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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?

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Chelsea’s Turn

It’s now or never for Blues veterans in their quest to be European Champions

When Chelsea overcame Barcelona to make it to the Champions League Final, I wrote that I was afraid the final itself might seem a bit anticlimactic after such an epic, heroic effort.  I hope I’m wrong!  Unfortunately, Chelsea squeezed in some pretty anticlimactic (and downright depressing) Premier League matches between the Champions League semifinal and tomorrow’s final.  To defeat Bayern Munich in their home stadium will require another heroic effort.  Chelsea can do it – Bayern isn’t as good as Barcelona.  But the gutsy, smartly aggressive, unified Chelsea team will have to show up in Munich, not the lackadaisical squad that lost to Newcastle and Liverpool over the past couple weeks.

On the eve of the world’s biggest club competition final, most pundits are pegging Chelsea as the underdogs.  The pundits are probably right.  If the Blues can keep from conceding a goal in the first half hour, I like their chances.  Offensively, Drogba and Lampard need to have a big game.  I hope Torres gets to start up front with Drogba – I think they could create some good space together.  Mata’s final-third passing must be sharp.

The area I’m most nervous about is defense.  With Cahill and Luiz just now returning from hamstring injuries, I’m afraid they may not be up to speed enough to adequately fill in for the suspended Terry and Ivanovic.  But then, who would’ve thought Jose Bosingwa (who replaced Cahill when he pulled his hamstring in the second leg against Barcelona) would be such a defensive rock against Barcelona?  If Luiz gets the starting nod, he must play with absolute discipline, as he is susceptible to clumsy fouls in dangerous areas.  I think Ashley Cole can hold off Arjen Robben on the right wing, but I’m not sure Chelsea has a defender that can consistently occupy Franck Ribery on the opposite wing.  I’d also feel better if Terry was able to mark Mario Gomez in the middle.

If Chelsea weathers the early Bayern onslaught, I think we’ll be in for a great back-and-forth battle.  Of course, I’d definitely trade back-and-forth for a comfortable two or three goal Chelsea lead for most of the match!

Chelsea making it to the Champions League Final feels like the club is living on borrowed time.  It’s almost like a bonus – of the best kind – that the team barely deserves after their awful Premier League season.  Yet they do deserve to be in the final because no other team clawed their way through the tournament like Chelsea did.  The Champions League and Premier League were odd dual seasons for the Blues this year – with their Champions League performances reminding us what they’re capable of.  Chelsea has the chance on Saturday to turn a most forgettable season into an unforgettable one.  For Chelsea veterans like Drogba and Lampard, you can be certain they’re going to leave it all on the field to ensure the team doesn’t waste this very rare opportunity.

Will Chelsea win their first ever European Cup on Saturday?

Good Times!

Chelsea beats Liverpool 2-1 in FA Cup Final

Liverpool looked like the Chelsea of a few months ago – which isn’t a compliment – in Saturday’s FA Cup Final.  Chelsea wasn’t fantastic, but they were more than good enough to claim their seventh FA Cup title in club history.

Ramires (who scored first for Chelsea in the 10th minute) has poured it on in recent weeks.  He seems to be hitting his stride right now – fantastic at open field runs with the ball, and much more efficient at finishing than he was earlier in the season.  Chelsea was wise to secure Ramires in a long-term deal this year, as he looks likely to be a key player for the club in the next several seasons.

Drogba added the Blues’ second goal in the 51st minute.  The guy is a clutch performer.  Chelsea will need him to show up in a major way in the Champions League final.  He just knows how to get the job done when a lot is at stake.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t be in favor of resting him so much between matches as Di Matteo has preferred lately, however, the extra rest hasn’t seemed to rust Drogba at all.  I’d really like to see Torres paired up front more with Drogba as opposed to this constant either/or situation.  For the Munich Final, Torres could get plenty of crosses in to Drogba as well as free up some space for him by pulling defenders out of the middle where Drogba usually lurks.

Petr Cech has also improved over the past couple months.  It’s easy to take Cech for granted because he’s been so consistently good for Chelsea for several years.  This hasn’t been a strong season for Cech overall, but like a true pro, he has upped his game at crucial times for the club recently.  His saves were huge in keeping Barcelona at bay in the Champions League semis, and Saturday’s point-blank deflection of Andy Carroll’s header late in the match preserved Chelsea’s lead and ultimately led to their fourth FA Cup title in six years.

Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph is a nice consolation of sorts for what has been a stinky Premier League season for the club.  It’s also another important confidence booster ahead of the Champions League Final on May 19.  Can’t wait for that one!

Who do you think were Chelsea’s key performers in the FA Cup win over Liverpool?

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?