The January transfer window is open and Chelsea changes are afoot
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.
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?
It’s been quite a month for the Blues
My how much can change at the ol’ Chelsea Football Club in such a short amount of time! You go a month without blogging about the Blues and look what happens. Benitez becomes the new coach… Fans repeatedly boo Benitez… Chelsea gets bounced from the Champs League… Chelsea gets bounced from the Club World Cup… Torres struggles at striker… wait, that last one’s no different from any other of the nearly 24 months since Fernando became a Chelsean. Anyways, very eventful weeks since I last updated this blog.
My soccer-coaching season is in full swing and life has been hectic, so that’s my excuse for the silence on all the upheaval at CFC – that, and the fact that I’m still disappointed by the Di Matteo canning. The coaching carousel at Chelsea has become so absurd that you really just have to throw up your “whatever!” hands. I guess if you buy a pro soccer club with your bazillions, you can do whatever you want with your club, even firing beloved managers.
Getting rid of Di Matteo was dumb, and Chelsea fans’ negative reaction to Benitez’s arrival has been humorous, but in the spirit of Christmas, it’s probably time to get o’er it, stop badgering Benitez, and get back to cheering on the Blue boys. After all, they’ve got Europa League to play for, and Capital One Cup! Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but it’s just because I’m so disappointed that Chelsea’s out of the Champs League. I haven’t even checked this week’s draw for the knockout round because it’s just not the same without the Blues. The day Chelsea got eliminated (thanks to Shakhtar’s sudden, complete soccer ineptitude – at home no less!), a package actually arrived at my house containing Kings of Europe, the Chelsea Champs League-winning commemorative hardcover book I’d ordered for my birthday. I was left thumbing through the pages with the hollow knowledge that Chelsea are the first Champs League champs in history not to make the knockout round the following season. The book is terrific by the way and would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for that special Chelsea fan in your life. But it’s kind of a sad gift now, what with all the full-color pics of Di Matteo and Drogba celebrating with the big-eared trophy. Sniff, sniff. There are even some shots of Michael Essien. I miss those guys. In today’s soccer world, it sure doesn’t take long to seriously alter a team’s identity!
On the plus side, Chelsea is still a good team. The new guys are doing well: Hazard, Oscar, Moses. Lamps is back from injury. And who knows, maybe the lack of Champs League travel and distraction will help Chelsea claw their way back into Premier League title contention. Here’s hoping anyway.
Merry Christmas to all and thanks for reading this year!
Thoughts on Chelsea’s busy month? Feel free to share below…
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!
Chelsea’s draw with Juventus and win over Stoke
It wasn’t an altogether happy week to be a Chelsea fan. I guess it sounds ungrateful to gripe about a Champions League draw (against Juventus last Wednesday) and Premier League win (over Stoke yesterday) – particularly if you’re, say, a Liverpool fan – but there are some frustrating aspects to the Blues’ recent performances that have made for some nerve-wracking matches.
Let’s start with that mid-week Champions League season opener against Juventus at Stamford Bridge. Plenty to be excited about in the first half thanks to new Blue Oscar’s two sweet, long-range goals. Plenty to be frustrated about too though, thanks to Chelsea’s ongoing inability to protect a lead.
For all of Chelsea’s intricate passing prowess – and they’ve certainly improved in that area this season – they’ve had far too many giveaways the past few matches. Mikel got a lot of heat for his careless turnover pass that led to Juventus’ equalizing goal, but Ramires has had an alarming number of errant passes recently. As a side note, Mikel’s error was extra painful after watching former Chelsea favorite Michael Essien excel in Real Madrid’s big Champions League win over Manchester City Tuesday. It underscored my feeling that Essien was unfairly (and unwisely) pushed out the door in favor of Mikel. I like Mikel, but I still think Essien is a more complete and reliable midfielder.
Chelsea squandered a great opportunity to beat Juventus and now faces a slightly more uphill Champions League climb than should’ve been necessary.
Against Stoke yesterday, we saw more of the same shiny Chelsea possession that fails to create many actual scoring chances. Hazard continues to provide tremendous spark and creativity, and Oscar continues to show potential. Mata, Hazard, Oscar, and Ramires constantly buzzed around the box, and constantly got knocked off the ball or fouled. These are small guys. Fast guys, but small guys. Chelsea lacks attacking muscle. Chelsea desperately needs a striker like, well, I hate to say it but, like Drogba – someone who can hold the ball in the box, create something out of nothing, or dish it off for another shooter. Torres is not that guy. I’m completely frustrated with Torres. Victor Moses provided much more energy when he entered the game in the 61st minute (though I don’t understand why he replaced Hazard). Moses should start over Torres immediately.
It was fitting that Ashley Cole got Chelsea’s only goal yesterday. He continues to be a bit of an unsung hero for Chelsea, a defensive stalwart whose hustle and drive never seem to waiver.
It’s great to see Chelsea atop the league of course, but they’re barely squeaking by right now. To maintain their position (and control their Champions League destiny) they need more consistency on defense and need to convert their offensive passing creativity into goals.
Your thoughts on Chelsea’s Champions League opener and/or victory over Stoke?
Sad thoughts on my favorite player being loaned to Real Madrid
So how ‘bout that UEFA Super Cup, huh? Yeah. Less said about that one the better. Let’s just chalk it up to one of those days when the whole squad wakes up and forgets to play soccer in the actual soccer match. Fortunately for Chelsea, it was a meaningless UEFA money-grubbing match. I’ve never watched the Super Cup before and only tuned in this time because Chelsea was playing. Well, sort of. Atletico Madrid was playing; Chelsea was mostly watching Falcao score goals.
Meanwhile, I was completely distracted by the Friday transfer window deadline rumor that my favorite Chelsea player, Michael Essien, was about to be loaned to Real Madrid for the season. Unfortunately it wasn’t just a rumor. Essien is now on his way to play for his former coach Jose Mourinho. I understand the business realities of big time soccer, but I am bitterly disappointed that Chelsea let Essien go.
Essien has been a favorite of Blues fans since Mourinho brought him to Chelsea from Lyon in 2005. He was a vital component of Chelsea’s Premier League Championship winning teams of 2005/2006 and 2009/2010. In pro sports it’s annoying how quickly pundits and club leadership tend to prematurely write off players. I don’t feel like Essien has been given a fair (and well deserved) chance to earn back his regular starting spot since returning this past January from the second serious knee injury of his career. I like Roberto Di Matteo, but my only major beef with his decision-making since he became Chelsea manager last spring has been his preference for Mikel over Essien. I like Mikel, but Essien at full fitness is a better player. Essien looked fantastic in the MLS All-Star game this summer. I was really looking forward to seeing his first full season since the 2008/2009 campaign. Now I feel cheated since he’s been available but rarely used during his last several months in a Chelsea uniform.
I’m not really sure what Chelsea is saying with this loan. It’s a frustrating tease for Essien fans, because the club is leaving the door open for his possible return, but with so many new youngsters, that seems unlikely. My prediction is that he’ll become the old Essien under Mourinho and kick some major tail in Madrid. Come January, Mourinho will probably snap him up on a permanent basis. Meanwhile Chelsea will still be wasting minutes on Raul Meireles. It would make more sense for Chelsea to loan out someone like the 19-year-old Oscar, and get another solid 4-5 years out of Essien (he is still just 29 after all).
I’ve had an uneasy feeling for a long time that something like this might happen to Essien. The only move away from Chelsea I’d ever be excited about is if he showed up on my doorstep as an FC Dallas Designated Player. But that’s never going to happen. First Drogba, now Essien. It seems the Chelsea brass are conspiring to ship out all my favorite Blues. Who’s next? Lampard?
Chelsea has a good team this season. They would have a better one if Michael Essien were in the lineup.
Sad about Michael Essien’s departure? Feel free to share your cathartic thoughts below…
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?
Drogba leaves Chelsea for Shanghai
This week Didier Drogba made it official that he’s joining Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll presumably finish out his remarkable playing career. He first announced his Chelsea departure the week after the team’s amazing Champions League Final victory in which he scored the winning PK. If he was going to leave Chelsea, it was understandably an ideal time to depart – going out on top as the hero (not only in the Final, but in several other crucial moments of the season).
If Chelsea hadn’t won the Champions League this year, perhaps Drogba would’ve pushed harder to strike a new deal with the club. But since they won, he’s moving on to a new challenge. I’m not sure what he finds appealing about Chinese soccer though. If he was going to leave Chelsea, I wish he’d chosen MLS.
Drogba has been one of my favorite Chelsea players, but it’s hard to be bitter about his departure. He seemed genuinely torn up about leaving. Plus, in today’s transfer happy world, he stayed at Stamford Bridge longer (2004-2012) than a lot of players do at any club.
Chelsea will seem a bit strange for me without Drogba because he was a major reason I became a Blues fan in the first place. He, along with Michael Essien and Michael Ballack, first really caught my eye during the 2006 World Cup. Since all three of them played for Chelsea at the time, I quickly became partial to the Blues.
Drogba is a Chelsea legend. It won’t be the same to tune in Saturdays and not see him in blue, muscling his way around the box, rifling shots from crazy angles. But it sure was fun while it lasted!
What are your favorite Drogba moments as a Chelsea player?
Chelsea finishes season as European Champions
I’m still shaking my head about Chelsea winning the Champions League. It’s not that I didn’t believe they could do it, after all, once they made it past Barcelona anything was possible. But Chelsea was so wildly inconsistent this season, it was impossible to predict how the team would fare on the hostile home turf of Bayern Munich.
The final was only slightly less of a nail-biter than the Barcelona semifinals. I was nervous at the opening whistle when Chelsea’s lineup and configuration immediately indicated they were going to sit back and play defense. I was hoping they’d take the fight to Bayern a little more, but that Roberto Di Matteo knows his way around the tactical board. His plan worked!
Defensively, I was uncertain how Cahill and Luiz would hold up after missing so many weeks with hamstring injuries but they did very well. Particularly pleasing was Luiz’s self-control – he didn’t make the kind of unwise challenges he’s been prone to before in big games. And what about Ashley Cole? Talk about an unsung hero for Chelsea this season! That guy apparently wanted him some of that big-eared trophy badly because he patrolled the Chelsea box like a Doberman.
The pundits were unfair to Chelsea before, during, and after the final. They seemed disappointed that the supposedly inferior team was hanging in so well against Bayern. It couldn’t be that Chelsea was putting up a scrappy, unified team effort according to the pundits, Chelsea was just incredibly lucky. Sure, Bayern had almost all the scoring chances, but they didn’t take advantage of them. Pundits have been driven crazy by this Chelsea team that was so poor in the Premier League and yet won the biggest club prize in the world. The attitude seems to be that Chelsea didn’t deserve to win because of their domestic play, so they stole the title by way of dumb luck. Here’s the deal pundits: Chelsea’s victory demonstrates what makes knock-out competitions so fun for fans – that you can have a struggling team that may not be as strong on paper, but manages to pull themselves together when the games really matter and end up winning it all. It may irk the experts to hear it, but Chelsea is the best team in Europe because they won the tournament.
I was certain Chelsea was defeated when Bayern scored with less than ten minutes to play. Drogba’s header goal just a few minutes later was so shocking in its suddenness and skillfulness that I laughed out loud. Then I thought the nail in the coffin for Chelsea was the penalty kick awarded after Drogba felled Ribery in the box. But no, Petr Cech snuffed out Robben’s shot. Amazing.
I next thought Chelsea were goners in the shootout – first when they lost the toss and had to shoot second, then especially when Mata’s first shot was blocked by the Hulk, I mean Neuer. Bayern was already up by two when Luiz stepped up as Chelsea’s second shooter. He backed up for the longest running start in the history of shootouts (I can’t actually verify that as fact) which I was sure would put the ball somewhere in the Bavarian countryside. Instead he practically blasted a hole in the back of the old onion bag.
Lampard, the most reliable PK taker on earth (I can’t verify that either) stepped up next and scored to make it Chelsea 2 – Bayern 3. Hope was still alive. Time for some Cech heroics next, as Petr batted away Olic’s shot. Now things were interesting. Ashley Cole tied things up in what looked like relaxed fashion. Schweinsteiger’s stuttered approach to his shot seemed uncertain and the result proved it as the ball dinged off the post. Now it was all up to Chelsea’s final kicker: Drogba. He set the ball down, adjusted his socks, and tucked the ball into the left corner of the goal, making Chelsea European Champions for the first time.
Chelsea tried the patience of even the most fervent Blues fans this season. Chelsea’s roller coaster season demonstrates why people follow teams and watch sports, because every once in a while you get to be part (even if it’s a tiny part and from a distance) of something inspiring and great.
Plus, it sure is fun.
Any thoughts on Chelsea’s championship season? Feel free to share below…