The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “These are two clubs whose modern histories are entangled but Manchester United have made significant progress in separating themselves from Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final. Considering that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side was supposed to face an ordeal at Stamford Bridge, the victory was achieved with few histrionics. The fact that Wayne Rooney scored the goal was almost taken for granted, highlighting the return to form that has ended debate about his effectiveness, if not his occasional excitability before a microphone.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Carlo Ancelotti had talked about Chelsea’s destiny to win the Champions League this season but there was only one man shaping fate on Wednesday night: Wayne Rooney. He has raged against fortune in recent days – in the past year, to be honest – but on Wednesday he was here, he was there, he was everywhere; and for the right reasons.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Abused, charged, demonised, banned. It would be enough to finish most people off. Wayne Rooney? He appears to be thriving on it. As the establishment has closed in on Rooney over the last five days so, at last, we are starting to see the best of him. Last night his goal put Manchester United on course for the treble. Today comes the announcement on his appeal against a two-match ban for naughty language. Rooney the rebel is playing like Rooney again.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea’s Champions League campaign hangs in the balance after a night of frustration at Stamford Bridge.”
“The whole season rests on this moment” (Carlo, yesterday).
So this is it then.
The two games which will define our season, the future of our manager and the legacy of some of these players are upon us and personally, I can’t wait. Yes the nerves are there and I’ve kind of gone through a load of mood swings today and suddenly feel a bit sick but hey, these are the nights that Chelsea fans should cherish.
Last season something just felt a bit wrong about not being able to feel the rush, the excitement and that heady mix of pain and pleasure of the latter stages of what is without doubt the best club competition in the world. Some say that they can’t stand the refereeing, Platini, the diving, the corporate atmosphere and yes Platini again, but when you hear that ridiculously pompous music, see the flags waving around the Bridge and Roman laughing and joking with his henchmen, everything just feels a little bit special.
That faint, delusional hope of winning the title is gone now and so our season is once again boiling down to that holy grail of chasing the trophy with the Big Ears. Seeing Big Pete talk about our never ending quest to get our hands on it though just makes you become a little fatalistic and forces one to question whether we’re ever going to win it.
This may not be the night for pessimism but it’s only natural isn’t it? We seem to specialise in finding ways to let this competition and that prize slip through our fingers. From Vialli’s suicidal parking of the bus to Claudio’s tinkering against Monaco there have been moments of self-inflicted madness ruining our chances. But on others, you do have to wonder if the footballing gods are just against us.
What have we done to deserve ghost goals against Liverpool? Then the debacle against Barcelona when Tom Henning Ovrebo’s disgraceful, baffling and eccentric performance cost us the chance to claim revenge against Utd in the final in Rome. Sandwiched in between was perhaps the most painful moment in our recent history as JT slipped and sent the ball onto the post in Moscow. Not even when we were one kick away from the Cup would the footballing gods give us that slice of luck that every other side has had on their way to winning this competition. Think of Carsten Jancker hitting the bar for Bayern against Utd just before Beckham sent over that corner. Or Liverpool’s miraculous and lucky comeback win against Milan when Sheva missed that open goal from a yard out. Or Inter last season when Walter Samuel brought down Kalou as he raced through on that one-on-one. Yes, the best team usually wins this competition but when year after year we appear to get a crucial decision go against us, one must wonder what we have to do to change our luck. Surely this run of bad luck and dodgy decisions won’t continue. Surely…
But this night was not just about our old guard and their hard luck stories. It was also about our centurion, Mr Ancelotti. After an unbelievably successful debut season we are now in the seemingly surreal situation where it looks inevitable that he’ll be gone in a matter of months. Roma’s Abramovich style takeover makes a move back to Serie A likely and despite my sadness that we’ll see yet more upheaval and that we’re about to get rid of one of the nicest men in football, this season has made me question my once unflinching belief in Carlo. Calling him a yes man would be unfair but his reluctance to drop big names in our three month blip, or make decisive and game changing substitutions or just get angry and show some fucking passion and fight for the club when decisions go against us has started to piss me off. He’s a lovely man and one of football’s great managers but things just don’t seem right at the moment.
Yes he’s learnt as he drops Didier regularly these days and has switched to a 4-4-2 but it’s all too little too late. This season we’ve looked slow, predictable, one dimensional and strangely stale. It’s not all Carlo’s fault and the fact that this squad has stayed together for at least one season too long can hardly be blamed on him but he appears scared to just say or do what he really believes is right. The players appear to love him and I’m sure they respect him but can you ever seem them fighting for him as much as they did for Jose?
Sadly the answer is no and perhaps a change this summer would be the best for everyone. It’d be wrong to start printing up the Avram Mk.II posters (especially after winning the Double remember!) but seeing the embarrassing ease with which Jose outsmarted him last season did start the alarm bells ringing. Our comeback in the league was remarkable but we stumbled over the line after trying our hardest to throw it away at one stage and against the best in Europe, deep down, something tells me that Carlo is just too cautious and perhaps not quite good enough to win it. I know some of you believe it and personally, I think Roman does too.
But that’s just my naturally pessimistic, Chelsea supporting state. As crazy, bipolar Chelsea nuts we always expect the worst and anything else is a bonus right? Anyway, what do really have to fear? We would be playing the worst Utd side in years whose football is nearly as dull as ours at present and whose first eleven looks one dimensional and bloody elderly. So if we could come out with the right attitude and tactics then this would be a good night. The days of pathetic, timid, error strewn, dismal displays were over right? Oh…
Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Essien, Lampard, Zhirkov, Drogba, Torres.
Subs: Turnbull, Benayoun, Mikel, Malouda, Ferreira, Kalou, Anelka.
Any surprises? Not really. I’d have preferred Kalou’s pace and dribbling at home instead of Didier but on paper there were no major shocks. It would also be Lamps’ 500th appearance in a Chelsea shirt and I know I’ve said it before but as every game goes by my belief that he will go down as the greatest player in our history strengthens. He’s a legend really.
I’d like to start by saying that I’ll try and be as fair, rational and calm as possible when writing up this match report but if you’re tired and can’t go on much longer I think dismal sums up the match quite well.
Ok for the rest of you, here goes.
The match started out just as anyone with half a brain would have expected it to: cagily. All that bullshit from the assembled hacks about it being just like any other Premier League game was thrown out as soon as you saw the tempo this game was being played at. If I was being kind I’d say it was pedestrian for the first ten minutes or so and if I was in a bad mood I’d say it was glacial and pathetic in some ways. Whereas Utd looked happy to sit back and play on the counter we instead looked scared to take a risk and do anything at pace.
But at this stage we weren’t playing too badly. Utd looked compact but Bosingwa was enjoying a few runs down the right wing – his final ball was pitiful as always – and our passing looked secure. Fernando also looked lively as he nicked the ball off Evra and raced towards goal only to see his shot easily saved by Van der Sar.
However, something still wasn’t quite right. Our football was sloppy and rushed and mistakes began to creep into our game. Whether it was numerous misplaced passes from Essien, useless defending from Bosingwa or utterly woeful forward play from Didier, we seemed to be trying our hardest to allow Utd to comfortably grow into the game.
This could be summed up best by watching Didier for about five minutes midway through the half. He was at his selfish, abysmal and arrogant worst. Don’t let a few barges on Evra and some crosses in the second half cloud your judgement, he was awful. Whether it was his decision to waste a counter attack by shooting from 50 yards out into the crowd or his baffling reluctance to pass to any other Chelsea player when we had opportunities to break, it seemed like Didier was determined to try and make it all about him. Except that when you’re over the hill, have lost most of your pace and are unable to dribble with any control or poise whatsoever, then doing everything yourself ends up hurting the side.
And so the inevitable build-up of Utd pressure began. Evra appeared to have the beating of Bosingwa at every occasion (any surprise there?), Rooney and Chicharito were combining well and Giggs appeared to be gliding in between our statuesque midfield with ease. In the end one moment of brilliance combined with some embarrassingly inept defending gave United the goal they deserved.
A wonderful Carrick long ball found Giggs on the left wing midway through the half. But we had little to worry about as we still had Bosingwa covering him and three on two in our box. However, Jose decided to fuck this all up by running towards a flighted ball he was never going to reach leaving Giggs the simplest of tasks to cushion it past him into 10 yards of empty space in our box. Branners was then pulled across to cover, leaving Rooney free to tap in Giggs’ cut back from eight yards out. It was a beautifully simply goal and yet would never have happened if Bosingwa knew how to fucking defend!
The commentator then asked “what have Chelsea got in response?”
Erm… the silence was deafening looking back now as until added time in the first half we basically pissed ourselves like little school boys; scared and dumbfounded as to what we should do next. The crowd appeared to have fallen asleep and the players began to panic. They looked to force things with stupid passes to players surrounded by three or four red shirts and resorted to narrow, one dimensional play. When this of course failed we regressed further and began to merely pump aimless, long balls forward. It was depressing stuff and if Rooney’s cross was better weighted, Chicharito would have made it 2-0 and probably got Carlo the sack there and then.
Instead we suddenly woke up after our midfield decided that instead of passing to the useless lump in the number 11 shirt; perhaps we should give Fernando a chance. A nice drop of the shoulder and turn gave Zhirkov his first chance to run at Rafael resulting in a messy Fernando overhead kick but as soon as we got the ball into their box, things began to improve. Essien and Bosingwa both had shots well blocked by the frustratingly amazing Vidic and then a Didier cross was flicked on by Torres on to the post. Lamps was there to surely convert from three yards out but he ran past the ball and was only able to stab the ball tamely towards the line where Evra easily cleared. And that was that for the first half. A few dangerous scrambles in the box apart we were second best by a long way.
So we’d given Utd an away goal and what we needed at the start of the second half was a drastic change in mentality, tempo and perhaps tactics. Scoring one goal was a must but having seen the way we defended in that first half without the cup-tied Luiz and most importantly, with Bosingwa, I feared that not even a 2-1 win would be enough at Old Trafford next week.
So what did we get… oh, nothing! No subs. No tactical tweaks and seemingly no change in mentality really. Yes we were passing the ball a bit better (impossible for it to be any worse mind you) but we weren’t really creating any chances of note. Utd were doing incredibly well to break up the game with three “injuries” within the first ten minutes of the half and so we were already nearing the hour mark before we could build up any sort of concerted pressure. Didier began to target Evra and after beating him with ease his cross was just too high for Ramires to nod home. A few penalty box scrambles and corners then followed but for all the possession, we weren’t really creating anything. Our football was one paced and so predictable that Utd and Fergie felt comfortable enough to move Valencia to right back when Nani had to come on for Rafael. What that says about the impotency of our left wing attacking play scares me really.
And all of a sudden I looked up to find that we’d reached the 68 minute mark and not only had Carlo done fuck all in terms of changing the side but Utd were beginning to look dangerous on the break. Rooney’s world class half volleyed finish on the stretch was ruled out for offside and only a fingertip save from Cech stopped Chicharito sliding in to finish Nani’s teasing cross. We were creating a few openings on the break but time and again the glacial tempo of our counter attacks and insistence on taking so many touches instead of passing (I’m looking at you Didier) caused them to fizzle out.
Carlo then decided to wake up from his siesta on the bench by making two revolutionary and stunning changes! Wait for it… Anelka for Didier – whose response to getting subbed off stunk really – and Malouda for Zhirkov! “Wow” I can hear you bark at me. The switch to 4-3-3 did help but it seemed too cautious and late for me. Why wait for the 70 minute mark when you know that not even a 2-1 win would be considered a good result?
The reluctance to build the side around Torres from kick off was all the more baffling when you saw the effect a shift to a 4-3-3 had on him and the side. His movement wasn’t going to waste anymore as first Ramires narrowly missed out on finding him with a teasing cross and then only a wonder save from Van der Sar stopped Fernando’s brilliant header finding the top corner. Nico then nodded wide from a dangerous Frank free kick and we were slowly building the pressure. But we were nowhere near our best and the decision to bring on Mikel for the final few minutes, resulting in a shift to right back for Essien just smacked of desperation.
But we were gradually building up a head of steam as Branners went close then Nico headed over after some pressure from Evra. Then we saw Lamps play a lovely through ball to Ramires who for the first time had decided to go beyond the striker with a run inside of Evra. His first touch was stunning as it controlled the ball to a position beyond the reach of the defender. Evra’s ridiculous two footed, scissor challenge was nowhere near the ball and a penalty and red card could be the only outcome right? Wrong actually. Despite having five officials on the pitch none of them thought that a two footed lunge through the side of Ramires as he bore down on goal was worthy of a penalty. It was a pathetic, sad yet strangely unsurprising end to the night. Chelsea and awful refereeing decisions seem to go hand in hand in this competition and despite JT, Carlo and a load of our players surrounding the referee at the end we shouldn’t live in denial by saying that a referee has cost us the chance at lifting this trophy at Wembley. We are probably going to go out to the worst Utd side in years and pass up the opportunity of a dream semi-final with Schalke because for too long we looked slow, old, uninspiring, predictable, one dimension and well, pathetic.
- JT and Branners – Didn’t put a foot wrong. Showed passion, commitment and desire as they both strode forward in search of an equaliser. Defensively solid, they were badly let down by those in front of them.
- Valencia – A revelation at right back. Or were Zhirkov and Malouda just that bad?
- Football – The final fifteen minutes apart, it really was woeful. There’s no logic to playing at that kind of tempo at home if you are monopolising possession. We should be popping the ball around at speed and using the flanks to create space but instead we appeared to be at walking pace for much of the game as we slipped from steady if unspectacular keep ball at the back to sloppy, forced passes down the middle and then to aimless long balls. It was depressing to see such a talented side run out of ideas at such an early stage in the match and well, how many still believe that Carlo is the man to turn this around?
- Frank and Essien – They were playing right? Sloppy, slow and anonymous. What happened?
- ITV commentary – We get it. Torres isn’t in the best form and battering him seems to be everyone’s favourite hobby at the minute but some of the stick he gets is ridiculous. Criticising him for not “wanting to get involved” or for deciding to make himself available for the cutback instead of waiting for Bosingwa to flash the ball across the six yard box was unfair and appalling really. Not even an improved second half showing was enough to merit any praise and yet they were both raving about Chicharito who racked up the rather impressive grand total of 0 efforts on goal. Their response to him getting taken off: “his movement is devastating and he’s already developed a telepathic link with Rooney!” Really? Sometimes ITV really are embarrassing.
- Carlo – I hate to say it as I’m one of his biggest fans but this match was a depressing nadir in the tarnishing of his reputation at Chelsea. Looked utterly clueless on the sideline for most of the match and his substitutions were so predictable that they were verging on depressing. Getting outsmarted by Jose is one thing but by Fergie and this Utd side? Is anyone really in any doubt as to why Roman is considering his future?
- Didier – Yes he’s strong. Yes he can bully a few defenders out of the way. But when he is constantly looking to do things on his own, without even acknowledging the movement and presence of his teammates, then I’m sorry but he has to go. He never seems to be in control of the ball when dribbling and in pure footballing terms, he is no longer the asset to us he once was. Personally I see him as a liability and his moronic smirk as he was subbed said it all really. He’s arrogant, selfish and his attitude stinks. It’s a sad way to end his Chelsea career as he is a legend and shouldn’t be forgotten but he’s only got a few months left at Chelsea.
- Bosingwa – He must be killed. Can’t defend, tackle, pass, cross, run, shoot or do anything positive. The worst thing though is his attitude. He doesn’t care when he makes a mistake or loses the ball and that just pisses me off.
- Cech – 7/10 – Didn’t have much to do but played the role of sweeper keeper well.
- Bosingwa – 0/10 – An embarrassment.
- Branners – 7/10 – Rock solid and even did his best Luiz impression with a few trips up field.
- JT – 8/10 – Immaculate at the back and tried his best to get us back into the game.
- Ash – 6/10 – Quiet. Valencia and then Nani did well to keep him occupied in his own half.
- Ramires – 6/10 – Timid.
- Essien – 4/10 – Awful. Overrun by a geriatric left winger and a weedy, England has been. Bravo Sir.
- Lamps – 4/10 – Oh dear. I love him but he was verging on useless.
- Zhirkov – 5/10 – A few direct runs at the end of the first half showed us what he can do when he just takes a risk but for most of the match he seemed happy to play it safe.
- Didier – 4/10 – Woeful. Some see his bulldozing about as a good thing but his arrogance and lack of control of the ball were awful for me.
- Torres – 6/10 – Yes I’m giving him a 6 because if you watch his movement, you’ll see that he would be devastating if our midfield cottoned on to the fact that you have to give him the fucking ball in order for him to score. Just see what happened when we built our side around him in a 4-3-3 for glimpses of what could happen. He’s wasted in a 4-4-2 next to that lump above.
- Malouda (sub) – 5/10 – Poor. So slow that you wonder if he’s forgotten how to run or even jog.
- Anelka (sub) – 5/10 – Anonymous. Spent most of his 20 minutes on the park in the centre circle. Good going for a right winger/forward hey?
- Mikel (sub) – 5/10 – Kept the ball moving well but not the guy you want to see when you need two goals in 10 minutes.
- Carlo – 4/10 – Statuesque on the touchline and made predictable and ineffectual substitutions. In a make or break week to save his job this was a pitiful start.
Man of the Match
I just have so many to choose from right? Well, I’ll give it to JT for his assured defending.
So how about that then?
“Oh it’s not over until it’s over.”
“We can still do it!”
“We only need to score two goals up there!”
Who actually believes that we can still do it? Can anyone see us keeping a clean sheet and scoring twice at Old Trafford? I thought not.
So let’s move on to the meaning of this defeat. Well, our season’s pretty much over. We’ll cruise home in third place probably but seeing as Roman reacted to a defeat against Inter by plotting to sack Ray, dumping a load of the old guard and warning the players and staff about their futures, I fear for some of these players. What’s sad is that one of the best sides in Premiership history will now be broken up having blown their last shot at getting their hands on the biggest trophy of them all. So it’ll be goodbye to Didier, Malouda, Bosingwa, Zhirkov, Hilario and perhaps Nico too and after years of trying their time appears to be up.
Of potentially greater significance though is the future of our manager. Barring a miracle next week this looks like the end for Carlo. It was fun while it lasted but it seems that his easy going manner, inherent caution and inept substitutions have been exposed at the highest level with embarrassing ease. When you get only two shots at beating the best sides in Europe in each knockout round, everything has to be perfectly set up and yet from the first minute, it looked like Fergie had outsmarted him with the mind blowing tactic of defending deep and staying compact! It’s laughable really to think that Carlo and the side couldn’t think of a plan B until the 70th minute and even then very little changed. I’ll be sad when he goes as he really is a nice guy but sometimes nice guys just aren’t right for us and if it can’t be Jose then just look at what that little genius in Porto – Andre Villas Boas – is doing both domestically and in Europe to see what kind of manager we need. We are a side who need to feed off the confidence that exudes from the likes of Pep, Jose and Villas-Boas and sadly, Carlo’s relaxed nature just isn’t doing it for us anymore. Some say it’s ridiculous to even talk of Carlo leaving but it appears inevitable and if we want to win the biggest trophy in Europe then after two inept displays against Inter and Utd, Roman appears to be left with no other option.