What a difference a week makes. Twelve goals in two games has put Chelsea right on the shoulder of Manchester United -- its opponent this weekend -- and given the Blues the Premier League's healthiest goal difference.
Having been eliminated from the Champions League by
There's been talk about Chelsea's aging core since at least 2008, but the grumbling cranked up a notch after Internazionale comfortably kept Chelsea quiet home and away. Ancelotti's continued selection of
And yet, within days of taking only a point from Blackburn in the same jaded fashion as it had done at Hull and Birmingham City -- and without smuggling a troupe of FIFA Young Players of the Year onto the bus -- Chelsea has administered comprehensive beatings to Portsmouth, which allowed five unanswered goals, and Aston Villa, who was grateful when the final whistle halted Chelsea at seven. Villa may be experiencing
"When we play our best football, we are able to overcome any defense," Ancelotti told reporters. And it's clear that Chelsea's best football comes not shaped like a diamond, but in a rampant 4-3-3.
The average age of the team that started against Villa was 28 and a half -- which makes them six months older than those starting at Stamford Bridge against Inter. The 4-3-3 requires no little courage, but it also affords Chelsea greater fluidity; in the final half hour against Villa,
Though there's little doubt that some of Chelsea's squad will soon need putting out to pasture, this braver formation may just enable them to see the season out at a youthful canter. Whether Ancelotti will have the derring-do to take it to Old Trafford, mind you, is another matter.
Fellow west Londoners Fulham, meanwhile, provides an altogether different conundrum. How does a side comprehensively beat Manchester United (and keep a clean sheet), Liverpool and Juventus -- the last with a
But going down 2-0 to Hull --
"I don't think it's fair for anyone to suggest that we can do that with 11 players," he told the club's Web site, and fair enough. It seems a shame, though, that any attempt to replicate last season's assault on the upper reaches of the Premier League table should be so impoverished by Fulham's European travails. Hodgson has listed three times as many players in his squads this season, so the mismatch between what the first team is capable of and what the fringe players contribute when called upon suggests investment will be needed in the summer if Fulham hopes to have an impact on more than one front.
In response to an open letter from co-owner
It was a question that didn't go away after Saturday's meeting with Stoke, which brought a sixth straight defeat for the Hammers. With only teams above them left to play (needless to say, they didn't beat any of them earlier in the season), and their immediate neighbors Wigan (16th) and Hull (18th) having a game in hand, the Hammers are hanging onto the 17th spot by the skin of their goal difference. Having chewed the cud at home in Sardinia, Zola says he won't leave the club now and is confident that it "can turn it around."
Which is an altogether more considered response than several managers have mustered in recent weeks in the face of far milder provocation. Yep, I'm talking about you,
So perhaps the FA should focus its efforts on a Respect campaign aimed at managers, who appear to have no respect for themselves whatsoever when prowling the technical area. Besides the fact that the wise money would have been on Moyes breaking Mancini's nose with a swift flick of the wrist, it's just unseemly. Watching red-faced, middle-aged men wagging their finger in the red faces of other middle-aged men has become an absorbing Premier League sideshow, but it must be costing the NHS a fortune in blood pressure medication.