It’s rare that one can refer to Big Brother to illustrate anything other than the general decline of Western civilisation, but back in the summer of 2001 it – perhaps unwittingly – provided a fairly telling comment on Frank Lampard’s transfer from West Ham to Chelsea.
Somewhere in a parallel universe, Michael Fish was sitting on the Soccer Sunday sofa, chuckling at the tweet he’d just read.
“There’s a gentleman from SW6 who has heard that the fabled ‘El Nino’ phenomenon has been gathering strength in recent weeks and is due to arrive in London on Sunday afternoon. Well, sir, I can assure you that it’s really nothing to worry about…”
Some introductory space-filling nonsense
Two of the most successful football managers of the last decade locking horns again is always going to be interesting, but the very nature of UEFA’s curtain-raising contest – a bit of a jolly for Platini and his pals, if we’re honest – leaves it some way short of Rumble in the Jungle type status.
In 1971, the late, great Peter Osgood was handed an eight week ban and a £160 fine by the Football Association for collecting three yellow cards in a season (this apparently incorporated a suspended ban for collecting five bookings in the previous season). Yellow cards were trickier to come by back then, of course; you’d certainly need to do a bit more than craftily waft your elbow at an opponent’s face or stamp on a gravitationally challenged Uruguayan…
In this week’s episode of the Podding Shed we will be focussing on the Champions League final.
We want to know how you’re getting there – over land and sea… where you’re watching if you’re going to Munich and don’t have a ticket, where you’re watching if you’re not going, how you’ll prepare for the game (what will you watch, what music will you listen to?), favourite Chelsea European memories, predictions – whatever you’re doing that’s Chelsea related between now and kickoff on Saturday, we want to hear about it.
It’s the night before Barcelona.
God, I detest the Champions League. It’s a vile, overblown, self-important and elitist clique that makes the Bullingdon Club look welcoming and all-inclusive. That awful, angelic opening anthem brings the bile racing to the back of my throat like Monday’s school dinner of Spam, cold beetroot and greying lumpy mashed spud used to some thirty (OK, thirty plus plus) years ago.
Football – a subject guaranteed to turn normally rational men and women of science, evidence and cold hard fact into superstitious, God-fearing folk who fear that upsetting the Chelsea space-time continuum and those most fickle of deities, the footballing gods will lead to relegation, bankruptcy and Kanu type disasters.
The picture above is a memorial in Flanders to the legendary (if somewhat disputed) ‘No Man’s Land’ football match that apparently took place between Allied and German troops on Christmas Day, 1914.
A brief look at a quiet week
Amidst the fallout of the Battle of Loftus Road, credit must go to those who turned up at Stamford Bridge on Thursday to vote on the club’s proposal to purchase the freehold of the ground with a view to, well, possibly moving but not too far away until after 2020, when the world outside West London may well be their lobster.
The newspaper reports
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “If there was one consolation for Andre Villas-Boas yesterday it was that, unlike many young managers’ first defeat at Old Trafford, he need not remember it as a humiliating experience. Eventually, he might even see it the way the rest of us did: as one of those football matches with the drama and unpredictability to make you shake your head in disbelief. In terms of its ebb and flow, it did not feel like a 3-1 win for Manchester United, but then it did not feel like any game in recent memory. There were two offside goals and one miss from Fernando Torres that defied explanation, although Wayne Rooney’s shanked penalty was not too far behind. There was the brilliant and there was the sheer erratic. It was football-eh-bloody-hell and it is only halfway through September.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The title is Manchester United’s in all but name. Arithmetic states that another point is required, away to Blackburn Rovers or at home to Blackpool, but the matter, in effect, was settled here. Chelsea, the reigning Premier League champions, were forced to confront their own inferiority at Old Trafford. The narrow score misrepresented the authority of Sir Alex Ferguson’s players, who had scored after 37 seconds.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “This was the standout performance against top opposition that Ferguson had been looking for ever since Chelsea began their late-season revival with that victory over United at Old Trafford. Given what Carlo Ancelotti’s team have been through in their mid-season slump, it was extraordinary that they should be in the title race with three games left but they were never truly in yesterday’s match.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea will panic in the summer, probably dismissing Carlo Ancelotti when the very obvious lesson preached at Old Trafford is the importance of stability. Ferguson’s respect for Ancelotti was evident in the way he embraced the Italian at the final whistle, consoling him, along with his comment that Ancelotti doesn’t deserve “to have his future queried”. Sadly, it will be.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A poor first half cost Chelsea dear at Old Trafford as Manchester United moved six points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.”
A question worth pondering; if something is indeed rotten behind the scenes at Chelsea as most of us believe to be the case, irrespective of whether one is pro or anti Carlo, then maybe that’s where we should start?
It happened in Ranieri’s last season. And Mourinho’s. Underhand briefings to the press, behind the scenes manouvering by all and sundry, sackings and/or appointments made above the head of the manager (or first team coach as is probably a more appropriate title) and so forth.
Hey, we all know the drill by now. And the rumours about who is being targeted as Carlo’s replacement have already started.
In the past, the finger of blame has been pointed at Kenyon, at Arnesen and obviously Grant or whoever else was the hate figure at the time. But the very simple fact is that there is one constant in all of this.
Premier League: Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool
The Chelsea Blog (very) Amateur Dramatic Society is proud to present its own interpretation of:
(A work of pantomime and prose very loosely based upon the above-mentioned work in as many parts as I can string a fairly weak plot with a load of half-arsed Chelsea related puns and poor gags out for.)
All characters appearing in this work are real folk viewed through the eyes of an author with manflu who has consumed too much strong cheddar after 8pm. Any resemblance to a work of vague sense and coherence is purely accidental. Proceeds from the box office to the Rafa Benitez Early Retirement Fund. No running, jumping, blocking the aisles, petting or feeding the cast members.
Premier League: Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “If the breath is leaving Arsenal’s bid for the title so early, the cause of death will be registered as suffocation by stereotype. It is hard to avoid the focus on losers who put so much into the match for no return whatever. Nonetheless it would be implausible to suggest that they had been unfortunate. A sequence of five consecutive defeats by Chelsea in all competitions is no statistical freak.”
Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “A sense both of déjà vu and awe pervaded Stamford Bridge on the final whistle as Chelsea eased to an ultimately emphatic 2-0 victory. The reason for the feeling of déjà-vu was obvious. Arsenal again stood accused of playing pretty football for no end product and they have now failed to win any of their past 10 matches against Chelsea or Manchester United. They have also lost their last five encounters against Chelsea and, in that sequence, are on the wrong end of an aggregate 13-2 scoreline.”
The Observer, Conrad Leach: “When Chelsea have got over the shock and shame of not winning 6-0 – as they had done in their first two games of this season – they will realise the value of this rather more subdued scoreline. As they have already proved this campaign, creating chances is not a problem for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but sometimes the putts don’t drop. If they had, then they might even have equalled the 7-0 thrashing they doled out to Stoke City on this ground in April. After all, when Ashley Cole could have scored twice, you know there are goals to be had.”
Sunday Telegraph, Jonathan Liew: “Just the two for Chelsea this week, then, but to a home contingent reared on gourmet cuisine, this win was nothing more than a good square meal. It is fair to say that three games in, the champions are yet to be truly tested. An industrious but guileless Stoke City were ill-equipped for the job, and Chelsea were even able to afford a missed penalty on their way to victory.”
The Observer, Paul Wilson: “Didier Drogba’s 37th goal of the season, and sixth in seven Wembley appearances, earned Chelsea the FA Cup and their first Double – so no surprises there. This was not the boring final everyone had feared, however. Thanks in no small part to Portsmouth’s extraordinary competitive spirit, it was a good deal more enjoyable and entertaining than many of its predecessors. There were times – not very long times, admittedly – when it was almost tense.”
Sunday Telegraph, Duncan White: “They could lay a swamp for a pitch at Wembley and not stop Didier Drogba scoring. The brave last stand of this motley group of Portsmouth players could not prevent the Ivory Coast international from scoring his third FA Cup final winner and his sixth in six competitive games at this stadium. His superb free-kick, struck just before the hour, was his 37th goal of the campaign, and brought Carlo Ancelotti the Double in his debut season.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “A tepid match inflamed the hearts of the visiting supporters who witnessed Chelsea putting themselves on the verge of the title. Carlo Ancelotti’s side need, at the very most, a home victory over Wigan next Sunday to bring the Premier League trophy back to Stamford Bridge for the first time since 2006. Conspiracy theorists, however, will linger over the opener here, when the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, hit a careless pass-back in the 33rd minute that let Didier Drogba open the scoring.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “So, it is down to the wire, down to the final weekend and down to Chelsea holding their nerve against Wigan Athletic. As Carlo Ancelotti and his strong-willed players moved ever closer to touching the Premier League trophy, Rafael Benítez’s dejected and disorganised Liverpool edged closer to touching the abyss.”
The Observer, Paul Wilson: “Who would have thought it? Chelsea were not fibbing about Didier Drogba being injured after all, and once the sharp end of the visitors’ attack joined the sharp end of Manchester United’s on the sidelines this so-called heavyweight showdown resembled a shadow-boxing version of a title fight until the big man arrived to score the goal that possibly tips the title balance.”
Sunday Telegraph, Duncan White: “It is all very simple. Five games and five wins and Chelsea will be champions. With an impressive, aggressive performance in their rival’s own lair, they ripped the initiative from Manchester United and jumped to the top of the table. Now they just have to hold their nerve.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Carlo Ancelotti’s team were as devastating as they needed to be, with Didier Drogba preying on these opponents as usual. The Ivorian was close to a hat-trick with a free-kick that cracked against the crossbar but his impact had already been sufficient. If anything, John Terry might have been slightly frustrated by the anodyne attacks. The centre-half would have relished more opportunities in which to prove that he is undiminished by disappointment after being stripped of the England captaincy.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Such an educated Frenchman as Arsène Wenger must know the meaning of déjà vu. Once again, Arsenal failed to live with the physical demands of the game. Once again, they were caught out on the counter. Once again, they lacked a central attacking force. Unlike Chelsea. Once again, Didier Drogba destroyed Wenger’s side.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The only aspect of this fixture that lived up to expectation was the contentiousness. The Premier League leaders, Chelsea, moved five points clear of Manchester United with a goal of murky origins. Darren Fletcher wrongly had a foul awarded against him in the 76th minute and from Frank Lampard’s free-kick John Terry headed home, although Didier Drogba may also have got a touch.”
The Times, Oliver Kay: “As the ska sound of Madness reverberated around a joyous Stamford Bridge yesterday, the beat was almost too much for John Terry to resist. Having taken his team not only one step but five points beyond Manchester United, the Chelsea captain looked ready to burst into dance, but instead he settled for a broad grin, a swagger and a couple of kisses blown to someone special in the crowd.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Predictability was a delight for Chelsea. The side must reduce their opponents to fatalism when they have this durability and efficiency about them. Liverpool, eager as they were in the hunt for revival in the Premier League, were well contained. Hilario, deputising for a suspended Petr Cech, did not have an outstanding save to make until dealing with a Steven Gerrard effort in the last few moments.”
The Times, Oliver Kay: “Small details, according to Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benítez, are what decide football matches. It sounds like the ultimate truism, but, after two of the Barclays Premier League’s heavyweight teams had spent an hour trading punches at Stamford Bridge yesterday, one of them briefly let their guard down and, from that moment on, Chelsea and Liverpool seemed to be heading in opposite directions.”
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “The fire and brimstone may have been reserved for a venue some 200 miles further north, but the Premier League leadership remains firmly in west London. Chelsea’s serene progress under Carlo Ancelotti was maintained here, a sixth consecutive victory restoring their three point advantage at the top while most eyes had been distracted by events at Old Trafford. The Italian’s perfect start almost feels as if it has slipped in under the radar.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “Chelsea led from gun to tape on the two occasions they won the Barclays Premier League under José Mourinho, so the sight of Carlo Ancelotti’s side moving ahead by a length should worry the rest of the field.”
The Observer, Paul Doyle: “Chelsea helped themselves to their fourth win in four games with this ruthless suppression of Burnley. Nicolas Anelka, Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole all struck telling blows and the margin of victory would have been even more emphatic but for valiant goalkeeping by Brian Jensen and wasteful finishing by the rampant home side.”
Sunday Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “Chelsea staged a rhapsody in blue as the expansive game that Roman Abramovich has coveted for five years finally arrived at the expense of poor, bewildered Burnley.”
I often wonder what you can actually see from up on the moral high ground. Asylum seekers eating swans, MP’s rolling around in piles of ill-gotten cash?
Whatever it is, you clearly can’t see a football pitch – that much is evident.
The nation’s hacks, long-time residents in such rarified air, have worked themselves into a frenzy in recent days at the myriad opportunities to lecture and moralise about the behaviour of everyone from The Less Than Honourable Member for Bumfucknowhere to Didier Drogba.
There has never been a better time to be a self-appointed guardian of the common good. Corralling a largely gullible public towards a sense of pre-determined moral outrage is their business, and business is booming.
It’s not that some of the brickbats aren’t justified; throwing a rock in the air and hitting someone dirty these days is easy. But hitting the right target for the right reason is another matter.
Amidst the hype about tomorrow night’s game, I think I’ve come up with a perfect tactical master plan to foil Pep Guardiola and his oh-so-magnificent charges.
It’s more cunning than Guus’s masterful shut-out in the Nou Camp and requires a tiny percentage of the effort for all concerned.
Install a fucking great big mirror in the away dressing room at Stamford Bridge.
They’ll be so busy regarding their own beauty and splendour, I doubt they will make it out onto the pitch much before Thursday lunchtime.
I mean, much to admire, poetry in motion blah de blah, but has there ever been a more narcissistic football club?
Endless reams of quotes from everyone bar the office cat at the Nou Camp about our terrible spoiling football, fouling and general bastardising of the beautiful game in the living room of its finest proponents.
How dare we adapt our game as the circumstances required when standing back to admire the show was clearly the sporting thing to do?
Stevie Wonder, despite being eminently qualified to become a Premiership referee, was probably more of a fan at heart.
“Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall…”
When Drogba slotted away the fourth on Saturday, even those of us with the strangest of pre-match rituals designed to placate the gods of football might have been happy to walk under the proverbial ladder. The Lancashire side have had their moments (and points) down in SW6 during recent years, but surely not today?
Whilst it’s one thing to tentatively cast off one’s eternally pessimistic shackles for a moment of optimism at four-nil up, actively seeking to provoke the fickle hand of fate into giving you a dry slap round the ear is another matter entirely.
Bob Quick must be looking at Guus Hiddink and wondering exactly where he went wrong.
Britain’s most hapless copper (well, this week’s candidate for the title) inadvertently revealed a few secrets about a raid on the North West. A day later, faced with widespread condemnation he lost his job in disgrace.
On the other hand, the amiable Dutchman casually told the world’s media how he was planning his own raid on the area. Now an increasing number of people are demanding that he should keep his job. Some guys have all the luck.
But anyone who watched Hiddink’s team leave one of European club football’s most revered sides of the last five years scratching their heads in bewilderment will surely know that luck had little to do with it.
This was a calculated and ruthless assault on a supposedly impregnable fortress; as comprehensive a defeat as you will see in the Champions League this season.
(Yes, I am putting my fingers in my ears and whistling loudly every time anyone says the word “Barcelona”.)
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: "Lampard had been sent off by Mike Riley after an hour, despite making contact with the ball before the collision with Xabi Alonso. While the referee might claim that Lampard’s studs were raised, he had done no more than speak to Steven Gerrard when the Liverpool captain had fouled Mikel John Obi shortly before. The Anfield outfit made the most of their luck."
The Times, Oliver Kay: "As the dust settled and the snow began to stick on the streets around Anfield, only one story truly mattered last night. There had been anguish for Frank Lampard, more humiliation for Robbie Keane, the rebirth of Fernando Torres and the slightest encouragement for Rafael BenÍtez in his contract negotiations, but, fairly or otherwise, this was the afternoon when Liverpool shrugged off the self-doubt and established themselves once and for all as the only threat to Manchester United’s hopes of a third successive Premier League title."
After a pleasant little jaunt down at the seaside which gave us all a much-needed confidence boost, the pre-match omens didn’t bode well for the visit of Stoke. Joe Cole out for the season and John Terry injured in the warm-up. If Phil has been carrying a rabbit’s foot in one of his pockets, it seemed as though Satan had taken a fairly sizeable crap in the other one.
The debate over zonal marking raged on before the game; given our recent record, having a couple of players in something resembling the same postal district as the goal they were defending would have been an improvement. With Rory Delap’s own special brand of shock and awe aerial bombardment and our inability to locate the opposition goal at Stamford Bridge in recent weeks, the pessimists amongst us might have called the pools panel and requested a draw.
Remember how a few years back at the turn of the millennium, hordes of experts couldn’t tell us enough about the terrible Y2K bug? It was going to send anything with a microchip round the bend at midnight and we’d all be back in the Stone Age by the time Big Ben had finished chiming?
The only thing I’ve seen overstated more in the last decade is the threat of Stoke from set pieces. The design of the Bridge did more than countless managers to nullify the threat – advertising hoardings within three feet of the pitch seemed to bugger Rory Delap completely which left Tony Pulis’s men somewhat toothless. Genius there from the stadium management, in my humble opinion.
There were a couple of jittery moments in our backline just after kick off (given that Alex had come into the game almost completely cold), but beyond that there wasn’t much to get excited about. Ashley Cole even looked like he was keeping a post company on a couple of occasions. Maybe the old dog that is Big Phil is capable of learning a few new tricks after all.
Elsewhere on the pitch, there were points where we started to look like the all-conquering pass and move machine of August to October. No goals, obviously, but chances were made and had Thomas Sorensen not been on sublime form (ain’t it always the way?), our mid-season crisis could well have been a thing of the past.
There are still issues to address, without question; defensively, we still look vulnerable at times (continuity, or lack thereof still a key issue here) and the finishing needs to be sharper, but the midfield looked tighter and less ponderous and – whisper it quietly – Salomon Kalou (free kick diversions aside) and Florent Malouda (give the guy a break, will you?), whilst not quite Damien Duff and Arjen Robben vintage gave us the look of a team that might actually score at some point.
So how we laughed when Mr. Delap, unable to stuff us by means of airborne delivery and noting that we hadn’t managed to do so, marched onto a pass from James Beattie (Southampton, Sheffield United and Stoke – does he think red and white suits him?) and slotted the ball past Petr Cech. Poor, poor and thrice poor. Doom once again stalked SW6 as the Stoke fans informed Mr. Scolari that he may be minus one job come Sunday morning. A few of our knuckle-draggers joined in – nothing like getting behind the team, eh lads?
The clock ticked down, seats emptied and tempers frayed. Phil looked pensive on the touchline, the players in a similar state on the pitch.
And just as the boo-boys were warming up their vocal chords, that little bit of magic, absent from SW6 for so long, returned. Not so much returned, as kicked the door open and announced it was high time everyone stopped moaning, pulled their collective finger from the proverbial arsehole and jolly well cheered themselves up a bit.
I remember speaking to a football writer who told me that one of the most amusing sights you can witness is the press box when something dramatic occurs in the last few minutes of a game. Imagine lots of weary hacks, about to hit ‘send’ to relay their match report to Wapping, cursing profusely when some inconsiderate bastard knocks in a late winner which completely changes the complexion of their carefully chosen words.
We can only guess what the atmosphere must have been like in there today.
Juliano Belletti – long overdue official cult hero status, I think – salvaged us some pride by taking a quick look at the football parlance textbook and, locating the “popping up at the back stick” phrase, used it to good effect. That’ll do nicely, we thought. But, as we have often noted, we play to the final whistle in this game…
Scolari may not be the man to take us forward, but his post-match words sum up the winner and the man behind it perfectly:
"What you need, Frank gives to you.”
Amen to that. And anyone in doubt about the spirit in the camp at present need look no further than the celebrations – for a manager supposedly at war with half of his senior players, it all looked fairly happy to me.
For the purposes of this game, we shall be using the Scoville scale to determine how hot (or otherwise) our chaps were:
Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, Alex, Ricardo Carvalho: Jalapeno.
John Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack, Di Santo: Pequin.
Florent Malouda, Salomon Kalou, Nicolas Anelka, Miroslav Stoch: Scotch bonnet.
Frank Lampard, Juliano Belletti, Ashley Cole: Pepper spray.
A toss-up between Frank and Ashley. There’s one for the ladies to consider… *cough*
Tony Pulis demonstrated a fine sense of humour this week when he suggested that his offer for Kaka had been turned down; the town of Stoke on Trent clearly not being much use to AC Milan. If he can find anything to laugh about this evening, he’s doing well. For Stoke, it might be the type of kick-in-the-knackers disheartening result that could prove terminal to their fight for Premier League survival.
As for us, will it make any difference? Well, there is the 64,000 Dollar question (I’d say six million, but Manchester City would only gazump me by another hundred million or so). Yes, there are still issues. No, I don’t think we’re going to be cuddling any silverware this season. But there were a number of youngsters on the bench, two of whom made a decent impact on the game and for a couple of glorious minutes, we finally remembered we had a pair and used them to startlingly good effect.
Allow me a wistful, contemplative moment, if you will.
All things Chelsea haven’t been great for some time now. The crushing disappointments of last season – from which I suspect some of our players, let alone our fans, will never recover – were nullified by some good early season results, but the last couple of months have been about as enjoyable as root canal work.
But today was good – no, scratch that – today was bloody marvellous. And I’ll tell you why.
Football has done strange things to us Chelsea fans in the last few years. We’ve seen it all; titles, big money signings, cup finals blah de blah. Even the most rational of us have become accustomed to life in the fast lane and haven’t coped particularly well with – shock horror – losing at home and struggling against lower league teams in the Cup.
But days like this should remind us that whilst our future destination may be a little more uncertain than it has been in some time, the scenery on the way can be so spectacular that where you end up doesn’t really matter. Today was doom and gloom, shoulder shrugging acceptance and joyous, cathartic primal scream therapy, all in the space of about three minutes. It made us all believe that reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated, it made the journey home shorter, it makes Match of the Day an acceptable alternative to hiding under the duvet and it made us all hug strangers, jump around like hyperactive toddlers and generally enjoy all things Chelsea again.
After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
The Observer, Amy Lawrence: "Who would have thought that come January Luiz Felipe Scolari would be under more pressure than Tony Pulis? That encapsulates why the Chelsea manager erupted so viscerally when Frank Lampard prevented his biggest managerial embarrassment in English football with a stoppage-time thump."
Sunday Telegraph, Jonathan Wilson: "What a difference six minutes can make. With three minutes of normal time remaining Chelsea trailed, and the Stoke fans taunts of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” seemed to bear more than a trace of credibility for Luiz Felipe Scolari. After goals from Juliano Belletti and Frank Lampard had seized victory, though, the sense was that the improbable nature of their comeback may just have re-energised their title challenge."
Or A Chelsea Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Chelsea (and Christmas, loosely). Read Part I here.
Scrooge hardly slept a wink. He thought fondly about the happy times that had passed and trophies that had been lost, and more specifically who would visit him next. He hadn’t long to wait.
“I am the ghost of Christmas present,” said a second spirit, who was unrecognisable save for the distinguishing feature of a replica Chelsea shirt worn underneath a rather dapper velvet frock-coat.
The ghost proceeded to lead Scrooge through the pitfalls of the previous weekend’s meeting with West Ham, currently led by much valued and admired former employee Mr. Zola whom Scrooge had begged not to leave upon his arrival at the company.