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.