On a weekend that saw Gael Kakuta mark the start of his loan period at Dijon with a goal, Chelsea were just down the road from the historic home of Colman’s but singularly failing to cut the mustard.
In eight Premier League games since putting three past Newcastle, Chelsea have scored two goals twice, one goal five times and finally a big fat blank on Saturday. We’re drying up quicker than a comedian with stage fright.
On a brighter note it’s the second clean sheet on the trot for a defence that’s shakier than a Shaking Quaker at a prayer meeting but it’s difficult to judge whether this is down to any real adjustment in tactics leading to, as they say in the world of corsetry, a general “tightening” up at the back.
Indeed one of the more worrying aspects of the last two games has been the roasting that Sessegnon and now Pilkington have given Ashley Cole. If you’ve ever fantasised about chasing someone naked through a sea of treacle, then watch Ashley and get a feel for just how much hard work that might be and settle for lying in bed wondering whether you’ll kick ‘em out for munching on your Jacob’s (that’s a brand of crackers, other brands are available. Apologies for the male centric nature of that quip, feel free to play about with it for a more female orientated interpretation).
Is it too early to wonder whether he’s hit that mark where a player whose positioning has been based on confidence in his pace is now being exposed because he doesn’t make the necessary adjustments for not having the legs anymore? But wondering is it I am, as Yoda might say.
It may just be a drop off in form. He almost certainly has some ongoing chronic injury problems. But this is a continuation of a decline we saw last year. He may well regain form at some point but perhaps they should give Bertrand a crack.
In the first half particularly, he and Terry were exposed by Morison and Pilkington to a worrying degree. Holt was a handful throughout the game and the house was filling up with new born kittens as the game developed.
So praise the Lord and pass the plate that Luiz and Bosingwa had fewer problems on the right and generally coped with the Norwich threat, other than the aforementioned Mr Holt.
Yet looking back, while I spent the game waiting for them to get a goal, the home side had very few really clear chances, particularly in the second half. Now I don’t know if it was somehow by design or indicative of how little sustained pressure Norwich applied, but given the much talked about aerial threat posed by the Canaries, it was quite satisfying that it took until around the 70th minute before they got their first, and indeed only, corner of the game. I dread to think of how much more stomach acid would have been produced by a string of corners being fired over at crucial moments of the game. It was enough that they got a couple of free kicks in the Chelsea half, though thankfully none around the 18 yard box.
Now if you keep a clean sheet, one goal will always be enough to garner all three points. And you had to go back to October and Loftus Road for the last time Chelsea had failed to score in a League game. But despite plenty of possession, quality chances were few and far between. When they did arrive they didn’t take them. More annoying was the number of shots that could have become good chances yet ended up miles off target. The level of shooting really was dire, given the quality of player on the pitch. To say nothing of deadball situations.
Rather than dwell on the, by now well documented, problems up front, I’d prefer to look at the curious case of what happened when Lampard went off and Malouda came on. The change was only incremental and ultimately we finished goalless but I thought I detected a real improvement in tempo going forward after the change. This is not inspired by negativity towards Lampard but may be a pointer towards why AVB does not automatically select Frank and why there may be some tension arising out of their differing views on the level of performance and achievement.
The most noticeable effect of Malouda playing on the left of the midfield three was that Mata seemed to become a lot more involved and effective. Perhaps it is Malouda’s ability to play further out wide and his linking with Cole, combined with a natural instinct to play higher up the pitch that gave rise to this. Lampard’s tendency is to drift to centre and come late with a run, whereas Malouda is much more likely to work the left in concert with Cole and Mata. Does this allow Mata to come inside and become more pivotal? It seems so.
The right side is all about pace, with Ramires, Sturridge and Bosingwa, all capable of a gallop. The left-hand side relies more heavily on movement and quick transfer of the ball. Malouda seemed to move the ball more quickly than Lampard, and tends to look to work with the left side players as well as work the byline himself.
This begs the question as to why Lampard is not just played centrally, instead of putting Mereiles there? I don’t have the answer.
Nevertheless on a frustrating day, it gave me food for thought and certainly suggests that problem Ancelotti had when he couldn’t get Pirlo or a player like him to drive his preferred system, is one that AVB is also experiencing.
That said there are enough players of quality in the squad to win games like this and the season seems poised between a spring push to secure a place in the top three, like last season, or an ongoing mediocrity that may see us scrape fourth with very little in the way of fingernails left.
It wasn’t a great weekend for the bird population, I’m thinking of the Cockerel and the Raven (commiserations NVA) but at least the Canary was left happily chirping away.
I couldn’t get excited about Sunday’s games as it was difficult to get behind any of the four teams. With title aspirations long gone, I suppose the results helped us. But I got no joy from it really.
I was reminded of the fragrant Melba Montgomery singing the old country classic, “What’s Bad for You is Good for Me”. (Being from Alabama she is able to make the word misery sound like Missouri, which I find enormously satisfying for no good reason I can give you.) Praying for another’s failure is not a recipe for future happiness, but sometimes it be all we gots.
The match reports
The Sunday Telegraph, Duncan White: “Andre Villas-Boas keeps playing possum. On Boxing Day, the prognosis for Chelsea’s title challenge was dire and after defeat at home to Aston Villa on New Year’s Eve their prospects looked about as promising as those of a man paddling off into the North Sea in his canoe. Turns out, of course, that the Canoe Man was alive and well and living next door. And Chelsea were still secretly in the hunt. In fact this game was Chelsea’s final chance. Now it is definitely dead. Sort of.”
The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “After the many hoots of mockery and chants about money and painful critiques that have trailed Fernando Torres since his move to Stamford Bridge, the Spaniard must have felt he had heard it all. Not quite. Having seen a chance fizzle out, it spoke volumes that the chant that floated over from behind the goal was sung without any irony: ‘We’d rather have Grant Holt.’”
The Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “Chelsea’s defending, with David Luiz much improved against the physicality of Holt, justified Villas-Boas’s assertion that it was not necessary to rush his new signing Gary Cahill into action. Cahill did not make the substitutes’ bench either, because Branislav Ivanovic was “more versatile”, but he is available for Saturday’s Cup tie with QPR.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “The winning streak that started 2012 is over after a well-contested but ultimately disappointing trip to Carrow Road. Despite creating the better opportunities over the 90 minutes, the Blues could not beat a dogged and organised Norwich side that earned its first clean sheet of the season.”
The manager’s reaction
“We created enough opportunities to win the game.
“The first half was split between the two teams with good opportunities each. The second half we created a lot more and managed to be dominant but couldn’t find the back of the net. Had we found it, we would have taken three points because we looked solid and confident.
“The players really fought hard to get the winning goal but we couldn’t find this winning goal through our lack of efficiency and also due to Ruddy’s amazing performance.
“Torres tried really hard and his moves once again were sharp and incisive. He is trying really hard to get the goals that we want but he had a major impact in our attacking game and we were happy with his play.”