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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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Chelsea’s Iffy Week

Chelsea’s draw with Juventus and win over Stoke

It wasn’t an altogether happy week to be a Chelsea fan.  I guess it sounds ungrateful to gripe about a Champions League draw (against Juventus last Wednesday) and Premier League win (over Stoke yesterday) – particularly if you’re, say, a Liverpool fan – but there are some frustrating aspects to the Blues’ recent performances that have made for some nerve-wracking matches.

Let’s start with that mid-week Champions League season opener against Juventus at Stamford Bridge.  Plenty to be excited about in the first half thanks to new Blue Oscar’s two sweet, long-range goals.  Plenty to be frustrated about too though, thanks to Chelsea’s ongoing inability to protect a lead.

For all of Chelsea’s intricate passing prowess – and they’ve certainly improved in that area this season – they’ve had far too many giveaways the past few matches.  Mikel got a lot of heat for his careless turnover pass that led to Juventus’ equalizing goal, but Ramires has had an alarming number of errant passes recently.  As a side note, Mikel’s error was extra painful after watching former Chelsea favorite Michael Essien excel in Real Madrid’s big Champions League win over Manchester City Tuesday.  It underscored my feeling that Essien was unfairly (and unwisely) pushed out the door in favor of Mikel.  I like Mikel, but I still think Essien is a more complete and reliable midfielder.

Chelsea squandered a great opportunity to beat Juventus and now faces a slightly more uphill Champions League climb than should’ve been necessary.

Against Stoke yesterday, we saw more of the same shiny Chelsea possession that fails to create many actual scoring chances.  Hazard continues to provide tremendous spark and creativity, and Oscar continues to show potential.  Mata, Hazard, Oscar, and Ramires constantly buzzed around the box, and constantly got knocked off the ball or fouled.  These are small guys.  Fast guys, but small guys.  Chelsea lacks attacking muscle.  Chelsea desperately needs a striker like, well, I hate to say it but, like Drogba – someone who can hold the ball in the box, create something out of nothing, or dish it off for another shooter.  Torres is not that guy.  I’m completely frustrated with Torres.  Victor Moses provided much more energy when he entered the game in the 61st minute (though I don’t understand why he replaced Hazard).  Moses should start over Torres immediately.

It was fitting that Ashley Cole got Chelsea’s only goal yesterday.  He continues to be a bit of an unsung hero for Chelsea, a defensive stalwart whose hustle and drive never seem to waiver.

It’s great to see Chelsea atop the league of course, but they’re barely squeaking by right now.  To maintain their position (and control their Champions League destiny) they need more consistency on defense and need to convert their offensive passing creativity into goals.

Your thoughts on Chelsea’s Champions League opener and/or victory over Stoke?

Thanks for the Memories, Didier

Drogba leaves Chelsea for Shanghai

This week Didier Drogba made it official that he’s joining Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll presumably finish out his remarkable playing career.  He first announced his Chelsea departure the week after the team’s amazing Champions League Final victory in which he scored the winning PK.  If he was going to leave Chelsea, it was understandably an ideal time to depart – going out on top as the hero (not only in the Final, but in several other crucial moments of the season).

If Chelsea hadn’t won the Champions League this year, perhaps Drogba would’ve pushed harder to strike a new deal with the club.  But since they won, he’s moving on to a new challenge.  I’m not sure what he finds appealing about Chinese soccer though.  If he was going to leave Chelsea, I wish he’d chosen MLS.

Drogba has been one of my favorite Chelsea players, but it’s hard to be bitter about his departure.  He seemed genuinely torn up about leaving.  Plus, in today’s transfer happy world, he stayed at Stamford Bridge longer (2004-2012) than a lot of players do at any club.

Chelsea will seem a bit strange for me without Drogba because he was a major reason I became a Blues fan in the first place.  He, along with Michael Essien and Michael Ballack, first really caught my eye during the 2006 World Cup.  Since all three of them played for Chelsea at the time, I quickly became partial to the Blues.

Drogba is a Chelsea legend.  It won’t be the same to tune in Saturdays and not see him in blue, muscling his way around the box, rifling shots from crazy angles.  But it sure was fun while it lasted!

What are your favorite Drogba moments as a Chelsea player?

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…

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 Best Benfica

Chelsea defeats Benfica 1-0 in first leg of Champions League quarterfinal

Where has this defensive discipline been all season for Chelsea?  For most of the match at Benfica yesterday they looked like the stubborn Chelsea defense of old.  Even Cech looked much better than he’s been for much of this season with several fine saves.  Sure Benfica threatened here and there, but the back four of Luiz, Terry, Cole, and a very surprising Ferreira remained focused, unified, and got the job done.

When I initially heard Di Matteo was starting Kalou and Mikel, I was a bit concerned.  They’ve both had rough seasons, particularly Kalou who has barely earned a start this year.  But, they were both spry, didn’t seem a bit rusty, kept mistakes at bay, and had an all-around excellent game.  Kalou even punched in the goal via a smart pass from Torres.  Speaking of, Fernando had a solid outing as well.  Like many other Chelsea fans, I wish he’d go on a scoring rampage, but the important thing is to keep winning and he definitely helped Chelsea do that yesterday.

Surprisingly, Mata had an off night.  He seemed tired (rightly so after all the big games he’s played in such a short span) and I was surprised he wasn’t subbed in the second half.

Ramires drove me nuts with his poor final passes, until the qualities I admire about his game actually initiated Chelsea’s goal.  It was his acceleration and tenacity that got the ball to Torres up the right wing, which was followed by Torres’ pass in to Kalou who scored.

It was pleasing to see Chelsea take care of business so matter-of-factly, with no major defensives gaffes and no goals allowed.  It was also great to see them get the result using several players who haven’t been in the lineup much recently (wish Malouda had also participated) – that must be a morale booster for both starters and bench-warmers, as well as good for locker room harmony.

So now, with things looking grim in the Premier League for Chelsea, the club finds itself one game away from a Champions League semifinal spot.  Who would’ve thought that was a remote possibility back in December?  Benfica visits Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, April 4 for the return leg where Chelsea will have to resist the urge to relax with their 1-0 lead, and remain vigilant to finish off sure-to-be-feisty Benfica.

Will Chelsea advance to the Champions League semifinals? 

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?

Bravo Blues!

Chelsea defeats Napoli 4-1, advancing to Champions League quarterfinals

Wednesday’s second leg round of 16 clash with Napoli at Stamford Bridge was hands down Chelsea’s biggest win of the season.  It was a crackling night of classic and dramatic Champions League action that saw Chelsea overcome a 3-1 aggregate deficit by netting four goals.  The game was thrillingly suspenseful for 120 minutes, having been forced into extra time since the aggregate score was 4-4 at the end of regulation.  In the 104th minute, Ivanovic scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the kind of triumphant moment reminiscent of the Blues’ better days from the past several years.  It was the kind of moment that makes soccer fans swoon, the kind that have been unfortunately few and far between for Chelsea supporters this season.

Particularly gratifying in this match were the unified heart and fighting spirit the team demonstrated throughout.  It was the kind of will to win that has been oddly absent for much of this campaign.  The fact that three of Chelsea’s four goals were scored by Chelsea’s “old guard” (Drogba, Terry, and Lampard respectively) was also quite gratifying.  Their goals and leadership were emphatic parries to critics’ jabs this season that Chelsea would be better off without these “geezers”.  What is remarkable about this rampant critical ageism is the double standard demonstrated by the rave reviews heaped on Manchester United’s own geezers Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.  Wednesday night’s performance proved that Drogba, Terry, and Lampard are not done yet!

The victory over Napoli keeps hope alive that perhaps something magical can be salvaged from this otherwise dreary season for the Blues.  Today’s Champions League draw determined that Chelsea will now travel to Benfica for the first quarterfinal leg on March 27th.  Here’s hoping that Chelsea’s recent recovery blossoms into a resurgence that will propel them all the way to the final in Munich!

How will Chelsea fare against Benfica in the quarterfinals?

The Bison is Back!

Michael Essien returns from injury as Chelsea beats Sunderland 1 – 0

Yesterday’s victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge was another serious nail-biter.  Nail-biters have been in plentiful supply this season – with far too many 1 – 0 games excruciatingly equalized in the dying minutes of matches by Chelsea’s scrappy opposition.  Sunderland tried to continue the trend Saturday with some excellent chances near the end that they fortunately bungled.

I was relieved to see Chelsea win of course, but there was another sense of relief accompanying the final whistle yesterday:  seeing Michael Essien – my favorite Chelsea player – not only return to the pitch after a six-month knee-injury absence, but also successfully navigate eighteen minutes of Premier League match time unscathed.  When I donned my Essien jersey for the game yesterday I had no idea he’d even made the bench.  I hadn’t checked the roster prior to the match, and even though I knew he played in a reserves match last week, I figured it was still too early to see him join the first team in the dugout.  So it was a tremendous surprise to see AVB chatting up Essien on the touchline as he was about to enter the game for Lampard!  While Essien’s contributions were relatively low-key, he was immediately involved, stringing together a series of crisp passes that looked like the Essien of old.  I cringed every time he received the ball near a Sunderland player, hoping they wouldn’t recklessly undo six months of difficult rehab.  It is fantastic to see him back and I hope he’ll be among the regular starting eleven very soon.

 

Another Chelsea vet who saw some late action yesterday was Florent Malouda.  I don’t think Malouda’s been given a fair shake so far this season.  In fact, he’s been woefully underused, which has now negatively affected his match sharpness.  Obviously, the Chelsea coaching staff is with him on a daily basis, so perhaps he’s been under-performing in training.  But it’s difficult to understand why he was so swiftly relegated to benchwarmer status especially considering he was one of last season’s EA Sports Index first-team midfielders – for the entire Premier League!  Like Lampard, I think Malouda has plenty left to offer and Chelsea would be foolish to squander it.  With Drogba away on African Cup duty, hopefully Malouda will get some opportunities to show AVB what he’s got.

Speaking of personnel decisions, what do you think about Chelsea’s acquisition of defender Gary Cahill from Bolton? 

Blues Best Brom (Barely)

Chelsea’s victory over West Bromwich more a relief than anything else…

Whew!  The photo of Andre Villas-Boas on the Chelsea website speaks volumes – epitomizing the relief and pent-up release of Chelsea fans during last Saturday’s match at Stamford Bridge.  Malouda’s winning goal came a little too late for comfort.

Midway through the first half, a nightmare scenario flashed through my mind involving a loss to West Brom, followed by a freak loss to Norwich City – one draw and two losses in his first three games getting AVB fired, etc.  Fortunately, Chelsea didn’t quit, and kept plugging away until the ball found the net twice in the second half.  Maybe AVB will get to stick around awhile after all.

Chelsea wasn’t terrible of course, but there is cause for concern.  The counter-attack was too slow.  Corners were unusually ineffective.  I don’t know why Drogba & Torres can’t play simultaneously.  It’s like it’s already an unwritten Chelsea law that they can never share the pitch, but they’ve barely been granted opportunity to develop any rapport.

After Saturday’s match I was feeling pretty shaky about the season, but reading Pat Nevin’s column on the Chelsea site earlier this week was reassuring.  Pat’s right – it’s way too early to worry.  Still, here’s hoping the Norwich match has fewer white-knuckle moments.  I could really use a five or six to zero walloping (by Chelsea of course!).

What was your take on the Chelsea/West Brom match?  Concerns?  Positives?