The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea’s breeze through their Champions League group campaign has ended with something of a shudder. With their section already won and attentions apparently fixed upon domestic matters, the hosts’ profligacy and one slack piece of defending too many costs the Londoners late on last night. As ridiculous as a draw felt in a one-sided contest, Carlo Ancelotti’s side would do well to learn from this minor embarrassment.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Lapses in concentration continue to cost Chelsea dear. An under-hit back-pass by John Obi Mikel allowed Nenad Mirosavljevic to equalise in the last minute. The damage was only superficial, as Chelsea had already qualified, but they need to cut out such mistakes and quickly.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “A particularly dozy piece of defending by John Obi Mikel enabled Nenad Mirosavljevic to score a late equalising goal that took Apoel into the Europa League. However, of greater significance was another poor performance from Chelsea that led Carlo Ancelotti to question their professionalism and mental strength.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A carelessly conceded goal in the 86th minute made it three games without a win after the Blues had done the hard work of responding rapidly to an APOEL opener.”
For all those who haven’t written a report yet, yep I’m looking at you True Blue, here’s a little insight into the feelings one experiences when you get the call from our Dear Leader Nick to sit down and watch a Chelsea game with your reporter’s hat on.
If you’re Tony then I’m sure you’re on the verge of ditching your laptop and Blackberry and ceasing all contact with Nick. Having to constantly find the motivation, creativity and crucially words to write a witty and entertaining report after yet another demoralising defeat can start to lose its appeal after a while, especially when a strange hoodoo appears to be following you around like a bad smell every time Nick picks your name out of the hat. Personally, I’m able to escape the clutches of this curse and instead feel a mixture of excitement and at times trepidation at being asked to write a report for the discerning readers out there, although this week we do seem to have been invaded by a couple of lunatics. Then having sat through either an awe-inspiring victory, such as at The Emirates or an embarrassing loss, Wigan comes to mind here, you end up in front of your laptop wondering how to present the night’s events.
And that’s where I am now, staring blankly at a flashing cursor, rummaging through the empty vortex that is my head desperately searching for a nugget of inspiration. How about a frankly brilliant documentary on Russell Brand which I’m watching at the moment? That could work as an effective thread for this write-up, right? Nope. What about the “Unforgettable Bushtucker Trials” I’ve now flicked onto? Nope, no nuggets there either. Although the ghastly sight of Kim Woodburn munching on some kangaroo anus did bring back some nightmarish flashbacks of our defending of late, but more on that later. In the end I’ve settled on our rather shitty week for inspiration.
After cruising past Arsenal in an awesome display of power and ruthlessness, our serene march towards world domination was rudely interrupted, firstly by a very strange performance at Blackburn and then a pathetic defeat against City. The fall-out from that defeat has inevitably been over the top and rather ridiculous really but there are a few meaningful conclusions to be drawn from a disastrous few days. At the top of the menu is the overconfidence which is endemic throughout the club as soon as we enter the hectic December fixture list. We’re usually top at this point and most of us are putting on our best Scouse accent and proclaiming that “this really is our year.” Then Sky Sports News puts up the odds for Chelsea to win the Quad, typically priced around 50/1 at this stage and as soon as you see that story you know we’re fucked. Complacency and Chelsea appear to go hand-in-hand but apart from that, the main worry of late surrounds the form of Big Pete, which I’ll go into later. Even though the likes of Peter Bonetti still call Petr “the best in the world” there is no doubt in my mind that since Jose and crucially Silvinio Louro left, he’s been demoted from the podium places and is now languishing in the bottom half of Europe’s 10 best goalkeepers.
Anyway, I’ll follow Tony by taking off my populist West Ham and Liverpool hats and get on with it.
Carlo announced that tonight’s team selection would be influenced by the Everton game, fitness and the meaningless nature of the final game in the group stage and he was true to his word. Petr had been given the day off yesterday, despite every other fit member of the squad and even some injured ones like Ashley and John Terry being told to turn up and instead chose to have an individual training session in the evening. I know, crazy right? Apart from Petr’s mental problems, it was as expected with some big hitters getting a rest and that wonderkid Gael Kakuta being given a start:
Turnbull; Belletti, Carvalho, Terry, Zhirkov; Essien, Mikel, Malouda; Kakuta, Cole; Drogba
Carlo decided to get into the Christmas spirit by tinkering with our diamond and instead introducing a lovely Christmas tree to the line-up and at first we looked to be doing alright. A lot of short, simple passes without really going anywhere typified our start although we did look a little nervy and perhaps overly cautious after a couple of defeats. That caution allowed Apoel and their screaming fans to settle nicely into the game and within the first 10 minutes their pluck and attitude was rightfully rewarded with a rather lovely goal for those of a Cypriot persuasion. A throw on the far side led to a beautifully weighted pass in behind the dozing Belletti, more on him later, and suddenly our defence was all over the place. A first-time cross to an unmarked striker followed and after a simple pass into the empty net we were 1-0 down to Apoel! Yes that’s Apoel. Whatever happened tonight, I had to constantly remind myself that we were playing Apoel who in Champions League terms are a bunch of amateurs and should be swatted aside with ease. For all the pluck they really are shit and anything but a convincing win would be criticised. I don’t really care that it was a meaningless game or that we were low on confidence. With the players we put out tonight we should have battered them.
But back to the game. We were 1-0 down and looked dazed. Our passing was slow and there appeared to be little pace to our game. Throughout the first 15 minutes many of our players seemed to treat Kakuta as the new kid on the team who shouldn’t be trusted with the ball and instead of simply trusting him not to fuck everything up, remember he is pretty handy lads, they chose to play ridiculous Hollywood passes from side to side or pointless long-balls to an isolated Didier. Didier was regularly seen pleading with the midfield to push further up and as soon as we decided to start playing with some pace and incision the goals came. A beautiful Essien pile-driver brought us level but he paid the price for his ferocious strike with a worrying hamstring injury. A serious pull or tear could lead to a four or five week layoff which would be handy considering what’s around in January but anything less than that and he’d simply miss all our Christmas fixtures before jetting out to Africa. After Frank came on we began to assert ourselves and started getting Kakuta involved. Some of his movement and vision was breathtaking although he still looks quite raw at this stage. Despite that inexperience he played a beautiful ball to Zhirkov down the left wing whose cut-back was fired home brilliantly by Didier for 2-1. At this point we were all waiting for the third and fourth but strangely not much else happened. There was plenty of possession but no cutting edge and apart from a succession of woeful long-shots the half petered out rather pathetically.
The second half was simply more of the same. If there’s a more complacent side in Europe then I’ve failed to see them and the complacency which seems to overwhelm us at times returned in somewhat embarrassing circumstances. Zhirkov continued to raid down the left wing and Kakuta was constantly buzzing around looking for openings but there was no spark and no pace to our play. Everything was so casual and seemingly so easy that there appeared to be no need to run let alone put in any effort. That may be a bit harsh against the likes of Mikel who was patrolling the midfield brilliantly and Joe and Kakuta who were enthusiastically running around Didier but something didn’t seem quite right. Usually against inferior opposition we knock in four or five goals (see the Wolves and Blackburn performances) and then take a rest. But today everything was kind of half-arsed. We didn’t really care that it was only 2-1 and that a sloppy piece of play could cost us the win at any moment and despite Carlo trying to freshen things up with some substitutions we never really broke out into anything more strenuous than a jog. Kakuta came off after an extremely encouraging 75 minutes with a first-half through ball to Joe of particular delight and the game appeared to be meandering towards an unconvincing win. But then Mikel decided to ruin everything. He’d had a great game in my mind but then the laziness and casual attitude which has blighted much of his Chelsea career returned. A nothing ball from John Terry into Mikel in the centre circle was yet another example of some more meaningless Chelsea possession but Mikel decided to play a first-time ball to no-one and the Apoel striker sprinted away in the rain and easily converted the opportunity. And that was that. Two points dropped in an utterly meaningless game but some serious questions to be asked about some of our players.
- Kakuta – A quiet start but as soon as people started giving him the ball we began to see some flashes of genius. I think he prefers to play as the only number 10 in a diamond rather than in a pair behind a target man but despite that his passing, vision and most importantly pace brought some impetus and drive to the side. Needs a little bulking up but I’m sure he’ll be around for a while.
- Mikel (86 minutes’ worth) – A brilliant 86 minute display from him with some perfectly timed interceptions and simple distribution. His calmness in possession can be interpreted as casualness in the big games but tonight he was brilliant.
- Zhirkov – He’s slowly getting used to playing in this Chelsea side and his first half raiding down the left-wing was Ashley-esque. With more confidence and perhaps a goal he’ll turn out to be a brilliant buy.
- Joe Cole – His effort and movement were brilliant and he is a quality player but at times he infuriates you. The fact he’s English and a Chelsea fan means many overlook his errors but tonight exposed some worrying deficiencies in his game. His distinct lack of pace shocked me as I always considered him to be quite nippy as some say but of most concern was his final ball and decision making ability. The debate on the blog has concerned his intelligence and when you see him shooting instead of passing when two players are unmarked for a tap-in or carelessly giving the ball away with alarming regularity, one wonders why he is held in such high regard. With fitness and perhaps discipline he can be great but tonight he was average if not poor.
- Mikel (4 minutes’ worth) – Sloppy, casual, stupid, careless, brainless… call it what you like but that error typifies why he isn’t quite good enough yet. I have no doubts that he will be in time but at the moment I wouldn’t trust him in that holding role for a whole season. Instead I would love to see Daniele De Rossi come in to claim position and allow Essien to move to the right hand side.
- Turnbull – “But he didn’t do anything” I hear you scream. Yes but when he only has three Apoel chances to stop and fails with two of them, something isn’t right. He stupidly dived past the ball for the first, came running out for the second with a gap between his legs big enough to drive a bus through it and all night his kicking was appalling. Cech’s form may have dipped due to an embarrassing lack of competition but I also blame Lollichon. Seeing him on Chelsea TV play stupid games with the keepers like volleyball and tennis ball keepy-uppy may be fun but I’d prefer some discipline and proper training. Petr has gone from being one of the two best keepers in the world, alongside Buffon when trained by Silvinio to a nervous wreck who is prone to errors under Lollichon. I am not amused.
- Turbull – 4/10 – One good save and two errors in my book. Harsh but I don’t care. He’s just not good enough to make Petr worry one bit.
- Belletti – 5/10 – He’s a great crosser and looks dangerous in the final third but as a right-back he’s a liability. Can’t tackle or defend and any Apoel attack usually began on his side.
- Carvalho – 6/10 – Steady defending ruined by some awful distribution from the back. With Alex and Bosingwa out, Ivanovic is not able to pressure Ricky for a centre-back role but we have to be searching for a replacement soon.
- Terry – 7/10 – Glad to see him fit after his knock on Sunday and he was rock solid all night.
- Zhirkov – 7.5/10 – Is getting more and more comfortable in a blue shirt and his left foot looks like a wand at times. Put in some beautiful crosses throughout the first-half and in time he’ll be great for us.
- Essien – 6/10 – A blistering goal but then a worrying injury. That’s about it really.
- Mikel – 6/10 – Minus points for his last-minute error but before that he was calmness personified.
- Malouda – 5/10 – Again minus points but this time for his casual and lazy attitude in the second half. His first half performance was full of running though and he looks to have a good relationship with Zhirkov on that left wing.
- Kakuta – 7/10 – An encouraging start from the boy wonder and all he needs now is his first goal. With more games and more muscle he could be very special indeed.
- Cole – 6/10 – Lots of running, lots of effort but lots of misplaced passes and poor decision making. The English Kalou but with more tricks perhaps? Harsh, I know.
- Drogba – 7/10 – A brilliant goal and a constant threat when involved but didn’t really get enough of the ball throughout the 90 minutes.
Man of the Match
I’ll give it Zhirkov. Kakuta and the 86 minute version of Mikel pushed him close but I liked the Russian’s incisive running and dangerous crossing. Perhaps he’ll develop the cult status of Ivanovic in time.
So how do you sum that up? After a horrible week tonight presented another horrible result. It appeared that we were always in control but the complacency and laziness which has crept into the side in recent weeks has cost us again. Carlo looked angry in his post-match interview and confirmed that Essien would miss the Everton game which is a worry. An ageing and slow midfield without Essien looks rather tired and I’m starting to get a little nervous about our season. There’s no panic in the air but if we don’t stamp out this complacency and arrogance then we’ll win nothing this year. It’s as simple as that. Nighty night.