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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…


Bravo Blues!

Chelsea defeats Napoli 4-1, advancing to Champions League quarterfinals

Wednesday’s second leg round of 16 clash with Napoli at Stamford Bridge was hands down Chelsea’s biggest win of the season.  It was a crackling night of classic and dramatic Champions League action that saw Chelsea overcome a 3-1 aggregate deficit by netting four goals.  The game was thrillingly suspenseful for 120 minutes, having been forced into extra time since the aggregate score was 4-4 at the end of regulation.  In the 104th minute, Ivanovic scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the kind of triumphant moment reminiscent of the Blues’ better days from the past several years.  It was the kind of moment that makes soccer fans swoon, the kind that have been unfortunately few and far between for Chelsea supporters this season.

Particularly gratifying in this match were the unified heart and fighting spirit the team demonstrated throughout.  It was the kind of will to win that has been oddly absent for much of this campaign.  The fact that three of Chelsea’s four goals were scored by Chelsea’s “old guard” (Drogba, Terry, and Lampard respectively) was also quite gratifying.  Their goals and leadership were emphatic parries to critics’ jabs this season that Chelsea would be better off without these “geezers”.  What is remarkable about this rampant critical ageism is the double standard demonstrated by the rave reviews heaped on Manchester United’s own geezers Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.  Wednesday night’s performance proved that Drogba, Terry, and Lampard are not done yet!

The victory over Napoli keeps hope alive that perhaps something magical can be salvaged from this otherwise dreary season for the Blues.  Today’s Champions League draw determined that Chelsea will now travel to Benfica for the first quarterfinal leg on March 27th.  Here’s hoping that Chelsea’s recent recovery blossoms into a resurgence that will propel them all the way to the final in Munich!

How will Chelsea fare against Benfica in the quarterfinals?

Chump-ions League

Chelsea continues dreadful form in 3-1 loss at Napoli

I thought the 2-0 loss at Everton a couple weeks ago was the low point of Chelsea’s season.  The team looked absolutely lifeless.  Most disturbingly, they showed no fighting spirit.  Everton looked exactly the way I wish the Blues would – aggressive, hungry, and energetic.  After the Everton match, the rumor mill kicked into high gear about Chelsea locker room turmoil and especially how long it would be until AVB gets shown the door.  I was going to explore all that in the wake of the Everton match but it was too depressing.  Chelsea looked so bad it was hard to know where to start.  Plus, I had my hands full at my day job as my soccer team made it to our state’s final four playoffs (alas, we lost in the championship game).  So I decided to wait it out, hoping for a Blues turnaround in the FA Cup against Birmingham City and in their Champions League visit to Napoli.  Guess I shouldn’t have waited it out.

For now, I’ll skip over the 1-1 draw with Birmingham in the FA Cup.  I mean, it’s bad enough, but at least they get to try again in the replay.  The Napoli game this past Tuesday was terrible.  Except for the few minutes Chelsea was up 1-0 in the first half, they never looked like they might win.  What is it about every team Chelsea faces this year getting one or two players to slip in behind the Blues defense?  It happens every game, usually more than once.  It’s maddening!  Even worst, Chelsea very rarely generates similar opportunities.  To be sure, Chelsea still owns the middle of the field, but in the final third, the Blues are completely predictable.  Savvy opponents just cram the box and are content to let Chelsea pass around the perimeter until someone gets impatient and lobs a ball into the middle where one or two Blues are surrounded by an army of defenders!  Even the slippery Sturridge who was so effective earlier in the season is going through a dry, bland spell.

Some pundits are questioning AVB’s starting lineup choices against Napoli, but that’s not the reason Chelsea tanked.  The Blues just didn’t play well.  They haven’t played well for about two-thirds of the season.  Champions League play was the last hope for Chelsea to take this season’s lemons and make lemonade.  Now they’re hanging on by the thinnest of threads in all competitions.  Poor AVB is probably on his way out, and like Carlo Ancelotti last season, it’s not all his fault.

With each week of the season my expectations for Chelsea slip further.  Now it’s starting to look like the most they have to play for is a Champions League slot for next season.  It’s a grim time for Chelsea fans, but tomorrow’s a new day.  Maybe a big win over Bolton will bring some much-needed hope!

Is AVB to blame for Chelsea’s woes this season?