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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?

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?