May 292013

It is perhaps a sign of how good a job Rafa Benitez actually did in the Chelsea dressing room, but there hasn’t been the kind of media outrage at John Terry’s exclusion from the Chelsea first team that we might have expected in recent years. Terry has struggled all season with injuries, and while he is still capable of big performances, he is in no way guaranteed to be first choice come the end of the summer. Terry fell behind David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill this season, and all 3 are far from falling into decline. It seems incredible that Terry can no longer get in to the team, but the question now becomes what will Terry’s role be at the club?

Ideally, Terry will be able to accept his new role as no longer being the top dog. There is still so much he has to offer this club, and not just on the pitch. In recent years, there have been suggestions of certain players having too much power in the dressing room. While this can be disruptive, if harnessed and used correctly, Terry can become a real leader to this team. He might play less regularly, but if Terry can accept this and refocus on helping the team, he could be of immeasurable benefit to the squad.

Having the kind of experience that Terry and Lampard have brings something to the team that players like Oscar, Hazard, Mata and co simply don’t have – they know how to win a Premier League. Unfortunately, it will be extremely difficult for Terry to accept this role. More than anything, Terry loves playing football, and he might not be able to come to terms with sitting on the bench for the majority of the season. Terry has served this club well, and if he did choose to see out his career somewhere warmer he would leave with everyone’s blessing. However, if John is willing, he could see out his contract and give us one more year. Even if he can’t win back his place in the team, the experience and guidance that he can give the squad could make the difference when it really matters. For this reason, I sincerely hope he stays with us.

May 242013

Chelsea have had their ups and downs in the last 2 years. The unmitigated joy of Champions League success, tempered by poor performances and the sacking of club legend Roberto Di Matteo. Frank Lampard’s record breaking goalscoring antics against Fernando Torres’ continued shyness in front of goal in the league. Eden Hazard dominating a game…Eden Hazard kicking a ball-boy. It’s been a bit up and down, and any level of normality can only be achieved by the installation of a new manager.

However, there has been one absolute star – one little Spanish delight that continues to show his remarkable and incredible importance to the Chelsea team. Juan Mata bought from Valencia for £23 million pounds, has proven to be one of the shrewdest of Chelsea’s buys in many years. In the course of the 2012/13 season, Mata made a staggering 64 appearances. His reliability was vital in a hectic schedule. As if that wasn’t enough, in those 64 appearances, Mata managed to notch up 20 goals and 29 assists. That’s 49 combined goals/assists in 64 games.

These kinds of numbers are downright impressive on a page, but watching Mata play really highlights his crucial role in Chelsea’s team. While Hazard or Lampard have the ability to create something out of nothing, Juan Mata is the centrepiece of the whole team. He constantly looks to get on the ball and bring other players in to the game. Mata takes responsibility, and actively looks to influence the general tone and pace of the play. He makes the whole team tick, and his absence causes big problems.

With a new manager coming in, it remains to be seen what Mata’s role will be in the forthcoming season. A new manager may wish to play a more traditional 4 – 4 – 2, and this would force Mata to play in a more wide role similar to the one Hazard has played all season. The big difference is that Hazard is a direct attacker – Mata is more of a playmaker. While he might do an admirable job on a wing, he can directly influence the game more effectively than any other Chelsea player when playing in an attacking central role. I sincerely hope that the incoming manager sees this too, because it really is very hard to argue with 49 goals and assists from 64 games!

May 182013

Lampard signs on the dotted line……Finally!

It’s been a very good couple of weeks for Chelsea, and the season is really ending on a high. It stated with victory over Aston Villa which secured our top four spot in the league. That match included a brace from Frank Lampard, pushing him to 203 Chelsea goals and overtaking Bobby Tambling as the club’s record goalscorer. Wednesday brought us further joy and European success with a hard fought win over Benfica in the Europa League final, making it two European victories on the trot. And now, we can all celebrate the end to this year’s on-going Frank Lampard contact situation.

After many months of rumours, gossip and idle speculation, Lampard has signed on for a new 1 year deal. It is a satisfactory end to a long saga in a long season, and no one could be happier with the outcome than Frank himself. Speaking on the Chelsea website, Lampard said: “I’m absolutely delighted. Everybody knows I always maintained the dream was to stay at Chelsea. I love this club, the staff, the players and especially the supporters who have treated me fantastically since the day I arrived…The thought of helping the club to more success in the forthcoming years is all I ever wanted. I couldn’t be happier”

Early suggestions that Lampard refused to sign a new contract before he knew who the next manager was going to be have been rubbished by the club, and while Jose Mourinho is still the red hot favourite to return, anything could happen in the coming weeks.

While there is a distinct mood of celebration around Stamford Bridge, no one will be more aware than Frank of the danger in feeling too comfortable. There is still a tough game against Everton to come, and a win is vital to ensure we don’t lose 3rd place. With Terry still out, Lampard will be hoping to once again lead the team out as captain on Sunday. Although Benitez may have wanted to give Lampard a rest after his exertions midweek, the absence of Ramires and Hazard may mean the 34 year old veteran will have to postpone his well-earned holiday for a few more days.

May 152013

Frank Lampard is set to lead Chelsea out as captain for tonight’s all important Europa League final in Amsterdam. The veteran midfielder, who is believed to be on the brink of signing a new one year contract extension, will be the focal point of Chelsea’s midfield spine against an always dangerous Benfica side. The match will be the 68th of Chelsea’s season – far more than they would have anticipated or indeed liked. However, at this stage of the season, the weary legs and bones will be forgotten about. If you can’t get yourself motivated for a European Cup final, then you’re in the wrong sport!

Chelsea are hot 7/5 favourites in the betting with Unibet but unfortunately, they will be missing some key players. Despite travelling with the squad, Eden Hazard will miss out with a hamstring injury picked up on Saturday. Talisman John Terry will also be absent – although Terry did try and join in training yesterday, the pain was clearly too much and the centre back has no chance of making the team. Demba Ba, who is cup tied from his exploits with Newcastle earlier this season, was included in Rafa Benitez’s 25 man squad that travelled to Amsterdam. Showing a slightly sentimental side, Benitez’s gesture will go some way to endearing himself to the travelling support.

Opinions vary on the expected line up, and much depends on Victor Moses. Moses picked up a slight knock at the weekend, but his great form in this competition to date has ensured that he will be given every opportunity to start the game. Personally, I predict that we will line up as follows:

Mata Oscar Moses
Lampard Ramires
Cole Luiz Ivanovic Azpilicueta

Although Luiz has been used in central midfield recently, his excellent form combined with Lampard’s presence would suggest that he will be favoured to Gary Cahill. Of course, Rafa hates to be predictable so don’t be surprised to see Luiz in midfield with Ramires wide right. Truthfully, we don’t have a huge squad from which to choose, and Benfica will surely be quite confident of our game plan. That’s fine – let them be. The important thing is that we play to our full capability, because if we do, we win. It’s that simple.

Thanks for the memories Rafa – it’s time to sign off in style. My prediction 3-1 to the Mighty Blues!!

May 122013

Lampard breaks record to become all-time top goalscorer!

As if it was ever in doubt before, Frank Lampard has ensured his name will be remembered in Chelsea football club long after he has hung up his boots. Lampard scored both of Chelsea’s goals in a challenging and hard fought 2-1 victory over relegation strugglers Aston Villa. Lampard’s record equalling 202nd goal was a stereotypical edge of the box smash, while his 203rd was the kind of poacher’s finish that has become synonymous with Lampard. Beating Bobby Tambling’s 43 year old record, Lampard can finally get that particular monkey off his back and focus on his future.

The victory against Villa, while vital in securing top 4 spot and automatically Champion’s League spot for next season, did not come without a price. Ramires was sent off for two bookable offences and will miss 1 game, while Hazard was substituted off with a visible limp. Most worryingly, however, was the sight of John Terry being stretchered off in the 75th minute. Terry appeared to be suffering with an ankle injury, and he was very clearly distressed. The contrast between the fortunes of two of our old guard was stark today; Lampard’s euphoria versus Terry’s on-going struggle to win back his place. This new injury might have been more painful than it was damaging, but either way it does not look good for JT.

The win all but guarantees our top four position, and all eyes will now turn towards Wednesday’s Europa League Final clash with Benfica. It is desperately unlucky that Terry seems set to miss out on yet another European final one year on from his Champion’s League final absence, but there is no doubt that JT will be giving his absolute full support to our lads. Hazard would be a huge loss for the game if his injury keeps him out, and although Moses is a perfectly able replacement, he lacks the spark of ingenuity that allows Hazard to consistently create something from nothing. This means that others will have to play their part and contribute. Here’s looking at you, Nando…

May 082013

He’s off again. The Portuguese manager (not him, the other not so special one). As Chelsea prepare to welcome Tottenham to Stamford Bridge tonight, there is a great deal at stake. Perhaps that is why Andre Villas-Boas seems to be suffering from verbal diarrhoea, especially when it comes to talking about Chelsea.

Whoever wins the game tonight will take a huge step towards a top four finish and the Chammpions League football it entails. There are quite a lot of bragging rights on offer as well, such as being the best of the London clubs, with Arsenal still in the race, and doing the double over Spurs. What is likely to get the Chelsea players really going, though, is the sniping of the former manager.

Not only has he criticised the way we play, with some stupid remarks about having a style, he criticised Frank Lampard for not supporting him when he was in charge. The same `super` Frank Lampard who he hardly played and tried to force out of the club, you know, the one on the verge of becoming the Blues’ all-time record goalscorer. AVB suggested that Chelsea were not playing football in the right way and were only concerned about winning.

“In the end, it’s brought them success and sometimes success is what matters in football- independent of the style,” he croaked.

“I have a different opinion. I think if you don’t have a style it makes you invisible in football. Only teams with style succeed. But in the end, success normally is what matters in modern Europe.”

Well yes, mate, until they introduce goals and points for artistic integrity. What a clown! Chelsea won the Champions League and FA cup last season and have outperformed his Spurs team in every competition this season. A draw tonight would leave us three points ahead of them with two games to play, but a win would prove once and for all who the better team is.

May 082013

There are very few Chelsea fans that will be sorry to see the back of Rafa Benitez at the end of this season, but his tenure here has not been a complete disaster. Rafa has brought the club to the final of the Europa League – navigated a truly horrendous fixture schedule that has seen a staggering number of games played, and looks well on course to securing Champion’s League football for the 13/14 season. For many, this in itself is not enough. That being said, and for all that the criticism that you can throw his way, Rafa does seem to have managed to do one thing that so many previous Chelsea managers could not. He has destroyed the player-power mentality.

Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole are all Chelsea legends. There is no doubting this fact. However, the level of influence that they have previously wielded in the dressing room goes some way beyond natural leadership. Too often, player power has trumped the manager at Chelsea, and that is simply not the right way to run a club. There are many, many things you can say about Alex Ferguson as a manager, but you can never question the ruthless nature by which he controls his dressing room. Never mind selling or dropping popular players because it was the right thing to do – Fergie sold his own son because he wasn’t performing. When you put a manager in place, he has to have the respect of the dressing room, and he can never have that with senior dissenting voices disagreeing with him.

Jose Mourinho has the management skills and the strength of character to deal with such egos. He is, however, one of very few. The problem that our managers have always faced is one of time. If you take on the senior players, you are eventually going to lose your job. That was never an issue for Rafa – he was always only here to see out the season.

Rafa has no great fondness for the club, and he certainly had not fear of the sack. This freedom has allowed him to play the teams he really wanted to play. This meant giving Ryan Bertrand some games to develop. It has resulted in Ivanovic and Luiz forming a formidable and exciting partnership at CB over John Terry, which has allowed Azpilicueta to firmly establish his credentials at right back. Most notably, Rafa has used Frank Lampard correctly. Lampard is turning 35, and if he isn’t offered a new contract, the team needs to get used to live without him. That involves trusting Ramires, Oscar, Mata and Hazard in those roving midfield roles.

Rafa Benitez will not be missed. However, his actions have seen the spine of the next generation of Chelsea develop and grow. Intentional or not, it’s one hell of a silver lining.

Apr 292013

Chelsea and Lampard – The End of an Era?

Sunday’s match with Swansea City saw legendary Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard score yet another goal to edge him closer to the record held by Bobby Tambling who was in attendance for the match himself.

There have been doubts over Lampard’s future all season with the club refusing to offer him a new contract or make any official statement on the matter. He has said himself that he would of course love to stay for as long as his body enables him and pretty much 100% of the club’s fans have voiced their desire for him to stay, so what is the problem?

Why are the club so intent on offloading an extraordinary midfielder who has shown his credentials over the years with 200 goals for the club and countless games where has shown commitment and loyalty as the vice-captain and midfield maestro.

The board may justify not offering him a new contract by purchasing a replacement but there are very few, if any, players in the world that can perform as a 20 goal a season central midfielder who can do any job you ask of him. It is going to take a huge sum of money and faith to be able to properly replace Lampard and take the club back to the top of English football.

Chelsea will also be getting a new manager this summer with Jose Mourinho being tipped to return in the press. It would be a great day for Chelsea fans if Mourinho was to return and he would surely want to keep Lampard playing at Stamford Bridge for at least another season.

The next few seasons could be difficult for the club as old faces such as Lampard, Terry, Cole and Cech begin to move on and the younger stars such as Lukaku, De Bruyne, Courtois and Hazard aim to bring a Belgian core to the team and drive Chelsea to European and domestic success.

Apr 292013

Rafa Benitez did not start Frank Lampard yesterday but, once Ramires picked up an injury, the 34-year old midfielder came on to put Chelsea withing touching distance of Champions League qualification. Lampard looked like a man on a mission when he came on and a typical bursting run and pass set up Oscar for the opener after 43 minutes. Just two minutes later, Lampard was given the chance to add to his 200 goals from the penalty after Maya was fouled. Nobody expected him to miss, and he is now just one goal behind the all-time club record of Bobby Tambling.

“He is a gentleman,” said Lampard.

“I saw him before the game and I saw him afterwards. You would not meet a nicer guy in football.

“He has been in some bad health recently, but it is great to see him come across for the game and I am very proud to be up and mentioned alongside a name like his in football terms, but also as a bloke.”

Tambling was a guest of honour yesterday and his record still stands for now, but surely not for much longer. With Tottenham and Arsenal both drawing at the weekend, the win over Swansea has put Chelsea above both of them into third. We have a game in hand on Arsenal, too, while being a point above them and three above Spurs. The boomkies make the Blues favourites for a top four spot at 2/11 with Arsenal at 3/10 and Spurs trailing at 16/11.

Apr 012013

Rafa Benitez is not exactly the most popular Chelsea manager ever, but the fans have relented a little on him recently. His comments and statement that he would definitely be leaving the club at the end of the season have drawn an uneasy truce, but if Chelsea go out of the FA cup against Manchester United today after resting key players and losing to Southampton, he will get dog’s abuse.

Some good news for Chelsea is that Ferguson has dropped Wayne Rooney from the side, he is not even on the bench. After being dropped for the Real Madrid game, it seems clear that the England striker’s days are numbered at United. Hernandez and van Persie are good players, but the Dutchman is ion a scoring drought and Rooney is much harder to play against than the Mexican.

Demba Ba will lead the line for Chelsea, with Juan Mata back from illness alongside Eden Hazard and Oscar in a very attacking and creative line up. Lampard and Terry are on the bench, and will be great to bring on to steady the ship if needed. It is vital that we start well and don’t let United get too comfortable, making the most of home advantage in this crucial game that could define the season.