The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “Not so long ago, Didier Drogba was the cartoon villain of Stamford Bridge. For anyone not of a Chelsea persuasion, the Ivory Coast striker’s penchant for theatrics, for moaning, for sulking, made him difficult to warm to. Now, certainly in the context of some of his less wholesome team-mates, he is nothing but admirable.”
Sunday Telegraph, Gerry Cox: “Although it looked ultimately like a comfortable victory for Chelsea against a club who were almost bankrupted last week, Cardiff showed no paucity of grit or effort and for the best part of an hour threatened to upset the cup-holders.”
Sunday Times, Jonathan Northcroft: “Of one Cole, too much is exposed. Of another, not enough is being seen. Nude footage of Ashley Cole was sent to the phone of a glamour model and he is unable to explain how it got there it but another mystery at Chelsea is: what is happening with Joe Cole?”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “The defence of the FA Cup continues but Chelsea were made to work hard by a Cardiff side that gave as good as they got in the first half.”
I am writing this preamble before the match, without the benefit of hindsight.
I wrote the match reports for both our 3rd round win over Watford, and our 4th round win over Preston. So I was not surprised when Nick asked me to write this one. I suspect that, like most Chelsea supporters I know, Nick is deeply superstitious. So having me cover the cup ties is like players not shaving on match days or doing the hula-hula before they come out of the tunnel. We shall see whether this particular lucky charm works today.
A big part of me does not want to watch this match. I am still upset by our clueless, gutless display in the 2-1 defeat to Everton on Wednesday, which may well cost us the title. And when I get that upset I prefer not to watch Chelsea for a while as it is just not worth the frustration. But ho hum.
Cardiff, apparently, are crippled by injuries and you can only get odds of 1.17 on a Chelsea win this Saturday morning but my prediction is that, on recent form, we will just about scrape it.
Our cup record against Cardiff is in fact extremely poor. They have won all three of our ties against them, two in the FA Cup. Strangely, I remember our last defeat against them – in the League Cup in 1986 – quite well. Because they were only in the Fourth Division then and it was the first clue we had that John Hollins and Ernie Walley were about to demoralize, and then go on to destroy, the fine team built by John Neal around Dixon, Speedie, Spackman and Nevin.
Carlo Ancelotti actually named the team on Friday:
Hilario, Ferreira, Alex, Carvalho, Zhirkov, Lampard, Mikel, Ballack, Sturridge, Joe Cole, Drogba.
There are pluses and minuses in this selection for me. Ferreira in for Ivanovic is one plus. For me, Ivan has been the player of the season so far and we need to rest him for the bigger games coming up. The inclusion of Mikel (who has been outstanding recently) and Sturridge are two more pluses, and as soon as I saw Drogba’s name on the team sheet I sighed with relief.
Carvalho – one of our worst players on Wednesday night – is a minus, and so are Ballack, Alex and Joe Cole. I simply don’t understand why Ancelotti doesn’t play Bruma, Matic, Kakuta or Borini in a game like this – how else are players like those four going to get the match experience they will need for next season if we don’t play them against Cardiff reserves?
The formation was the familiar 4-1-4-1 off the ball, changing to 4-1-2-3 on the ball.
Some contributors on this blog have diagnosed me as having bipolar disorder, a serious psychiatric malady in which the patient can switch from manic elation to suicidal depression in just a few seconds. Evidence for these mental health issues was there in plenty during the first three minutes of this game. I noticed immediately that Cardiff had borrowed Everton’s tactics: playing high up the field with fierce physical challenges, harrying and hustling all the way. Carvalho immediately started flapping and after just 80 seconds played a pass straight to the Cardiff forwards who went galloping into our penalty area. Just as I was settling down for a re-run of Wednesday night’s shambles, the Drog’s Bollocks scored. With two minutes on the clock John Obi Mikel played a long ball into space for Drogs to chase and he flicked it past the keeper’s left. Brilliant! But game over? Not a chance.
Going 1-0 up was the cue for Ballack to go to sleep, Joe Cole to start wasting possession, Carvalho to keep on flapping, and for Alex to start playing like a gorilla on barbiturates. Cardiff stuck to their game plan and went on to dominate the rest of the half. David Jones must have been watching the Everton match and decided that Zhirkov was another weak link as many attacks developed down their right wing.
A citation for John Obi Mikel. He was simply immense today and, at times, seemed to be holding the team together this half with his positional sense, short-passing, and hard tackling. And he is still only 22 years old. What a player he can be.
Alex was booked for holding back Bothroyd on nine minutes, who would have gone through on goal otherwise. While Percy, who was struggling against Chopra, managed to execute a somersault after a perfectly fair tackle and got Chopra booked. Shame on him.
Two corners were narrowly cleared in the 10th and 12th minute with our defence apparently staring in amazement as the ball sailed over their heads onto an opposition forehead. Hilario did well to save a great shot that came back in from Gerrard.
I kept staring at the screen trying to work why we struggle against limited, but hard-working, muscular teams. And I think I know why. If a terrorist like Jay Bothroyd or a terrier like Louis Saha gets stuck into our centre-backs our team gets nervous and gives away possession. Going forward into a packed opposition we seem to have a problem moving through the middle from the centre circle to the penalty area. Time and again we lost possession in that space. With an on-form Anelka and Malouda there then there isn’t a problem. With an off-form Joe Cole or Malouda us supporters quickly develop bipolar disorder.
The equaliser came from yet another set-piece – the 16th we’ve conceded this season. To Alex’s complete surprise the ball was lofted in to the penalty area to Chopra, at which point – several seconds too late – Alex decided to stop running and play him offside. Chopra will probably never head in an easier goal.
Just to remind you what Carlo said after our last set-piece concession against mighty Hull City:
“Yes, I know very well how many goals we’ve conceded from set-pieces. Every team in England has a good jumper, a good striker and it can happen that teams score from set-pieces.”
And here was me thinking that Italian managers were renowned for coaching teams in the art of defence. What does he teach people on that expensive state-of-the-art training ground?
It could have been worse as Bothroyd let fly with another shot four minutes later, which was handily saved by Hilario. Aside from three off-target efforts from Lamps and Sturridge our only real threat came from an overhead kick delivered by Drogs.
The second half
Solomon Kalou came on for Joe Cole. There has been a heated debate on here about Joe Cole’s performances recently but Joe gave his defenders little ammunition today. He really does seem like a ghostly shadow of the player he once became under Jose.
I was fairly sure that Carlo had been swearing in Italian during the half-time break, which is what he does when he loses his temper. We looked much more in control after half-time. Drogs was at the centre of almost every attempt on goal; Ferreira/Kalou linked well on the right with Zhirkov/Sturridge looking a little more with it on the left. Unfortunately, while Daniel looked fast, tricky and aggressive (everything Joe Cole is not) there was little end-product.
Drogs was probably our saviour today as, without his contribution, this one might have gone to a replay. He was tireless in defence and attack and constantly on at Kalou and Sturridge to deliver more. After 51 minutes we got on the counter-attack with Drogs in midfield. In a kind of role reversal he looped it forward for Ballack. I thought he was off-side but no – a perfectly-timed run from Der Kaiser – who flicked it in (I will call him ‘Ballack’ – or even ‘Ballacks’ when he plays as he did in the first-half, and ‘Der Kaiser’ when he plays like the captain of Germany).
By now, I noticed that Alex and Carvalho were getting stuck into Bothroyd (their Man of the Match) and Chopra with some tasty tackles, one of which resulted in Percy going off for treatment to a head wound. As a result, Cardiff gradually faded out of the match.
The third goal came on 69 minutes, with Drogba again instrumental. John Obi cut up still another Cardiff counter-attack and the ball broke for Sturridge. He laid it off to Didier who back-heels it back to Daniel, who sweeps it in.
I really hope that misleading nickname ‘Studge’ doesn’t stick. Calling him ‘Daniel’ is fine with me. He deserved his goal today as his attitude and work-rate was all that we have come to expect from a Chelsea player.
And that really was game over. Why we didn’t introduce Bruma at this point, with us 3-1 up against Cardiff reserves, and Percy on a yellow card and a face wound, is beyond me. Borini finally came on in the 88th minute but only after Malouda had come on for Daniel (why? Does Florence need more match experience at this level?).
There was one more highlight to come. Paolo (who played very well today, in my opinion) flighted over a slightly low cross towards the penalty spot and Kalou, with incredible agility, bent backwards and headed it over the keeper. I find Salomon frustrating at times but he is an undeniably good squad player. And he was very good on his 45 minutes today.
As usual, I will dispense with what Moffat calls ‘quimy’ player ratings and offer some thumbs-up-and-down-and-sideways instead.
Hilario. Thumbs up. A tiny bit uncertain sometimes but two good saves and some confident collections made up for that.
Alex. Thumb down. A better second-half display after his half-time rollocking (?) gave him an adrenalin blood-shot. But his dozy, clueless, first-half might have cost us the game.
Carvalho. Thumb sideways. Corporal Jones in the first half. But won the second half-battle with Bothroyd.
Ferreira. Thumb up. Have always liked Paulo. And he was Mr Dependable today.
Zhirkov. Thumb sideways. Doesn’t look like a left-back to me and it is interesting that we have recalled Van Aanholt, our 19-year old left-back from Newcastle, following Ashley’s injury. But looked good going forward sometimes, with Daniel in front of him.
Mikel. Thumb up. See below.
Lampard. Thumb up. Not one of his best performances and some of his shots were wasteful. But tireless in the Captain’s role today.
Ballack/Der Kaiser. Thumb sideways. You wouldn’t have known he was playing in the first half but a wonderfully timed goal decided the match in the second.
Sturridge. Thumb up. I really do like him. I suspect that his end-product would improve even more if he were given a decent run-out.
Joe Cole. Thumb down. Abysmal.
Kalou. Thumb up. Looked fast and menacing moving forward and a vast improvement on Joe Cole.
Drogba. Thumb up. See below.
Malouda/Borini. No thumb signals as both had too little time to make an impact.
Man of the Match
I really wanted to give this to John Obi Mikel, who if he carries on playing like he has in the last three games, will soon become a Chelsea legend. But Drogs – who is already a legend – wins it on a Rooneyesque one-man display.
- We are in the quarter-finals yet again.
- The Drog’s Bollocks.
- Cardiff Football Club. To come here with half of their first-choice regulars missing and play with the passion they did today deserves immense respect. David Jones managed them with craft and guile and – until the 69th minute – looked like taking something from this tie. And their away support were still singing and dancing until the last minute.
- The FA. The whole match was televised from the FA website free of charge. How about Chelsea TV making the same service available (at a small charge for supporters who can’t get tickets?), replaying the match immediately after the final whistle if Sky/ESPN aren’t covering?
- John Terry. A handsome apology in the match-day programme, which took full responsibility for his errors against Everton. And thanked all of us for backing him up against the tabloid witch-hunt.
- We are in the quarter-finals again – meaning another postponed match and another midweek fixture (against Portsmouth) while our Premier League title tilt falters.
- Ray Wilkins. Still don’t get what Buster Bloodvessel does for this squad.
OK, it was only Cardiff. But full credit for the second-half turn around. If we can get JT, Percy and Alex back to playing like proper centre-halves we might have a chance of getting three points against Wolverhampon Wanderers next Saturday.