Friday, 28 December 2012

Chelsea 8 Aston Villa 0

Having seen the Aston Villa line-up and not recognising a single player that started anything other than a win would have provided more ammunition for the anti-Benitez brigade. This was a match that apart from a 15-minute spell of sloppiness in the first half could easily have ended up as a record score in the top flight. Every attack looked dangerous and the balance of the side was excellent.

Some could argue that Rafa's hand was forced with no Mikel and no Romeu available. Luiz was pushed up into midfield and complemented Lampard well against an admittedly weak side. Up front Torres shone and his brilliantly headed goal was the highlight of the game for me.

It capped a decent week domestically following a lively encounter up at Leeds where as many blue smoke bombs were let off in the Chelsea end as goals scored – and a firecracker that nearly blew my leg off. It was not an easy first half though with Leeds taking the lead and after the loss to Corinthians there was much huffing and puffing from the away end. Mata and Hazard changed the game in the second half and it was nice to end up with a comfortable victory.

There has been much made of the World Club Championship. As a Chelsea fan I want the team to win every game and was of course disappointed to lose. But if a team that has players who roll over five times when barely fouled is rewarded – and if their fans are proud of that kind of play – then you can keep this trophy. The television analysis of our display by so-called experts was a disgrace. Chelsea missed two sitters in a tight game which we could easily have won.

We have now played in three minor ‘cup finals’ this season that we have all lost but I have not felt that hurt. Perhaps we are being spoilt as Chelsea fans. A decade ago a Charity Shield win against the likes of Manchester United would have been seen as a coup (and a decade before that a run to the sixth round of the FA Cup would have provided similar delight). That is why it is hard to seriously moan about the team when you think where we were twenty years ago.

We approach a hard game against Everton now. One of those away trips you do not relish apart from being in a proper old-school ground with a team that has a manager in David Moyes who I genuinely respect – a true “squeeze blood out of a stone” type. We need three points to keep pressure on the leaders and although realistically I am not looking for us to test Manchester United for the league it would be nice to give them a push.

As we come to the end of 2012 we have to ask what we would like as Chelsea fans. Benitez has conducted himself very well but divides opinion as much as John Obi Mikel – perhaps we should construct a see-saw with Rafa sitting on one side and the Nigerian on the other to reflect our moods. I felt at the beginning of the season that a top three finish along with an FA Cup or League Cup win and a good run in Europe would suffice as long as we saw progress on the pitch. The Champions League exit was unlucky but we now have more exotic away trips to come. Ultimately it is the same message as always – as much as I have disliked our manager in the past, singing anti-Benitez songs will in no way help the team. And as much as I respect Roberto di Matteo, the gesture to applaud him in the 16th minute of every game is wearing a tad thin and seems almost childish.

A win against Everton would show that we have solidity in the side as well as flair – and a game where I would happily take a 1-0 win as we did against Norwich. Come on Chelsea!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Chelsea 6 Nordjajeeelallllalllannd 1

It was an exhibition performance last night against a poor side and a game that had another eccentric official in charge who seemed to be more married to Brylcreem than the rulebook. Fouls inside the penalty area did not result in penalties but accidental handballs did… oh, the joys of European competition. We cannot take too much from the game but to sit in the front row of the East Middle you could really see how much individual skill and elegance our team possesses. If only every game could be like this.

Despite not being Benitez’s biggest fan (I do not think Roberto di Matteo would have fared worse if he was still in charge) he has conducted himself very professionally since becoming Chelsea manager – I even chuckled when he brushed off boos from our fans before kick-off by touching his managerial chair in the dugout for luck while grinning and shrugging his shoulders. Fair play to the bloke (although the cynics would say that anyone would smile on his wages!)

The formation last night was a good one and Mikel was rested despite signing a fresh 5-year contract. Romeu actually had a good game and the commitment of the side in general was world-class. I do not want to dwell too much on the game but Chelsea could have easily scored ten – the shots that counted as being on target for the visitors in the statistics were made up of a missed penalty, one goal and two feeble shots from way outside the penalty area.

I was quite philosophical following the West Ham game but disappointed that Chelsea fans were singing anti-Benitez songs even when we were 1-0 up. Whatever our misgivings about the way our club is managed, it seems obvious to me that such vociferous negativity will not help our side in the slightest. Better to sit in your seats and fold your arms in silence rather than imitate spoilt Arsenal fans. At Upton Park we could have easily been up by two or three before they equalised – after their first goal our confidence fell.

Am looking forward to the Europa League and hoping to draw some teams from more exotic locations in order to see different stadia and countries. Young Boys or Anzhi Makhachkala would be nice for novelty value but I hope the recurring nightmare I have of meeting Tottenham in the competition and seeing us lose to Andre Villas-Boas does not come true.

It is time for us to give the Benitez bashing a rest – there is nothing we can do about it now and we need to concentrate on getting behind our team so that we finish in a Champions’ League qualifying place again this season. We have been unlucky in the European competition this year on many counts. Hopefully we win against Sunderland and Leeds – and then the holiday at the World Club Championship may mark a watershed in our season and we can start from scratch upon our return.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Chelsea 0 Fulham 0

It was quite an eerie atmosphere at Stamford Bridge while a full moon hovered above Chelsea Football Club last night. It felt as if many fans had simply turned up because they had already spent their money on their ticket and had nothing better to do. Fans sitting with their arms folded, constantly sighing was about as loud as it got.

I was hoping to find some clues about Chelsea’s plans going forward in the match programme. But not a word from our board and only some pictures of Luiz trying to jiggle hoops around his waist – crazy name, crazy hair, crazy guy! But at least our under-18s are doing well… Communist propaganda at its finest and not a word about the negative reaction of our fans towards our new manager.

We played a dire side. This was best reflected when at one stage during the second half while Fulham had possession of the ball in their own half, Diarra simply kicked the ball out of play when put under light pressure. And yet they still had the best opportunity to score while counter attacking with Riise fluffing a golden opportunity to win bragging rights in South-West London for his side. Berbatov held the ball with such ease – maybe he could have fitted better up front for us than the lacklustre Torres (although being over the age of thirty probably rules him out of joining our club!)

The formation of our team was textbook. The usual back four; two defensive midfielders; two wide men and then a roaming midfielder to supply Torres. Quite why the left-footed Mata was not on the pitch instead of Bertrand is a matter of debate although the Spaniard has not quite been the same since being forced to play against Manchester United in the League Cup. Hazard was anonymous although Oscar shows some signs of promise. Marin came on for a few minutes and put in the most dangerous cross of the whole game for us but with no positive consequences.

“Wherefore art thou Romeu” spun round my head several times. Although Mikel will rarely excite, he is a solid defensive midfielder and a much preferable option to his replacement yesterday who lost the ball numerous times in dangerous areas. Perhaps Benitez wishes to field as many Spanish speakers as possible?

Luiz was lucky to stay on the pitch being the last man in one tackle and his attacking forays left our defence exposed. Only Ivanovic’s runs forward looked dangerous. Our attacking players ran out of ideas as soon as they reached the opposition’s penalty area with some laughably bad decision making.

It is normally at Craven Cottage where the home fans are quiet but the strange silence that prevailed at Stamford Bridge looks a sign of things to come. Not a terrible performance but one which is chalk and cheese compared to some of our games earlier on in the season which at least had some tempo and excitement.

West Ham away suddenly looks a daunting prospect whereas a month or so ago the only pondering I would have done ahead of a match at Upton Park would be how many goals we might score and whether to leave the stadium early to avoid the queues for the tube. Chelsea have erred so woefully on so many fronts. There is no point looking back now as nothing can be corrected - but as a fan this is a pretty depressing period in our history even if it is short-term.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Chelsea 0 Manchester City 0

Normally I try to avoid writing during the heat of the moment and give it from sunset to sunrise after a match before being putting fingers to keyboard. This time the problem is that I feel little passion or heat at all and feel sober enough to give judgement only hours after leaving the Bridge.

Although I am not one of the many who booed our new manager today, here is a man who justified slagging off our fans and one who said he would never wish to coach our club now claiming he did so to because it was to provide support for his own team at the time. That for me is an odd way to spur your own team on. Luckily he is slotting into a position where he personally cannot lose. Two years out of the game and he can waltz (or Twist) in to manage my club!

Back to the bigger picture... what is this club's mandate? I see in today's programme notes (which I rarely read normally) that our board talks of our new manager being signed up to put Chelsea back on track for our "objectives". What are they exactly? If they are to bring young talent forward then this will take time and we have demonstrated that we lack that patience at boardroom level. If it is to build a club that will have to become less reliant on our owner's financial input while remaining successful then we have to get real... this will not happen! If it is to simply qualify for the Champions' League each season in order to build our "global brand" then that is a completely different story altogether.

One thing is for certain - to try and aim to play 'total football' will not be achieved on today's performance. The first half tactic appeared to be to hoof the ball up into the air towards Torres and look for flicks. And that was not the only part of the game which gave me flashbacks to games against City in the 80s and 90s - the stadium was deadly silent throughout with only the odd Manchester City chant placing a grin on my face (the only fans to usually do so - who can forget their "Alan Ball" song to the tune of "Wonderwall"?) Tributes to Di Matteo seemed to fall on deaf ears with Roman unmoved on camera zoom-ins which also always seemed to have Bobby Campbell's head popping up from just below.

We were poor in the first half with only a slight improvement in the second. It has been a terrible week for Chelsea with fans again ignored. Although I will always love my club it is at times like these where my romance for the Blues dwindles. The only positive note was to be able to shake Paulo Ferreira's hand after the game to thank him for his loyal service to our club and the solid performance of Azpilicueta at right-back. We generally kept their forwards silent but they blew a couple of clear-cut chances to score. Luiz had an excellent game for once but our attacking midfield was mute. It was nice to hear fans sing that they want Ashley Cole to stay despite Benitez seemingly happy for the contrary to occur.

We need three points against both Fulham and West Ham. Then we can forget who we have in charge and try to move forward. If our job as a club was to provide column inches for the tabloids then we should be already crowned Club World Cup Champions!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Oh No vember

It is when Chelsea go through a bad patch like this that the paranoia sets in. Were we right to complain about referee Mike Clattenburg? Should we be dragging our feet over offering players like Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard fresh contracts when our squad looks weak? Should we be allowing players like Luiz and Torres to play regularly just because the former is popular with fans with his "crazy" antics and the latter too expensive to drop?

We seem to be a club with a strange focus at times. The Manchester United game in the League Cup was a moral victory following the unjust decisions that led to our league defeat... but in the medium term was it worth it? The team that played against Swansea had a few players rested and even more were left on the bench against a good West Brom side.

Even more worrying is that decisions since then are still not going for us. Suarez's push on Ramires before his equaliser was an utter disgrace. Having said that, we are not having the rub of the green when it comes to clearcut goalscoring situations either with many opportunities squandered in front of goal against our bitter rivals. Against West Bromwich Albion we also missed many chances to score and had one (if not two) certain penalties not awarded.

Overall, we seem to be the opposite of Manchester City with our eyes on the Champions' League again rather than the Premier League. With so many teams performing so well domestically this season a top three place that I was taking for granted does not appear to be such an easy finish now.

Off to Juventus now and another European away ground to knock off the list. If we can come away with a draw I will be happy - but more worryingly we have Manchester City to contend with who have enormous strength in depth. Even though some of their players' behaviour on and off the pitch leaves much to be desired (ok... pot/kettle) they are extraordinarily good with the ball and we will have to produce an astonishing display to beat them.

Am in a foul mood and our club does not do itself many favours on top of the fact that neutrals would always prefer for a team in red to do well rather than one in blue. At least we have that in common with Manchester City!

Thoughts on Benitez

This is not a popular choice at all. A manager who has been out of the game for a while and also one who when in charge of Liverpool could not admit that his side was lucky to beat Chelsea in a certain match at Anfield. He hated Mourinho - whether it was because Jose had the charm and the looks I do not know - and blamed others for his own failings.

For him at least there is little downside to taking the Chelsea job. If he fails, then he can say that he inherited weakness. If he is relatively successful (ie a top four finish and perhaps one trophy) then Chelsea's arm will be twisted once again to offer him a permanent contract.

It is a struggle as a Chelsea fan sometimes and if anything at the moment I just feel sadness. The real fans are more distant from those running the club than ever - but this is what we have to reluctantly accept as the modern game. This short-termism and secrecy will be our downfall in the long-term.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Here we go again

You never quite felt that Chelsea was a club confident to have someone like Di Matteo as coach. Despite winning the European Cup and the FA Cup, the delay to offer him a long-term contract after the season had already ended smelt of a club looking for a more established name to agree terms first before reluctantly allowing pen and paper to merge. There were certainly no complaints after the club's excellent start to the season (we can all ignore the Charity Shield and Super Cup).

Such an approach from those above at Chelsea meant that if the team suffered a setback on the pitch then any loss of confidence would be exacerbated from the playing side - if the Board are not confident with a manager and still offer him a contract then what kind of message does this send across?

Roberto di Matteo is a Chelsea legend. To have suffered a career-ending injury as he did and be treated in this manner is appalling. Yet again we wonder who really runs footballing matters at our club. Who in their right mind would want to join our club as coach for pure sporting reasons? It is obvious that even if a new manager is set a mandate (which in this case appears to be to encourage younger players to take to the pitch and push out the older generation) he has no time for doing so. To some extent I feel sorry now for the much maligned Villas-Boas!

The blip unfortunately began with the loss to Manchester United. Decisions and luck that had favoured us in the Champions' League under di Matteo's reign deserted us in the domestic league - and seemingly even more so since reporting Clattenburg. Many questions arise from this and other incidents. What upside did our club see in reporting Mark Clattenburg? Why did the club support John Terry even though they did not fight the fine and ban for him from the FA? Why are we stagnating to sign Ashley Cole for a further few seasons when he is quite clearly the best left back in our league (if not in the world?) The argument for us reducing our wage bill seems strange when we have signed the likes of Hazard and Mata who cannot be far off the same money as our ageing legends.

Nevertheless, there have still been some odd decisions from our now departed manager. To continue to have played Torres despite his poor form and personal attitude only makes sense if we are looking to offload him in the January window and want him to retain some match sharpness and thus gain a better price for him. Moses seems a squad player who is not an out-and-out striker and Sturridge makes great strikes at goal - but generally straight at and not either side of the goalkeeper.

Having been at the Juventus match last night we seemed to have reverted to Ranieri tactics with little balance on the pitch. Azpilicueta played right midfield and yet was nowhere near their 22 Asamoah. No recognised striker either. The best player on the pitch for us was Mikel and yet he was subbed. Was Roberto trying to prove a point? Juventus scored a lucky goal but should have already been ahead - and when they did hit the back of our net you could almost feel the Chelsea heads drop.

I miss Mourinho. I miss the days where you could go to play a club like Juventus and patronisingly say that you wished for a draw when you knew that sharing the spoils was the minimum your club would gain from such a match. At the new Juventus Stadium I would have taken 0-0 any day of the week. It appears that yet again in our search for perfect football, short-term underperformance will not be tolerated. You can only use the tools you have and with several key senior players missing and political problems causing the wrong sorts of headlines at Chelsea, Roberto di Matteo has gone about his work more professionally than I could have possibly imagined. Welcome to the Chelsea we have inherited.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Chelsea 2 Surrey 3

Ferguson commented after the game that Manchester United have never had the rub of the green when it came to refereeing decisions at Stamford Bridge. Throughout the many times where we have played his side I cannot really remember ever leaving a match that Chelsea has won against them and thought, "wow, we were lucky that the referee helped our cause today". On the journey back to their London suburbs, Manchester United fans must surely be honest and say that they were extremely lucky to take all three points yesterday. At the end of the season, if Manchester United win the league two points ahead of Chelsea then this will be the match that I will remember bitterly for the rest of my Chelsea supporting career.

We started pretty woefully and for the first half of the first half resembled a team that was in a different league from the visitors. There was not one single short on goal from us. Their lead was deserved as more woeful defending allowed them to have so much space that on some occasions it felt like they had more of their players in our half than our own! The defending for the first goal... normally, we have moans that central defenders are not close enough to each other horizontally... but on this occasion Luiz was nearer the half-way line than his own penalty box when the visitors began their attacking move (and then he ended up scoring for them!). We missed the Englishness of John Terry's defending.

The feeling before the game was one of dread. We have a fantastic attacking line-up but a weak defence even with a defensive midfielder in Mikel trying to help. We seemed outnumbered on the flanks in the opening stages and there was simply not enough cover to counter their attacks. Seeing Rooney and Van Persie facing us did not fill me with confidence and pre-match there was little atmosphere in the stadium. That all changed when we finally woke up after 25 minutes and played some excellent attacking football. Mata brought us back into the game with a brilliant free-kick and the momentum remained with us up until the first red card. Ramires' mandate seemed to be to mark Rooney and he kept him quiet. I was overjoyed when we equalised and also to see him score - with a header!

It is rare that a match brings up such puerile emotions in me these days but I must admit that when we brought the game back to 2-2 all I could do was run down the gangway and stick two fingers up at the nonchalant away fans who see no hypocrisy singing about our racist centre back when their very own gets away with calling Ashley Cole a "choc-ice".

There were no real complaints about Ivanovic's red but then the main decision that brought so much ire to the fans. The fact is that Torres was fouled. Whether he embellished it or not is irrelevant. It is all very well for their manager to claim that he would have been through on goal had he not fallen over (though he would not have been as there was a covering defender ahead of him) but at the time we were down to ten men. Ferguson should know that a free kick would have been welcome in such circumstances. His own goalkeeper was already wasting time twenty minutes into the game when his side were winning by two goals to nil. Different scores and situations in a football match lead to different mentalities.

Chelsea played fantastically well even when down to nine men and I must admit that even having not seen a replay it seemed obvious to me that their winner was offside. To lose the game in such a manner was sickening and in the final ten minutes it almost felt like Clattenburg was awarding our side free-kicks for 50/50 challenges in neutral areas to make up for earlier mistakes. If he really did use foul and abusive language towards our players then he should be suspended... but watch the media now start discussing hypocrisy in a game where players go unpunished for doing the same. It was all Chelsea's fault probably!

We are still top of the league and the side should take a lot of heart from the hard work they put in. Our attacking midfield looks more exciting by the week and expect more games like this throughout the season. Enjoy this year if your heart can take it. It will not be a smooth ride but finally it feels like the passion is back in the stands and there is more adventure on the pitch - something that has been missing for a while. If you are a Chelsea player or a fan then you can place your hand on your heart and honestly say that the match was a moral victory for our football club.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tottenham 2 Chelsea 4

Tottenham has always been a strange fixture for me. I have never really felt a strong animosity towards Spurs as I have to media darlings such as Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United. Even the players have never been ones that you could particularly detest and I must admit feeling guilty after Gary Mabbutt signed an autograph for me in the East Lower tunnel at a derby game in the late 1980s and all I could say to him was, "nice own goal, Gary".

The fans of Spurs are a different matter, but just like West Ham fans those that I know personally are entirely reasonable. It is only when you approach the environs of one of the ugliest areas of Britain to have an away fixture take place that a darkness descends. While walking from Northumberland Park station towards the away end it felt like I was back to where I grew up in Camberwell in the 1980s.

The difference between the two teams yesterday was simply the quality of finishing. Chelsea started the game brightly and really should have gone in at half-time two goals to the good. Cahill's goal brought a tear to my eye and he is currently looking an excellent understudy for John Terry both in the short- and long-term. Four goals already this season! Tottenham created many chances and Sigurdsson in particular squandered a fair few with many being hit straight at the 'keeper. Lennon and Defoe impressed as per usual but many including me were thankful that Dembele, Bale and Parker were missing. At full strength their first team could easily finish in the top four again this season.

As the first half wore on Chelsea became more sloppy and cocky. Silly flicks to try to show off in dangerous areas of the park led to Tottenham finishing the stronger. When the second half started I had a bad feeling in my bones which was for once correct as Tottenham raced into the lead. Luiz again showed what a liability he can be at times with a silly foul and this followed another strange decision not to head a ball away early from defence - he needs to worry less about style and more about substance - get a bloody haircut!

Mikel had an excellent game and some of his touches were sublime. Mata was thoroughly excellent although his constant cutting inside while on the right wing due to his dependency on his left foot will be noticed by our better opponents. Nevertheless, his brilliantly placed equalizer showed that he still is our most consistent attacking midfielder and the interplay for our third between him and Hazard was sublime.

The biggest worry for me was the general attitude of Torres again. Quite why he receives so much support from our fans when better players who wear the blue shirt have been booed is beyond me. He acts like a spoilt child when things do not go his way and this later reflected in his general effort during the second half. Chelsea fans can forgive ineptness as long as the attitude and effort of the player is correct. It is the first time for a decade that I have actually shouted out for one of our players to eff off. Something is not right mentally with him and he needs to improve his demeanour soon or else a place on the bench will call for a man who undoubtedly has the potential to be a Chelsea great. Let's hope there is nothing going on behind the scenes that we do not know about.

Cech saved us from losing two points with minutes to go before we scored the fourth and White Hart Lane emptied. He is a player of enormous quality and professionalism who I am thankful is in our starting XI.

There is no doubt that this is a Chelsea side that is exciting to watch and it feels like finally Roman has the kind of side he has been after since taking over the club. We do look vulnerable at the back against the better teams with such an attacking setup (essentially 4-1-4-1) although we have only conceded six goals in the league.

As the confidence builds perhaps this could be a chance to win the league in style and shut the allegedly neutral media up. This could be a very interesting couple of weeks so come on Chelsea - keep up the good work!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Chelsea 2 Juventus 2

Oh dear. Another drab performance livened up by a stunning Oscar goal. Roberto di Matteo is learning to use the media well to blame the stamp on Oscar as some turning point of the game but to be frank there are bigger issues at hand as to why we did not win yesterday.

I love the European Cup. Away games are special but it is also always a spectacle to watch visiting fans to the bridge. Juventus did not disappoint with some real partisan support and songs ranged from a singalong to “Popeye the Sailor Man” to Depeche Mode’s “I Just Can’t Get Enough”. There were some other less than pleasant songs directed towards us and although I respect the fact that they are trying to learn some of our language, singing, “F**k off Chelsea” was probably not one of the friendliest chants I have heard.

The atmosphere was one of the stranger ones. Whether it was a hangover from the QPR game or perhaps too many tourists visiting there was something missing from the crowd. Perhaps we have been spoilt and see Juventus at home as just another game – 20 years ago I would have thought playing Juventus would be the pinnacle of my Chelsea supporting career.

Many of my generation grew up watching Italian football on a Sunday on Channel 4 and it seemed to be how football should have be played (if you ignored the playacting). The only downside was that if you left your TV in the middle of the match to wash your hands then that was when you usually missed a goal which involved a midfielder scoring a goal with an overhead kick from the halfway line. How my view of Italian football has changed with the corruption exposure in recent years. Both the quality of football and attendances has dwindled and Italy is a distant third choice for many players after England and Spain.

Nevertheless, we played a Juve team that was unbeaten last season in Serie A. Apart from Buffon and Pirlo though I was ignorant of the makeup of their team – whereas in the 90s I could probably tell you their normal starting XI if asked.

Juve should have scored at least once in the first half with two clear-cut one-on-ones. How our back four was penetrated so easily is a mystery but fingers have to point at Luiz and unfortunately Mikel. Passing was sloppy and it was almost embarrassing to see how isolated Torres was up front. Hazard was played out of position on the left to accommodate Oscar in midfield and Ramires again looked lost on the right wing. And yet again, Hazard was not awarded what seemed a good shout for a penalty.

It is only the Champions’ League group stages and early days of the season with several new players in the squad looking to adjust. However, seeing Mikel pushed up front in the final minutes to win headers gave me flashbacks to the 1980s. Again, my feeling is that if we do not have any natural wingers then we should not play with any. If those who run our club believe that we will somehow turn into Barcelona overnight and just nutmeg opposition defences before dinking it into the back of the net then they are in for a shock. We simply do not have that quality for now.

You cannot argue that it wasn’t an entertaining or interesting game – but I am beginning to hark for those Mourinho days where we would see opposition off like this by the odd goal. Cahill back in defence please and if we have to play a defensive midfielder then please can we choose one who can pass to his fellow players. Chelsea, we need to perk up.

Monday, 17 September 2012

QPR 0 Chelsea 0

It’s not often that I attend a Chelsea match completely sober but it certainly helps to analyse the play better rather than rely on those in the pub afterwards to give their distorted view of the game.

Saturday was on odd occasion where events off the pitch overshadowed those on it – the media did not get any red cards or crowd violence to report and the biggest offence was Anton Ferdinand refusing to shake hands. Big deal. All it proves is that immaturity runs in the family and reflects more on him than the Chelsea players.

Chelsea dominated the first half. The referee was certainly not on our side and it already seems that some of Hazard’s ‘falls’ in the middle of the field are resulting in the referee not awarding him decisions in more important areas. The foul on him by the lively SWP was one of the most blatant penalties I have ever seen – the JT one should’ve been given too. If that foul had occurred anywhere else on the pitch it would have resulted in a free kick. Rules have to be tightened up in the penalty area as time after time we see players holding each other’s shirts with no action taken against them. It is not rugby.

Even without the two penalties Chelsea had two clear-cut chances to score in the first half. The first was from Hazard after brilliant work from the much maligned Ramires on the right (who is being played out of position). Fans seem to be giving Hazard some real support but the two chances he had to score in the game were not taken – for all his skill in midfield he really needs more consistency when through on goal. His shot near the end of the match that he skied over the bar was one where he was under no pressure and hit with his “wrong” foot.

Torres flattered to deceive again. Some brilliant fancy footwork here and there and when through on goal no result. I have no idea why Chelsea fans give him such support when there are players who appear hungrier waiting in the wings. Are we just too embarrassed to leave someone who cost £50 mio on the bench? His attitude of storming down the tunnel when substituted was simply disgraceful.

We should have had this game sewn up by half-time but in the second half you felt that both the fans and the players had given up. Although we have had a good start to the season I do fear how we will fare against better opposition – and I do not want to have a league season like last year when we did not finish in the top four.

Mata was missed (even though I still believe he is one-footed). Although the formation of the side looks solid, Ramires is not a winger on the right and neither is Bertrand on the left. Perhaps it is time to flood the midfield and use Ivanovic and Cole as attacking full backs? We do have Mikel to provide cover in his role as defensive midfielder.

Chelsea deserved to win but looked tired. There are some worrying signs and although on paper QPR do have some decent individual players this was a side we should have beaten. Not panicking quite yet but the upcoming fixture against Arsenal looks a real test.

Am looking forward to Juve and it is interesting to hear that key players were rested for them so they could be at full strength against us – wasn’t that what we were doing ten years ago? How times have changed! Come on Chelsea, we know we can do better.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

3 out of 3 and a pleasant start

It has been an excellent start to the league season so far. Not simply because we have won our opening three league games but also the manner in which we have played. The losses against Brighton and Manchester City in the pre-season seem nothing more than red herrings.

Having seen the ups and downs of Chelsea in the 25 years I have followed the club I am not ashamed to admit that before the season started a top-4 finish would have suited me fine. A young squad combined with a generally poor performance in the league last year meant that I had no qualms understanding if it took time for the new-look team to gel. It is not a side that has muscle up front and I thought we may struggle against sides who are happy to come away with a draw against the Blues.

However, the play so far especially in tight situations has been excellent. Hazard has stood out and the sheer work rate of the team has been noticeable. The balance of the side against Newcastle was just right. Even more impressive was the comeback against Reading. When 2-1 down you could almost feel the players' and crowds' heads drop. Most were probably suddenly wondering if it was a good idea to have such a novice as manager (or I may just be talking about myself!) How wrong I was... the second half was excellent and the changes made by Roberto di Matteo showed intelligence and positivity. It was even nicer from a puerile point of view to beat Reading, a club I have little affection for.

Bertrand has been very solid and the formation of the midfield means that you feel we have a side that can score from many areas of the pitch. The only weakness seems to be defending from crosses and a lack of strength up front when we try to cross the ball in from open play. On the whole it is a side that tries to bring the ball into the box and score from there or kill teams on the break. The defence looks solid too and to have a choice of Luiz, Terry and Cahill as centrebacks looks luxurious. David Luiz is a player who I like to watch but it is vital that he takes fewer risks this season in defence. Ivanovic has been a great find and adds to breaks in attack and Ashley Cole partners him well.

Monaco at the end of the week looms - not an important trophy but one I would like to win nevertheless. On paper the only teams we really have to fear in the league are the Manchesters but it is pleasing to see the likes of Swansea and West Brom starting the season off well. Not to mention Tottenham and Arsenal falling apart! We appear to be heading in the right direction and building for the long-term. A strong bench helps and we finally seem to have a manager who is bringing us good fortune too. From the depths of despair something really great seems to be looming - I even saw Mata use his right foot yesterday! Come on the Chels!

PS Chelsea faithful - when Newcastle fans slag off our support (while not even filling out half of their away allocation for a Saturday match) don't be afraid to remind them of our trophy haul!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Euro 2012 update from a village near Wroclaw, Poland

Everywhere you look there are football flags, Poland flags and adverts about football (and it always makes me laugh how lager and unhealthy drinks and snacks are the main sponsors of a sporting event!)

They are giving free Poland flags away if you buy a certain brand of beer.

On the pitch it is a bit of a mess... the Polish National side has declared that it is too tired to train as there is too much 'weather pressure' so they are only doing half the training they are supposed to...

The Polish fans have been extremely welcoming to foreign teams who have had open training sessions - even the Germans were applauded onto the pitch for theirs!

In what did not surprise me for Polish organisation - there was a near riot for the free tickets given away to watch England train as no stewards were at the box office to maintain a queue and it was nearly Hillsbrough no. 2.

I watched the Czech training session and it seemed quite amateur... I somehow blagged my way into the media section and got talking with Petr Cech. It was nice to see him stay behind to sign autographs for the fans who attended (unlike many of his teammates - and Baros could not score for toffee in training too which I guffawed at!) and I rather embarrassingly said to Petr that if I was a girl I could kiss him!

Off the pitch the organisation is pretty average but not as bad as I thought it would be. If you bought tickets recently you can only collect them up to 3 days before the match starts. They have set up fan zones in the city centres which I think are going to breed absolute carnage as alcohol is the staple diet in Poland.

Looking forward to seeing the Poland Czech game in Wroclaw on 16th June and there is a good feel about everything... but there is still some last minute building work going on to make things spick and span... fingers crossed it all goes swimmingly.

If anyone needs some advice for matches they may be attending in Poland I am happy to help.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Chelsea win the European Cup

I write this the morning after our victory in Munich against Bayern from my hotel room near the city centre. Whether it is wise to do so or not remains to be seen but it feels right to put pen to paper as soon as possible after such an historic moment and while feelings are fresh.

Despite mine and many fellow Chelsea supporters' grievances about the team for the bulk of this season, the main thing that we have had in abundance during the latter stages of the footballing year has been luck. It was as if all the disappointments and rulings against us from previous seasons were negated in the space of a month.

It is hard to describe the feeling I had inside. The game followed a predictable pattern with Chelsea creating little up front until we scored. The team worked hard, rode their fortunes and Bayern must be ruing their many missed opportunities in front of goal.

The pessimist inside me was singing for the team but deep inside all I could think was, "Bayern - just put me out of my misery". Extra-time for a team that has been branded too old to play? Penalties against a German side on their home turf taken in front of their own fans? A referee who awarded Bayern a penalty when a minute earlier Chelsea missed out on one for exactly the same challenge against Torres? Flashbacks to the name 'David Elleray' crossed the mind.

But there was something that felt right last night. Di Matteo has brought feng shui to the side as well as resolve and a fighting spirit. Even when Bayern players fell as if they had been shot we kept a cool head, stayed professional and offered our hand sympathetically and apologetically with no sarcasm.

Quite why Bayern saw any upside to Robben taking their penalty against us awarded in extra time is a mystery and perhaps now nullifies our arrogant decision to play Torres against the club he had just left in his first game for us. After that penalty miss sonething changed.

I have rarely had this feeling at matches but I knew Mata would miss... And I knew Bayern would miss penalties when they did. However, I did not expect Didier to score his - instead expecting it more likely for a spacecraft to land on the goalline where he was aiming his shot and for us to go to sudden death and then inevitably lose.

When the ball went into the back of the net I cried with such joy. This win changes so much for the club and will enable us to attract the best young prospects to our club. It is well deserved for a side that has had to contend with so much. A press that salivates in anticipation of any possible failure; official decisions that have gone against the club with little luck the other way; brilliant players who were barely mentioned at awards ceremonies during our peak.

We are now among the elite and you can almost feel UEFA's disappointment that we actually won the European Cup instead of one of their favoured show ponies.

Well done to the team and in particular Roberto di Matteo who has carried out his job with such dignity and professionalism. Even now when hearing him speak about his Chelsea future the manner in which he conducts himself makes me feel that he is the right man for the job. If I can respect him despite all the cynicism I hold for football in general in these days then the players should too.

All I can think of now is planning a trip to Japan to see us try to win the Club World Cup - does that make me even more of a nerd or a real Chelsea fan? Thankyou Chelsea and my apologies for ever doubting you. From now on instead of trying to be an expert on tactics and formations I will simply try to cheer the team on whether we win or lose as this season has proved how little I really know about football despite having watched Chelsea play for 25 years!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Chelsea 2 Blackburn 1

So not long to go now until the European Cup Final. The domestic season ended on a positive note although realistically if Chelsea do not come away with the trophy this Saturday we may struggle on many fronts next season. No Champions’ League and therefore a harder time to attract players; Tottenham sullying the name of the competition; and less exotic places to travel to on away trips in the Europa League where the likelihood of being beaten up by knuckle-dragging locals increases.

It is time for change at the club – not just on the pitch but on the terraces. It was noticeable to see how many empty seats there were in the Chelsea end following two weeks of endless begging from Chelsea fans for tickets for the European Cup Final. This was the final game of our season and it seems many of us have forgotten how to support our club. There are many reasons why fans are cynical and negative these days but we really have to get behind our players even if we may not agree with many of the decisions made behind the scenes or players' behaviour off the pitch.

There were a few positives to take from the game though and the future for our youngsters looks quite bright. Winners of the FA Youth Cup again and fairly solid performances when they have been called upon (Bertrand in particular) for the first team bode well for the future. In a time of austerity and financial fair play we may have to suffer for a little while longer on the pitch to see the full results of our Academy’s success. Lukaku deserved more playing time but perhaps Di Matteo wanted to see who between Torres and Drogba looked hungrier for a place against Bayern this weekend.

Manchester City won the league – a team I have often said is similar to Chelsea in so many ways. I am glad for their fans who were there in the less successful days (who can forget them singing about Alan Ball to the tune of Wonderwall at the Bridge?) and it was noticeable that Ferguson could only retort to their league victory by noting how much injury time was played at the City of Manchester stadium (pot/kettle) and how it would take another century for them to emanate Man Ure’s history. The only shame is that the likes Balotelli and Tevez are rewarded with a medal despite being utter scumbags.

I am one of the few who did not mind QPR staying up. Frankly, I find the away trips up to the North-West a hard slog and will not miss Bolton or Blackburn despite the many good memories of our first Premier League trophy win up at the Reebok. Both stadia are not close to the train station and both clubs have fans who rarely fill out more than a fifth of their away allocation at the Bridge.

Yes, so QPR fans have brains the size of peanuts – but so do many of our jealous rivals’ supporters. The only hope is that Joey Barton (who declared himself a pacifist on his Twitter account only a few months ago) is sacked from football… what a disgrace that player is to his club and the game.

We go into the Final at Munich with a Bayern side that has many similarities to us… with some players who blow hot and cold but on their day could fit into any side. I will reserve judgment until after the game but it is just too close a call. Remembering how Liverpool fluked the trophy a few years back anything can happen… and for once this season luck seems to be marginally in our favour. Good luck Chelsea!

Monday, 30 April 2012

QPha and Bareclonha

It is not too often that I chuckle throughout many games. One of those was the home game against Barcelona this season where I could not fathom how we won and rode so much luck. The other was the QPR game yesterday. If there was a definition of comic timing then this game was it. Having the young QPR mascot provocatively kiss the QPR badge on his shirt in front of the Chelsea fans as he was lead off to the away end only to see his team concede inside the opening 30 seconds was one example. Hearing the away end sing, “loyal supporters” and finding no hypocrisy in the fact that some of their fans left the stadium at half-time was another. I am a Londoner and I would always prefer a local team to stay up. It is easier to get to games and there is more meaning to certain derbies (although I do recall Capital Gold arguing that it was better for there to be fewer teams from the same city in one division as it lead to too many points being dropped). In this case QPR's small club mentality shone through with the opposition fans spending more time throwing insults at Chelsea rather than getting behind their own side. And how fitting it was to see John Terry score a goal against them (although if he is found guilty of racially insulting Anton Ferdinand he should be sacked). This fantastic victory against a poor side capped a remarkable week. It was difficult to express the feelings I had following the magnificent performance in Barcelona. Most of those were of disappointment for selfish reasons - that of all the times I have been to the Camp Nou I missed the greatest performance of them all. Not only did we get through but you can imagine the gnashing teeth from journalists who I am sure were rubbing their hands with glee that our captain would cause our downfall. The victory in Europe was no mean feat – the Catalans won 7-0 away from home yesterday and Tuesday's victory to get us to the Champions' League Final was the definition of teamwork. There is a reason I never bet on Chelsea or play fantasy football – and that is because you end up in situations where you begin to cheer on other sides. This time there was an exception for me as I was so adamant that we would be knocked out by hook or by crook that I saw little downside putting £30 on at 12-1 for the home side to win 2-1. Although I cheered from my sofa when Torres scored at the back of my mind I thought, “that bastard just cost me £360!”. He marked a fine week though with a brilliantly taken hat trick against the ars (I think that's what their fans call them - 'Come on You Ars' - sounds like a porn film name). It is hard to come to terms with the fact that I am unlikely to make the Champions’ League Final. I have always been one of those who has no sympathy with those who moan about not getting tickets for the big games when they do not attend regularly. Earlier on in the season I was even secretly congratulating myself for not renewing my season ticket (nothing to do with Chelsea really – more because I have two young daughters to look after!) when we went through our bad run. I have not felt like this since we were in the Cup Winners Cup Final and I could not make it due to exams at University… if I get a ticket I will go. The only thing that makes me fume is how it is acceptable on the continent to tout your tickets (Chelsea’s own Viagogo is doing so from the US!) and with a pitiful allocation of 17,000 there will be many disappointed fans out there. It is fantastic that Roberto Di Matteo has achieved so much in so little time. He has made sensible decisions on the pitch and if anything the general feel at the club is better – we are all into feng shui now with all the luck he has brought us. No pressure now – let’s try to win all our remaining games this season and I will be happy! Come on Chelsea!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Well done Chelsea!

The win was tempered by John Terry's silly decision that lead to his red card but the resilience and experience of the team shone through.
Well done to all the players who worked hard as a team and the wonder strike from Ramires.
It is also the last time I bet on a match as Torres scoring cost me £300 I could have won if we had lost 2-1!
Having followed Chelsea for so long it feels hollow not to have been there and know that due to family commitments it will be unlikely for me to get to the final.
Well done Di Matteo and the fans who went out there!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Enemies of football 4 Napoli 1

A quality night of tension, frustration and elation which must rank as one of the most memorable Chelsea nights on the European stage. The result was well deserved and hopefully has poked a huge v-sign towards those who would have preferred no English teams left in Europe if it meant Chelsea reaching the quarter final stage. It was interesting to hear that the ITV commentator shouted, “take that!” when Napoli pulled a goal back.

The opening twenty minutes were pretty woeful and worrying. Chelsea missed a glorious opportunity to open the scoring and then Petr Cech kept us in the game with some stunning saves.

We scored against the run of play but it only reinforced a view I have had for a while – we still have quality in the side but have simply lacked direction and confidence.

Although the comeback was fantastic this really was a team who we should have (on paper at least) not have struggled against so it is hard to put it on a par with previous famous nights against Arsenal, Barcelona and Liverpool… but this was chalk and cheese compared to some of the dross that was served up earlier on in the season.

Drogba, Lampard, Terry, Cech and Cole in particular were outstanding. Substitutions were perfectly made too with Torres coming on for the hapless Sturridge well timed. The ball seemed to stick to his feet like glue (although he still appears timid in front of goal). And as per usual as soon as I started moaning at how ineffective Ivanovic had been he popped up with a stunning winner!

Well done RdM – so far the romantic vision of hoping you succeed is working a treat which obviously means we will now fail to beat Leicester (only kidding!)

As long as we steer clear of the Spanish sides we should have a good chance of progressing to the semis which is where the real action begins. We are behind you Chelsea – come on you Blues!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Chelsea 1 Stoke City 0

The romantic in me would love nothing more than to see Roberto di Matteo succeed at Chelsea Football Club and the managerial rhetoric from him since he took the role of caretaker manager has been exactly right. The team needs wins at the moment and that is the objective we should aim for. Pretty football for the “neutrals” who would realistically rather see us relegated than succeed can come later.

On the pitch Chelsea were extremely unlucky not to have scored a hatful on Saturday having hit the post and bar three times. The confidence is not quite there yet and in the first half I counted at least five “unforced errors”. This is where you have to draw the line at how much blame can be apportioned to a manager when mistakes occur. A few stray passes here and there plus a silly offside from a throw-in broke up the tempo of the side after a very bright start. We then had to grind out a win but the main thing was to obtain the three points.

The trouble with playing teams like Stoke is that their main aim away from home is to escape without a loss – so going down to ten men did little to change their tactics. I was very pleased to see Roberto change to a more attacking formation after this.

Am looking forward to the Napoli game and I believe that we can turn it around. We need the Chelsea fans to get behind the team and despite all the negatives behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge on the pitch the players need our support. Against all odds we may displease those who want us to fail. It’s us against them. Noone like us and we don’t care.

Come on Chelsea!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Valky's Rant Part 2

Timing, as they say is everything. If someone could find a football club that was worse at this special skill then they should show me the evidence. Whether it was the building of the East Stand which nearly bankrupted the club just when we were in the middle of one of our most successful phases on the pitch in the early 1970s to implementing price hikes for tickets during our current poor run of form (£70 to watch Napoli at home!) the list seems long and endless.

Just as Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was seen as the symbolic watershed incident that caused the First World War to break out, so the turning point on the pitch this season was the QPR away game. In both instances fundamental long-term problems that had been bubbling under the surface came to a head and lead to hugely negative consequences.

Chelsea had been on a decent run up until that point – but the red cards for the Chelsea players seemed to drain the energy out of the side in subsequent games despite a valiant effort on the pitch at Loftus Road (and yet again a match which contained more dubious decisions against our club). Even worse, the John Terry incident with Anton Ferdinand has overshadowed our season (no pun intended) and cast doubt on the decision making of our players.

It is also hard to fathom why we are announcing a stadium move when the club is moving backwards and struggling to fill out Stamford Bridge for our less lucrative matches. Also, why even discuss such a matter when the season is well under way which only causes unnecessary distractions? The murky wording of each statement from the club regarding the CPO not only makes the administrators sound like they do not trust the fans but increases the apathy of those regulars who love Chelsea towards those running our off-the-field affairs. To say that the club promises not to move outside a three-mile radius from Stamford Bridge before 2020 immediately only makes one think that the club actually wants to move further than three miles away from Stamford Bridge after 2020!

Although it seems the club wants to start adhering to the Financial Fair Play rules (whatever that means in this day and age) it is difficult to understand how this will possibly work when we keep spending money on average players who are unlikely to recoup their worth in shirt sales. Torres has become an embarrassment – probably not his fault (last season for instance I found it quite obnoxious of us to play him against Liverpool on his debut – he has not recovered since and there was little upside for him to be in the side against his old club) and one really has to question what the long-term aim of the club is.

And this brings us on to another dilemma – do those who run the club really understand enough about footballing matters? What are our long-term aims on the pitch? We seem to have lost our way and part of the problem is the secret shroud that seems to surround our owner who says little in public. I still have images in my mind of Bobby Campbell continuously sitting near Roman Abramovich in his box and dread that we have relied on his advice – it would be akin to my grandmother advising me which computer I should be investing in (and most likely being told to use a pen and a piece of paper instead).

I strongly feel that if the club stopped this policy of always looking for the big name signing and looked closer to home; developed our youth team and gave youngsters more of a chance in our first team then fans would accept the odd failure. (Speaking of which – why are our reserves and youth team doing so badly?) In fact, if we announced that we would not be making any major signings for the next few seasons and aimed to grow organically then moving one step backwards to go two steps forwards could be a popular decision. If we do have to sign new players then we should not be aiming for big names (look how Real Madrid failed in their hunt for trophies five years ago despite having the players such as Beckham and Zidane capable of selling thousands of shirts on their books) but should be concentrating more on men who are team players and have potential (and pace!)

The moral of the story is this – don’t try to make big plans for expanding your stadium when the club is going backwards; don’t try to find short-term solutions to long-term problems; when working at a football club have the majority of those in charge have some idea about footballing matters; and finally have a long-term strategy in place that focuses more on what we need to do to be successful on the pitch! (Oh, and don’t get rid of managers like Jose Mourinho!)

Valky's Rant Part 1

Football is a fairly unique job. It is one of the few where managers are likely to earn less than those they manage and where serious misdemeanours from those at the bottom end of the food chain are most easily forgiven. You only need to look at players like Carlos Tevez (I have so little respect for the player that I find it hard to even type his full name) to see that you can even boycott attending training sessions and move to another country but still have the door left open for you to return to the first team. Closer to home, it seems strange that our currently injured captain is still in contention for the first team considering he has a court appearance looming for alleged racist behaviour that we all hope is just a huge misunderstanding.

And here lies one of the biggest problems with modern day football – the huge contracts players demand result in clubs being forced to bend to their every whim for fear of causing alienation. A player who has pound signs in his head rather than passion in his heart for what is ultimately a sport (and should never be classed as a business) knows that all he has to do is toe the party line when he is out of favour for team selection, see out his time and he can effectively retire or join another club on similarly ridiculous terms on a free transfer. Witness some players who would not grace the pitch in The Championship who have managed to attract huge salaries in vastly inferior leagues in Asia. Clubs also fear that if a player is alienated and makes his feelings known out loud (footballers have an excellent way of letting the public know when they are unhappy) then there is no way they could recoup cash from the original transfer fee should they wish to sell him. Who in their right mind would realistically wish to sign a player like Tevez at the moment? That is why Manchester City is forced to bend over as at the very worst if he returns to the first team he may be a more marketable sell and the club can cut their losses at a better level.

So the point I come to is this – with the model that Chelsea have at the moment there is little scope for serious progress for all but the strongest of managers. You still look towards Sir Alex Ferguson as the best example of how to deal with players who spoil the applecart – from Beckham to Stam (to Tevez!) there have been few sales that he must regret. Look how he has managed the longevity of players such as Giggs or Scholes who put the efforts of many younger Chelsea first teamers to shame!

Of course we can only speculate what is really going on behind the scenes at our club. Ultimately AVB was inconsistent in his strategy and probably did not realise what he was letting himself in for. It probably did not help that he inherited a squad with many players in the twilight of their careers who are still popular with the fans despite not quite producing on the pitch (with the exception of JT).

From a psychological point of view it is unlikely that many senior players would find it easy to take orders from someone who is the same age as them. But above all I strongly feel that the depth of the squad is not good enough. Chelsea has always needed decent wingers and we have never quite managed to replace that Duff/Robben combination that worked so well with Joe Cole keeping them on their toes. After a promising start at the club Malouda has faded away and our central midfield feels very weak with Meireles adding little to the side. Ramires has lost his way (although this probably reflects the lack of confidence in the team as a whole) and Lampard is not the same player he was – but still manages to be our top scorer! Luiz seems to be popular only because he has silly hair and there has rarely been a defender who needs his job description renamed to a more suitable title.

Mata has been the only bright light in the side this season. Sturridge has failed to impress and I still do not understand why the admittedly perennially sour-faced Anelka was let go with a goal scoring ratio of 1 in 3.

Farewell then AVB… he thought he was Jose Mourinho but ended up with a worse record than Scolari (and yet interestingly still managed a better managerial record in his first forty games at Chelsea than Mancini did in his equivalent debut at Manchester City).

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Napoli Away

So my first sojourn into Europe for a fair while and it was one that I shall not forget for many reasons.

Napoli is a typical port town… grime mixed with history. From the air Naples looks fascinating – the huge mountains surrounding a seemingly vibrant and green city. The first thing that hits you when you arrive in the city centre is the amount of poverty that lies within. By the city central railway station there were dozens of beggars and drug addicts (not mutually exclusive) on top of the usual dodgy sellers of fake LV handbags littering the streets. I am a Londoner born in the darkest depths of Peckham but this was the first European trip where I felt I had to look over my shoulder at all times.

Luckily my hotel was close to the port and the side of town where more of the posh, boutique shops were located and round the corner from where the Chelsea team were staying. And what a sight I had from my window! A delightful rear view of a block of flats where locals hung their washing out to dry from their balconies when the brochure promised uninterrupted views of the Med…

The only thing that never changes no matter where you go is how you are treated as a football fan – like the absolute dregs of society. We were advised to meet in the port before the match before getting an escort to the ground – the port is several hundred metres wide! An all day session ensued where I bumped into many of the people who I have got to know over the years from my away travels.
Unfortunately there were also the usual bunch of arseholes who use away trips in Europe as an excuse to sing racist, anti-semitic and loyalist songs that have no place at Chelsea these days. But some simply believe that being abroad means that noone understands English and it is acceptable to chant, “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz” and so on with no rebuke.

Having spent the bulk of the day in a pizzeria with friends we eventually and reluctantly decided to jump onto the coaches from the port to Napoli’s stadium. Having heard horror stories of what some Chelsea fans encountered (mostly self-inflicted I am guessing) I didn’t want to take a risk of getting the Metro. And what a mistake this proved to be. Not only did I have to share the bus with a minority of the most bigoted arseholes I have ever had the misfortune to come across, but the escort also decided to take a route which was the equivalent of travelling from Central London to Stamford Bridge via Stansted Airport.

The less said about the match the better but it felt sweet to open the scoring from the continually impressive Mata. Quite why Bosingwa started at left-back with a fit Ashley Cole on the bench is anyone’s guess but our defending was simply woeful.

The home fans were boisterous and magnificent – and it was also noticeable that there were more stewards wearing comical, yellow hard-hats in our end than there were in the whole of the rest of the home end! No wonder dozens of flares and smokebombs were allowed to be set off with impunity. The icing on the cake was seeing one of their stewards flicking V-signs towards the away fans continuously throughout the game… this in contrast to a Stamford Bridge where one cannot even wear a baseball cap backwards without being turfed out of the ground.

After the game I did exactly what I was told not to – I returned to the hotel on my own via the Metro and some dark alleyways! And I came to no harm… perhaps too much scaremongering as per usual?
The next day was spent doing the usual touristy things – I decided to go and visit Pompeii which has been left in ruins (sorry). It was fascinating to see how much history there was in this ancient city and what it had been through. The surrounding volcanoes adequately reflect the explosive nature of this city – when I visited there were strikes by rubbish collectors due to the corruption they faced.

It was a memorable trip and the highlight for me was finding a restaurant hidden away in a dark alley which required a buzzer to let you in – and having the best seafood pasta ever for a reasonable price. A good value trip if a touch stressful at times – the only real let-down being the football on display from Chelsea.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Three Unconvincing Points

Saturday was a busy day for events. First the Chelsea vs Sunderland game with my old man and then a visit to the West End with the wife to watch The Nutcracker. One of these spectacles involved a mysterious man entering a household temporarily bringing doll-like figures to life. A broken toy comes alive. This is followed by a dream-like sequence of events which seem rather unreal and end rather ambiguously with noone really knowing the future outcome of events. The other event was a Tchaikovsky opera which was mesmerising in its intricacy.

It was one of those days at Stamford Bridge where the day was more enjoyable than the game itself. For the first five minutes of the match it felt as if we were witnessing a non-league match with Chelsea passing atrociously. Every time Sunderland had the ball in our half we appeared vulnerable.

We scored against the run of play with the unlucky Torres missing out on scoring one of the goals of the season but with the ever-dependable Lampard following up.

When I watch Chelsea these days it seems as if we have one goalkeeper and ten central midfielders on the pitch. There is just not enough width. The structure of the team means that we have to play very tight – and we excel at that – but create few clearcut chances. For all of Torres’ endeavour he is being forced to drop deep and attack – that should be the work of a midfielder and not a lone striker. It is surprising that he is not given the chance to shoot from direct free-kicks either.

Ramires and Romeu still stand out as our best players. Mata is skilful but slow... Meireles does little to stir the blood and Luiz still looks a liability in defence. Will Cahill replace him or is he supposed to be John Terry's long-term successor? It is all a tad confusing.

Sunderland had three easy opportunities to equalise and were quite unfortunate not to do so. The old adage of good teams being able to take their chances applies in this case and Sunderland simply lack the quality up front despite looking dangerous.

The result of Chelsea’s mediocre performance on the pitch has lead to stagnation on the terraces. Not even the presence of Martin O’Neill could muster the faithful to even have one rousing rendition of, “There’s only one Erland Johnsen”. It is even worse when one starts to think that Sunderland’s manager could have carried out a better job at our club than AVB!

Nevertheless we are still in the hunt for a top three place, a run in the FA Cup and are within an earshot of European glory if we avoid Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Champions’ League.

What I love about being a Chelsea fan is that we are realists. We do not have myopic views like Liverpool fans who think they are owed a trophy every season; neither do we try to kid ourselves that the media has a soft spot for our beloved club. The coverage of both Terry Henry and Tottenham has been sickeningly posterior-licking and yet again seems to demonstrate the rampant favouritism awarded to rivals who always seem to have the rub of the green with the media even when they are on terrible runs. Who can forget that the only reason Arsenal are underperforming is because they have so many youngsters on their books? It was joyful to see Henry offering to fight a supporter who was abusing him at the end of the Swansea match and threatening to, “kick your f*cking head in”. It was with an Arsenal fan too!

Overall the most important thing for now is for Chelsea to grind out results. If we can get a little run of wins going then we can stop looking over our shoulder and hopefully challenge our peers who on paper I see as not that much superior to ourselves. Norwich and Swansea could be tricky aways but if we could end up with six points from sides who have given many of our rivals a run for their money then we could easily start building momentum as it feels the top three are stuttering.

Come on Chelsea!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Time to admit it - I know nothing about football!

What a difference a month makes. Having been so positive in mid-December now yet again I have doubts about our team and manager.

It is my fault really. With the in-laws over for Christmas I took them to two home Chelsea matches. They were Stamford Bridge virgins and did not pay the sacrifice I was hoping for with Fulham and then Aston Villa taking points off us. The jinx was complete when I took them to Twickenham to back my local rugby union side, Harlequins and saw them lose their only game in the Premiership so far.

It is tough to really analyse where we are going wrong. The players are just as culpable as the manager but then I keep reminding myself that I do believe we have a strong squad so where exactly have we gone wrong?

There is little more that I can add. The fans themselves seem to accept that we are not the force we once were with many simply resigned to the fact with a shrug of their shoulders after the defeat to Villa. Oh, for the club to be in the position it was six or seven years ago... and how tough it is to see a side like Tottenham above us in the league.