Sunday 9 August
The Football Association Community Shield
Chelsea 2:2 Manchester United
(Chelsea win 4-1 on penalties)
An important hoodoo might have been laid to rest but this match held so much more than our first penalty shootout win since Ipswich Town in the League Cup 11 years ago, when that cup was still sponsored by Coca Cola.
It is apt that the FA renamed this match the Community Shield because there was precious little charity on show, we scored when they thought we should have played the ball out and Alex Ferguson accused everybody of incompetence or cheating or both. You’d have thought it was a Champions League semi-final given the way United carried on.
Both sides were near full strength and Chelsea, with Zhirkov injured and Sturridge left out were pretty much as you were from last term.
Chelsea didn’t start well, Ferguson will have been especially pleased with the ease with which his rejigged midfield dealt with Ancelotti’s diamond formation, the diamond wasn’t sparkling as Lampard was marginalized too far forward, and Essien, never a natural out wide, and Ivanovic struggled with every attack with Nani and Evra playing round them almost at will. Ivanovic was booked for his third poor challenge in as many minutes.
Nani opened the scoring with a hopeful shot for which Cech much have been unsighted. 0-1. United carved us open time and again, Cech had to make smart saves from Berbatov and Park.
It wasn’t all one way, before they scored Ivanovic had a chance from a corner cleared off the line and Drogba managed a smashed shot that Foster dealt with well.
We had muscled our way back into the game and the equalizer came from that fox in the box Carvalho, no really, good work from Lampard squirted the ball to Malouda and as Foster took his eye off the ball to concentrate on the huge frame of Didier about to barge him into the net, the ball broke to Ricardo Carvalho who dealt well with a chance that could have gone wide. 1-1.
There was controversy in buckets as we took the lead; Ballack body checked Evra, who rolled around like he was dying, as the ref waived play on, the ball broke for a Chelsea and we streamed forward for Lampard to score from Drogba’s ball, with half the stadium whistling for us to put it out of play. 2-1. Some of the locals in the Pineapple were clearly unaware that this was a friendly and the result doesn’t ultimately matter, screamed about cheating – play to the whistle, boys, play to the whistle.
We dominated from then on United ran out of ideas and steam and just as we were cruising to a win Rooney burst onto a Giggs pass and leveled. 2-2.
It did little to delay the destination of the Community Shield as United contrived to miss all but one of their penalties. Cech didn’t even really have to try as first Ryan Giggs tried to drill one down the middle and found the Czech ’keeper’s legs and then Evra, pumped up from the injustice of the Ballack incident and his subsequent booking for a revenge tackle, trickled the lamest penalty since Pat Nevin against City and the Shield was ours. Lampard, Ballack, Drogba and Kalou all scored for us.
Try telling anyone that it is a meaningless preseason match.
Meanwhile, back at Cobham, we welcome Steve Holland who has been appointed to manage the reserves. Steve joins us from five months as assistant to Tony Pulis at Stoke City, before that he was manager of Crewe Alexandra where he had been academy director.
Holland is credited with bringing Dean Ashton, Rob Hulse, Danny Murphy and Seth Johnson through Alex’s academy. He is 39.
Saturday 15 August
Chelsea 2:1 Hull City
Good enough for this afternoon but not good enough for the season. The manager may change but the struggle against teams expected to finish in the bottoms half continues. Chelsea kicked-off the football season in sloppy style missing shots and defending like amateurs. There is much work to be done.
It started brightly with Stephen Hunt lunging in high on Lampard to add a little extra rankle to the booing he received throughout. It took only a few more seconds for slick attacking play to open up the Hull defence only for Didier to flash wide with only 63 seconds on the clock.
We were struggling to get through the middle of an organised defence, the diamond offering no width making Hull’s job easier. At the same time, some of the approach play was so slick we carved them open, especially when Drogba cushioned the ball into Malouda’s path, the Frenchman’s shot on his weaker foot was well blocked.
Hull City had not come without ambition, twice Mendy had chances against a disorganised Chelsea back line before Hull scored the first Premiership goal of the season just before the half-hour. A softly awarded free-kick was floated in the ball ricocheted around after the Chelsea defence pulled itself out of shape, bounced off the inert Obi Mikel and Hunt made himself less popular by tapping home for 0-1.
Didier Drogba was having a mixed afternoon, half the balls he played wasted possession, the other half created chances. It was his free-kick ten minutes later that restored parity. From a central position he flicked the ball up and over the wall into the corner with the keeper flailing. 1-1.
At half-time Ballack replaced Obi John allowing Essien’s energy to fill the holding role and we looked bright again, Anelka this time hitting Myhill before many had finished their Bovril.
The rest of the half was frustration or disorganised panic. Anelka, Lampard and Drogba all had chances wide, blocked or saved but Hull continue to break against a Chelsea defence too easily drawn toward the ball, the marking was shocking and City, with more guile, could have had two.
Injury time brings a sublime piece of good fortune from Didier, trying to loop back a cross the Ivorian succeeds in perfectly chipping the keeper for 2-1. Even then Hull still had a chance just over the bar before the whistle saved us any more embarrassment.
Given Hull’s away form, no wins in 23 now, many were expecting this to be a walkover. Instead a poorly organised and defensively shambolic Chelsea played into the visitor’s hands. Anyone who analysed last season’s failings will have noted that Chelsea lost the title by drawing too many games at home. Lack of width was time and again cited as the problem, our the new manager by contrast seems to have invented a system to make it more difficult for us to break teams down, rather than easier. The diamond didn’t work today and it remains to be seen if it can be made to work in future.
Tuesday 18 August
Sunderland 1:3 Chelsea
So away fixtures this season start as the last one ended with three goals and a commanding performance on Wearside.
This game however was very different from Guus Hiddink’s last league game in charge, two new managers plenty of new players and systems but a very similar result.
The match started with Deco recalled as part of a front three or the point of the diamond if you like, with Lampard, Essien and Ballack competing in a more conventional midfield. Kalou started the match ahead of Nicolas Anelka and with rumours that the Frenchman’s contract talks have been put back until the end of the season we have to hope his demotion was not the start of a sulk.
The opening period was even, with both sides sparring for position only for Darren Bent to swoop on a lose ball and put the hosts 1-0 up. Anyone who remembers last season’s two dropped points at home to Spurs knows the script, ball cannons through the defence, Bent reacts quickest. A Mackem in our local was proud of the 50-1 he got on Bent for top scorer and good luck to him.
It was from then on that we got ourselves together and started to dominate possession and territory. Ballack, Deco and Terry all had chances to equalise either smothered or saved.
The second-half started with Drogba and Kalou headers before Ballack picked up Ivanovic’s flick from a corner and steered through a crowd of bodies. 1-1.
Drogba seemed to be on a mission and his mazy dribble into the box drew a foul and Lampard put us 1-2 up and drew level with Jimmy Greaves on 132 in the all time list.
Deco tricked his way into the box to score for 1-3 and towards the end we had almost complete control. Sunderland had a brave plan to close us down throughout but as they tired and our passing improved they didn’t have a chance.
The Stadium of Light crowd rose as one to applaud Deco as he was substituted for Andriy Shevchenko (yes, Shevchenko, we’d almost forgotten how to type his name). The cheers were well earned, it was Deco who kept us ticking and scored a superb goal, perhaps the Sunderland fans should take on the mantle of most knowledgeable and generous in the league.
The slow starts and the habit of falling a goal down must still be worrying the new boss but while the system beds in games like this against compliant opposition are just what we need. This was the first time under Ancelotti that we didn’t score two goals.
Steve Bruce had few doubts after the game about our quality: “Sometimes you just have to admit that we have been beaten by a very good team, there is no disgracing that … It was arguably one of the best Chelsea performances I have seen in a long time and sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say well played”.
Earlier Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic’s transfer from the Slovakian club MFK Kosice was confirmed. The Slovaks seemed delighted with their £1.5m upfront payment. In fact they were so enthusiastic they splashed the story hours before Chelsea were ready to offer confirmation. The 21-year old is a left footed midfielder who hobbled out of the European U21 tournament in the summer with a broken metatarsal and it is thought he will stay in Slovakia while he recovers.
Claudio Pizarro has signed for Werder Bremen permanently, after his season long loan there last term. The 30-year old scored an impressive 28 goals for the northern German side on the way to the Uefa Cup final. Alex McLeish will be relieved at the news; Claudio only managed two goals in 31 appearances for Chelsea, both of them against Birmingham City.
Wednesday 19 August
A training ground match against the Qatari side Al-Ahli ended in a bit of a punch up and had to be abandoned after half an hour. Apparently it was just like Rugby Union with karate kicks, knee-high tackles, hair pulling and eye gouging. Video of the scrap is being studied at the FA but reports suggest we were the victims of most of the action. Jack Cork apparently received several punches while in a headlock.
Sunday 23 August
Fulham 0:2 Chelsea
A sweltering afternoon’s football down by the Thames brings a continuation of the new away formation and a comfortable three points.
We started with Obi John and Ballack in holding positions with Malouda, Lampard and Anelka roaming behind Drogba.
Fulham pushed Dempsey forward and he almost opened the scoring after just more than a minute but got underneath his effort. Most of the first-half was probing and counter punching but Fulham held so little threat that an opener seemed inevitable. Schwartzer hadn’t had a save to make despite efforts from almost the whole team from outside the area when Didier Drogba delivered; he latched onto Anelka’s through ball and slotted under their ’keeper with half the ground appealing for offside. 0-1.
The second-half was drifting toward a close when Drogba returned Anelka’s favour by playing him in for the second and confirmation of the points. 0-2. Half the pub, to be fair, were packed in the other bar watching England beat Australia to win the Ashes and nobody was much interested in events at Craven Cottage which finished ten-minutes after Graham Swann took the final wicket. The general pandemonium in pubs across the country overshadowed Chelsea joining Tottenham Hotspurs at the top of the table, second on goal difference. Spurts won at Upton Park earlier in the afternoon but trouble with the ESPN card meant we didn’t see much of that match.
There was still time for Sam Hutchinson to make an appearance and look as nervous as hell, he came through it well.
Carlo was keeping his feet on the ground after the match, stressing the importance of the defensive display: “It is the first time we kept a clean sheet and it was good because the defensive line played very well – no problem, very good concentration, very good movement … Carvalho, Terry, Cole, Bosingwa had a fantastic match.”
Thursday 27 August
A mixture out of the bag in the European draw in group D we are joined by Athletikos Podosferikos Omilos Ellinon Lefkosias, hence Apoel (it means Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia), FC Porto, again, and Atlético Madrid, none of whom should be underestimated.
Saturday 29 August
Chelsea 3:0 Burnley
Bright sunlight and a bright performance takes us clear at the top with a perfect twelve points.
Many fretted before the match about Burnley’s impressive start to the season, win against Manchester United and Everton saw the Clarets with six points more than preseason predictions, but the ease with which Chelsea controlled and ultimately beat Burnley suggests, for now, that we have over come some of last season’s failings.
Nicolas Anelka started us off with a shot inside two minutes and it carried on from there; Drogba fired a free-kick over, Anelka ran from the half-way line but stumbled into the big Dane Brian Jensen in the Burnley goal.
It looked one way but then our Achilles heel reappeared as Burnley should have scored from their first attack: Lampard was robbed while dithering near the box and simple pass meant Patterson must score – but he hit his shot wide.
Drogba was looking strong and our next chance came from the corner after his shot was deflected – Terry shoot straight at Jensen.
Essien had a blast, as usual, but the ball broke for Terry to set up Lampard and Jensen saved again.
The goal, when it came, was beautifully simple; Essien’s pass scythed open the defence, Drogba ran on and Anelka met his cross to bundle home off the woodwork. 1-0. The collective frustration born of six home draws last season evaporated and the mood was optimism at half-time.
It was well place as Ballack headed us two ahead, he sprinted from halfway just to get on the end of a simple Lampard cross, perhaps the big German is going to be wholly committed this season. 2-0. Ashley Cole scored his third for Chelsea with a flashing shot on the rise, after another delightful Lampard pass and suddenly we are plus eight on goal difference five minutes into the half and looking for more. 3-0.
Debates about the system being employed today were academic, Lampard, Deco, Ballack and Essien were simply too fluid to say which was assigned to where. Essien appeared deepest with Ballack but in the second-half they interchanged at will.
That no more goals came was a disappointment but it doesn’t do to be greedy. The fact was that at 3-0 down Brian Jensen’s best saves were still to come; two from Essien shots and a cracker as Ballack flicked a header goalward from a corner. When the Dane was beaten by Kalou, late on, Tyrone Mears got back to clear off the line.
Carling cup draw gives us a home tie against our wealthy neighbours QPR. It is nice to be reminded that there are other teams in West London.
Sheva joined his first love Dynamo Kiev. He signed a two-year deal and becomes their captain. We wish him all the best because although he had his problems at the Bridge he always tried his hardest and he scored that cracker against Tottenham when they thought they could beat us in the cup, ha.