Monday, 17 May 2010

Pompey Placated : Chelsea 1 Portsmouth 0

Didier Drogba won the double for Chelsea with the only goal in a quite remarkable FA Cup final.
Drogba's 37th goal of the season was a free-kick just before the hour that found the net with tracer-bullet precision from 20 yards.
It maintained Drogba's impressive record of scoring in all six competitive games he has played at the new Wembley and confirmed Chelsea as only the seventh club to complete the league and FA Cup double, a pretty significant achievement in Carlo Ancelotti's first season in charge.
But that does not even come close to telling the story of a game that saw Chelsea hit the woodwork five times before the interval, including a terrible miss from Salomon Kalou, Kevin-Prince Boateng fail to convert a penalty shortly before Drogba's winner that could have set up a fairytale finish to a shambolic season of turmoil at Portsmouth, and even Frank Lampard fired wide from the spot three minutes from time.
Given the financial straightjacket they find themselves in, this was likely to be Pompey's last major final for quite some time.
That certainty, at the end of a campaign where you are 135 million pounds in debt, in administration, have had nine points deducted, been relegated, not been paid your wages on time on numerous occasions and seen players sold at a moment's notice, probably generated a devil-may-care attitude within the Portsmouth squad.
Frederic Piquionne brought a staggering reaction save out of Petr Cech during the first half and Aruna Dindane failed to make clean contact as he tried to turn home Piquionne's cut-back a few minutes later.
By any standards, these were glorious openings which Portsmouth might have had cause to regret if it were not for the fact that Chelsea were enduring such great frustrations of their own that Drogba ended the half slapping a post in total irritation at his side's inability to get the ball past it.
Within this flurry of activity came a contender for the best save ever seen in a cup final, and that miss.
Chelsea's victory will save Kalou extreme ridicule, but he knows his own contribution is going to be replayed so often he will never escape.
Frank Lampard had already flashed a 14th-minute shot against a post and Chelsea were on top when Ashley Cole, the first man to win the famous old trophy six times, drove deep into the Pompey box, completely outpacing Aaron Mokoena.
Fabio Capello would not have been the only one to admire his sublime cross, which completely took David James out of the game and presented Kalou with a four-yard tap-in.
The Chelsea fans were already on their feet, arms aloft in triumph, when Kalou's shinned effort soared skywards and thudded against the bar.
For a moment or two, the stadium was completely silent, as if unable to comprehend what it had just witnessed. The eruption of noise from the Portsmouth end confirmed the reality.
Within a couple of minutes, John Terry had glided a header against the bar, but that was nothing compared to the free-kick Drogba curled towards the top corner later on.
Somehow, James managed to reach it. His touch was only faint but it was enough to push the ball onto the bar and down, smack bang onto the goal-line.
So, when Drogba fired a low effort against the post four minutes from half-time, little wonder the offending upright suffered the backlash.
For once, a half had been completed with no one mentioning the pitch.
An odd colour it might have looked but it was not restricting the entertainment value, which included a penalty 10 minutes after the restart.
Introduced for Michael Ballack, who had been the subject of a vicious first-half tackle from Boateng, Juliano Belletti had not quite got his bearings.
And when Dindane nipped past him, the Brazilian lunged in and sent him sprawling.
After all that had gone before, the entire stadium had the sense this was the moment that would give the underdogs the trophy. Except Boateng had not read the script.
So bad was his effort that Cech, having gone down early, had time to make the readjustment required and boot it clear.
Within three minutes, Drogba converted his magnificent free-kick and the dream was over.
Had Lampard scored when he was bundled over in the box by Michael Brown three minutes from time, Chelsea would have deserved it.
He did not. It was that type of extraordinary game.
In the end it didn't matter, The Blues achieving the double for the first, but hopefully not the last, time in their history.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Championes Championes Ole Ole Ole Athletic Annihilated : Chelsea 8 Wigan 0

Chelsea clinched the Premier League title and set a new goalscoring record with a sensational destruction of 10-man Wigan at Stamford Bridge.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti guided the Blues to their first Championship success since 2006 in his debut season in England as Chelsea took their tally to 103 goals - the highest in the Premier League since Manchester United in 2000 and the first to achieve the century since Tottenham in 1962/3.
United's victory over Stoke at Old Trafford was irrelevant as the Blues finished the season one point clear of their rivals.
Ancelotti's side smashed home seven or more goals for the fourth time this season as Wigan, who had defender Gary Caldwell sent-off on the half-hour, simply capitulated.
A hat-trick from Golden Boot winner Didier Drogba, who finished the season with 29 league goals, two from Nicolas Anelka, a Frank Lampard penalty and others from Salomon Kalou and Ashley Cole, left Chelsea champions and on the brink of a League and FA Cup Double.
Only Portsmouth now stand in their way of a history-making season for Ancelotti and his team.
The Blues will become only the seventh team in the history of the game to win both competitions if they can overcome Avram Grant's side at Wembley next week.
The Blues were given the best possible start by France international Nicolas Anelka.
The striker, expected to sign a new two-year contract once the season is over, collected a knock down from Florent Malouda to fire past Wigan goalkeeper Mike Pollitt.
Wigan boss Roberto Martinez caused a stir by playing three in defence and for the next 25 minutes they gave Chelsea and their fans some anxious moments.
But the game changed on a pivotal penalty on the half-hour when Lampard was clearly brought down by Wigan defender Caldwell.
Referee Martin Atkinson then produced the red-card for the unfortunate centre-half.
Drogba, chasing the Premier League Golden Boot and level on 26 goals with United's Wayne Rooney, asked Lampard to let him take the spot-kick but the England international rejected his request.
Drogba was distinctly unhappy with Lampard's answer and had to be calmed down by other members of the Chelsea side.
Lampard duly put the penalty into the bottom corner to leave Chelsea in control of their own destiny at half-time.
In the 54th minute the title was sealed as Lampard and Kalou combined for the Ivory Coast international to almost walk the ball into the net.
Two minutes later Chelsea's fans were in dreamland when a cross from Branislav Ivanovic was volleyed home at the far post by Anelka.
With the title now Chelsea's, the only remaining issue to be settled was Drogba and his hunt for the Golden Boot.
That was settled in the 63rd minute when the Ivorian rose highest at the far post to head Lampard's cross into the net and make it 5-0.
It got better for Drogba five minutes later when Cole was brought down and Lampard tossed the ball to Drogba so he could take the penalty.
The Ivorian's spot-kick went in off the post but it mattered little to Drogba who had taken his tally for the season in the league to 28.
Ancelotti was hailed by the home fans and for the first time in the game the Italian responded by waving to the supporters chanting his name.
Drogba completed his hat-trick 10 minutes from the end of the game as Chelsea made it seven in a game for the fourth time this season.
Substitute Joe Cole's shot was parried by Pollitt but the ball fell kindly to the lurking Drogba who tucked it home for his 29th league strike of the season.
The goal sparked more cheering of Ancelotti but Wigan, who had not tested Petr Cech at all during the one-side contest, finally forced him into action when the Czech international tipped a goalbound shot from substitute Victor Moses over the bar in the 87th minute.
Cole completed the rout when he volleyed home in the final minute to make it 8-0 and as the champagne was sprayed over Ancelotti, the Italian had clearly banished the ghost of Jose Mourinho.
The day belonged to Ancelotti and his attacking side as Chelsea was crowned deserved champions for the fourth time in their history.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Subdued Scousers : Liverpool 0 Chelsea 2

Chelsea edged closer to the Premier League title with a crucial 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield.
An error by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard handed Didier Drogba a simple opening goal in the first half and Frank Lampard added a second after the break.
The result ensured Chelsea remained in pole position to win their first championship for four years but also finally put paid to the Merseysiders' hopes of securing Champions League football next season.
With Manchester United a point behind before kick-off and playing later in the day, Carlo Ancelotti's side knew anything less than a win would hand the initiative to their rival.
And with next week's final weekend seeing United host Stoke - Chelsea are at home to Wigan - there was no margin for error.
Chelsea were undoubtedly the better side but the match may have turned out differently had they not been gifted a 33rd-minute lead.
The conspiracy theorists would certainly have had a field day.
Some fans had been suggesting all week they would rather Chelsea win an Anfield than beat the Stamford Bridge side and hand United the chance to eclipse the club's tally of 18 league titles.
However, even they could not have prophesied the manner of Chelsea's goal.
Gerrard failed to notice Drogba when he passed back to Jose Reina and the Ivory Coast international nipped in to round the goalkeeper and tuck the ball home.
Prior to that, the early exchanges had been open. Lampard shot wide and Nicolas Anelka forced Reina into a low save while Liverpool's Maxi Rodriguez and Javier Mascherano, standing in at right-back because of Glen Johnson's calf injury, saw shots deflected wide.
There were also three penalty claims in what was a bustling first half.
Two for Chelsea involved Salomon Kalou. His first was an ambitious dive in the ninth minute under Mascherano's challenge but referee Alan Wiley allowed that to go unpunished.
In added time at the end of the first half the same player was through on goal - with Lucas Leiva in close attendance - and managed to trip himself up.
Despite fierce Chelsea protests Wiley again made the correct decision.
Whether he got Alberto Aquilani's 26th-minute penalty shout right was open to debate after the Italy international went down under Branislav Ivanovic's challenge. As he raced on to Rodriguez's chipped pass the defender's contact with the ball was inconclusive.
The loss of Rodriguez to injury just before half-time, when he was replaced by Ryan Babel, was a blow to Liverpool.
Six minutes into the second half Kalou muscled his way past Mascherano to drill a cross into the six-yard area, where Anelka failed to get the touch which would certainly have brought a second Chelsea goal.
But the Frenchman played a more influential role in the 54th minute when his cross picked out Lampard who bundled home from close range.
If that was not bad enough for Liverpool, they then lost Carragher to injury which meant 19-year-old Daniel Ayala was thrust into the action.
A forlorn-looking Fernando Torres, whose season was prematurely ended by a second knee operation in three months, could only watch on despondently from the stands.
It would have been 3-0 in the 67th minute had it not been for Reina's one-handed save from Florent Malouda's low shot.
David Ngog replaced Aquilani for the final 15 minutes but Liverpool were a spent force with only Reina keeping Chelsea at bay, punching away Michael Ballack's 25-yard free-kick and then producing a smart double save from Anelka and then Kalou.
The defeat meant Liverpool will finish the season with their lowest points total in five years, since accruing 58 in Rafael Benitez's first campaign in charge back in 2004-05.
Whether the Spaniard, strongly linked with Juventus, is around next season to rectify that remains in doubt.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Potters Punished : Chelsea 7 Stoke City 0

Chelsea sent a defiant title message to Manchester United as they went back to the top of the Premier League with a stunning 7-0 demolition of Stoke City at Stamford Bridge.
Carlo Ancelotti's side was asked to respond to United's 3-1 win over Tottenham on Saturday and the Blues, minus suspended captain John Terry, did so in some style.
A hat-trick from Ivorian striker Salomon Kalou, a brace from Frank Lampard, including a penalty, and late goals from substitute Daniel Sturridge and Florent Malouda maintained Chelsea's dream of winning a League and FA Cup double this season.
The win restored Chelsea's place at the summit by a single point and victories over Liverpool at Anfield and against Wigan in the final home game will deliver the title for the first time since 2006.
Stoke were expected to put up some stiff resistance but Chelsea's mood from the kick-off dictated otherwise.
The Blues, so often criticised for failing to start well, were determined to reclaim top spot.
The visitors were not helped by a serious injury to goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and the loss of captain Abdoulaye Faye through injury early on.
Faye had been struggling with a thigh problem all week and he was replaced by Ryan Shawcross after just eight minutes.
It was Shawcross's first game since his tackle on Aaron Ramsey left the Arsenal midfielder with a badly broken leg at the end of February.
Chelsea should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when Lampard's shot was palmed into the path of Ashley Cole by Sorensen.
But Cole, playing his first game since fracturing an ankle against Everton in February, smashed his shot straight at the Denmark international.
In the 18th minute Drogba sent a speculative effort over the cross bar but two minutes later the Ivorian forced a superb save from Sorensen.
Full-back Paulo Ferreira found Drogba unmarked at the near post but his powerful header was brilliantly tipped away by the Stoke stopper.
In the 22nd minute Drogba latched on to a superb ball from Malouda, rounded Sorensen and then inexplicably smashed his volley high into the crowd. It should have been Chelsea's opener.
But he made up for it a minute later when he controlled a sweeping pass from Malouda by lifting his left leg up behind him and crossed for Kalou to head home from close range.
Lampard almost made it two in the 26th minute but his volley was collected safely at the near post by Sorensen.
But it was 2-0 in the 31st minute with another superb move. Nicolas Anelka's pass was cleverly played into the path of Lampard by Drogba.
The England midfielder drilled a first-time shot which Sorensen saved but Kalou poked home the rebound.
But Sorensen was injured trying to prevent Kalou from scoring and is understood to have dislocated his elbow - an injury which will keep him out for the rest of the season but he should recover in time for the World Cup finals. He was carried off on a stretcher after undergoing lengthy treatment.
He required oxygen as he left the pitch and was replaced by Asmir Begovic.
Chelsea made it 3-0 from the penalty spot in the 43rd minute when Robert Huth brought down Kalou and Lampard stroked home the spot-kick.
In the 52nd minute Kalou, clearly looking to a hat-trick, sent a curling shot just over the angle of the post and crossbar.
Stoke made a change in the 59th minute when Tuncay Sanli replaced Dave Kitson. The departing Kitson was clearly not happy with the decision and gestured to the bench before going straight down the tunnel.
Kalou completed his first hat-trick for the club in the 68th minute to make it 4-0.
The Ivorian striker cut in from the right flank and although his first effort was saved by Begovic, Kalou slammed home the rebound.
It was the last action for the striker who was replaced by Joe Cole to a standing ovation from the home fans.
Malouda failed to score from a yard out when Anelka's cross eluded the Stoke defence and the France international was thwarted by a great save from Begovic in the 78th minute.
Chelsea made it 5-0 in the 81st minute when substitute Sam Hutchinson crossed for Lampard to score his 25th of the season with a clever volley.
In the 87th minute, Drogba set-up substitute Sturridge who rounded Begovic to make it 6-0.
Two minutes later Malouda made it 7-0 as Stoke capitulated under the constant pressure.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Smooth Spurs : Tottenham 2 Chelsea 1

Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale blew the Premier League title race open with goals in Tottenham's 2-1 win over Chelsea - and also put Tottenham back in the Champions League places.
Defoe tucked away from the penalty spot for his 24th of the season after John Terry handled in the area, then Bale followed up his midweek goal against Arsenal with another before the break at White Hart Lane.
Terry's miserable evening, after being involved in a verbal spat with a supporter at half-time, was capped off with a sending off for two bookings.
Frank Lampard pulled one back but it was too late for Chelsea.
Television scheduling meant the match kicked off with Manchester United only a point behind Carlo Ancelotti's leaders, having defeated their rivals City with a last-gasp winner.
That result also favoured Spurs in their hunt for fourth place as they knew a victory would take them back above City - and within a quarter of an hour they were ahead.
Florent Malouda's powerful drive from 30 yards may have been parried by Heurelho Gomes in the early stages but it was Spurs who were applying the pressure before the deadlock was broken.
Roman Pavlyuchenko fired over from the edge of the area and also had an effort blocked by Alex - but Harry Redknapp's men were not made to wait long for their opener.
They were denied penalties when Defoe appeared to get his shirt pulled by Terry and when Bale went over John Mikel Obi's challenge, then Phil Dowd pointed to the spot after the third appeal. Pavlyuchenko stepped over Bale's cross from the left and Terry headed the ball onto his arm, enough for Dowd to award a penalty, a very soft one in my opinion.
Terry was accused of getting away with a penalty following a similar incident against Bolton in midweek but the former England skipper's luck looked to have run out on this occasion.
There was still a chance of a reprieve as Defoe had missed his previous two penalties this season and was asked to step down from spot-kick duties, but Tom Huddlestone then missed against Bolton so the England striker volunteered again and this time sent Petr Cech the wrong way.
Redknapp's men looked for a second and Cech was called into action when Pavlyuchenko spun on the edge of the area and curled a shot that needed tipping over. Then Luka Modric went on a mazy run that led to David Bentley getting a volley deflected wide by Terry.
It got worse for Chelsea as Mikel picked up an injury and headed straight down the tunnel when he was replaced by Michael Ballack in the 34th minute.
They did have the ball in the net shortly after, but the flag had gone up for offside when Yury Zhirkov slipped Malouda through to finish past Gomes.
Bale doubled the lead just before the break when he cut inside Paulo Ferreira and used his unfavoured right foot to beat Cech at the near post.
Lampard almost pulled one back immediately but Gomes pulled off a save at full stretch to block the volley, replicating his performance against Arsenal on Wednesday when he was at his best to protect Spurs' lead.
There was drama at half-time, starting with Terry's spat with a fan by the tunnel.
Ancelotti's response was to use his remaining substitutes at the break, with Nicolas Anelka and Branislav Ivanovic coming on for Joe Cole and Ferreira, but Didier Drogba then pulled up injured just before the restart. With all of Chelsea's substitutes used, Drogba hobbled back on to prevent his team playing with 10 men.
Defoe had a chance to extend the lead in the 50th minute when Pavlyuchenko poked his strike partner through, but Cech was down sharply to save the one-on-one opportunity.
The feisty atmosphere went up a notch when Lampard and Huddlestone crashed into a tackle, leading to the Spurs player getting booked and Deco also being cautioned for his role in the aftermath.
Terry was also cautioned midway through the second half for bringing down Pavlyuchenko from behind when the Russian was running at goal.
He got his marching orders 23 minutes from full-time, with his second foul on Bale.
"Twice I got the ball," he told his bench as he headed down the tunnel.
Bentley almost added another but his cheeky lob was tipped over by Cech and there was also time for Gomes to deny Drogba from close range and for Lampard to pull one back in stoppage time.

Let's hope Spurs put on this kind of performance against Manure next weekend.

(Nod to