The Guardian, David Hytner: “Nicolas Anelka seems to reserve his best for closely contested Champions League ties. This was the third time Chelsea had won by the only goal in Group D and on each occasion the France striker has been the scorer.”
Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “To the wider world, this was a match of limited importance. To a meagre Porto crowd of 35,000, it was also a game of only occasional entertainment. Yet to Chelsea, and their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, it was yet further evidence that John Terry was fully justified in suggesting the players are recapturing the aura of invincibility that was so evident under Jose Mourinho.”
The Times, Tom Dart: “[T]his Chelsea vintage have a savvy and solidity that recalls the title-winning sides under José Mourinho. … A monochrome match was settled by a second-half winner from Nicolas Anelka that confirmed first place in group D for Chelsea with a game to spare.”
The Independent, Mark Fleming: “A pattern is starting to develop in Europe, one that gives credibility to the idea that Carlo Ancelotti is the man to deliver the coveted Champions League trophy to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea ensured first place in Champions League Group D is ours after another clean sheet helped us on our way to a slender victory at Porto.”
Go on, admit it, you pissed yourself laughing last night as Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League, didn’t you? You just couldn’t stop yourself. Yesterday morning began with headlines of Jamie “Please don’t bring up the fact I’m actually an Everton fan so all my displays of loyalty for Liverpool are bollocks” Carragher holding up the white flag before a ball had even been kicked against Debrecen. There was a sense of inevitability about it all as he continually stressed that dropping out of the premier European competition at the earliest possible stage wouldn’t be that much of a disaster. It’s probably not a disaster but just fucking embarrassing. Personally, I feel that it’s unacceptable for any supposed big club to fall at this stage but even more so for Liverpool. They preach to anyone within earshot about their ‘special European pedigree’ but I’m struggling to find any recent evidence to back up the claim that Liverpool are still a side to be feared in Europe. Rafa and the club have been living off that lucky Champions League victory in 2005 and ever since Carlo beat them in the 2006 final, Liverpool’s much talked about aura in this competition has been exposed as a myth. It would be arrogant of me to call Chelsea the team that most sides fear in Europe these days so I’ll think I’ll do just that. We are the best team in Europe at present and that’s a fact (I put in that Rafa inspired ending for any Liverpool readers but before I get old fruit and vegetables thrown at me from the disapproving audience, I agree, that is a shit line).
But that debate can be returned to at some other time. Back to last night. At approximately 21:31, Liverpool trudged off the field knowing that with five minutes to go Fiorentina were on the verge of knocking them out of Europe after just five, yes five group games. At this stage I’d like to further stress the embarrassment of not even making it to the last game of the group stage before being dumped out the competition. Whoever you support, you have to agree that going out after just five games is shit. Anyway, the Liverpool players then huddled around the piss-poor monitor Sky managed to ship out to Hungary, with Geoff Shreeves for company, urging Lyon to score the goal that would keep their hopes alive, wincing when a golden opportunity to get that vital goal disappeared before their very eyes before grimacing when the realisation hit them that Thursday night football in the Europa League now awaited them. It was an hilarious end to a pitiful qualifying campaign and whatever happened tonight, nothing would wipe the smile off my face.
Or so I thought. Trust that twat Avram Grant to ruin my day. I’ve never felt any sympathy for Paul Hart, well I’ve barely been able to recognise him on Match of the Day so feeling anything for him was always going to be a bit of a stretch, but seeing the yellow “BREAKING NEWS” bar flash up on Sky Sports News with word of another Avram inspired knifing filled me with dread. The ghostly one had struck again. Despite all the denials that he was only interested in being the Director of Football (sound familiar), the inevitable had arrived within a matter of weeks. He had claimed another victim and I fully expect him to announce his return to management by the end of the week. Personally, I wish he would just fuck off out of the Premier League as I hate the way that he turned Roman’s head against Jose (again, another argument for another day) and if I hear one mention of his apparent role in guiding us to the Champions League final, then I’ll go down there and punch him myself.
Anyway, we were playing Porto for all those who missed it.
Carlo had announced that he would be making changes and the late call up of the Messi (I hope that catches on), one Gael Kakuta, had caused quite a bit of fuss. But it was as expected, with a mix of A and B team players:
Cech; Ivanovic, Ricky, JT, Zhirkov; Ballack, Mikel, Malouda; Deco, Didier, Anelka.
And after all the fuss, Kakuta didn’t even make it onto the bench.
At this point I usually like to present an insight into the free flowing football of another glorious Chelsea performance. But for the first-half at least, I’ll leave it up to you guys to find your own highlights as we were shit. We were an anal impaction, black banana and corn eyed arse snake put together (yes, it was more fun looking for poop words as Google put it) and frankly I was embarrassed. Yes we were brilliant at walking around but if you were looking for high points, there weren’t any. Just 45 minutes’ worth of walking although at one point Anelka did break out into a jog to fire in our only meaningful shot of the opening period.
So, on to the second half. Well it was more of the same, although with a little more jogging. The stadium was half empty and both sides seemed happy with a 0-0 as everyone went through the motions. Alan Smith on commentating duty did raise a chuckle by claiming that we should at least put in some effort but that seemed beyond most of our lot. Porto were trying to test Cech in goal with a couple of long range efforts but apart from some frankly awful diving from our Portuguese opponents, not much went on. There were endless misplaced passes and lots of walking but hardly any of what we would classify as attacking. A coma was luckily averted by the introduction of Essien and it was his driving run from our box to the edge of theirs which set up the only goal of the game. He found Zhirkov on the left wing who released the ball at the perfect moment to the overlapping Malouda. He beautifully squared the ball to an unmarked Anelka who easily nodded the ball home. And that was that. We walked through the rest of the half and luckily the millionaire referee put us all out of our misery after three minutes of added on time. Some of our players looked so bored by the end of the game that they failed to celebrate only the second victory by an English side at the Dragao stadium but it was that kind of night; simply mind numbingly boring.
- The result – Carlo went there to avoid defeat and with a mind on Sunday, his A-team did him proud, sort of. A win of any sort in Porto is a bonus so despite the paint-drying nature of the performance, he got the win we needed to top the group. I expect a few kids to get a run out in two weeks time against the happy Cypriots.
- United’s defeat – Shows what happens when you put shit players up against an average side in this competition. Fergie likes to think that he has a good squad but the likes of Gibson, Macheda, Welbeck and Obertan just aren’t good enough at this level.
- The kit – Really getting desperate now to find a positive but our all white outfit does look smart.
- Our laziness – I don’t know what it is about Chelsea but if things are going too well, we always seem to throw in an awful performance just to make things interesting again. JT was talking beforehand about us regaining our Jose inspired invincibility and winning when you don’t play well is the usual bollocks which most pundits say about potential champions, but I just hate the way that we seem to stroll though large portions of matches every few weeks. It cost us against Wigan and Villa and if Porto were able to cobble together any sort of penetrative attack, we would have been in trouble tonight. Strangely, this kind of performance was probably exactly what we needed to remove any sort of complacency before we face Arsenal but after this performance I’m starting to think that the only team who could stop us from winning the big two competitions is us as when we’re at our best we’re simply the best team in Europe at the moment.
- Cech – 7/10 – A couple of nice saves and looked assured at most of the crosses into the box. Another clean sheet for Big Pete so we can’t really complain.
- Ivanovic – 6/10 – Solid but offered little going forward, just like everyone else.
- Carvalho – 6/10 – Forgot he was on the pitch at one point as he was that anonymous. Not a complaint, it was just that there was nothing for him to do at the back.
- Terry – 6/10 – Again solid but didn’t really do much apart from block a couple of shots.
- Zhirkov – 7/10 – An encouraging first start in the Champions League for our £18m reserve left-back. A better defender than I thought he would be and performed some world class defending to stop Hulk converting a dangerous Porto cross. A welcome addition to our scarily strong squad.
- Mikel – 7/10 – He’s not one of my favourites and his penchant for giving away cheap free-kicks can piss me off but after a sloppy start he did well. Simple distribution and some nice interceptions on an encouraging night for our young midfield hope. Expect a place on the bench on Sunday though.
- Ballack – 5/10 – Was he on the pitch or were we actually playing with 10 men for 60 minutes? So anonymous it was frightening but his class will be crucial against Arsenal and I’ll generously put tonight down to rustiness.
- Malouda – 7.5/10 – A good night for Flo as the squad like to call him. Put in four great crosses in the second half and only after Anelka realised that a striker should be in the box to score goals did his hard work get rewarded. Carlo said that Frank has a chance of starting at The Emirates so grab a place next to Mikel while it’s available.
- Anelka – 7/10 – Turning into a brilliant second striker and his movement at times was again beautiful. But the embarrassingly awful nature of our attacking play dragged him down in the end but a goal ended a seven game streak without a goal so well done.
- Drogba – 5/10 – Again, I’ll give him the rustiness excuse which Ballack’s shocker of a performance was credited with. Maybe kung-fu kicks really do hurt and the lasting damage of a bruised set of ribs was on show tonight. Completely anonymous as a target man and did absolutely nothing all night. We’ll need the normal Didier back on Sunday when Silvestre or even Senderos could start.
- Deco – 6/10 – Erratic at best. Seemed a little unfit and didn’t really do anything. Did get a warm reception from the home fans which was nice.
Man of the Match
I’ll give it to Malouda. Some nice crosses and more jogging than most meant he was the best of a bad lot. As for the rest of them, well fatigue will certainly not be accepted as an excuse for any potential loss on Sunday.
I don’t really know how to sum up tonight. We got the win without playing well so that’s a plus point and the stress-free nature of the victory was another bonus ahead of Sunday but that dreaded complacency began to creep in again. We were always arrogant under Jose and usually had a swagger whenever we started a game but complacency was never really an issue. I’m sure Carlo will stamp down on it before our showdown with Arsene’s kids and our record against big teams this season is brilliant so there’s no need to worry. Bruno’s psychological work in the Chelsea Lab before big games appears to have paid off handsomely and another victory on Sunday would nearly knock out another title contender so I can’t wait. And if we disappoint, we’ve always got El Classico to fall back on.