Thursday 3 September
Chelsea have been banned from registering players until 2011. The, frankly, staggering decision comes from Fifa’s dispute resolution chamber (DRC) after a complaint from the French side Racing Club de Lens that we induced Gaël Kakuta to break his contract. Gaël signed for us in 2007 and has looked, head and shoulders, the best player in both youth and reserve sides. A foot injury prevented his breakthrough last season but many expect him to make first team appearances this. He has been fined £682,000, which for a young footballer is a hefty wedge; hopefully Roman will pay it for him.
Chelsea will pay £114,000 “training compensation” to Lens and Kakuta is banned from playing for four months.
Fifa are being particularly cruel in preventing Kakuta from playing. If Chelsea are guilty of enticing him to walk away from Lens then, and as a minor, he is not wholly responsible for his actions, then, fine, fine Chelsea, ban us from signing players, but to punish an 18-year old for taking a chance many would jump at is perverse.
A Chelsea spokesman spat the pips out his mouth before saying: “We cannot comment further until we receive the full written rationale for this extraordinarily arbitrary decision.” There will be an appeal to the court of arbitration for sport.
Gervais Martel, president of Lens talked out of an orifice to say: “We expected this kind of decision. The player was under contract with us and they came and stole him away from us … Chelsea didn’t follow the rules. They contacted the player when he wasn’t even 16.”
Chelsea will probably rely on appeal on the fact that Kakuta was not on a professional contract with RC Lens when we signed him but an ‘elite training’ contract.
Saturday 12 September
Stoke City 1:2 Chelsea
Chelsea left it late again with Florent Malouda’s winner coming four minutes into injury time, ironically from a long throw. But niggling doubts remain; is it encouraging that we are grabbing late wins where last season we would have settled for the draw or frustrating we are not breaking down teams more easily?
We wouldn’t have had to work so hard if Petr Cech had stayed on his line on the half hour instead of coming half way toward a speculative Stoke cross allowing Abdoulaye Faye to head into the empty net. 1-0. There had been a chance for Stoke before then when Branislav Ivanovic inexplicably chested into the path of James Beattie but his shot was wide.
Didier looked in determined mood. He had several first half chances in a performance of all muscle and industry, in defence and attack, his goal in first-half stoppage time came from a superb Lampard pass allowing Didier to turn Faye and blitz the ball past the substitute ’keeper Simonsen. 1-1.
In the second-half, old boy Robert Huth headed just over when he should have done better but while the possession was largely ours chances were slow to come until Anelka and Essien replaced Ballack and Kalou and suddenly everything we tried looked menacing. Essien, Lampard and Terry all had shots blocked before Didier whipped a free-kick up and over the wall only for Simonsen to clear from the foot of his near post.
Pressure was mounting but just as the pessimists were sharpening their ‘I told you so’, after a string of blocks and clearances, Belletti took a long throw and as the ball broke Malouda lashed in from the edge of the box. 1-2.
Given our recent, er, difficulties over player recruitment a loud and boisterous home crowd came up with “you’re not signing any more”, how we laughed at the first notable wit of the season.
Tuesday 15 September
Chelsea 1:0 FC Porto
A harsh night in more ways than one and Chelsea will be relieved to have come out of the rain with a win.
The rain didn’t help the atmosphere and the lack of atmosphere bred tension. Porto you’ll remember were unlucky not to knock out Manchester United last season when they got a 2-2 draw away, so when measuring this performance we can afford to be generous. Nicolas Anelka’s goal was a work of beauty, as his first shot was crass and led to a routine stop his effort from the rebound was played in at difficult angle with both ’keeper and defender closing down. 1-0.
Most of the papers had spent the day wittering about how we would miss Didier Drogba but the problems we faced on the night were through midfield. Lampard, Ballack and Essien played like strangers, often static as passes surprised them and possession was lost or chances went begging. Neither fullback really helped, Ashley Cole had a lot of defensive work to do and Ivanovic looked out of his depth at right-back even if he delivered the night’s best crosses. Once again the diamond meant we had little width against a side so obviously vulnerable to crosses.
It all started brightly as well, Lampard bringing saves from Helton in the Porto goal and then missing a simple header. Porto’s response brought a scrambled save from Cech after Hulk’s powerful shot. We were trying to tap the ball through the middle on a night when crossing was the better option.
John Terry was responsible for the injury time at the end of the first-half as a stray elbow laid him out for a few minutes, head wound or not, he was back on his feet and finished the game strongly. Both Terry and Carvalho’s blocking and clearing where as important for this victory as Anelka’s goal.
Salomon Kalou, in for the suspended Drogba, also had a big influence on the game, it was his pass that set up Anelka’s goal and he found Lampard a few times but the England man couldn’t benefit. Frank doesn’t seem to have his shooting boots on yet this season.
Kalou’s header also brought the save of the night from Helton palmed away the fierce attempt.
Porto created chances at regular intervals a free header just before the break and a string of late efforts as Chelsea collectively forgot how to close down or pass.
The final whistle was a relief and the realisation that we had three points to top the group from a shocking performance and we got away with it, Apoel, our next opponents in group D, got a creditable 0-0 draw in Madrid against Atlético We travel to Nicosia the week after next.
Second biggest cheer of the night was for Joe Cole’s warm up exercises, it is good to see he is fit but Ancelotti was never going to risk him as the game became one of containment.
Third biggest cheer of the night came after a few games of pool in the pub afterwards when the rain had finally stopped.
Thursday 17 September
Ron Gourlay will replace Peter Kenyon, the 46-year-old has been at Chelsea for the last five years most recently under the title chief operating officer, he followed Kenyon from Umbro to Manchester United and appears to have been finally handed the lead after being understudy for so long. If events of the last two weeks were not strange enough we’ve signed a new goalkeeper, no really, Croatia’s Inter Zapresic have agreed to sell us Matej Delac and keep his registration until 2011. Given that we have clearly paid up front, a Zapresic spokesman said we’d saved them from bankruptcy, Uefa might regard it as a bit of sharp practice to get around the ban.
Sunday 20 September
Chelsea 3:0 Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham left a string of ifs fuming from the press conference to the team bus: if they had taken one of their early chances; if they had been awarded a penalty; if King’s hamstring hadn’t gone, if Bassong hadn’t been stretchered off. In the end all of the ifs merely add up to a great big but.
This was Didier Drogba’s afternoon; he annihilated Tottenham in the second-half. It started brightly for Spurs with five breaks and three testing shots in the first fifteen minutes, Defoe put clean through the middle of our defence by Palacios could only hit Cech’s legs but at the same time we were probing forwards, Bosingwa thumping the crossbar with an early effort.
From the moment Frank Lampard narrowly missed from Anelka’s cross it was clear that the better team was in blue. Ledley King had Didier under control for most of the first 45, so the big Ivorian simply went wide to find space and the ball, as soon as he picked up on the right he smashed a cross over and Ashley Cole stole in to head past a helpless Cudicini. 1-0. Ash went slightly mental about what was still only his fourth goal for the club. It is however, his second this season and he scored in the last league match at Sunderland last season, perhaps he is on a roll and we can expect a ten-goal haul?
The second-half had barely got started when Drogba turned King who immediately pulled up injured. The treatment and substitution distracted somewhat from Frank’s lame poke wide from Drogba’s pass.
Almost at once Tottenham had their penalty appeal and Chelsea scored a second. First Keane raced into the box only for Carvalho to trip him near the goal. Howard Webb said no penalty and Keane was right to point to himself waiving an imaginary yellow, it was either a penalty or a dive but Webb bottled both decisions. And then we scored. Lampard picked up loose possession, after a strong Drogba shot, and the near anonymous Ballack beat his man to the ball. 2-0.
The best was saved for last, Cole’s long ball found Drogba running off the shoulder of Bassong rounding the ’keeper and tapping home, one of those goals where you know what is going to happen from the moment the ball left Ashley Cole’s boot and the ecstasy of it rises as you watch the execution. Perfect. 3-0.
Spurs were still game, Palacios volleyed wide from a Peter Crouch knock down but they didn’t really seem to believe it was possible. Obi John had a shot scrambled round the post by Cudicini before Anelka and Sebastien Bassong went into a seemingly innocuous challenge but the big Tottenham defender stayed down and appeared to be being given oxygen and placed in a neck brace before being removed.
We took pity on them after that and didn’t go for the cricket score. Moments after Bassong departed Didier Drogba appeared to pull a muscle after an air shot and he too had to be stretchered off.
Daniel Sturridge must have done something wrong because first Kalou and then Fabio Borini came on, and while it is gratifying that the 18-year-old Borini had a taste of the first-team, we are supposed to be readying Sturridge to replace Drogba during the African cup of nations, aren’t we?
Wednesday 23 September
Chelsea 1:0 Queens Park Rangers
First real feel of autumn on the Fulham Road, chill winds blew us off course last term at about this point so an experimental team needed to perform well.
Impressed by the confidence of young Arsenal players in this competition over recent years, many have been arguing that the Carling Cup is a good place to test the best reserves so a side featuring only two youngsters was a bit of a disappointment but there is something to be said for bringing players back from injury. Chelsea lined up with Hilario; Ferreira, Hutchinson, Ivanovic, Zhirkov; Mikel; Belletti, Malouda; J Cole (c); Borini, Kalou.
QPR certainly came with an attitude and it is good for the occasional cup meeting to be reminded how little they like us, we really get their goat, it is one of the funniest local rivalries in football.
Given the number of changes the early play resembled a group of strangers, certainly this Chelsea XI didn’t seem to appreciate the way Borini plays. As if they were expecting him to do a Drogba impersonation the ball wasn’t played into his feet, he did have and early header flash over the bar but couldn’t get the service for regular chances. The same could be said for the whole of the QPR side; they made progress down the wings but showed little after that.
Joe Cole was the star of the show but Yuri Zhirkov almost stole his limelight with a superb ball into Borini for the early chance. Belletti belted the best effort of the half from a massive free-kick but Heaton in the QPR goal seemed to be in mood to keep everything out.
Frank Lampard came on at half-time and the team was more coherent and driven. Five minutes into the half Joe Cole retained possession well and fed Kalou and the spindly Ivorian found the net. 1-0.
Cole replaced Zhirkov on the hour. Yuri wasn’t as spectacular as we’d been led to expect but he is just returning from injury and playing left-back instead of left midfield, so we should cut him some slack.
Sam Hutchinson got a good ovation when Terry replaced him and it seems things are finally going right for Sam after bad injury troubles.
QPR pressed late on but Hilario only had one real save to make
Joe Cole almost capped his night with a goal but as the angle narrowed he only managed to smash the ball onto the ’keeper’s nose.
All round a satisfying night, another derby win, three back from injury, very positive signs from Hutchinson and flickers from new boys and Kalou scored.
Saturday 26 September
Wigan Athletic 3:1 Chelsea
That will be the sound of the wheels coming off. Wigan outplayed, out fought and out thought us, contrived to have Cech sent off and finished against nine-men and you have to take your hat off to them. Chelsea were ragged and ill disciplined from the start. Failed to close down in midfield, watched Wigan perform routines at corners without getting in the way and generally lacked passion. Chelsea turned up expecting to win and didn’t put the effort in.
We started brightly, for the first fifteen minutes we strung passes together, had shots, closed down in midfield and then Wigan won a corner; nobody in blue reacted to the short corner or to Titus Bramble who Drogba left with a free header for 1-0.
Everyone expected a strong fight back from Chelsea but the reaction never came. Instead Wigan continued to press and made running in behind Chelsea’s back line look easy and fun. John Terry had to be at his best as the ball found Jason Scotland in space with Carvalho spinning like a top some meters away. The resulting corner was almost identical to the goal with Chelsea slow to react to the short corner again, thankfully Cech managed to smother the shot from Boyce.
Florent Malouda flew into a challenge with Mario Melchiot which could have broken his leg, the ref didn’t react but it was a straight red card offence and so we were lucky to still have eleven on the field at half-time.
Something was obviously said at the break and Chelsea smuggled a quick goal as Malouda wandered into the Wigan defence with the ball and Drogba shinned one in through the ’keeper’s legs; his 100th goal for Chelsea. 1-1.
Almost immediately Terry had a great chance from Carvalho’s ball back in after a corner but the effort was deflected wide.
What should have happened next was a Chelsea revival and another victory, what actually happened was a whole lot worse.
Cech sprawled early at the feet of Rodallega who gratefully tripped over the Chelsea ’keeper’s boot, not a dive as much as taking the opportunity. Cech protested the red card as he was not the last man, Terry and Cole had run behind to block, but the ref was happy with his decision. Malouda was subbed for Hilario who dived out of the way of the penalty hit straight down the middle. 2-1.
Frank Lampard had the chance to pull it back but headed over and after Ashley Cole limped out with knee trouble it only remained for Paul Scharner to make it 3-1 with a tap in at the death.
It has been coming we have had defensive jitters from the opening day, when a more composed Hull side could have had three, everyone will be talking about wake-up calls and how we will respond against Apoel and Liverpool, without Cole and reliant on Hilario and his penchant for flap and panic. This week could define the season for us before the clocks go back. Win two and the confidence will return with the suspended Cech, lose two and the confidence will start to drain away.
Wednesday 30 September
Apoel 0:1 Chelsea
A scrappy win in which a solid, controlled first-half containing Nicolas Anelka’s blistering goal was almost completely forgotten after the ingestion of a few pints and a shockingly poor second period defined for Chelsea by Michael Essien giving away possession with almost every single touch. We were that poor that many drifted off to watch Manchester United struggle with Wolfsberg leaving only three Chelsea boys in the Saloon biting a fingernail for every misplaced pass. Thankfully we started brightly – or we’d have been down to our elbows by the end – for the second match running we had the better of the opening Essien and Kalou both had shots before Belletti slalomed down the right and pulled back for Anelka to shoot across the ’keeper from the edge of the box. 0-1.
Chelsea controlled the game to the extent that Apoel didn’t register a chance before half-time.
The story after that was appalling, Apoel were faster to the breakdown, quicker in thought and deed. Our defence is strong enough to keep them at arm’s length leaving Cech only a late save with his feet and to watch a later header fly over.
Apoel might not have threatened but Carlo was not a happy man, aware that Liverpool might play better than the Cypriots he laid into the team at half-time and again after the whistle: “The players did strong work, for sure, and ran a lot on the pitch, but we have to play better. It was a good result but not a good performance, particularly in the second half. We tried to control the game with possession, but we made a lot of mistakes.”
Good result indeed, this was our first away win in Europe since Rosenberg two years and four managers ago. Perhaps, this team is weighed down by the pressure of expectation, that when we are facing a big club we can play with a little more freedom but when expected to dominate we stutter. We will see what kind of performance we manage on Sunday.