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Happy Blue Year

The January transfer window is open and Chelsea changes are afoot

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

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.

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

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?

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CFC to NYC

Chelsea wraps up Seattle leg of U.S. tour

 

Chelsea had one more training session this morning in Seattle before hopping a plane bound for New York City.  The club faces their former manager Carlo Ancelotti and his current team Paris St. Germain in another preseason friendly Sunday.  It will be the first ever soccer match to be played at the new Yankee Stadium.

While the team trains and tours in the U.S., the deal making for new players continues in London.  Here is the latest rumor rundown:

Coach Di Matteo confirmed the club is in talks to get Victor Moses from Wigan.  Apparently Wigan wants several more buckets of cash than Chelsea has offered so far.  I can take or leave this deal.  Chelsea certainly shouldn’t overpay for him.  A better striker option would be checking to see if Newcastle’s Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse have any brothers in Senegal.

Thorgan Hazard may become a Chelsea player within a day or two, but nothing official from Chelsea yet.  If the deal goes through, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fairly quickly loaned to another Premier League club given he’s only 19-years-old and Chelsea has a very packed roster right now.

Chelsea may be after Marseille’s 22-year-old Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta.  Chelsea could use some back line bolstering, so this deal could be interesting.  I bet there’s going to be a whole lotta soccer wheeling and dealing going on with all these under-23 national teams in London for the Olympics!

Check out this New York Times story exploring why some of America’s most famous baseball stadiums are hosting big international soccer club matches this summer.  Wondering how a soccer pitch is going to work in Yankee Stadium?  Check out the diagram below and these photos of the pitch being prepared.

Apparently starring in a classic soccer comedy like Kicking & Screaming (I’m not being sarcastic – I actually think that movie’s hilarious) affords you lifetime access to Chelsea FC.  Check out Blues fan Will Ferrell and comedian Zach Galifianakis chillin’ with Chelsea (and with the European Cup) in Seattle yesterday.

I particularly like the random autographed St. Louis Rams helmet Will and Zach apparently gave Chelsea.  I have no idea why it was a Rams helmet, but it’s pretty vintage Will Ferrell.  Good times!

Thoughts on the potential Moses, Thorgan Hazard, or Azpilicueta deals?

Chelsea’s Turn

It’s now or never for Blues veterans in their quest to be European Champions

When Chelsea overcame Barcelona to make it to the Champions League Final, I wrote that I was afraid the final itself might seem a bit anticlimactic after such an epic, heroic effort.  I hope I’m wrong!  Unfortunately, Chelsea squeezed in some pretty anticlimactic (and downright depressing) Premier League matches between the Champions League semifinal and tomorrow’s final.  To defeat Bayern Munich in their home stadium will require another heroic effort.  Chelsea can do it – Bayern isn’t as good as Barcelona.  But the gutsy, smartly aggressive, unified Chelsea team will have to show up in Munich, not the lackadaisical squad that lost to Newcastle and Liverpool over the past couple weeks.

On the eve of the world’s biggest club competition final, most pundits are pegging Chelsea as the underdogs.  The pundits are probably right.  If the Blues can keep from conceding a goal in the first half hour, I like their chances.  Offensively, Drogba and Lampard need to have a big game.  I hope Torres gets to start up front with Drogba – I think they could create some good space together.  Mata’s final-third passing must be sharp.

The area I’m most nervous about is defense.  With Cahill and Luiz just now returning from hamstring injuries, I’m afraid they may not be up to speed enough to adequately fill in for the suspended Terry and Ivanovic.  But then, who would’ve thought Jose Bosingwa (who replaced Cahill when he pulled his hamstring in the second leg against Barcelona) would be such a defensive rock against Barcelona?  If Luiz gets the starting nod, he must play with absolute discipline, as he is susceptible to clumsy fouls in dangerous areas.  I think Ashley Cole can hold off Arjen Robben on the right wing, but I’m not sure Chelsea has a defender that can consistently occupy Franck Ribery on the opposite wing.  I’d also feel better if Terry was able to mark Mario Gomez in the middle.

If Chelsea weathers the early Bayern onslaught, I think we’ll be in for a great back-and-forth battle.  Of course, I’d definitely trade back-and-forth for a comfortable two or three goal Chelsea lead for most of the match!

Chelsea making it to the Champions League Final feels like the club is living on borrowed time.  It’s almost like a bonus – of the best kind – that the team barely deserves after their awful Premier League season.  Yet they do deserve to be in the final because no other team clawed their way through the tournament like Chelsea did.  The Champions League and Premier League were odd dual seasons for the Blues this year – with their Champions League performances reminding us what they’re capable of.  Chelsea has the chance on Saturday to turn a most forgettable season into an unforgettable one.  For Chelsea veterans like Drogba and Lampard, you can be certain they’re going to leave it all on the field to ensure the team doesn’t waste this very rare opportunity.

Will Chelsea win their first ever European Cup on Saturday?

Dismal Blues

Chelsea’s win over Wigan and draw with Fulham were discouraging

It feels odd to be disappointed after a win against Wigan (last Saturday) and draw with Fulham (last Monday), yet Chelsea’s play was utterly lifeless in both matches.  The Blues’ effort was particularly dispiriting for fans leading up to the two biggest games of the season:  this Sunday’s FA Cup Semifinal against Tottenham and Wednesday’s Champions League first leg Semifinal against Barcelona.  If the Blues don’t discover an entire new gear they are in for a very rough end to an already turbulent season.

Chelsea didn’t deserve the win over Wigan.  A missed offside call facilitated Ivanovic’s goal and Juan Mata added the winner in extra time, but Chelsea’s attack was extremely bland for most of the match.  Where’s the spark?  Where’s the energy?  Chelsea is a shell of the attacking team they were the two previous seasons.  Ironically, Carlo Ancelotti was fired and Andre Villas-Boas brought in at the start of this season to craft a more “attractive” attacking style and yet the attack is far less fluid and effective than it’s been in years.

The draw with Fulham was unacceptable as it blew an opportunity to catch up with Tottenham and Newcastle in the league standings.  Once again, Chelsea’s attack limped along, with the only goal coming from an iffy PK call that happened to fall Chelsea’s way (Frank Lampard reliably converted the kick).  The Blues’ defense held onto the lead for most of the game until Clint Dempsey’s late header made it 1 – 1.  Very frustrating.

I think I’ve been delusional about Chelsea all season because I thought they were much better than this.  Most fans would probably agree it feels like we’ve been waiting all season for the team to get up to speed and they never quite have.  They’ve come close several times, and are still capable of occasionally heroic efforts (like the second Napoli Champions League game!), but overall performances are painfully lackluster.  Chelsea is simply very average right now.  The air of near-invincibility fans have enjoyed about the club for years has turned into considerable vulnerability.  Every Chelsea match seems a toss-up now.The bad Wigan and Fulham matches coaxed me to purge all my negative feelings about Chelsea’s current state.  Hopefully doing so will temper my expectations for the big Tottenham and Barcelona matches.  This purging stuff is therapeutic, but it takes some time.  So tomorrow I’ll continue by addressing a few specific player issues in part two of Dismal Blues.

What do you think?  See any positives for Chelsea during the Wigan/Fulham games?

Blues Christmas

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…