On Saturday lunchtime, Chelsea makes the short trip across London to N17, where they will face Andre Villas-Boas, their ill-fated manager last season. Spurs and Chelsea are certainly not lacking in friction between each other, what with both sets of fans hating each other’s guts, and the AVB thing gives the match on Saturday additional spice. That this will be the first game of four that John Terry is missing for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, as well as Ashley Cole’s recently acquired £90,000 fine for calling the FA a #BUNCHOFTW*TS are mere sideshows to a game of football that already has enough plot ingredients to out-drama an omnibus of Eastenders.
It was generally quite well documented, when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked by Chelsea (and it had gotten to a point so bad that the Stamford Bridge faithful took to mockingly calling him Andre Village-Idiot), that Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole weren’t exactly innocent in the Portuguese’s departure. Both were benched for the ill-fated game away at Napoli – though Cole had to come on early on as Bosingwa got injured. It was a bizarre act of unnecessary tinkering – left-back isn’t even Bosingwa’s position and even then Cole owns that role – that gave AVB and Chelsea a 3-1 deficit. Ironically, that 3-1 deficit would have been even heavier had Ashley Cole not done an amazing clearance off the line, further illustrating AVB’s folly in benching him.
Both Lampard and Cole were clearly furious with how they had been treated by AVB on that game, and that, along with rumours of those two telling their young gaffer exactly what they thought of him following a 2-0 defeat at Everton 10 days earlier, led to the two Englishmen attracting criticism for their egos and thinking they were “bigger than the club.” Perhaps it is naivety on my part, meshed with an annoyingly blind inability to criticize either Lampard or Cole, even when they deserve it, but I not only don’t reprehend them for driving AVB out of Chelsea; I want to buy them pints for doing so. After all, if AVB benched them for simply having words with him, then he displayed tactical inexperience by cutting his nose off – benching two world-class players – to spite his face. Chelsea – the face, felt it, and some.
The way that the Fleet Street hacks picked on AVB, whilst bringing a bit of gleeful mirth to me, wasn’t nice, and he felt hugely stressed from their stick.
All that being said, plaudits have to go to AVB for the start to the season he has had with Tottenham. The Media were unnaturally quick to get on his back following two home disappointing draws with West Brom and Norwich, games which Spurs were patently the dominant side, but were simply unfortunate in front of goal. On the morning of their game at Old Trafford, The Sun ran the headline that AVB and Spurs were in crisis – only to lead to the classic case of hubris as Spurs went on to win brilliantly at Old Trafford. Villas-Boas’ fist punch, his cathartic scream into the air showed just how much that win meant to him. In the tribalistic world of football where for 90 minutes even the most ladylike girl can turn into an unrecognisable d*uchebag, it’s easy to forget that the people involved are just that – people.
The way that the Fleet Street hacks picked on AVB, whilst bringing a bit of gleeful mirth to me, wasn’t nice, and he felt hugely stressed from their stick. The win at Manchester United was just as important to him professionally as it was personally. It’s clear that Tottenham and AVB just make much more sense than Chelsea and AVB ever did. At Chelsea, there is too much player power, and it requires an astute man manager in the form of Robbie di Matteo or Carlo Ancelotti to juggle so many characters. At Spurs, there is much less of this and as such, Villas-Boas is free to do his thing with much more liberty.
So Lampard and Cole will be chasing retribution against their old master, and AVB will be looking for the same thing against the club that so unceremoniously dispensed with his services. With my glass half empty, I would favour Spurs – they’ve come into some form of late and this young Tottenham side do genuinely seem to be doing something that Chelsea never really did – play for AVB. Add the fact that Chelsea’s questionable ~captain, leader, legend~ is suspended, Torres is still far from convincing in front of goal and nobody knows what’s going on with our defensive midfield, and it would be tempting to write this one off as a Spurs win before it’s even begun.
So Lampard and Cole will be chasing retribution against their old master, and AVB will be looking for the same thing against the club that so unceremoniously dispensed with his services.
But, Chelsea aren’t top of the league for nothing. The attacking triumvirate of Oscar, Mata and Hazard has gelled wonderfully and the mixture of cheeky back heels, step-overs and well-placed dinks between them suggest these three men have a fantastic footballing relationship going on. And when it comes to psychological strength, Chelsea has that over Tottenham in spades; witness the 5-1 demolition of them in the FA Cup semi-final last season. On paper, there wasn’t much in it in terms of squad strength. Yet when Chelsea were awarded a controversial second goal to make it 2-0, Tottenham did not display any kind of grit or determination to overcome that injustice.
The game on Saturday will no doubt be a feisty affair, full of crunching challenges, Gareth Bale falling over at thin air and Frank Lampard scowling. But it also promises to be a scintillating game of football. This is the fixture, after all, that had that thrilling 4-4 draw four years ago in which the prickly Ashley Cole turned his back on referee Mike Riley. Last season, it required a last-ditch goal line block from John Terry to save a point for Chelsea. Two years ago he was sent off in the same fixture in a victory for the home side that threatened to derail Chelsea’s title chase (it worked out okay in the end, we won the Double). Frank Lampard once accidentally on purpose gave Jamie Redknapp, his own flesh and blood, a casual nosebleed when they faced each other in this game. Good football goes down when Spurs host Chelsea, amongst other things. AVB has quite the track record for helping Chelsea lose. He’ll be hoping that streak continues, in his favour, this time.
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