A little preamble
The headline for this article? You can blame our beloved Jonny Dyer (@KaiserJonny) for that. He cracked a similar ‘pun’ after a very good strike by our £32m steal from the loathsome Spurs which lit up a turgid second half today.
I issued him with a straight red Twitter card for that, and he may find himself in front of the Podding Shed disciplinary committee for being the purveyor of terrible ‘pun’ditry apparently without the influence of alcohol or drugs.
So, it fell upon me to watch the game and write a quick review of how things went. After our midweek rollover of Steaua Bucharest our two weeks would end with yet another away game, the fourth on the spin, and a potential banana skin with a tricky tie at a rapidly steadying Norwich City. A win meant two wins and a draw from those four away games, a statistic most managers would snatch your hand off for. A draw or defeat and no doubt we’d immediately lurch back to being the crisis club ‘de jour’ after good weekends for United, City and Liverpool.
Interesting note here… at the same stage in the 2004/05 season, Jose’s first, we are currently only three points worse off than then, and defensively we’ve conceded three more now than back then. How a crisis definition changes over the years!
So, with the new Mr Angry Torres suspended after our draw with Spurs, and Samuel Eto’o being coached into the wily ways required for the Premier League we opted for apparent reject Demba Ba, a player I like and who was widely received as a saviour last year, as our key striker. No huge shock as Cahill was left on the bench in favour of Luiz, Mikel omitted altogether (oddly in my view) and both Oscar and Mata being given the starting nod with Schurrle. On paper a team to compete with anyone in world football today.
One other oddity, we wore the white away kit rather than the accursed black kit, but as Norwich were in their familiar yellow/green combo, it does beg the question why we weren’t in blue? Well, obviously the kit suppliers want to shift all of our options but still, call me an old traditionalist, but you only change when there’s a clash of colours don’t you?
Anyway, it’s going to be brief because quite frankly this wasn’t for the most part, a game to write home about. From the whistle we looked sharp, controlling the game and having plenty of possession. For once this was rewarded with an early goal when a long ball forward was collected superbly by Ba, who laid the ball sweetly back to Oscar to strike with the outside of his boot and watch it spin past Ruddy. Just a minute before that we’d had a decent penalty claim turned down as usual when Ba was manhandled to the ground in the box. In all honesty that was fifty-fifty and it being so early in the game I understand the ref not wanting to give such a contentious decision.
After Oscar’s goal the pace of the game was pretty much controlled by Chelsea, with half chances coming to Ba quite often. Truth is Ba looked a right handful today and Norwich really didn’t seem to be able to cope with him. By the end of the first half the story was a familiar one of Chelsea apparently going in with a single goal lead but having had more than enough opportunities to be two or three up. Ba had played well, but with no striker on the goal sheet yet, it looks to me to be a confused picture as to who else has the right to score. Our midfield have the odd pop, especially Oscar, but Schurrle looks doomed to blast away from distance and keep missing, Mata for all his great skill seems to always be looking for someone else. A little too selfless in his case I think.
And then we had the second half. An even more typical story of us losing the plot, unable to control the ball, keep the ball and pass the ball with any fluency thus eventually giving succour to the opposition that they could still get something from the game. Norwich became more confident in the tackle and bit by bit they gained the upper hand in terms of possession. As this control grew, we began to look scrappy and disjointed. What had looked so comfortable first half suddenly stuttered and backfired. Eventually on 67 minutes a long cross from the Olsson on the left found the superbly named Ricky Van Wolfswinkel who cushioned the ball into the path of Pilkington to nip in front of Luiz and head what was a frankly deserved equalizer, and one that every Chelsea fan seemed to expect. Surprisingly none of the Chelsea Twitterati with whom I shared the game blamed Luiz. And it would have been wrong to anyway. The goal was simply well worked and two very good defenders allowed two good Norwich players to just slightly outwit them for once. Shit happens as they say.
After this The Happy One then decided to wave the magic wand. Within eight minutes, Eto’o had replaced Ba, Hazard had replaced Cole (who walked off holding his ribs) and Willian replaced Mata. Brave? Stupid? Desperate? Inspired? Knowing Jose, it was parts one and four. Almost immediately after going three at the back we started to look more fluid, if a little exposed once or twice as Norwich sniffed a winner. But Terry and Luiz are a solid pairing, and Schurrle was happy to be a winger and makeshift left-back when required. From a Norwich corner we broke with Hazard and Willian winning headers (they are amongst the shortest on the pitch) and Oscar delivering the ball for Tettey to mis-control, and Hazard doing what every talented player should, followed up and stayed with the ball in case of such an error and drove the ball under the foundering Ruddy. For an agonizing moment Ruddy’s attempted block looked like it might have done enough to stop the ball rolling over the line, but in the end no technology was needed and it went three feet over before Ruddy could claw it away. At this point I’d have taken us holding the ball and closing the game down, but with minutes we’d broken again and the loose ball fell to Willian who struck the ball superbly, and curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner. No ‘keeper would have got that. It was a strike of utter class, and precision, and power. A worthy winner, and a welcome first for the second of our Hair Bear duo. I thought I heard Spurs fans cough a little sick into their mouths when that flew in.
And so a humdrum second half ended with a flurry of goals and excitement. Norwich hearts dropped, fans drifted away as they realized they would not be coming back from those two goals. Delia no doubt whispered an order for a post-match large glass of Rioja.
Chelsea win, and a potential rough four away game period ends with a fortnight off for the international matches. We can enjoy the mini break. I can go off for my 300 MILE RIDE FOR PROSTATE CANCER (text TGLO61 £5 (or more) to 70070 or donate here) knowing the day after I can gingerly sit in my seat at Stamford Bridge, saddle sores and all, and hope to see us show Cardiff City exactly what it means to play at the home of Jose’s Army.
Thrilling it may not be, but slowly and surely the Jose master plan appears to be taking shape. Rotate and motivate seems the order of the day. Juan Mata seems to have responded to Jose’s demand with more robust tracking and defensive help. David Luiz seems calmer now, although the cheeky attempt from the half way line shows he’ll still try and thrill the crowd. Schurrle is hard working even if the goals are elusive. Yes, we have an apparent striker problem, but we’ve not failed to score for five games now so as I said earlier, we still seem a way from being a crisis club. A title which the hacks seem desperate to share around on a weekly basis. Much like 2004/05 we’re slowly grinding away and getting some form and confidence together, and lest we forget, we had poor games under Jose before, but we perfected the much maligned art of winning whilst not playing well. Results breed results and winning breeds confidence.
So take a break everyone, relax for a fortnight, watch the internationals to help you sleep and when it all starts again on the 19th, the day after my three day epic bike ride, then perhaps the season can start in earnest.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “The risk-taker in José Mourinho is alive and kicking. This contest had been drifting away from Chelsea when, a quarter of an hour from the end, the Portuguese gambled his team’s shape by flinging on more attacking pace and invention, with such bold ambition rewarded at the last. A first away win in the Premier League since returning to the club sent the Portuguese into the international break with his team upwardly mobile.”
The Daily Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “The first goal of Willian’s Chelsea career could yet turn out to be the finest. A sumptuous strike, laced with the inside of his left boot, finally broke the obduracy of Norwich City as Jose Mourinho’s players claimed their maiden away victory of the season with a devastating late salvo. For all the elegance of the winner, this was a reprieve for Chelsea. After Oscar’s sharp opener had threatened a thrashing, the home side somehow fashioned a path back into this engrossing contest, Anthony Pilkington’s equaliser proving a just reward for a period of sustained pressure. But once Eden Hazard rounded off a lightning counterattack, the stage was left for the £30 million man from Sao Paulo to apply his memorable flourish.”
The Independent, Aidan Semmens: “So Jose Mourinho is still waiting for the first Premier League goal of the season by a Chelsea striker – apart from those scored by Romelu Lukaku on loan at Everton. Not that the Chelsea manager will mind too much if his midfielders go on punishing opponents as thoroughly as they punished Norwich yesterday for the temerity of believing they could beat his side.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea picked up our first away win in the league this season thanks to late goals from substitutes Eden Hazard and Willian. Anthony Pilkington’s close-range header had deservedly levelled things up for Norwich midway through the second half, Oscar having given the Blues a very early lead. Demba Ba was a constant thorn in the Norwich backline but couldn’t add to our lead in the opening 45 minutes, and we were punished when Pilkington nodded home after getting ahead of David Luiz. Willian scored his first goal for Chelsea after Hazard had put us back ahead, the Brazilian’s glorious, curling effort a fitting way to mark his first goal for the club.”