It is 16 years since Ruud Gullit donned the blue of Chelsea. Arriving at Stamford Bridge in the twilight of his career, the former Ballon d’Or winner may have made just 32 appearances for the club, but his presence sparked the beginning of an era of success at Chelsea that has continued to this day. A genuine international superstar, Gullit was responsible for attracting kindred spirits in Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Robert Di Matteo to Chelsea, with the Dutchman then guiding his assembled foreign legion to the club’s first piece of major silverware in 26 years when lifting the FA Cup in 1997.
Despite Gullit’s lengthy absence from the Stamford Bridge turf, his passion for the club remains clear; like Blues fans the world over, he is eagerly anticipating this weekend’s trip to Liverpool for a match that provides Jose Mourinho’s side with a chance to further cement their status as title favourites.
With top-of- the-table Chelsea in commanding form so far this season – currently standing unbeaten in ten games – Gullit is expecting more of the same at Anfield.
“Chelsea are the strongest team in the league judging by their form over the last two months,” Gullit tells Sport360. “They are complete in terms of balance around their squad, a team that can score a lot of goals but also has a very solid defence, which is very important,” said Gullit.
“When they don’t have the ball they are working hard. The most important thing is the foundation of the team – the defence – and the strength Chelsea have across that line.”
In Dubai attending an event organised by Mindshare, Gullit was tasked with speaking to guests about the importance of adaptation in life and business. It is a quality that has certainly served Mourinho well in his second spell of Chelsea manager, with the Portuguese overseeing a significant strengthening of the Blues’ squad after last season’s third-place Premier League finish.
The signings of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have been a particular boon, with the latter particular impressing Gullit, who is expecting an intense midfield battle between the Spaniard and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.
“The difference with Fabregas compared to most players is that he thinks ahead. It’s not only when he gets the ball. He knows what he’s going to do before he gets the ball and he always thinks forward and that’s a great quality to have as a player,” explains Gullit.
“But if we look at Liverpool, Stevie Gerrard always has a huge impact in games. If he can have an impact to win the game for Liverpool then it’s different. It depends on the players he has around him.”
Costa’s arrival from Atletico Madrid helped solve Chelsea’s biggest problem last season – their inability to score goals. With nine goals in his past 10 games, the former Atletico Madrid man’s confidence is high – something that cannot be said about the recently recumbent Mario Balotelli. But Gullit feels that writing off Liverpool’s erratic frontman could be dangerous.
“It’s true Costa’s had a marvellous start to the season. Mourinho was looking for the new Drogba – a powerful player – and that’s why you can see he’s the same type of player that you can target in a game,” says Gullit. “He can win the ball, hold the ball, and deliver a good pass. It was the missing link for the team. Mourinho didn’t have it with Torres.
“Balotelli in contrast has had a difficult season, everybody sees that. His manager said in the newspaper that it may be his last chance. Balotelli is the only one who can change this. At the moment it’s not working, but there may come a moment when it might click.”
Keeping the likes of Costa, Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Oscar at bay will be a major test for Liverpool’s defence, which has looked rocky so far this season. Chelsea, on the other hand, have not endured such problems at the back – with John Terry in particular appearing revived of late.
“With their defence, Chelsea has more experience in this position as they’ve played together for a long time and are having fewer problems. It’s all about finding the right combination of players who play in the back and Liverpool have struggled here lately.”
— Olivier Oullier (@emorationality) November 5, 2014
“If you look at Terry’s strength as a player and how he leads the team, it is remarkable. His spirit is unbelievable and the way he uses it. He tries to help the younger players to get involved and get the best out of themselves.”
Victory for Terry and Co. at Anfield would see Chelsea establish – temporarily, at least – a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League table. And though Liverpool desperately need three points themselves to ignite a thus far disappointing season, Gullit is backing his former club to secure the victory.
“I think Chelsea are a better team than Liverpool; it’s going to be really tough for them.”
*Liverpool v Chelsea, beIN Sport, Saturday 16.45
Lionel Messi equalled Real Madrid legend Raul as the top goalscorer in the history of the Champions League on 71 goals after scoring both goals in Barcelona's 2-0 win against Ajax on Wednesday.
The Argentine headed Barca in front nine minutes before half-time and then prodded home Pedro Rodriguez's low cross to match Raul's mark in his 90th appearance in the competition 15 minutes from time.
Messi now leads Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo by one goal after the Portuguese failed to find the net against Liverpool on Tuesday.
Victory ensured Barca's place in the last 16, but they remain one point behind French champions Paris Saint-Germain in the battle for first place in Group F.
"The most important thing was to qualify and keep fighting for our objective which is to win the group and therefore we need to keep competing with PSG," said Messi.
"We played against a good team that like to move the ball from side to side and it was difficult for us to press and play the way we wanted to, but we took our chances."
It took Raul significantly longer than Messi to reach the record mark as his 71 goals came in 142 games for Madrid and Schalke.
And Messi is on the verge of also becoming the all-time top scorer in La Liga history as he is just one goal short of Telmo Zarra's 251-goal mark that has stood since 1955.
The four-time World Player of the Year made his Champions League debut against Udinese in 2004 and has won the Champions League three times with Barca in 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2010-11.
Messi scored in both those latter triumphs against Manchester United and said those were the pick of his goals in European football's premier club competition.
"I don't know if there is one in particular I remember, but the ones in the finals are always special," he added.
Whilst Messi celebrated, it was a frustrating night for Luis Suarez on his return to the side where he made his name in European football during a four-year spell before joining Liverpool in 2011.
The Uruguayan passed up a great chance to register his first goal for Barca when he was denied by Ajax 'keeper Jasper Cillessen early in the second-half, but Messi remains confident Suarez will deliver plenty of goals for the Catalans.
"The truth is we are happy with Luis and he is happy with us. He is adapting to our philosophy and it is only his third game with us.
"We expect a lot of him and I am sure he will give us that in time."
Arsene Wenger was honest in his appraisal of Arsenal’s extraordinary capitulation against Anderlecht, but contrition will not appease the growing sense of unrest at the Emirates.
When Mikel Arteta stroked his side in front from 12 yards there was a brief rendition of an old classic as ‘one-nil to the Arsenal’ reverberated around the stands.
But unlike their miserly forefathers this team cannot be relied upon to hold onto such leads.
Having played nine homes games in all competitions this season, the Gunners have kept just two clean sheets and shipped 12 goals in the process.
On Tuesday night their fragility was on display long before Anthony Vanden Borre poked home, and the panic that ensued has robbed them of any chance of topping Group D.
With just one point needed from their remaining two games, against Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray, to secure second, there is little doubt they will join the Germans in the last 16.
However, there is now an increased probability that once there, they will face one of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain or Atletico Madrid.
Arsenal would not start as favourites to beat any of that quartet over two legs, ensuring that a sense of foreboding has accompanied Aleksander Mitrovic’s late headed leveller.
How Wenger must wish he could turn back his clock to mid-May. Aaron Ramsey’s 109th-minute winner in the FA Cup final gave the Frenchman a platform, but his own negligence has prohibited the club building on it.
His priority over the summer – especially with the departures of Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen long forecast – should have been to significantly strengthen in defence and sign a holding midfield player.
Admittedly Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers were both astute additions, but it is almost criminal to start a gruelling nine-month season with only six senior defenders.
Moreover, Wenger has admitted he knew Vermaelen was leaving, and as such his inability to bring in a frontline replacement is reckless at the very least.
Imagine the reaction had a less experienced manager splashed the cash on a World Cup star such as Alexis Sanchez, when he barely had enough defenders to fill a substitutes’ bench.
It is not Nacho Monreal’s fault, of course, that he has been forced to play out of position for the past few weeks, and it is not only the job of the back four to defend.
The team’s frailty runs far deeper than that. On Tuesday night there was a naivety to Arsenal’s play as Ramsey and co refused to curb their attacking instincts even when Anderlecht began their comeback.
At other times this season, such as in the draw with Man City, the team has been gripped with anxiety. Neither Arteta nor Mathieu Flamini give the side the requisite stability at the base of midfield, and thus the Gunners have very little resilience when pressure is applied.
Fans were calling for an upgrade on the pair long before the end of last season, and many were baffled when Wenger instead decided to put his faith in Abou Diaby. The injury-prone midfielder has played just once this season.
By contrast two former Arsenal midfielders have shone in the Premier League, since both returning from a spell in Spain with Barcelona. But while many Gunners fans may dream of seeing Cesc Fabregas back at the Emirates, it is his former Barca and Arsenal team-mate, Alex Song, who really could have made a difference.
Song has been a revelation at West Ham, and his energetic display against City last month was key as the Hammers won 2-1.
It was a performance that suggested he still had a future at the highest level, and with Arsenal crying out for some steel in the middle of the pitch it is a wonder why he wasn’t coaxed back to north, instead of east, London.
It impossible to overstate Wenger’s importance not just in Arsenal’s development, but also that of the Premier League. However, he possesses a defensive blind spot that is preventing the club moving forward again.