Monday 14 February
Fulham 0:0 Chelsea
This season is turning into a farce. Required to fit Fernando Torres into the team Carlos Ancelotti has been forced to change a successful system mid-term and it clearly isn’t working. Jose Mourinho watched this debacle from the stands and he will have had his own thoughts on the sudden arrival of a very expensive striker.
You can’t entirely blame Torres. His touch was appalling, again, he missed a few sitters, again, he showed no composure, again, and failed to find a colleague with a pass, again, but blame for this absurdity lies elsewhere.
In 2006 Roman Abramovic denied Jose Mourinho the money he felt he needed to strengthen the squad and presented him instead with £30m Andriy Shevchenko. Our season faltered badly as Mourinho tried to gel the Ukrainian striker into a system that had been functioning perfectly. The upshot was Mourinho’s departure and three league titles surrendered to Salford.
After the abject failure of that gamble Roman put away his cheque book and watched as we drifted. A few splashes in the transfer shallows brought squad players but no names. Until suddenly stung by the idea that we might not qualify for the Champions League Abramovich lashed the cash on another player who doesn’t fit into the system, lacks form and confidence and more importantly one that the Russian owner’s coach clearly didn’t want or expect.
Torres has been playng with all the poise of a Labrador puppy who has just weed. We could contrast with other expensive strikers making their first few appearances but it is hard to imagine Tevez ever looking doe-eyed and forlorn.
The upshot is that after sacking his trusted assistant at the end of last year, the owner has further undermined his coach and our chances of European qualification. Ancelotti has gone from talking about retaining the title to fighting for fourth place. How soon before he is stressing the importance of the Europa League?
In order to find a system to enable us to play Torres, Ancelotti was forced to put Didier Drogba on the bench. Anelka played but his nose is seriously out of joint since the Spaniard’s arrival; ostensibly positioned on the right, he drifted into the centre and the play-maker role he has been in for the last two games. His performance, however, was more Liverpool than Sunderland as he was crowded out or easily dispossessed. Anelka’s speed of thought was just not quick enough and the result was an extremely crowded midfield and lack of attacking width.
The bright spark on an otherwise cold and miserable evening was the performance of David Luiz. He started solidly at the back with some crucial interceptions but gradually found his feet and charged forward to confuse and bewilder the Fulham defence. At one point he was up on the left bicycle-kicking back across the box a ball that looked to be looping out.
The penalty he gave away at the end was a clumsy mistake as Dempsey wasn’t going anywhere and was waiting for the contact to fall over. Cech’s save was as routine as they come but Mark Hughes’ complaints about encroachment were baffling as replays show no real offence.
Didier Drogba finally replaced Torres and instantly showed how to hold the ball up. His performance was not perfect but the few minutes he was given were Chelsea’s most productive.
In short we had 22 chances but managed only four on target. A very poor showing from most but alongside Luiz was Brazilian teammate Ramires who is starting to look like he has adapted to the pace of the game.
Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards that Torres wasn’t performing badly: “He just needs time to play with us. He played well, using his ability to move, and had some opportunities. His performance was better than against Liverpool.” Which isn’t saying much.
Wednesday 16 February
Chelsea reserves 4:3 West Ham reserves
A topsy turvy game started brightly for the Blues as McEachran intercepted in midfield and ran on to feed Fabio Borini, the Italian has been missing for three months after a shoulder operation but smashed home his first goal of the day with a strong finish. They equalised and then took the lead before half-time but their scorers tell the story: Benni McCarthy and Freddy Sears scored for a very experienced West Ham XI. No matter Borini as back and equalised from the spot before lashing us into a lead from the edge of the box with the best goal of his hat-trick.
They equalised after really sloppy play at the back but McEachran played the ball through for Lalkovic strong run and chipped finish.
Friday 18 February
Carlo admitted a slight mistake today when it emerged that David Luiz is ineligible for the Everton game having signed after the first game. In replays it seems you have to use the same squad so Ferreira comes in at right-back.
Saturday 19 February
Chelsea 1:1 Everton
(Everton win 3:4 on penalties)
Make that 7 competitive penalty shootouts in a row. Shockingly sloppy penalties from Anelka and Cole handed the tie to Everton much to the delight of their noisy travelling fans. Losing at home to scousers is becoming a habit.
We started with the now conventional unbalanced side, too narrow and too top heavy and the first-half went the way you’d expect we attacked straight up the middle Everton found it pitifully easy to break down and attacked down our flanks. Thankfully Everton don’t have a striker at the moment because they tore us to ribbons in the opening half an hour but couldn’t find a final pass.
The few bright spots of a wretched first-half saw Baines head the ball toward his own goal, Howard athletically tip the effort onto the post and Terry get right under the rebound.
Ramires’ charge into the box was the only clear break. It is indicative of our luck that he was booked for diving, Howard charged out pulled his arms away from contact but then caught the Brazilian as he went past. A clear nailed on penalty, there was contact and Ramires was tripped.
Our second-half performance was better but you have to wonder why we have not been performing in the first-half. Can anyone remember the last time we took a game by the scruff from the start? Having just written that I realise that Chelsea fans are starting to sound as resigned to failure as we did back when Claudio Ranieri was running a sinking ship.
Everton managed to undo their hard work with skied efforts or fouls and the ref’s little black book fills with ever more Evertonians. Howard makes a spectacular save from Lampard’s sidefoot and the men in white (off white-ish smudge anyway) somehow block Ivanovic’s powerful header from the corner.
Right at the death Fellaini tips the ball in after Cech has saved Baines’ shot but he rightly flagged offside. That was Everton’s only really chance of the ninety-minutes.
We have now played three complete games without scoring.
Extra-time: More of the same really. The erratic ref lets Baines off when he dives in the area. Funny he booked Ramires who was tripped and sees Baines blatantly dive but lets it go because the left-back is already on a yellow. He compounds the idiocy of his performance by giving Everton a free-kick from a Chelsea corner when nobody else could see an infringement. Even in super slow motion.
Anelka, on for Malouda at the start of extra-time, ghosts to the byeline and pulls back for Drogba who chests down and is about to pull the trigger when Lampard hits it into the net. 1-0.
Chelsea seemed so much more themselves in extra-time and dominate possession but spend the second period of the added unsure whether to press their advantage or hang on for full-time.
In the end they managed neither. Ivanovic challenges with Arteta and the doltish ref decides a free-kick will liven up the end of the game. Baines stroke the ball into the net with Cech rooted. 1-1. We’ve lost because the action will be a penalty shootout.
Lampard, Drogba, and Jagielka all score to make it 2-1, Baines missed. Then Anelka steps up and without a run up patsies it straight at Howard. Anelka has done many things for this club but he is starting to get on our nerves. That was the most absurdly lackadaisical penalty since his effort in the Champions League final.
They equalise and Essien scores for us but Ashley Cole wafts the ball anywhere after being shoulder barged by John Heitinga as he walked up to take the kick and the gurning visage of Phil Nevile puts us out.
Couldn’t much be bothered with what Ancelotti had to say afterwards, he’ll note that we were by far the better team and that everyone played well and that he is happy with the application and do nothing about changing a drifting situation.
Southampton youth 3:1 Chelsea youth
Todd Kane continued his prolific season to give us the lead but that was as good as it got as a young Chelsea academy side slipped three unanswered goals to the league leaders. Poor showing especially in the second-half.