Monday, August 14, 2006

Does Rafa own Jose?

Jose Mourinho laid out his excuses before the FA Community Shield at Millennium stadium on Sunday, claiming his rusty Chelsea squad were not ready to play a competitive match. This was clear when the Blues lost 1-0 to the MLS All-Stars last week, and Mourinho claimed that his team did not possess the legs that the in-season, fit MLS players had. Chelsea further bolstered that sentiment by losing the pre-season match that pits the League champions versus the FA Cup winners of last year.

Chelsea's number two keeper Carlo Cudicini feebly missed saving a strike from the edge of his 18 yard box from John Arne Riise in the ninth minute as the Reds took the lead.

Just seven minutes from halftime, Chelsea's 50 million dollar striker, Andriy Shevchenko, scored his first goal for Chelsea, receiving a looping pass from Frank Lampard onto his chest, and calmly slotted it in with his second touch.

Peter Crouch, poorly marked by new England captain John Terry, sealed the win for Liverpool with an uncontested header off of Craig Bellamy's perfectly-placed header.

Although the Community Shield is technically a friendly match, it is for silver, and while Chelsea holds an advantage against Chelsea in terms of head to head Premiership wins, they have not fared well against Liverpool in the Champions League and FA Cup matches.

Which brings us to wonder, of the Premiership's two most successful managers of the last two seasons, who has brought the greatest success to their teams?

One could definitely argue that to keep first place in the grueling season of the Premiership is the most difficult to achieve, as Chelsea has done in the last two years, but ever since Liverpool's victory in Istanbul, when they brought the European championship back to the Kop for a fifth time, Liverpool's been on their own run of success. Just as they did against AC Milan in that dramatic Champions League final of 2005, Liverpool erased a deficit against West Ham in the FA Cup final to beat their opponents on penalties.

So that's two major trophies for Rafa and the Reds in two years, just as Jose Mourinho has done at Chelsea with back to back Premiership titles. But it is the head-to-head matchups that are most intriguing. Chelsea has owned Liverpool in the Premier League, but cannot seem to find a way past the Reds in other tournament play. Liverpool knocked Chelsea out of the 2005 Champions League, not to mention also dooming the Blues to meet Barcelona by topping their group last season. Most recently, Liverpool defeated Chelsea in the 2006 FA Cup semifinal, prompting fans and media to question Jose's tactics.

Rafa's only missing piece of silverware, the Premier League, is extremely difficult to achieve. To weather the season of quality competition in the top flight of English football is difficult in itself, not to mention the games in the Champions League and the FA Cup taking what little energy and fitness players have left over after league games. To sustain the focus in holding the top spot whilst attempting to progress in two other competitions is admirable in the least.

But one must ask, which is more achievable: Jose to win the top prize in Europe and the top prize in the FA, or Rafa to grasp that last piece of silver that has eluded him, the Premiership trophy? With Arsenal and Man Utd constantly in the hunt for the top spots in the division, this season should prove challenging in the least for both of England's most popular foreign managers.

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