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Monday, October 17, 2005

Have Chelsea Got the ‘Luck’ of Champions?

Watching Liverpool in the 80’s often left me feeling frustrated as they seemingly always got the benefit of the doubt regarding any refereeing decision. Getting spurious penalties (particularly in front of the Kop), avoiding yellow cards and getting marginal offside decisions in their favour.

In the 90’s the focus of my frustration moved from Liverpool to Man Utd as the marginal decisions seemed to fall their way, in particular the frequent extra minutes of injury time if not holding the lead. In the late 90’s and early 00’s Arsenal seemed to again be picking up the benefit of the doubt with a number of key decisions rolling in their favour.

The common feature between the three was that they were periods where the teams were regularly champions or serious contenders for the title.

All teams have luck (deflected goals, defenders mistakes which gift goals etc) and who ever ends up champions usually have more of this often self made luck than their rivals. But the refereeing type of lucky breaks were more frustrating because if felt like the benefiting team were being given a helping hand which they didn’t really need.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that refs cheat but maybe, unconsciously, they get seduced by the glamour of a championship team.

If this theory holds true then we should start to see Chelsea consistently getting the kind of decisions in their favour that the above mentioned three have previously received and benefited from. In fact could it have started already?

There is no denying that Michael Essien should have been red carded for his reckless tackle that could have caused Ben Haim serious injury but, for whatever reason, the ref decided that a yellow card would suffice.

There is no way of telling if going down to 10 men would have materially affected the result (i.e. Chelsea getting all 3 points) but Chelsea would not have been able to switch to a 3-4-3 in the second half and not have got the 9 minute 4 goal blitz they did.

That’s not to take away from the excellent hard work and ability of any of the mentioned teams nor the tactics of their respective managers but it can’t hurt to have an extra bit of help can it?

Only time will tell if this is an isolated incident of benevolence on behalf of the ref or if there is more to come to further aid Chelsea’s quest for back to back titles.



Blogger RedsMan said...

It is worthy comment. One decision against Chelsea and Essien may have not turned the game, to either Bolton's or Chelsea's advantage, but the question will always be asked when Rob Styles was so close to the tackle that to have given a booking seems quite bizarre.

I don't agree with Sam Allardyce that Styles was swayed by Essien's reactions afterwards. I hope a precedent is set from back in time and particularly from the Wigan v Newcastle game. At the JJB stadium Lee McCulloch fouled Belozoglu Emre and whilst being taken off through injury, was red carded.

McCulloch may have feigned injury to get sympathy and then look to come on later, but that was ceased with the sending-off. If Styles felt Essien was to go, the red card would be branded, regardless of injury.

But what was it that prevented Chelsea from scoring in the first half and then letting go in the second? Mystery to me. Jaaskelainen could have done better with Lampard's freekick, Drogba's touch from the corner for his second could have gone elsewhere, maybe that was more luck than skill.

Overall, I feel it is certainly some kind of phenomenon occurring around dominant teams. Most decisions that would go against them go their way, their players touch a ball and it simply goes in, whereas any one else doing the identical touch, it misses the goal. There are times I watch football and think 'If that was against Liverpool, it would have gone in', or 'If that was another team it would have gone in".

This goes back to when Liverpool had a poor run of results consisting of defeats and draws, the odd win, the season when we completely overawed Sunderland from start to finish at Anfield and still the game ended 0-0.

Chelsea have good attackers, but I sense it is teams who fail to rise further to match Chelsea when they do attack that leads to mistakes which Chelsea exploit. When you have Chelsea play a team not necessarily with the same quality of players but with players who will fight for every ball and pressure at any and every moment, I wonder if there will be a match.

As I said in T's article, Wigan and Liverpool held off Chelsea so far this season. But phenomenon or not aside, the counting factor is that results count and they are adding up towards Stamford Bridge. I feel some psychology has crepted in with some teams, similar to when boxers faced Mike Tyson in his prime days, and they are practically defeated before the encounter begins. If decisions start to go Chelsea's way, because of a phenomenon, one may wonder if it will go right for the opposition on the day.


10/17/2005 10:45 pm

Blogger T said...

There's an old sporting phrase: the harder you practice, the luckier you get.

Chelsea did get slightly lucky with Essien, and you can maybe say the same about Drogba's winner against Arsenal, or JPA's ridiculous evasion of the Lampard free-kick.

But they are top by merit. They are the fittest team in the Premiership, well organised by Mourinho, and their team morale is 100 out of 100. This is why they are top. The luck is icing on the cake.

10/17/2005 11:11 pm

Blogger BlindJak said...

Redsman, you're right about the psychology of opposing teams being a huge contributing factor in the success of a dominant team in particular 80’s Liverpool and more recently Utd scored so many latter goals either to rescue a point or convert one to three. The reason for this is that the opposition team with a decent result in site would start dropping deeper and deeper from about the 70th minute usually spending the last 10 minutes with two banks for four either side of the demarcation line of the box. Inevitably, weather through allowing too much time and space or with the aid of a deflection the ball would eventually creep somehow.

This only further contributed to the myth of how unbeatable a team was and made the chances of it happening again all the more likely.

At the moment Chelsea certainly have this psychological hold over some of the premierships lesser lights as evidenced by West Broms choice to field a weakened side to preserve themselves for a more ‘winnable’ game at the weekend with Birmingham.

T, your right and as I said I wouldn’t want to take anything away from how hard any of the mentioned teams work(ed) and I think Chelsea would still be top with out such luck. But would they have still managed a win against Bolton playing most of the game with 10 men? I think you could assume that Bolton would have pressed further up the field and not allowed Chelsea the attacking freedom which they so ruthlessly exploited.

10/18/2005 8:12 am

Blogger Abdul said...

Agree with what been written in this article and thread.

Yes, Chelsea have had moments of luck this season, but they have been by far and away the best team in the league regardless of this.

What I would say is that every team in the Premier League will get their share of good and bad luck during the course of the season. Blindjak has pointed out that the teams that are at the summit of the table and who have through the years either won or challenged for the title seem to have a better rub of the green than other teams. But I would say that these teams do not get more luck than say a mid-table team. Its just that it's the big teams that have the key moments in their games scrutinised the most. So whilst we may forget Bolton's extremely lucky win over Man City earlier this season, I'll bet that very few will have forgotten that Essien should have been sent off against the Trotters at Stamford Bridge come May 2006.

10/18/2005 10:45 am

Blogger T said...

Interesting discussion on psychology Blindjak and Redsman. Chelsea certainly have the aura of invincibilty which comes with domination.

Because of this, opposing coaches now have to really work on mind strengthening with their own squads- and convince them that Chelsea have no divine right to remain unbeaten. I used to despair at the weakness of players in the nineties when playing Man Utd. So often Man Utd would grab a draw, or, more usually, grab a win in the last 15 minutes. I put this down to mental weakness of the oppsotion- about not beliveing they can actually withstand their much feted opposition.

Teams definitely now have the same crumbling approach with Chelsea. The quicker some team comes along to dent this aura of invincibily the better- no hard feelings Blindjak!

10/18/2005 10:55 am

Blogger Skippy said...

Chelsea are a fantastic team, they have very little weaknesses, that is why they are at the top. My view is that you always need a bit of luck to be successful.

No champion in any sport can become a champion without some element of luck.

10/18/2005 1:39 pm

Blogger BlindJak said...

No offence take T ;-)

10/18/2005 4:09 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Indeed. If a team like Denmark are to face Brazil, on paper you expect a Brazil win. To thwart this Denmark would probably need to keep shape, man mark, be more aware and keep possession as much as possible. What if it was England v Brazil? We have players who can attack like Brazil, but then the difference can be in pace and skill, and acute finishing. How about France v Scotland?

The point is how does one raise their team against a side more superior on paper? Particularly after facing them before unsuccessfully? It takes good management to do so. Blackburn beat Man Utd, West Brom against Arsenal, and perhaps even Sunderland away to Middlesbrough. If the better team lose concentration, that one drop can make for a defeat. The exception was Chelsea conceding to Villa and Bolton first before coming back, in style with the latter.

The psychology probably wasn't enough to prevent the lesser team in those mentioned matches from winning. Perhaps it wasn't there at all. But it proves that what appears on paper isn't necessarily the result in the end. If psychology plays a part in cutting a team down before they even begin to play, then mind games may well increase as a team becomes more successful. Perhaps more emphasis is needed on mind strengthening as well as physical fitness.


10/18/2005 5:58 pm

Blogger SKG said...

If you go on a winning run you are lucky; if you win a trophy you are lucky; if you don't get a player sent off when he should've been you are lucky.

The fact is that Chelsea's luck will run out soon. They are unstopppable at the moment but all good things come to an end, just ask Liverpool, Utd and Arsenal fans.

10/18/2005 10:43 pm

Blogger Berry said...

I don’t think it’s the amount of luck other teams get that really frustrates fans and players because what goes around…. It’s the ridiculous rules that FIFA imposes on domestic leagues (that’s not to say FA rules are perfect either).
It seems Essien will not face further punishment after his dangerous tackle thanks to FIFA rule of referee’s decision is final.
That really pisses you off. What if the Bolton player had his leg broken?

10/19/2005 4:13 pm


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