The Observer, Amy Lawrence: "[Petr Cech], so twitchy of late, gave his confidence a boost with a classy penalty save. It was an action equally significant to the touch of the goalscorer, Salomon Kalou, and helped to give Chelsea the perfect warm-up for the Champions League semi-final. Not overly strenuous, a few rested bodies, and one happy goalkeeper. What more could Guus Hiddink have wanted?"
Sunday Telegraph, Jason Burt: "For Chelsea, there was even a fine penalty save by Petr Cech, to cap his rehabilitation and preserve the points although West Ham didn’t deserve a share. Lampard threw his shirt to a West Ham fan at the end. It was the closest anyone with claret and blue sympathies had come to getting hold off him all afternoon."
Sunday Times, Nick Townsend: "Lampard had responded with one of those typical performances, of diligence and vision, that made one question the wisdom of his peers not to shortlist him at least for the player of the year award. His display reached its peak 10 minutes after the break. He sent up a tantalising ball from near the byline. Robert Green flapped at it and just did enough to propel the ball towards Salomon Kalou, who netted easily."
Independent on Sunday, Mark Fleming: "[A]ny thoughts that [Lampard] might not be fully focused on Chelsea’s priorities were dispelled in eye-catching fashion at the ground he used to call home. Lampard was given the predictable vitriolic abuse by the Upton Park crowd, who cannot forgive him for crossing London in 2001. His response was a mature display of precision and control. The only times he gave his emotions away were after he set up the game’s only goal for Salomon Kalou and at the final whistle. Lampard was the last player to leave the pitch after enjoying the victory with the travelling Chelsea fans, and first to greet him in the tunnel was West Ham’s manager, Gianfranco Zola, his former Chelsea team-mate."
Official Chelsea FC Website: "A game with an end-of-season and pre-big European night feel was decided by a Salomon Kalou goal and a Petr Cech penalty save."
I had an incredibly frustrating time watching this game live on the web. It was all stop-start. There was lots of flipping from one SopCast channel to another which, as you probably know, is a time consuming process. I don’t know if it was my connection, my ISP, Parallels, SopCast or a combination of all four. I also had one eye on the World Snooker Championship.
I stuck with it though. Here are a few brief points gleaned from what I saw of the game (I probably only missed a few minutes, it just seemed like more).
With Tuesday’s Champions League tie against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in mind, Hiddink made five changes to the side that drew with Everton at Stamford Bridge in midweek, bringing in Michael Mancienne, Jose Bosingwa, Juliano Belletti, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou for Alex, Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba.
Frank Lampard made his 50th Chelsea start of the season.
- The performance overall was quite impressive. Lots of possession and neat passing, although we lacked something in the final third. The opening 20 minutes were one-sided with West Ham struggling to keep possession of the ball for more than a few seconds at a time. Cech had his first touch in the 13th minute, and the Hammers had their first corner in the 42nd. We failed to make our superiority count though and it was West Ham who had the two best chances of the half. Cech saved well at the feet of Dyer, and Mikel cleared off the line from a Tristan toe poke after we failed to clear from a corner. The second half was much the same, with Lampard continuing to impress in midfield and the Hammers struggling to keep possession for very long. The goal came in the 55th minute when some great work down the left by Lampard led to Kalou poking the ball into the top corner of Green’s net. A one goal lead with more than half an hour to go looked like it was going to be more than enough. Then Kalou gave away a stupid penalty. Up stepped Noble to take the kick…
- Petr Cech saved it! Yes, you read that right. Cech saved a penalty! It was a splendid save too. He’d obviously done his homework on Noble. He dived to his left and got a strong hand on the ball to just tip it round the post. The look on his face as he celebrated in front of our fans said it all. West Ham’s heads seemed to drop after that and we held on with something to spare.
- Frank Lampard. He’s having a tough time of it off the field, but you wouldn’t know it from his displays on the field. He put in another Man of the Match performance, which must have given him immense pleasure considering his relationship with the West Ham fans, who booed him throughout. He more than made up for being sent off in this fixture last season.
- The back four. Guus’s decision to rest five players ahead of Tuesday’s game meant our defence had an unusual look to it. Ivanovic switched from right-back to the centre alongside Terry, while Mancienne and Bosingwa started at right- and left-back respectively. Bosingwa was given an hour’s practise on the left before being given the job of covering for the suspended Ashley Cole against Barca. He did quite well. That said, West Ham’s attack was disappointing and Messi is sure to be a whole different ball game, as it were. Mancienne started slowly but improved as the game wore on. Worryingly, he developed cramp after 80 minutes and was replaced by Ballack a couple of minutes later.
- Salomon Kalou. It’s mean to pick out the goal scorer for criticism, but I was unimpressed with his overall contribution. He ran down dead ends, his final ball was poor on nearly every occasion, often after great work to get into a dangerous position, and he gave away a needless penalty. He made up for a poor display by scoring the winner, which was his first Premier League goal since October. His contract is up in the summer. While he can be incredibly frustrating, I do hope he stays at the club.
- Zola and Clarke have agreed, but not yet signed, new four-year contracts with the Hammers. There goes my dream of them taking the reins at the Bridge in the summer. I have a horrible feeling that there’s something to the Carlo Ancelotti rumours.
- Petr Cech – 7.5/10 – Still looks iffy on crosses and set pieces, but his one-on-one save from Dyer and rare penalty stop were top class. Hopefully this performance will improve his confidence going into Tuesday’s game.
- Michael Mancienne – 6.5/10 – Got stronger and more confident as the game wore on. Has a bright future.
- John Terry – 7/10 – Solid and dependable as always.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 7/10 – Switched from right-back to centre-back with ease.
- Jose Bosingwa – 6.5/10 – Promising at left-back. Bring on Messi!
- John Obi Mikel – 6.5/10 – Made a couple of needless and clumsy tackles in dangerous positions, but he bossed West Ham’s midfield.
- Juliano Belletti – 7/10 – Is now a much better holding midfielder than he is a right-back. Did a sterling job alongside Mikel.
- Frank Lampard – 8.5/10 – By some distance the best player on the pitch.
- Salomon Kalou – 5.5/10 – Disappointing despite scoring the goal. His pull on Ilunga that gave West Ham a penalty was both unnecessary and idiotic. Inconsistency lets him down.
- Florent Malouda – 7.5/10 – The second best player on the pitch.
- Nicolas Anleka – 6/10 – A tad disappointing in his preferred position down the middle.
- Ashely Cole (sub for Bosingwa) – 7/10 – Hit the cross bar within minutes of coming on and was a constant threat down West Ham’s right. We’re going to miss him on Tuesday.
- Michael Essien (sub for Kalou) – 6/10 – Shored up midfield.
- Michael Ballack (sub for Mancienne) – 6/10 – Not enough time to make an impact.
Man of the Match
Frank Lampard. There’s no doubt he’s going to be held in the same esteem as Franco Zola when he finally hangs up his boots.
A good performance and three points, but the Premier League title is beyond us now after Manchester United’s comeback against Spurs at Old Trafford. Guus admitted as much after the nil-nil with Everton at the Bridge on Wednesday. It’s going to be odd not being involved, particularly as there’s still a month of the season remaining and four games left to be played. But the fact that all four teams – Fulham, Arsenal, Blackburn and Sunderland – still have something to play for, and our need to finish third to avoid a difficult Champions League qualifying tie, means it should still be an exciting end to the Premier League campaign.
The focus now though is on the Champions League and FA Cup final. Tuesday evening’s first leg against Barca should be a cracker. I’m quite relaxed about the game, although I’m sure I’ll be feeling sick to my stomach with worry by the time Tuesday afternoon gets here.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!