John Terry

John Terry: A Tribute to Mr.Chelsea

Chelsea’s 5-1 win over MK Dons in the FA Cup on Sunday was instantly forgotten about by anyone that has a connection with the team from west London as and when their club captain John Terry announced that he will leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the 2015-16 season.

MK Dons were not even in existence when Terry made his senior professional debut as a late substitute in a League Cup match against Aston Villa at the tender age of 17 in 1997. Six years later he would be appointed captain of his beloved Blues, four years after a brief loan spell at first division side Nottingham Forest.

Terry had benefited from years of tutoring from 1998 World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Frank Lebouef who both, like Terry, were tough, combative, no-nonsense centre halves who it is evident provided the iconic defender with many of the qualities that endeared him to the Chelsea faithful.

He first wore the armband in 2001 when he was only 21 years old – showing maturity and leadership well beyond his years.

It was Desailly that Terry took over the role as captain on a permanent basis from in 2003 following the Frenchman’s retirement and the decision to name Terry as skipper was the first of many seismic impacts Jose Mourinho made at Chelsea during his first stint as manager.

Immediate success followed as Mourinho’s men won a League Cup and Premier League double with Terry leading a team that fought the league crown off Arsenal who the year before had gone through an entire season unbeaten. It was Chelsea’s first top division title in 50 years and ‘JT’ won a number of personal awards too – he was named the PFA Player of the Year, the Champions League Defender of the Year and he also earned a spot in the FIFA World Team of the Year. His finest moment on a personal point though would perhaps be his dramatic header in the topsy-turvy 4-2 Champions League win over Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League which, prior to 2012, was probably the finest European night in Chelsea’s history. Prior to Terry’s header Chelsea had raced into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes but conceded two via the enigmatic Ronaldinho and were heading out – but the skipper’s winner from a corner with just 15 minutes remaining booked a quarter-final tie against Bayern Munich.

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Bolt from the Blue: John Terry’s late header wins it for Chelsea

Domestic trophies would continue to pile up. Back-to-back league titles were secured in the 2005-06 season and, despite not being able to retain the championship for a third year, Chelsea did win the 2007 League Cup and the first FA Cup final at the newly-built Wembley Stadium with a 2-1 win over Manchester United.

Silverware eluded him in the 2007-08 campaign but his determination for more medals never wavered. In December 2007 Terry suffered three broken bones in his foot and was expected to be ruled out for three months – he captained his club in the League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur two months later, demonstrating his commitment to any cause Chelsea were a part of as well as his own desire to win every match and trophy possible.

Another FA Cup would follow in 2008-09 and his third Premier League medal would be hung around his neck in Carlo Ancelotti’s first year in charge at Stamford Bridge, as did FA Cup number four a year later. During the summer of 2009 Terry was constantly linked with a move to Manchester City, who had recently been taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group, and his loyalty ‘was tested, as was the nerves of his fans, but a new deal was eventually signed, much to the relief of anyone who supported the team who dons the darker shade of blue and the legendary status of the captain and leader was only increased.

Ancelotti would be sacked just 12 months later after a trophy less campaign, but the finest accolade of Terry’s career was just around the corner.

Andre Villas-Boas’ tenure at Chelsea would be a turbulent one – and one that Terry received criticism for apparently leading a revolt against the inexperienced Portuguese coach, but the sacking of ‘AVB’ led to the hiring of Roberto di Matteo and the first ever Champions League win in Chelsea’s history, although their captain missed the final due to kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the lower back in the semi-final second-leg at the Nou Camp. That did not stop Terry donning full kit and lifting ‘Ol Big Ears’ with vice-captain Frank Lampard. Also, you guessed it; the Blues would also win another FA Cup.

Although Terry missed the Munich final, his leadership throughout the campaign was pivotal. Chelsea could have gone out in the group stages if they lost their last game against Valencia, but a win secured top spot in the group and then dramatic wins were needed in the last 16 against Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona, with Terry being a rock at the back in a tireless performance in defence in a 1-0 win over the Catalan giants in the first leg in the English capital.

The Rafa Benitez interim era was a tough one for at Chelsea. The fans hated a man who in the past had taken digs at the club for waving plastic flags at Champions League matches and John Terry especially never warmed to the Spaniard as the ex-Liverpool boss was sceptical he could play twice a week.

Someone would end up being proved wrong though, and it was not Terry. Mourinho’s return to SW6 would not end with a trophy in his first year back, but it did see the rejuvenate of Terry to the first-team fold as the captain played in 47 games and 34 out of a possible 38 of these in the Premier League.

It would be the season after though that Terry would really show Benitez what he was missing.

Chelsea romped to the Premier League title; clear of nearest rivals Manchester City by eight points, and lost only three matches and Terry played every single minute of every single game. Two games a week? Easy.

Winner: Terry's fourth and final Premier League trophy.

Winner: Terry’s fourth and final Premier League trophy.

This season has been a difficult one. Mourinho has been sacked, fans have booed their team off and the Premier League champions at the time of writing sit in 13th, making them the worst holders in recent memory, but there has been one constant in all of this – the never-say-die attitude of one John George Terry.

Terry’s goodbye at the end of the season will be a heartfelt one and one that many fans will struggle to get over. The club has lacked leadership following the departures in recent years – the likes of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, and Terry’s contract not being renewed signals the last of the ‘old guard’ leaving.

Terry said in his leaving statement that: “The club will move on. No player is ever bigger than the club. Ideally I would have loved to stay, but the club is moving in a different direction” – maybe not a direction a lot of fans will like.

 

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BenjaminWills’Blog Premier League Team of the Season so far (2014/15)

The Premier League always offers drama, excitement, and talking points, and the 2014/15 season has not failed to disappoint so far. Here are the 11 men who have caught the eye of BenjaminWills’Blog from August to December.

Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Manchester United)

Spain international De Gea has really made an impact in English football after overcoming a stuttering debut season in 2011/12 and is considered by many to be one of, if not the, best Goalkeeper in the Premier League.

De Gea has managed six clean sheets this season so far despite playing behind a much talked about inexperienced Manchester United defence that has included the likes of Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair at centre back as well as winger Ashley Young as a makeshift wing-back.

He has made a string of impressive stops, most notably from Bryan Oviedo against Everton in the dying stages to keep it at 2-1 and in the home clash with Liverpool where Raheem Sterling looked certain to score.

Saving from Private Bryan: De Gea keeps out Oviedo

Saving from Private Bryan: De Gea keeps out Oviedo

Honourable Mention(s): Robert Green (QPR) who has made the most saves so far this season with 59 and Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) who has kept the most clean sheets (Seven) and least goals conceded (14).

Right Back: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)

Southampton have surprised many this campaign, spending a large section of the latter end of 2014 in the top four despite losing five first teamers and their manager in the summer.

The Saints have conceded just 15 goals in their 19 games with season with only leaders Chelsea conceding less (14) with Clyne part of an impressive foursome that also features Jose Fonte, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand.

Clyne is the most proficient tackler in the league with 48 successes when attempting to win the ball and his quality displays were rewarded with his full England debut against Slovenia in November.

Clyne-ing up the pecking order: England may have found their right-back.

Clyne-ing up the pecking order: England may have found their right-back.

Honourable Mention(s): Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) and Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea).

Centre Back: John Terry (Chelsea)

Many have compared the current Chelsea team to that of 2004/05 where they romped to the title with a record 95 points.

One of the few surviving members of that side is captain John Terry who, if you go by stats, is performing even better than he did 10 years ago.

He has won a higher percentage of his tackles, more of his duels, and conceded less fouls. To quote a famous Chelsea banner; “Captain. Leader. Legend”.

Better at 34 than 24? John Terry is in fine form.

Better at 34 than 24? John Terry is in fine form.

Centre Back: Toby Alderweireld (Southampton)

Tobias Albertine Maurits Alderweireld, or “Toby”, to his friends, Alderweireld has been the cement in the heart of the Saints’ defence with partner Fonte while Bertrand and the previously mentioned Clyne are doing the business on the flanks.

Alderweireld swapped the Spanish capital for the South Coast in September to get more first team football, he is getting it, and his performances make you wonder why he has not had a look in at Vicente Calderon.

The Belgian defender has won 17 tackles, losing just 12, won 22 aerial duels, made 89 clearances while comitting zero defensive errors. His loan at St.Mary’s could well be made permanent in the near future.

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To-by or not To-by: Will Southampton make his loan deal permanent next Summer?

Honourable Mention(s): Winston Reid (West Ham) and Jose Fonte (Southampton).

Left Back: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Chelsea fans’ Player of the Year last year Azpilicueta is shining again this term, although he is naturally a right back, “Dave” has taken to the other side like a duck to water.

So much so that even Champions League runner up Felipe Luis has failed to dislodge his spot in the Chelsea 11.

He has made great strides since his under the radar £7 million arrival from Marseille in August 2012 and has proven to be a fine replacement for Ashley Cole.

Just call me Dave: Azpilicueta has faultlessly made the transition from right to left back.

Just call me Dave: Azpilicueta has faultlessly made the transition from right to left back.

Honourable Mention(s): Aaron Cresswell (West Ham), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Manchester United) and Ryan Bertrand (Southampton).

Right Midfield: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

It is a surprise to no-one how much of an impact Alexis has made on the Premier League in such a short space of time.

The Chilean terror arrived in North London from Barcelona for £35 million five months ago on the back of a successful World Cup, scoring two goals in four games as Chile reached the last 16 ahead of holders Spain in Group B.

And he made an immediate impression on Gunners fans, helping his new team to a 3-0 win over Champions Manchester City in the Community shield on his debut and soon started scoring goals. 10 of them in fact, in 18 games, making him the fourth top scorer so far.

Agent of Shield: Sanchez has been Arsenal's Superhero.

Agent of Shield: Sanchez has been Arsenal’s Superhero this season.

Honourable Mention(s): Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Centre Midfield: Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)

Arguably the player of the season so far, Cesc Fabregas’ form on his return to the Premier League has picked up from when he departed Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal in 2011.

Back then he had already established himself as the sixth best assister in Premier League history with 71 in eight years but has leap-frogged former Arsenal team mate Thierry Henry into fifth since his move to the West side of the capital.

Fabregas has contributed 13 assists in his 18 games in a Blue shirt, with two goals to his name as well. He is Chelsea’s most influential player in the final third by a mile.

Absolutely Fab-ulous: Fabregas is arguably the Player of the Season so far.

Absolutely Fab-ulous: Fabregas is arguably the Player of the Season so far.

Centre Midfield: Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)

While the aforementioned Fabregas is the go to guy to put the finishing touches to Chelsea’s attacking play, Nemanja Matic is very much the man who gets things started.

Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are often the subject of the plaudits to the 41 goals the Blues have scored this season (joint highest in the league with Manchester City), Matic has been the driving force behind them.

BenjaminWills’Blog has waxed lyrical about Matic in the past and it appears this season the imposing Serbia anchor man is getting the praise he so truly deserves.

Comeback King: Matic has become Chelsea's most important player three years after his exile.

Comeback King: Matic has become Chelsea’s most important player three years after his exile.

Honourable Mention(s): Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Alex Song (West Ham), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) and Michael Carrick (Manchester United).

Left Midfield: Stewart Downing (West Ham)

If there is one player from this side that is best defined as the “most improved” then Stewart Downing is that player.

The revitalised England winger has scored four goals, assisted six and created 54 chances already this campaign while he only managed three goals, two assists and created just 62 chances throughout the whole of last season.

In the first half of 2014/15, he has set up more goals than the heavily praised David Silva who has just two assists to his name and created 31 chances with Downing also boasting more key passes (48) to Silva’s 29.

It is a completely different Downing to the one who scored zero goals and fashioned zero assists in the 2011/12 season for Liverpool.

Happy Hammer: Stewart Downing is back to his best.

Happy Hammer: Stewart Downing is back to his best.

Honourable Mention(s): David Silva (Manchester City)

Striker: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

The Premiership’s top marksman at the halfway stage is a deadly diminutive forward that goes by the name of Sergio Aguero.

A World Cup runner up in July, Aguero has bounced back from that bitter disappointment and has rediscovered his scoring boots after he failed to find the back of the net in Brazil.

He is having no such problem domestically though, scoring 14 goals and is eight clear of City’s next top scorer Silva. It says a lot about Aguero that he is had his injury issues this season but is still top of the league’s goal scoring charts.

Argentine Assasion: Aguero is in hot form as ever.

Argentine Assasion: Aguero is in hot form as ever.

Striker: Diego Costa (Chelsea)

Costa arrived on English soil to more than a few doubters to his ability, but, he has, quite literally, pushed all of that to one side.

The imposing Brazilian-born Spaniard, 25, has bulldozed his way past most Premier League defences and notched 13 goals from 54 shots in the process as Chelsea have stormed to the summit.

That tally is one less than Aguero with 14 (one came from the penalty spot) while the little Argentine needed 22 more shots than his fellow former Atletico star striker.

Deadly Diego: At long last Chelsea have found a striker they can rely on.

Deadly Diego: At long last Chelsea have found a striker they can rely on.

Honourable Mention(s): Charlie Austin (QPR) and Graziano Pelle (Southampton)

Here is BenjaminWills’Blog Team of the Season so far in graphic form then:

Graphic

TOTS graphic provided by @YidNick

Chelsea 6-0 Maribor (Remy ’13, Drogba pen ’23, Terry ’31, Viler OG ’54, Hazard pen ’77, ’90)

Chelsea strolled to an emphatic 6-0 win over Slovenian champions Maribor to remain top of group G after three matches.

Goals from Loic Remy, John Terry, an own goal by Mitja Vila and two penalties from Didier Drogba and Eden Hazard secured the three points for the Blues at Stamford Bridge in what was a comfortable night for the Premier League leaders.

Remy opened the scoring 13 minutes in when he cut inside a Maribor defender and buried a shot into the bottom right corner past Jasmin Handanovic.

The France International had to be replaced soon after though due to an injury he suffered during the celebration of his second goal for Chelsea.

His replacement Drogba made it 2-0 to the hosts after 23 minutes with a penalty following Ales Mertelj’s handball.

It was three nine minutes later when captain Terry slid in to convert Cesc Fabregas’ low cross across the face of goal.

Number four came on 54 minutes through a Vila own goal, diverting the ball into his own net from Eden Hazard’s cutback.

The fifth was a second penalty coming 13 minutes before the end, Hazard calmly sending Handanovic the wrong way but sending his team very much the right way.

Maribor did have the opportunity for a consolation with a penalty of their own midway through the second half when Agin Ibraimi was brought down by Nemanja Matic in the box but the Maribor midfielder who took the spot kick himself was denied by the post.

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Luis, Fabregas (Ake ’60), Matic, Oscar (Solanke ’73), Hazard, Willian, Remy (Drogba ’16)

Subs not used: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Salah

Maribor: Handanovic, Suler, Filipovic, Mejac, Tavares (Mendy ’72), Ibraimi (Zahovic ’68), Rajcevic, Viler (Vrsic ’57), Stojanovic, Bohar, Mertelj

Subs not used: Cotman, Ndiaye, Sallalich, Arghus

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal

Chelsea ended a high tempered London derby triumphant over Arsenal, winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to goals from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.

Costa sealed the three points 12 minutes before the end when he lobbed Wojciech Szczesny after being set up by a delicious Cesc Fabregas pass that beat the Arsenal defence all ends up.

Hazard opened the scoring for the West Londoners when his run where he dribbled past three despairing defenders culminated in Laurent Koscielny bringing down the Belgian in the box and the defender maybe should have been shown his marching orders.

23-year-old Hazard stepped up himself and slotted it past Szczesny with 27 minutes played.

Events off the pitch were the main talking points of the first half however with managers Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger engaging in a touchline spat as a result of a crunching Gary Cahill challenge on Alexis Sanchez.

Wenger was of the opinion Cahill should have seen red for his foul and, after some wind up tactics from his adversary Mourinho, pushed the Portuguese coach in the chest.

Calum Chambers was arguably fortunate to stay on the pitch as well, not picking up a second yellow card for pulling down Andre Schurrle.

Eden Hazard opens the scoring from the spot.

Eden Hazard opens the scoring from the spot.

Arsenal also had reason to feel adjudged by referee Martin Atkinson when Jack Wilshere’s shot was blocked by the hand of ex Gunner Fabregas.

Chelsea were worthy winners but an early injury to Thibaut Courtois provided a minor bleak point to their victory. He was replaced by Petr Cech 24 minutes in.

Chelsea: Courtois (Cech ’24) Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Fabregas, Schurrle (Mikel ’69), Oscar (Willian ’87), Hazard, Diego Costa

Subs not used: Zouma, Filipe Luis, Salah, Remy

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Wilshere (Rosicky ’83), Flamini, Cazorla (Oxlade-Chamberlain ’69), Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck

Subs not used: Martinez, Monreal, Coquelin, Campbell, Podolski

Burnley 1-3 Chelsea

A ruthless Chelsea tore apart Burnley at Turf Moor after Scott Arfield gave Jose Mourinho’s side an early scare.

Debutant Diego Costa, World Cup winner Andre Schurrle and Branislav Ivanovic were on the score sheet for the West Londoners.

Cesc Fabregas put in a man of the match performance on his return to the Premier League, contributing two assists for his new club.

It was Burnley who took the lead though when Scott Arfield scored an exquisite volley, chesting down Matthew Taylor’s cross, letting the ball bounce and firing past Thibaut Courtois after 13 minutes.

Chelsea responded in the perfect fashion, equalizing four minutes later when Costa seized on a deflected low Ivanovic cross and smashed home first time with his weaker left foot for 1-1.

Dream debut for Diego: Costa levels in Burnley

Dream debut for Diego: Costa levels in Burnley

Schurrle completed the quick-fire comeback three minutes after when he tucked in from a tight angle after a 20 pass plus move.

The par excellence was Fabregas’ majestic pass from Ivanovic’s cross. A disguised shot that turned into a delicate assist on the volley – a real tour de force.

Ivanovic effectedly sealed the game when he broke free of his marker to turn in Fabregas’ corner ten minutes before the break.

There was one minor sour note to Chelsea’s first half of the season however, Costa recieved a booking for simulation when he went down in the box, tripping over Tom Heaton’s hand as he tried to round the former Cardiff ‘keeper.

Newly promoted side Burnley struggled to break Chelsea down in the second half, Arfield producing their best opportunity, a curler, that would have reduced the deficit if it wasn’t for a world class save by Courtois, tipping it out for a corner at full strength.

Jose Mourinho’s dominant side opted not to create any opportunities either and were content the 1-3 scoreline.

Travelling Chelsea supporters were treated to a late cameo from returning hero Didier Drogba when he replaced Eden Hazard six minutes from time.

Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Shackell, Duff, Mee, Arfield, Jones, Marney, Taylor (Kightly ’70), Ings (Sordell ’82), Jutkiewicz (Barnes ’70)

Subs not used: Gilks, Dummigan, Long, Wallace

Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Matic, Schurrle (Willian ’78), Oscar (Mikel ’82), Hazard (Drogba ’84) Costa

Subs not used: Cech, Zouma, Filipe Luis, Torres

Man of the match: Cesc Fabregas

Change needed for England? Again?

Following what looks to be England’s latest failing at a major tournament, there are yet again calls for major overhaul.

After the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where England crashed out in the last 16 with a 4-1 hammering by rivals Germany, the Three Lions were encouraged to base their style on the tiki-taka of Spain who went on to win the coveted trophy.

St George’s Park was built with this philosophy grained into it and the effects have been predicted to come to fruition for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The problem now however is that tiki-taka looks tiki-toast after Spain themselves were dumped out the group stages this summer by The Netherlands and Chile.

To Roy Hodgson’s credit, England did play the positive attacking football in their opener against Italy and were arguably the better side but Uruguay was a different story as static, nervous England seemed to be back as the pressure looked to have got to them.

England need to create their own identity, possibly starting with a new Captain.

Steven Gerrard has come into particular light as the 34-year-old has probably waved goodbye to the World Cup due to his age and it did not end on a high, his header setting up Liverpool teammate Luis Suarez’s winner to all but send England home.

Liverpool’s iconic hero has been a loyal servant to his country with some fantastic highs including scoring the equalizer in England’s famous 1-5 win over Germany in 2001, scoring a brilliant goal against Trinidad and Tobago at World Cup 2006 and of course his crucial World Cup qualifying goals against the likes of Croatia for 2010 and Poland for 2014.

Along with this though, he has had his lows including a dodgy back-pass at Euro 2004 against France which led to Thierry Henry being fouled for Zinedine Zidane’s winning penalty as well as the Uruguay gaffe.

If Gerrard is replaced, either by choice through International retirement, or by force as Hodgson continues to build for the future, who could replace him?

Joe Hart: The England goalkeeper would be a popular choice among fans as he is one of few England players who has a safe spot in Hodgson’s starting eleven.

Two time Premiership winner with Manchester City, Hart, has established himself as England’s number one after Robert Green’s high profile error against the United States at the last World Cup and then number two David James has since retired.

Hart is a known leader on the pitch, often seen barking instructions from his penalty box and is refreshingly honest in interviews, something that adheres to England supporters as he is one of very few players who embodies himself among fans as “one of them”.

It is a myth that England players do not care about their national side as much as the fans but Hart is a rare example of someone who truly proves this. Perfect Captain material.

Wearing his Hart on his shoulder: England's number one.

Wearing his Hart on his sleeve: England’s number one.

Gary Cahill: John Terry’s partner in the heart of Chelsea’s defense is starting to emerge from the former England Captain’s shadow.

Since joining Stamford Bridge from Bolton in 2012, Cahill has blossomed working with Terry and has picked up plenty more England caps to boot as he ‘s built up a solid partnership with Everton’s Phil Jagielka.

Along with this, Cahill has similar personality traits to his colleague such as on-pitch leadership and an equally similar playing style. The 28-year-old is often seen putting his body on the line for his team much like Terry (“Superman” dive vs Slovenia esque) in true English lion-heart style, something the Three Lions have missed since Terry’s acrimonious departure from the national fold.

Another positive of Cahill’s, he also does not come with the baggage of John Terry with his personal life stories of affairs and racist allegations.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

Wayne Rooney: Expected to be the bookies and media favourite to replace Gerrard. The England poster boy is undoubtedly the star man.

94 caps and 40 goals would be an impressive return by anyone’s standard but the main criticism of “Wazza” is that he does not turn up on the big stage.

The Manchester United forward, 28, has only scored six goals in major tournaments (four at Euro 2004 where he was just 18, one at Euro 2012 which was a header from two yards against Ukraine, and his leveler against Uruguay) – his first World Cup goal at the third attempt.

Criticism of his attitude would also be a harm to him, frequent contract issues with his club where he seems to be constantly demanding more money does not portray him in a good light.

Many also believe that we have never seen what Rooney is truly capable of, citing that if he had more drive and determination he could have been one of the best players in the world, possibly even ever.

Rooney’s rant into a camera following a 0-0 draw with Algeria at the last World Cup will also live long in the memory of many an England supporter. “Nice to see your home fans boo you, that’s what loyal support is”, is not a sentence that endears you to fans well.

Despite all this though, Rooney is still seen as the man to lead England. Why? Because he is England’s best player and, after all, isn’t that what the Captain should be?

Wayne's World: England's next captain?

Wayne’s World: England’s next captain?

Have Chelsea finally found Claude Makelele’s successor in Nemanja Matic?

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Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Oriol Romeu. Chelsea have tried and failed to find the man to fill Claude Makelele’s boots since his 2008 departure. While the trio have had relative success in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield, none of them have come close to having the influence Makelele did. In Nemanja Matic though, Chelsea may have found the solution.

Claude Makelele arrived at Stamford Bridge in the Summer of 2003 for a fee of £16.8 million after being outcast by Real Madrid as they denied his request of a better contract and continued building their “Galacticos” squad without him. The defining mistake by Florentino Perez and possibly the main reason why Real failed to add to their ninth Champions League win in 2002 where Makelele was a regular.

We will not miss Makélelé. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 90% percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways. He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres. Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélelé to be forgotten.” – Perez (2003)

On arriving in West London, then Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri said of Makelele that he would be “the battery” of the Chelsea side, and right he was too. Thanks to the Frenchman, and Chelsea’s other signings that year in the first season under Roman Abramovich’s era, Chelsea finished Premiership runners up and reached the Champions League semi finals for the first time ever, losing to Monaco who would go on to be beat by Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the final.

Mourinho was appointed Chelsea manager the following season of course and under him, Chelsea would transform into the European superpower we know them as today. Makelele blossomed in Mourinho’s style of play, his defensive work, along with a solid back five of Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry and William Gallas, meant that Chelsea conceded just 15 goals all season while his passing ability allowed players such as Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, Damien Duff and Didier Drogba to attack the opposition at will. “The Makelele role”, as it would be known, was born.

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Every team across the land it seemed was after their very own Claude Makelele. Liverpool signed Javier Mascherano, Arsenal opted for Alex Song, Manchester United acquired Michael Carrick while Tottenham snapped up Didier Zokora. Although three quarters of these signings were no doubt successful (Zokora being the exception), none of them were, or are, as good as Makelele.

The role has been adapted slightly in modern times with the fancy named “Deep Lying Playmaker” or “Regista” role being the latest fashionable term. Well known “DLPs” are Cesc Fabregas, Luka Modric and Jack Wilshere while Sergio Busquets is regarded as an efficient Regista.

Makelele continued to shine in a Chelsea shirt for the next three seasons but his last game was to come, aptly in Chelsea’s first ever Champions League final, the 2008 clash with Manchester United. It would only have been more fitting if Chelsea had won that night in Moscow’s Red City, to give the mercurial Frenchman the greatest of send offs, much like Drogba’s in 2012.

Chelsea’s number four departed West London for Paris Saint Germain where he spent three seasons, won a Coupe de France in 09/10 and retired the following year to become Assistant Manager, which he remains as today.

Nemanja Matic put pen to paper on a four year deal at Chelsea in 2009 for a £1.5 million fee having spent time on trial at Middlesbrough and he was clearly signed as 2006 World Cup runner up Makelele’s long term replacement. Matic made two appearances in his first spell as a Chelsea player before joining feeder club Vitesse Arnhem on loan where he scored twice in 27 games for the Eridivisie club. Having failed to make a mark on the Premier League though he was sold to Benfica in a player plus cash deal worth £21 million plus David Luiz.

Matic announced himself onto the European stage in the Portuguese Capital, scoring six goals in 56 games over the course of three seasons, including one strike against Porto that finished second in the Puskas Award (given to the year’s best goal) of last season, losing out to Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s acrobatic effort against England before rejoining the 2012 Champions League winners for £21 million in January of this year.

Like Makelele, Matic has the ability to break down the play and slow down the midfield to tire the opposition with accurate passing to support his pinpoint tackles, and what’s more intimidating for his rivals is that Matic might even become better than his predecessor. He’s more dynamic than Makelele was and at a younger age too, and more impressively, is a larger threat going forward making him a more versatile player than his French counterpart. Already this season we’ve seen the Serbian crack the woodwork from long range against Manchester City at the Etihad and have a goal disallowed against Aston Villa for a questionable handball. Makelele only scored two goals in a Chelsea shirt, a rebounded Penalty against Charlton (which he originally had saved) and an 18 yard curler against Tottenham, which as great as it was, was his only shot of the entire season.

With Nemanja Matic the latest man being given the job of controlling the Blues’ midfield and so far looking more in control than anyone has in a good while, Chelsea seem to have finally found the man who has filled the Claude Makelele shaped void in the centre of the pitch.

Why Arsenal need to change their philosophy to progress

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Arsenal are well known for their patient passing play but eight, possibly nine barren seasons without a trophy needs changing. Fast. It could all improve if they ditch their modern tactics.

Following Wednesday’s 0-2 defeat to reigning European Champions Bayern Munich, the Gunners look all but out of this season’s competition which would see them fail to get past the last 16 for the fourth successive time. They haven’t got past the quarters in five years.

What was highlighted most on Wednesday was how Arsenal were completely played off the park at their own game, at home, with Bayern having an astonishing 79% possession statistic. This wasn’t helped of course by Wojciech Szczesny’s dismissal on 37 minutes which forced Arsene Wenger to replace Spanish play-maker Santi Cazorla but Arsenal looked second best even before that.

England’s best “Spanish Footballer” comes in the shape of Jack Wilshere but he was non-existent for the full 90 minutes while Mesut Ozil was his usual “passenger” self, looking uninterested for the whole game, even his crucial penalty was incredibly lazy. He missed.

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Ozil’s dip in form should have him looking over his shoulder.

This is not the first time Arsenal have been beaten by their own game, Barcelona did the same to them in 2011.

One of the most worrying aspects of the modern Arsenal is Wenger’s decreasing tactical knowledge. Following Szczesny’s sending off, the Frenchman brought off Cazorla while the consistently average Ozil was kept on. Even worse, when 0-1 down with 15 minutes to play, Arsenal’s main, possibly only, attacking threat Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hauled off for the defensive minded Tomas Rosicky.

Holding onto a narrow loss at home is embarrassing enough, even when a man down. What’s more embarrassing however is when it doesn’t work, Thomas Muller made it 0-2 with two minutes remaining.

Should Wenger have kept “The Ox” and Cazorla on, Arsenal would have possibly created more chances with Cazorla’s passing followed by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful jinking runs, but there was none of that, Arsenal stepped off Bayern and allowed them to pass them to death.

The argument that this would have left Arsenal more open defensively is a valid one, however Chelsea proved in 2012 that it can be done when they earned their hugely impressive 2-2 draw over Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and that was with ten men following John Terry’s clumsy challenge.

Wenger’s tactical failings also apply to his forward line. Promising striker Yaya Sanogo looked isolated for large periods of the Munich match however he won most, if not every header. This suggests that the France Under 21 International would benefit from a striking partner, something Arsenal don’t use. Sanogo could use his strength and heading ability to knock balls down to his partner, possibly Olivier Giroud or a new acquisition, and even grab the odd goal himself as he does get in the right areas but lacks the decisive finishing touch at this stage.

Where Chelsea’s formation, which is exactly the same as Arsenal’s, succeeds is that they have better goal scoring midfielders in the shape of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, formerly Juan Mata and occasionally Ramires. These get on the score sheet enough times that the limited scoring ability of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba isn’t too much of a problem. Whereas Cazorla, Ozil, and Oxlade-Chamberlain have 10 league goals between them, Hazard boasts 12 on his own.

This season has been a lot better for Arsenal, the double is still realistically on the cards in theory. Where they struggle however is overcoming the big teams. Their league results against last season’s top four are a 6-3 away loss to Manchester City, a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea, and an away loss and home draw against a below par Manchester United team. Not forgetting a 5-1 thumping away to Liverpool.

The Gunners have a tough end to March with Tottenham away followed by a trip to Chelsea before finishing at Manchester City at home. February’s fixture list has been cruel to Arsenal with that Liverpool loss and the home draw against Manchester United joining an FA Cup and Champions League tie. If they end March where they are now they will still be in the title race but given this season’s record against the top sides it looks doubtful.

The FA Cup is realistic after they eliminated Liverpool to reach the quarters but they meet Everton which is not an easy prospect. Arsenal will be boosted by Chelsea and Man United’s elimination but Man City are clear favourites to lift the trophy and carry on Arsenal’s long wait for silverware where it all looked so promising just few months ago.