The Easter Story So Far
The fervent disciples eagerly await the return of their Messiah. There have already been reported sightings and some predict more appearances during the next forty remaining days of the season. Others dispute he is the Messiah and rather the Devil incarnate and the enemy of football.
The season is entering a cataclysmic week with four games in eight days spanning three competitions. Rafa decided to rest a few players today to enable a relatively fresh team to be selected for Manchester United on Monday. I’m happy with this decision. I want the team to be attempting to win trophies, not settling for just a top four finish. Ask an Arsenal fan “What are your best memories of the last eight years?”
All the focus was on the fans’ reaction to Rafa’s rant and the match was merely a sideshow. Actually I don’t think Rafa ranted; don’t you think it was more of a monologue?
The performance of the anti-Rafa brigade was a fairly typical Chelsea performance. Plenty of hype beforehand but when the time arrived to perform they took ages to get going, didn’t do much and meekly fizzled out. Pre-kick-off there was barely a murmur. On nine minutes some witty souls near me performed a minute’s appreciation of Peter Osgood and at 11 minutes the same for Peter Houseman.
On 16 minutes the Matthew Harding end kicked off the Di Matteo applause but in the West Lower they got boos and derision. To be honest I think the majority of fans are sick of the anti-Rafa brigade. There was surprisingly little anti-Rafa singing but he did get booed when he trapped the ball on the sidelines which amazingly he performed three times. That’s more controlled touches per match than Torres can manage. On occasion there were a few Mourinho songs and on 66 minutes one rendition of “Rafa Benitez, we’ll sing what we want”. Have you anti-Rafas now got it out of your system?
Rafa had a couple of selection problems for this match.
First whether to play Cech. Fortunately the medical team re-wrote the manual this week, post witnessing Turnbull in action a couple of times. Instead of stipulating that Cech should be rested if suffering a minor muscle strain the manual now states that unless Cech is undergoing open heart surgery Turnbull isn’t to be allowed anywhere near the first eleven.
I’m writing this report on the 9:28 First Great Western return trip from Swansea. It was recently announced that a £350m investment in electrification of this line will shave 20 minutes off the three and a half hour journey. Is such a huge spend really worth it for a relatively small incremental improvement? Then again it’s possible to spend £70m on a new midfield to discover it runs 20 minutes slower.
I certainly wasn’t expecting such an early Christmas present: news that Daniel Sturridge is leaving us. I rang the club and offered to drive him to Euston and pay for a First Class one-way ticket, just in case there’s any last minute hitch.
I wanted to take the liberty of going to this game but unfortunately on the morning the tickets became available I didn’t follow my normal routine. You know, getting on the PC at 6:55am to open three browser sessions, Firefox, Chrome and IE, to maximise the chances of escaping from the virtual waiting room. Instead I dithered until 7:45am when I suddenly remembered what I should be doing only to find to my shock and horror that all tickets were sold out.
Talking of tickets, following our success in the Capital One Cup and subsequent quarter-final draw, I asked my son if he fancied a trip to Leeds. Have we played them in a cup since 1970? Anyhow he said he’d check his work commitments and the following day told me he couldn’t make Leeds because he’d still be in Japan following Chelsea in the Club World Cup. My ageing brain took a while longer to process this answer than in years gone by but eventually I did respond: “If you’re in Japan watching Chelsea which team is turning up in Leeds?” The Club World Cup final is on Sunday 16th December, if we qualify, and Leeds is on Wednesday 19th and my son is tacking on a week of touring and returning on Friday 21st December.
Listening to the radio and reading the press it’s clear that many hold the view that racism is racism, it’s either black or it’s white and you’re either a racist or you’re not. Extrapolating this argument John Terry, now found guilty by the FA of racism, should face the ultimate sentence to clearly broadcast the FA’s sincerity and conviction to stamp racism out of football once and for all. I’m not quite sure what this ultimate sentence should be but the noises the journalists and some players are making is that it should be longer than Saurez’s eight weeks and, according to Joey Barton, in excess of twelve weeks because calling Anton Ferdinand a black c*** is far worse than serial GBH.
It’s been a long summer without club football since that memorable night in Munich. Yes, yes, I know we’ve played three league games already but that feels more like being served an amuse-bouche only to be told that the chef’s just popping out for three weeks holiday before he can prepare your starter.
There have been sporting activities attempting to fill the summer interregnum and I decided in advance to be a good Brit and support all our boys and girls, regardless of their country of origin and well before Sean Connery pissed on my parade by declaring that Andy Murray is Scottish not British.
Even Hugh Grant was able to defeat a flock of seagulls, a little known fact revealed whilst being interviewed for a role in the “Battle of the 80s Has-beens”.
On the one hand, since this was a pre-season friendly, the match shouldn’t warrant a critical review because the players are still in warm up mode and results don’t matter. This was certainly true for our tour of the States where it was all about ensuring that each player played an equal number of minutes to get every squad member up to the same level of fitness. This makes sense from a sports science perspective. So who cares about drawing with Paris Saint-Germain and losing to MLS All-Stars and AC Milan, it’s all about fitness, team bonding, soaking up the atmosphere and making sure the players look great in their Dolce and Gabbana khakis.
On the other hand as the real event approaches performance and results do start to matter. I remember this well from my schooldays when I was receiving one to one French oral from Mademoiselle Fournier in advance of my O-Level. Personally I wasn’t too bothered that I thought “My aunt’s pen” was “Le prune de mon tarte”. It was all about getting the accent and pronunciation up to speed and worrying about the actual words a bit nearer the exam.
With this in mind, plus the fact it cost 30 quid per ticket which is no mean sum for a friendly, my review of the match is as if it were the real thing, not some meaningless training session.
With 1905 suburbs in the Greater London area it’s deeply flattering to me that Chelsea choose to play an annual pre-season friendly in my home suburb of Northwood. I mean fair’s fair, I travel all around the UK, and now Europe on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (Tottenham fans please note), following the Chels so occasionally the club has to make a bit of an effort and visit the fans.
Northwood is on the London Underground Metropolitan line which was the first underground railway in the world, although by the time it reaches Northwood it’s overground.
Northwood is also home to Northwood Headquarters, the UK’s principal military HQ site which is home to four Operational HQs (Permanent Joint Headquarters (including the JFHQ), the Commander Naval Forces North (one of NATO’s three major Commanders) and Headquarters of Commander in Chief Fleet). Therefore in the event of any scraps between John Terry and opponents, military assistance is close at hand to quell any trouble.
Northwood is well located and within easy distance of the Central and Piccadilly lines to get to Stamford Bridge and the Metropolitan line is only seven stops from Wembley, our second home.
On this blog there have been detractors of the Champions League competition but personally I’ve never been as affected and distracted by supporting Chelsea as I have since Wednesday 18th April 2012, Barcelona at home, right through to today. I’ve watched re-runs of the final endless times to the point that there must now be a groove cut into the relevant sectors of the hard disk in my Sky+ box. Even today the penalty shoot-out brings out the goose bumps as I panic that Drogba should take a longer run up and he might miss. And on YouTube I’ve seen countless videos from fans in the stadium, bars and, in the case of Omid Djalili, dressing room where for just a few seconds all Chelsea fans shared the same emotions of fear, uncertainty and doubt shortly followed by elation.
2011/12 may go down as the most memorable season in my lifetime and, now that the dust is settling, I’m trying to interpret our season of two halves and what caused the dramatic turnaround. My startling conclusion is that Andre Villas-Boas deserves the credit for us winning the Champions League.
In the latter half of season 2010/11 our old guard quartet were beginning to feel their age as our trophyless season petered out to the ultimate dismissal of Carlo. There were factions and cliques, the French foreign legion, the Brazilians, the kids, Torres and the Mourinho old guard. We weren’t a team.
Clearly it was time for a metamorphosis from the old spine to a new team of young, exciting players in the mould of Barcelona and so the term ‘transition’ entered our everyday vocabulary.
Herald the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas, one of a new breed of educated, articulate and professionally trained managers who developed their skills and strategies by osmosis, working shoulder to shoulder with footballing heavyweights, unlike the old school managers that had earned their stripes by playing the game.
Our gladiators were fed a diet of either sitting on the sidelines or being asked to play in a different style, pressing high up the pitch in the Iberian tiki-taka style of short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.
Sometimes it worked and we played exciting stuff, such as Manchester United away, but our new style left massive openings at the back that resulted in the opposition driving their coach and horses straight through us so we conceded more than we scored.
AVB was not able to get the existing squad to adapt to his new style. Either they weren’t listening or simply not capable. AVB scanned every page of his coaching manuals to find possible solutions for motivating the squad. He implemented a carrot and stick approach; the carrot being the promise of providing an emotional stimulus and the stick the banishing of rebels from the first team car park.
Ronald Reagan once remarked during a discussion with Mikhail Gorbachev, “How easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet outside in the universe. We’d forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries …”
There have been many instances when deadly adversaries, at one another’s throats for generations, put their differences aside to confront a still more urgent threat: the Greek city states against the Persians; the Russians and the Polovtsys against the Mongols and the Americans and the Soviets against the Nazis.
And so it was with our factions. Gladiators such as Lampard, Terry and Drogba could see their reputations and legacy being destroyed by the AVB regime as the media and Chelsea fans all wrote them off as has-beens. Time to put personal differences to one side. AVB had tried desperately to unite the team by getting them to believe in a common ideal but it’s generally accepted that group unity is forged stronger by shared negative attitudes. A common enemy!
So our Champions League triumph has nothing to do with the heavens, being written in the stars, destiny nor a blue angel sitting on the crossbar. Our triumph is due to Andre, who so desperately wanted to build team spirit and unwittingly succeeded by causing such anger and frustration that our players united to play with an unprecedented determination and spirit that overcame age, injury, suspension, tika-taka and finally the Germans.
The night before
Went to the Bridge to watch the youth. Unlike the Barcelona match we were the smaller team with Blackburn proving that meat pies with gravy will make you a bulkier teen. First 20 minutes Blackburn dominated but we managed to score against the run of play. A final score of 4-0 should almost guarantee a second FA Youth Cup in three years. If we were taking a 4-0 lead to Barcelona we’d all be feeling a lot more relaxed.
RDM picked the optimum team by changing every player except in positions where he had no choice, with Terry and Cahill having to play due to lack of cover at centre-back. It was good to see Romeu returning from exile. The team selection gave us a chance of beating Arsenal and keeping enough in reserve for this coming Tuesday.
Playing Arselona is good preparation for Barcelona in that Arsenal are the nearest equivalent, in so far as drinking a glass of Pomagne is preparation for a night of Champagne.
We looked organised and confident and our passing game, that disappeared against Wigan and Fulham, was back in place. Arsenal hit the bar and made a couple of chances but we never really looked threatened. In fact it beggars belief that we trail Arsenal in the league but I guess this is due to idiots like me wanting to persevere with AVB.
We had a few attacks that looked really promising but the trio of Torres, Sturridge and Kalou always contrived to make catastrophic final passes.
The match ended 0-0 which in the context of playing Arsenal away, who have had maximum recovery time between games because they’re not challenging for anything, after a week of two tough semi-finals is a terrific result. Whether it’s enough to get us into fourth place remains to be seen but the ultimate scenario has to be either Arsenal or Spurs finishing fourth and we win the Champions League, resulting in the fourth spot qualification being removed.
John Terry is the ultimate leader and warrior and gives everything in every match. You won’t catch JT wearing pink boots. JT was ably supported by the increasingly confident Cahill, Bosingwa, who for once didn’t cause me any heart stopping moments and Ryan Bertrand. Ryan looks like a Premier League player and wouldn’t cause me to panic if he needs to step in for Ashley in any game.
I don’t know where Romeu has been but it was clear he was off pace and lacking match practice. Essien had a decent game and looked strong and survived the full 90 minutes. Even Malouda put in a decent shift and showed his commitment by carrying on after getting a gash on the head after a collision.
Whilst our defence and midfield held tight and stopped Arsenal from scoring our attack lacked any cutting edge. Torres was disappointing for a player that didn’t make the A team for Spurs or Barcelona and I thought he’d try and make more of an impression to give RDM something to think about. According to Ruud Gullit, who pleasingly was very pro Chelsea on Sky, RDM has had a long chat with Sturridge to outline his weaknesses and gave him some videos to study. I’ve no doubt Daniel watched the Trumpton DVD but it had no discernible effect on his performance. Completing the frontline was Kalou who does so much that is right only to tarnish it with a frustratingly poor final ball.
Overall a decent performance and point, with no injuries, means we’re still capable of fighting on all fronts.
RDM gave great pre- and post-match interviews and presents himself in a most statesman like fashion. It was really pleasing to see him and Eddie Newton on our bench compared to the grey and dull Wenger/Rice combo who looked like a before shot in a Grecian 2000 advert.
Time for the players to relax. I don’t know if it’s a good idea for them to watch El Clasico.
The gods are on our side ensuring the woodwork and phantom goals keep our momentum flying. I hope they’re omnipresent and with us at Nou Camp.
Updated with Fulham match reports and goal videos Monday, 9 April 2012 at 11:08 PM
Only recently have I realised that when players use the phrase “thick and fast” they’re not describing themselves but instead the frequency and importance of matches.
The bay of Naples nestles beneath Mount Vesuvius, a volcano which hasn’t been truly explosive since burying Pompeii in AD 79. Likewise Chelsea’s explosive days are behind us and our fans are wondering whether AVB is currently stoking up the fire and we’re about to erupt into form or instead pouring water on the remaining embers and turning the players into petrified statues.
Do you ever have that feeling of guilt even though you know you’ve done nothing wrong?
You know the sort of thing. You’re walking through the ‘Nothing to Declare’ channel at the airport and, even though you’ve got nothing incriminating in your suitcase aside from dirty underwear, a Sooty hand puppet and a copy of Jimmy, the autobiography of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, you can’t help looking furtive and making yourself a prime candidate for ‘Step this way, sir’. A guilty conscience is ingrained in our psyche I guess.
So even though I lay claim to not having a racist bone in my body and have for years lived and worked in harmony with a variety of creeds and cultures, I couldn’t help but feel on edge that today, of all days, I would suffer some mental aberration or seizure that would make me involuntarily utter some hideous racist outburst in the presence of police head-cams, TV cameras and thousands of fans who have been encouraged to spill the beans on their fellow man. Fortunately the day passed without incident and I remain a free man and in possession of my season ticket.
My last visit to Loftus Road was in 1970 when we won 4-2 on the route to Wembley. I was fortunate enough to go to every tie of that success, excluding the replays. Extrapolating forward my next visit to QPR is scheduled for 2054 and I’m hoping by then that a) the ground has been demolished because it was a dump 42 years ago and it’s got worse since and b) I’ve received a long service medal.
Phew, that was a close shave. And I’m not talking about Andre’s face! The North East may have the Angel of the North but today the guardian angel was on our side.
Typical of recent performances 1-0 is a dangerous position for us. First half we were marginally better than of late and less soporific. Second half started OK but the whole ground knew that, if we didn’t quickly cement our lead, it would be a stressful last 20 minutes. For much of the game we’d conspired to make Bendtner look half decent but in the final moments he showed his true colours and missed a sitter.