The assist for Adebayor’s goal at Anfield in the Champions League quarter final two seasons ago also springs to mind. He has shown he can deliver those bursts of inspiration with his directness and frightening speed.

Capello gave the impression that he desperately wanted to find an excuse to include the winger. No one has forgotten about the fateful night in Zagreb when Walcott announced his arrival on the international stage with a stunning hat trick, least of all the manager.

No one could have imagined that the hero that evening would not even be on the plane to the greatest show on earth. What a comedown for a young player who had the world at his feet after that night.

Walcott’s replacement in the squad, Shaun Wright-Philips, can perhaps count himself extremely fortunate to be on the plane. There is no doubt he gives his best whenever he pulls on the England shirt. He even scores the occasional goal in friendlies, however he has had a serious lack of playing time this season and has hardly produced top form for Manchester City.

The diminutive winger even lost his place in the City team to Adam Johnson, who like Walcott, missed out on the final squad. It is a shame Johnson was not taken to add balance to a top heavy midfield of right-footers. If Walcott wasn’t in Capello’s squad, then the general consensus is that perhaps Johnson should have been selected ahead of Wright-Philips, although the young left footed winger’s time will come. He is the future England left winger for years to come.

Having such a laughably large provisional squad in the first place, meant that more than one player was unnecessarily disappointed. It simply defies logic that players such as Scott Parker and Michael Dawson were included, yet not even given a chance in the friendlies against Mexico and Japan. In truth, they were just back-ups to the reserves and they had no chance whatsoever of being on the plane to Rustenburg.

Some will feel that Scott Parker should have been in the squad. With question marks still lingering over Gareth Barry’s fitness and Michael Carrick not really suited to the traditional tough-tackling holding role, the West Ham midfielder would have been a useful player to have. All the best teams have a ‘midfield destroyer’ in the Javier Mascherano mould, and being better tacklers than Huddlestone and Carrick, Parker could have been the player utilised in that role.

The inclusion of Joe Cole was a sensible and intelligent one, as the Chelsea midfielder has shown that he has the craft and skill to unlock the tightest of defences. The big match experience he brings will also be invaluable at the finals. His 45 minute cameo against Japan did him no harm whatsoever, although it is still uncertain whether he will be used in the hole behind Rooney or as a left winger like in 2006.

Two young wingers who miss out

As the dust settles in the coming days, it is clear that the final squad of players which Capello has selected still has the talent to go a long way in South Africa. Millions at home will be watching on tv and praying. Whether correctly or unjustly, Walcott and Johnson will be among them.

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Chelsea deservedly crowned Champions

Chelsea celebrate title after emphatic 8-0 victory over Wigan

No one could blame Carlo Ancelotti for letting his calm and collected demeanour slip, as he delivered a single fist pumped salute towards the Matthew Harding Stand during the Wigan game. Whilst the 8 nil victory was the perfect statement on the pitch, Ancelotti’s gesture was the perfect way of summing up his delight at wrestling back the Premier League title from Manchester United at the very first attempt. As the dust settles on another exhilarating season, there can be no doubts that Chelsea have truly deserved the title in all respects.

Ancelotti’s Chelsea have gone a long way to appeasing the neutrals somewhat. Criticised in the past for their cautious and defensive victories, Chelsea have simply been awesome going forward this season. The 7 goal beatings handed out to Sunderland, Aston Villa and Stoke at Stamford Bridge showed that sitting back on a lead just wasn’t part of the Ancelotti formula, as they punished teams time and time again- Drogba, Lampard and co. revelling in putting the lesser teams to the sword.

Roman Abramovich has always demanded that his team should always play with a certain style and attacking flair. Winning isn’t always enough, as Jose Mourinho found out to his cost. Carlo Ancelotti has certainly not disappointed the owner in that respect, with the West London side plundering an incredible 103 goals in the league- a Premier League record, breaking United’s previous best of 97.

A clean sweep of victories in the ‘Big 4’ clashes also underlines their pedigree for the big games this season. Home and away wins against Utd and Arsenal have proved to be absolutely key, with the win at Old Trafford confirming that the title was theirs to lose during the run-in.

There have been many obstacles and difficulties along the way as you would expect during a league campaign, however Carlo Ancelotti has shown his true class at the way he has dealt with them without the fuss and media hype of his more outspoken predecessor. The quiet Italian is nothing other than a gentleman of the game.

The John Terry / Wayne Bridge scandal as well as stories of Ashley Cole’s marriage, threatened to jeopardise the dressing room harmony. Ancelotti simply allowed the controversies to run their course and decided to concentrate on football instead. John Terry was kept on as captain, and the fuss was forgotten about.

Chelsea are also deserved champions on the basis of a team’s ability to cope with squad setbacks. Injuries definitely took their toll on Chelsea’s bid to halt Manchester United’s run of 3 consecutive titles. They have been without the class and power of Michael Essien nearly all season, whilst Ashley Cole and Mikel have also missed large chunks of the campaign.

It is also worth remembering that Didier Drogba’s participation in the African Cup of Nations in January was touted as a major blow. It turned out that it was nothing more than a slight blip, as Nicolas Anelka showed his quality and kept Chelsea top in the absence of his more illustrious strike partner. It is hard imagining either United or Arsenal coping without Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie for a month, with Arsenal’s case certainly illustrated by their impotent form over the winter after losing the Dutchman.

Ancelotti has already started to plan for a Chelsea dynasty, predicting dominance and plenty more titles in the future. Commendable sentiments; however there are some doubts towards whether he will find it as easy to repeat such a swashbuckling season.

The ageing squad will certainly need to be given a lift, with replacing the outgoing Joe Cole a priority. Chelsea have been far from invincible this season, with the title race unnecessarily going down to the wire due to their inconsistencies away from home. The defeats against Wigan and Aston Villa spring to mind.

Despite the taste of champagne still fresh on everybody’s lips, Chelsea’s season is still not over with further glory on the horizon. Only financially-stricken Portsmouth can deny them completing the club’s first ever league and cup double at Wembley in a week’s time. If as expected, they dispatch the South Coast side, it will cap off a historical and monumental season for the Blues.

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Harry the real star for Spurs

Harry has led Spurs to the promised land


Tottenham Hotspur proved at Eastlands on Wednesday that fortune really does favour the brave. Adventurously set up with two strikers on the pitch, Spurs dominated the game and thoroughly deserved to beat Manchester City. It now seems that the brave will be rewarded with a fortune. The Champions League and all its riches awaits.

The hosts simply had no answer to the waves of white shirts which swamped forward with such verve. City looked tired and devoid of any creativity. Barry and De Jong were effortlessly upstaged by Spurs’ vivacious midfield, whilst Adebayor and Tevez were shorn of any inspiration whatsoever. By the time Peter Crouch stooped to head the winner, City already looked like a team which knew fourth place was beyond them.

Spurs have deserved the success which their performances this season have brought them. It wasn’t long ago that Tottenham were perennial cup specialists and top four pretenders, yet they are now rightfully one of the top four teams in the country. It has been quite some transformation – and the manager must take great credit.

For so long labelled a shrewd wheeler dealer rather than a classy tactician, this season Harry Redknapp has finally proved that he is one of, if not the best English manager in the country. Since taking charge of the lacklustre side he inherited from Juande Ramos, Spurs have added a steely resolve to their defending in addition to their already strong attacking talent.

Ledley King and Michael Dawson have reinforced the calls for them to be included in the England squad with some colossal performances; especially in the second half of the season. The home victories over Arsenal and Chelsea owed much to the goal keeper Gomes and particularly the English centre back pairing. The ‘you score 3, we’ll score 4’ philosophy now appears to be a thing of the past.

In addition to the usual astute signings, Redknapp has proved that he can always get the best out of his players. Heurelho Gomes, Tom Huddlestone and Luka Modric look like players reborn, whilst Gareth Bale is starting to show why he was rated so highly at Southampton. All the great managers are also great ‘man-managers’, and in Redknapp, Spurs have one of the best.

It is a poignant reminder that Spurs have not yet qualified for Europe’s premier competition proper. The victory at Eastlands merely provided them with the opportunity to play a two-legged qualifier to enter the group stage, and there are some dangerous sides lurking as potential opponents. Ajax, managed by former Spurs manager Martin Jol, would certainly be an interesting tie for the Spurs fans.

Everton were the last team to break the top four in 2004, yet they crashed out of the Champions League qualifiers at the first hurdle to Villarreal. Redknapp will know fully well that the hard work starts now if they are to avoid a similar fate to Everton. There will be no complacency, and he will expect some investment from the Spurs board over the summer to move the club forward and keep them there.

Incredibly, third place is still a possibility for Spurs. If Arsenal were to lose at home to Fulham on the last day and Spurs take all 3 points at Turf Moor, Tottenham would leapfrog their arch rivals. It would be the icing on the cake for Spurs and their extraordinary season. The champagne would certainly start to flow, although Harry Redknapp might decide to wear a slightly cheaper suit this time around.

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Not invincible after all

Guardiola frustrated at Barcelona's Champions League exit

It was a night where the ‘Special One’ got the better of the special one on the pitch. For the first time this season, the footballing world discovered that Lionel Messi and Barcelona were not unstoppable after all.

Defensive, negative, call it what you will. There is no doubt that Jose Mourinho proved once again that he is a master of getting it tactically spot on. Pep Guardiola simply had no answer to the question which was being posed by the resilient Inter defence.

All in all, the match was fascinating viewing for the expectant audience around the world. Not least those at the Nou Camp. Pep Guardiola’s men attempted to pass Inter Milan into submission and all the way to the final at the Bernabeu. The statistics were quite astonishing; Barcelona completed a staggering 548 passes completed to Inter’s 67.

Barcelona bobbed and weaved their pretty patterns in midfield as they always do. Messi and Xavi were technically superb as usual, probing and passing their way around the Inter box. However, there weren’t many clear cut chances created and much to the frustration of the Catalonian crowd- that was ultimately the story of the two legs.

There was a brief glimmer of hope for the hugely frustrated home crowd, but Bojan’s goal at the end was perhaps harshly ruled out for a handball by Yaya Toure.

However, in reality Barcelona did not really merit a place in the final. Inter were simply the better outfit over two legs. Inter Milan prepared and executed the perfect game plan and did not allow Barcelona enough time or space.

You feel there was a sense of desperation from Guardiola when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was taken off to be replaced by young Bojan Krkic. Ibrahimovic was particularly poor, living up to his tag of going missing in big games. It is laughable to think that Barcelona paid Inter €46 million as well as Samuel Eto’o for the Swedish striker.

For Guardiola last night, there simply was no plan B. The truth is, he has probably never needed one before, especially when plan A is always so devastating. Just ask Arsenal.

It just shows you that you have to actually use the ball and fashion chances; having it isn’t always good enough. Arsenal would win the Premier League title every season if football was all about pretty possession. Last night wasn’t the first time Barcelona’s weaknesses were exposed.

Under Guus Hiddink, Chelsea had the beating of Barcelona last season in the semi-final.  If it wasn’t for some laughable decisions by the poor Norweigan referee Tom Ovrebo, then there would have been an all-English final for the second year in a row.

The referee in question has already confirmed his reputation for being horribly incompetent by wrongly awarding Miroslav Klose’s offside goal in this season’s Champions League match between Fiorentina and Bayern Munich. It ultimately cost Fiorentina dearly.

Mourinho’s celebration at the end where he dashed onto the field in a frenzy, showed what it meant for him to get the better of Barcelona.

He was disparagingly dubbed the ‘translator’ by Barca fans in the build up to the game, in relation to his early days at the club when he served under Louis Van Gaal and Bobby Robson. Last night he got his revenge in the sweetest way possible, clearly taking huge delight in winding up the crowd at the end of the game.

It is the translator who is going to Madrid to face his old mentor Van Gaal, and he will relish the challenge of winning his second Champions League against Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu. If speculation is to be believed, then Madrid had better get used to Jose Mourinho.

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Cream of the Crop

‘Exciting’, ‘a genuine three horse race’, ‘poorer standard’, ‘more depth’. There have been many descriptions of the Premier League this season, but one thing is clear: it has been an extremely intriguing season in the Barclays Premier League.

For a while, it looked as though Arsenal might threaten to surprise everyone and actually mount a serious bid for the title, but they eventually fell at the last- and then there were two (again).

The battle against relegation looked as though it would go the full distance, but that has now been decided- unlike the hunt for fourth place. There are still 4 teams locked in a tussle for the coveted Champions League spot, and Tottenham are currently in pole position.

It has been an entertaining and fascinating season with some great performances from so many players. Forget the PFA Team of the year, this is my team of the season…

Goal keeper: Pepe Reina

Beach ball jokes aside, Reina is genuinely a world-class goal keeper. Liverpool have had a poor season, but he has been one of the very few stand out performers. He has made very few mistakes and without him, Liverpool’s plight could be even worse. A class shot stopper, he has even contributed 3 or 4 assists, showing his great distribution on the counter attack. In my opinion, the best keeper in the League. Very unlucky not to be an international number one, he is still behind Iker Casillas- maybe he should consider gaining English citizenship!

Defenders:

Branislav Ivanovic

There haven’t been too many stand out right backs this season. A mention should go out to Carlos Cuellar, Stephen Carr and John Pantsil, but the Chelsea man has probably been the best of the bunch. A natural centre back, he has been deployed at right back this season by Ancelotti, and has looked at home. Solid, strong and dependable, he has been an ever-present in the team since Jose Bosingwa got injured and has impressed ever since.

Thomas Vermaelen

A contender for buy of the season. Bought from Ajax in the summer, the Belgian defender has been outstanding for Arsenal all season. He is still the top scoring defender in the league with 7 goals. Quite astonishing for a player who was played at left back for Ajax last season. The ‘Verminator’ as Arsenal fans fondly call him, has been a revelation alongside William Gallas. He has a great leap for someone who isn’t the tallest, and is tough and strong in the tackle. Will be an important player for Arsenal for seasons to come.

Richard Dunne

Manchester City fans must wonder why Dunne was sold to Villa, especially with the form which he has produced this season. Along with James Collins, Dunne has been the cornerstone of Villa’s defence. Consistently turning in great performances, he has been one of the reasons for the amount of clean sheets Villa have kept this season. A monster in the air, he has also scored important goals such as the winner against Chelsea at Villa Park.

Patrice Evra

It was a toss up between Evra and Ashley Cole, but Evra just pips the Chelsea defender this season . The Manchester United left back has been class, combining fantastic defensive awareness with the ability to be a real threat going forward. His crossing has resulted in many goals, and he is rarely caught out at the back.

Midfield:

Cesc Fabregas

The Arsenal captain has single-handedly carried his team on so many occasions this season- a bit like Steven Gerrard has done in the past for Liverpool. The Catalonian playmaker has had an outstanding season, scoring freely from midfield and also contributing countless assists as usual. His vision remains unrivalled and he is the best passer in the league. It is no coincidence that Arsenal’s season ended when Fabregas’s did.  Their unlikely title bid finally ran out of steam once Fabregas broke his leg against Barcelona. Talking of which, the world class midfielder will continually be linked with his home town club, and Arsenal fans can only hope and pray.

James Milner

A certainty for Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad. Signed as a winger by Martin O’Neill, Milner has played in a central role this season and he has been nothing short of sensational. Recently crowned the PFA Young player of the year, the midfielder has combined goals, assists and a great work rate. Some will even argue that he should start for England in South Africa.

Florent Malouda

The Frenchman was omitted from the official PFA team of the season, however that may have more to do with the fact that the voting deadline closes around February. He has been in wonderful form since the turn of the year. The left winger is finally showing why Chelsea brought him to England in the first place, and why he was player of the year in the French League. He has scored an extraordinary amount of goals and also set up countless of others. He just might have done enough to secure Chelsea the title this season.

Steven Pienaar

A surprising inclusion perhaps, but the little South African midfielder has been superb all season. He has recently been linked with Liverpool and Bayern Munich amidst his contract negotiations with Everton. The diminutive attacking midfielder can pick a pass, score goals and contributes all over the pitch. He links the play well and is a truly underrated player in the league. Along with Arteta, Fellaini, Cahill and Bilyaletdinov, Pienaar completes a great attacking midfield and has been the pick of the bunch this season. Expect a move to a big club if Everton do not resolve his contract.

Strikers:

Wayne Rooney

Who else? It was impossible to leave him out and there isn’t much to say about Rooney which hasn’t already been said. 26 goals in the league makes him the current top scorer, and he has shown a remarkable improvement in many areas of his game such his heading. Manchester United fans hope that he can recover to play a part in United’s final two games.

Darren Bent

Whether he is good or not to be included in the England squad is a debate for another time, however there is no denying Darren Bent has had a great season in the league. He has scored 24 goals playing for a team which is in the lower half of the table- making his achievement just that little bit more impressive. He certainly doesn’t receive the sort of service which the likes of Rooney and Drogba get on a regular basis. He has even contrived to miss a few penalties which would have made him the outright top scorer in the league.

Bench:

Heurelho Gomes

The Spurs stopper was the subject of many jokes last season, but he has had a radical improvement in form and has been impressive for Tottenham all season. His saves against Arsenal in the recent North London derby was an indication of how important he has become for the club.

Roger Johnson

The Birmingham man has had a fantastic first season in the Premier League. Along with Scott Dann, who has also had a solid debut season in the league, Johnson ensured that Birmingham were hard to beat. A good old-fashioned centre back, he just loves defending.

Frank Lampard

It was hard to leave him out, but Lampard has once again had a great year. Scoring 20 goals from midfield is always an outstanding contribution from that position. Critics will argue that he hasn’t turned in as many fantastic individual performances as he did in previous seasons; however the Chelsea vice-captain is on the verge of leading the club to a magnificent double.

Carlos Tevez

The Argentinian striker is having his best season in English football. Combining his bulldog tenacity, work rate and pure talent, Tevez has scored an outstanding 22 goals this season and he has been Manchester City’s best player on so many occasions. Expect him to be the key figure behind their push for fourth place.


Don’t agree? Should the likes of Didier Drogba, Scott Parker and Gareth Bale be in the squad? Comment and say who you think should be in the team.

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Real Big Dutch Mistakes

Celebrating the strike which knocked Man Utd out

Arjen Robben has had a strange sort of career. A prodigious talent at FC Groningen and later at PSV Eindhoven, the little Dutch winger finally fulfilled some of his huge potential at Chelsea where his important goals and assists were crucial to securing back-to-back titles for Mourinho’s men. However, he never really settled in London and his transfer to Real Madrid for £24 million was inevitable after Real followed their pursuit with a concrete offer.

At the full time whistle after Manchester United’s quarter final with Bayern Munich, there was a distinct hush around Old Trafford. There weren’t many boos from the home crowd – just the crushing disappointment at what they had just witnessed, perhaps even shock.

The Utd fans knew that the Bayern goal which delivered the knockout blow to their Champions League hopes was a special one. An outrageous first time volley into the far corner leaving Van Der Sar with no chance. There was nothing the Utd fans could do apart from applaud the strike.

There was no doubt that the player who scored it was ultimately the difference at the end of the two legs. After his displays this season, the big question has been asked around Europe, just why did Real Madrid decide to sell Robben to Bayern Munich?

After crashing out of Europe at the hands of Lyon, there was uproar around the Santiago Bernabeu. It was the sixth year in a row in which they had failed to progress past the quarter final stage of the Champions League. Given their £250 million summer transfer outlay by the President Florentino Perez, the exit at the first knock out stage was not good enough.

Whilst Messrs Ronaldo and Kaka failed to deliver on their astronomical transfer fees in terms of helping Real Madrid progress in the Champions League, it was in Milan and Munich where the two real stars of the Champions League have emerged this season. However, they also happened to be two players who were unceremoniously shipped out by Real Madrid and Perez in the summer.

The two Dutch Masters

Wesley Sneijder has probably been one of Jose Mourinho’s most important signings for Inter Milan since he took over. Playing in the hole behind Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito, he has been phenomenal this season; combining countless assists with important goals.

Chelsea fans will certainly need no reminder. It was a perfectly weighted pass from Sneijder which released Eto’o to score at Stamford Bridge and knock Chelsea out. Sneijder was also undoubtedly one of Holland’s best players during Euro 2008, again excelling in the forward position behind the striker.

Sneijder and Robben have helped carry their respective clubs all the way to the Champions League semi-final, and after the first leg victories for each club- in which Robben and Sneijder both scored, it looks very likely that the two Dutch players will meet again in the final. The Venue? Real Madrid’s very own Bernabeu. Irony in football is a funny thing.

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The Curious Case of Gianfranco Zola and West Ham Utd

Gianfranco Zola reflecting on the defeat to Wolves

The West Ham fans were quietly optimistic in August. The opening day win over Wolves was surely proof that Gianfranco Zola and West Ham Utd would kick on from the previous excellent season. There was no reason to believe otherwise.

A late run for a European place, coupled with some excellent free-flowing football towards the back end of the season had fans believing in Zola and his methods as a 9th place finish in the league was achieved.

It was astonishing to think that the West Ham job was Zola’s managerial debut. He had only previously had coaching experience with the Italy U-21’s, however along with his loyal assistant Steve Clarke, fans were hopeful that this was perhaps the partnership to take the club forward.

However, fast forward seven months from their two nil away victory on the opening day of the campaign at Molinuex; and the mood has changed somewhat around Upton Park. The depressing scenes last night at Upton Park served to remind fans of the stark reality that football can change very quickly.

As in August, Wolverhampton Wanderers were the opponents, yet the result could not have been more different from the corresponding fixture.

The 1-3 home defeat was devastating for West Ham, plunging them closer to relegation. Wolves outplayed them all over the pitch, leaving home fans chanting: “you’re not fit to wear the shirt.” Those heady days of last season must seem an age ago for the loyal West Ham fans.

Despite, the problems on the pitch, off the field, there has been reason for optimism. David Gold and David Sullivan have since taken over the club, investing some money in new players in January. They are both lifelong fans who have vowed to ensure that West Ham avoid relegation and take the club upwards.

Their track record at Birmingham proves that they know how to run a football team. One only has to look at Birmingham’s position this season, and their prospects for the future as proof.

However for West Ham, Gold and Sullivan have made it clear that avoiding relegation is so imperative to their plans for the future.

If they are to avoid the fall to the Championship, Zola must look at his underperforming squad. They currently lack any real leaders and stomach for a relegation fight.

The captain Matthew Upson has had a quiet season compared to his high standards. His head may have been swayed by the transfer rumours linking him to several clubs, whilst the other prize asset Carlton Cole predictably blows hot and cold.

Scott Parker has been inspirational for them all season, however he cannot do it alone. Players such as McCarthy, Ilan, Dyer and Kovac have not been good enough.

There is no doubt that selling James Collins was a mistake by Zola, as the Welsh centre back continues to prove what a solid performer he is alongside Richard Dunne for Aston Villa.

James Tomkins and Danny Gabbidon are good players, but not in the same class as Collins. Neither of the two current defenders has formed such a solid partnership with Upson as the current Villa man did.

That away win over Wolves on the opening day remains their solitary away victory in the league all season, and the situation has continually turned from bad to worse throughout a difficult season for the East Londoners.

Instead of hunting for European football and finishing level on points with their fierce rivals Tottenham- as they did last year, they are now in a nightmare scenario of desperately trying to avoid relegation; just like in 2007. It must seem like Déjà vu for the fans. Except this time, Carlos Tevez isn’t around to save them again.

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Jose still the special one

Jose Mourinho outsmarted Carlo Ancelotti at the Bridge

It was a reminder to everyone that Jose Mourinho is still the special one at Stamford Bridge. His Inter Milan team’s ruthless efficiency and cutting edge in attack made Chelsea look every bit the ageing outfit they are.

It was another major disappointment to add to those of the past few seasons, with the chastening defeat in Moscow to Utd and the semi final defeats to Liverpool and Barcelona still fresh in the memory.

Questions must now be raised at whether this current Chelsea squad needs serious surgery in the summer, especially if they are ever to win the holy grail for the owner- the Champions League.

Carlo Ancelotti must have been left frustrated at his team’s lack of invention and ideas all over the pitch. Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard were desperately quiet in Chelsea’s midfield; Lampard in particular starved of the ball around the edge of the box where he thrives.

Ballack was disappointing and questions over his long term future at the club are bound to be raised, alongside other players such as Deco, Hilario, Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira.

Chelsea fans may have had great hope they could turn the tie around from the first leg, but most of that optimism was centred on whether the talismanic Didier Drogba could inspire them to victory as he so often does.

It was not to be. Inter Milan’s centre back pairing of Lucio and Walter Samuel were outstanding. Dogged and pillars of strength, they never looked like being bullied by the Ivorian, as so many other defenders have been in the past.

Mourinho, who first brought Drogba to English football, knew his strengths well. But he also knew his weaknesses.

With Drogba being superbly shackled, it was clear Chelsea’s hopes of European glory had ended for another year, even before Eto’o scored late on to seal the victory.

Drogba’s fierce duel with Lucio was a frustrating one for the striker, and this frustration may have boiled over to result in the red card he later received for kicking out.

Lucio, who was notably not wanted by Bayern Munich before Inter snapped him up in the summer, was a contender for man of the match alongside the excellent Wesley Sneijder in midfield.

The little Dutch schemer was a constant thorn in Chelsea’s defence, and it was his precise pass which led to Samuel Eto’o’s eventual winner.

Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti contested the Milan derby last season when Ancelotti managed AC Milan. The two managers have remained rivals since then, but this season there is no doubting who came out on top.

The Stamford Bridge walls still adorn placards and pictures of Jose Mourinho’s achievements, with his famous “special one” quote still on one of the pictures.

After the events of Tuesday night, it is clear that the quote still rings true. At Stamford Bridge, Jose is still the special one.

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Gunning for the top prize?

Are Arsenal showing the resilience of potential title winners?

Nicklas Bendtner’s late winner against Hull at the KC Stadium left Arsene Wenger glowing at his young side’s desire to win the Premier League for the first time in 6 seasons.

The result temporarily put Arsenal level with Chelsea and ahead of Manchester Utd at the summit of the league and there is no doubting that they are now very much in contention for the title.

The cliché that great teams win when they don’t play well is often used by pundits and Arsenal demonstrated that they are recently starting to find the backbone which has been arguably lacking in the past to grind out results.

Arsenal’s late goal had all the hallmarks of a team who believe they have the right to be considered champions elect. Manchester Utd, Chelsea and to some extent Liverpool last season, have always been the masters of scoring late on in games and securing vital points, which perhaps goes to explain why the Premier League trophy has gone to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford in recent seasons.

This renewed determination from Arsenal was evident at the Britannia Stadium a few weeks ago in the 3-1 victory over Stoke. Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen’s late goals gave the North London side a monumentally important 3 points at a time where Aaron Ramsey’s horrific leg break could have derailed their focus.

The Arsenal players seemed to use the young Welsh midfielder’s injury as motivation to spur them on during the game, and the players have already pledged to win the league ‘for Ramsey’.

It seems Arsenal have learnt from the unfortunate Eduardo incident at St. Andrews in 2008 where the Croatian’s horrific leg break distracted Wenger’s side enough to lose a 2-1 lead in the last minute to Birmingham and William Gallas to memorably throw his tantrum and lose the captaincy. Consequently, one win in seven games followed, and the league title was Utd’s.

That season, Arsenal managed to remain undefeated against the top two at home, losing both fixtures away. In the current campaign however, they have lost all 4 fixtures home and away against Chelsea and Utd, which has prompted the question of whether they actually deserve the title if they go on to claim it.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez made the headlines at the end of last season with a mystifying claim that the best team does not always win the title, it just means they have more points than anyone else.

However, as Sir Alex will tell you, any argument is always won by the team holding the trophy and no-one can seriously discredit the team which goes on to win the title. Wenger will certainly hope that his young side can prove the detractors wrong.

With players such as Fabregas and Rosicky returning from injury and the inspirational Robin Van Persie even pencilled in for a surprise return in late April, Arsenal look to have the ammunition to beat the so-called lesser teams which their run-in is mainly comprised of.

Arsenal still have to go to their nearest and dearest rivals Tottenham, and the trip to White Hart Lane is the pivotal game whereby both teams’ ultimate hopes for the season could be decided.

Wenger and the Arsenal fans hope that they will be celebrating at full time in similar fashion to their visit in 2004.

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Will Capello and England miss David Beckham?

David Beckham will almost certainly miss the World Cup

It was a cruel night at the San Siro for David Beckham as his dreams of playing in a fourth consecutive World Cup was snatched away from him in a second after tearing his achilles tendon. He left the field in tears, realising that his last chance to represent his beloved England on the very biggest stage was now over. His future in an England shirt must also now be in serious doubt, as it does not look likely he will ever get another chance to add to his 115 caps.

Fabio Capello may have phoned Beckham to offer him his support and condolence, but deep down Capello knows it isn’t a catastrophic blow to England’s chances in June. Beckham has always possessed fantastic technique and composure when it came to delivering crosses and set plays into the box, and England will always miss what he brings  in that respect.

However you cannot but help but feel that his specific role as a brilliant crosser of the ball was only going to be utilised off the substitutes bench anyway. Capello’s first choice right wingers were always going to be Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon.

Indeed, Capello has a tricky selection headache for the right winger slot ahead of South Africa. Both Walcott and Lennon can frighten defences with their lightning pace, something Beckham was certainly never in the squad for. However, a question mark remains over the two youngsters’ consistency with their delivery and the final ball.

This season, Walcott has shown flashes of the unquestionable talent which England fans saw in Zagreb against Croatia, but it has been sporadic at best with injuries limiting his starting chances at Arsenal.

Aaron Lennon was having a good season with Tottenham, as it appeared he had improved the accuracy of his final ball and composure in front of goal, which he has lacked in the past. However the mystery groin injury he sustained in January, which continues to rule him out of Spurs’ season must worry Capello as the countdown to the World Cup ticks down. Lennon’s injury opens up an opportunity to several other hopefuls, especially if the diminutive Spurs man cannot recover in time.

James Milner has had a stunning season with Aston Villa, converting to a central midfielder from a winger to great effect. He has combined goals, assists with a great work rate and looks a certainty to be in England’s final squad, with Capello bound to be highly impressed with his versatility.

The same cannot be said of Shaun Wright-Phillips who, like Walcott, has had a stop-start season. He impressed off the bench in the recent friendly against Egypt with a well taken goal, but that may not be enough for the Man City player. He has not always been a first choice pick for Roberto Mancini in the City team, and when he has played, he has not hit the heights of a few seasons ago. He may have had his last chance and if Lennon recovers, he is unlikely to be on the plane to South Africa.

It is obviously a great shame for David Beckham, as he inched ever closer to Peter Shilton’s all time most capped England player record. His professionalism and dedication to the game has always made him one of England’s great ambassadors for the game, and the rapturous reception he recieved from the Old Trafford crowd last Wednesday confirms that he will always be one of the greats of the English game.

There is no doubt that his experience and calm head would have been important within the England squad, however in footballing terms, for Capello to bring a player to the World Cup purely for when England get a corner or a free kick in a dangerous position seems unnecessary, and in the grand scheme of things, Beckham’s injury will not affect England’s chances come June.

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