Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chelsea beats Stoke City & Roberto di Matteo's Italian Job

Roberto di Matteo: The Italian midfielder is trying to get the job done with Chelsea
by rick olivares
di Matteo pic by the Sun and Fuller pic by Jed Leicester/Action Images

There’s a momentary revival in Stamford Bridge as new interim manager Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea left St. Andrew’s with a 2-0 win over Birmingham City to advance to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. That was the Blues’ first win since the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas.

Di Matteo is the fourth Italian to manage the London club after Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, and Carlo Ancelotti. But to underscore how unwieldy the manager’s position is at Chelsea, Vialli won five pieces of silverware for the club yet stayed only for two years. Ancelotti won three in his two years.

Since the departure of Jose Mourinho after a three-year spell that saw him win six trophies, the managerial position has been one of a revolving door with seven coaches in five years! Such is life under club owner Roman Avramovic who is the George Steinbrenner of English football.

In this 2011-12 season, the Blues will have their second start after Villas-Boas was sent packing. And Di Matteo, who played the midfield in the pre-Avramovic era of Chelsea (119 games and 15 goals) with Dan Petrescu, playing manager Ruud Gullit who was in the twilight of his career, team captain Dennis Wise, and left-winger Scott Minto, notched his first Premier League win as manager with a 1-0 win over Stoke City. Vialli was also on that squad.

In a crucial match at the Bridge, Chelsea needed a win and three goals to draw level with Arsenal (with a game at hand) for fourth spot in the league standings. While the Premiership seems to be a contest between the two Manchester squads, Chelsea is still on track for the FA Cup and the Champions League (they played Napoli this Wednesday at the Bridge). Fourth spot guarantees a place in next season’s Champions League.

The Blues got a lift from the return of John Terry after knee surgery. Boosted by the home confines, Chelsea dominated the Potters with superb play from the right wing by Ramires and Branislav Ivanovic. That led to several scoring chances by the Serb. Stoke’s Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was somewhat lucky as Chelsea couldn’t finish.

But in the second half, with the entry of former Real Madrid youth player Juan Mata, the play from the middle improved for di Matteo’s men. Mata slipped through a defender and found a hole between Stoke’s centerbacks that forward Didier Drogba was quick to latch on to. The Ivory Coast forward ditched his defender and forced Begovic to come out. A little push and Drogba danced around the fallen keeper for an easy slot home; his 100th goal for Chelsea.

Di Matteo’s men dominated possession but were unable to convert their other chances (23 shots on goal with eight on target). Chelsea had moments of brilliance with their skill and technique. Mata inspired some ideas on their attack as David Luiz was somewhat off his game (as was Raul Meireles, the hero of the FA Cup win over Birmingham City).

You're outta here!
Incredibly, Stoke, despite being reduced to 10 men in the first half of play when midfielder Ricardo Fuller stomped on Ivanovic’s groin earning a straight card from referee Andre Marriner (who called an excellent game).

Fuller, a Jamaican international, has had a history of anger management problems. During a loan spell at Ipswich Town, in three games, he scored two goals, was cautioned twice and one time, earned another straight red card for flipping the bird to the Crystal Palace crowd.

While at Stoke, although a vital member of the starting eleven, Fuller made news for slapping teammate Andy Griffin during a game dispute. Stoke manager Tony Pulis, angered by Fuller’s temporary loss of sanity as he tried to curtail Ivanovic’s manhood, called his player’s action as “stupid” as it will merit a three-game suspension as it is the Jamaican’s fourth for violent conduct (Ivanovic did return after the halftime break). “He (Fuller) snaps easily and his reaction off the challenge by Ivanovic just was not acceptable.”

Chelsea ended the match with a 14-7-7 record, tied with Arsenal on points with 49 each but the Gunners will have yet to play.

Stoke City, in their fourth year in the top flight league since their promotion, are down a notch to 13th place and a 10-6-12 record with 36 points. They are still on pace to go over 40 points that will make this their best season yet in the Premier League.

Di Matteo was pragmatic is his side’s win, “It’s just three points. I was pleased that we kept two clean sheets in our last two games.”

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