The second coming of The Special One? Think again.
With Silva the magician, Nani the acrobat, Fire breathing Fergie, mindless strongmen Rooney & Mario the Clown all set to feature prominently, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the circus had rolled into Manchester this week. As the top two spots on the Premier League ladder are currently occupied by the sky blue and red of Manchester, the hype and hysteria surrounding this weekend’s derby match is even more than usual.
And usual is already one of the most anticipated contests in football.
One man without a ticket to the circus but who will no doubt be enjoying it as much as anyone is Chelsea boss, Andre Villas-Boas. As he would have surely appreciated the spotlight being shone elsewhere as his side have quietly gone about their business, racking up goals and results that should not have passed under the radar but somehow have.
If the derby lives to its obligatory billing as a bit of a hack fest with a few ‘Roy Keane specials’ thrown in for good measure, then it is not hard to imagine AVB sitting back at home on Sunday watching the reply with a large glass of port in hand, a Nando’s chicken wrap in the other & a crooked smile creeping across his face.
Chelsea currently sit atop their Champions League group and find themselves only 3 points behind league leaders Manchester City in the league with their game on Sunday against QPR played after derby. But with most of the pundits constantly jabbering about which Manchester team currently has their noses in front, it is Chelsea that have been enjoying some anonymity which has been a rarity since the oil cash started flowing to Stamford Bridge back in 2003.
With most bookmakers having Chelsea at a little over 3-1 to bring home the Premier League bacon, compared to 2-1 for City and just better than even money for United, you’d be forgiven for labeling Chelsea somewhat of a dark horse.
But when you look at the balance of their squad, their depth across all positions and their blend of youth and experience, it is clear that they are serious contenders and at their current price they represent better value than the 2-for-1 steak night down the local.
Much of the Chelsea summer focus was on the Modric tug-o-war with Tottenham which took the gloss of some very shrewd signings, not the least of which was a young Portuguese manager with clear-cut passion for the game, a distinct air of confidence, a top record in charge of Porto (1 year, 4 trophies, 58 games – 49 wins/5 draws/4 loses) and a surname that had some members of the British press scrambling for a Portuguese pronunciation guide.
Sound familiar? The comparisons with Jose Mourinho were inevitable and in many respects, Roman Abramovich and his band of Chelsea yes-men were emulating the pattern of their previous triumphs. And if early signs are anything to go by, they might just have rekindled the fire of success that earmarked the early days of the Abramovich era.
It is fair to say that Andres Villas Boas breaks the conventional managerial mold, having never been a professional player himself. However, the buyout clause paid by Chelsea to Porto to secure his services was €15 million which the type of fee usually reserved for a player, so at least he can offer genuine empathy to those in his squad who are struggling to deal with the pressure of a high money move (that means you Fernando). Having just turned 34, he is younger than reserve keeper Hilario and just a year older than Lampard and Drogba and this youthful exuberance is clear for all to see when he is throwing himself round on the sideline in a manner similar to that of a very well dressed epileptic.
In interviews he has shown himself to be a manager ready to stand up for his players, even if, in the case of Torres, they are going through a goal drought that more closely resembles the Sahara. In professional football talk is cheap, but the young Portuguese manager has backed this talk up by continually picking the Spanish striker which is a decision that has somewhat been vindicated given his form over the last few games. Other coaches may have never picked him again following ‘that miss’ but with his form now on the improve and his hair getting back to a decent length, it appears that Torres and his Samson-like powers could be the key ingredient to Chelsea’s run at the title.
The new man at the Chelsea helm also made they tough decision of sitting Frank Lampard, arguably Chelsea’s most consistent player over recent seasons, on the bench for a number of games. This appeared to have a very positive impact, as the player bounced back with some great performances including a hat-trick against Bolton. This goes to show that there’s nothing like some time on the pine to make a player remember just how they got to the top of the footballing heap, which in Frank’s case was bursting runs into the box and quality finishing.
Failure is clearly not tolerated by Roman Abramovich, which is illustrated by the fact that Villas-Boas is the 7th manager hired in 8 years. Since taking charge, Andre has been careful to not single out players too often on an individual basis, preferring to talk of the talent is found throughout both the coaching staff and the entire squad and luckily for him, there is no ‘i’ in Chelsea.
His fervent preaching regarding ‘team’ ideals and goals that have been set with a group onus are the new Chelsea gospel and although it is common football rhetoric, it seems a lot more genuine coming from the Villas-Boas as opposed to many of his counterparts.
He has also provided the Chelsea fans with an attacking style of play characterized by fast passing and a willingness to chip the ball giving Chelsea a vertical component as they knock it about. This has really suited players such as Juan Mata who was also bought in during the summer and who has been an absolute revelation since pulling on the blue of Chelsea and is the early candidate for ‘buy of the season’. Raul Meireles has also added some steel and quality to the midfield and with Essien set to return mid season, it is tough to see any team with more depth in the centre of the park than the Blues.
But it will be the man on the sidelines who will make or break Chelsea’s title ambitions this season. With his wiry frame and a beard that would just about vanish when coupled with the right leather jacket, Villas-Boas is not your stereotypical Premier League football manager. But in his brief time at the helm, he has already set himself apart from the pack and if good results continue to pile up, he will be every chance to reach the same heights as his Portuguese predecessor at Chelsea. But his style of play and team ideals have already set him apart from Mourinho as he attempts to fashion his own legacy at Stamford Bridge.
And as he watched the Manchester madness unravel under the ego filled ‘Big Top’ of Old Trafford, he may well be thinking that his side will have them both covered come the season’s end.