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Yellow and Black Attack

Chelsea unveils 3rd kit

Chelsea trained in Miami for the first time yesterday evening in preparation for their final U.S. preseason game against A.C. Milan Saturday night.  The Blues will undoubtedly be antsy for a win after tying Paris St. Germain in New York and losing to the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia.  Should be a fun one against A.C. Milan.

Yesterday Chelsea unveiled the all-important (not really) “third” kit – an interesting yellow and black number inspired either by Tron or 80s big-hair metal band Stryper.  I’m not sure which…

I’m not a big fan of this 3rd kit, though there are far worse jerseys to be featured in the Premier League this season (for proof check out this and especially this).  Chelsea has also had worse 3rd kits in the past, although I liked last season’s 3rd (which has sentimental value as the kit worn in that historic win at Barcelona to reach the Champions League final).  Generally, I prefer jerseys that aren’t too busy, and this new kit has a little too much going on for my taste (particularly those ab-highlighting lines).  But the 3rd is usually just a cameo jersey, so we probably won’t see it very often.

As a side note, Chelsea wore their new away kit for the first time against the MLS All-Stars the other night and I thought it worked well.  The previously bashed sash on the jersey didn’t bother me that much.

Some Blues-related news I’ve seen today includes Benayoun possibly being loaned to Fulham, and Marseille possibly selling defender Cesar Azpilicueta to Chelsea.  I like Benayoun, but at 32-years-old, I don’t expect Chelsea will keep him this season.  Fulham would probably be a good gig for Benayoun.  As for Azpilicueta, I don’t remember much about him from watching Marseille in the Champions League last season, but I welcome the signing of another defender.

What do you think of Chelsea’s new 3rd kit?

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Champions League Final Thoughts

Chelsea finishes season as European Champions

I’m still shaking my head about Chelsea winning the Champions League.  It’s not that I didn’t believe they could do it, after all, once they made it past Barcelona anything was possible.  But Chelsea was so wildly inconsistent this season, it was impossible to predict how the team would fare on the hostile home turf of Bayern Munich.

The final was only slightly less of a nail-biter than the Barcelona semifinals.  I was nervous at the opening whistle when Chelsea’s lineup and configuration immediately indicated they were going to sit back and play defense.  I was hoping they’d take the fight to Bayern a little more, but that Roberto Di Matteo knows his way around the tactical board.  His plan worked!

Defensively, I was uncertain how Cahill and Luiz would hold up after missing so many weeks with hamstring injuries but they did very well.  Particularly pleasing was Luiz’s self-control – he didn’t make the kind of unwise challenges he’s been prone to before in big games.  And what about Ashley Cole?  Talk about an unsung hero for Chelsea this season!  That guy apparently wanted him some of that big-eared trophy badly because he patrolled the Chelsea box like a Doberman.

The pundits were unfair to Chelsea before, during, and after the final.  They seemed disappointed that the supposedly inferior team was hanging in so well against Bayern.  It couldn’t be that Chelsea was putting up a scrappy, unified team effort according to the pundits, Chelsea was just incredibly lucky.  Sure, Bayern had almost all the scoring chances, but they didn’t take advantage of them.  Pundits have been driven crazy by this Chelsea team that was so poor in the Premier League and yet won the biggest club prize in the world.  The attitude seems to be that Chelsea didn’t deserve to win because of their domestic play, so they stole the title by way of dumb luck.  Here’s the deal pundits:  Chelsea’s victory demonstrates what makes knock-out competitions so fun for fans – that you can have a struggling team that may not be as strong on paper, but manages to pull themselves together when the games really matter and end up winning it all.  It may irk the experts to hear it, but Chelsea is the best team in Europe because they won the tournament.

I was certain Chelsea was defeated when Bayern scored with less than ten minutes to play.  Drogba’s header goal just a few minutes later was so shocking in its suddenness and skillfulness that I laughed out loud.  Then I thought the nail in the coffin for Chelsea was the penalty kick awarded after Drogba felled Ribery in the box.  But no, Petr Cech snuffed out Robben’s shot.  Amazing.

I next thought Chelsea were goners in the shootout – first when they lost the toss and had to shoot second, then especially when Mata’s first shot was blocked by the Hulk, I mean Neuer.  Bayern was already up by two when Luiz stepped up as Chelsea’s second shooter.  He backed up for the longest running start in the history of shootouts (I can’t actually verify that as fact) which I was sure would put the ball somewhere in the Bavarian countryside.  Instead he practically blasted a hole in the back of the old onion bag.

Lampard, the most reliable PK taker on earth (I can’t verify that either) stepped up next and scored to make it Chelsea 2 – Bayern 3.  Hope was still alive.  Time for some Cech heroics next, as Petr batted away Olic’s shot.  Now things were interesting.  Ashley Cole tied things up in what looked like relaxed fashion.  Schweinsteiger’s stuttered approach to his shot seemed uncertain and the result proved it as the ball dinged off the post.  Now it was all up to Chelsea’s final kicker:  Drogba.  He set the ball down, adjusted his socks, and tucked the ball into the left corner of the goal, making Chelsea European Champions for the first time.

Chelsea tried the patience of even the most fervent Blues fans this season.  Chelsea’s roller coaster season demonstrates why people follow teams and watch sports, because every once in a while you get to be part (even if it’s a tiny part and from a distance) of something inspiring and great.

Plus, it sure is fun.

Any thoughts on Chelsea’s championship season?  Feel free to share below…

Chelsea’s Turn

It’s now or never for Blues veterans in their quest to be European Champions

When Chelsea overcame Barcelona to make it to the Champions League Final, I wrote that I was afraid the final itself might seem a bit anticlimactic after such an epic, heroic effort.  I hope I’m wrong!  Unfortunately, Chelsea squeezed in some pretty anticlimactic (and downright depressing) Premier League matches between the Champions League semifinal and tomorrow’s final.  To defeat Bayern Munich in their home stadium will require another heroic effort.  Chelsea can do it – Bayern isn’t as good as Barcelona.  But the gutsy, smartly aggressive, unified Chelsea team will have to show up in Munich, not the lackadaisical squad that lost to Newcastle and Liverpool over the past couple weeks.

On the eve of the world’s biggest club competition final, most pundits are pegging Chelsea as the underdogs.  The pundits are probably right.  If the Blues can keep from conceding a goal in the first half hour, I like their chances.  Offensively, Drogba and Lampard need to have a big game.  I hope Torres gets to start up front with Drogba – I think they could create some good space together.  Mata’s final-third passing must be sharp.

The area I’m most nervous about is defense.  With Cahill and Luiz just now returning from hamstring injuries, I’m afraid they may not be up to speed enough to adequately fill in for the suspended Terry and Ivanovic.  But then, who would’ve thought Jose Bosingwa (who replaced Cahill when he pulled his hamstring in the second leg against Barcelona) would be such a defensive rock against Barcelona?  If Luiz gets the starting nod, he must play with absolute discipline, as he is susceptible to clumsy fouls in dangerous areas.  I think Ashley Cole can hold off Arjen Robben on the right wing, but I’m not sure Chelsea has a defender that can consistently occupy Franck Ribery on the opposite wing.  I’d also feel better if Terry was able to mark Mario Gomez in the middle.

If Chelsea weathers the early Bayern onslaught, I think we’ll be in for a great back-and-forth battle.  Of course, I’d definitely trade back-and-forth for a comfortable two or three goal Chelsea lead for most of the match!

Chelsea making it to the Champions League Final feels like the club is living on borrowed time.  It’s almost like a bonus – of the best kind – that the team barely deserves after their awful Premier League season.  Yet they do deserve to be in the final because no other team clawed their way through the tournament like Chelsea did.  The Champions League and Premier League were odd dual seasons for the Blues this year – with their Champions League performances reminding us what they’re capable of.  Chelsea has the chance on Saturday to turn a most forgettable season into an unforgettable one.  For Chelsea veterans like Drogba and Lampard, you can be certain they’re going to leave it all on the field to ensure the team doesn’t waste this very rare opportunity.

Will Chelsea win their first ever European Cup on Saturday?

Good Times!

Chelsea beats Liverpool 2-1 in FA Cup Final

Liverpool looked like the Chelsea of a few months ago – which isn’t a compliment – in Saturday’s FA Cup Final.  Chelsea wasn’t fantastic, but they were more than good enough to claim their seventh FA Cup title in club history.

Ramires (who scored first for Chelsea in the 10th minute) has poured it on in recent weeks.  He seems to be hitting his stride right now – fantastic at open field runs with the ball, and much more efficient at finishing than he was earlier in the season.  Chelsea was wise to secure Ramires in a long-term deal this year, as he looks likely to be a key player for the club in the next several seasons.

Drogba added the Blues’ second goal in the 51st minute.  The guy is a clutch performer.  Chelsea will need him to show up in a major way in the Champions League final.  He just knows how to get the job done when a lot is at stake.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t be in favor of resting him so much between matches as Di Matteo has preferred lately, however, the extra rest hasn’t seemed to rust Drogba at all.  I’d really like to see Torres paired up front more with Drogba as opposed to this constant either/or situation.  For the Munich Final, Torres could get plenty of crosses in to Drogba as well as free up some space for him by pulling defenders out of the middle where Drogba usually lurks.

Petr Cech has also improved over the past couple months.  It’s easy to take Cech for granted because he’s been so consistently good for Chelsea for several years.  This hasn’t been a strong season for Cech overall, but like a true pro, he has upped his game at crucial times for the club recently.  His saves were huge in keeping Barcelona at bay in the Champions League semis, and Saturday’s point-blank deflection of Andy Carroll’s header late in the match preserved Chelsea’s lead and ultimately led to their fourth FA Cup title in six years.

Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph is a nice consolation of sorts for what has been a stinky Premier League season for the club.  It’s also another important confidence booster ahead of the Champions League Final on May 19.  Can’t wait for that one!

Who do you think were Chelsea’s key performers in the FA Cup win over Liverpool?

Not Good Enough

Newcastle dashes Chelsea’s Champions League hopes for next season

It’s been such a great month for Chelsea that it almost seems ungrateful to complain about their 2-0 loss to Newcastle Wednesday.  But I was pretty mad about it after watching the game last night.

Winning has a way of spoiling fans.  We very quickly come to expect it every single match, even though winning every time is rarely realistic.  It’s been a dismal season for the Blues overall, which is why this great run under Di Matteo has been so fun.  No one saw it coming.  And it just kept going and going before it apparently peaked with the Blues’ gutsy elimination of Barcelona from the Champions League.

The fact that defeating Barcelona was so fun made Wednesday’s loss to Newcastle all the more jarring.  Against Newcastle, Chelsea resembled the Villas-Boas era Blues:  some decent and sometimes fancy possession with absolutely nothing to show for it.  To be fair to Chelsea, they were scored on by two of the awesomest goals of the entire Premier League season (both by Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse).  But it was still upsetting that the team that shut down Barcelona for 180 minutes got beat twice by the same guy (and couldn’t muster any goals themselves)!

Losing to Newcastle is depressing because the match was Chelsea’s last hope for insuring a Champions League spot for next season.  There’s still a sliver of hope of course – they’ll qualify for the next UCL season if they win this season’s UCL final against Bayern on May 19.  But that’s just the thing – I’m not feeling confident that Chelsea will able to beat Bayern in Munich.  I’m afraid the Barcelona semifinal was the high point of Chelsea’s season.  I hope I’m wrong.  I don’t know about other Blues fans, but my heart is set on the Champions League title.  Yes, the FA Cup Final is Saturday and it would be great to win it, but for me it’s all about the Champions League Final.

Who do you think will win Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool?

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?

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?