Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Chelsea prove that age is but a number

John Terry was rather vocal after Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over Liverpool. The 5-time FA Cup winner was pointing out that for a squad of aged has-beens marshalled by an inexperienced manager who probably wouldn’t make it to June, Chelsea haven’t done too badly this season.

It might have sounded like the old warhorse was putting some newfound critics in their place - except we’ve been here before. Nearly every season since Mourinho left, in fact. What people have consistently spoken against - and failed to recognize - is that Chelsea’s veterans are no ordinary men.

The natural manner of Chelsea’s play suits Drogba, Terry and Lampard. What the hacks in the press failed to account for when ripping these players to pieces earlier this season was that Chelsea were being made to play a completely new style (that saw just about anyone besides Sturridge, Ramires and Mata perform below par), coupled with the fact that the manager was taking his job of moving Chelsea to the next era way too seriously to see that he was benching (never mind their age) the team’s two best players.

Drogba and Lampard were benched for the first half of the season - to what end?

Since di Matteo began his reign, the difference has been there for all to see. He did little more than bring back the system Chelsea were used to, and put the best players out to play. Simple if put in words, but the results have spoken volumes about its effectiveness. There is only one way of looking at it: the 'dinosaurs' at the core of Chelsea's team are in fact very, very good – provided the system is right (isn't that true of every player?)

This does perhaps bring up an interesting theory - that the biggest problem in the Chelsea setup is the belief that there is a problem. Roman Abramovich has hired (and fired) in an attempt to 'move Chelsea on'. The attempt ended in failure. How could it not end in failure? Chelsea are at their best playing the same system they always have with the same players they always have, and the sooner Roman realises that and keeps di Matteo (who has realised that), the better it will be for the club and its future. There will come a time when big changes are needed, and this is not it. Not yet.

There are technical aspects of the game that lend logic to this 'anomaly'. The most striking sign of footballing old age is the loss of that yard or two of pace. But Chelsea's grand old men never really had pace as their strong suit. As the age counter kept on ticking, they kept delivering because their talents were largely independent of - and therefore largely unhindered by - senescence

Petr Cech's performances have been key to Chelsea's progression in the knockout competitions

Drogba, Lampard and Terry were supposed to have been past it since the day Scolari walked out. 2009 was the time they should’ve moved on, they said. Seven years on from their first league title, the same players matched - and beat - the world's best team. Rather than being the schooling that was supposed to be dished out to the seniors, it was the opposite - Drogba was a monster in Barcelona's path, and took the one chance he got. Frank Lampard set up two of Chelsea's three goals in the tie, his passing exquisite as ever. A forgettable second leg aside, Terry was Lionel Messi's equal and more. As a matter of fact, Chelsea have won a league title and three FA Cups (and waiting on Saturday's result) since this whole ‘Chelsea are too old to win anything’ circus began, so Blues fans will be hoping it doesn't stop.

The responses from these three just keep on coming

This season has been particularly noteworthy for the seniors. Not that this has been better than the class of 2005 or 2010 (yet), but this stands out in different ways. The critics have never been more vociferous, and the response never more emphatic. Chelsea have gone on to show that experience coupled with talent that never waned can be deadly. After a particularly arduous season strife with problems both on and off the pitch, they’ve pulled through and shown there are no ordinary oldies.

And long may that continue.

From looking like their worst season to being on the cusp of their best season ever - wonder who's responsible for that

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