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Dear Didier

A Special Invitation from Chelsea* to Drogba…

Dear Didier,

How’s life in China?  How’s the food?  The weather?  How’s your Chinese coming along?  Hope all is well.

Here’s the deal, Didier, we miss you at Stamford Bridge.  We really need you to come back.  Like this week.  I know we parted ways on great terms, with you having just won the Champions League for us and all.  If you were going to leave the club, it was the perfect time to do so.  We were all very understanding, but let’s face it, our Champions League-winning high clouded our judgment.  Now that we’ve had time to ponder… we think we made a big mistake.

Did you see our draw today against a very beatable Liverpool?  Their striker Suarez saved the day for them again – a lot like you used to for Chelsea.  We need a big time lethal striker again.  That’s where you come in.  We’ve got some great new guys this season we think you’ll really dig – guys like Hazard and Oscar.  They’ve been creating great ball movement with Mata, but the problem is they need a real strongman in the box to feed the ball to.  No one wreaks havoc in the box like you do.  We really miss your ability to hold the ball and invent crazy-angled shots out of nothing.  In case you’re wondering about Torres, well, we’re not exactly sure what to do about that yet.  But it probably involves selling him for as much cash as possible come January.  Look, Fernando’s a great guy and we wish him well, but he’s no Drogba.

Now we know you left Chelsea primarily because Shanghai-whatchamacallit offered you a bazillion dollars.  Very understandable.  We didn’t think we could match their bazillions.  But this week we found out we actually made a profit for the first time in something like a decade (thanks to the Champions League riches you helped us get), so, since we’re not used to operating in the black anyway, we thought we’d just give you all that excess profit if you come back.

By the way, in case it’s not all about money, you saw where Chelsea fans recently voted you one of the greatest Blues players in club history, right?  That’s pretty sweet.  The fans would welcome you back in a heartbeat.  Just sayin’.  We know you have a soft spot for Chelsea in that lion heart of yours, so we want to remind you that John Terry got knocked out of the Liverpool match today with a potentially season-ending injury, Lampard is still out with a calf thing, and we loaned Michael Essien to Real Madrid for reasons we’re still not entirely sure about (okay, we brought that last one on ourselves, but we’re just pointing out the dearth of Blues vets currently on hand).

Just in case you feel a little weird about the idea of coming back to Chelsea so soon after leaving, it’s not unprecedented.  Paul Scholes returned to Man U after retiring for a while last season.  Thierry Henry even went back to Arsenal on loan earlier this year.  It’s obviously not our first choice, but we’d settle for you returning to Chelsea on loan whenever the Chinese league’s over (sorry, we’re not sure when their season ends – until you went there we didn’t even know China had a pro league).  Whatever it takes, Didier, that’s what we’re saying.

Admit it, you miss the Premier League.  The high-pressure matches.  The packed, historic stadiums.  Cup finals.  Champions League nights around Europe.  Eccentric gazillionaire Russian owners.  Causing Sir Alex heartburn.  Democracy.

We don’t want to pressure you too much, but we have slipped from first to third in the table within a couple weeks, so we kind of need an answer ASAP.  Only you can help prevent one of the Manchesters winning the league again.  Chelsea’s fate is in your hands.  Okay, that may be overstating it a bit, but come on man you’re playing in China for goodness sakes!  No one watches Chinese soccer!

Come home, Didier, come home.  You know you want to.  We can have a jet there in a matter of hours.

Love,

Chelsea Football Club

 

P.S.  Say hello to Anelka for us.

 

*Unfortunately this letter does not represent an actual invitation from Chelsea Football Club to Didier Drogba.

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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…

Longest 45 Minutes Ever

Chelsea – with 10 men – beat Barcelona to advance to Champions League Final

I’m too giddy to write anything very coherent so I’m just going to spill some random thoughts on Chelsea’s remarkable, against-all-odds defeat of the defending Champions League champs.  I really didn’t think the Blues would have a more dramatic victory this season than the one over Napoli at Stamford Bridge to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.  Fortunately, I was wrong, as today’s team effort has to be one of the most dramatic wins in the club’s history.

The first half was pretty disastrous for Chelsea.  Once Barcelona went up 2-0, the match had vibes of a rout.  A few minutes before Barcelona’s second goal there was the bizarre red card for John Terry.  Bizarre not so much because he didn’t deserve it – he probably did, though a yellow card would’ve sufficed given the heft of the game – but because it was such a remarkably dumb thing to do.  Particularly dumb coming from the team captain!  I just don’t get how he could weather the first game with such diligence and poise only to throw everything away by kneeing Sanchez in the back.  It’s still unbelievable.  Now Terry will have to watch the Final from the stands.

After the disappointment of the Terry ejection, the Ramires goal was a surreal lifeline for Chelsea.  Once again, Lampard hit Ramires with a terrific pass, then Ramires calmly chipped the keeper for the crucial away goal.  Beautiful goal, and the timing couldn’t have been better for keeping Chelsea’s hopes alive for the second half.

Gary Cahill had to leave the game early on when he tweaked his hammy.  Frankly, I thought Chelsea was defensively doomed when Bosingwa jogged on as Cahill’s replacement.  Ironically, two of the Chelsea players I recently wrote should be transferred this summer were on the pitch by the end of the match:  Kalou and Torres.  At first (after coming on late in the second half), Kalou and Torres were up to their regular shenanigans – passing the ball to the other team and not taking advantage of the precious few scoring opportunities (Kalou squandered one chance that baffled the commentators).

But then, in the 90th minute, redemption for Fernando Torres.  He got on the end of a long clearance from Ivanovic, very coolly sidestepped Barcelona’s keeper Valdes, and slid in the goal that sealed Chelsea’s trip to the Final in Munich.  Earlier in the game it had crossed my mind how sweet it would be if Torres could get a heroic goal after the critically panned season he (and fans) have endured.  Amazingly, it actually happened.

If possible, this match was even more nerve fraying than the first leg at Stamford Bridge.  Almost the entire second half took place in front of Chelsea’s goal.  I just don’t get how this could be the same Chelsea team that floundered against so many lesser Premier League opponents this year.  How has Di Matteo been able to create such a cohesive unit?  The Blues’ defensive discipline was remarkable and Petr Cech had one of the best games of his career.

The downside of today’s win is that it felt like the Champions League Final.  It was such an epic effort by Chelsea that I fear the actual Final next month may seem a bit anticlimactic.  Another downer is the number of key Chelsea players who will miss the Final due to yellow card accumulation:  Ivanovic, Ramires, Meireles, and of course Terry.  UEFA needs to respect fans and allow the best players to play in the Final by clearing the card slate after the semifinals.

What a night for Chelsea fans!  This unexpected Champions League run goes a long way toward redeeming this season’s travails.  I don’t know which opponent I’d prefer for Chelsea in the Final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.  For now, I don’t really care.  I’m just going to enjoy the fact that Chelsea somehow has a ticket to Munich!

Thoughts on Chelsea’s Champions League shocker?  Feel free to share below…

Goal-less Blues

Chelsea’s title hopes vanish with 0 – 0 draw against Norwich City

Chelsea is not a championship team this season.  There, I’ve said it.  Now I actually feel a bit better.  If admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, then I’m freely admitting it now on behalf of the Blues:  they cannot win the Premier League this season.  They can’t win any trophy this season playing the way they are.  They simply don’t have the confident, hungry look of the ‘09/10 EPL Champion Blues.  Not even close.  I held out hope through the fall and Christmas season that the team’s veterans would shake off whatever was ailing them, turn the corner on this season, and really grapple with the Manchesters for the title.  But this weekend’s 0 – 0 draw at Norwich City (coupled with the Manchesters winning their Sunday matches) made it official – at fourteen points behind league-leading Manchester City, the title is out of reach.

I just don’t have confidence in Chelsea right now (and haven’t for most of the season).  I want to, but they’ve done nothing to instill any confidence.  Saturday’s game at Norwich was one of those maddening contests in which Chelsea didn’t play poorly at all – they dominated possession and generally dictated the pace – yet they couldn’t cope with that pesky little aspect of the game called scoring goals.

For all the players Chelsea get forward, it’s remarkable how unoriginal the attack was Saturday.  It usually consisted of crossing the ball in front of the goal where it could be headed away or cleared by one of the tall, tenacious Norwich City defenders.  On several occasions Chelsea didn’t even have anyone attacking the crossed ball.  Where’s the urgency?

I’ve ignored the Chelsea naysayers this season, stubbornly insisting that the Blues would turn the ship around in time.  Now I’m concerned the naysayers may be right.  I think it’s now officially a rebuilding year for the Blues.  So I should probably start treating it as such – try to just enjoy the games one at a time and forget about the EPL title for this season.  At least we’ve still got Champions League play (though I can’t realistically see Chelsea beating Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, or Barcelona at this point).  Maybe with the title pressure off I’ll be able to enjoy the games more and stop expecting wins every time out because it’s simply not going to happen this season.

What do you think – are Chelsea’s title hopes out of reach for this season?

Seeing Red

Chelsea’s Premier League title hopes look bleak after loss to Liverpool

I had a bad feeling about yesterday’s game.  Chelsea has looked shaky lately.  The shakiness started with that ridiculous loss at QPR a month ago, then was exacerbated by the Arsenal-supplied thrashing, and followed by the weak Champions League draw at Genk.  All this in a season where Manchester City’s usually reliable meltdowns have yet to materialize, Man U beats everyone at will (except invincible Man City), and even Arsenal is suddenly unbeatable.  String those factors together with the momentum-killing international break and you have the recipe for a disastrous loss against a very tough Liverpool.  That was my fear going into yesterday’s game anyway.  My fear was unfortunately confirmed.

The 2 – 1 loss to Liverpool was one of those absolutely maddening games for fans.  One where you question why you care for any team or sport at all.  Throughout my life, my favorite teams in all sports have been the almost teams – good but never quite good enough.  There are probably some psychological insights to be mined as to why I always seem to favor almost-champions.  Whatever the reason, I’ve never been drawn to the Manchester Uniteds of sports.  I don’t know what it’s like to be able to kick back and enjoy domination.  That’s why Chelsea’s ‘09/10 title win was so fun – it was an anomaly for me as a fan – with goals and wins flowing easily.  But starting about this time last year, virtually every Chelsea game has seemed precarious.  Last season’s slump seemed like a passing storm, but this season’s slump is worse because it seems to be rooted in deeper team problems that I can’t fully identify.  At least with last season’s slump, first place was still in sight.  This season I’m already sweating the unthinkable… loss of a Champions League slot.

Against Liverpool the Blues once again dominated possession, and once again had nothing to show for it.  Possession is virtually worthless if it doesn’t produce legitimate scoring opportunities.  The most frustrating aspect of the match was another hallmark of my favorite teams over the years:  major mistakes (in this case defensive) that never seem to afflict opposing teams.  Defensive errors are killing Chelsea this season!  Liverpool had no such hiccups and therefore earned the win.  Fox Soccer analyst Warren Barton had an interesting post-game Chelsea analysis.  I hope he’s wrong about them, but I fear he’s right.

With things going so poorly for Chelsea domestically, it should be a relief that they’re still atop their Champions League group.  But even that is little consolation this season, because while they’ll most likely advance to the knockout stages, it is very difficult to see them getting past the likes of the Manchesters or Bayern Munich, not to mention Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Indeed, things aren’t looking up for Chelsea at the moment, but at least they – and we, the fans – don’t have to wait very long to begin righting the ship.  Wednesday it’s back to Champions League play at Bayer Leverkusen, then Saturday it’s home against Wolves.  Let’s hope these harsh recent losses inspire new resolve in the Blues!

Will Chelsea finish in the top four in the Premier League this season?

Chelsea @ Malaysia XI

1-0 Chelsea win leaves much to be desired from Blues

1st Half Highlights (or lowlights)/Commentary

-Good to see Bertrand and McEachran in the starting eleven.

-Chelsea played a 4-3-3 formation as preferred by Andre Villas-Boas at Porto.

-I’m unfamiliar with Slobodan Rajkovic in the back line (22-year-old).  Apparently he has European work permit issues so he’s getting a look during the Asia tour.

-2nd min:  Benayoun took a giveaway and gave great through-ball to Torres who slid a grounder right to the goalie.  Torres should’ve finished the golden opportunity.

-First third of the game was very sluggish possession-wise for Chelsea.  67 passes in first 12 minutes or so, but in small spurts, often broken up, with very little flow and only a couple chances from Benayoun passes.

-I’d like to see a little more aggressiveness and snap.  Manchester United and Real Madrid look sharper and hungrier for goals in their recent U.S. friendlies.

-17th min:  Bertrand hit cross from left that was mis-cleared, Kalou tapped it to Lampard who missed the goal badly.

-19th min:  Excellent through-ball from Kalou to Torres who couldn’t toe it in from a tough angle.

-Through first 20 minutes, Chelsea defense looked very calm and composed.  No real threats from Malaysia XI.

-Some impressive work from Bertrand passing and dribbling down left side.

-29th min:  Lampard free kick right on edge of box, but he smashed it off Malouda and out of play.

-Torres was static off the ball for much of the half.  Not encouraging.

-Chelsea looked pretty sloppy in the final third, which was a problem for much of last season.

-36th min:  Bosingwa threw an unusual mini-tantrum, throwing the ball away when he disagreed with a throw-in call.  A few minutes later Kalou protested when he was called for a clear hand-ball.  Both cases showed poor sportsmanship/professionalism from Chelsea, particularly for a friendly!  They should know better.

-37th min:  Patrick Van Aanholt replaced Bertrand at left back.  Not sure if it was planned, or if Bertrand was gassed.  Surprising move because Bertrand looked strong and confident.

-39th min:  Torres made one good move past a defender inside the left side of the box to get a shot off, but once again from a bad angle.

-With 40 minutes gone, one of the game commentators remarked that, “…preseason or not, [he is] exceptionally underwhelmed by Chelsea.  No real movement.  No real desire.”  I couldn’t have agreed with him more!

-42nd min:  Lampard missed another chance in the box, right in front of goal, after a quick succession of nice passes (though he looked to be barely offside anyway).

-45th min:  Great cross from Bosingwa but Torres barely missed getting his head on it and Benayoun’s resulting clean-up shot was blocked by a defender.

Summary:  While you can’t read too much into preseason matches, this was a very disappointing start from Chelsea.  You would expect that competition for playing spots would inspire more aggressiveness and spark from players trying to impress the manager.  Alas, there was very little energy or zip from the squad in the first half with the exceptions of Benayoun and Bertrand.

2nd Half

-An entirely new eleven started the second half.

-47th min:  Mikel made the kind of quality long-range shot that was missing in the first half.

-First 10 minutes of the second half Chelsea showed a bit more desire, but not many scoring chances to show for it.

-60th min:  Good initiative by Terry, taking a ball at midfield and rushing it forward.  Nice leading pass to Anelka who passed it back toward the middle, but a defender cleared it out.

-20 minutes into the second half I was getting restless.  It seemed every Chelsea pass was just out of reach, or intercepted, or headed away.  Far too many long balls.  Little build-up passing.  The initial hope brought on by the second half eleven began to fade.

-69th min:  Zhirkov free kick found Terry’s head but it went a couple feet over the crossbar.  At least Terry was showing some leadership with his aggressiveness.

-70th min:  Sturridge ran onto a ball, took it into the box and hit a nice low shot, but the GK made a great save.

-As usual, Drogba worked much harder off the ball than Torres.  He makes things happen.  He’s a troublemaker for defenses.  Hopefully Torres will learn from Drogba’s wily ways!

-78th min:  Drogba free kick outside left side of the box was a screamer that the goalkeeper barely got a hand on.  The ball bounced off the post, off the GK’s back, bounced on the line, and was ruled a goal by the linesman.  Replays clearly showed the ball did not cross the line.

-85th min:  Malaysia missed an easy goal after an unusual lapse in the middle of the Chelsea defense.

-Billy Clifford (midfielder), Mikel, and Anelka were invisible for the last 20 minutes.  Not good.

Summary:  With the Blues players only having to play one half, we should have seen much more hustle and desire.  Yes it’s only preseason, but Malaysia is a team that lost to Liverpool 6-3 just last week.  That’s the kind of dominating result you want to encourage and reward a team for training hard in preseason.  You want to blaze through these tune-up games, build confidence, and peak in time for the EPL season premier against Stoke.

Overall, absolutely not the energetic, goal-blitz I was looking for from Chelsea.  It was a lackadaisical effort that brought back bad memories of last season.  Andre Villas-Boas couldn’t have been impressed.  Hopefully he’ll light a fire under the team before the next match in Thailand on Sunday!

How do you think Chelsea played today?

Blues Buzz

This week’s transfer rumors and signing realities

I’ve followed the daily transfer rumors more closely this summer than I have in past years and it has been quite amusing.  The latest example being Sir Alex Ferguson’s denial that Manchester United are deal-making to acquire Wesley Sneijder from Inter Milan.  It was a pretty firm denial in the face of supposedly serious reports all week that a deal is imminent.  The moral of the story is you don’t really know what’s going on with a player during transfer season until they show up in a new uniform.

I’ve kept tabs on the transfer rumors just to keep up with which Chelsea players are coming and going.  Of course, all the attention has been on Chelsea’s attempt to get Modric from Tottenham.  That deal is apparently deader than it’s been all summer after Tottenham nixed two Chelsea offers and denied Modric’s transfer request.  This mini-circus will likely continue until the season starts and I wouldn’t be surprised if Modric ends up in a Chelsea uniform during the January transfer window.

I think Chelsea should abandon the Modric pursuit in favor of another of this week’s rumors:  trying to get Scott Parker on loan from West Ham.  The times I’ve seen Parker play the past couple seasons, he has displayed the kind of relentless hustle and passion that was missing from much of the Chelsea squad last year.  Because of his age, he may not be a long-term addition, but if one of the primary personnel needs at the moment is a replacement for Essien at midfield, Parker could be just the shot in the arm the team needs.  Currently Aston Villa seems to be the frontrunner to acquire Parker’s services.

The other prominent transfer rumor of the week was Chelsea’s pursuit of Bolton defender Gary Cahill.  Interesting, though Chelsea’s defense seems to be in pretty good shape right now.  If this deal happened, I can’t see Cahill starting over any of the current group very often.

Other quieter rumors this week include Nicolas Anelka possibly returning to Paris St. Germain and Alex maybe heading to Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.  I like both players a lot, but of the two, transferring Anelka might be the shrewder move because of his age (32) and the fact that things are a little crowded at the Chelsea forward position.  It’s time for Daniel Sturridge to see more minutes at forward and transferring Anelka would help facilitate that.

I would hate to see Alex go.  When all the Chelsea defenders are healthy, they have a deep, quality bench, which is vital to the long EPL season.  If Alex left, adding someone like a Gary Cahill would be essential to maintaining that bench depth.  Anelka played in the second half of Chelsea’s first preseason game against Wycombe Wanderers Tuesday, but Alex did not.

 

Finally, two young Blues received welcome contract extensions today.  Twenty-two-year-old left-back Ryan Bertrand signed a four-year deal.  Eighteen-year-old midfielder Josh McEachran signed a five-year-deal.  Both signings seem very promising, though I only saw Bertrand for a few minutes in one game last season, so I don’t know much about him yet.  The McEachran signing is great for Chelsea.  Ancelotti worked him into several games last season and despite his beanpole build, McEachran was extremely impressive with his poise, patience, placement, and passing prowess (I got on a roll with the p’s and had to keep it going).  If McEachran can avoid burnout and develop some upper body bulk, he could very well be Chelsea’s Lampard of the future.

Which of these Chelsea transfer rumors is most exciting?  Most disappointing?