Monday 21 December
Celtic reserves 5:3 Chelsea reserves
A good strong reserve side travelled north and showed a touch of naivety in the most open game you’ll ever see we galloped forward leaving all kinds of space for five Celtic regulars to pick us off.
Hauling back from 5-1 down was an achievement. Connor Clifford put us into the lead before goals from Gael Kakuta and Josh McEachran made things look respectable. Considering that old ladies still pinch his cheek and call him sonny, Josh McEachran is regularly impressing in playing out of his age band.
John Terry’s responsibilities as England captain have been reiterated over the phone by one of the England coaching staff. Chelsea remain relaxed about the whole affair. After all, if someone wants to fit you up they will.
Nana Ofori-Twumasi has extended his loan with the Daggers for another month.
Tuesday 22 December
Nicolas Anelka will be missing for the next two games but Carlo is relaxed about the situation reminding the press that we have Daniel Sturridge waiting in the wings and expressing his confidence that Anelka will be back while Didier is away.
The strike partnership against Fulham could well be Borini and Sturridge because Côte d’Ivoire insist that Drogba report on the very first day of training: December 27th.
John Terry took some time off from being criticised for being greedy to be named in the inaugural Fifa/Fifpro world XI. No, we thought it sounded like a video game too but it is another kind of junket for the blazers. You can judge the quality of the decision making by noticing Steven Gerrard in midfield alongside Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Perhaps Fifa are already nostalgic for the times when Liverpool were competitive.
Saturday 26 December
Birmingham City 0:0 Chelsea
Another frustrating and fruitless afternoon: Birmingham City became the first team since Barcelona at the Camp Nou, eight months ago, to prevent us from scoring. With due deference to an awkward Brum, Barça gave us a few more problems that night.
City didn’t have to work especially hard for their result. Chelsea started with Sturridge with Drogba up front but in Deco’s absence Ancelotti decided that Belletti should start instead of Joe Cole, with Malouda playing at the top of the diamond.
With both Ballack a J. Cole on the bench it looked like an exercise in futility, when your attack is already weakened why pick a lightweight midfield? Surely, it will only make the game harder?
Alex was back and looking rusty in the first minute when he let Cameron Jerome run outside him, but the Birmingham striker couldn’t do anything with the chance.
That was about the scariest moment as Chelsea attack petered out on solid and organised defending our best chance came from corners with a determined Ivanovic getting to the ball to head narrowly over and Alex winning plenty but all of them tame. Daniel Sturridge was working hard and showing some good touches but not linking with Drogba as a partner. The best move of the half saw Ghost Drog™ appear from nowhere to volley over from a cross from Ivanovic.
Then the saves started – Paul Hart has a quiet afternoon until then but when Sturridge shot to the far post he was down swiftly and tucked it round the post. Then Lampard was played through, with everyone expecting a flag he kept his head but Hart turned his shot round point-blank.
Birmingham then thought they’d scored and it would have been typical of our luck if a prone Drogba (he had been punched over by a nervous Cech) had played on the striker. The ref could have stopped the game for treatment but Didier’s reputation is such that he played on. Replays showed that the Ivorian’s foot was playing Benitez onside as he touched in a cross/shot, so the flag was only morally right.
An Alex free-kick then smashed against the crossbar and a goal looked to be coming. Belletti headed straight at Hart and Sturridge met a perfect Drogba cross, right on the break, 0-1 surely, only he directed it wide.
The second period was much like the first – only sporadic threat from Birmingham and Joe Hart keeping them out at the other end. Lampard set up a charging Ashley Cole but the left-back shot instead of squaring and we were still winning free headers in the box. We seemed in control until Lee Bowyer reminded us that there was quality on the other side – getting wide Bowyer had the beating of Cole with some ease.
Cech then gave us all a scare when in turning Sebastian Larsson’s dipping free-kick brilliantly around the post he collided with the woodwork and stayed down. Thankfully, the big Czech custodian was fine to continue.
Then Kalou must score! Played in by a beautifully weighted Belletti pass Kalou breaks behind the defence but Hart again denies him.
Joe Hart cemented his place on the plane to South Africa by charging out to deny Kalou from a sloppy back pass and taking a few studs in his head. The doc stapled the wound back together on the spot and he carried on. We should sign him up.
Malouda was then given the softest sending off of all. His booking in the first-half was for a soft, late, non-malicious tackle and this one was the same. Sliding in on Lee Carsley the Frenchman made the faintest of touches and was off for a second yellow. He misses Fulham. The rest of the match dwindles to a close, as we don’t quite inflict the kind of onslaught you’d expect.
The most worrying aspect of this performance for Carlo Ancelotti will be the general resignation in the player’s body language to not scoring.
Ancelotti said afterwards that it was a better performance than the West Ham game and we did create more chances but conviction and belief are missing just as they were this time last season and Guus Hiddink hasn’t signed anything with the Russian federation just yet.
Sunday 27 December
Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Obi John and Michael Essien should have been on a plain this morning to their various training camps but we have been given permission to play them against Fulham. Somewhere in Surrey Roy Hodgson will be cheering quietly.
Carlo has been digging himself a hole: “I can tell you I will not be buying anybody in January. Absolutely no way. I am willing to pay a forfeit if I do, even to run round the training ground naked in the snow, yes.” He went on to reiterate his faith in those already at the club: “We have a lot of confidence in my strikers; not only Drogba, not only Kalou, not only Anelka, also Sturridge and Borini. I have not asked for new players to my club and Roman Abramovich hasn’t asked me if I need any. In my opinion, I think that we have good solutions internally even when we lose the African players. If you have new players, maybe it’s a problem in February or March, when the others come back and are available. We don’t need them in this moment, to have new players.”
Hands up all the journalists who stopped listening at the words “naked in the snow” and started planning their camera positions.
Monday 28 December
Chelsea 2:1 Fulham
Jose Mourinho returned to the Bridge today to watch seventy-odd minutes of agony, finally relieved by Didier and an own goal. Sloppy at the back but at least we managed to score. The African Cup of Nations might just force Carlo’s hand and stop him from juggling the team around: Ferreira and Zhirkov came in at full-back and with Carvalho replacing Alex that made three changes at the back from Birmingham at a time we are looking for defensive solidity.
Sure enough, four minutes in, Ferreira is out of position as Fulham break, a cross comes in nobody deals with it, well Terry thought Cech coming and Zoltán Gera turned it in acrobatically. 0-1.
In a way the big Hungarian did us a favour because this side needs a kick up the backside and scoring such an early goal made the Cottagers slump into their shell. Instantly, they were defending a few yards deeper and we pushed them back and back for the aforementioned seventy minutes.
The first-half wasn’t the best but still contained efforts from Drogba on the turn and Lampard but Mark Schwarzer was equal to them all. John Paintsil was having an enormous afternoon almost man marking Didier Drogba and making some incredible challenges.
The only other thing to say about the half was how woeful the corner taking was. We hit the first man every single time.
Carvalho started the second-half by chesting the ball into Bobby Zamora’s path, thankfully Cech cleared.
Chelsea spent the rest of the half trying to score, pressing them so deep that at one point as Kalou rolled the ball square across goal virtually both teams were inside the six-yard box.
Finally, after Paintsil had limped off and Ivanovic had replaced Ferreira, the big Serb crossed deep and Didier powered a header home unmarked. 40,000 voices rang out the relief. 1-1
Two-minutes later Kalou, again, cut back from the bye-line Sturridge shot back across and Schwarzer’s save tumbled into the net off Chris Smalling (making his debut, isn’t it always the way). 2-1.
Their was time for a few nerve shredding corners and breaks as Didier and Kalou attempted to make the game safe – Kalou clipping the frame on the turn from eighteen-yards.
The players held a huddle at the end and it appeared that Didier Drogba was leading the team talk and apparently exhorting the team to keep themselves top of the table until he gets back from Angola.
Tuesday 29 December
Michael Mancienne played holding midfield for Wolves as they were taken to bits by Man City last night but Mike McCarthy described his performance as man of the match for Wolves.
Patrick van Aanholt and Jacob Mellis have both returned from loans with Coventry and Southampton respectively. It looks like Patrick is back as first team cover.
Wednesday 30 December
Financial results, already, for the year to June 09 and the headline has to be that we are out of debt, virtually. With the remainder of the loans (£340m) from Roman converted into equity. Bruce Buck effectively admitted this was done with Uefa’s planned restrictions in mind; “The reduction will also enable the club to comply with any regulations on debt levels which are being discussed by the football community.”
The headline losses are £44.4m, down from £65.7m last term, on a reduced turnover of £206.4m down from £213.1m because, they say, the sponsorship deals they have are front-loaded.
Sacking the coach is an expensive annual item; this year Scolari and his three assistants received £12.6m.
If Carlo can remain successful, that will be £12m off the accounts for next season. Most of the capital expenditure is over for now, with Cobham finished and no immediate plans to redevelop the ground. If we are banned for two transfer windows and choose not to buy next month by January 2011 with no signings and no agents to pay we could be the leanest club in the Premiership.
Meanwhile Franco Di Santo will extend his stay at Blackburn until the summer. He is a popular lad up there despite not troubling the scorers.
Carlo is now trying to pretend that he never said he run round the training ground naked if we made a signing in January, he is probably quietly and heartily relieved that Anelka will be available for the Watford game at the weekend and pressure to sign a new striker will ease.
After Arsenal closed the gap at the top to four points with a game in hand at Fratton Park, apparently Arsène Wenger said Chelsea: “will drop points and steadily implode over the remainder of the season.” The French clairvoyant went on to say that he though Ancelotti would be sacked in the summer if not before. Wenger clearly thinks we are tactically one-dimensional and have been found out. Again, the African cup of nations might have come just in time to force the manager’s hand.
Sunday 3 January
Chelsea 5:0 Watford
After a quiet week with little bitching L’Equipe publish an interview with Florent Malouda in which he moans about not playing in the big matches and how Frank Lampard gets picked however well he is playing – Happy New Year Florent.
Ancelotti made plenty of changes for the Hornet’s visit: Hilario started in goal and Alex came in for Carvalho; Belletti, Zhirkov and Malouda came into the midfield. In Anelka’s absence he opted for a Christmas tree formation.
Watford started with five in midfield with the hope of smothering our movement but their plans went out of the window after five minutes when John Terry volleyed a knock-down from a corner and Daniel Sturridge steered the ball in. It was the hyper-confident former Man City man’s first for the club. 1-0.
The second, ten minutes later, was not the most elegant goal ever scored at Stamford Bridge: Malouda’s deep cross was volleyed back by Joe Cole whence it ricocheted off a couple of defenders and Frank Lampard’s arse before settling over the line. John Eustace was credited with the own-goal. 2-0.
Seven minutes further on and Watford were cursing another deflection when Yuri Zhirkov’s flashing volley cannoned off Malouda and, given his current mood, he was always going to claim the goal. 3-0.
Three up inside twenty two minutes gave everyone abundant confidence and one touch football flowed around Watford until their head spun. One in particular could have given Sturridge his second as Terry and Malouda fed him in inside left but he scooped the effort wide.
Watford started the second-half actually getting into our half and won a corner which Hilario gratefully clutched to his chest with his usual string of Ave Marias.
Ashley Cole had a couple of goes and Sturridge racing clear chipped but not high enough and the couldn’t force in from and angle.
The fourth when it came was a reminder of Frank Lampard’s previous best. One touch control and a sumptuous volley into the far top corner. 4-0.
Sturridge showed acute control to bring down Ashley Cole’s cross and tap beyond the ’keeper in one movement. 5-0.
A sixth would not come and it was time to hand some experience round as Nemanja Matić made an appearance for Belletti as did Fabio Borini and Gaël Kakuta.
As a third round encounter this was about as comprehensive as it gets and, while aware of our opponent’s weaknesses, returning to scoring form like this should be the boost the squad needs ahead of the January fixtures.
What makes it even better is confirmation of the rumours that Leeds United had in fact won away against Manchester United.
Our immediate reward is a fourth round trip to Deepdale to play Preston North End. Tie of the round is probably Spurs against Leeds but with Old Trafford hosting no more FA Cup games it frees up the schedule for some of the other clubs to get some screen time.