Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Title Slips Away

It has been a tough couple of weeks to be a Chelsea fan. Not only have we had to deal with the stupid off the field shenanigans of players who should know better, but we have also had the misfortune to lose some of our best performers to injury and be lumbered with a manager who as weeks go by appears to be slowly losing the plot.
After games like today I despair at where this club is going and how it is now paying for the wrong choices it has made in the past. The owner has to take some blame for this. It has also crossed my mind to not renew my season ticket but for every game like the one against Man City today I have the great pleasure to follow my beloved club to the likes of the San Siro so it is a very difficult decision to undertake.
It is easy to be critical of the side and there is many an argument that we should be happy with what we have - a club that (statistically at least) is consistently among the top 4 sides in European football... and solvent compared to poor Portsmouth - but I am not happy. I am selfish because I want us to annihilate all our bastard rivals and  be winning the league every season whether the style of football is pleasing to the eye or not. Where has acquiescing to the anti-Chelsea media lead us? I am sure today was a spectacular match for the neutral but as a Chelsea fan I don't care what non-Chelsea fans think about us as long as we are increasing our haul of trophies.
For a club like Chelsea with the wealth of talent it has to have already lost five games in the league this season is simply unacceptable. How far ahead in the league would we be if Jose Mourinho was in charge of this team?
Manchester City is not a bad side - but we conceded four goals against a team that didn't even play with a striker. Now, Carlo Ancelloti cannot be put to the sword for all our ills. He must be wondering who set fire to his lucky rabbit's foot when not only Ashley Cole, but his understudy Zhirkov suffered injury. This in addition to Essien being out and then losing Cech in the Champions' League! Not only that but we had 27 attempts on/off goal in the game and yet only scored twice. But then I have to ask why he does not want to play Ferreira who has been very successful in the left back slot? Then he could play his beloved 4-4-2 formation with players actually sitting in the positions they favour most... Cole (who was excellent today and incomprehensibly substituted) on the right, Malouda on the left... etc. Maybe this solution is too simple for Carlo? Mikel, having looked like a doppelganger for Gullit in midweek (apart from the scoring goals part!) against Inter made two errors in the game today that lead to both City's first goals. He was unlucky that he was caught against Bellamy (the bane of my life!) in a one-on-one situation as another Chelsea attack fell apart. Up until that point the visitors had only mustered one shot on goal! Hilario was simply woeful and Anelka looked nowhere near as confident as he did a month ago when he was lone striker. Drogba could not hit a barn door. But then Carlo came into his element - he put four strikers on the pitch! Who exactly was he expecting to supply these players with chances to score? With no wingers he left Chelsea horribly exposed at the back as Ivanovic and Malouda were forced to maraud upfield and suddenly Man City looked like the side who were looking to win the league!
I yearn for the days of Mourinho when we would have won a match against the likes of City 2-0, shut up shop and had a balanced side. The irony is that many sides have adopted Mourinho's tactics... the formation we play allows teams to suck Chelsea in and then kill them on the counter attack.
We have ten games left now and if we do win the league it will only be down to the failings of our rivals. I am not now confident of us even finishing in the top two... where did it all go wrong?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Shock! Chelsea undone by another poor ref's decision in the Champions' League...

A fantastic away trip blunted by the result of the match. The San Siro should be the eighth wonder of the world - a stadium that stands out like a giant alien robotic elephant... it was so large that I could not find an appropriate landmark with which to juxtapose its size!
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The city too has many beautiful attractions and having had the man flu I decided to visit as much as possible in the one day I was over there instead of getting obliterated on booze. The highlight for me was visiting the historic and ancient Duomo Cathedral. As I entered the square where nuns and tourists were roaming I could only hear Chelsea fans peacefully singing in the bar opposite this enormous building much to the chagrin of the locals - this is what makes away trips to Europe so great!
The whole experience shows how much better fans are treated on the continent than here. There must have been several dozen refreshment stands all selling booze in the vicinity of the stadium - and you were allowed to drink out of a bottle if you wanted! Not only that, but the standard of food for sale was embarrassingly good compared to the usual fayre of burgers made from the cock of a dog and the arsehole of a rat that are served up in and around Stamford Bridge. There was no trouble that I saw either although the police as usual herded experienced Chelsea fans to and from the stadium like cattle whether they wanted to go with them or not!
Partly due to injuries and perhaps also because of recent underperformance of certain players, Carlo Ancelotti turned to a 4-3-3 formation with some balance and flair in order to leave the San Siro with a positive result. Instead, Chelsea left with an undeserved loss after more shocking refereeing decisions and a distinct lack of clearcut chances on goal.
Sure, you can blind me with statistics but I do not remember many one-on-one situations and it seemed that despite playing the more attractive football Chelsea were generally restricted to chances outside the box... apart from when the generally excellent Kalou was tripped up when through on goal. Referee! If it is not a penalty then book Salomon for diving!
Inter are a poor side - slow and sloppy - but Mourinho was familiar with his choice of tactics: allow Chelsea the ball but in the very final fifth of the park defend, defend, defend. His side had three chances throughout the game but they were all by far the most dangerous moments of the match.
It is tough to be too critical when you outplay the opposition and come away with nothing... the home crowd was silenced on many occasions because of Chelsea's play and you felt the home fans were easily pleased as they applauded any spell their side had in possession. Many Chelsea players were outstanding - Malouda as makeshift left back, Ivanovic as an attacking right back and Mikel as the typical European defensive midfielder... in fact, the weakest players in the team were the English contingent who were not at the races at all and as for Ballack - Chelsea matches are not there for you to increase the amount of miles you have run all season without particularly producing much!
Overall you can't help but feel that if Mourinho was in charge of this Chelsea side then we would have come away with a boring, but useful 1-0 win that would have set us up comfortably for the next leg at the Bridge. As usual, he managed to wind up Carlo Ancelotti enough before the game but was good enough to admit they were fortunate with the win. I cannot wait for Jose to come back to the Bridge for the return leg and if we are defeated then I hope they win the whole competition - something that I doubt will happen because of our reckless leadership and because Inter are simply not that good a side!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Drogba saves Chelsea again

With injuries and illnesses in the squad ahead of the Inter game Ancelotti was forced into some changes before the match at Molineux. Looking at the team selection on a friend's mobile in one of the best pubs I have been to on an away trip, The Great Western (the bar staff actually remember who is next in the queue!) it seemed quite an obvious excuse to get the old 4-4-2 formation out. Joe Cole was obviously going to play on the right, Malouda on the left, Anelka and Drogba up front and Ballack shoring up the midfield with Mikel.
How wrong I was!
Yet again, the Chelsea manager turned tinkerman and played Malouda in some kind of defensive left midfield position, but obviously must have told Joe Cole to play in that area too! The result was that the team played with a disjointed formation that did not allow the play to flow.
One thing that Ancelotti has had more of than many of his predecessors is fortune: he is lucky to have such a world class squad that has a striker in Drogba who can score with the side's only two shots on goal in a game; he is lucky to have the likes of Petr Cech keeping us a clean sheet; he was lucky to have a referee yesterday who made many decisions in Chelsea's favour (Joe Cole's cross was so poor yesterday in the first half that the officials awarded us a corner because they couldn't believe it could not have come off a Wolves player!) Maybe it is this luck that might win us the league as well as having rivals who are not as strong as they used to be and are slipping up too.
So off to Inter this week... having never seen a Chelsea match in Italy it is something that I am very much looking forward to. I still rue the day that Abramovich decided he knew better than Mourinho and rid us of our greatest ever manager. I still wish he was at the club but being a Chelsea fan I am not particularly surprised at how we shoot ourselves in the foot every so often. You can see how Jose has instilled that fighting spirit in a team which is on paper quite average; yesterday they were down to 9 men at half time and still managed to scrape a draw that leaves them eight points clear in Serie A.
So come on Carlo, stop playing these lop-sided team formations or you will just become another Ranieri!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Drogba leads the way but what of Joe Cole

Following my diatribe about how useless Carlo Ancelotti was picking his players it was no surprise that my choice for the right wing, Joe Cole had an incredibly awful game. His most basic passing was woeful and he looked more tired than I was climbing the stairs up to the West Upper following a heavy night on the tiles. Not only was my call bad, but then Kalou came on and had a really decent game scoring a fantastic header - maybe they did this all on purpose having read this blog?
Drogba was simply immense, leading by example - not only did he frighten the bejeezus out of a spirited Cardiff side but came back to tackle in the midfield when other players were left wanting.
It was important to see how Zhirkov did in the absence of Cole and by this showing he is going to have to play a few more games to get in the swing of things.
Annoyingly, the newspapers have got their knives out again... they will be salivating like rabid dogs should Chelsea meet Man City in the next round of the FA Cup although reading some articles today you would have forgotten that they have to play Stoke City away in a replay to get through to the next round first!
Not much else to say - we beat an average side but Wolves this Saturday will be another test. They have beaten Spurs home and away so it is not a game to be take lightly.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Carlo - stop playing two strikers up front away from home!

As has happened before this season, following a fantastic result (albeit not a completely convincing performance) against one of our rivals we lose our next Premier League game away from home.
Chelsea played poorly last night and made uncharacteristic defensive lapses that lead to a deserved win for Everton.
Even though the Toffees are a decent side (I wish we had managed to play them 3 months ago when half their squad was injured – timing, eh?) this is not a club we should be losing to at this stage of the season… and there is only one thing to say – Ancelotti has to stop playing this lop-sided 4-3-3 formation especially away from home. What is even more annoying is that the fluidity we had in the team for the last month or so seems more down to the fact that the manager's hand was forced because of Drogba's absence for the African Cup of Nations rather than from any real lessons learnt about this side.
Despite a good result against Arsenal on Sunday the team never quite looked right and if the Gooners had Drogba up front instead of some 12 year-old boy the result would have been different.
It’s after results like last night that I really begin to pine for Mourinho… under him I feel more certain that we would be more than 1 point clear of Manchester United – and looking at an albeit weak Serie A you can see how he has instilled that winning mentality in his side. All those saying it would be a return to boring football should have a look at how many goals we scored under his tenor… and how many games he lost in his spell in charge of Chelsea… and how many major trophies we won. At this stage we will be lucky to win the FA Cup but I hope I am proved wrong.
Of course it is hard to criticise Ancelotti without sounding fickle when Chelsea have been on such a good run recently… but looking at the teams we have lost to this season in the league certainly does not bear the mark of champions – to lose to the likes of Wigan is simply unacceptable. But Chelsea have arguably the best squad in Europe so why can’t Carlo utilise them properly? We are still top but with these players we should be well clear of the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal who generally have inferior players to ours in almost every position!
Anelka and Drogba together up front will not work in the long run… only one of those can play and even though Joe Cole has been tepid at best this season, he has tended to thrive when playing in his natural position on the right wing with Malouda on the left and a lone striker. Anelka looked dreadfully unhappy last night but to replace him with the useless Kalou beggars belief.
We will probably win our next few games in the league… we have Wolves at Molyneux, Man City at home, Portsmouth away and West ham at home… these are not the games I am worried about – looking at the tail end of the fixture list we will really struggle if we don’t start beating the teams we should beat – or at the very least, not lose to them!