Napoleon once said that “England is a nation of shopkeepers”, but a browse through the Sunday papers suggested that we are now a country filled with orthopaedic obsessives. From John Prescott boning his secretary to the metatarsal-mania surrounding Rooney’s foot via the skeletons in Steve McClaren’s cupboard, you couldn’t move for stories both humerus [sic] and grim on matters skeletal.
Saturday’s title clincher at the Bridge was all about the rock-solid spine of the Chelsea team and United’s lack of backbone. After the fractured tactical approach to the Liverpool game, Jose reverted to a more familiar looking 4-3-3 formation which crushed a disjointed looking United to seal the Blues’ second consecutive Premiership title (that’s enough bone references – Blogmaster). Dreadful puns aside, this column will make no further mention of the incident that will dominate football for months (there has been coverage elsewhere, apparently) and wishes Rooney a speedy recovery; the ovation he received when departing the Stamford Bridge pitch told its own story.
For the average Chelsea fan, somewhere in a parallel universe every Saturday is like this. A warm spring day, three great goals, Manchester United well and truly stuffed and the title retained. We may not all have received medals, but a game like this was ample reward after a season in which the patience of even the most ardent Blue has occasionally been tested to the limit.
With the opposition suggesting that their aim was to spoil the party, Gallas’s opening goal provided the perfect antidote to the butterflies that came with the occasion. Drogba flicked a Lampard corner on for the Frenchman, who strolled into a space the size of Old Trafford to nod the ball past Van der Sar and Giggs who were admiring the view from the goal line. Sadly, the speculation over a possible move to Italy increases; finding a player even half as good will either test Frank Arnesen to the limit or add a few more zeroes to this summer’s transfer bill.
The other half of arguably the best central defensive pairing in world football showed early on that he was in no mood for compromise. John Terry’s reaction to Rooney’s hefty challenge brought to mind the Black Knight in ‘…the Holy Grail’. Ten stitches required? Pah, ‘tis but a scratch! He will not play for Chelsea again before August, but it would have taken a brave (or rather foolish) man to inform Chelsea’s captain that his season had finished at that point. Quite how Rooney, now surely the world’s most famous resident of an oxygen tent since Michael Jackson started blowing Bubbles, avoided a place in Mike Dean’s book will remain a mystery to all but the referee.
Despite the scuffed shot wide, the United number eight’s powerful run clear of the Chelsea backline after twenty minutes was a clear indication of his importance to the runners-up; what little threat there was to Chelsea came through him. When inevitable comparisons are made between the current crop and the United sides of the 1990’s, his name heads a very short list that could be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Cantona and Beckham. The best of the rest was Gary Neville; the remainder looked decidedly ordinary. A midfield pairing of Giggs and O’Shea may have been enough to keep United unbeaten in the league since early February, but up against Makelele, Essien and Lampard their influence on the game was near non-existent. No prizes for guessing what tops Ferguson’s summer shopping list.
Joe Cole had promised the fans a party after defeat in the FA Cup semi at Old Trafford; with an hour gone he made good his word with a candidate for goal of the season. Hemmed in by Ferdinand, Vidic and Silvestre, the man who now looks most likely to provide England with a creative spark this summer conjured up some magical footwork to leave the United trio looking like drunks trying to catch a bar of soap and curled a superb shot past Van der Sar to kick-start the celebrations.
This winning business can make you rather greedy and not content with two goals, we demanded icing on our cake. Step forward ‘Percy’ Carvalho – about seventy yards to be precise. Having won possession inside the Chelsea area the Portuguese international covered the length of the pitch and latching onto Joe Cole’s pass, hammered the ball past a miserable looking Van der Sar at his near post to cap a superb performance by both him and the team. Boring, boring Chelsea.
The hacks were handed their ‘Mourinho moments’ at the end of the game and during the celebrations that followed; the apparently arrogant obscenity of handshakes for the United bench a whole ninety seconds prior to the final whistle of a consecutive titles-clinching game, the “I nearly quit” revelations, the coat and medals into the crowd and complaints at the lack of recognition for his team. His insistence that he will be looking for a third consecutive title next season will have both delighted and infuriated in equal measure.
The celebrations were less spontaneous than last year’s (the absence of Robert Huth and any vehicles from the pitch were particularly telling), but no less satisfying. The Bridge echoed with the name of Peter Osgood as Chopper and Charlie Cooke bought the silverware out into a jubliant Stamford Bridge, now site of the best home record in top flight football for ninety-nine years. JT arrived hobbling and lifted the trophy, Crespo’s tears flowed for his first title in European football and 40,000 friends he might not see again, Drogba led the MHL in song while Joe Cole danced like his dad and the Gudjohnsen children had their annual kickabout. We could definitely get used to this title-winning lark.
And the rest of us? We got drunk in the afternoon sun and pondered that less than a decade ago, a League Cup win would have marked a successful season for Chelsea and back-to-back titles just business as usual for United. As Sir Alex once said, the league table doesn’t lie; we are the Chelsea and we are the best for the second season running. Pick the bones out of that.