I woke gently at 8:30am to a warm, sunny Sunday morning in Britain after the big freeze of the previous few weeks. A day when Britain decides to finally step out of the house en masse to descend upon shopping malls, supermarkets and Sunday markets to the collective sighs of relief from retail giants and minnows facing the ugly prospect of a triple-dip recession as a pre-cursor to the inevitable coalition government cries of it’s a quadruple/quintuple dip recession. All of course caused by the endlessly bleated excuse of ‘the previous mob left us with a huge deficit’ which we all contributed to by just trying to better ourselves.
In fact such was the spring like aura of the day you could say it was the perfect day for a stroll in the park.
It seems our football team thought exactly that.
Rafael Benitez announced a changed side from the dismal XI that started against Swansea midweek. Not a lot to complain about on paper really. Marin in for Mata. JT back, Dave rested, Ivan back to right-back, Bertrand and Cole on the left, The Coward Torres up front, Oscar and Ramires and Lamps also in. On paper a team more than capable of beating most in the Premier League and certainly making short work of the minnows at Brentford, another South West London side (and arguably my local side from my London residency).
What we actually saw from this highly paid team of elite professionals was one of the most witless, dispassionate, spineless, gutless, apathetic and incompetent displays ever. The issue for me is I’m saying this more and more frequently under Benitez than I have done since Avram Grant. And even in the Grant era, the players decided to ignore him eventually so normal service was resumed most of the time. For about 10 minutes we seemed to be measuring Brentford for size, much like the undertaker does when measuring Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, expecting him to be the next customer. But an early warning came as Brentford fought harder for the ball, won more tackles and seemed unfazed by the bobbly pitch. Surely the Brazilians are used to playing on sanded uneven surfaces? Oscar, Marin and the others did not seem to understand that tippy-tappy bollocks football might seem nice on a surface cut like a green at Wentwoth golf course, but something more substantial might be needed on the rather more robust blades of Griffin Park. We had a half chance when Cole pushed a ball across the Brentford goalmouth only to find, as expected, that Torres was several astronomical units away from the ball. Then the returning, but patently as match fit as Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock, John Terry played a horrific ball back to Turnbull who had rushed from the goal and was forced to collect it with his hands to save even more embarrassment. Back pass. The free kick was in a dangerous spot and thankfully Brentford had no Zola-like figure to slot it in. But it was a warning, not so much of Brentford’s desire (and they had bucketloads) but of the total ineffectuality of Chelsea.
CLICHÉ KLAXON: by 25 minutes you couldn’t tell who was the Premier League team and current European Champions and who was in League One.
Chelsea did not create a chance of note during the rest of the half and on 42 minutes, by which time the only team looking to play the game and score, was Brentford, they finally got their reward and finally got our just desserts. One of the slumbering giants of the game, Frank Lampard, and I mean this almost literally because he is a giant and to me he might as well have sleepwalked through the game, catastrophically lost the ball which let a Bee in for a stinging shot which Turnbull could only parry to Trotta who slotted home with laser-like precision. It was bloody terrible from Frank. Maybe Turnbull could have parried it harder but to blame Turnbull is plain wrong and he is merely the patsy for an overall display of utter cuntery from Chelsea in the first half. The fans berated Benitez as expected and deserved and Brentford fans sung”
“Champions of Europe? You’re having a laugh.”
And they’re right. We look as much like Champions of anything as Paddy McGuinness does of winning Mastermind.
Half time came and the expected howls of derision from the away support must have made Benitiez flinching. Hopefully it made the players do the same because as much as Benitez ‘don’t lose the game before you’ve won it’ tactics are poor, the players work rate was worse than any Sunday morning dog walkers in the park.
Marin was duly sacrificed (a bit harshly in my view as Bertrand was woeful) with Juan Mata. Good news you might think, but the sad fact is if we can’t beat a League One side without Mata then we really are a one man team and seriously in the crap. However, we immediately looked a bit keener and after 55 minutes Oscar showed some sheer delightful skill to equalise with a lovely goal. Would this open the floodgates? Well no not really. We dominated possession again but failed to really capitalise on an inevitable temporary period of dropped Brentford heads. It was better, but despite the ESPN commentators waxing a bit too lyrical about our perceived dominance, I still felt we were vulnerable. I’ll be blunt. Barely a Chelsea player looked worthy of being in Brentford kit today. JT was so far from the races today he looked like there might be a kindly vet waiting to cover him in a blanket at the end of the game and do the kindest thing. Frank looked shot… did he really need to play today? Turnbull looks rusty as expected from rarely seeing any proper first team football. I’d much rather see a Shilton/Clemence rotation policy between Cech and Courtois next season. It’ll upset Cech, but the fact is we need a dominating and match ready second goalkeeper.
On 72 minutes, Brentford carved our defence apart, Turnbull came out, dived to a player’s feet, player jumped over Turnbull but went down. Penalty. A soft one in my view as replays showed no contact, but as the ref looked about my age and 10 kilos heavier we’ll gloss over that. The much vaunted (by ESPN and Brentford) Forrester stepped up and cooly slotted home. 2-1 and our world was on the verge of a deadly tailspin. Still, the bright side was that might finally mean Rafa’s future post June would be sealed. His inexplicable replacement of right-back (Ivan) for right-back (Dave) when we are trying to win a game after the like for likes versus Swansea are part of the reason I’ve now concreted both my feet firmly into the Rafa Out camp. It’s not what he said in the past, it’s that time blurred my memory of just what an indistinct, mediocre and ever so slightly inept coach he is.
On 82 minutes, after the introduction of Ba and the long overdue removal of Bertrand, The Coward Torres finally did something useful, perhaps for the first time since we beat Arsenal at the Emirates (September?) and scored what has to be said was a very nice goal. 2-2 and both sides huffed and puffed until the final whistle. As Omid Djalili tweeted perhaps it was solidarity with our smaller West London brothers and a deserved injection of cash for them with a replay at Stamford Bridge. Redistibution of wealth and all that. Truth is of course we were just very lucky.
- Ramires – one of the few unfazed by rough and tumble Brentford and rough and tumble Brentford pitch.
- Mata – where would we be without him.
- Torres’ goal – if we criticise for the bad then we should applaud for the good and his goal was very good and IMPORTANT!
- Rafa Benitez – enough with the ‘don’t lose the game before you’ve won’ tactics and like for like subs.
- John Terry – truly awful and if he’s match fit then I’m Mo Farah. Surely it can be good he got a full game though.
- Frank Lampard – a legend who was awful today. We all have days like that. Rest him for Reading.
- The whole team display – a disgrace to the name of our club, I think we might just be the worst ever Champions of Europe to date.
- Craig Burley – bitter ex-Blue suggesting a back pass to the keeper for which the FA law states is an indirect free kick, could have been denial of a goal scoring opportunity even though the Oldham player was three yards from the ball that JT passed back.
- Martin Allen on the sidelines with ESPN pitch crew. Ditto. Fuckwittery personified.
- Craig Burley again. Because I really can’t stand the bloke.
Subjectively Inaccurate Player Ratings
- Ross Turnbull – 5/10 – Rusty and probably not good enough for us.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 7/10 – One of the few to show any desire.
- John Terry – 2/10 – Dreadful and obviously not match fit.
- Gary Cahill – 4/10 – After huge display against Arsenal I suspect the baby is keeping him awake.
- Ashley Cole– 5/10 – Busy. Clumsy and gave the ball away. Lots.
- Oscar – 7/10 – A point for the goal but expected better on rough surface from Brazilian youngster.
- Ryan Bertrand – 3/10 – I want to like him but fear he’s just a left-back and no more.
- Ramires – 7/10 – One of the few to fight, tackle and hassle the opposition.
- Marko Marin – 3/10 – Lightweight and easily bullied off the ball. Not writing him off though, he needs more games.
- Fernando Torres – 5/10 – Was on for yet another stinker of a score but finally gets a VITAL goal which got him at least two marks.
- Juan Mata (sub) – 8/10 – Laying claims to be the new Zola but I worry what happens if he can’t play.
- Demba Ba (sub) – 6/10 – He comes on, we equalise. May or may not be linked but we look far better with him than without him.
- Dave (sub) – 6/10 – Not a lot to say, not on long but looks a very good buy.
- Manager rating – 2/10 – Detached. Aloof. Average. Mediocre. Dull. Obstinate. Risk averse.
- Overall team performance – 4/10 – Rotten for the most, occasional flashes of brilliance but attitude and desire and steel all missing.
Man of the Match
Not a Chelsea player worthy of this. So I’ll give it to the young Brentford lad Harry Forrester who looked like he wanted to win so much he’d burst.
First of all. Listen to the Podding Shed. Tweet it, Facebook it, paint walls like Banksy with the details. You’ll love it. Probably.
I’ve said enough about the match. So here’s my Benitez theory. He doesn’t hate us. He doesn’t much like us. No football manager should have to like the club he works for. He’s clever enough to know that by working for us on an interim basis he is in the shop window. He doesn’t become a forgotten man of football. He’ll get a decent club as well when we’ve discarded him. I can see him getting the Villa post, or possibly someone like Dirty Leeds should they get up. Everton could reunite him with his beloved city of Liverpool although I doubt any Evertonians would be very welcoming, despite his dignity surrounding the traumas of the city. I say Everton because my dark horse for our job is David Moyes. Fuck all this ‘unproven’ bollocks I hear about him, he’s performed nothing short of miracles for Everton with next to zero cash. I think he could be another Ferguson and a dour steely Scotsman is what we need in the pampered changing room of Stamford Bridge. Even Ivan would cower under Moyes in a full Caledonian rage. So Rafa is being quite clever. We get third or fourth and qualify for the Champions League and he gets a plumb new role and can refer to the job he did with us as being tough under the circumstances but he did what was asked of him.
Of course my first choice would be Jose and his tenure at Real Madrid looks increasingly like it’s drawing to a close. And there’s mileage in his return – massive revenue lift from season ticket renewal, merchandising and for Fat Ron the all-important brand impact. For the sheer business side alone it makes sense. For Jose it means a return home to a club where he was almost universally loved, older but not necessarily wiser. It’s unfinished business for Jose. So I want Roman to swallow his pride and make this happen. Jose’s brand of three year top down winning mentality and cultural change is exactly what we need.
We have to bite the bullet as I doubt even we’d sack two coaches in one season, but the shame of it is what should have been a season of transition on the road to a strategic end game of continual success with a younger team and different style has turned into a car crash season of failure and scrabbling for the scraps that United and City leave behind.
And that’s unacceptable.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The Independent, Glenn Moore: “From the moment that Chelsea were forced to enter the Griffin Park pitch through a guard of honour of ball boys it was clear this was to be an uncomfortable day for the FA Cup holders and so it proved with League One Brentford twice poised to despatch them. In the end a brace of equalisers from Oscar and Fernando Torres enabled the European Champions to avoid a humiliating exit and with no players sent off and no ball-boys harmed it turned into a relatively quiet afternoon by their standards.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “At one point in the second half, with the League One hosts leading 2-1, Brentford’s raucous fans enquired of their visitors: “champions of Europe? You’re having a laugh.” Chelsea didn’t even look like FA Cup holders for long periods. They recovered to force a replay through Fernando Torres seven minutes from time but this was a deeply unconvincing performance.”
The Guardian, David Hytner: “Thank heavens for Fernando Torres. Chelsea were staring at FA Cup humiliation at the hands of League One opposition and Rafael Benítez was feeling the fury of the club’s travelling support when the striker, who has become synonymous with a failure to deliver when it really matters, cast off the shackles. Torres’s late equaliser was marked by the kind of quality that persuaded Chelsea to break the British transfer record to sign him and, although it is trite to suggest that it repaid a slice of the £50m fee, there could be no doubting the relief that it brought.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “The Blues are still alive in the FA Cup, but if we are to secure our place in the fifth round we will have to get the better of Brentford in a replay at Stamford Bridge after a 2-2 draw at Griffin Park. Our defence of the trophy looked in jeopardy at times, but we showed good character to fight back on two occasions in a frenetic west London derby.”