Tuesday 22 January
Just as you want to concentrate all your efforts on the league cup semi-final when you ballsed up the first leg, journalists start quoting Marco Materazzi at you. The former Italy defender said that Benitez had taken down pictures of Jose Mourinho from their training base and that he was a weak man. Showing himself to be above such petty squabbling Benitez ranted that Materazzi was a liar. Nothing like calm, confident and in control.
Meanwhile, whoever wins tomorrow night will have the pleasure of meeting Bradford City in the final after the Bantams beat Aston Villa 4-3 on aggregate.
Wednesday 23 January
Swansea City 0:0 Chelsea
(Swansea win 2-0 on aggregate)
For once Chris Foy had little choice but the story of this match is the story of Benitez’s reign: he cannot get the side to function.
The contrast with last season could not be more stark. The last two semi-finals we played we did so with an interim manager. Many had publicly doubted that Di Matteo had what it took in terms of experience but he got the players to believe in what he was telling them. Chelsea, players, board, management, and fans were all pulling in the same direction and it showed. The last two semi-finals we played we tonked Spurs 5-1 and waved our hoodoo over Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate.
Under Benitez it is different – clearly a majority didn’t like being called plastic fans and did not admire his Liverpool side’s style: petty cheating and snide remarks.
He could have won us over with a style of play that absorbed us – instead we have stumbled from one good performance to another bad. We failed to score against Swansea in 180 minutes. But it is not just Swansea – under Benitez, lest we forget, we have also failed against QPR, Corinthians, West Ham, Fulham and Manchester City. There have been some encouraging results thrown in – many expected defeat at the weekend – but it is clear Benitez cannot inspire these players to any heights.
His tactical master plan tonight involved taking off Ivanovic for Luiz: er, yes but that was it.
In the end Eden Hazard was stupid for kicking the ballboy. As they tangled and the ballboy went to absurd lengths to keep the ball from the Chelsea player what, frankly, was the Belgian supposed to do. Hazard was doing just what he would do if an opponent was lying on the ball, kick it out from under him. This time he caught the boy but the general rule is if you are in the way it is your fault. Apologies have been issued on both sides and that should be that. Expect a ten-match ban from the FA.
Correspondents from the Dailies Mail and Telegraph will have the biggest dilemma: after all ‘a clout round the ear’ and ‘a kick up the arse’ is party policy at both papers. Perhaps Hazard fell between two stools.
Thursday 24 January
The Eden Hazard savage, unprovoked kicking brigade have had a good day. Nothing stops a good story of a Belgian hothead lashing out at honest Welsh lad like the truth and Hazard has been accused of deliberately kicking the lad instead of trying to get the ball back from under him, as new photos suggest. Pat Nevin said he’d have done the same thing and most professionals tweeting seemed surprised that Hazard was sent off.
Friday 25 January
Frank Keating died today. Readers of the Guardian know but anyone who has not had the pleasure, Frank was one of those infectiously sensible journalists who cared about his sport and knew that the game’s foibles should not distract form it drama. Lovely chap, great writer, he will be missed.
We had vowed to try harder to be more like Frank but then the Football Association, level headed guardians of the game, charged Eden Hazard with violent conduct on the basis that something must be done. As the announcement was made a voice in the background could be heard calling for the FA to ‘please, think of the children; the little children’.
Actually the voice was from the police and confirmed that there was no case to answer but that has never stopped the FA.
There is a chance that the FA could bring further disrepute on the game by handing Hazard the same four-game ban they gave John Terry for racial abuse – confirming to everyone that they have no sense of proportion.
Ballboys around the country will be delighted that they can delay play however they like and suffer no rebuke from player for fear of a similar ban.
In 150 years the FA have developed into the least and the biggest we’ve even known.
[all offensive material has been redacted in honour of Frank]
In a day of sport – oddly, on a Friday – Obi John missed a penalty and saw his Nigeria side pegged 1-1 by reigning champions Zambia. Victor Moses and Ken Omeruo both played but dogged opposition and a poor pitch did them no favours.
Meanwhile, poor old Aston Villa suffer – knocked out of the league cup on Tuesday by Bradford they were left to concentrate on the league by being knocked out of the FA Cup by Millwall. Look forward to them in the next round.
Chelsea U21 3:2 Middlesbrough U21
Bare bones in front of a cold crowd at Stamford Bridge: Islam Feruz scored two his first an equaliser and Lewis Baker scored a penalty. To help us over the line against a Boro side who matched us for style and effort.
Sunday 27 January
Brentford 2:2 Chelsea
Intent on humiliating Chelsea, undercover scouse agent Benitez put out an unbalanced side with little or no width to take on a determined but limited Brentford. Disaster was only averted by chance – or a Fernando Torres strike late in the game.
Everyone at Chelsea wanted a replay and two-weeks teasing from Brentford fans, Fulham fans, QPR fans, Arsenal fans &c. In fact Benitez has managed two draws and a defeat to our West London neighbours in his few weeks in charge. Most Chelsea managers have a win percentage. Benitez barely win half.
We stank in the first-half. Ryan Bertrand and Ashley Cole both played to counter Brentford’s erm, reliance on a long ball over the top. John Terry returned from a lengthy absence and showed his telepathic understanding with Ross Turnbull by dobbing a back pass almost past the ’keeper. Turnbull dropped on it and presented a free-kick in the area to a grateful Brentford. They wellied it over.
It didn’t take long for this disjointed Chelsea side to fall behind. Second best in most respects Chelsea were lucky not to be behind earlier before Turnbull turned a shot into the path of Marcello Trotta to power home. 1-0.
Much was made of the Argentine’s unlikely name but the overwhelming sound was of boos and insults for the man temporarily in charge of Chelsea. You don’t know what you’re doing.
Juan Mata came on at the break but it was Oscar who wriggled through the middle of their defence to send a stabbed ball in for the equaliser. 1-1.
The referee was a git all afternoon – every Brentford challenge was fair ever Chelsea one a foul. He took great pleasure in awarding a penalty when a Brentford player broke and Ross Turnbull gave him something to fall over. It was soft but then Turnbull is a soft goalkeeper. 2-1.
With time ticking down a decisive and respected manager might have brought on our new striker who causes havoc in every defence: instead Benitez chose to swap his right-backs over. Ten minutes to go and heading out of the cup – he swapped Ivanovic for Azpilicueta.
Demba Ba did make an appearance a few minutes later but the impression the right-back swap made was still fresh.
Fernando Torres has made a habit of reserving his goals for the big occasion, against the bigger teams, in no-win situations. Brentford will present all of those things if we carry on like this.
His leveller was well taken, especially as you could almost see his brain thinking: “no yegua esto, no yegua para arriba … oh, gracias a Dios”. 2-2. If ‘to mare up’ is a Spanish expression.
We should have had a late penalty when Mata’s cross was hand delivered out of the penalty area but it was not one of those days.
It was another performance that showed how far Chelsea’s players are from putting in a shift for the gaffer. If only Benitez was living on borrowed time instead of here until the summer.
Those in the warm then got to watch Tottenham lose at Leeds and Liverpool bow out at Oldham so it could have been worse. At least we were in the hat. And how we had to wait as for the first time since the later 1970s we came out of the hat last away – obviously – to Middlesbrough.
Finally; a word for Thomas Kalas, Gaël Kakuta and Patrick Van Aanholt. They all played for Vitesse Arnhem as they came back from 2-0 down to beat Ajax of Amsterdam 3-2; Van Aanholt scored the equaliser.