The Guardian, Louise Taylor: “This was quite an afternoon by the sun-dappled Wear, containing a resignation, a celebration, a farewell and a world-class goal from England’s newly anointed Golden Boot.”
Daily Telegraph, Rob Stewart: “Frank Lampard may have been left at home to get some well earned rest but his absence did nothing to prevent Chelsea dominating their lowly opponents even though Guus Hiddink’s side may have the FA Cup on their minds.”
The Times, George Caulkin: “Chelsea … reached the end of an era. This was Guus Hiddink’s last league game in the dugout for Chelsea, although there is a small matter of next weekend’s FA Cup Final to come.”
Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “We didn’t have it all our own way on a bright day in the north east, but never looked like being beaten against a Sunderland side still playing to secure their survival.”
Sitting down to watch Chelsea today had a rather strange feeling about it. I had just enjoyed another glorious Jenson Button victory in F1, this time in Monaco and now it was time for the main event – another splendid Chelsea performance. Well that was the plan. Firstly, I had to endure the excruciating spectacle of listening to that monkey Richard Keys bleat on about how great Sky Sports are. Seeing Keys, Norwegian racist Mr. Redknapp and master of exaggeration, Mr. ‘Take a boo’ Gray in their darkened studio on ‘Survival Sunday’ was a hilarious experience. It started with some bollocks about the survival of the fittest, when the reality is that those who survive on the last day of the season are only marginally less awful than those who go down and then we heard some random heart monitor soundtrack to highlight the supposed tension of the afternoon and it was all topped off by Keys’ bragging about the Champions League final: “You’ll be watching the three best teams in Europe, United, Barcelona and Sky Sports!” Yep, it really was that embarrassing a line. But I got through all this, found my red button and sat down to the Sunderland – Chelsea game, a rather meaningless match as Sunderland were all but safe and we were thinking of Wembley. Of more interest was waiting for the updates as to who was going down – the spray-tan, vain, sit-down team-talk, “look at me” loser that is Phil Brown or the Geordie army following the ‘massive club’ of Newcastle – who would I be hoping would get demoted? Well I hoped both of them would go but Southgate’s mob is so pathetic only one could fall and in the end I was hoping the Newcastle myth would be shattered and ‘the best fans in the world’ would finally accept that they’re following the newest incarnation of the Leeds nightmare.
Would Guus follow Fergie’s lead and rest our big hitters ahead of a final? Well not exactly. Anelka turned up to try and claim the Golden Boot, Terry was firmly in place as captain and all the other first teamers were in place apart from Frank, perhaps tired from spending £3m on buying his ex a new pad in Chelsea and Alex who was rested ahead of the Wembley showdown with Fellaini.
A potentially rather meaningless match as I alluded to earlier and the first half turned out to be exactly that. I tried as hard as possible to stay devoted to my task of being the blog’s match reporter but at some points the temptation to play with my remote was just too much to withstand and I just had to flick over to Villa Park. But all of us would accept that the first half was shocking at the Stadium of Light. The game was played at such a slow tempo you wondered if we had suddenly been transported forward in time a few weeks and we were in the US playing a bunch of American nobodies in pre-season? (I’m sure that remark is bound to cause some uproar amongst our American readers judging by their response to Tony’s claim about visiting Hicksville in preseason.) But one of the first things I noticed was Chelsea’s rather strange kit policy. I presume that last week’s kit launch and unveiling against Blackburn was such a success that they’ve wrapped it in cotton wool, all ready for Wembley but today we had resorted to our ‘old’ 08/09 kit. Either someone had forgotten to pack the new kit or someone has binned it and we’ve all wasted £50 on a new shirt? But apart from that, the first half was a snoozefest. Everyone was walking about lazily and for those of you trying to spot the runner in a blue shirt, you could only look to Ashley as a source of any effort and pace. The rest of them were strolling around, keeping possession with ease and just waiting to see if a chance cropped up. On a couple of occasions Didier would threaten goal with optimistic chipped or volleyed efforts and the half ended with Malouda smashing a brilliant drive against the bar after some slick and incisive passing but that was about it in terms of chances.
The second half was a much brighter event. After laughing myself silly at half time watching Hull and Newcastle’s efforts to stay up, the second half began with some proper football. Guus obviously told them to start running and Anelka immediately responded. Receiving the ball on the halfway line, he turned and beat two men before unleashing an unstoppable, swerving drive into the top corner. Quite a way to claim the Golden Boot but after that goal we resorted to typical Chelsea mode, sat back, fell asleep and conceded a goal. A looping Sunderland cross evaded Cech and ended up at Richardson’s feet who swept the ball into an empty net. A silly goal to give away but no-one in blue really cared and for the next 20 minutes Guus made a few changes and tactical tweaks ahead of the cup final by taking off Essien for Kalou and Mikel for Mancienne and switching to a 4-4-2 formation. Kalou then brilliantly scored our second by striking, Lampard-esque from 20 yards into the top right corner. With the game drifting to an inevitable Chelsea win, another personal favourite Ashley Cole strode forward and volleyed the ball home with his right foot after a Sunderland mix-up at the back. There was still time for Jones to head home, unmarked from five yards but the game finished in a rather subdued manner on our side as our players applauded the travelling fans, handed over a few shirts and trudged down the tunnel, to get ready for yet another final.
- Anelka. A pathetic first half like the others but a wonder strike in the second gave him the Golden Boot. The rather surreal nature of supporting Chelsea means it would not be a huge surprise if we sold him in the summer. Selling the league’s top scorer? Well that’s Chelsea for you.
- Ashley. Raided the left wing all game and was glad that he got his goal. Perfect way to end his best ever Chelsea season.
- Ivanovic. A rock who just loves to head the ball. The perfect squad player.
- Mancienne. Just nice to see him on the pitch. Ancelotti does like having some young, home grown players in his side despite the OAP loving stereotype and he looks our best prospect since Terry, although that’s not saying much when you look back on our academy record!
- First half/general laziness. Not surprising but not exactly great viewing for those who travelled all the way up to Sunderland.
- Petr Cech – 6/10 – Didn’t have much to do but did have a few nervy moments with the high ball and needs to be at his best to combat Cahill and Fellaini next week.
- Season rating – 7.5/10 – Despite the media reports of his helmet acting as a security blanket and that he’s never been the same since smashing his skull, he’s had a great season for us and with only two dodgy performances, it’s been a good effort from Big Pete.
- Jose Bosingwa – 5.5/10 – Harsh maybe but he kept giving the ball away and never seemed to beat his man. His final ball was also poor.
- Season rating – 6/10 – Personally, the jury’s still out on him. In my book he’s just the new Glen Johnson i.e. a defender who can’t defend. He arrived in a blaze of glory with his attacking raids and goals thrilling us but just like Scolari he was found out and his lazy and casual defending infuriates me. Still expect him to be here next season but with Carlo basing his team around a tight defence I wouldn’t be shocked to see him sold to make way for Ivanovic and/or Mancienne at right-back.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 7/10 – A rock who can “head the ball further than some can kick it” (Brendan Rodgers, 2008).
- Season rating – 7.5/10 – Hasn’t been a regular but he’ll always be a fans’ favourite thanks to his Liverpool performance. Would keep him ahead of Ricky and his versatility will prove invaluable.
- John Terry – 7/10 – Fell into the casual trap like many others but at least he was up for the battle with Jones. Another steady performance from our Captain Fantastic.
- Season rating – 7.5/10 – Some say it hasn’t been his best season but he’s played more games for us this season than any other since Jose’s first and his comeback from the Moscow nightmare has been great. He will lift the Champions League one day but it just wasn’t to be this year.
- Ashley Cole – 8/10 – Another great game and a goal to round it all off.
- Season rating –9/10 – A brilliant season from the world’s best left-back and a new contract awaits in the summer. Who’s laughing now after the Gallas-Cole swap deal?
- Juliano Belletti – 5/10 – Lasted 20 minutes and hardly touched the ball.
- Season rating – 7/10 – A very useful squad player whose long range efforts have lit up the season. My bet is that this was his last league game for us and after a disastrous opening to his Chelsea career at right-back, his resurgence in midfield has been a revelation.
- John Obi Mikel – 6/10 – Strolled around like many others but without Lampard he was given the opportunity to stride forward. Unfortunately he looked as lost and confused as always as he approached their box.
- Season rating – 7.5/10 – Filled in brilliantly for Essien but the Bison’s return has exposed his inexperience and immaturity. A breakthrough season for sure but next season he has to show he has the nous of Makelele or the attacking ability of Essien and Lampard to get into the side.
- Michael Essien – 6.5/10 – Didn’t do much but he did put in marginally more effort than those around him.
- Season rating – 9/10 – A 9 for two months’ work? Well his impact has been immense and his performances in Turin, at Anfield and goal against Barca sum up how great he is. A future Chelsea legend alongside Zola, Lampard and JT in my book.
- Nicolas Anelka – 7/10 – A great goal gives him an extra two points which would have given him a 5 which is an accurate reflection of his impact apart from the goal.
- Season rating – 7.5/10 – Golden Boot winner, 25 goals in all competitions but strangely none of us would rate him as world class. Still goes missing in big games if we had to keep one of Didier, Anelka and Di Santo in order to raise funds and make space for some new arrivals then I’d keep our pantomime villain every time.
- Didier Drogba – 6.5/10 – Still finding his feet in this new age of no diving and he was rather anonymous today. Did like his shouting at Bosingwa in the first half though for pulling out of a challenge.
- Season rating – 7/10 – Love him or hate him we’ll always need him if we carry on with Jose’s 4-3-3. Ancelotti may change that with a new system and a new strikeforce but this season was very Didier; goals, injuries and controversy.
- Florent Malouda – 7/10 – A lovely first half strike and another neat and tidy performance. Not at his best but another encouraging showing.
- Season rating – 8.5/10 – Can’t give a 9 thanks to his Scolari form but under Guus he’s looked world class. His left foot gives us width and balance and he now seems certain to stay.
Other season ratings
- Alex – 8/10 – I’ll happily admit that I was wrong about him. His early days exposed him as a slow and cumbersome elephant but under Guus he’s lost some weight, given a run in the first-team and now looks great. Still worried about an Alex-Terry partnership against a pacy and tricky forward such as Villa or Aguero but if you believe the papers then they’ll both be leading the line at the Bridge next season, so Alex looks to have a bright future in the first team.
- Michael Ballack – 6.5/10 – I’m a fan of his experience and class in the big games but with only two goals (I think) to his name I’m not sure if he’s worth a new £130k/wk contract.
- Frank Lampard – 9.5/10 – Just imagine if we refused to give him his £140k/wk contract in the summer! Another brilliant season from the media’s Robin to Stevie G’s Batman and if we can get another midfielder to fill that troublesome Makelele role (Gareth Barry perhaps?) then Super Frank and Essien can lead us to glory in Europe.
- Salomon Kalou – 6.5/10 – A problem season for him. Shows flashes of brilliance and when given a chance in the first team he can get into double figures, goal scoring wise, but I fear his erratic nature may cost him in this summer’s cull.
- Guus Hiddink – 9.5/10 – Apart from Jose (will never stop supporting him), is there a better manager in world football? A brilliant tactician and man-manger who was robbed of a glorious double (potentially) by a Norwegian clown. Only negative is his loyalty (unfortunately for us it’s to Russia) and his inability to make late substitutions to waste time.
My Chelsea awards
Superhuman award for general amazingness: It could only be Frank Lampard.
Frank apart, my player of the year: For me it goes to Ashley. Hated by some but loved by me.
Biggest flop: Anyone surprised to see Deco’s name? Well that’s what you get for an over-the-hill, Barcelona reject who likes to party and just to add to this glowing recommendation, smokes (according to Jose anyway) a lot.
Worst signing of the season: Big Phil “Plan A is the only way” Scolari. Could not get a more inappropriate Chelsea manager.
Most improved player: Florent Malouda. A late renaissance has saved his Chelsea career. Was booed by some early in the season but should survive our revolving door this summer.
Breakthrough of the season: Branislav Ivanovic. Chelsea fans always had faith that he’d show his true class when given a chance and thanks (through gritted teeth) must go to Avram for getting us the best young defender in Europe as he was described at Lokomotiv.
Young player of the year: Michael Mancienne. A future Chelsea star who should be given a run next season.
Most typical Chelsea moment: The second leg against Barca. The Champions League is the Holy Grail for us and this match had everything which sums up what being a Chelsea fan is all about. Glorious goals (yep including Iniesta’s), feelings of pain and ecstasy in equal measure, power, passion and above all controversy. It was all typical Chelsea which made the outside world hate us even more and that’s just the way we like it.
Special recognition award: Must go to Guus Hiddink. Again it’s typical Chelsea that we’ve found another Special One but just at the wrong time. Hopefully he’ll win the World Cup with Russia but for what he’s done for us, he’s already become a Chelsea legend.
Conclusions and predictions
Looking into my crystal ball I have to say that Carlo Ancelotti should be our new manager and for all the criticism he’s faced from some on here, when he does arrive he should be embraced. It’s Roman’s turn to pick a manager as Kenyon picked Jose only for Roman to back Avram and then Kenyon chose Scolari but was reliant on Roman’s mate bailing him out. Roman obviously wants Carlo and is willing to back him. I fear for the likes of Ricky, Belletti, Kalou, Anelka and possibly Bosingwa and Didier but with the likes of Villa, Aguero, Young, Kaka, Barry and… Beckham being linked with us, this summer will definitely be an exciting one.
I’ll leave it to others to do a proper season review but looking back on another rollercoaster journey, one has to say that it’s again been typical Chelsea. We appointed a useless doughnut only to find the manager we’ve been searching for all along was residing in the snowy wastes of Russia. We looked a shoe-in for the title (for six weeks at least) until Liverpool burst our bubble and at the end of the campaign, controversy, anger and pain has engulfed us all. An FA Cup triumph will provide a great ending but looking back it must go down as a season of if-onlys. But what we must thank Guus for most is the fact that he’s brought back the real Chelsea. Next season it’ll be us against the world and that siege mentality should serve us brilliantly along with the return of Beckham!
So that’s me over for the season. Off to enjoy a couple of weeks away until the start of preseason and another crazy Chelsea summer.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!