Premier League 2009/10 Review, Part Three

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Part three of our review of Chelsea’s Premier League title-winning season in match reviews. Parts one and two.

We enter the bipolar period…

Chelsea 7-2 Sunderland – 16 January 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: Carlo’s change to a 4-3-3 had worked to perfection. Joe was mainly hugging the touchline whilst Malouda was coming inside, thus allowing Ashley to bomb down our left wing and Sunderland were simply overwhelmed with our movement and yes, intensity. Both Frank and Ballack were revelling in the space a lack of a number 10 gave them and along with Malouda, strangely enough, they were controlling the game. After quarterback Belletti had played in Anelka, only for the Frenchman to pathetically roll the ball into the keeper’s legs, Lamps decided to make it four after yet more brilliant work from the obviously injured Ashley Cole, who had been kicked as he chipped home the third. Anelka’s movement had given him space on the left wing and Ashley’s perfectly weighted cross was volleyed home by Frank from six yards. It was almost embarrassing the ease with which we were cutting through them and the sight of Frank sitting on the floor after scoring the fourth and laughing to himself, sort of summed it up really.

Seven goals yet still room for improvement. We were rampant and unstoppable and our football was worthy of any game at the Nou Camp or The Emirates. It was simply stunning and looking around Europe, you just hope that we can sustain that kind of level for the next four months. Liverpool are an embarrassment. Arsenal are still pathetically weak when they confront us and United’s football is just plain awful at the moment. Madrid are being typical Madrid with a stunning win here and then a useless defeat there and both Milan sides are stupidly old. Even Barcelona fail to scare me this season, although I’m still in awe of some of the stuff Messi does. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that this season is ours for the taking. Anything less than the title and a Champions League final would be a failure in my book as we are head and shoulders above the rest, when we want to perform that is. The time for rebuilding will come in the summer but the next four months are the last chance this squad will have to lift the big trophies. It’s ridiculous to conclude on the back of this win that this XI could win the Champions League with our awesome foursome back from Africa, who can stop us?

Independent on Sunday: For Chelsea the absence of four players at the African Cup of Nations merely offered others the chance to emphasise their quality: notably Juliano Belletti as the defensive midfielder, and Joe Cole, back in his old Jose Mourinho position on the right of a three-man attack. What never happened under Mourinho was a scoreline like this; in those days Chelsea tended to declare once they were a couple of goals to the good. Roman Abramovich has demanded something more and Carlo Ancelotti seems capable of delivering. The tempo was maintained until the end even when victory was assured.

Goals: 8′ Anelka 1-0; 17′ Malouda 2-0; 22′ A. Cole 3-0; 34′ Lampard 4-0; 52′ Ballack 5-0; 56′ Zenden 5-1; 65′ Anelka 6-1; 90′ Lampard 7-1; 90′ Bent 7-2

Man of the Match: Florent Malouda

I’d love Ashley to get it. After all, what’s better than perfection? But a 45 minute display rules him out and despite the brilliance of Nico, Lamps and Ballack, today belonged to Malouda.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 16-01-10

Chelsea 3-0 Birmingham City – 27 January 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: We controlled the game and once we had the second goal were happy to keep it that way and not go all out for more. Part of this may be down to Birmingham who to my mind showed a lack of ambition in trying to regain parity, defending deep and restricting us to playing the ball about in front of their lines of defence. I don’t think we weren’t trying to score, we just didn’t go hell for leather for the third and fourth. Many of our chances were barely chances at all, either counter attacks where Brum still had all four defenders back or shots from 25 yards. My match report maybe doesn’t do justice to the chances we created, reflected by the 17 shots on target and eight corners, but there are only so many times you can write about a shot coming in under pressure and the ‘keeper making a regulation stop. We also had some good crosses come in, particularly from Malouda who was good with the corners too.

Picking out Malouda also means I should mention a couple of other individuals too I guess, and I’ll pick on Deco and Joe Cole. Deco had a good game in the ‘steering wheel’, and he is finally beginning to win me round. He’ll never be a Chelsea great (how I hope he proves me wrong by scoring in a cup final), but it was nice to see him win some challenges and put in the effort on the fundamentals, like getting to the ball first, rather than just expecting to be the creator and nothing else. Joe Cole gets a mention as I think he is coming off badly playing opposite Malouda. Florent seems tactically more astute, and combines with Ashley, Frank and Nico well, whereas for me Joe hasn’t really found his place in Carlo’s team. I wonder if Joe would be able to enjoy his game more if it was Drogba as the lone striker rather than Anelka – he’d certainly know where to expect Drog to be more of the time.

Reading those two paragraphs again they seem a bit downbeat, but actually I thought we bordered on the majestic at times. At least eight of our team get an 8/10 and above. McLeish’s side didn’t get a look in, with their best chance coming from a Chelsea mistake, and the fact a team who are unbeaten in 15 didn’t have any ideas how to get back in the game showed quite how good we were. I have a feeling that, perhaps with the exception of the Arse and Man Ure, any side in front of us tonight would just not have been able to get to grips with the game. The whole team seemed determined to win the game and return to the top of the league. Which we did.

Daily Telegraph: Birmingham City arrived at the Bridge with a painstakingly, proudly constructed record of 15 unbeaten matches. A wall of formidable resistance, surely? It met a wrecking ball. Chelsea smashed them and, once more, sit handsomely on top of the Premier League pile. Lords of the manor. It was like a house of cards being disdainfully cuffed. And Joe Cole, dancing, jinking Joe on this form, was Chelsea’s ace in the pack. A diamond performance.

Goals: 5′ Malouda 1-0; 32′ Lampard 2-0; 90′ Lampard 3-0

Man of the Match: Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda

The head centurions, Lamps and Malouda. Both fantastic for 90 minutes. Lampard has really flourished with the return to 4-5-1. Is it possible he’ll get to 20 goals for the season after the slow start? I don’t really care if he continues to dictate play like he did today. With him on form in midfield that clean sheet looks so much easier.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 27-01-10

Burnley 1-2 Chelsea – 30 January 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: No major surprises on the team front, with Carlo opting to keep the under fire John Terry in the team, a good move overall, for his own sanity but also because as fate would decide, he also won the game for us. Deco was left on the bench after a stunning role as Le Volant on Wednesday against in form Birmingham. Instead he opted to start the impressive Zhirkov out on the left with Joe Cole on the right, and Anelka doing basically whatever his ‘Esprit de France’ wanted. Tactics, schmactics, formations etc… if you’re lit up by these then feel free to wander over the to BBC or The Grauniad (sic) where you can join in the communal jizz-fest of formations with other like minded individuals.

Overall, as someone described on the immediate post match comments, this was indeed an almost Mourinho-esque display, which might go someway to why it’ll be described as a professional and competent display rather than a passionate thriller. Like many others I rather like seeing teams like Burnley invert the commonly held belief that only money can ensure survival at the top table of the Premiership, and on the day they acquitted themselves well but just didn’t have the class. As for us, competent displays all around with no disappointments anywhere mean that choosing the Man of the Match will be tricky. But I’ll stir the pot and select one anyway.

We look bloody good at the moment and even a hardened pessimist like me can see little wrong. At the risk of homogenisation of the team, we have an overall consistency throughout the squad which means there aren’t any really weak areas on the pitch. As a team manager at work that sort of thing is a joy to manage. And Carlo looks like a man enjoying every aspect of our beloved club.

The Observer: Terry went about his business here as if nothing had happened, which took some doing, even for someone with a reputation for playing away. Facing down his detractors with an expression of stone, Terry endured the boos and kept Burnley’s attack at bay before getting forward at the end to rescue his attack. The Burnley crowd did not hurl anything particularly witty or vindictive at the England captain in any case, and as Alastair Campbell turned up at half-time for a presentation Terry may not even have been the most unpopular person on the pitch.

Goals: 26′ Anelka 0-1; 49′ Fletcher 1-1; 82′ Terry 1-2

Man of the Match: Branislav Ivanovic

John Terry was brave and scored a corking winner BUT was he any better than normal? Maybe a little, but for me, yet again the player who was flawless yesterday and is quietly becoming one of our untouchables is Branislav Ivanovic.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 30-01-10

Hull City 1-1 Chelsea – 2 February 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: We were poor. Very poor.

Lots of poor passes, bad decision making and the concession of unnecessary fouls. Stephen Hunt set about being his usual irritable self and this evening decided to pick a fight with Ivanovic. If I was going to pick a fight I’d choose Deco but eventually Hunt succeeded in winding up Ivanovic to the point where his retaliation got him booked.

Lots of scrappy play from both sides for the first half hour but then came a Hull corner and we succumbed to our Achilles heel of conceding from a set play.

For several spells we had plenty of possession but poor movement and lack of an incisive pass meant we were going nowhere. Just before half time we won a free kick on the left edge of the Hull box. Drogba stepped up to place a decent free kick inches inside the upright to equalise.

Second half saw a couple of chances but was mostly a blur of pointless triangles interrupted by tedious booing each time JT got the ball. Hull themselves had a few chances and we did succeed in making them look half decent. Towards the end the recently introduced Sturridge had a good shot from outside the box well saved by Myhill.

The Guardian: All Chelsea could take from this draw was a reminder that the return of the Premier League title will only be achieved with difficulty. Against opponents from the relegation zone, they needed a Didier Drogba equaliser merely to increase their lead over Manchester United to two points at the head of the table.

Goals: 30′ Mouyokolo 1-0; 42′ Drogba 1-1

Man of the Match: Are you serious?

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 02-02-10

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal – 7 February 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: How fortuitous for the black / white / no grey area guardians of football that today’s visitors to the den of vice and iniquity that is Stamford Bridge were football’s new puritans. A group of young men, bastions of all that is good and right in the beautiful game whose fresh-faced outlook – oh, you get the picture. Let’s be honest, the closest they are likely to get to any sort of sexual scandal is for Arsene to find a copy of ‘Razzle’ and some crusty Kleenex in Theo Walcott’s kit bag.

According to young Fabregas, the only thing likely to be fucked in SW6 today was Arsenal’s title challenge should they fail to leave with anything less than three points. As January’s festival of goals and crushing victories for the Blues gave way to slightly shaky performances up at Burnley and Hull; this could well be a pivotal moment in the season for both sides.

Within ten minutes of Mike Dean’s first whistle, the old favourites were rolled out. A set piece plus the presence of Drogba – the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some majestic footwork and a sublime finish from the mighty DD before the half hour and the game was effectively over as a contest. Arsenal responded, fitfully in the first half and more consistently after the break, but two shots on target (both well handled by Cech) and lots of attractive but ultimately meaningless passes – some two hundred more than the Blues – is simply not the stuff of title winners.

Well, if it is, Carlo and Fergie really are doing something wrong.

At times, the actions and demeanour of Wenger and his side spoke volumes. The manager’s trademark arms outstretched stance seemed to ape the frustrated fisherman, demonstrating the sheer size of the one that got away; Fabregas’s odd gesticulations to the card-waving Dean after a fruitless tussle with Drogba late in the game looked like those of a frustrated schoolboy impotently shouting “B-b-b-but – he’s bigger than me!”

Ah, Drogba. Surely the only options left for the Arsenal manager now when faced with a fixture against Chelsea are to pray for his retirement or to put in an offer for our magnificent Ivorian. Either that, or buy some better centre halves.

Thirteen games to go, two points clear. It is about to get interesting…

The Guardian: Carlo Ancelotti’s team were as devastating as they needed to be, with Didier Drogba preying on these opponents as usual. The Ivorian was close to a hat-trick with a free-kick that cracked against the crossbar but his impact had already been sufficient. If anything, John Terry might have been slightly frustrated by the anodyne attacks. The centre-half would have relished more opportunities in which to prove that he is undiminished by disappointment after being stripped of the England captaincy.

Goals: 8′ Drogba 1-0; 23′ Drogba 2-0

Man of the Match: Didier Drogba

Some fine performances all round, but Drogba gets the Ferrero Rocher this weekend.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 07-02-10

Everton 2-1 Chelsea – 10 February 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: An away game against David Moyes’ bunch of “long-ball thugs” as I harshly described them on the weekend never gives off the warmest of glows in the stomach but tonight’s game had the whiff of an ugly and costly night. Now for those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of sitting through all 90 minutes or Match of the Day’s highlights, then I won’t spoil it for you, but put it this way; we’re not so much stumbling towards the title as having our dead corpse thrown over the line before United’s gang of pensioners, Mr. Averages and geniuses (Rooney) creep over before us.

So how about that? Who wouldn’t have bet that we would cruise past Arsenal and then crumble against Everton? We’re just that predictable. Predictably inconsistent that is. Listening to Utd desperately go for the winner at Villa Park despite only having 10 men, I could only look at our slow and clueless throwing away of a 1-0 lead and feel sadness. Sadness that we will probably throw this title away. Sadness that this team is coming to an end. And sadness that since Jose left we always choke when we’ve got the chance to pull away. This side knew how to lead from the front but at the moment it looks like we have no idea how we want to play. Our shit December led to a stunning January and now a stupid February as our chance to scamper away at the top has given way to nervous stumbling against the likes of Burnley, Hull and Everton. I believe that we’ll beat Utd and Liverpool but as Rafa showed last season, winning the Big Four mini-league means nothing. Winning the title needs consistency and belief and at the moment it doesn’t look like we believe we will win the title.

So a disappointing night. But that’s Chelsea for you.

Is it possible to win the league by only winning at home?

The Guardian: There was no hostile reception for John Terry at Goodison Park but he was to suffer regardless. The Chelsea and former England captain was at fault for both Everton goals as David Moyes celebrated his first ever victory over the London club and Carlo Ancelotti saw his side falter at the Premier League summit. And they could have few complaints.

Goals: 17′ Malouda 0-1; 33′ Saha 1-1; 75′ Saha 2-1

Man of the Match: Branislav Ivanovic

There’s only one. Ivanovic is a rock for us and I can’t imagine our side without him at present.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 10-02-10

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea – 20 February 2010

BBC Sport: Didier Drogba grabbed a brace to take his tally for the season to 25 and extend Chelsea’s league lead to four points with a clinical win over Wolves. The Ivory Coast frontman made the most of two rare chances in an unconvincing away display, sliding home his first from Yuri Zhirkov’s pin-point cross. He then latched on to Petr Cech’s long clearance for his second to wrap it up.

Sunday Telegraph: Two attempts on target, two goals from Didier Drogba, it was a case of minimum input for maximum reward at Molineux, and one which afforded Chelsea some breathing space at the top of the table, now four points clear of Manchester United. They could not have been anymore businesslike.

Goals: 40′ Drogba 0-1; 67′ Drogba 0-2

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 20-02-10

Chelsea 2-4 Manchester City – 27 February 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: And so our beloved Blues developed a touch of the Tim Henmans yet again. The whole day had an aura of apathy about it and yet the game exploded in the second half dragging the fans with it. Let’s be honest, the game needed something to get it going, sadly the explosion was in our faces and not theirs. I’ve rarely seen such a large number of errors from our players, with Hilario’s lack of playing time exposing his rustiness, the recently superb Mikel Obi making one terrible error leading to the confusion and lumbering failure of our two centre-backs to deal with Tevez. Ballack’s loss of control, Belletti’s loss of ability, Drogba’s retreat into a shell, Anelka’s unswerving but misguided unselfishness until the second half and Ancelotti’s increasingly desperate substitutions. But there were also plus signs. Malouda looked superb at left-back, Ivanovic continues to impress, Mikel Obi is close to showing his full potential and Joe Cole seems to be knuckling down to the job of justifying a new contract offer. I spoke briefly to the Good Lord Kaiser after the game en route to a safe-ish haven at my local and one of the things that seemed apparent was there needs to be a cull on some of the older players in the close season and the youngsters introduced with a couple of decent signings.

I hear rumours that Pato is interested in a move to us. Good. We need options like him alongside Didier and complementing Nico’s versatility as a supplementary winger/striker. Ballack, as much as I love the man, looks tired and seems to be in the throes of a career slide. Deco is seemingly constantly injured despite the brief flickering light of hope in playing the Makelele Role (© Monsieur C. Makalele Esq.), Belletti should have gone in the summer with a smile and a handshake, Carvalho is blowing a lot cooler these days than at his peak, Alex looks disinterested, Hilario is no number 2 keeper. It seems to me that five or six of the squad are at the first stages of Shevchenko Syndrome and someone needs to point that out to Carlo. The fact that Roman offered him a £40m chest for January and he chose not to use it prior to losing Essien, Ashley and after losing Bosingwa worries me a lot. The Match of the Day highlights showed a glimpse of Roman in his box and to say he looked less than happy is like saying Dawn French likes the odd square of chocolate.

And no, I’m not advocating that we despatch Carlo. He’s learning the league and so far has done pretty well but I’m not convinced he’s a Wenger or Ferguson or Capello in terms of authority, or a Mourinho in terms of attention to detail. As it stands we look decidedly shaky, maybe the curse of beating Arsenal is upon us again because the last win at the Emirates was the catalyst for a stuttery month of below par performances. Yesterday’s defeat sees Arsenal right back in the race and with arguably the most comfortable of run-ins they’re coming on strong on the rails for a tight finish. United will be comforted by yesterday’s performance, and at least we can smile wryly at the thought of City fans realising they may have helped their loathed neighbours to consecutive title number four.

All we can hope for is our trusty steed doesn’t do a Devon Loch and fall at the last.

Independent on Sunday: “We are top of the League,” the home crowd chanted defiantly, for there was nothing else to crow about after this extraordinary game. Red was the colour – two Chelsea players being sent off in the second half – blue was the mood. A first home defeat for 15 months became a humiliation with Juliano Belletti and Michael Ballack dismissed and the second goal not arriving until it was too late to matter. Manchester United will go into the Carling Cup final today only a point behind at the top of the table, having been done a huge, unwitting favour by their noisy neighbours.

Goals: 42′ Lampard 1-0; 45′ Tevez 1-1; 51′ Bellamy 1-2; 76′ Tevez (pen) 1-3; 87′ Bellamy 1-4; 90′ Lampard 2-4

Man of the Match: Branislav Ivanovic or Florent Malouda

You choose! Between Branners and Malouda, easily our best and most consistent during this debacle.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 27-02-10

Chelsea 4-1 West Ham United – 13 March 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: We poured forward from the start with purpose and intent. There was some wonderful movement between our front five, with Malouda conspicuous from the start with some great runs and crosses, Paulo, too, looked dangerous on the left. Another interesting tactic, I noticed, is that Mikel seems to have been instructed to lob it forward quickly to Drogs when he has succeeded in breaking up a counter-attack. On three occasions this left the Hammers running back desperately, having been caught out pushing up. On 15 minutes Malouda, with yet another perfect cross, found Alex, who seemed to be eight feet in the air when he headed past Robert Green. And from the kick-off Upson almost scored an own-goal as he touched a pass to Drogs onto the bar. Four minutes later Drogs was wrongly given offside when he was through on goal with only Green to beat.

West Ham only had two shots on target all match – but equalised from one of them on the 29th minute. Dyer played a foul throw to Parker. It should have been cleared by Mikel, who fluffed it. Parker hit it into the net from 25 yards with a goal that Gianfranco might have conjured up.

The first ten minutes of the second half were scrappy, with West Ham being allowed to carry on with their shirt-pulling, pushing, niggling tactics. We, in turn, couldn’t seem to get out of our half without immediately giving it away. Lamps and Ballack frequently wasted possession. Meanwhile, Anelka had his worst game for us since – oh – since his last match. The result was that there was no fluency and invention going forward.

On 55 minutes JT decided to liven things up. He took over Frank’s job, strode forward to their penalty area, and flicked it to Malouda. In an exact replica of his pass for the first goal, he lobbed it for the Drogs Bollocks to head home.

After that we slowly regained control with Malouda absolutely magnificent and involved in every worthwhile attack. Joe Cole came on for Anelka on 66 and, he too, had a good game, although he could scarcely be worst than Nic was today. I have been giving Joe a poor press recently but I hope he plays on Tuesday. His tricks and flicks around the penalty box looked a lot more promising than Anelka’s blind-alley runs.

On 76 minutes Malouda got the goal he deserved. JT (again) strode forward and lobbed it to Didier, who chested it down. With some sublime trickery, Florence wrong-footed Gabbidon and calmly stroked it home.

Lamps had three good chances today, drew a great save from Green with the first and hit the post with the second. His third drew another great save from Green but, this time, Drogs thumped in the rebound.

We looked well on top for most of this game, and you can’t argue with the 4-1. Indeed, the last time we beat West Ham by that score in the league, we went on to win it.

Sunday Telegraph: Chelsea were inspired by a superb Florent Malouda, who made the first two goals and scored the third. The France international was back playing in his favoured role on the left wing, having deputised for the suspended Michael Ballack in midfield against Stoke City last weekend. He destroyed Jonathan Spector, the West Ham United right back, and Zola was even forced to switch Valon Behrami from the left to the right to try and help deal with him. It didn’t work.

Goals: 16′ Alex 1-0; 30′ Parker 1-1; 56′ Drogba 2-1; 77′ Malouda 3-1; 90′ Drogba 4-1

Man of the Match: Florent Malouda

Florent Malouda by some way. Although JT and Drogs both deserve honourable mentions.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 13-03-10

Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Chelsea – 21 March 2010

Chelsea FC Blog: We started very brightly and it really looked quite a determined spirit within the team. After six minutes a great piece of work from Anelka found Drogba in the box for a nonchalant side foot goal. Hmmm… watching it live, the early goal and the general joie de vivre in the side must have lifted a few heads, especially amongst the hard core bi-polar pessimists amongst you (yes Fiftee, you are included along with me in that category of default darkness). We continued in this vein for much of the remainder of the half, with Malouda looking very skilful and Ivanovic, Alex and Mikel Obi once again looking like comfortable first choice players. Sadly in the last 10 minutes the legs seemed to give a little and we looked slower and slower.

By the end of the half you could argue we should have been three or four up, but how many times have we heard that this and previous seasons? Chances spurned and players seemingly all to eager to throttle back and settle for the 1-0. We could do that once, under Mourinho, but since his departure that is a skill we have long since lost.

The sluggish play, the drained confidence, the fight now missing eventually took its toll and on 69 minutes the newer more aggressive Blackburn got their reward with an equaliser. From that point on the game looked over, Blackburn would treat the draw like a win, and we would flounder around the pitch looking more and more desolate and desperate. On 74 minutes off went the hapless Kalou-less, once again living right up to his nickname (but by no means being the worst player we fielded) to be replaced by Deco… fuck me… what is this? Some kind of black comedy? That’s when you know you’re in trouble when you’re replacing a very frustrating but loyal player with one of the worst players ever to play for us. I mean, Deco makes Shevchenko look like one of the best players we ever had, and at least Sheva tried, bless him. Deco is first on my list to go, in fact I wish he’d go now. And so, we huffed and puffed but the damage was done. The last seven or eight minutes was all us, but again I ask where this urgency was during the rest of the game. The final whistle was a blessing for both sides in the end, Blackburn so they could rest up and us so we could get on the coach and skulk off to lick some more wounds.

We look shot. We look bereft of ideas. We lack pace and width. We’re too static. We don’t know how to cope with teams that get in our faces at the moment. We lack spirit and we look jaded and tired. It isn’t necessarily the squad age that is the issue, but it is the staleness of a squad that has a lot of players that have been together too long it seems. All I hope is we stutter to the end of the season and finish at least second, although I think that looks increasingly doubtful now. An FA Cup is nice, but it’ll still feel like a consolation prize and let’s not forget we have to get past the pacy Aston Villa who’ve already bloodied our nose once this season.

The Independent: Should Chelsea fail to win the Premier League title for a fourth consecutive year, they are sure to look back ruefully on their performances in the north-west. Carlo Ancelotti’s first trips to Wigan, Everton and Manchester City all ended in defeat, and yesterday Blackburn shrugged off the setback of Didier Drogba’s early goal to restrict them to a single point in the Ewood Park drizzle.

Goals: 6′ Drogba; 70′ Diouf

Man of the Match: Florent Malouda.

Premier League table:

Premier League Table 21-03-10

Parts one and two. Part four coming soon…

Squeaky bum time, as they say.