The Times, George Caulkin: “United and Chelsea had cause to berate the “cursed North” over the course of the weekend, with Middlesbrough’s gallant draw at Old Trafford on Saturday followed by a fine performance by Newcastle United at St James’ Park. At its conclusion, the race for the Barclays Premiership title remains unaltered, but momentum now returns to Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. Probably.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Jose Mourinho warning darkly about conspiracy theories against his Chelsea team, his players empty of ideas against a side playing for nothing. If yesterday at St James’ Park was where Chelsea’s hectic pursuit of Manchester United ended then it was a soulless, lethargic way to go, just when the race had got interesting.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Mourinho was probably being serious when he alleged a conspiracy, even though exhibit A was nothing more than the inadevertent contact that Stephen Carr’s arm had made with a Didier Drogba cut-back in the 10th minute. It should be borne in mind that a virtuoso manager, just like a conjuror, must be capable of diverting the audience’s attention.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “The champions looked leg-weary, with Frank Lampard lacking his usual sparkle, Michael Ballack hobbling away injured, and Didier Drogba, so often the scourge of the Toon, unable to escape the alert [Steven] Taylor.”
Official Chelsea FC Website, Neil Barnett: “So Manchester United remain in the driving seat for the Premiership title? Just. But with four games to go this weekend made it look like the one who can stumble over the finishing line first will win.”
Black & White & Read All Over, Ben: “Steve Harper could have got his deckchair and knotted hanky out, so little action did he see.”
- I cannot think of anything or anyone worthy of inclusion here. Maybe Michael Essien deserves a mention for stepping into central defence in place of the injured Ricardo Carvalho, and for covering for Paulo Ferreira’s continuing ineptness, but in all honesty no player merits recognition in what was an insipid, lacklustre, and passionless display. Newcastle never really looked like scoring yet I’m including a defender in this section. Says it all really.
- Probably for the first time this season the entire 90 minutes is included here. Normally it’s either half that comes in for criticism, but on this occasion the whole game was terrible – Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper didn’t have a save of note to make. You wouldn’t have believed the Premiership title was effectively up for grabs; three points would have had Manchester United on the ropes and we blew it Claudio Ranieri style. Simple as that.
- Jose Mourinho complaining about penalties, or lack of them, strikes me as sour grapes. Then again it was probably a ruse to take the focus away from the players and their tame performance. It is a well known fact that referees are afraid to give penalties against United at Old Trafford (which doesn’t make it acceptable), and today’s referee, Mark Halsey, is one of the increasing number of incompetent officials in the Premiership. There’s no doubt that we could rather than should have had a spot kick or two in this game, but we shouldn’t be relying on penalties to decide our fate, especially penalties at Old Trafford. United opened the door on Saturday and we just weren’t good enough to kick it wide open. A long, hard season may finally be taking its toll.
- Frank Lampard. Dreadful throughout. His dead-ball deliveries were for the most part crap again. He looked worn out.
- Paulo Ferreira. What has happened to him? He’s so far off being the player of the last two seasons that he may just be an imposter planted by United, part of the “conspiracy”.
- The injuries to Michael Ballack and Ricardo Carvalho. Carvalho, our best defender this season by some distance, didn’t even start and will miss Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool too. With Ballack picking up an ankle injury early on, and Essien suspended, the defensive crisis of earlier in the campaign is returning to haunt us at the most crucial stage.
Man of the Match
I can’t recall the last Chelsea result that ruined a day quite so comprehensively as this one did. Just as you allow yourself to dream the impossible dream something like this occurs and knocks you back to reality – the reality being that Manchester United might just be fated to win this season’s Premiership.
It certainly wasn’t the best preparation for Wednesday’s big game. With Ballack picking up an injury, Carvalho and Essien already ruled out, and several players on yellow cards, Liverpool must fancy their chances over two legs. A great deal of their arrogant fans certainly believe they’re already in the final. But if there’s one man who can destroy Liverpool’s season it’s Mourinho, despite his recent poor record against Rafael Benitez in Europe.
To top off a bad day, Cristiano “the-new-George-Best” (jeez) Ronaldo, the most hated player in England just nine months ago, has won both the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards.
This day will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons.
- Reaction: Penalty charge added to new injury blow
- Jose’s future clarified: ‘The story is over’
- Drogba players’ runner-up