Wednesday 2 December
Blackburn Rovers 3:3 Chelsea
(aet, 2:2 90 minutes. Blackburn win 4-3 on penalties)
Another shoot-out failure and an unnecessary and taxing evening. Gaël Kakuta was the luckless player taking the fifth penalty and Paul Robinson’s save means we are spared the extra two games of a semi-final during the African Cup of Nations.
Topsy-turvy old night this with eight changes to the side from Sunday: Hilario in goal; Belletti, Ferreira, Ivanovic and Zhirkov at the back with Ballack retuning to midfield with Malouda and Deco and Kalou starting up front.
No wonder they played like a team of strangers in the first-half. Blackburn were near full-strength and attacked with unexpected gusto from the first whistle, scoring with only eight minutes on the clock. Belletti was a bit rusty and let their left-back cross for Nikola Kalinic to tap home. 1-0
The first period was open and attacking from both sides but Blackburn had a near monopoly on decent chances.
Our response came eventually but as Ballack hit the side netting with a glorious volley and Joe Cole’s efforts all went wide, we had to wait until Didier Drogba came on at half-time to head home a Malouda cross for the equaliser. 1-1. The goal takes him past Gatling gun Hilsdon in the all time list.
Ancelotti also brought on Kakuta for Deco, Jeffery Bruma for Belletti at half-time in a highly unusual, not to say risky, triple substitution.
Minutes after Drogba did his thing a first-time pass half the length of the pitch blew Blackburn open and Kalou was cool enough to finish, 1-2.
The Blackburn equaliser was a shambles. A deep cross seeming missed by everyone and Hilario watched as it bounced past him and in, Brett Emerton is credited with the goal. 2-2.
Didier had a smash from and unpromising angle but in the build-up Kalou suffered a kick and had to leave the field. With all three subs on ten men had to finish the game.
Extra-time could have started better. Zhirkov stuck out a leg and a grateful Blackburn player went down. Benny McCarthy scored. 3-2.
With only ten-men it was a struggle to get movement going forward however hard everyone worked.
Jeffery Bruma played exceptionally well for one so young but made the simple mistake of giving the ball to a Blackburn striker only for the shot to fly wide.
At 3-2 and just as we thought we could start for home and after news came through that we’d play Villa in the semi-final, Florent Malouda tossed a hopeful free-kick into the box and Paulo Ferreira controlled Robinson’s attempted punch and smashed in from a tight angle: 3-3 and penalty kicks.
McCarthy scored their first and some ventured their mortgage as Ballack strode up to take our first but he hit the post. Didier cheekily chipped his down the middle, Malouda scored Hilario saved one and Zhirkov drew us level. Kakuta stepped up, you have to admire his bottle it is only his second performance, but Robinson was not in the mood to have two go down the middle on the evening and the French youngster’s effort was comfortably saved.
Ancelotti accepted blame for making three substitutions at the same time but while pride may have been dented nobody is pretending the competition is a priority.
Saturday 5 December
Manchester City 2:1 Chelsea
Howard Webb was a disgrace to refereeing today. His performance was so skewed you have to assume that he thought Chelsea were too far ahead in the Premiership and he had decided to even things up; it was larceny.
He penalised every Chelsea tackle (booking 6 for mostly imaginary crimes) while allowing City to hack their way through Chelsea players often from behind, frequently getting the ball by kicking the player out of the way.
After an Emmanuel Adebayor own goal had given us the lead. Webb’s decisions for their goals defy belief. Everyone on the Match of the Day sofa later said “he was trying to get his hands out of the way”, what? Have the laws been changed? Micah Richards handled with his hands up near his chest the ball came from at least ten meters so if he was trying to get his hands out of the way he had plenty of time, and his side scored as a result. Webb cravenly decided that any goal against Chelsea is legitimate. 1-1.
The free-kick he gifted them for their second was equally absurd. Carvalho cleared a high ball with his foot raised and Tevez jumped into him, anywhere else on the pitch in a game between any other teams Webb would have awarded Chelsea a foul for the Argentinean jumping deliberately into their player. Webb saw the opportunity to give City another chance and Tevez duly scored from the free-kick. Cech took a step the wrong way and was beaten quite easily. He was probably distracted by the absurdity of the award. 2-1.
There is an element of psychology to Webb’s performance. If he were officiating at Old Trafford he wouldn’t have dared give either of the decisions because Ferguson would have made an almighty fuss about each and the media would have picked it up and Webb would be demoted to the Championship for incompetence. In contrast Ancelotti meekly said: “’I am surprised because I consider Howard Webb a fantastic ref with experience, but I don’t want to speak more than this because it happened and I want to look forward.” Carlo is being more honourable than Alex would but United get far more decisions as a result.
We did have chances most notably Lampard’s penalty and Drogba’s late stab wide but when a referee is being this absurd it is hard to really compete.
Tuesday 8 December
Chelsea 2:2 Apoel
On the bright side, Gaël Kakuta continues to shine, playing at the tip of the diamond he found passes and angles others wouldn’t have thought of, his pass to Zhirkov to set up the second goal was a beauty to behold. Carlo wasn’t really looking on the bright side, thinking more about the seven (7) goals we have reported on this week he lambasted the team for lacking focus: “That was not a good evening … in the second half we lost intensity, we lost concentration, we played too slowly and were too soft. For that, I’m not happy. I’m unhappy because we have to play the whole 90 minutes with intensity and concentration. It’s not important always about the result, but you have to play your best every game and, tonight, it was not like we want.” He hadn’t finished: “I spoke with the players at the end. It was the poorest we have played under me since I became manager. In the second half, we played badly. I don’t have a problem saying that. The first goal we conceded can happen. The second goal should not. That was a consequence of our own play. We played too softly. We had the possibility to close the game out, but we didn’t play well. Apoel deserved their draw.”
Apoel can feel themselves slightly patronized, they played well, bursting out of the blocks to make John Terry look half-asleep to score after six minutes when Żewłakow tapped in a cross from Kosowski cross. He was offside but then the first goal we’ve conceded since the opening day was always going to need a bit of help.
We pulled ourselves together quite quickly, Malouda crossed for Joe Cole to nod in only for the linesman to flag him off. Zhirkov made a nuisance of himself down the left and started to show some of promise we were, er, promised but we didn’t have to wait long. Essien banged in a cracker after 18 minutes and everything looked rosy when Didier bludgeoned a second a few minutes later from the aforementioned Zhirkov (guy in the pub said he looks like Bobby Tambling and you can see what he means).
Michael Essien went off shortly after Didier’s strike, he appeared to tear a hamstring stretching for the ball and when a player goes off when there has been no contact you worry. Lampard came on the replace him.
For the rest of the half we were bright and lively but didn’t bring many saves from their keeper. In fact Turnbull, on his debut, had to get across to scramble one shot round the post.
John Terry thought he had volleyed us further ahead but was again flagged. It is a shame for John because it would easily be the best goal he ever scored, easily.
Kakuta’s bright night was brought to an end when Fabio Borini replaced him with 20 minutes left.
Ancelotti mood was secured with four minutes to go when Obi John dithered and allowed Mirosavljevic clear to tuck the ball under Turnbull, well ok we didn’t want to spoil his night – that should read nutmegged and on your full debut too.
Saturday 12 December
Chelsea 3:3 Everton
Didier Drogba gave a master-class this afternoon, a master class of the striker’s craft. Power, speed and precision combined in two beautifully taken goals, the only shame was the defence decided to continue their clumsy incompetence to let in three of the stupidest goals you will ever see. No, really, they have been talking all week in interviews about needing to concentrate for 90-minutes and how we mean to build another unbeaten run. Then the minute they step on the pitch they are all over the place. Second fecking attack and they score, free-kick given against Lampard when he clearly won the ball and only brushed the player and you know what is coming next – hoof into the box and the header has only bounced off a post and then in from the back of Petr Cech’s head. (0-1, eight goals in four games)
We didn’t have long to wait for an equaliser; Carvalho did his total football act fed the ball to Lampard and Drogba lashed to equalise at 1-1 before Anelka found a miraculous chipped finish over ’keeper and defenders but under the bar for 2-1.
The interval was nearing and five minutes of injury time played the ball went out for a goal kick only the ref ignored it and gave Everton a throw. Of course we failed to clear and, as the ball bounced up for him from the prone Carvalho, Yakubu bundled in. (2-2, nine in four.)
Ivanovic was having a great game going forward and Drogba smashed in a third from his cross for 3-2 just before the hour. Just after the hour a high ball into our box has Cech coming, staying and going back all at the same time and Didier’s headed clearance ricocheted into the net off the back of Saha’s head. 3-3.
We still had half an hour to turn it round but the belief seemed to be draining Ballack tried a free-kick and Drogba chipped from wide of the penalty box for what would have been goals of the season but Tim Howard was equal to both.
Ballack late shot across goal wasn’t going to trouble the scorers and suddenly we’ve dropped points to three of the most comically unlucky goals you will ever see.
The boos at the end were a touch unnecessary for a team that has worked incredibly hard this season, however, two points dropped at home became one gained when those who stayed in the pub to watch United catch us at the top of the table saw Aston Villa beat them at Old Trafford. A day of such mixed emotions cannot disguise the shambles our once proud defence has become. Portsmouth on Wednesday now looks a must win game.
On Friday Ancelotti said: “I do not need a whip with these players, because I know their professionalism. They have to concentrate in every game and play with the same intensity for 90 minutes,” get out the gimp mask in training Carlo we need to take this to the next level.
Monday 14 December
FA Youth Cup 3rd round
Charlton Athletic youth 1:2 Chelsea youth
Ultimately a comfortable victory for an curious Chelsea youth team Jeffrey Bruma dropped down to play in his third season of youth cup games alongside him in defence was a schoolboy, Daniel Mills Pappoe. Josh McEachran, Conor Clifford (captain for the night), Gokhan Tore, Jacopo Sala and Milan Lalkovic all stepped down from regular reserve football
Jeff opened the scoring on 27 minutes when Milan Lalkovic floated a free-kick into the box and Bruma, towering over everyone else, headed in. Aziz Deen-Conteh playing left-back in Billy Knott’s absence then ran the length of the pitch, beating five or six along the way. It was a move that deserved a goal.
It wasn’t all going Chelsea’s way; Sam Walker returned in goal after a lengthy injury and looked, ahem, nervous to start with but his performance improved after the break.
Marko Mitrovic stabbed home from a Bruma knock down to render Charlton’s injury time reply meaningless. The best that you can say for Charlton is that they competed and have a player with the strangest name, step forward Tamer Tuna. He missed a sitter right at the start.
Dermot Drummy was upbeat about the game describing it as “a real cup tie” meaning he was unhappy about the number of chances we gave them.
Wednesday 16 December
Chelsea 2:1 Portsmouth
Avram Grant received a generous reception on his return but every time we see him we shudder at what might have been. Afterwards he said: “it was touching. I think it was a great year we had here and it is heart-warming to see people respect it. The supporters and people at Chelsea, most of them are very nice, very kind.” “Most of them” because a substantial number booed.
Tonight could have been worse, it might have been colder, or wetter, we could have dropped more points because Portsmouth were very well organised, hard working and adventurous. Both Drogba and Carvalho were missing with Kalou and Alex stepping in.
Michael Ballack almost got us off to a flier with a rasping shot just wide. It seems neither of our senior midfielders is destined to be among the goals this season. Kalou then managed to head the ball over from a foot out. How?
Anelka had an effort turned round the post before, in Carvalho’s absence, Alex decided that a smart run to the byeline was in order and powered into the box to set up Anelka’s sharp shot. 1-0.
The most worrying aspect of the whole game was at the back Terry and Alex seemed to want to play either on the same blade of grass or miles from each other. We’ll put it down to rustiness.
Frederick Piquionne then drew a save form Cech but Chelsea looked more like scoring with an Alex free-kick followed by well blocked or narrowly wide efforts by Lampard and Ashley Cole.
So leading at the break and dominating made the metaphorical half-time Bovril taste sweeter but life at the Bridge isn’t simple anymore and we contrived to concede from another free-kick, this time deflected twice, into Piquionne’s path by a luckless wall. 1-1.
Joe Cole replaced Deco shortly afterwards followed by Malouda for Obi John and, bravely, Borini for Kalou as we looked for a winner.
Thankfully, Marc Wilson upended Ivanovic in the box and Frank remembered how to score, thrashing the penalty down the middle. 2-1.
There was still time for Borini to put his name up in lights but the touch round Begovic took him too wide and his shot across goal just missed.
An ugly win that should have been easier but we stretch back out to a three-point lead and will have to be happy with that. Talking of happy, it is West Ham away next and thankfully no ticket means a warm pub. Cheers.
“I am happy because it was becoming a difficult game … the 15 minutes in the second half after they leveled was not good, we lost our composure, we lost our ideas to play, but then we did a very good reaction, we changed something on the pitch, we put some fresh players on and had a good reaction to the end of the game. We deserved to win and that was the most important thing after four games without victory. That was the first aim.” Amen.
Thursday 17 December
Frank Lampard has been musing on the run of form since Arsenal, he said: “But that’s football, it’s just a patch.” No it is not, Frank, it is a kick in the grass.
Saturday 19 December
Today was a great day to watch Match of the Day without knowing the results but what with freezing Christmas shopping and looking in on relatives we found ourselves at 10.40 (some dancing programme overran) listening to the familiar music unaware of any of the results apart from overhearing some one say “Liverpool did well”.
Man City against Sunderland, a thrilling 4-3 with some great attacking play from both sides meant that Manchester United had a routine win over Fulham because any other result and they would have been on first; wouldn’t they.
So, once we’d digested the sad news that Sparky has been sacked despite the win over Sunderland, it is off to Craven Cottage and as Fulham spurn an early chance you think “if only”. Only for “if only” to come true, Fulham are 1-0, suddenly they are showing the kick-off for the second-half and fifteen seconds later it is 2-0, then 3-0 and you realise that there is not going to be a United fight back and they’ve actually been tonked and you open another bottle of Christmas cheer.
Incidentally, Liverpool did well to only lose by two away to Portsmouth.
Sunday 20 December
West Ham United 1:1 Chelsea
Another glorious opportunity missed. Chelsea failed to destroy a weak West Ham side and we now appear to be stumbling in just the way we did last year. After the start of the season the tactical novelty of our new manager has been found out and teams know how to defend against us and how to exploit the space our attacking creates. We are now in need of plan B.
That said another referee looked to punish every Chelsea misdeed and ignore those who sinned against us. The penalty was the choicest example: Frank Lampard, in an already hostile atmosphere was made to take the kick three times because of players encroaching. Now encroachment is usually ignored by refs, as is the keeper taking a big step and a dive before the ball is kicked so, it is heartening to see a referee apply the actual rules to the penalty kick. The only problem is that the majority encroaching were wearing claret and blue. The ref, perhaps he felt he’d wronged West Ham in the award of a harsh penalty, was try to get the Chelsea vice-captain to fail. He didn’t book any of those who encroached even after he was forced by their actions to make Frank take the kick a third time.
We had created the better chances in the first-half with Frank Lampard thumping effort saved by Green. That chance was quickly followed by our first penalty appeal as Danny Gabbidon scooped the ball clear of Kalou using is forearm.
Scott Parker was man of the match but was lucky to still be on after he hacked Drogba down in the first period before being booked in the second. He smuggled the ball off the goal line from Ivanovic’s header.
Chances were coming but Chelsea were narrow and refusing to use the space they did find to get behind the defence, while West Ham were threatening on the break.
On such break, by Collison drew a clumsy challenge from Ashley Cole and the ref awarded the first penalty of the afternoon. On second and third viewing it is difficult to actually see contact between defender and attacker but it looked nailed on form the ref’s angle. 1-0.
There was still time for Parker’s booking which should have seen them down to ten and for Robert Green to flatten Kalou in the area with no penalty awarded. Many in the warmth of the Pineapple’s public bar decided that the ball had gone but, as always, the rules on penalties do not mention where the ball is just the an offence has taken place.
At the start of the second-half Didier latched onto a monstrous clearance from Cech and volleyed across Green, a la van Basten, but the effort was wide. It was a below par Drogba’s only real contribution.
Daniel Sturridge, a half-time substitute and one of our most influential players was then fouled in the view of the linesman but the tackle was actually fair. We’ve already described the penalty farce so it is enough to say: 1-1.
West Ham thought they should have had a penalty for a shove by Carvalho, by that yardstick John Terry would have a penalty or two in every game for being wrestled to the ground.
Yuri Zhirkov came on and looked a threat down the wing one cross prompting a scrambled clearance. He should stay in the team for Saturday.
Another frustrating night and another chance to pull clear missed. We’ll have to hope that United keep slipping up at this rate.
Secret cash payments scandal, or not, John Terry played today in the knowledge that the thinking man’s Sunday paper, News of the World, fitted him up with fake businessmen asking for a tour of the training ground. Terry though took no money and even if he had were is the harm? He is not selling state secrets to the Russians, just making a few quid on the side, er, for charity.
Leaving Man City along with Mark Hughes are Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kevin Hitchcock. Not a good time of year to be out of work but all three will find a new berth fairly quickly.
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 and 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 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 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.
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
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.
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.