CFR Cluj 0 - 0 Chelsea FC

It took me one whole day to motivate myself to write a match review. Blues' visit to Transylvania was not one that would stay in the minds of Chelsea fans for long. But, the Romanians had reasons to celebrate as they took a point from Chelsea playing their first champions league match on home soil. They were motivated, their work rate was awesome and they chased every ball while their opponents looked indifferent, rusty and didn't show the attitude needed to win.

To be frank, I didn't have high expectations from this match. Somehow I had a feeling that this would be a boring match though I did think we would somehow win it. It was a day on which all the players resembled Anelka, in sulkiness. The passing was very bad and we lost ball too often to make any inroads into the heavily guarded Cluj penalty box. Cluj could have won the match if they had a bit more quality upfront.

Scolari started the match on a positive note. He fielded the strongest team he could, which meant he wanted the three points so that there would be no unnecessary pressure later. There was only one change from the expected line-up - Bridge replaced Ashley Cole who was down with a minor injury. Drogba strated upfront with Kalou on the right and Malouda on the left.

Chelsea dominated possession but Cluj got their chances on counters. The Chelsea attack didn't look sharp at all with Drogba struggling to get back to form. On top of that, Kalou showed how inconsistent he could be and to say he performed badly would be an overstatement. Mikel, Lampard and Ballack did well in the midfield but didn't get the support from the forwards. Ballack was too careless in his passing and lost possession on a number of occasions. He even got a card for himself when a Cluj player did a 'Ronaldo' and the referee bought it.

I'm not writing about the refereeing errors because it would take too much space. In short, refereeing was pathetic. Anelka replaced Kalou after 45 mins and did what he does best - missing chances. Anelka is not a player who would score special goals to bail the team out of trouble. He will score goals now and then, which any decent striker would given the quality of midfield that is feeding him. And that's exactly what worries me after Drogba was carried off due to a knee injury.

Rumors say that Didier could be out for 3 months and that's a big blow for us. If you remember, it was a knee injury that kept Drogba out for a month before the African Cup in January, and since then he is not the same Drogba. With Deco, Essien, Carvalho and Joe Cole already in medical ward, Drogba's injury would be a major concern for Scolari. I don't understand why injuries keep recurring to Chelsea players. Is something wrong with the system?

Elsewhere, Barcelona, Real, United, Arsenal and Liverpool won their respective matches.  Jose's Inter succumbed to a draw and pressure is mounting on Jose especially after the defeat in Milan derby last weekend. Looking at our result once again, I feel a point from Transylvania is not that bad. We still top the group and should be able to go through comfortably. Injuries must be the main concern for Big Phil as Martin O'Neil's Villains visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Chelsea 1 - 1 Manchester United

Chelsea Line-up:
Bosingwa, Carvalho (Alex 11'), Terry (c) A Cole
Ballack (Kalou 73'), Mikel, Lampard
Joe Cole, Anelka, Malouda (Drogba 46').

18' Park Ji-Sung 0-1
78' Kalou 1-1

The match had all the ingredients of a thriller, and it didn't disappoint the fans. Even with the attacking quality both teams possessed, we knew it was not the number of goals that would make the match thrilling, but the intensity at which the game is played.

As they did at Anfield a week back, United started well, with Park and Fletcher starting ahead of Nani and Ronaldo, and Rooney partnering Berbatov upfront with Tevez on the bench. Deco's injury during warm-up and Carvalho's injury in the opening minutes were a huge blow to Chelsea even though we had adequate cover in the form of 'Ze German' Ballack and Brazilian Alex. Chelsea took time to settle with the new strategy and game plan and United capitalized.

Deco's absence showed in the passing early on. The passing lacked the beauty that we have seen lately from Chelsea and it looked more like the Chelsea we saw last season. United took the lead early on when Evra's thrust into the box was not stopped and Cech spilled the ball into the path of Park. Cech had earlier made a quality save from a Ferdinand shot. Chelsea too got their share of chances to score but Joe Cole failed ot hit the target even though Van Der Sar had given up hope.

Van Der Sar was soon substituted because it seemed like he had an injury. I felt that it was a blessing in disguise for United because the Oranje goalkeeper looked totally out of sorts. Chelsea came back to the match soon. Mikel looked awesome in front of the back four, or back two rather. Bosingwa and Cole went forward on every opportunity, and troubled the United fullbacks, especially Neville. Ballack was playing well considering he is just back from injury. Lampard looked good, Malouda played like Malouda, Joe Cole was poor and Anelka was average during the remainder of the game. Terry had a very mediocre game but Alex made sure we didn't feel the absence of Carvalho in defense.

Chelsea took total control in the second half of the match. Scolari's half time talk made sure that Man Untd were outplayed and outclassed in the second half. It was a great sight to see the champs of Premier League defending for the majority of time just like Stoke City did at Anfield on the previous day. Rooney had an excellent match defensively and was even seen complaining to his coach about the lack of intensity in his co-players.

Ronaldo was brought in by Fergie in the second half to add pace to the United counter-attacks but the ploy failed miserably. Ronaldo announced his arrival by a typical dive that fooled only Mike Riley and then later got himself a yellow card for showing dissent. Ronaldo considerably weakened the strength of United bus that was parked in front of goal. Joe Cole missed his second one-on-one situation but made amends by putting a perfect cross in front of Anelka. It was too easy for a player of Anelka's quality and hence he missed from a yard in front of an empty net.

Scolari threw Kalou into the pitch, the last roll of dice and Kalou scored from a setpiece header. He could have doubled his and Chelsea's score when Neville's clearance fell straight in front of him. Neville recovered somehow, and with Evans' help, cleared the ball away. On the other end of the pitch, Berbatov rarely got the ball and Alex put himself in front of goal to save Chelsea the blues in the final quarter of the match.

Drogba came on in the second half and his appearance was a huge relief, except maybe to Johny Evans. He held the ball, chased the ball and won every battle upfront. He put the extra pressure on defenders but the other forwards failed to capitalize. Joe Cole had a bad day at the office while Anelka's finishing betrayed him. He played some beautiful passes and also was in the right places, but he needs to improve his finishing to be a regular in the Chelsea line-up.

Riley gave the mancs 7 yellow cards and they deserevd every single one of them. We know from Riley's record that he would never be harsh on United. He did disrupt the passage of play sometimes but his yellow card decisions were all right. Having said that, I don't think Mike Riley is a good referee. If Mascherano was yellow carded for 'dissent' at Old Trafford, and the same law holds good now, Rooney and Ferdinand should be banned for the whole season. They showed no respect and repeatedly questioned every decision by the referee.

We could have won the match, but we should be happy with the draw. The home record is intact and the season promises so much. Even though Arsenal are top of the league now, I feel its just a matter of time now before we are back on top,

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Chelsea v Manchester United: Preview

What an occasion to post my 100th post in this blog - Manchester United at Stamford Bridge!

The match has a lot of significance though Scolari believes this is just another league match. If Chelsea win this, the statement they make would be loud and clear. If United manage to win, then it would be the spark they need to truly kick start their season. If United win or the match turns out to be a draw, which many consider a safe bet, then Arsenal would end up having the top spot in the table.

Liverpool drew with Stoke yesterday after a Gerrard goal was disallowed in the early minutes and then they failed to overcome Stoke's physicality. They became league toppers until Arsenal beat Bolton at Reebok late in the evening to claim the top spot. Now its upto the Blues to take back their spot in the league, which they occupied since the season began a month ago.

After the match against the French side mid-week, Scolari pointed out that there was still a lot of room for improvement. I believe Scolari was warning the players against getting complacent. He wants a state of "tranquillity" i.e, good possession effectively minimizing opposition attacks. I guess all the time he had the weekend match in mind and he wasn't impressed with Chelsea giving away balls easily.

There is a strong possibility of Scolari going with the same starting line-up that drubbed Bordeaux mid-week and humbled Citeh the last weekend. Drogba and Ballack might be fit to play and Scolari may bring them on during the game. Anelka, though he missed half a dozen chances whenever he played this season, is likely to get another go before Drogba replaces him in first team.

I'm just praying Scolari won't commit the same mistake Grant committed - to play Drogba upfront and Anelka wide. Joe Cole is having a splendid time and Malouda is beginning to play well and so we don't need a replacement in the flanks. Similarly, Ballack would find it difficult to displace Lampard, Deco or Mikel from midfield. Its no coincidence that whenever John Obi played, Chelsea won comfortably.

For United, Ronaldo is likely to start because it was his arrival that unlocked the Villareal defense. Before that, United didn't look like scoring at all. It remains to be seen if Fergie considers this match worth risking Ronaldo's fitness. I think Fergie would start Ronaldo unless he shares the same opinion as me - Ronaldo is useless against good opponents.

If Ronaldo starts, it would be interesting to see where Bosingwa plays, in the opposition half as he does nowadays or his own half. Ronaldo wouldn't fancy the wing Ashley Cole is defending because he was unsuccessful there in previous meetings. Marcel Desailly believes Ronaldo starting would be an indication of how desperate United is. Maybe Magricoz ex-coach Scolari knows how to deal with Ronaldo.

Meanwhile Setanta Sports reports that Mineiro had a successful medical at Stamford Bridge yesterday and is close to completing a move. The Brazilian midfielder would be a replacement for injured Essien.

Guess at the team:
Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry, Cole
Deco, Mikel, Lampard
J.Cole, Anelka, Malouda
subs: Cudicini, Alex, Belletti, Bridge, Drogba, Ballack, Ferreira, Kalou

Referee: Mike Riley
Time :14:00 BST/18:30 IST
TV Timings: 1830 ESPN(IST), 21/09/08. 
Scoreline prediction: 3-1

Head To Head
Home and Away:
League (inc PL): Chelsea 37 wins, United 55 wins, Draws 40
Prem: Chelsea 10 wins, United 9 wins, Draws 13
At Stamford Bridge:
League (inc PL): Chelsea 20 wins, United 29, Draws 17
Prem: Chelsea 6 wins, United 4 wins, Draws 6

Form Guide
17 Aug v Portsmouth (H) won 4-0 (EPL)
24 Aug v Wigan (A) won 1-0 (EPL)
31 Aug v Tottenham (H) drew 1-1 (EPL)
13 Sep v Manchester City (A) won 3-1 (EPL)
16 Sep v Bordeaux (H) won 4-0 (CL)

Manchester United:
17 Aug v Newcastle (H) drew 1-1 (EPL)
25 Aug v Portsmouth (A) won 1-0 (EPL)
29 Aug v Zenit St Petersburg (N) lost 1-2 (SC)
13 Sep v Liverpool (A) lost 1-2 (EPL)
17 Sep v Villarreal (H) drew 0-0 (CL)

Come on Blues, Keep the Blue flag flying high !!

Chelsea vs Bordeaux - Match Preview

We begin our journey towards Rome in the Champions League with a home match against Bordeaux, a French side. After a win against City in the weekend, the Blue spirits are high and Bordeaux would find it difficult to contain the quality Chelsea possess. Their main agenda would be damage limitation. Maybe they'll have a go at Chelsea on home turf, but certainly not at Stamford Bridge.

It would be interesting to see how Scolari approaches today's game considering that we play United this weekend. Will he afford to rest key players like Lampard and Joe Cole taking into account the fact that they played 3 matches in a span of 8 days. Captain John Terry is suspended for the weekend and I don't think FA will admit the refereeing error. Refereeing was terribly bad last weekend. So Terry may be partnered by Alex and Carvalho might be rested for today's game. We might also see people like Kalou and Ivanovic in action today. Ballack will make his return from injury today but may not play the entire 90 minutes unless situation demands. We may also see the young striker Franco Di Santo in action today.

This is Scolari's first match at the topmost level of Club football in Europe, though he had won the South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores twice with Brazilian clubs. Meanwhile Laurent Blanc's side is labelled "unpredictable" by many pundits. The Girondins, as they are called, are likely to flood the midfield and rely heavily on counter-attacks. Blanc is the oldest player to score in the competition, a feat he performed when playing for United. Chelsea and Girondins de Bordeaux have never met in European competition.

In the other Group A game, Roma face the newcomers CFR 1907 Cluj of Romania and are expected to come through without any loss of points. Meanwhile the Blue fans are also keeping their fingers crossed over the Terry red card appeal, on which a decision will be made today. Mark Halsey was pathetic last Saturday as a referee and the chances are that he will remain so during the appeal.

Guess at the team:
Ferreira, Terry, Alex, Bridge
Deco, Mikel, Lampard
J.Cole, Anelka, Malouda
subs: Cudicini, Carvalho, A.Cole, Di Santo, Drogba, Ballack, Belletti, Kalou

Referee: Pieter Vink
Time : 0015 IST 
TV Timings: 0015 Zee Sports(IST), 17/09/08. 
Scoreline prediction: 4-0

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