Now for the first of my Chelsea monthly reviews, and we bgein with the month just gone, October 2006.
October was an eventful month for Chelsea FC, starting with the tragic and ending with the sublime. 6 games, 5 wins and a draw and the team starting to gel and put in some good performances. We lost 2 goalkeepers, one for a long time and another for a shorter space of time and the new players started to bed in. A month which showed the promise of what is yet to come.
It began with an away trip to Reading. Within 1 minute an avoidable reckless challenge on Petr Cech put him not only out of that match but for several months. He had a serious operation to repair a serious head injury. Then 42 mins later Chelsea scored a goal. But that wasn’t the end of it. Right at the death Carlo Cudicini was knocked out cold and had to be stretched off. Leading from the front as ever, John Terry took over the gloves for the remaining seconds. Chelsea held on for victory, one that seemed as significant as the one against Blackburn two seasons ago. Chelsea had faced a battle and one. Then there was the small matter of the European Champions coming to the Bridge four days later….
Barcelona arrived as a team to be feared. 90 mins later they were defeated. Another Didier Drogba wonder strike and a superb team performance gave us victory. Hilario, on his debut in goal and supposedly our weak link, looked an inspired signing. No sign of nerves and with the crowd behind him never looked like making a mistake. Frank Lampard looked back to his best and Didier Drogba and Michael Essien continued with their good form to help bring Chelsea victory. Not only that, but the new signings looked like they were beginning to settle in and find their feet. Ashley Cole starting to look the player he was at Arsenal, Ballack starting to dictate play, and Shevchenko was getting into scoring positions and getting chances. He just needed a goal….
Portsmouth, a team with one of the best defensive records in the league, arrived at the Bridge the following weekend. This was expected to be a difficult game. It was anything but. Chelsea had 15 shots on target and if not for a combination some great saves by David James and some poor shooting they could have had 5 or 6 goals. Robben was having a field day down the left and Portsmouth looked all at sea. As it was we got to 55 mins and still no breakthrough. It looked like being one of those days. But step forward Shevchenko. A beautiful ball in from Robben down the left, a perfectly timed run and the ball was in the net. At last. The look of relief on his face was palpable. The celebrations and noise in the crowd almost raised the roof. Like a pressure valve bursting. Two minutes later Drogba set up Ballack for his first league goal for Chelsea and it looked safe. Even when Portsmouth got a goal back it only looked like being a consolation. Yet another win and a good performance in the bag.
Then to the league cup and an away trip to Blackburn. Chelsea changed to a 4-3-3, with Joe Cole and Kalou making their first starts of the season. Both impressed in a 2-0 victory, Joe Cole with a little back heel for the first and a good finish by Kalou for the second. A good performance and we never looked in any danger.
Then back to the Premiership and a trip to Sheffield Utd. Beforehand we were boosted by news of Cech’s continuing recovery and return to light training. In the match Hilario was again in good form, saving what was a poor penalty early on, and despite decent build up play by Utd they never really threatened and once Chelsea went ahead through Frank Lampard’s free kick there was only one winner. Michael Ballack got his a goal in his second successive league game, a great header from a Lampard cross making it 2-0 and game over. Lampard and Ballack were starting to link up well in midfield and Chelsea were still winning. But the biggest game and the most excitement was yet to come.
The Nou Camp, not a happy hunting ground for Chelsea and scene of two poor performances in the last two seasons. In the past, Chelsea had been overcome by the occasion of these type of games, not feeling at home in Europe. Things were about to change. After 3 mins it didn’t seem so as Deco robbed Boulharouz and smashed an unstoppable shot to give Barca the lead. What followed was dive after dive and booking after booking. Confusion reigned as it seemed Cole had been booked twice, although it emerged later it was Lampard who had received the first booking. But it was getting heated and Chelsea weren’t really in the game. Things changed at half-time. Chelsea responded in the second half, Lampard almost immediately drawing them level. Chelsea were dominating, creating chances but Barcelona hit back with a bit of genius 6 mins later as Ronaldinho set up Gudjohnsen with a point blank finish, 2-1. Gudjohnsen becoming the second former Chelsea player to score against us this season. The match was on a knife edge, Barca leading but Chelsea dominating. Hope looked lost. Then in the third minute of added on time Essien made a powerful run down the right, a long deep cross headed back across goal by John Terry. Didier Drogba, who else, chested down and slotted it past the keeper. 2-2. Mourinho slid to his knees in celebration. The Chelsea fans went wild. Chelsea had got what the least their dominance had deserved. It felt like a victory. It felt like a turning point in our European adventure. This match even more than the one at Stamford Bridge symbolised Chelsea’s desire, hunger, intent and arrival as a major contender in Europe and to many made them favourites to win the Champions League.
It was an amazing month, beginning with such a low and ending on such a high. The team is starting to gel, our players are finally recovering from World Cup hangover and getting back to their best. The best is yet to come. We may not know what the future holds in terms of trophies quite yet but if this month is anything to go by it looks bright. Keep up this improvement and the trophies are going to come.