Does the buck really stop at the manager? Such is the eternal debate in football. The modern structure of the game lends it to be so. Derided as malignant cancers killing a club from within, lambasted as they err in order to do what they perceive to be right for the team – or perhaps their own careers – or hailed as patriarchal panaceas, the category in which Rafael Benitez belongs in is yet to be seen, although a recent resurgence in fortunes has certainly raised his stock. The anti-Rafa cohort must, however, take a rest. Their hate has reached fundamentalist proportions – essentially unfounded and based on a loose string of extrapolations and past partisan infractions.
Having said that, it is strange why Harry Redknapp never took the interim reigns at the Bridge. He would be the closest thing to a Hiddink-esque stop gap. Rumours are that he has been approached before, but for whatever reason, it has never transpired. I can’t imagine anything but results and respect with him in charge. As it is, QPR is a challenge that has enticed him. Partisanship aside, one must wonder why Rangers dwell in the nadir of the Premier League. Their owner, Tony Fernandes, has, by all accounts, backed the club superbly. The players brought in don’t exactly constitute relegation fodder. Perhaps it was one player too many brought into a club determined to compete in the top flight. But Uncle Harry will save them from relegation; I have little doubt of that.
Speaking of signings, Chelsea have met Demba Ba’s release clause – the grand, exorbitant fee of… seven million pounds. I am no lawyer, auditor, accountant or agent, but how on earth does a striker of his quality maintain such a laughable release clause? Not that I’m protesting, but the financial system of European football is truly in tatters. It just wasn’t the same without a West African target man, and he will be welcomed with open arms. The schizophrenic form of Fernando Torres will no longer go unpunished and is there anyone who does not foresee a seven million pound signing completely outdoing his 50 million pound counterpart? Tatters. After Anelka (and Torres), this is the only other striker we have picked up from another Premier League team in the Roman era. Someone finally spoke some sense in that Templar of a boardroom.
Abra and his minions might ejaculate at the thought of sacking manager after manager, but one thing they have never done is engage in the undignified treatment of players, especially stalwarts. That is why I see no substance to the paper talk of Frank Lampard being forced out this month or at the end of the season. We have been here before – with Drogba, with Lampard, even with John Terry. None left. Roman entertains his players to lavish getaways on his private yacht. He holds his coaches and his players on two separate plains of existence. Lampard will be offered a new deal, but whether it would be wise for him to take it is another story. He will not see much playing time at 35. Yet, that experience and influence will be crucial in the second leg away ties in the cauldrons of Europe. His two goals at Everton were reminiscent of his performance against Bayern Munich in 2005, taking up similar positions in and around the box, getting forward with deadly calculation, and maintaining his position in midfield when need be. Super Frank.
This is effectively the closest thing we have come all season to seeing a wholeheartedly second string squad. The fixtures come thick and fast during the holidays and rotation is Rafa’s trademark. In his last post-match interview, he readily admitted that QPR are a “dangerous side” given the position they are in. He forgot to add that it’s a dangerous side with the wily old wheeler-dealer face-twitching Harry Redknapp in charge – a man who has gotten the better of Benitez in the past.
Defensive Quartet: Cahill and Ivanovic have demonstrated that they are a lot more secure than any permutation that includes David Luiz at the back. Azpilicueta is quickly becoming one of the best defensive signings we’ve made – quick and a sharp crosser. A proper wing-back. But question marks still remain over Ryan Bertrand as the post-Munich euphoric confidence has all but faded and exposed his inexperience.
Midfield Duopoly: David Luiz has been a revelation in midfield. His eccentricity and obsessive penchant to be creative is far better utilized, and far less detrimental, just in front of the defense rather than at the heart of it. With Super Frank by his side, this could be a masterstroke from Benitez in terms of shape and selection, or a gamble that will stop paying off eventually. As a long-term solution, perhaps a player who never crosses the half way line would be a better coil for David Luiz to roam rather than two players with tendencies to get forward whenever possible.
Triumvirate: While there are no qualms in starting Moses or Oscar, surely Hazard or Mata had to also start this match?
Lone Wolf: The opening act for Demba Ba.
There wasn’t one. Apart from Marko Marin’s enactment of the Vandal sacking of Rome – which should have been a straight red card and perhaps was a sign of things to come – along with a few lively moments from the little one, I have seen drug-fuelled hangovers that looked better than Chelsea did. In fact, the performance stank of perhaps an excessive New Year’s night. It must be said that Julio Cesar was in top form, reacting brightly with his feet to save a deflected effort.
There were chances indeed. Lampard was adjudged offside, which was a very, very close call. Imagination and industry was stifled without Hazard and Mata on the pitch. The repeated routine of playing it out wide in the hope that Torres would attack a cross as he did against Aston Villa were naïve and brought back haunting memories of the most dire performances of last season when, at times, Bosingwa seemed to be assigned as the playmaker.
We soon seemed content to declare this match won by corner count. Despite having 11 corners, none were converted. It seemed perfectly teed up for Commandant Ivanovic, adorned with the captain’s armband, to deliver a signature vital winning goal. But not even he could capitalize, grazing the crossbar from yet another corner.
Torres’ golden chance came when he found himself in a perfect angle to slot it underneath an onrushing Cesar, only to blast right at the keeper. Maybe I’m being harsh. Or maybe his schizophrenia has well surpassed the vast threshold of my patience.
As the match laboured, there wasn’t a single Chelsea fan alive who doubted that QPR could very well take the lead – and even win this sorry excuse for a football match.
So it was.
From only their second corner of the match, QPR lured Chelsea into a near post corner, only for a clearance to allow Taarabt to majestically lay the ball into Shaun Wright-Phillips’ path. It’s not the first time he’s come back to deliver a death blow since leaving. Would Cech have saved that? Maybe. He most certainly wouldn’t have been as far off his line as Turnbull was for the low shot. But that’s conjecture. QPR deserved the victory simply because we were so bloody inept and apathetic.
I have actually lost count at the amount of times teams from across the continent have managed to alter the course of their season by a victory over Chelsea. It seems that you really can’t change your situation without first beating us, home or away, and then have the media deify said result.
But even with a second string squad, there is absolutely no excuse to not having scored a goal in 180 minutes against one of the worst sides to ever grace the Premier League.
Following the magnificent away win at Goodison, we were very much in contention to, at the very least, catch Manchester City and only then rally to push United till the last whistle on the last match day There will be a reaction in the next few matches, hopefully, but as long as we’re capable of losing a derby at home to the bottom of the barrel, we have no hope in hell of challenging for more than a top four finish.
Alan Hansen on Match of the Day simply attributed the upset to “just a crazy league and a crazy game.” Spare me the disguised lack of insight.
Where exactly does the buck stop here and now?
Chelsea’s XI (including substitutes and management): 0 – 1. That is the only set of numbers that matters.
Man of the Match
Marko Marin for actually giving a flying fuck. Literally.
The Guardian, David Hytner: “It had been difficult to find anything that was not stacked against Queens Park Rangers in this derby or their crusade to avoid the drop into the Championship. A couple of statistics stood out. They had not won at Stamford Bridge since 1983. And only one club that has entered New Year’s Day at the foot of the Premier League table has avoided relegation. The obstacles merely added gloss to a performance and result that will live long in the memories of every QPR fan that witnessed it, particularly if it can serve as the catalyst for a feat of grand escapology.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “QPR are still five points adrift of safety but they have given themselves hope, not simply with the three points but with the disciplined, determined performance. They outwitted the champions of Europe. “Can we play you every week?’’ inquired the 2,800 visiting fans as the home sections of Stamford Bridge emptied speedily after the final whistle.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “At the final whistle there was an impassioned chorus of Rafa Benitez’s name, sung by supporters with pride and delight. Unfortunately for the Chelsea manager it came from the Queens Park Rangers fans in the away end at Stamford Bridge.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea succumbed to a first home defeat against neighbours Queens Park Rangers since 1983, thanks to a late goal from Shaun Wright-Phillips. The result leaves us in fourth place, still a point adrift of third-placed Spurs, but with a game in hand.”
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