Sunday 3 January
Chelsea 5:0 Watford
After a quiet week with little bitching L’Equipe publish an interview with Florent Malouda in which he moans about not playing in the big matches and how Frank Lampard gets picked however well he is playing – Happy New Year Florent.
Ancelotti made plenty of changes for the Hornet’s visit: Hilario started in goal and Alex came in for Carvalho; Belletti, Zhirkov and Malouda came into the midfield. In Anelka’s absence he opted for a Christmas tree formation.
Watford started with five in midfield with the hope of smothering our movement but their plans went out of the window after five minutes when John Terry volleyed a knock-down from a corner and Daniel Sturridge steered the ball in. It was the hyper-confident former Man City man’s first for the club. 1-0.
The second, ten minutes later, was not the most elegant goal ever scored at Stamford Bridge: Malouda’s deep cross was volleyed back by Joe Cole whence it ricocheted off a couple of defenders and Frank Lampard’s arse before settling over the line. John Eustace was credited with the own-goal. 2-0.
Seven minutes further on and Watford were cursing another deflection when Yuri Zhirkov’s flashing volley cannoned off Malouda and, given his current mood, he was always going to claim the goal. 3-0.
Three up inside twenty two minutes gave everyone abundant confidence and one touch football flowed around Watford until their head spun. One in particular could have given Sturridge his second as Terry and Malouda fed him in inside left but he scooped the effort wide.
Watford started the second-half actually getting into our half and won a corner which Hilario gratefully clutched to his chest with his usual string of Ave Marias.
Ashley Cole had a couple of goes and Sturridge racing clear chipped but not high enough and then couldn’t force in from and angle.
The fourth when it came was a reminder of Frank Lampard’s previous best. One touch control and a sumptuous volley into the far top corner. 4-0.
Sturridge showed acute control to bring down Ashley Cole’s cross and tap beyond the ’keeper in one movement. 5-0.
A sixth would not come and it was time to hand some experience round as Nemanja Matić made an appearance for Belletti, as did Fabio Borini and Gaël Kakuta.
As a third round encounter this was about as comprehensive as it gets and, while aware of our opponent’s weaknesses, returning to scoring form like this should be the boost the squad needs ahead of the January fixtures.
What makes it even better is confirmation of the rumours that Leeds United had in fact won away against Manchester United.
Our immediate reward is a fourth round trip to Deepdale to play Preston North End. Tie of the round is probably Spurs against Leeds but with Old Trafford hosting no more FA Cup games it frees up the schedule for some of the other clubs to get some screen time.
Monday 4 January
Didier Drogba scored the only goal as Côte d’Ivoire beat Tanzania in warm-up match. Drogba and Kalou only played the first-half.
Malouda has been trying to set the record straight about his supposed unhappiness. He was, he says, misquoted and that he hadn’t said anything nasty about Frank.
Meanwhile in legal news: Ashley Cole has been found guilty of driving at twice the speed limit, he said he was trying to out run paparazzi but the beak didn’t swallow it and he will be sentenced later in the month.
Wednesday 6 January
Tom Taiwo has sighed full-time for Carlisle United. The 19-year old who caused a big twist in Ken Bates’ knickers when he signed with Michael Woods from Leeds in the summer of 2006 has a two-and-a-half-year contract at Brunson Park and we wish him well.
Michael Essien trained today for the first time since his hamstring tear against Apoel last month. It is good news for, er, Ghana as he will fly out to join the African Cup of Nations squad at the weekend in the company of a club doctor. Michael will not play in the Black Star’s first match on Monday against Togo but is itching to play Côte d’Ivoire on Friday, for obvious reasons.
It being the new year Jack Cork, Patrick van Aanholt, Jacob Mellis, Liam Bridcutt and Rhys Taylor are all back from their loans. The logic behind Mellis and van Aanholt’s return is apparently qualification for the Champion’s League. They have to be trained by us for a certain length of time to be categorised as home-grown players.
Sad news today as well, Neil Clement, formerly with West Bromwich Albion, has been forced to retire on medical advice. Neil is 31and has been struggling with injury for eighteen-months. Neil was a very promising youth and reserve for Chelsea in the 90s and his brother Paul has been a coach with Chelsea since summer 2007.
Friday 8 January
Armed gunmen strafed the Togo team bus as it drove into Angola from the Congo, killing one of the drivers and leaving eight squad members injured. Emmanuel Adebayor is the biggest name in the squad and said afterwards that many were unharmed but badly shaken.
The attack happened in the Cabinda region where Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are also scheduled to play. Planning games in an area where the Home Office advises “against all but essential travel to the interior of Cabinda province” would seem risky in the first place, especially when you realise that the area has its own separatist army: The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, it sounds snappier in Portuguese.
The Togo players will ask to come home and the incident threatens the whole tournament with Premier League clubs lining up to ask for their players safety to be guaranteed or for their return,
Hull City have been making bullish noises all week about getting our game on but fresh snow fall today lead to the inevitable announcement; for safety reasons our match is not going ahead. Phil Brown will be delighted that the game will now be played after Didier and the boys are back from Angola.
Meanwhile, Didier had won the BBC African footballer of the year award.
Saturday 9 January
Togo have pulled out of the African Cup of Nations and you cannot blame them. Emmanuel Adebayor said: “you cannot sleep after what we have seen – one of your team-mates with bullets in his body in front of you, crying and losing consciousness.”
With our game off because of the weather many spent the afternoon twiddling their thumbs and listening out for other results, both of our closest rivals were playing; Arsenal, making up their game in hand, struggled to a home draw with Everton (sound familiar); while Manchester United scraped a draw away at Birmingham (also sounds familiar). There is an unusual symmetry that two of the sides who have denied us point recently have just deprived our nearest rivals of points on the same day. Chelsea remain top of the league a point ahead of United with a game in hand and three ahead of Arsenal who have now played the same number as us.
Sunday 10 January
Togo have pulled out of the tournament after all. There has been a lot of confusion and contradictory comments, Adebayor’s website said he was coming home while officials were saying the team would stay. Thomas Dossevi, the Nantes striker said: “We are all heartbroken, it is no longer a party, but we want to show our national colours, our values and that we are men”. Finally, the Togoan government weighed in and demanded their return and they flew home as the first match was starting.
The first match was remarkable enough. The home side Angola fought to get themselves a 4-0 lead only to blow it all in the last ten minutes to draw 4-4 with Mali.