Sunday, 15 December 2013

Chelsea 2 Palace 1

Performances like this are simply astoundingly poor considering the alleged talent we have on display. The MotD experts will probably argue that we played average and still won while remaining a few points off the top. However, some of the unforced errors (apologies for the Yankification of this blog) where simple passes go astray, tackles are missed and chances wasted are so basic that it makes one wonder if this marks a general end to football. During the first ten minutes there was at least one mistake every minute under little or no pressure.

The tinkering of the side to represent some kind of Brazilian 1970 dream team is not going to happen and as reluctantly as it hurts to say it you have to look at sides such as Liverpool and Everton (and to some extent Arsenal) to see how you build sides for the long-term. To have home fans booing even before full-time... and when you are leading a match more or less sums up our club at present.

Mourinho does take a lot of stick for this and perhaps you could argue this is a side that he has not had time to build yet. Some of his comments again this week seem odd - saying that mannequins used on the pitch during training could score for us... it is difficult to understand how this kind of reverse psychology can work positively on our team.

We are playing Arsenal at a good time and knowing our side we will probably play out of our skins against the better opposition... but this is not what we want to see in the long-term. Give youngsters a chance. Take a couple of steps backwards in order to progress. Instant success is not what our club needs right now. There is something missing in the heart of the side and perhaps in football in general. The omens are there for a big blowup not only at Stamford Bridge but several other big spenders. And again... the upside is that if I am wrong then at least some positives will come of it.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

West Basle Hampton

Basle is a beautiful city and it was with this in mind that my brain thought perhaps something poetic could be written about the match out there. Instead, for the second time this season I left the stadium early on in the second half. Usually I am that football purist who scolds those who do not stay until the bitter end but the performance was so deplorable, the atmosphere so dire and the temperature so cold that I simply felt no desire to stay. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a bar with five minutes of the game left only to witness the opposition score while sipping my final beer.

The game against Southampton had a different tone to it. An odd 4.10pm kick-off but one that followed a lovely curry and chat with my father and some friends from Stockholm - AIK fans but here to watch what was set to be a good match. We sat down in our seats in the West Upper and as we approached kick-off I loudly said, “I have a good feeling about this game”. Then twenty seconds in we are losing 1-0 and yet again I wonder if my footballing knowledge is even lower than that of the average Arsenal fan.

There are lies, damned lies and statistics. The Basle game reflected the balance of the game perfectly – we had no shots on target and deserved to lose. But there was something different about the game against Southampton. The performance in the first half – the drive and determination – was simply excellent despite only yielding one shot on target. Yes – even Torres resembled that man we want him to be. JT's header was sublime and it was good to see even Ba get on the scoresheet.

Much has been said about Essien and although the bison will always be a Chelsea legend it was odd to see him play against a side that has had so many results go their way this season. It was sad to see him substituted but the second half performance was even better and Southampton fell apart.

A mixed week for Chelsea. We have been a side that has had some luck and at Upton Park up until a silly back pass there was not much to choose between the teams. Let’s hope Mourinho galvanises the side because there is not much consistency and unlike at Basle airport there are not three different countries one can easily enter should one get stuck on choices.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Chelsea 2 WBA 2

There are days like today where you try to figure out whether you truly understand the team and sport you love or not. This was a side that barely a fornight ago seemed to gel so wonderfully. A midfield where pretty passes and wonderful skill led to concrete chances on goal. A solid defence. In Manchester City beating a team fair and square that on paper should have been far superior. Against Arsenal playing your second string and still looking a division above.

The last week has changed all this and suddenly those lucky goals and refereeing decisions are occurring a little too often. Those days where conspiracy theories that the world was against us because many saw Chelsea as the equivalent of Millwall being in the Champions League are being unwound. If Eto'os posterior had not helped us score a goal against Schalke this blog could be fairly suicidal.

It is also difficult to point out who exactly is to blame. For me, Mourinho has been the closest thing to a Messiah when it has come to footballing management. A person who seemed to manage to deflect attention away from the team when things were not going well on the pitch but who now is making some odd choices... almost as if they were not his own. This is where danger creeps in - when you do not follow your own instinct from experience but instead prefer to believe you are doing the right thing in the eyes of those above you. And our Messiah's God is Russian and impatient.

Up until Eto'o'o's strike it was hard to remember a clearcut chance on goal. The excuses were already building in our minds. A mid-table but solid side was coming to Stamford Bridge and put players behind the ball in order to catch us on the break. Willian was a welcome signing for me but now has given me flashbacks to Robert Fleck. A winger who seems to meander around the pitch and today found it difficult to beat the first man with any cross. Lampard was anonymous but when Mourinho made changes to the side he was missed. And as a large minority of fans will probably resent admitting, balance was only restored when Mikel joined the pitch to complement Mata.

To be fair to WBA their naivete came back to haunt them. With minutes to spare, they decided to attack and score instead of doing the tactics the "big" sides are renowned for - holding the ball in the corner! From the resulting attack where they tried to score when Cech was a mile off his line Chelsea counter attacked and how Ramires won that penalty I will never know. Probably MotD will find an angle that defends us but lucky is the most conservative way to describe our draw today.

Mourinho has inherited this squad but at times we appear to lack my favourite thing - natural wingers as we had in Duff and Robben when he was our coach first time round. Ivanovic and Azpilicueta were solid but that is the best thing one can say about today's performance.

The only thing to have really got me out of my seat was Ivanovic being booked for trying to bring the ball back to the centre circle after Hazard's brilliantly taken penalty - almost as strange as the break in play earlier on this week for a football boot leaving the sole of a player.

Following the Manchester City game we appeared to have on paper a simple run of games. The sportsman in me would like to think that at least results like today show that the Premier League is more of a level playing field than we thought but 21 points from a possible 33 is a woeful return. Should Arsenal win tomorrow then they will have 28 from 33. Let's pray for a draw and 22 red cards.

Inconsistency is our only consistency this season and the excitement that many of our new tourist fans are looking for has appeared in ways that genuine fans would not wish for. West Ham away then Basle... and suddenly Southampton at home is a fixture I fear. What has the Chelsea world come to?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Chelsea 2 Man City 1

Yesterday was a huge result for Chelsea. We played against a side that had a large minority of team members who many of us would gladly have had in our squad and yet we still came out as victors. It is not often that one can really respect opposition in our league but players such as Aguero, Silva and Toure are simply terrific.

But back to the club that I actually love and support. Oh my word, has Torres changed in a fortnight. Has the demotion of Mata given our number nine the kick up the posterior that he needed? No longer do we see the moody outbursts (ok – just not as many as usual) nor the head down when the ball does not land perfectly at his feet. The speed and skill on display are exactly what we remember our striker displaying when he played against us for Liverpool and it has been a long time coming. The way he brushed Clichy away with his pace was astonishing and for once we were singing Torres’ name with genuine belief – no sarcasm, not out of prayer… just simply rewarding a breath-taking performance.

The skill on display yesterday was astonishing from every player. The standouts were Ivanovic, Terry and Ramires while Cech always seemed to be in the right place when City threatened to score. Admittedly for the first fifteen minutes the visitors dominated but encouraging signs began to develop and for the rest of the half including the goal it was all Chelsea. Manchester City were the better team again for the first period of the second half and there was simply nothing we could have done for Aguero’s goal. A brilliant finish.

It appeared both sides were going to settle for a point. Mikel came on, Lampard came off. Schurrle off, Willian on. Then, just after the usual numbskulls began to leave ten minutes from the end something changed. Eto’o was brought on – was the apparent defensive tactic twenty minutes earlier from Jose simply a spoof? We had that stroke of luck that has been missing – a wayward backpass intercepted by Torres. Despite our worries during that split second that he had the ball at his feet he still managed to bury it in the net. Cue the most I have celebrated a Chelsea goal in a long while.

Manchester City is a club that I feel some association with. Both our clubs play in similar colours; we have always been in the shadow of our rivals; we have similar senses of humour; at our most successful the media still tries to tarnish our image. But the similarities end there. The difference between our clubs is that Chelsea were already successful before Roman injected his fortune in our club. There was some heart and soul there on the pitch. Without trying to be personal it does not feel the same at City despite the talent they have and whenever I have been to their new stadium the atmosphere does not feel quite right either... one could argue something similar with Real Madrid which seems to sign players purely for shirt sales rather than for building a team.

Things are beginning to gel and this is the best feeling I have had in my bones for a long while. Upcoming league fixtures are not that terrifying. Come on Chelsea and come on Jose... tomorrow's match at Arsenal is one that we should really be looking forward to and a win for the team in blue could cause some real psychological damage on Wenger's side.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Chelsea 1 Basiiil 2

The honeymoon period lasted for less time than even the most pessimistic Chelsea fan predicted. The booing has already started with the season barely a month old. The media has already begun its mocking of our beloved Jose as his wonderful analogy of comparing our players to young eggs comes back to haunt him. Something has changed and you hope that last night’s match does not symbolise the wilting away of our club from being one of the world’s top sides.

It was worrying to see Jose already taking risks at such an early stage. FCB (as their fans like to call themselves) equalised but there was no need to panic – a home draw is not the end of the world with five more games in the group. But to put on another striker in Ba while adding Mikel in defensive midfield was like ordering a full fat flapjack but adding a skinny decaff latte to balance things up. The team looked out of sorts even before the substitutions in pursuit of a victory were made.

Mourinho was correct in his assessment when he spoke of the immaturity of the side. Players such as Luiz and Hazard flattered to deceive - trying the odd trick here and there but adding nothing concrete to the team. We looked vulnerable in defence and we seem to have a new rotation policy where it feels we almost have to give players a chance to play for the sake of it. That is what happens when you have 23 midfielders too many.

Initial thoughts are that you do wonder how exactly this side has improved in comparison to last season. Fulham at home now looks a test and it will be interesting if our manager plays a full strength side. There were positives to the game – Oscar impressed and Willian showed the sharp touches and moves that first attracted him to our club.

The biggest worry again was up front. Eto’o did get into some promising positions on the field but seemed to only own one strong foot. Again, this team has promise for the future but you wonder if the lack of patience from our owner has fed down to poor decision making on the pitch. When looking at the fixture list today every game we have coming up looks like hard work following this tepid start.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Everton 1 Chelsea 0

Strange day, strange game. Chelsea dominated and had many chances on goal. Flashbacks to Jose’s final game during his first stint at Chelsea rose to the fore. Oh, to have someone who could finish. This could be the story of our season. Quite why we let Lukaku go out on loan (of course, to Everton) is bizarre. He may still be 20 but Chelsea fans tend to back youngsters and give them the benefit of the doubt.

When it comes to Eto’o it is hard to remember any player who decides to play in an inferior league for money and then return to a better level and succeed. We might as well have brought Drogba back. I shall gladly eat my words if I am wrong but this feels more like a transfer to increase shirt sales rather than one to help build our side. We need to take some risks up front and even if someone like Lukaku does not score 20+ this season we know we have the strength in midfield to hit the back of the net. He could be the big, skilful guy who draws defenders away and allows the rest of the team to thrive.

We played in an attacking fashion during the first half and it was exactly the formation I like that we began with. We looked dangerous on the break and Schurrle appeared menacing. Mata and Hazard in midfield excited me. Having Mikel as the defensive midfield added balance to the side. Oscar should have won a penalty or at the very least a free kick outside of the box when he came on.

Then comes the dilemma for me when it comes to Chelsea’s defence. It is when Luiz is involved. Although a player who excites he is also one who frightens when he goes into attack and forgets his defensive duties. If there is feng shui in a football team then he spoils it for me. Despite my feelings it was not his fault we lost the match – more blame should be placed on our attack.

Mourinho was correct in his assessment that if you do not take your chances you cannot win games. It was under his initial stewardship that we became known as the side that managed to grind out victories against those who chose to defend rather than attack. His substitutions late on in the game were punchy to say the least – replacing Ashley Cole (who again was lacklustre) with Torres (who again was lacklustre) opened up the game to counterattacking football. If there is an area of the side where regular play is the most important when it comes to confidence then striker is probably it.

Chelsea should have gone into the second half at least two goals to the good. Unfortunately as the game opened up we were left to resorting to fouls and were lucky to finish with ten men.

Everton is a team that I find hard to begrudge. It is a stadium where I spent my first away game outside of London in the late 80s and saw Chelsea go top of the league with a 1-0 win before we collapsed in the league. It is a club that has no billionaire backing but has always given top flight sides a run for their money with little reward. If it had been another side that had beaten us in this fashion then my feelings may have been rather less philosophical. It is early on in the season and still some bedding in is required for new players so there is no need to panic - but up front we do not appear to possess that target man who will frighten opposition sides for now.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

If before the season started someone had offered me seven points from our opening three games I would have bitten their hands off – especially with one of those matches taking place at Old Trafford. Admittedly when seeing the team selection with Schurrle on his own up front the only thing I could do was swear. Luckily, last night demonstrated why Mourinho is a great football manager and sometimes supporters like me need to stick to their day jobs. The two teams negated each other and van Persie seemed to have gone AWOL.

Much of the focus was on Rooney and it was a surprise he started considering the political speculation over him and Chelsea. He worked his posterior off and a tackle on Ramires towards the end of the game typified his performance. It would be great to have him in our side but it is hard to see how he would fit in unless we made some huge sacrifices in our squad. Was Juan Mata really our player of the season for the last two years?

Lampard and Ramires were excellent in midfield and the tracking back as well as defending was pure Mourinho – disciplined to a tee and knowing exactly what one wishes for from a game. Judging by the smiles on some of the Manchester United players’ faces at the end of the game they seemed just as happy with a point. The match was not without incident – poor De Bruyne must have been the first player in history to have been booked for being elbowed in the face.

It was good to hear the banter between the fans too – Chelsea fans chanting Rooney’s name and making certain references to Giggs’ less than salubrious past. Manchester United is a football club that is simply better at sweeping such matters under the carpet than us. Sky commentators seemed to wish for a win for the home side - even predicting Rooney to score for a 1-0 result. To add to the clichés they noted how ironic it would be if the team in red scored in the last minute. Please can we have a choice to not have any Sky commentary whatsoever?

Not an easy fixture list coming up with the Charity Shield for Europe (less the charity part) this Friday where UEFA delegates make the most of a night out in an Eastern European capital. This game cannot be taken seriously and hopefully we use it to experiment with our forward line. Will Willian play? Once this match is out of the way we have a difficult few games. Everton away, Fulham at home (who seem to capitulate to our rivals but step up against us in typical small-minded fashion) followed by Tottenham away.

So focus on the Champions League this week and my dream will come true if Legia Warsaw proceed to the group stages and is drawn against Chelsea. Please may I see Chelsea play a Polish team in a competitive match during my lifetime! So far, so good at Chelsea. Nothing spectacular but step by step we are advancing and playing better as a team.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Chelsea 2 Aston Villa 1

It is still too early to judge how well we will perform this season but last night’s win was far from convincing. The negatives were the poor performances from Ba and Mata as well as some blips from Cahill. The positives were the fact we secured three points and Mourinho knew how to change the team when things were not going our way.

We started the match brightly and yet again some of the intricate play from our attacking midfield impressed. It did not last for long though and Aston Villa’s counter attacking exposed the frailties we have in defence when the team is too top heavy. It is all very well trying to play attacking football but not at the expense of your back four. Last night was a match where Mikel was missed.

Lampard was generally anonymous during the game (as happens now and again) and it is thanks to brilliant saves from Cech that we did not even end up on the losing side. We would have probably been reduced to ten men if the same challenge by Ivanovic had been committed on the continent. At least some refereeing decisions go our way now and then!

Aston Villa did impress and Agbonlahor stood out. Despite statistics showing that we had the bulk of chances on goal, realistically we were limited to errant shots from outside the box. Too often there is something that just does not feel right when we have Mata, Oscar and Hazard playing together - as if our midfield were too lightweight. Ba was caught offside too many times whereas Lukaku looked menacing when he came on during the second half with Schurrle who also attacked with gusto.

You could argue that the opening two league games have been familiar in terms of style and tactics under Jose – if Benitez was in charge we would probably be more critical. Hopefully, against Manchester United we do not play so naively during a game that has such crucial psychological impact. With the general short-termism the club has had over the past decade for its managers the patience on the terraces may not last long should results not go our way (upcoming fixtures are not pleasant on the eye) – something of course that I pray does not happen.

Overall, you could argue the quality showed. If another club that was looking to challenge for the title had scraped a win while playing unconvincingly then they would have earned praise in the usual clichéd fashion. My gut feel is that Lukaku is still the best choice up front and hope he is given the chance to start against Manchester United. If Jose was trying to play mind games with his front line in order to give them a kick up the posterior in his attempts to sign Rooney then so far it has not worked. The team needs to be more balanced especially in the games against the better sides.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Chelsea 2 Hull 0

It was only when I saw Mourinho in the flesh at Stamford Bridge that it really hit me. A standing ovation and a lovely start to the season with a win against a tough Hull City side. Jose wrote in his programme notes how important the fans were and he was rewarded (at least in the first half) with a quality atmosphere. Even Roman’s name was sung several times! It was the first match in many a moon where we were sat in our seats in the West Upper an hour before kick-off to soak things in.

The performance was typical of Chelsea under Mourinho in the past. Solid and settled, the team knew when to put on the brakes after scoring the vital second goal. No risks were then taken and at last we used all three substitutes when home and dry.

That is not to say it was all plain sailing. Torres and Cole both had average games with the former making some poor decisions and yet again not entirely convincing when it came to body language. Ashley Cole was outpaced and made a couple of elementary mistakes which seemed untypical of him… perhaps too many Marlboro Menthols and WKDs over the summer holidays? Nevertheless, this is still too early to judge fully and there was much to be pleased with.

JT was dominant in defence. Ivanovic frightened the opposition. Cahill was solid. In midfield, some of the touches from Oscar were simply sublime and he was rewarded with a magnificent goal following decent, intricate play in midfield from De Bruyne. Lampard’s free kick was almost unreal in its accuracy to land plum into the corner and made up for a penalty miss (albeit one that was simply well saved). Hazard challenged well but will struggle to convince referees that he has been fouled if he continues to lie pole-axed on the ground after every mild challenge against him (even if they are genuine fouls).

I have not bothered to read the newspapers this morning as I am sure off the field matters will be discussed more than what happened on the pitch. Next it is Aston Villa and I would take another 2-0 win no questions asked. Then we look towards Manchester United away who looked frighteningly at ease against what is supposed to be a good Swansea side. Perhaps the ball boy’s antics from last season is catching up with the Welsh side.

Arsenal’s loss would normally earn a big guffaw from me but I have learnt from the past not to laugh to early. This is a club that has been run as a business rather than one that is looking to compete with the elite and the real danger for them is not finishing in the top four this season. Tottenham look strong and dare I say it – even Liverpool could be challenging for that top-four spot.

So let us see how Manchester City perform tonight. A solid win for them will signal a tight year. The Premier League is the place to be for now and the fact that the new season has actually started has rarely brought me so much joy and relief. Welcome back to the Special One!

Monday, 12 August 2013

A Fresh Season Approaches

So a new season is about to begin and I am already bored of people asking what Mourinho’s return means to me. Of course the risk is that his impact may not be as great as when he had his first stint at our club. His sporting a fresh tattoo on his wrist worries me further... as was his first attempt at mind games against the “wrong Ronaldo” which failed when the Real Madrid man did his talking on the pitch against us albeit in a friendly against a weakened Chelsea side.

We still have no real target man who can frighten defences since Drogba left. Rooney is not the answer and at Manchester United he plays a more attacking midfield role – a position for which we have plenty of cover. The only thing that Rooney could add that we miss in attack is strength and aggressiveness. We play attractive football in this area but appears a tad naïve compared to our peers. Nothing would please me more than to see Lukaku succeed but for now this seems no more than wishful, innocent child-like thinking. For a while now Torres has easily given up in matches – not even vociferously claiming for free-kicks which he has rightfully deserved when fouled. Perhaps even referees perceive him as an invisible man on the pitch too. Ba still seems the best option up front.

For Chelsea to really advance we need to be mentioned in the same breath as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona and to a lesser extent the two Manchesters. Our initial two matches against Hull and Aston Villa should provide us with six points and no doubt will be followed by much praise. If we fail at Old Trafford before the European Super Cup Final in Prague (where flights from London cost an eye-watering £600) question marks will be raised before the season has even properly started.

Whatever happens we will support the side and shout for them… but the question remains if Chelsea’s support and more importantly our owner will be patient if results do not go our way.

On a different note, as the football league starts it is sad to see so many teams struggling. We can always look at the past with rose-tinted spectacles but to see clubs such as Coventry City having to play at Northampton and only sell 200-odd season tickets shows how important it is for genuine fans to still have a say in the running of a club. Although the away end at Highfield Road was a woeful part of the world, at least it felt like a football club in the traditional sense and we appear to be missing that heart and soul that makes this game so special.

Although the standard of football we watch these days is incomparable to that which we had to endure so many years ago, there are small parts of the game that we miss. For instance, I have been reticent to read any official news from the Chelsea website assuming that it represents propaganda – but when it comes to match reports for the odd game that I miss there is far more balanced reporting there than in newspapers which rarely describe what has actually happened on the pitch. Instead, they wish to concentrate more on other matters as if they were having a chinwag down the local boozer. There is too much pub talk and little expert opinion that is reliable or original – hence why Match of the Day is no longer a must see. Gary Neville is probably the only exception to this rule.

Back to our club. Hope is there – in an ideal world a young, talented team such as we possess should become successful. Time will tell but it is hard to really think that we can dominate the league or Europe for a while. Over the past decade, big name signings such as Shevchenko and Torres who were perhaps also signed with marketing intentions in mind were failures – this could easily happen again with Rooney should he join.

So a second honeymoon period for Jose. A man who I admire for his psychological as much as his tactical skill. Let’s hope our players keep their focus on the pitch and don’t let their guard down off it. Best of luck to the Blues this season and at present I will happily accept any trophy and a top-three finish. Anything better (including a decent run in the Champions’ League) will be seen as a result in my eyes with the long-term success of my club the most important thing – especially in context with the sobering thought of what has happened to the likes of Coventry City and Portsmouth over the past few years.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Mourinho thoughts

It has been a done deal apparently. All the hacks have the inside scoop. We are going to see our greatest ever manager return to Stamford Bridge and possibly bring Ronaldo with him!

Jose Mourinho is someone who has such a strong influence on me that if he started a religious cult I would probably join. His power when he speaks and the way he deflects pressure away from footballers under his tenure is simply astounding. When in charge of Chelsea it is hard to argue that he ever really signed any "stars" of the ilk of Messi or Ronaldo. It was the purest case of what could be classed as a real team that I had seen. It is doubtful in my view that Shevchenko was a signing he wanted. If there was an example of being undermined by the power of players then Real Madrid is probably the best example. Especially when in comparison you think of the calibre of players he had underneath him at Porto and Inter Milan which still brought him success.

Nevertheless, there are several reasons why I do not wish him to return. Mostly, it is because of Chelsea fans. I type this while watching the Manchester United vs Chelsea league match where it appears that we are several hundred seats short of having sold our allocation. I have many memories of the fickleness of our support. It is hard to know whether those who attend matches these days have simply been spoilt or whether we have lost a core element of fans who were there during our more difficult times.

It is easy to join in with a vociferous, energetic minority. I am sure there are many who join in with the puerile anti-Benitez chants who regret it later - we all know the power of the crowd. The pre-season against Glasgow Rangers a few season back showed that. But I remember that Rosenberg match where we drew 1-1 (from memory, statistics showed we had over twenty shots on goal - it was simply one of those games) and the team was booed off. Then I remember the game against Mourinho's Inter Milan side at home where our so-called hardcore supporters in the MHL sang anti-Jose songs once it was clear we would not go through... and yet that same section of the crowd suddenly wants him back. What if we brought him back to the Bridge and then had a run of a few matches where we underperformed? At the back of my mind I fear the same reaction will occur.

Despite not really giving much of our youth team a solid run in the side we have a fairly young squad which needs to be given a chance. Some of the football we play is a joy to watch. Benitez is not my cup of tea and has made some odd decisions (I keep remember how he moans that the squad is tired and yet we are playing two friendlies over the course of 48 hours in the US against Manchester City just after our season ends) but has also acted with a lot more strength than I would have shown under similar circumstances. If we win the Europa League and qualify for the Champions League then ultimately you have to admit that he has not done a bad job and banners with "Rafa Out" emblazoned upon them should be burnt.

Despite having family commitments which have limited my attendance of aways it has been a fluke that I managed to use Airmiles points (or "Avios" as they call it these days) to book free flights for the final to Amsterdam several months ago... and even luckier that I randomly decided to enter the UEFA draw for both Europa as well as Champions League Final tickets and was successful in the former. It is a pitiful allocation for our fans though - to receive less than 10,000 tickets for a final means that well over half the stadium's seats were intended for neutrals and corporates.

I chose for one season to sit in the East Middle Centenary Club - and never will again - the overhang from the East Upper kills the atmosphere in the row we are in; the service in the bar is terrible; you miss out on having the flexibility to try different pubs and restaurants before a match with different friends. I also selflishly assumed this would give me a good chance of getting tickets directly from the club for the final as I was in the posh seats. Instead, the criteria for receiving tickets are dependant on how many Europa League home matches you have officially attended. I have attended all of them bar one but have not used my season ticket as it is only eligible for my own seat which would have cost £120 vs Rubin Kazin. Eg. if I wish to buy a seat in the East Upper and have loyalty points credited I cannot do so even if the seats there go on general sale!

It is hard to admit but I covered all bases and in the semis even put a bet on Basle to beat us at home in case we did not make it through. This has almost certainly jinxed us and I fully expect us to lose in the final against a good Benfica side! Ah, Chelsea... Good luck you Blues!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A Real Lack of Corinthian Spirit at Anfield

The Suarez goal at the end of today’s game brought a strange reaction in me. It was not one of violence, spit or swearing but a simple, emotional sigh. It did not stir up the blood pressure but triggered a series of thought processes that led me to the conclusion that this is simply the way football has been and will be for many years.

Liverpool should have suffered two red cards and yet received none. Six minutes of added time when there were four substitutions and two goals in the second half simply did not add up. The schoolboy-ish excuse that they were at their home ground may have affected it some extent. Of the two reds, Sturridge’s challenge which could have left our player with a broken ankle was arguably the worst… Suarez’s bite was more symbolic rather than the first course of his afternoon tea. What irked me more was how Suarez then pretended that nothing had happened and protested his innocence so vehemently that the referee then seemed to simply not believe Ivanovic’s accusations. I mean come on – when has a player ever bitten another player on a football pitch? Oh, apparently Suarez did while at Ajax....

The fact that neither manager wished to comment on the incidents shows how those who are supposed to be leaders have their hands tied. What are the positive consequences of criticising a player? Our manager perhaps still has too much connection with today’s home side and fears the possible disappearance of belongings in the homes he owns within the vicinity of Anfield should he say something negative.

For the Reds the risk lies in the value of Suarez if it is made clear that the club wish to transfer him for negative reasons. Balotelli is an example – a player one Manchester City fan I spoke to at Wembley last week thought was the best player he had seen in a light blue shirt. He was sold for under £20 million, scored on his debut for Milan and then was caught smoking inside a train toilet! With only a certain amount of wages that a club can deduct for poor behaviour players have the power.

It brought bigger questions about football in general. Once a professional’s career has been established then he is in control. Having personally suffered job turbulence recently I only wished that I could have a four-year contract where even the most ridiculous unprofessional conduct goes relatively unpunished. In most normal careers even serious speeding fines can lead an individual to struggle to find work, let alone keep it. We can all forgive a person making a mistake but when we see continual misconduct what are we supposed to think?

There is a purity that is missing in football and this needs to be addressed. Poor behaviour at the most supposedly respected clubs in Europe does not help. Then FIFA is a body that few look up to when it comes to finding good examples of conduct so where do we begin? It is also hard to type this without feeling hypocritical considering some of the on and off the field antics of some players at the football club that I love. However, in recent years the myopic, partisan nature of my support (at one stage I refused to watch televised matches of any team unless it involved my own club) has diminished when I realise that Chelsea itself is not perfect either on the pitch or the terraces.

There is simply so much at stake these days that players could easily exchange roles and become professional actors. Surely this sport can be seen as a form of art considering we are all allegedly searching for beauty in football? Do we wish to reach a stage where authorities have to step in and take retrospective action on every single bad incident until football returns to being played in the correct spirit? The original team that tried to set such an example, Corinthian Casuals now play in the Isthmian League which is perhaps the best reflection of how football has developed in a world where we are supposed to be advancing as a human race.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Chelsea on the Brink

Finally! We use our squad, give a few of our main players a rest and hey presto – not only have we given our fringe people a chance to shine but come back with a win! Why did you not use this tactic earlier Rafa? Then you would not have to moan about how tired the players are! The downside is that we face Manchester United in the next round of the FA Cup and with morale at such a low I dread to think how we perform. Maybe it is a chance to play our fringe squad at Old Trafford too so that at least we can use that as an excuse should we lose against a side which is only superior to us when it comes to strikers.

Some say we should be happy and grateful for what we have achieved over the past decade but I cannot rest on our laurels – we should be a lot further ahead of our peers than we currently are and mentioned in the same breath as the traditional European giants. In the league it is simply depressing to realise that suddenly we are sharing roughly the same points as Tottenham and Arsenal. On paper (Gareth Bale excluded) the strength of our squad should be putting us well clear of our North London rivals.

There is such a morose atmosphere attending Chelsea matches now. The stands have been hijacked by those who have nothing better to do than direct anger at our club’s management. It was almost comical that Sparta Prague scored in the sixteenth minute just as some Chelsea fans began their minute’s worth of applause for Di Matteo. Although I have not joined in with the anti-Benitez chanting I am firmly becoming disenfranchised with the club and am dreading what my own gut reaction will be when season ticket renewal forms hit my doormat.

The days of simply supporting your club and getting behind your team when the chips are down are firmly gone. Any youngsters attending matches at Stamford Bridge these days must wonder if this is what football matches have always been like! Maybe we have been spoilt but the club does no favours for itself with a lack of a clear strategy when it comes to footballing matters. Do they not realise that if we fail to qualify for the Champions’ League then the Tokyo Chelsea Supporters Association (est. 2012) will cease to exist with fewer lucrative replica shirt sales to follow?

The real fear I have is of losing the considerable talent we have at the end of the season should we finish outside the top four. The club needs a drastic overhaul of policy as soon as humanly possible – I am available and love my club to such an extent that am happy to join the board for free to help!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Brentford 2 Chelsea 2

It has not been easy being a Chelsea fan this season. From such highs to such lows. The truth is that football in general just does not feel as fun as it used to be and not just because of so many failings we have on the pitch. Off it, we yet again appear to be the brunt of hatred and are inconsistent with our battles against it. The vitriol against our manager (although sometimes justified - why did we replace one right back with another when behind today?) is not helping the side. While our fans remain so unenamoured with Rafa it is hard to see us going forward as a club and I fear for our long-term future.

It is maybe because I have such high expectations of my football club that draws against Brentford and losses against the likes of Swansea and QPR hurt the most. Sandwiched in between all this was a win against Arsenal which although just about deserved could easily have ended up as a stalemate.

It was a beautiful winter's day today with the sun shining and a light breeze welcoming me into Brentford. It was almost a rugby-like atmosphere with pubs on every corner of the stadium, no petty chants from the home fans (unlike some of our peers in West London who act like schoolchildren) and to top it all - terracing! I only stood for the first half as the away end in Brentford provides one of the many reasons why so many despise standing - awful views, no facilities and a feeling of dread should an emergency evacuation be required. The seats in the upper tier would only have suited a quadriplegic and the hamburgers tasted like they contained not just horse but dog meat.

The first half performance was fairly woeful. I can forgive a side sometimes not being able to play flowing football due to a poor lower division pitch but there were other reasons to feel ire. The backpass that Turnbull picked up was simply embarrassing. Foul throws here and there. And a tendency for the side to want to pass the ball back and forth in our own half near the front of our penalty area where the pitch was at its worst.

I have rarely sat with such an air of resignation as I have done under Benitez. At least Di Matteo had the benefit of my doubt but when such basic footballing formalities cannot be completed then to me it reflects a more general problem. The two goals we scored were quite sublime but were overshadowed by such negative feeling from Chelsea fans that the chant, "Things are so bad, we miss Avram Grant" even had a following. At least the good old Chelsea humour was there with, "I would rather be a wasp than a Bee" making rounds as a song.

You do feel quite helpless. You wonder if Hazard's reaction to the ballboy time wasting earlier on in the week reflected something deeper - or is it too difficult to read so much into football these days? Sad times.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Chelsea 0 QPR 1

Alarm bells rang yesterday morning when a newspaper article wrote of squad rotation at Chelsea and interviewed our manager. Benitez was quite open to the idea and stated that sometimes players needed to be rested. Five key players did not start (admittedly Cech was absent through injury). To leave Cole, Mata, Hazard and Ramires on the bench was quite baffling. If key players need to rest then they should not be in the squad at all. Peripheral participants should not start in an important league match and instead they should show their worth during forthcoming fixtures in the FA and League Cup.

To be fair we do have a light squad – no Mikel and Romeu does not help and up front Torres has no player to complement or pressure him. Although many lament the boos he receives from some of the crowd it was hardly his fault that Chelsea lost last night. Commentators will however argue that he should have done better when his only one-on-one was blasted straight at the ‘keeper.

We have dropped five points against QPR this season and it is simply not good enough. There were excuses at the away game with politics dominating, but at home last night the first half was one of the worst I have ever witnessed. Some of the shots from outside the box were simply embarrassing with Ivanovic one of the worst offenders.

The feng shui that we had under di Matteo is missing and the way Chelsea appear to be procrastinating on contract negotiations with arguably our greatest ever midfielder in Frank Lampard makes me feel uncomfortable. The Ba signing is baffling when we have Lukaku in reserve although I will not miss Sturridge and his general arrogance. Moses works hard but produces little.

It was a big victory for our rivals who mention our name in almost every song they sing – but Chelsea fans did not rise to the occasion with the atmosphere muted and return banter lacking. It is after games like yesterday that you question what difference Benitez will make compared to di Matteo over the course of the season. Odd player selections, players visibly angry on the pitch (Lampard in particular when substituted) and Marin lucky not to have received a red card in the opening minutes as the QPR player he fouled stood up sportingly and did not roll over five times as our rivals in the World Club Championship Final did.

It is absolutely vital that this club finishes in a Champions League position at the end of the season. Our priority should be the league but last night was the first time where the Spaniard’s experiments truly failed. Something is not right in the heart of the club at the moment and compared to our Manchester peers (who we still have to play away from home this season) we appear much weaker. Even worse, the defeat was mostly met by a passionless shrug of the shoulders and a slow shuffle home.