Tuesday 20 September
André Villas-Boas has complained to Mike Riley, head of the Premier League match officials, about United’s first two goals on Sunday. Both Smalling from the free-kick and Nani before he started his run were clearly offside but the linesman kept his flag down: “I’m very, very unhappy with the poor performance from the referees which had a decisive role in the result, I don’t take it very lightly because it’s on those two first goals, and you expect the linesman to do his job.”
He refuted the idea that Chelsea’s defence was to blame for not marking Smalling: “I don’t agree … Because I cannot lose my time organising my defensive set play for the referee to make a mistake like that. You organise your team to defend the set play, to be coherent, to hold the line, then there is a person who doesn’t do his job. And I think a free-kick is easier to analyse than running play. We didn’t have any problems in set play so far. So it’s not a question of organisation, its not a question of defensive fragilities. It’s a question of a mistake that you pay the penalty for.”
We criticised Ancelotti for keeping his head down on controversial decisions over the last couple of seasons. Ferguson bleats like a stuck goat every time a referee blows against his team and seems to get more decisions in his favour as a result. His obsession with time keeping has certainly given his side a few additional minutes at the end of every game they are trailing. Perhaps, AVB’s behind the scenes discussions will win a little more slack.
Gaël Kakuta got off the mark for the season as Bolton Wanderers beat Villa away in the league cup. The young Frenchman controlled and spun in one movement before burying the chance from the edge of the area.
Wednesday 21 September
Chelsea 0:0 Fulham
(Chelsea win 4-3 on penalties)
We knew what we were getting in the summer, new young manager who had stormed the Portuguese league and lifted the Uefa cup. Nobody said it was going to be a roller coaster …
As breathless match follows breathless match they should think about installing defibrillators in the Matthew Harding. Tonight’s effort by the second string had everything from a penalty that hit the crossbar, injuries, a sending off, to a penalty shootout and a penalty that hit the crossbar the goalline and the crossbar again.
A much changed side saw Josh McEachran, Ryan Bertrand, Oriol Romeu and Romelu Lukaku all give starts as the squad from the weekend was either rested or put on the bench.
The opening stages were a little cagey as the youngsters found their feet but eventually the threaded passes started to find willing runners and Fulham opened up. Sturridge was doing most of the creating setting up Malouda for a half-chance before a simple through ball from McEachran allowed Lukaku to shoulder a defender out of the way before drawing a save from Schwarzer. Between those tow efforts Kalou fired one wide.
The moment of the half came when McEachran exchanged passes with Malouda and toe-poked the return beyond Schwarzer only for Sturridge to make sure from an offside position.
Fulham offered little, they enjoyed much of the ball but just couldn’t threaten. Sturridge had to be replaced by Lampard after a knock on his ankle and Cech was withdrawn for Turnbull during the break.
Frank looked like he was on a mission as he burst into the second-half feeding Kalou who hit the side netting with a shot that looked like it nestled in the corner.
Their penalty was a farce. Alex was caught on the wrong side of his striker but as he dived in he clearly toe-poked the ball away from danger before he made contact. The ref didn’t see it that way and dismissed the Brazilian for a cynical professional tackle. No matter, as Kasami hit the bar.
Josh McEachran was replaced by John Terry after the red card and the incident meant Didier Drogba didn’t get a game.
The game became more difficult for the home side; Lukaku making a few decent runs but it was at the other end the heroes were made. Ross Turnbull showed what a frustrating guy he is after he pulled off a cracking save to deny John Terry a bullet of an own goal he then dropped the resulting corner under no pressure.
Extra-time saw Lukaku limping around with cramp and the nine Chelsea players left holding out of a penalty shoot-out. More mortgages went the way of the bookies as Lampard had the first effort saved but a Turnbull save levelled the miss counts and Brian Ruiz’s last kick for Fulham hit the bar bounced back up and hit the bar again but didn’t cross the line. So scratched heads but we were through.
Positives from the night outweigh the negative. Lukaku looks to have enough in the raw to make a fine signing. Romeu had a few hairy moments but was generally thorough and quick in his passing. Ryan Bertrand we all know the strengths of and he had a cracking chance to win it for us at the death; a worthy understudy to Ashley Cole.
Friday 23 September
Style and results are the priority for our new coach. AVB rejected criticism that he was naïve at Old Trafford repeating that we were the better side and very unlucky.
“The path which I take is more difficult but it is more gratifying – not that you can be so closed-minded to understand that in a club like Chelsea the most important thing is to win trophies … We are putting the attacking path ahead of results but we are trying to reach both targets together. That path is more difficult. We didn’t quite see the fluency of the team earlier in the season, but we are getting better now. It is an approach that benefits English football and its culture of the game. I believe the way you win is as important as winning. Of course there are risks but we are here to take risks in life, no?” Amen.
He also praised Brendan Rodgers approach at Swansea: “It is a difficult path to choose for a team that needs points. He doesn’t leave his philosophy to second place, it is the most important thing. This has immense value to me.”
Saturday 24 September
Chelsea 4:1 Swansea City
Another harum-scaru… well, you know what to expect by now: Torres scored again and got sent off, tut, and we really look title contenders having won the second-half 2-1 with ten-men.
The opening exchanges looked even until Mata spotted a lofted ball for Torres who spun and, for once, actually connected. 1-0.
It got better as Torres picked up the ball deep, fed Ashely Cole who found the on-rushing Ramires who fired between Vorm’s legs. 2-0
The rush of blood to the head that lead to Torres’ red card came from nowhere. He was tight to the near touchline and appeared to slip as he went for a tackle on Mark Gower, the result was a two-footed lunge that completely missed the player but could have cut him in half. The red card was a formality.
That incident was nearly at the break and Swansea fancied it afterwards. But headers and corners just wouldn’t fall their way until Anelka showed them how as he broke unsupported he worked space and his thunderous shot cannoned back of the crossbar.
Anelka in a central role was pulling all the strings feeding Ramires for a shot just wide and Meireles who hit the goalkeeper.
The points were sealed when Bosingwa fed Ramires run and the diminutive Brazilian nipped between two defenders and flummoxed the ’keeper. 3-0.
The mood quietened somewhat after Ashley Williams got his head on a free-kick for 3-1 but Didier sent us all home with a smile when the late substitute turned on Kalou’s pass and thumped home from the edge of the box. 4-1
The papers will be full of Torres but AVB was keen to emphasise the group effort rather than pick out or on any individual. He is clearly learning that any squad rotation will be deemed dropping, shunning or ignoring by the gentlemen of the press. Alex Ferguson rotates, AVB drops. Perhaps when he has been here twenty-years the press might work out that AVB is a very cleaver manager who doesn’t do anything by accident.
The balls in a bag for the Carling cup give us the thrill of Everton away. AVB has promised the kids a chance to continue, so the Toffees represent a pretty stiff test. Aldershot will host Manchester United in the pick of the other ties.
Chelsea youth 3:3 Ipswich Town youth
Another Saturday and another deluge of goals and another prominent mention in despatches for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The schoolboy has made great strides already this term and his goal was our first equaliser. Despite it we trailed 1-2 at the break and needed goals from Lewis Baker, a penalty, and a late won goal gave us a share of the points.
Adi was as up beat as possible afterwards, clearly he didn’t want to dwell on the defensive frailties of his very young side. Oh and Loftus-Cheek chipped a ball over the keeper and onto the cross-bar in the middle of all that…