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This transfer window has seen a reality check in the Premier League. Modest activity in the first half of the January football sales is not uncommon but with the obvious exception of Manchester United, whose Glazer inspired financial constraints have compelled them now to spend in a desperate attempt to secure 4th, most clubs will not spend much before the window closes.

Chelsea FPP Compliant

At the time of writing, despite being compliant with FFP, Chelsea are sitting on a substantial net transfer surplus. The sale of Kevin De Bruyne and Juan Mata, both bit part players in the second coming of Jose Mourinho, allows both players the chance to make their respective national squads for the World Cup and realises Chelsea a profit of over £20M on the transfer fees paid to sign the pair.

Change in Focus From Inconsistency

Jose has found a way to wean Chelsea off Mata. Player of the Year in his 2 full seasons at the club, his sublime creativity has been rendered superfluous in Mourinho’s methodology. Willian, Oscar and Hazard cover the ground more quickly, are appreciably better than Mata without the ball and their combined creativity has seen Chelsea emerge from 2 seasons of Premier League mediocrity into title contenders. 

Mata Sadness

Fans’ reaction to Mata’s departure is inevitably tinged with sadness, disappointment and a sense of loss, not least because his time at the club will always be associated with success (Munich, FA Cup, Europa League), albeit in cup competitions.

Inconsistent brilliance with Mata the heartbeat of the side has been exchanged for, initially, functional success and as Mata became increasingly marginalised, incrementally, a burgeoning, viable challenge for the Premier League.

Having been on loan until the start of this season, De Bruyne never really settled at Chelsea and to more than double our money on a player that clearly did not figure in Mourinho’s plans is a more than satisfactory financial outcome.

Manchester City remain favourites to win the title with the core of their squad “in their prime” but even those who criticise Mourinho for short termism cannot argue that unlike the previous 2 seasons, we are on the shoulder of the leaders, rather than looking over our shoulders at those below us.

The signing of Mohamed Salah, some 4 years younger than Mata, for less than a third of Mata’s incoming fee suggests not only that Mourinho is looking beyond the here and now but also reinforces the growing impact of FFP.

Salah is young, skillful, has pace to burn, critically for Mourinho, works hard off the ball and whilst unproven in a major European League, has the potential to be a success. Worst case, he joins the army of Chelsea talent plying their trade on loan at other clubs, whilst, in most cases, appreciating in value: another by product of FFP.

Chelsea FPP Balanced Chequebook

Only this week, Jose reaffirmed Roman Abramovich’s commitment to Chelsea. Without FFP it seems, the cheque book would be well and truly open. For as long as Chelsea FFP compliance is a goal then, that is not an option.

The financial “F” in FFP cannot be ignored but through intelligent use of the loan system and the transfer market, Chelsea are not only building a squad to compete for trophies over the next 10 years but also a sustainable financial model.

Commoditisation and football are uneasy bed fellows that will have to get used to each other. Sad it may be but true it definitely is.

Carefree.

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The game last week was just what the doctor ordered, however there were a couple of things to take into consideration as room for improvement.

Demba Ba

Demba Ba had a day to forget. He missed 2 one on ones with Jaaskelainen, one poked 8 yards wide when he lacked the confidence to get closer to goal, the other straight at the keeper when a dink over him (prone) would have brought a goal. He had several other opportunities but has lost his mojo since his nose was broken at St James’ Park.

Gary Cahill

Gary Cahill played with a knee problem from midway through the 1st half.

He saw out the 90 minutes but was a pedestrian at times, got turned twice by Andy Carroll by getting too close to the striker who had his back to goal and lacked anticipation.

John Terry came on for David Luiz on 77 minutes and won pretty much everything as West Ham’s aerial bombardment stepped up a gear, chasing the game. It is perhaps a reflection of how poor Ivanovic’s form is at the moment that Cahill was not substituted.

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John Terry Shows ArseFrank Lampard’s header from an exquisite chipped pass by Eden Hazard brought up his 200th goal for Chelsea: an astonishing feat by any measure. He is within 3 goals of breaking Bobby Tambling’s record and has rightly received the plaudits he deserves for a phenomenal personal milestone. He found time to put Ba clean through with a delicious pass on 8 minutes and his general distribution and work tate belied his years.

Man of the match Hazard was irresistible. One Roy of the Rovers run taking 6 West Ham players with him, twisting and turning like a Tasmanian devil, finishing up with a Rabona to cross, was a highlights editor’s dream. Along with Mata, he taunted Joey O’Brien all afternoon and his goal, leaving Winston Reid for dead before arrowing a left footed drive into the corner was pure quality. How good will he be if he’s this good at 22?

Juan Mata gave a masterclass in conducting the Blues’ attacking orchestra. His ammunition was potent and Hazard in particular made the most of it. The two of them have an almost telepathic understanding that is a joy to watch. Oscar had a super 20 minute cameo coming on for Victor Moses, who unselfishly stayed near the left touchline for most of his game time to ensure West Ham had to defend the whole width of the pitch. Mata is the heartbeat of Chelsea in transition and is arguably the best pound for pound footballer in the Premier League.

Offensively, this could have (and should have) been a cricket score. Our shots to goals ratio was over 10 to 1. We average a shade over 2 goals a game for the season but with improved finishing, this would be much nearer 3 with a commensurate increase in the W column.

Defensively, we’ve been relatively porous this season with clean sheets in less than 3 out of 10 games played. Petr Cech had little to do but what he did have, he dealt with well. David Luiz has been our most reliable Centre Back in 2013. With Cahill, Terry and Ivanovic struggling with illness, injury and form respectively, Luiz has impressed. His quality with the ball was exemplified by a rasping left foot volley hit from the apex of the penalty area that Jaaskelainen gave up on and was relieved to see flash wide. (Luiz was fortunate to get a Free Kick in the build up to Andy Carroll’s disallowed goal, where contact was minimal).

Ramires has had a real in and out season but he could not be faulted for work rate, stamina and putting his foot in where it hurts, even against Andy Carroll despite a mismatch of physical frames. He also made a fantastic block from a Diame thunderbolt just before Half Time.

Cesar Azpilicueta just about shaded his battle with Matt Jarvis. He got forward when the opportunity arose, providing a great cross that Victor Moses struck just wide and made one particular tackle inside the penalty area that was inch perfect on a rare moment of devilry from West Ham in the 1st half. Stats are not my thing but his tackles won percentage must be high, ditto his fitness levels.

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You know your luck’s in when Juan Mata scores with his swinger by semi-nutmegging the goalkeeper and the ball dribbles, almost ashamed of itself, across the line.

Despite Steaua’s sucker punch equaliser with the last kick of the first half, a John Terry header and a winner on the night and in the tie from Fernando Torres, saw Chelsea through 3-2 on aggregate and into the Quarter Finals, where Rubin Kazan await.

Showing no respect for Chelsea’s status as Champions of Europe, Steaua had several chances in the first half but none better or more clear cut than Rusescu’s on 12 minutes.

Mikel was caught in possession, the ball was played through to Rusescu who left Terry floundering but one on one with Cech, came off second best; his shot, clawed away for a corner, was at a good height for Chelsea’s number 1.

The rare sight of a Mikel shot on target brought a corner when Tatarusanu was forced to turn it around his near post. Mikel came close again from the corner when he swung a left boot at the ball in the D and cleared the top corner by less than a yard.

The Blues had made a stodgy start but slowly began to impose themselves and remember that the boys from Bucharest are actually not a great side.

On 36 minutes, the tie was level. Mata played in Ramires, who drove forward and played Mata back in. His shot was anything but instinctive but fortunately there are no pictures in score books.

Hazard had been one of the few shining lights of an underwhelming half and could have doubled the lead after a typical run, 1-2 and shot was beaten out by Tatarusanu.
His low centre of gravity and strength to stay on his feet were again to the fore: it is easy to forget he is barely 22.

With Half Time beckoning, Steaua struck. Chelsea’s failure to clear a corner led to Cech making one save but being powerless to prevent Chiriches shot finding the roof of the net from a tight angle but close proximity.

Steaua celebrated as though they’d won the Champions League, knowing Chelsea would have to score twice without reply in the last 45 minutes to go through.

The second half was their reality check as the Blues, whilst not irresistible, were more than good enough to put the game beyond Steaua, even with a penalty miss.

On 55 minutes, Hazard was hacked down on the Chelsea left, a few yards in from the byline. Mata’s delivery was whipped in and met by Terry’s head to find the corner of the net.

He may have, inexplicably, been playing as the right sided Centre Back again and being candid, looked a little rusty with the odd misplaced pass but no one can fault JT’s commitment to the cause.

Defensive lapses have cost us dearly all season and contributed to the paucity of clean sheets. Chances for Steaua were restricted, with the best falling to Chipciu, whose strike Cech saved with relative ease.

On 71 minutes, Chelsea’s persistence brought the decisive goal. Hazard shifted Mata’s pass first time to Torres, who shifted the ball on to his left foot and shot (with a suspicion of a slight mis-hit) through the legs of Szukala into the far corner.

Torres should have been awarded a penalty shortly afterwards when tripped by the same player within yards of the official on the goal line, who remained unmoved.

Oscar had a shot saved and Torres shot wide before Hazard was whacked on the shin inside the penalty area, the referee pointing to the spot.

Torres accepted responsibility but smashed the ball against the crossbar to his chagrin.

Despite a late huff and puff from Steaua, the best remaining chance fell to Benayoun, who failed to apply the tap in to Torres’ cross, after coming on in stoppage time for Hazard.

On the downside, the Blues progression adds to the fixture list backlog but a trophy is a trophy and having been involved in 8 competitions in a tumultuous season, with 70 games still a possibility, it would not be spurned by yours truly.

Its easy to forget how far we’ve come in 10 years with the backing of Roman Abramovich but the ivory tower mentality of the decision makers at the club has stretched relations with our long-standing supporters to breaking point.

The ground was 2/3 full or 1/3 empty depending on your view of these things but even the most assiduous spin doctor would struggle to sell the fact that a substantial minority of season ticket holders and members stayed away. 1 measly loyalty point and £31.50 admission price show the regard the Blues hierarchy have for the competition: apathy at best.

The stay aways had a multitude of reasons for not coming. Their disaffection for the club and its disconnection from our core support; their ongoing disenchantment with Mr Interim; the ignominy of playing in Europe’s second string competition, all of these and more.

What began as a committed group of fans, numbering a few hundred, boycotting games, on this occasion, turned into a mass display of disaffection, with just 28,817 in the crowd.

Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere was subdued. More worrying was the number of Romanians who became “Chelsea” fans for the night, as they certainly were not all in the away end.

After enduring Stewards compelling me to sit down all season with nigh on 42,000 inside Stamford Bridge, not one ventured up the steps to request a soul to sit down at this game. Funny that.

Carefree.

Follow Chris Davies on Twitter: @chrisdaviescfc

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Chelsea’s grip on the FA Cup remains intact, after a rousing response to early adversity.
 
In echoes of the League game at Stamford Bridge in October, the Blues were 2-0 down inside 11 minutes, as Utd started like a train. By the end of the game, they were holding on for the draw, as Chelsea produced our best 45 minutes of football since the home League game against Arsenal.
 
Hernandez loves playing against Chelsea and usually scores. On 5 minutes, a Carrick chip forward was made to look much better than it actually was as Cahill allowed Hernandez to run off his shoulder.
 
Cech, inexplicably got caught 10 yards off his line, nowhere near the ball. A looping header to the far corner left the 2 of them to scratch their collective heads before the restart.
 
Brave though Cahill is at times, he must work on his positional sense and distribution, which for an England Centre Half, are both sub-standard. Pace alone, particularly against a striker like Hernandez, will not always save him.
 
On 11 minutes, from a Chelsea corner, a Utd counter, led by Nani was brought to an abrupt end by Moses.
 
Rooney’s Free Kick, delivered from just outside the left apex of the penalty area was whipped in. Luiz looked to get a good leap but as he attempted to head the ball away, a combination of Jonny Evans strength and Luiz closing his eyes saw him miss the ball, which cleared everyone, bounced in front of Cech and nestled in the far corner.
 
Cech had waited for someone to get a touch that never came and once the ball cleared Luiz, had no chance of keeping it out. The Blues had a mountain to climb, with 7/8 of the game remaining.
 
The Cahill/Luiz Centre Back pairing is not my favourite. Ivanovic’s form of late has been poor and Terry’s post injury “programme” it seems does not allow him to play 2 games a week but both would have expected to deal better with the 2 goals than the incumbents of the day.
 
The remainder of the first half saw the Blues have plenty of the ball but lack the final ball to turn possession into goal scoring opportunities. Towards the end of the first half, we had 6 consecutive attacking phases without testing De Gea but at least we were hemming United in and winning 2nd balls.
 
Ashley Cole had several chances to deliver balls in to the box with quality but failed to do so.
 
Frank Lampard’s recent lull in form, coinciding with the goals drying up, continued as he struggled to maintain possession and looked leggy tracking back. It appears his post injury exertions in January and February, when due to lack of squad depth, he was playing every 3 days may have taken its toll.
 
His best chance of reaching the 200 goal milestone came on 18 minutes. Mata picked up the ball and ran at United in the inside right channel before playing the ball to Lampard on the edge of the area. His shot was not cleanly struck and De Gea made a comfortable save.
 
Demba Ba also had a quiet game. Too often his first touch was too heavy and possession was conceded. Apart from a couple of speculative efforts from distance that caused De Gea no concern, he was limited to shots blocked when a pass was the better option.
 
United’s early zip dissipated as they gifted possession to the Blues repeatedly and left ever increasing gaps in the middle of the pitch that Mata and Oscar began to drop into.
 
Cech’s early blushes were offset somewhat by a fantastic double save to prevent United putting the game to bed.
 
Rooney’s fierce hit was pushed out and Luiz’ attempted header behind looked to be dipping under the bar as Cech clawed it over to safety.
 
The Chelsea support was nothing short of magnificent, outsinging the home fans for large chunks of the game. Benitez inevitably caught some flak but the majority of the refrains were supporting the team, as he had implored us to after the win at Middlesborough.
 
Victor Moses had one of those days. His decision making was poor and he ran into too many cul-de-sacs. On 38 minutes a 1-2 with Mata, saw the Spaniard back heel the ball to him inside the area on the right hand side, only for Moses to thrash a left foot shot that almost went for a throw in.
 
Half Time saw Hazard and Mikel go through vigorous warm ups and within 7 minutes of the restart, both would be in action.
 
After a rare Ramires surge forward and shot at goal, albeit off target, Benitez made his move.
 
I have been very critical of Benitez’ unwillingness to make early substitutions to try and turn games around. Whilst these were (again) like for like changes positionally, (Mikel for Lampard, Hazard for Moses), both substitutes had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
 
Chelsea immediately pressed much higher, with the back 4 pushing up to just short of halfway. The risk of conceded a killer 3rd goal was mitigated by gaining ever increasing amounts of possession as United began to struggle to get out of their half.
 
Luiz had a terrific 2nd half, several times stepping in to intercept balls bound for Hernandez or his replacement, Van Persie in the midfield third.
 
After a lengthy spell of possession, United finally got out of their half, only to concede possession. Mata, who was becoming more influential with every passing minute, made a forward run before rolling the ball to Hazard on the left apex of the box.
 
Rafael showed Hazard the inside, inviting the shot: big mistake. Hazard shifted the ball slightly to his right and curled it into the far corner. Having started the ball outside the post, all De Gea could do was watch and admire the purity of Hazard’s strike.
 
Rather than stunning them into action, United looked punch drunk. As stunning as Hazard’s goal, just 6 minutes after his arrival was, his fellow substitute, Mikel, was also influencing the game, albeit in a more subtle vein.
 
Mikel has no designs on making forward runs on anything but an occasional basis. By replacing Lampard, he unshackled Ramires whose energy and stamina make him one of the fittest players in the squad. He also has pace and when he runs at defenders, he is more than a handful.
 
After Luiz robbed Rooney just outside our penalty area and found Ba, Chelsea’s counter was quick and incisive. Ba’s diagonal pass to Oscar, was replicated to Ramires. He turned inside Evans on to his left foot and curled his shot into the bottom corner, with accuracy, rather than power, proving decisive.
 
The Blues were on top and although the pressing dropped back to the halfway line, looked the more likely to grab the decisive 3rd.
 
Second balls continued to be won. United looked like the side who had played on Thursday rather than Chelsea, as their collective legs began to tire.
 
Torres replaced Ba on 76 minutes. He gave the FA something to ponder after Ferdinand clipped his heels in an off the ball incident but apart from one weak shot from 20 yards, made little impact. Not that he needed to as Mata and Hazard were giving United plenty to think about.
 
Mata has been unfairly accused of not always turning up in the “big games”. He was Man of the Match here, assisted by the pockets of space, United obligingly left him between the lines.
 
On 83 minutes, he shot from 20 yards on his swinger but straight at De Gea.
 
As the London based United fans began to pour out of the ground in the last couple of minutes of normal time, (to Chelsea chants of “We’ll race you back to London”), Mata could and should have avoided the need for a replay.
 
Luiz chipped an exquisite pass to Mata, who pulled it down, turned inside Evans and shot. De Gea’s Right Boot deflected the ball out for a corner. It was credited as a good save but in truth, he knew little about it, due to his proximity to Mata.
 
In the dying seconds, Hazard’s drive was pushed out by De Gea and cleared for a corner but that was that and a replay will have to be shoehorned into Chelsea’s already crowded fixture list.
 
The 2 sides are evenly matched in terms of talent but United’s mental strength explains the chasm between the 2 sides in the Premier League table.
 
Before the game, on the 108th Anniversary of the formation of the club, expectations were low amongst even diehard Chelsea fans. I wanted our players to show pride, passion, commitment and to play for the badge. In fairness, despite giving United a 2 goal headstart, they didn’t disappoint. If only we’d started how we finished.
 
Bring on the boys from Bucharest.
 
Carefree.
 
Follow Chris Davies on Twitter: @chrisdaviescfc

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The best thing I can say about this game is we didn’t turn up and only lost 1-0 to a very ordinary that side that we should, on paper, overcome at Stamford Bridge.

The surface left a bit to be desired but the collective Blues’ performance smacked of utter disinterest and a lack of pride, passion and self belief.

There are a number of key issues that helped to determine the outcome of this game.

Team Selection

John Terry played as the Right sided Centre Back, alongside David Luiz. With Ryan Bertrand playing at Left Back, our Captain and the leader of the back line should have been alongside him.

Ryan Bertrand is a good guy. Sadly, I don’t see a long-term future at Stamford Bridge for a player that less than 12 months ago started in Munich.

The penalty he conceded was questionable but allowing their striker to get goal side gave him the chance to get it. Steaua doubled up on both full backs and he looked nervous, at best, throughout.

Branislav Ivanovic’s indifferent run of form continued with ball watching his biggest area of concern. Even the goals have deserted him. He had no protection from Benayoun in the latter’s 63 minutes on the pitch.

Lampard and Mikel will never be my favoured double pivot. Frank played deeper than normal but of the two, Mikel looked marginally better on the night.

On the rare occasions we didn’t treat the ball like something to be kicked as hard and high as possible, the movement of the ball was far too slow and from side to side.

Yossi Benayoun started. Why? His contract expires at the end of the season (not the only former Scouser who will be moving on) so no point putting him in the shop window.

He missed comfortably our best chance of the game after inter play with Hazard and the end of the season cannot come soon enough for him. You know your number’s up when West Ham send you packing at Christmas.

Marko Marin looked as bright as anyone when he came on and should have started ahead of Benayoun.

Fernando Torres: no pace, no desire, no goals. The Scousers really did a number on us and with Lukaku loaned out, he still gets 90 minutes regularly. It is only ever a matter of time before he loses the ball, falls over or both. Moses should have travelled and started in Torres’ place, whether he starts on Sunday or not.

Bench strength

4 defenders, a goal keeper, Mata and Marin adds up to er no striking plan B. Islam Feruz? Just for the experience with 15 minutes to go (heaven forbid giving him more). To have 24 players on loan and already have racked up 50 games this season looks more ridiculous every game. Michael Emanolo, please do the decent thing: put your hand up, admit you’re not up to the job, take your pay off and close the door behind you. Thanks.

Tactics

As we did in Prague, we elected to sit deep and invite Steaua on to us. We did not press the ball (Fernando it starts with you) and ball retention seemed alien, with Eden Hazard in particular (though he was not alone) unable to complete a number of short, routine passes.

With Torres up front, why keep lumping the ball forward, only for it to come straight back? The definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. We bypassed the 3 play makers time and again, rendering them nullified for tranches of the game.

We seemed to settle for 1-0 a long way out. Apart from being beaten up, this is one of the worst results in European football. We have to win by 2 clear goals at The Bridge. If Steaua score, will we score 3? I have my doubts, accepting they are not a great side by any stretch of the imagination.

The salaries of the 13 players deployed vary from £6K to £25K per day. Is it too much to ask in a scrappy game for us to compete for the 2nd ball? Not one player showed the passion and pride of wearing the Blue shirt. The 620 Blues fans who made the trip deserved better and in a stadium of 53,000 can not be blamed for creating the “wrong kind of atmosphere”. All of which brings us neatly on to…

You know who

Much as I wish Benitez had never been allowed within a mile of Stamford Bridge, it is clear that he will remain in post until 19th May, when, regardless of the result, SW6 will be having a party. Until then he’s here to stay.

Leaving aside his Scouse history, past comments and massive ego, my objection to him is that his tactics are outmoded, his football is not great to watch and he just doesn’t have what it takes. One freakish night in Istanbul doesn’t make a lucky Manager a good Manager.

Looking ahead, I don’t expect us to get a positive result against United on Sunday (though I sincerely hope I’m wrong).

For that reason, the Europa League, much derided it may be, is our best chance of silverware from the embers of our season. We must turn up in a week’s time and deliver a performance to be proud of.

Carefree.

Follow Chris Davies on Twitter: @chrisdaviescfc

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After all the hyperbole in the build up to this game, this was ultimately a relatively comfortable victory for the Blues.

The anti-Benitez backlash was moderate and generally more good humoured than most pundits anticipated, particularly in the banners: “we’re not that In Ter Im”, a personal favourite

Most of all, the support for the team was steadfast and vocal.

Chelsea dominated possession and territory for the first 70 minutes and with the excellent David Luiz shackling Shane Long, Albion’s kick and run out ball was negated.

Inevitably, Albion went for it in the last 20 minutes but the Blues held on for a much needed 3 points.

On another day, Oscar would have scored a hat trick but as at Middlesborough, he was bright and physically is becoming more resilient in the face of uncompromising defenders.

His first and arguably best chance came as early as 3 minutes in. Ba’s precision ball from outside right fed Oscar well inside the Albion area but Foster was quickly off his line to smother Oscar’s goal bound effort at the expense of a corner.

Mata volleyed wide from an acute angle before Reid’s well struck Free Kick from over 30 yards out was tipped over by Cech in Albion’s only shot in the first half.

Oscar’s duel with Foster continued, heading straight at the keeper from Mata’s cross after a typical Ramires surge.

Ba then scuffed a shot, albeit on target from the inside left channel as the Blues continued to press for a deserved opener.

After Oscar drew a foul from Yacob, Luiz’ Free Kick flicked the wall and Foster made a save that was made for a highlights programme, at the expense of a corner.

From the short corner, Oscar’s deep cross was headed back across goal by Luiz to the unmarked Ba who rifled home from close range to the elation of the 38,500 home fans.

The goal had been coming and was no less than we deserved. Man of the Match Hazard was waspishly busy and looked threatening all afternoon.

It was noticeable that Hazard, Oscar and Mata all made the effort to try and get goal side and make tackles when possession broke down.

The lead was almost doubled from a Mata corner. Oscar drilled a half volley that was well blocked, hit the rebound goalward, with the same result and Azpilicueta had a third bite of the cherry with the same result.

The second half saw Chelsea have the ball in the net twice in the early stages. After Mata crossed from an offside position for Lampard to stroke home (after good work by Hazard), a quickly taken Free Kick was slotted by Ivanovic but referee Friend brought play back.

Hazard was denied a penalty when Olsson appeared to bundle him over from side on: it looked a fair shout from behind the goal but once again, Kevin was not our Friend.

Oscar had 2 further chances to get on the scoresheet. Azpilicueta’s cross was headed into his path by Ba but his shot was straight at Foster.

Oscar’s ingenuity in twisting and turning after a throw in gave him a shooting opportunity that whilst accurate, lacked the venom needed to beat Foster.

After an indifferent performance against Middlesborough, Petr Cech was back to his imperious best.

Although he had relatively little to do until the last quarter of the game, he commanded his area and dished out more than one admonishment when forced to go long by defenders failing to come short for the ball to be rolled out.

He saved well from an Odemwingie Free Kick and dealt with a deflected corner without alarm and a late barrage from Albion was withstood without excessive alarm.

Frank Lampard had a quietly efficient game. A couple of blocked shots and a blaze over the bar aside, he never threatened to mark his 592nd appearance with his 200th goal, although his tackling was effective and his distribution largely solid.

Demba Ba seemed to tire as the game went on but was an effective target man and his link up play was neat and tidy.

All in all, the Blues were good value for our 3 points and probably worthy of another goal.

With Arsenal losing at White Hart Lane, we head into the last 10 Premier League games of the season, 5 points clear of the Gunners in 4th and with Spurs still to play at Stamford Bridge, 3rd is still within our gift.

20 more points will guarantee 4th (Arsenal would have to remain unbeaten and only draw twice to beat us: unlikely at best).

Carefree.

Follow Chris Davies on Twitter: @chrisdaviescfc

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Our 47th game of the season was a tactical and technical horror show.

Our 4th straight defeat at the Etihad will linger long in the memory. For all the wrong reasons.

The best Chelsea brought to the Etihad lay in the stands, by way of our magnificent support, not on the pitch.

We mustered a miserable 4 shots on goal in 90 minutes (one of those a Frank Lampard Free Kick from 45 yards that missed by the proverbial mile) and just 2 on target (one a Lampard penalty that Joe Hart guessed the direction of and saved). This was not Frank’s finest display but he was not alone.

Gary Cahill’s poor positioning is a drum I often bang but he made countless blocks and interceptions here. He did give the ball to Tevez in the 3rd minute of Added Time at the end with a careless pass but got away with it.

In fairness all of our back 4 were poor bringing the ball out from the back (a real no-no playing 4-2-3-1) as City pressed high and successfully.

Ba was barely used for an out ball, even though his run led to the penalty (a simple Ivanovic diagonal allowing Ba to outstrength Kolo Toure and although heading away from goal, persuaded Joe Hart to bring him down).

The movement of the ball through the double pivot was tediously slow and playing on the counter, too often the ball was carelessly, needlessly given away in the final third.

Hazard can hold his head higher than most. He had Zabaleta fouling him relentlessly and only the leniency of Andre Marriner kept him out of the book for most of the 1st half.

An ABC of playing on the Counter is to make the most of set pieces. Mata wasted 2 corners (both failed to beat the first defender) and a Free Kick in the first half and despite his usual work rate, as against Sparta Prague, was below par (which highlights how dependent we are on him).

Ramires was so bad he could have a whole article: Starting off on the right of the creative 3, his touch and distribution was awful. He was presumably there to support Ivanovic, yet City, not renowned for natural width, marauded down their left almost at will.

Just after the hour mark, he linked with Ivanovic for a sweeping Counter. As the ball was played back to him, instead of continuing to surge forward, he hesitated, allowing Kolo Toure to cover, outstrength him and prevent a shot. Immediately afterwards, City scored their opener.

As the 4th official held up the board on 67 minutes, it initially showed Ramires’ number. He almost sprinted off with relief, before he had to put the brakes on as the wrong number had been displayed: Lampard was hooked for Moses and Hazard for Oscar.

Moses went to the right of Mata, Hazard to the left and Ramires dropped back to the double pivot.

He made little impression there (having already been booked for a knee high kick at Yaya Toure in the first half) and played within himself.

With the arrival of Torres for Mikel on 80 minutes, Luiz was pushed forward, Ivanovic moved to Centre Back and Ramires moved to Right Back.

Unless versatile means being poor in 3 positions in one game, this was just borne of desperation from Benitez.

5 minutes later, from our own throw in, Ramires was robbed by Aguero. The ball ended up with Silva, who fed Carlos Tevez on the edge of the D. He was given the freedom of Manchester by Ivanovic to smash the ball past Cech’s despairing right hand, as not for the first time, we failed to close a player down.

The same Tevez who’s now scored 8 goals in 11 games against us. Couldn’t make it up could you?

We were second best throughout the game, winning far too few second balls and failing to press City even on the edge of our 18 yard box.

On one such occasion, Yaya Toure’s goal came courtesy of Mikel not pressing properly. He waved his leg in Toure’s direction as he eased past him and bent the ball round Cahill into the far corner.

Runners were free to milk the space between the back 4 and the double pivot at will.

City are a narrow side. Surely Benitez, having opted to play on the Counter, would have told Lampard and Ramires to minimise the space between them and the Centre Backs or at the very least, go with the runners.

Rodwell had his own duel with Cech in the first half with 3 decent chances (2 clear headers and 1 hit from 25 yards) with negligible pressure on him.

Cech did all he could to keep Chelsea in the game. He came out twice to force Aguero wide when 1 on 1 and saved well from a Nastasic header from 6 yards early on.

Frank Lampard’s 200th career goal for the club will surely come but his second penalty miss in 4 years against City, along with Ramires’ inability to close the Counter before City’s 1st goal, extinguished any real hope of taking anything from this game.

Which brings us neatly on to substitutions.

However poor Lampard is in a game, he always carries a goal threat. In the double pivot, that often means we are more at risk when he leaves his post but a goal down, risks have to be taken.

Benitez replaced him with Moses and moved Ramires in to the pivot. Effectively, like for like, with a negative twist.

Contrast this with Mancini.

9 minutes into the 2nd half, he took off Rodwell and brought on Tevez. Not only did he “go for it” with an attacking substitution, he did it with over 35 minutes remaining.

To replace Hazard with Oscar was absurd. The one player who had really threatened to commit City defenders was left to warm the bench for the last quarter of the game.

The final substitution was Torres for Mikel. Mikel was admittedly below par (ball watching a particular problem) so why wait 80 minutes and not put Oscar there earlier and keep Hazard on?

Taking Mikel off demolished any remaining shape we had and introduced a player whose mojo has deserted him. it was no surprise when Tevez scored just 5 minutes later.

Luiz surged forward several times in the second half in an effort to create something amidst our creative sterility but it was not his day. One shot well over the bar from a corner and possession conceded on each incursion into City’s half affirmed this.

I could go on and on but I think you’ve got the gist. We were really very poor.

Once the players cross the line, its down to them to execute what they are told to do. Only Benitez will know what that was but it wasn’t good and it didn’t work.

With 11 Premier League games remaining, a top 4 finish is in the balance. Just 3 wins in 8 games see us 19 points behind Man Utd, 7 points behind City.

Behind us, Spurs will take 3rd with a win at West Ham and even Arsenal are only 2 points behind us.

On paper, our next 5 Premier League games are all winnable. To be sure of a top 4 finish, I think we’ll need 25 points from our last 11 games.

With Benitez at the helm, I won’t be holding my breath I’m afraid. As the saying goes, I can cope with the disappointment, its the hope that kills me.

Carefree.
Follow Chris Davies on Twitter:

0 254

Notwithstanding the opposition was from League One, once the first goal was scored, the result was never in doubt in this game, as Chelsea ran out comfortable and deserved 4-0 winners.
 
The Blues dominated territory and possession in the first half but were unable to make it count.
 
Ivanovic and Ba both headed narrowly wide before Oscar’s shot was deflected over the bar.
 
Unusually, Frank Lampard was twice unable to make decent contact with presentable shooting opportunities, inside the penalty area; the second just 10 yards out.
 
Oscar came closest to breaking the deadline for Chelsea. As he slipped, his shot beat Moore but struck the base of his left hand post.
 
Brentford rarely got over the halfway line with counter attacks few and far between. They did have the ball in the Chelsea net approaching Half Time through Trotta but play was brought back for a foul by David Luiz just outside the penalty area.
 
Less than 10 minutes into the second half, the Blues took the lead with a route one goal. Ba laid Cech’s goal kick back into the path of Mata, who strode forward and arrowed the ball into the far corner. His celebration mirrored the reaction of the home fans, who breathed a collective sigh of relief.
 
Uwe Rosler brought on Harry Forrester (Man of the Match at Griffin Park) in an effort to get back into the game, to no avail.
 
On 67 minutes, Hazard (who had just replaced Moses) put Ivanovic away down the right. His pull back to Oscar ended the tie as a contest, the Brazilian flicking the ball through his legs, deceiving both goal keeper Moore and the defender on the line.
 
The floodgates were open and less than 5 minutes later, Chelsea scored again. Mata broke clear down the left and his measured cross found Lampard, who volleyed into the far corner for 3-0 and goal number 199.
 
With 9 minutes remaining, Oscar worked a short corner and from the left apex of the penalty area, delivered a precision cross to the back post for John Terry to head home. He celebrated his second goal of the season as though it was his first for the club, to cap a successful return to the side.
 
Frankly, there was not too much to be learned from this game. Against lower league opposition, on a decent playing surface, the Blues were competent, professional and good value for our victory.
 
Middlesborough at the Riverside awaits us in the next round, with a heavyweight clash against Manchester United the reward for the victors.
 
After the events of last October, Chelsea will need no motivation for that tie.
 
Carefree.
 
Follow Chris Davies on Twitter: @chrisdaviescfc

0 218

We won and our travelling support was magnificent. That’s the best I can see about this performance.

Chelsea’s first game in the Europa League ended in victory against a Sparta Prague side that had not played a competitive fixture in over 2 months.

In truth, this was a tepid display by the Blues who seemed content to sit back, invite Sparta to attack and not press the ball. Lafata missed 3 clear opportunities, all from inside the area and one from 6 yards. Had he been less profligate, our strategy would have looked absurd instead of puzzling.

The game was largely played at training ground pace, reminiscent of our apathetic performance against Atletico Madrid in the European Club Cup.

Sparta lacked the creativity and finishing quality to really hurt us and until the arrival of Oscar, we lacked the dynamism to put them away.

Here’s a synopsis of each player’s contribution:

Petr Cech

Had very little to do. Almost a howler in the first half when he came charging to the left apex of his area, sliced his clearance and had to run full pelt back to his goal. As much exercise as he had all night, thanks to Lafata fluffing his lines.

Cesar Azpilicueta

Did OK defensively as he generally does but along with Cahill and Ivanovic, his out ball was often long and aimless. Always puts a shift in but rarely ventured beyond half way in this game.

Gary Cahill

Lucky not to be sent off. Clear yellow for going through the back of a player just inside their half and should have had another for raking his studs down an achilles tendon in the second half. His forward passing was abysmal and he has yet to cure his addiction to ball watching. Got away with one here in more than one sense.

Branislav Ivanovic

We’ll never know but looked like he had a niggle to me. Not the quickest at the best of times but looked slower than normal. His passing was not much better than Cahill’s but his positional sense is far superior.

Ryan Bertrand

Quietly effective in a game where he was rarely put under significant pressure. Another 12 months under the wing of Ashley Cole is no bad thing. Not completely convinced that he’s the long-term replacement for Cole yet though.

Frank Lampard

Has been playing 2 games a week for a while now and looked leggy. Decent shift defensively, which for once, outshone his attacking play. Should be rested for Brentford but a chance to get goals will be hard to turn down.

Ramires

You can’t play football without the ball. Please stop giving it away like a free meerkat toy from moneysupermarket.com.

Marko Marin

On the down side, he gave the ball away. A lot. On the up side, he ran at defenders with pace and looked the player most likely to make something happen in the first half. Match sharpness only comes from playing matches. He is slowly getting better and has a part to play between now and May.

Juan Mata

Not at his best but a tidy display for the most part. Never looked like getting hold of the game by the scruff of the neck but in the end, he didn’t need to. A rest against Brentford should help freshen him up for the return fixture.

Eden Hazard

Like Mata, a quiet game against the sort of opposition he used to terrorise in Ligue 1. Looked the most committed of the creative 3 to get back and help the double pivot, although tackling is clearly far from his strongest suit.

Fernando Torres

A wretched display. One shot out for a throw in, one great block tackle on Marin (yes, you read that correctly) and 3 presentable chances met with powder puff attempts. 1 goal in 12 now and the end of the season cannot come soon enough for him or us.

Substitutes

Yossi Benayoun

Replaced Marin, contributed little. Should shut up about Torres and reflect on how lucky he is to be anywhere near our first team when even West Ham didn’t want to keep him until May.

Oscar

With 8 minutes to go and preparing to come on for Juan Mata, Oscar must have started humming a few bars of “The Final Countdown” as the wonder kid scored his 6th goal in 7 games in Europe this season.

45 seconds after his arrival on the pitch, our boy from Brazil sprinkled some magic on a dreary game by scoring with one of the coolest finishes of the season, passing the ball just inside the near post.

We should see off Brentford and Sparta this week but in view of the number of diehard fans I know who are not going to either game, I suspect the atmosphere will be somewhat muted.

For many, not just Fernando Torres, with Benitez in post, the end of the season cannot come soon enough.

Carefree.

Follow Chris Davies on Twitter: @chrisdaviescfc

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