(with apologies to J. Keats)
Given that Genk is in the Limburg Province of Belgium, a region known until around the 14th century as Loon, the title is a fitting description of the rather hapless defensive performance from Chelsea’s opponents last night.
However in mitigation, it should be remembered that having been Juliper League Champions last season, they have seen players leave in the summer before suffering a rash of injuries to key personnel, particularly at the back. Sound familiar? Their manager is also new, their previous incumbent Franky Vercauteren, having headed to the Middle East. I remember Vercauteren playing back in the 80s when Belgium was still a good national side, with their top domestic teams providing decent opposition in club competition. Time and the skewed finances of European football have changed that. But it might be a comfort to the men of Flanders that in Philippe Gilbert, Belgium has the finest one day classics rider in world professional cycling (even though he’s a Walloon).
And what of the game, I hear you cry. Well having adulterated one of the best known lines from Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci, it should be said that there was little pity on display last night. Indeed taking the English homophone, there “wasn’t much mercy shown here” either. (See about 2:17 into this clip of the Goodies “Ecclesiastical Seven-a-Sides” sketch and the game between The Sisters of Mercy and the Greek Orthodox for that quote.)
The key to Chelsea’s performance last night was the tempo and commitment, which was maintained for 90 minutes. The quality of the opposition may have meant a relatively easy win, but there was no sign of players taking it easy or showboating. With the current rotation policy you might have expected a slow paced, disjointed performance with maybe one or two players showing a lack of enthusiasm because they are no longer a shoe-in on the team sheet. Well I saw little evidence of that, which says a lot for the team spirit and the effective management by AVB.
Meireles’s rifled effort was probably the pick of the goals, although the quality of Meireles’s cross and finish from Torres on his second goal was also impressive.
Speaking of Torres, he looked sharp and his form continues to improve, picking up where he left off before the red card. He certainly thrives on the sort of clever service provided by the likes of Meireles. Towards the end of the first half, there was a little change up over a couple of meters down the right side of the six yard area ending in a shot that was very much Torres.
The game was really all one way traffic. There were periods where Genk pressed hard and ensured we had little time on the ball but unfortunately for them, once it was worked to the final third, they were too porous. The swift transfer of the ball from back to front is a noticeable change this season and while against better defences more work may be needed, it really exposed Genk.
So of course we will be reminded not to read too much into the result. And we don’t. But I do take away the impression of a motivated professional outfit, getting the job done. I would also like to say that to their credit they didn’t subject a young, struggling team to any “keep ball”, “olé” style humiliation. Good to save that for when we’re five up against Barca.
I’m taking the three star system from the world of ice hockey.
- First Star – Fernando Torres. He scored two goals.
- Second Star – Jose Bosingwa. Little to do defensively but he really got into the game and continues to get back to the sort of player he used to be.
- Third Star – Oriel Romeu. Yes it was an armchair sort of night, but as with the League Cup game he looks well on the way to being a class act. He brings some real steel to the middle of the pitch.
Indeed no-one played badly so I’m sure you will have your views on who should be in the three stars.
Honourable mentions to “Eminem”, that’s Malouda and Meireles. (And if Mikel and Mata were playing, we’d have a midfield full of M’s. What are the chances of that?) Maybe Malouda’s playing for a contract but he was full of vim and vigour.
I was impressed by Luiz’s range of passing, though he’s still far too rash in the challenge for my taste.
And well done Kalou. Came on, got involved, got a goal. He just didn’t deserve the level of abuse he got over the Valencia debacle.
I’m not going to lay into Genk for the reasons stated earlier in the piece. I was looking forward to seeing De Bruyne, but apart from a couple of good whipped in crosses, it was not an evening where he could show much.
(I wasn’t there. Had a ticket. Couldn’t go. Won’t bore you with the details. Watched a stream.)
Was it me or did Fab Frankie seem the one player who was half a yard out of step? He didn’t play badly and I certainly didn’t sit down to watch his performance in particular, but it struck me that he didn’t seem as smooth as the others. Yes everyone gave the ball away or misplaced a pass, it was more just an impression. It was as though he was on the rivet while others had plenty in the tank. Maybe all that nonsense about him being finished has got in my head.
It’s just all going a little too smoothly at the moment, the Ramires injury aside. Man the poop deck and keep a lookout for icebergs! It’s getting to that time of year.
Of course off the pitch matters are a tad more fraught. The stats show a crowd of around 38,000 last night. I don’t know how true that is or whether the boycott had much effect. I understand the frustration with ticket prices but have concerns about that impacting on direct support for the team. Maybe buying less merchandise etc. would be a better way to protest. Then again the players are getting paid very well and should perhaps understand the limited influence the fan has on commercial matters, which would lead them to take such action.
And of course the “limited influence” goes to the heart of the CPO debate, which rumbles on.
I read this recently which goes to the nub of what people believe about being a fan of a team or club. Obviously it was written for the North American sports market, but the debate still applies. Not to be taken too seriously, but at a point where we’re debating what is the club and our relationship to it, this throws in a firecracker or two.
You can also look at the same journalist’s take on last weekend’s game. Be careful though, some of his views may be a little astringent for our taste. But well worth a read anyway.
The press reports
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “The Champions League is not supposed to serve up mismatches as resounding as this. Chelsea juggled their first-team options and still strolled to their biggest ever home win in this competition, hardly breaking into a sweat in the process. Life among Europe’s elite is not normally this comfortable.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “They wore a fuchsia-coloured kit, their manager was called Mr Been and they capitulated to give Chelsea their biggest-ever home win in Champions League football: if only all Andre Villas-Boas’ European opponents were as easy to roll over as hapless Genk.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea fans turned up but the opposition didn’t. For all the talk of a boycott over ticket prices, the Bridge was practically full to see Chelsea record their biggest home win in the Champions League, destroying Belgian visitors who resembled not so much minnows as plankton. The plaudits will be shared by Fernando Torres, who scored twice and looked his old, swaggering predatory self, and Raul Meireles, whose exceptional creative performance was rewarded with a goal, but another of Andre Villas-Boas’ players also caught the eye. Oriol Romeu looked a real force in central midfield, breaking up Genk’s few attacks. He can tackle and pass, another star from the fabled Barcelona production line.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “An impressive, ruthless performance from Chelsea saw us consolidate our position at the top of Group E, and register our best ever win in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge. Two goals in the opening 10 minutes, from Raul Meireles and Fernando Torres set the tone for what was to come, and some devastating finishing, particularly in the first half, made it as comfortable an evening as Andre Villas-Boas is likely to enjoy all season. Torres netted again and Branislav Ivanovic and substitute Salomon Kalou also made the scoresheet.”