Chelsea take the concept of ‘crisis club’ to an all-new low

A quarter of the way into this Premier League season, Chelsea have unwillingly advanced the concept of the “bad patch”.

From their lofty perch of the last decade, they have witnessed plenty of minor wobbles and stumbles. It became more than a mere “blip” — universally understood to be an anomaly of form that last no longer than three or four games — when Crystal Palace snatched three points from Stamford Bridge at the end of August. After the blip comes the indeterminate period of the “crisis” — a term that has long lost its significance in the Premier League era — but crises are rarely terminal, and a corner is usually turned.

So how can we describe Chelsea’s dismal 2015/16?

From the platform of a comprehensive (if not hugely memorable) title-winning year, they have delivered the capitulation to end all capitulations. Having redefined the art of winning in his first spell as manager, Jose Mourinho has now overseen a painful exhibition in how to lose football matches. To round off an autumn of discontent, Stoke City delivered what any self-respecting run of bad form should have: a morale-sapping midweek League Cup exit away from home. On penalties with Eden Hazard, one of the stars of last season who, according to the latest transfer buzz, is linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge, missing the spot kick.

As the blips of previous seasons had already suggested, Chelsea lose games like nobody else. They do not go quietly into the night. Manchester United’s dreadful season under David Moyes was characterised by meek, unimaginative surrender to lesser sides. Liverpool’s spectacular title-race derailing in 2014 was a gift to the cackling neutral, but it didn’t keep giving. Chelsea’s unfolding nightmare is on another level entirely. Rather than regaining their focus like they would in the recent past, their defeats this season have been scenes of total panic; chain reactions of fouls, yellow cards and horrified protests leaving them in a daze, on the ropes to be finished off.

Like quicksand, the more Chelsea scrap to escape it, the deeper they seem to get.

The numbers — five defeats in 10 Premier League games, conceding at a rate of almost two goals a match — can only say so much about their start. This is the most stunning collapse by a defending champion not just in terms of points and defeats, but in its chaotic manner and sensational lack of grace. Chelsea have long been a tight ball of aggression and frustration, often to their advantage, but it always ran the risk of unravelling beyond just a run of two or three untidy games.

The loss at West Ham and, in particular, Nemanja Matic’s second yellow card summed it all up. An unrivalled physical presence suddenly finding itself crumbling under pressure, unable to fathom how this could possibly have happened, and summoning only furious clumsiness in response. Then, in a fog of frustration and gleeful schadenfreude, succeeding only in making things worse. Upton Park roared with each yellow card that followed from Jon Moss’s pocket, saving another hearty honk as assistant coach Silvino Louro was sent to the stands.

Speculative comment on Mourinho’s state of mind and the whereabouts of the dressing room aside, his team have been struck down by an unprecedented number of players losing their form at the same time. In a subversive season where Jamie Vardy can muster 10 goals in as many games to generate surreal talk of an approach from Real Madrid, Chelsea’s stellar attacking threat has amounted to a couple of Diego Costa strikes and Willian’s set-piece deliveries. Eden Hazard has looked lost in the maelstrom.

Regardless of the endgame to this decline, how and when the manager makes his exit, and which brave soul comes in to turn it around, Chelsea’s season is likely to become the new benchmark for elite underperformance. “Doing a Chelsea” could potentially emulate “Doing a Leeds” (which itself warrants a 1500-word Wikipedia article) in becoming a universal phrase for falling emphatically short of expectations.

In the meantime, the language of footballing form — from the “blip” to the “crisis” — just doesn’t have the vocabulary to cover Chelsea’s perfect storm.

Match official pressured to favour Real Madrid in Clasico vs. Barcelona – lawyer

A La Liga assistant referee has told anti-corruption officials he was pressured by the Technical Committee of Referees (CTA) to favour Real Madrid in the upcoming Clasico against Barcelona in November.

La Liga president Javier Tebas dismissed the accusations as “ridiculous,” saying that “there is nothing prepared here for anyone.”

Jacinto Vicente, the lawyer of the unnamed official, told Sport that a formal complaint has been made to the public prosecutor’s office in Barcelona, with the assistant referee told to “prejudice the interests of one of the clubs, Barcelona.”

COPE have accessed a copy of the document presented by Vicente, which reads: “In this context, in the middle of September, with two months still to go [before the Clasico], a referee said to my client he had received, and I quote, ‘an instruction directly from someone inside.’

“The guidelines said that they could be the refereeing team for the Clasico — even though it has still not been named, nor will it be until closer to the date — between Madrid and Barcelona on Nov. 21.

“In the case that they were designated the game, it was indicated that they must try to referee the game in a certain manner, in more certain terms, to prejudice the interests of one of the clubs, Barcelona.”

The case — which gained widespread attention in the Spanish media on Thursday — began with the assistant referee allegedly receiving a phone call midway through September from the match official he usually accompanies.

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Vicente’s document reads that the official was told “it would be more convenient if the most difficult decisions in this game are not taken by the main referee — as it generates more controversy in the media — but by [my client] the assistant.

“If the decisions are made by the assistant, it was considered, less controversy would be generated and it would also dilute more quickly. In addition, it was also stated that this practice has already been tested in 2014-15 and that, precisely, on that occasion the main referee was exposed and criticised by the media. For that reason, it was convenient to be more subtle.”

Also on Thursday, Tebas dismissed the allegations while Spain’s Sports Minister Miguel Cardenal urged the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to address the accusations immediately.

“It is really incredible, this accusation by the assistant,” said Tebas. “It has no logic, form or procedure, especially when there is no referee designated for this Real Madrid-Barcelona match nor for the rest of the slate.”

Cardenal called upon the federation to respond.

“These are serious accusations, something incredibly alarming,” Cardenal said. “What must be done before this accusation is an immediate clarification and is is necessary to take quick measures. I would like the federation to address this immediately.”

The assistant referee claims that CTA spokesman Jose Angel Jimenez Munoz de Morales phoned him a few days after the initial call in September, told him the CTA knew of his refusal to follow instructions, and advised him to carry out what he had been told or else face the end of his officiating career.

The assistant referee says that he did not record the telephone conversation as he had not expected it, but that the number of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) switchboard had shown up.

Vicente told Sport: “One person let me know about a referee that had a problem and wanted to talk with me. It’s deducible that he is not from Barcelona [because if he was he would not have been chosen for the game].

“For a professional reason I had to go to Barcelona, where I met with him. He explained everything that had occurred and wanted to go public with the pressure being put on him because it’s the only way to clean up Spanish football and the only way to change a closed system.

“I advised him that it was not the best solution to publish [the claims], but that the normal thing to do would be to report it to the police. It scared him because he didn’t want his name to come out. If it does, he could have a serious professional problem.

“I told him that he should speak with the police first and the prosecution. On Oct. 19 I got in contact with the police and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor began investigating the case.”

Messi is Barcelona’s best ever – but is Ronaldo Madrid’s all-time greatest?

The Portuguese scored against Levante on Saturday to surpass Raul and become the club’s all-time top scorer, but is he the finest footballer to grace the famous white shirt?

Messi is Barcelona’s best ever - but is Ronaldo Madrid’s all-time greatest?

Cristiano Ronaldo is now officially the greatest goalscorer in the history of Real Madrid. The Portuguese forward scored after just half an hour against Levante on Saturday to surpass Raul’s record of 323 goals for los Blancos. But is he the greatest player to ever represent the club?

Over at Barcelona, there is no such debate about Lionel Messi. When Madrid coach Rafa Benitez surprisingly said recently that Ronaldo was not necessarily the best he had coached, eyebrows were raised. Asked the same question about Messi the following day, Barca boss Luis Enrique had no doubt. “I don’t like to compare them,” he said. “But Messi is the best in the world and the best in history. That’s my opinion.”

It is the opinion of many. Yet while the Argentine attacker is often described as the best player to ever grace the game, few have dubbed Ronaldo the finest footballer in history. One notable exception is Jorge Mendes, but he is Cristiano’s agent and personal friend, bigging up his prized asset whenever he has the chance.

Meanwhile, a Google search for “Ronaldo best in history” brings up a 33-minute compilation video of goals and memorable moves at the top of the results page. Featured, however, is not Cristiano but another Ronaldo – the former Barca, Madrid and Brazil striker who retired in 2011.

Messi became Barca’s all-time top scorer back in March 2012 when he surpassed Cesar Rodriguez (253 goals for the Blaugrana between 1939 and 1954). The Argentine attacker now has 418 for the Catalan club in a total of 493 appearances.

Crucially, however, he has won 25 trophies for the Camp Nou club – including seven Liga titles and four Champions Leagues. And just when it appeared he may be losing some of his magic as injuries interrupted him in 2013-14, he returned to lead Barca to an unprecedented second treble the following season.

Ronaldo, however, has won only one Liga title and one Champions League crown in his six seasons so far at the Santiago Bernabeu. In total, the Portuguese has claimed seven titles in that time, but while Messi has led the Catalan club during the most successful spell in their entire history, this is anything but a golden era for Real Madrid.

Cristiano was key as los Blancos claimed la Decima in 2013-14, scoring 17 times to set a new Champions League goals record and ending the calendar year with four trophies as Real also added the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup to the Copa del Rey they had won prior to their European triumph.

However, Ronaldo’s return pales in comparison alongside the trophies claimed by players like Alfredo Di Stefano and Paco Gento in the 1950s and 1960s – an era when Madrid dominated football by winning the first five European Cups.

Di Stefano was considered the greatest player in that era and won 18 trophies in total, including those five European Cups, eight Liga titles, a Copa del Rey and an Intercontinental Cup in a time when there were no Spanish Supercopas to bump up a silverware collection.

Di Stefano died last year at the age of 88 and Madrid paid tribue to their former player, coach and honorary president in a piece on their website entitled ‘Alfredo Di Stefano – the best player of all time’.

“Di Stefano passed away today at 88 years of age in Madrid,” it said. “The Blond Arrow was born on 4 July 1926 in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and is considered one of the best footballers of all time.

“Di Stefano is the only player in history to have won the Super Ballon d’Or. He played 11 seasons with Real Madrid and was a key factor in the club’s world domination.”

Madrid cannot claim “world domination” in their current era, even after last year’s World Club Cup and Champions League crowns – particularly as Barca (and Messi) have won 17 trophies to Real’s seven since Ronaldo moved to the Bernabeu in a €94 million (£80m) move in the summer of 2009.

And even Raul, the club’s all-time top scorer before Saturday, won 16 trophies for Real including three Champions Leagues and six Primera Division titles.

The Spanish striker scored 323 goals in 741 appearances for los Blancos, while Di Stefano netted 308 in 396 games according to the club’s website. Now Ronaldo has overtaken them both – and he has done it in a much more impressive ratio as well with his 324 strikes arriving in only 310 matches.

So he is undoubtedly the greatest goalscorer in Madrid’s history – there is little question about that. But is he, like Messi at Barcelona, the finest footballer to ever represent the club?

Not yet. For all his brilliance and his superb strike rate over the last six years, the Portuguese needs a few more top trophies in a period of domination domestically and in Europe if he to displace Di Stefano (and arguably others, too) and be considered the club’s greatest ever player. And at the age of almost 31, time is running out.

Cristiano Ronaldo driven by Lionel Messi rivalry – Zinedine Zidane

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible goal-scoring feats are motivated by competing with Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, according to Bernabeu legend Zinedine Zidane.

Ronaldo, 30, and 28-year-old Messi are the world’s two most prolific players in front of goal at the elite level and both break various records and set new milestones on a regular basis as they propel their respective clubs to major trophies.

They have also dominated the major individual accolades in football in recent years, with one or the other winning the World Player of the Year award or its successor, the FIFA Ballon d’Or, in each of the past seven years.

Portugal captain Ronaldo has won the latter prize two years running and has since gone on to become Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer in La Liga as well as level Raul’s club record of 323 goals. Zidane, who is now the boss of the club’s B side, Real Madrid Castilla, believes that the former Manchester United attacker benefits from having Messi around. “Fifty to 55 goals per season is just not human,” Zidane told French TV programme Canal Football Club.

“But you should see him at training. At training, he’s a guy who every ball, every match, every corner… he wants to score, he wants to win.

“And when he scores he does the same thing he does in a match. He’s happy and he falls to his knees [to celebrate]… it’s incredible.

“There’s a feature in all of that and it’s that there’s another player opposite who pushes him. That’s to say the rivalry he has with Messi.

“He doesn’t need that [to perform]. But what keeps him scoring 55 to 60 goals a season is the fact that he says to himself ‘this year I have to score one more than the other guy every time.'”

Former Real manager Carlo Ancelotti said last week that he does not think Ronaldo will leave Madrid for Paris Saint-Germain, as reports periodically suggest, next year.

Zidane, himself a former European and World Player of the Year, agrees. “He’s the best player in the world so it’s normal that you’d want to sign Ronaldo,” the 1998 World Cup winner said.

“But he’s comfortable at Real… since Raul left he’s really become the other legend of the club.”

Ferguson reveals reasons for keeping ‘amazing’ Cantona after kung-fu kick

The former Manchester United star was suspended for eight months for kicking a supporter, with his former manager admitting he felt duty-bound to keep him

Ferguson reveals reasons for keeping 'amazing' Cantona after kung-fu kick

Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed the reasons behind his decision to keep Eric Cantona at Manchester United after his infamous kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter in 1995.

Cantona was banned for eight months after the incident, which led to widespread calls for Ferguson to sell him.

The long-serving United boss decided to keep him at the club, however, admitting that he felt compelled to fight his player’s corner.

“Jesus, you know, he was done and it was a problem for the club because it got such headlines,” Ferguson told the BBC. “It was front page and we decided to have a meeting at Alderley Edge the next night.

“On the way I get a phone call from Richard Greenbury, who was chairman of Marks and Spencer at the time, Richard, a big United fan.

“He says ‘well, don’t let Cantona go. He’ll give you great moments of joy.’ I said ‘I know that.’ But you know it was the mood of the board, so I had to fight the case, look we must keep him, we can’t let him go, we can’t give in to the mob and we decided to suspend him for four months and the FA at the time were happy with it, but somehow they added to it.

United signed Cantona for around £1.2 million from Leeds in 1992, with the France international playing a key role in the Red Devils’ title wins in 1993 and 1994.

And Ferguson insists he had no idea that Cantona would ever react to a fan’s provocation in such a dramatic manner.

“He’d never given us any indication that explosion was there. But I decided to approach it this way: I would speak to him every day, I would talk to him about football all the time and he loved it.

“That’s why the other players said he was my prodigal son. But I think he needed different attention, you needed different ways of dealing with him, he was a different guy from everyone else. He’s an amazing human being.

“No. There was something in me that said I need to stand by him because the world is after him. And it was a bit like, no one’s there to help him and I says well it’ll have to be me because I’m his manager.”