Quotes of the month: “When I go to a stadium in England and take the cab or tube, I get out one or two miles before the stadium and walk the rest because the atmosphere is terrific. We must not become football men somewhere on an ivory tower. We must feel what is going on in the street,” Guus Hiddink said this a while ago: eccentric, sure, but not Christian Gross by a long chalk.
Guus on his first morning: “I have to live, as soon as possible, in the depth of the club … I am not just here to add to my experience with the club and Premier League, but also I want to see these results as soon as possible.”
“I’m not just here to pass the time until the end of the season.”
Sunday 1 February
Liverpool 2:0 Chelsea
If you look beyond the red card, all you find is the fact that we played another top of the table clash without registering a serious shot on target.
The point is that since losing to Liverpool at home we haven’t looked like competing for the league let alone the Champion’s league places, we have lost Joe Cole to injury, and Cudicini and Bridge in the transfer window. Drogba has been playing like he wants to leave, Bosingwa has looked frail and prone to rushes of blood to the head, Terry and Carvalho have been fragile or injured or suspended or all three. Scolari must be feeling desperate, he held his cool on Sunday afternoon and it is much to his credit that when we lose he comes to face the press; only sending Butch when we’ve won.
Forget this result, the crowing reds at our local couldn’t but that for Liverpool to carve their first win in five they needed to be playing ten-men. Managers cannot be blamed for refereeing decisions like this but they are responsible for the conduct of their team and their players. Panic has been the evident reaction from Scolari’s Chelsea side, against Tottenham after going in 1-1 we failed to create a chance, again against Liverpool at home, they scored we failed to create a chance, against Arsenal after their first – off-side – goal, Chelsea’s response failed to achieve anything. Against Man Utd last month a simple, if devious corner routine, was enough to confuse and ultimately unhinge our defence; again not a single chance on target in reply. We couldn’t hold on against Burnley or Southend and nearly screwed up against Ipswich. Roma – don’t talk t me about it. Where will this end? Scolari has failed to get this team to gel; only it is worse than that, isn’t it. We are failing and failing badly at every obstacle.
There are those looking at the performances at West Ham and drawing some quick conclusions and results since Steve Clarke left would seem to bear them out. Comparisons between our current performances and those under Avram Grant don’t improve things. Scolari appears to be the better coach, but we won consistently under Avram Grant or forced draws while playing with strength in midfield and defence. That isn’t happening now, we are a soft touch and more and more teams are starting to realise.
The mechanics of this game are too simple: Mike Riley did us again. He shouldn’t referee at this level. He started the match by allowing Liverpool players to tackle from behind consistently. Every Chelsea player on the ball would lose it to an illegal challenge and, when nothing was done, couldn’t find any rhythm. Mascherano was finally booked for a string of deliberate fouls only for Ashley Cole to get yellow, minutes later, for what was little more than obstruction.
Riley’s attitude continued into the second-half; Steve Gerrard’s reckless studs up challenge went unpunished even after his waved “fuck-off” to the ref. Minutes later Frank Lampard went for a loose ball and played it cleanly, he was caught by Alonso who followed through his own high lunge, didn’t win the ball and clearly caught Frank on knee. Lampard was sent off. It would be charitable to suggest that Riley had a fiver on only one Chelsea red-card because he added to the general confusion by failing to take action against Jose Bosingwa when the Portuguese planted his foot into Benayoun’s back and tried to further acquaint him with the Kop.
They scored two late goals but we had long since given up hope of a draw. Drogba came on but barely tried. Deco came on and tried but failed. At the time of writing it is hard to say which was worse.
We are going to have to give up hope of title and any other silverware. If Roman is talking of a summer of spending he’ll be wondering if Luiz Felipe is the right man to splash the cash.
Monday 2 February
Perhaps Jose Mourinho watched the last few games and thought we needed a bit of a shot in the arm; Ricardo Quaresma arrives on loan from Internazionale.
The highly rated Portuguese signed for Inter in the summer but Jose seems to have the same working relationship with him that he had with Robben and Duff: “[Quaresma] will have to learn, otherwise he won’t play, and I am sure he’ll change and become more tactically disciplined”. Obviously we are profiting from his failure to do so.
The reserves are, if you’ve looked out of the window, not playing tonight.
Frank Lampard will have his card from Sunday overturned at the appeal hearing tomorrow. Sorry, that should read; will have his appeal hearing tomorrow.
Jose Bosingwa has been very lucky, Mike Riley said in his report that his assistant had seen the kick on Yossi Benayoun and because of that the FA are powerless to act.
Jimmy Smith has signed on-loan for Leyton Orient. Jimmy is 22 already and has been on loan at Sheffield Wednesday but steps down to join John’s brother Paul Terry at Brisbane Road until the end of the season.
Tuesday 3 February
Frank Lampard has his card annulled as we all expected. A shocking waste of everyone’s time as it was clear from the moment of the tackle that the wrong player was carded.
Meanwhile Scott Sinclair will be on loan to Birmingham City for the rest of the season.
Thursday 5 February
Liverpool youth 1:0 Chelsea youth
No repeat then of last year’s FA youth cup heroics, Liverpool were strong and fast but really won because the enjoyed the only luck going. To be fair they had the better of the chances from the first minute onward. The defeat means this version of the youth side is unlikely to play together again as many are already firmly established in the reserves.
Saturday 7 February
Chelsea 0:0 Hull City
Another desperate display and surely the end of any title ambitions we held. The first chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” since Avram left and a homemade sign: “Scolari out, Zola, Di Matteo Chelsea legends, in”. The clamour for change is only going to increase.
Hull had been woeful in all their games leading up to this; no clean sheet in nine before this afternoon and they could have left with all three points.
John Terry cleared the bar from three-yards with a few minutes on the clock but little did we realise at the time that it would be the clearest opportunity created all afternoon. Ballack hit the side netting with a free-kick that was curling toward goal. Kalou had a chance late on when he was practically muscled off the ball but got a shot away but straight at the keeper. We didn’t get a free-kick for that and we didn’t get a penalty for a clear handball but then away teams know they have carte blanche to trip, tackle, handle, harass and disrupt every Chelsea move because nobody will ever be booked or sent off.
Those sorry facts do not deflect from another abject display, Ricardo Quaresma looked inventive but faded so cries of “you don’t know what you’re doing” seemed harsh when the Portuguese was replaced by Drogba. Now we have all worshiped Didier in the last few years but if his performances slide any further he’ll be sold to Ipswich in the summer, rather than Inter.
Liverpool stretched their advantage above us by scoring three against an abject Portsmouth defence in the evening kick-off. We’ll have to hope for something from Zola and the Hammers because if they don’t win we can kiss goodbye to the title. Scratch that, if we don’t win at Villa in two weeks we might be kissing goodbye to the Champions’ league places.
Monday 9 February
Deadly Doug Ellis wasn’t this ruthless: Luiz Felipe Scolari has been sacked with immediate effect according to a message posted on the club website. “In order to maintain a challenge for the trophies we are still competing for we felt the only option was to make the change now,” was the blunt reason given; an echo of the sentiments from plenty in the stands on Saturday.
Ray Wilkins gets his feet under the desk in temporary charge and the site went on to explain that the search for a new manager had already started. Ray’s managerial stints so far haven’t been too glorious, perhaps Watford would let us have Brendan Rodgers back. Zola said at the weekend that he would not walk out on West Ham and we know him to be a man of his word. Still, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check how long his contract is.
Everyone could probably agree with these sentiments: “Felipe has brought many positives to the club since he joined and we all feel a sense of sadness that our relationship has ended so soon.” Chelsea fans will always remember Scolari as a father figure but will regret that his reign was so short and so unsuccessful.
To cap a bad day Gael Kakuta broke his ankle playing a youth team friendly against Glenn Hoddle’s academy side. Fractured dislocation of the left ankle and our best attacking winger will be out for the rest of the season.
Tuesday 10 February
It seems only a few short months since this kind of speculation whirled around the club. We could cut and paste from last May’s papers: let me see, Roberto Mancini – check, Carlo Ancelotti – check, Frank Rijkaard -check, Guus Hiddink, um, have we left anyone out?
Zola is staying at West Ham, so Rijkaard looks the ante-post favourite and Mancini the lay; although Avram Grant arrived at Heathrow airport yesterday, we’ll have to hope he got on a train to the south coast.
Suddenly, when you’ve written your witty introduction you find out Guus Hiddink is in talks about taking the Chelsea post alongside the Russia job until the summer. “If it was any other club my answer would be a straight ‘no’, but Chelsea is different,” Hiddink said today. The Russian FA are cool with the idea, probably because Russia only face Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein between now and the end of the season, so any dual role will not hamper their prospects for 2010 in South Africa too much.
It seems Guus takes us through to a European Cup triumph in Rome and then hands on to Frank Rijkaard in the summer. Rijkaard’s representative said Frank had committed himself to a twelve-month sabbatical and he was going to stick to it. If that does happen you’ll have to update your spell checker Guus’ representative is Cees van Nieuwenhuizen, Frank’s is mercifully simply Perry, er, Overeem.
Luiz Felipe himself left a very dignified message wishing us luck and saying that he’d had a great time. A mutually agreed compensation package was announced this evening. He will be staying in London until the summer on a job hunt. His representative hinted that Scolari had been let down by the club and that his hopes of freshening up a squad that has been together for four-years were stymied by Man City in the summer and the sudden lack of cash come January. The job at the Bridge, he hinted, was not what was advertised.
Ray Wilkins might look a bit lonely in the dug out on Saturday if Guus isn’t in charge by then as Flavio Teixeira, Darlan Schneider and Carlos Pracidelli all left along with Scolari.
Meanwhile JT put his foot in it: “I was very shocked by what happened … he had a my full support and I know at least two or three other senior players would say the same.” Which kind of implies that three or four of the senior players didn’t.
Meanwhile on the pitch Michael Mancienne played for the England U21 side surprisingly beaten 3-2 to Ecuador U23. Ecuador had a number of allowed overage players so taking a 2-0 lead before eventually being overtaken will have had its lessons. Miroslav Stoch went one better by winning his first full cap as Slovakia lost 3-2 to the Ukraine. The game was part of a four-team mini-tournament in Cyprus, so Miroslav will probably get another go tomorrow against the hosts.
Wednesday 11 February
Guus Hiddink has been confirmed as caretaker manager. He will meet the players later this week but only watch the debacle at Watford on Saturday before taking over team affairs on Monday, his first league game will be Villa away.
“There are two scenarios: it goes bad and they say ‘go back east’ or it goes well, but I’m not thinking that far ahead”, Hiddink said, clearly thinking that far ahead already.
Spain 2:0 England
John Terry and Ashley Cole both played the whole game in Seville; Frank Lampard came on in the second-half. Not a bad display; they finished well in each half, while we created a few good chances but didn’t have our best team out. Carlton Cole, late of this parish, made his debut two-and-a-half years after leaving the Bridge. Oh, and David Beckham did something that made it his match, record caps or something the commentators as usual couldn’t shut up about it long enough to notice the Shaun Wright-Phillips was a far more effective performer on the night.
” … and the winner is … Salomon Kalou”, yes, in otherwise bewildering times, Salomon won the African Young Player of the Year award held in Lagos this year. Kalou played in both the African Cup of Nations and the Olympics last year, so he deserves something for graft alone.
Miroslav Stoch gained his second cap in as many days but his side lost 3-2 to tournament hosts Cyprus.
Talking of graft, Michael Essien joined in some light training today for the first time since doing his knee. (Which, we believe to be the technical term for the more commonplace – ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.) He took part in a non-contact session and came through well.
Carlo Ancelotti ruled himself out of taking the Chelsea job in the summer saying he was fine at AC Milan. He confirmed that Chelsea did make a move for him but said, “in the summer I met Roman Abramovich but I didn’t want to leave AC Milan. The same thing happens now”.
Thursday 12 February
Hiddink arrived at lunch time to meet players and staff, saying he thought the league was still possible and more cryptically: “I have to live, as soon as possible, in the depth of the club,” we think he means turn things around and get better results, sort of.
He said he wouldn’t be bringing in a large backroom staff but would work with Ray Wilkins until he knew what he needed. That’ll cheer up the dinner ladies.
Friday 13 February
The headline loss is at least down in the latest accounts. Only £65.7m down from last years £74m. The sum includes £23m in compensation for lost managers and coaching staff, much of that to Mourinho, but it doesn’t include Scolari’s compensation package.
Nearly half of Roman Abramovich ‘loan’ to the club has now been converted into shares. That is, in effect, a £340m capitalisation, the biggest any football club has ever received. Although why now and what it means for the club is unclear. Some have suggested it is to make the club more saleable, others that it shows commitment. It should stop Uefa moaning about our debt.
Worryingly the board reiterated that Hiddink, or whoever takes his place, in order for the club to meet the “aim of self-sufficiency” requirement means we will be able to fund signings only by selling.
“Chelsea is building a strong business base in what will be challenging times,” Peter Kenyon said, “we have consistently reduced our net transfer spend over the last five years and will attempt to continue this trend.” Unfortunately this financial realism has arrived just when we need to revamp the squad and our bigger assets are rapidly losing their lustre; “£20m for Didier Drogba”, anyone?
Saturday 14 February
Watford 1:3 Chelsea
What a pile of … no, wait we won with style, although how is still baffling a few hours later. Watford didn’t aspire to much for the first hour or so and only the post and poor, shall we say nervous finishing kept us from a complete rout. And then it happened, bunt forward from a Watford worker ant and Priskin chips over Cech: 1:0 and Wilkins is looking like thunder, Abramovich, in the stands next to Hiddink looks downcast, Guus himself remains deadpan. (And no, that was ‘snake’ Plissken.)
The tactical response when it comes is 4-4-2 with Stoch on and Anelka and Drogba up front together. Fifteen minutes later and we’ve battered them 1-3 and finished almost every attack with a goal or chance. Scolari must be wondering if he shouldn’t have tried it.
But for all the signs of attacking flair there were still worries. Mancienne at least got his first outing but was out of position for their goal. While Ivanovic and Alex didn’t look the safest pair, Ballack was again fitful and if it hadn’t been for Cech it could well have been two each.
The match, the month, our season was neatly summarised early in the second-half when Ashley Cole blocked Drogba’s shot and Ballack scooped over the bar from all of three yards.
Cole was booked, of course and is now suspended for the Villa game.
You get the feeling that training on Monday is going to be hard work.
Hiddink politely asked journalists to interview the winning manager after the match but Mancienne and Kalou said he’d had a major say in tactics and visited the dressing room before and after the match.
Meanwhile, and probably just to be mischievous Jose Mourinho said: “if you ask me if one day I think I’ll return to Chelsea, I’ll tell you yes I think so, because we were so happy together … but when I say one day, I am not saying to you when.”
Lastly it has been confirmed that Manchester City did ask about JT but Kenyon said: “we did not entertain any further conversation on the subject and nor will we in the future. John is our captain and the captain of England. He is part of the heart and soul of Chelsea”. We would have bitten their hand off for £180m but then we are not highly paid professionals.
Sunday 15 February
With so many ties undecided the FA Cup draw sends us away to either Coventry or Blackburn Rovers. At least we escaped the messiest draw in years, namely Cardiff City or Arsenal or Burnley v Sheffield United or Hull City. We beat Blackburn in the semi a few years ago but that is hardly the scariest omen.
Meanwhile Nicolas was obviously pleased to play up front yesterday: “we have never really tried to play together. Today, in 20 minutes, we scored three goals. It’s not about me. To play with Didier up front changed the game, and that’s why we scored the goals and won the game.” He appeared to be criticising Scolari’s reluctance to pair him with Drogba, adding: “I’ve played as a striker all my life. To play on the right or the left is always difficult. To help Chelsea, I can do that. But it’s even better if I can play up front”.
Monday 16 February
Chelsea reserves 6:0 Portsmouth reserves
Portsmouth must be thoroughly sick of us; this evening’s result makes 16 goals against in four first and reserve team games. Franco Di Santo, Ricardo Quaresma (2), Jacob Mellis and Frank Nouble (2) score the goals. If the performance is a reflection of Hiddink’s influence then the football around here is going to get a lot better very quickly.
Guus Hiddink and Roman Abramovich watched from the stands.
Tuesday 17 February
What Guus made of 5,000 watching only his second day on the job is anyone’s, as open training comes back to the Bridge and with some reasonable half-term weather everyone seemed to enjoy the chance to yell and shout on a weekday morning. Everything was a bit showbiz for the clearly shy players but the drills were interesting to watch and the small sided game a treat. These events really are worth it if you can get the morning off.
Wednesday 18 February
“I think they have played into our hands and that the title race now is going to be between ourselves and Liverpool,” said Alex Ferguson deciding our title challenge is over, we don’t know if he needed a calculator. The United manager offered his opinion before his side’s 3-0 romp against a poor Fulham side took them ten-points clear.
Date for your diary and travel agent, we’ll play Seattle Sounders at their Qwest Field ground, Saturday 18 July.
Thursday 19 February
Meanwhile, Didier Drogba has had his say on Scolari’s departure and you’re well ahead when you guessed that it wasn’t as positive as some. Speaking to newshounds from the Sun the Drog said: “when Scolari started blaming individuals, then that was bad. To name one player as to blame for what happened in a squad of 24 is wrong,” adding “when you manage a team like Chelsea, you need to unite the team when things are rough – not divide them. Chelsea is a family – and a family needs to be together,” which seems the most mysterious statement out of the club on the affair. When Scolari arrived numerous former players and Brazilian journalists told us that Scolari treats his players as family and sticks by them no matter. Something different seems to have happened during his time at the Chelsea.
Didier leaves you with this stray though: “if I had as much power with the owner (Roman Abramovich) as has been said, then Mourinho would still be here, no? I have respect for Scolari as a man and a coach but I was not involved in any discussions with the owner.” Which, with Michael Ballack’s denial earlier in the week leaves only Petr Cech of the ‘Scolari three’ still fingered for the crime. Although he may have denied it earlier in the week, it has been hard to keep up.
Friday 20 February
“If Chelsea start to play the game the way they can play, I mean they can try to get back, Manchester has to leave an open door”, was Gianfranco Zola’s honest assessment of our chances. With all the bluster around this week, Paddy Power paying out on the winners with 13 fences left to jump, it is refreshing to listen to Gianfranco’s honest-to-goodness opinion.
It feels like we have come a very long way since our last trip to Villa Park, someone mentioned this morning that Mourinho was still in charge when we lost 2-0 there last season. It seems a world away.
Fabio Ferreira, the injury plagued Portuguese winger, will spend a month at Oldham Athletic to get some first-team football.
Saturday 21 February
Aston Villa 0:1 Chelsea
We congregated early on Saturday to watch Hiddink’s dawn and came away with the points but few clues to how his day is to progress.
Drogba and Anelka started together but in a 4-3-3 and the heart sank a little imagining Nicolas playing out on the left and you wondered where the tactical innovation was coming from but as the half progressed and it became clear that Didier and Nicolas were sharing the role, switching from centre to wide and a plan became clearer. Paulo Ferreira started at left-back in place of Cole.
It helped that Villa looked close to their worst, as our midfield smothered everything they tried to do while creating clear chances in front of their goal.
The opening goal, of what seemed would be many, was set up by Lampard’s quick feet and Anelka’s calm finish. We really seemed to be one our way. Ballack was playing with purpose and Drogba was throwing himself into the match with a physical vigour we’d forgotten he had. Bright sunshine and a bright mood all round.
Both Ballack and Kalou worked their way into the box, Michael’s shot was poor and Kalou was too easily muscled off the ball, JT had a goal-bound header turned round by Friedel. In contrast Villa managed little, until they hit the bar from a free-kick awarded for precisely nothing.
JT has been a league goal away from becoming our highest scoring defender for some time now, so it seemed inevitable his second-half header was cleared off the line.
Cech had to stand tall throughout the second-half making saves from Agbonlahor and Barry before Bosingwa had a chance. We kept making chances, even Deco got in on the act by wriggling into the bos and squaring for Ballack to leather it toward the net. Brad Friedel’s fingers are still stinging.
The boys had a bit of group hug at the final-whistle just to show there are no hard feelings or lingering splits. The changes from Scolari’s last game seemed slight and yet Drogba and Anelka both had plenty of the ball up front, the midfield pressed into the box more than they have with both Ballack and Lampard finding the range if not the goal, and the defence seemed as rugged, stifling and infuriating as of old.
All this has been achieved after only a week. We can’t wait to see what progress can be made in a month.
Readers of the Daily Express will have had a few heart flutters this morning with the exclusive that Zola and Clarke will replace Hiddink in the summer. Hm.