The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Chelsea might have pined for the many occasions in which Champions League matches truly are bland. This opening to Group D felt as if it belonged to a far more advanced date in the Champions League calendar. Domestic matches in this stadium seldom keep the goalkeeper Petr Cech so occupied.”
Daly Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Utterly in keeping with the monsoon conditions, Chelsea made heavy weather of defeating Porto on Tuesday night. Nicolas Anelka steadied the ship, scoring a wonderful winner just after the break, but this was hardly the confident start to the Champions League expected under Carlo Ancelotti.”
The Times, Oliver Kay: “days, after a week in which he was forced to abandon a planned ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, but back at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s latest crusade in the Champions League got off to a winning, albeit slightly nervous start under the tutelage of that most experienced of trekkers, Carlo Ancelotti.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Nicolas Anelka’s first European goal since last November divided the sides in a game whose balanced shifted after the goal. For Chelsea it was a familiar story of domination without penetration at home before the goal came just after half-time. But then instead of the push for a second, the Portuguese side increasingly took control and it took a series of Petr Cech saves to keep them at bay, although only one was a proper test of the Chelsea keeper.”
This is odd.
I feel almost like a stranger here. I feel like the prodigal son who decided to fly the nest and has now returned with his tail between his legs to a slightly disapproving family. Honestly, I did intend to keep the Bi-Polar Express as a weekly journal throughout those football barren months. However an enforced extended stay in France and the stresses and strains of teenage daughters not coming in on time, of teenage daughters losing mobile phones, of teenage daughters friends’ mystery illnesses, of gun-toting Gendarmes knocking on the door at 7 a.m., of ear infections, broken down cars and the subsequent torturous call centre dealings for 10 consecutive days put paid to those well intentioned publishing schedules. Still, it kept me occupied unlike the absentee ‘Barbecue Summer’, the semi-passion of the Ashes and the travelling circus of clowns that is Formula One.
It is of course one of those odd numbered years where no major International tournaments are being held, and so, despite what some people claim, there is little to keep the footballing passion broth simmering until we can once again delight in the plentiful ‘Plat Du Jours’ served as the season returns to the boil across the continent. For me, since time immemorial, summer sport is merely something that might raise a vaguely interested well turned eyebrow but never causes the blood pressure to hit the artery bursting levels frequently broached between August and May.
In order to ease myself back into the writing oeuvre I’ll stick to the standard Good, Bad and Ugly fayre today.
- The win. Important because this is potentially a tough group, made even more mysteriously tough after Atletico Madrid’s shock home draw against Apoel Nicosia.
- No injuries. It was about this time last year the list grew, and the fear tonight had to be that with conditions so bad the tackles might be mis-timed and that some slides would inevitably end up with some poor soul being stretchered off. Luckily for both sides caution was the default modus operandi.
- Branislav Ivanovic. Standing in at right-back for Bosingwa, he showed great diligence in the tackle and his work rate was simply phenomenal. He goes up for corners and seems to win headers better than almost anyone else in the team. A deeply impressive performance from an unsung hero.
- Ashley Cole. Calm down Tiger! Ran himself ragged. Clearly the best left-back in the world now. Can anyone name a better one?
- The performance until 10 minutes after the goal. Cool, calm, collected, professional, devoid of panic or frustration and most of all patient. Then it all went a bit shit shaped.
- Helton and Hulk. Two Porto players that stood out for me. Helton, the goalkeeper looked certain to emulate Jan Tomachevsky (the Polish ‘keeper who denied England hence stopping us qualify for the 1974 World Cup, and had Clough eating his ‘clown’ description of the man). Made several good saves, was confident in the punch and… well… begs the question as to why we got Hilario and they got him. As for Hulk. Well there are plenty of crap jokes to be mined here, but I’ll just say what I saw. And that was a player who didn’t just give Terry a hard time, but Ashley Cole, Ballack, Carvalho, Ivanovic and anyone else he was up against. A pain in our collective arse.
- Anelka’s take for the goal. After missing the first chance when it should have been easy for a man of his skill, he then went to convert the second from the save from a difficult angle with a Porto player bearing down. Frankly it was a stunning finish.
- A European ref who called it quite fairly. Far be it from me to suggest that UEFA may be treading a sensitive approach line toward us, but this guy seemed to get most of the decisions right, bar one horrendous lunge on Malouda that warranted a yellow. I don’t expect that to continue for us.
- Salomon Kalou. Not bad exactly, more middling, but definitely the most frustrating player out there tonight. Again, he has the ability, but not the footballing intelligence. Had some chances but failed to convert them, slipped over a bit, hesitated way too much at times, made some good passes, including the one to set Anelka free for the goal but for me it still isn’t clicking. The frustrating thing is you just know that Wenger would make him the next Thierry Henry.
- The conditions. Absolute teeming rain from start to finish. Made me glad that I’m just a middle aged office worker who can sit back with a remote control and like all the best critics merely snipe from the warmth of my living room.
- The last 35 minutes or so. After the goal we seemed on course to smother Porto and go on to score one or two more. Then it all went a bit soggy. Misplaced passes, poor tackling, poor positioning, indecision, lack of focus and concentration and that general malaise and daft belief that one goal is enough to hold on to. Porto sensed this and took a hold on the game and made that last 35 minutes or so deeply uncomfortable for us. We did fashion out one or two further chances, but the desire seemed to have run down the drain along with the rain. Spurs will have taken encouragement from that and on their current form would have taken the chance to equalise. We’ll need to be far more discipline than that if Sunday is to be another successful day.
- Ancelotti. OK, so again not exactly bad… we won after all. But like Habs I am concerned he didn’t even appear to think about Sturridge being given 10 minutes. Belletti coming on was an obvious message of us holding on to the win, but perhaps we should have been prepared to give him a go. And what about giving Joe Cole 10 minutes to perhaps worry Porto?
- Not exactly ugly, but just something I noticed about The Don. Is it just me or does his left eyebrow appear to be attached to a piece of fishing line being pulled by a malicious invisible evil demon? Honestly watch the interviews and the eyebrow does a more than passable impression of Elvis Presley’s lip curl.
- Cech – 7/10 – Flappadabulous. Still seems seriously unsure in his box but then still makes some saves that defy belief. Kept us in the game.
- Ivanovic – 8.5/10 – I’ve said this before and it is still true and still a huge compliment. Carvalho-esque.
- Terry – 7.5/10 – Solid in every way. Which is good.
- Carvalho – 8/10 – No longer Gilbert O Sullivan’s doppelganger. And I was wrong to say he should go. OK, I admit it. This lady is for turning as someone once never said.
- A. Cole – 8/10 – Run rabbit run. Never stopped running and biting and tackling. And he’s ours now.
- Essien – 7.5/10 – Got an unlucky booking but still the best ball holder we have and showing signs of the marauding runs he made when at Lyon.
- Ballack – 7/10 – Now firmly in the water carrier role once occupied by Deschamps. Unspectacular but when he’s not there we’d miss him.
- Malouda – 7.5/10 – OK, so he’s no Robben, but he’s showing different qualities. Like not being made of glass. Solid tonight and maybe should have scored.
- Lampard – 7.5/10 – Hard working, committed. What else did we expect?
- Kalou – 6/10 – Frustrating. Irritating. Indecisive. Set up the goal though. In a word… aaaaarrrrrrgghhhhhhhh!
- Anelka – 8/10 – Worked hard, showed good understanding with Malouda and Frank, less so with Kalou. Superb finish for the goal, but maybe should have had another.
- Belletti – 7/10 – A cameo performance when perhaps we needed some champagne sparkle. A good utility player to have on the bench.
- Overall team performance – 7.5/10 – Nice take off, smooth-ish flight, very bumpy landing phase.
Man of the Match
Branislav Ivanovic for an unsung, unfussy, calm and totally committed and focussed performance.
A win was the most important thing tonight and therein lies my own deep lying levels of hypocrisy. Complain about not making some dynamic substitutions like Joey Cole or Sturridge but in the cold retrospective lantern of hindsight see the logic of seeing the match out and trying to absorb the pressure. As I watched with increasingly grinding teeth a moment of clarity hit me. Ancelotti is Italian after all and so maybe we should just come to expect to see more of this way of seeing important (is there any other type?) matches out.
The transfer ban might be a blessing as we are forced to keep the current ageing squad, but that does give Carlo a good planning window with which to decide on who will make the grade from inside the club, and which players to target come January 2011.
Tonight was no different from the Chelsea we have seen since I have followed the club. At times professional, at others sloppy. We are a mixed bag and I fully expect to hear more commentators qualifying our wins with the words ‘Not at their best tonight’ – it just seems that especially since Mourinho this has become our speciality.
Now we turn to the visit of the even more detestable Spurs on Sunday. Why even more detestable? Well due to Redknapp’s ability to flash the cash and get them into seemingly decent shape, whilst coveting just about every player in every other team and buying anyone walking past the ground… for me that makes them even more detestable. It’ll be our toughest game of the season to date without a doubt, but after watching an allegedly weakened Manchester United reel them in at 3-Point Lane then we need to show the same sort of confidence and dominance to ease them back into their old familiar territory of being flash in the pan whipping boys to the big four.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!