Saturday, 26 December 2015

Chelsea 2 Watford 2

It felt the same as the last time Mourinho was jettisoned from my beloved club. Personal anger in the immediate aftermath turned to a laissez-faire attitude towards matters on the pitch - especially with Avram Grant appointed as his successor. This time, I questioned my way of thinking - was my loyalty to Jose blurring my allegiances towards my club? This time we faced a fight to stave off relegation rather than a place in Europe. It certainly felt blurred against Inter when he was boss. When the Milan side knocked us out I was neither disappointed nor saddened – the final whistle was greeted with a shrugging of my shoulders and a wry smile in the knowledge that he would at some stage have come back to haunt us.

The booing that greeted some of our players last week was absent. It may have been down to conspiracy theories of who was to blame for Jose's sacking - but really it was more letting certain players know how disgusting their performances have been perceived this season.

The match began well. Yet again, for the first fifteen minutes we created numerous chances to score which we again did not take advantage of. As our momentum waned, Watford (who were excellent) grew in confidence and exposed our shaky back four which again failed to work in unison to work the offside trap (no names Ivanovic). Before Costa's brilliant instinctive whack into the roof of the net from a set-piece, Watford's Ighalo should have helped his side take the lead when he snatched at a shot - not realising how much time he had on his hands when we had played him onside.

What should not have been forgotten was that the lead up to the equaliser came from a needless foul outside the box. This turned into a corner being conceded from the resulting free-kick. The stupid handball from Matic complemented the whole episode and Guus needs to stamp out some of the idiotic decision-making from our players that results in unnecessary risks being taken in dangerous places on the pitch.

The second half brought an important change. Mikel's introduction to support the shaky back four made a world of difference and allowed Matic to probe further forward. But just as we were on the up, Watford took advantage of silly play from Pedro who decided to cross the ball from the left-back position straight out of play onto the right side of the pitch (is it not basic training to avoid doing this?) Our defenders were annoyingly asleep and although Ighalo's goal was assisted by a lucky deflection, they had no right to be even close to our penalty area as we had needlessly lost possession in the build-up.

We only kick-started into life after going behind to this goal. The sense of urgency and importance of this game was made clear by the fans who generously got behind the team while I crossed my arms in frustration at the stupidity of the goals we had conceded. But we started to play brilliantly. It even naturally stirred me into life. When the equaliser came, there is no shame in admitting that tears welled up in my eyes. This goal brought out the same emotion in me as an equaliser against the Manchester United of old did when I was a child. The manner of the build-up play and finally seeing a sense of urgency from my team touched me. It proved to me that the side does have what it takes to climb back up the table.

We could not end the game perfectly. The emergence of such nonchalance from Oscar who suddenly believes he is Messi since his nemesis Mourinho's departure annoys immensely. This was typified last week with the rabona he carried out that went to noone. This week he was nearly caught in possession when Watford had five in attack against three and he was fortunate to win a free-kick. He is someone who hopefully will lose his place until he realises that guitar solos are so passé. That penalty would have kept us out of reach of the bottom three for at least a week. He should have passed the responsibility to Costa who at least could have faced his boo-boys with a hat-trick.

This has been the strangest of seasons. It is difficult to know if the large points tally of weaker teams is them catching up with their peers or whether the more successful sides are ailing. The maths, though does not lie. We are still two points off a relegation place. A loss today would have been too much to bear. We can look forward to Manchester United and Crystal Palace knowing we have the capacity to earn points as long as we can iron out stupid mistakes. Please rise back up, Chelsea.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Chelsea 3 Sunderland 1

Clever timing. Wait to sack Jose until either Chelsea is knocked out of the European Cup to his former club Porto or we lose to ex-manager Claudio Ranieri's Leicester City side. Then 'easy' home games against Sunderland and Watford follow which should provide a buffer to let the booboys’ feelings cool off. Technical Director Emenalo (whose CV includes Enugu Rangers and Lleida – no, me neither) then exonerates players from any blame for bad displays in the knowledge that it is unheard of to sack those who underperform on the pitch. If Chelsea lose their next game then you can blame it on Mourinho’s legacy.

Walking from West Brompton before the game to suck in the atmosphere was a choice well-made. Chants of “Jose Mourinho” were already emanating from the direction of the ground at 2pm. Before kick-off as the players warmed up there was no hint of what was to come. It was only as players’ names were read out that fans let rip. You could not disagree with which players they voiced their displeasure with the most. Ivanovic – a normally solid stalwart who has had his worst season to date; Oscar – a lightweight midfielder who rarely makes any impact and is deservedly a squad player; Fabregas – whose clumsiness on the field is almost comical this year; and finally Costa – who returned from holiday overweight and whose attitude has stunk. Hazard was lucky to have been injured.

Some of the grievances have been based on hearsay and in the modern litigious environment it is unlikely that we will ever find out what really happened – whether it relates to which players leaked information to the press or bedroom antics between staff. Players know that telling the truth will not serve them well.

One of those who was targeted from the terraces – Oscar – had the game of his life. This annoyed. Was it because Hazard was missing that he chose his time to shine? His cockiness on the field was in marked contrast to his last home performance where he slipped every time he changed direction. Costa did not have any fights for once either. Fabregas only made one error. Ivanovic actually crossed the ball to create a goal. Is the message from the terraces working? Sunderland were woeful in contrast and parked the bus in the first half. In the second half, however they exposed our leaky defence and should have easily scored at least another goal.

The split between the most vociferous, well-known, individual fans who speak to the media seems clear. Those who back the board and players against those who believe footballing matters should be left to the direction of coaches such as Jose. The former group argues that we should move on and that no manager is bigger than the club. They seem to forget that no Chelsea player or member of the administrative hierarchy is either.

Manchester United v Chelsea is coming up. LVG is on the brink of losing his job. One dreads to think what happens if Jose joins the Old Trafford club before that game and Chelsea loses. Guardiola seems the most obvious choice for next full-time manager. Someone who is media-friendly and described as a genius despite only working at football clubs that already have a world-class first XI who even Scolari could win trophies with.

There was no other alternative than for Jose to leave. Not because it was the best option. But because it was the easiest. The majority of fans are more vexed with the players than Mourinho. His CV says it all. Especially when compared to those who direct the footballing side of our club.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Jose’s Exit - A Season Ticket Holder's View

To see Mourinho understandably leave for a second time and know that realistically he will never return is a hard moment to endure – arguably the hardest since attending my first Chelsea match in the late 1980s – especially with Chelsea having hit the peak of its success. I respect his determination and ambition. When watching Chelsea abroad, whether by accident or design I have made pilgrimages to clubs where he plied his trade. Belenenses is one - a club whose stadium has an unroofed stand which allows spectators a beautiful view over Lisbon harbour. There he failed to make it as a professional as his father did but had the drive and ambition to become a coach instead. Porto – where he has a statue commemorating how this historic club somehow won the European Cup under his tenure and is now hidden in relative obscurity. Inter Milan, where he outfoxed the big guns and won a treble. A club that ever since has crept back into its shell. This, before taking the reins at Real Madrid where player power killed him.

Whereas others build on their success by bolstering their squad, we appear to pray that our first team remains injury-free. Flashbacks to 2007 when we had to play Joe Cole up front during our Community Shield match as our main strikers were injured and our manager’s “class one, two or class three eggs” diatribe that most probably irked the owner. Then the match against Rosenborg in a barely half-full stadium with Drogba and Lampard missing, injured with only the hapless (if likeable) Shevchenko to rely upon up front.

Today, we are missing leaders in key areas of the pitch. Whereas we had a decent spine before – Drogba, Lampard, JT and Cech who you felt would fight when the going got tough – you now only have JT to rely upon who is not even guaranteed a start as he ages. Costa and Ivanovic are fighters but only in the most immature of senses. When we have to buy squad players from Barcelona you wonder why they let them leave without a fight? Players who we have let go have rarely prospered.

The most irksome aspect is seeing the majority of those players who walked the league last season and should have proceeded to the next round of the Champions League against PSG performing so badly this season. The mistakes they have made on the pitch – from Fabregas not being able to pass the ball to a fellow player to Costa missing easy chances in front of goal – are not down to tactics but individual reliability. Chelsea has somewhat naively not tried to lay the blame on the 1st XI. But the club knows it is easier to rid the club of its manager than players who cannot be sacked because financially it makes no sense when you can lose a potential transfer fee. The sooner we have performance related pay making up at least half of an individual’s wages the better.

I have to trust the manager to run the squad. It would annoy me to hear outsiders tell me how to do a job that I started nearly forty years ago. Compare Jose’s CV to Emenalo’s who somehow is our technical director. Can you really trust those in the higher echelons of power at the club we love?

Jose Mourinho was the person who I could trust and always assumed a method to his madness as it brought results. Psychologists admire him. When the team failed, he managed to divert the attention elsewhere. The physio incident was one that admittedly backfired. He was correct, however to note how many decisions have been ruled against Chelsea Football Club compared to our peers. How could Mourinho be fined for criticising referees while his peers be left unpunished for similar remarks for instance? Against Bournemouth, however one had to properly question his judgement for the first time when players who had underperformed more often than not were still selected in the side. Then you looked at the bench and wondered who he could play instead – there was a complete lack of quality.

There have been theories that players have deliberately underperformed to aid a speedier exit of the manager. If this is the case then their careers will be forever tainted. Can there also really be players in the squad who leak what is going on in our club from personality clashes down to formations externally? There has been a minority of fans who have been vexed at his diatribes against our support… and yet during our worst run in modern memory Stamford Bridge has never been more vociferous in its support for Mourinho when eight years ago it booed the team off when we drew against Rosenborg. Fans can see that the circumstances surrounding the manager are not normal.

The timing of our club’s demise could not have been in more typical Chelsea style. A season where we formally announced our plans for a new stadium which we are unlikely to fill at the current rate. Was this why we spent so little in the transfer market or was it a spiteful way of testing our cocksure manager’s ability?

It has also been a season where the hardcore fans who follow Chelsea in Europe have had to pick up their tickets from random venues in the country we visit adding stress to what is already an unhappy experience because of the way we are treated. One where players fail to acknowledge blind and faithful support after ninety minutes. A time when relations with those on the terraces are at the lowest they have been for a while as we seek the tourist Dollar. A season when FIFA has formally been found out and a club ambassador who we were so proud to be associated with in Sebastian Coe embarrassed.

We are most likely to look for such an ambassador to take charge of the club. Guardiola would seem to be the most obvious choice when his contract ends at Bayern this season so that we have an acceptable face for the media. But which manager would have the strength to take over a side that is more likely to be relegated than finish in a European place? We will still be here but at times such as this the relationship between the club and its real fans are the most stretched they have been in modern memory.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Chelsea 2 Porto 0

The Bournemouth match nearly broke me. The side needed to return to the pitch as soon as possible after the disgraceful home performance on Saturday. There is only so much goodwill one can have for a squad no matter how much you love your club. For the first time I was prepared to sit with my arms crossed and wait for the team to trigger my enthusiasm rather than oblige them with my blind allegiance.

Dropping Fabregas was long overdue. Leaving out Dave over the weekend seemed a harsh decision – but one would expect Baba Rahman to have filled the void. He did not. Dropping him was no shock. The squad needed respected leadership in the side that JT brought too. The team appeared more balanced.

Porto began well. It is an obviously skilful side. But being able to do keepy-uppies and clever flicks does not a team make. Hazard and Willian gave the best example of how possessing magical talent leads to concrete results and they were on fire yesterday. When Willian scored it brought tears to my eyes – these are the kind of goals that make our team special. Matic was imperious and easily man-of-the-match. He intercepted ball after ball which seemed to stick to his boots time after time - he was in the right place at the right time and was the conductor of most of our attacks. Having Ramires accepting his more defensive role helped Matic too and he did not shirk his duties. Oscar again annoyed as he was brushed off the ball and fell over as if he was not wearing studs far too often.

For his lack of subtlety, Zouma was imperious in defence alongside warhorse JT. Yes, it is obvious that our captain has lost some pace. But yesterday’s brave decision to have him on from the start gave the side a credible leader during a period of duress. Ivanovic finally had a good game.

Finally, we turn to Chelsea’s nemesis – Diego. The pattern is pretty clear. We can forgive him his trespasses when we are playing well, but not when we fail. He was his usual stupid self yesterday. Falling over when barely touched in promising positions; stupidly fouling Casillas which could have led to a red; straying needlessly offside on many occasions; and finally the gravest off sins for a striker – not scoring. But would you have confidence in any other striker in our squad up front? Unfortunately the answer is “no”.

Porto fans seemed to turn on their manager during the second half – pathetically waving their white hankies in ire at some substitutions made. Watching their behaviour reminded me how futile it is to publicly turn against your club. There is no upside.

The weight of some of our passing really impressed… in particular when attacking. We did not always go for the obvious through-ball and played our best football this season. The question is… why did this only happen now? Where has this been this calendar year? Were we playing deliberately badly to fool our opponents into a false sense of security?

Well done the lads for not only getting through to the next round but also finishing top of the group. That performance has restored my faith in the side just as my support had almost turned to apathy.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Chelsea 0 Bournemouth 1

The top story in tomorrow's 'papers should have been Man City dropping three points so embarrassingly to a Stoke side Chelsea had been so chastised for losing to earlier on this season. Man Utd's boring 0-0 draw should have earnt the second highest scathing reviews, just as Chelsea did when we were rebuked for being boring. Instead, my beloved club will be top of the pile again for deservedly failing to even gain a point against a side which has fewer home fans than we used to take to aways.

Jose continues to pick players who play consistently poorly. The last few kicks of both the first and second halves exemplified two of our worst performers in Fabregas (who bizarrely chose a through ball that went straight out for a goal kick when he was in the six yard box) and Ivanovic (an attempt at a shot from 40 yards out towards the end of the match which nearly hit the corner flag). We understand that players have to be given a chance - we are not thick - and sometimes a player has the odd bad match but come on Jose... you have nothing to lose now so drop these guys.

In the box we are utterly clueless. Rahman. What the f**k are you doing in my Chelsea squad? That thing on the end of your leg is a foot. That thing on the end of your teammates' necks is called a head. Programme your brain so that your foot understands that the ball has to lift more than one centimetre off the ground in order to connect with a player's forehead - even if you have the misfortune to only have players who are 5 foot 8 to aim for. Or even worse, diddymen like Oscar who appear to have never gone down the gym apart from using the sauna. What have our scouts been paid to get such utter drivel into our squad? This isn’t strengthening it – we have become weaker!

Jose. When it comes to your training sessions please could you include the following drills:

1. The person who tries to stop a goal is called a "goalkeeper". He is allowed to catch the ball with his hands. I know this rule is unfair. But in order to stop this from happening instruct your players to try and stand in front of the aforementioned player (he usually wears number 1 and has a different coloured shirt which should make him easy to spot) when taking set pieces. This will make it more difficult for him to catch the ball and more likely for us to score a goal.

2. When spending all that energy trying to score, please instruct your attackers to understand that sometimes the ball may go to what we in England call the “near post". Please tell one of your attackers to take a gamble and towards this "near post" area and try to score.

3. If the ball is actually crossed more than 1cm above the ground it has a better chance of reaching an area in England we call the “far post". Please tell another attacker to run towards this area - and preferably one who has some height in order to do what we in England call "scoring a goal".

4. We have a rule in England (used by many nations) called "offside". If many players are in an offside position and the ball is kicked in their direction, the referee will stop the game and award a free-kick to the opposition. Please could they practice running back from these "offside" positions as quickly as their petite arses can go so that we can try to "score a goal".

This was supposed to be our easy run. Our players appear to be treating it as their easy run too. It felt such a drab performance that for the first time this season I could have snoozed the first half away. It was more exciting watching the stewards in the Shed Upper trying to stop a supporter from creating some atmosphere by blowing his trumpet (glad to see they have their priorities) than the actual match.

Leicester away is coming up and looks a daunting prospect. This season's league performances could not have come at a worse time... just when our peers are performing woefully too. We have the talent in the squad. Many who have this talent have not shown it this season. It is time to give others a chance. If we go out of the European Cup this season, it is unfortunate that for the first time ever I will call for our manager to go... having been in tears when he was fired the first time. Because if he cannot see the obvious problems in our play and players who should be left in the stands (and not even deserve a place on the bench) then he should not be our manager.