The Guardian, Paul Wilson: “This was a better result than the one Chelsea achieved in this fixture last season, when they lost 2-1, and, given Manchester United’s slip-up at home, they will have been happy enough to escape with a point. Had Didier Drogba been available they would probably have gone home with all three, for, while Aston Villa shaded the first half, the league leaders completely bossed the second, yet found Nicolas Anelka never quite capable of delivering a killer blow.”
Daily Telegraph, Sandy Macaskill: “Sir Alex Ferguson can let out a sigh of relief. Chelsea, who could have gone seven points clear at the top of the table and taken the Premier League by the scruff of the neck, were held to a meagre point by Aston Villa, which would have been considered a decent return by their travelling fans bearing in mind their injuries had Branislav Ivanovic not hit the post and Nicolas Anelka the bar with just minutes to go.”
The Independent, Steve Tongue: “The champions, unstoppable at the start of the season but badly missing Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard here, have now failed to find the net twice in three games and are fortunate that Manchester United seem incapable of taking advantage. City, who beat them earlier this month, and Arsenal may yet more prove durable challengers.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea failed to score for the second away league game running but did hit the woodwork twice in the second half.”
It’s all a bit weird at the moment isn’t it? For me it’s like the time you buy a new set of golf clubs, and for a while it all feels good and new and shiny. But you’re game doesn’t improve, and in some ways it gets worse. Putts you normally sink miss by the odd centimetre. Drives are two percent out and you end up with a ‘powerfade’, the polite name for a slice. You start to spend a lot of time in gorse bushes being pricked by angry thorns. Suddenly the ball budget for losing one per game rises to three or four or worse. But the clubs are shiny, and everyone knows you chose them and you’re duty bound to stick by them. The professional had promised you they’d improve your game, after all they were built and sold on the premise of ‘more yardage’ and more accuracy. Moving back to them old reliable clubs means losing face amongst your fellow hackers. Irrespective of their own golfing incapability they will mercilessly rib you on the decline of your game with the shiny new clubs. It’s a war of attrition now, with your own pig-headed stubbornness forcing you to persevere with the clubs lest you show weakness to your golf mates. But despite your belief that they will bed in, that you’ll become accustomed to them. That time will heal the rift between man and precision engineered, extra loft, rear weighted, cavity backed, wide soled, low centre of gravity based implement. But it doesn’t happen, and your faith is subconsciously eroded like rocks being battered by Atlantic breakers. Confidence slides and by the time you’ve noticed it your game is shot to pieces. Every shot is a torment, every club feels like you’re wielding a saucepan welded to a broom handle. And then one day, you have an epiphany moment. The darkness subsides, the sun rises, out come the old clubs, battered but working, no longer shiny and bright, but comfortable. Like an old friend you take them to the course, and everything returns over the 18. When you’re friends notice you couldn’t care less because you are back. The man is back. Like comfortable shoes, the snug fit and the feeling of long lost friends returning means the fragile confidence seems to rush back in.
The world is suddenly okay again. It’s alright. It’s fine.
This may be the inaugural post on our return to our spiritual home, albeit with a slight change of URL (copyrights and the like). It feels good, it feels like we’ve seen the light. And who knows we may even have the fine facility of a comments edit button again, to allow those of us with the typing skills of a man with rubber mallets instead of hands.
To the game my friends…
Well with an injury list reading like a roll call taken after the Battle of The Somme, with Drogba, Kalou, Alex, Sturridge, Lampard and Benayoun out and Terry purportedly carrying a back injury, matched with a dismal record at Villa Park this game was always going to be a rough ride, likely to be decided with a marginal single goal win from either side.
Carlo continued to show the pizazz with which he is building his reputation in England (even rumoured to be in line for the England job… thankfully he hasn’t been certified mad yet) by naming the side on Friday again. The tactics schmactics were 11 vs 11, or for those who find the wood by dissecting them, it was a 4-3-3 with Malouda, Anelka and the bright young Kakuta occupying the front three positions, Essien, Obi (yet again marvellous) and Ramires marshalling the midfield and a sturdy back four of the ever reliable Paolo Ferreira, Ivanovic, JT and Ashley Cole. A bench full of kids plus Zhirkhov (who must be well pissed off with being left out), Turnbull and after a year out the welcome return of Jose Bosingwa set the scene for an enthralling game.
And then along came the first half. It’s not that we were bad, far from it really, but we just weren’t… all that bothered. Villa started brightly and missed a couple of good early chances, especially Stephen Ireland who would nine times from 10 have scored from such a position. But that was that, we huffed and puffed, they pushed and pulled, and 38,000 fans stifled yawns and cast their minds to what they might do that evening.
It was dull. In fact it was duller than dull. Twenty-two pretty evenly matched men basically cancelling each other out and producing an impasse that even the denouement of Reservoir Dogs could barely match – minus any trigger pulling of course. ESPN tried vainly to talk the half up, but as the phrase goes, you can put lipstick on a pig… but it’s still a pig. A much preferable term for me than the turd polishing maxim.
However dull it may have been, I was happy. All our players had done a shift, with Kakuta looking bright and comfortable, Ramires giving as good as he got and Obi and Essien simply making sure no-one got through. Obi really is starting took like a Viera-esque player. Villa are no mugs and we had not conceded anything, and with the injuries and our record I was more than happy to see the equilibrium of a no score draw.
When the second half kicked off I nearly had to use tunnel props to keep the eyelids from slamming shut. But, we started the half much as Villa had in the first, by being first to the ball and dominating possession. Yes, we had moved up a gear, when you suspect that all along Villa may well have already been in top gear. And I feel we had one or two more to move up to, but maybe without all the transmission cogs in place it was always unlikely. The rest of the half was pretty much a story of dominant possession from our lads, without an awful lot of chances coming to the fore. Quite like Arsenal really. The rock solid Ivanovic headed a blistering chance against the upright – he must be one of the hardest working players in the Premier League and one of the most underrated. Anelka also headed into the upright, doing everything right except finding the target, and Malouda hit a stinger straight at Friedel. Villa missed a real sitter at the end with Reo-Coker chipping Cech but missing the target after a howler by young McEachran, and Villa’s Clark getting the closest for the home team with a glancing header against the bar. But we held out, as did they, and the honours were even from what was a pretty dull game.
Due to a weekend of greenhouse construction and an 18th hole defeat at golf I’ll stick with the standard Good, Bad and Ugly fayre.
- John Mikel Obi – I keep seeing the words assured and calm in anything written about him, but this season seems like he has finally realised what he is and what he can do. Maybe Carlo has done this, maybe it was what he always promised, but either way it’s very welcome.
- Branislav Ivanovic – he was my player of last season and at this rate he’ll feature highly this year. Simply does the simple things simply.
- The kids on show – both Kakuta and McEachran acquitted themselves well barring McEachran’s horror show at the end, but he’ll learn.
- Florent Malouda and Anelka second half display – fabulous understanding and interplay between two obvious friends. At times, with that hair Malouda looked a lot like a stockier Gullitt.
- The overall team performance – from both sides. It didn’t make for great entertainment but it did give both sides a point that ultimately both will be happy with, possibly even breathing a sigh of relief.
- Man Utd drawing with West Brom – another two goal giveaway means the gap stays the same. United aren’t a spent force by any means, but this is a poor spell by their high standards and they must be casting anxious eyes towards North London and Eastlands.
- Bosingwa getting a little run. Welcome back Jose, welcome back.
- Arsenal and Citeh wins. City are looking more and more like the ones most likely to run us close this season.
- The atmosphere – the game didn’t help, but it did sound really flat at Villa Park.
- Lee Mason – not because of his refereeing which apart from some clumsy-footed getting in the way and a piss-poor booking of McEachran at the end, but simply based on aesthetics. An anaemic and effete Phil Mitchell one might say.
Player ratings – subjective and very probably illogical and unreasonable
Now I know some of you hate this but… being an intransigent, grumpy, irascible and generally unreasonable sort who loves nothing more than irritating the hell out of people I’m going to persevere with it. But I’m also lazy and bloody tired and so everyone gets a decent 7.5 apart from Obi and Branners with 8 each.
Manager rating – a decent 8 here as well as he did the best he could without complaining and he’s looking every part the civilised statesman of the Premier League.
Overall team performance – 7.5 out of 10 – Capable, professional, a little dull, a little staid, but a job decently done.
Man of the Match
I’ve had a good long think on this, and it was almost Obi, but ultimately for sheer bloody hard work across the back four the bouquet goes to the ever reliable Branislav Ivanovic.
No alarms and no surprises as Radiohead once sang. We move on to a midweek tough tussle against Spartak Moscow, a place for which I’d settle for an honourable draw again. Players are on the mend and we have a decent game against Wolves next week. So we can afford not to bring back players too early and to continue the policy of giving playing time to the youngsters. As I state earlier in the piece, Manchester City are building an impressive if not entertaining head of steam and we need to keep a close eye on them.
I for one am happy and see this game as a point gained rather than two lost – anything from Villa Park is good for us.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!