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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?

Chelsea v. Kitchee

Blues roll to another preseason victory

1stHalf Highlights/Commentary

-Chelsea sported their new black away kit for the first time in a match.  Looked snazzy overall.

-Chelsea came out looking confident and enthusiastic with a lot of immediate possession.  Much more energetic from Chelsea than their previous two Asian games.

-Chelsea didn’t get the ball to Drogba enough in the first fifteen minutes.  He wasn’t a threat.  Granted, it’s not easy to crack the goal with eight or nine Kitchee defenders cramming the box.

-16th min:  Drogba finally found some space and served a great cross from the right to Kalou who connected with his head, but the ball bounced off the ground, then off the crossbar.  No goal.

-A primary difference between Drogba and Torres – Drogba usually fights to win back the ball when he loses it.  Torres often lets it go.

-Thirty minutes in, Chelsea still looked better than previous games, but for all their possession, still not enough shots on goal to show for their effort.

-Chelsea had plenty of room on the flanks, as they often do, but they’ve got to figure out a way to deal with these defenses packed in the center of the box, because they’ll be facing similar strategy all year against EPL teams.

-36th min:  Benayoun made a great cut into the box.  One touch too many took away his shooting opportunity, but he was hacked down, and the ref awarded a PK which Lampard put away to make it 1 – 0 for Chelsea.

-43rd min:  Great free kick by Drogba from about 35 yards out.  Kitchee GK had to make a good save.

2nd Half Highlights/Commentary

-49th min:  Great grounder cross from Malouda on the left.  Drogba made a good run to tap it in, but didn’t have to as the Kitchee defender knocked it into the net.  2 – 0 for Chelsea.

-60th min:  Deflected cross from Malouda was knocked in by an aggressive Drogba header (once again the kind of hustle I’d like to see from Torres).  3 – 0 for Chelsea.

-61st min:  Torres, Sturridge, McEachran, Ivanovic, and Mikel entered the game for Drogba, Malouda, Zhirkov, Terry, and Lampard respectively.

-Sturridge was off target with a distance shot and a free kick just a few minutes after entering the game, but it was good to see his hunger and enthusiasm for goal.

-72nd min:  Sturridge made a nice leading pass down the right to Fereirra who crossed it right across the goal and past Torres who seemed to jog toward it.  For some reason, commentator Martin Tyler immediately came to Torres’ defense, saying “at full throttle – and he [Torres] shouldn’t be expected to be at full throttle at this stage of the preseason – that would’ve been a goal.”  I disagree.  Why isn’t Torres digging deep to try to win a starting spot?  Torres didn’t seem to be expecting the cross.  I don’t get it.  Drogba would’ve gone all out trying to get the ball in the net.  Torres was hesitant and slow and it was entirely typical of his play since joining Chelsea.  I’ll try to take a break from Torres-bashing, but I just can’t believe we haven’t seen any change in his effort.

-Rajkovic has potential.  He’s a tall, intimidating presence in the back line.  He did have a few awkward touches on the ball today, which he probably would’ve paid for in an EPL match.  Shortly after one such touch late in the second half, Nathaniel Chalobah replaced him in the game.

-77th min:  Sturridge showed tremendous skill in the box, getting by two defenders and rifling in a smart shot from a tough angle on the right side.  4 – 0 for Chelsea.

Sturridge is making a strong case for himself to be a regular starter.  At the moment, if there are three starting forward positions open, Drogba and Sturridge deserve 2 of the 3 slots (with Kalou and Malouda neck-in-neck for the 3rd).

-The “Barclay’s Man of the Match” was Yossi Benayoun – a deserved honor for a player who has looked aggressive and hungry throughout the preseason to win a regular starting spot.  After struggling with injury last year, it’s good to see him fit and contributing.

-90th min:  Torres took a strike from 30 yards out that hit the right post.  It was a good idea.  Here’s hoping we see more of that assertiveness from him Saturday against Aston Villa.

Who are the top three Chelsea forwards so far this preseason?

Chelsea: The Age-Old Question

Villas-Boas defends Blues veterans

I saw a few stories this morning about Sir Alex Ferguson’s jabs at Chelsea, basically saying the Blues haven’t done much to alleviate their ageing problem this summer.  Andre Villas-Boas responded by pointing to the squad’s past success and reiterating his belief that they are still strong contenders.

First of all, Fergie is a master of the mind game sound bite (covert trash-talking).  Man U’s currently rolling across America, full of confidence, toppling MLS teams left and right.  So with the EPL season just a few weeks away, Fergie figures it’s time to launch a strategic barb, aimed at the club he must know will be Man U’s primary title competition next season.  With all the talk of Chelsea’s “struggles” last season, it’s easy to forget that they finished a not-too-distant second (and that was with all their supposed geezers in the lineup).

Secondly, Fergie is hardly one to talk about ageing players.  Ryan Giggs is still a regular starter for goodness sake.  And what about the recently retired Neville and Scholes?  I guess they weren’t playing as regularly as Chelsea’s core group of vets, but still.  Sir Alex seems to believe in keeping vintage players around and the past few seasons I’ve thought him wise to do so.

Andre Villas-Boas is taking the right approach with the Chelsea roster.  People are too quick to write off players over 30.  Any other EPL team in their right mind would start Terry, Lampard, or Drogba as often as possible.  And those who say Chelsea is just relying on the same old squad haven’t been paying much attention.  What about Luiz, Ramires, Mikel, Kalou?  And this preseason has shown significant youth promise for the club with McEachran, Bertrand, Van Aanholt, Sturridge, and Chalobah.

Don’t be fooled by Fergie’s mind tricks, Chelsea fans – AVB’s got a strong mix of veterans and youngsters brewing.  In the end, I think it will make an exciting, winning combination.

Do you think Chelsea needs more youth in the starting eleven?

Chelsea @ Malaysia XI

1-0 Chelsea win leaves much to be desired from Blues

1st Half Highlights (or lowlights)/Commentary

-Good to see Bertrand and McEachran in the starting eleven.

-Chelsea played a 4-3-3 formation as preferred by Andre Villas-Boas at Porto.

-I’m unfamiliar with Slobodan Rajkovic in the back line (22-year-old).  Apparently he has European work permit issues so he’s getting a look during the Asia tour.

-2nd min:  Benayoun took a giveaway and gave great through-ball to Torres who slid a grounder right to the goalie.  Torres should’ve finished the golden opportunity.

-First third of the game was very sluggish possession-wise for Chelsea.  67 passes in first 12 minutes or so, but in small spurts, often broken up, with very little flow and only a couple chances from Benayoun passes.

-I’d like to see a little more aggressiveness and snap.  Manchester United and Real Madrid look sharper and hungrier for goals in their recent U.S. friendlies.

-17th min:  Bertrand hit cross from left that was mis-cleared, Kalou tapped it to Lampard who missed the goal badly.

-19th min:  Excellent through-ball from Kalou to Torres who couldn’t toe it in from a tough angle.

-Through first 20 minutes, Chelsea defense looked very calm and composed.  No real threats from Malaysia XI.

-Some impressive work from Bertrand passing and dribbling down left side.

-29th min:  Lampard free kick right on edge of box, but he smashed it off Malouda and out of play.

-Torres was static off the ball for much of the half.  Not encouraging.

-Chelsea looked pretty sloppy in the final third, which was a problem for much of last season.

-36th min:  Bosingwa threw an unusual mini-tantrum, throwing the ball away when he disagreed with a throw-in call.  A few minutes later Kalou protested when he was called for a clear hand-ball.  Both cases showed poor sportsmanship/professionalism from Chelsea, particularly for a friendly!  They should know better.

-37th min:  Patrick Van Aanholt replaced Bertrand at left back.  Not sure if it was planned, or if Bertrand was gassed.  Surprising move because Bertrand looked strong and confident.

-39th min:  Torres made one good move past a defender inside the left side of the box to get a shot off, but once again from a bad angle.

-With 40 minutes gone, one of the game commentators remarked that, “…preseason or not, [he is] exceptionally underwhelmed by Chelsea.  No real movement.  No real desire.”  I couldn’t have agreed with him more!

-42nd min:  Lampard missed another chance in the box, right in front of goal, after a quick succession of nice passes (though he looked to be barely offside anyway).

-45th min:  Great cross from Bosingwa but Torres barely missed getting his head on it and Benayoun’s resulting clean-up shot was blocked by a defender.

Summary:  While you can’t read too much into preseason matches, this was a very disappointing start from Chelsea.  You would expect that competition for playing spots would inspire more aggressiveness and spark from players trying to impress the manager.  Alas, there was very little energy or zip from the squad in the first half with the exceptions of Benayoun and Bertrand.

2nd Half

-An entirely new eleven started the second half.

-47th min:  Mikel made the kind of quality long-range shot that was missing in the first half.

-First 10 minutes of the second half Chelsea showed a bit more desire, but not many scoring chances to show for it.

-60th min:  Good initiative by Terry, taking a ball at midfield and rushing it forward.  Nice leading pass to Anelka who passed it back toward the middle, but a defender cleared it out.

-20 minutes into the second half I was getting restless.  It seemed every Chelsea pass was just out of reach, or intercepted, or headed away.  Far too many long balls.  Little build-up passing.  The initial hope brought on by the second half eleven began to fade.

-69th min:  Zhirkov free kick found Terry’s head but it went a couple feet over the crossbar.  At least Terry was showing some leadership with his aggressiveness.

-70th min:  Sturridge ran onto a ball, took it into the box and hit a nice low shot, but the GK made a great save.

-As usual, Drogba worked much harder off the ball than Torres.  He makes things happen.  He’s a troublemaker for defenses.  Hopefully Torres will learn from Drogba’s wily ways!

-78th min:  Drogba free kick outside left side of the box was a screamer that the goalkeeper barely got a hand on.  The ball bounced off the post, off the GK’s back, bounced on the line, and was ruled a goal by the linesman.  Replays clearly showed the ball did not cross the line.

-85th min:  Malaysia missed an easy goal after an unusual lapse in the middle of the Chelsea defense.

-Billy Clifford (midfielder), Mikel, and Anelka were invisible for the last 20 minutes.  Not good.

Summary:  With the Blues players only having to play one half, we should have seen much more hustle and desire.  Yes it’s only preseason, but Malaysia is a team that lost to Liverpool 6-3 just last week.  That’s the kind of dominating result you want to encourage and reward a team for training hard in preseason.  You want to blaze through these tune-up games, build confidence, and peak in time for the EPL season premier against Stoke.

Overall, absolutely not the energetic, goal-blitz I was looking for from Chelsea.  It was a lackadaisical effort that brought back bad memories of last season.  Andre Villas-Boas couldn’t have been impressed.  Hopefully he’ll light a fire under the team before the next match in Thailand on Sunday!

How do you think Chelsea played today?