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Ye Old Trafford Blues

Chelsea’s 3 – 1 loss to Manchester United

It pains this Chelsea fan to write the words “loss to Manchester United”, however, compared to last season’s Champions League heartbreak at the hands of Man U, Sunday’s loss feels downright palatable.  The loss is still incredibly frustrating mind you, but I can’t remember a clash with Man U over the past few seasons that left Chelsea fans feeling more hopeful.

Fact is, Man U was very beatable on Sunday.  Chelsea controlled much of the game.  If a few of the key moments in the first half alone had gone Chelsea’s way (offside on the first Man U goal, Ramires actually finishing the goal like he should have), the game would’ve been very different and may well have resulted in a Chelsea upset.  And yet…

I’m still scratching my head over Torres’ atrocious miss near game’s end.  Had that one gone in, the final ten minutes would’ve been even more chaotic than they were and who knows what would’ve happened?  The instantly infamous Torres blunder was almost forgivable by fans thanks to the old-school Torres goal he scored at the beginning of the second half.  Fans were so relieved to see him have somewhat of a breakthrough that they may be able to forgive one of the worst misses in EPL history.  I haven’t decided whether or not to forgive him, after all it was one of the worst misses in EPL history.  I actually felt bad for Torres.  Just as he seemed to be emerging from whatever psychologically soccer-inhibiting cave he’s been in since moving to London, he goes and misses the broadside of the barn.  It was one of those shots that are actually more difficult to miss than score.  I can’t talk about it anymore – I’m getting mad again.

Anyway, I think AVB’s strategy of keeping Torres in the lineup to force the heebie-jeebies out of Torres’ system has been a smart one overall.  It seems like it may be on the verge of paying off.  But it must start paying off soon.  The deeper into the season it gets, the more Torres’ form problems will become a liability.  I’d say he’s got three more games to get his act together before it’s time to start warming the bench and asking some hard questions about his future with the club.  I really want to like Torres.  Sunday helped me like him – and then it didn’t.  It’s frustrating.

Chelsea is better than any team in the EPL – and perhaps any other team in the world other than Barcelona – at the methodical build-up possession game.  Problem is, their build-up was entirely too predictable for much of the United game.  Man U could concede the middle of the field because they knew a predictable cross (or more often casual lob) into the box was forthcoming.  Chelsea should’ve kept United on their toes by mixing it up with some outside-the-box blasts.  During the ‘09/10 season, Chelsea had the right mix of build-up, outside shooting, and lethal finishing.  That mix all but evaporated during the second half of last season and is still finding its legs in the first four games of this campaign.

As much as I hate to admit it, United is hard to beat because they have an amazing transition game.  They have the uncanny ability to advance the ball over wide swaths of pitch with lightning fast speed and precision.  They’re great at switching and have great awareness.  Chelsea need to move the ball faster and finish with greater accuracy if they hope to catch United this year.

So those are some of my random thoughts from Sunday’s big clash.  What did you think of the game?  How should AVB deal with Torres?  Feel free to share your thoughts below…

Stadium of Might (Chelsea’s!)

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?