Monday 28 March
England U21 1:2 Iceland U21
Stuart Pearce will demand more from his U21 squad than this damp squib. Jack Cork and Josh McEachran played from the start and dominated midfield early on but a weak second-half, after Cork had gone off with palpitations that left him in hospital apparently suffering a virus, saw the visitors win quite easily. Elsewhere, young Matej Delac playing in goal for Croatia’s U21 for the second time this week in a 3-2 win over Hungary. Nat Chalobah has been enjoying success with the England U17 team in Belgium, skippering the side to a 2-1 win over the hosts. They play Spain in the final on Thursday.
Tuesday 29 March
England 1-1 Ghana
Ghana can come and play anytime they like. No Chelsea players on either side made for a relaxing game. Capello has seen the light with formations and used his latest captain, Gareth Barry, to shield his defence and Ashley Young to do all the running. A goal for Liverpool new boy Andy Carroll put us ahead before the break but the ever willing Ghanaians equalised with the last kick through Sunderland’s Asamoah Gyan. If ever we are looking for a replacement for Didier Drogba this boy would fit the bill.
Jack Cork left hospital after yesterday’s palpitations and will be assessed by the Chelsea medical staff but should be fit for the weekend.
Yossi Benayoun played 20 minutes for Israel and helped them to overcome Georgia. His first action since his Autumn hamstring tear. Petr Cech’s Czechs won at home to Liechtenstein and Branislav Ivanovic played all of Serbia’s 1-1 draw with Estonia.
Fernando warmed the bench as Spain came from behind to beat Lithuania, Florent Malouda started France’s game with Croatia while Yuri Zhirkov played the smuggest friendly of the week as Russia travelled to Qatar to smugly share a 1-1. Bastards.
Friday 1 April
Oh dear, both Carlo Ancelotti and David Luiz received Barclays awards as manager and player of the month. The awards were well merited but are usually an albatross for the team in their next match.
Saturday 2 April
Stoke City 1:1 Chelsea
So that is that then no back-to-back titles but still a shot at Europe. Lose that to Manchester United and we’ll have nothing much to play for until May. Grumbling aside this was the kind of end-to-end match we have come to expect; whatever 4-4-2 does for Chelsea going forward, the lack of numbers in midfield makes us easy to open up and leads to flowing football.
It could have been a worse start. David Luiz, freshly crowned Barclays player of the month stood and watched as Jonathan Walters nipped past him as if he wasn’t there, Terry then failed to close him down and Cech was beaten at his near post. Eight minutes on the clock 1-0.
When we say could be worse, Robert Huth headed over before the goal when scoring would have been easier.
The response from Chelsea was immediate as Ashley Cole sneaked into the box to plant his diving header just too close to Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal.
Nicolas Anelka was unlucky when Lampard’s shot was palmed into his path by the ‘keeper but the ball got stuck under the Frenchman and a Stoke boot cleared. We were starting to dominate but not deliver when Anelka picked up a short pass from John Terry and floated a cross for Didier to score with a stooping header. 1-1.
The second-half started with a bit of Chelsea pressure and Drogba’s shot that clipped the outside of the far post but Stoke started to come back into the game and Cech had a very lively afternoon. Twice turning goal-bound efforts on to the bar.
Torres came on for Anelka on the hour but apart from an early shot deflected by Huth, the Spaniard didn’t contribute again. Impartial observers might even whisper that after our record signing’s introduction we lost all rhythm and purpose but it would be unkind to blame one player. Lampard had a subdued afternoon while giving the ball away far too much. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the idea of a 3pm kick-off on a Saturday when everyone knows football is played on Sunday afternoon or Monday night.
Chelsea youth 1:0 Norwich City youth
Adam Nditi provided the winner against very strong opponents as a side, again, littered with under-16s kept up the impressive progress of Fermot Drummy’s side. He even managed to give a debut to a 15-year-old striker called Alex Kiwomya. We will as always watch closely.