Only quack footballogists would claim to have accurately dissected the thinking behind Abramovich and Gourlay’s leadership. Indeed, a decade is a healthy enough time frame through which to analyze the inner-workings and motivations of most wealthy estates.
But not this one.
The curious decisions the hierarchy has made over the years regarding players, management, finances, complaints, or the like, can fervently be chastised as improvised failings of a club not matured to the meticulous art of sport-craft or praised as a calculated strategy by visionary leadership operating on the entrepreneurial ethos of scraping through the layers mistake and failure until a game-changing product is achieved.
Whether the decision, oddly backed by extensive legal counsel, to formally report Mark Clattenburg to the FA for racist language is another unwanted embellishment in the litany of poor judgement calls made by the club or a solid stance against a medieval blight that might also turn the tide of officiating bias is truly anyone’s guess. Calculated or improvised? Truly anyone’s guess.
As the referees claim to have had enough with Chelsea’s targeting of their elite, impressionable clique and threaten a boycott, one thing is certain: the club will continue to persecute the enforcing class so long as Chelsea remain a targeted club. This is not conspiracy theory – delusions of conspiracy are the last refuge of the weak, which this outfit is anything but. The chips are always down, but the cards we play are a different story.
Let’s talk nefariousness, though. Seems strange that someone managed to snap a supposed Chelsea supporter, who does not hold a season ticket yet was stationed in a front-row seat, gesturing like an ape during the League Cup tie in midweek following Clattengate, in which the word “monkey” was alleged to have been thrown out. Barring the assumption of human nature being inherently too thick for words, the man was planted or paid. Believe it.
There has, however, been one outstanding gesture from the stands this season. In the loudest of voices, in any setting, in any circumstance, Chelsea’s battle-hardened choir has serenaded stadia with the spine-tingling chant of “We know what we are – Champions of Europe – we know what we are.” Even in the most absurd of illegal, digital streams, where the pixelated match effectively resembles a game of Football Manager, and the acoustics mirror that of a flushing toilet, these words are all that remain crystal clear.
Coming into the most vital European tie since that epic day in Munich, perhaps those words should serve as a reminder rather than a taunt. Few things in modern global football are more mercurial than a testing European night at Stamford Bridge and this nouveau Chelsea side have their first real chance to demonstrate that progress has not come at an unwanted cost. The hallmarks of heroism and leadership are required without compromise if a bedevilling Shakhtar Donetsk is to be beaten.
It’s a common theme really: outplayed away from home; the return fixture proving vital to chances of progression; a must win tie even with our backs to the wall. A circumstantial delicacy in West London.
Riding a 23-match winning streak in their domestic league, we welcome the Brazili… err… Ukrainian outfit to the soil on which they have not mustered a win in five attempts. Chelsea also seem to be embracing a similar Brazil-focused policy given the signing of 18-year-old right-back, Wallace, from Fluminense. This begs the questions: what does Wallace look like? And English, does he speak it?
With Sir Frank Lampard, John “Why Always Me?” Terry, and perceived contract rebel Ashley Cole dropped or injured, we have our very first glimpse of a truly new Chelsea side completely devoid of bygone spectres. Apart from Petr Cech, a Ranieri signing and neutral figure, and John Obi Mikel, a stalwart playing his best football under Di Matteo, not a single player in the starting XI has played under Jose Mourinho. This XI is effectively Chelsea’s future as the old guard gives way to unbelievably promising avant-garde.
No angst amongst fans with Ryan Bertrand slotting in for Cole because he is a solid player. Di Matteo’s decision to play him in the Champions League final worked wonders for his confidence and our trust.
Fernando Torres, inevitably leading the line with no real alternatives, is due a goal. I have lost count at the amount of times I’ve said that. Hard work aside, when will he not be due a goal?
Lastly, it is a testament to the indomitable character of Juan Mata, whose youth academy has reached financial breaking point and is selling shares which you too can buy to keep them afloat, that despite signing three playmakers to ease the creative burden on his shoulders, he has excelled and remained the talismanic lynchpin of all that is good about the Matteoan Chelsea.
Just as Didier Drogba devoured all competition that came his way, bringing with him the power of a continent to do so, Juan Mata has adapted the lethal aesthetics of Spanish football to book his place as an untouchable leader for the distant future.
Without a normal time victory in four matches, and a penchant for conceding first to an early goal, exactly how Chelsea would start this game was a point of concern. Center-halves split to either end of the pitch with Mikel filling the vacuum to distribute play is a massive step in the philosophical direction the team intends to take, but for now, it seemed unwise given recent form.
David Luiz, whose zest for life has detrimentally been transplanted onto the pitch, is not learning from his mistakes and continues to repeat them. He is danger of – or perhaps already is – crossing the line from lovability to liability.
Shakhtar are an assured side whose players know each other well. Their passing and movement could very well offer a few notes of guidance in shaping Chelsea. While most will tell you that confidence resonates from the back, Lucescu’s side seems to operate a tad differently. Letting his talented teammates down, Andriy Pyatov, rifled in a clearance right into the path of The Man Who is Due A Goal. Torres has now reset the timer and is, again, due a goal.
1-0 Chelsea. Forced, but undeserved.
A response was swift and forthcoming. Pre-match preparations seemed to have done little to counteract the threat posed by the man of the match in Donetsk, Fernandinho. Perhaps any plans that were made would inevitably be futile because what a player he is. A defensive midfielder with pace, vision, a brilliant first touch, and acute passing and finishing ability. Storming into the box, with David Luiz reacting far too slowly to cover the beaten Bertrand, Fernandinho cut the ball back to the equally impressive Willian. Whatever happens, he mustn’t be allowed to move to Tottenham. More on our defensive organization later.
As the Ukrainian side created chances by luring Chelsea’s enforcers into the center of the park with tight passes and then spraying the ball wide to stretch play and give young Ryan one hell of a time against the bombarding Dario Srna, we laboured in the final third. Shakhtar were undoubtedly the superior side, again.
But trust the stars to align themselves on nights like these. A second faulty clearance from Pytov gave Oscar, the little genius, the chance to control and half-volley from 40 yards. Again, our best signing this season scored the goal of the round. Either the space afforded to players or the pace of continental competitions conforms to that of Oscar’s previous Brazilian surroundings, the No. 11 shirt is now forever blessed, or this boy is just a legend in the making. As the praiseful proverb from his homeland goes, “Quem fez você, não fez outro” (Whoever made him, did not make another). Wouldn’t you agree?
The weak point is obvious to perhaps everyone apart from the players themselves. Cut-backs from our left flank cannot be dealt with. Lucescu took a page from Ferguson’s game plan at the Bridge when two United goals emanated from shoddy defending on low balls from the right wing.
Bertrand was having a terrible game, to be brutally honest, but even with his mentor commanding that position, the left channel has been exposed time and time again. Willian took up virtually the exact same positions as Robin Van Persie to slot in a double. This exemplifies that, as I’ve stated before, Chelsea’s play is intrinsically tilted to the right, often leaving our left hand side vulnerable.
More, Eden Hazard, not unwilling to track back, was often delayed in aiding a struggling Bertrand. And, even more significantly, the back line along with Mikel and Ramires drop incredibly deep in the box, rushing to the goal line to clear rather than closing down the attacker.
Who exactly is to be shamed when we are fooled in identical fashion a staggering four times over?
Perhaps signature goal line heroics have affected the defensive mindset. Realistically, however, Terry’s commandeering of a shaky ship is sorely missed.
On the other end, Torres, despite having gotten a stroke of luck, seems to have little idea what to do with the ball. I, like many, have stuck by him for two years now. He has not markedly improved. He is forever progressing and retrograding, never maintaining. To see out a gruelling season, a leader must take the reigns of a lone striker. A leader he is not.
The balance of the tie seemed precarious, and a Chelsea loss was not entirely unfeasible. Were it not for the post, that could very have well been the outcome.
And, as per usual, a blatant penalty was denied. A customary affair for months to come, I’m sure.
Chelsea’s performance had indeed improved in the second half, though, and ensuring Hazard was in secure possession more often proved to be the catalyst. He should stick to slipping in cute passes rather than attempting a long shot. We all know where his strengths lie.
The night grew tired. An anti-climactic 2-2 draw on a crucial European night at the Bridge? Something was out of place. Not even Terry’s Balotelli-esque gym workout on the sidelines could make up for the fateful energy that favours improbable twists on this ground.
In the 94th minute, the reminder that we are, in fact, European Champions, finally took hold. And substitute Victor Moses – would it really kill the team to experiment with him leading the line? – headed home a masterful Mata corner, sealing all three points and cementing Chelsea’s leadership at the top of a group that could have all but slipped away from our control.
3-2. A quintessential Chelsea victory. Deserved? Couldn’t care less.
Shakhtar, however, did not deserve to lose. But this is Champions League football at Stamford Bridge. Change the guards, change the manager, the DNA of those destined to lead is not easily extinguished.
Leading the table on goal difference with a match against Juventus in Turin forming the last challenge of the group stage. Palpable relief is an understatement.
They say the world is divided between leaders and followers.
From the starting XI, Chelsea’s leaders: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Mikel, Mata.
Chelsea’s leaders in the making: Ramires, Oscar, Hazard.
Shakhtar’s leaders: Fernandinho. I see no reason why he should not be considered when we’re one short in midfield as Lampard gradually calls it a day. The complete footballer.
Man of the Match
Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior. Take a bow.
The Press Reports
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea’s style has shifted, the muscular grind of the recent past replaced with flamboyance and flair, but the stubborn refusal to wilt in this competition remains. As this thrilling contest tore relentlessly into added time their grip on the trophy felt loosened, the prospect very real of becoming the first holders to see their defence stumble at the group stage, after two bruising collisions with Shakhtar Donetsk and with Juventus having finally stirred. Yet, by the final whistle, they were a side revived.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “The winner was created by Juan Mata, swinging over a corner that the unmarked Moses headed unerringly home as Stamford Bridge rocked with relief and glee before the fans then launched into: “We know what we are, we’re champions of Europe”. Moments later, when Moses walked off the pitch at the final whistle, a beaming Roberto Di Matteo tapped the popular 21-year-old affectionately on the back of the head in appreciation. Moses’s header has transformed Chelsea’s Group E fortunes.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “It is little too early in the season for yet another Chelsea crisis but were it not for the intervention of Victor Moses last night that looked to be the way we were heading. On the great scale of failure and triumph by which all Chelsea managers are judged by Roman Abramovich, elimination in the Champions League group stages is uncharted territory. It is unthinkable for many reasons, not least because no manager has ever failed like that before – not Luiz Felipe Scolari or even poor old Andre Villas-Boas.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “A stunning last-gasp header by substitute Victor Moses secured a much-needed 3-2 win which leaves us tied at the top of Group E with our beaten opponents.”