Quotes of the month: “Yes, that is what I said, yeah, no, not a laugh, yeah, left-foot, no, a scissor volley. S-C-I-S-S-O-R. No it was John Terry. Listen mate, I’m telling you – John Terry with a … ”
Saturday 22 February
Ipswich Town Youth 0:3 Chelsea youth
Winning appears to be becoming a habit around the place, and a good habit too. Those refugees from a sword and sorcery epic Rohan Ince and Aziz Deen Conteh scored the goals in one of the youth team’s most assured league performances of the season. Aldi Haxhia was busy in our goal but was up to everything he was asked to do.
Monday 23 February
Frank Lampard has been in reflective mood about Claudio Ranieri. It was the Italian that brought Frank to the Bridge from West Ham for £11m, while all around scratched their heads and asked if we hadn’t signed the wrong Hammers midfielder because Joe Cole was the talk of the town.
Ranieri apparently knew his onions and stuck by Frank in a largely undistinguished first season at the club. “It’ll be very special to see Claudio again … I love the man. If it wasn’t for Claudio I might not be where I am now. He brought me to the club, improved my game and showed me another side to the game”, Frank said yesterday and you can’t argue that if you look beyond the sometimes boring football, Ranieri qualified for the Champions League with a threadbare squad and after Abramovich took over he signed some good players, including Joe Cole, Damien Duff, Claude Makelele and Petr Cech.
Tuesday 24 February
Stoke City reserves 3:2 Chelsea reserves
It isn’t often at this level that the referee is a prima donna, we dominated the game from the start but lost to a workmanlike Stoke City.
Frank Nouble and Adam Phillip made their first starts for the reserves this term. We scored early when Jacob Mellis tapped home after their ’keeper spilled a 25-yard effort.
That goal was cancelled out just before the break when the ref decided Heimann in the Chelsea goal held the ball too long and awarded a Stoke free-kick in the box. Everyone then had the half-time break to try to work out what planet the ref was from or when the last time such an offence had been given. When straight after the break he decided we’d handled in the box and the penalty put them ahead. We equalised with a screamer they took the lead again with one of their own and cards appeared in a flurry at the end as tempers frayed.
Ricoh Arena next in the Cup as Coventry City beat Blackburn Rovers for the right to host Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-final. Chris Coleman, the Coventry gaffer, thinks we are, quote, ‘beatable’.
Wednesday 25 February
Chelsea 1:0 Juventus
A result that doesn’t really change anything, obviously it is better to win than draw or lose but a 1-0 at this stage can mean an uncomfortable second leg stuck between stick or twist.
Before the kick-off Claudio Ranieri received his round of applause and it seems even we have forgotten the sterility of much of his football and were quite chuffed to see him back at the Bridge. You wait until Jose comes back, that is going to be something.
We started very brightly, still trying to batter our way through the middle of teams but an early bit of width from Bosingwa brought a flashing header from Drogba just to remind everyone which Didier had turned up for the game.
He made absolutely sure we knew with the goal on eleven minutes. Now, don’t get us wrong, we love Nicolas Anelka’s goals for their subtlety and craft but some evenings you need a bit of a belt and that is what Didier found with a free turn and smash from Kalou’s defence splitting pass, and, yes, we did mean Kalou.
Cech had some work to do on his 200th appearance, saving well from Del Piero’s turn and shot from Tiago’s pass. (Many have almost forgotten him, the spellchecker hasn’t.) That brought an end to a half of football we’d dominated.
The second-half saw Juventus discover some drive and determination but not until Bosingwa and Drogba linked for a near duplicate chance to the one he missed at the start of the first. To be fair for all their possession Cech didn’t really have a serious save to make until literally the last kick when Nedved thrashed one toward the corner only for Alex to get a deflection that took it an inch or so wide. The ball bounced off the post keeping the net up and rolled across the back giving the appearance of a goal to an anxious third of the stadium.
Michael Mancienne made his Champions’ League debut, it seems Hiddink has been impressed by the youngster and crucially was unafraid of using him as a defensive midfielder. Could it be that Hiddink’s temporary stay will give him the freedom to exploit the squad and experiment, where other managers might have feared for their job. There, again, appeared to be no real tactical innovation, the ball went wide to Kalou on the right most of the first-half and they seemed to be able to do little about it. Bosingwa joined and supported and the pair looked to create trouble with every touch. Sadly Kalou came off, replaced by Malouda, as yet another coach thinks he can get something from the Frenchman.
We were better disciplined than in the last few high-profile games but we could have let our aggression show a little more as the ref wasn’t in a booking mood, which is about the only reason Molinaro was still on the pitch at the end. Guus wasn’t in a smiley mood after: “It’s impossible to maintain control for whole game against such good opponents … if you lose easy balls in free positions, then you have to fight to get it back and that loses a lot of energy. We got tried and that’s why I had to make substitutions,” it almost sounds like a complaint but most of the crowd were happy to see the fight from a team that has lacked it in important matches. “We can’t be satisfied overall … we can score over there. It’s good to have a clean sheet, but we will have to get an advantage over there.” Pretty much sums up the evening.
Salomon Kalou blotted his fine evening by revealing he will think about a move to Arsenal in the summer although Arsenal’s interest came as a surprise even to him: “Arsène Wenger said he thought of signing me?” was his initial response. “I know that every single player in the world dreams of playing for Arsène Wenger. I have a lot of respect for him, he is one of the best coaches in the world, so why not … At the present time I’m happy at Chelsea and I hope that the things that I want to happen will happen. I will think of my future once the season is over.”
Friday 27 February
Fulham youth 3:0 Chelsea youth
Motspur Park is a lovely place to be with this kind of weather sadly the game went against us, we fought and created chances but they did the same and crucially stuck ’em away.
Back at Cobham and overweight Tom Jones turned up to watch a few sessions, someone said it was John Toshack but what would he be doing at Chelsea; looking over the extensive Welsh contingent at the club? Or is it just Rhys Taylor.
Saturday 28 February
Chelsea 2:1 Wigan Athletic
“Yes, that is what I said, yeah, no, not a laugh, yeah, left-foot, no, a scissor volley. S-C-I-S-S-O-R. No it was John Terry. Listen mate, I’m telling you – John Terry with a … ” It was a moment more Thierry Henry than John Terry, 25 minutes gone and the ball is cleared by the Wigan defence, one of hundreds of clearance and blocks they completed in the afternoon, and it falls for John ‘the volley’ Terry who lashes it into the net from 18-yards and incidentally makes him the highest scoring defender in the club’s history. He’s been waiting for something special, nobody had the heart to tell him that a deflection took it in, the moment was simply too special for technicalities.
Wigan played a blinder, they could have been two up by the time dead-eye Terry put us ahead notably when Ashley Cole hooked Titus Bramble’s header off the line, and they played with verve all afternoon, worked hard and used the ball intelligently; in fact, all the characteristics you expect from Wigan, except when they play Manchester United.
We began in second-gear and looked second best for a long stretch at the start, but JT’s wonder goal seemed to give us momentum and we oozed class and power into the second-half, with Didier smashing shots and battling defenders like he’d never been away. Still with only one on the board the crowd started to feel nerves, largely because we have been here before nearly a year ago to the day, when Hiddink made his first erratic decision, he took off Michael Mancienne (who played to the manor born) and replaced him with Ricardo Quaresma. Instantly Wigan attacked into the space left and equalised. Good cross, strong finish but the chance shouldn’t have been presented.
Frank Lampard stole in with a few seconds left to pinch the points with a looping header and Wigan went away feeling hard done by from what has to be one of the most entertaining games this season.
To add to the entertainment Liverpool lost to Middlesbrough and we are back into second, craning our neck a bit to see first, but second nevertheless.