Monthly Archives: September 2011

Ye Old Trafford Blues

Chelsea’s 3 – 1 loss to Manchester United

It pains this Chelsea fan to write the words “loss to Manchester United”, however, compared to last season’s Champions League heartbreak at the hands of Man U, Sunday’s loss feels downright palatable.  The loss is still incredibly frustrating mind you, but I can’t remember a clash with Man U over the past few seasons that left Chelsea fans feeling more hopeful.

Fact is, Man U was very beatable on Sunday.  Chelsea controlled much of the game.  If a few of the key moments in the first half alone had gone Chelsea’s way (offside on the first Man U goal, Ramires actually finishing the goal like he should have), the game would’ve been very different and may well have resulted in a Chelsea upset.  And yet…

I’m still scratching my head over Torres’ atrocious miss near game’s end.  Had that one gone in, the final ten minutes would’ve been even more chaotic than they were and who knows what would’ve happened?  The instantly infamous Torres blunder was almost forgivable by fans thanks to the old-school Torres goal he scored at the beginning of the second half.  Fans were so relieved to see him have somewhat of a breakthrough that they may be able to forgive one of the worst misses in EPL history.  I haven’t decided whether or not to forgive him, after all it was one of the worst misses in EPL history.  I actually felt bad for Torres.  Just as he seemed to be emerging from whatever psychologically soccer-inhibiting cave he’s been in since moving to London, he goes and misses the broadside of the barn.  It was one of those shots that are actually more difficult to miss than score.  I can’t talk about it anymore – I’m getting mad again.

Anyway, I think AVB’s strategy of keeping Torres in the lineup to force the heebie-jeebies out of Torres’ system has been a smart one overall.  It seems like it may be on the verge of paying off.  But it must start paying off soon.  The deeper into the season it gets, the more Torres’ form problems will become a liability.  I’d say he’s got three more games to get his act together before it’s time to start warming the bench and asking some hard questions about his future with the club.  I really want to like Torres.  Sunday helped me like him – and then it didn’t.  It’s frustrating.

Chelsea is better than any team in the EPL – and perhaps any other team in the world other than Barcelona – at the methodical build-up possession game.  Problem is, their build-up was entirely too predictable for much of the United game.  Man U could concede the middle of the field because they knew a predictable cross (or more often casual lob) into the box was forthcoming.  Chelsea should’ve kept United on their toes by mixing it up with some outside-the-box blasts.  During the ‘09/10 season, Chelsea had the right mix of build-up, outside shooting, and lethal finishing.  That mix all but evaporated during the second half of last season and is still finding its legs in the first four games of this campaign.

As much as I hate to admit it, United is hard to beat because they have an amazing transition game.  They have the uncanny ability to advance the ball over wide swaths of pitch with lightning fast speed and precision.  They’re great at switching and have great awareness.  Chelsea need to move the ball faster and finish with greater accuracy if they hope to catch United this year.

So those are some of my random thoughts from Sunday’s big clash.  What did you think of the game?  How should AVB deal with Torres?  Feel free to share your thoughts below…

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Stadium of Might (Chelsea’s!)

Blues dominate at Sunderland

The big news before today’s match was that Torres would start… on the bench.  Word is that AVB ain’t all that thrilled that Nando left his magic scoring boots in Liverpool.

On the good news front for Chelsea:  Cech was back in goal today.  It was also great to see David Luiz again, even if it was just on the bench.

Overall, a rather un-dramatic match today.  It was pretty much a walk in the park for the Blues.  But after the last couple nail-biters, this Chelsea fan welcomed the break.  Here are a few of my game notes:

-Early on, some classic Cole runs up the left wing from the back.  Ashley Cole is an unsung workhorse for Chelsea.  He’s so reliable in his position that it’s easy to take him for granted.

-11th min:  Mata made a great run into the box, but Anelka couldn’t do anything with Mata’s cutback pass.  In fact, Anelka was virtually absent for the first 10 minutes.

-18th min:  Fantastic finish by Terry for a Chelsea goal!  And nice cross from Sturridge to kick off the frantic sequence in the box, which led to the goal.

-First quarter of the game was nothing for Chelsea to write home about.  Not bad, but nothing flashy.  Expected a little more precise possession.  Apparently they’re still working out the kinks with new players in the lineup.

-Mata was a very bright spot for Chelsea in the first half hour.  Always moving, trying to make things happen.  Some smart and spot-on passes from him.

-Sturridge was energetic, trying hard to get involved, though he missed a great low-level cross from Bosingwa in the 37th minute.

-By the end of the first half the game was very casual with Sunderland content to let Chelsea bring the ball forward.

-51st min:  Great 40-yard pass from Anelka to Sturridge who then cleverly back heeled the ball into the goal!

-63rd min:  Awesome on-goal half volley from Malouda (in his very first touch of the game), but it was saved by Sunderland’s keeper.

-75th min:  Torres replaced Mata.  Probably a well-timed choice by AVB to get Torres into a low-pressure situation.  Unfortunately, Torres barely touched the ball.

-79th min:  Oriol Romeu made his Chelsea debut, replacing Anelka for the game’s home stretch.  He didn’t see the ball enough to make much of an impression.

-91st min:  Chelsea allowed a very disappointing Sunderland goal to make it 2 – 1.

-94th min:  Scariest minute of the game as Sunderland suddenly sprang to life, launching several balls into the Chelsea box.  Chelsea had a sudden 3-on-1 offensive situation after Cech launched the ball downfield out of danger.  Torres received it and had a wide-open Ramires to his right, but made an absolutely dreadful waste of a pass that went out of bounds.  Fortunately for him, the game was over seconds later!

So, a solid win for Chelsea, even though it wasn’t the kind of commanding victory that the Manchesters have produced.  After Man U thrashed Bolton today, I’m leery of the Blues’ trip to Old Trafford next weekend.  Before psyching themselves up for that one, Chelsea turn their attention to Bayer Leverkusen in Champions League play on Tuesday.  Things are about to get interesting!

What did you think about Chelsea’s performance against Sunderland?  How will Chelsea fare against Bayer and Manchester United next week?

Costa Rican Reality Check

US loses in frustrating fashion

Here’s how to beat the U.S. men’s national team:  camp out on defense and counter-attack when possible.  Other than that, don’t bother playing much offense.  Give the U.S. all the possession they want.  It’s okay, they won’t hurt you.  What about U.S. shots from any kind of distance?  No worries – they almost never shoot from outside the box.

Okay, I probably shouldn’t be that cynical.  I understand that this was a “building” match, a chance for Klinsmann to experiment with the lineup.  It’s basically a practice game.  A scrimmage.  These are the things we tell ourselves at least.  I know the U.S. wasn’t at full strength, etc.  But still.  We lost to Costa Rica!  I know Costa Rica is usually one of the toughest teams to beat in the region.  But still!  We shouldn’t lose to these size countries.  Ever.

Maybe I’m naïve.  Maybe we don’t have as much talent in the U.S. as I think we do.  Maybe we are still a decade behind the world’s elite in our soccer infrastructure and national team development.  But I don’t think that’s the case.  We need to be very tough on ourselves.  We need to raise the expectation level in this country!  We shouldn’t be okay with losses to Costa Rica even if it is just a friendly and even if we are using an experimental squad.

The U.S. should have won Friday night.  There were signs of life, particularly in the first half, but signs of life don’t cut it anymore.  Qualifying for the 1990 World Cup marked a turning point in American soccer history, but we’re twenty years beyond that, so it’s time to jettison all excuses, tighten up our big boy boots and assert ourselves a little bit.  Beating Belgium on Tuesday would be a good place to start.

Am I being too harsh/unrealistic in my assessment of U.S. Soccer?  Feel free to share your thoughts below…

Chelsea Clips Canaries

Blues’ 3 – 1 victory over Norwich City was no cakewalk

Well, it was another nail-biter on Saturday.  Typically, Chelsea seemed in control for most of the game, yet the outcome was in serious doubt until Ramires’ late second half roadrunner tear into open territory, chasing down a delectable Anelka pass, which led to Ramires’ takedown in the box, which led to Lampard’s reliable PK conversion, which led to this run-on sentence.  Lampard’s goal was topped off eight minutes later with an exciting pounce and confident goal by Chelsea newbie Juan Mata.

I was surprised to see Mata and Romelu Lukaku debut so quickly after joining the team.  Based on AVB comments earlier last week I thought he was going to give them a few weeks to settle in.  Apparently they’re already settled.  There seemed to be a real buzz among Chelsea fans as they entered the game (Mata first, then Lukaku sixteen minutes later).  And the new pair, no doubt eager to please, made immediate impact.  They were energetic, aggressive, and total troublemakers for the tiring Norwich defense.  Mata & Lukaku were instant hits, providing the right boost at just the right time.

I wonder if Lukaku would’ve seen game time if Drogba hadn’t been literally knocked out of the game by the Norwich keeper.  The blow to Drogba’s head and his subsequent crash to the pitch were sickening in slo-mo.  Here’s hoping he recovers very soon.  The fact that Drogba had to leave the game and Lukaku entered at forward fifteen minutes later was made all the more surreal by the fact that Lukaku indeed reminds one of Drogba in stature and playing style.  It’s hard to believe Lukaku is only eighteen.  He is a bear of a player who looked very strong on the ball.

Likewise, I couldn’t help comparing Mata to Torres, if for no other reason than they are both Spanish World Cup winners.  I also couldn’t help feeling a bit for Torres who, though he seems to be improving over last year, still hasn’t scored this season.  Then Mata races in and scores in his first twenty minutes in a Chelsea jersey.  That was the script written for Torres.  Perhaps having Mata in the team will relieve some of the performance pressure on Torres and help the goals start to flow.

Mata and Lukaku provided a very exciting glimpse of Chelsea’s future.  Combined with all the regular fan faves, Chelsea is faced with an embarrassment of player riches.  I don’t envy AVB’s having to decide whom to play among so many high-caliber stars.  With Jose Bosingwa on a hot streak for example, it’s almost easy to forget David Luiz who was my favorite new Blue last season.  And of course there’s Essien as well, who will hopefully be ready to go by Christmas.  There’s nothing but potential at the Bridge these days.  Let’s just hope no one picks up any major knocks over the international break this week!

What did you think of Mata and Lukaku?  Should they be immediate Chelsea starters?