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Chelsea’s Semi-Merry Christmas

Blues have to make do with 1 – 1 draw at Tottenham

Well, it could have been worse.  As the match commentators reminded us approximately one hundred times before kickoff, a loss would have certainly killed off the season for Chelsea.  So the Blues’ title hopes are still alive – via life support to be certain – but alive nonetheless.  If only those pesky Manchesters would help us out with some internal meltdowns or something, maybe we could make some headway in the league.

The Spurs game started ugly for Chelsea.  Spurs were frighteningly dominant for the first ten minutes, making Chelsea look like a college team.  Spurs were aggressive, fast, really going for the jugular, while Chelsea looked utterly lethargic.  I actually began to wonder if Chelsea critics have been right all season – that maybe Chelsea is holding on to the past in its player selection, that perhaps they need a complete makeover.  But then, midway through the first half, Ashley Cole slices a perfect cross through the box, which Sturridge calmly volleyed in to tie the game.  That’s the second game in a row Cole’s pinpoint service has resulted in a goal.  Just a few minutes later, Drogba smashed a half-volley into the post from a tough angle.  I flailed and groaned from my living room perch.  Somehow, Chelsea clawed their way back into the game and looked like the more threatening team.

Ivanovic had to leave the game with a tweaked hammy just after the half hour mark.  I thought Chelsea was toast at that point.  Bosingwa slid over to share center back duties with Terry, and who was that entering the game… Paulo Ferreira?  Sorry Paulo, I almost forgot you were over there!  It was his first Premier League game of the season.  I fretted that Paulo’s lack of game time would spell rustiness and leaky defense.  I was wrong.  Paulo had a heck of a game, shutting down his wing corridor quite nicely.

To start the second half, Chelsea looked like a different team, suddenly dominating possession, and shooting at will.  Only problem with the at-will shooting was that it was absolutely horrible and completely wasteful!  Ferreira, Ramires, Meireles, and Sturridge all scattered useless blasts into the seats within a few minutes of each other.

Unfortunately, those early second half chances did not facilitate additional chances.  The high-octane match slowed to a simmer after about seventy minutes.  Torres replaced Drogba for the last fifteen minutes and was typically invisible.  Man I wish he would snap out of it!  I’m tired of the same old media commentary about Torres.  He needs some starts and he needs to play ninety minutes.  And he needs to be locked in a room daily with a top sports psychologist.  This is looking increasingly like a rebuilding year for Chelsea, so AVB needs to get Torres in there and start assessing whether or not he’s going to be part of the Blues master plan moving forward.  Speaking of the master plan, where was Lampard today?  I disagree with him not starting.  I’m growing skeptical of AVB’s choices lately.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for a few more games, but he definitely looks iffy at the moment.

So Chelsea just got a point for Christmas.  Certainly better than the lump of coal a loss would have been, but not as merry and bright a holiday as Blues fans had hoped for.  At least we won’t have to wait long for the next points opportunity – the day after Christmas it’s on against Fulham.  I’ll be traveling for the holidays to visit family, and will be watching the game (on TV) with my brother who happens to be a Fulham fan.  Good times.  Family, food, and soccer – sounds like a pretty good holiday!

What do you think about Villas-Boas’ lineup choices recently?

That’s What I Like About Blues

Chelsea rebound with 3 – 0 victory over Wolves

Whew!  Finally – a nice stroll in the park Chelsea win for a change.  After the tumultuous past two matches, it was a relief for Chelsea fans to enjoy a relatively stress-free match.  In fact, the win over Wolves was precisely what yours truly suggested in my last post – multiple goals and a clean sheet.  Nice to know the club was listening.

The goals came from Terry, Sturridge, and Mata – all in the first half.  Chelsea got off to a more aggressive start than we’ve seen recently.  They looked sharper and more focused overall.  It was gratifying to see them maintain that focus for the full ninety and preserve their third shutout of the Premier League season.

Despite looking better the Blues offensive buildup is still on the slow side.  Generally, they give defenses too much time to settle in, which has often neutralized Drogba and Torres this season.  Speaking of, Drogba had several flashes of brilliance today but still looks a bit rusty.  He even seemed lazy on occasion, when some hustle would’ve yielded better positioning.  As for Torres, his continues to be a very disappointing situation.  The sad and surprising (considering how great he was at Liverpool) thing is that he is not missed when he’s left out of the Chelsea lineup.  They actually don’t need him right now.  Sturridge and Mata excel without him.  I would still like to see Torres become a great Chelsea player, but I completely understand AVB’s reluctance to play him lately.

Two reasons Chelsea looked so much better today were the contributions of Ramires and Ashley Cole.  Ramires was oddly silent during the Bayer Leverkusen game, but was back in form today, creating space and opportunity with his speed and endurance.  Cole continues to be an absolutely essential wingman for Chelsea – very consistent in the back and a constant threat going forward.  He was definitely missed during the Bayer Leverkusen game (due to a minor ankle injury).

It may have been slightly disappointing that Chelsea didn’t convert any of their second half scoring chances, but with no major defensive mistakes, the win will be a good morale booster.  The Blues took care of business today – an absolute must considering all the challenging matches leading up to Christmas!

What must Chelsea do to maintain momentum following the Wolves win?

Champions League Blues

Chelsea settles for a point against Valencia

I’m still smarting from Chelsea’s draw at Valencia in Wednesday’s Champions League group stage match.  Chelsea seemed in utter control of the game.  The Blues played well – not great – but their effort seemed to be more than enough to secure three points.  But they only got one point thanks to an 86th minute PK scored by Valencia after Kalou hand-balled on a Valencia corner.  Very frustrating.

Chelsea never should’ve been in danger of drawing as they had some seemingly easy scoring opportunities swatted away in the second half by Valencia’s acrobatic goalkeeper Diego Alves.  Ramires had one such opportunity.  I’m growing frustrated with Ramires because he seems to have trouble finishing.  I love his endurance, work ethic, and willingness to ram the ball ahead, but he really must come through with his finishing.

Finally, Frank Lampard got the better of Diego Alves when Malouda sent a smart diagonal pass through the box which Lamps lethally one-timed into the back of the net with one of his trademark grass-scorchers.  It was a great goal and a well-timed “shut up” to the over-eager soccer pundit boneheads who’ve lately been trying to read a lot into Lampard’s recent time on the bench for Chelsea and England.  Giles Smith had some great things to say in Lampard’s defense in his weekly Chelsea blog.  I agree with Smith that Frank still has much to contribute to the team.

Now back to that Kalou hand-ball in the game’s dying minutes… wow.  Seriously?  I’ve been impressed thus far with AVB’s handling of the squad, but it was definitely a mistake to insert Kalou.  When I saw Kalou warming up alongside Drogba, I had a feeling AVB was going to go with Kalou because Kalou hasn’t seen much playing time lately, the game seemed to be in the bag so it might be a good chance to show Kalou some love, etc., etc.  But it was the wrong game at the wrong time to show Kalou love.  Why not just let the veteran Lampard see out the game?  What on earth was Kalou, a striker, supposed to contribute in the last eight minutes?  It seemed to be one of those political moves managers feel obliged to do at this level – giving run-outs to players who have lately been out of the rotation.

Balancing playing time is surely one of the trickiest aspects of managing a club with Chelsea’s talent.  But Kalou should’ve remained on the bench.  AVB understandably didn’t toss Kalou under the bus in his post-match comments, but I will:  what was Kalou thinking?  He wasn’t match-sharp and he ran out there and blew a perfectly good win.  Sure, it’s early in Champions League play, but those squandered points could certainly come back to haunt!  I’ve always had doubts about Kalou – the necessary consistency just doesn’t seem to be there.  If I had to pick anyone to consider off-loading come January, it would be Kalou.

Anyway, it’s back to Premier League play tomorrow for Chelsea at Bolton.  The pesky Manchesters are still refusing to lose domestically, so a win over Wanderers is a must for Chelsea!

What do you think – am I being too harsh toward Kalou?

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?

Chelsea: The Age-Old Question

Villas-Boas defends Blues veterans

I saw a few stories this morning about Sir Alex Ferguson’s jabs at Chelsea, basically saying the Blues haven’t done much to alleviate their ageing problem this summer.  Andre Villas-Boas responded by pointing to the squad’s past success and reiterating his belief that they are still strong contenders.

First of all, Fergie is a master of the mind game sound bite (covert trash-talking).  Man U’s currently rolling across America, full of confidence, toppling MLS teams left and right.  So with the EPL season just a few weeks away, Fergie figures it’s time to launch a strategic barb, aimed at the club he must know will be Man U’s primary title competition next season.  With all the talk of Chelsea’s “struggles” last season, it’s easy to forget that they finished a not-too-distant second (and that was with all their supposed geezers in the lineup).

Secondly, Fergie is hardly one to talk about ageing players.  Ryan Giggs is still a regular starter for goodness sake.  And what about the recently retired Neville and Scholes?  I guess they weren’t playing as regularly as Chelsea’s core group of vets, but still.  Sir Alex seems to believe in keeping vintage players around and the past few seasons I’ve thought him wise to do so.

Andre Villas-Boas is taking the right approach with the Chelsea roster.  People are too quick to write off players over 30.  Any other EPL team in their right mind would start Terry, Lampard, or Drogba as often as possible.  And those who say Chelsea is just relying on the same old squad haven’t been paying much attention.  What about Luiz, Ramires, Mikel, Kalou?  And this preseason has shown significant youth promise for the club with McEachran, Bertrand, Van Aanholt, Sturridge, and Chalobah.

Don’t be fooled by Fergie’s mind tricks, Chelsea fans – AVB’s got a strong mix of veterans and youngsters brewing.  In the end, I think it will make an exciting, winning combination.

Do you think Chelsea needs more youth in the starting eleven?