This was an odd film. A film where the marvellous Javier Bardem walks through the entire 120 minutes on a killing spree – I believe a spree is anything more than three people. It has no relevance to this report or the game really other than the ending is curiously very satisfyingly unsatisfying. Maybe that’s the relevance because that’s a little like the way our season seems to be heading.
Mind you had Mr Bardem turned up today and decided to take a few players out in new and interesting ways then I for one might have viewed it as mercy killing rather than mass murder, or indeed a killing spree.
One other glaring link though is this. The Premier League is most certainly not a place for the ageing player. Once legs and desire go, then your days are numbered. Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda, please take note.
And so to the game…
Do I have to? Oh OK then. I could sum it up in one sentence really. First half rotten but a better second half ruined by sheer stupidity and failures in the basics of football. Two teams in transition on the path to trying to get back to former glories? Or two bald men fighting over a rusty comb? It would seem they’re further on that transitional path than us.
Let’s look at the team selection first. On paper the back four looked OK, with the allegedly suspect Luiz getting a start. Honestly the way some Chelsea fans talk about him, you’d think Mr Bean had been selected. Personally if he develops as I suspect he might, then we’ll have a faster more skillful centre-back than Riccy Carvalho. Ivan always reliable at right-back, captain JT in the centre with Luiz and ‘the world’s best left-back’ in Ashley Cole. Now, personally I thought he had a stinker versus Arsenal and in fact has looked shaky all season, but the press and many others have copyrighted that title so who am I to equate his recent form to the Emperor’s New Clothes analogy? Ramires, Mikel, Lamps formed the middle equation with a front three of Mata, Malouda and… the complex enigma that is Drogba. A ripple of surprise resonated through the room at that. I loved Didier but like many I fear that he’s a spent force now. Certainly his patchy season last year and frankly utterly ineffectual performances thus far this season indicate as much. Still… we thought… maybe today’s the day he could prove so many wrong.
How wrong could we be?
So let’s just cover the game with a few extended observations.
Our first half started brightly but confidence soon drained as did desire and passion. We really had no pace but Liverpool were equally as poor. Within 10 minutes it was plain to see that Drogba is a shadow of his former self. Like watching Muhammad Ali get back into the ring against Larry Holmes. Sad. It is also apparent that Malouda is lazy and won’t run to the ball. Most glaring of all for me though is that Cole has forgotten the fundamentals of defending. And crossing. And shooting. All of these are bad points, and as the antimatter Brucie himself might say in a parallel universe where everybody is tuned to Play Your Cards Wrong, “What do bad points make? Bad points make bad prizes.”
The ultimate bad point though was a Cech decision to pass to Mikel when he was isolated. The defence was level with Mikel but spread across the pitch, Mikel was exposed, but we see this all the time. All teams regularly pass out to isolated defenders and midfielders level with play. The pass was the equivalent in its badness to Malouda’s hospital pass to JT against Arsenal three weeks ago. Mikel patently wasn’t looking for it. However, despite this Mikel’s indecision and subsequent loss of the ball was incompetency personified. In filmic terms it was Dumb and Dumber. A goal down but hardly deserved and it’s stupid basic mistakes like this that alleged top players constantly seem to be making that are costing us dearly. Frankly the half time whistle couldn’t come soon enough.
Second half the rocket up the arse treatment seemed to have worked. We looked livelier, more desire being shown. It was as if it had taken a few people to explain to the players that an injustice was about to be carried out unless they rectified things. Finally we got ourselves level after Malouda’s duffed shot showed it had a plan B of pretending to be a perfect pass to Sturridge who gleefully tapped home the equalizer. For the rest of the half we had chances but the worrying thing is our inability to capitalize on them. We got the ball into the box plenty of times and Ivan was unlucky not to score from a decent Drogba cross, but not having a consistent striker is costing us. Drogba is no longer a striker. On 86 minutes a cross field ball found ex-Chelsea player Glen Johnson on his own. He then decided to do more than a passable impression of a neutrino by passing undetected through the body of an AWOL but returning Cole before running into the box and slipping neutrino-like through the remaining defence to place the ball into the net. No ‘high line defence’ bollocks at fault here, just a missing left-back who at the moment isn’t even the best left-back in his own house. It was every bit as shockingly poor as Walcott’s was the other week. Schoolboy defending and a real mugging. At this point the game was over.
It was bad, as bad as losing to Arsenal. We need to learn, but the players really need to look deep into themselves as well.
- Luiz – kept that despicable cheating Suarez quiet and showed, despite one silly reaction that he can play very effectively at centre-back.
- Ivan – superb, unluckily booked. Deserved more. If we had 11 with his attitude and desire we’d be invincible.
- Ramires – hard working and full of fight. Got a yellow card for a scissor tackle. I’m guessing it wasn’t red because he let the player live. Ran out of steam.
- Mata – if I was him I’d be wondering just what I’d signed up for.
- Sturrudge – didn’t do much BUT he did get another goal and seems to be the only one who remembers that scoring them is a fundamental point of football.
- Drogba – awful from start to finish, no pace, no touch, no power. A shadow. Goodbye.
- Malouda – slow, lazy, unwilling to track back. Would make Joe Cole look like Pele right now.
- Cech – coasting. Needs Courtois back for competition.
- JT – slow in thought and position and everything else today. I think the pressure is telling.
- Cole – a candidate for the ugly section, but today as he did against Arsenal he stunk the house out. Got nutmegged more than once, and as for positional sense? Mark Thatcher would have been better today.
- Luis Suarez – a man who as the World Cup showed will go to any length and any manner of fakery and cheating to win an advantage for his team. Makes Tevez look like Mother Theresa.
The Man of the Match
From our side, David Luiz, who suffocated Suarez out of the game. Few others apart from Ivan and Mata really deserve much credit.
AVB did get some things wrong today. But it wasn’t tactics as much as personnel. He seems to be falling foul of the old senior player power curse hanging over us. Remember when Scolari tried to be brave by dropping Drogba? Only to find dressing room factions and smears undermining him to the point where the senior players under-performed to such a degree that he was sacked, to be replaced by Hiddink?
Now, I am 100% behind AVB. Twelve games in and four defeats is not good, but some horror shows from senior players have been on display and contributed largely to leaking goals and failing to score them. Horror shows which smack of revenge to me and for which there’s very little any coach could legislate for. It’s time for change and I think he knows this. I’d like to see Josh getting more chances, Torres being confirmed as first choice striker and getting regular full games, Sturridge being a more regular starter. I’d like Courtois to at least be given a chance if he’s as good as everyone says. Get Kakuta back to work alongside Mata. Give Romeu more starts. Shake Drogba, Malouda and Kalou’s hands and wish them well. Buy Perreira and Cahill to build the new defensive unit. Trust Luiz more, he’s a great and skillful player. Could Bertrand or Van Aanholt really be any worse than Cole right now?
The old guard need to know they’re under threat. And that AVB is brave enough to get rid of them. If they don’t like it, then tough, I don’t want people like that spreading poison through the squad. We need more Fergie balls the like of which he showed with Sharpe, Staam, Van Nistelrooy and Beckham.
What’s NOT the answer is sacking AVB and bringing back Hiddink. For a start, Hiddink is 65. So hardly at an age for rebuilding the team as is required. And don’t quote Wenger or Fergie at me, they’ve been in place for many years and I doubt either would relish starting a club from scratch again. Hiddink himself has stated publicly he has no desire to be in day to day management, hence his recent leaning towards managing international teams. So no, Hiddink would not be welcomed back by me as head coach/manager.
Like I say, No Country for Old Men.
However, I would welcome Hiddink back in a Director of Football role. He would provide a welcome bridge between the board and AVB. He could take control of the strategy including the style of play, the scouting, the academy… building that to match AVB’s specifications going forward, linking the roots of the club to the first team, and acting as a paternal mentor to AVB. Roman could dispatch Gourlay to do CEO stuff, Buck to do Chairman stuff and allow proper football people to run the football side from top to bottom.
This season is dead for the Premier League. We will be destroyed if we meet Real or Barca in Europe. We might win an FA Cup, but we have to treat this, and maybe next season as periods of transition much like Fergie has done over the years at Manchester United. If we want to play great football, to win the big trophies, to be consistently challenging then we need a coach who is brave, can execute a strategy and can bring consistency. I still think we already have that man.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The press reports
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “It is never too early for dark speculations at Stamford Bridge. At most clubs it would seem absurd even to doubt a new manager before November is behind him but it does matter that Chelsea are a dozen points off the lead in the Premier League and Andre Villas-Boas’s side will not be in the top four should Tottenham Hotspur so much as draw at home to Aston Villa on Monday. That, in itself, would scarcely be a decisive blow but the brooding about Chelsea would then intensify.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “This was a strange game, one which Liverpool dominated in the first half before the home side resolutely fought their way back into after the break. Then, after Villas-Boas sent on Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles, there was an instance of sloppiness in his defence and Glen Johnson ran through to score an unlikely winning goal.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “In extending their unbeaten run to nine, Liverpool exuded qualities that Chelsea need: pace on the break, unity of purpose and resilience in adversity. Above all, everyone at Liverpool is behind Dalglish. How Villas-Boas would crave such dressing-room to boardroom fidelity enjoyed by Dalglish.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Consecutive home defeats for Chelsea leave a dent in our title aspirations. A late goal from former Blue Glen Johnson did the damage after Daniel Sturridge had equalised Maxi Rodriguez’s opener. After a first-half that saw few chances for either side, we started the second spell brightly and were quickly rewarded with substitute Sturridge’s equaliser. We should have kicked on from there but wasted chances meant a price to pay with Liverpool’s winner coming against the run of play.”