Monday 19 April
Newcastle are up as champions after defeating Plymouth at Home Park, sadly for Argyle it was the last straw and they are relegated.
At Chelsea is all about injuries this morning: Drogba has a hernia problem, it was that which saw him hobble off just before the second half started on Saturday, he will think about when to have surgery. Obi John is out of Sunday’s game with Stoke, so it looks like Ballack or Deco. Essien is still a week or so away but Ashley Cole will return.
Franck Ribery has his own problems this morning as prosecutors consider charges of involvement with an under-age call girl. It appears to be a case of knowing a friend of a friend who was involved with soliciting. Franck is of course married with two children.
Tuesday 20 April
In a reminder of what we are missing Jose Mourinho’s Inter won their home leg against Barcelona 3-1 coming from a goal down to shock last season’s winners. Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and then Diego Milito scored the goals in a highly satisfying evening. Well, our local was packed with Inter fans for the night. Including two distinct family groups and a Japanese couple who emitted high pitched squeals whenever there was danger at either end. Wesley Sneijder’s work rate and guile undid Barça on a night when the Catalans looked bereft of ideas.
And no, there is no point wondering how many trophies we would have won if Mourinho had stayed.
Michael Essien probably/will not make it back before the end of the season after bruising around his knee prevented his comeback. He is concerned he might not play before the World Cup. Michael’s knee is still swelling up after exercise and a host of minor complications and niggles have delayed his return. Sadly the doctors think he will be ready for the World Cup, where he will, inevitably, be injured and will then miss the start of next season. Still if he comes back steaming into a Champions’ League semi-final it will all seem worthwhile.
The Times is reporting that Abramovich has slapped an embargo on contract negotiations leaving Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco hanging. There are various theories floating about but the official line would probably be that they don’t want distractions ahead of the final run in to a possible league crown. If it is true the club will have to move fast after the cup final to get signatures before everyone flies off to World Cup training camps. Assuming they can fly by then, it seems the World Cup might have to be delayed as teams struggle to book passage for the ocean voyage.
Friday 23 April
Good news on the pre-season front – if you can tear yourself away from the prayers that even the most secular fans stared a few weeks ago, “oh gods of football please let us win the league”, until it becomes almost a continual chant in your head: “please let us win the league, say, oops upside the league”, until you can’t hear anything anyone is saying, you just rock, backward and forward, silently imploring and imaginary being to help Spurs get a result at Old Trafford. You are lying if you say you don’t. Where were we? The club have announced a pre-season game that doesn’t require return flights and hotel rooms – no, it isn’t as simple as getting to the airport, Chelsea will play Crystal Palace on Saturday 17 July so you’ll have to book travel to the base camp at Thornton Heath and strike out with Sherpas from there. There might be a few reserves out for this one as it falls only six days after the World Cup final.
Good news for the academy lads who’ve made an impression this term as Ancelotti makes it clear that five will move up to the first team group: “The only sure thing will be that, next season, there will be five players from the academy in the [first-team] squad. Some other players will move on. It’s not because we don’t have the money but because we want to give strength to our academy. We have very good young players and this is the time to put them in the squad for next year. They are all able to be members of Chelsea’s first-team set-up.”
Chelsea and Brentford have confirmed that reserve games will not be played at Griffin Park from now on. Chelsea have not announced a replacement but Cobham is adequate for now. The reserve league is apparently due a shake up with details to be announced in June.
Saturday 24 April
Chelsea youth 3:2 Cardiff City youth
Yet another fine performance from the young Blues: 2-2 at half-time after a brace from Bobby Devyne set up a second-half winner from captain Daniel Philliskirk. Once again, most of the youth cup side were rested this side contained two under 15s (Toddy Kane and John Swift) and an under 16 in the form of Nathaniel Chalobah.
Spurs lay down 3-1 at Old Trafford, as wearily predicted, and United have a two-point lead. At the bottom Hull need miracles as West Ham moved six points clear of them with a home win over Wigan, there are two games to go. Burnley could, in theory win their remaining three games to escape but we wouldn’t bet on it.
Southend slipped out of the first division and into lowest tier after a draw with Oldham wasn’t enough. Bournemouth move in the opposite direction promoted along with Rochdale and Notts County. It is depressing to think that the Cherries manager, Steve Howe, is only 32. First the players are younger than you and now the managers.
Deco announces his intention to quit at the end of the season to return to Brazil and a school for poor kids he opened there: “It will be strange to leave Chelsea but with football this is always the way. One day you will be an ex-player at a club. My friend Mike, a doctor in Brazil, was telling me that one day I will be an ex-footballer but he will never be an ex-doctor.”
Sunday 25 April
Chelsea 7:0 Stoke City
Where do you start? The third time we’ve scored seven this season, the first hat-trick for Salomon Kalou, the first time Frank Lampard has scored twenty league goals, we could go on. Stoke had not lost away from home since before Christmas and had only conceded 16 goals in all their matches away from the Britannia. Ashley Cole strolled back into the team and played like he’d never been away, well, actually, he slipped up defensively a number of times but his attacking was sharp and so we’ll put the blunders down to rustiness. Branislav Ivanovic came in for the suspended John Terry and Michael Ballack took over from Obi John, the midfield purred far more effectively with his forward vision.
With all the bleating about pressure after the United win yesterday the players’ answer was emphatic, curiously it was Didier Drogba’s afternoon even though he failed to score.
The action really started with Frank Lampard’s long-range shot and Cole’s follow up that both brought smart saves from Thomas Sørensen. Drogba then had a monstrous header pawed behind one-handed by the big Danish keeper.
The trick that finally beat the Stoke keeper owed everything to Drogba’s skill and craft. Firstly he flicked Malouda’s deep ball and crossed superbly for Kalou to nod home. 1-0 You could be mistaken for believing that Drogba is our best winger.
Kalou was then quickest to react as Sørensen palmed the ball sideways after Drogba, again, expertly flicked inside for Lampard to have his shot parried. Kalou’s studs up challenge would have cost him a card anywhere else on the pitch but he appeared to have cleanly won the ball before Sørensen needed five minutes treatment and was stretchered out of the ground and off to hospital. When it seemed the only contact with Kalou was the tip of his middle finger.
Kalou’s next action was to be hauled down by Robert Huth for Frank Lampard to stroke the penalty beyond the substitute Begovic. 3-0. Their first, and only, chance came six minutes into first-half injury time but the header was tame and wide.
The second-half started with a bout of ill discipline from Stoke as first Kitson appeared to salute the bench before storming down the tunnel on being substituted and then Whelan and Whitehead were both booked the latter for diving.
While all that was going on, Kalou was busting a gut to score his hat-trick goal. His chances came and went until he got a run into the box only to fire straight at Begovic, luckily the rebound fell kindly for him and he smashed in from close. 4-0.
Joe Cole came on for the hat-trick hero and in his first action he wriggled to the by-line squared for Anelka who helped it on to Malouda who must score. Inches from an empty net Florent took the Christmas DVD route to fame and fortune and side footed wide.
We had a bit of a wait for the next one, time for Sam Hutchinson to come on at right-back. It feels so natural to have a Hutch lobbing bombs into the box again that the youngster’s cross was flicked into the net by Lampard with the outside of his right boot. Spellbinding stuff. 5-0.
Didier, who had been quiet for a while, suddenly found the grace and touch of a Zidane to feed Daniel Sturridge who rounded the keeper to, for once, score rather than fire wide. 6-0.
Just as the afternoon was drawing to a close Joe Cole volleyed in a cross and Malouda, stumbling forward tried to deflect the ball over but succeeded only in bashing it into the roof of the net for seven. 7-0.
The first time since decimalisation we’ve scored seven without reply.
The size of the win was pleasing for fans but doesn’t change the title picture, we still need to win the two remaining games and we are champions.
Burnley’s resistance finally broke at home to Liverpool, who now have an outside shot at fourth and so something to play for next weekend. Burnley have been brave and inventive in their short stay in the top flight, not fodder by any stretch and they took three points off Manchester United.