HOLLAND: STRIKING THE BALANCE

Apr 18, 2014 Posted Under: News

Assistant first team coach Steve Holland took on media conference duties at Cobham on Friday afternoon as the squad gears up to facing Sunderland this weekend, and with immense rewards available if Chelsea win all our remaining matches, he discussed the need to get small details correct in the coming weeks.

That is especially the case when it comes to team selection, as the need for a winning formula must be balanced with avoiding fatigue, but there is plenty of experience in the coaching staff and a blend of youth and know-how in the squad, and much thought and preparation is going in to the first task of taking three points from our meeting with Gustavo Poyet’s side.

‘Sunderland were excellent in the week at Man City and were minutes away from being only the second team in the Premier League to win there this season, so tomorrow will be a very difficult game,’ Holland told the assembled reporters.

‘We have to approach it in a professional manner. This game is of huge importance. I personally don’t subscribe to the view that this league title will be decided by one match. There are enough difficult games left for all the clubs to suggest there may be other “curve balls” thrown in.’

Holland said he would be lying if claimed Sunderland’s draw away at Man City on Wednesday night hadn’t prompted a few text message exchanges between players and staff with a positive reaction.

‘I am sure that was the same elsewhere when we dropped points the other week at Selhurst Park,’ he added, ‘and it will be the same at each club over the next month.’

The clear difference Chelsea have compared with Liverpool and Manchester City over the coming days is our contesting of two big competitions.

‘We have the circumstances we have, and we are used to playing a lot of matches at this stage of the season,’ Holland said.

‘I remember when Roberto [Di Matteo] was the manager here we played Tottenham on a Sunday evening in an FA Cup semi-final. We then played Barcelona on the Wednesday, then Arsenal on the Saturday at the Emirates in what was then a vital game for fourth place, and then Barcelona in the Nou Camp on the Tuesday.

‘We looked at that block of games and to have any chance in the Nou Camp, something had to give in that period. In the end we made eight changes for Arsenal and we still drew the game. It is a really challenging period not just physically but also emotionally, you have to experience it to appreciate what it does take out of the players because it is so big. But it is something we have dealt with before, we have a good squad and we have to do it again.

‘You try to make the decision that gives you freshness in the last game of the block, and it will be the consideration this time, the balance we have to find. This time there is less scope in the middle game, the Liverpool game, than two years ago, and getting that balance right will be decisive in whether we are successful or not.

‘This club’s objective at the start of a season is to be competing for the major honours at the business end, and those small details are decisive in the end.

‘We have as much desire to win the Premier League as we do the Champions League. The full focus at the moment is Sunderland tomorrow and trying to put out the best team possible that we think will have success in that game, and then first thing on Sunday morning our minds are onto Atletico.’

Holland highlighted the difference for Chelsea by pointing out the continuity Liverpool have been able to achieve in selecting more or less the same six attacking and midfield players for their last 14 games, apart from on four occasion when Joe Allen has been involved.

‘That is much harder to do when you play twice a week because you have to use a pool of players and rotate them, and in this situation that really is the trick – you have to pick the right ones for the right games but keep the continuity for the team.

‘You are aware the more changes you make the more likely it is for things not to go the way you would like them to go, but you do have to have half an eye on what is ahead of you, or you hit a wall and you don’t get the performance levels you are looking for.’

Helping to meet the challenge is the fact the squad is in good shape. Eden Hazard is the only member unavailable for tomorrow’s game.

The Belgian is recovering from a calf injury suffered in the home game against Paris Saint-Germain 10 days ago.

Holland, reporting on Hazard’s potential availability for Tuesday’s game away to Atletico Madrid, said:

‘I wouldn’t say he is definitely out at this stage but the fact he hasn’t yet trained with the rest of the group suggests he is a major doubt.’

The coach was also asked about media reports on John Terry and a possible new contract and emphasised that club policy is not to comment on an individual’s contract situation, but he added that the captain has had an outstanding season, he wants to stay and Chelsea want him to stay, and hopefully the situation can be concluded amicably over the next few weeks.

Holland also explained why he was the one speaking the pre-match conference.

‘Jose asked me if I would do it today and I am more than happy to do that. Jose over the season is very good and always answers the questions people want him to answer, and I am quite sure that opportunity will occur very soon.’

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HAZARD NOMINATED FOR TWO PFA AWARDS

Apr 18, 2014 Posted Under: News

Eden Hazard has been nominated for the 2013/14 PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year Awards.

Hazard makes the six-player shortlists for both categories for the second consecutive campaign after a number of outstanding displays, both domestically and in Europe, over the course of the season.

The 23-year-old has been rewarded for an impressive second season for the Blues, in which he has made 45 appearances to date and scored 17 goals, including his first hat-trick for the club in a 3-0 win over Newcastle United in February.

Hazard was then named FTBpro PFA Premier League Fan Player of the Month for March, after playing a pivotal role in wins against Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

PFA members from 100 clubs have been voting and the winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Sunday 27 April.

John Terry won the main award in 2004/05, while last season Gareth Bale took the prize.

PFA Player of the Year Award nominees:

Eden Hazard
Yaya Toure
Adam Lallana
Steven Gerrard
Luis Suarez
Daniel Sturridge

PFA Young Player of the Year Award nominees:

Eden Hazard
Ross Barkley
Aaron Ramsey
Luke Shaw
Daniel Sturridge
Raheem Sterling

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WILLIAN: FOCUSED TO THE FINISH

Apr 18, 2014 Posted Under: News

For many years the contest for top spot in the Ukrainian Premier League was played out by that country’s two footballing powerhouses, Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk. Willian is hoping the experience he accrued at the latter club, challenging for the title during an extremely productive five-year spell in the east of Ukraine, will stand him in good stead during the closing weeks of his first season in England.

The first and last of the four league championships Willian won while at Shakhtar, in 2008 and 2012, were only secured on the final day of the league season. In 2009/10, meanwhile, it required an extraordinary run of form – 16 wins and a draw from their final 17 games – to pip nearest rivals Dynamo to the title.

‘Those were excellent experiences for me,’ recalls the Brazilian, ‘even though I must say the two leagues are completely different.

‘Here the league is stronger and more competitive compared with the one in Ukraine. There are more teams coming up to the finish line trying to win the title and I’m enjoying that. I just hope that when it comes to the end of the season Chelsea are on top.’

Willian Chelsea

If we are to finish first come 11 May it is likely we will need to win all four of our remaining Premier League fixtures, starting with the visit of Sunderland tomorrow. The Black Cats, managed by our former midfielder Gustavo Poyet, will travel south buoyed by the impressive draw they earned away to Manchester City on Wednesday. It was only the second time in their past nine league games they have avoided defeat.

‘It’s going to be hard,’ says Willian. ‘Sunderland are in a relegation battle so they will fight for everything. They’re going to come to Stamford Bridge hoping to take at least a point home just like they did when they went to City.

‘They’re not going to make it easy and it’s up to us to do the best we can and make sure we get the three points.’

Following the Sunderland game we travel to Spain to take on Atletico Madrid in the first leg of what promises to be a special semi-final clash. After that game against the La Liga leaders comes one with the Premier League leaders, Liverpool, and while the trip to Anfield and the European double-header have the look of season-defining matches, Willian is keen to stress the squad are not considering them – yet.

‘We just focus ourselves on the game ahead, and the game ahead is Sunderland tomorrow. Only after that game is over can we start thinking about the Champions League game against Atletico.

‘For now, though, all our concentration is on Sunderland.’

- Live audio commentary of Chelsea v Sunderland will be available via our Live Matches section.

 

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YOUTH CUP REPORT: ARSENAL 0 CHELSEA 1 (AGG 1-3)

Apr 17, 2014 Posted Under: News

Summary
The youth team won at the Emirates to book their place in a third successive FA Youth Cup final. Charlie Colkett’s strike after 18 minutes was the difference between the two sides in north London, though Josh Vickers in the Arsenal goal was once again significant, repeating his performance from the first leg with a string of impressive saves.

The Blues will face west London rivals Fulham in the two-legged final, with the first game to be played at Craven Cottage on Monday 28 April, the return at Stamford Bridge on Monday 5 May.

Team news
Adi Viveash made one change from the first leg at the Bridge, with schoolboy Jay Dasilva replacing Izzy Brown on the left side of attack. Alex Kiwomya continued on the opposite flank with Dominic Solanke leading the line up front.

There was a switch at full-back as Fankaty Dabo moved to the right and Ola Aina to the left of the back four, while Andreas Christensen and Jake Clarke-Salter comprised the remainder of the back four. Ruben Loftus-Cheek captained the side alongside Charlie Colkett and Jordan Houghton in midfield, while Mitchell Beeney remained in goal.

Arsenal also made one change from the previous game as Jack Jebb replaced Daniel Crowley in midfield, while their goalscorer from the first leg, Chuba Akpom, led the line up front once again.

First half
Chelsea started brightly on a mild evening in north London as Aina tested Vickers in the hosts’ goal after eight minutes with a right-footed drive from the edge of the box after a quick break forward led by Loftus-Cheek and Dasilva. Christensen cleared well from Ainsley Maitland-Niles’s cross from the right before Houghton fired narrowly wide as Kiwomya caused problems down the right.

Vickers had to be alert to deny Solanke after 15 minutes as the schoolboy striker was fed in behind the Gunners’ defence and the goalkeeper did well to save at the near post, and then again as Solanke followed up on the rebound.

The game’s first booking came shortly after as Dabo was penalised for a foul and Jack Jebb’s dangerous delivery found Julio Pleguezuelo at the back post, though his header lacked the pace to trouble Beeney. That was Arsenal’s first attempt at goal and the deadlock was broken moments later, though it was the visitors celebrating.

Colkett advanced into the box onto Houghton’s return pass with a dancing run past a couple of defenders, and managed to squirm a low shot underneath the onrushing Vickers that trickled over the line for the midfielder’s third Youth Cup goal of the campaign.

Youth Cup

The goal gave the young Blues a 3-1 aggregate advantage, though Arsenal were looking to reduce that deficit quickly and Maitland-Niles brought a save from Beeney with a left-footed effort as he cut inside from the right.

A dangerous run from Alex Iwobi caused Chelsea some trouble after half an hour as the forward exchanged passes intricately on the edge of the box and advanced into the area, though his final effort lacked accuracy and Aina was able to clear the danger. Down the other end, Aina’s driven cross from the left was precise and Houghton powered a header inches over the bar.

Solanke fired over in the final few minutes of the half after Colkett had found space in front of the home defence and threaded through a neat ball, while Kiwomya struck wide of the near post as Dasilva turned provider coming infield off the left flank.

Second half
Christensen (pictured below) had the first effort after the restart as the Danish youth international stepped out of defence in typical fashion and advanced 70 yards before unleashing a left-footed strike that flew narrowly past the far post, while Colkett’s free kick was hit over after Houghton had been upended.

Youth Cup

Glen Kamara came close to pulling a goal back for the hosts after 55 minutes as he picked up the loose ball in the box following Jebb’s free-kick delivery from the right, worked some space for himself and shot low, however Houghton was positioned well to block on the line.

Kiwomya scampered clear as Chelsea hit the hosts on the break, though Tafari Moore defended well as he blocked the winger’s pass towards Solanke in the middle. Chelsea remained on the front foot and Colkett had a deflected shot loop narrowly wide, before Solanke’s wonderful individual effort after skipping past three Arsenal defenders forced a good low save from Vickers.

Viveash was forced into a defensive reshuffle midway through the second period as Clarke-Salter was forced off with an injury. Izzy Brown entered the fray, with Dasilva moving to left-back, Aina to right-back and the earlier substitute Isak Ssewankambo switched centrally alongside Christensen. Chances became limited as the Blues looked to manage the game, though Aina did strike fiercely into Vickers’ midriff as the visitors looked for a second goal.

Vickers then had to be quick off his line to smother at Solanke’s feet after a clever reverse pass through from Colkett, before the busy home goalkeeper denied Ssewankambo superbly as he tipped the Swedish youth international’s header on to the bar.

The visitors continued to threaten in the final 10 minutes, while Ssewankambo and Dasilva defended strongly as Arsenal attacked down their right side and the evening’s action came to a close with Viveash’s side through.

Youth Cup

The young Blues will face Fulham in the two-legged final, with the first tie to be played at Craven Cottage on Monday 28 April and the return at Stamford Bridge the following Monday 5 May.

Ticket details will be announced next week.

Manager reaction
Viveash was understandably pleased to see his side progress to another final and praised their eagerness to win the second leg at the Emirates. Speaking to the official Chelsea website after the game, he said: ‘We’re delighted and to keep a clean sheet at the Emirates is a fantastic achievement.

‘We wanted to win the game and I thought we fully deserved to because we were very positive. We struggled to get going in the first 20 minutes and struggled to get our press going but then we started to impose ourselves and move the ball around much better.’

The manager also took time to credit the evening’s goalscorer, as Colkett netted his second semi-final goal over the two matches.

‘The goal came from endeavour and hard work, with Ola Aina pressing the ball strongly, and I thought it was fitting that the three midfield players were involved because over the two games it’s been in that midfield where we’ve dominated.

‘Charlie Colkett’s now scored four in six games I think and that’s been a part of his game that we’ve been working with him to improve. Now he’s up to full fitness he’s making some great runs to get into goalscoring positions and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was also involved in the goal, has just been colossal in the two games.

‘We had five really good chances in the first half and their goalkeeper has been their outstanding player in the two games and deserves a lot of credit but to get to five finals in seven years is a great achievement.’

Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo (Isak Ssewankambo 59), Andreas Christensen, Jake Clarke-Salter (Izzy Brown 68), Ola Aina; Jordan Houghton, Charlie Colkett (Reece Mitchell 80), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (c); Alex Kiwomya, Dominic Solanke, Jay Dasilva.
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Kasey Palmer
Bookings Dabo, Houghton
Scorer Colkett 18

Arsenal Josh Vickers, Tafari Moore, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Glen Kamara (Austin Lipman 85), Leander Siemann (Stefan O’Connor 69), Julio Pleguezuelo, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gedion Zelalem, Chuba Akpom (c), Jack Jebb, Alex Iwobi (Daniel Crowley 59)
Unused subs Ryan Huddart, Alfred Mugabo

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STIRRING SEMI-FINAL MEMORIES: PART TWO

Apr 17, 2014 Posted Under: News

In the second part of our reflective look at previous Champions League semi-finals, we recall three memorable games from over the past six years.

Liverpool and Barcelona were the opponents, and all of the ties were closely-fought encounters.

Fortunately, our luck in the competition was beginning to change…

2008 – Liverpool
Yet again, the draw pitted us against Liverpool in the semi-finals of the 2008 competition, with the Blues desperate to avenge the previous two defeats at the same stage.

This was our fourth semi-final in the competition, and we were yet to taste victory. Surely this was going to be our time.

Dirk Kuyt drove the home side in front three minutes before the break in the first leg, and Chelsea supporters could have been forgiven for thinking pain, anguish and misery were looming ominously once more.

Crucially, however, on this occasion, as opposed to our two previous contests, we were due to play the second leg at home. We were afforded a huge slice of fortune when, in the fifth minute of added time, a speculative cross by Salomon Kalou was diverted into his own net by John Arne Riise.

Those supporters packed into the Kop behind the goal placed their heads in their hands, well aware the complexion of the tie had just changed significantly.

Was this going to be a case of third time lucky?

We were now on level terms, having scored an away goal, going into the return, and when Didier Drogba fired us in front the Ivorian celebrated in front of the Liverpool dugout, an obvious response to comments made ahead of the match.

Two players who would go on to play for Chelsea – Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres – combined for Liverpool to equalise on the night, sending the game into extra time, but the contest swung back in our favour when Michael Ballack was awarded a penalty.

Lampard, playing for the first time since the passing of his mother, was the man entrusted with taking the kick. The whole stadium, aside from those situated in the away end, and many neutrals watching across the globe were willing him to score. Even the TV commentary wished him luck.

The midfielder didn’t disappoint. He displayed nerves of steel to stride forward and dispatch his kick into the bottom corner, sparking an outpouring of emotion, both from the player himself and his jubilant team-mates.

The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge was electric and our first Champions League final was in sight.

Shortly afterwards Drogba scored his second of the night to make it 3-1, sweeping home a Nicolas Anelka pull-back to all but secure our place in the final.

A Ryan Babel strike from distance set up a nervy finish, but the Blues held on to secure an all-English Champions League final against Manchester United in Moscow.

Avram Grant and the players celebrated on the pitch; we’d finally got the better of Liverpool in the competition and we were heading to Moscow for arguably the biggest game in the club’s history.

Celebrations against Liverpool in 2008

2009 – Barcelona
Just a year after suffering final heartbreak, losing to Manchester United on penalties in Russia, the Blues looked set to reach the tournament showpiece again, only to be denied in the cruellest manner possible by Barcelona.

Going into the first leg at the Camp Nou, few expected a Chelsea side under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink to be able to nullify a potent Barcelona attack, one which included Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry.

A wonderful collective defensive display, however, saw the home side limited to only a handful of real clear-cut opportunities. Jose Bosingwa, filling in for the injured Ashley Cole at left-back, rarely let Messi out of his sight, and the best opportunity of the game fell to Didier Drogba, who was unable to convert when clean through on goal.

Optimism among supporters was high going into the return at the Bridge, and we started the game on the front foot, taking the lead after just nine minutes courtesy of a stunning Michael Essien volley, which crashed into the back of the net off the underside of the bar.

Florent Malouda in action against Barcelona

With our tails up, Florent Malouda was then denied what looked like a clear penalty by referee Tom Ovrebo, with three further Chelsea penalty appeals also turned down.

Like the first leg, we produced another strong defensive display, and while Barcelona, who had Eric Abidal sent off in the second half, were enjoying plenty of possession, we looked as though we were going to hold on and set up a second successive final against Manchester United.

As the Blues pressed for a second goal, one that would surely have put the tie beyond the Spaniards, we had another two penalty claims rejected. Firstly, when Abidal tugged on the shirt of Drogba and again when Gerard Pique clearly handled as he attempted to thwart Anelka.

You got the feeling it wasn’t going to be our night, and so it proved.

In added time at the end of the game, when a tired Essien could only half-clear, the ball found its way to Andres Iniesta, whose right-footed strike dipped over Petr Cech and into the top corner of the net, undoing all of our hard work and leaving Chelsea players and supporters crestfallen.

There was still time for more drama, and another penalty appeal, this time as Michael Ballack’s volley cannoned against the hand of Eto’o, but once again the decision went Barcelona’s way, allowing Pep Guardiola’s side to progress on away goals.

Our run of bad luck in the Champions League was showing no sign of letting up.

2012 – Barcelona
Having experienced disappointing campaigns in 2010 and 2011, going out to Inter Milan and Manchester United respectively, we were back in the semi-finals in 2012, and were once again paired with Barcelona.

Our run to the last four was full of drama; a 3-0 win over Valencia in the group stages ensured our progression, and after Roberto Di Matteo had replaced Andre Villas-Boas at the helm, we overturned a 3-1 deficit against Napoli in the round of 16, winning 4-1 at home on an unforgettable night at the Bridge.

At the time, Barcelona were widely regarded as the best team in the world, perhaps the best club side ever, and though their quality was apparent over the two legs, the Blues produced two stunning displays to reach the final.

Didier Drogba scored the only goal of the game at home in the first leg, after Alexis Sanchez had hit the bar and Ashley Cole produced a wonderful clearance off the line to deny Cesc Fabregas.

Petr Cech, John Terry and Gary Cahill were outstanding, throwing themselves in the way of everything the Spanish side conjured up, and we somehow survived a late onslaught as Pedro struck the post and Carles Puyol missed a great chance.

In Spain, the Blues suffered a nightmare first half, falling 2-0 behind thanks to goals from Sergio Busquets and Iniesta, before being reduced to 10 men when skipper Terry was sent off.

At that point, it looked as though the second half would be a damage limitation exercise, but right on the stroke of the break we were given a reprieve when Ramires scored an outrageous chip to stun the home supporters.

Ramires scores against Barcelona

The second half may have lasted a total of less than 50 minutes, but for those Chelsea fans packed high up in the Camp Nou stands, and the rest watching on television, it felt like an eternity.

Put simply, we defended for our lives, offering little or no attacking threat, but was there any other option?

Our luck appeared to have run its course when Drogba brought down Fabregas in the penalty area, but Messi, who is still yet to score against the Blues, struck the bar from the resulting spot kick.

With the hosts pouring forward at every opportunity we were clinging on but, as Ashley Cole hooked a clearance forward in the dying minutes, and with every Barcelona player in the Chelsea half, Fernando Torres was clean through on goal.

The Spanish striker kept his cool, waltzed around Victor Valdes and rolled the ball into the empty net, sending us through to the final and, against all the odds, capping the most remarkable of comebacks.

Given the manner of our route to the final, it came as no surprise when the Blues got the better of Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, their home stadium, to lift the trophy.

Drogba forced extra-time with a late equaliser, Cech saved a Robben penalty to keep the scores level, and both players were heroes in the shoot-out.

After so many years of frustration in the competition, our luck had changed in emphatic fashion.

Chelsea, at last, were Champions League winners.

We return to Spain next Tuesday for the first leg of our semi-final against Atletico Madrid. Two European heavyweights battling to secure a place in the final. What way it goes remains to be seen but, if history is anything to go by, expect an entertaining encounter.

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