The build up
Aristotle famously defined tragedy as a story in which heroes, who might be expected to end up happily, by a reversal of fortune end up miserably. A case in point is Villas-Boas who started out the season with such bright hopes, and with an initial run of good results, has now suffered defeat after defeat. To be sure, Aristotle also pointed out that tragic heroes often add to their own misfortune through some flaw in their character and I would argue that some of Villas-Boas’s team selections and tactical decisions in recent weeks haven’t helped his cause.
A comedy, by contrast, is a story in which fools, who might be expected to end in misfortune, in fact end up happy. A case in point was our narrow 0-1 win at Blackburn when our team made defensive error after error and still won.
A farce is a story in which fools who live in a state of delusion over what each other is doing – and keep on making the same mistakes again and again – end up with no resolution in sight. A case in point is the mid-week defeat against Liverpool in the Carling Cup in which we persisted in playing a narrow diamond formation (apparently without practicing it first in training) against the resolute 4-4-2 team that had beaten us with the same approach 10 days before.
I firmly expected this match to end up as another tragedy for the manager and I was somewhat flummoxed when I learnt that the bookies had made us an odds-on 10/11 to win this match. Do they know something I don’t? Given that Newcastle are above us in the table and haven’t lost at home since last March the bookie’s choice seems odd, to me at any rate.
Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Romeu, Ramires, Lampard, Sturridge, Drogba, Mata.
Substitutes: Turnbull, Torres, Malouda, Meireles, Bosingwa, Kalou, Bertrand.
This is the same selection as for the Wolves game when for the first time in some weeks we played well, albeit against a poor side. Good to see Romeu get another start and (as eventually proved) Mata was given a free role in front of Lamps and Ramires. Interesting that neither Alex nor Anelka made the bench given the rumours that both are to be sold in January (l learnt after the match that both have now handed in transfer requests).
Sky TV’s team of assorted pundits sounded like they were all being separately castrated after Mike Dean failed to send off Luiz in the first five minutes. And, in truth, Luiz was lucky to stay on after first ball-watching while Demba Ba stole behind him and then appearing to haul him down while he was the last man. Sky’s own replays showed that Ba was offside but no comment on that fact emerged. Nor did they seem unduly upset when Dean failed to send off Taylor for bringing down Sturridge in the penalty area in identical circumstances.
But Luiz had another farcical performance this first half when he made mistake after mistake playing Ba, who might easily have scored, twice. It was never entirely clear why Villas-Boas had given him the task of marking Ba when JT was clearly more suited for that task. As it happened they switched over after half time and JT kept Ba quiet thereafter.
Aside from that we looked by far the better side and Mata was, again, wonderful to watch with his pace, movement off the ball and sublime skill in turning opponents, and setting up Drogba and Sturridge.
Dan was also having a blinder of sorts. Time and again he beat Taylor and had no less than four attempts on goal, one of which hit the post and another resulted in the penalty. That was taken by Lampard and was about the poorest attempt you will see all season. In general, Lamps was not effective today although I don’t say he played badly. He just seemed, kind of, well – inconsequential.
But as the half progressed and Sturridge and Drogba between them managed to fluff five clear-cut chances I began to think my initial pessimism was well placed and I could see Newcastle nicking this, despite our general superiority. They nearly did so when Cech made a world-class save from Ba’s volley and then Ba beat Luiz (again) and hit the post.
On that point Ba looks like a good acquisition to me. In fact if we dropped the Drog from Drog-ba and bought him we would get… (sorry, couldn’t resist that one in the tradition of the Carry On farces).
Four minutes later and we are 0-1 up. Ashley throws in to Mata who, out of nowhere, does an acrobatic turn round his marker, bears down on goal, and flicks it up to Drogba, who powers it in with a header while the Newcastle defence are still trying to react. Drogba has been poor all afternoon, constantly giving the ball away, or being shoved off it by Coloccini, but his goal was vintage (although it helped that Colocinni went off injured 10 minutes before).
Half time: Newcastle 0 Chelsea 1.
Newcastle bring Ameobi Major on (Ameobi Minor, his brother is on their bench) and it looks like they are going to 4-4-2 which could give us still more space to play in now they have given up their 5-man midfield. But instead they take the game to us. And for 15 minutes or so we go back to the same tired old mistakes: playing too deep, sloppy passes, poor concentration, with Drogba nowhere to be seen when it comes to holding the ball up. Shortly after heading against his own crossbar Drogba wastes another chance when he chests the ball down (rather adroitly) and blasts the ball into the side netting from four yards out. Two minutes later we could have been 3-0 up when Ramires – again set up by Mata – is one-on-one with the keeper and shoots straight at Krul (good goalkeeper that, by the way).
On 59 minutes AVB hauls off Lamps, who looks fairly pissed-off at the idea, and brings on Meireles. He doesn’t shake Lampard’s hand either. Something in that? But as soon as Meireles comes on we slowly take control again as we stop playing deep and he and Romeu start pushing up.
Slightly tongue-in-cheek, and also to ward off the dark forces that so frequently bring tragedy to us Chelsea supporters, I predicted on this blog yesterday that we would draw this game 1-1 with a Mata-created goal in the first half and an equalizer in the last 15 minutes. It so nearly turns out that way as we miss chance after chance (Sturridge with no less than seven of those) while they thrice hit the woodwork. A comedy of errors indeed but deliverance comes in the very last minute from a place I would never have predicted, as AVB brings off Mata and brings on Kalou and then substitutes Torres for Drogba. Though the first decision was a mistake but it is Salomon who scores a class impact goal to confound his critics. And it is Torres who sets him on the counter, first running rings round their defence, having a shot saved, and then retrieving it for Kalou to knock past Krul.
By now Newcastle look exhausted and it’s no surprise when Ramires hunts down a clearance to Sturridge, who finally scores in the 93rd minute.
Full time: Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3.
- Cech. Has finally been given permission to stop those calamitous pussy-passes between him and the back four that has given us so many farcical moments over the past few months. A stunning save from Ba in the first half and a reasonable solid performance elsewhere.
- JT. Back to his absolute best.
- Ivan. Seemed a little suspect against both Ameobi Major and Ameobi Minor who turned him several times but neither actually got past him for the most part.
- Luiz. At his absolute worst in the first half and could have cost us the match had he been sent off. But second half he was back to normal again with his astute anticipation and moves upfield. Really wish he would cut out the farce from his game.
- Cole. Another excellent performance and combined well with Mata going forward. Seems to have got over his blip.
- Romeu. This is 20-year-old who plays with the deep cunning, and hard cleverness, of someone 10 years older. Now I come to think of it – exactly like Makelele, in fact.
- Ramires. Hard-tackling play and fast on the attack but his shooting left me groaning again. But no doubt that he is going to be the future of our team.
- Lampard. Never really exerted any influence on the game and played far too deep. His penalty miss summed it up really and I am starting to wonder whether his hat-trick against Bolton was a false dawn.
- Mata. One of those Gods who appears out of nowhere to turn Tragedy into Comedy. My Man of the Match.
- Drogba. Ba!
- Sturridge. Has now scored 16 goals in 22 matches for ourselves and Bolton – a good example of the way in which statistics can mislead. He won’t get seven chances to score against Valencia or Citeh – so back to shooting practice for you Dan, if we want to avoid a tragedy on Tuesday.
- Meireles (sub). Don’t know why AVB leaves him out as he is the natural first choice in midfield for me.
- Kalou (sub). Did very little when he came on apart from score just when we needed it – when Sturridge didn’t. Is there is a lesson for his critics there?
- Torres (sub). Was only given 12 minutes to play which was a bit baffling with Drogba, at best, average in the second half. But skinned their (by now, very tired) defence several times before setting up Kalou.
- Villas-Boas. The manager has been getting brick-bats, with some justification, over recent performances so deserves credit for this display. He played the team wider, with Mata given a free role and Sturridge getting found time and again with early passes from midfield. He’s cut down the aimless passing around at the back which so often gives the opposition a chance to force errors and we defended a lot more solidly. Let’s hope he can continue in heroic style.
The manager’s reaction
“I don’t agree with people who say that his [Luiz’s] over-enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of him. David is the No.1 central defender for Brazil and they have six world championship titles so I think he will be one of the best central defenders in the world and in two years’ time he will be nominated for the best football defender in the world. I have that much confidence in him.
“It [the disputed red card] was a major incident. Mike Dean decided not to send him off and you have to agree with me that this season Chelsea have had tremendous decisions against them from the Old Trafford off-sides to penalties not given against Bayer Leverkusen and in the game against Liverpool.
“But nobody made any fuss about it so I hope you guys do not do the same. Maybe Mike Dean’s decision went our way and I am sure Alan Pardew will not be happy with that but all I can say is that with nine or 10 men we play even better. We might have won the game more than 3-0.
“The emotions from the stands and the Newcastle bench suggested they thought it was a sending off but I haven’t seen it again. Anyway, I was expecting to see a yellow card.
“It was a good, solid performance for 90 minutes. The players were decisive today with their inspiration and self-confidence and inner belief at a time when results haven’t gone our way.
“To find this inner belief and strength was the major key against one of the best defences in the Premier League and a team that was at full steam in terms of motivation. It was always going to be a difficult challenge and we did fantastically well and deserved applause for what they did.
“It was a much-needed win. We are making good progress. We hope that our Premier League fortunes are changing. We have a major game against Valencia in the Champions League on Tuesday and we hope to go through and if we do we set up the right emotional stimulus to take on the league leaders with a shot further in the distance.
“The players were amazing. We have a fantastic team and fighting spirit when everything is against them. We have full belief in them.”
The press reports
The Observer, Paul Wilson: “Beating Newcastle is no mean feat these days, and Chelsea returned to something like their fluent best in becoming the first team to win on Tyneside this season. Their defence stood solid against some enterprising home attacks, with Oriol Romeu looking assured in front of the back four, and Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata and Ramires all showed speed of thought as well as movement. Newcastle were unhappy with a couple of refereeing decisions, and had a right to be, though there was no denying that with slightly calmer finishing Chelsea could have had another goal or two.”
The Independent on Sunday, Damian Spellman: “Victory will have come as a relief to under-pressure Villas-Boas, who had seen his side lose three of their last four games, while opposite number Alan Pardew could once again be proud of a team which started the game without Cheik Tiote and Leon Best and lost central defenders Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor before the end of it.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea made it back-to-back league wins and inflicted Newcastle’s first home defeat in a terrifically attacking and entertaining game. Didier Drogba with his third goal of the season gave his side a half-time lead after Frank Lampard had spurned an earlier penalty. Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge scored late on and in truth the scoreline was a little harsh on a home side who hit woodwork three times and gave the Blues defence a stiff contest. But we could have scored more goals too, and it was only at the end Sturridge got the better of Newcastle keeper Tim Krul in what was a long-running personal duel.”