There's being contrary, and then there is ignoring Chelsea this week. The club is rarely out of the British newspapers at the moment -- like a boyband struggling to match its platinum-album past for longer than the odd stadium chorus -- thanks primarily to a number of public displays of disaffection. Sitting out the whole of Chelsea's win over Manchester City this past Monday, Fernando Torres was a picture of gloom; Frank Lampard is unhappy with a cameo role; in Friday's tabloids there is talk that Didier Drogba, who wants a two-year contract extension but has so far been offered only 12 months, might opt for a lucrative move to China (where Nicolas Anelka will be earning £10 million/$15M a year after signing for Shanghai Shenhua). A time of transition? Even the Destiny's Child lineup changed more smoothly than this.
The Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew admitted that his side had been "lucky" to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers, who "deserved a point at the very least." You needed the fingers of both hands to count the saves that the goalkeeper Tim Krul had to make at Molineux, including two impressive stops with his feet that kept Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher from scoring, and only a dubious call from the referee's assistant prevented a last gasp equalizer. It is still far too early in the season for the Premier League table to be much worth looking at, and Toon must navigate a course past Tottenham, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea in upcoming fixtures.
The two key figures in Chelsea's 4-1 win over Swansea City on Saturday weren't on the pitch at the final whistle. They weren't even in sight of it, Fernando Torres having been sent off and Frank Lampard having left the bench a couple of minutes from the end. In their respective narratives is bound up the story of the new Chelsea that is beginning to emerge.
In moments of crisis, return to basics. Carlo Ancelotti wrote his dissertation for his coaching diploma on the 4-3-2-1, and it was to the Christmas tree he returned against Manchester United at Old Trafford. It might have been an inspired reversion -- and indeed it did address some of the problems Chelsea had suffered in the first leg -- but in the harsh light of a 2-1 defeat it may seem like a doomed manager scrabbling desperately for the comforts of the familiar.
When Carlo Ancelotti arrived at Chelsea in summer 2009, he started off playing 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. That paired Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba as strike partners, with Frank Lampard tucked behind. It rapidly became apparent that Lampard is far better played with the ball in front of him than playing with his back to goal.
Team Limey was basking in an unfamiliar relaxed state leading up to this week's final round of World Cup qualifiers, as its beloved England team safely qualified at the beginning of September with two games to spare.