Football: James expects busy day as City dream of double
Saturday 05 February 2005
The Manchester City goalkeeper is just one of 11 Premiership players who know what it is like to come off the pitch having beaten a Chelsea side managed by Jose Mourinho, and tomorrow they will try for an improbable double in the forbidding surroundings of Stamford Bridge. On balance, James thinks Manchester City will have to sit on the ropes, hope to nick a goal and then defend furiously, which were precisely the tactics that worked at Eastlands on 16 October.
The penalty Nicolas Anelka converted which James admits was "our only shot on target" was one of eight goals Chelsea have conceded in 25 matches thus far. If they continue at this rate, they will comfortably beat the record of 18 conceded in a full season by the miserly, mechanically drilled Arsenal of George Graham in 1990-91.
When turning aside Paul Dickov's penalty at Ewood Park on Wednesday night, Petr Cech had already beaten Peter Schmeichel's Premiership record of 695 minutes without conceding. This was his eighth Premiership clean sheet and it is nearly two months since he last had to strain his back by picking a ball out of a net in a League game. He is roughly the same age James was when he first arrived at Liverpool and, worryingly for any understudies at Chelsea, has around eight years to go before reaching what is traditionally the peak age for a goalkeeper. "When he came to Chelsea the people in the know I spoke to said he was the real deal at 22," said James. "The difference is that he is in a winning environment and came to the club when Chelsea had already undergone their sea-change which happened when Roman Abramovich came in. The trouble with Liverpool when I joined them was that the change was happening. Graeme Souness was on his way out, there was upheaval at Anfield and there was the rise of Manchester United to cope with.
"To say he is a better goalkeeper than either of Arsenal's is slightly wrong. What he has had is a consistent back-four. I know that the ability of the goalkeeper gives the defence confidence but sometimes it works the other way."
If James has to find fault with Cech it is his weak kicking. "I noticed that when we played them. His manager wasn't particularly happy and I think our fans enjoyed watching him struggle."
When it comes to fault finding with Cech's team, matters are rather trickier. "Everything seems to be working. I spoke to the Chelsea lads last year. A lot of money had been spent and they were very good on some occasions and not so good on others. I said to them: `You just can't buy a winning team'. Giving players loads of money doesn't make them want to win the title.
"They are undoubtedly earning more money this year but they unquestionably have a manager who has instilled a winning mentality. They are a team now. Arsenal versus Manchester United was a classic example of the team winning the game."
Manchester City, "an inconsistent but confident" side according to James, have already gone to both Old Trafford and Highbury and forced a draw. However, Anelka, the man who scored that winner at Chelsea, is now in Istanbul, although James argued he would have been missed far more had he gone last season rather than this.
"For all Nicolas's plusses there were negatives unfortunately. Nothing to do with off-the-field attitudes but the feeling that if it wasn't his day, it wasn't his day. He wasn't the hardest worker and we had to manipulate our game to get round that. Going back to Chelsea, they have a team of superstars but they don't look like it because they work as a team." Asked to describe what kind of afternoon he is expecting tomorrow, James smiles and says: "Busy".
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