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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…

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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?

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?

Blues Buzz

This week’s transfer rumors and signing realities

I’ve followed the daily transfer rumors more closely this summer than I have in past years and it has been quite amusing.  The latest example being Sir Alex Ferguson’s denial that Manchester United are deal-making to acquire Wesley Sneijder from Inter Milan.  It was a pretty firm denial in the face of supposedly serious reports all week that a deal is imminent.  The moral of the story is you don’t really know what’s going on with a player during transfer season until they show up in a new uniform.

I’ve kept tabs on the transfer rumors just to keep up with which Chelsea players are coming and going.  Of course, all the attention has been on Chelsea’s attempt to get Modric from Tottenham.  That deal is apparently deader than it’s been all summer after Tottenham nixed two Chelsea offers and denied Modric’s transfer request.  This mini-circus will likely continue until the season starts and I wouldn’t be surprised if Modric ends up in a Chelsea uniform during the January transfer window.

I think Chelsea should abandon the Modric pursuit in favor of another of this week’s rumors:  trying to get Scott Parker on loan from West Ham.  The times I’ve seen Parker play the past couple seasons, he has displayed the kind of relentless hustle and passion that was missing from much of the Chelsea squad last year.  Because of his age, he may not be a long-term addition, but if one of the primary personnel needs at the moment is a replacement for Essien at midfield, Parker could be just the shot in the arm the team needs.  Currently Aston Villa seems to be the frontrunner to acquire Parker’s services.

The other prominent transfer rumor of the week was Chelsea’s pursuit of Bolton defender Gary Cahill.  Interesting, though Chelsea’s defense seems to be in pretty good shape right now.  If this deal happened, I can’t see Cahill starting over any of the current group very often.

Other quieter rumors this week include Nicolas Anelka possibly returning to Paris St. Germain and Alex maybe heading to Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.  I like both players a lot, but of the two, transferring Anelka might be the shrewder move because of his age (32) and the fact that things are a little crowded at the Chelsea forward position.  It’s time for Daniel Sturridge to see more minutes at forward and transferring Anelka would help facilitate that.

I would hate to see Alex go.  When all the Chelsea defenders are healthy, they have a deep, quality bench, which is vital to the long EPL season.  If Alex left, adding someone like a Gary Cahill would be essential to maintaining that bench depth.  Anelka played in the second half of Chelsea’s first preseason game against Wycombe Wanderers Tuesday, but Alex did not.

 

Finally, two young Blues received welcome contract extensions today.  Twenty-two-year-old left-back Ryan Bertrand signed a four-year deal.  Eighteen-year-old midfielder Josh McEachran signed a five-year-deal.  Both signings seem very promising, though I only saw Bertrand for a few minutes in one game last season, so I don’t know much about him yet.  The McEachran signing is great for Chelsea.  Ancelotti worked him into several games last season and despite his beanpole build, McEachran was extremely impressive with his poise, patience, placement, and passing prowess (I got on a roll with the p’s and had to keep it going).  If McEachran can avoid burnout and develop some upper body bulk, he could very well be Chelsea’s Lampard of the future.

Which of these Chelsea transfer rumors is most exciting?  Most disappointing?