Friday, August 11, 2006

Chelsea, the new Real Madrid?

At first sniff, it would seem that the new additions to Chelsea's warehouse of talent makes a great team nearly unbeatable. The news of the addtion Andriy Shevchenko, in particular, is a terrifying prospect for all rivals. He's been such a potent striker for Milan over the years, and Chelsea's had so much scoring power before his arrival, it's scary to think how good they could be now.

I remember thinking the exact same thing, though, when I heard about the arrival of Ronaldo to Real Madrid. The first thought that came into my head was that Madrid was going to score five goals a game. Heck, if you add up the scoring totals of all the players on the team, that's what would result. But alas, that's not really the way these things work. Team chemistry, work rate, egos, and the ability to good players to mesh well together factor more strongly into the success of a team than the power power of the players. Buy stars and ask questions later can have disastrous results, as we've seen over in Spain's capital.

So does the NY Yankees approach to making a team make sense in soccer?

I think it could, but only if there's a core of superstars that hold the team together. Ever since Real Madrid became the galacticos, Raul started suffering from penis envy from his teammates, and has lost his place as the team's superstar. After the world cup in 2002, and the arrival of Ronaldo, he's been non-existent. Zidane, Ronaldo, Figo, Robinho and company are all mercenaries. They'll come out for the big dances, but they're not going to strain themselves against the Osasunas and Getafes of the world. Back in 2003 and 2004, Madrid won most of the big games (with the exception of back to back Champions League eliminations at the hands of an excellent Juventus team), but lost a lot of games to the little guys. Back in last '90s, the more heavily Spanish Real Madrid side hammered the Spanish minnows. This was no longer the case. And the Spanish league smelled blood. Soon, every team felt they had a shot against Real Madrid, and they did. Because they weren't able to pull off the Champions League title, they stopped winning titles altogether. When they didn't win titles, coaches lost jobs, and instability has reigned ever since.

The new look Chelsea is gunning for Barcelona and company and a champions league title. They've shown that they are dominant in the Premiership. Nobody questions that. Will they be able to stay motivated for a long Premiership season? If they can pull off a successful Champions League campaign, it won't matter. But with the elimination format of the Champions League, it is nearly impossible to predict or guage success in Europe. And it's hard to imagine the Shevchenko's and Ballacks of the world getting too motivated to play hard game in and game out. Plus, Lampard had a terrible world cup. Will he be the same player for Chelski?

Also, Ballack and Lampard are two players who have nearly identical characteristics. I'm not certain what Mourinho will do with the two of them together. Who will be his front six? Makelele, Lampard, Ballack, Cole, Drogba, and Shevchenko? With the exception of Cole, all of these players are straight up the middle kinds of guys. There could be some serious clogging in the center.

(Speaking of which, American commentators love to compare European soccer teams to the Yankees. This analogy is overused. Paris Hilton overused. MC Hammer circa 1991 overused. For once, I'd like to hear someone compare a team to the Patriots or Cowboys or USC or Duke or the Celtics or the Lakers. But no, always the f***ing Yankees. Most recently, I heard the fine commentators at FSC describing Chelsea as the English equivalent of the Yankees. First of all, Chelsea has a grand tradition of being the 7th or 8th best team in the premiership. How does that make them the Yankees? They've won a whopping total of 3 Premier League titles, and 0 Champions League titles. Manchester United can be considered the Yankees of England. Madrid can be called the Yankees of Europe. But Chelsea? Only the Yankees of the last three years.)

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