A tale of two birds coming into the weekend.
The omnipotent FA’s decision to adjudicate that which has already been settled in a court of civil law underlines the archaic and arbitrary nature of modern football’s agenda-driven governing bodies, who remain subject to no oversight and are utterly devoid of the burden of proof.
In a 63-page ruling by an “independent” regulatory commission, John Terry was condemned as a racist and Ashley Cole’s testimony declared unreliable. The FA needed to vindicate its decision to strip Terry of the captaincy simply because his not guilty verdict at the Magistrates’ Courts was a glaring embarrassment for England’s top football body.
Most notably, and perhaps even more damningly for the independent commission, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti both came to their former captain’s defence immediately following the mockery of English law.
Understandably unimpressed by the FA’s draconian practices, Cole took to the digital street, brandishing the FA as a “#BUNCHOFTWATS” on Twitter. Bloody Twitter. The flightless passerine is now the symbol of arguably one of the most powerful – and incriminating – modern social institutions, which is capable of inspiring government-toppling revolution when used to its full mobilizing potential, forcing a professional footballer, accustomed to abuse by the thousands in away grounds, to abandon his account when used as a weapon and inspiring heated exchanges between well-known personalities when used by a Piers Morgan.
Clubs should maintain rigid policies regarding their players’ presence on such a pathogenic network. Ashley has now been urged, and rightly so, to close his account.
However hilarious and audacious, it was indeed a damagingly impulsive move by Cole, and his apology will mean little. The predatory media are baying for blue blood.
“Are the players out of control?” asked one calculating reporter during Di Matteo’s latest press conference. The coordinated campaign by the football press corps to unnerve an ardent stoic is beginning and, for the first time, Robbie looked perplexed during a question and answer session, mangling his answers while attempting to ration his words and mitigate misinterpretation. Are the players out of control? Where does one get the testicular fortitude to manipulate a journalistic inquiry with question of such absurdity? #Bunchoftwats. Perhaps he was merely prophetic.
As the fallout from one periwinkle blue bird’s domain transpires, the songbirds of Norfolk signalled another test for the changing of the guard at Chelsea.
First-team affairs seem to have taken a more consistent shape. The swirling trident of ‘Aza, Osca and Mata, are set to dictate the boundaries of Chelsea’s imagination. The defensive quartet, despite a few shortcomings, is never in question. Lampard and Mikel have consonant duopoly over midfield matters. One, however, does worry about Torres’ fatigue levels given that he is expected to start virtually every match this season.
The first 45
Reading’s confident gameplan of two months ago came to mind. The lower half of the Premier League has little to lose when arriving at title-contending grounds this early in the season.
But an assured passing game was clearly the order of the day. Chelsea’s play has an intrinsic left-sided bias about it given the presence of Hazard, Lampard and Cole, who completed triangular exchanges impressively. Their three-way understanding will be a defining aspect of Chelsea’s shape.
With the tempo quick, Chelsea lured Norwich higher up the pitch, allowing Frank to lob a textbook pass above the defence into Torres’ path. Through on goal with pace and on his right foot – the perfect situation to devastate the back of the net – Fernando exhibited a rather disturbing aspect of his recent final decision making. Similar to his action against the Danish champions in midweek, where he sought to round the ‘keeper and beat a defender despite bearing down on goal at a supremely favourable angle, the no. 9, for reasons he might not even know, cut back onto his left and conceded possession. Whatever the motivation lies behind his penchant to overdo it, leave it out.
The somewhat temeritous nature of our play was a concern as the team remained unaligned during Norwich’s counterattacks. And so it was. A momentary lapse and the unwillingness to close down an attack that has scored a mere two goals away from home this season led to a clean finish from Grant Holt. Lazy defending.
Fortunately, falling behind was probably the best thing that could’ve happened. Focus was restored. Chelsea flooded forward and Lampard released Mata on his right. A delightful back-heel allowed Ivanovic to deliver an inviting cross of perfect height and power to be headed in – dare I say it – Drogba-esque fashion by Torres. That’s four goals in six Premier League matches.
Yet again, Ivanovic was involved and has clearly established himself as a vital cog in Chelsea’s attacking play. Commandant.
The commentators were still quick to jump on Torres’ back, claiming that “vintage Torres” has still not materialized. This tag, this desire of punditry to see the Scouse Fernando, is ridiculous. You will never see “vintage Torres”. Chelsea demands a different dimension from its strikers. Torres’ fight and work rate – tracking back and challenging in the air – are aspects of his game that he needs in order to survive and thrive as a lone wolf on the front lines for the league leaders. These are the immeasurable qualities that will redefine what he will be remembered for.
Not too long later, some one-touch passing in close quarters between Chelsea’s triumvirate of talent crafted a chance for Super Frank to score a signature strike. The tally stands at 129 goals for the finest English midfielder of his generation.
At the half hour mark, Chelsea’s ongoing transformation consolidated even further. Outfoxing his marker, Mata charged through the center of the park to paint what would be his masterpiece. Feigning an assessment of options to disguise his true intentions, the quintessential no. 10 manufactured a no-look through ball of penetrative artistry, as if the percussion, drumming and backing instruments had stopped to allow for the lead guitarist to demonstrate an ethereal brilliance during his solo break. The pass, coupled with Hazard’s finish, amounted to psychedelia.
Basking in London sunshine, the first half was Premier League football at its finest: open, competitive (initially), unpredictable and fearless.
The second 45
Supplied by the midfield engines of Lampard and Mikel, the surreptitious, seemingly simple play of the latter in particular remains instrumental to the grander scheme, the trilateral parlance behind Torres crafted chance after chance with Oscar, who thankfully hustles and harries as much as he jukes and feints, creating space for himself in the tightest of situations, while Hazard sought to return the favoor to his Spanish counterpart.
The cornerstone of Hazard’s attacking strategy, however, needs to adapt and evolve. The Belgian revealed his cards at too early of a stage, alerting referees to his most favoured method. Having won the most penalties out of any player in Europe last season and continuing the trend in the opening stages of the English season have all but sealed his reputation.
If he has any sense about him – which he does – he will know full well that, barring studs to kneecap, the likes of Webb and Clattenburg will never rule in his favoor in a crunch match, despite how obvious the infraction might be.
Sergio Aguero did also point out that foreigners are less likely to receive a decision in their favour by the referees. His contention is partially backed by a study conducted by the University of Birmingham. A marked man, indeed, Eden. The recent string of decisions against awarding the team a penalty are nothing new, but worrying nonetheless.
While it should’ve perhaps ended 6-1, Oscar’s whipped in ball from the left found Mata, who cushioned a delicate ball to the one man you can expect to be in the box at this late stage in the game – Ivanovic – who unleashed a masterful volley to make it 4-1. I defy anyone to name a better right-back on the continent. As far as attacking full-backs go, let’s put things into perspective. Cafu, arguably the defining example of a world-class right full-back, scored a total of 16 goals in 448 appearances during the entirety of his bombarding club career. Chelsea’s commandant has scored 15 in 181 games, a majority of which have come from a lethal swing of his right foot.
As the prophetic correspondent had queried in the press room, the players were now indeed out of control. The full repertoire was on show, and a few minutes of circus football can be therapeutic for the fans.
Unfortunately, Abramovich was not in attendance to witness a team that is now truly Di Matteo’s. Roman, are you not entertained?
Undefeated at the top of the league, but away trips to Ukraine and Spurs followed by a double header against Manchester United in the league and cup should truly illuminate the mental character of Di Matteo’s Chelsea.
An African-American proverb wisely reminds us that even the birds that fly highest have to come down to get a drink of water. One must hope that the dressing room, then, is one of insatiable hunger and not thirst.
When you’re flying this high, it’s perhaps unfair to give down-to-earth ratings. As such, the compartments of the team will be rated by altitude.
No. 1: 37,000 feet and cruising. Back to his absolute best.
Defensive Quartet: Varies depending on navigation through turbulence.
Midfield Duopoly: Slightly above ground level. Air traffic control.
The Triumviri: 75 miles (just breaking the atmosphere). Soon to be of cosmic quality.
No. 9: 37,000 feet and climbing. The golden boot is a very real possibility.
Man of the Match
While Juan Mata, the lynchpin of Chelsea’s finest hour at the Bridge thus far, is the obvious choice, spare a thought for John Obi Mikel. Outstanding from beginning to end, his immense performance is easily glanced over by the untrained eye, but he did the Makelele role proud yesterday.
The press reports
The Observer, Paul Doyle: “At least Chelsea are getting things right on the pitch. A week in which the fallout from the John Terry race case contaminated the club even further concluded with a gleaming victory against a Norwich City side that took the lead before being blown away. The European champions’ style in other regards is questionable, but the increased panache with which they are playing is pleasing.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Gerry Cox: “At times, Chelsea have tried to defend the indefensible with Terry and Cole. On Saturday, in Norwich City, they faced a side whose defending was indefensible. Chelsea remain unconvincing themselves at the back – pushed and, at times, bullied by the bullish Grant Holt who opened the scoring – but going forward they are peerless even with the still-unconvincing Torres. Just how potent would they be with a more lethal striker?”
The Independent on Sunday, Nick Szczepanik: “So, back to the football, with both Chelsea and Norwich City relieved to switch attention to the pitch after off-field matters had made the headlines during the week. Well, Chelsea were, coming back from a goal down to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to four points. The fact that neither Ashley Cole nor John Terry was involved in anything controversial will disappoint the headline writers, but Roberto Di Matteo, the Chelsea manager, was happy that his team had not been distracted, recording their fifth successive winand their sixth in seven league matches.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea’s impressive start to the season continues after we came from behind to earn a convincing win against Norwich at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. The visitors went in front early through forward Grant Holt, but Fernando Torres quickly levelled with a fine header, and 10 minutes later we were ahead when Frank Lampard rattled home a superb half-volley. A swift counter-attack from Juan Mata allowed him to create a third for Eden Hazard, and Branislav Ivanovic smashed a fourth in the second half to maintain our unbeaten start to the campaign and move us four points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.”
The goals and highlights