Referee assists Chelsea in squandering three-goal lead
It was basically sickening on Sunday. As soon as Rooney predictably rammed home his second PK of the afternoon I knew the match would end in a draw. Even though Chelsea still led 3-2 at that point, I’ve been around the soccer block too many times to think that the Blues would actually be able to hold off Manchester United for the rest of the match. I was right. Javier Hernandez, that little Man U rascal who is incomprehensibly allowed to wear his cutesy nickname on the back of his jersey rather than his real name, tied the game with a wickedly timed run and header. I hate that I’ve turned into a Chelsea version of a Chicago Cubs fan this season, but Chelsea has choked a few too many times this campaign to retain much optimism in big games (or little ones actually).
What makes last Sunday’s 3-3 draw all the more painful is that for the first hour or so things were falling into place so beautifully! Sturridge showing some speedy signs of life and scoring the opening goal (so what if it was officially a Red Devil own goal?). Then Juan Mata’s hair-raising volley smash on the end of Torres’ cross to kick off the second half! Then David Luiz’s well-timed header goal just moments later! It was all too good to be true.
About those PKs against Chelsea… the first one was probably deserved. Sturridge got a little over-zealous. But the second one against Ivanovic a few minutes later was a ridiculous call! It wasn’t a penalty. Normally I think Howard Webb is one of the world’s better refs. And I don’t envy anyone who has to attempt to officiate matches as big as this one. But Webb had a very off day. Besides the penalty decisions he was wildly inconsistent all afternoon, toward both sides. Top-flight soccer simply must have instant replay for calls inside the penalty box.
I saw the Man U game as a last opportunity to rescue Chelsea’s dismal season – that maybe a victory would spark some life into the sputtering squad and help ensure they at least retain a Champions League spot for next season. Now, the forecast is still very uncertain. They will have to scrap for every remaining point.
Adding to the on-field woes is the recent chatter about locker room disharmony and players having issues with AVB. Piled on top of that are the rather ridiculous rumors (or are they?) of Jose Mourinho wanting to return to Chelsea. What a mess! It would be a mistake to dismiss AVB this early. He’s made some iffy calls along the way, but it’s not his fault the season has gone so poorly (just like Carlo Ancelotti shouldn’t have been blamed for last season’s shortcomings). I don’t know that Mourinho would be able to turn things around any more effectively. Chelsea needs stability right now. They should give AVB two more seasons before reassessing.
What do you think about Andre Villas-Boas’ management this season? Should he be given more time? Feel free to weigh in below…
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…
Chelsea rebound with 3 – 0 victory over Wolves
Whew! Finally – a nice stroll in the park Chelsea win for a change. After the tumultuous past two matches, it was a relief for Chelsea fans to enjoy a relatively stress-free match. In fact, the win over Wolves was precisely what yours truly suggested in my last post – multiple goals and a clean sheet. Nice to know the club was listening.
The goals came from Terry, Sturridge, and Mata – all in the first half. Chelsea got off to a more aggressive start than we’ve seen recently. They looked sharper and more focused overall. It was gratifying to see them maintain that focus for the full ninety and preserve their third shutout of the Premier League season.
Despite looking better the Blues offensive buildup is still on the slow side. Generally, they give defenses too much time to settle in, which has often neutralized Drogba and Torres this season. Speaking of, Drogba had several flashes of brilliance today but still looks a bit rusty. He even seemed lazy on occasion, when some hustle would’ve yielded better positioning. As for Torres, his continues to be a very disappointing situation. The sad and surprising (considering how great he was at Liverpool) thing is that he is not missed when he’s left out of the Chelsea lineup. They actually don’t need him right now. Sturridge and Mata excel without him. I would still like to see Torres become a great Chelsea player, but I completely understand AVB’s reluctance to play him lately.
Two reasons Chelsea looked so much better today were the contributions of Ramires and Ashley Cole. Ramires was oddly silent during the Bayer Leverkusen game, but was back in form today, creating space and opportunity with his speed and endurance. Cole continues to be an absolutely essential wingman for Chelsea – very consistent in the back and a constant threat going forward. He was definitely missed during the Bayer Leverkusen game (due to a minor ankle injury).
It may have been slightly disappointing that Chelsea didn’t convert any of their second half scoring chances, but with no major defensive mistakes, the win will be a good morale booster. The Blues took care of business today – an absolute must considering all the challenging matches leading up to Christmas!
What must Chelsea do to maintain momentum following the Wolves win?
Chelsea enjoys 3 – 1 victory over Everton
It was good to see the Blues back in action after the lengthy international break. I’m not much of a fan of the international breaks by the way. I understand their necessity and I don’t have a better solution to offer, but I’d rather not have them interrupting the season.
Chelsea put in an excellent performance against Everton yesterday. It was a mostly comfortable victory – one that actually reminded me of the ‘09/10 EPL title winning Blues. This season’s Sunderland, Bolton, and Everton wins are reminiscent of Chelsea’s more dominant phases of the past several years. Things are looking up. If only they hadn’t let Man U get the better of them!
Conceding a late goal to Everton slightly marred the day. Defensively, sometimes it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with a three-goal lead, but Chelsea really needs to seal those leaks in preparation for tougher days ahead. Petr Cech must be banging his padded noggin against his locker lamenting the lack of clean sheets this season.
One major confidence booster for Chelsea and its fans is the current lineup depth. It sure is heartening to see the likes of Malouda and Anelka warming up as substitutes! It’s an embarrassment of riches really. I think Chelsea has the best depth in the league right now. Look at the guys who weren’t playing yesterday: Torres, Luiz, Alex, Meireles, Lukaku. The TV cameras even gave us a glimpse of Michael Essien in the stands, still out with his knee injury. Here’s hoping Essien can rejoin the squad for the second half of the season!
Other thoughts from the game…
Bosingwa has surprised and impressed me this year. He has been quite a reliable right back from preseason on. However, if I’m being picky, his crosses into the box, or pass selection at the end of positive runs down the wing, are often hasty and sloppy.
Hope Ramires’ knee injury suffered when netting Chelsea’s third goal just turns out to be a knock. He has been Chelsea’s Energizer bunny this season and would be missed if he has to sit out long. Ramires could turn into a long-term star for Chelsea.Juan Mata is looking like a genius signing thus far. He is all over the field, offensively innovative, with great passing and deft ball handling.
Likewise, Daniel Sturridge continues to impress. Chelsea needs to wrap him up with a long-term contract.
Drogba had a bit of an off day, but he’ll come around. He was still involved through his strong physical presence and made several key passes. I still think he should start alongside Torres once Fernando returns from his three-match red card ban.
It was a good weekend for Chelsea fans and a positive primer for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Genk!
Thoughts on Chelsea’s performance against Everton? Feel free to share below…
Blues dominate at Sunderland
The big news before today’s match was that Torres would start… on the bench. Word is that AVB ain’t all that thrilled that Nando left his magic scoring boots in Liverpool.
On the good news front for Chelsea: Cech was back in goal today. It was also great to see David Luiz again, even if it was just on the bench.
Overall, a rather un-dramatic match today. It was pretty much a walk in the park for the Blues. But after the last couple nail-biters, this Chelsea fan welcomed the break. Here are a few of my game notes:
-Early on, some classic Cole runs up the left wing from the back. Ashley Cole is an unsung workhorse for Chelsea. He’s so reliable in his position that it’s easy to take him for granted.
-11th min: Mata made a great run into the box, but Anelka couldn’t do anything with Mata’s cutback pass. In fact, Anelka was virtually absent for the first 10 minutes.
-18th min: Fantastic finish by Terry for a Chelsea goal! And nice cross from Sturridge to kick off the frantic sequence in the box, which led to the goal.
-First quarter of the game was nothing for Chelsea to write home about. Not bad, but nothing flashy. Expected a little more precise possession. Apparently they’re still working out the kinks with new players in the lineup.
-Mata was a very bright spot for Chelsea in the first half hour. Always moving, trying to make things happen. Some smart and spot-on passes from him.
-Sturridge was energetic, trying hard to get involved, though he missed a great low-level cross from Bosingwa in the 37th minute.
-By the end of the first half the game was very casual with Sunderland content to let Chelsea bring the ball forward.
-51st min: Great 40-yard pass from Anelka to Sturridge who then cleverly back heeled the ball into the goal!
-63rd min: Awesome on-goal half volley from Malouda (in his very first touch of the game), but it was saved by Sunderland’s keeper.
-75th min: Torres replaced Mata. Probably a well-timed choice by AVB to get Torres into a low-pressure situation. Unfortunately, Torres barely touched the ball.
-79th min: Oriol Romeu made his Chelsea debut, replacing Anelka for the game’s home stretch. He didn’t see the ball enough to make much of an impression.
-91st min: Chelsea allowed a very disappointing Sunderland goal to make it 2 – 1.
-94th min: Scariest minute of the game as Sunderland suddenly sprang to life, launching several balls into the Chelsea box. Chelsea had a sudden 3-on-1 offensive situation after Cech launched the ball downfield out of danger. Torres received it and had a wide-open Ramires to his right, but made an absolutely dreadful waste of a pass that went out of bounds. Fortunately for him, the game was over seconds later!
So, a solid win for Chelsea, even though it wasn’t the kind of commanding victory that the Manchesters have produced. After Man U thrashed Bolton today, I’m leery of the Blues’ trip to Old Trafford next weekend. Before psyching themselves up for that one, Chelsea turn their attention to Bayer Leverkusen in Champions League play on Tuesday. Things are about to get interesting!
What did you think about Chelsea’s performance against Sunderland? How will Chelsea fare against Bayer and Manchester United next week?