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Di Matteo Fired

Chelsea continues their boneheaded ways with managers…

I woke up this morning contemplating Chelsea’s recent awfulness and what, if anything, original could be said about it.  That led me to thoughts about Roberto Di Matteo, that maybe I’d write a little something in his defense since I was slightly surprised to hear commentators emphasizing how under fire he is after Chelsea’s poor Premier League form and Champions League struggles.  These were my pre-morning coffee thoughts, but then I flip on the ol’ internet machine and the first thing I see are the Di Matteo’s-been-fired headlines.  What?  Seriously?  What?

I’m actually shocked by the news that Di Matteo’s been given the boot.  I shouldn’t be of course, given Chelsea’s managerial revolving door the past few years, but I’m still kind of shocked.

Chelsea’s current performance problems are player-related and not Di Matteo’s fault.  The timing of this firing is very poor.  Who are they going to get to replace him at this point in the season?  Is another “caretaker” really a better idea than just sticking with Di Matteo for the rest of the season?  I don’t think so.  Managers have to do the best they can with the players they’re given.  Di Matteo has done that.  It’s not his fault that Torres can’t score, or even hold onto the ball for more than 0.5 seconds (and Chelsea’s woes aren’t solely Torres’ fault either – I can’t remember the last time the defense had a shutout).

By firing Di Matteo, Chelsea are seriously impeding their long-term progress and unnecessarily complicating this season’s quest for success.  A team’s fortune can change pretty quickly – if Chelsea had given Di Matteo just one more week, Chelsea could potentially beat Premier League leader Manchester City this Sunday, and qualify for the Champions League knockout stage with a win next week.  It’s hard to imagine them canning Roberto in those circumstances.  Alas, we’ll never know.  At some point Chelsea is going to have to learn real patience with managers or the club will be in a perpetual state of rebuilding.

What do you think of Di Matteo’s firing?

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Dear Didier

A Special Invitation from Chelsea* to Drogba…

Dear Didier,

How’s life in China?  How’s the food?  The weather?  How’s your Chinese coming along?  Hope all is well.

Here’s the deal, Didier, we miss you at Stamford Bridge.  We really need you to come back.  Like this week.  I know we parted ways on great terms, with you having just won the Champions League for us and all.  If you were going to leave the club, it was the perfect time to do so.  We were all very understanding, but let’s face it, our Champions League-winning high clouded our judgment.  Now that we’ve had time to ponder… we think we made a big mistake.

Did you see our draw today against a very beatable Liverpool?  Their striker Suarez saved the day for them again – a lot like you used to for Chelsea.  We need a big time lethal striker again.  That’s where you come in.  We’ve got some great new guys this season we think you’ll really dig – guys like Hazard and Oscar.  They’ve been creating great ball movement with Mata, but the problem is they need a real strongman in the box to feed the ball to.  No one wreaks havoc in the box like you do.  We really miss your ability to hold the ball and invent crazy-angled shots out of nothing.  In case you’re wondering about Torres, well, we’re not exactly sure what to do about that yet.  But it probably involves selling him for as much cash as possible come January.  Look, Fernando’s a great guy and we wish him well, but he’s no Drogba.

Now we know you left Chelsea primarily because Shanghai-whatchamacallit offered you a bazillion dollars.  Very understandable.  We didn’t think we could match their bazillions.  But this week we found out we actually made a profit for the first time in something like a decade (thanks to the Champions League riches you helped us get), so, since we’re not used to operating in the black anyway, we thought we’d just give you all that excess profit if you come back.

By the way, in case it’s not all about money, you saw where Chelsea fans recently voted you one of the greatest Blues players in club history, right?  That’s pretty sweet.  The fans would welcome you back in a heartbeat.  Just sayin’.  We know you have a soft spot for Chelsea in that lion heart of yours, so we want to remind you that John Terry got knocked out of the Liverpool match today with a potentially season-ending injury, Lampard is still out with a calf thing, and we loaned Michael Essien to Real Madrid for reasons we’re still not entirely sure about (okay, we brought that last one on ourselves, but we’re just pointing out the dearth of Blues vets currently on hand).

Just in case you feel a little weird about the idea of coming back to Chelsea so soon after leaving, it’s not unprecedented.  Paul Scholes returned to Man U after retiring for a while last season.  Thierry Henry even went back to Arsenal on loan earlier this year.  It’s obviously not our first choice, but we’d settle for you returning to Chelsea on loan whenever the Chinese league’s over (sorry, we’re not sure when their season ends – until you went there we didn’t even know China had a pro league).  Whatever it takes, Didier, that’s what we’re saying.

Admit it, you miss the Premier League.  The high-pressure matches.  The packed, historic stadiums.  Cup finals.  Champions League nights around Europe.  Eccentric gazillionaire Russian owners.  Causing Sir Alex heartburn.  Democracy.

We don’t want to pressure you too much, but we have slipped from first to third in the table within a couple weeks, so we kind of need an answer ASAP.  Only you can help prevent one of the Manchesters winning the league again.  Chelsea’s fate is in your hands.  Okay, that may be overstating it a bit, but come on man you’re playing in China for goodness sakes!  No one watches Chinese soccer!

Come home, Didier, come home.  You know you want to.  We can have a jet there in a matter of hours.

Love,

Chelsea Football Club

 

P.S.  Say hello to Anelka for us.

 

*Unfortunately this letter does not represent an actual invitation from Chelsea Football Club to Didier Drogba.

Chelsea is Clicking

Chelsea topples Tottenham 4–2

So far this season I’ve enjoyed Chelsea’s undefeated run and top place in the table with fingers crossed behind my back.  Things have gone very well of course, but there have been a few shaky moments and based on the past two roller coaster seasons, I’ve kind of been waiting for the other shoe to drop for Chelsea, you know, like a multi-match losing streak and a late-season fight for the last Champions League spot.

After yesterday’s defeat of Tottenham at White Hart Lane however, I’m starting to believe.  I don’t want to jump to any conclusions – it is still very early in the season, and if nothing else Chelsea still has four Manchester (United and City) showdowns to contend with (those four matches alone could determine the title).  But Chelsea hasn’t looked this poised and confident since the last time they won the Premier League in 2009/2010.  They’re constantly a scoring threat and the defense, while still occasionally leaky is playing quite cohesively.  Cole and Ivanovic are even supplying regular attacking options down the wings.

Chelsea showed positive mental toughness in not only recovering from the second half Tottenham onslaught that put the Spurs up 2–1, but recovering with authority by scoring three second half goals.  I still miss Drogba in attack – he would add strength, aerial threat, and finishing power to a physically small offense.  To my surprise though, the Blues are getting the job done without him (and in spite of a still so-so Torres).

The new recruits, particularly Hazard and Oscar, are already clicking with the team.  I didn’t expect results this good so early in the season.  These new guys are still gelling with the team, so imagine where they could be in a few months as long as everyone stays healthy!

Chelsea is fun to watch again…

Any thoughts on the Blues’ win at Tottenham?  Feel free to share below!

Shield’s Up!

5 questions facing Chelsea as the new season kicks off with tomorrow’s Community Shield match…

This soccer summer has flown by thanks to the Euros, Chelsea’s U.S. tour, and the Olympics.  Chelsea faces Manchester City tomorrow in the mother of all preseason games – the unofficial start of the new Premier League season – the FA Community Shield.  As a new season dawns, here are 5 questions facing the Blues:

1)  Will Fernando Torres be able to fill the departed Didier Drogba’s shoes? 

Unfortunately for Chelsea fans, the answer is no.  But very few strikers could replicate the heroics Drogba produced during his Chelsea years.  Although we may see some short-term improvement from Torres after his positive output at Euro 2012, he has never quite clicked with Chelsea and I’m not expecting many goals from him in the new season.

Now that 19-year-old Romelu Lukaku has been loaned to West Brom for the season, Chelsea may do some last minute shopping for an additional striker.  Lukaku was a hot signing for Chelsea early last season when he was billed as a potential replacement for Drogba.  Instead, he languished on the bench, making occasional cameo appearances in lower profile matches.  I’m disappointed to see him loaned, but hopefully he’ll get some vital experience at West Brom and return to Chelsea a more polished, confident player.

With Lukaku out of the picture for now, the Blues need Daniel Sturridge to have a breakout season at forward.

2)  Who will make up the core of Chelsea’s midfield?

Chelsea is currently stocked up on midfielders:  Frank Lampard, Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, Raul Meireles, Eden Hazard, Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran, Marko Marin, and now Oscar (the Brazilian youngster Chelsea signed a couple weeks ago).

It’s a good problem to have, sorting through so much talent, but it’s a problem nonetheless.  Will we see a regular group of starters, or will there be constant rotation?  If rotation is the answer, will the midfield be able to gel?  Even if the club offloads a few midfielders, there will still be a lot of talent on the bench every week.

A lot could change in the next few weeks.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Malouda and maybe even Meireles transferred before the season kicks into high gear.

3)  Is the defense deep enough to survive another grueling schedule?

Surprisingly, Chelsea’s summer deal making (and attempted deal making) has focused on midfielders and strikers.  But it was the back line that ran low on options at the critical point of last season due to injuries and suspensions.

John Terry will likely continue anchoring the Chelsea defense, but how long can he hold up?  By his own admission, Terry is starting to feel his age.  Who will fill in when Terry needs extra recovery days?  Barring any last minute summer signings, we’ll likely see a lot more of Ryan Bertrand who played very well when called on at the end of last season.

Assuming Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, and Terry are the regular rotating starters, there aren’t many additional bench options.  Paulo Ferreira may have a little left in the tank, but he’s been at the club since 2004 and has had a very limited role the past two seasons.  Sam Hutchinson’s comeback story is inspiring, but he may not be ready for the rigor of weekly Premier League defending.

Chelsea tried to get Marseille defender Cesar Azpilicueta this week, but Marseille rejected the offer.  Now Di Matteo may be looking at Juventus defender Stephen Lichtsteiner instead.

4)  Which loan players should be retained and who should be loaned this season? 

Josh McEachran was being carefully groomed under Carlo Ancelotti two seasons ago, but Andre Villas Boas ignored McEachran at the beginning of last season.  The 19-year-old went on loan to Swansea for the remainder of the 2011/2012 season where he didn’t see much more playing time.  McEachran has a lot of potential but Chelsea’s midfield is so crowded right now, he’ll likely go on loan for another season.

Yossi Benayoun is a talented player who doesn’t seem to fit in Chelsea’s overall plan.  He spent last season on loan at Arsenal where he did quite well.  Benayoun was on the bench for Chelsea’s preseason loss to Brighton last Saturday, but he didn’t play and it doesn’t seem likely Chelsea will keep him much longer.

Further room on the Chelsea bench might also be made by loaning Kakuta, van Aanholt, and even Oriol Romeu.

5)  Will Roberto Di Matteo make it past Christmas in charge of Chelsea?

When Di Matteo was finally offered a two-year contract earlier this summer after his stint as Chelsea’s interim manager, it seemed only fair.  After all, Di Matteo earned the opportunity by leading the club to the FA Cup and Champions League titles.  The contract offer showed promising (and rare) open-mindedness about manager selection from owner Roman Abramovich.  It will be interesting to see how the new season tests Abramovich’s patience.  Will he be willing to weather the season’s storms with Di Matteo at the helm or will he fire him at the first sign of trouble?

As usual, there are a lot more questions than answers.  One thing’s pretty certain though:  it won’t be a boring season for Chelsea!

What do you think about Chelsea’s prospects this season?

Miami Blues

Chelsea ends U.S Tour with 1-0 loss to A.C. Milan

Saturday evening Chelsea looked like a team that was withering after two weeks in the American summer heat.  You can hardly blame them since the past two weeks have been packed with travel, two-a-day training sessions, loads of publicity appearances, and of course four heavily hyped friendlies.

After starting the U.S. tour with that promising 4-2 defeat of Seattle Sounders, things have gone downhill a bit, with a draw against Paris St. Germain, followed by losses to the MLS All-Stars and A.C. Milan last night.  Yes, it’s only preseason.  Obviously the important thing on these tours is team preparedness and bonding – getting as ready as possible before the games really count.  The tour has certainly been successful from a marketing standpoint with each of the stadiums mostly full and Chelsea fans turning up in droves for every match.  Still, ending the tour with consecutive losses must have at least a small negative psychological effect.  You like to see those engines fully revved in preseason, but there’s still time to get ready.

Considering all that the Blues have been through on this tour, it’s hard to be too disappointed or critical about losing to A.C. Milan.  It’s not like Milan dominated or anything, in fact, Chelsea controlled large portions of the match.  But if there was one minor alarm that went off for me last night, it’s that Chelsea’s play was eerily similar to the way they played much of the first half of last season.  That is, controlling most of their matches without actually scoring.  Possession without points.  Chelsea has a very strong midfield, but they’ve got to produce more goals this season.

Fortunately, the team has a few more weeks to work out the kinks.  The biggest readiness test will be that August 12 Community Shield match against Manchester City.

I want to thank everyone for stopping by the blog during the past two weeks.  You’ve brought record readership to the site during Chelsea’s American tour.  I sincerely appreciate your clicks and I hope you will swing by again often during this season!

Your thoughts on Chelsea’s performance against A.C. Milan?

Big Apple Blues

Chelsea makes second stop on U.S. tour

Chelsea arrived in New York City yesterday to prep for their Sunday match against aspiring super club Paris St. Germain.  Before making it out of Seattle, the players enjoyed an impromptu runway training session while waiting out a flight delay.

Much of the deal news this week revolved around Chelsea possibly signing Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid.  It seemed like a done deal, but now Oscar’s back pedaling.  He confirmed he had a physical with the Chelsea folk, but says he won’t make a decision about his future until after the Olympics.  This kind of intrigue is always amusing and predictable.  I’m sure there’s an agent behind the scenes advising Oscar to be cryptic to ensure continued headlines for a couple more weeks.  Anyways, you often can’t tell these deals are final until you actually see the player suited up on the sideline.

Another Brazilian in the news this week was Willian.  His club Shakhtar Donetsk supposedly rejected a Chelsea bid for the attacking midfielder earlier this week.  Now Willian’s making no bones about his desire to bolt Shak Don for Chelsea.

It’s anyone’s guess how the Oscar, Willian, or Victor Moses deals will go down (or won’t go down)!  One thing’s for sure – it will be an interesting few weeks leading up to the Chelsea v. Manchester City Community Shield match which unofficially kicks off the new season on August 12th.

I’m looking forward to the Chelsea v. Paris St. Germain friendly at Yankee Stadium tomorrow.  Fox Soccer will be carrying the match live.  Should be an energetic game and unique atmosphere.  The baseball stadium atmosphere is apparently appealing to a lot of U.S. fans this summer – check out what tickets are selling for

Who would you rather see land at Chelsea – Oscar, Willian, or Moses?