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Chelsea’s Fast Start Smoldering Apart

One month ago Chelsea was cruising along in the English Premier League, brushing aside any and all opposition with ease.  After two victories against London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, it appeared that Chelsea would be the pride of England after adding young superstars like Eden Hazard and Oscar to their midfield ranks over the summer.  But the EPL is a long and treacherous season and in the past fortnight Chelsea has suffered two draws and two defeats, sending the “Blues” down to third place and their fans into a slight panic with cries towards their owner to spend, spend, and spend come January.

It all began with a controversial match against Manchester United, where two Chelsea players were sent off and cries of a racist referee emerged from the team.  Their next two results ended in draws, one during a hard-fought away match at Swansea when Pablo Hernandez equalized with just minutes remaining.  Then Liverpool travelled to Stamford Bridge and claimed a point through a Luis Suarez goal.  However, this weekend’s trip to West Bromwich provided for a painful result as the high-flying West Bromwich side defeated Chelsea 2-1.

This weekend Chelsea hosts league leaders Manchester City, a full four points ahead in the leader’s position.  Manchester City are the defending league champions and are the second installment of super wealthy owners who have revolutionized average Premier League clubs.  Their feared lineup includes an exciting array of strikers like Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, and Sergio Aguero, each capable of taking over any game.

Chelsea, although a very strong side, is currently in great need of a decent striker.  50 million pound man Fernando Torres should go down as the worst transfer of all time, as the player has done nothing to merit wearing the Chelsea jersey, let alone cost the club that sort of money.  Backup striker Daniel Sturridge is a decent prospect, but doesn’t quite bring the talents a club like Chelsea would need.  It was always going to be a tough task to replace Didier Drogba, but after starting the season brightly, Chelsea have stumbled and their lack of a striker has been pointed to as the reason.

The team does own the rights to Romelu Lukaku, but the exciting Belgian is very young and is currently enjoying a loan spell at West Bromwich.  Dubbed the second coming of Drogba himself, Lukaku is a powerful and physical player who will very likely represent the future of the club’s offense.

But at the moment, Chelsea need a player and January will possibly provide just that.  The guy everyone wants at the club is Radamel Falcao.  The Columbian striker caught the club’s eyes after a dominating hat trick in the UEFA Super Cup match in August, when Atletico Madrid pounded Chelsea 4-1.  Since then, Falcao has led Atletico Madrid to second place in Spain’s La Liga and is third on the goals scored table with ten goals.  Although third isn’t that great, he is only following the soccer overlords of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.  For Chelsea fans, Falcao is the man they want, and the team would do wise to purchase him in January.

However, Chelsea is a fundamentally flawed club in their quest to simply buy the biggest names. Case in point: Fernando Torres.  Yes, they compete by simply buying the best players of the moment, but that strategy results in a team of over-paid prima donna’s who don’t click like a team.  Although Chelsea has won recent trophies, it seems as if their star is fading fast this year, and January is still seven EPL matches away, so they’d better start simply re-discovering that winning formula because any outside help is still quite a ways away.

Controversial Match Gives Chelsea First EPL Defeat of Season

Chelsea hosted Manchester United at Stamford Bridge over the weekend and the match proved to be one of the most exciting games of the young season, complete with impressive goals, questionable red cards, and resounding controversy.  Manchester United came away 3-2 winners in a stadium where they haven’t won in roughly a decade, and Chelsea were left to rue the questionable decisions of referee, Mark Clattenburg.

Manchester United came out soaring and quickly established a two-goal lead from some lovely play by Robin van Persie.  Chelsea settled into the game and actually established a dominance in time of possession, but the Manchester club was the more effective in the early stages of the game.

However, Chelsea was able to get back into the match shortly before half time, when Juan Mata directed a superb free kick into the side of the goal.  It was the perfect way to go into the break for Chelsea, and one could feel the momentum shift after the goal.

Early in the second half the teams were level when a succession of crosses finally found the head of Ramires, who guided the ball into the net and set the fans alight in celebration.  Chelsea now looked the stronger side and would have been the bettor’s choice to go on to victory.

However, the decisions of the referee soon took the game elsewhere.  Branislav Ivanovic was sent off for a soft foul on Ashley Young.  In Clattenburg’s defense, Young was free in on goal and his foul denied him a goal scoring opportunity.

Only minutes later, the red card made a second appearance as Fernando Torres received a second yellow card for diving and was sent off. This was a very questionable decision as replays showed that Jonny Evans had made a slight touch.  Torres probably embellished the foul by falling so hard, but his sending off was a very harsh move by Clattenburg.

As Manchester United took hold of the game with a two-man advantage, they pressed forward and finally scored with Javier Hernandez from a short distance after a great cross by Rafael. Replays showed that Hernandez was slightly offsides at the time of the pass, but he was moving back and was behind defenders when he scored. In real time the decision would have been nearly impossible to see, but in examining the highlights, Chelsea should rightly feel slighted.

Controversy erupted from here on out.  The managers were shown exchanging less than friendly words on the sideline, and a steward was injured late in the match.  Reports surfaces that he was injured by items thrown from the stands, and this could be an embarrassment for Chelsea.  Further accusations erupted soon after the final whistle when Chelsea filed an official complaint to the FA that Clattenburg had not only ruined their chances, but had also used inappropriate language towards Chelsea players, including using a racial slur.  Time will tell if these accusations are well-founded or arose from resentment over how the game enfolded, but this truly has become a match of supreme controversy.

Regardless of the findings of these investigations, Manchester United came out to play, and were well-deserving of the victory.  The race at the top of the table has now tightened, and hope has been given to all of the other title contenders this season.

Chelsea Just Keeps on Winning

The London club has come out of the gates firing on all cylinders this season, winning 6 matches and drawing only once in the early stages of the English Premier League campaign.  Many predictors’ worries over the Chelsea squad came down to whether or not Fernando Torres would be able to keep up the goal-scoring to the levels that Didier Drogba had before his departure from the club this past summer, but Torres has played in wonderful form.

Torres has scored four goals this year and looks to be back on the right path after he struggled so much when he first joined the club nearly two full seasons ago.  Residing under Drogba’s shell, Torres went countless hours without goals and was even benched during big matches, but this season as Chelsea’s single striker the Spaniard is looking to be solid.

Another Spanish player who is taking aim at the Premiership is Juan Mata, who arrived at the club last year.  He has become the creative force in the midfield that is giving teams fits across England.  The midfield is full of playmakers including recent buys Eden Hazard and Oscar.  Both players are young but incredibly talented.  Hazard has scored twice and added four assists.  Oscar has yet to score in a Premier League match but did net a fantastic goal against Juventus in the Champions League.

The young midfield trio has been so spectacular that Frank Lampard has actually been relegated to the bench on occasion to make way.  He does play well when called upon and is second on the team with three goals.  However, he is aging at 34 and the team is being smart by beginning the process of replacing him.

The one danger with excitement surrounds the teams they have played so far this season.  Although they did beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates just over a week ago, they haven’t played very well against big teams and have enjoyed a rather easy start to the campaign.

How Chelsea fares against Manchester United and Manchester City will show us what caliber of team they possess and I still fear that Chelsea will struggle against strong defensive teams.  But nevertheless, the team’s start needs to be commended.  They have beaten all the clubs that they are supposed to beat and that is the toughest task in the EPL, so Chelsea should enjoy themselves and feel positive about how this season develops.

Following the international break, the schedule is set to become harder.  Chelsea next travels to Tottenham before a double slate of matches against Manchester United, one in the Premier League and one in the Capital One Cup.  Fortunately, Chelsea will have the home support of Stamford Bridge, but they will need their fans’ support as they embark on the tough matches ahead this year.

EPL Season Starts off Just as it Finished Last Year

Anyone hoping for great changes right off the bat in the EPL will have been disappointed to see the first round of matches continue in much of the same fashion that last season ended.

Arsenal got off to a lackluster result with a 0-0 home draw with Sunderland.  In typical fashion, the Gunners held the majority of possession and passed the ball around without creating more than a handful of chances.  Arsenal began last year terribly before improving to a 3rd place finish thanks to the exploits of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, but without those players their replacements couldn’t break the deadlock.

Liverpool fell flat on their faces with a 3-0 loss to West Bromwich.  The team looks resoundingly similar under new manager Brendan Rogers, and although they faced a few questionable decisions in the match, there really is no excuse for such a one sided score-line for what was once such a proud club.  It has been several long seasons of finishing outside the top 4 for Liverpool and this result suggests the trend is set to continue.

Manchester City had a more positive afternoon that featured a comeback victory 3-2 over Southampton, recalling memories of their stunning final day last year when they won the league at the death with a similar comeback of the same score over QPR.  Although they were able to stage the comeback more comfortably with ten minutes remaining in the match, their ability to find late game heroics will make them a force again in the Premier League.

Chelsea found success as new signing Eden Hazard earned an assist and drew a penalty in their 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic.  After their two early goals the team didn’t look very strong though, and striker Fernando Torres was largely ineffective at producing chances.  At least they were able to get a win though which is something they struggled mightily with during last season’s 6th place finish.

Manchester United will play against Everton tonight in a match that Red Devils fans would like to forget from last season.  During that April match, Manchester gave up two late goals in a 4-4 draw that saw them drop two points that would have won them the league.  Based on the other recurring themes from the last two days, I suspect that this match will be another hard fought draw, as Everton has the home advantage.

So it appears as if this season is starting off in a familiar manner, but with 37 games remaining for each team, surely there will be some twists and turns as the EPL season develops.