The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “If Chelsea do regain the Premier League title it will surely be a triumph that has drained every iota of energy from them. This was merely their second victory in the last six matches on that front and it came with a second-half onslaught after a compact and purposeful Fulham had gone ahead.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Jose Mourinho was back at the Bridge but it was a former Inter Milan manager, not the present one, who gave Chelsea greater cause for concern in this victory over Fulham. In the end it was only the cruellest of own goals by a 20-year-old, making his full Premier League debut, and who was playing non-league football for Maidstone United just 18 months ago, that allowed Carlo Ancelotti the victory that relieves the pressure which was inexorably beginning to mount around him.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “This was another wretched performance by Chelsea’s high standards, although by the end of the season their goals in the space of two second-half minutes may come to be regarded as the defining moments of the entire campaign. A defeat would have enabled Manchester United to return to the top by beating Wigan Athletic tomorrow, an unpalatable scenario that their misfiring players were unwilling to countenance.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “It would have been Dreadful December had the Blues not mounted a second-half comeback, scoring twice in three minutes to wrestle the championship challenge back onto the rails.”
Well, after an uninspiring few weeks as a Chelsea follower today got off to a bad start when Chelsea Bob and company called me at 10:45 to say they were on their way. I’m a trusting soul and therefore was laid on the sofa nursing a twisted upper back, reading Ben Elton’s rather fine latest piece on contemporary comedy come drama novel waiting for the reassuring ping noise from the toaster when my customary hot slices of Tesco finest seeded granary pop out to be consumed with butter and marmalade and polished off with a large steaming mug of Earl Grey with lemon. What was it I was trusting to be so patently in the world of the unready when the message came though? Well I was trusting a little app downloaded from the Chelsea web site which would populate my Google-phone with this season’s fixtures and then synchronise it to my Google Calendar. You see Glover Towers is a veritable treasure trove of technology and I am an utter gadget and technology geek. According to this little app, the kick off was indeed today but at 19:45. Imagine my surprise then to find out today that it was in fact 15:00. Oh how they didn’t laugh as they waited for me to make myself presentable. I didn’t even get to eat my toast or drink the tea. As we drove to the ground I was seriously grumpy and not functioning at anywhere near my peak levels.
So imagine how I felt when I watched a team that had apparently also got the times mixed up and had missed their breakfast as well. And no, I am not talking about Fulham.
In the club room it has to be said there was many a furrowed brow as Raniercellotti’s team was announced. No Ashley Cole or Ivanovic to start, and a few moans about Alex being dropped in favour of the stuttering Carvalho. Instead we had Paulo Ferreira at right-back and Yuri Zhirkov at left-back as we yet again stuck with the seemingly now exposed and ‘sussed out’ diamond. Personally I thought we should have stuck with Ivanovic, very much one of the best of our season thus far, with Joe Cole on the right, Ashley Cole and Zhirkov on the left, Frank sitting behind the strikers and either Obi or Ballack at the base of the damned stupid thing. Or how about this… 4-4-fucking-2? Anyway I don’t do formations as I’ve oft stated, it’s all bollocks as long as you have some defenders, some midfielders and some strikers. That’s it. Tony’s SOME formation. As long as players do their job it’s likely to be just as effective.
As we kicked off it looked OK as within seconds we’d pumped the ball forward to Drogba and I guess many thought we’d have a good start and lay into our upstart neighbours. But we were wrong. What we got for the first 65 minutes was a team of limp, loose, floppy, sloppy players with the strength of underfed bag-ready kittens who seemed to be made out of jelly or washing up liquid or Ben ‘n’ Jerry’s ice cream after two minutes in the microwave. I swear I could hear the glooping sound every time one of them tried to pass the ball but once again failed as the ball passed through their semi-viscous feet.
After four minutes Fulham scored and it was pathetic. We’d fallen asleep. Our right-back, Ferreira, had discovered a Harry Potter invisibility cloak. John Mikel Obi-Wan Clubfoot had managed to get himself mired in a particularly tricky clump of grass, Ballack had decided to ‘rest off the ball’ and Dr. Evil lookalike Paul Konchesky had found a Gallifreyan Perception Filter and used it to saunter unchallenged down the left wing to deliver a superb first time cross which JT’s jelly head failed to knock away and for perennial fall guy Zamora to nod back to Gera to finish with aplomb. It wasn’t lucky. It wasn’t freaky. It was a well worked goal and we were just rubbish. After this Fulham parked the bus a little and decided to attack us on the break – a wise post goal bit of defence really, and as the half wore on, the frustration made the Jellymen lose the plot even further. Mistakes were rife all over the pitch and the floppy, sloppy men in blue, devoid of any spirit, any sense of team and pulling together started to lose their way. Fulham grew in confidence as it became obvious there was no breadcrumb trail that would lead the Jellymen back to the paradise of unity and confidence they had lived in pre-Arsenal.
When half time came the boos rang loud and clear as the fans gave the Jellymen a no-nonsense message of contempt for such a pathetic display. I think the boos were also aimed at the hybrid coach, Raniercelotti. To be fair it couldn’t have been easy for him knowing the sainted Special One, our beloved Jose Mourinho was up in a box watching his former charges blunder about the pitch. For Jose it must have been a day of mixed emotions, sadness and heartbreak to see his good work so clinically dismantled, he must have felt mystified as well to wonder about how the ‘invincibles’ he built had somehow led to his departure through failing to entertain. And joy, he must have felt some joy because on this level of performance in the first half, he would have seen nothing to make him doubt that Inter Milan would be the boiling water to dissolve the Jellymen into dribbles of coloured sugar running down the gutter into the drain, and ultimately into the sewer of the 2009 Champions League.
When the second half started, the Jellymen looked no different. No form of cellular metamorphosis had occurred at half time to transform Chelsea into knights of tungsten carbide, impervious to outside influences and tough enough to take any rough treatment. Within seconds Carvalho had played a back pass to the distinctly dodgy Cech only for Zamora to live up to his reputation by not being fast enough or intelligent enough, or skilful enough to make any decent capital from it. And so it continued. Joe Cole ran everywhere, but oddly nowhere. Again. Kalou ran down blind alleys and got dispossessed time after time. Presumably Jellymen have no vocal chords with which to shout, but even if they did it would also appear they have no ears with which to hear. Ballack was unremittingly awful; Lampard treated the ball as if it was a stranger. Obi Wan Clubfoot demonstrated the art of shanking out of the rough without a golf ball or heavily lofted golf club. Quite a feat that. John Terry must have had a tonsillectomy today as he barely spoke to anyone. Carvalho snarled and pouted at everyone including his own players, Drogba started to stand up after a first half of tantrums oft seen in Tesco’s by five year olds reeling from the news that they couldn’t have any of the tempting sweets so conveniently positioned at the checkout. Although I have to note that he was elbowed and kicked constantly by Pantsil and the ref apparently thought this OK. Cech flapped like a 1920’s socialite at her coming out ball, again the lack of vocal chords/ears being apparent in a mix up with JT. Zhirkov looked good mind but Ferreira toiled in the field and despite his best efforts cross after cross just fell to the head or foot of a man in a white shirt. It was dire. And yet, we were starting to carve the odd half chance out so hope was never seemingly lost. It’s more of an indictment on Fulham that they failed to take further advantage of such a wibbly wobbly team.
On 64 minutes Raniercellotti then decided to remove his pantomime Rafa Benitez outfit and brought on the thus far marvellous Branislav Ivanovic for the hard working but hapless Ferreira. Ivanovic has to be a strong contender for Player of the Season if he carries on with such consistency. With him came an antidote and within minutes the Jellymen had become rather stronger, now resembling a team made of a decent hardwood. But, Raniercelotti hadn’t finished yet. In a passable impression of Jose Mourinho he removed the lumbering Mikel Obi and replaced him with the eager beaver Daniel Sturridge. On 70 minutes an Ivanovic cross was cleared by Fulham only to end up back at Branners’ feet for him to deliver a marvellous cross into the box for Drogba to power into the back of the net. Yes folks, Ivanovic, a right-back for a right-back came on and immediately we looked stronger at the back and more robust going forward. Within minutes of that a suddenly rejuvenated Kalou jinked to the byline and pushed the ball across the Fulham box for Sturridge to take a shot and for Schwarzer to parry into the unfortunate debutante Chris Smalling for his first Premiership (own) goal. It was fortunate but we were back. The Hardwoods had clawed their way back through some mysterious bench alchemy.
Ashley Cole came on for a tiring Zhirkov but he could be happy with his labours today. He doesn’t bomb forward like Ashley, but he’d be a better left option that the currently floundering Malouda. Then the obvious occurred again as the alchemic spell wore off and we softened again to a drying clay consistency. Fulham came forward and every corner and set piece set Blue nerves on edge. Raniercelotti stuck with his stubborn and pig headed 10 men behind the ball at set pieces and 10 men in the area at corners ploy. Is it any wonder we get in the way of each other or concede through daft deflections?
The game mercifully ended on 94 minutes and as frustrated but oddly sated Chelsea fans flocked away, Didier Drogba called the players for a post match huddle. Any guesses at what he was saying to the team? My guess is something like “Let’s hope no-one finds out about that rave last night we all went to at Robbie Keane’s gaff”… because that would be a plausible explanation for such a turgid 65 minutes or so.
- The win. Err… of course. But isn’t it the mark of champions to be able to grind out a win when playing like complete idiots?
- Branners. The man simply changed the whole belief of the team when he came on.
- Drogba’s goal. A stunning and powerful header.
- Yuri Zhirkhov. One of the few able to make a decent pass and tackle.
- Daniel Sturridge. Another promising display, although a few lucky breaks on some leaden footed attempts to deceive the opposition players. And one rather ambitious cross field reverse pass which ended up with a Fulham player, but he’s young and keen so he’ll learn.
- The first 64 minutes. Yes, there were flashes of good stuff but ultimately everyone could feel the cloying disappointment of a return to the bad old Xmas results days.
- The team confidence. Shot to pieces and even the post Branners display seems at best a sticking plaster.
- Rotation. Tinkering. Call it what you like but Ancelotti is the nearest we’ve had to another Ranieri and his oddball selections are a worry.
- Mikel Obi’s shooting. Seriously, how does any footballer get into a Premiership team with such an apparently woeful ability to shoot straight at any time. And people wonder why his passes go astray? Maybe an eye test would help.
- Michael Ballack. In a serious slump.
- Our corners. Rarely beat the first man and when they did we lacked any real aerial threat in the box, which is weird when you look at how the Birmingham game was almost the entire opposite.
- Neil Barnett’s continuous attempts at Billy Smart’s Ringmaster pre-match hype. His constant attempts to ‘spin’ things positively really is grating.
Player ratings (default is 6/10)
- Petr Cech – 5/10 – Seems to have lost his voice.
- Paulo Ferreira – 6/10 – Toiled hard but a long way from the old Paulo.
- John Terry – 6/10 – Hmmm. Seriously uninspiring and seems to be the embodiment of the confidence loss issue.
- Yuri Zhirkhov – 7/10 – Not bad and some decent touches. Wasted at left-back when Malouda is so obviously slumping back to his old ways.
- Ricardo Carvalho – 6/10 – Vanilla. Beige. Grey. Dull. Mediocre.
- Frank Lampard – 6.5/10 – Spent Christmas with his ex. Perhaps he should have stayed with her.
- Salomon Kalou – 7/10 – Still Kalou-less but amazingly rejuvenated when Ivanovic and Sturridge came on and was damned unlucky not to score with a wonder shot hitting the bar in the dying minutes.
- John Mikel Obi – 6/10 – Clubfooted. Two left footed. Lumbering at times, majestic at others. Shocking shooting needs sorting. Weird.
- Michael Ballack – 5/10 – Quite simply the worst I’ve seen him play in a long time. In a very deep rut and needs to find himself and soon.
- Didier Drogba – 7/10 – Great goal, a couple of other good chances but still prone to looking like a great big Ivorian fairy.
- Joe Cole – 7/10 – I’m now starting to wonder if the pre-injury Joe Cole has been lost forever. Ran a lot… but hey so does Paula Radcliffe… maybe she’d offer more creative spark.
- Daniel Sturridge (sub) – 7.5/10 – Unlucky not to score but his appearance seemed to boost Kalou who suddenly started to look like something resembling a footballer. A bright prospect.
- Ashley Cole (sub) – 6/10 – Six minutes or so isn’t enough to judge.
- Branislav Ivanovic (sub) – 8/10 – Thirty minutes today and his very presence just seemed to make everything click a little closer into place.
- Overall Team Performance – 5/10 – Rubbish for all of the first half. Utter rubbish. Picked up a little for the first 15 minutes of the second half, but only a very small amount.
Man of the Match
Well, I want to say Ivanovic for changing everything and for setting up the equaliser. He also made a superb header to prevent a Fulham player getting a chance on goal from a cross. But he was only on for 30 minutes… can someone really be a Man of the Match for that short a period? Zhirkov was also in with a shout but to be honest he was merely the best of a pretty rank display. So, in fact I will award it to both players and they can fight naked in front of a roaring log fire a’ la Women in Love for the winner. My money would be on Branners though…
Was it good? No. Was it even promising? Not for 65 minutes or so. Does it matter? Ultimately no. The performance counts less than the result but the suggestion that this squad is good enough is beginning to sound like the rantings of a mad Spanish waiter currently mumbling his way around the North West. Raniercelotti insists we have enough but come on, Sturridge and Borini… stepping up to the plate with about two hours of first team football between them? As nice as it is to see the kids get a go, relying on them without giving them the requisite experience seems rather a gamble to me.
This was poor fayre yet again today and the team that so dominated Arsenal just four short weeks ago looks like it’s been seriously holed with the loss of Essien and now Anelka. Anyone still doubt what level of class and composure Anelka brings to the side? I seem to remember some commenters quoting on how he just runs from side to side and undermines the number 10’s/head of diamond role… well maybe he has to because no other player is remotely good enough to do it. Anelka has been a huge loss, both in composure, but also in the ability to hold and run with the ball, to draw defenders out and create space for others. We need him back and we need him back soon. And that’s the rub, that’s the player we need… not another Drogba, we have others who can score, but we need another ball playing artist like Anelka and perhaps that’s why the clamour for an Aguero type figure is so popular here and in other Chelsea quarters.
A win is a win though and it keeps us top of the league although it’s more than likely the gap will be reduced on Wednesday again. I still think MANCHESTER United will go on a run as they always do post Christmas, and Arsenal also don’t seem to be dropping off the pace. This is our best chance for some years but I fear Raniercelloti’s tinkering might be a hindrance than a help. I always worry when I sense a coach just doesn’t get ‘it’. Mourinho got ‘it’ – he swanned in and understood the club and the fans and the sense of constant disappointment and set about rectifying it. Grant blundered and bullshitted his way through the remainder of THAT season. Scolari never got ‘it’ either, treating fans with contempt. Hiddink though… he got ‘it’, as much as Mourinho he understood the fans and the desires of those fans. I am a very long way from believing that Carlo Ancelotti actually gets ‘it’. To quote Faith No More and their fine tune ‘Epic’…
Can you feel it, see it, hear it today?
If you can’t, then it doesn’t matter anyway
You will never understand it ’cause it happens too fast
And it feels so good, it’s like walking on glass
It’s so cool, it’s so hip, it’s alright
It’s so groovy, it’s outta sight
You can touch it, smell it, taste it so sweet
But it makes no difference ’cause it knocks you off your feet
You want it all but you can’t have it
It’s cryin’, bleedin’, lying on the floor
So you lay down on it and you do it some more
You’ve got to share it, so you dare it
Then you bare it and you tear it
You want it all but you can’t have it
It’s in your face but you can’t grab it
It’s alive, afraid, a lie, a sin
It’s magic, it’s tragic, it’s a loss, it’s a win
It’s dark, it’s moist, it’s a bitter pain
It’s sad it happened and it’s a shame
You want it all but you can’t have it
It’s in your face but you can’t grab it
What is it? It’s it What is it?
‘It’ is the soul of Chelsea Football Club. Not the owner, not the players. It’s the history, the pain, the near glory, the actual glory, the failure, the disappointment, the heartbreak and the joy. Above all it’s the hope. It’s the faith and it’s the belief. And it comes from us, the fans. Understand that Mr. Ancelotti and then maybe we’ll sing for you.
And lastly… what a paltry and pathetic welcome Chelsea extended to Mourinho. A ten second clip of him in the box on the big screen, barely enough time for the fans to get a cheer going. It’s symptomatic of the autocratic PR led shite we spinelessly accept. Yes, I know he’s coming back in the Champions League, but many fans today won’t be there for that game. It was insulting and pathetic and downright fucking petty to ignore the greatest manager we’ve ever had and not let us at least extend the gratitude fully. I’m sure even Ancelotti would have understood that.
The club hierarchy should hang their fucking heads in shame.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!