1 October 2012

Weekend reflections #6

Today, The Daily Transfer Request looks at a resurgent Chelsea, a far-from-resurgent Rio Ferdinand and an England striker reborn at Stoke.

Laurent Koscielny sends Juan Mata's cross into the Arsenal net.

Back to the old Chelsea
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo went a bit Millwall when he said after their latest victory, "When you are a winning team, you are never loved."

The team that everyone outside of the blue half of Kensington loves to hate are back to their old dominant ways. On Saturday, they saw off Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium to go three points clear at the Premier League summit.

Last season, we only saw glimpses of their best, but importantly, they saved it for the big games: Napoli at Stamford Bridge, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in the FA Cup, and Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Final. This was another big game.

One of the reasons why the Blues have kicked off the Premier League season so well is Juan Mata. The Spanish winger is in his second season at Stamford Bridge, and we're starting to see him at his very best for the first time.

Mata's 20th-minute free-kick found his compatriot Fernando Torres in the box, and Torres showed that he too is firing on all cylinders with a strong volleyed finish. Gervinho levelled for the Gunners just before half-time, but Mata dealt the fatal blow eight minutes into the second period.

His free-kick took a deflection off the hapless Laurent Koscielny, and Vito Mannone could do nothing to keep it out. The break that Mata had after an eventful summer which included the European Championship and the Olympic Games has done him the world of good.

Di Matteo's decision to bench Frank Lampard in favour of the more mobile Ramires in midfield paid dividends as well. The Brazil international was one of Chelsea's top players during the game.

A lot of us, including yours truly, were writing off Chelsea at the start of the season. Surely they would be no match for the Manchester duo! Well, after six rounds of matches, they're four points clear of City and United, so you have to put them back amongst the title contenders at least.

You've been merked, Rio, by Clint Dempsey and Jan Vertonghen.

Ferdinand's a Rio concern
Manchester United's 3-2 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur showed just how far Rio Ferdinand has declined as a central defender.

Ferdinand looked slugglish for all three of the goals that Spurs scored, particularly the second one. We all know that Gareth Bale is blessed with plenty of pace, but the 33-year-old should have got closer to the Welsh wizard before Bale slotted home. He barely touched Bale's shirt, let alone threatened him with any sort of challenge.

The first goal didn't exactly paint him in a positive light, either. Like he would do half an hour later against Bale, Ferdinand weakly tried to dispossess Jan Vertonghen before the Belgian hit a shot in off Jonny Evans.

In the second half, poor Rio was exposed again. This time, his England team-mate Jermain Defoe shrugged off Ferdinand on the flank, and played in Bale, whose initial shot was parried by Anders Lindegaard before Clint Dempsey finished off the rebound.

When England manager Roy Hodgson is in the stands looking for a centre-back to fill the void left by John Terry, it is not a good idea to play a key role in conceding three goals for your side.

Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson has urged Ferdinand to retire from England duty to prolong his club career. For me, it's a no-brainer. Ferdinand's days as a key player for the Three Lions are long gone, and Hodgson should instead look to blood younger players to succeed him and Terry.

Ferdinand used to be such a big presence in United's defence, but injuries and old father time have taken their toll on a player who will be 34 next month. When you consider that Ferguson has three other excellent centre-backs in the reliable skipper Nemanja Vidic, and young bucks Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, Ferdinand's long-term prospects at Old Trafford do not look good.

His current contract expires at the end of this season, which is his 11th at United. It could be his last if this display indicates anything.

"Thanks, guys, but I'm not doing the robot this time!"

Crouch towers over Swans
Stoke City signed the former goalscoring superstar Michael Owen early last month. The Potters are now moving up the Premier League table thanks to an ex-England striker back to his best form.

That's right. I'm talking about Peter Crouch. A fortnight after doing a Kobe Bryant against Manchester City, the lanky forward scored his third and fourth league goals of the campaign against another City - Swansea.

The 31-year-old put Stoke ahead after 12 minutes thanks to, unsurprisingly, a header from a Glenn Whelan corner. He was at it again in the 36th minute, taking advantage of another cross and firing home at the second time of asking after Michel Vorm had saved his original effort.

Crouch, who seemed to have the Swansea defence breaking out in hives, hit the woodwork with another header as his attempts to bag a hat-trick proved futile. It didn't matter, though, as Stoke won 2-0 to get their first Tiger Woods 'W' of the campaign.

I mentioned Hodgson earlier, and he should have been aware of Crouch's return to form. He hasn't been in the England squad at all under the veteran boss, but his record of 22 international goals in 42 caps cannot be bettered by another current player (Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard have scored more, but have obviously played far more often as well).

Surely he's deserving of another crack at the England whip, especially as they aren't that many English forwards to choose from in the Premier League.

And where was Michael Owen, then? Stuck on the bench. His comeback looks like being as successful as The Verve's right now.

P.S. I've just read that Jimmy Bullard has decided to retire from playing due to injury. He was a great character during his time in the Premier League, and I wish Jimmy the best of luck with whatever he decides to do next.

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