Wednesday 14 March
Chelsea 4:1 SSC Napoli
Football, bloody hell.
Few doubted before kick-off that something was going to happen tonight, fewer thought they’d finish the evening watching our caretaker dancing on the pitch.
Needing just a 2-0 win Roberto Di Matteo chose a conservative team. David Luiz came back into the defence in place of Gary Cahill. Frank Lampard and Michael Essien were the base of the midfield and Didier Drogba played up front.
However stable and conservative Di Matteo intended the side to be Napoli had not been told and cut through our largely absent midfield at will. The first twenty-minutes of the match, one Sturridge shot apart, was all Italy flooding forward.
Michael Essien looked particularly woeful. Unable to get close, anticipate play, control the ball or pass to another blue shirt.
We were just as bad going forward as Didier fell over himself with embarrassing ease and most of what you might call a threat came from long bunted crosses from Ivanovic.
So poorly were we playing that we took the lead. Ramires crossed Drogba ran across his marker and headed in. 1-0.
Napoli responded well with an effort wide but Chelsea had started to believe and Sturridge flashed a cross across the box with no takers before Essien slammed a shot wide.
Tails were certainly up while Terry powered another ball into their box, they managed to scramble that behind and struggled from the subsequent corner.
We could have been two up at the break but had to wait only a few minutes into the second-half. Napoli’s Cannavaro (not that one, his brother) clumsyed the ball behind for a cheap corner and John Terry headed in unmarked. 2-0.
The suspicion that we lost the last leg, not against the greatest team in Italian history but to a journeyman midfield and defence kept afloat by a nippy strike force seemed to be confirmed. Until, that is, one of the journeymen midfielders trapped John Terry’s clearing header and volleyed in in one movement. 2-1.
The sinking feeling was back again. Sickening equalisers and last minute winners against us have been all too familiar this season, all our good work undone. At least this bullet to the heart was well taken.
Sturridge was hauled out of the game and on in his place came Fernando Torres. Just as a few vocal chords warmed up ‘you don’t know what you’re…’ Torres hares into action and the ball falls for Ivanovic to have a shot.
Drogba then controlled on his chest and shot on the spin but too close to a relieved ’keeper. Zuniga slapped a shot at Cech at the other end and the ball nearly, oh so nearly, broke to Lavezzi. Nearly.
Penalty. Another corner, another Ivanovic chance this time a Neapolitan hand shot up to deflect the ball. Some doubt over the taker with Mata and Drogba on the pitch but Frank Lampard blasts the ball straight down the middle. 3-1.
Extra-time looms. After years of referees coming here and taking the piss it is a delight, if a slightly embarrassing one, to have a referee so firmly on our side. Dossena, who just handed us the penalty, was tackled and rolled into the penalty box right in front of the Napoli fans; players, crowd, Asian betting markets screamed for a penalty, replays showed the player outside the box when the tackle was made, this referee awarded a – corner; we cleared.
It wasn’t his only act of kindness but we’ll come to that. Drogba had a free-kick wafted when they have been so vulnerable to crosses it was a piece of poor decision making to have to shot. But it was all Chelsea as Lavezzi, nearly connected and Gargano’s hopeful 30-yard punt nearly fell in.
Into extra-time and Mata departed for Malouda in another move that would have brought scorn down on the head of AVB but we are giving RDM the benefit of the doubt. Mata had been effectively marshalled out of the game so the move made sense. Di Matteo’s other sub was making himself busy with clearing headers and strong running up front so perhaps he deserved it. As David Luiz looks tired and hobbling it is JT who makes way for Bosingwa. Two weeks after knee surgery this has been a Herculean night from John Terry.
Then it happens – Torres must score – the ’keeper charged out completely missed the ball, Torres is through but being closed down by a defender and cannot find an empty net from an angle.
A free-kick by the corner flag brings the defenders up and a combination of Ramires and Drogba crossed the ball for a completely unmarked Ivanovic standing on the middle of the six yard line to smash the ball into the roof of the net. 4-1.
The amount of sweat lost during the second-half of injury time, all the nails bitten to stumps but Didier Drogba carried us through. It was the kind of enormous performance from the Ivorian we could never replace. He dived as well, quite comically but won the free-kick.
Didier could have scored to make the final few minutes easier on the nerves but could only fire wide with a first-time effort.
The final whistle saw our caretaker boss leap on an unsuspecting Drogba and a bewildered Torres. Pandemonium best described the stands and downcast doesn’t do justice to the expression on Italian faces.
The draw is on Friday.
Thursday 15 March
Chelsea have announced we’ll be joining the NextGen series from next season. The U19 competition is a kind of European Champions’ League for academies. Ajax, Barcelona, Marseille and Inter have already entered this year and the pool will be expanded from 16 to 24 teams with groups of four drawn to play home and away before quarter-finals.
Friday 16 March
Manchester United youth 1:2 Chelsea youth
A rare televised youth cup semi-final and ITV clearly thought United would repeat the score from last season’s game. Sadly for the broadcaster and their ex-United player guest Chelsea completely dominated, utterly outclassed the home side.
Amin Affane opened the scoring and United posed so little threat that their equaliser came from a lucky ricochet. Islam Feruz scored an imperious winner but the whole team impressed. Special mention perhaps to John Swift and Nathanial Chalobah who were the engine and lungs of the team.
We will be playing Benfica in the quarter-final of the Champions League and if we get past the Portuguese club AC Milan or Barcelona await in a semi. Real Madrid pulled Apoel while Marseille will play Bayern München.
There is not much to add to that if we get the semi we’ll have to hope AC Milan have done a job on Barcelona because they pay referees more than we do.
Saturday 17 March
Chelsea youth 2:0 Bristol City youth
Fresh from a semi-final win at Old Trafford and confirmation of their participation in next season’s NextGen tournament the young Blues are on a bit of a high at the moment.
The Robins agreed to shift the game up from their place and make it more of a schoolboy fixture because of our exertions in the FA Youth Cup. And good on them, we say, we’ll be backing Derek McInnes’ survival bid in the Championship.
So it was a few names for the future took almost complete control: Dion Conroy scored our first and John Muleba the second.
Bolton Wanderer’s midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch during their FA Cup quarter-final at Tottenham. The situation was clearly serious from the start and the match was abandoned a few minutes later. Muamba was rushed to hospital where it was confirmed that his heart had stopped. Gary Cahill was recently a colleague at Bolton of course but it seems everyone knows Fabrice in some way Ryan Bertrand played with him with England U21, Ashley Cole was with him at Arsenal.
Sunday 18 March
Chelsea 5:2 Leicester City
After a week as good as ours what you really need is a gentle training game and for your mis-firing multi-million pound striker to get off the mark again. Oh and for the television to show the whole thing live.
Gary Cahill headed in our first corner of the match to instantly settle any nerves. 1-0. Fernando Torres then rampaged down the right before finding Kalou who tricked both goalkeeper and defender before slipping the ball into the net past both. 2-0.
Leicester were a little unlucky to be down so quickly Torres had some great chances one a header went straight to Schmeichel the other, a turn and shot on the edge of the box suggested he might fancy it today, brought a full-length save from the Danish ’keeper.
Florent Malouda came on after the break and probed into the space Leicester seemed happy to give away. But the crowning glory of the afternoon came when Meireles switched play with Sturridge and found Torres in the box – everything slowed for a micro-second as we all watched to see what he would do – and, yes, he scuffed it goalwards, watch it past the ’keeper’s hand and in, YES. 3-0.
The lad has been playing particularly well today and at the end of the Napoli game and he finally has his goal.
Leicester woke up and tried to make a game of it towards the end Beckford tucked home the rebound after Neil Danns shot hit the post, 3-1, but any hope they had of a famous comeback was stifled by Torres’ second – glancing in a corner at the near-post.
Ben Marshall then came on to make a name by curling one past Cech from twenty-yards 4-2. But Torres the provider sealed the game by setting up Meireles at the death.
The draw, of course pitted us against Tottenham or Bolton Wanderers while Liverpool will play Sunderland or Everton. The draw is getting so contrived since ITV got their oar back in they might as well just tell everyone what ties they want to maximise revenue and be done with it.
Still a Bolton v. Sunderland final would serve them right.