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International Break Blues

Will Chelsea’s momentum stop after the latest international hiatus?

The International Break is a necessary evil I suppose.  It’s fun sometimes, particularly during World Cup Qualifying.  Well, if your team wins that is.  I love supporting the USMNT (I always want to read that as U.S. Mutant Ninja Turtles), but it kills momentum for clubs.  It’s like tennis matches that get rain delayed overnight – it gives the guy who’s losing the match opportunity to regroup, rest, and heal if necessary.  Sometimes it totally changes the match.  And that’s what I’m afraid of because Chelsea has been on a roll, but now the international break – the IB if you will – has stopped the Blues in their tracks.

Compared to the past two seasons, this campaign is strange for Chelsea fans in that the team is sitting relatively pretty for a change, atop the league table, four points above the Manchesters.  So far we haven’t had to deal with the kind of angst that plagued us the past two seasons.  Yes, it’s hard to justify complaints when your team won the Champions League last season, but as anyone who followed that saga knows, it was the most stressful possible tournament in which Chelsea repeatedly cheated death, somehow escaping Munich with the big-eared trophy in their clutches.  By comparison this Premier League season has been downright docile.  So far at least.  That’s the main reason I’m concerned about this most recent momentum-killing IB.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Chelsea go undefeated this season – it’s been refreshingly un-stressful.  But now the team has to shake off their jet lag (Chelsea players are on a lot of national teams) and get their groove back in time to do battle at Tottenham this Saturday.  Add in the weirdness factor that they’ll be facing their old manager Andre Villas-Boas for the first time since Chelsea fired him last season and you have the makings of a potential perfect storm.  You can bet your booty AVB will have his Spurs revved up for maximum pride salvaging (meaning AVB’s pride).  It’s certainly not the cushy assignment a first place team would prefer to get to ease back into Premier League play after a tiring IB.  On the other hand, resuming the season with a dogfight like this may be the best way to get Chelsea back in the full swing of things.

Saturday’s game at Tottenham is a bigger match than initially meets the eye.  It is a crucial encounter that could mean the difference between establishing dominance in the league and giving the Manchesters a toehold.  The Manchesters do not need toeholds given to them.

Will Chelsea be able to regroup and shake off the cobwebs in time for the big clash with Tottenham Saturday?

Stroll in the (Queens) Park

Chelsea dismantles QPR 6-1

It was so fun to watch a non-stressful Chelsea game today.  It’s been some time since Blues fans have been able to kick back and enjoy a Chelsea goal fest.  It was a welcome respite after the ultra tense Champions League semifinal matches against Barcelona the past two weeks.

I was expecting a tense match against QPR since they’re fighting to stave off relegation and with Chelsea coming off the emotional high of knocking out Barcelona last Tuesday.  But credit to Di Matteo for focusing the squad on the task at hand – a loss today would’ve probably ended Chelsea’s bid for fourth place in the Premier League (and thus a Champions League berth for next season).

Daniel Sturridge began the scoring onslaught just 45 seconds into the match.  John Terry added a header goal off a corner kick a few minutes later, then Fernando Torres added two more – all before the 25th minute!  Torres scored another goal in the second half to complete his first hat trick as a Chelsea player (Malouda scored the team’s sixth goal).

Torres’ finishing was so much sharper against QPR, I wonder if his climactic goal at Barcelona last week finally got him over the mental hurdle that has hampered him since joining Chelsea.  He certainly looked a lot more relaxed and confident today.  If he can finish the season looking this strong, I’ll have to recant my post from a few weeks back listing him among those players Chelsea should consider transferring this summer!

Chelsea’s possession and attack hasn’t looked this good in a very long time.  The team’s amazing transformation under Di Matteo is apparently for real.  With Chelsea’s emphatic win over QPR and Newcastle’s surprising loss to Wigan, the Blues are now only one point out of fourth place (behind Tottenham and Newcastle who are tied with 62 points).  Newcastle visits Chelsea on Wednesday in what will be another must-win clash for the Blues in their bid to keep Champions League hopes alive for next season.  No rest for the weary!

What do you think – has Torres fully recovered his old form?

Goose Egg Blues

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?

Blues Soldier On

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?