Season in Review

Posted May 19, 2006 by Caywood Kane
Categories: Uncategorized

Mixed in with the brilliance of winning a second Premiership title in two years was a fair bit of disappointment for the Blues. Personal achievements were abound. Frank Lampard set a record for goals by a midfielder, scoring 16 in the Premiership and 20 in all competitions. Frank was nominated along with fellow Englishmen John Terry and Joe Cole, who finished with 11 goals, for 2006 Player of the Year. It was not to be, as Liverpool's Steven Gerrard won the honor, but the nominations of three Chelsea footballers out of 6 total nominees is perhaps more impressive than the individual award. 

The Champions League continues to evade Chelsea FC, but at least they lost to the eventual champion, and only by one net goal. The red card on Asier Del Horno on Barca's Leo Messi will haunt the boys in the summer, as they'll ponder whether an 11-man squad could've held on to the 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge. Their ranking of 14th for next years Champions League draw means Chelsea will be grouped with a world club power like AC Milan, Juventus, Lyon, or the like. Another tough road lies ahead, and hopefully the aquiring of German midfielder Michael Ballack will up their chances. Mourinho is not short on Champions League success, and Champions of Europe with Chelsea is a title he'll most likely want to earn before he leaves London.

As for the two domestic cups, Chelsea left empty handed in both areas. Sadly, their main rivals in England – Manchester United and Liverpool – took the League Cup and FA Cup trophies respectively. Chelsea made a strong showing in the FA Cup, but it was obvious from their loss to lowly Charlton that their priorities were elsewhere in the League Cup competition. Their loss to Liverpool in the FA Cup ranks at the top of disappointing losses for me this season. Chelsea was equipped to win the double, yet Liverpool has a knack for bouncing Chelsea from major competitions. Chelsea took it to Liverpool in both matchups in the Premiership this year, and their tournament record against the Pool doesn't indicate how well they've actually been able to tame last years Champions of Europe. Unlike last season's Champions League fixture against the Reds, there's no referee to blame for the FA Cup loss, and tournament competitions continue to allude the Premiership Champs.

The bad also lay in Didier Drogba's will to cheat. His diving and writhing in faux-pain was simply unacceptable to a respectable football fan. Luckily the striker changed his ways towards the end of the season, but it seems from his apparent decision to leave Stamford Bridge that he would rather go elsewhere and continue his cheating ways. Anybody that won't face the music for the wrong that they've done doesn't belong in a Chelsea uniform. Unless Drogba comes back stronger and eliminates the dirty aspect of his game, all the good he's done for the club will be tarnished and his departure may be welcome.

That's about it. After all, the Blues are Champions again, and I've seen nothing but improvement from most of the club's roster. Joe Cole has established himself as a true talent, and John Terry continues to emerge as the premier defender in the world. What can be said of Lampard's season besides pure brilliance for most of it, interrupted only by a drop in form that would hardly have been noticed if he wasn't such a great player. Peter Cech was his usual self in net, tenacious and fearless in the face of Premiership competition that has never been better. Another bright point in the lineup was William Gallas, who seamlessly shifted back and forth from left back to center, outperforming his expectations on a daily basis. His goal to beat West Brom was a classic and his athleticism provided Chelsea with a weapon in both attack and defense. Favorites Eidur Gudjonnsen and Damien Duff both had disappointing seasons, if only because of their lack of consistant playing time. I still like both of these guys, and it would be tough to see them go if they decide to do so. Arjen Robben is a different story. I respect him as a player, but I wouldn't be found crying if he was sold to Real Madrid.

On the topic of transfers, there's not much I'd like to see change. Like Mourinho has said, I'd like to see two or three top players brought in, and to hold on to our key members. Gallas must stay. Rumors of his departure are simply painful, and he's emerged as one of my favorite players. He's integral to Chelsea's success, especially where Del Horno has not lived up to expectations. Michael Ballack is signed, and his arrival will unquestinably mark the departure of Shaun Wright Phillips, who played himself both out of the Chelsea and England sides. Wright Phillips was an enormous disappointment, and Chelsea will likely lose about 20 million pounds on his transfer away from Stamford Bridge. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he ended up back on Stuart Pearce's Man City squad next season. Hernan Crespo will go, probably back to AC Milan where he flourished. An Andriy Shevchenko signing would be a dream, but I'd certainly take Adriano or Zlatan Ibrahimovic over either striker we've got. I hope against hope that Wayne Bridge will return, but his days are most likely to be spent at the dreaded White Hart Lane on Tottenham. Ashley Cole, rumored to be a Blues target for over a year, seems poised to re-sign with Arsenal after their Champions League run. Thierry Henry is also re-signing with the Gunners. In the end, it's anybody's guess who the three players are that Mourinho is referring. I have to say I'd love to see Jermain Defoe in blue. He's the quick striker we've been missing, and I hope he makes the World Cup squad for England after an Owen Hargreaves broken tibia.    


The Final Push For the Double

Posted May 19, 2006 by Caywood Kane
Categories: Uncategorized

        When Manchester United stumbled to a draw against bottom feeders Sunderland and Chelsea defeated Bolton Wanderers in a hard fought battle at the Reebok Stadium, the league championship was all but guaranteed for the Blues. But it wasn’t until Joe Cole ripped off his jersey in a fit of celebration that the boys from Stamford Bridge had secured their second straight Premiership title. Fans could finally exhale the collective breath they’d been holding since Manchester United went on their unprecedented win streak, pushing Chelsea to the brink and forcing their April 29th matchup to become more do-or-die than a walk in the park. Riding a rich vein of Premiership form into yesterday’s matchup with Manchester United, Chelsea destroyed their rivals 3-0 on the back of goals by William Gallas, Joe Cole, and Ricardo Carvalho. Their brilliant performance against the Mancs overshadowed the bitterness of last week’s FA Cup defeat. At the hands of Liverpool, Chelsea FC was denied their double bid, although it wasn’t for lack of effort. Jose Mourinho started a strange mix of players for the FA Cup semifinal, opting to choose no wingers and play Geremi in a midfield role. The strategy backfired and it wasn’t until Arjen Robben, Damien Duff, and Joe Cole were subbed into the game that
Chelsea mounted a comeback.
          Liverpool had already built up a 2-0 lead on the Blues, who uncharacteristically gave up a goal on an indirect free kick. The wall was simply too porous, and goalie Carlo Cuddicini was baffled by the laser beam strike from Reds’ Gabriel Risse. Chelsea looked confused when Liverpool man Luis Garcia put the scousers up 2-0, taking advantage of a defensive miscue and scoring with touch and finesse. That’s not to say that Luis Garcia isn’t a horrible diver and a cheat…

       Although Chelsea would mount a comeback, Joe Cole would ultimately squander a great equalizing opportunity in the last minute, firing the ball over the net from close range. Time expired in a 2-1 heartbreaker, the second time Liverpool has eliminated Chelsea from an elite knock-out tournament in two years. John Terry would go on to say that the Chelsea players didn’t say a word to each other throughout their entire return trip to London, but that their training sessions over the next week were full of optimism. The Premiership Title after all was still within their grasp, and could be clinched against
Manchester. Clinch they did, carrying the form that helped Chelsea defeat Bolton and Everton in the previous week, and allowing them to celebrate around Stamford Bridge with medals and trophy in tow. Jose Mourinho, in a display of gratitude to the Chelsea faithful, threw his medal into the stand for a lucky fan. Hernan Crespo cried, many wore funny hats, and the mood was ripe again despite the previous week's FA Cup defeat. Champions again.

         Results in their final two matches against Newcastle and Blackburn would have only boosted their points total, and their two goalless defeats had no bearing on their championship season.  

Chelsea Returns to Site of Glory

Posted April 14, 2006 by Caywood Kane
Categories: Uncategorized

Approximately one year after dashing the demons of a half-century title drought, Chelsea returns to the site of championship glory, Reebok Stadium. Earlier this season, when the Blues were seemingly invincible, Bolton's Stelios scored to lead 1-0 at halftime, the first defecit at the break Chelsea had experienced all season. What followed was a barrage of scoring prowess, the Blues dismantling Bolton in the second half as if they were small children en route to a 4-1 victory. Chelsea looks to continue their dominance over the Wanderers this Saturday morning in what could be a make-or-break fixture for the champions.

In probably one of his most witty and funny quotes of the season, Jose Mourinho outlined his tactics for away victory: “The last away victory was against West Bromwich and we did not play especially well there. Maybe we won (against West Ham) because we played with ten men. That is our best tactic at the moment!"

However, the game is not to be taken lightly. Bolton brings a level of dirtiness and foul play to the pitch. Boss Sam Alardyce, or "Big Sam", is a magician of cheating and mind games. Striker Diouf will do anything short of biting the Chelsea players. In fact, as long as the referee isn't looking, I wouldn't be surprised if the Senegal man snuck in a few nibbles. Bolton will also be out for blood after last matches studs up tackle by Michael Essien on defender Ben-Haim.

Hidden beneath the layers of hooligans, though, is a hungry Wanderers team that wants nothing less than a spot in Europe. Gary Speed, Kevin Nolan, and Stelios wouldn't look out of place on a first place squad, and yet they all remain loyal to the Bolton cause. Alardyce's Wanderers have had big wins against big clubs this year, including two victories against Arsenal, and they played extremely well in the UEFA cup before their ultimate elimination. Chelsea will have to be at their best Saturday, just like they were at the dawn of the season, if they are to take 3 away points at the Reebok. Repeat Premiership glory depends upon it.

Man-Down Blues Drop 4 Unanswered Goals on Stupefied Hammers Side

Posted April 13, 2006 by Caywood Kane
Categories: Uncategorized

Most clubs would have drowned. Most clubs, when stunned by an early deficit and a sending off, would fold. Consider the amount of pressure the 10 men in blue were feeling when Portugese aquisition Maniche was sent off within the first 20 minutes of the contest. Already a goal down after a set-piece score by Hammer defender James Collins, the Chelsea faithful almost had a heart-attack as Maniche made his way to the locker room in shame. A poor tackle, yes, but before his dangerous red-card bearing shin stomp, Maniche had already blown a clear shot on net by striking a cream puff off the cross bar. It simply was not going well at all for Chelsea. United breathing down their necks, the prospect of losing at Stamford Bridge for the first time in over two years, and the current opponent dominating play, John Terry and Didier Drogba decided to take over the game and put on one of Chelsea’s most dominating, inspiring performances of the 2005-2006 campaign.

Drogba was simply brilliant. He almost single-handedly brought back Chelsea from the grave, scoring the equalizer and then setting up Crespo’s go-ahead goal with a perfect cross from the right side. Pumping his fist and pleading with the crowd to get behind the team, Drogba abandoned his recently lambasted antics and did what he does best…play aggressive, exciting football. Drogba was all over the field, terrorizing the West Ham defense that seemed to have no control over their emminent fate. The boys from Upton Park looked bedazzled by the inspired barrage of Chelsea, their scoring chances, despite their numerical superiority, dashed by the Blues back line. William Gallas was in fine form, while Lampard and Essien played key roles in tackling and keeping the attack going. The strike partnership of Crespo and Drogba, wearing identical headbands in a likeably ostentatious display of offensive brotherhood, flattened the West Ham defense with blistering pace and skill. It was obvious that charisma flowed between the two, and I’d love to see the partnership continue.

No wings were used at all in the first half, and it seemed that Maniche’s tendancy to drift back to the center midfield was hurting the Chelsea attack, clogging up the passing lanes and preventing Drogba from owning the game. Once Maniche was gone, Chelsea was ignited.
Relief flowed through the Stamford Bridge crowd, especially Roman Abrahmovich. The normally reserved owner was ecstatic and energized by the Blues’ brilliant play, noticably giddy and showing a side of himself rarely seen in his days as Chelsea boss. This game was fun. In fact, it was better than that. It was an assertion that Chelsea is a true power in the English game and will not collapse in the face of pressure. Second half goals by defenders Gallas and Terry showcased the diversity of the Chelsea attack, and the general bliss shown on the faces of the side as the match came to a close are a testament to their shared mission.

Still, the choice of Maniche to begin the game was baffling, and the absence of wings before Maniche’s booking seemed to hinder the Chelsea gameplan. Joe Cole, a finalist both Chelsea and Premiership Player of the Year, is to me the obvious choice for the spot Maniche was roaming. Cole’s absence in the side, reflected in his playing under 30 minutes in three of the last four Chelsea matches, must reflect some sort of disappointment Mourinho has in the talented midfielder. Cole seems to either be Mourinho’s favorite player on the pitch, or the bane of his existence.

Nonetheless, Chelsea’s comeback may have been their best football of the year. Drogba’s performance was transcendant, and his worth to the side has never been more apparent. There was no sign of the diving or acting that he’s been accused of. It seems the already gifted striker may have taken his game to a new level, and it would be wonderful to see him emerge as a team leader and motivator. At any rate, I trust that the Blues’ gutsy performance against West Ham will propel them to another victory over Bolton this Saturday.

Update: Ballack Talks Begin, Terry Wins Chelsea Player of the Year

Posted April 13, 2006 by Caywood Kane
Categories: Uncategorized

Germany captain and Bayern Munich star Michael Ballack has begun negotiations with Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon involving his summer transfer to the Blues. Though Ballack has been scrutinized by Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness for being money hungry, Ballack argues that he has always desired to test his skills abroad. With Chelsea likely to offer a large paycheck to the skilled midfielder, the Munich giant has announced they will not make a counter offer that would cripple the club’s monetary standing.

With Ballack’s arrival, there will be a logjam of talent clogging up the Chelsea midfield. I expect that either Damien Duff, Shaun Wright Phillips, or Chelsea veteran and fan favorite Eidur Gudjohnsen will be forced out of the side, with Maniche almost surely booking himself a place on the bench for the rest of the year after a horrible display against West Ham (to be addressed later). It has been speculated that Claude Makalele, one of the most valuable players in the world of football, will be replaced in his holding role by Michael Essien, allowing Ballack and Lampard to play central midfield. Recent rumors, addressed in the last post, have been focused on Arjen Robben desserting to Spain. But a midfield of Joe Cole, Robben, Lampard, Ballack, and Essien would unquestionably be one of the greatest ever on a Premiership pitch. Though possibly an embellisher in the ways of diving, Ballack is one of the best players in the world, period. Mourinho has ranked him on a level with Lampard. Hopefully the stars can co-exist and combine their talents, Lampard as one of the best long passers in football and Ballack as a scoring force.

Also in Blues news, John Terry edged out Joe Cole, William Gallas, Frank Lampard, and Claude Makalele for Chelsea Player of the Year. The fans voted on Terry for the second time in five years, as the Chelsea captain was also granted the honor in 2001, his first year on the big squad. Terry, Cole, and Lampard have also been shortlisted for Premiership Player of the Year. The only other nominees for the award are United’s Wayne Rooney, Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, and Liverpool’s Stephen Gerrard. One would think that with 3 of the top 6 Premiership players on your side, there wouldn’t be a nail-biting finish to the season on the horizon. But the difference between the Blues and Manchester United stands at 7 points, and the looming battle against the Mancs gains significance with each letter of print, every Mourinho or Sir Alex press conference, and every United victory.

Arjen Robben: Unhappy in West London?

Posted April 9, 2006 by Caywood Kane
Categories: Uncategorized

It has recently been reported in the press that Arjen Robben is unhappy at Chelsea and will request a transfer in the off-season. His likely suitors include the team that bounced Chelsea from the Champion’s League: FC Barcelona, and Barcelona’s hated rivals Real Madrid.

Mourhinho responds to the Robben reports should be an interesting development. The Blues calling card is devotion to the club, teammates, and the common goal of Premiership and FA Cup glory. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if the rumors are true, to see Damien Duff and Joe Cole start the West Ham game on the wings. Shaun Wright Phillips may even get a chance to redeem himself before season’s end, but most likely not in a game as pivotal as the match against the Hammers.

Personally, I think Robben is a terrific player. He tends to embellish at times, and his theatrics against Liverpool keeper Reina were ridiculous, but the Dutchman is an attacking force on the pitch. Duff seems to run in circles at times, and its very easy for him to disappear in big matches. Cole is indispensable and SWP is loaded with potential, but Robben is a key member of the Chelsea squad and can greatly influence the flow of play from the wing.

Lets see what happens against West Ham.

0-0 Draw Lets Devils Back Into The Mix

Posted April 9, 2006 by Caywood Kane
Categories: Uncategorized

The match against Birmingham, Chelsea’s “Blues” counterpart from the midlands, was probably the most uneventful Chelsea game of the season. Besides a nifty Joe Cole cross to Hernan Crespo in the final minutes, which rocketed directly into Birmingham keeper Taylor’s arms, there was barely any viable attacking action from either club. The game finished in a boring 0-0 draw that left sweat on the necks of the Chelsea faithful.

Mourinho’s Men pussyfooted around the pitch and seemed feign to accept the draw, avoiding any of the controversy that has haunted the side in recent weeks. Their fate? Manchester United pulled within 7 points of the previous champions elect, heating up a battle that could be decided upon the Red Devils visit to the Bridge later this month. Sir Alex Ferguson’s United strikers have been clicking, scoring goals at an alarming rate and threatening to dethrone the reigning champs Chelsea. Top defender Gabriel Heinze is set to return to the Untied side, and Welshman Ryan Giggs is in top form.

Chelsea, meanwhile, has a very difficult match coming up on the 9th against West Ham. The Hammers travel from Upton Park during a renaissance season, having proven that their promotion was no fluke, unlike bottom feeders Sunderland. Frank Lampard will face his former club, and Joe Cole, suspended by Mourinho for the first leg against West Ham, should be fired up to battle the club he began his career with. The game should be huge. A joy to watch as West Ham is loaded with young talent like Benajoun and Bobby Zamora. Meanwhile, Manchester United must face a streaking Arsenal side that has dropped double digit goals on opponents in recent weeks. Arsenal’s Champions League form has been translating to the Premiership as of late, and they remain a dangerous foe. Hopefully Arsene Wenger’s Gunners can knock off United and take a little bit of pressure off the Blues. As if Arsene Wenger would ever want to do a favor for Jose Mourinho…