The press reports
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “Football can be brutal sometimes and, for Bolton Wanderers, the ordeal was harrowing, painfully embarrassing and accompanied by the soundtrack of loud, impassioned jeers. Chelsea took them apart in every department, piece by piece, from A to Z, displaying their title credentials while exposing the faults that leave Bolton entrenched at the bottom of the league.”
The Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “The Chelsea manager will have enjoyed this, at times, breathtaking display. It contained two superbly-crafted goals and a bravura display by Frank Lampard who collected a hat-trick – the fifth of his career at the club. But he will not have enjoyed the humiliation of Coyle.”
The Independent, Ian Herbert: “Lampard became the first Premier League midfielder to score three hat-tricks yesterday and the general role he played in Chelsea’s eighth consecutive win here was enough to challenge the idea that his two demotions to Andre Villas-Boas’ substitutes’ bench makes him yesterday’s man. “He has this sense of timing into the box. Today he found it to perfection. His numbers were always the most impressive part of his game,” Villas-Boas said of him last night, a more personal tribute than usual, though hardly effusive.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “It was drizzling in Lancashire as most of England was enjoying a mini heatwave but Chelsea’s attacking play lit up the day as far as our supporters were concerned, Frank Lampard hitting a hat-trick and Daniel Sturridge scoring twice.”
The majority of fans I speak to are quietly pleased with our progress so far this term. The consensus view on Andre Villas-Boas is that he is doing unexpectedly well. What many thought might take him months to achieve he has done in weeks: introduced new tactics, with two or three different formations on view most matches; brought in good new players; instilled more intensity into our play; given the youngsters a few chances; and made some bold selections with stalwarts like Lampard, Drogba, JT, and Ashley all benched at one time or another.
Good ratings have accrued for Bosingwa (a revelation this season for some), Meireles and, above all, Juan Mata. Ramires is another favourite although his erratic shooting is a downside. About Torres I fear opinion is divided. The majority (me included) think he works hard for the team and is going to be a huge striker for us. But a significant minority think it too early to tell yet, believing that two goals in nine matches is not much of a return so far and that he might well have a jinx on him given his injuries and that red card against Swansea.
Turning to our results the opinions put to me seem far more diffuse. Some detect a revival of that Mourinhoesque resilience and bloody-minded win-mentality that enabled us to overcome Fulham with ten men with our first penalty shoot-out win in seven attempts, while others think we look too fragile at the back and make hard work of beating teams that look average at best. Like me they identify our wayward shooting and poor goal-conversion rate as the main factor here.
Strangely, hardly anyone I know believes our 3-1 loss to United is a cause for concern for many believe we would have won it were it not for Dowd, his linesmen, and the rub of the green. That might be going too far, for me, but I really do believe we might be at the start of something very, very good. An emphatic win will give some substance to that developing story.
As soon as I wrote that final paragraph that hopeless, morbid, defeatist Chelsea fan in my head (the survivor of numerous cock-ups and heroic failures going back to 1967) squawked: ‘Bet you don’t beat Bolton today!’ and ‘Just like Chelsea to fuck-up against the bottom team!’ etc etc.
And, indeed, there may be grounds for concern. After their opening day 0-4 win away to QPR they have lost their last five matches. But four of those losses were to Liverpool, Arsenal, Man United and Citeh so that might be a statistical aberration.
On the other hand our record against Bolton is excellent. We have won our last six matches against them and (a record for the Premier League) we have won our last eight matches away at the Reebok stadium with the last a 4-0 win in January. Missing players are a problem for them too. Holden, Sean Davis, Alonso, Ricketts are all injured; Klasnic and Wheater are suspended, and their very fine Finnish keeper – Jaaskelainen – is a major doubt, while the on-loan Kakuta is ineligible for obvious reasons.
After losing their first four games Owen Coyle has changed their formation. Ominously for us it is now a 4-5-1 with Ngog left alone up front and I hear that they parked the bus at the Emirates with Arsenal unable to get a single shot on target in the first half although Bolton eventually lost 3-0. If they do the same at home I foresee problems for us if we retain our erratic shooting habits. Analysis shows that most of Bolton’s goals so far this season have come from set-pieces and we haven’t been defending against those too well in our matches so far. However, as I write, I hear that Coyle has brought back Kevin Davies alongside Ngog and has reverted to a 4-4-2. I would guess from that decision is that he is hoping Davies will bully our centre-backs into making mistakes; a job Davies is pre-eminently fitted to perform.
Even so bookies seem to see the result as a foregone conclusion. You can only get 4/11 on an away win, with 7/2 on the draw and a whopping 9/1 on a home win. Surely things can’t do wrong there says the fragile optimist in me?
It seems Owen Coyle is best mates with AVB after they did their UEFA Pro Licence badge together in Scotland four years ago:
‘He is an absolute gentleman… when you sit down with him you find he is a gem. He is somebody whose company you like. You could sit and chat with him all night about football, and any other topic, because he is a very intelligent man as well. And what a lot of people might not know about him is he has a very good sense of humour. He joined in with the banter, gave as good as he got, and we liked that about him. He didn’t take himself too seriously. If you give a bit of stick you have to take some as well. We all did that openly with a big smile on our face, and he was a big part of that.’
Sounds like a good bloke then.
Torres is suspended although I suspect AVB might well have rotated the strikers today. With Mata and Sturridge selected on either side of Drogba. Lampard is retained after his solid performance against Valencia and Meireles is the holding midfielder role so Frank will partner Ramires in front of him in a 4-1-2-2-1 formation (or 4-3-3 if you prefer).
The Kalou haters amongst you will be pleased to learn that he has not even made the bench today after his penalty howler during the week.
Cech, Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Meireles, Ramires, Lampard, Mata, Drogba, Sturridge
Substitutes: Turnbull, Ivanovic, Romeu, Mikel, Malouda, Lukaku, Anelka.
The first half
Oh it is good to be a Chelsea fan sometimes. In the first minute a superb 40-yard pass from Luiz sets Bosingwa away, whose cross is knocked behind for a corner. Lamps sends across an elusive one and Sturridge’s header bounces in. Dan doesn’t celebrate the goal out of respect for the Bolton fans. Classy that. Thirty seconds later from the restart Dan’s next attempt is just wide of the left upright.
We start playing our possession game with neat triangular passes upfield and pressing them hard when we lose it. But we do look a bit shaky when Bolton play long balls up behind the defence. Meireles is lucky not to be booked when he brings down Pratley just outside the penalty area. Davies moans that he should have received a yellow card on the grounds that his tackle was worse than Ngog’s on Luiz three minutes before, for which he got a card. And he has a point. But, in truth, Bolton do look very predictable given that their only two stratagems are to hit it long for Ngog to run onto, or for Davies to head on to Ngog.
After what seems a longish period in which we pass the ball around at the back between Cech and his defenders our first real attack since the goal puts us 0-2 up. Mata jinks it up and puts Sturridge through, who stops for a moment before passing it to Lamps, who sweeps it into the net. It was that quick and that easy. Awesome.
The camera switches to a shot of Frank Lampard senior sitting in the stands chatting away to, of all people, Paulo Ferreira. Weird.
We spend another ten minutes soaking up some pressure from Bolton with our defence looking fairly solid at their corner kicks and we go upfield and score again on 24 minutes. Luiz – him again – slots it through to Dan who tries a speculative shot from the far right of the penalty area. It really shouldn’t have gone in but their young Hungarian goalkeeper scoops it up with his arms and into the net.
And two minutes later we are four up and Luiz is again involved. No doubt he noticed the goalkeeper is having a bad day and he puts him under pressure with another long-range shot. Bogdan slaps at it and Lamps pushes home the rebound.
The mystery is that we haven’t, collectively, shown that much attacking prowess in terms of chances created. We have had five attempts on goal yet we are 0-4 up with just 26 minutes on the clock. That fact will do our conversion statistics a world of good. There is a stream of Bolton fans leaving their seats to go home while another section behind our goal are yelling abuse at Owen Coyle who looks like he’s swallowed a toad.
Understandably, the players take their foot off the pedal and start to play keep-ball with 67% of the possession up until the last 10 minutes or so. Bolton really aren’t up to the opportunity, however and the first half peters out.
Half-time: Bolton 0 Chelsea 4.
The second half
Bolton come out fighting and put us under pressure for 10 minutes with a goal inside a minute with Petrov’s in-swinging free-kick headed in by Boyata. Luiz should have cleared it but it is the kind of goal Bolton are good at with six big men tussling inside the penalty area for it. Bolton then go on to create three more good chances, which cues excited talk of another 4-4 from the ‘neutral’ commentators in the Sky commentary box. AVB hauls off first Bosingwa for Ivan and then brings on Mikel for Ramires. Not entirely sure why but it might be because Bolton keep getting up the left side of the pitch. At any rate it seems to work as, with one exception, when he gives the ball away to Davies in the box, whose looped shot is saved by Cech, John Obi looks solid. And Ivan goes back to doing what he is best at – playing at right-back. And shortly after those two come on we score again. The ball is played up to Drogs, who knocks it back to Lamps who plays him into the penalty area. Drogs passes it back and just as I think it is going too far behind for Frank to retrieve he stops, pirouettes, and passes it into the net. Beautiful play and possibly the pick of the goals. Frank has his hat-trick and our away support are going barmy.
By now it becomes apparent that AVB has changed the formation and it looks more like a diamond with Mikel at the back, Frank and Mereiles in front of him and Mata playing in the hole. Even so we aren’t creating much this half and AVB puts Anelka on for Mata. Juan has had a quiet game by his standards and his passing hasn’t been great but Nic doesn’t do much better. He keeps dropping deep to pick up the ball and perform some mazy runs but very few of them get anywhere.
To their credit Bolton haven’t given up and, with goal-line technology in place, they would have got it back to 5-2. They press up on the right as Ashley temporarily goes to sleep and Petrov’s cross is swept in by Davies. Ivan appears to clear but the replays show that the whole of the ball had in fact crossed the line. Seven minutes later Eagles forces his way through on the left and his cannonade is pushed onto the post by Cech. Bolton 3 Chelsea 5? Sounds like a score-line from the 1950s.
In between Sturridge wastes two perfectly good chances from our swift counter-attacks. He is put through by Drogs with a chance that was easier than his second goal but puts it into the side netting. A minute later he receives an almost identical opportunity but with a pass back to Lamps on offer he hits it out to the corner flag. Still not the finished article then.
But by now we do look very tired, which explains why we have mostly played a containing game this half following that very hard match in Valencia on Wednesday. In that context a 5-1 away win looks even more creditable.
Full time: Bolton 1 Chelsea 5.
The player and management ratings
These aren’t ratings as such, just observations. In truth this was a wonderful team performance: engineered, managed and tinkered by Andre Villas-Boas. I am guessing that he told the players to put their stand-in goalkeeper under pressure and also that he briefed them to contain Bolton’s long-ball game by putting Luiz on Ngog and JT on Davies. I was especially impressed when he adjusted the team ten minutes into the second half just as Bolton looked they might get back to 4-2. I have a slight cavil in that he didn’t bring on Romeu or Lukaku when we were well ahead but I can understand why he might have wished to put safety first and given Drogs more playing time.
- Cech. Seemed to be playing as an 11th outfield player at times, given the passes back he was receiving but, aside from that, he didn’t have much to do aside from his excellent save from Eagles late on.
- Bosingwa. Thought he looked very good in the first half in combination with Luiz up the right in attack. Most of their opportunities at the end of the first half and early on in the second came on his watch so perhaps his defending is still suspect.
- Luiz. If it weren’t for Frank he would be my Man of the Match. Instrumental in setting up three of our goals and played like an extra midfielder at times, which gave Frank the opportunity of getting forward still more. Preternaturally calm when moving with the ball out of defence. The one blot was still another yellow card.
- JT. I really think we are getting our captain back. Had Kevin Davies in his pocket for most of this match.
- Ashley. Didn’t get upfield much but that was because he had his work cut out keeping Petrov quiet. Which he mostly did.
- Meireles. I like him more and more. Thought he was very good in the holding midfielder role and screened the back four well with several timely interventions. Looks to me like he might be making that position his own, good as John Obi is.
- Ramires. Didn’t make any of those rampaging runs forward I have come to expect from him and, surprising for him, had no goal-scoring opportunities. I surmise from that that AVB told him off to play defensively today.
- Lampard. As one might have predicted dropping Lamps from the team is a very dangerous (albeit, sometimes necessary) thing to do. A hat-trick today but that feat was less important than the fact that we was constantly driving the team forward (with almost no back passes!). We’ve got our Super Frank back at last. Man of the Match.
- Mata. A quiet game by his extremely high standards although his pass to Sturridge for the second goal, like his pass to Torres for the first goal last Saturday, was what we paid £24 million for. But his passing seemed erratic today. Why?
- Drogba. My Twitter stream streamed with complaints about his alleged ‘laziness’ but I didn’t see it that way. Thought he was very unselfish and battled all day long against their centre-halves. I admit he is a bit slow but, surely, that is because he is lacking fitness? And his set-up for Lamps’ hat-trick was sublime.
- Sturridge. If you’d asked me my opinion at half-time I would have been drooling about his speed, shooting and general cleverness. But after watching his second-half performance I would argue that his final decisions in the penalty box still need some coaching. Still a superb prospect though.
The theme for today
My theme for today came to me while I was contemplating the half-time score-line which, I realized, was the same score-line against Bolton away last January. Then it struck me how often history repeats itself in football.
While I was pondering this fact I was reminded of Jorges Luis Borges’ ironic short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. In it Borges relates the story of a writer, Pierre Menard, who left behind him at his death, the story of Don Quixote word-for-word as Cervantes wrote it in the original. Borges’ tongue-in-cheek ‘review’ of Menard’s ‘book’ offers no explanation why this was so but suggests that Menard is more ‘profound’ than Cervantes in that his book was written in 1939 rather than in 1602. Meaning that it carried a weight of historical allusion denied to Cervantes – the further conquest of America, the disappearance of the Conquistadors, the decline of the Inquisition and the Spanish Civil War. Meaning that a ‘Don Quixote’ written in the 1930s will carry far more ‘meaning’ than anything that poor Cervantes could manage. A fable, in short, which points to the many different meanings a story can have and the difficulties of interpretation.
So we win away to Bolton for the ninth successive time. And for the second time by a four-goal margin. Last January the ‘story’ was that we were back in the title race after three months without an away win. I leave it to you decide what the story is this time.