APRIL 2008 REVISITED

By James Edwards
May 6th, 2008

Wednesday 2 April
Fenerbahce 2:1 Chelsea
Does he know what he is doing? A pleasant evening in Turkey was spoilt by a couple of avoidable goals and a few poor substitutions.

We started so well, for the first hour you couldn’t see them making any impression we were simply too strong. A nice night, a big pitch and apparently an intimidating atmosphere, we wouldn’t know because the Crown and Cushion, while actually showing both games, had the sound so low on the Chelsea game we couldn’t really gauge the impact, instead we had to suffer the oohs and ahhs from the Emirates. You did get an idea of what was going on from the umber of Turkish fans straddling the fencing.

We’d created a few strong chances before Malouda’s cross was diverted in by Deivid and we continued in the same vein. Drogba, Ballack, Essien and Lampard all had good chances either hit the woodwork or the keeper.

What went wrong, when it did, was not helped by Grant. Kazim Richards caught us square to equalise with an emphatic finish. Grant’s response was to take Lampard off for John Obi Mikel and in doing so f**ked what had been a finely balanced and dominant team.

Their winner was a real bolt out of the blue, a 30-yard effort from that man Deivid again, that found the only corner of the net Cudicini couldn’t have covered.

For once it isn’t really fair to blame Avram for everything. Playing Essien at right-back is still a mistake, but the dominance we enjoyed was a testament to the style he wants to bring to our play, the goals we conceded were not a direct result of any of his failings.

We can still turn this round next week. Just.

Thursday 3 April
Chelsea youth 1:1 Manchester City youth
We ended up watching this among the Man City fans because it was the quickest way into the ground, so Blue Moons all round. 11,890 souls decided that kick-off was a good time to try to get into the ground, programmes had long since sold out, when we made it through the crush and realised we’d not been in the East stand for about ten years. The lower tiers of the east and west were full before kick-off and the shed and Matthew Harding both filled quickly.

This was a crowd of the disenfranchised at Chelsea, those who cannot afford to come regularly, families and groups of teenagers (just like you used to be) out for a laugh.

Man City looked quick and strong against our more patient approach play. Chelsea bossed possession but the clearer threat came from City. The best player on the pitch was City’s number seven.

On that point the whole evening was marred by some Man City/middleclass suits in front of us, looking up to Avram grant in the director’s box and then mouthing something about a song, killing the Jew to save the village – I didn’t catch it all – then something later about black player – sotto voce. The best players on the pitch were black, foreign or Jewish, but then racism never had the force of logic behind it. Kakuta, and if you read this regularly you’ll know we sing his praises all the time, he is a reserve regular and next time we get to talk to Henk, we’ll ask when he gets first team games, not if. Vladimir Weiss (City’s number 7), who dribbled around the place like Pat Nevin on speed, was their best player by a mile.

There are moves to have points docked automatically from teams when sectarian or offensive songs are sung. It will be more effective by far than simply trying to weed out the few trouble makers. This is our problem as a football club, calling Tottenham yids might have seemed funny when you where a teenager but it simply isn’t anymore. Common decency aside, we are the Jewishest club in England at the moment, live with it. This is not a Palestinian question but one of simple and absurd abuse.

Chelsea announced free tickets for the rescheduled game against Everton. They are working on free travel as well. Who says they don’t give anything back.

Saturday 5 April
Manchester City 0:2 Chelsea
Resting a host of players ahead of Tuesday was a risk but one that paid for Avram today. Having taken a lead we finally finished a team off.

There was much to commend in this performance apart from allowing City back into things in the first-half. But we’ll come to that later.

We looked bright from the start again and scored our now customary early goal. This time Kalou was upended but the ref waived play on, Anelka crossed and Richard Dunne finished emphatically past his own ‘keeper.

So far so good, Anelka had a menacing shot on the break deflected and then Martin Petrov started to make the afternoon his own and we struggled. He an increadible shot from a corner won through Steven Ireland’s chance, only for Cudicini to tip it over the bar – you’d forgotten we used to rate him the best ‘keeper in the world before Cech came, hadn’t you. The period of pressure led to Cole clearing off the line acrobatically after Cudicini flapped.

Thankfully the treat evaporated at half-time and Joe Cole came on to give us width and the ability to hold the ball. Essien and Kalou linked, via a deflection, for the latter to round Hart and increase our lead, after that the home side huffed and puffed but blew nobody’s house in.

The rest of the match was focused on Anelka’s attempts to score against his old club. He strayed off-side half the time, and the rest was unlucky to find Hart in such good form. He broke and appeared to have rounded the City goalkeeper only for a hand to appear and brush the ball away. One of our best moves ended with Anelka heading onto the bar, off the goalkeeper’s back but somehow the ball was scooped away.

The result takes us two behind United, the Match of the Day smug heads looked at the remaining fixtures and said they couldn’t see United losing twice. Ignoring the fact that United have to play Arsenal and Chelsea in their run-in, they don’t have to lose games for us to overhaul them, they need to draw a few. Over to you Gareth Southgate (never thought we’d be saying that). A word to the operator of Man City TV, keep your card games to yourself and your mind on the job.

Reading youth 2:1 Chelsea youth
The youth B team, showing eleven changes from the youth cup final team, could not bring themselves back from two-goals down. Nikki Ahamed scored our goal.

Sunday 6 April
Big Gareth and the boys did us proud with a 2-2 that they could easily have won. We are now three points back but they play Arsenal at home on Sunday week and the Gooners will feel they are still in with a shout.

Roberto Di Matteo is rumoured for a return of some kind. He is taking his coaching badges and starting to crop up here and there, with rumours that Steve Clarke might call it a day in the summer, Roberto could be a good replacement.

Monday 7 April
Petr Cech is not in a good way. Tal Ben-Haim mashed his face accidentally in clash during training and the big Czech Cech needed 50 stitches in a sickeningly deep wound.

Ben Sahar marks scoring for Wednesday at the weekend by extending his loan until the end of the season.

Tuesday 8 April
Chelsea 2:0 Fenerbahce
Through – after an incredibly nervous performance, if the way we were feeling is anything to go by it is no wonder the players looked edgy.

Petr Cech took his seat in the stands sporting his stitches, the surgeon must have been a daemon because from a distance, it didn’t look worse than a shaving nick.

Michael Ballack proved his worth by again giving us he early lead with a simple header from a Lampard corner. It does seem that the big German is the only Blue able to get on the end of corners.

What followed that early goal was a performance of nerves and incompetence. The Turks pressed forward but didn’t manage anything but a misdirected free header in the first-half, our counter attacking did lead to a few chances but time and again the final ball was misdirected, more than once an attacking player with the ball held their hands up in despair at finding a colleague.

The evening took a further dive when Cudicini limped out on 25-minutes. He clearly had a problem before kick-off an the gamble was to see if he could last the ninety, no chance, so Hilario stepped in, as so often before, to save the game; literally with two fine saves as the second-half turned into a war of attrition. Fenerbahce had time and space to construct wave after wave of attack but the defence held them at arms length, until Frank Lampard tapped home from surprisingly good wing play from Essien.

The second goal didn’t settle nerves because one against would lead to extra-time but we made it over the line.

Many underestimated Fenerbahce when the draw was made and while we were clearly the better side overall, we were made to work for it.

The good news from Anfield is that Arsenal contrived to lose to exactly the kind of penalty that is never given against Liverpool and so we’ll have another semi-final with the reds; third time lucky, lightning cannot strike thrice, etc, etc. Bollocks. Was Glenn Hoddle right all along, are we being punished for a collective sin in an earlier life? At least the away leg is first this time, so they will have to contrive to score a non-goal at Stamford Bridge to get through.

Wednesday10 April
We have been granted a dispensation to add Rhys Taylor to our European squad, and possibly to sign a goalkeeper on emergency loan.

Sunday 13 April
Chelsea youth 2:2 Cardiff City youth
Lost a lead again, this time we fell behind, only to claw ourselves to back in, then lead, then get pegged back, in a flurry of goals just before half-time. With most of the regulars preparing for the youth cup final this was a very young side, and the sneering reports about our relative league position compared to money spent on the youth team should recognise that our youth team are often just schoolboys playing out of their age group, and our reserves U17/U18 playing out of theirs.

Manchester United beat Arsenal to move six-points clear, everyone hoping that the Gooners would do us a favour were cheering when they took the lead but a dodgy twice-taken penalty and a free-kick gave United a slightly fortunate win. The only comfort we can draw is that United are not play as well as they can. It is over to us then to win both games this week and keep them honest before our meeting at the Bridge.

Cech might play tomorrow with an additional chin guard. He’ll end up looking like an ice hockey keeper at this rate, which is what he wanted at the beginning of his career.

Monday 14 April
Chelsea 1:1 Wigan Athletic
This lot just don’t sore goals away from home, except when we need a clean sheet. This evening’s performance was just the same as the last few in the league, and while we’ve gotten away with it so far, it was coming.

Avram decided to rest players and lost Frank Lampard to a family illness just before kick-off. He did decide to risk Petr Cech, with two head protectors, which is absurd considering Hilario can do the job and he wasn’t prepared to risk outfield payers.

Joe Cole was on the bench, along side SWP, so with Malouda and Kalou either side of Anelka, we had no width or penetration. Time and again we walked the ball forward, time and again there was no room for a pass. It was woeful, these players should have been fired up for their chance to put pressure on United and walked into a disaster. For all the boredom we did threaten sporadically in the first-half, Anelka’s back header bringing out the best in Chris Kirkland.

Grant sat throughout looking bewildered and failed to notice the need for any changes until, half-time when Joe finally arrived, and the spark was instant, he marauded at will and carved as many chances in the first ten-minutes of the half as we managed in the entire first period. Michael Essien put us ahead from a little of nothing and seems to have taken some advice about his striking, he goes for placement rather than power more often now. We continued to threaten but the sickener when it came took everyone by surprise.

Emile Heskey turned in Jason Koumas’s cross with Cech only able to parry the ball in and the boos that had been welling in every Chelsea heart suddenly erupted. Grant has let us down again. And for all those wise-arses who blame the players, ask yourself if this would have happened to a team managed by Mourinho?

Just as against Spurs, Everton and Villa we’d contrived to throw away the points. For those of you counting at the business end, that is eight points surrendered by a weak and ill-prepared team. Avram Grant will now have to win the European Cup with bells on to earn any affection around here.

Sadly this result will not cost him his job, for some reason we jettisoned Mourinho in search of more flair and a more compliant manager and ended up with a manger that is everything the Israeli media said he would be – Mourinho-lite.

We called for him to be sacked as soon as he took over, and we then gave him a fair crack of the whip and praised him where it was due. But this football club needs a coach qualified to inspire the team not a jobbing manger who is a good dinner guest. You can blame Roman and the board for refusing to spend money on decent players because many of the spare parts they agreed to sign last summer turned out in the reserve match…

Tottenham Hotspur reserves 0:3 Chelsea reserves
While the first team was f**king everything up, Franco Di Santo was whipping in a hat-trick to beat a youthful Spurs side. Paulo Ferreira played his first game for the reserves, with Sidwell and Ben-Haim in the same side you have to ask why we pay their salaries if this is their level.

Di Santos is an altogether better prospect, the second goal was a contender for goal of the season, but with Scott Sinclair and Ben Sahar unable to get into the first team, let alone Stoch and Kakuta, he’ll will have to prove himself over and over again to stand a chance.

Tuesday 15 April
Is Grant deluded as well as incompetent; he spent the day telling the media that it isn’t over yet, that we can still win the title. To which we can only say, in his dreams. The man is just papering over the cracks… Manchester United would have to lose to Blackburn and us and then we’d have to win our last two, away to a resurgent Newcastle and at home to a possibly still fighting Bolton, while United do their Harlem Globetrotters impression, come on Avram it is a insult to all involved.

Wednesday 16 April
Manchester City youth 3:1 Chelsea youth
Still no Youth Cup since 1961, the boys did us proud even if the pub was running a quiz night so we watched with the sound down. 19,805 watched, with sound, in the stadium. An early lead came courtesy of an own-goal, but the power and penetration they showed in the first leg cut us open time and again on the break. Vladimir Weiss was again the centre of everything they did well, he will be a star. Ben Mee equalised from a free-header. Weiss gave them the lead before a stupid penalty awarded as we pressed for an equaliser, finished the pain.

Jacob Mellis was sent off for a late lunge that resulted in the City defender Kieran Tripper (good name for a defender) being carted off with an oxygen mask. He lived. The incident followed a clear foul by their keeper on Adam Phillip but any penalty would have been too little, too late.

Despite losing, the experience of progressing through the competition will stand these lads well. As will the experience of losing cup finals if they progress into Avram Grant’s team. Sorry, an unnecessary dig.

Peter Kenyon’s frequent flier miles went on a trip to Moscow; this time he is announcing a glamorous pre-season tournament – glamorous in a Thomas the Tank Engine kind of way (you have to have small children) – the Russian Railways Cup. Sevilla, AC Milan and hosts Lokomotiv Moscow, will join us to contest the, presumably very heavy trophy between August first and third. At least Roman will be able to pop round to his mates afterwards without the need to fly.

Meanwhile, Tal Ben-Haim has asked for a transfer by saying he knew “nothing good’ would come from Avram Grant’s appointment. Talking to the Sun he said: “Jose Mourinho is the reason I came to Chelsea and if I knew Avram Grant was going to be the coach then I would have signed for another club”.

Thursday 17 April
Everton 0:1 Chelsea

Michael Essien scored his second in a week with a delicate chip and we are back on the heels of United. They have sufficient advantage not to sweat too much about a trip to Blackburn but we still have a chance.

We certainly took this game by the scruff from the outset. Unlike Monday night we attacked from the off with verve and, while the final ball was missing, Everton barely showed. Michael Ballack pulled out with a slight injury, which left the side looking much as it did at the turn of the year.

Until the goal it looked as if Phil Jagielka would keep us out single-handed. Unfortunately for Everton it was Jagielka’s heel that deflected the ball into Essien’s path just before the break.

Ricardo Carvalho returned to the back line and showed immediately what we have missed while he has been out, his tackling was first class and he kept Andy Johnson and Yakubu at arm’s length.

Everton were poor, largely because we didn’t give them the chance to play. In the second-half we couldn’t keep the ball and invited plenty of pressure but a free-kick that sailed just wide was all they had to show.

After the match Avram put on a shamefully sulky performance for the press, who seemed stunned that a manager who had just hauled his team back into contention could be so monosyllabic.

For those of a superstitious nature should look away now. Details of tickets for the European Cup final in Moscow will go be released next week. All the clubs involved have been forced to announce sales before the semi-finals are finished because of the complications involved with granting 45,000 visas in such a short time.

Sunday 20 April
Chelsea youth 2:2 Leicester City youth
The last home game for the youth team and a chance to forget about their disappointment on Wednesday. Goals from Frank Nouble and Gael Kakuta twice pulled us back from a deficit. We could have won it at the end with the last kick but a draw seemed fair.

Monday 21 April
Chelsea reserves 1:1 Aston Villa reserves
Last game of a tiring campaign for the reserves, one in which may of them played both reserves and youth cup games. The shining light at this level at the moment is Franco Di Santo who scored his seventh goal for the club to give us the lead with a few minutes to go, only for a corner routine to provide the visitors with an equaliser.

Meanwhile Roman’s lawyers have been in court today defending a £2bn law suit from his former business partner Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky claims that Roman forced him to sell shares in Sibnef and Rusal at a discount ‘otherwise’. Abramovich’s lawyers described the action as unfounded, or a ‘complete try-on’ in legal jargon, as all the evidence presented was based on verbal testimony. It will be some time before this is resolved.

Tuesday 22 April
Liverpool 1:1 Chelsea
Thank the effing Lord for that, atheists everywhere said a few prayers tonight and John Arne Riise supplied the punch line. Seconds before the end of and insipid 1-0 defeat, Riise managed to head into his own net under no pressure, to give us an ill deserved draw, but a big leg up into the final. It was one hell of a finish, stooping low to apply maximum power and heading it into the roof of the net with his keeper beaten all ends up, classic, he will never score a better one.

It is only the end of the first-leg so we shouldn’t get carried away but Liverpool and all their fans left with the feeling of defeat. Hope your songs keep you warm coppites.

The selection was largely as expected, with Ferrier coming in for Belletti and Malouda starting instead of Kalou. We looked balanced and effective for the first twenty minutes without creating any meaningful chances. Drogba blasted a free-kick into the wall right at the start, and a succession of corners were poorly delivered.

Liverpool started to come into it with some long balls and intelligent link-up play. Dirk Kuyt found himself clear only to bungle his first touch. We should have had a penalty when Drogba was scythed down in the area by Carragher, before Gerrard played Torres in for what looked 1-0 until Cech got his frame in the way.

The warning signs were not heeded, from an absurd free-kick award Liverpool played it down the wing, Terry cleared to Lampard who seemed caught in two minds when a Liverpool player when straight through the back of him and the ball, the chip into the box eluded Makelele’s attempt to clear an Kuyt beat Cech to a ball that should have been his. 1-0.

The second-half was a mess as far as Chelsea were concerned. Liverpool started as if they meant to finish the job and had a host of chances to do it. We only came to life in fits and seemed wedded to pumping the ball up to Drogba, who had long since slipped into his shell.

We actually made progress by playing the ball short and keeping possession. That way, as we worked forward Drogba had support and could use the ball. It didn’t happen often enough.

Avram took Joe Cole off, and while Joe had a poor game, he was lacking support and always being given the ball in impossible situations, the ref didn’t help, Benitez complained afterwards that he gave everything to Chelsea but whenever a Chelsea player had the ball a Red would come crunching into the back of him, we had to give the ball early almost every single time.

Cech saved magnificently from Torres and most notably from a Gerrard drive from the edge of the box, before Kalou on as sub crossed from a throw in and Riise headed us level five-minutes into injury time. Never give up, never give in.

The performance was ropey, to be polite, the selection what you’d expect, the half-time team talk clearly did nothing but we got away with it and Liverpool will have to come to the Bridge next week and score.

Thursday 24 April
Frank Lampard’s mother, Pat, died of pneumonia today. She was only 58. Everyone has been very generous in offering Frank all the time and support he needs. The club opened an official book of condolence online if you want to send your thoughts to Frank and his family.
The youth team lost their final game 4-3 at Portsmouth. Phillip, Mellis and Bruma scored our goals.

Friday 25 April
The new kit is out and it isn’t too bad. If you remember the dread wait for the latest Umbro monstrosity, this is a quite sedate change. Orange goalkeeper’s jersey might be a hint that our new manager will be Dutch. If we have a new manager.

Saturday 26 April
Chelsea 2:1 Manchester United
Where to start – praise for the manager perhaps? This was by far our best performance of the season, we completely dominated the first-half and while our attacking still lacks the final ball, and we let them back into the contest with an outrageous defensive blunder we still prevailed.

We really came out of the blocks and attacked a United side lacking Ronaldo and Tevez. Michael Essien, filling in for the mourning Lampard, found himself in space time and again as he attacked from midfield. Joe Cole burst through the middle only to lose his nerve and the chance was smothered, but a rebound fell nicely for a drive but the angle of post and bar prevented a lead.

We tore through them time and again, with only the wayward threat of Nani on the break we looked impregnable. We were helped by Drogba’s first contribution, as he tried to control the ball he kneed Nemanja Vidic square in the face. The big Ivorian quickly signalled their bench as Vidic crawled on the ground with a tooth through his lower lip. The defensive reshuffle brought Hargreaves on at right-back.

The lead when it came was a delight, Drogba was allowed to turn with the ball and chipped over the defence for the on rushing Ballack to head across the keeper and in. Rapture was a word coined for this moment, JT ran to the bench to collect a shirt with Pat Lampard RIP on the back and for once crowd, team, management and board were all in the same place.

Our attacking had been energetic but our final ball and crossing wayward but the first-half was ours and it was up to United to do something about it.

Unfortunately we did it for them; that we let them back into the game was a fumble, a mistake, a shame. Carvalho had been superb until he tipped a pass straight to Rooney only for the Shrek-a-like to beat both JT and Cech with a superb run and finish. It was the big scouser’s first goal against us. He was immediately substituted with his hands down his shorts.

We lost our way for a little as United gained in confidence but not chances. Ballack and Drogba had an almighty argument about who would take a 75th minute free-kick. A row that continued until Michael Essien crossed and Michael Carrick handled in the area. Ferguson called the decision ‘diabolical’ and sited an earlier tussle between Ronaldo and Ballack, which had looked 50-50 to our unbiased eyes.

Ballack smashed home the penalty for the lead.

United huffed and puffed, clearly getting angrier and angrier. First Cole and then, repaying a big slice of the £30m, Shevchenko cleared United efforts off the line. Before five-minutes of injury time wound down and we were level on points at the top.

The fun hadn’t finished, Rio Ferdinand managed to kick a steward instead of a wall on his way down the tunnel, apologies followed and were accepted. Then United players warming-down got into a fight with ground staff and stewards; are United feeling the pressure, we wait and see.

Two games left and all to play for, we take back what we said earlier in the month about Avram living in dreamland. Our last two fixtures and harder than theirs but it is not impossible now, just unlikely. But how often has something unlikely happened in football.

A word about Michael Ballack; the man has been given a rough ride since he came here, today’s performance was one of outstanding leadership, even when arguing with Drogba he kept his cool and allowed the row the fizzle out. His nerve at taking the penalty and his command of the pitch were extraordinary. We hope that this is the first in a string of command performances.

Finally, it was good to welcome back both Paul Canoville and Tore-Tore Andre Flo.

Monday 28 May
It seems United think one of our ground staff racially abused Patrice Evra before the punch up after Saturday’s game. We wait to see what the FA decide but United officials have distanced themselves from the racism slur. The ground staff deny any insult and say they were just trying to repair the pitch before Wednesday.

Ahead of which Frank Lampard trained on Saturday. You have to question whether his head will be in the right place, but he deserves the chance to prove it is. Unfortunately it means Essien will probably play right-back with all the limitations that implies.

Tuesday 29 April
Manchester United booked their place in the final so we will have to listen to Tyldesley sucking the United c**k all bloody night. To be honest if United didn’t make the final he’d witter on about them. He managed to mention Manchester United more often than he mentioned Valencia in the 2000 final.

Their goal was well taken but again they created very few chances. Unfortunately the lift of reaching the final will strengthen their resolve in the league.

Can we beat them in the final, if we get there? The season is still on.

Wedesday 30 April
Chelsea 3:2 Liverpool
Deep breath. Chelsea have reached the Champions’ League final, the European Cup final in old money. The crowning performance came from Frank Lampard, whose passing nerve and bravery shone through the rain that was constant.

Frank Lampard has never been taken to the hearts of fans outside Stamford Bridge. They call him fat and blame him for England’s failings, but many will have changed their minds tonight, The penalty scored by Lampard came in the eight minute of injury time in a game of suffocating nerves, he could have turned to Ballack – who’d been successful on Saturday – but took the kick himself. His celebration said everything about where his mind is at the moment, he kissed the black arm band worn in memory of his mother. He is truly the heart of this team.

The evening stared brightly, with only one shot for Cech to save and Lampard playing perfect through balls it was only a matter of time. The linesman didn’t think Kalou was off-side and when his shot fell to Drogba there was only one outcome, 1-0.

The half-time team talk has the usual effect of suffocating our rhythm and Liverpool clawed their way aback in, Torres levelling after sloppy defending.

Extra time saw Chelsea back to their fighting best, Essien’s strike was disallowed for offside before the penalty, Drogba lashed in a third and, 30-yard efforts aside, Liverpool looked spent. Overall we were simply better in every area of the pitch. The last few performances have been so good the bookies will think twice about making United clear favourites.

A word about Joe Cole; watching Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Crucible this week brought Joe to mind, you know he can do it but his mind needs to be in the right place. Hopefully he can reignite the spark that has made him our most valuable player in so many games. If he can, with the strength and freshness of the rest of the squad we will win in Moscow.

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