Monthly Archives: April 2012

Stroll in the (Queens) Park

Chelsea dismantles QPR 6-1

It was so fun to watch a non-stressful Chelsea game today.  It’s been some time since Blues fans have been able to kick back and enjoy a Chelsea goal fest.  It was a welcome respite after the ultra tense Champions League semifinal matches against Barcelona the past two weeks.

I was expecting a tense match against QPR since they’re fighting to stave off relegation and with Chelsea coming off the emotional high of knocking out Barcelona last Tuesday.  But credit to Di Matteo for focusing the squad on the task at hand – a loss today would’ve probably ended Chelsea’s bid for fourth place in the Premier League (and thus a Champions League berth for next season).

Daniel Sturridge began the scoring onslaught just 45 seconds into the match.  John Terry added a header goal off a corner kick a few minutes later, then Fernando Torres added two more – all before the 25th minute!  Torres scored another goal in the second half to complete his first hat trick as a Chelsea player (Malouda scored the team’s sixth goal).

Torres’ finishing was so much sharper against QPR, I wonder if his climactic goal at Barcelona last week finally got him over the mental hurdle that has hampered him since joining Chelsea.  He certainly looked a lot more relaxed and confident today.  If he can finish the season looking this strong, I’ll have to recant my post from a few weeks back listing him among those players Chelsea should consider transferring this summer!

Chelsea’s possession and attack hasn’t looked this good in a very long time.  The team’s amazing transformation under Di Matteo is apparently for real.  With Chelsea’s emphatic win over QPR and Newcastle’s surprising loss to Wigan, the Blues are now only one point out of fourth place (behind Tottenham and Newcastle who are tied with 62 points).  Newcastle visits Chelsea on Wednesday in what will be another must-win clash for the Blues in their bid to keep Champions League hopes alive for next season.  No rest for the weary!

What do you think – has Torres fully recovered his old form?

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Longest 45 Minutes Ever

Chelsea – with 10 men – beat Barcelona to advance to Champions League Final

I’m too giddy to write anything very coherent so I’m just going to spill some random thoughts on Chelsea’s remarkable, against-all-odds defeat of the defending Champions League champs.  I really didn’t think the Blues would have a more dramatic victory this season than the one over Napoli at Stamford Bridge to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.  Fortunately, I was wrong, as today’s team effort has to be one of the most dramatic wins in the club’s history.

The first half was pretty disastrous for Chelsea.  Once Barcelona went up 2-0, the match had vibes of a rout.  A few minutes before Barcelona’s second goal there was the bizarre red card for John Terry.  Bizarre not so much because he didn’t deserve it – he probably did, though a yellow card would’ve sufficed given the heft of the game – but because it was such a remarkably dumb thing to do.  Particularly dumb coming from the team captain!  I just don’t get how he could weather the first game with such diligence and poise only to throw everything away by kneeing Sanchez in the back.  It’s still unbelievable.  Now Terry will have to watch the Final from the stands.

After the disappointment of the Terry ejection, the Ramires goal was a surreal lifeline for Chelsea.  Once again, Lampard hit Ramires with a terrific pass, then Ramires calmly chipped the keeper for the crucial away goal.  Beautiful goal, and the timing couldn’t have been better for keeping Chelsea’s hopes alive for the second half.

Gary Cahill had to leave the game early on when he tweaked his hammy.  Frankly, I thought Chelsea was defensively doomed when Bosingwa jogged on as Cahill’s replacement.  Ironically, two of the Chelsea players I recently wrote should be transferred this summer were on the pitch by the end of the match:  Kalou and Torres.  At first (after coming on late in the second half), Kalou and Torres were up to their regular shenanigans – passing the ball to the other team and not taking advantage of the precious few scoring opportunities (Kalou squandered one chance that baffled the commentators).

But then, in the 90th minute, redemption for Fernando Torres.  He got on the end of a long clearance from Ivanovic, very coolly sidestepped Barcelona’s keeper Valdes, and slid in the goal that sealed Chelsea’s trip to the Final in Munich.  Earlier in the game it had crossed my mind how sweet it would be if Torres could get a heroic goal after the critically panned season he (and fans) have endured.  Amazingly, it actually happened.

If possible, this match was even more nerve fraying than the first leg at Stamford Bridge.  Almost the entire second half took place in front of Chelsea’s goal.  I just don’t get how this could be the same Chelsea team that floundered against so many lesser Premier League opponents this year.  How has Di Matteo been able to create such a cohesive unit?  The Blues’ defensive discipline was remarkable and Petr Cech had one of the best games of his career.

The downside of today’s win is that it felt like the Champions League Final.  It was such an epic effort by Chelsea that I fear the actual Final next month may seem a bit anticlimactic.  Another downer is the number of key Chelsea players who will miss the Final due to yellow card accumulation:  Ivanovic, Ramires, Meireles, and of course Terry.  UEFA needs to respect fans and allow the best players to play in the Final by clearing the card slate after the semifinals.

What a night for Chelsea fans!  This unexpected Champions League run goes a long way toward redeeming this season’s travails.  I don’t know which opponent I’d prefer for Chelsea in the Final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.  For now, I don’t really care.  I’m just going to enjoy the fact that Chelsea somehow has a ticket to Munich!

Thoughts on Chelsea’s Champions League shocker?  Feel free to share below…

Goose Egg Blues

Chelsea manages 0-0 draw with Arsenal

Yesterday’s draw with Arsenal was better than losing of course, but it sure didn’t do Chelsea much good in their fight for a Champions League spot next season.  It’s a strange position for Chelsea to be in, the fact that they’re one game away from the Champions League Final and yet still so far from finishing in the top four in the Premier League.  Chelsea is four points behind fourth place Newcastle.  That means Newcastle’s trip to Stamford Bridge on May 2 is shaping up to be a major showdown.

Much was made yesterday of Di Matteo’s major lineup reconfiguring against Arsenal.  I thought it was a good move, resting some guys before the Barcelona game Tuesday, and helping others shake off some rust.  It was particularly good to see Essien and Romeu back in midfield.  I actually prefer them to Mikel and Meireles in central midfield roles.  I’d like to see Essien start at Barcelona, but Di Matteo will probably go back to Meireles.

Chelsea looked much better than Arsenal for most of the match, but the Blues had a major problem with final third passing and finishing.  Torres and Kalou were particularly guilty of this, with Malouda and Sturridge sharing some of the blame (though Malouda and Sturridge have played less lately and might have more of an excuse for lack of game sharpness).  Chelsea needs Drogba to be over his knee injury in time for the big Barcelona game, though I still think Torres could be useful in an unconventional (for him) right-wing midfield role.

It’s going to be a suspenseful next three weeks for Chelsea with the Champions League Semifinal at Barcelona, FA Cup Final against Liverpool, and four vital Premier League games remaining!  Come on Chelsea!

Will Chelsea finish the Premier League season in the top four?

Yes They Can!

Chelsea grinds out 1-0 win over Barcelona

Well, it wasn’t pretty.  Possession-wise it was one of the most lopsided matches I’ve seen in a long time (in favor of Barcelona in case you didn’t watch).  But Chelsea held on for dear life, defended with steely resolve, and it somehow worked!  They capitalized on a sliver of an opening at the end of the first half when Lampard stole the ball from Messi, launched it down the left-hand flank to the on-rushing Ramires, who then slid it across the box to who else?  Old-man Drogba, who knocked it in.  I giggled with delight, caught my breath at halftime, then went back to nervously rocking in the fetal position as Barcelona played keep-away for another 45 minutes, occasionally rattling the post or forcing Petr Cech to make Gumby-like stretch saves.

Six months later when the final whistle blew, I pried my fingers out of the couch armrest, allowed myself to smile and breathe normally for a few minutes, then began wondering if my heart will be able to weather the return leg next Tuesday at Barcelona!  It was a heroic effort today, far from Chelsea’s best, but they got the job done.  One down, one to go!

Will Chelsea be able to finish off Barcelona at Camp Nou?

Can Chelsea Beat Barcelona?

Blues have their work cut out for them in Champions League semifinal

Chelsea are underdogs in their pending clash with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.  Barcelona is widely regarded as the current best club team in the world.  Chelsea is widely regarded as currently over-the-hill and inconsistent.  But Chelsea does have a psychological advantage heading into this first semifinal leg after their huge 5–1 defeat of Tottenham in Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal.  It was an exciting win with an old-school-Chelsea vibe about it.  Drogba and Lampard scored jaw-dropping goals that elicited gleeful cackles from this fan.   Chelsea didn’t look too over-the-hill on Sunday.  It was a much-needed confidence booster, perfectly timed to prime the Blues before their biggest match of the season.

Chelsea will have to play with absolute defensive resolve and unity to withstand the slippery Barcelona attack.  Obviously they’ll need to be wary of that Messi guy – no shots allowed for him!  The Blues must seriously reduce their giveaways in the middle of the field.  They must also counterattack with greater speed and efficiency than they’ve shown for much of the season.  Scoring opportunities will materialize for Chelsea at home, but they must convert with precision.  They need at least two goals in this first leg and allow absolutely none from Barcelona.

Barcelona has several short guys so Chelsea needs to physically dominate the game.  They’ll have to be careful not to get too crazy with the physicality; after all, the refs are likely to protect the Barcelona hobbits – I mean superstars.  The Blues will want to be careful not to get on the ref’s bad side early on.  Yellow cards could cause serious problems in the second leg, so the team must be tactful with their challenges.

Since David Luiz might not be available Wednesday due to injury, Cole, Terry, Cahill, and Ivanovic should probably start in the back.  Di Matteo has several options at midfield, but regardless of the lineup, Lampard must be in the mix.  Forwards need to be Mata, Drogba, and Sturridge.  Drogba can wreak enough havoc in the box that it could open up some space on the right for Sturridge to attack.

A good monkey wrench to throw at Barcelona would be to start Torres at right midfield.  His best contributions this year have been passes and crosses into the box anyway, so why not make him designated server?  Something a little unconventional might throw Barcelona off just enough for Chelsea to get a couple goals in hand for the return leg.

What do you think Chelsea must do to beat Barcelona?

Dismal Blues Part 2

Why Chelsea’s oldest players aren’t the club’s main problem

The popular jab at Chelsea all season has been the collective age of their players – that they’re too old to hack it anymore and that wholesale changes are needed.  Critics may be right about the wholesale changes part, but Chelsea’s aged players aren’t the primary problem.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Wigan and Fulham matches were a real beat-down for this fan even though Chelsea beat Wigan and tied Fulham.  I guess having two matches so close together just magnified the aspects of Chelsea’s play – and the players – that have annoyed most of the season.  I didn’t have a week between games to forget the team’s problems and become an optimist again.

I hate to pick on Fernando Torres first (because he has been drubbed by critics throughout his year and a half at Chelsea) but my fan patience has expired with him.  I like the guy, have rooted for him to succeed, and wish he would be a Chelsea superstar.  But if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s probably not going to happen.  His is a particularly frustrating case because you can see potential there, but it’s never realized beyond occasionally sharp passes and crosses.  He works hard, but the effort rarely pays off with shots on goal (or goals period).  Torres takes overly long strides with the ball, predictably barreling straight at defenders, in a halting style that yields constant turnovers.  Didier Drogba on the other hand, while not having his best season, is much more threatening with the ball (he’s also Chelsea’s second highest scorer this season).  He still causes problems for defenders – Torres does not.  Drogba has been woefully underused this season, presumably in an effort to get Torres out of his slump and fully integrated with the team.  It’s not working.  Drogba needs to start every remaining game.  I don’t know what he’s being saved for at this point, as every game is critical.  Torres seems like a decent guy, but for the club’s sake he should be sold.

While I’m thinking about forwards, it’s also time for Salomon Kalou to go.  Kalou has never quite clicked over to the consistency Chelsea needs.  I appreciate that he has earned some extra late season game time by virtue of his Champions League goal at Benfica, but he’s done nothing since to merit this much pitch time.  Kalou makes too many ill-timed passes and often holds onto the ball too long.

Daniel Sturridge should start every game at forward with Drogba.  Sturridge has been the victim of too much lineup tinkering the past few months, which stifled the hunger and goal-scoring savvy he demonstrated early in the season.

At midfield, critics have been cranky toward Frank Lampard because of his age (33) but Lampard is the team’s top scorer this season!  That despite playing less than he ever has at Chelsea.  Lampard has occasional giveaways and unwise fouls, but he isn’t the weakest link in the Blues’ midfield.  Raul Meireles is.  I’ve never been thrilled by Chelsea’s acquisition of Meireles.  His passing is average, he fouls too much, and his shooting is atrocious (no, I’m not forgetting his end-of-match blast against Benfica).  He’s just not reliable enough.  I’d much rather see Michael Essien (who’s still only 29) back as the consistent midfield commander.

Ramires has also annoyed lately.  He’s in danger of falling into the Kalou category of not quite good enough.  I love his tireless hustle, but it doesn’t make up for his awful amount of turnovers!  I’m not ready to throw in the towel on him yet, but he needs some goals or assists to boost his stock.

It’s time for Chelsea to revamp, but getting rid of Terry, Lampard, and Drogba isn’t the answer.  Those three are no longer in their prime, but Chelsea is still better when they’re on the pitch (or at least no worse).  Why would a team get rid of those assets (their top two scorers this season in Lampard and Drogba) as long as they’re still healthy?

When this season began, it seemed Chelsea was in the process of integrating young players with the “old”.  What happened to Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu?  We saw Romeu quite a bit before Christmas, but I don’t understand why the heavily touted Lukaku hasn’t been granted more run-outs.

This off-season, Chelsea needs to take the long-haul approach to rebuilding, which means no more mid-career, Torres-type acquisitions.  Instead, they need to milk the remaining seasons from their veterans while weaving in dynamic youngsters.  Youth is the ticket!  That strategy may not yield immediate trophies, but the delayed gratification would be worth it.

What players do you think Chelsea should relinquish this summer?

Dismal Blues

Chelsea’s win over Wigan and draw with Fulham were discouraging

It feels odd to be disappointed after a win against Wigan (last Saturday) and draw with Fulham (last Monday), yet Chelsea’s play was utterly lifeless in both matches.  The Blues’ effort was particularly dispiriting for fans leading up to the two biggest games of the season:  this Sunday’s FA Cup Semifinal against Tottenham and Wednesday’s Champions League first leg Semifinal against Barcelona.  If the Blues don’t discover an entire new gear they are in for a very rough end to an already turbulent season.

Chelsea didn’t deserve the win over Wigan.  A missed offside call facilitated Ivanovic’s goal and Juan Mata added the winner in extra time, but Chelsea’s attack was extremely bland for most of the match.  Where’s the spark?  Where’s the energy?  Chelsea is a shell of the attacking team they were the two previous seasons.  Ironically, Carlo Ancelotti was fired and Andre Villas-Boas brought in at the start of this season to craft a more “attractive” attacking style and yet the attack is far less fluid and effective than it’s been in years.

The draw with Fulham was unacceptable as it blew an opportunity to catch up with Tottenham and Newcastle in the league standings.  Once again, Chelsea’s attack limped along, with the only goal coming from an iffy PK call that happened to fall Chelsea’s way (Frank Lampard reliably converted the kick).  The Blues’ defense held onto the lead for most of the game until Clint Dempsey’s late header made it 1 – 1.  Very frustrating.

I think I’ve been delusional about Chelsea all season because I thought they were much better than this.  Most fans would probably agree it feels like we’ve been waiting all season for the team to get up to speed and they never quite have.  They’ve come close several times, and are still capable of occasionally heroic efforts (like the second Napoli Champions League game!), but overall performances are painfully lackluster.  Chelsea is simply very average right now.  The air of near-invincibility fans have enjoyed about the club for years has turned into considerable vulnerability.  Every Chelsea match seems a toss-up now.The bad Wigan and Fulham matches coaxed me to purge all my negative feelings about Chelsea’s current state.  Hopefully doing so will temper my expectations for the big Tottenham and Barcelona matches.  This purging stuff is therapeutic, but it takes some time.  So tomorrow I’ll continue by addressing a few specific player issues in part two of Dismal Blues.

What do you think?  See any positives for Chelsea during the Wigan/Fulham games?

Winning Ugly

Chelsea squeaks past Benfica 2-1 to reach Champions League semis

Well, you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you win with your opponent’s flames licking at your heels.  Benfica was certainly the hotter team Wednesday night, predictably enough, since they had the deficit to overcome.  Despite Di Matteo’s wise warnings against complacency leading up to the match, Chelsea looked rather casual and frequently sloppy for much of the game.  Benfica looked hungry and quite eager to stamp their ticket to Barcelona for the semifinal round.

It wasn’t Chelsea’s best effort by a long shot (Ramires’ soul-draining tap-in miss characterized Chelsea’s evening).  The Blues showed little of the cohesiveness and discipline they had in the away leg win.  The Stamford Bridge crowd seemed puzzled by the team’s performance and roared with relief when Raul Meireles slammed home an amazing (and frankly rare by his standards) shot in extra time to seal the victory.  But a win is a win and it sure is fun to have the Blues back in the Champions League final four (for the first time since 2009 when they also played Barcelona).  It’s a major bonus to fans who have watched Chelsea’s Premier League season sputter and stall for months.

So Chelsea will host Barcelona in the first semifinal leg on Wednesday, April 18.  I can hardly wait!  I really wish the first leg was in Barcelona because it seems the team with home field advantage in the second game often has the upper hand.  Still, it’s the Champions League semifinals and after the season Chelsea’s had, fans feel like this is living on borrowed time.  I plan to enjoy the ride, even if it is a steep uphill drive against Barcelona.

Here’s hoping Chelsea can get their act together and seize the opportunity.  It’s so difficult and rare to reach the Champions League final four.  For several Chelsea vets, this may be their last opportunity to win the tournament.  And while you certainly can’t overlook the next couple Premier League matches – Wigan tomorrow and Fulham Monday – as both opponents are playing well at the moment (and they’re the kind of matches that have really tripped up the Blues this season), the primary focus must be defeating Barcelona.  It’s the last chance to convert the forgettable 2011-2012 season to an unforgettable one.

How do you think Chelsea will fare against Barcelona in the first semifinal leg?