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…
A Special Invitation from Chelsea* to Drogba…
How’s life in China? How’s the food? The weather? How’s your Chinese coming along? Hope all is well.
Here’s the deal, Didier, we miss you at Stamford Bridge. We really need you to come back. Like this week. I know we parted ways on great terms, with you having just won the Champions League for us and all. If you were going to leave the club, it was the perfect time to do so. We were all very understanding, but let’s face it, our Champions League-winning high clouded our judgment. Now that we’ve had time to ponder… we think we made a big mistake.
Did you see our draw today against a very beatable Liverpool? Their striker Suarez saved the day for them again – a lot like you used to for Chelsea. We need a big time lethal striker again. That’s where you come in. We’ve got some great new guys this season we think you’ll really dig – guys like Hazard and Oscar. They’ve been creating great ball movement with Mata, but the problem is they need a real strongman in the box to feed the ball to. No one wreaks havoc in the box like you do. We really miss your ability to hold the ball and invent crazy-angled shots out of nothing. In case you’re wondering about Torres, well, we’re not exactly sure what to do about that yet. But it probably involves selling him for as much cash as possible come January. Look, Fernando’s a great guy and we wish him well, but he’s no Drogba.
Now we know you left Chelsea primarily because Shanghai-whatchamacallit offered you a bazillion dollars. Very understandable. We didn’t think we could match their bazillions. But this week we found out we actually made a profit for the first time in something like a decade (thanks to the Champions League riches you helped us get), so, since we’re not used to operating in the black anyway, we thought we’d just give you all that excess profit if you come back.
By the way, in case it’s not all about money, you saw where Chelsea fans recently voted you one of the greatest Blues players in club history, right? That’s pretty sweet. The fans would welcome you back in a heartbeat. Just sayin’. We know you have a soft spot for Chelsea in that lion heart of yours, so we want to remind you that John Terry got knocked out of the Liverpool match today with a potentially season-ending injury, Lampard is still out with a calf thing, and we loaned Michael Essien to Real Madrid for reasons we’re still not entirely sure about (okay, we brought that last one on ourselves, but we’re just pointing out the dearth of Blues vets currently on hand).
Just in case you feel a little weird about the idea of coming back to Chelsea so soon after leaving, it’s not unprecedented. Paul Scholes returned to Man U after retiring for a while last season. Thierry Henry even went back to Arsenal on loan earlier this year. It’s obviously not our first choice, but we’d settle for you returning to Chelsea on loan whenever the Chinese league’s over (sorry, we’re not sure when their season ends – until you went there we didn’t even know China had a pro league). Whatever it takes, Didier, that’s what we’re saying.
Admit it, you miss the Premier League. The high-pressure matches. The packed, historic stadiums. Cup finals. Champions League nights around Europe. Eccentric gazillionaire Russian owners. Causing Sir Alex heartburn. Democracy.
We don’t want to pressure you too much, but we have slipped from first to third in the table within a couple weeks, so we kind of need an answer ASAP. Only you can help prevent one of the Manchesters winning the league again. Chelsea’s fate is in your hands. Okay, that may be overstating it a bit, but come on man you’re playing in China for goodness sakes! No one watches Chinese soccer!
Come home, Didier, come home. You know you want to. We can have a jet there in a matter of hours.
Chelsea Football Club
P.S. Say hello to Anelka for us.
*Unfortunately this letter does not represent an actual invitation from Chelsea Football Club to Didier Drogba.
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?
Chelsea starts season off right with 2-0 defeat of Wigan
Chelsea blasted out of the gate today, with Ivanovic and Lampard scoring within the first six minutes at Wigan Athletic. Only problem with such a start was that Chelsea lacked zip for most of the remaining 84 minutes. In case you missed it, here is the good, bad, and ugly from Chelsea’s first win of the season…
Good: Eden Hazard! He showed great bursts of speed and accurate attacking passes. He was fouled a lot in the first half, which meant he was doing a lot of things right. Fox Soccer’s Warren Barton said Hazard might be the bargain of the season. I’m inclined to agree. Hazard adds zest to Chelsea’s midfield, which too often moved in slow-motion last season.
It was good to see Oscar (the brand new Brazilian signing) get some second half minutes, though I wish he wouldn’t have replaced Hazard. Oscar didn’t get to do much, but he’s only been with the team a week so we’ll cut him plenty of slack.
It was an interesting (and surprising) idea to let Ryan Bertrand try forward today. Bertrand didn’t make much impact though. In fact, he’s been more of an attacking threat in previous matches when he’s carrying the ball up the left flank as a defender. Anyway, it will be interesting to see where this experiment leads.
Bad: After Chelsea’s explosive start to the match, they allowed Wigan to have most of the possession. You can often get away with that against the Wigans of the league, except there aren’t many Wigans in the league anymore. Chelsea was fortunate that Wigan was asleep for the first five minutes of the match; otherwise we might be talking about a season-opening draw.
Torres was not involved enough (as usual). In his defense, he wasn’t provided many passes, but the ones he got he generally squandered. His best scoring chance was cleared off the line in the second half. He also missed a nifty pass in the box from Ivanovic just before full time that he should’ve been looking out for. This wasn’t the confidence-boosting outing Torres needed to start the season.
This isn’t necessarily in the “bad” category, but I was disappointed to see Mikel get the starting nod over Essien in the defensive midfield role. Di Matteo seems to favor Mikel and I’m not sure why. Mikel hasn’t been bad, but I thought Essien had a better preseason in the U.S. Tour matches. I hope today’s benching isn’t a hint that Essien’s about to be let go.
Ugly: Chelsea’s yellow/black third kit. I’m not very fashion forward (my daughter is happy to confirm this), but the third kit just doesn’t work for me. I prefer away kits to at least hint at the club’s main colors. Black & yellow isn’t Chelsea at all.
Overall, this wasn’t the dominating win it should have been. Chelsea let Wigan hang around and threaten. But in the round robin format of the Premier League, the three points is all that matters. It will take a while for Di Matteo to work out the best starting lineup combination, but the pieces are in place to have a very successful season.
What did you think of Chelsea’s season-opening performance?
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?
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?
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 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?
Why Chelsea’s oldest players aren’t the club’s main problem
The popular jab at Chelsea all season has been the collective age of their players – that they’re too old to hack it anymore and that wholesale changes are needed. Critics may be right about the wholesale changes part, but Chelsea’s aged players aren’t the primary problem.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Wigan and Fulham matches were a real beat-down for this fan even though Chelsea beat Wigan and tied Fulham. I guess having two matches so close together just magnified the aspects of Chelsea’s play – and the players – that have annoyed most of the season. I didn’t have a week between games to forget the team’s problems and become an optimist again.
I hate to pick on Fernando Torres first (because he has been drubbed by critics throughout his year and a half at Chelsea) but my fan patience has expired with him. I like the guy, have rooted for him to succeed, and wish he would be a Chelsea superstar. But if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s probably not going to happen. His is a particularly frustrating case because you can see potential there, but it’s never realized beyond occasionally sharp passes and crosses. He works hard, but the effort rarely pays off with shots on goal (or goals period). Torres takes overly long strides with the ball, predictably barreling straight at defenders, in a halting style that yields constant turnovers. Didier Drogba on the other hand, while not having his best season, is much more threatening with the ball (he’s also Chelsea’s second highest scorer this season). He still causes problems for defenders – Torres does not. Drogba has been woefully underused this season, presumably in an effort to get Torres out of his slump and fully integrated with the team. It’s not working. Drogba needs to start every remaining game. I don’t know what he’s being saved for at this point, as every game is critical. Torres seems like a decent guy, but for the club’s sake he should be sold.
While I’m thinking about forwards, it’s also time for Salomon Kalou to go. Kalou has never quite clicked over to the consistency Chelsea needs. I appreciate that he has earned some extra late season game time by virtue of his Champions League goal at Benfica, but he’s done nothing since to merit this much pitch time. Kalou makes too many ill-timed passes and often holds onto the ball too long.
Daniel Sturridge should start every game at forward with Drogba. Sturridge has been the victim of too much lineup tinkering the past few months, which stifled the hunger and goal-scoring savvy he demonstrated early in the season.
At midfield, critics have been cranky toward Frank Lampard because of his age (33) but Lampard is the team’s top scorer this season! That despite playing less than he ever has at Chelsea. Lampard has occasional giveaways and unwise fouls, but he isn’t the weakest link in the Blues’ midfield. Raul Meireles is. I’ve never been thrilled by Chelsea’s acquisition of Meireles. His passing is average, he fouls too much, and his shooting is atrocious (no, I’m not forgetting his end-of-match blast against Benfica). He’s just not reliable enough. I’d much rather see Michael Essien (who’s still only 29) back as the consistent midfield commander.
Ramires has also annoyed lately. He’s in danger of falling into the Kalou category of not quite good enough. I love his tireless hustle, but it doesn’t make up for his awful amount of turnovers! I’m not ready to throw in the towel on him yet, but he needs some goals or assists to boost his stock.
It’s time for Chelsea to revamp, but getting rid of Terry, Lampard, and Drogba isn’t the answer. Those three are no longer in their prime, but Chelsea is still better when they’re on the pitch (or at least no worse). Why would a team get rid of those assets (their top two scorers this season in Lampard and Drogba) as long as they’re still healthy?
When this season began, it seemed Chelsea was in the process of integrating young players with the “old”. What happened to Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu? We saw Romeu quite a bit before Christmas, but I don’t understand why the heavily touted Lukaku hasn’t been granted more run-outs.
This off-season, Chelsea needs to take the long-haul approach to rebuilding, which means no more mid-career, Torres-type acquisitions. Instead, they need to milk the remaining seasons from their veterans while weaving in dynamic youngsters. Youth is the ticket! That strategy may not yield immediate trophies, but the delayed gratification would be worth it.
What players do you think Chelsea should relinquish this summer?