Saturday 2 May
Chelsea 3:1 Fulham
A b-bang to start our latest outing against our nearest and dearest, in fact, many where still digesting the news that Drogba and Anelka were paired together in a 4-4-2 when the combination combined and Anelka scored. 50, or so, seconds into John Terry’s 400th game. Many expected Hiddink to rest players but Cole and Anelka’s return were the only real changes, Ballack and Ivanovic both started on the bench but got a run in the second-half.
The good start was only slightly spoiled by Erik Nevland’s quick equaliser, as the front-two again combined after little more than ten-minutes for Malouda to lash in.
We spent the rest of the half pinging the ball around but an uncertainty and sloppiness started to appear at the back. Nevland isn’t the canniest striker in the world but he found himself with a few good chances before limping off close to the interval.
Didier was in a more direct mood than most of the team and danced clear to bury the ball, only to find a one-eyed linesman’s flag.
It didn’t dent the lad’s ambition, he only had to wait until he’d digested he half-time tea to beat the offside and tuck in a smart shot.
The match really belonged to Anelka, his running and passing were a different class today.
Everyone in the ground saw a glittering display by a confident team on a nice sunny day, Guus saw a defensive shambles: “Today I think we had a good result, we are happy with the result but also I don’t want to shut my eyes for some moments where I was not happy because we let them play and we were sloppy in some positions. That’s what I didn’t like despite the good win”, he wasn’t blaming anyone in particular, “It is not just in one position, it is a sequence of errors mostly. If we are not disciplined, if we are not concentrated we give away chances which we did once or twice”.
Obviously, with Barcelona a few days off, everyone asked if 4-4-2 was a dry run for Wednesday night. Given the chances created by the glittering superstars from the Cottage you can guess the answer: “It gives more options and we do it in practice, but also I wanted to see how it is working in a real game. It is good to see. If you have to play them and you are a central defence, I hope you are worried because they are both strong, they are fast”.
For everyone hoping for a positive outcome on Wednesday, Barcelona cheered everyone up by winning only 6-2 at Real Madrid. Hmm. Samuel Eto’o said afterwards: “Now we have to forget about this win and think about Chelsea, where we must go out with the same desire and with humility.” If they come with power and humility we won’t stand a chance.
Watford youth 2:0 Chelsea youth
Another case of our young side being beaten by older, bigger lads, sometimes football is not fair. We completely dominated possession but couldn’t finish anything off, given that we suspect Brendan Rodgers will be beaming at the result.
Sunday 3 May
Liverpool surprised everyone by beating Newcastle and moving clear of us again, third is looking to be our spot after five seasons in the top two. Birmingham City clinched the last automatic spot in the Premiership next term. Norwich City set of in the other direction. With Southampton and Charlton already down, it makes a clean sweep of former Premiership teams heading for the third division.
Tuesday 5 May
So it will be Manchester United again in the final if we progress, there is nothing like a bit of variety. We seem doomed to play Liverpool, Barcelona and Manchester United over and over again. There is of course the theory that we are living, not in reality but through somebody’s personal nightmare involving those three teams and Chelsea locked in an over-hyped, titanic, European struggle forever. Or the European breakaway league, as it has been dubbed. Perhaps it is the price you pay for taking the blue pill.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Didier was asked to defend last week’s referee, “their complaints are coming from frustration because they didn’t score. I can understand that, but the referee was good for this kind of game. He showed good control. They have tried to put a bit of pressure on the referee for the game at Stamford Bridge”. Which is surely what they intended.
Oddly Tom Henning Øvrebø, the Norwegian ref tomorrow night, once booked five and sent one off in a Barça/Lyon game and they still complained.
Wednesday 6 May
Chelsea 1:1 FC Barcelona
“I can understand fully his reaction, full of emotion, full of adrenalin. People say you should be in control. He was in control. The moment a player is full of emotion and starts hitting, he is going beyond where he should go. I fully understand his behaviour and I will protect that.” Match reports shouldn’t start like this but Guus Hiddink’s defence of Didier Drogba’s behaviour after he returned to the pitch to tell the referee what he though of him, summed up the only possible reaction to this game.
We are not the only team ever to be robbed by a referee, Arsenal lost last year’s quarter-final in dubious circumstances, but Tom Henning Øvrebø gave Barcelona the liberty to defend in their box using their hands, pulling attackers down or pulling them back and tripping them. Uefa should ensure Øvrebø never works in major games again. We would go so far as to ask them to investigate his bank accounts.
Barcelona will play Manchester United in the final that everybody wanted and possibly arranged. Guus didn’t want to call it a conspiracy; “conspiracy is a very tough word and you have to be able to prove it. But when you analyse things closely, then I also start thinking… I cannot say if Uefa would not like another all-English final”.
We had control of this game almost from the start, scoring early through an unstoppable Essien volley, while Barcelona had plenty of possession they offered no threat. In contrast, we found our way behind them frequently and created the clearer chances. Their equaliser was terrible blow in injury time when there was little we could do about it but all of the play was overshadowed by the fraud committed by the referee in defence of Barça’s goal.
The first shout for a penalty came when Malouda took a high ball with exquisite control and wove into the box. He was hauled off his feet inside the area and the referee gave a free-kick outside. Drogba nearly scored from the free-kick. The second was undeniable, Drogba latched onto a through ball and then as he shaped to shoot he was pulled back and then tripped by Eric Abidal. More than a penalty it was a denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity and a straight red. It was evident from that moment that the referee simply was not going to award a penalty. Those arguing against a conspiracy will point to Eric Abidal’s subsequent dismissal as proof of the ref’s honest incompetence. The third penalty shout was clearer still; Anelka flicked a ball to get round Piqué who palmed the ball away from danger. Again denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and another straight red. It was becoming comical and clear that the ref was intent on preventing Chelsea from gaining an advantage. After their equaliser the fourth shout as Ballack’s goal bound strike hit Samuel Eto’o’s arm. The player’s arm was up and prevented the ball reaching the target, another penalty. Ballack chased the ref half the length of the pitch shouting in his ear. The ref booked him.
Didier will be in trouble for shouting; “Are you watching this? It’s a disgrace. It’s a fucking disgrace”. But if the hypocrites at Uefa impose a ban on him for that they’ll have to ban half the crowd as well. Didier was only expressing what everyone thought.
JT swallowed his disappointment and visited the Barcelona dressing room to shake hands and offer his congratulations. He is a bigger man than many of us.
Thursday 7 May
The referee has apparently admitted “significant mistakes” in the game last night. Fat lot of good it will do us now. There will be Uefa bans for Ballack and Drogba but details will follow later after, as they said, “we will see the report from the referee and match delegate before deciding whether to take any action or not”, that is hardly likely to be the most impartial document they could consult. The Uefa spokesman added, “we never comment on the performance of the referee,” largely because it was indefensible.
Tom Henning Øvrebø was smuggled out of the country this morning by police who were clearly overreacting. There have been the usual death threat stories but they have never come to anything in the past and nothing has ever been proved against a Chelsea fan.
Øvrebø has been forbidden to talk to the press by Uefa, who have publicly branded conspiracy theories a “load of crap”. So we sent an email asking them to publish all of their correspondence with the Norwegian ref, you know, to clear themselves.
Meanwhile Jose Bosingwa, who had a good game yesterday, has retracted his statement to Portuguese television: “”I don’t know if he’s a referee or a thief”. Can’t think why he would retract that.
Paddy Power have done their bit: “the refereeing in tonight’s match was disgraceful and we’re not going to let our punters suffer because of that nonsense. Anyone who backed Chelsea to win in 90 minutes or to qualify for the Champions League final will get their money back”. That is as close as you’ll get to the result being overturned.
The Catalan press have reacted with obvious delight but in declaring “The prize went to the team that played the best football … they were about to get away with it but that would have been unfair. Football defeated anti-football”, they must have been watching a different game. Some of our movement in last night’s game was so good Barcelona had to resort to fouls to stop us, in contrast Barça, the magnificent attacking force, managed one shot.
Sadly, towards evening Didier Drogba issued an apology. “In the heat of the moment I let out my huge frustration and disappointment. For that, I apologise”, read his official statement but really he has nothing to apologise for.
Friday 8 May
Guus has had it all in his eleven weeks as Chelsea manager, victory in a semi against local rivals, vital wins on the road that keep our title dreams alive, tame home draws that blow them out of the water and now elimination from the Champions’ League by a bent ref. He said today: “I’ve enjoyed working with this team. The players here aren’t just enjoying a good life, putting their feet up in luxury. They want to perform at a big club. That makes it very enjoyable and difficult to leave. I feel as if I’ve been intrinsically involved with this club. I could have come here and just gone through the motions, done a daily routine, for three months. But that’s not the way I like to work. OK, sure, you don’t feel as if you’re a part of things on day one but I had that after a week here. In the end, though, we part. That’s just how it is. Let’s not be too dramatic. That’s life.”
He suggested that Didier Drogba will not be fined by the club, revealing that he didn’t think internal discipline would alter Uefa’s punishment. And possibly because nobody thinks Didier did anything particularly wrong.
Amid the growing palaver, Michael Ballack has been awarded a new contract, a one-year deal with options. It is strange to think the big German lunk has been at the Bridge for three-years now and scored twenty goals.
Sunday 10 May
Arsenal 1:4 Chelsea
After the Lord Mayor’s show, lovely summer weather, a thumping score but nobody had the motivation or energy for this game. It started as a certain rout, turned into an emphatic win, then veered back to being two-points lost, before being sealed on the break.
Arsenal started with penetration and slick passing while we strove to wake up tired limbs and minds. Theo Walcott broke through after a flurry of passes and only a few seconds lashed the first of a half dozen chances wide. In fact the first twenty-minutes followed the pattern set in those first twenty-seconds: Cech saved from Van Persie, Diaby scuffed a shot wide, Fábregas’ was blocked etc, each chance punctuated by a clear chance for Walcott which would fly wide. Until we went down the other end and scored. Malouda had an effort blocked wide after a good flowing move before Drogba was fouled (yes, Arsene, he had his foot trodden on and yes, it was sweeter for Cesc Fábregas booking for suggesting that Drogba dived), Didier took the kick himself and Alex powered a header in off the underside of the bar. Arsenal’s confidence went pop in that very moment and from then they couldn’t live with us.
Anelka had the time and space to lash in a thirty-yard shot for 2-0 as we dominated the last 15-minutes of the half.
Any hope Arsenal had of acting on Wenger’s half-time instructions burst when another scything move put Ashley Cole free on the left and Toure bundled the cross into his own net as Didier waited. Arsenal had their moments but left their reply until too late: Bendtner (this time with his trousers up) scored with twenty-minutes to go. A scramble in the penalty area produced a smart point-blank save from Cech before Adebayor tried a dive over the Czech ‘keeper. His folly was punished as Chelsea flooded forward and Malouda tapped home from an apparent offside position after Anelka’s shot rebounded from the post.
Wenger described this as the third place play-off for the Champion’s league for many it simply served as a reminder as to how easy Manchester United’s path to the final was. Perhaps, if Uefa stop rigging things next season we’ll be given an even break.