Mar 14

That Just Happened.

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Holy Shit, THAT is how it is done.  Chelsea, through the strength of the “old guard” chewed up and spit out Napoli and are advancing to the Quarterfinals of the Champions League.  They needed extra time to do it, but they got it done.  Drogba opened the scoring with a brilliant diving header, followed soon after by captain John Terry’s header off of a corner.  Napoli clawed one back with a magnificent volley from Inler, only for Lampard to slot rip a PK in to make it 3-1.  Ivanovic was the hero in OT when Drogba’s pass back found Ivanovic standing on the penalty spot and he cannoned it in.  What a freaking game.

Some games you watch as an extremely biased analyst and some games you watch simply as a helpless fan, gasping and screaming in your living room like everyone else.  This was definitely the latter.  I’ll have to watch the game again to give a move detailed analysis, but I’ll do my best to keep my emotions in check and give you player ratings and MoTM awards:

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Chelsea Man of the Match:  Everyone.  Is this corny?  Absolutely.  Do I care, not a bit; Chelsea just advanced in the CL!  The Blues put together a complete team effort and completely deserved to leave that field with progression to the Quarter finals.  If I had to list an individual MoTM award, I’d give it to Didier Drogba, but I feel that’s unfair to Lampard and Ramires who were both spectacular as well.

Napoli Man of the Match: Ezequiel Lavezzi. I was scared every time he touched the ball.  His is lightning quick and fiery as well, not a good combination to play against.  His stamina and work ethic is outrageous for an attacking winger and I still want him at Chelsea.

Chelsea Player Ratings:

Cech – 7.5.  He did an excellent job making himself available for drops throughout the game and made smart decisions.  He kept Chelsea in the game early on with a couple of big saves and provided consistency and communication for 120 minutes.  Nothing he could do about the goal.

Cole – 8.  Where has that performance been all season?  Sure, his attacking moves are still minimal and I’m not sure he attempted more than 1 cross, but his energy was back to the old Ashley Cole.  He never stopped running down the left side of the field and was always the first to step to a Napoli player when the ball was cleared out, even if that meant he was playing RB of DM for a little bit.

Luiz – 8.  No-nonsense Luiz is awesome, he needs to stay all the time.  He provided the speed Chelsea’s defense needed to see off the counter attacks and did an excellent job coming from “help” positions to cut off passes/dribbles.

Terry – 8.  Captain, leader, legend.  Terry showed why he will always be a legend at Chelsea and bullied Napoli around all game.  His knee may not have been able to hold up to 120 minutes of soccer (more about that later), but his header gave us the crucial 2nd (and game winning at the time) goal and he led through example on and off the pitch.

Ivanovic – 8.  Was Ashley Cole-like the way he got up and down the right channel and did excellent going forward.  His crossing was much improved and of course, the goal.  I was so happy that Ivanovic was the one to bag it because other than Terry, I’m not sure anyone shows more heart as consistently as Ivanovic.

Essien – 7.  The Bison looked labored throughout the game and was a touch slow at times throughout the game.  He provided a good physical presence in the center of the field and his positioning was great, but his loss of quickness and speed showed today.

Lampard – 9.  Best game in years.  Similar to Drogba, not sure where he summoned the energy from but it was amazing.  He looked like an English Ramires out there, tracking players into Chelsea’s 18 and then turning around and getting into Napoli’s 18 for a look at goal.  He was instrumental in moving the ball around the field and along with Essien, controlled the tempo of the game.

Ramires – 9.  He played about 3 different positions today and excelled at every single one.  His biggest strength shone through today when he was making people look like statues 120 minutes into the game.  He was making runs and tracking players like he had fresh legs, not someone who had played in the 3 positions that require the most running (defensive wingers and CM) for 2 hours.  Also, where did that touch come from?

Mata – 6.5.  The fact that Mata was subbed off when Chelsea needed a goal should tell the story.  This was an EXTREMELY physical game and Mata simply couldn’t handle it.  Napoli gave him no space to receive the ball and as a result he spent more time on the ground than on his feet.  He still made good decisions, as he always does, but was really unable to make a impact on the game.

Sturridge – 7.  He didn’t play that poorly, he just didn’t play as well as the others were playing.  He had a couple of good moments in the game taking players on down the right wing and he also did an excellent job of tracking back defensively.  He was clearly upset that he was subbed out..

Drogba – 9.  Drogba gave everything his 34 year-old body had and willed Chelsea to victory.  He was all over the place and using his strength to fight for every ball in the air.  His first goal was classic Drogba and his assist was more of the same.  He played a CM/DM in the closing minutes and fought for every ball.  A true warrior.

Subs:

Malouda – 8.  No-nonsense from Malouda today and it was just what we needed.  He replaced Mata and Chelsea reverted to a 4-3-3 of sorts with Malouda holding down the left wing.  He is much more physical than Mata and he was able to body players off the ball and use his speed to start some counters.

Torres – 8.5.  Great game from El Nino.  I would have liked to see him do better with the nugget Di Sancto dropped, but I am very very happy with his level of effort.  He worked extremely hard the entire time he was on the field and his touch didn’t let him down for once as his dribbling was very good.

Bosingwa – 7.5.  I was scared to death when I saw him being subbed on, but calmed when I saw Terry give him a pep talk when he went on.  I knew there was no way he was going to do something stupid after Terry grabbed his head and said “We will all grow a unibrow if you don’t screw this up.”**

**I’m not a professional lip-reader, but I’m fairly certain that’s what was said.

 

Enjoy the rest of the evening (for those in the US) and soak it all in.  We haven’t had a reason to feel this good in a long time.  This is the kind of game we can look back at and say “that was the turning point.”

Mar 11

Chelsea 1 – Stoke City 0: Post-Match Analysis

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You can’t draw up a much better Saturday when it comes to results for Chelsea.  The Blues put together a solid, not spectacular, performance to see off Stoke City while both Liverpool and Tottenham lost.  Chelsea are still technically in 5th (goal differential) but Arsenal has a pivotal match tomorrow against 6th place Newcastle which could really effect the end of the year standings.  Since I’m more worried about Arsenal than Newcastle, I’m hoping the Magpies can pull off the upset, although a draw wouldn’t be the end of the world.  In less relevant (since they aren’t anywhere near us) but equally exciting news, QPR’s loss to Bolton put them in the relegation zone.  Back to Chelsea’s game now:

RDM opened the game with one of the strangest lineups of the year, if not the strangest.  Cech; Cole, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic; Mikel, Meireles, Lampard, Ramires; Kalou, Drogba.  On paper it would appear to be a 4-4-2 diamond, but the players took more of a 4-2-3-1 shape when they took the field.  Mikel and Meireles were in the double pivot, Lampard was a CAM of sorts, and Ramires took up his hybrid role on the right wing.  It was an interesting way to field 4 center midfielders, but then again playing against Stoke City is not normal either.  Since Stoke do not really utilize the midfield and instead look to play long balls over the top, Meireles and Lampard would not be relied upon much for defensive responsibilities, their weakest aspect of the game.  Playing Ramires out on the right proved to be successful again, although not devastating like it has been at times.  Despite Ramires not quite being as involved, it allowed Ivanovic to have acres of space to run into.  He got into the right hand channels for the majority of the first half and was able to put in numerous dangerous crosses and even cannon a volley off the crossbar.  His crossing left a little to be desired at times, but he kept the defense honest and was a constant thorn in Marc Wilson’s side.

The game got off to a slow but steady start with Chelsea dominating possession.  Mikel was putting himself in excellent positions to swing the ball from flank to flank and Chelsea were really having no problems moving the ball throughout the midfield and defense.  In typical Chelsea fashion, things would break down when Kalou or especially Drogba were targeted, but in this case it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  Chelsea needed to control the game to take some of the physicality out of the game and they did just that.  Instead, they let Stoke beat themselves, namely through Ricardo Fuller.  He completely lost his head and made a thug like stomp on Ivanovic’s junk while Branislav was on the ground after a sliding clear.  The assistant ref came running onto the field to make the call and there was never any debate.  Tony Pulis doesn’t condone that type of behavior and his post-match quotes showed it:

[Fuller's] been a great player for us, but what he’s done is a ridiculous reaction. He’s got a short fuse and we’ll deal with it in-house.

Source: BBC

Interestingly enough, the red card in just the 25th minute didn’t alter the game very much.  Stoke were playing a 4-4-1-1 before, so they didn’t have to make a change and just had a 4-4-1.  Naturally, it made Chelsea’s defending job easier, but it almost made attacking even harder.  If Stoke were playing defensive before, they were playing ultra defensive afterwards.  To counter this small change, RDM took out Meireles and put in Mata, who was apparently left out of the starting lineup due to the physical nature of the game.  Lampard dropped deeper to take up the double pivot position with Ramires while Mata took his role at CAM.  The substitution was exactly the right move and looked to take advantage of the space in the center.  It paid dividends 68 minutes into the game when Mata found some space in the center, fed Drogba in the box, who expertly touched it around Begovic for the game winner.  Although he wasn’t involved in the goal, Sturridge was subbed on for Mikel just one minute before as Chelsea searched for the victory.  Although I would have preferred Lampard be taken out instead of Mikel, who was playing amazing, I liked that RDM made positive substitutes to go for the win and didn’t wait for something to happen.

Chelsea had some amazing freekicks today, let’s keep that up.

Traveling doesn’t make for a good environment to write, so that’s all I’ve got for this game.  Once again, it wasn’t a pretty win, but it was 3 points for Chelsea.  Di Matteo makes it 2 wins out of 2 games under his management and it looks like he only has short term goals in mind.  As much as I hated the idea of AVB being fired, the Blues have to concentrate on the short term and Di Matteo is doing just that.  Now we’ll just have to wait and see what happens on Wednesday when Napoli come to visit.

Chelsea Man of the Match: John Obi Mikel.  He absolutely controlled the center of the field and made good decisions throughout  the game.  He showed off some of his “Vertical” passing with plenty of through balls and even a few over the top.  Still don’t really think he’s the right play against Napoli, but he’s looking good for the remaining EPL games.

Stoke Man of the Match:  Stoke’s Goalpost.  It made some miraculous saves.

Chelsea Player Ratings:

Cech – 7.  He didn’t have to do very much at all during the game, but he shouldn’t be punished for that.  Good distribution I guess?

Cole – 5.  Ouch.  Cole was invisible for almost the entire game and didn’t look like he cared very much at all.  His play this year compared to the last couple of years is astonishing.

Terry – 6.  Terry had a pretty good game in his first back from knee surgery, but made a couple of mistakes that could have been crucial.  Twice Cahill had to save Chelsea from Terry’s blunders.

Cahill – 7.5.  Gary Cahill is looking better and better in a Chelsea jersey and is earning the minutes he’s getting lately.  He did excellent with the physicality in the air and was Luiz-esque going forward.

Ivanovic – 6.5.  Branislav was a beast going forward in the first half, practically camping out in Wilson’s area.  His rating would be a little higher if it wasn’t for some wayward crosses that killed off some attacks/opportunities.  Did well defending, as always.

Mikel – 7.5.  See MOTM.

Meireles – 6.  Didn’t do much in the 38 minutes he was on.

Ramires – 6.5.  Ramires once again played the hybrid role very well.  He struggles when there isn’t a lot of space to play with and Stoke did an excellent job shrinking the field.

Lampard – 6.  Lampard had his moments in the game, but overall wasn’t very effective overall.  A forgettable game.

Kalou – 6.5.  Similar to Lampard, he had his moments where he was effective and made things happen, but also got lost for large periods of the game.

Drogba – 7.  Struggled to fight off both of the center backs, but did better than anyone else could.  His goal was magnificent and showed why he is still valuable.

Subs:

Mata – 7.  Did well making and finding space in the middle of the field and his assist to Drogba shows his class.

Sturridge – 6.5.  Added an extra element to Chelsea’s attack with some speed an trickery.

Luiz – 6.  Played at RB when he came in at half and was every bit ineffective.

Highlights:


Chelsea v Stoke City by roustomiite

Mar 09

Stoke City @ Chelsea: Match Notes

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This is going to be super brief because it was a long day at work, and I have another long day at work tomorrow. And I need my Nyquil induced sleep to recover from being sick. It’s been a fun week.

Stoke City come to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in the reverse fixture of the opening match of the season. Chelsea drew 0-0 at Stoke in AVB’s first match in charge. Maybe Di Matteo will have better luck? Random bit of trivia from Chelsea’s official preview:

Of the last ten Blues managers, going back to Glenn Hoddle in 1993, four (Jose Mourinho, Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti) registered league debut victories, two (Villas-Boas and Claudio Ranieri – at Old Trafford) earned draws, and three were defeated (Hoddle, Grant and Gianluca Vialli – who lost his first three league games on the spin).

Good stuff. Also, they’ve conceded 13 goals in their last 4 visits to the Bridge. Let’s keep up that pace. I’d be thrilled to see 3 goals go in (because hopefully our defense won’t concede 3…). Some team notes:

Stoke City: 

  • Andy Wilkingson (hamstring) is a game time decision.
  • Long-throw specialist Rory Delap (hamstring) is a game time decision
  • That’s it. Weird, considering last match had a roster full of players who couldn’t feature…

Chelsea:

  • John Terry (knee) is available for the match, but it is unknown if he’ll start. I, for one, am not going to bet against him. The man is a freaking machine.
  • Ashley Cole is available.
  • José Bosingwa is available.
  • Ross Turnbull is available to ride the bench.
  • Being healthy is good!

So, both teams are fairly healthy, without too many problems. Stoke plays a physical game and are very direct, relying on tall/strong players and set plays. The good news is that we have strong players who can do very well against them. Let’s hope they show up. In picture form!

The old guard to take over and hopefully produce some of that old guard magic? AKA let Drogba go beast mode on 3 CBs at the same time? Fine with me.

Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Stoke City. Make it 2 wins out of 2 for RDM (I like this much better than “Robbie”… Robbie seems weird to me…).

PS: I think last match was the first match of the season I had guessed the score correctly. I just predict it for fun, not because I’m smart or anything. Please please please please don’t EVER try to place a bet based off of any information you read here. It’ll turn out poorly. Also, to give Jared credit, he told me the correct lineup last match, I just used a different one that was wrong.

Links to official pre-matches: Chelsea. Stoke City.

Mar 08

Frozen tickets and the Blues coming to America!

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First, let me say it again. Messi is a god among men. And if he isn’t, he’s at least a demi-god. He is ridiculous. Watch the Leverkusen highlights again if you don’t believe me.

Second, both Manchesters lost today. City away to Sporting Lisbon 1-0 and United at home 3-2 to Ahtletic Bilbao. At least until Chelsea’s next match, feel free to laugh at both teams. United’s grumpy Scot must have been a little shocked because he even admitted, “We were well beaten. They were the better team.” (source)

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Now, how about some Chelsea news?

Terry discussed his recovery from injury with Blues News (Chelsea TV) in a short clip. Apparently his recovery is mostly mental compared to your average person actually needing to heal. More seriously, it worries me a little bit that he seems to be back so quickly. Not saying he isn’t crazy about playing, no matter the injury, but I don’t want to see him get worse because he is rushed back. Cahill and Luiz seem to be at least semi-competent as a pair.

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The reserve team’s next match has been rescheduled.

The away reserve team fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers, previously scheduled for Monday, will now take place on Tuesday 3 April, kick-off 7pm.

Dermot Drummy’s side are now next in action on Tuesday 20 March with an away match against Newcastle United.

Still working on building up to the real news… it’s getting closer.

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Andy Brassell on Fox Soccer had this to say about AVB:

Villas-Boas’ real problem at Chelsea was not directly a question of age, but that he had never had to dig himself out of a real hole.

That brings forward a pretty interesting argument: did AVB get put in too high a position too quickly? Is that why he failed (argue about whether he started a change all you want, he got fired… that’s failing.)? Read the rest of the article, it’s interesting. He thinks that AVB’s next gig could be at Inter and ends the article with a small jab at Chelsea, “At least Dejan Stankovic and Cristian Chivu should be easier to shift than Frank Lampard and John Terry.” Eh, I’m not going to fight it. We’ve seen the power that several players have in the dressing room.

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ESPN is reporting that Chelsea is pulling an Eddie Murphy. They are supposedly going to play a friendly against Celtic; to be played at Yankee Stadium. According to them, the Blues are also going to play matches in Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Seattle. Chelsea’s last tour of the US was in 2009. Let’s all get tickets together! (if we can afford them…)

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And on that note, we get to arguably the biggest news of the day. At least for the fans. Chelsea announced that there will be no rise in ticket prices for the 2012/2013 season for all seats at Stamford Bridge and if we can qualify for the Champions League: those tickets will actually drop in price from this season.

The price freeze covers season tickets, matchday tickets for members and general sale seats for adults, juniors and senior citizens.

Prices for all categories of Barclays Premier League games (AA, A and B) will remain the same as the current 2011/12 season.

The long-standing policy of discounted tickets for FA Cup and Carling Cup matches continues as prices for those competitions will also be frozen.

The one change to pricing occurs should we qualify for the Champions League. Group stage match tickets will be reduced to £35 for adults and £17.50 for seniors/juniors from their current prices of £40 and £20 respectively (East Lower Family Centre tickets for group stage games next season would be £35 adults, £15.50 seniors/juniors).

Prices in all hospitality areas for all competitions are to remain at their current level.

Chief executive Ron Gourlay said: ‘The club has taken the decision not to increase prices for the coming season as we deeply appreciate our loyal following at Stamford Bridge and feel this is the right approach to take in the current economic conditions where budgets may be under pressure.’

While it doesn’t do much for those of us stuck in the USA, I’m certain that you won’t hear anyone complaining about tickets not going up in price in London. Granted, the Champions League ticket prices were raised by 33% for this season, so the drop only brings it slightly closer to previous levels.

Let’s all cross our fingers they’ll keep the prices cheap when they come across the big pond and play some summer friendlies…

 

Mar 08

Wednesday’s News and Quotes

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Just one day ago, Roberto Di Matteo (RDM henceforth, to keep with tradition) led Chelsea to their 2nd victory in the last 9 games, and the first of his career as Chelsea manager.  It was a comfortable win, but not a completely convincing one (alliteration win!).  He spoke to the media after the game and generally said some very positive and encouraging things:

It has been difficult for the whole club, we have lost a great guy, but you have to deal with it and you have to focus on the game and move forward. That is the life of a footballer. 

My selection was just a question of freshening up the team a little bit and getting the energy.  It had nothing to do with bravery.  The players are all on board, they know the targets we have to achieve and they are great players. We have the squad and we have to utilise it.  We had to focus on tonight, nothing else, and then on the next game.  It is as simple as that.  We don’t like where we are in the league table and Stoke on Saturday is a big game. It is vital to finish at least fourth in the league.’

Source: ChelseaFC

There was some more fluff in the interview, but basically he said the right things at the right time and no one dug any deeper.  It’s good to get the focus back simply taking things a game at a time instead of worrying about the manager’s position or what the long-term plan for the club is.  Di Matteo just needs to keep Chelsea grounded and keep rumors to a minimum, something I can admit AVB was quite poor at doing.

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Some more positive news comes in the form of injury updates, where we learned that John Terry has made a miraculous recovery after his knee surgery and is available for selection.  He was an unused substitute yesterday and RDM said he would be in contention for a starting position this weekend against Stoke.  Ashley Cole is also nearing full fitness and could be in line for a return this weekend.  With Bertrand putting in a solid performance yesterday it would probably be wise to hold Cole out until he is 100% (or longer depending how Bertrand does), but I imagine we’ll get a better idea as the week progresses.  Jose Bosingwa is still out with a hamstring injury.

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Alex was interviewed after AVB’s departure and had some obvious, yet still somehow intriguing things to say about his former boss:

It is always like this: when the results do not show up, the one who pays is the coach.  But Andre is a coach with great quality, as I saw day to day in how he worked on every single detail.

This situation was being talked about for a while, and in part that was because of Andre’s behaviour. He is not the kind of person who talks a lot – he’s a bit closed. That’s just the way he is.  I saw some comments on Lampard recently and I think he deserved more respect.  It is true that a player knows he will sometimes have to stay on the bench, especially after reaching a certain age – that’s not a problem – but with his history at the club, where he has spent more than ten years, he deserves a word or an explanation from the manager.  Fundamentally, it was a question of respect for everything that he represents for Chelsea.

Source: ESPN

First, Alex seems to have a good head on his shoulders.  He seems to have taken everything in stride and has no hard feelings about how his last days as a Chelsea player turned out – something I respect.  Secondly, he hints at the obvious – that AVB lost control of the locker room.  He “disrespected” Lampard and in turn may have lost respect from others.  I hate that what is basically pouting by players seems to have led to his downfall, but in the end it does seem like he brought it upon himself with his man-management skills (or lack thereof).  I’m sure more stories like this will surface over the next few months and all players and staff still on board just need to do their best to ignore them and continue on fighting for 4th place in the League.

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Forbes released their list of billionaires and our fearless axeman leader came in at #68 this year, with an estimated wealth of $12.1 billion dollars.  I think Abramovich could maybe part with a hundred million or so to bring us say… Hazard, Moura, and a center mid, don’t you think?  Also, he looks more like 65 in that photo, not 45.  Legal battles and firing so many managers must be taking its toll. Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Man City’s owner, was not on the list despite his estimated worth at $17 billion.  I’m counting that as a victory.

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In non-Chelsea soccer related news, Leo Messi is pretty damn good.  He scored 5 goals against Bayer Leverkusen earlier today to set the record for most Champions League goals in one game.  Another way of saying 5 goals is 2 more than Chelsea’s entire team put past Bayer over two games.  He also moved up to 4th all-time in Champions League goals and will more than likely move into third by the end of the year since he is only 1 behind Thierry Henry at the moment, and passing Ruud van Nistelrooy can’t be ruled out either.  He scores in 77% of all Champions League games he plays in.  Say what you want about his whining, diving, cheap teammates, but the man is freaking ridiculous.  Just ask Wayne Rooney.  Bringing it back to Chelsea news…after watching that performance, does any Chelsea fan really think Guardiola will leave THAT?

____________________

That’s all for tonight as it’s late and I’m extremely tired after staying up all night procrastinating doing anything meaningful (that includes writing this post).  Eric or I will be back tomorrow with…something.

Mar 06

Chelsea 2 – Birmingham City 0: Post-Match Analysis

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Don’t be alarmed, that strange feeling is OK-it’s called winning.  It’s just been a while since you’ve experienced it, that’s all.  If it lasts longer than four hours…congrats.

With a comfortable 2-0 win over Birmingham City this afternoon, Roberto Di Matteo officially has a 100% record as Chelsea manager.  His team selection was “interesting” according to most of the web, which would have translated into “crazy” if AVB was still in charge and had chosen the team.  Cech; Bertrand, Luiz, Cahill, Ivanovic; Mikel, Meireles, Ramires; Kalou, Torres, Mata were the starters with Hilario, Terry, Lampard, Essien, Drogba, Lukaku, and Sturridge on the bench.  No Lampard, Essien, or Drogba on the field and no backlash from the media…funny how that works when you win and you have a new manager.  Matteo looked calm under the spot light and made good decisions on substitutes throughout the game.  Of course people will take this result and run with it, but try and remember that it is just one game…against a Championship side.

Collectively, the Blues put together a fine performance that saw them through to the semi-finals with relative ease.  It was not a commanding performance, but it was far better than we’ve seen lately, no doubt about it.  The game started off fairly quickly, with both sides having some opportunities.  Mata had a great chance to put Chelsea ahead early, but a combination of bad touches and the field sucking lead to defenders being able to catch up and interfere with his shot.  Chelsea had control for the majority of the game early on, but once again failed to find the back of the net in the process.  The possession Chelsea had was due more to the fact that Birmingham isn’t very good rather than Chelsea playing well.  Birmingham wasn’t parking the bus, but it was in neutral and happened to be in their half the majority of the first 45 minutes.  The result was a pretty typical first half for the Blues, where they could maintain possession in the back and through the DM, but it started to look very sloppy and unorganized when they attempted to move the ball further up the pitch.  The second half opened the same way as the first, with neither manager making any substitutions or noticeable tactical changes.  However, Chelsea got a bit of fortune when Ramires aimed a cross at Kalou, who was stationed in the center of the field on the 18.  After a few seconds of botched attempts on goal by Kalou and clearances from Birmingham City, Mata was able to reach out a midget-sized right leg and poke the ball past the keeper for the opener.  It was a bit of fortune, but we take what we can get these days.  After that, the game was essentially over.  Birmingham was force to commit more players forward to push for the equalizer and Chelsea were able to put their foot on the gas.  A mere 6 minutes later and Chelsea had doubled the lead through Raul Meireles.  You read that correctly.  Ivanovic made a run down the right, made a BCFC defender fall over on the cutback, and picked out Cahill, who touched the ball to Ramires, who laid it off for Meireles to run onto and cannon into the upper 90.  It was one of the best “team” goals Chelsea have scored all year, with a combined 5 players touching the ball from start to finish, 4 of which being one-touch.  One interesting thing to note was Meireles’s complete lack of celebration after the goal, reminiscent of Sturridge when he scored on Bolton.  Seems like Raul isn’t too happy about AVB being axed and wanted to let AVB (and maybe everyone else) how he felt.  It was a classy move and he went up a hair in my book (just a hair though).

The biggest difference was the level of effort put forth by the players, something else that is sure to cause controversy.  They really put themselves in a lose-lose situation because there are two ways you can “spin” this increased level of effort:  1) They were actively trying to undermine AVB and once he was forced out they started trying again or 2) It was the player’s effort and performance all along, not AVB’s managing.  Along with this comes the argument that AVB should have been able to get the best out of them, but I digress.  For the first time in many weeks, the Blues looked hungry for a win.  They were not losing the first and second ball, as AVB put it, they were winning the first, second, and third ball, while making improved runs both offensively and defensively.  You would be hard pressed to find a Chelsea player who had a poor performance, since their level of effort really made up for many of the technical mistakes they made on the field.

One thing that this game showed: Chelsea desperately needs to work on finishing.  Sturridge missed another silver-platter goal (the first being during the international break), this time a wonderful pass from our under performing Fernando Torres.  Mata also botched a clear goal chance when he was fed through by a Torres flick and was stopped by a sliding defender on another opportunity (it was good defense, but still).  Torres dragged a left-footed shot wide from inside the 18 to pile on top of his misery as well.  None of these missed opportunities ended up being a deciding factor in this game, obviously, but chances like those cannot go to waste if Chelsea are going to make a push for a Champions League position.  Then of course we come to Mata’s missed PK (from Torres earning the call).  I usually think practicing PK’s is a waste of time since any professional player should be able to make one 9 times out of 10, but I think I will break my rule for Chelsea.  With an attack that is as impotent as Chelsea’s is, we simply cannot afford to leaves points on the field.  They may be few and far between, but they are free chances at a goal that can make or break a season.  Food for thought – what would Chelsea’s season be like right now had Rooney not put both of his penalties away?

The other, and more important thing this game showed, was how crucial it is for Chelsea to score first.  In the first half, BCFC were more than willing to sit around and wait from extra time and PK’s because as noted above, Chelsea blow at making shots from 12 yards away with no defenders.  Chelsea was unable to break down a Championship side defense and had to fall back on making hopeful long balls and even worse – crosses.  Kalou actually provided some help in the creativity department and had a few good runs at the BCFC defense, but he usually lost out in the end before it came to fruition.  Mata did his best but once again was unable to crack open the defense by himself.  One the flip side, Chelsea looked terrifying once they bagged a goal and Birmingham was forced to run at the Blues.  The game opened up and Chelsea immediately had opportunity after opportunity, with 1 resulting in a goal and one with a PK.  Chelsea must figure out a way to break down a defense that is packing it in because right now they are too easy to draw.  Get the game opened up and Chelsea can compete with the best.

All in all, a competent performance from the Blues, but one that desperately needs to be built upon for Chelsea to have a “successful” season.  One of the biggest positives of AVB’s sacking is that the media will back off a little bit (at least I would think) and that can only be a good thing.  Chelsea need to go from strength to strength and get a winning streak going before Napoli come to visit if they want to have any chance of moving on in the Champions League.

Chelsea Man of the Match:  Juan Mata.  Sure, he frustrated us all by missing another PK against BCFC, but he still provided the game winner and put himself in good positions throughout the game.  It’s great to see him buck his bad form trend and we can all only hope that he continues to improve from here on out.

Birmingham City Man of the Match:  No one stood out to me.

Chelsea Player Ratings:

Cech – 7.5.  He made 8 saves throughout the game and absolutely commanded the box against a team that was cross-happy.  2nd good performance in a row for the Captain for the day.

Bertrand – 7.  He was in the right place for the entire game.  His pace was helpful in overloading the left side and reminded me of what Ashley Cole used to look like.  His crosses were decent and his defending was excellent.  It should be noted this was BCFC, but he deserves some more games.

Luiz – 7.5.  I lost count of the number of interceptions he had.  He seems to be getting better and better at his positional awareness and came from a support position multiple times to cut off a pass or make a tackle.  He was also no-nonsense when it came to getting rid of the ball, clearing many straight to the touch line.

Cahill – 7.  Him and Luiz more than held their own against the giant Zigic and seem to be growing as a partnership.  His sliding tackle to save a goal was inch perfect.

Ivanovic – 7.5.  Ivanovic rounds out a very strong defensive performance from the Blues.  He doesn’t get forward as much as Bosingwa, but he picks his times more appropriately and is drastically better when he does.  Strong defensively and smart offensively, he was outstanding today.

Mikel 7.5.  He bossed the midfield and helped Chelsea maintain possession throughout the game.  He showed off some of his non-sideways passing with some great through balls and as usual had pretty solid positioning.  Has worked his way back into the rotation it appears.

Meireles – 7.  His goal was top-notch and he wasn’t horrible today.  I think it helped that he wasn’t put under immense pressure by BCFC, but that is no reason to give him a poor score.  His decisions were much better and he showed class with his lack of celebration.

Ramires – 7.5.  He was used on the right wing a decent amount since Mata drifted central and it seemed to work out pretty well.  This might be a useful tactic against weaker teams since it gives Mata freedom and still uses Ramires’s biggest strength – his engine.  He was able to get into position on the wing for attacks, but drop back to the center midfield and win possession back when needed.  Interesting…

Mata – 7.5.  The fact that he was MoTM and his rating is the same as most others shows that it was truly a team effort today.  See MoTM for more.

Kalou – 6.5.  He wasn’t terrible and didn’t make a horrible decisions.  When he did lose the ball it was way up in the attacking third where it is acceptable to do so.  He didn’t really kill off any chances (something he used to do a lot) and tried creating things out of nothing.  It helped.

Torres – 6.5.  I have no idea to be honest.  Sure, he easily could have had 2 assists and a PK assist, but he ended up with zero.  He can blame his teammates but in the end I think he is still doing more harm (mostly from added pressure and the media) than he is good (some assists).  We need goals and he isn’t providing.

Subs:

Sturridge – 6.  Missed an easy opportunity and didn’t really add anything more than Kalou was offering.

Essien – 6.  Not enough time to make an impression.

Lampard – 6.  My feed went out for a minute and it took me 10 minutes after I got it back to notice Frank had been subbed on.

Kalou impressed me with his effort during his hour on the field and earned quite a few cheers from me on the couch.  He was willing to help on defense and rarely gave up on a ball when he inevitably lost possession.

Highlights:


chelsea 2-0 by Futbol2101