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Decent Win at the DW

Chelsea starts season off right with 2-0 defeat of Wigan

Chelsea blasted out of the gate today, with Ivanovic and Lampard scoring within the first six minutes at Wigan Athletic.  Only problem with such a start was that Chelsea lacked zip for most of the remaining 84 minutes.  In case you missed it, here is the good, bad, and ugly from Chelsea’s first win of the season…

Good:  Eden Hazard!  He showed great bursts of speed and accurate attacking passes.  He was fouled a lot in the first half, which meant he was doing a lot of things right.  Fox Soccer’s Warren Barton said Hazard might be the bargain of the season.  I’m inclined to agree.  Hazard adds zest to Chelsea’s midfield, which too often moved in slow-motion last season.

It was good to see Oscar (the brand new Brazilian signing) get some second half minutes, though I wish he wouldn’t have replaced Hazard.  Oscar didn’t get to do much, but he’s only been with the team a week so we’ll cut him plenty of slack.

It was an interesting (and surprising) idea to let Ryan Bertrand try forward today.  Bertrand didn’t make much impact though.  In fact, he’s been more of an attacking threat in previous matches when he’s carrying the ball up the left flank as a defender.  Anyway, it will be interesting to see where this experiment leads.

Bad:  After Chelsea’s explosive start to the match, they allowed Wigan to have most of the possession.  You can often get away with that against the Wigans of the league, except there aren’t many Wigans in the league anymore.  Chelsea was fortunate that Wigan was asleep for the first five minutes of the match; otherwise we might be talking about a season-opening draw.

Torres was not involved enough (as usual).  In his defense, he wasn’t provided many passes, but the ones he got he generally squandered.  His best scoring chance was cleared off the line in the second half.  He also missed a nifty pass in the box from Ivanovic just before full time that he should’ve been looking out for.  This wasn’t the confidence-boosting outing Torres needed to start the season.

This isn’t necessarily in the “bad” category, but I was disappointed to see Mikel get the starting nod over Essien in the defensive midfield role.  Di Matteo seems to favor Mikel and I’m not sure why.  Mikel hasn’t been bad, but I thought Essien had a better preseason in the U.S. Tour matches.  I hope today’s benching isn’t a hint that Essien’s about to be let go.

Ugly:  Chelsea’s yellow/black third kit.  I’m not very fashion forward (my daughter is happy to confirm this), but the third kit just doesn’t work for me.  I prefer away kits to at least hint at the club’s main colors.  Black & yellow isn’t Chelsea at all.

Overall, this wasn’t the dominating win it should have been.  Chelsea let Wigan hang around and threaten.  But in the round robin format of the Premier League, the three points is all that matters.  It will take a while for Di Matteo to work out the best starting lineup combination, but the pieces are in place to have a very successful season.

What did you think of Chelsea’s season-opening performance?

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Dismal Blues Part 2

Why Chelsea’s oldest players aren’t the club’s main problem

The popular jab at Chelsea all season has been the collective age of their players – that they’re too old to hack it anymore and that wholesale changes are needed.  Critics may be right about the wholesale changes part, but Chelsea’s aged players aren’t the primary problem.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Wigan and Fulham matches were a real beat-down for this fan even though Chelsea beat Wigan and tied Fulham.  I guess having two matches so close together just magnified the aspects of Chelsea’s play – and the players – that have annoyed most of the season.  I didn’t have a week between games to forget the team’s problems and become an optimist again.

I hate to pick on Fernando Torres first (because he has been drubbed by critics throughout his year and a half at Chelsea) but my fan patience has expired with him.  I like the guy, have rooted for him to succeed, and wish he would be a Chelsea superstar.  But if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s probably not going to happen.  His is a particularly frustrating case because you can see potential there, but it’s never realized beyond occasionally sharp passes and crosses.  He works hard, but the effort rarely pays off with shots on goal (or goals period).  Torres takes overly long strides with the ball, predictably barreling straight at defenders, in a halting style that yields constant turnovers.  Didier Drogba on the other hand, while not having his best season, is much more threatening with the ball (he’s also Chelsea’s second highest scorer this season).  He still causes problems for defenders – Torres does not.  Drogba has been woefully underused this season, presumably in an effort to get Torres out of his slump and fully integrated with the team.  It’s not working.  Drogba needs to start every remaining game.  I don’t know what he’s being saved for at this point, as every game is critical.  Torres seems like a decent guy, but for the club’s sake he should be sold.

While I’m thinking about forwards, it’s also time for Salomon Kalou to go.  Kalou has never quite clicked over to the consistency Chelsea needs.  I appreciate that he has earned some extra late season game time by virtue of his Champions League goal at Benfica, but he’s done nothing since to merit this much pitch time.  Kalou makes too many ill-timed passes and often holds onto the ball too long.

Daniel Sturridge should start every game at forward with Drogba.  Sturridge has been the victim of too much lineup tinkering the past few months, which stifled the hunger and goal-scoring savvy he demonstrated early in the season.

At midfield, critics have been cranky toward Frank Lampard because of his age (33) but Lampard is the team’s top scorer this season!  That despite playing less than he ever has at Chelsea.  Lampard has occasional giveaways and unwise fouls, but he isn’t the weakest link in the Blues’ midfield.  Raul Meireles is.  I’ve never been thrilled by Chelsea’s acquisition of Meireles.  His passing is average, he fouls too much, and his shooting is atrocious (no, I’m not forgetting his end-of-match blast against Benfica).  He’s just not reliable enough.  I’d much rather see Michael Essien (who’s still only 29) back as the consistent midfield commander.

Ramires has also annoyed lately.  He’s in danger of falling into the Kalou category of not quite good enough.  I love his tireless hustle, but it doesn’t make up for his awful amount of turnovers!  I’m not ready to throw in the towel on him yet, but he needs some goals or assists to boost his stock.

It’s time for Chelsea to revamp, but getting rid of Terry, Lampard, and Drogba isn’t the answer.  Those three are no longer in their prime, but Chelsea is still better when they’re on the pitch (or at least no worse).  Why would a team get rid of those assets (their top two scorers this season in Lampard and Drogba) as long as they’re still healthy?

When this season began, it seemed Chelsea was in the process of integrating young players with the “old”.  What happened to Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu?  We saw Romeu quite a bit before Christmas, but I don’t understand why the heavily touted Lukaku hasn’t been granted more run-outs.

This off-season, Chelsea needs to take the long-haul approach to rebuilding, which means no more mid-career, Torres-type acquisitions.  Instead, they need to milk the remaining seasons from their veterans while weaving in dynamic youngsters.  Youth is the ticket!  That strategy may not yield immediate trophies, but the delayed gratification would be worth it.

What players do you think Chelsea should relinquish this summer?

Blues Christmas

Three positive wins followed by head-scratching Wigan draw

It’s been too long since my last post, particularly considering the momentum-shifting wins over Newcastle, Valencia, and most of all Manchester City, which have lifted Blues fans’ spirits the past few weeks.  Alas, the demands of coaching my own soccer team have precluded as much Chelsea analysis as I’d prefer.  Now that I’m entering a mid-season Christmas break, I planned on catching up on a few posts, starting with a Blues brag session about four big wins in a row… and then that trip to Wigan happened yesterday.

I don’t want to be too negative, keeping in mind the big wins preceding the Wigan draw.  The Newcastle victory wasn’t pretty, but it was a gutsy, vital victory.  Then there was the Champions League win over Valencia in which Drogba finally awoke from hibernation to score two goals, reminding me why he’s one of my favorite players.  The Valencia game was probably Chelsea’s most complete performance of the season so far.  Finally, the most gratifying win of the season – 2 – 1 over Manchester City – wasn’t very pretty either, but it was great to see Chelsea band together and get the job done.  It was also great to see Lampard come off the bench and blast home that PK, undoubtedly unleashing his playing time frustrations in the process.

Those three wins made the Wigan draw all the more frustrating because the Blues were finally gaining some traction, only to hit another rut.  It’s one of those ruts that are particularly maddening for fans because it’s Wigan for crying out loud!  If you could ever expect to chalk up three relatively easy road points, it is against Wigan.  So the fact that you can’t beat one of the worst teams in the league is disturbing to say the least.  Once again, Chelsea predictably sat on a 1 – 0 lead (when every Blues fan watching could tell one goal wouldn’t be enough) and couldn’t close out the game.  AVB must be pulling his hair out.  Just when Chelsea clawed their way back within striking distance of the top of the league, they drop two points to Wigan.  Unfortunately, the Manchesters just can’t be relied on to drop similar points to the league’s bottom-dwellers.

So what went wrong at Wigan?  Well, Justin Bieber did visit Stamford Bridge last week, so that might have had some adverse effect.  Aside from that unproven possibility, the attack was frustratingly dull – with Drogba slipping back into hibernation, Meireles turning over the ball too much, and too many predictable crosses straight to the Wigan defenders.  The defense was still periodically sloppy and Cech less than sharp (especially on the Wigan equalizer!).

Sturridge and Mata are the two most positive starters at the moment, though Mata had less of a game than he’s enjoyed recently.  Meireles hasn’t impressed me much so far.  He’s not bad, but he hasn’t shown enough to justify so much bench-time for Lampard.  I wonder if AVB has a bit of a biased preference for his fellow countryman Meireles?  On the subject of midfielders, I’ve found myself pining for Essien lately.  He’s still rehabilitating his knee.  I hoped he might be appearing on the bench by now, but even if he was, we probably couldn’t expect his form to fully recover this season.

I also think Malouda has been prematurely relegated to the bench this season.  By now he’s been out of the lineup so much that when he does get a few minutes, his match sharpness is obviously lacking.  And poor Torres – it must be frustrating to be that guy.  AVB really shouldn’t have had him warming up on the sideline yesterday only to send him back to the bench.  Drogba wasn’t showing enough to justify a full ninety, so after Sturridge scored, Torres should’ve replaced Drogba.

A point is better than none of course, but still… Wigan?  Not the bump in the road you want right before the big clash at Tottenham on Thursday!  That will be another season-defining match, one that will hopefully provide a very merry Christmas for Chelsea.

What lineup changes should Chelsea make against Tottenham?  Feel free to weigh in below…