What Was Avram Grant Thinking?
They say hindsight is 20/20, and that’s certainly true. That doesn’t make it worthless though, especially when the party involved has already made a few questionable decisions in the past.
So then, Mr. Grant, let me ask you why you didn’t start John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Nicolas Anelka yesterday in your Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Olympiakos. Was it because you didn’t approve of Lamps scoring TWO goals last weekend in the FA Cup? Was it because you think that Florent Malouda is a better attacking option than Anelka, who has scored 13 goals this season? Was it because you wanted to go with a guy in Ballack who hadn’t played a Champions League game all season?
Listen, Ballack, Malouda, and Alex (who maintained his place ahead of Terry) aren’t exactly slouches, don’t get me wrong. They also aren’t as good as the three players who they started over. When you get to the Round of 16 in the Champions League, you have to play your best team and it’s as simple as that. There are no easy games at this stage of the tournament; teams that reach the last 16 don’t get there off a fluke or because of luck, they’re there because they proved they should be over six games in the Group Stage. You can’t disrespect an opponent by playing a weakened side. Bringing Anelka and Lampard on late in the second half isn’t good enough. You can’t expect them to do anything if they don’t get many minutes; it’s tough to come off the bench cold into a tough match and contribute, especially when you’re not used to being a substitute in the first place.
I don’t want to hear that Grant was trying to rest these guys for the Carling Cup final against Spurs this weekend. That match is five days away from yesterday’s game in Greece; Lampard, Terry, and Anelka would have had plenty of time to recover. I would’ve thought that players who can score goals (Anelka and Lampard) would’ve been preferred away from home over players who don’t usually score from the run of play (Malouda and Ballack) because away goals mean more in the Champions League. I would’ve thought that going with the club captain, John Terry, over Alex, who is a center back in name only as he loves to go forward, was the smarter move.
People are saying that Chelsea are in prime position now to advance to the quarterfinals. I don’t agree. Sorry, a 0-0 draw for the home team in the Champions League favors the home team because they didn’t give up a goal to the away side. Now, Olympiakos doesn’t even have to win at Stamford Bridge; they can play for another 0-0 draw and take their chances in extra time and/or PK’s, or push for that all-important away goal in normal time and then park the bus.
Do I think Chelsea will still advance? Yes. I just don’t think they did themselves any favors yesterday and I put the blame squarely on Avram Grant for not selecting his best side.