Monday, 12 May 2014

Cardiff City 1 Chelsea 2

It was time to be rebellious. Yes, mid-life crisis properly took hold and for the first time since my teens I got on a train that was slightly earlier than the one a ticket had been bought for. And I was prepared for the consequences. But even then there was a stroke of luck. The later train that I was to initially have taken was cancelled anyway so my ticket was actually valid! Due to engineering works, there were no direct trains from London to Cardiff. This resulted in a journey that was split into four parts: bus to Richmond, train to Reading, train to Newport and finally a bus to Cardiff.
There were several reasons for wanting to visit Cardiff. It was a stadium to cross off the list (91 to date where I have seen a live game) and there was still an outside chance we could finish in second place. On the way I visited the stadium where Newport County plays its games at the wonderfully named, “Rodney Parade” stadium. Two rugby clubs also share the same turf and the terraces were littered with empty plastic beer cups.
You wonder how many people base their first impressions of a place on what surrounds their city centre and train station. In Newport there were so many pubs closed. The River Usk was surrounded by muddy embankments with the odd shopping trolley thrown in for fun. The small, scenic, ruined Newport castle was picturesque but off limits to visitors. Wind and rain cut my visit short so off to Cardiff. The bus driver of the train replacement service took a less than scenic route via the city’s rubbish works before dumping us by the capital’s train station.
Time to do the anoraky thing and see if anything has been left of Ninian Park. It was a shame that there is a housing estate where the old ground was. Fears of a less than pleasant welcome were unfounded with locals friendly and in philosophical mood. The weather was still woeful with strong wind and rain being felt through four layers of clothing.
The game itself pretty much summarised our season. With no exaggeration, Chelsea had four or five clear-cut chances in the first half to score. Not random shots from 35 yards out but chances well inside the area. It was depressing to see the unpleasant Craig Bellamy score against us albeit with a large deflection. Early on Torres beat the ‘keeper with the goal at his mercy but could still not bury the ball in the back of the net – although the twenty blue balloons that surrounded him probably did not help. Yet again, our number nine left me scratching my head. “One-nil to the Championship,” sang the home fans into half-time while our lot sang songs taking the mick out of the home side’s relegation. That was not the only immature singing we had – perhaps many felt safe to be cocky knowing that a large minority of fans were getting a coach escort back to the Bridge after the game.
The second half was much the same as the first with Chelsea dominating. Schurrle finally came on – a player who is more than solid and for me a stronger choice on the field while Salah is developing. We finally equalised, and then came the winner from Torres. That is when my mood has never turned from happy to angry more fast. And not just because some Scot sitting next to me kept hugging me while getting the words wrong to every Chelsea song sung (“Have you ever seen Gerrard win the European Cup?” is not how it goes you moron). No, the most ire was the fact that Torres could not at least have run up and acknowledged supporters after scoring. Supporters who have given him more than the benefit of the doubt despite his woeful attitude that accompanies such undeniably brilliant skill. Instead, he bowed his head to face the ground and then his teammates to play the "too cool for school" game as he did when scoring against Atletico Madrid. There have been many players who have given far more on the field of play and received far less support.
It was a beautiful, sunny journey home and one reflects on what could have been this season for our club. What if the referee at Aston Villa had not sent off Willian? What if we had beaten West Ham at home? What if we had been better at taking our chances in front of goal? But then there are other questions… would we have beaten Liverpool if we had not lost to Sunderland?
Again, if we had been told of a top three finish in the league and a semi-final place in the European Cup at the beginning of the season we would have taken it. We are well positioned for next season with a solid defence and exciting midfield. Now to train, train and train more on converting the ample chances created during each game. And the good news is that some of our more promising players such as Willian and Matic will be available for European competition.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Chelsea 0 Norwich 0

The first song in a rarely attended local church service on Sunday was, "Lord of the Dance". Surely some kind of lucky omen into the Norwich home game taking place the same day? Perhaps me singing the Chelsea version in my head jinxed us. Ah yes, jinxes and superstitions. As football fans we are a superstitious bunch and it is often that I feel if my beloved side fails to win a match then it is down to me. Was there a game I did not attend and we failed to win? Well - that's my fault. My castrato voice could have been the one that aided Chelsea to obtain those three points. And yesterday us earning a draw instead of a win was down to me.

I was lucky enough on Wednesday night to have met Nemanja Matic. Well, when I say met... having dinner in Chelsea Harbour he happened to walk by. Well, when I say walk by... he actually was strolling 20 feet below the balcony where we were having our prawn sandwiches. Like a pubescent teenager I rushed to the edge of the balcony waving frantically, "Nemanja! Nemanja!". That is when it stopped and I was lost for words. The next sentence would be crucial for both mine and his sake. "You have had a fantastic first touch this season!" He smiled and carried on walking. I sat back down ashamed that I could not have come up with something more inspirational. Since he was ineligible to play against Atletico his next game back was the Norwich home match... and what a woeful game he had. For a man who had been so reliable this season, his touch and loss of possession was worse than a schoolboy's. And it was not his fault... it was mine.

The lack of obtaining three points yesterday was not down to one man though. We hit the post and bar and dominated the bulk of the game. But Norwich played fantastically well and I must admit that I sat in my seat wondering how they did not earn a penalty in the first half. Granted, we seemed to deserve one in the second. But the visitor's performance reminded me that of Crystal Palace earlier on in the season. They played solidly in defence and were unlucky not to make more of their handful of counterattacks. In fact, they nearly beat us at our own game against the more attacking sides. We were probably surprised that they took few risks considering they probably needed a win to stay up.

Not for the first time, Ba caused some seething when yet again a couple of his passes were completely wayward causing me to shout out, "AND YOU WONDER WHY YOU DON'T GET PICKED FIRST CHOICE YOU DONKEY!" It was probably down to crowd contagion from my negativity towards this one player that there were some boos at halftime and fulltime. These fans should simply be ejected.

Although it was a bank holiday weekend it was sad to see how few fans stayed behind to applaud the team off for the final home match of the season. We have not won a trophy but had a good year in the grand scheme of things. It has been one where we really have needed the fans support and without again sounding like a spoilt schoolboy - we have really not had the rub of the green no matter what the media argues. Decisions that have gone against us have cost us 3 points. Pointing to one penalty incident against WBA which ultimately only earned us a point is not balanced.

Our final game of the season is at Cardiff and it is a visit I am making to simply cross another stadium off the list. The atmosphere will be a strange one with the home side relegated and us most probably out of the running by then. Overall it is right to be positive for next season. We have real exciting attacking talent in our midfield with a solid defence. Just for a young Didier Drogba back in the attack!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Chelsea 1 Atletico Madrid 3

There was a telling moment in the first half that summed up last night’s match. Ivanovic was on the right flank. The Atletico Madrid defence was in parallel unison with its midfield. Chelsea, with six defenders on the field was in their half. Our player looked up and saw there were no options. He passed back. Within a few seconds we lost the ball as we were closed down. For all of Chelsea’s effort there was simply no clear way through despite having Hazard and Willian in the side.

Walking to the ground before the game there was that buzz you feel when playing in European competition. Seeing opposition fans in their full colours, singing in the streets and even sunshine. We headed into the ground early having been lucky enough to meet and speak to some of the Chelsea players before the game.

This should have been one of those magical European nights but when the starting line-up was shown on the TV screens around the ground it simply did not make sense. It seemed to permeate onto the stands where the atmosphere was simply woeful. Cole, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Luiz AND Ivanovic? Who was going to play where? The conclusion was that the lack of depth in our squad and the suspensions/injuries/cup tied players meant that we had few other options - which is disgraceful for a club of our stature.

Enough about tactics – Jose knows best. But there was something missing on the pitch as well as on the terraces. Chelsea players could not even complete simple passes to each other. It was almost as if our recent performance against Liverpool had taken too much out of our side. Is the reality that we need to properly have had some negative history against our opposition to rile our side into truly being able to focus?

I have to hold my hands up and say that I underestimated Atletico. Last night they were simply the better side. Yes, if Terry had scored to make it 2-1 then we probably would have gone on to win the game. But their equaliser came from utterly disgraceful defending – ironic considering over half our side were defenders - and also a minute before half time. Their goalkeeper was excellent – maybe we should sign him? In the game of Kabaddi that both sides played there was one that could hold their breath for a lot longer than the other. The visitors were well drilled and I wish them luck in the final.

The European journey has come to an end and it has been an eventful one. For me, four new stadia visited on the continent and the opportunity to witness us playing a couple of very good sides in PSG and Atletico. There is still the outside chance of a cup but it feels like we have used all our jokers this season. The positives are the amount of skill we have in our squad and perhaps it will only be next season that we flourish. We need a new striker and one who celebrates his goals instead of feeling some sort of allegiance to a former club having had so much support from his current employers.

Onto Norwich and Cardiff – let’s hope we remain positive despite last night’s disappointment. Let us focus on the fact that we would have been more than pleased if someone had told us we would reach the semis of the European Cup and finished in the top three of our league with the possibility of winning it too. We still believe in you Jose and Chelsea.