Football: Beware United when they start to concentrate

WHILE THE pages of the tabloids have been dominated by the Blair babe and the merits of international footballers staying up late to watch a boxing match, it may have escaped your attention that there is still a Premiership battle going on.

At the half-term stage it seems that Chelsea are on the losing side. Arsenal have been rejuvenated and Manchester United are on autopilot and flying towards inevitable success in some competition or other. But Chelsea sit ninth in the table and, with four losses already in the bag, it would be a very brave pundit who would put his or her money on the Blues for the title.

Just how many of their poor League results can be put down to European distractions is difficult to assess. Their Champions' League performances have been bold encounters with some of the world's best and, when it really counted, they came out on top. Yet it seems that the switch in direction from Milan's San Siro on a Wednesday to Vicarage Road on a Saturday is not something Chelsea have mastered.

Their coach, Gianluca Vialli, has assembled a squad of players who have some of the most decorated CVs in the business, with three World Cup winners and a duo of players who have won the Champions' League twice (Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly) regularly gracing his team-sheet. But, whatever the individual merits of the side, the overall effect is of a group of men who are making their first journey together.

Manchester United didn't get it right first time. To be able to lift yourself three days after the glamour of Europe requires real mental toughness. That is not to say that Chelsea are not tough. You can't travel to the intimidating Ali Sami stadium in Istanbul and annihilate the likes of Galatasaray 5-0 without it. If they can find a mental equilibrium, Chelsea's stock will rise.

In contrast, Arsenal seem to be relieved that the mental pressure of the Champions' League has been removed. On Saturday they appeared to breathe a collective sigh of relief and, with Dennis Bergkamp performing like he did against Middlesbrough, they will find it difficult to lose. As we saw in this year's Champions' League, however, they find it very easy to lose when the Dutchman goes walkabout. Having interviewed and met the man only once, I can't claim to be an authority on what makes Dennis tick, but I know he is still desperately disappointed that he didn't make the 1998 FA Cup final. This may seem a bizarre situation, but when it involves a highly rated world talent it simply illustrates that the romance of that competition is not dead despite the fact the holders Manchester United have pulled out.

The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, said after Saturday's result that his team have attained a level of consistency - and, at the moment, that is consistently brilliant. The biggest threat to their current run is the fact they will be losing Nwankwo Kanu to international duties in the New Year, but they have the cover to still compete effectively in both the FA Cup or League.

Manchester United may well be crowned world club champions by the end of January, but where do they go from there? It will take a great manager to motivate them in their remaining domestic and European competitions, and as luck would have it they have one of those. Then again they may come home from Brazil empty handed, and without a place in the FA Cup.

To most of us United seem to be cruising at the moment. Despite their goalkeeping disruptions they are top of the Premiership and seem to have a straightforward passage to the quarter-finals of the Champions' League. The European competition should force United to raise their game a gear and, as they proved last season, that could be bad news for the rest of the Premiership.

Finally, David O'Leary's glinting Irish eyes have metamorphosised into the steely expression donned by managers who win things. Despite his guarded interviews and unwillingness to commit to the possibility of taking the title this year, his players are more forthcoming. As Sir Alex Ferguson discovered a few years ago youngsters do win things. With only the distraction of a European competition that doesn't put intensive demands upon them, the kids could come good.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?