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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

~ Essien Earn Praises All Around, Deco Out Of The Season, Drogba Fit For Spurs And Chelsea Back In Title Race ~


Posted on: Mon 16 Mar 2009

After half-a-year hidden away in the rehabilitation rooms and gyms of Cobham, you can't keep Michael Essien out of the spotlight. John Terry has been quick to hail the return of a player he describes as a 'machine'.

Against Juventus five days earlier, Essien's goal had been the outstanding moment from his first start since reconstructive knee ligament surgery. Against Man City on Sunday there was much more - a full 90 minutes, chances created by defence-splitting passes, scoring attempts with shots and headers, plus of course the winning goal.

'Only Michael could do that,' announced Terry after the 1-0 win. 'Only he could come back and after two games have scored two goals and play as well as he has been.

'After so long out you think it would take three or four games to find his feet but he is an absolute machine. You see him working his socks off for six months in the gym and it pays dividends. He is brilliant and it is great to have him back.'

Terry's fellow centre-back Ricardo Carvalho was another playing his first 90 minutes since injury, although the latest of his lay-offs was five months shorter than Essien.

'We are both fit at the same time and Essien is very important for us. He showed in this game he has got a great quality and he fights every time,' said the Portuguese defender, joining in with the praise for his team-mate.

'I've been out too long but I am happy to be back now. We have been having good results every match so everyone is more happy and when it is like that, it is easy to come back.

Man City home

'We are playing as a team and when we do we have quality in our squad and we can win our games.'

For players like Essien and Carvalho, their return comes at a time when eyes are still fixed firmly on silverware, even if the Barclays Premier League trophy is eyed-up with realistic caution, the weekend's events still leaving Man United four points ahead with a game in hand.

'We have still got three competitions and for the Champions League and the FA Cup we must look for ourselves,' says Carvalho, 'but the Premier League we have to wait for Man United to drop points so it is more difficult, but still possible.'

'We have still got to win all our games to push them right to the end,' adds Terry.

'We have shown our strength and character in the last month and if we keep doing that, we can apply some pressure to them. If they slip up, they know we are coming up behind them.

'Since the new manager has come in here we have played very well and got the right results. He has changed a few things, given a few of us a kick up the backside which I think we needed.

'Man United have good players but after a big defeat like they had this weekend, you never know how they are going to react. Hopefully they are going to go on a bad run but the main thing for us to do is keep winning and applying the pressure,'

Finally, Sunday's game against Man City, the club that put in an enquiry about buying Terry late last year, led to the subject being raised once more. Guus Hiddink in his short time here has seen a one-club man in the captain and said so on Friday.

'I can't ever see myself leaving Chelsea Football Club,' Terry now reiterates.

'I love this club, I have been here since the age of 14 and I made a statement because of speculation a few months ago and that has still not put an end to it. I never want to leave Chelsea Football Club, as simple as that.'

Chelsea's Frank Lampard is a credit to himself and his profession

Frank Lampard, Chelsea (Getty)

You can argue with someone, but still recognise their qualities. You can reject what they represent, but respect their achievements.

So here goes. Frank Lampard is a credit to himself and his profession. He deserves the serenity he seems to crave.

He will welcome the diversion of the billionaires’ bunfight at Stamford Bridge this afternoon. For an all-too-brief period it will all make sense.

Lampard will be in his element, finding refuge in the eye of the storm that passes as a Premier League match. The release of Manchester City’s visit will be fleeting, reassuringly familiar.

It will not matter that his personal life is the subject of a million water-cooler moments. He will be absorbed in the emotional ebb and flow of a game watched by millions from Abu Dhabi to Zanzibar.

Regular readers may remember we have previous. Lampard took exception to my damning comparison between his contract demands and the rewards of NHS staff.

You don’t get far in my game if you betray confidences, and it would be unforgivable to go into detail.

Suffice to say a long, occasionally loud, conversation followed which ranged from definitions of greed, through the pain of loss, to the importance of allegiance.

As he has subsequently admitted, he was on the ragged edge at the time, mourning his mother. The world has moved on, without minimising his sense of grief.

The recession has become a depression. A seat at a football match is in imminent danger of being a luxury item.

City’s Arab owners have cheapened themselves, and their pet “project”, by accelerating football’s insane inflationary spiral.

It’s still impossible to justify Lampard’s £39.2million deal, but that’s positively frugal compared to the ransoms being offered to Kaka & Co.

Those contracts have too many inducements, too few performance clauses.

Lampard, at least, gives everything of himself. His form has been the most constant factor in another comic strip season at Chelsea.

Were it not for the remarkable longevity and winning personality of Ryan Giggs, he would be a persuasive candidate for Footballer of the Year. The numbers – 67 England caps, 125 goals in 411 Chelsea appearances – don’t add up if they are the only things by which Lampard is judged.

The composure with which he accepted his absurd dismissal at Anfield earlier this season was especially impressive. It hinted at hidden virtues and values.

Guus Hiddink, his latest manager, has an instinct for influence, an eye for individuals to whom lesser characters gravitate.

Hiddink quickly understands the culture of a team he inherits. He dissects a dressing room, mentally separates the sheep from the stronger beasts.

He saw, instantly, that Lampard and John Terry were central figures. They’re more subtle than shop stewards. They’re leaders, lobbyists. Smooth operators.

That, of course, would be irrelevant if their performances did not match their political acumen. They deliver.

Lampard, in particular, has always made the most of his talent. It is the fluff of fame that irritates.

Footballers are accustomed to apologists. Somewhere, in the transition from promising player to global star, most of them lose a little of their humanity.

It is no surprise they become self-absorbed. As one respected coach advised last week: “To understand footballers you have to study what has shaped them.

“They’re conditioned to being cynical. The game teaches them no one else looks after them. They spend their lives in constant competition.

“They’re either looking to get someone’s job, or to protect themselves against the kid who wants their place. They can’t stand still.”

He wasn’t being specific, but the summary rang true.

Run, Frankie, run.


Posted on: Mon 16 Mar 2009

There was no need to beware the Ides of March this year as one midfielder did his talking on the pitch and one from the past did his off it.

If Michael Essien's first 90 minutes back surpassed expectations it is only because those expectations didn't take into account everything already known about our midfield powerhouse.

The biggest surprise about the Ghanaian's season is that his body was capable of succumbing to injury in the first place. When in the first 10 minutes on Sunday he surged through the centre in possession like a rugby league star in full flight, it was clear that the force was once again with him.

During 65 minutes play away at Juventus, his passing understandably lacked sharpness and precision but on the second of his early advances against Man City, Essien played one of the balls of the game, working a long pass through two tight markers to the feet of Didier Drogba.

Vision on the ball may not generally be talked about as one of the player's key strengths but his pass to pick out Drogba again immediately after the interval, when only an expertly-timed Nedum Onuoha tackle prevented a goal, would have made Frank Lampard proud had he supplied it. Essien was also heavily involved in a great combination of passes that so nearly played Lampard through in the early stages.

No-one is pretending the timing was right on the goal (although good reactions were needed to make any sort of contact on the swivel) and his strike on 30 minutes was hooked wide, so perhaps the shooting is yet to come. however a second-half piledriver on the run went a lot closer and sure enough, who was it still carrying the attack to Man City by charging up the pitch in the 88th minute?

Matching Essien for moments of individual dominance this Sunday lunchtime was John Terry with his one-man salvage operation just before half-time. That was after Stephen Ireland had played the ball past him to Felipe Caicedo. The skipper also took over when City went aerial as the game drew on. It's little wonder the visitors took until the 82nd minute for a shot that dirtied Petr Cech's gloves.

Following the game Man City manager Mark Hughes spoke of leggy players, Chelsea's success in preventing his forwards making an impact and a difference in preparation time as robbing his side of its spark, handing the headline writers their words on a plate.

And he may have had a fair point, with City playing Thursday then Sunday compared with our Tuesday- Sunday. However the Chelsea team had been away in Europe, traditionally considered a wrecker of form the following weekend. Man City had played at home.

So far this season the squad has done relatively well after Champions League away trips with three out of the four games that followed won, including the impressive home victory over Aston Villa.

The home defeat by Arsenal following the draw in Bordeaux was the one failure, although our record matches Man United after Euro aways. They also lost to Arsenal following a game in Glasgow but won the other three, if a penalty shoot-out win in the Carling Cup Final is included.

After the Whistle caught up with a midfielder from Chelsea's past following the weekend game.

Craig Burley is likely to be seen with his false front teeth in these days, unlike his time on the pitch in blue. That's because the former Scotland international is now a major part of Setanta's Barclays Premier League coverage, the reason he was watching Chelsea's fourth straight league win.

'Obviously the title race door's been opened a bit by the Man United-Liverpool result so it was up to Chelsea to go and make the most of that, which they did,' Burley told us.

'I was quite pleased with their football at times, in patches they showed some good stuff, but at times I thought they were back to the Chelsea we'd become accustomed to which is a little bit ponderous.

'Having Essien back was obviously a huge bonus. His drive was belying somebody who has been out of the game for so long. Superhuman is the wrong word but it almost goes beyond the reality of being out for that amount of time to be able to produce that level of performance for that long.

'I was pleased to see Drogba having some nice touches and showing a completely different body language to when Scolari was here. HHe looks as if he's in a different mindset now and that can only be good for the run-in.'

Making sure Chelsea legs don't go before the end of the season will be part of the Hiddink plan although in his Friday press conference, there was a small but interesting insight into the temporary coaches thinking on this.

Rotating en masse to give rest is not something he especially believes in he stated. However players will be switched to make sure those not match-fit are in the best shape should they be the best option for future games.

By selecting Michael Ballack rather than John Mikel Obi as the anchor midfielder on Sunday, Hiddink showed that position is no longer a straight choice between the young Nigerian (who was missing from a league starting line-up for the first time since August) and Essien, or possibly Juliano Belletti in some circumstances.

And with an unshackled Essien showing what he can bring to the party, it is hard to imagine he won't be bombing forward with Lampard again in the coming months.

After a run of Nicolas Anelka on the left of a front three, Hiddink also showed the Frenchman can be used on the right of Drogba, where he and José Bosingwa left Robinho in the shade until Deco's injury sent Anelka back over to the left.

Following Claude Makelele's surprise drop-in on training at the Bridge recently, another back-to-back title winner came to see old friends this weekend. Having played and scored for Real Madrid on Saturday night, the winger was in London in time for our game.


Posted on: Mon 16 Mar 2009

Guus Hiddink praised Michael Essien's influence after the midfielder's goalscoring league return, while also ruling Deco out for some time.

Essien was making his first league appearance since August, while Deco, who had not started himself since January, limped off towards the end of the first half with more hamstring trouble.

Temporary coach Hiddink is expecting to be without the Portuguese playmaker for some time, and possibly until the end of the season. He did though report that Didier Drogba's injury which forced him off is not serious.

'He was fit, he worked hard the last weeks and played his games. After 20, 25 minutes he got his problem again and I think he will be out for a while,' was the verdict on Deco.

'That's a pity, I think when he starts now he has to be very long and intense after his recovery medically to be very fit, so I have my doubts to be honest [about the rest of the season] but let's see in the upcoming time.

'On the other hand it was good to see Essien, Carvalho playing for 90 minutes, although Alex did very well in recent games but I want to have Carvalho game fit for the upcoming time.

'Drogba I think is not a big problem, I think he likes to be with the team, he likes to play, he likes to train so I think he will be recovered very soon. I think tomorrow or the day after he will be okay.'

Hiddink believes there is still room for improvement in his side's displays, despite six wins from seven games.

'We make decent games, we can improve, today we didn't materialise the game, we didn't come under threat from City because we were solid defensively,' he analysed.

'I would have liked it much more if we could finish it off in the first half. If we could score a second goal I think it could be a 4-0 game, but that's the only thing.

'We had some good play, some good attacks but at the end we have to finish it off. That's the only thing we can be critical of, not to finish.'

It was the first time Essien has played 90 minutes since returning from his cruciate ligament injury, and his impact could not have been greater with a superbly taken first half goal.

'For the team and for the crowd it's very important that he came back after a long period of recovery and I think we played him already at Juve when he did a good job, not just by scoring. Today being in the team gives us a lot of confidence and that's good to see,' Hiddink said.

'I knew him before and he is very strong and gives a lot to the team. He gives me options to play differently with other players as well and that's good because when we go to the end of the season in three competitions we need a lot of players, so when he is available it is perfect.'

The win puts us within four points of Manchester United at the top of the table, and Hiddink admits the door is now slightly more open after their defeat to Liverpool on Saturday.

'I think every now and then you get a defeat which you don't expect. All of a sudden it happens, but on the other hand it is a very experienced team, and let's see how they react in the upcoming days but it is not the first time it happens and big teams always react,' he said of United.

'Four points - I think you have to add the one game as well. If it were four points it would be very close but they have that game in hand. It is clear after yesterday's unexpected result the attention has come back in the league.

'If we want to track them then we have to keep on winning which we are doing, and we must give attention to the end of the league.'

The Dutchman rejected suggestions that he will need to be ready to enter into mind games with Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez.

'It is not a battle between the managers at the end, it is a battle between the players. They are both very experienced, Rafael is very experienced, Sir Alex is very experienced, let me as a schoolboy chase them,' he joked. 'There is no battle between managers, it is the players.'

Chelsea's Frank Arnesen to go for Frank Rijkaard

Frank Arnesen is to become the Godfather of Chelsea - making Frank Rijkaard a red-hot tip to be the next boss.

Arnesen will be promoted to director of football by Roman Abramovich and given a major say on appointing the next manager - with Guus Hiddink insisting he WILL go back to managing the Russian national team.

And that makes Dutch legend Rijkaard, out of work since leaving Barcelona a year ago, a big favourite for the Blues hot-seat ahead of AC Milan chief Carlo Ancelotti.

Insiders reveal that Arnesen was pushing for Rijkaard when Avram Grant left last summer, but the Dut chman wanted a year-long break from the game.

Arnesen wanted to team up with Rijkaard a year ago before Luiz Felipe Scolari came in and Hiddink had to rescue their season.

Arnesen went to Chelsea from Tottenham in a controversial move and has progressed behind the scenes from chief scout to the director who looks after their expensive youth programme.

But now Abramovich and his aides have reviewed the set-up and decided to promote Arnesen to an even more senior position that will see him have a large input in signings and finding a new boss.

Abramov i ch has listened to several people after a tough year at Stamford Bridge and he has now opted to back Arnesen - with some other noses likely to be pushed out of joint.

The former Spurs coach is rated highly and will have a new contract out of this shake-up.

Some had tipped him to go during a recent period of cutbacks and checks on the progress of the club's young signings that he had overseen.

Lyon eye up potential Benzema swap deals

French international striker Karim Benzema is fully expected to be the subject of an intense bidding war when the transfer window opens in the summer and with Lyon looking ready to do business with Europe’s top clubs, including Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madird it is thought that the saga could drag on for months. The latest round of speculation hints at potential swap deals involving attacking talents from the ranks of two potential Benzema suitors as the French champions look to lessen the blow of losing their prized asset.

Having revealed at the weekend that France and Juventus striker David Trezeguet was a target for Lyon, club chairman Jean Michel Aulas had pulses racing in the Italian media with several reports claiming the French side might do business with the Old Lady for Benzema.

“We wanted him two-and-a-half years ago," Aulas told Tuttosport.

"That is no secret, even if at the end of the day nothing came of it. Could we bring Trezeguet to Lyon now?

"I haven't spoken to our coach about it, nor to Juve, but we do like the player. He is an extraordinary marksman, but we have Benzema..."

Two weeks ago reports emanating from Spain hinted that Barcelona could also lure Lyon to sell Benzema by offering one of their youngest talents. El Mundo Deportivo claimed that 18-year-old Bojan Krkic, who scored twice for the Nou Camp outfit last night, was looking for a move away from Spain and could be ready-made-replacement for Lyon’s 21-year-old.

Chelsea coaching offer for PSG's Makelele

Chelsea want to bring PSG midfielder Claude Makelele back to Stamford Bridge.

The Blues want Makelele, 36, to return in a coaching and ambassadorial role.

Club officials have already sounded out Makelele and his advisers about it.

Cole: Essien absence cost us six points

Joe Cole told Setanta that Chelsea could be right on Manchester United's case had Michael Essien been fit all year.

A ruptured anterior cruciate ligament sustained in early September meant that Luiz Felipe Scolari and then Guus Hiddink were shorn of Essien’s services until his return to duty against Coventry in this month’s FA Cup quarter final.

What a return it has proved to be. Essien has started the next two games and scored twice in the process, receiving particularly widespread acclaim for his performance against Manchester City on Sunday.

Speaking in the aftermath of that game, Cole, himself out with a similar injury until at least pre-season, felt it impossible to underplay the impact the Ghana midfielder has on The Blues.

“It’s so difficult, I’m so pleased with him because we’ve got the same injury,” he told Setanta Sports 1. “To see him go out there and perform like he has, not just today but in the week in Turin [against Juventus], he was different class.

“You know how hard you’ve got to work as a footballer to get back from an injury like this. For him to perform like this is a credit to himself and the medical team.

“What we’ve missed is that little bit of pace in the midfield this year. We’ve been talking about getting tight to teams but he’s breaking up the play, he’s linking the play – he does a bit of everything. Any team would miss him, he’s our engine room.

“We’ve struggled with injuries but that’s no excuse – we’ve got the squad to deal with it. We’ve got players like Ballack, Deco, Lampard and Mikel. These are four world-class midfielders.

“But Essien would have made a difference. With him in the squad maybe we’d have had an extra five or six points.”

Liverpool's surprise 4-1 win at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime means that they and Chelsea are four points adrift of United having both played a game more.

English Angle: Michael Essien - One Big Player, But An Even Bigger Headache For Chelsea

The Blues are looking a much better side with their all-action midfielder back in the mix, but his presence will pose a few problems to some of his team-mates in the long-term...

EPL: Michael Essien, Chelsea v Manchester City (PA)
As Chelsea cut through Manchester City time and time again with the whole of Stamford Bridge behind them, there were more than a few echoes of the opening day of the season. Portsmouth were the victims that sunny afternoon in August, with the final score of 4-0 not in any way flattering the Blues in Luiz Felipe Scolari's first league game in charge.

They had the solidity through the middle that has been the cornerstone of their success since Jose Mourinho took charge, but on top of that was the guile of Deco and the freedom afforded to flying full-backs Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole. There was inspiration and flair, yet they looked as unbreakable as ever in defence - they had everything.

It was a Brazilian formula for success from one of the most successful Brazilian bosses of all time, but it had its limitations. There is a reason Deco only cost €10 million from Barcelona. For all his skill and pedigree, he has passed his peak and cannot consistently compete at the highest level anymore. The full-backs, though flying, were always restrained to a degree, knowing that the likes of Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack would never provide genuine defensive cover. This limited the width and pace that they could offer, a fact exacerbated further by the lack of speed in midfield.

Scolari soon realised he didn't quite have the squad he thought he did - to assert that Robinho would have solved all their problems would be absurd - and as the blues set in at the Bridge, it was time to for Scolari to get on out.

Guus Hiddink has taken temporary charge and had a similar galvanising effect on the players, so far, and with his introduction have come a few more minor innovations. The return of Michael Essien is, as they say, 'like a new signing'. He is the new Deco. Just as Deco gave Chelsea what they needed in August, Essien is giving them what they need in March. But what was the case then remains so now: it is one central player too many for a team desperately wanting for width.

The difference is that the Ghanaian has the years ahead of him to be the best for the long haul and is a man around whom the Blues should consider building their team, providing they embrace him for the player that he is and play to his strengths. Essien can defend very well - having played at right- and centre-back during his time in west London - but he is at his best breaking from midfield and making an irrepressible nuisance of himself to opposing defences. He and Didier Drogba's interplay split City over and over throughout the game; it was like nothing we had seen all season from anyone besides perhaps Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard - why would any manager in their right mind want to put an end to it by trying to make Essien, or Ballack for that matter, the new Makelele? It worked against Man City - so did Deco against Portsmouth - but such a system will be exposed over time, if for no other reason than neither Essien nor Ballack were required to do any defending at all. Against better teams, the Blues won't have that luxury.

While it is true that not every team needs a specialist defensive midfielder - the English, European and world champions certainly don't - with the likes of Lampard and Ballack on board as potential partners for Essien, Chelsea definitely do. Essien is not the new Makelele. Chelsea had the new Makelele, but they sold him to Arsenal, who sold him to Portsmouth, who were recently more or less forced into selling him to Real Madrid, where Makelele became a brand unto himself and defined his own 'Makelele' position to begin with (thus completing the circle of life). To build a new-look Blues, they will need a new, new Makelele. Is it Jon Obi Mikel? Many have had their doubts due to his failure to perform in the big games and Ballack doesn't have enough years left in him to be considered the 'new' anything.

For all Essien's exuberance, his inclusion as the all-conquering midfield general, along with the new Makelele, leaves only a single place in the line-up for one of Lampard, Ballack or Deco in attacking midfield. Wingers must still remain a priority at the Bridge though, as the diamond midfield formation is highly unlikely to stand the test of time in the Premier League.

Deco may have the most skill and Ballack may be the best all-rounder (at least on paper), but one thing is definite: 'Super Goals' has become the heartbeat of Chelsea. He has earned primacy in his position, and the fact he has had to share it in recent times has only limited and inhibited his ability to make champions out of Chelsea. The problem this decision poses is tempering two tremendous egos who will no longer be regulars - to sell one of them would probably be best for the squad to avoid a situation such as the one that faced Scolari in his last days; having more 'big' players than he knew how to handle.

Chelsea are an old team. Mourinho built for the now and was never one particularly concerned by youth development. The more he became disenchanted by the ever-tightening grip of Abramovich's iron fist, the less motivated he was to even try and effect change. First Hiddink, then Drogba and now Essien have finally reminded us just how special some parts of this Chelsea side can still be, but big changes are needed this summer. Out with the old, in with the Blue.

Chelsea boss Hiddink allays Drogba injury fears

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink insists Didier Drogba is okay after suffering a knee strain during their victory over Manchester City.

Drogba was substituted with a knee injury, but Hiddink insists that he will be fit to face Tottenham at White Hart Lane next Saturday.

Hiddink said: "Drogba I think is not a big problem, I think he likes to be with the team, he likes to play, he likes to train so I think he will be recovered very soon. I think tomorrow or the day after he will be okay."

Deco blow for Hiddink

Portuguese midfielder suffers hamstring injury

Guus Hiddink led Chelsea to a 1-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday, but saw Deco hobble out of the action.

A solitary strike from Michael Essien was enough to keep the Blues in the title race as they reclaimed second spot in the Premier League standings.

However, the victory was soured by an injury to Portuguese playmaker Deco.

He was forced from the field four minutes before half-time after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring problem and could be sidelined for the remainder of the season.

"I think he will be out for a while," Hiddink said.

"He was fit and has been working hard but got the same problem again."

Asked whether Deco would recover before the end of the season, the Dutch coach said: "I have my doubts but let's see."

The injury blow aside, Hiddink was otherwise delighted to take three points from the City clash.


Chelsea now sit four points behind league leaders Manchester United, with all to play for between now and the end of the season.

"If it was just four points it would be very close, but they have that game in hand," he said.

"But it's clear that after yesterday's unexpected result (United's 4-1 defeat to Liverpool) that the tension has come back in the league.

"It's a boost. But if we want to track them, we have to keep on winning. That'll give tension to the end of the season, which is good for everyone.

"Every now and then you get a defeat you don't expect. Sometimes you don't expect it at home because you have a beautiful record, then all of a sudden it happens.

"But they're a very experienced team. Let's see how they react in the up-coming days. It's not the first time that it's happened, but the big teams always react.

"I don't know what their reaction will be. When you are in the driver's seat and someone else is coming, you can get a little bit nervous. It is a little bit open now."

Chelsea - Drogba Fit for Spurs!
Chelsea - Drogba Fit for Spurs!
The sight of Didier Drogba limping off the pitch, against Manchester City, gave everyone cause for concern yesterday.

Thankfully, it appears that the injury isn`t serious and that Didier Drogba will be fit enough to play against Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.

In his after-match press conference Guus Hiddink remarked,

'Drogba I think is not a big problem, I think he likes to be with the team, he likes to play, he likes to train so I think he will be recovered very soon.'

"I think tomorrow or the day after he will be okay.'

Start panicking Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate, the Drogster is coming!