Friday, 6 April 2012

So far so good for Chelsea under Di Matteo...

After a great first leg victory at the Estadio da Luz, Dimi's boys went to Villa Park and got another important 3 points in the league, with a 4-2 win on what was a very emotional day for Aston Villa and their leader #19 Petrov. This was the first time in a while that Chelsea have been successful at Villa Park, and what made the result even better was that Chelsea had to show the character of mind to go on and win the game in the last ten minutes, having let a 2-0 lead slip. This kind of slip under AVB would most likely have led to a draw or maybe even a loss, but under Di Matteo, the boys in blue are showing a resolve and fight that Chelsea fans have been more accustomed to in recent years. At the moment, Di Matteo's tenure is showing a similar path to that of the great saviour Guus Hiddink, lets hope that this can continue. The other highlight of this game, apart from the character of mind to push on and win the game, was Torres's first premier league goal in ...well too long. Many in the papers have been suggesting that he hasn't scored at an important time yet, but to be honest I don't see why this goal was not important, we were 3-2 up with time left on the clock, Aston Villa had already come back once, and there is nothing to say that Aston Villa could not have been scoring an equaliser instead of Torres slotting home, he sealed the victory. But anyway the positive we can take from this goal was that Torres had the confidence in himself not to hold the ball up and create an assist, something that he has been doing very unselfishly and very successfully in recent matches, but instead we saw a flash of the Nando Torres that the world loves seeing, he strode onto the ball and from outside of the box, he backed himself and slotted it to the left of Given and into the back of the net, the smile and joy he got from that will hopefully be a massive confidence boost, and we all hope he can continue to push on from this in the business end of the season.

On Wednesday was the second leg of the UCL quarter final with Benfica, after what was a great effort in the first leg, hopes were high at the Bridge, but Benfica showed why they had managed to knock Man Utd out. They were all over Chelsea in the first ten minutes, seeking that all important first goal. Chelsea played poorly throughout, and they seemed very much off the quick pace that Benfica were attacking with, even when Benfica went down to ten men, Chelsea just could not dominate. Chelsea did create some chances but just could not convert them, and it had been a relief to all when Ashley Cole's marauding run into the penalty box resulted in a Lampard penalty. Benfica got their goal late into the second half, which led to a nervous last ten minutes, David Luiz got caught napping on the corner and Cech really should have come to claim at head height. Just as time was coming to an end, the ex-Porto man Meireles had his moment to shine in front of the Benfica fans when he sent a thunderbolt into the top right hand corner of the net after a great break to seal the victory. Chelsea limped over the line into the semis, but the job was done . We all know they are going to have to play better against Barcelona, I think the performance on Wednesday was a case of not throwing the first leg result away rather than having to go out and win the game. Chelsea are going to need the spirit and ability shown against Napoli in the home leg, with the chasing , tightness in defence and the clinical finishing on the break that was shown in the away leg against Benfica, for them to continue into the final in Munich. Chelsea and Barcelona have had some epic encounters in the last decade and hopefully Chelsea can come out fighting against what is the greatest team in the world currently, and put some of the many demons of recent meetings to bed.

What must be remembered though no matter what, is that Chelsea have achieved a great deal by getting into the semi finals, along with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, three teams who are undoubtedly in another league to anyone else. Chelsea have proven themselves to be the best of the rest by being the fourth team in the semi-finals, and lets be honest after the group stage farces and the first leg against Napoli  under AVB, no-one would have expected to us be in the semis. I think the boys can be proud of getting to this point, and for Robbie, it is job well done. We should go into the matches against Barcelona as underdogs and with no weight or expectations on our shoulders, we should be able to fight and play freely and I think we will have a better chance because of this. But I don't want to get too wrapped up in the hype of this fixture like so many will do over the next couple of weeks, I'd rather focus on the more important point of trying to get back into the top four. Winning the Champions league let us be honest is unrealistic, like I have said we have got to a point where we can be proud of, and with the season we have had, the semis is an achievement. More importantly are the two upcoming League fixtures over Easter, with Arsenal playing Man City  and Tottenham facing a tough trip to the Stadium of Light, a win at home on Saturday against Wigan is crucial  if we are to capitalise on any dropped points and pursue our hopes of Champions League qualification. Furthermore the local derby at Craven Cottage on Monday night could also make or break the League for us, as Arsenal and Tottenham both face easier fixtures, we will need the three points against Fulham, something that at times we have struggled with recently. 6 points over Easter is a necessity, and it is the only thing on which Chelsea should be focused, forget the semis of the Champions League and the FA Cup, I hate to say it but they are an exciting sideshow to what has to be our sole goal, which is Champions League qualification.

Nothing will portray the grit and determination needed better over the next set of crucial games throughout April better than the actions of our talismanic leader and legend JT. Two cracked ribs, struggling to breathe during matches but still fighting to put on the blue shirt each game to make a difference, there are not many players who are made of what JT is, lets prove that there are not many teams made of what Chelsea is!

Come on the Chels!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Benfica 0-1 Chelsea (UCL Quarter Final Leg 1)

As the sun began to set over the very picturesque Estadio da Luz, Chelsea fans were in for quite a surprise when the team sheet was read out. Di Matteo had rolled his dice and opted for a big slice of Portuguese and Spanish influence. The most notable inclusion on the team sheet include Paulo Ferreira, who had not featured in Chelsea blue in 2012.  With Essien, Lampard and Drogba left out of the team for the night, Di Matteo had opted to take a step away from the old guard in order to add the energy and pace required from the likes of Torres and Meireles to chase a game down and try to hit on the break away from home, to gain that all important away goal.Whilst the fans were deliberating on whether Robbie had made the right calls in regards to the team, the crowd was entertained by one of the best pre-match spectacles I have ever seen. Vitoria, Benfica's eagle, swooped around the stadium and over the crowd in a polished performance, before gracefully landing on his perch and tucking into his reward. The hope was that Chelsea would be able to match such a performance and tuck into the reward of a victory away from home.

Chelsea started well , and were closing down Benfica, making them make mistakes, and for the first half an hour the home team appeared rattled, so far all was going well. Ferreira was showing no signs of rustiness in what will have been a familiar surrounding, Terry was as solid as ever and Meireles and Mikel were chasing down well. David Luiz and Ramires were also impressing in front of a familiar crowd with a few bright pieces of play and Torres had also fashioned himself a couple of chances but was unable to hit the target. Benfica began to creep into the match near the end of the first half, but Chelsea were able to see the rest of the half out.

The second half was a much more exciting affair, just after half time, Luiz was able to get his body in front of an Oscar Cardozo shot, and a few minutes later, Chelsea had their opportunity to reply, Torres drifted in a cross and Kalou found himself some space rose to meet the ball, but header over, massive sighs from the Chelsea fans and groans of why on earth we continue to play him. Not long after, Mata was able to round the keeper from a break, but was forced wide and his shot agonisingly hit the near post. Cech it must be mentioned , along with the Chelsea defence was solid all night and he made a crucial save from a powerful header. As 70 mins came up, Merieles made way for Lampard accompanied by the whistles and grief that he had heard from the Benfica fans all night, Meireles had had a good game though, and took a yellow card for the team for a professional foul to stop Benfica on the break, and had also had a great long range effort on target.  A few minutes later Ramires broke down the right touch line, passed to Torres who although being clattered stayed on his feet and worked his way to the byline and delivered a perfect cross in front of the goalie and away from the defenders right into the six yard box, giving Salomon Kalou the opportunity to go from previous villain to hero, he duly slid in a tucked away Torres's cross. 1-0! the Chelsea fans go wild , and cries of 'it's so quiet, it's so quiet, it's so quiet..in Lisbon echo around the ground. The most notable highlight of the last few minutes of the game was a clearance by Cole which almost went into his own net.

 As the final whistle blew, the Chelsea fans erupted once more at a job well done. It was a good away performance in Europe, Chelsea cleared the ball and defended smartly, Terry and Luiz were rock solid for the night, Chelsea also broke well and took their chance when it came. The performance did lack the ability to hold onto the ball and fashion chances to build on the good defencive work, and this was something that was noted against Tottenham. Chelsea at the moment lack the midfield and ideas to perform well in the final third and use the balls that are so hardly fought for and won. But with a 1-0 away win against a Benfica team that had not lost at home in ten European games, the job was most certainly done on the night and there were smiles all round. Chelsea now have given themselves a manageable chance in the second leg at the Bridge next Wednesday. But as Di Matteo said in his post-match interviews, nothing is done yet and there is still plenty of work to be done.