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Easter Eggcitement? Our Coop Runneth Over

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Last time we caught sight of Manchesterford United in the league, we were unbeaten and four points ahead of them. At the end of an ugly afternoon we still had a point in hand, but since then they’ve disappeared over the horizon with a turn of speed that suggests their collective arse was on fire.

As of today, with a 22 point gap, 30 games played and marooned in fourth place, we cannot mathematically catch them. Their closest rivals, City, are highly unlikely to bridge a 15 point gap either. So by the time we get to Ye Olde Trafford in May, they could already be champions or, God forbid, might be crowned the day Chelsea are there. Even worse, the game will probably have serious implications in the unseemly scramble for the Champions League places; a race from which we seem unable to extricate ourselves, despite numerous opportunities to do so. Thus, the unedifying spectacle of women being elbowed aside and babies cast to the vasty deeps as the mad scramble for the Champions League lifeboat gets fiercer, will amuse United fans as they watch from the Terra Firma of a Premiership title.

Oh yes, the pendulum of footballing power has not only swung firmly northwards since October, but gave us a right whack on the side of the head while doing so.

And yet, as we struggle to digest a slice of football’s humble pie, so poorly baked it attracts only derision from the judges in the Great British Bake Off, there are a few precious sips of cool, clean water to help wash down the worst of the claggy, stale crust of disappointment.

We have beaten the champions-elect in two cup tournaments this season. The first, in the Capital One Cup was played in the shadow of “Scuppered” Sunday and featured teams that were neither clubs’ strongest line-ups (particularly United’s young defence). So while any victory was welcome, this one was of a Tom Cruise-like stature that required you to be standing in a big hole in order to look it in the eye.

The victory in the FA Cup was perhaps a more genuine cause for muted celebration, coming as it did on top of recovering from a two goal deficit at their place. It is perhaps not stretching it too far to claim that Sir Alex would have quite liked a Double to douse the nagging sense that his team is not quite what it should be; more dogged than spangly and still irked by their exit from the Champions League. Though to be honest, this is pure speculation for the purpose of inflating my general sense of well being brought about by Monday’s win.

And let’s face it, I would settle for “just” a domestic league title any time. In a country wedded to the concept of asset inflation as the only means to economic well being, it’s no surprise that there’s a corrupting idea gaining traction that says dominating your 38 game league is no longer proof enough of quality. You must deliver doubles, trebles, Champions Leagues, to be considered worthy.

But, as McCarthy might have said, “Enough of being reasonable towards the Reds.”

Chelsea played around 170 minutes of football without conceding a goal against United – Fact.

Strange times we live in. And I don’t think it’s too much of a liberty to suggest that the second half at Old Trafford influenced Fergie’s thinking when it came to Monday’s game. The injury to Rooney aside, and that’s a sizeable unit to be pushing to one side, putting Jones in alongside Carrick looked like a move to stifle Chelsea and counter the Mikel–Ramires tandem to some extent. So there was a little less swash and more buckle to United for a lot of the game.

Indeed, both teams took some time to get going. No surprise, really, given that early kick-offs are often slow burners. But in the end the chaps did enough. The contrast between their determination to close space and track runners was a sobering contrast to Saturday’s limp effort. Only the injury to Cole put a damper on the day. Ba’s goal was brilliant, Cech’s save stupendous and the win maybe just about deserved. I do think with better finishing the game could have been settled earlier as Chelsea carried more attacking threat for longer, but towards the end Van Persie should have cashed in what was, for him, a relatively comfortable chance.

What I take away from these games is a sense that in any given match, we are much closer to United than the 22 point gap suggests. There is the guts of a decent team, plus back up, already on the books. What is lacking, of course, is anywhere near the consistency that United have achieved. Irrespective of the Rafa debate, it goes without saying that at a time when the squad is undergoing change, particularly with the introduction of a number of new young players, the lack of stability and continuity of ideas was bound to take its toll.

In some ways we are reminiscent of an older Chelsea; talented, but unable to deliver over the long haul; just too many inexplicably poor performances against mediocre opposition, but shiny bright on a Cup day.

Match Reports

The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “It will probably register as the most satisfying result of Rafael Benítez’s short and difficult time in office and not just because it was possibly the first time he was spared the condemnation of Chelsea’s supporters. His team can look forward to an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City and, after all the personal indignities Benítez has suffered, he will probably not care too much that it was such a scruffy game to get them to Wembley.”

The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea’s love affair with the FA Cup continues. This was a huge victory for the holders, a result that lends lustre to a strange season, a win rooted in the brilliance of Demba Ba at connecting with a dropping ball. Fittingly, Ba’s goal was watched by the 88-year-old Roy Bentley, the legendary Chelsea forward who himself scored a spectacular goal to knock Manchester United out of the Cup at the same quarter-final stage back in 1950. United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, had warned his players of Ba’s threat, reminding them of the hooked finish that the Senegalese striker scored against them at St James’ Park on Jan 4, 2012. Rio Ferdinand was caught out that day by Ba’s movement and was second best again.”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “At the final whistle, Benitez tugged his jacket around him, shook Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand for the second time that afternoon and left Stamford Bridge to its own celebrations. After losing to Southampton on Saturday, being allowed to slip away was far preferable to the consequences of another defeat. In recent years, Chelsea have, in the modern parlance, owned the FA Cup, so a place in the semi-finals against Manchester City on 14 April is the very least the support expect.”

The Official Chelsea FC Website: “The Blues march into the semi-finals of the FA Cup and a Wembley date with Manchester City as Demba Ba scored the only goal of the game to overcome Manchester United.”

Goal

49′ Ba 1-0
Highlights

Links

(Image credit: Flickr/Engage for Education.)

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  • http://greatwenlondon.wordpress.com/ PeteW

    Good stuff. I’d say we have a better XI then them – even with our respective strikers taken into account, but they have a stronger squad and a much more dynamic sense of purpose. Winning the title for them this year after last year’s balls up has been paramount and seen them almost certainly play beyond themselves. I mean, for crissake they might break our points record but they aren’t a much on any of the leading teams produced by CFC. AFC and MUFC between 2002 and 2008 (surely the golden era of modern British football).

    But we are still several squad players away from a title challenge. We need a world class CB, a couple of midfielders and a couple of forwards – and that’s before taking into account who leaves in the summer. The danger really is becoming an Arsenal, always a player short (which means one of our better ones leaves). pathetically obsessed with finishing fourth.

    • bluebayou

      You do have a point about the relative quality of EPL teams these days and there does seem to have been a levelling off in recent years.

      With regards to the “player short” syndrome, there is a difference between genuinely lacking a player or two and not making what you have work for you. Chelsea, to my mind, are in danger of falling into the latter bracket, both in the minds of the fans and the board. But you only have to look at some of the quality outfits in Europe, particularly some of the German sides to see that you don’t need a galactico in every position. And United are winning the league on the same basis.

      • True Blue 007

        I totally agree with BlueBayou … we have a quality squad and need a manager to make the players work rather than claiming we need another squad overhaul.

        I think we just need a slight adjustment over the transfer window.

        1) Torres out – and a quality striker brought in to compete with Ba and Lukaka. This will give us 3 ST’s to allow us to compete on several fronts.

        2) RB – We need a young apprentice for Cesar, so that he can be rested a points during the season

        Thats it … We have CM’s in Mikel, Romeu, Ramires and Josh.
        AM’s are well covered with Oscar, Mata, Hazad, Moses and either Marin or Kev De Bryune.

        In CB – we have Cahill and Luiz, with JT and Branners as back up. Possibly even bringing in Bruma or Kalas.

        As for LB – Ashley will be solid for another season at least and Ryan B is a good back up. We could start the search for Ashley’s replacement – but I don’t think we should rush into this, during the upcoming transfer window.

        So really – just a ST and RB for next season. PLayers out will be Yossi and maybe Marin (which i think is a shame as I think he could offer us a lot).

  • limetreebower

    I think that’s a straightforwardly unarguable description of the situation, Dr B.

    I only saw the game on TV, not in the flesh, but it certainly looked like we were worth the victory. Still, even if we were a little fortunate at times, it’s only fair that on Easter weekend we should have a bit of cluck.

  • GrocerJack

    Lovely stuff Dr B. I’ve been perplexed by the alleged gulf between the sides when based on points only. The truth is United are just further down the transitionary road than us. Or behind depending in your perspective. The Cech save was for me as good as Banks vs Pele. This is heresy to some, but the pompous view that things in the past can’t be surpassed is plain daft. Fair play to Hernandez for his rather jovial response to what would 99 times from a 100 be a goal. On Petes note I agree with another CB to replace the fast fading JT. Cahill is much better than given credit for and we win far more with Luiz at the back than we lose. But we need a third to back either up, or another RB if Ivan takes that role. A midfielder of steel is also required to complement the superb Mikel, someone of Ballacks stature. I don’t think I need to say much about replacing Torres, but Ba is good value. Personally I can’t wait for this dogs dinner of a season to end in the faint hope some common sense breaks out at the club on the manager front

    • mark_25

      Banks vs Pele was a great save but he stopped performing like that when he took his eye off the ball

  • Blueboydave

    I would have to agree, BB, that the Mancs’ big points lead in EPL is a function of the relatively mediocre and inconsistent state of the rest of the teams rather than their magnificence.

    On the Doubles and Trebles issue, I was thinking the other day as I contemplated the possibility of an even worse late season fixture pile-up than last season if we progress in just 2 cup competitions that multiple trophy-win seasons seem destined to become increasingly rare in England assuming turkeys will never vote for Xmas to reduce the size of the EPL to 18 teams and FIFA/UEFA will insist on taking chunks out of the season for international breaks.

    It was one of the joys of Monday’s win that in a season where the Mancs look like tying up the EPL title early and could have rested players for the late stages of other competitions we ended their last hope of a Double.

    Mark – time for an alcohol excess pun, perhaps?

    • limetreebower

      I had the same oddly pleasant thought after Monday’s game: with the title race over, we effectively just ended the Mancs’ season.

      I’ve just been outside, Dr B, and since the snow started it appears (weirdly) to be warmer than it was this morning. So perhaps our visitors tonight won’t feel quite as at home as we thought.

  • bluebayou

    Thanks for the comments peoples even LTB’s pun. As I look out of the window it’s snowing. It’s probably warmer down by the Volga. I shall be at the Bridge tonight expecting a tough game but hoping we can take a decent result over to Kazan.

  • http://www.chelseafcblog.com/ Nick

    If anyone who was at the game or who watched it has time and fancies scribing a few words about it, drop me an email.

  • limetreebower

    It was … quiet.

  • Cunningplan

    An interesting note from the commentary on last nights game.

    If we go on to win this thing, we would be the first team in the country to win all of the European club cups.

    This competition has now added a little bit more interest and enthusiasm on my part.

    • Blue_MikeL

      and guess who is going to help us! No one else but Zorres himself!

  • limetreebower

    I’m quite enthused about this competition in principle, but last night’s game tested me somewhat. Like Dr B (and others, I imagine) I was expecting a pretty hard game, enlivened by the usual entertaining European atmosphere. Instead Kazan showed up with maybe 15 supporters (for anyone who hasn’t seen TV pictures, I’m not joking) and played a sluggish, low-tempo, bored-looking game; really the tie ought to be over, but we were pretty flat too.

    The whole event rather defeated all those newspaper articles about how we ought to give the Euro Cup more respect. It positively screamed second-string.

    Still, at least we managed to rest a number of key players. Some of them — hello Frank, hi Ramires — appeared to be rested despite being in the starting XI.

    I’m not sure what one can draw from the game otherwise. Bertrand still looks like a good player to me, but presumably on Planet Abramovich he’s not a glamorous enough name ever to be a proper Chelsea player so I doubt he’ll succeed Cashley long-term. Mata yet again did his best to make us look like a top-class team all by himself. JT had one wonderful Moore-style tackle but increasingly looks like our fourth-choice centre-half. I don’t think Nando was any better or worse than he’s been all year long: as usual he alternated between zipping around with lots of nice little flicks and touches, and mysteriously disappearing from the game. His chances went in for once, but otherwise I didn’t see too much different.

  • Guest

    Enjoyed watching Zorres scoring yesterday.

  • limetreebower

    There have been some pretty low points this season, but I’m not sure even the announcement of the reign of Rafa makes me feel quite as keen to end it all as this:

    http://www.chelseafc.com/news-article/article/3132179/title/its-blue-what-else-matters

    “The campaign offers fans across the globe the chance to go ‘all in’ and buy the kit before it is unveiled”??

    [goes off in search of emergency flask of prussic acid]

  • julian

    Hope we can push on now.

  • Gleb

    Just to clarify about Rubin:

    The fact they had 15 away supporters and played boring football has NOTHING to do with the UEFA Cup. Russian and Eastern European clubs still take it VERY seriously. It’s their Champions League. They really do think the rest of the world cares and it’s somehow prestigious.

    It’s about Rubin itself. That’s how they are. Which is a mystery. Actually, there’s a semi-grand “debate” right now in Russia because a few articles, that coincided with the game vs Chelsea, actually had the guts to say that Rubin is soulless, has no fans and is not needed by anyone (the problem was the fact they hadn’t declared their home stadium to the UEFA prior to the tournament so they basically have to play somewhere else throughout the entire run). The truth is more complicated. Purely as a football team, they have nothing at all to be ashamed of. Two-time national champions, always play well in Europe, the only way they, still as a relatively small club, know how to. They’re very disciplined, very stable, a lot of people like their manager and so on and so on. Against Chelsea they simply had a bad day. But the rest is true. No one gives a flying fuck about this club at all, even in their home city, which is actually the third/fourth major city in Russia, with a very rich history, the capital of Tatarstan, a national republic of Tatars, who used to be quite a big deal in European history. So it’s not like they’re from some remote village. It’s a rich, prosperous city. But… I have no idea why, not a clue, but basically no one likes the club over there. They LOVE their hockey team (really proper noisy fans), they love their volleyball team, but despite being two-time national champions, they couldn’t care less. And the club itself doesn’t do anything to promote itself and work with the fans. Couple that with their trademark (no sarcasm) style of defensive (but usually effective) football and you get what you get.

    Disclaimer: Rubin does have many loyal fans and they are one of the nicest people (compared to fans of other clubs) around. So I hope they take no offense in my words. It’s just that the bigger picture is like this, and few people can argue with that.

    • http://www.chelseafcblog.com/ Nick

      Thanks, Gleb. Interesting stuff. I’m trying to think of an equivalent British team…

      • Gleb

        Yes, the phrase is correct. The final “t” is soft, though, so technically needs an apostrophe after it, but that would be weird. And if anyone’s interested, the stresses are: dabrO pozhAlovat’.

    • limetreebower

      That’s interesting to know, Gleb, thanks. I sort of assumed they wouldn’t normally be so flat (the team, I mean), and I suspect next week’s game will be pretty tough, especially given the need for some squad rotation. We wouldn’t normally get away with giving up possession as often as Frank and Ramires did in the first half.

  • limetreebower

    Yikes. That was terrible. Looks like we’re going to stagger over the finishing line this season.