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Happy Blue Year

The January transfer window is open and Chelsea changes are afoot

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Chelsea’s post-Club World Cup recovery was going great with a League Cup victory against Leeds, followed by three successive EPL wins over Aston Villa, Norwich, and Everton.  Plenty for fans to be enthused about over the Christmas holiday.  All that came to a frustratingly screeching halt Wednesday with the 1-0 home loss to QPR – who just happen to be the worst team in the league.  Simply unbelievable.  The slim hope of catching up to Manchester United by season’s end has all but vanished now.  It will be a dogfight just to qualify for the Champions League.

The QPR loss confirms that Chelsea is not an elite team right now.  There are currently only two elite teams in the EPL and they’re both located in Manchester.  The Manchesters repeatedly demonstrate their knack for winning games they should win, as well as clawing their way back into games when they’re not performing at their best.  They always seem to find additional goals, even when they’re letting goals in themselves.  Chelsea has not shown the same ability this season.

A team’s fortunes don’t rest entirely on one player of course, but Man U does have the remarkably reliable Robin Van Persie at striker, and Man City has the similarly prolific Edin Dzeko.  Chelsea has Fernando Torres.  Yeah.  I know Torres has scored much more this season, but would anyone really put him in the same league as Van Persie and Dzeko right now?  Well, Chelsea may be about to get a lift in that department…

Today Chelsea made it official that Demba Ba is joining the club from Newcastle.  Now that the remote possibility of Didier Drogba joining the team on loan from China seems to have vanished, the arrival of Senegalese striker Ba is great news for Chelsea fans.  If his Newcastle stint is any indication, he will be a physical handful in the box for opponents – something Chelsea has desperately missed since Drogba’s departure.  For all the deft, speedy skill of Hazard, Mata, and Oscar, they are small guys who frequently get muscled off the ball, so having Ba’s strength and nose for goal will be a welcome addition to the offensive mix.

The only things tempering my enthusiasm over Ba are his past knee-injury struggles and the fact that he’s 27-years-old.  I’m not saying 27 is old, I just wish Chelsea would find an elite under-the-radar striker at the beginning of his career rather than splashing mid-season cash for perhaps final-third-of-their-career guys.  I thought they had done that with young Lukaku last season, but they let him languish on the bench before loaning him to West Brom for this season.  Still, getting Ba was much more economical than the rumored move for Atletico Madrid’s Falcao.  Overall, I’m quite glad Ba is a Blue.  Having lived in Senegal for five years as a youngster, I always root for Senegalese players.  Hopefully Ba will accelerate his scoring prowess for Chelsea over the next few seasons.

On the flip side of the January transfer window fun, new arrivals usually mean departures as well.  Daniel Sturridge moved to Liverpool this week.  I like Sturridge and think he has a lot of potential that was never fully explored at Chelsea.  He deserved a lot more playing time this season in place of the bland Torres.  I wish him the best at LFC.

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

The other big name in Blues news this week is one of my favorite Chelsea players (isn’t he everyone’s?):  Frank Lampard.  It seems unthinkable that Chelsea would even consider letting this legend go and yet that seems to be what’s happening.  Lampard’s contract is up at the end of this season and Chelsea doesn’t seem eager to re-sign him.  I don’t understand this.  Lampard is beloved by fans, a leader on the field, and still produces goals at the highest level.  Just look at Scholes and Giggs at Man U – guys older than Lampard who still contribute.  Lamps has a few more seasons in him and Chelsea should allow him to end his career as a Blue.  He has certainly earned it.

What do you think of Chelsea’s transfer window action so far?

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Managerial Blues

Andre Villas-Boas gets fired after 1 – 0 loss to West Brom

I have mixed feelings about AVB’s canning on Sunday.  On one hand, I generally liked the guy.  I liked his passion on the sideline.  I liked the way he took the job with gusto last summer and the way he sometimes blamed himself in the press when results were less than rosy.  But at the same time, something is seriously awry at Chelsea FC this season.  It makes one nostalgic for the mere “dip” in form last season that saw Chelsea finish second in the league.  Second!  Hard to believe that was just last season.  Are the Blues’ current problems AVB’s fault?  Partially it seems, but impossible to know just how much without being inside the locker room and on the training pitch regularly with AVB and the squad.

Ultimately, I suppose, Chelsea fans have to trust that the CFC higher-ups are correctly aiming their blame, in which case showing AVB the door (even at this awkward point in the season) is a good thing for the club.  Problem is, owner Roman Abramovich is completely trigger-happy when it comes to firing managers.  Taking that into consideration, it seems quite possible AVB may not be entirely at fault for Chelsea’s current woes.

As I’ve mentioned here before, the managerial Ferris wheel at CFC is a real problem.  The club must find a manager they’re willing to stick with for several years!  The frustrating thing is I thought AVB was that manager when he was hired last summer.  I though Abramovich had turned over a new leaf and was willing to reboot.  Instead, think of all the millions that have been blown on managers the past several seasons!  Imagine how many players could’ve been brought in with that cash instead!  I thought firing Ancelotti last year was a mistake.  Now it looks like a huge blunder.  It’s hard to fathom why he was sacked after winning the Double and finishing second in the league last season.  Makes this season look even bleaker!

I wanted AVB to succeed, not only for stability and growth at the club, but I also wanted to see this young dude (only a year younger than myself by the way) defy the odds and prove that a young, relatively inexperienced manager could make Chelsea champs again.  It must be extremely frustrating for AVB personally to have not been able to win with the kind of talent the Blues have.  It’s very weird.  After the smoke clears, I hope some insights materialize as to how this season went off the rails for Chelsea.

For now, the club has a real mess on its hands.  Where do they go from here?  Some rumored names are already surfacing as replacement managers, but I’ll have to leave that for another day’s exploration…

Did Chelsea do the right thing by firing AVB?

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?

Opening Weekend Blues

It’s hard not to be disappointed by Chelsea’s 1 – 1 draw at Stoke

Logically, we shouldn’t worry about a draw on opening day.  It doesn’t mean all that much with so many fixtures ahead.  There are sure to be more disappointing draws and even losses this season.  But it’s hard for fans to keep that perspective.  It’s hard because you’ve waited all summer with such anticipation and buildup.  And then the first game finally arrives – Chelsea looking all shiny in their snazzy blues, AVB looking all svelte and sixties-ish with his black Chelsea-badged suit and skinny tie.  And then the team plays mostly like the team we suffered with last year.  You know, the one that perpetually schools teams in possession and scoring ops, but can’t find the back of the net.

Drawing against Stoke City is not the end of the world of course.  It’s just that after such a positive preseason I was hoping for a real opening game statement.  Something that would suck the wind out of the Man U/Man City sails.  Instead, Chelsea’s already two points back in the title race.  Here’s hoping we get our big statement win against West Brom on Saturday… and that the Manchesters lose of course.

Was the Stoke game cause for concern for Chelsea?

Andre Villas-Boas: First Impressions

Grading the new Chelsea manager’s first month on the job

Okay, so it’s not really fair to grade a coach after barely a month at a new job.  Especially since there haven’t even been any regular season games yet.  But I’ve got to blog about something while I wait out the remaining twelve hours or so before Chelsea kicks off against Malaysia XI, so it might as well be evaluating AVB!

I liked Carlo Ancelotti.  I thought the club treated him poorly and sacked him prematurely.  So whoever succeeded him would have to win me over as a fan.  So far, AVB has done just that.  He has brought new energy to the club, seems to have a good plan in place, and has hit the ground running to implement it (not that he had much choice, with little prep time before the players returned).  As a detail-oriented guy, I can appreciate his apparent detail-orientedness.  For example, check out this snooping from the Daily Mail, which shows some of AVB’s clipboard diagrams from a recent training session.

I also appreciate the way AVB has tempered the hoopla surrounding his Porto success and megabucks transfer to Chelsea with appropriate humility.  He fully realizes that his Porto trophies got him to Chelsea, but staying past one season in London will require fast results.  Fair or not, that is the scenario.  But AVB seems up to the challenge.

AVB has also made smart personnel decisions, like promoting Steve Holland and Michael Emenalo (to assistant first team coach and technical director respectively), and choosing recent West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo as his assistant coach.  Di Matteo was a pleasant surprise of a choice.  My impression of him last year prior to his West Brom canning was that he is an intelligent, mature guy with a lot of managerial potential. Player-wise, AVB has taken a careful approach, not getting sucked into the transfer market madness, or trying to flex too much managerial muscle with sweeping changes.

Ancelotti was a good manager, but perhaps his laidback style lulled the largely veteran team to sleep for much of last season.  There is a renewed energy about the team since Villas-Boas’ arrival.  Sometimes, even when the previous coach is well liked, teams need a leadership change to recharge the batteries.  So far, the team is reacting well to AVB’s training.  The players are fired up for the new season.  They don’t seem put off by AVB’s youthfulness either.  In fact, John Terry’s apparently been inspired by AVB to become a Chelsea manager himself someday.

Here’s hoping Chelsea’s perceived reinvigoration translates into some dynamic soccer in Malaysia tomorrow!

What do you think – how is Andre Villas-Boas doing so far?