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.