Due to sheer and utter football fatigue this will be a brief report covering the game yesterday between our beloved Chelsea and one of our biggest rivals. Well I say rivals. I mean they’ve hardly seen any rivalry this season or competition in their quest for their 20th, yes that’s right, their 20th top flight title. In fact the common mantra is that this is a piss-poor Manchester United team, and yet here they are crowned champions before April has ended. But here’s the thing, we’ve played them four times thus far this season, five if you include the FA Cup replay and each time I could argue that we’ve been the better team. In fact our only defeat at their feet this season was at Stamford Bridge and even then we had to be reduced to nine men in Clattenburg-gate for the red Mancs to come out on top.
The difference of course is sheer ruthlessness and consistency, whereas we’ve played superbly against the better teams and disastrously against lesser teams. Let’s take four games we should have won but drew or lost. Reading away, we throw away a two goal lead and ended up with a draw. Reading, who have been mostly garbage all season! Two points lost. QPR away, fourth game of the season and we scrap out a bore draw. QPR who have been as toilet as Reading! Two points lost. Southampton at home we let slip another two goal lead and end up drawing. Southampton who play good football but have hardly been fearsome this season. Two points lost. And finally in this representative sample of wastefulness on our part we have QPR at Stamford Bridge. The same QPR without a single away win all season. The same QPR anchored to the bottom of the table since day one. We lose 1-0 in a sterile affair. Three points lost. Nine lost points against teams that frankly shouldn’t survive the first 30 minutes against our creative and skilful players. That nine points puts us on 77. Five points in front of City. Champions League football. Guaranteed and yes, still seven points behind United but still making a fist of the season.
That’s how wasteful this season has been. And with that wastefulness, the apathy levels have hit new highs. For me anyway. And I guess for many of you as well. Is it our unreasonable expectation levels to blame? Possibly, but I think it’s more down to us wizened old hands getting rather tired of watching our club so effortlessly hit a different self destruct button every couple of years. And through the turmoil the club continues to use its own Orwellian style Ministry of Truth to tell us all everything is OK. Telling us all that we were trying to win every trophy this year instead of perhaps setting expectations a bit lower as the squad transitions to something representing the rather more utopian version so desired by the owner. In truth I’m tired and just want the season over. I’ll be playing golf and watching cricket during the close season, allowing a full mojo recharge unfettered by international football, Olympic football and pre-season money spinning bollocks tournaments and friendlies. Wake me up when August comes round.
I’ll cover this briefly as you can find fine reports on the game from many source across cyberspace through the miracle of the interweb.
Benitez deserves some credit for recent form and for what now looks like very astute man management through rotation in this marathon game season. Add to that any lack of obvious dissent from hardy stalwarts Frank Lampard and John Terry despite neither being automatic first entries on the team sheet. Part of me thinks this ‘phasing out’ was part of his remit from Roman.
Anyway, Frank was named captain for this game, which saw a back four of Dave, Ash, Ivan and Crazy David, a midfield of Frank, Ramires, Mata, Oscar, Moses and a lone striker in Ba. Changes were made later in the game but again, it’s arguable they made any real difference apart from the unusual sight of Ba and Torres as a dual strike force.
Anyway, pleasantly surprising was a thoroughly decent first half display from us in terms of possession and chances/half chances. The catch was that we were playing a Manchester United team that were obviously already thumbing brochures for beach holidays. To say the ‘bite’ had gone from their game is a mighty understatement. However you can only play what’s in front of you and we did that with professionalism and impressive performance levels. The game however, during the first half, was hardly a sparkler. At half time it was 0-0 and deservedly so.
And so for the second half. Well just read what I wrote for the first half. It was pretty much the same. Even the subs barely made any difference. United continued to labour seemingly desperate to get home for Sunday lunches and we gamely played on hoping for the breakthrough to come. And break through we did. In the 87th minute a marvellous run from Ramires who stole the ball from Rooney LEGALLY ended up with Mata shooting and getting a slight deflection from Jones for us to go a goal up with barely three minutes left. Of course there was the now obligatory six minutes minimum added time. It’s not Fergie time anymore as demonstrated versus Liverpool. It’s whatever reasonable amount of time the refs’ union wants to add in order to maximise a team’s chance of equalising against us. Clattenburg-gate continues?
In the final minutes my Player of the Year, David Luiz got into a tackling/sparring/tackling match with Rafael and Rafael reacted badly by kicking Luiz up in the air under the nose of assistant referee Sian Massey. Flag raised instantly and Howard Webb produced a straight red. Luiz lay on the floor and laughed. As did I. Did he con the ref and lino? I’d say no as she raised the flag the second Rafael took the swipe. Should he have laughed? To be honest I couldn’t care less. We’ve been too nice this season anyway, and frankly a team with the likes of proper cheats and divers such as Nani and Young can run off and cry all it likes. We were a goal up and United had barely threatened all game. The red card made no difference to the result. And that was it. Game over. A dull perfunctory game for much of the time, but punctuated by a lucky-ish goal and a moment of madness resulting in a red card.
So, there you have it. Three massive points leaving us a little wriggle room over Spurs and Arsenal, with a win versus Spurs all but guaranteeing us Champions League football. In turn that gives us the chance to play the Europa League Final with a tad less pressure and one distraction and target out of the way. Let’s hope the Rafa effect of recent games continues until the end of the season so he can go off to pastures new having ensured he doesn’t become the forgotten man of football, has a trophy on his CV, and has met the targets set by the owner. And then let’s hope the owner catches a hefty dose of common sense and employs someone the fans actually like, sticks with that man and allows the transition to continue in our next phase of being a proper competitive side in the Premier League.
Sorry this wasn’t more fun, but as I say, the apathy and fatigue levels are at record highs. It’s a beautiful warm day, people are smiling and the world feels nicer when it’s like this. It reminds me that there are other things to enjoy and that for a couple of days at least until Wednesday the world is just a little bit more blue tinted.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The Press Reports
The Guardian, Paul Wilson: “There’s only one team in Europe, the Chelsea fans reminded their Manchester United counterparts throughout this game, proving that even the much-maligned Europa League has its uses. It is still Champions League qualification that matters most, especially with a new manager to recruit, and three points from one of Old Trafford’s tamer afternoons courtesy of their deflected but deserved winner returned Chelsea to third place before Wednesday’s showdown against Spurs at Stamford Bridge.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea had the last laugh here. Juan Mata struck a late deflected winner, David Luiz smirked as Rafael da Silva was dismissed and Rafael Benítez got one over on his old feuding partner, Sir Alex Ferguson. Mata, Luiz and Benítez certainly left Old Trafford all smiles. This was a hugely significant moment in Chelsea’s pursuit of Champions League football. For 86 minutes this was a stupefying game, a match littered with misplaced passes, inaccurate shooting and a lack of urgency more likely to stir demand for Prozac than Prozone. But then Mata intervened, his shot going in off Phil Jones.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Unfortunately for Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, who desperately needed United to stop Chelsea winning at the very least, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team have run out of steam. Even before they secured the title a fortnight ago today they had already been on the decline for a while and now they are simply going through the motions. If Arsène Wenger hoped for something in return today for the sale of Robin van Persie, then he will have been disappointed.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “The Blues secured a potentially huge three points at Old Trafford, and a first win away at Manchester United since the 2009/10 campaign courtesy of a Juan Mata goal four minutes from time.”