Premier League - Early Doors: Chelsea back to worrying best

Tue, 25 Jan 08:50:00 2011

Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom.

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Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom.

Chelsea's 1-0 defeat to Wolves on January 5 was humiliating for a variety of reasons - the manner of the performance, the lowly status of their opponents, the fact that Stephen Hunt was involved in the game's only goal, an own-goal that symbolised the self-destructive nature of their slump.

It was also the last game in their post-Wilkins league run of one win in nine and one that saw them plunge to new depths within the Roman Abramovich era, so soon after they were so dominant.

But that low appears to have embarrassed Stamford Bridge's notorious alpha male egos into action, as since the Wolves game they have been back to their muscular, ebullient best.

In the three weeks since they have played three, scored 13 and conceded none.

They have found the mojo they appeared to have lost when Wilkins was tossed aside, the strutting vigour that saw them gleefully maim opponents earlier in the season, that made talk of retaining their title seem a mere formality.

It is more than just a return to form, it is a recovery of ability, for it seemed they had lost that.

It also pours cold water on the alternative theory to the reasons behind Chelsea's slump - that Wilkins's sacking was coincidental, that this was merely an ageing team suffering from injury and losing its legs in a rainy, Anglo-Indian summer.

To ED it is clear that Chelsea's season was heavily but not terminally interrupted by the removal of the club man, the players' coach; that this intervention undermined Carlo Ancelotti, upset the cohesion in the group and ultimately derailed their season.

The injuries are still there - Chelsea were without Frank Lampard again and had three youth-team players on the bench - and the first XI are still mostly hovering around the 30-year-old mark, but this is the old (old) Chelsea.

And, with a stodgily-efficient Manchester United due a defeat or two, the good news for Ancelotti is that Chelsea are somehow still not out of it.

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ED was delighted to hear that Richard Keys and Andy Gray were dropped for Sky's coverage of Bolton-Chelsea, not because it is a champion of women's rights - ED is very much a misanthropic beast and hates all people equally, regardless of gender - but because it was spared the smug pair for a night.

ED is of a similar age to Chelsea's veterans and clearly remembers Gray and Keys back in the day: Gray in particular stood out from the crowd of 'say it as you see it' ex-pro pundits by actually coming up with stuff you might not have thought of yourself.

It is a sign of a lack of progress that he still stands apart from the rest Sky has to offer, and that lack of competition has turned him into a complacent, blunt instrument, far too pally with players and coaches from the big clubs, as shown by his frankly disgraceful insistence on backing footballers in the ongoing debate on dissent against referees.

So what next for the disgraced duo? Great men have fallen for less. Well, Rodney Marsh was given the heave-ho for a joke regarding Newcastle's fans that came too soon after the Asian Tsunami.

Rupert Murdoch is a shrewd and some might say cynical operator - anyone who has seen his Fox News station in the United States can draw their own conclusions about his political incorrectness threshold.

While Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck's feral rants may be acceptable to an audience of Tea Party affiliates and gun-lobby crackpots, the whole strategy of Sky Sports and the Premier League was that it repackaged the previously Neanderthal English game into a commercially viable, multinational, family-friendly and female-friendly product.

Men will not stop watching football if Gray and Keys are suspended or dumped. The protagonists of the game are the clubs, the players, the coaches - not a couple of middle-aged know-it-all pundits leering over the women in their profession.

But if Sky are genuinely interested in developing a female audience that is yet to be fully exploited - in the most recent Premier League survey 74 per cent of women said they were not football fans compared to 44 per cent of men - then they surely cannot have a couple of old-school sexists running the show?

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I don't know what Sky's attitude to women is, but if you're good at your job, gender shouldn't be a restraint. It didn't bother me in any shape or form, the most important thing is how they see the laws of the game and how they interpret them" - Kenny Dalglish, who had earlier cheekily asked a Sky reporter if he was comfortable with a presence of a female journalist at a press conference, weighs into the Keys-Gray controversy.

Dalglish's daughter, Kelly, was a respected Sky Sports presenter until she defected to ESPN in 2009.

FOREIGN VIEW: "It was humour. We have finished (our business) in the transfer window. Nobody is considering recruiting. I said something stupid but that doesn't mean that you have to go on about it" - Marseille president Jean-Claude Dassier backtracks on claims he would be interested in signing Karim Benzema.

Early Doors / Eurosport

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