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?
Blues wrap up EPL season with win, now focused on Champions League Final
Another Premier League season came to a rousing close on Sunday. Though I can’t stand either of the Manchester teams, I was glad to see Man City snatch the title from Man U at the last second. It was the lesser of two evils I suppose.
On the relegation side of things, I was disappointed to see Bolton go down instead of QPR. I don’t like QPR – too many thugs. I do like Bolton coach Owen Coyle though and never expected them to be relegated this season.
As for Chelsea, their 2-1 win over Blackburn on Sunday was devoid of any suspense since Chelsea had completely tanked against Liverpool the previous Wednesday (losing 4-1). It was quite a bizarre defeat on the heels of beating Liverpool just three days earlier in the FA Cup Final! It was such a frustrating loss, I couldn’t bear to blog about it until now.
I’m not sure how Chelsea was so bad in the Liverpool loss, particularly since it was their last chance to possibly salvage a top four finish and ensure Champions League play next season. I really wanted to see them have that insurance just in case things go poorly in the Champions League Final in Munich this Saturday. Now there is added pressure because if they don’t beat Bayern Munich in the Final, Chelsea will suffer a yearlong Champions League drought. Not cool.
Chelsea previewed their new kit Sunday against Blackburn (see below). I like the classy, simple design. I was iffy about the gold lettering/stripes at first, but I think it’s going to work.
Conspicuously missing from the club’s ad campaign for the new Adidas kit is Didier Drogba. I hope his absence doesn’t mean he already has a foot out the door. If he does, everyone is keeping their lips impressively sealed.
When Di Matteo put Drogba in the game in the second half against Blackburn, the moment, and the crowd’s reaction, had a farewell vibe to it. Drogba has always been one of my favorite Chelsea players. I really hope he has a huge Champions League Final that will help motivate him to stay with Chelsea a couple more seasons.
This week is all about Champions League Final prep for Chelsea. Cahill and Luiz apparently trained with the team today, so hopefully they’ll be fit by Saturday. With all of Chelsea’s injuries and suspensions, I’m not feeling particularly confident at the moment. I’ll have to remind myself for the rest of the week that they got past Barcelona, so anything’s possible on Saturday, right?
What do you think of the new Chelsea kit? Do you think Drogba will be at Chelsea next season? Feel free to weigh in below…
Thoughts on Chelsea’s 2-1 loss at Man City and 0-0 draw with Tottenham
After the generally dismal season Chelsea fans have endured, the past couple weeks have been a very welcome respite. Just a month ago, a loss at Manchester City like the one this past Wednesday would’ve seriously irked Blues fans. But there is enough positive afterglow from the Champions League comeback against Napoli to outshine the disappointing loss at Manchester City.
This EPL season was a lost cause for Chelsea long ago. It’s all about Champions League survival now – advancing in the current tourney and qualifying for next season’s edition. It doesn’t render EPL games unimportant of course – a win Wednesday would’ve been very helpful, but yesterday’s clash with Tottenham at Stamford Bridge carried the most significance. Even interim Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo admitted a loss to Spurs might have put next season’s Champions League berth out of reach.
Chelsea and Tottenham played the whole match Saturday like they were afraid to lose. Mission accomplished as neither team scored. The goalless draw was more disappointing than the loss at Man City since no progress was made toward reducing the five point gap separating Spurs (in fourth place) and Blues (in fifth). It was a disheartening missed opportunity for Chelsea. Though there are eight league games remaining, it is a very tall order for Chelsea to overtake Tottenham. Failure to qualify for Champions League play next season would be a huge disappointment. It’s hard to imagine that competition without Chelsea! Still, there are eight games left. Chelsea must take care of business and hope Spurs sputter badly.
Meanwhile, there’s the little matter of Chelsea’s trip to Benfica Tuesday for the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. Can’t wait for that one. It’s going to be a suspenseful April for Blues fans!
What do you think – will Chelsea earn a Champions League slot for next season?
Chelsea’s title hopes vanish with 0 – 0 draw against Norwich City
Chelsea is not a championship team this season. There, I’ve said it. Now I actually feel a bit better. If admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, then I’m freely admitting it now on behalf of the Blues: they cannot win the Premier League this season. They can’t win any trophy this season playing the way they are. They simply don’t have the confident, hungry look of the ‘09/10 EPL Champion Blues. Not even close. I held out hope through the fall and Christmas season that the team’s veterans would shake off whatever was ailing them, turn the corner on this season, and really grapple with the Manchesters for the title. But this weekend’s 0 – 0 draw at Norwich City (coupled with the Manchesters winning their Sunday matches) made it official – at fourteen points behind league-leading Manchester City, the title is out of reach.
I just don’t have confidence in Chelsea right now (and haven’t for most of the season). I want to, but they’ve done nothing to instill any confidence. Saturday’s game at Norwich was one of those maddening contests in which Chelsea didn’t play poorly at all – they dominated possession and generally dictated the pace – yet they couldn’t cope with that pesky little aspect of the game called scoring goals.
For all the players Chelsea get forward, it’s remarkable how unoriginal the attack was Saturday. It usually consisted of crossing the ball in front of the goal where it could be headed away or cleared by one of the tall, tenacious Norwich City defenders. On several occasions Chelsea didn’t even have anyone attacking the crossed ball. Where’s the urgency?
I’ve ignored the Chelsea naysayers this season, stubbornly insisting that the Blues would turn the ship around in time. Now I’m concerned the naysayers may be right. I think it’s now officially a rebuilding year for the Blues. So I should probably start treating it as such – try to just enjoy the games one at a time and forget about the EPL title for this season. At least we’ve still got Champions League play (though I can’t realistically see Chelsea beating Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, or Barcelona at this point). Maybe with the title pressure off I’ll be able to enjoy the games more and stop expecting wins every time out because it’s simply not going to happen this season.
What do you think – are Chelsea’s title hopes out of reach for this season?
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’s Premier League title hopes look bleak after loss to Liverpool
I had a bad feeling about yesterday’s game. Chelsea has looked shaky lately. The shakiness started with that ridiculous loss at QPR a month ago, then was exacerbated by the Arsenal-supplied thrashing, and followed by the weak Champions League draw at Genk. All this in a season where Manchester City’s usually reliable meltdowns have yet to materialize, Man U beats everyone at will (except invincible Man City), and even Arsenal is suddenly unbeatable. String those factors together with the momentum-killing international break and you have the recipe for a disastrous loss against a very tough Liverpool. That was my fear going into yesterday’s game anyway. My fear was unfortunately confirmed.
The 2 – 1 loss to Liverpool was one of those absolutely maddening games for fans. One where you question why you care for any team or sport at all. Throughout my life, my favorite teams in all sports have been the almost teams – good but never quite good enough. There are probably some psychological insights to be mined as to why I always seem to favor almost-champions. Whatever the reason, I’ve never been drawn to the Manchester Uniteds of sports. I don’t know what it’s like to be able to kick back and enjoy domination. That’s why Chelsea’s ‘09/10 title win was so fun – it was an anomaly for me as a fan – with goals and wins flowing easily. But starting about this time last year, virtually every Chelsea game has seemed precarious. Last season’s slump seemed like a passing storm, but this season’s slump is worse because it seems to be rooted in deeper team problems that I can’t fully identify. At least with last season’s slump, first place was still in sight. This season I’m already sweating the unthinkable… loss of a Champions League slot.
Against Liverpool the Blues once again dominated possession, and once again had nothing to show for it. Possession is virtually worthless if it doesn’t produce legitimate scoring opportunities. The most frustrating aspect of the match was another hallmark of my favorite teams over the years: major mistakes (in this case defensive) that never seem to afflict opposing teams. Defensive errors are killing Chelsea this season! Liverpool had no such hiccups and therefore earned the win. Fox Soccer analyst Warren Barton had an interesting post-game Chelsea analysis. I hope he’s wrong about them, but I fear he’s right.
With things going so poorly for Chelsea domestically, it should be a relief that they’re still atop their Champions League group. But even that is little consolation this season, because while they’ll most likely advance to the knockout stages, it is very difficult to see them getting past the likes of the Manchesters or Bayern Munich, not to mention Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Indeed, things aren’t looking up for Chelsea at the moment, but at least they – and we, the fans – don’t have to wait very long to begin righting the ship. Wednesday it’s back to Champions League play at Bayer Leverkusen, then Saturday it’s home against Wolves. Let’s hope these harsh recent losses inspire new resolve in the Blues!
Will Chelsea finish in the top four in the Premier League this season?
Chelsea settles for a point against Valencia
I’m still smarting from Chelsea’s draw at Valencia in Wednesday’s Champions League group stage match. Chelsea seemed in utter control of the game. The Blues played well – not great – but their effort seemed to be more than enough to secure three points. But they only got one point thanks to an 86th minute PK scored by Valencia after Kalou hand-balled on a Valencia corner. Very frustrating.
Chelsea never should’ve been in danger of drawing as they had some seemingly easy scoring opportunities swatted away in the second half by Valencia’s acrobatic goalkeeper Diego Alves. Ramires had one such opportunity. I’m growing frustrated with Ramires because he seems to have trouble finishing. I love his endurance, work ethic, and willingness to ram the ball ahead, but he really must come through with his finishing.
Finally, Frank Lampard got the better of Diego Alves when Malouda sent a smart diagonal pass through the box which Lamps lethally one-timed into the back of the net with one of his trademark grass-scorchers. It was a great goal and a well-timed “shut up” to the over-eager soccer pundit boneheads who’ve lately been trying to read a lot into Lampard’s recent time on the bench for Chelsea and England. Giles Smith had some great things to say in Lampard’s defense in his weekly Chelsea blog. I agree with Smith that Frank still has much to contribute to the team.
Now back to that Kalou hand-ball in the game’s dying minutes… wow. Seriously? I’ve been impressed thus far with AVB’s handling of the squad, but it was definitely a mistake to insert Kalou. When I saw Kalou warming up alongside Drogba, I had a feeling AVB was going to go with Kalou because Kalou hasn’t seen much playing time lately, the game seemed to be in the bag so it might be a good chance to show Kalou some love, etc., etc. But it was the wrong game at the wrong time to show Kalou love. Why not just let the veteran Lampard see out the game? What on earth was Kalou, a striker, supposed to contribute in the last eight minutes? It seemed to be one of those political moves managers feel obliged to do at this level – giving run-outs to players who have lately been out of the rotation.
Balancing playing time is surely one of the trickiest aspects of managing a club with Chelsea’s talent. But Kalou should’ve remained on the bench. AVB understandably didn’t toss Kalou under the bus in his post-match comments, but I will: what was Kalou thinking? He wasn’t match-sharp and he ran out there and blew a perfectly good win. Sure, it’s early in Champions League play, but those squandered points could certainly come back to haunt! I’ve always had doubts about Kalou – the necessary consistency just doesn’t seem to be there. If I had to pick anyone to consider off-loading come January, it would be Kalou.
Anyway, it’s back to Premier League play tomorrow for Chelsea at Bolton. The pesky Manchesters are still refusing to lose domestically, so a win over Wanderers is a must for Chelsea!
What do you think – am I being too harsh toward Kalou?
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?