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The Daily Mail prematurely promising Eden Hazard to Chelsea

Too soon, too soon. Beware the validity of any sentences beginning with ‘Sportsmail understands’ or ‘Sportsmail can exclusively reveal’, as lies tend to follow pretty quickly.

The Daily Mail has Eden Hazard ‘provisionally agreeing terms with Chelsea’ according to ‘sources at Lille’. Right, ok.

So, just to recap, one of the hottest properties in European football – wanted by every major club excluding Barcelona – doesn’t wait for the bidding war over his talents, and instead makes an early agreement based on the first offer that comes his way. Probably not.

Apparently also, Chelsea ‘have been forced to move quickly’ in their pursuit of the Belgian. I have no doubt that Andre Villas-Boas is interested in the twenty-one-year-old, but since when has ‘moving quickly’ ever won anybody a transfer war. Is the Mail’s logic that Chelsea could potentially sign Hazard without anybody noticing? For £24m? Have you met football agents – the tend to like to talk a little bit about who wants their players. And sometimes, just sometimes, they play affluent clubs off against each other to manufacture more favourable personal terms for their clients.

Chelsea probably aren’t printing his shirt just yet…

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Andre Villas-Boas needs time at Chelsea

This is what happens when you make changes so quickly at a football club, you get resistance – and ultimately you get poor performances.

This is a crucial 29 days for Andre Villas-Boas, because he needs to move quickly in the transfer window to populate the Chelsea squad with players loyal to him. At the moment, the system and regime he’s trying to implement is clearly being resisted by some of the more prominent members of his first-team. There are too many left-overs in that squad, each of them moaning that ‘this wasn’t how Carlo or Jose used to do it.’

It’s too easy to say having only really managed a single successful season in Portugal, that AVB isn’t equal to the step-up in challenge that the Premier League offers. That’s a lazy assumption. He’s a young manager, and he needs the opportunity to mould the club in his image.

From his perspective, the only way to exert his authority – because of his age and relative inexperience – has been to deploy overly-brutal tactics with some of the bigger egos in the club. Frank Lampard doesn’t get to play every week? Nicolas Anelka gets banned from a Christmas Party? Well, so be it – time moves in, and the club is bigger than than any one player.

What the Portuguese surely recognises, is that he can’t have disaffected but influential players loitering around Cobham. This is a club that needs to forget their recent past, forget their sense of entitlement, and start again. That’s where the manager has a huge role to play in the transfer market – he needs to bring players into the club that owe their Chelsea careers to him, and use them to replace those that are still longing for one of his predecessors.

I think the most important thing to recognise here, is that this day has been coming for a long time at Chelsea. There was always going to be that point where this squad had to be broken-up, and that was always going to be a difficult transitional phase. Villas-Boas inherited this situation, he didn’t create it. If anything, the fault for where the club is now lies with the managers that came before – and the owner for encouraging such short-term thinking. Players like Lampard, Terry, Malouda, Drogba, and Ashley Cole have been left to age with the lack of any apparent successors. You don’t just replace parts of football teams, you need to gently integrate new components into them. That hasn’t happened, and that’s not Villas-Boas’ fault.

The manager cuts a very lonely and isolated figure at Chelsea at the moment, but he can use this month to reinforce his position, and scatter those who are so obviously resistant to his changes to far-flung parts of the football world.

Chelsea vs Wolves – markets available from Paddy Power.

Discussing Chelsea’s interest in Hulk

..Or that may be ‘Hulk’s interest in joining Chelsea’. Theodoro Fonseca, agent to the stupidly-named Brazilian, has had this to say over the Christmas period:

“In all transfer windows there are polls and contacts with several clubs.

Andre Villas-Boas knows him very well and they have a very good relationship. Hulk loves Andre and he would love to work with him at Chelsea or with any other team because he likes the way he coaches.

In football everything is possible, but his buy-out clause is very expensive, so his future will depend on the agreement between the two clubs.

However, Hulk is doing very well at Porto and he has a very good relationship with the club.”

That buyout clause is £87.5m if you’re wondering. Realistically, as with all buyout clauses in Southern Europe, it’s inflated for the sake of protecting the parent club – so no, Porto don’t actually believe he’s worth that much, and nor will any transfer that takes him away from Portugal be anything like that size.

Hulk’s a funny one, because he’s an example of a player that benefits both from playing in an inferior league and from having a memorable moniker. It’s not fair to say that he’s not a good player, because he is, but don’t be drawn in by the highlight reels of his goals – playing in Portugal is not like playing in Spain, or Germany, or England. So while his 36 goals in 53 games return last season isn’t totally-miseading, it is still a distortion of his talent.

There’s been no indication of Chelsea actually having concrete interest in the forward, and nor will change I don’t think. Andres Villas-Boas may very well ‘like’ him, but that’s not the same as believing that he would translate to a top-tier league.

It’s just an opinion, but I think Hulk is at Porto to stay for a while – because given the disparity between his asking price and his ability, I don’t see any of the suitably affluent clubs in Europe taking a risk. He’s a Liverpool, Valencia, Lyon, Atletico Madrid type of player, rather than a Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United sort – if that makes sense.

Anyway, here’s one of those highlight reels – he’s quick and there’s no questioning that he can leather the ball, but watch how much some of the defenders back off him…

Milos Krasic makes sense for Chelsea

This is obviously a rumour that’s been doing the rounds for some time now, but the closer January gets – and the more points Chelsea drop – the more the appeal of Milos Krasic grows.

Unless Jose Bosingwa manages to continually get forward from full-back, there’s a real lack of right-sided and right-footed width in that side. Daniel Sturridge offers raw pace, but unless he’s continually able to beat his man for pace on the outside, he needs to be cutting infield onto his left-foot. Krasic is the kind of player that can stay on the touchline, but also has the ability to drift inside – he represents a less predictable approach, and an additional problem for defences to worry about. That’s the key failing of Villas-Boas’ Chelsea at the moment, a lack of subtlety – the Serbian would bring that commodity.

There’s an additional problem here, in that Fernando Torres cannot be relied upon to contribute enough goals at the moment. Chelsea would probably be better off pushing Sturridge into a more orthodox centre-forward slot and using his pace to stretch defences – in which case they’re left with a hole on the right-hand side. Florent Malouda is badly off-colour – and will most likely leave in January(PSG) – while Salomon Kalou offers very little outside of his usual series of tap-ins and rubbish goal celebrations.

Krasic will be available, and by all accounts on loan. A non-permanent transfer takes the risk out of the situation, so Chelsea would be mad to pass up the option if it’s there. Antonio Conte doesn’t want him anywhere near his Juventus squad at the moment, and there won’t be a better player available for nothing in January.

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard letting himself down by airing selection grievances

This was a shame, because I think more of Frank Lampard than this. If there’s one pet hate I have in the game, it’s over-sensitive players.

Anyway, most of you will already have read Lampard’s thoughts on his recent demotion to the bench, but just in case…

“I want to play, simple as that. I’m as fit as I’ve ever been. I’ve been in a good run of form and now I’ve not been playing.

I haven’t spoken [to Villas-Boas] so I don’t know [why], simple as that.

I want to play. If I didn’t, there wouldn’t be any point turning up, so maybe there’s a bit of frustration because of that.

I just want to play and I like to play well. I’m always at my best when I’m playing regularly. I know I’ve got a lot to give.

I just want to be on the pitch and let the football do the talking.”

Oh really – so you want your ‘football to do the talking’? So why are you bleating to the press now then?

I like Lampard, he’s been a great player, but I’m sick to death of footballers believing their entitled to special treatment in every day situations. If you’re playing badly you should expect to be criticised, and if you’re getting older than you have to accept that you’re no longer going to play in every game.

Frank Lampard is better than this, and that’s why it’s so disappointing – players need to stop behaving as if the game owes them something. You’re not teenagers, you need to be able to accept something as fundamental as the cycle of a player’s shelf-life. Whatever you do, don’t get all precious with a journalist because your manager hasn’t explained why your playing.

Things like this shouldn’t be aired in the media, it amounts to a schoolchild running to the teacher when something upsets him in the playground. Not good.

Chelsea’s Villas-Boas making an enemy out of Gary Neville

I like Andre Villas-Boas, I like what he stands for – the new breed of manager who isn’t just employed because of his playing CV. It’s good for the game.

That being said, the Portuguese has to become less sensitive – in the same week that he’s alienated some sections of the media, he’s pointed the finger at Sky’s lead-analyst for his criticism of David Luiz.

As I’m sure everyone remembers, Gary Neville suggested that Chelsea £24m defender played like he was being controlled by a ‘ten-year-old on a Playstation’ – which, as dislikeable as Neville can be, was fairly appropriate.

Anyway, Villas-Boas countered in his press-conference yesterday by saying that:

“I’d say this to his face with most pleasure.

You can’t speculate and invent things that are going on. Some people can have more or less an idea. But not him. He cannot know.

You cannot approach a top Brazil central defender saying he’s commanded by a kid with a PlayStation. That’s ridiculous.

He plays for the team with most [world] titles, so be careful with what you’re saying.

What does he know about the Chelsea dressing room? What does Gary Neville know about our dressing room?

How can you imagine what is going on in the Chelsea dressing room? How can you know?

Have you been here? Do you know where Cobham [Chelsea’s training ground] is? You don’t even know how to get here.

I’m normally indifferent, not watching on the telly to see what these people say. But I was watching the television at that moment and I was gobsmacked.”

Okay, okay, let’s all relax. Firstly, whether you like Gary Neville or not, it’s his job to analyse the league and the players within it – Sky are paying him to make comments like this. Furthermore, he’s not actually wrong – David Luiz is an excellent footballer, but he’s a clown of a defender that can’t be excused for his poor performances on the basis that he’s ‘Brazilian’.

This is part and parcel of the game in England, and Villas-Boas has to be smarter – you can’t be that sensitive to the media, of which Neville is now part. Villas-Boas is coming across as being erratic, and as laudable as his defense of his player is, the perception of fragility is probably to Chelsea’s greater detriment.

As antagonistic and aggravating as Gary Neville was as a player, I don’t think you can question his knowledge or experience of English football – so he does have a qualified opinion, he’s won everything the European game has to offer baring the UEFA Cup.

If a high-priced player joins a club like Chelsea, and subsequently performs badly, he’s going to face criticism. Villas-Boas has to accept that, and the style with which the media in the country covers the game – because if he doesn’t he won’t be here for much longer.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs, that’s the reality.

The Sun launch a defence of Chelsea’ Villas-Boas

There’s a really silly article in The Sun this morning. Yes, yes, I know there’s probably more than one, but Steven Howard’s ‘Andre Villas-Boas is not to blame for Chelsea’s slump’ is pretty special.

“Yes, Chelsea are in a mess after the worst start to a season in the Abramovich era.

But how much of it is down to their 34-year-old manager?”

That’s the premise, and then we got lots of little rhetorical questions which don’t get answered…

“Is it his fault there are hardly any young players of first-team quality coming through despite the millions spent on the Cobham Academy?”

It’s really irrelevant, because any Premier League manager could make this case for his defence. I’m not sure that if your first team is struggling, then you can suddenly turn your guns onto the club’s youth setup. In any case, Chelsea isn’t a long-term looking club, there’s a quick fix, big spending, ready-made superstar philosophy in South West London, and Villas-Boas will have known that before he took the job.

“Is it his fault he is lumbered with Fernando Torres?”

No, of course not – but how absurd is it to use a word like ‘lumbered’ to describe the availability of a £50m forward? Torres obviously isn’t playing well or in any way justifying his transfer fee, but at the same time he hasn’t become a pub player overnight. The manager can’t be held responsible for the player being at the club, but he can be for not accommodating and motivating a player of undeniable ability.

“Is it his fault that Chelsea failed to sign Luka Modric?”

The manager doesn’t have complete control of the transfer policy at Chelsea, so of course not – but again, AVB knew this before he took the job.

“Is it his fault that John Terry has been sidetracked by the Anton Ferdinand race row?”

Convenient as it may be to pretend otherwise, John Terry’s loss of form has nothing to do with Anton Ferdinand. Terry is breaking down, much as with Rio Ferdinand, he’s incapable of playing at the top level anymore. AVB obviously isn’t to blame for that, but he will need to take responsibility if he persists with the error-prone centre-back for too much longer. Club captain he may be, but he’s also currently an obstacle to keeping clean sheets and winning games.

“Is it his fault that Michael Essien is again a long-term injury?”

Next. A problem that afflicts every manager in the country.

So in summary, Andre Villas-Boas can’t be held responsible for his poor start because he doesn’t have the optimum working conditions that no other manager in the country enjoys. It’s scraping the barrel a little bit, don’t you think Steve?

I would never advocate removing a manager after such a short spell in charge, but let’s not make-up excuses for what’s actually going wrong – there’s a huge distance between the system that AVB is trying to play, and the ability of his players to fit into that system.

Reinventing Chelsea’s David Luiz

Bear with me, because this is all going to be quite theoretical.

I don’t think David Luiz is a centre-back, he’s certainly not a £24m centre-back. He fits the out-dated Brazilian defender stereotype of being better with the ball at his feet than he is when it’s in the opposition’s possession. He’s given away penalties, he’s made costly errors, and he’s been a little lucky to escape early dismissal in a few high-profile games.

Plus of course, Chelsea have better players in that position – John Terry, Alex, and Branislav Ivanovic are all more secure at the heart of defence.

If I was Andre Villas-Boas, I’d start to tentatively deploy him in more a defensive midfield role. If you do that, you start to convert some of his negative aspects into positives. You could certainly make a case for saying his most impressive moments in a Chelsea shirt have been in the opposition’s penalty area rather than his own. So give him slightly more license to get forward, and involve him more in the central mechanics of a game.

While I don’t believe that he’s a good defender, he certainly is a very talented footballer and a decent athlete. Whether he could handle the discipline required of a holding player or not is debatable, but it’s something that could be cultivated in him. Given that he’s not the best tackler, surely it makes sense to have him contest for the ball outside of the penalty area rather than within it. Bad tackling technique is more forgivable outside the 18-yard box. Take the negatives away, and give him more license to be involved with the forward-thinking side of his game.

I honestly believe he could be one of the most dynamic midfielders in England – of course there’s a time-lag involved in him learning the position, but once converted he would be freer to take a more active role in the parts of the game that he so obviously thrives on. Either way, it seems a shame not to play someone who could potentially be such a positive influence purely because he can’t be trusted at the back – Chelsea need to get more creative with how they deploy such an asset.

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New trouble for Fernando Torres at Chelsea

This might turn into a bit of a power-play by Andre Villas-Boas…

In a story that has been a bit under-the-radar, Fernando Torres is being quoted in the Spanish press as saying that some of Chelsea’s older players are ‘very slow’. The Spaniard is naturally hiding behind the ‘misquoted’ excuse, and instead insists that he was merely referring to the style of play that Chelsea have adopted.

Regardless of the conjecture around what has and what has not been lost in translation, Torres should know better.

Anyway, Chelsea are supposedly going to investigate the incident thoroughly, or in Villas-Boas words:

‘We are going in-depth to regain the tape of that interview.

We’ll see if things play exactly as they are in that interview.

We’d just talk. Just talk to share opinion.

If it was unauthorised, I’d fine him, of course. Anyhow, it’s one player’s perspective.

I don’t think it’s a perspective that the manager shares. I don’t have to share my players’ ideas sometimes.

I think we have competence, apart from the ‘age problem’, which for me is not a problem.

Maybe we just have to speak about that situation and he has to see our view as well.’

I wonder…

Andre Villas-Boas doesn’t seem to rate Fernando Torres quite as highly as whoever decided to spend £50m on bringing him to Chelsea does. If the investigation into this proves unfavourable to Torres, you get the nagging feeling that Villas-Boas might use it to marginalise the forward.

Torres is less a player ‘struggling for form’ as he is just completely unrecognisable from his Liverpool-era pomp. Dips in form don’t usually last eighteen months, and with both Manchester clubs galloping off into the distance how much longer can AVB afford to wait for Torres to start scoring?

The player may just have given the manager an excuse to flex his ruthlessness.

Every week you expect the Spaniard to re-emerge from his malaise, and every week you’re left disappointed – the Premier League needs a player of his calibre at the top of his game. With Financial Fair Play approaching, it’ll be interesting to see if Chelsea try and recoup some of that outlay.

What we’ll learn today: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham

…How capable of contending Chelsea are…

Andre Villas-Boas has had an unspectacular start. A tentative draw at the Britannia Stadium was followed up by unconvincing home victories against West Brom and Norwich. Apologists will say that Chelsea are continuing to win even if not playing at full-capacity, but detractors will maintain that lesser opponents are causing this team too many problems.

Realistically if you’re not still on the fence about this team, then you’re being premature.

Sunderland will provide a decent yardstick today – The Stadium of Light is traditionally a ground upon which the elite win and the mediocre struggle. As goal-shy as Steve Bruce’s team are, any time a team of Chelsea’s stature travel to a full-to-capacity Northern ground they’re going to be examined.

A Mourinho team, apologies for the comparison, would score early here and strangle the enthusiasm out of their opponents – but is the contemporary capable of that.

The addition of Juan Mata could be key, as the main criticism of the Londoners has been their mechanical feel – Mata gives you flair, creativity, and most importantly a much-needed conduit between the equally static midfield and forward line.

Win today and Chelsea don’t all of a sudden become a credible challenger, but it becomes a lot easier to see them as a threat.

…Whether Arsene Wenger is any closer to silverware…

From a neutral’s point of view, the additions of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker make Arsenal more formidable – and while a home fixture against newly-promoted opposition is by no means a gauge of future success, it well tell us something.

The result, on the basis that it will almost certainly go Arsenal’s way, is largely irrelevant. Will the German centre-back provide the organisation and composure that the defence craves, and will the Spaniard provide balance in the middle of the pitch and incisiveness in and around the 18-yard box?

What’s been lost in the detritus of the humbling at Old Trafford, is the recognition that there are still elite players at the football club – and if you combine the new additions with the emergence of Wojciech Szczesny as a reliable goalkeeper, Arsenal really don’t look that bad.

Pricing intangibles is an impossible task, but what value a little bit of optimism around Emirates Stadium? A comfortable victory with integral roles played being played by the new boys will go a way to redirecting the trend curve.

…How good are Liverpool…

Again, the Britannia Stadium as a measuring post. Okay, so seven points from three games is a good start – but against Sunderland and Bolton at home, and a moral-sapped Arsenal on the road, it should be nine.

If Liverpool leave Stoke this evening with three points, then i’ll start to believe that what Kenny Dalglish is building is a genuine step forward.

By all accounts Dalglish’s recruitment is now complete, so this a Liverpool ready to be judged. Can Luis Suarez handle the physical attention – can his temperament hold? Will Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam be able to exist in amongst Tony Pulis’ combative midfield.

An interesting side note today, is the battle between the Liverpool defence and Stoke’s widemen. Of course, Peter Crouch will now be trying to profit from the supply of Etherington and Pennant, and that provides a really interesting test for this embryonic Liverpool defence. Matty Etherington and Glen Johnson should be a fascinating sub-plot – because the Stoke winger is exactly the kind of player that Johnson needs to start subduing if he’s to win his England place back.

Resiliency on the road is a hallmark of top four teams, do Liverpool have it?

…how Tottenham will do this season…

Being beaten at Old Trafford and hammered by Man City at home may be bad for moral, but it hasn’t necessarily told us much about Tottenham – other than that frailty against the big teams still holds strong.

Harry Redknapp will rightly reason that it’s just good to have got those games out of the way, and now his time can get on with their season.

Emmanuel Adebayor is exactly the kind of forward that fits Redknapp’s system, but it will be interesting to see what kind of mood the Togalese has arrived in. At his best he can fire Spurs up the league, at his lethargic worst he’s a complete waste of time.

Has Luka Modric’ post-Chelsea malaise lifted? Is Scott Parker really quite as good as the West Ham-supporting football writers insist that he is? Both of the new signings will start today, which gives us an immediate chance to see whether Tottenham have done enough to challenge Liverpool and Arsenal for Champions League qualification.

Wolves will be their usual resilient selves, and Spurs will have to actually play to take the points away from Molineux. Lose again today, and this is going to a long, long season for Tottenham.