Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #6 – Futurama: Xmas Story

Do you ever feel like the Christmas build up is going a little too fast? I’m already FIVE days behind on advent! Apologies for that. But, like always, each entry provides a bit of Christmas magic for your viewing pleasure. And there are few more entertaining than Futurama’s take on Christmas.

Futurama S02 E04 – Xmas Story

Christma- sorry, Xmas, in the year 3000 is an entirely different prospect. Pine trees have been extinct for 800 years, and entertainment comes mostly in the form of preserved heads of 20th Century comedians with 20th century-related jokes. Fry, who for the uninitiated was frozen in time back in 1999 only to awake 1000 years later, longs for an Xmas of old. Pine trees aside, the decorations are up and Fry wants to cheer up a lonely Leela with the perfect present on Xmas Eve. No mention of presents goes without a mention of Santa Claus, who in the future is very much a different proposition….

Matt Groening’s side-splitting comedy series (no, not that one) conjures up an absurd and humorous vision of a Christmas future. Quite frankly, turning Santa Claus into a robotic judge, jury and executioner is a stroke of brilliance. Xmas Eve becoming a purge-scenario after closing time pushes that brilliance even further, as Fry and Leela run for their lives as the biggest holiday of them all approaches.

The supporting cast serve up just as many great laughs as you’d expect. Prolific napper Professor Farnsworth, Fry’s distant nephew, sleeps his way down the ski slopes to a bronze medal he doesn’t realise he’d even entered for. Bender befriends homeless robots for the purpose of a robbery spree. Zoidberg’s face glove. Amy’s arousal at the opposite sex’s injuries is as equally hilarious as it is a bit, you know, weird.

“What’s the problem? Simply get down on your claws and do the apology dance!!!” – Zoidberg

Then there are the references to traditional Christmas stories. Amusing references of course; the most glaring of all being Fry dangling from a clock, a la The Hudsucker Proxy, but not just any clock. A digital clock. Tinny Tim, one of the homeless robots, is of course Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol. There are many more of these, and they just add to the entertainment and Christmassy vibes.

Xmas Story is not just an excellent seasonal Christmas episode, but also serves as a glaring example of how good Futurama really was. The laughs per minute ratio is phenomenal, and has some of the best lines ever written for the show. By this point Futurama had established itself as animated comedy of the highest order. Adding Christmas, sorry, keep forgetting, Xmas, somehow added an extra layer of quality comedy. Unmissable television.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #5 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Five days into December and the season is heating up. Or rather, getting colder. Literally. Today, we’re back to the early 80s with a Disney take on a literally classic.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is a story that has been told, re-told and reimagined many, many times. This 1983 version puts all the familiar Disney cast of characters into the familiar roles of the Dickens classic. And once again, its the Disney touch that makes this adaption a worthy watch.

The casting here is the true success story, with Mickey and friends sliding in comfortably and perfectly into the Charles Dickens’ character’s boots. Scrooge McDuck is the perfect fit for Ebenezer Scrooge (naturally so, given the latter was the inspiration for the former); Mickey Mouse is seamless as the selfless, good-natured Bob Cratchet; Donald Duck is as cheery as you’d expect as Fred, and Goofy is as perfect as you’d imagine as a delightfully clumsy Marley.

Scrooge’s Ghosts of Christmas also serve up a wondrous cast. Jiminy Cricket is an ideal Ghost of Christmas Past, Willie the Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the honour of the Ghost of Christmas Future goes to the ghastly foe Pete. There are also welcome appearances by Ratty and Moley of classic feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad as charity collectors. The cigar-chomping Big Bad Pete (that’ll be those “tobacco influences” Disney Plus warns us about) is definitely an interesting choice, with a dark turn late on as he prepares to hurl Scrooge into hell if the errors of his ways isn’t rectified.

Running at just 26 minutes, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a pretty packed affair. Scrooge’s lesson is learnt within that time, with little pause for breath, but impressively doesn’t deter the story’s intended impact. It was originally released as a opener for cinema a re-release of The Rescuers, a tactic also used on The Rescuers Down Under with another adaption, The Prince and the Pauper, but is an excellent little feature in its own right. As far as Christmas goes, there are few better ways to spend less than thirty minutes if traditional is your aim.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #4 – X-Men: Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas

Its the Fourth of December already. Seriously, how fast is the countdown to Christmas this year? I hope the re-opening of shops hasn’t been too stressful so far. I still have a few bits to get, but I’m not panicking just yet. Whatever your current mood, block out a few minutes and enjoy another advent animation pick. We’re staying in the 90s with another landmark comic book series.

X-Men: The Animated Series S04 E17 – Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas

Marvel’s first ever foray into Christmas television is a tale of tragedy, honor, leadership and, ultimately, togetherness. No, Marvel are not producing this Christmas Day’s Eastenders. Instead, the hugely popular (and Disney Plus resurrected) X-Men animated series of the 90s has a Christmas episode.

As the X-Men prepare for their own Christmas celebration, Leech, the littlest of the underground Mutant tribe known as the Morlocks, is taken critically ill. Storm won the mantle of leadership back in season one after a duel with Callisto and thus, it falls to the X-Men to get the treatment Leech requires. Problem is, Storm’s X-Men duties over the years means she doesn’t exactly spend too much time underground. And Callisto wants payback.

Anyone who has seen the X-Men animated show will be aware of its generally serious tone. After all, this was a Saturday morning cartoon that dealt with issues such as xenophobia, racism, slavery as well general macho bullshit for good measure. But this Christmas episode does have some welcome humour. The kitchen scene, with Gambit and Jean Grey squabbling over the latter’s Christmas dinner preparation, is a hilarious delight. As is Cyclops’ attempts at singing. Wolverine is the Scrooge of the group (naturally), with any attempt at Christmas cheer met with derision.

“”Did I hear an attack alarm? Or would that be hoping for too much?” – Wolverine

A quick tonal shift from cheer to fear sees the X-Men fighting for the Morlock’s life, with Logan (Wolverine) facing personal demons from his past as a cure appears to be found – Logan’s regenerative powers. The delicate balancing act between celebration, comedy and drama is handled with care. The overall narrative belongs to Jubilee’s, the foster child mutant of the X-Men, who is experiencing her first proper family Christmas and has finally found belonging in her life. Her strides of maturity shine through as she comforts the youngest Morlock through Leech’s illness. It is a testament to the strong continuity built as the show progressed.

Originally airing on the Christmas Eve Eve (23rd December) 1995, Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas is an excellent example of what made X-Men such a great show. Its blend of drama, action and overall camaraderie and teamwork shone throughout it’s five seasons. This episode is but one example of that. A great first Christmas TV outing for Marvel.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #3 – Batman TAS: Christmas with the Joker

Finished your disappointing chocolate? Survived another day of Whamageddon? Seriously, google that. Time to move on to the early 1990’s with arguably the greatest comic book cartoon of all – Batman The Animated Series.

Batman: The Animated Series S01 E02 – Christmas with the Joker

Batman’s most famous villain, The Joker, makes his first appearance in just the second episode of this incredible and landmark animation showpiece. Its Christmas all right, but not if the psychotic clown has anything to do with it. After making his frankly hilarious escape from Arkham Asylum, The Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, Detective Harvey Bullock, and reporter Summer Gleeson. As Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson prepare to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, the broadcast is interrupted as The Joker lures Batman and Robin into his latest game.

Mark Hamill’s debut as the clown prince of crime is but a taster of what is easily one of the world’s greatest examples of voice acting. But what a taster it is. Hamill’s sinister snigger is one of the most recognisable in film and television, and it all started right here. He is of course the standout in a show full of standouts – it cannot be stated enough how good both Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester are as Batman and Robin, respectively.

“Jingle bells! Batman smells! Robin laid an egg! The Batmobile lost a wheel and the Jo-ker got a-wa-a-a-ay!

Crashing through the roof, in a one-horse open tree. Busting out I go, laughing all the wheeeee! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!” – Joker

As Joker’s plan to kill the hostages at the stroke of midnight nears, this iteration of Batman shows his true detective colours that would become a staple throughout the show’s three years on air. Bruce Wayne’s 21st century tech surrounds him against Gotham City’s art deco 1930’s style setting. Bruce is of course a man with resources well beyond most and this purely amplifies that, whilst looking ultra cool on the eye to watch.

Originally airing on the 12th November 1992, Christmas with the Joker is simply brilliant comic book television. It serves as an excellent early episode of such a landmark cartoon series. This was the episode that got me hooked back in my pre-teen years, and enjoyed it just as much as research for this post. Easily one of the best Christmas themed TV episodes in existence.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #2 – The Real Ghostbusters: Xmas Marks the Spot

Hello fellow adventeers! Another day closer to Christmas means another animation pick for the season. We’re staying in the 80s with a Christmas episode of one of my all-time favourite shows, The Real Ghostbusters. Enjoy!

The Real Ghostbusters S01 E13 – Xmas Marks the Spot

The final episode of the first season of The Real Ghostbusters is the only one to have a Christmas theme. Long before the 1989 movie sequel, the original movie’s animated continuation takes the busting crew back in time. To Charles Dickens’ 19th century Britain.

Lost in a heavy blizzard, the Ghostbusters accidently discover a time warp to the world of A Christmas Carol. Inadvertently trapping the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, it leaves one Ebenezer Scrooge to carry on his spiteful ways unabated. Once back home in the present, that spitefulness has spread across New York.

“We just killed Christmas, Egon. Christmas is gone. Forever”. – Dr. Raymond Stantz

To save the day, and the timeline, the Ghostbusters must travel back to Scrooge to impersonate the very ghosts they caught, while also retrieving and restoring them from the containment unit.

Originally airing on the 13th December 1986, Xmas Marks the Spot is as good a Christmas episode as you’d expect from such an excellent show. The script as always is sharp, with great insight into Peter Venkman’s difficulties with the Christmas season. The use of a fictional character to impact on reality is a bit of a stretch, but it is a good homage to a classic story that is endearing to many. And a nice dose of Christmas spirit.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #1 – The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

The 1st of December is upon us for another year. And while 2020 has been the strangest and alarming of years for quite some time, many of us still have oodles of entertainment at our fingertips. What better time to relieve the stresses of which lockdown tier rules we have to adhere to by getting into the Christmas spirit with the small screen. So, for each day of advent, here is an Christmas-themed animated pick to go along with your daily window chocolate.

The Simpsons S01 E01 – The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

Thankfully not a metaphoric title for some kind of John Kramer Saw trap, SROF was the inaugural syndicated episode of The Simpsons, dubbed The Simpsons Christmas Special. This is the one that started it all, and of its multiple Christmas-themed episodes in its 30+ year run, this one is certainly the most traditional and festive. As far as introductions go, SROF lays down many of the show’s long-running narratives. After Bart gets himself a tattoo, Marge has to spend all of the Christmas savings jar (craftily hidden in her iconic towering hair) getting it removed.

“Thank god for Homer’s Christmas bonus” – Marge Simpson

Mr Burns, owner of the Springfield Nuclear Powerplant and Homer’s boss, starts as he means to go on by issuing Christmas bonuses to management staff, but removing them for the “semi-skilled” workers. A notion that is as familiar now as it was then.

“Oh, thank God for the big jar” – Homer Simpson

Homer’s grisly attitude to Marge’s sisters. Patty and Selma, is one mirrored back at Marge’s choice of spouse. As Homer wrestles with the prospect of a zero-budget Christmas, he must also gain their approval to keep Marge happy. I had forgotten this is laid bare in this very first episode, and of course becomes a continuing narrative as the show develops.

Then there’s Ned Flanders. Bless-diddly-ess him. The saint of Evergreen Terrace ensures Homer’s disdain for him early doors, as his Las Vegas-level Christmas lights effort easily puts Homer’s to the sword. Unintentionally of course. Over the years I have personally taken to referring anyone’s mega Christmas lights show contribution as “doing a Ned Flanders”.

The Simpsons was the biggest show (and intellectual property) acquired by Disney following the purchase of Fox. As of today, thirty-one seasons are available to stream via Disney Plus. So there is no better time, and no excuse, to not enjoy this slice of Simpsons life, whether for the first time, or the hundredth. Regardless of people’s views of the show beyond season eight, The Simpsons is a show that has to be heralded as an institution. The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire is by no means its best episode, but it still remains one of the most important. Especially at Christmas time.

A History of Manga Entertainment UK (Part 1)

“As the UK’s first anime outlet, Manga has distributed and produced some of the best (and worst) the genre has to offer in years gone by”

Manga Entertainment, as it is known today, was originally founded in 1987. It is famous, or infamous in some cases (yes, I’m looking at you, Legend of the Overfiend) for introducing Anime to the United Kingdom. As the UK’s first anime outlet, Manga has distributed and produced some of the best (and worst) the genre has to offer in years gone by. This ‘Manga Video’ brand was a name synonymous with the Anime genre throughout the 1990s, dominating the world cinema sections of HMV’s and Virgin Megastores (remember those?) across the country. The genre quickly grew to have a home of its own, as other Western-based publishers and distributers burst onto the Anime scene. The word ‘manga’ is of course the Japanese word used for comic, often of which are the source materials used to create anime series, movies and direct to video productions. Here is a brief insight into a company that has hit great highs and lows, and is now on the rise once again.

In the late 1980s, a new subsidiary of Island Records was created, withmarketing director Andy Frain placed in charge. By 1991, the company purchased the distribution rights to Akira. It was subsequently released into cinemas and was a massive success. Suddenly, a huge window of opportunity and potential opened; the western world was ready for Anime.

The Manga Video introduction present on most of its VHS catalogue, and contains footage from its very first releases.

From Akira’s success came the creation of the Manga Video label later that year. Managed by Laurence Guinness day to day, Laurence went on to become executive producer on almost every Manga Video release throughout the 90’s. Timing was everything; Manga Video acquired many of the big licenses, and the partnership with American publisher Central Park Media allowed the English dub costs to be shared. This gave Manga the tools to hit the UK market with many releases in the nineties VHS generation. By the time Manga’s first collector’s catalogue was published for its club members in 1995, there were 74 titles logged within it, with many more on the horizon. Retail success came from monthly OVA episode releases (e.g. The Guyver, Giant Robo), collections that were made very affordable due to the even cost spread of around £5.99 – £9.99 per volume.

Single-VHS episodes proved very popular for Manga’s sales

As the catalogue grew and grew, Akira had continued success in the home market, as it remained at the forefront of the Manga Video label. It came at a time when dark science fiction (Robocop, Aliens, and Escape from New York) was at its peak in Hollywood. Early releases such as Venus Wars, Lensman and Doomed Megalopolis gave Manga a clear target audience, that being young men, and quickly became the label’s marketing strategy. Manga’s regular release schedule of edgy, dark and often very violent productions soon became the bulk of its catalogue.

An early Manga Video advertisement, published in Super Play magazine

The English dub tracks were often scripted to include extra, and often unnecessary, profanity to increase the age rating classification (a process known as ‘fifteening’) to keep in line with this target demographic. Some releases had their soundtrack compositions completely replaced, with mixed results (Cyber City Oedo is a prime example of both methods). Over time however, the lack of subtitled releases, which would not arrive until the DVD line materialised, would be a constant source of complaint from the growing UK Anime fan-base.

A prime source of ‘fifteening’, with profanity deliberately included to give certain productions a more adult approach

Despite Manga Video’s VHS success, the success of Akira could never be replicated. Seeing potential in a new feature, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, Andy Frain was instilled as co-executive producer. This allowed Manga to release the movie on a worldwide scale. This ultimately led to a US-relationship, expanding the Manga Video catalogue even further. When Ghost in the Shell arrived in 1995, it performed well, but not to the levels Akira reached, with many of its new direct-to-video releases faring better for sales. The direct investment into GitS did not lead to a return in profits, and led to Andy Frain stepping down. And thus began troubling times for the label that began so well….

Join me next time as I explore what becomes a difficult, transitional period for Manga Video, as it aims to carry its legacy into the DVD market under a new, US-led leadership. Ta ta for now!

Shenmue is Back (Again!) and Coming to a Small Screen Near You

The announcement comes after the release of Shenmue 3 only last year, which is unprecedented in of itself given the 18-year gap between Shenmue 2 and Shenmue 3.

Shenmue, Yu Suzuki’s revenge-driven, slow-burn saga that oddly encourages capsule toy and gambling addictions, is getting an anime adaption, courtesy of Crunchyroll and Adult Swim.

For Shenmue, this new production will only serve to boost a franchise popular both yesterday and today. The first Shenmue was released in 1999 for the short-lived but excellent Sega Dreamcast console, as did its sequel two years later. The demise of the Dreamcast, as well as Yu Suzuki’s departure from developer AM2 years later, meant the future of the franchise was up in the air since 2001. The successful Shenmue 3 Kickstarter campaign began back in 2015, the highest-funded video game project in its 11-year history, and was released in November last year.

The series tells the tale of teenager Ryo Hazuki, who, after witnessing his father’s murder at the hands on Lan Di, wishes to avenge his father’s death. It is an 1980’s-set journey that traverses the Far East, from Yokasuka in Japan, through Hong Kong and Guilin in China. Shenmue served as an open-world schematic for many video games that followed, and continues to do so to this day. The enveloped environments, including a day and night system, interaction with NPC (Non-Playable-Characters), daily schedules and free reign to explore at will, brought a living, breathing world at your fingertips.

This unprecedented animated project comes with series creator Yu Suzuki serving as executive producer, with One Punch Man’s Chikara Sakurai in the directing hot seat. The planned 13-episode series will be produced by Telecom Animation Film, responsible for the latest Lupin the Third series. The announcement comes after the release of Shenmue 3 only last year, which is unprecedented in of itself given the 18-year gap between Shenmue 2 and Shenmue 3. The announcement came out of Crunchyroll’s Crunchyroll Expo (CRX), which took place September 4-6. This will be the third collaboration between Crunchyroll and Adult Swim, following the announcements of both Blade Runner Black Lotus and Fena: Pirate Princess.

What are your thoughts on this one? To be honest, if there are forklifts, I am so on board with this.

Kiki’s Delivery Service: The Miyazaki Classic That Saved Studio Ghibli

“Even with three undeniably excellent movies in their repertoire, Studio Ghibli was yet to truly establish itself commercially”

csm-convostarterskiki-blog-u

The key to making a kids’ adventure film fly with its audience is to achieve the unbelieveable. Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, released this week 31 years ago in its native Japan, certainly soars among the best of them. But Studio Ghibli’s fourth movie needed to be a sure-fire hit.

The studios previous movie, the wondrous My Neighbor Totoro, was a box office flop in Japan. Producer Toshio Suzuki paved the way for Totoro to be released as a double feature alongside Grave of the Fireflies. This was a collaborative effort from each movie’s respective publisher, Tokuma Shoten and Shinchosha. Of the two, Totoro faired disastrously. It is incredible to think that a movie so synonymous with western anime fans today, arguably Ghibli’s jewel in the crown, might never have reached the west if not for their next production.

kikis-2-1280x720

The late 80’s were a period of high-risk for anime feature films. Budgets were getting bigger, the movies more grand in scope and ideas, even experimental. In the previous year, 1988, Akira, one of the most popular anime movies of all time in the west, was itself a commercial failure at the box office in Japan. Kiki’s budget (800 million yen) just a year later was actually higher than Akira’s (700 million yen). Akira however was already on the western radar, and would be distributed overseas shortly after Kiki’s release. Even with three undeniably excellent movies in their repertoire, Studio Ghibli was yet to truly establish itself commercially.

As a way to build up hype for their next movie, My Neighbor Totoro was placed on Japanese television for the first time in 1989. With that came promotional material for the upcoming Kiki’s Delivery Service. The studio promoted the film on the TV station NTV, including interviews with girls of a similar age to Kiki, the 13-year-old protagonist of the film. Additional to that, commercials related to both the film and previous Studio Ghibli films were also aired, raising awareness in an attempt to expand their audience. Kiki’s Delivery Service subsequently opened in Japanese theatres on July 29th 1989, and became one of the year’s highest grossing movie in Japan.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is the fifth movie from Studio Ghibli founder and visionary director Hayao Miyazaki. But this was not originally a Miyazaki-led project. Sunao Katabuchi, who would go on to make the 2016 anime In This Corner of the World, was initially in the director’s chair. Just a year before release however, Miyazaki announced he would be taking control. His influence shines through; the defining hallmarks such as luscious, green hills that seem endless in their beauty, and blue skies that are simply crisp and perfect. And beyond the magnificent visual aesthetics lies Miyazaki’s greatest gift: Positivity through adversity.

kikis-delivery-service-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000

Many will be more familiar with Spirited Away, the 2001 Oscar-winning tale of Chihiro, a young girl trapped in a ghost-ridden old theme park, and must strive on to locate her parents and free them all. Draw the fantastical aesthetics away, it is a movie about a young girl finding courage to do what’s right, and not take for granted what is presented to her as she begins to grow up. Adapting to a seemingly impossible, inescapable situation, learning who to trust (and, more importantly, who not to trust), developing bonds while never losing touch with who you really are.

These very real emotional situations are the endearing messages behind Miyazaki’s movies. Kiki’s Delivery Service is no different; there is no antagonist to impose challenges. The challenges are one’s we can all relate to. Finding one’s place in the world, the importance of hard work as well as finding adversity in personal challenges cannot fail to envelope the viewer in Kiki’s coming of age as a teenager. Apply Miyazaki’s now-staple but nonetheless always beautiful backdrops and structural beauty, and you’ve got one very special movie. One that is arguably Studio Ghibli’s most special, yet undeniably most important, of them all.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is streaming now in the UK on Netflix, and in the US on HBO Max.

MV5BOTc0ODM1Njk1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDI5OTEyNw@@._V1_UY1200_CR107,0,630,1200_AL_

 

 

Return to Championship Manager 01/02 Season 2 (19/20 Data) – February

“And so, to the transfer market. I think it is time to target the indifferent midfield. It needs an injection of attacking flair and sharpness”

THE OBJECTIVE: Chelsea want their title back. As all entitled Premier League clubs do.

THE CAVEAT: Chelsea are back in the transfer market.  But as before, any transfer bids must be accepted.

February. That treasured month of the year that was long associated, for all non-Arsenal fans anyway, with many a season’s demise for the Gunners. The Champions League is back. The League Cup final looms. The FA Cup hits crunch time. It’s all happening. For Chelsea, a new look side will enter the fray as the league season also enters the final third. And after all, its the final third that determines the outcome for all.

January Manager of the Month: Pep Guardiola

tenor

Pep does it again. 4 wins and 2 draws (1 of which was against a certain plucky Chelsea side) resulted in City keeping top spot throughout January, as well as progression in the FA Cup. Pep’s side are as currently devastating as they are decisive.

December Player of the Month: Sadio Mane

giphy

Liverpool’s Senegal forward has 18 goals for the season going into February. 7 of those came in January alone, including 2 in the 7-2 romp of Manchester United. Oof. An award never in doubt.

Premier League Fixture #25 – Wolves (Home)

Transfer ban feb 1

Boom. February starts with a bang. Batshuayi continues with his fine form, netting his 21st and 22nd goals of the season in just 25 games. I think Chelsea have found their star forward. Olivier Giroud continues his fine form also with his 15th of the season. Both target men are hitting top form at a great time. Ruben Neves, one of many January transfer dealings for Chelsea, namely from their opponents here, nets his first goal for the club, crowning the victory in the final moments.

Its another defeat that, with Sheffield United pulling off a much-needed victory of their own, pushes Wolves down into the relegation zone in their place.

Transfer ban feb 3

And that is the final action of Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. In his place comes one of Barcelona’s most decorated players and manager – Luis Enrique!

Transfer ban feb 2

That storming win in the West Midlands means Chelsea keep up the pace on Bournemouth, who also win. What a season they are having. That aforementioned victory for The Blades means they leapfrog Aston Villa as well as Wolves. And while that is a massive step towards Premier League survival….

Transfer ban feb 4

…It appears that a new prospect was more tempting for manager Chris Wilder. Football can be a ruthless and opportunistic world. At the top, City have a tight one against Sean Dyche’s Burnley, but a win is a win. And it’s a win that puts them 7 points clear at the top as all sides reach their 24th fixture. 14 games to go, 42 points potentially up for grabs.

Speaking of ruthless, another manager loses the fight to keep his job. Mauricio Pochettino, with Spurs languishing in 10th on a mere 30 points, has been replaced with…

Transfer ban feb 5

..someone who has at least had a better season thus far. Bournemouth are currently 4 places higher, and 7 points better off. Howe’s win rate is among the top 6 for the season. But, they have also lost almost as many matches as they have won. The problem for both sides is defending, so it will be interesting to see how this develops. Given that the now-abandoned Bournemouth were in a much better position for a European place.

Premier League Fixture #26 – West Ham (Away)

Transfer ban feb 6

After an unbeaten January, it feels surreal enough to go a further 2 games unbeaten. Let alone win 2 in a row. This Chelsea side is hitting top form perhaps a little too late in terms of the Premier League. However, its perfect for the remaining cup competitions. The only blemish is the injury to top scorer Batshuayi. Nevertheless, this is away win number 5 of the season.

Transfer ban feb 7

So, its 2 weeks out for the Chelsea top scorer at such a key time. He will miss the home game against Spurs and the FA Cup 5th round tie against Aston Villa. But far more significantly he will miss both Champion’s League group stage ties against Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Fixture #27 – Tottenham Hotspur (Home)

Transfer ban feb 8

Unfortunately, nothing to report here. Any dropped points at home can be considered a failure of sorts. Given Spurs were on the back foot throughout, with Hugo Lloris literally saving them from defeat, that narrative rings true once again. Looking on the bright side, its another point added to the tally. Next up is Dortmund at home.

Champions League Phase 2 Group A: Fixture #3 – Dortmund (Home)

Transfer ban feb 9

Unprecedented. Unthinkable. Unbelievable. What. A. Win. Dortmund are completely dominated from start to finish. Even with it being pulled back to 2-1 at one stage. Any other outcome simply wouldn’t have been right. It almost eclipses the 5-1 drubbing of Real Madrid, but this performance was better. 7 points from this tough group so far. Amazing.

Transfer ban feb 10Transfer ban feb 11

In more domestic news, Sheffield United have replaced the departed Chris Wilder with Lee Bowyer. Down on the coast, Bournemouth have hired Paul Lambert to fill the Eddie Howe void. Lambert is typically a more conservative manager, it will be interesting to see how much the Bournemouth dynamic changes at this crunch time of the season.

FA Cup Fifth Round – Aston Villa (Away)

Transfer ban feb 12

Phew. This was a close one. On the back of the tremendous Dortmund victory, Chelsea looked tired in this cup tie. But even with Christensen having to go off early on, Chelsea’s turn of the year resolve continues, with the incoming Pedro snatching a win at the death. We go on!

Transfer ban feb 13

As for the rest of the round, no replays and very few surprises. Newcastle’s woeful league campaign is masked as they proceed at the expense of Paul Lambert’s new side Bournemouth. Norwich’s rocking defeat at home to Championship side Fulham is the biggest shock of the round. Wycombe Wanderers of League One gave it a good go against Eddie Howe’s Spurs, but just lose out.

Transfer ban feb 14

It was inevitable. Man City are far and away the best team in the country, and are very unlikely to be caught in the league. But this is a different chance to have a small margin of bragging rights domestically. And just like that, it’s back to the Champions League.

Champions League Phase 2 Group A: Fixture #4 – Dortmund (Away)

Transfer ban feb 15

Another close one, with Lacazette’s second half double looking to have settled the tie. That is until five minutes from time, when Giroud pops up with his fifth goal in this Campions League campaign to salvage a point. Chelsea remain unbeaten with 2 games left and in pole position to qualify. Fuck yeah.

Transfer ban feb 16

Over in Spain, in the same group, Real Madrid unload on Shakhtar Donetsk after their 2 previous defeats. They could even afford for their self-proclaimed talisman Sergio Ramos to go off injured. To be fair, they were already 7-0 up, plus Shakhtar were already 5-0 down when they went down to ten men. A walk in the park for the competition’s most successful club.

Premier League Fixture #28 – Watford (Away)

Transfer ban feb 17

Jorginho has been in scintillating form, and this match was more of the same from him. A stunning free kick gave Chelsea the lead, and a brilliant by-line cross meant an easy headed goal for Giroud. Another man whose form cannot be understated. Batshuayi is back. His assist for Pulisic at the death capped another fine away win for the boys in blue.

Transfer ban feb 18

Elsewhere in the gameweek, Man City take another step to Premier League glory. Their easy 5-0 away win at West Ham is topped by Man Utd only managing a draw at home to Lee Bowyer’s Sheffield United, who are desperate for Premier League survival. Eddie Howe’s Spurs are gradually improving, and their win over Everton puts them just below his previous side Bournemouth. Liverpool maintain their chase for Champions League placing with their 17th win of the season, which keeps Arsenal at arm’s reach away from a similar placing. More good news for Chelsea, that.

Premier League Table, end of February

Transfer ban feb 19

Man City’s lead at the top grows to 9 points, and look unstoppable right now. February was indeed a month of some real progress for Chelsea. One place gained, with 10/12 points obtained. The Champions League placing gaps could be too much, but with 30 points up for grabs, it’s still possible. But it is certainly worth noting that Chelsea’s last defeat in the league was against Everton in December. That was 10 games ago. There are 10 games left. After utter inconsistency, we finally have consistency. Now more than ever, there is no room for complacency. See you next month.

Catch-up on what you’ve missed here:-

August September October November December January

Championship manager and its fan made updates are available as freeware from http://www.champman0102.co.uk/  

For this blog the October 2019 data update was used.