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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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Gary Cahill talks of ‘massive opportunity’ at joining Chelsea

Not to labour a point that’s already been made, but there seems to be a bit of a disconnect here. Gary Cahill, on completing his move to Stamford Bridge:

“Chelsea is a massive club, it is a club that looks to win trophies season in, season out and it is a big opportunity for me to be a part of that.

Opportunities like this, you can’t turn down.

This is the right move for me at the right time and I would like to thank everyone at Bolton because I’ve had a great four years at the football club.

My spell with Wanderers has enabled me to break into the England squad, and I would particularly like to thank the fans for their support along the way.”

Yup, an opportunity so valuable and so hard to turn down that Cahill took two weeks to agree on personal terms. Apparently, Cahill had to eventually settle for just the £80,000 a week – rather than the £100,000 that he was asking for. Tough times.

I know that the ‘players get paid too much’ opinion has been around for a long time now, but is there not an issue when average players are asking for such exorbitant wages? Even more so when players put their demands for cash above the advancement of their careers.

Football fans have a long memory, and if Gary Cahill gets off to anything other than a flying start, those protracted negotiations are going to haunt him. The moment he hesitated, Chelsea should have told him to do one – Andres Villas-Boas needs players that actually want to play for the club, not those that are happy to as long as they’re paid enough to do so. Huge difference. Cahill’s not a good enough player to be behaving like this.

Oh, he’s an England International is he? Well, only sort of – and anyway, so was Matthew Upson.

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Chelsea vs Sunderland: Preview

Saturday 3pm, Stamford Bridge

Chelsea 1.36 Draw 4.75 Sunderland 8.50

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All of a sudden the table looks an awful lot better if you’re a Sunderland fan. Martin O’Neil’s arrival at the club seems to have created an enthusiasm that had long since evaporated at Sunderland, and that’s well-documented by the four wins out of seven achieved during O’Neil’s short tenure. In fact, almost 60% of Sunderland’s points this season have come under the Irishman’s watch, despite him only being appointed in December.

For Chelsea, John Terry and Daniel Sturridge(f/g) are fit to start, although Branislav Ivanovic, John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien remain sidelined – Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are with the Ivory Coast at the ACN.

For the visitors, Nicklas Bendtner(f/g), Connor Wickham(f/g) and Phil Bardsley are all nearing fitness, although Wes Brown, Jack Colback, and Titus Bramble are out. Long-term absentee Fraizer Campbell is available.

Chelsea’s internal issues have been covered to death, and we all know that they’re struggling for consistency. Fernando Torres(f/g) clearly doesn’t offer the same kind of threat posed by Didier Drogba, but I still think through weight of pressure that this is a home win. Sunderland’s resurgence has been remarkable, but also characterised by not being particularly direct in the attacking third. To beat Chelsea at home, you need pace up front, which is not really something they possess at the moment. The visitors will be neat and tidy on the ball, but it’s hard to see them making that much of an impression.

Chelsea to labour, but to ultimately take the points. 2-0.

Gary Cahill’s hesitation over prospective Chelsea contract is extraordinary

Some of you will remember a situation a few years ago between Liverpool and Lee Bowyer. Back when he was still good, Bowyer was targeted by the Merseyside club and was on the verge of a move to Anfield. Unfortunately, the player dallied so long over the personal terms offered to him, that Liverpool eventually retracted their offer – the logic being that if his decision was predicated so heavily on financials, then he obviously didn’t want to play for the club enough.

The same series of events looks to be repeating itself with Gary Cahill and Chelsea.

This is a 26-year-old player approaching his prime, who’s being given an opportunity to play his football – and enhance his international credentials – at one of the biggest clubs on the continent. Frankly, whatever Chelsea were offering should have been enough for the player to snap their hand off.

Since when did the difference between £80,000 and £100,000 override ambition? This is Chelsea and this is Gary Cahill, the player needs to be more aware of how little bargaining power he has in this situation – if the desire to play for the club isn’t there, then Chelsea should treat this as a red flag. There are plenty more centre-halves of Cahill’s ability elsewhere.

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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.

Substandard Cech damaging Chelsea

After Emmanuel Adebayor opened the scoring for Tottenham last night, it wasn’t long before the Sky commentators were making reference to ‘a rare error from Peter Cech’. Ironically, references to the Chelsea keeper’s fleeting moments of fallibility have become increasingly common-place in the last couple of seasons.

Peter Cech has been a cornerstone of Chelsea’s rise to prominence, and a drop-off in form should never detract from that. The problem is though, that Cech is no longer amongst the game’s elite, and you can’t eat out on nostalgia forever.

This is just a theory of course, but it’s seemed that Cech has never been the same player since he suffered the depressed skull fracture in 2006. The physical effects of that horrendous collision with Stephen Hunt may have healed, but psychologically the player still bears the wounds.

Goalkeeping is about confidence, probably about 60%-80% of it at least. Doubts cause problems for keepers, whether over their technique, their form, or even their physical condition. Anything that gets in the way of a player’s concentration is a negative.

Look at the goal Chelsea conceded last night, because it’s a classic example of the flaw in Cech’s game. Gareth Bale’s cross was good, but a confident goalkeeper – who hasn’t got one eye on Adebayor’s flailing limbs – cuts it out. Whereas Peter Cech at his prime was the difference between Chelsea taking three points instead of one, now he’s becoming the reason for three becoming one.

The irony is, if at one point Cech hadn’t been quite so outstanding, it wouldn’t be noticeable – but as it is the drop-off to mediocrity is all the more jarring.

It feels harsh to criticise a player for struggling in the aftermath of such an injury, but unfortunately this is a result-based league. While the Chelsea defence that plays in front of him has received their fair share of criticism, the instability of their goalkeeper is an overlooked mitigating circumstance. Uncertainty breeds fragility, and Cech’s shaky influence is only enhancing the gap between where Chelsea once were and where they want to be now.

Tottenham vs Chelsea: Preview

Thursday 8pm, White Hart Lane

Tottenham 13/8 Draw 12/5 Chelsea 13/8

Had this game taken place six weeks ago, I don’t think you’d be getting such a high price on Spurs for the win. However, a Chelsea resurgence and a mini injury-crisis for Harry Redknapp has narrowed the gap between the sides.

For the home side; Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson are all out, while Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe, and Emmanuel Adebayor are all doubtful. Younes Kaboul returns from suspension, while Ledley King should be fit to lead his side.

Chelsea could be without David Luiz and Ramires, although the latter has the better chance of making this fixture – John Terry will overcome an achilles problem though.

A lot will depend on which Tottenham side actually takes the field tonight, and more specifically whether Gareth Bale does in fact start. Spurs are a different side with and without him, and if he’s included then that will be a big step towards the points. Expect Rafael Van der Vaart to move to the right wing, with Harry Redknapp likely to partner Defoe with Adebayor up top.

In light of his recent impact, Didier Drogba will surely be preferred to Fernando Torres, with Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge providing the width. The battle down the flanks will be interesting, as Tottenham possess two of the quickest and most attacking full-backs in the league in Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker – that means a defensive as well as attacking responsibility for Sturridge and Mata. Oriel Romeu, Frank Lampard, and Ramires/Mikel/Meireles will make-up the away midfield.

Andre Villas-Boas will hope that Chelsea’s extra numbers in midfield will nullify the obvious threat of their opponents – Luka Modric cannot be allowed to wander between the lines as per usual at White Hart Lane.

This is always an entertaining fixture, and usually one with goals (over 3.5 goals at 15/8). Expect Tottenham to start fast and to impose themselves on their local rivals, but Chelsea to have enough belief and resilience to emerge from North London with a point.

2-2.

Interesting Fact: Matches involving Tottenham average 3.29 goals per game this season.

Best Bet: Tottenham to win either half at 4/5

Why the need for CPS involvement with Chelsea’s John Terry? Where’s the FA?

So John Terry is going to be tried is being charged by the Crown Prosecution Service for something that happened on a football pitch. Football has eaten itself.

I don’t know what what Terry said to Anton Ferdinand, but I doubt that the CPS would have any interest in prosecuting him if he wasn’t the England captain. This is setting a dreadful precedent.

This is not an argument against the sincerity with which this case is being pursued, because I happen to believe that – if guilty – Terry deserves to be severely punished. But does this really have to prosecuted on such a formal level?

If issues that occur on football pitches need to now be settled in criminal court, does that not suggest that the sport’s relative importance in society has become distorted? This is an issue for the FA – investigate the case, determine the series of events, and then prosecute accordingly. It does not need to be at a higher-level than that.

If, the argument is made that football is now so ubiquitous that examples need to be set a high-level for the sake of society – why can’t you counter that by saying that the game’s profile is visible enough to handle the matter internally with sufficient gravitas?

A nonsense – especially given that we have two cases in the domestic game, over the same issue, running parallel to each other, that are being resolved by two different bodies.

Why?

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