Chelsea v Man Utd: Looking Back

Tonight’s game is the 68th meeting between the two clubs in the league at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s first meeting with Manchester United game was during the Blues’ first season in the football league and took place in April 1906, finishing as a 1-1 draw.

Chelsea fans had to wait almost fourteen years before the first home win over United, thanks to a single goal from World War I veteran Jack Cock in January 1920. Chelsea’s record against United at Stamford Bridge before World War II wasn’t spectacular – three wins in thirteen games -but one of those victories was a memorable 6-2 thrashing in September 1930 that featured a hat-trick by Alec Cheyne and two goals from fellow Scottish international Hughie Gallagher.

Amazingly, almost twenty years passed before Chelsea beat Manchester United at home again – Hugh Billington was the only goalscorer in November 1950 – and although the Blues won the League Championship in 1954/55, the 6-5 home defeat by United in October 1954 was Ted Drake’s side’s third home defeat that season. Seamus O’Connell –who despite his name was an England amateur international  – emulated Cheyne’s feat by scoring a hat-trick.

Although it’s highly unlikely that tonight’s game will finish 6-5, it’s noticeable that the 5-0 win over United in October 1999 seems to have heralded an era of Chelsea dominance over United in recent seasons. Since then, Chelsea have only lost once at Stamford Bridge in the Premiership to their northern rivals and have kept six clean sheets in their last ten meetings against United in West London: although goals have been at a premium recently, tonight’s game should be another fascinating chapter in a rivalry that’s been established for over a century.

England Face Tough Task At Sold-Out Millennium Stadium

Guest blogger Pete South takes a look at the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifier with our local rivals…

Online sports betting pundits will be aware that England’s goal of qualifying for the European Championships in 2012 will get under way in earnest next month as they come up against their toughest challenge.

The Welsh, in another stage of transition, won’t offer the same resistance as Montenegro did in their last qualifier on the pitch, where a 1-1 draw was all they could muster, but their secret weapon is loaded and ready to fire.

Those studying sportsbook online note how  a packed Millennium Stadium will be an intimidating obstacle for Fabio Capello’s men to overcome as they look to finally put their failed World Cup campaign behind them.  Martin Johnson’s rugby team recently experienced the full force of the Welsh crowd, and Capello could do worse than making a quick phone call to find out what to expect.

“Being an Englishman this weekend in Cardiff means you aren’t the most popular” Johnson said after the game, and it is something their footballing counterparts will have to contend with.

But, England not only need to overcome the partisan Welsh crowd, but excel on the pitch.

The Italian will know a successful won’t be enough this time around to convince the nation that they are a side ready to win the competition, fingers have been burned from last time around. No, they must offer more than just winning if they are to win over English supporters.

The signs are good however. Their 2-1 friendly win against Denmark earlier this month represented a shift in attitude towards the much maligned friendly. Despite the constant switch of captains and a steady flow of substitutions, England achieved what most thought impossible – they managed to take some positives away from the game.

Denmark were a genuine test. If not the most technically gifted they pressured England and put together some fluent attacks, mostly through the gifted Christian Erikson. But the emergence of Jack Wilshere and Ashley Young’s success in a central role means Capello has genuine variation in his attack for the remainder of the qualification games, something which was lacking previously. If the form of Wayne Rooney is still a worry for the former Juventus boss, then the goal scoring prowess of Darren Bent and his connection with Villa team-mate Young will appease him somewhat.

New Welsh manager Gary Speed faces his first home match in charge against possibly the toughest task he will face as Welsh manager. Three losses from their first three matches, which spelt the end for previous manager John Toshack, mean their chances of qualification are all but over. England will have to be mindful of a Welsh side with only one thing to play for, one thing they care most about. Beating the English.

Predictable Drop-outs For Ill-timed Friendly

Guest blogger Thomas Rooney takes a look at tomorrow’s friendly against Denmark – if we’d opted into the Nations Cup, at least it would have been competitive.

The difficulties in juggling club management and international management are once again in the spotlight this week with England set to play a pretty pointless friendly in Denmark.

Coming as it is between two sets of Premier League games and a week before the resumption of the Champions League it is little surprise there has been a flurry of drop outs.

Steven Gerrard, Peter Crouch and Ben Foster have all been released from the squad because of injuries, with Rio Ferdinand already out. In total 24 players from the four England age-group sides have been released this week.

For Fabio Capello he somehow has to get his message across the remaining players in a matter of days, before playing the friendly and waving the squad back off to their respective squads once more.

It must be terribly difficult for an international manager to try and build any team spirit or plan any tactics in such a short space of time. I agree they need these games to experiment, but to shoehorn them in almost as an afterthought benefits no-one. It doesn’t appeal to fans either. Obviously people will be keeping an eye on the live match score , but they won’t be getting overly excited about it.

He must also be fielding several calls from Premier League managers asking that their players don’t play more than 45 minutes of the friendly in order to keep them fit for future domestic games. And god forbid one of them get injured as a demand for compensation will soon arrive at the doors of the FA from the player’s Premier League club.

International football at the moment is being treated like an irritable distraction. In order for it to work it needs to be given the space and time it deserves. I agree with the idea that two dedicated international windows should be set in the season, where the squad can gather for two, even three weeks and play all their qualifiers or friendly games. England will play nine games in total this season, that surely can be split into two windows of five and four matches? It would make things much more exciting for those following the football live scores .

It will give Capello vital time to work with his players and perhaps avoid the awkward club v country tussle that we are seeing now.

It seems like common sense to me – but that is exactly why I can’t see it being implemented any time soon.

2010: Annus Mediocris

After the World Cup we had, it’s not too difficult to feel at least a twinge of sympathy with our near neighbours, although on the other hand it’s also quite difficult to suppress any giggling.

In some respects the French campaign in South Africa was so wonderfully dysfunctional that it’s hard to imagine any other team self destructing with such panache; at least Italy nearly made it to the second round although at least they have some previous when it comes to underperfoming in Africa.

The sanctions the French FA imposed on their squad in the aftermath of both the performance on the pitch and the histrionics off it look like a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.

Tonight’s friendly can be seen from two contradictory angles. On the optimistic side, it’s an opportunity for both sides to field players with minimal international experience who wouldn’t normally make a contribution in the hope that a couple of them will make a breakthrough. From a negative point of view, the game will feature ‘experimental’  (ie under strength) sides and concludes a year that arguably could and should have been more successful for both sides. That’s certainly the way French manager Laurent Blanc seems to see it (some knowledge of French required).

The problem we’ve got – again – is goals. Montenegro’s clean sheet was the first time that we’ve failed to score at home since February 2007, when a goal from Andres Iniesta was enough for a Spanish win at Old Trafford. Fab’s hands have been tied with the usual crop of withdrawals and injuries, which is why the (ahem) ‘troubled but talented’ Andy Carroll of Newcastle will probably start up front; presumably he got the nod before Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd because Cardiff aren’t in the Premiership…yet.

The only other confirmed starters are Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs – when there’s some kind of news about what the team actually is, we’ll have it here.

With just under two weeks to go before the announcement of the host nation for the 2018 World Cup, it’s fair to say that – for whatever reason – our chances of winning the bid are slightly worse than they were at the beginning of the year.

The incident concerning Lord Triesman was regrettable even if there may have been something to it; the perception of the Sunday Times enquiry into vote buying may have damaged the bid even though it seems public perception refuses to blame the journalists, who were right to investigate what was happening.

So the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia will be made by a discredited body that won’t even have enough time to investigate itself before announcing where the next two competitions will be held.

Don’t hold your breath and be prepared for more disappointment. However, if by some miracle we actually win the bid, then mine’s several pints of Bombardier.

Update: starting line up against France:

Foster, Jagielka, Ferdinand, Lescott, Gibbs, Walcott, Henderson, Barry, Milner, Gerrard, Carroll.

Didn’t Ferdinand Lescott-Gibbs discover the Zambezi?

Will Capello Bring in ‘New Blood’ for Friendly with France?

Thanks to guest blogger Richard Smith for his thoughts about next week’s international – with the possible exception of Italy, France were probably the worst of the major European nations taking part in South Africa last summer…

England take on France next week at Wembley in what will be their last international of what has been an almost forgettable year. Almost forgettable in the sense that at least they seem to have picked up from where they left off before their woeful World Cup performances in South Africa.

Although unable to beat Montenegro at Wembley last month, England still look the best team in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, securing three wins from their four matches played thus far. They will go into 2011 in second place in the group, with a potentially feisty encounter against Wales their next group game at the end of March.

With the issue of who will be captain now decided in favour of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and John Terry can both concentrate on what they do best, by returning to their best form and confirming in the process, that they are both vital links in the England set up.

The match against France presents manager, Fabio Capello, the opportunity to include one or two youngsters, most notably perhaps, Jack Wilshere of Arsenal, who has been impressing plaudits since forcing himself into the Arsenal team. Wilshere made his debut of course against Hungary as a late substitute and has been in sparkling form for Arsenal since and could be given a start ahead of Gareth Barry, who has been well out of touch.

In the absence of first choice strikers, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe, Capello might even be persuaded to select Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, who looks like he has far more about him than regular England pick, Peter Crouch; Carroll’s off the pitch behaviour might just put Capello off however.
Kevin Davies has continued to impress up front for Bolton, with his boss, Owen Coyle, calling him unplayable at the moment. Capello is a known admirer and gave him his debut as a substitute against Montenegro which strongly suggests that he, like Carroll, might get the nod over Crouch.

Another striker who has been receiving rave reviews all season is Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd, who has scored ten goals from 12 appearances for the ‘Bluebirds’ so far this season. Bothroyd was once upon a time on Arsenal’s books but was released by Arsene Wenger in 2000. He had spells at Coventry, Perugia in Italy, Blackburn, Charlton, Wolves, before finally settling at Cardiff, where he has a huge following. Whether Capello would dip into the The Championship though remains to be seen with David Nugent the last player outside of the Premier League to be capped in his only appearance under Steve McClaren in 2007.

Gary Cahill, team mate of Davies at Bolton could also get another chance, particularly after his fine display against Spurs last weekend. If Ferdinand and Terry are both fit then Cahill might have to content himself with a place on the bench, but he is certainly one for the future.

France who had an even worse time of it than England in South Africa have also picked up since Laurent Blanc took over the reins from Raymond Domenech in August. As is well known several of their players even went on strike in South Africa, unhappy with the way Domenech managed the team, players such as Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea and Patrick Evra of Manchester United received suspensions for their actions from the French FA.
France however come into the game against England having won their last three games and sitting on top of Euro 2012 qualification Group D with nine points from four games played. In those last three games they did not concede a goal. However, the England odds of 6/5 to win this game suggest that France’s change of form will come to a halt at Wembley; however, at 2/1 about the visitors, you know which of the two team’s odds make most appeal!

Hopefully, Capello will use this friendly against France to offer some new faces a chance to impress and at least finish what has been a disastrous year for the national team on a positive note.

When The Morning Skies Grow Red…

Right, we’ve got the usual tabloid nonsense out the way for this week (presumably Wayne will be taking  some chocolate back to Coleen in Manchester to make amends for his ‘indiscretion’ although it’s probably just as well that duty free cigarettes have been abolished) so on with the football.

Group G is already looking good (we won and Wales shot themselves in the foot yet again) and although the reporter on the BBC lunchtime news thinks this is our toughest group game, I’m going to be a bit controversial and suggest otherwise – Switzerland haven’t been doing particularly well at home and their World Cup win over eventual champions Spain was a fluke (check the stats at the bottom of the page) rather than an exhibition of how good they are at football. In fact, they featured in arguably the worst game of the entire tournament: the 0-0 draw with Honduras was far worse than our game against Algeria.

In fact, Switzerland haven’t won at home since last September when they beat Greece 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier. In the six games since then they’ve lost three and although one of those defeats was a 1-3 loss to Uruguay in March, they’ve not exactly been up against the best teams in Europe.

Making matters worse for them is the fact that we’ve won six our seven games in Switzerland since World War II and our only defeat was almost 30 years ago in a World Cup qualifier; the strange thing is, on paper the Swiss team ought to be much better. Eleven of the current squad play in the domestic Super League, although it may be significant that none of them play for current leaders Luzern. The rest play in Germany, Italy and France – which isn’t a bad mixture, but they don’t have a particularly good tournament record and they may have to go through the playoffs if we pick up three points tomorrow, which is what I’m expecting.

Slovenia Preview (World Cup Version)

Difficult to know where to start for this one: I don’t think any of us were expecting the current situation to be this dire. If we don’t win and the States beat Algeria then we’ll have been knocked out in the group stages for the first time since 1958.

We previewed our game with the Slovenes last year (the original article is here) and not a great deal has changed for them: Robert Koren has since been released by WBA and they have not been allowed to replace striker Nejc Pecnik (broken ankle).

Let’s start with the numbers. We won 2-1 at Wembley last September with a penalty from Frank Lampard and a Jermain Defoe goal before Zlatan Ljubijankic got one back for them six minutes before time. Since then they have only lost once (against Russia in the first leg of the qualification playoff in November) in their last nine games. In that respect, they’re actually doing better than us as we’ve lost twice since beating them: the last qualification game against Ukraine and the defeat in the desert friendly against Brazil.

When I have a punt I normally only look at away form for tournament games and this is where things start getting a little worrying. Over the last 20 games our form is better than theirs, but over the last five games Slovenia have outperformed us and have kept three clean sheets to our…ummm…one. And before you ask, that doesn’t include the game against the Platinum Stars, which sounds like some kind of Swedish pop band from the 1970s than a genuine football team.

That stat alone indicates that there won’t be many goals tomorrow. Under 2.5 according to the bookies, although interestingly the spread betting firms seem to think it might be around 2.6 but that might be to attract people who think this game is going to be a walkover (in the same way as Algeria was). Consecutive England clean sheets aren’t out of the question – the one bright spot so far is the defence – but once again it’s our lack of firepower up front that’s a problem.

As for all the other stuff…Fab and JT might be doing a wonderful job papering over the cracks, but there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s something wrong in the camp. So look out for various ‘inside stories’ being flogged to the tabloids after English interest in the tournament ends (but remember not to buy any featured in the Daily M*il) and enjoy the rather wooden declarations of love and peace while you can because if we go out tomorrow the fallout is going to be  absolutely spectacular. The only thing saving us from being a total laughing stock is that France have done that with their usual Gallic flair: in footballing terms we’re playing about as well as Greece, who are currently packing their bags after losing to Argentina.

I’ve had a couple of calls tonight about where I’m going to watch the game and to be honest I don’t know yet…but I’ve not ruled out behind the sofa. I’m also not completely sure if all red is the right choice sartorially (Wales anyone?) and when it comes to making a prediction here I have to be honest and say that I really have no idea what’s going to happen. I know what I’d like to happen, but I’m not prepared to put my money where my mouth is.

The best case scenario is an England win, but realistically speaking – and that takes out recent form into account – we may be looking at a tense game that might not be decided until well into the second half. An early England goal would be nice but wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the right result; it’s possible that an early strike by Slovenia might galvanise England into some kind of action. On the other hand, can we actually play any worse than we already have done?

Still, we’ve been in similar – and worse – situations before and we’ve got out of them. On June 11th 1986 we faced Poland in our last group game needing a win to qualify for the next round. It was a late kick off for those days (kick off was 4pm local time which means about 9pm GMT) and when Gary Lineker scored the third my dad and I made so much noise my mum told us off. Enjoy!

Algeria Preview

You often hear pundits claiming that there’s no such thing as an easy game in the World Cup anymore: while they’re probably correct, it’s difficult to contradict the argument that England’s game with Algeria tomorrow night is potentially our easiest game in Group C.

The Algerians do not travel well; the Desert Foxes also have a very poor recent record against European opposition. As well as losing 1-0 to Slovenia last weekend, they have also recently suffered 3-0 defeats to both Ireland and Serbia. Algeria have won three away games in the past year: 2-0 against the mighty Zambia during World Cup qualification, and wins over Mali and Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup earlier this year. Algeria were lucky to win the latter: they trailed 2-1 going into stoppage time.

Only three of their squad of 23 play in Algeria including two of the three keepers, one of whom (Faouzi Chaouchi) was to blame for the goal the Slovenians scored on Sunday. The rest of the squad play in Europe and it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that six of them play in France. Closer to home, defender Nadir Belhadj and midfielder Adlene Guedioura play for Portsmouth and Wolves respectively; Madjid Bougherra is a Rangers player, which might explain why he’s not exactly been backwards in coming forwards today.

Compounding their poor record in front of goal, they’ll be without striker Abdelkader Ghezzal, who was sent off for two stupid yellow cards in their first game. Veteran striker Rafik Saifi (who plays in the French 2nd division
for Istres) or the relatively inexperienced Rafik Djebbour of AEK Athens are the only other options at striker: Saifi is the only player in the entire squad who has scored more than ten goals at international level.

If you fancy a punt, it’s possible that we could keep a clean sheet (only Brazil in 1970 and Romania in 1998 have scored against us in corresponding group games since 1966), but in case you hadn’t noticed we’ve got a few issues of our own. Apart from the inclusion of Gareth Barry, the team for tomorrow is still a mystery and – perhaps more worryingly – Stevie G’s goal against the USA last Saturday was the first time an England player had scored in an ‘away’ game since Jermain Defoe scored twice against the Dutch before the start of last season: we don’t have any Japanese defenders up our sleeve for this game. Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey haven’t scored in an away game since the 4-0 win over Kazakhstan just over a year ago – although I agree with John Motson that Rooney is due a goal for England.

It’s possible that there won’t be that many goals in this game: one of the less appealing scenarios (other than an Algeria win or another draw) would be something similar to the win over Trinidad & Tobago in the last World Cup. That game was going nowhere until two late goals settled it. The last time we failed to score in the second group game was in 1990 (a dreadful goalless draw with the Dutch) and we haven’t scored three since beating Argentina in 1962.

For anoraks and train spotters, here’s the list of the second group games England have played in:

England 0-1 USA (1)
England 2-0 Switzerland (2)
England 0-0 Brazil (0)
England 3-1 Argentina (4)
England 2-0 Mexico (2)
England 0-1 Brazil (1)
England 2-0 CSSR (2)
England 0-0 Morocco (0)
England 0-0 Netherlands (0)
England 1-2 Romania (3)
England 1-0 Argentina (1)
England 2-0 Trinidad (2)
P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5

1950: England 0-1 USA (yes, that game)

1954: England 2-0 Switzerland (we beat the hosts!)

1958: England 0-0 Brazil

1962: England 3-1 Argentina

1966: England 2-0 Mexico (Bobby Charlton scores from just outside Wembley station)

1970: England 0-1 Brazil (the Gordon Banks save, the Bobby Moore tackle and a thin…well, thin-ish…Francis Lee)

1982: England 2-0 Czechoslovakia

1986: England 0-0 Morocco (Ray Wilkins gets sent off)

1990: England 0-0 Netherlands

1998: England 1-2 Romania

2002: England 1-0 Argentina (the Beckham penalty)

2006: England 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago

Overall: P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5 (so that’s less than a goal a game)

11 Lions expects (and really, really wants!) an England win, although it may not be the landslide that some fans seem to be expecting. Having said that, a convincing win would be just what the doctor ordered and would set us up nicely for the last group game next Wednesday.

We’ll have some kind of reaction either late tomorrow night or on Saturday morning, although after a hellish work week Saturday lunchtime might be a more realistic option. Enjoy the game…and spare a thought for the French.

Only joking!

Squad For Brazil Game Announced, As Are More Injuries…

Here’s the squad for the game on Saturday (ITV, 4:15pm):

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster, Robert Green & Joe Hart

Defenders: Wayne Bridge, Wes Brown, Gary Cahill, Glen Johnson, Joeleon Lescott, John Terry, Matt Upson & Steven Warnock

Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Shaun-Wright Philips & Ashley Young

Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe & Wayne Rooney

Missing: Ashley Cole (fractured leg, will apparently miss a few weeks),  Carlton Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard (who – despite being supposedly injured - started on the bench at Anfield before being used as a sub v Birmingham this evening), Emile Heskey, David James and Aaron Lennon. David Beckham will be missing due to LA Galaxy’s playoff game against the CIA’s team in Texas, Houston Dynamo.

A point worth making here: despite currently being placed second in the Premiership, there are no players from Arsenal.

Dunga announced the Brazil squad last week and contains no domestic players because Serie A (the Brazilian version) is coming to a climax; with four games left, there are only six points between the top six clubs.

The Brazilian squad:

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Milan), Doni (Roma)

Defenders: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Fabio Aurelio (Liverpool), Juan (Roma), Maicon (Inter), Michel Bastos (Lyon), Lucio (Inter), Luisao (Benfica) & Naldo (Werder Bremen)

Midfielders: Alex (CSKA Moscow), Julio Baptista (Roma), Elano (Galatasary), Josue (Wolfsburg), Lucas (Liverpool), Kaka (Real Madrid), Felipe Melo (Juventus), Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos) & Fabio Simplicio (Palermo)

Forwards: Carlos Eduardo (Hoffenheim), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Nilmar (Villareal), Robinho (Manchester City) and Clive Tyldesley’s favourite Givanildo Vieira de Souza (aka ‘Hulk’) of FC Porto.

More later in the week, but before anyone gets carried away, our record against Brazil is pretty ropey. Since we first met in 1956, we’ve won three times in 22 games, the last victory was almost 20 years ago when ‘Match Of The Day’ anchorman Gary Lineker scored the only goal of the game and Dunga was a player rather than the manager; we’ve lost three of the last five against them.

Lastly, on a sad note, it looks very much as if Dean Ashton of West Ham United and England will have to retire at the ridiculously young age of 25; he sustained an ankle injury at an England training camp in 2007 which he’s never fully recovered from.

Premiership Preview: Steven Gerrard’s Mystery Injury

It’s early November and we’re still another seventh months until the tournament starts but I must admit that the injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard are beginning to worry me. According to Radio 5, Gerrard hasn’t trained for two weeks and Ferdinand’s overall fitness this season may have contributed to some of his indifferent performances when he has appeared for Manchester United. Still, it’s probably better to be injured now and we’re not the only country with a problem: I strongly suspect that Fernando Torres’ injury is probably more serious than either of theirs.

No doubt about the game of the weekend: Chelsea v Manchester United on Sunday (Sky Sports 1), which – for a change - has been comfortably overtaken in the hype stakes by the Hay/Valuev fight this evening. Both teams go into this meeting having drawn in their respective Champions League games this week: United had to come back from two goals down at home to CSKA Moscow, whilst Chelsea drew 2-2 at Athletico Madrid. Both of them are through to the knockout stages.

In other news…Sir David Beckham will be rejoining Milan when the MLS season finishes, probably just as well for Milan who are currently nine points behind leaders Juventus…’loveable rogue’ Austin ‘Jack’  Warner is playing up about a handbag…and I’m going to post this before IE decides to hang again.

Finally, we’re going to be trying something different next Saturday – if you click on the 11lionslive link above, you’ll be taken to our live blog page where we’ll be attempting to cover the England v Brazil friendly as well as the UEFA playoffs. Should be another post up early next week with squad details, so for now enjoy the rest of the weekend and thanks for reading.