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Happy Blue Year

The January transfer window is open and Chelsea changes are afoot

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Chelsea’s post-Club World Cup recovery was going great with a League Cup victory against Leeds, followed by three successive EPL wins over Aston Villa, Norwich, and Everton.  Plenty for fans to be enthused about over the Christmas holiday.  All that came to a frustratingly screeching halt Wednesday with the 1-0 home loss to QPR – who just happen to be the worst team in the league.  Simply unbelievable.  The slim hope of catching up to Manchester United by season’s end has all but vanished now.  It will be a dogfight just to qualify for the Champions League.

The QPR loss confirms that Chelsea is not an elite team right now.  There are currently only two elite teams in the EPL and they’re both located in Manchester.  The Manchesters repeatedly demonstrate their knack for winning games they should win, as well as clawing their way back into games when they’re not performing at their best.  They always seem to find additional goals, even when they’re letting goals in themselves.  Chelsea has not shown the same ability this season.

A team’s fortunes don’t rest entirely on one player of course, but Man U does have the remarkably reliable Robin Van Persie at striker, and Man City has the similarly prolific Edin Dzeko.  Chelsea has Fernando Torres.  Yeah.  I know Torres has scored much more this season, but would anyone really put him in the same league as Van Persie and Dzeko right now?  Well, Chelsea may be about to get a lift in that department…

Today Chelsea made it official that Demba Ba is joining the club from Newcastle.  Now that the remote possibility of Didier Drogba joining the team on loan from China seems to have vanished, the arrival of Senegalese striker Ba is great news for Chelsea fans.  If his Newcastle stint is any indication, he will be a physical handful in the box for opponents – something Chelsea has desperately missed since Drogba’s departure.  For all the deft, speedy skill of Hazard, Mata, and Oscar, they are small guys who frequently get muscled off the ball, so having Ba’s strength and nose for goal will be a welcome addition to the offensive mix.

The only things tempering my enthusiasm over Ba are his past knee-injury struggles and the fact that he’s 27-years-old.  I’m not saying 27 is old, I just wish Chelsea would find an elite under-the-radar striker at the beginning of his career rather than splashing mid-season cash for perhaps final-third-of-their-career guys.  I thought they had done that with young Lukaku last season, but they let him languish on the bench before loaning him to West Brom for this season.  Still, getting Ba was much more economical than the rumored move for Atletico Madrid’s Falcao.  Overall, I’m quite glad Ba is a Blue.  Having lived in Senegal for five years as a youngster, I always root for Senegalese players.  Hopefully Ba will accelerate his scoring prowess for Chelsea over the next few seasons.

On the flip side of the January transfer window fun, new arrivals usually mean departures as well.  Daniel Sturridge moved to Liverpool this week.  I like Sturridge and think he has a lot of potential that was never fully explored at Chelsea.  He deserved a lot more playing time this season in place of the bland Torres.  I wish him the best at LFC.

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

The other big name in Blues news this week is one of my favorite Chelsea players (isn’t he everyone’s?):  Frank Lampard.  It seems unthinkable that Chelsea would even consider letting this legend go and yet that seems to be what’s happening.  Lampard’s contract is up at the end of this season and Chelsea doesn’t seem eager to re-sign him.  I don’t understand this.  Lampard is beloved by fans, a leader on the field, and still produces goals at the highest level.  Just look at Scholes and Giggs at Man U – guys older than Lampard who still contribute.  Lamps has a few more seasons in him and Chelsea should allow him to end his career as a Blue.  He has certainly earned it.

What do you think of Chelsea’s transfer window action so far?

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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?

Post-All Star Game Thoughts

MLS All-Stars beat Chelsea 3-2

They’re still in preseason.  They’re still in preseason.  They’re still in preseason.  That’s what I’ve had to keep telling myself about Chelsea since the loss last night to the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia.  Actually, it wasn’t a poor Chelsea performance.  And the All-Stars weren’t particularly starry.  It was a decent game with a decent number of scoring chances for both teams.  Still, I’d rather Chelsea have won.

Michael Essien was on fire last night.  He looked like the pre-2011-injury Essien (which is a good thing).  Perhaps he is just now fully recovered from the knee injury that wrecked half of last season for him.  Or, perhaps he was just a man on a mission to show Di Matteo that he can still take care of business in midfield.  Regardless, he looked great and made a tremendous case for himself.  His was aggressive and fast on defense.  His passes were back to their old accuracy.  It was great to see.

For all the talk about Chelsea’s supposed youth revolution this summer, look who scored the Blues’ goals last night – Terry and Lampard.  These guys just keep on ticking.  I don’t know how many more seasons they’ve got left in them, but as long as they keep contributing like this, it’s hard to think about replacing them.

New Blues Marko Marin and Eden Hazard didn’t quite click with the team last night.  Marin held onto the ball a little too long in the box on several occasions when a quicker shot or pass might’ve been the better option.  Unfortunately, Hazard simply didn’t get many opportunities to show his stuff when he came on in the second half.

Lukaku’s effort was decent.  I’d like to see him pull the trigger on shots more often.  He could be a little more selfish with the ball in front of goal.  And we still haven’t gotten a good look at his heading ability.  But overall he had a better game than he did against PSG.

One of the trickiest aspects of Di Matteo’s job this summer will be figuring out what the best combination of players is, particularly in midfield.  That job is even harder with some key guys like Mata and Sturridge currently busy at the Olympics.  I thought the first half offensive group (Lampard, Essien, Benayoun, Ramires, Marin, Lukaku) significantly outperformed the second half group (Mikel, Meireles, Hazard, Piazon, Malouda, De Bruyne).

Last night’s loss was disappointing because you want to see your team dominate in preseason.  But it’s not that big a deal.  There is a still lot of preseason yet to go.  The team is already in Miami for their final U.S. Tour stop where they’ll play A.C. Milan on Saturday.

Your thoughts on Chelsea’s performance last night?

Off to a Good Start

Chelsea defeats Seattle Sounders 4-2

Chelsea beat Seattle last night in the Blues’ first preseason match.  With six total goals, it was an entertaining game for fans, though oddly all six came in the first half.

For me, the best thing about the match was seeing Chelsea’s new signings for the first time.  Marko Marin and Eden Hazard were the most impressive (and each scored a goal).  It was encouraging to see their speed in transition, and accuracy in passing and shooting on goal.

I was also pleased to see Romelu Lukaku get two goals in a lone striker position.  The poor guy will probably be saddled with Drogba comparisons all season, but the strength on the ball he demonstrated, particularly on his first goal, couldn’t help but remind us of good ol’ Didier.  Lukaku has tons of potential – he’s still only nineteen!  I hope we get to see his aerial prowess tested this preseason.  With his height, he could be a great target.  I’d also like to see him be able to possess the ball in the box area long enough to dish it off or create space for himself to shoot.  Last night wasn’t a fantastic performance from Lukaku.  Aside from his two goals, he wasn’t involved very much.  But he definitely showed enough to make me hope Chelsea doesn’t loan him out this season.

In the second half, we also got a good first look at Kevin De Bruyne.  Like Marin and Hazard in the first half, De Bruyne showed a lot of speed and energy.  I liked his eagerness to shoot, though he wasn’t as accurate as Marin was from similar areas of the field.  De Bruyne will really have to prove himself this preseason since Chelsea has so much talent at midfield.  He might be a good striker off the bench as well, but with Mata, Torres, Sturridge, and Lukaku available, it won’t be easy to get starts.  I liked De Bruyne’s effort last night, it will just be interesting to see if there’s room for him in the first team.

Of course, it was fun to see Lampard and Essien mixing it up with the new guys in the second half.  I really hope Essien makes a full return to his regular starting role.  I still think he has a lot to contribute.

My favorite thing about Chelsea’s play last night was their fast transitions through the middle third of the pitch.  I complained a lot last season about their slow transitions and build-up play.  If they can hone the kind of transitions we saw last night, they will be a lot more dangerous (and fun to watch) next season!

What did you think of Chelsea’s play against Seattle?

Blues in the News

Rounding up the day’s miscellaneous Chelsea info

The Blues are still working hard in Seattle ahead of tomorrow night’s preseason friendly against the Sounders.  If you’re a Chelsea fan living in the Seattle vicinity you’d be crazy not to attend the team’s open-to-the-public training session at CenturyLink Field tonight at 6:00.  It’s free of charge!

Player news and rumors today include the possibility of Fulham acquiring Romelu Lukaku on loan for the season.  I would frown on that move.  After much hype surrounding his signing last season, Chelsea didn’t give the 19-year-old much of a shot.  Though he’s below Torres and Sturridge on the depth chart, I’d like to see what he could do.  Let’s face it, we still don’t know which Torres will show up this season, so the club could potentially use a tall, strong, hungry striker like Lukaku.

Another 19-year-old, Josh McEachran, is supposedly meeting with Di Matteo this week to discuss his role (or potential lack of a role) in the lineup this season.  McEachran is a tricky case because he has tons of potential (his passing and positioning abilities are fantastic) but he’s still green, and it’s hard to see him getting many minutes in Chelsea’s currently stacked midfield.  You don’t want to let a guy like that slip away, but how do you incorporate him enough to keep him content while he continues maturing?  Loaning him out for another season may be the best option to keep him in the fold while getting him the top-level match experience he needs.

Several news outlets are reporting the deal for Oscar the Brazilian wonder kid has been finalized.  Still no official word from Chelsea FC though.

On the rumor front, rumblings have resumed that Chelsea are after Napoli’s striker Edinson Cavani.  Could be an interesting move.  He certainly terrorized Chelsea’s defense in the Champions League last season.  If this deal happens however, my bet is Lukaku will have to pack his bags for Craven Cottage.

Finally, Frank Lampard was a guest on Dan Patrick’s radio show today.  It was a fun interview covering an array of topics from Beckham’s Olympic snub to Wayne Rooney’s hair plugs.  You can listen to the whole segment here

What should Chelsea do with Lukaku and McEachran?  Does Chelsea need Cavani?

Chelsea in Seattle

Blues arrive in America for two week tour

The blog has been on pause for a couple weeks while I’ve been vacationing with my family.  But I’m back home now, just in time for Chelsea’s arrival stateside for their four-city tour, which kicks off this Wednesday in Seattle against the Sounders (you can see it live on ESPN2).  The team touched down in Seattle yesterday evening to begin a busy couple weeks of training, matches, and publicity.

When Chelsea last visited the States in 2009, they swung by the then brand new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (which is just a few minutes from my house) for a game against Mexican side Club America.

Pre-game shot I took at Cowboys Stadium in 2009 before the Chelsea v. Club America match.

Unfortunately, the Blues’ U.S. tour this time around is geographically peripheral with stops in Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, and Miami – locales too far-flung for my schedule and pocketbook this summer.  But I’ll still be closely tracking the team’s American adventure, so be sure to check back here regularly for updates.

Chelsea released their tour roster yesterday, which is an exciting mix of youngsters and veterans.  I don’t envy DiMatteo’s task of determining a first team from this talented pool.  Making his job even more difficult are the major players who will join the tour later (Terry, Torres, Meireles, Cole, and Malouda – due to their post-Euro 2012 rest) and four players not even on the tour since they will be playing in the Olympics (Bertrand, Sturridge, Romeu, and Mata).

Welcome to America, Chelsea!  Hope you enjoy your stay and here’s hoping we get to enjoy four Blues victories while you’re here!

Which of Chelsea’s four U.S. pre-season matches are you looking forward to the most?

Future Blues

Latest Chelsea rumors and realities

After a slow start to the traditional summer transfer craziness due to the Euro 2012 tourney, things are about to heat up.  Now that the Euro 2012 Final is history (congrats to Spain!) clubs will be scrambling in July to assemble their rosters in time for the new season.

Here are some of the latest rumors involving current or potential Chelsea players.  These are solely rumors, approximately 99.9 % of which are planted by players’ agents, so all must be taken with a large grain of salt:

The LA Galaxy might offer Frank Lampard a two-year deal to go Hollywood.  Not sure how they would cram in another designated player when they’ve already got Keane, Beckham, and Donovan, but if any MLS team can finagle it, LA can.  Lampard is such a Chelsea stalwart that I can’t imagine him leaving.  If he had to go, it would be fun to see him in MLS, but I don’t want Lamps to leave Chelsea!

Chelsea has supposedly declined an offer from FC Copenhagen to acquire Romelu Lukaku on loan for the upcoming season.  Hope this means Chelsea is going to work Lukaku into the lineup more next season.  Looking forward to seeing what the Belgian has to offer.

I’ve read a couple rumors about Chelsea being interested in Arsenal’s Theo Walcott.  I file this one under “unexciting”.  Walcott hasn’t been a consistent starter for Arsenal and I feel like Chelsea already has a similar player in Daniel Sturridge.  I’d rather keep Sturridge.

Chelsea seems quite interested in Wigan striker Victor Moses, but their initial offer was apparently laughed off by Wigan.  Moses is semi-interesting, but I’d rather see Chelsea give Sturridge and Lukaku a chance to fulfill their potential.

Chelsea may try to get right back Maicon from Inter Milan.  Don’t know much about him, but it might be a good idea as Chelsea ended up defensively short-handed late last season due to injuries.

Paris St. Germain may try to pry John Terry away from Chelsea.  While Terry’s also a perennial Blue, I actually wouldn’t be too disappointed to see him go.  For all his defensive prowess and leadership, he sure has made some boneheaded moves over the years.  And there’s still the small matter of his pending racial abuse case involving his on-field clash with QPR’s Anton Ferdinand last season.  I seriously doubt Chelsea will let Terry go though.

Finally, Chelsea is not renewing contracts for Salomon Kalou and Jose Bosingwa.  Both are players I won’t miss very much.  Their Chelsea seasons were a mixed bag of helpfulness and hurtfulness.  Still, they’ll always be a part of Chelsea nostalgia for their contributions to the club’s first Champions League title.

Which of these are good ideas?  Bad ideas?  Feel free to weigh in below…

Talkin’ Sash

Chelsea’s new away kit is pretty cool except…

Chelsea recently released their new away kit for the 2012/13 season.  The Adidas duds are primarily white and classy overall – until you get to that baby blue sash.  The sash… arrrrgh!  It’s so overrated and overused in world soccer at the moment.  Nike used it pretty effectively for the U.S. national team at the 2010 World Cup in a nice nod to the 1950 U.S. World Cup squad who pulled off that famous upset of England.  But the last couple years have seen an outbreak of frequently hideous sashes (exhibit A in the hideous department is Sweden’s current away jersey, which resembles a road sign).  And now the sash has infected Chelsea.

Pumped about the sash: Frank Lampard, Daniel Sturridge, John Terry, and two unidentified summer transfers…

The new Chelsea away kit is almost an instant classic with its uncluttered, clean look, and tasteful Adidas shoulder stripes.  Many soccer fans hate all white uniforms, but I’ve always liked them.  The plainer white the kit, the better as far as I’m concerned.  But then they have to go and add that diagonal sash.  To be fair, the Chelsea sash isn’t a disaster as sashes go.  It’s simply unnecessary to the uniform.  Sorry to be such a sash basher, but they always remind me of beauty pageant contestants and dictators.

I also think if you’re going with a mostly white uniform, you need to complete the ensemble with white socks.  But this getup’s socks are black.  Oh well.  It could be worse.  I do like that they went with different shades of blue rather than off-the-wall colors that are totally unrelated to the club’s core colors.  Overall, it’s a mixed review.  Certainly not bad, but I’m not going to rush out and get this one.  Blame the sash.

What do you think of Chelsea’s new away kit?

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?

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?