It’s been quite a month for the Blues
My how much can change at the ol’ Chelsea Football Club in such a short amount of time! You go a month without blogging about the Blues and look what happens. Benitez becomes the new coach… Fans repeatedly boo Benitez… Chelsea gets bounced from the Champs League… Chelsea gets bounced from the Club World Cup… Torres struggles at striker… wait, that last one’s no different from any other of the nearly 24 months since Fernando became a Chelsean. Anyways, very eventful weeks since I last updated this blog.
My soccer-coaching season is in full swing and life has been hectic, so that’s my excuse for the silence on all the upheaval at CFC – that, and the fact that I’m still disappointed by the Di Matteo canning. The coaching carousel at Chelsea has become so absurd that you really just have to throw up your “whatever!” hands. I guess if you buy a pro soccer club with your bazillions, you can do whatever you want with your club, even firing beloved managers.
Getting rid of Di Matteo was dumb, and Chelsea fans’ negative reaction to Benitez’s arrival has been humorous, but in the spirit of Christmas, it’s probably time to get o’er it, stop badgering Benitez, and get back to cheering on the Blue boys. After all, they’ve got Europa League to play for, and Capital One Cup! Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but it’s just because I’m so disappointed that Chelsea’s out of the Champs League. I haven’t even checked this week’s draw for the knockout round because it’s just not the same without the Blues. The day Chelsea got eliminated (thanks to Shakhtar’s sudden, complete soccer ineptitude – at home no less!), a package actually arrived at my house containing Kings of Europe, the Chelsea Champs League-winning commemorative hardcover book I’d ordered for my birthday. I was left thumbing through the pages with the hollow knowledge that Chelsea are the first Champs League champs in history not to make the knockout round the following season. The book is terrific by the way and would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for that special Chelsea fan in your life. But it’s kind of a sad gift now, what with all the full-color pics of Di Matteo and Drogba celebrating with the big-eared trophy. Sniff, sniff. There are even some shots of Michael Essien. I miss those guys. In today’s soccer world, it sure doesn’t take long to seriously alter a team’s identity!
On the plus side, Chelsea is still a good team. The new guys are doing well: Hazard, Oscar, Moses. Lamps is back from injury. And who knows, maybe the lack of Champs League travel and distraction will help Chelsea claw their way back into Premier League title contention. Here’s hoping anyway.
Merry Christmas to all and thanks for reading this year!
Thoughts on Chelsea’s busy month? Feel free to share below…
Sad thoughts on my favorite player being loaned to Real Madrid
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…
Chelsea starts season off right with 2-0 defeat of Wigan
Chelsea blasted out of the gate today, with Ivanovic and Lampard scoring within the first six minutes at Wigan Athletic. Only problem with such a start was that Chelsea lacked zip for most of the remaining 84 minutes. In case you missed it, here is the good, bad, and ugly from Chelsea’s first win of the season…
Good: Eden Hazard! He showed great bursts of speed and accurate attacking passes. He was fouled a lot in the first half, which meant he was doing a lot of things right. Fox Soccer’s Warren Barton said Hazard might be the bargain of the season. I’m inclined to agree. Hazard adds zest to Chelsea’s midfield, which too often moved in slow-motion last season.
It was good to see Oscar (the brand new Brazilian signing) get some second half minutes, though I wish he wouldn’t have replaced Hazard. Oscar didn’t get to do much, but he’s only been with the team a week so we’ll cut him plenty of slack.
It was an interesting (and surprising) idea to let Ryan Bertrand try forward today. Bertrand didn’t make much impact though. In fact, he’s been more of an attacking threat in previous matches when he’s carrying the ball up the left flank as a defender. Anyway, it will be interesting to see where this experiment leads.
Bad: After Chelsea’s explosive start to the match, they allowed Wigan to have most of the possession. You can often get away with that against the Wigans of the league, except there aren’t many Wigans in the league anymore. Chelsea was fortunate that Wigan was asleep for the first five minutes of the match; otherwise we might be talking about a season-opening draw.
Torres was not involved enough (as usual). In his defense, he wasn’t provided many passes, but the ones he got he generally squandered. His best scoring chance was cleared off the line in the second half. He also missed a nifty pass in the box from Ivanovic just before full time that he should’ve been looking out for. This wasn’t the confidence-boosting outing Torres needed to start the season.
This isn’t necessarily in the “bad” category, but I was disappointed to see Mikel get the starting nod over Essien in the defensive midfield role. Di Matteo seems to favor Mikel and I’m not sure why. Mikel hasn’t been bad, but I thought Essien had a better preseason in the U.S. Tour matches. I hope today’s benching isn’t a hint that Essien’s about to be let go.
Ugly: Chelsea’s yellow/black third kit. I’m not very fashion forward (my daughter is happy to confirm this), but the third kit just doesn’t work for me. I prefer away kits to at least hint at the club’s main colors. Black & yellow isn’t Chelsea at all.
Overall, this wasn’t the dominating win it should have been. Chelsea let Wigan hang around and threaten. But in the round robin format of the Premier League, the three points is all that matters. It will take a while for Di Matteo to work out the best starting lineup combination, but the pieces are in place to have a very successful season.
What did you think of Chelsea’s season-opening performance?
5 questions facing Chelsea as the new season kicks off with tomorrow’s Community Shield match…
This soccer summer has flown by thanks to the Euros, Chelsea’s U.S. tour, and the Olympics. Chelsea faces Manchester City tomorrow in the mother of all preseason games – the unofficial start of the new Premier League season – the FA Community Shield. As a new season dawns, here are 5 questions facing the Blues:
1) Will Fernando Torres be able to fill the departed Didier Drogba’s shoes?
Unfortunately for Chelsea fans, the answer is no. But very few strikers could replicate the heroics Drogba produced during his Chelsea years. Although we may see some short-term improvement from Torres after his positive output at Euro 2012, he has never quite clicked with Chelsea and I’m not expecting many goals from him in the new season.
Now that 19-year-old Romelu Lukaku has been loaned to West Brom for the season, Chelsea may do some last minute shopping for an additional striker. Lukaku was a hot signing for Chelsea early last season when he was billed as a potential replacement for Drogba. Instead, he languished on the bench, making occasional cameo appearances in lower profile matches. I’m disappointed to see him loaned, but hopefully he’ll get some vital experience at West Brom and return to Chelsea a more polished, confident player.
With Lukaku out of the picture for now, the Blues need Daniel Sturridge to have a breakout season at forward.
2) Who will make up the core of Chelsea’s midfield?
Chelsea is currently stocked up on midfielders: Frank Lampard, Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, Raul Meireles, Eden Hazard, Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran, Marko Marin, and now Oscar (the Brazilian youngster Chelsea signed a couple weeks ago).
It’s a good problem to have, sorting through so much talent, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Will we see a regular group of starters, or will there be constant rotation? If rotation is the answer, will the midfield be able to gel? Even if the club offloads a few midfielders, there will still be a lot of talent on the bench every week.
A lot could change in the next few weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Malouda and maybe even Meireles transferred before the season kicks into high gear.
3) Is the defense deep enough to survive another grueling schedule?
Surprisingly, Chelsea’s summer deal making (and attempted deal making) has focused on midfielders and strikers. But it was the back line that ran low on options at the critical point of last season due to injuries and suspensions.
John Terry will likely continue anchoring the Chelsea defense, but how long can he hold up? By his own admission, Terry is starting to feel his age. Who will fill in when Terry needs extra recovery days? Barring any last minute summer signings, we’ll likely see a lot more of Ryan Bertrand who played very well when called on at the end of last season.
Assuming Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, and Terry are the regular rotating starters, there aren’t many additional bench options. Paulo Ferreira may have a little left in the tank, but he’s been at the club since 2004 and has had a very limited role the past two seasons. Sam Hutchinson’s comeback story is inspiring, but he may not be ready for the rigor of weekly Premier League defending.
Chelsea tried to get Marseille defender Cesar Azpilicueta this week, but Marseille rejected the offer. Now Di Matteo may be looking at Juventus defender Stephen Lichtsteiner instead.
4) Which loan players should be retained and who should be loaned this season?
Josh McEachran was being carefully groomed under Carlo Ancelotti two seasons ago, but Andre Villas Boas ignored McEachran at the beginning of last season. The 19-year-old went on loan to Swansea for the remainder of the 2011/2012 season where he didn’t see much more playing time. McEachran has a lot of potential but Chelsea’s midfield is so crowded right now, he’ll likely go on loan for another season.
Yossi Benayoun is a talented player who doesn’t seem to fit in Chelsea’s overall plan. He spent last season on loan at Arsenal where he did quite well. Benayoun was on the bench for Chelsea’s preseason loss to Brighton last Saturday, but he didn’t play and it doesn’t seem likely Chelsea will keep him much longer.
Further room on the Chelsea bench might also be made by loaning Kakuta, van Aanholt, and even Oriol Romeu.
5) Will Roberto Di Matteo make it past Christmas in charge of Chelsea?
When Di Matteo was finally offered a two-year contract earlier this summer after his stint as Chelsea’s interim manager, it seemed only fair. After all, Di Matteo earned the opportunity by leading the club to the FA Cup and Champions League titles. The contract offer showed promising (and rare) open-mindedness about manager selection from owner Roman Abramovich. It will be interesting to see how the new season tests Abramovich’s patience. Will he be willing to weather the season’s storms with Di Matteo at the helm or will he fire him at the first sign of trouble?
As usual, there are a lot more questions than answers. One thing’s pretty certain though: it won’t be a boring season for Chelsea!
What do you think about Chelsea’s prospects this season?
MLS All-Stars beat Chelsea 3-2
They’re still in preseason. They’re still in preseason. They’re still in preseason. That’s what I’ve had to keep telling myself about Chelsea since the loss last night to the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia. Actually, it wasn’t a poor Chelsea performance. And the All-Stars weren’t particularly starry. It was a decent game with a decent number of scoring chances for both teams. Still, I’d rather Chelsea have won.
Michael Essien was on fire last night. He looked like the pre-2011-injury Essien (which is a good thing). Perhaps he is just now fully recovered from the knee injury that wrecked half of last season for him. Or, perhaps he was just a man on a mission to show Di Matteo that he can still take care of business in midfield. Regardless, he looked great and made a tremendous case for himself. His was aggressive and fast on defense. His passes were back to their old accuracy. It was great to see.
For all the talk about Chelsea’s supposed youth revolution this summer, look who scored the Blues’ goals last night – Terry and Lampard. These guys just keep on ticking. I don’t know how many more seasons they’ve got left in them, but as long as they keep contributing like this, it’s hard to think about replacing them.
New Blues Marko Marin and Eden Hazard didn’t quite click with the team last night. Marin held onto the ball a little too long in the box on several occasions when a quicker shot or pass might’ve been the better option. Unfortunately, Hazard simply didn’t get many opportunities to show his stuff when he came on in the second half.
Lukaku’s effort was decent. I’d like to see him pull the trigger on shots more often. He could be a little more selfish with the ball in front of goal. And we still haven’t gotten a good look at his heading ability. But overall he had a better game than he did against PSG.
One of the trickiest aspects of Di Matteo’s job this summer will be figuring out what the best combination of players is, particularly in midfield. That job is even harder with some key guys like Mata and Sturridge currently busy at the Olympics. I thought the first half offensive group (Lampard, Essien, Benayoun, Ramires, Marin, Lukaku) significantly outperformed the second half group (Mikel, Meireles, Hazard, Piazon, Malouda, De Bruyne).
Last night’s loss was disappointing because you want to see your team dominate in preseason. But it’s not that big a deal. There is a still lot of preseason yet to go. The team is already in Miami for their final U.S. Tour stop where they’ll play A.C. Milan on Saturday.
Your thoughts on Chelsea’s performance last night?
Chelsea takes on MLS All-Stars tonight
I’m looking forward to Chelsea’s big clash against the MLS All-Stars tonight. Should be a pretty close game. Sounds like Di Matteo may let several players go the full 90. Doesn’t look like Torres will play tonight at all though. You can hear some of Di Matteo’s and Lampard’s comments about the match and MLS’ development here.
The big player news of the day involves… whom else? Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid of course! Chelsea has officially confirmed the 18-year-old’s signing. Increasingly, this is shaping up to be a torch-passing season for Chelsea between the veteran Blues and the brand new youngsters. Chelsea haven’t played it safe with their signings this summer. The moves have definitely been made with an eye toward the long-term future.
One of Chelsea’s brand new youngsters, Kevin De Bruyne, may be headed on loan to Bundesliga club Werder Bremen for this season. De Bruyne showed a lot of life in Chelsea’s first preseason game against the Sounders, though he was less visible in the PSG game. With so many midfielders to choose from, sending De Bruyne on loan may be the first of many tough personnel decisions Di Matteo has to make over the next few weeks.
Who do you hope to see play for Chelsea tonight?
Roberto Di Matteo is finally Chelsea’s “permanent” manager
On Wednesday, Chelsea announced they are upgrading Roberto Di Matteo from “caretaker” manager to full-blown regular manager. He has apparently signed a two-year contract, which is three months in Abramovich years. Just kidding, Romovich. Just a little sacking humor.
Actually, Di Matteo’s hiring shows some good common sense from the Chelsea brass. Sure, he’s not on the big-time fancy manager short list (at least not yet anyway). But why on earth wouldn’t you give an extension to the guy who was at the helm for an F.A. Cup title and the club’s first Champions League title – all in his first few months on the job? It only seems fair that he would get the chance to manage Chelsea for a full season. Chelsea has chosen wisely.
Di Matteo proved adept at getting Chelsea ready for big matches and guiding them in sticking with the game plan. I wish I knew exactly what he did so differently from Andre Villas-Boas behind the scenes, but whatever it was it worked. Di Matteo apparently has great rapport with the Blues squad. It takes time to develop trust and quality relationships between coach and players, so why bust up something that works?
In the excellent (and recently revised/updated) book Soccernomics, the authors statistically show that, generally speaking, the amount players are paid has more bearing on a team’s success than who manages the team. So if you have a manager the players trust, who is strategically competent, and a good ambassador for the club, you might as well stick with him. Save the big bucks for your players rather than blowing it on a ritzy-name manager.
The challenge for Di Matteo next season will be incorporating new players and building for the future, while still satisfying the fans’ (and owner’s) hunger to win. Another potential challenge will be maintaining the team’s drive after already winning the biggest club prize in world soccer. But as anyone who followed Chelsea last season knows, despite winning the Champions League, there is plenty of room for improvement!
What do you think of Di Matteo’s appointment as Chelsea manager?