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.