Chelsea nearer as Redknapp endures baptism
In midweek we were treated to a potentially explosive derby between Chelsea and Arsenal which bore little fruit for the neutrals but must have been pleasing to the Gunners' fans as Chelsea failed to dominate Arsenal again for the second time, despite their emergence in the league. Obviously they saved their derby best for the West London meeting on Saturday. Joe Cole scored a good goal and played another good game, and it was slightly concerning to see him make way for the recovered Arjen Robben, who had a hand in Frank Lampard's goal so soon after his arrival. Eidur Gudjohnsen has been excellent for Chelsea, having come from Bolton as a little known player. The Icelander has skill, control, vision and gets into tackles as well as any other Chelsea player and where he and Didier Drogba to feature regularly, I think it would be a dangerous partnership for any team.
Collins John scored a good goal to equalise, Ricardo Carvalho caught out napping and failing to thwart the Dutchman. Jose Mourinho hopes for an Arsenal win tonight to ensure his Blues side don't let up on their onslaught until the end, and the Gunners have no choice but to, not even a draw is sufficient. Tempting fate, I sense a draw is what will happen tonight, just to finally put to rest the chase at the top. that being that, there is no chance of Chelsea letting up on Wednesday, that's another trophy.
Speaking of Wednesday, Chelsea's opponents Liverpool went away again in a week to find they had little stamina to gain victory over relegation-threatened Crystal Palace. When Wayne Routledge returned back a clearance with a shot, only Andy Johnson reacted. Liverpool in the Champs League but defending from a chumps League. The ideology is that once a ball is incoming, it is reverted to outgoing. Simple. But Liverpool will not grasp that concept for an entire game, instead allowing for such moments as they did on Saturday to concede. We were lacklustre and formed an effort nearer towards half time. Baros had to come off and if he isn't ready for Wednesday, we will have yet another selection difficulty. I'm not happy with 4-5-1 and if Wednesday in mind perhaps Benitez should have played Morientes first under that formation. For me, Morientes can play better with another, while Baros can play better when he is alone with support from two wingers, similar to Drogba/Gudjohnsen at Chelsea.
Sami Hyypia stated that the time was not up for the match, possibly with Wednesday in mind. Having had to defeat bogey team Portsmouth in midweek, to have to come to Palace rather than host them is something I would have preferred to have avoided, our home support would have lifted the team like a send-off before Stamford Bridge. Who knows, Chelsea could feel too happy after beating Fulham and then finding Arsenal draw, to concentrate on Wednesday. Liverpool could find Baros is fit and ready, and having this defeat could be the wake up alarm they need. Coming this close, it is now rather than at any other time that the Reds must focus and perform out of their hearts, win or lose.
However, the main game for me this weekend was the South Coast derby. Harry Redknapp endured 'Judas' chants from the home fans as he took his seat in the away dug out and stayed there, in accordance with security instructions and common sense. Judas carried Jesus and then exposed him to the Roman soldiers in return for silver. Redknapp hadn't sold out Portsmouth but left them when his authority there was put under doubt. A reputable manager or coach must have his way if he is to succeed, with little or no interference. Had he arrived elsewhere, his name wouldn't be mud at Fratton Park, not so much. He brought Portsmouth into the Premiership after other managers couldn't even bring themselves to the club. Under his management they defeated Liverpool and Man Utd, and held off Arsenal. All of Portsmouth's players were Redknapp signings. They are what they are, positively, because of Redknapp. Perhaps what I see as Portsmouth's only substantial gripe with Redknapp is that had he stayed, they wouldn't be in relegation fear.
Nonetheless, Southampton weren't in standard form. They lost influential and former Pompey man Peter Crounch in pre-warm up, as an injury he was carrying wouldn't let up. Yet they had hitman Kevin Phillips and pacey Henri Camara to form a strike force from. I can't think of any way Redknapp could play all three simultaneously, as that would be his best way of getting goals. But goals do not necessarily gain victories, Southampton's effort previously before their draw at Bolton was being 2-0 up against Aston Villa, only to concede 3. The whole team needs an injection of steel for the remaining 3 fixtures, with Man Utd their last game.
But what a way to to shrink in a crucial match. Against bitter rivals, in their ground, needing 3 points and losing an influential player, Antii Niemi had to act as his defenders didn't, bringing down Lomana LuaLua for Yakubu Aiyegbeni's cool high penalty. A needless freekick later as Nigel Quashie was too rash on Steve Stone, Patrik Berger delivered from the right for skipper Arjan De Zeeuw to head in. This was 17 minutes into the game. Camara chased a high ball and snapped a low drive past the keeper to give hope, and there should have been more for the Senegalese, he has the capability to punish given the chance. But 3 minutes later Berger sent a high ball that saw LuaLua chase with Jakobsson and Telfer, neither of whom could match his pace. Niemi decided to come right out of his box and misjudged the bounce, LuaLua reacted first and hooked the ball into an empty net.
Five minutes later O'Neill hooked a high ball forward which found LuaLua, who passed to Yakubu, who then unselfishly passed sideways to Stone, who lost control only for LuaLua to aim a shot from 30 yards. Niemi couldn't see it until it went past him and in. This was 27mins. LuaLua had practically single-handed destroyed Southampton, along with Berger, Stone and Yakubu. Southampton face Norwich and Crystal Palace next but already seemed doomed to go down. In a position as they are, going ahead then losing 2-3, then losing bitterly 4-1, and having to face Man Utd in your last game, it spells nothing else other than relegation for a side who had rights in the top flight for 27 years. Ironically Pompey will stay up as Southampton sink, but Redknapp is the type of manager who picks up the reins no one else bothers with, and converts negativity into positivity.