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Decent Win at the DW

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?

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Chelsea in Seattle

Blues arrive in America for two week tour

The blog has been on pause for a couple weeks while I’ve been vacationing with my family.  But I’m back home now, just in time for Chelsea’s arrival stateside for their four-city tour, which kicks off this Wednesday in Seattle against the Sounders (you can see it live on ESPN2).  The team touched down in Seattle yesterday evening to begin a busy couple weeks of training, matches, and publicity.

When Chelsea last visited the States in 2009, they swung by the then brand new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (which is just a few minutes from my house) for a game against Mexican side Club America.

Pre-game shot I took at Cowboys Stadium in 2009 before the Chelsea v. Club America match.

Unfortunately, the Blues’ U.S. tour this time around is geographically peripheral with stops in Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, and Miami – locales too far-flung for my schedule and pocketbook this summer.  But I’ll still be closely tracking the team’s American adventure, so be sure to check back here regularly for updates.

Chelsea released their tour roster yesterday, which is an exciting mix of youngsters and veterans.  I don’t envy DiMatteo’s task of determining a first team from this talented pool.  Making his job even more difficult are the major players who will join the tour later (Terry, Torres, Meireles, Cole, and Malouda – due to their post-Euro 2012 rest) and four players not even on the tour since they will be playing in the Olympics (Bertrand, Sturridge, Romeu, and Mata).

Welcome to America, Chelsea!  Hope you enjoy your stay and here’s hoping we get to enjoy four Blues victories while you’re here!

Which of Chelsea’s four U.S. pre-season matches are you looking forward to the most?

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?

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?