The pomp and pageantry that heralded the 2012 / 2013 season would be fading even faster as we hit November. I am a believer that November - January constitutes the defining period of any team's fortunes. It's the frame work period. Injuries to key players, weather conditions, form of players, events and incidents intersect. Teams that can handle adversity better, or force the issue in this period, give themselves a fighting chance of meeting their objectives for the season.
SHAKHTAR DONETSK : Put in the best performance I have seen this season, so far, against Chelsea, in their Champions' league group game in Ukraine, last week. So much has been said of Chelsea's 4-2-3-1 formation, and the creative play of Oscar, Hazard, and Mata, but Shakhtar Donetsk blew apart that postulation, and served a reminder to soccer scholars who pontificate solely about Barcelona's "tiki taka" style of play, that there remains other means of playing effective attacking soccer. They had a good bunch of players, and also crafted a game plan on speed, intensity, commitment, simple and brilliant decision making on / off the ball. Above all, they played with a strong desire to win the game, and did so 2-1. The Brazilian duo of Fernadinho and William were outstanding ; and so too their Croatian right back Darijo Srna.. Chelsea might have had the better team, and Roberto Di Matteo is doing a respectable job,
Read : Why Chelsea Shall Fly into Strong Head Winds
and deserves all the credit for their fabulous start to the season. However, the crux of the matter is Soccer is not only about playing systems, or how many completed passes made, or how many goals a striker scored. It's mainly about efficient application of the basic elements, coupled with a desire to win. Barcelona's brand is outstanding, but Shakhtar Donetsk have revived the dogma : simplicity is genius.
MANCHESTER CITY IN DECONSTRUCT : Forgive me if I sound sarcastic by insinuating the manager of the premier league champions is mistaking himself for an engineer. If I am wrong, pray tell, why is he indulging himself in team selection and playing methods that seem superfluous ? City are in unforced retrogression due to the manager's itchy fingers. He is messing up the solid foundations of success from last season. I define his 3-5-2 exercise as an ego trip ; like the tactical vanity in playing Tevez as an out-and-out striker in games involving Real Madrid in the Champions League, and last weekend against Swansea. Did we not see the real Carlos Tevez when dropped behind Balotelli
Read : Man City Charred in Jose Mourinho's fire storm.
I Understand Roberto Mancini had issues with the Club's hierarchy over their sluggish approach to get the new players he asked for, and he is right to be disappointed, but City's current decline is mostly the manager's making. Yes, they are undefeated this season, and third in the league, but carry on like this, and they are an accident waiting to happen. On the verge of elimination from the champions league owing to some deplorable displays against Dortmund and Ajax: I was at a loss as to the manager's failure to deal with Borussia Dortmund's high pressing tactic at the Etihad. Dortmund nullified Man City that night, and strangely, Mancini's men kept walking into the trap, when it seemed easier to build attacks quicker out of their own half ; it was like Dortmund cast a spell them. 1-1 on the night flattered City, but Ajax inflicted real damage with that 3-1 defeat last week. The entire team is under performing in relation to last season, and the buck stops with the manager. He has been feeble, restive, and outlandish. He ought to revert to the manual he read last season, and stop all this silly engineering.
MILAN IN MELT DOWN : The Rossineri are in crisis. Forget their scrappy 1-0 victory at home to Genoa last saturday evening. Or the 2-2 draw with Palermo early this week. From Franco Baresi to Ruud Gullit ; Roberto Donadoni to Andrea Pirlo ; George Weah to Alesandro Nesta, AC Millan have provided us with consummate teams for over two decades. Eighteen league titles, and Seven time winners of the European Cup / Champions league titles, they look a shadow of their illustrious past with their current team. I have watched them in no less than seven matches this term, and their playing standard is simply woeful. They just do not have the star performers anymore. The likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Urby Emanuelson, Luca Antonini, Stephen El Shaarawy, Phillipe Mexes, and Mario Yepes would never have made the starting XI of the Milan of yesteryear. Manager Massimiliano Allegri has been served a a curved ball by circumstances. With owner Silvio Berlusconi facing legal problems, the club have been shy at investing boldly in players ; Plus the loss of Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Thiago Silver and Zlatan Ibrahimovic,
Read: Remember Carlo Ancelotti
Manager Massimiliano Allegri is on a hiding to nothing. The team is bereft of attacking quality, and overall, mired in mediocrity. It is shocking to see one of Europe's Illustrious Clubs, and standard bearers at such a low ebb. At this point in their history, sacking the manager is not an easy option. I guess Milan Fans are going to have to suck it up. Three wins from their first ten league games, and no great players to call on is a sign of the times. Money is too tight to mention.
SUNDAY'S SHOCKER AT THE BRIDGE SHALL SPIKE TITLE RACE : Manchester United's Controversial win 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday is a watershed moment in this season's title race. It had been pedantic up until now. The story line of a league season is usually marked by flash points and events as occurred in last weekend's top of the table clash. Referee Mark Clattenburg precipitated a storm by not sending off, then sending off Fernando Torres, and he was twice wrong. Then Chicharito's off-side winning goal for United made matters worse. I do not buy into the allegation the referee may have used "inappropriate language " at Chelsea players, and it's going to turn out a storm in a tea cup. However, I do extol the referee's courage in his convictions. I believe if match officials go out to hunt down divers, it's a plus for the game. If Fernando Torres was a scapegoat, so be it. Think of this stupid ill eradicated from soccer...... let's bite our tongue at the referee's wrong call, if it aides in decapitating this frankenstein ( diving ) I am all for the referee in the way he stood up to any sort of intimidation by the players. For once I actually saw them look scared of a confrontation. I hope a few more match officials show similar guts at hostile venues.
The game was a cracker, and we saw two really good teams. Chelsea's nascent 4-2-3-1 formation against Man United's use of the traditional 4-4-2. It was a gun fight, and what mattered most was who could shoot down the other...... high skills, great endeavor, sheer purity. The injustice Chelsea suffered in that defeat means sparks shall fly. Yes, remember, the game is not for the prude or feint hearted. Let's get down to a proper championship race. Who dares wins !!!! True Champions transcend adversity.