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Chelsea’s Iffy Week

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?

Michael Essien Gets Real

Sad thoughts on my favorite player being loaned to Real Madrid

We’ll miss you too buddy…

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…

Blues Best Benfica

Chelsea defeats Benfica 1-0 in first leg of Champions League quarterfinal

Where has this defensive discipline been all season for Chelsea?  For most of the match at Benfica yesterday they looked like the stubborn Chelsea defense of old.  Even Cech looked much better than he’s been for much of this season with several fine saves.  Sure Benfica threatened here and there, but the back four of Luiz, Terry, Cole, and a very surprising Ferreira remained focused, unified, and got the job done.

When I initially heard Di Matteo was starting Kalou and Mikel, I was a bit concerned.  They’ve both had rough seasons, particularly Kalou who has barely earned a start this year.  But, they were both spry, didn’t seem a bit rusty, kept mistakes at bay, and had an all-around excellent game.  Kalou even punched in the goal via a smart pass from Torres.  Speaking of, Fernando had a solid outing as well.  Like many other Chelsea fans, I wish he’d go on a scoring rampage, but the important thing is to keep winning and he definitely helped Chelsea do that yesterday.

Surprisingly, Mata had an off night.  He seemed tired (rightly so after all the big games he’s played in such a short span) and I was surprised he wasn’t subbed in the second half.

Ramires drove me nuts with his poor final passes, until the qualities I admire about his game actually initiated Chelsea’s goal.  It was his acceleration and tenacity that got the ball to Torres up the right wing, which was followed by Torres’ pass in to Kalou who scored.

It was pleasing to see Chelsea take care of business so matter-of-factly, with no major defensives gaffes and no goals allowed.  It was also great to see them get the result using several players who haven’t been in the lineup much recently (wish Malouda had also participated) – that must be a morale booster for both starters and bench-warmers, as well as good for locker room harmony.

So now, with things looking grim in the Premier League for Chelsea, the club finds itself one game away from a Champions League semifinal spot.  Who would’ve thought that was a remote possibility back in December?  Benfica visits Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, April 4 for the return leg where Chelsea will have to resist the urge to relax with their 1-0 lead, and remain vigilant to finish off sure-to-be-feisty Benfica.

Will Chelsea advance to the Champions League semifinals?