Premier League - Early Doors: Chelsea making a crisis out of a drama

Thu, 09 Dec 09:09:00 2010

The average goldfish has a memory of just eight seconds, a fact which would suggest that everybody's favourite funfair prize would be ideally suited to a life in the world of football.

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Memories in football tend to be pretty short, but it seems to ED that this season has seen new depths plumbed in the search for knee-jerk reactions to runs of bad form.

But the reaction to Chelsea's recent run of results takes the cake. Fans and media alike seem genuinely shocked by the Blues' fall from grace in the last few weeks.

In fact, it's almost certain that Chelsea have simply fallen foul of the law of averages.

Just as roulette wheels occasionally throw up red 10 times in a row, sometimes a group of the best-paid and best-prepared athletes in the world will go through a spell when things just won't click.

Earlier this season Chelsea were destroying everything in their path, beginning the campaign with six-goal hammerings of West Brom and Wigan and looking so good that people were genuinely talking about them being the greatest side ever to grace the game. That seductive illusion of infallibility was just as deceptive as the current appearance of a crisis on the King's Road.

Yet everybody has already forgotten the heady days of six weeks ago, when Chelsea were on course to build such a big lead in the league that they were set to be crowned champions at Christmas.

The way things are going now, however, suggest that we're only a few weeks away from the Blues being talked about as relegation candidates.

It's all rubbish, obviously. Though they have won only once since the departure of Ray Wilkins - and that only against Champions League whipping boys Zilina - it remains the same squad of players, with the same skills and fitness doing the same thing, day in, day out.

Carlo Ancelotti hasn't bumped his head and forgotten everything he knows about tactical guidance, and Didier Drogba hasn't had his magical footwear stolen in a Billy's Boots-style comic strip farce. The club has simply slammed home an essential truth that it's a physical and mental impossibility for any sportsman to perform at their peak permanently.

Let's get it straight. Chelsea's recent results are not 'shocking'. A shocking result would be seeing the reigning champions lose 8-0 to a non-league side in an FA Cup match, not seeing them lose to well-drilled and highly professional sides such as Sunderland. The gap between the big four and the ordinary clubs closed so much last season it's no longer a surprise to see anybody beat anybody.

Shocking, in football terms, is seeing Leeds go from Champions League football to the brink of oblivion within the space of a few seasons. Shocking is Eric Cantona kung-fu kicking a fan. It's not shocking to see a football club lose a few games in a row to players only slightly less skilled than they are.

A few weeks ago Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini was in crisis after seeing his men lose to Arsenal, Wolves and Lech Poznan in quick succession, with dozens of stories hitting the papers about internal strife at Eastlands.

City were a runaway juggernaut, and it seemed inconceivable that the club's oil-rich owners would leave the driver in his job - yet an unbeaten month later and Mancini seems to have doused talk of crisis.

And just as Mancini rode out the storm, and ED would happily wager as much as five pence that Ancelotti will do the same.

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ED's inbox is more or less permanently clogged to the point where the computer starts bleating about having exceeded storage limits. Those warnings became so ferocious on Tuesday that there was no alternative than to spend an hour or two clearing out old messages.

It's a particularly bitter irony, then, that yesterday saw a torrent of new messages arrive to clog things up once again, thanks to thousands of IT-illiterate Formula One journalists unable to resist clicking "reply to all" to a PR circular from McLaren.

But drowning in the sea of junk messages - among them the Buenos Aires Gazette's motorsports correspondent announcing that, yes, he would like to stay on the team mailing list, and a very famous former driver turned pundit gleefully describing the whole thing a "ridiculous f***-up" - there was a nugget of genuine interest from the Castrol-sponsored football stats people.

The Castrol Performance data number crunchers have been inspired to whip out their Casios by the managerial vacancy at Newcastle - and they've scientifically proven that Martin Jol is the best man to take over the Magpies.

Entering full-on Professor-Frink-from-The-Simpsons mode, the stats show that Jol's teams in the Premier League have a better win percentage as well as superior goal scoring and defensive records than the sides managed by Alan Curbishley, Martin O'Neill and Alan Pardew.

All very interesting, and reasonably logical despite the obvious problems about comparing different men in different contexts. But the big irony is that if logic played any part whatsoever in the decisions of Mike Ashley, then Chris Hughton would undoubtedly still be in charge at St James' Park.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'm not low. I'm strong. I want to resolve this problem quickly. I'm focused on my job. This is normal. I think my players have that same focus. I'm sure of this. I'm worried just because we're not doing our best. This is the problem. We have to do better. I would like the team to move on quickly from this moment" - Carlo Ancelotti just about manages to stop himself before he breaks into a rendition of the Monty Python song 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'.

FOREIGN VIEW: If you thought the allegations of corruption hanging over FIFA were bad, try life in Ghana. The Ghana League Clubs Association has voted to pull its members out of all national leagues after police raided the local FA to seek information on sponsorship deals. Football in the country's top four divisions has ground to a halt.

COMING UP: It's a thin day on the football front, but the last of the FA Cup third round berths will be decided tonight - we'll have live scoring from Luton v Charlton at 7.45pm. And away from footie we'll have live coverage of all the action from snooker's UK Championship.

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