A recall to duty for me tonight. To be honest I nearly pulled out, the thought of extending the ride on my trusty steed in the glorious evening sun was very tempting. Luckily it’s March, so when the sun drops the temperature plummets faster than Katie Price’s underwear when she’s offered a free drink. So a full on downhill 50kph sprint from the summit of Butser Hill gets me in front of the TV with 10 minutes to spare. The travails of a tough Podding Shed session the previous night had left no visible scarring. What goes on inside maybe very very different.
Of course, midweek games mean work the next day as rather annoyingly I have not recently won any of the national or EuroMillions lottery rollovers. Hence the report is shorter than normal, but you’re such a greedy bunch the Blog Committee Star Chamber has authorised this report.
After every man and his dog probably turned it down. Oh my God, I’m the blog equivalent of Paulo Ferreira, the last resort when no one else is about.
The first thing that then hit me was the either BRAVE or STUPID team selection from Roberto Di Matteo. In what seemed a homage to AVB’s last Big Cup game versus Napoli, no Lampard, no Essien, no Drogba, no Sturridge, no Bosingwa but Ferreria instead. I’m torn at this stage between fear, loathing and admiration.
To the game.
A feisty first half which at points looked like it may collapse into a card-fest for the Italian ref. In the end he was quite good. So good I don’t even recall his name. In truth there were few clear chances but Benfica edged it slightly. Although there were the worrying indications that Benfica may be spending the summer competing against Tom Daley. Our least effective player was Kalou who spent his first few touches either giving up possession or giving away silly fouls. But he was to improve in the second half. The other worry was Meireles, who for a short while seemed to be playing in an alternate universe where he is wearing a green and white hooped shirt playing a team in blue and someone’s just accused him of being an atheist. He was very angry and in the end a yellow card was inevitable as he lunged into another deliberately mistimed tackle. At this point it’s worth noting that Torres, Ramires, Mikel and Luiz were really standing out amongst what was a very reassuring overall performance from the whole team.
Half time arrives. To the dressing room. It’s 2012, my name’s Tony Glover and it’s dinner time. I’m having fajitas. As would Gene Hunt had he been set in the now.
Second half – starts like first half finished with Bendivers… sorry Benfica piling on some pressure but with little to show. Suddenly a loose ball gets fired in and Crazy David stops it with a combination of his hand and body. Not a penalty in a million years but have seen them given. Kudos to the ref again, surely now to be demoted to Europa League qualifiers for disobeying UEFA orders (allegedly). One noticeable player causing us issue was Gaitan who is surely skilful enough to stay on his feet. Despite this and with slight signs of panic showing in Chelsea constantly misplacing passes and giving up possession we were holding on and rather pleasingly breaking up the moves and disrupting in the game in an 11 man Makelele display. We looked like we had a plan and we’d done our homework. Of course this just prompted more dives but the ref equally surprisingly started to ignore them. Similarities to recent away-days at Napoli and Citeh spring to mind briefly but as each minute passes we lose that air of vulnerability and the reason is a shining display from the back four with Crazy David looking for all the world the solid gold Rolls-Royce player we suspected. Riccy Carvalho. Your heir apparent is here and safe with us. Ironically despite the pressure the best chance comes to us with Torres in full ‘assist’ mode crossing to Kalou for a free header that he puts high and wide. No worries though because on 76 minutes, the impressive Ramires starts off on a run and despite being knocked off the ball, recovers enough to send Torres on a supercharged run down the wing, beating the Benfica defender to slot a lovely simple cross to Kalou to tap in. The all important away goal is safely banked. A few subs later and we created another gilt edged chance for the terrier like Mata who was unlucky earlier, hitting the post, to uncharacteristically shoot over the bar.
The last few minutes are a stoic display of defending from us in the face of Benfica desperation. The whole team deserves a bow for seeing out five minutes of Fergie time (five minutes? Was that a UEFA directive the ref did follow?).
The game finished amidst collective sighs of global Chelsea fan relief. A win, an away win. A valuable away win with an away goal.
Note for Manchester: watch and learn my friends, watch and learn.
Playing a harp in the clouds
- John Mikel Obi. A world class showing from a player maturing in talent and confidence with each game. If you don’t rate him, you’re not watching the right sport.
- Crazy David. Man-love does not get much better than this.
- Fernando Torres. The new Anelka. The goals will come but not in droves and what he does now is so much more valuable.
- Ashley Cole. Yes he may just be back with us.
- Ramires. Tireless running and some proper Brazilian skills.
- Juan Mata. By rights he should be knackered but he still put in a shift.
Burning in fire and brimstone
- The Benfica Olympic diving team.
- That is literally all.
Subjectively inaccurate player ratings
- Petr Cech – 7/10 – Solid of late. Safe. Zafira.
- Crazy David Luiz – 9/10 – Purrrrrrrr. Yes I’m purring at him. Rolls-Royce.
- John Terry – 8/10 – Solid, committed. Usual. Ford Transit.
- Paulo Ferreira – 8/10 – Reliable and still better than Bosingwa. Volkswagen Golf.
- Ashley Cole – 8/10 – Busy. Snarling. Hungry? A Mini with a 2-litre sports engine.
- John Mikel Obi – 9/10 – Calm, efficient, unruffled. BMW.
- Raul Meireles – 6/10 – Busy, snarling, angry? A stolen XR3i.
- Ramires – 9/10 – Brazilian, nippy, hard working, creative. A Seat Leon Cupra.
- Juan Mata – 7/10 – All over the pitch at the same time. Impossible. Another Mini.
- Salomon Kalou – 7/10 – Improved over the game. Scored. Mondeo.
- Fernando Torres – 8/10 – Impressive. Creative. Hard working. Got stuck in. Freelander.
- Frank Lampard (sub) – 7.5/10 – A good backup. Not the fastest but generally reliable. Volvo.
- Jose Bosingwa (sub) – 6/10 – Not around long enough to make an impact or rate. Renault Avantime.
- Daniel Sturridge (sub) – 8/10 – Not around long enough to make an impact or rate but would no doubt be a 3-litre Ford Capri Ghia X with furry dice.
- New manager rating – 9/10 – Damned if he didn’t, lauded if he did. Gambled on blue, came up blue. Lucky? I’ll take a lucky coach any day.
- Overall team performance – 7/10 – Quite a few more vegetables than you’d like on the plate.
The Man of the Match
John Mikel Obi is unlucky tonight because any other time he’d be a banker but it has to be Crazy David. Sublime.
The final thoughts
First of all. Listen to the Podding Shed. Tweet it, Facebook it, paint walls like Banksy with the details. You’ll love it. Probably.
So, competence, efficiency all spring to mind. Poor old AVB must be scratching his balls in frustration at some of the displays of late. City and Spurs aside of course. But that’s what we were tonight and yes we rode our luck at times but for once the goddess of luck, Lady Luck was smiling on us whilst the powers that be gnash their teeth in frustration at the perceived appeasement and disobedience of the ref not to penalise us.
Roll on next week, where no doubt we’ll work hard to make it a close run scrape through rather than a comfortable see off.
I’m tired now and my legs are rebelling against the 14 mile hill climbing ride from earlier and the eyelids have balloted and are coming out in sympathy with them. A good night, so sleep tight all.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The press reports
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “These are the moments when Chelsea make it seem barely plausible that they have based long parts of their season on the theory of chaos. They played here with character, resolve and togetherness and now have an outstanding chance of reaching the Champions League semi-finals at a time when their performances in the Premier League make it far from certain they will even qualify for the competition next season.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “This was one of the great nights for Chelsea, a day in the sunshine for their fans followed by an evening basking in the glow of a fine team performance capped by Salomon Kalou’s goal. With Roberto Di Matteo getting his tactics spot on, Chelsea delivered a classic away performance, tactically disciplined, defensively resilient and scoring with a swift counter-attack. If the headlines went to Kalou, huge kudos should go to Fernando Torres, who made the goal with a magnificent run, immeasurably strengthening Chelsea’s hopes of meeting Barcelona or AC Milan in the semi-finals.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “A stark contrast to the Napoli away game as Chelsea matched the home side, defended well and snatched victory thanks to a second-half Salomon Kalou goal.”