Football Tactics for Beginners- The Sweeper Keeper: From Lev Yashin to Manuel Neuer

Germany’s Manuel Neuer has been widely credited as one of the finest goal-keepers of his generation, and quite rightly too. The Bayern Munich shot-stopper...
Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

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Will Chelsea Maintain Their Form To Enter 2015 In Top Spot?

We’re 13 games into the 2014/15 Premier League season as it stands. Not everything has gone as expected, even at this early stage, and it’s highly unlikely that many would have correctly predicted the six teams riding high in European places. Chelsea and the Manchester clubs were always expected to be there or thereabouts, but surprise outfit Southampton currently hold the third spot, and West Ham are hanging tight at fifth. Even Swansea have started well, though they’ve recently dropped from sixth to eighth.

This much competition at the top is always good for the league as a whole. Having a season where there is so much competition for every position. The only place that looks solidified as it stands is Chelsea’s top spot, but we all know how quickly things can change. You could go from rock bottom to Europe in 10 points, and everybody in between will still fancy their chances.

The chasing pack isn’t too far away; it’s almost impossible to be separated from them after so few matches. But everything really is still up for grabs this season. Chelsea are edging away at the top, but we’ve seen bigger turnarounds in the past. Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool languish much further down than they’d like, and they, like many other clubs, will be hoping to change their fortunes in the New Year. Arsenal have just managed to convert their play into a sixth spot at the weekend, but even that is not where a previous Premier League-winning side should be.

image1

   by  Ronnie Macdonald  Caption: Are Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea unstoppable?

However, there’s still a fair amount of games left to be played before 2015, and there are some key battles that could dictate the major changes. We’re taking a look at a few of those, and then we can try to deduce who will be the big winners and the big losers when the calendars are switched. When things are so close from positions two to 20, every point counts. The old adage of a “six pointer” looks likely to mean just that as we press further into the season.

At the top, Chelsea have maintained their unbeaten streak and are without defeat in their first 13. They’ve won 10 of those with three draws, and that gives them a six-point lead over second-placed Manchester City. Chelsea have scored the most goals of any team in the league, and only Southampton have a better defensive record.

Two of the draws have come away against upper echelon teams in Manchester City and Manchester United. If Chelsea can convert those draws to wins on their home turf, then it’s a job well done. The likes of Arsenal, Everton and Swansea have all fallen, and Chelsea have romped through Europe, putting in 5-0 and 6-0 performances over FC Schalke and Maribor, respectively.

The one clear disappointment will be the weekend outing against struggling Sunderland. Chelsea dropped points in the North East in a goalless draw. Interestingly, Sunderland were the last team to beat Chelsea in the league seven months ago, but given their recent form they’ll be unhappy to have left without the full three.

Sunderland had only managed two wins from 12, and their leaking defence and weakened strike force aren’t doing them any favours. That whopping 8-0 defeat at Southampton was probably somewhat unfair, but epitomised a woeful season for Sunderland. They shouldn’t have touched Chelsea at that rate, and though they never threatened, they fought tooth and nail to keep Chelsea out.

Chelsea have six league games left to see out 2014, and a few cup outings to add to a very busy schedule. It’s not the toughest gauntlet they’ll face though, and the Chelsea faithful will fancy their chances at keeping the loss column empty. Newly seventh-placed Tottenham come next.London rivals Spurs haven’t looked at their best, and a mediocre first team have given some drab performances with very little spark. They managed to squeak past Everton at the weekend, snapping a good streak for the Merseyside club, but even then it wasn’t convincing. A late penalty call could have seen the spoils split, but they took the three points at home.

Newcastle were riding high before the weekend at fifth, but a loss to West Ham has set them back to ninth. The reality is there is a almost nothing between the teams all the way down to the bottom rungs of the league. Newcastle have won less than half of their games, and haven’t been scoring as regularly as they’d like. Hull appear to be lambs to the slaughter on Saturday December 13th. They were thrashed 3-0 by Manchester United at the weekend, and staying up doesn’t look like a certainty.

Stoke aren’t scoring enough goals to be a serious threat before Christmas, but high-fliers West Ham and Southampton could be capable of halting some of the momentum. On paper, that’s how it looks, with 21 points on the board for West Ham, and a surprising 26 for Southampton, this season’s shockers.

It’s all conjecture, but the strength in depth of the squads is not on a comparable level, and when the schedules get rough that’s when it counts the most. Neither West Ham nor Southampton have anywhere near the calibre of squad that Chelsea bring, and many are waiting for their bubbles to burst. Expect Mourinho’s men to have more class, but their adversaries may well put up a spirited challenge.

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   by  JULIAN MASON  Caption: John Terry and his squad-mates have strength in depth

With that said, even the potential banana skins shouldn’t be a problem for Chelsea if they continue this run of form. At their best, they look almost unstoppable, and it would take a bad night on their behalf to change it. They weren’t at their glorious best against Sunderland, but even at their worst they still looked like the team in control. It looks more likely that it was an off afternoon for the London club as opposed to the start of a downward slide.

Chelsea face Tottenham again on New Year’s Day, for their eighth match-up and 20th game of the campaign. Even four wins and three draws from those eight would put their tally at 46, which is ahead of last year’s leaders, Arsenal, at this stage (45). That’s conservative given just how on point the Stamford Bridge players have looked, but it would guide them comfortably into the latter half of the season.

Many are talking about when and not if Chelsea will snap up the Premier League title this year, and a solid run from now until 2015 could be influential. Every point counts no matter what stage of the season you’re in, but hitting the ground running – and having the transfer window spring in your step – is a major coup. The boffins at Bloomberg Sports say that the London side should have things wrapped up by May 2nd, and with three games to spare. They’re giving it a 21.1 per cent chance, but even if statistics aren’t your thing, you could hazard a similar guess.

The bookmakers haven’t wasted any time in slashing odds on them either. Chelsea come in at 1/4 on with betfair to win the Premier League, with nearest rivals man City at 9/2, and then Manchester United at 28/1. Even though they currently reside in third, Southampton are way out at 100/1.

The results keep speaking for themselves, but they’re not the only things talking. Manchester United’s No.2, Ryan Giggs, has admitted Chelsea are “head and shoulders above the rest”. Manchester City midfielders Samir Nasri has said they “look unbeatable at the moment”. When your peers and rivals are proclaiming such statements publicly, you know you’re doing all the right things.

Things could go from bad to worse for those hoping for a slump, as it looks like the Chelsea board have earmarked a significant chunk of capital to try and acquire the services of Lionel Messi from Barcelona. One of the world’s best footballers is breaking records like they’re going out of fashion, but is rumoured to be unhappy with some unrest at the Spanish club. His agent has hinted at prospective moves, and Chelsea certainly have the funding to make it happen.

A reported £200 million tag is being placed on Messi, the all-time top Champions League and La Liga goalscorer at just 27. He has netted 17 times in 18 appearances in the 2014/15 season so far, and shows no signs of slowing down. Adding that kind of quality to an already-winning formula would shrink Chelsea’s odds even further as they look to claim their fourth Premier League trophy, and their third under Mourinho. Messi is not the only one on Chelsea’s January hitlist either, with other targets including Monaco’s Joao Moutinho for around £25 million, Real Madrid man Sami Khedira and Inter Mllan goalscorer Mauro Icardi.

Owner Roman Abramovich’s purse strings will loosen for the right names, and particularly if the ultimate goal is in sight. Chelsea last won the league gold in 2010 and, though there have been trophies since, including a Champions League, nothing can quite compare to the season-long effort to be crowned Premier League champions. Record profits announced in June will have kept Abramovich smiling, and that could translate to a smile on ‘The Special One’s’ face when the transfer window opens.

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   by  Free-ers  Caption: Will Roman Abramovich spend in January?

At this moment in time, it looks likely that Chelsea could run away with it, but England’s top flight has been known to surprise us. Many underdogs have surfaced, and the sleeping giants could be awoken to put up a fight with more than two thirds of the season left to go.  The remaining games of 2014 will show us the likelihood of a Chelsea marauding, and then the January transfer window could further cement it.

Time to be optimistic as a Chelsea fan. Saturday’s performance aside at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland became the first team to stop Chelsea from scoring this season, there is a lot to look forward to. It’s better to get the blip out of the way while the gap is there. Mourinho remained upbeat and congratulated Sunderland on successfully playing for a clean sheet. “I’m not going to be critical of my team,” he said. “We’re top of the league and there’s no time to be complaining.”

Twenty unbeaten in all matches so far in this campaign shows that they’re doing all the right things. If you’re a fan of the game, then you could be optimistic about a slip-up to make the title race a close one, but that glass could already be half empty.

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