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Goal-less Blues

Chelsea’s title hopes vanish with 0 – 0 draw against Norwich City

Chelsea is not a championship team this season.  There, I’ve said it.  Now I actually feel a bit better.  If admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, then I’m freely admitting it now on behalf of the Blues:  they cannot win the Premier League this season.  They can’t win any trophy this season playing the way they are.  They simply don’t have the confident, hungry look of the ‘09/10 EPL Champion Blues.  Not even close.  I held out hope through the fall and Christmas season that the team’s veterans would shake off whatever was ailing them, turn the corner on this season, and really grapple with the Manchesters for the title.  But this weekend’s 0 – 0 draw at Norwich City (coupled with the Manchesters winning their Sunday matches) made it official – at fourteen points behind league-leading Manchester City, the title is out of reach.

I just don’t have confidence in Chelsea right now (and haven’t for most of the season).  I want to, but they’ve done nothing to instill any confidence.  Saturday’s game at Norwich was one of those maddening contests in which Chelsea didn’t play poorly at all – they dominated possession and generally dictated the pace – yet they couldn’t cope with that pesky little aspect of the game called scoring goals.

For all the players Chelsea get forward, it’s remarkable how unoriginal the attack was Saturday.  It usually consisted of crossing the ball in front of the goal where it could be headed away or cleared by one of the tall, tenacious Norwich City defenders.  On several occasions Chelsea didn’t even have anyone attacking the crossed ball.  Where’s the urgency?

I’ve ignored the Chelsea naysayers this season, stubbornly insisting that the Blues would turn the ship around in time.  Now I’m concerned the naysayers may be right.  I think it’s now officially a rebuilding year for the Blues.  So I should probably start treating it as such – try to just enjoy the games one at a time and forget about the EPL title for this season.  At least we’ve still got Champions League play (though I can’t realistically see Chelsea beating Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, or Barcelona at this point).  Maybe with the title pressure off I’ll be able to enjoy the games more and stop expecting wins every time out because it’s simply not going to happen this season.

What do you think – are Chelsea’s title hopes out of reach for this season?

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Seeing Red

Chelsea’s Premier League title hopes look bleak after loss to Liverpool

I had a bad feeling about yesterday’s game.  Chelsea has looked shaky lately.  The shakiness started with that ridiculous loss at QPR a month ago, then was exacerbated by the Arsenal-supplied thrashing, and followed by the weak Champions League draw at Genk.  All this in a season where Manchester City’s usually reliable meltdowns have yet to materialize, Man U beats everyone at will (except invincible Man City), and even Arsenal is suddenly unbeatable.  String those factors together with the momentum-killing international break and you have the recipe for a disastrous loss against a very tough Liverpool.  That was my fear going into yesterday’s game anyway.  My fear was unfortunately confirmed.

The 2 – 1 loss to Liverpool was one of those absolutely maddening games for fans.  One where you question why you care for any team or sport at all.  Throughout my life, my favorite teams in all sports have been the almost teams – good but never quite good enough.  There are probably some psychological insights to be mined as to why I always seem to favor almost-champions.  Whatever the reason, I’ve never been drawn to the Manchester Uniteds of sports.  I don’t know what it’s like to be able to kick back and enjoy domination.  That’s why Chelsea’s ‘09/10 title win was so fun – it was an anomaly for me as a fan – with goals and wins flowing easily.  But starting about this time last year, virtually every Chelsea game has seemed precarious.  Last season’s slump seemed like a passing storm, but this season’s slump is worse because it seems to be rooted in deeper team problems that I can’t fully identify.  At least with last season’s slump, first place was still in sight.  This season I’m already sweating the unthinkable… loss of a Champions League slot.

Against Liverpool the Blues once again dominated possession, and once again had nothing to show for it.  Possession is virtually worthless if it doesn’t produce legitimate scoring opportunities.  The most frustrating aspect of the match was another hallmark of my favorite teams over the years:  major mistakes (in this case defensive) that never seem to afflict opposing teams.  Defensive errors are killing Chelsea this season!  Liverpool had no such hiccups and therefore earned the win.  Fox Soccer analyst Warren Barton had an interesting post-game Chelsea analysis.  I hope he’s wrong about them, but I fear he’s right.

With things going so poorly for Chelsea domestically, it should be a relief that they’re still atop their Champions League group.  But even that is little consolation this season, because while they’ll most likely advance to the knockout stages, it is very difficult to see them getting past the likes of the Manchesters or Bayern Munich, not to mention Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Indeed, things aren’t looking up for Chelsea at the moment, but at least they – and we, the fans – don’t have to wait very long to begin righting the ship.  Wednesday it’s back to Champions League play at Bayer Leverkusen, then Saturday it’s home against Wolves.  Let’s hope these harsh recent losses inspire new resolve in the Blues!

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

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…