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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!

International Break Blues

Will Chelsea’s momentum stop after the latest international hiatus?

The International Break is a necessary evil I suppose.  It’s fun sometimes, particularly during World Cup Qualifying.  Well, if your team wins that is.  I love supporting the USMNT (I always want to read that as U.S. Mutant Ninja Turtles), but it kills momentum for clubs.  It’s like tennis matches that get rain delayed overnight – it gives the guy who’s losing the match opportunity to regroup, rest, and heal if necessary.  Sometimes it totally changes the match.  And that’s what I’m afraid of because Chelsea has been on a roll, but now the international break – the IB if you will – has stopped the Blues in their tracks.

Compared to the past two seasons, this campaign is strange for Chelsea fans in that the team is sitting relatively pretty for a change, atop the league table, four points above the Manchesters.  So far we haven’t had to deal with the kind of angst that plagued us the past two seasons.  Yes, it’s hard to justify complaints when your team won the Champions League last season, but as anyone who followed that saga knows, it was the most stressful possible tournament in which Chelsea repeatedly cheated death, somehow escaping Munich with the big-eared trophy in their clutches.  By comparison this Premier League season has been downright docile.  So far at least.  That’s the main reason I’m concerned about this most recent momentum-killing IB.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Chelsea go undefeated this season – it’s been refreshingly un-stressful.  But now the team has to shake off their jet lag (Chelsea players are on a lot of national teams) and get their groove back in time to do battle at Tottenham this Saturday.  Add in the weirdness factor that they’ll be facing their old manager Andre Villas-Boas for the first time since Chelsea fired him last season and you have the makings of a potential perfect storm.  You can bet your booty AVB will have his Spurs revved up for maximum pride salvaging (meaning AVB’s pride).  It’s certainly not the cushy assignment a first place team would prefer to get to ease back into Premier League play after a tiring IB.  On the other hand, resuming the season with a dogfight like this may be the best way to get Chelsea back in the full swing of things.

Saturday’s game at Tottenham is a bigger match than initially meets the eye.  It is a crucial encounter that could mean the difference between establishing dominance in the league and giving the Manchesters a toehold.  The Manchesters do not need toeholds given to them.

Will Chelsea be able to regroup and shake off the cobwebs in time for the big clash with Tottenham Saturday?

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?

Dismal Blues

Chelsea’s win over Wigan and draw with Fulham were discouraging

It feels odd to be disappointed after a win against Wigan (last Saturday) and draw with Fulham (last Monday), yet Chelsea’s play was utterly lifeless in both matches.  The Blues’ effort was particularly dispiriting for fans leading up to the two biggest games of the season:  this Sunday’s FA Cup Semifinal against Tottenham and Wednesday’s Champions League first leg Semifinal against Barcelona.  If the Blues don’t discover an entire new gear they are in for a very rough end to an already turbulent season.

Chelsea didn’t deserve the win over Wigan.  A missed offside call facilitated Ivanovic’s goal and Juan Mata added the winner in extra time, but Chelsea’s attack was extremely bland for most of the match.  Where’s the spark?  Where’s the energy?  Chelsea is a shell of the attacking team they were the two previous seasons.  Ironically, Carlo Ancelotti was fired and Andre Villas-Boas brought in at the start of this season to craft a more “attractive” attacking style and yet the attack is far less fluid and effective than it’s been in years.

The draw with Fulham was unacceptable as it blew an opportunity to catch up with Tottenham and Newcastle in the league standings.  Once again, Chelsea’s attack limped along, with the only goal coming from an iffy PK call that happened to fall Chelsea’s way (Frank Lampard reliably converted the kick).  The Blues’ defense held onto the lead for most of the game until Clint Dempsey’s late header made it 1 – 1.  Very frustrating.

I think I’ve been delusional about Chelsea all season because I thought they were much better than this.  Most fans would probably agree it feels like we’ve been waiting all season for the team to get up to speed and they never quite have.  They’ve come close several times, and are still capable of occasionally heroic efforts (like the second Napoli Champions League game!), but overall performances are painfully lackluster.  Chelsea is simply very average right now.  The air of near-invincibility fans have enjoyed about the club for years has turned into considerable vulnerability.  Every Chelsea match seems a toss-up now.The bad Wigan and Fulham matches coaxed me to purge all my negative feelings about Chelsea’s current state.  Hopefully doing so will temper my expectations for the big Tottenham and Barcelona matches.  This purging stuff is therapeutic, but it takes some time.  So tomorrow I’ll continue by addressing a few specific player issues in part two of Dismal Blues.

What do you think?  See any positives for Chelsea during the Wigan/Fulham games?

Chelsea’s Semi-Merry Christmas

Blues have to make do with 1 – 1 draw at Tottenham

Well, it could have been worse.  As the match commentators reminded us approximately one hundred times before kickoff, a loss would have certainly killed off the season for Chelsea.  So the Blues’ title hopes are still alive – via life support to be certain – but alive nonetheless.  If only those pesky Manchesters would help us out with some internal meltdowns or something, maybe we could make some headway in the league.

The Spurs game started ugly for Chelsea.  Spurs were frighteningly dominant for the first ten minutes, making Chelsea look like a college team.  Spurs were aggressive, fast, really going for the jugular, while Chelsea looked utterly lethargic.  I actually began to wonder if Chelsea critics have been right all season – that maybe Chelsea is holding on to the past in its player selection, that perhaps they need a complete makeover.  But then, midway through the first half, Ashley Cole slices a perfect cross through the box, which Sturridge calmly volleyed in to tie the game.  That’s the second game in a row Cole’s pinpoint service has resulted in a goal.  Just a few minutes later, Drogba smashed a half-volley into the post from a tough angle.  I flailed and groaned from my living room perch.  Somehow, Chelsea clawed their way back into the game and looked like the more threatening team.

Ivanovic had to leave the game with a tweaked hammy just after the half hour mark.  I thought Chelsea was toast at that point.  Bosingwa slid over to share center back duties with Terry, and who was that entering the game… Paulo Ferreira?  Sorry Paulo, I almost forgot you were over there!  It was his first Premier League game of the season.  I fretted that Paulo’s lack of game time would spell rustiness and leaky defense.  I was wrong.  Paulo had a heck of a game, shutting down his wing corridor quite nicely.

To start the second half, Chelsea looked like a different team, suddenly dominating possession, and shooting at will.  Only problem with the at-will shooting was that it was absolutely horrible and completely wasteful!  Ferreira, Ramires, Meireles, and Sturridge all scattered useless blasts into the seats within a few minutes of each other.

Unfortunately, those early second half chances did not facilitate additional chances.  The high-octane match slowed to a simmer after about seventy minutes.  Torres replaced Drogba for the last fifteen minutes and was typically invisible.  Man I wish he would snap out of it!  I’m tired of the same old media commentary about Torres.  He needs some starts and he needs to play ninety minutes.  And he needs to be locked in a room daily with a top sports psychologist.  This is looking increasingly like a rebuilding year for Chelsea, so AVB needs to get Torres in there and start assessing whether or not he’s going to be part of the Blues master plan moving forward.  Speaking of the master plan, where was Lampard today?  I disagree with him not starting.  I’m growing skeptical of AVB’s choices lately.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for a few more games, but he definitely looks iffy at the moment.

So Chelsea just got a point for Christmas.  Certainly better than the lump of coal a loss would have been, but not as merry and bright a holiday as Blues fans had hoped for.  At least we won’t have to wait long for the next points opportunity – the day after Christmas it’s on against Fulham.  I’ll be traveling for the holidays to visit family, and will be watching the game (on TV) with my brother who happens to be a Fulham fan.  Good times.  Family, food, and soccer – sounds like a pretty good holiday!

What do you think about Villas-Boas’ lineup choices recently?