Sunday 8 March
Arsenal or Hull City at Wembley in a month’s time. Manchester United play Everton in the other game. Oddly it will be our first meeting with Arsenal at Wembley.
Monday 9 March
Carl Magnay is on the move again, this time at Sixfields with Northampton Town.
Tuesday 10 March
Juventus 2:2 Chelsea
Through and comfortably by the end playing ten-men and creating chances as they piled forward. A late flurry of cards marred an evening that Didier Drogba stole as his own yet only appeared to touch the ball twice.
Juventus threw everything at us yet in the end a bundled goal from Michael Essien just before half-time gave us the prized away goal and balance of the game was thrown out of proportion.
For the top then: Juve started brightly with Pavel Nedvěd running the game from midfield, but he departed after accidental clashes, first with Essien and then with Anelka, left him clutching his ribs.
Juve had momentum and levelled the tie when Trezeguet hooked a ball on and the Chelsea defence could only watch as Vincenzo Iaquinta ran on and chipped over Cech.
It wasn’t a good start, Del Piero brought another save from Cech, the team seemed unable to attack without the usual wide players, Kalou and Malouda. But, gradually, they found some rhythm or did the best they could with a fussy referee. Drogba scored from a free-kick only for the linesman to waive play on. Lampard the blasted a twenty-five yard shot which was deflected and pushed onto the bar only for Essien to race in ahead of two defenders to toe poke the ball home.
The away goal rule has come to our rescue before and it bailed us out here, Juventus suddenly needed to score two more and through an error strewn and niggling second-half they didn’t really look capable. Cech was made to work but everything was in front of him.
Chiellini was unlucky to go for a second booking but with ten-men Juventus suddenly found determination and were lucky themselves to get a penalty from Belletti’s handball at a free-kick. Ball to hand or hand to ball doesn’t really come into it when a shot is hit that hard and referees really should read the rules, it does say deliberate.
Cech could have picked up Del Piero’s penalty if he hadn’t dived and the ball trickling in meant they only needed one.
We suddenly seemed to wake up and take advantage of the extra man and the rest of the game was comfortable, Drogba smashed home from a Belletti cross and suddenly the Brazilian was everywhere including fluffing a great chance at the end.
Elsewhere Liverpool scraped through against Spanish minnows Real Somewhere-or-other by the odd goal in five.
Wednesday 11 March
We have been selected for Setanta for our FA Cup semi so Saturday 18th April at 5.15pm.
Rumours that Petr Cech is interesting Barcelona have been rebuffed, his agent says he is happy at Chelsea.
In Europe, Jose Mourinho has to be content with humble acceptance when his Inter side failed against a ropey looking United. Inter created the chances to pull off a score draw but fluffed their lines in front of goal. Late reports suggest Mourinho punched someone in the kisser, which sounds more like it.
Arsenal kept us all up until closing time by requiring penalties in Rome, all those Gooners booked on return flights will have been delighted by the dilemma, flight home or stay to the end.
Friday 13 March
Southampton youth 3:0 Chelsea youth
Floodlights for the youth team but three goals conceded and few chances made. Jeffery Bruma played the whole match and looks good after a very long period out with injury. This was the youth team’s third straight defeat.
Back at Cobham and the press conference ahead of shows the dogged determination of the British press. Without much understanding of tactics or the politics of the game they simply ask Hiddink if he will take the job full-time, and he replies that he has already answered that question.
Saturday 14 March
Lunchtime kick-offs aren’t usually this good. Liverpool dumped on Manchester United 1-4 and some bookmakers looked at paying out twice on the title. Well, they still have a four-point lead and a game in hand but you have to dream.
Sunday 15 March
Chelsea 1:0 Manchester City
This had an end of season feel, but both sides have more to fight for than they showed here, City played as if they can’t go down and we played as though the title is out of reach. Both sets of players are being realistic, of course, but there is a may be lurking they haven’t thought of.
We were so relaxed we could afford to be sanguine about Lampard being offside with an early effort and about Anelka being simultaneously pulled back and hacked down in the box. The refs probably have a bet on teams not winning penalties at home across the season and must have Chelsea on the spread at one. Mike Riley again.
At times we passed the ball around as well as we have at our best all season. But the finish came from Michael Essien, Lampard found him with a driven free-kick and with the City defence disappearing as the ball was played to him, Michael will be honest, he shinned it in a high arc into the top corner.
Essien was again a revelation, he adds such drive and urgency to midfield and works so hard to get the ball back, the guy is a one man midfield, and Hiddink re-jigged things to get him into a system with Ballack taking over from Obi John in the holding role so Lampard and Essien could go forward. It looked balanced and it worked.
Deco, sadly, didn’t and will probably now miss the rest of this term with another muscle tear.
We created but failed to convert plenty. Some of the best: flowing move narrowly failed to get Anelka in on goal, early before we’d scored; the move that should have led to a penalty; Drogba’s backheel into Ballack’s path that the German steered round the post; Anelka and Essien shots in the second-half and Belletti hitting the post; Malouda even had a couple of chances after he replaced a limping Drogba late on.
Manchester City for their own part looked bewildered, although better teams would struggle against Chelsea in this mood. After Wayne Bridge’s bright opening, which Hiddink snuffed out when he replaced Deco with Belletti, we never felt uncomfortable, having Carvalho back helped but the balance of the side and the confidence were the most obvious things Guus will take into training. We have a week to work at Cobham before a few tricky away games and now only four points back in second.
Guus said something about United needing to “spoil their points” after the game, you kind of know what he means.