The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The prize itself was of little note but rivalry is inescapable for these clubs. If their minds were not on the Community Shield itself, each team must still be obsessed with the other. For Manchester United the motivation was particularly keen as they confronted opponents who took the Premier League and the FA Cup just a few months ago.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “This was a tale of Little Pea and Quick Pee, of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Wayne “Wazza” Rooney, who both demonstrated why Manchester United can never be ruled out of contention for any competition. Too much class, new and old, exists. Too much hunger fills those famous red shirts. … Chelsea, their pride piqued, will simply take defeat as a reminder of the weighty challenge to their title. Insert Ramires in midfield, get Didier Drogba fitter and Michael Essien sharper and Chelsea will be as formidable as ever.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea succumbed to Manchester United today as two goals in the second half proved too much for the Blues to come back from. A winner in the final minute from Dimitar Berbatov ensured the Shield heads north, despite a late Chelsea onslaught on Edwin van der Sar’s goal. The last time these two teams met in the competition it ended 2-2, when a last-minute Wayne Rooney goal ensured the fixture was decided on penalties, eventually won by the Blues.”
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” (Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849)
There are many ways in which one can interpret this quote. The simplest conclusion that arises is that the one thing that we can be sure of, the only thing that is consistent in life, is that nothing is permanent. And that seems strangely appropriate when discussing Chelsea at present.
We all know that nothing is ever permanent in football and it is that constant change which keeps bringing us fans back for another taste of that heady mix of ecstasy, despair and for long stretches of the season, utter mediocrity. Someone recently told me that they were taking a break from football and in their case supporting Arsenal (if you even consider giving up on your club then you’re not really much of a fan, but that’s beside the point) because it suddenly dawned on them that in their words “none of it really matters.” He thought that after twenty years of loyal support, it just wasn’t worth the pain of riding that crushingly disappointing rollercoaster anymore. Ever since Roman and Chelsea changed the face of football (I hate using that arrogant and hyperbolic phrase but it fits in this situation), he’s watched Arsene put together endless variations of Barcelona-lite only for a big bully (us) or a rich bully (us) or an immovable object (Fergie) to come along and trample all over their kindergarten. Far from nothing ever being permanent in football, for him and many other football fans, things have appeared to stay the same for a little too long now.
And even though we have absolutely no right to complain, at first glance, a sense of déjà vu does appear to be hanging over Chelsea. For better or for worse, our squad has barely changed and as Double winners that may not be such a bad thing. We have experience, power and a winning mentality to protect so missing out on the likes of Kaka and Torres may have been a blessing in disguise. After all, Carlo and Ray were able to steer a Scolari-ruined rabble to the Treble (if Jose counts the Community Shield as a trophy then so will I) with only Zhirkov, Sturridge and Turbull “improving” the squad so a Double winning side plus the tricky and underrated Benayoun may be good enough to win the lot. However, continuity can sometimes lead to stagnation and an experienced squad only needs a few poor results to turn into an elderly one and even though our Lampard-Drogba double-act has probably been this side’s greatest advantage over our rivals, at one point in the near future that strength will turn into over reliance. The biggest problem I have with a lack of evolution in our squad is that we seem to be ignoring one of Fergie’s best pearls of wisdom; that you should always improve your squad from a position of strength. So when you win a big trophy, if you have to ability to spend some money on quality players, you should. Instead of sitting back and admiring your title winning squad you have to jump further ahead of your rivals and go again in the transfer market. Just as we brought in Michael Essien after our first title win – which then helped us win it again – Fergie bought Tevez after wrestling the title off Jose and was then able to win three in a row. This summer presents a great opportunity to blow our rivals away, with Utd languishing in debt, Arsene playing babysitter for the sixth consecutive year and Liverpool placing all their eggs in Woy’s incredibly average basket, and if we don’t improve now, then that could be a very costly decision indeed. City have hoovered up most of the A- talent across Europe and as soon as they can combine their Oil money with Champions League football, then we could easily get left behind in future years. We will never become also-rans like Arsenal but if we miss this summer’s window to refresh our squad then we may be fighting with a rather big fish in future transfer windows.
However, at the risk of contradicting myself, this pre-season does feel a little different to the past two or three and the club does appear to have changed in the close season. Firstly, we’re Double winners so the swagger and confidence that comes with success appears to be back. Secondly, we haven’t had to scramble around for a new manager which is always a bonus. We have one of the five best managers in the world and sticking with him for the next three of four years is the only thing we should be thinking about. But Carlo has overseen some significant changes this summer. Loyal and dedicated servants have left (Joe and Michael Ballack), as have some crucial figures who never quite did it at the club (Deco and Belletti) and Ricky and possibly Hilario look like they could still be shipped out. The fact that we have lost such experience and class should not be overlooked as Deco was brilliant in a surprisingly large number of matches last season (Villa at home comes to mind) and if Ballack hadn’t filled in so perfectly in the holding role or Joe flicked in with that back-heel, our run-in would have collapsed. In their place have come the likes of Ramires (Brazilian Essien), Matic (alarmingly slow), Bruma (future star), Borini (just not good enough at this level), Kakuta (a wonderkid who just hasn’t been given a chance) and perhaps Josh and Patrick Van Aanholt. All or none of these kids may become future Chelsea greats but their arrival hasn’t led to the youthful, pacy boost I was expecting.
Fitness may be the chief aim of pre-season but winning is a habit and the performances seen on our Dutch and German tours were worrying to say the least. Our goalkeeping situation is an embarrassment and doesn’t need to be looked into here but the fact that Anelka has looked dismal thus far and the likes of Kalou, Yossi and Malouda have been rather anonymous should be cause for concern. Many say that little can be drawn from pre-season but it certainly didn’t hurt for Carlo to beat the likes of Inter Milan on our US tour last year. It brought confidence to the squad and that winning habit led to us gaining maximum points from our first six games. Something just seems to be a little bit off in this summer’s performances and it can’t all be blamed on a World Cup hangover. Perhaps this old side has just reached its peak and even if you want to write off the past three defeats, today would be the first opportunity for the doubters to see if Carlo really can equal last year’s success with the likes of Frank, Didier and Nico another year older and only Ramires and Yossi coming in. I have complete trust in Carlo’s managerial ability but if he is unable to bring in the players he wants to, then this may be a dreaded transitional season. If it is, then so be it, but with the opportunity to push further ahead of our rivals staring us in the face, to sit back would be a regrettable mistake in my eyes.
Hilario; Paulo, Ivanovic, JT, Cole; Mikel, Essien, Frank; Kalou, Anelka, Malouda
Subs: Turnbull, Bruma, Yossi, Zhirkov, Sturridge, Drogba, Van Aanholt
A rather strange line-up in my opinion. Not only because it included the clown that is Hilario but because we again decided to overlook Kakuta. Surely he deserves a place on the bench and with Joe leaving, I actually thought that he would be pushing Kalou for a starting role.
As for Utd, well Rooney and Mickey Owen were back and Green Pea was on the bench.
The day started off rather well for us. We all got to see Franco leading out the FA welcome party and he seemed to get a particularly warm welcome from Carlo in his rather dapper, new D&G suit, which was nice. The side then began the match confidently as we kept the ball for the first three minutes with some rather impressive keep-ball. We may not have gone anywhere, but to see the side keep possession with neat, passing and moving triangles was a huge improvement on the Germany tour. However, the match soon settled down to the pre-season friendly we feared it would be instead of the competitive match-up many hoped for. The pattern was set as we would keep the ball for two or three minutes with some pointless possession amongst our back four and then an aimless long ball would lead to Utd having two or three minutes of keep ball. There was the odd chance such as Ivanovic’s bullet header or Valencia’s under hit lob as Hilario came running out in suicidal fashion (more on that later) but for the most part the first 15 minutes went by at a glacial pace.
The tempo of the match plummeted further as the clock struggled to reach the twenty minute mark and but for a Rooney cross shot and an Anelka long-range effort, absolutely nothing was happening. Most of the attention centred on Paul Scholes for the rest of the half as after miraculously escaping a booking for an awful hack on Malouda, he soon began to control the match. It was worrying to see our midfield three of Frank, Mikel and Essien struggle to get anywhere near Utd’s midfield pairing of Scholes and Carrick so early in the match as Carlo must have thought that a 4-3-3 would be able to dominate the archaic flat 4-4-2. The fact that we were consistently too slow to pressurise their central midfield meant that after our impressive opening, we were soon forced onto the back foot as Scholes grew into his quarterback role. He had the space and time to pick out Valencia’s runs in behind Ashley, almost at will, and in the end that led to the opening goal just on the eve of half time. A perfectly weighted Scholes through ball found Rooney near the corner flag. Seemingly with no options available to him, he drilled a brilliant reverse pass into the box for Valencia to pass into the net. It was a world-class goal which we could do little about and despite Utd barely deserving it, the lack of creativity and attacking threat on show from us meant that we had little to complain about.
The second half began with a number of Utd substitutions including the much-hyped debut of Little Pea and happily for us a change in mentality. Realising that a fourth straight defeat and the relinquishing of a legitimate trophy is hardly the best preparation for a new season, we began to play at a higher tempo and create a few half-chances. They may only have been long shots from Malouda and Kalou but it was a significant improvement on the impotent showing from our front men in the first half. Utd may have been non-existent in this half but Carlo clearly wasn’t happy and after 15 minutes Didier and Daniel Sturridge were brought on for Anelka and Mikel. This bold move nearly led to an immediate equaliser as the tricky and pacy Sturridge helped to set up further efforts from Malouda, a rather timid half-volley from Kalou and a 25 yard curler from Essien. We continued to dominate proceedings as the impressive Ferreira threw in cross after cross, one of which nearly led to a volleyed equaliser from Ashley but our obvious lack of pace meant that we ultimately struggled to break down their rather deep back four.
In the end pace decided the match as despite not touching the ball for the first twenty minutes of the half, Utd were able to grab a second on the break with a very simple goal. Another Scholes long ball in behind Ashley found Valencia whose drilled cross was bundled home by Chicharito. It was unfair on us but it was telling that Valencia’s raw pace was able to finish this match for Utd. We may have been controlling the match but much like the first half, our one-paced and slow possession football resulted in little penetration and ultimately we had been punished by two injections of pace from Utd. The impressive Sturridge soon gave us hope with some incisive runs from the right wing and it was his curling effort which enabled Kalou to pull one back with eight minutes to go. It led to a mini revival as Sturridge and Didier both had shots go close but ultimately our play didn’t deserve an equaliser and with added time nearly up, Berbatov soon scored a third into an empty net from 25 yards out. You may be wondering where Hilario was and his absence was due to some more suicidal decision making. He may only have ruined three clearances in the first 92 minutes of the match but his decision to come running out to the edge of the box when he had no chance of reaching the ball before Berbatov was disgraceful for a goalkeeper at a world class club like ours. If he had stayed in his goal then Berbatov would have had to come up with a rasping 20 yard volley to find the back of the net, but instead all he had to do was lift the ball into an empty net. It was fucking embarrassing and was a rather appropriate end to our dismal pre-season thus far.
- Essien – Another 90 minutes under his belt was a bonus and despite looking rusty in front of goal, his return to “competitive” action was a welcome one. An unstoppable pairing with Ramires looks mouth-watering but it was worrying to see that when Carlo looked for more creativity in midfield, all he could think of was shifting Malouda inside meaning an injury to Essien would leave our midfield completely bare.
- Paulo – A surprisingly adventurous showing from our most loyal of loyal servants and as he always he never let us down.
- Sturridge – The fact he had pace meant that he immediately jumped to the top of the list in terms of our most impressive performers and compared to Kalou, he was brilliant. Kalou may have got the goal but it was Sturridge who had the greatest effect on the game for us. An outside bet for a start next week?
- The pitch – It was great. That’s about it.
- Our general play – Too slow and too predictable. Our power and experience has allowed us to breeze past most opponents but today exposed us as an old side lacking pace. As soon as Sturridge came on we improved and that was for the simple reason that we had an out-ball and someone who could beat his defender. It makes the decision to leave out Kakuta all the more baffling but with Carlo saying that “they deserved to win because we played too slowly in the first half,” it’s clear to me that we need a new attacking signing. Our side is clearly lacking pace and unfortunately for him, Kalou is not the answer. He’s a great super-sub but still an erratic starter and if we don’t bring in a new signing, I’m not sure if we’ll have enough to break down the inevitable string of parked buses we’ll have to contend with this season.
- Anelka – Completely anonymous.
- Zhirkov – I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed but this pre-season his passing has been shocking and despite the Hamburg back-pass hopefully being a one-off, he nearly repeated the trick today. A worrying run of form for the Russian.
- Hilario – 3/10 – I don’t really care that his kicking improved today. He’s a terrible keeper whose role in the third goal was simply embarrassing.
- Paulo – 7/10 – He just never lets you down.
- Ivanovic – 6/10 – A bit rusty. He’s clearly usurped Ricky but that lazy defending for their second played Valencia onside when JT and Ash had pushed up.
- JT – 7/10 – Calm, controlled and no errors.
- Cole – 7/10 – A regular attacking threat and was perhaps a little too keen to shut up those booing him from the crowd as his attacking runs left us a bit open to Valencia’s runs.
- Mikel – 6/10 – Calm on the ball but will lose his place to Essien when Ramires moves in next to Frank.
- Essien – 6/10 – Still a little rusty but he’ll soon make that holding role his own in a formidable midfield three with Frank and Ramires.
- Frank – 6/10 – Clever switching of play helped to keep the pitch as wide as possible but he was strangely absent from Utd’s penalty box and still looks unfit to me.
- Kalou – 6/10 – Got his goal which was a bonus but his touch was poor at times and he wasted the chance to regularly beat Fabio who is an inexperienced and weak left-back.
- Malouda – 7/10 – Tricky, incisive running and some dangerous long shots meant he was a level above a number of others.
- Anelka – 5/10 – An unfit Didier recovering from an operation did more than him and his awful pre-season form continues.
- Didier (sub) – 5.5/10 – A little more effective than Anelka but that’s not saying much. His attempt at dribbling was so clumsy that he succeeded in bundling his way through three Utd challenges but Carlo still thinks he’s two weeks away from full fitness and without him, we look weak up front.
- Sturridge (sub) – 8/10 – Very impressive. His one-on-one miss was a worrying introduction but after that he seemed to enjoy his right-wing role. A number of incisive runs and rasping shots later, he had helped us bag a consolation and after today, I’d start him ahead of Kalou.
- Yossi (sub) – 5/10 – Anonymous. Did he touch the ball?
- Zhirkov (sub) – 4/10 – Awful. £21m for him would be the sale of the century if Coentrao is available for £16m.
- Bruma (sub) – 5/10 – Didn’t do anything which was hardly his fault.
Man of the Match
For us it could only be Sturridge but it would be ridiculous to ignore Valencia and Scholes’ effect on this game. I’d give it to Valencia whose pace tore us apart twice.
So what do you make of that then? A fourth straight defeat and yet another performance lacking in creativity and attacking threat. Our possession and movement has improved since Hamburg but we seem to be lacking a spark in the final third. Frank was hardly involved today and you can see what happens when out best player fails to create anything for the rest of the side: we create fuck all basically. I’m a little annoyed that everyone at the club seems to be brushing off this dismal form as “only pre-season losses.” On paper, they’re completely right but looking in from afar, it’s clear that this side needs tweaking. The club have done well to move on Joe, Belletti, Ballack, Deco and probably Ricky and the arrivals of Yossi and especially Ramires will certainly help us but much in the same way Alex McLeish complains about at Birmingham, we’ve only replaced those how have moved on and as yet have failed to actually add anything new to the side. Two bursts of pace and a neat passing move cost us the game today and it was only Sturridge’s pace which enabled us to get back into the game. That should tell Carlo that with Malouda, Didier and Nico as his preferred front three, we may struggle to break down a number of defences this season. That trio lacks pace and creativity and despite them guiding us home in last season’s run-in, opposition defences will be ready for them this year. As Utd showed today, a deep and resolute defence and easily keep us out and perhaps the only good thing Carlo can take from this is that yet another disappointing defeat should act as a wake-up call to the players and hopefully Roman about what is needed in the remaining weeks of the transfer window if we are to retain our League and Cup Double.