Sunday 4 October
Chelsea 2:0 Liverpool
Anyone watching Arsenal put six past Blackburn Rovers earlier in the afternoon would not have recognised this as the same game. If Arsenal against Rovers was light chamber music, this was a death metal slam, with Didier Drogba on lead guitar and Hilario on drums. Torres played air-guitar.
Before kick-off the consensus was too close to call, most thought a draw or a one nil. With Liverpool shorn of Xabi Alonso in the summer and Yossi Benayoun only on the bench it seemed, from the off, that Benitez was more scared of losing than confident of forcing a win. Any manager who finds space for Lucas in midfield but none for Benayoun has little appreciation of the game as an art.
Chelsea had Cech suspended so Hilario deputised and, with Bosingwa injured in training, Ivanovic retained the right-back role. Malouda was left on the bench in favour of Michael Ballack and Drogba came back from European suspension. The surprise was Deco’s start at the tip of the diamond.
Liverpool started brightly maintaining possession but creating few scares as Carvalho kept Torres at arms length. In fact, the only time Ricky lost the Spaniard the resulting header was tame and straight at Hilario.
As the half wore on Ballack and Drogba tangled going for the same header before the German headed over from a corner. Chelsea’s best chance of the first period fell to Anelka, whose header was straight and Reina.
Essien filled up the rest of the half, shooting low across Reina in the box before being booked for a tackle on Lucas in which there appeared to be no contact. The resulting free-kick almost crept in as Hilario watched it toward goal as if expecting a stray boot to deflect it, eventually he reacted to tip the ball round the post.
The magic came in the second-half, Lampard tackled Mascherano inside our half, Essien fed Deco, Deco wide to Drogba, perfect cross and Anelka met the ball with an awkward volley that he did well to convert. 1-0.
The move summed up what Chelsea can do when at their best; strong defence throughout the team, one-touch moves, perfect crossing unerring finishing. It is just a shame that it doesn’t hook up perfectly every time.
Chelsea sat back somewhat after the goal and Benayoun came on gifting possession and impetus to Liverpool. Ashley Cole had to be adroit to head the ball clear of Gerrard in the box, as we struggled to clear danger or retain possession.
Gerrard, for his part, decided scythe down Lampard to earn a yellow, Drogba lamped the free-kick from 30-yards but just wide.
Next up was a determined block from John Terry as Gerrard again shaped, only for Torres to scuff wide.
With time up and three minutes of injury time on the board Drogba decided to settle everyone’s nerves by powering to the bye line, refusing to be tugged down, and cross for Malouda to bundle home, coup de grâce, 2-0. The resulting pandemonium in the stands was born of relief at bouncing back from Wigan as well as performing against another of the top four, something that we singularly failed to do last term. Didier Drogba’s near flawless afternoon deserved a goal but there was only time for Liverpool to poke one wide (Benayoun) or draw a first meaningful save from Hilario (Gerrard).
This was a superb performance right throughout the team: Hilario was nerveless (so it seemed, his shorts may tell a different story); Cole and Ivanovic were defensive but excelled, especially the latter who has looked unconvincing in the role; Terry and Carvalho worked in tandem to snuff any threat; Essien, nominally the defensive shield, was all power and industry; Lampard and Ballack both attacked and defended well; Deco was hugely hardworking; Anelka scored and linked play beautifully and Didier we’ve already spoken about.
The script is a familiar one and many will say this Chelsea team, however much Roman wants it to develop a personality, has not changed since Mourinho built it five years ago. When we do what we do best we are too strong for any other club in England. Hiddink realised that, Ancelotti has clearly grasped the fact and as a result we are two points clear at the top going into the International fortnight.
Henrique Hilario, surprisingly, won the man-of-the-match champagne. ’Keepers do sometimes star but Hilario had little to do but turn one ball round the post and deflect another for a corner late on, while Didier terrorised Liverpool and set up both goals. Go figure, as our colonial cousins would say.
Friday 16 October
Chelsea announced their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over the transfer ban and have asked for the proceedings to be fast-tracked. We should have the answer by Christmas.
Saturday 17 October
Aston Villa 2:1 Chelsea
Oh, for god sake, learn to defend corners. After an international break to come back with this shit was unforgivable, we handed the game to Villa on a plate and the league leadership to Manchester United with a ribbon all because we didn’t defend simple corners.
If Ancelotti cannot sort it out soon then we are watching an exact rerun of last season, he’ll be sacked after Russia’s play-off for South Africa.
Villa didn’t need to really try. They created nothing of note in the entire game but were gifted free headers from corners either side if half-time. Chelsea’s response was spirited in part but lacked a cutting edge.
Frankly we are so disgusted that we can barely bring ourselves to describe it.
Drogba scored from 30-yards with a ball that dipped and bounced over Friedel who should have stopped it. Villa had a nailed on penalty just before but all referees are bottling these decisions since Eduardo’s effort from the low board in the Arsenal-Celtic game in August.
The equaliser came from a simple corner slung in the middle, Richard Dunne shrugged Carvalho off and nobody else reacted, Dunne’s header beat Cech and Ashley Cole on the line.
1-1 at the break wasn’t so bad but sleepwalking onto another identical goal at the start of the second was criminal. Everyone watching knew what was coming James Collins was completely unmarked to head in at the far post. John Terry was right to react by swearing and jumping around in a fit. It was criminal, absurd, and an insult to everyone who paid to watch and exactly as inept as they had been at Wigan.
Deco and Malouda both had chances to equalise but both poked lamely at Friedel. Anelka missed a similar chance a little later. By then the changes Ancelotti had made with Ivanovic coming on for Bosingwa and Cole for Deco had somehow robbed the team of any shape or coherence and Villa saw out the limited injury time easily enough.
In an eerie echo of Scolari, Carlo said afterwards “Aston Villa were very able on the set plays. We want to do better for sure. We need more concentration”, which is, of course, rubbish we need to change the system away and stop allowing teams to walk through us. Ultimately it is down to the manager and we’ll see at the end of the month whether Bolton Wanderers are allowed to take the piss in our next away game.
Manchester United obtained a lucky win (own goal, handful of decisions) to go top, pointing and laughing as they passed.
Wednesday 21 October
Chelsea 4:0 Atletico Madrid
Hmm, news that Carvalho is out of the team raises the question is he being dropped or rested? Carlo says rested, everyone else supposes he has been dropped for his mistakes at the weekend.
The main difference tonight was the complete change of atmosphere, not at the ground you understand but being skint this week we were forced to watch at home on ITV rather than down the pub but as we’re house-sitting in a place with an enormous new flat screen television it was not so bad.
This looked another disaster in the making as Atletico made the better chances, in the first ten minutes Cech made two decent saves from Diego Forlan. At the other end it appeared to be Kalou’s night for heading over or shooting wide. He even managed to get Frank Lampard’s free-kick ruled out for offside. Frank’s kick sailed straight in as their keeper flapped, that Kalou then arrived and jumped in front of him from an offside position was completely irrelevant but jittery officials decided he was interfering.
As the half wore we assumed the level of midfield control and a goal was becoming an inevitability but that Kalou scored it was a relief for all. Lampard found one of his reverse passes to allow Cole to cross for Kalou to smash, somewhat theatrically, the ball into the roof. 1-0. That one came just before half-time and Salomon managed to stay sharp to head in a Lampard corner just after the break. 2-0.
Atletico huffed and puffed, Forlan and Aguero combined intelligently and were full of menace but a goal from Frank Lampard took the match beyond them and heads seemed to go down. Frank’s goal was, of course, hugely historically significant, like Darwin publishing On the Origin of the Species, the first passenger railway or the armistice of 1918, Frank moving ahead of Jimmy Greaves in the scoring charts will shake the world. 3-0.
Daniel Sturridge came on toward the end and showed a healthy appetite for the fight. Plenty of good touches from the young man, now, presumably, over his injury problems. Yuri Zhirkov and Florent Malouda where the other two subs on the night, a European debut for Zhirkov.
The late own goal was a little more than we deserved but Malouda’s cross was asking, no, begging to be headed home so it doesn’t much who got their head to it. 4-0.
A very satisfying European night, let’s just hope there is no more domestic nightmares.
Thursday 22 October
The Court of Arbitration for Sport confirms that we have asked for the transfer ban to be suspended while our case is considered. It is a risky tactic bearing in mind the extra cost of players in January and other disadvantage like being cup-tied in Europe. We should find out if the application has been successful in a week or two.
Carlo Ancelotti’s father is apparently very ill in hospital and Carlo has flown out to be with him. Could leave Butch in charge at the weekend and, you’ll recall, Ray has a 100% record as Chelsea caretaker.
Saturday 24 October
Chelsea 5:0 Blackburn Rovers
Another change of venue for your house sitting diarist, the Half Moon in Herne Hill which is another of those large pubs with plenty of room where the landlord has used scientific method to find the worst place for the television and then keeps fiddling with the sound. In the past the Half Moon has been an unlucky pub when family outings left it the closest venue then Chelsea have lost three, one of them the Liverpool FA Cup semi and won only one.
So, we were not expecting much from this encounter, Looking down the team sheet news that Belletti was in at left-back allowed the pessimists to write off our chances before a ball had been kicked. The optimists pointed to Joe Cole at the tip of the diamond as evidence we’d be unstoppable and so it proved.
Joe Cole very nearly headed us in front after thirty seconds, as he met Lampard’s cross but put header wide.
Blackburn started by looking for corners and free-kicks to load our box, you see they’d heard we were poor at set-pieces, they must have been disappointed when Cech came and collected each and every one.
Frank Lampard drilled one from the edge of the area but just wide before we actually broke quickly up field, Anelka crossed with his left with only Drogba to aim for but a sliding Gaël Givet rolled the ball into the bottom corner. 1-0. It was hard on Givet who looked their best defender for much of the match.
Blackburn only got to half-time at 1-0 because of some outstanding saves from Paul Robinson, first from Anelka then, spectacularly, from Drogba’s thirty-yard pile driver. Just before the half-time whistle John Terry did his scissor kick act and Robinson was equal to that too, turning round for a corner from which Didier powered in a header which some how stuck in the ’keeper’s gloves.
Only one goal then from the best 45 minutes we have played this season Belletti fought hard for every ball as makeshift left-back Essien and Ballack snuffed out Blackburn attacks while Joe Cole and Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka took in turns to set up chances. Lovely stuff.
Blackburn’s resistance didn’t last much past the restart, in fact only two and a half minutes when the ball broke to Lampard from Drogba’s turn and cross to put us 2-0 ahead and that was quickly followed by the thunderous shot from Essien for 3-0. Nobody closes Michael down because they assume that his shot is going five feet over the bar.
Blackburn didn’t have much to offer before Ryan Nelson clattered Didier in the box from Anelka’s cutting pass and Frank Lampard scored his 21st penalty in a row. 4-0.
Michael Ballack laid on the next as his corner was headed in by Didier who had a defender wrapped round his neck but was still strong enough to head home for 5-0 and there was still about a half-hour left to add more. Someone in the pub kept repeating “didn’t I say eight?” over and over in the hope that someone would acknowledge him.
Even when Blackburn managed to beat Cech, JT was on hand to head away Olson’s chip.
There wasn’t much hunger for more goals as the game petered out. Nicolas Anelka wanted one and smashed some fierce efforts at Robinson but his team mates had largely switched off.
Jeffrey Bruma made his league debut and looked at home straight away, in fact there was a period at the end where every Chelsea player seemed to be passing to him. Paulo Ferreira also made a come back tonight so the squad is deepening with every game. Daniel Sturridge came on for Joe Cole on 77 and the wee man got a rapturous reception for a night of bright invention on his first start back from injury. And finally being played in the middle, this column has been arguing as much since Joe came to the club and he made a point of mentioning how happy he was in that position after the game. Carlo Ancelotti called him a genius and gave him a huge hug as he left the field. We had a different dimension this evening and title hopes might look a little more realistic on Monday morning.
Wednesday 28 October
Chelsea 4:0 Bolton Wanderers
Thirteen goals in a week, none against, has increased the expectation around these parts, many pessimists already have nosebleeds. In fact one said that it would be typical of the ‘old’ Chelsea to take a full squad to Bolton on Saturday and lose after beating them so convincingly with our second string in the Carling Cup..
Carlo released his team in the morning after dropping copious hints all week: Hilario in goals; Juliano Belletti, Alex returns from injury, Branislav Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira, first start back from a long break; the midfield will be Michael Ballack, Deco, Florent Malouda and Joe Cole; Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge will start up front.
On the subs bench tonight are Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. So, John Terry and Nicolas Anelka both get the night off completely.
Another Chelsea home game with a bright start, a few weeks ago we were all lamenting that it took an early goal from the opposition to wake the Chelsea players up, in the last three we have threatened to score from our first attack. Joe Cole had a pop in the first few seconds tonight. Deco fired in our second shot but we had to wait until the next attack to take the lead; Kalou headed in Ferreira’s excellent cross from the left. 1-0.
Bolton sought to get straight back in it but Hilario saved at Taylor’s feet, thumping himself in the head at the same time, the medical staff cleared him to play on and he wobbled around the penalty area for six minutes before being replaced by Turnbull. Thankfully Wanderers didn’t notice the punch-drunk stopper or they could have equalised.
As it was we only had to wait a couple of minutes for our next, as Malouda played a wall pass off a defender and slammed the ball in from a fortunate rebound. 2-0.
As our second string purred perfectly around the pitch the only soul drowning was Daniel Sturridge who tried far too hard in everything he was asked to do. He had two identical shots within a minute in the second-half both laid on a plate both pulled wide. He looked crestfallen to be replaced by Didier Drogba just after the hour.
It was only a few minutes later that Joe Cole crossed, Didier dummied (or missed his kick, take your pick) and Deco turned and fired into the unguarded bottom corner for 3-0. Just before Turnbull had one of his few chances to muddy his gloves with a save from Taylor. He looked the part, with none of the indecision that has dogged his reserve appearances.
Bolton kept pressing and kept Turnbull and the defence busy, at one stage Klasnic tiptoed into the area and poked the ball passed goalkeeper and defenders but saw it rebound of a post.
From that effort we broke up field and Joe Cole crossed and Drogba headed home. 4-0
Bolton in the league cup always remind us of Matthew Harding and how unlucky he was that his last Chelsea experience was losing away at Bolton. He missed the final development of that team and the FA Cup triumph at the end of the season, not to mention everything that has happened since. To Matthew, Chelsea hadn’t won anything since 1971 but had a promising squad and an exciting manager and then the story stopped. Perhaps we should learn to appreciate what we have a little more, what we have been fortunate enough to witness.
Saturday 31 October
Bolton Wanderers 0:4 Chelsea
This is getting to be an enjoyable habit and one that had led us clear at the top with the best goal difference.
Paulo Ferreira kept his place at left-back from mid-week and Deco came into the side as Joe Cole was rested. The change didn’t alter the attacking ambition of the team. Deco seems to have responded to Cole’s glittering displays with a bit more urgency but while they are different players in the tip of the diamond role they both make it work.
That we had to wait until the stroke of half-time to score was the only surprise. We started brightly with Anelka bringing the first save from Jussi Jääskeläinen who also tipped a Drogba header over from the resulting corner.
Ivanovic had the ball in the net but Ballack was given offside, although he was hardly interfering and Drogba and Anelka lined up chances for each other for fun. Wanderers were still dangerous and Cech had to be lively to stop a curled effort by Cohen. Kevin Davies was playing well either shooting himself or setting up Elmander.
Home fans chanted cheat at Didier Drogba after he was awarded a penalty and several commentators who should know better said he went down easily. Reviewing the video evidence Didier clearly has his legs taken from under him as he is about to strike. It is further proof that once labelled a diver you will remain so in many eyes however often you stay on your feet or however badly you are fouled. Thankfully the ref today Peter Walton saw it clearly and made the right decision. Jlloyd Samuel was sent off as the last defender and Frank Lampard, of course, scored. 0-1.
The second-half began brightly with Drogba and Deco having chances but Bolton didn’t feel beaten even with ten men and started with some good moves, until our midfield strength and the mismatch in numbers started to tell. Frank Lampard thrashed a cut-back corner routine off the bar before a one-touch move left Deco to steady himself, switch foot and curl one simply home with the defence bemused. 0-2.
Carvalho played the wee jinky to supply the cross but Ivanovic was cheated out the third as his goal-bound header deflected off Zat Knight. 0-3.
The next goal was something special, a goal that should have been in a cup final, Anelka teased and then crossed to Deco who chested on to Lampard his back-heel flick was buried first-time by Didier. Sumptuous 0-4.
What will have pleased the coaching staff most was that we faced eight corners but didn’t look like conceding