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Reds get dose of the blues

Why Chelsea have eclipsed Manchester United.

Tony Cascarino, 04 Dec 2003

The difference between Chelsea and Manchester United this season was summed up during the second half of Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge.

Wanting to freshen things up and cause the opposition defence some different problems, Claudio Ranieri was able to bring on Damien Duff, a proven Premiership performer who, playing for his country the previous week, scored one of the goals of the decade so far. The best Alex Ferguson could do was Cristiano Ronaldo, a promising lad, sure, but no more than a circus act until he can turn his bundle of tricks into positive team play. Apart from one snatch shot, he didn’t cause Chelsea any problems.

Ranieri’s brought in players who’ve improved the team, whereas United’s signings have just made the squad bigger. One thing I always say is: “If you buy five players and all of them work for you, you win the league. If four of them work, you make the top three. Three, you might make Europe. Two, you’re struggling. One, you’re relegated.”

Going back to Sunday, you can’t tell me that Ronaldo is an adequate replacement for David Beckham. Van Nistelrooy’s knocked in his fair share of goals this season, true, but without the service he used to get from Beckham he was restricted to a runner’s role. He was charging down the gullies trying to make things happen, but didn’t have a shot on target.

You’d never have said it about them two or three years ago, but Manchester United were a poor second best to Chelsea in the creativity department. Ryan Giggs is nowhere near as effective on the right as he is on the left, and John O’Shea is not aggressive enough to be a centre-half. He’s got pace and the ability to read the game, but I don’t see him going through players or defending with the authority you’d get from a Martin Keown or a Tony Adams. It’s easier in the full-back position because things are in front of you. You don’t get people running in behind you or dropping into midfield which is part and parcel of the centre-half role.

To stand any chance of retaining the title United need to bring in some quality players, but who are they going to get at this point in the season? You’re not going to pick up big names who are still involved in the Champions’ League, so you’re left with the likes of Rivaldo who says he wants to leave AC Milan for Chelsea but, in my opinion, hasn’t got anything to offer them other than a six-figure weekly salary. Can you imagine Rivaldo, a World Cup winner with an opinion of himself to match, meekly accepting a place on the bench? He’s not going to be happy unless he’s starting every week, which will cause Ranieri headaches and problems he doesn’t need.

Man U have more to gain from taking a gamble on somebody like him than Chelsea do, but still I can’t see Fergie or the PLC going for a player who’s well into his 30s and looking for a last lucrative move. Is there another Eric Cantona that he can pull out of the fire? Personally I don’t think there is. Which leaves them praying to the footballing gods that Scholes and Solskjaer come back firing on all cylinders and that they don’t get any more injuries.

Getting back to squads again, if Mutu and Crespo are out or suspended, Chelsea have Gudjonsson, Hasselbaink and Carlton Cole who can be recalled from Charlton. Lose van Nistelrooy for any length of time, and United are left with Forlan. Not a cheery thought if your favourite colour’s red!

As for what transfer activity Chelsea might engage in after Christmas, in the same way that Rivaldo wouldn’t make them any better, I can’t see what Vieri has to offer over Crespo and Mutu. The only reason for Ranieri getting the cheque-book out again is if a top class centre-half like Nesta or Canavarro became available. But even then, would they do a better job than Terry or Nesta who’ve both been superb these past few months?

I may have come a bit of a cropper with my backing of Australia in the rugby, but I’m convinced there’s only one team who’ll win Euro 2004 and that’s France. Look at who they can bring if somebody’s injured – Trezeguet for Henry, Makelele for Viera, Pires for Zidane, Sagnol for Thuram, Coupet – who’s playing exceptionally well at Lyon – for Barthez.

They won the 1998 World Cup with no centre-forward. This time they’ve got two incredible ones and a lad in reserve, Djibril Cissé at Auxerres, who Liverpool have been chasing for ages and would almost certainly displace Emile Heskey from the side.

No, come next summer, France will definitely be the team to beat.

Words Tony Cascarino

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