A little preamble
Well well well. The mojo is slowly returning. I can remove myself from the self-imposed exile I’ve been in since making a few quid by taking some snaps of a dark haired sloan girl and her posho husband and flogging them to some French bloke I met on a golf course. Still they were all taken in the best possible taste.
I do seem to have this mojo re-ignition problem whenever there’s an end of season tournament such as the World Cup or the Euros and I’m seriously wondering if I should adopt a Cunning Plan much like our very own Cunningplan has and switch off the internationals. It may be me but they do seem much like the last two episodes of Only Fools and Horses. An unnecessary aberration and no longer part of the average fan’s canon.
Anyway, enough digression. After a thoroughly professional but tiring episode of the Podding Shed (you wouldn’t believe the hours of practice we put in… no really… no stop laughing…) I had to knuckle down and get ready to re-join the fold, to re-discover why the game I hate so much is also the game I love so much. Odd isn’t it? How the emotions of love and hate can often feel very much like the same thing.
Juventus in town. A team who never lost a game in their league last year, back by rights and sitting at the top of Serie A with nine points and a goal difference of plus seven after three games. Compare that to us with 10 points after four games and plus six and statistical pointers showed things could be very tight. And for once, the science of numbers and chance proved right. There’s always something a bit more special about Italian teams at the Bridge. Maybe it’s because of Claudio, Vialli, Zola, Ancelotti and numerous other Italian blues that influence this but even through the looking glass of John Logie Baird’s magical picture box, one always senses that these nights are the real reminder that we are now a permanent fixture within the big time billy boys of Europe. And our status as Champions of Europe has cemented our handprint in football’s Hall of Fame.
And so to the game…
Thanks to work, and an unplanned fuel stop I watched the game ‘live’ some 20 minutes behind the real live. Oh the joys of the V+ box. I saw the lineups and thought Robbie had picked a decent first team with the surprising omission of Sturridge even from the bench with a mystery hamstring injury which I’m inclined to believe fellow Chelsea tweeter @sidcelery has an odd smell about it. But nice to see a start for young Oscar and the return of faith in David Luiz, a player I really rate alongside Mikel despite the seemingly growing band of naysayers in cyberspace hell-bent on criticizing whatever each of those players does. From the Juventus side of things, well it’s always great to see players like Buffon and Pirlo plying their trade. And on those players alone I have these observations. Pirlo has grown a beard. Has anyone seen him and Chuck Norris together? Separated at birth? And Buffon, who played the entire game in a deep pink shirt/short combo. A man who seems very secure in his sexuality and masculinity. A class act.
So, with my usual healthy disdain and eyes glazing at the thought of discussing tactics, the game kicked off. Both teams in traditional kits, our all blue (no shirt star… is it banned now we’ve won the damn thing?) and Juventus in their trademark black and white barcode outfit. (Some trivia… Juventus play in that kit because a friend of one of their team, Englishman John Savage, gifted it to them. His friend happened to be a Notts County supporter and he sent them a replica of the Notts County kit in 1903. They’ve worn the colours ever since. You see, don’t you just love the trivia and wonderful if unlikely links this mad game has?) The first half was surprisingly frenetic from both sides with passages of confident glorious passing and moving at pace, interjected with moments of pub standard football steeped in fear. In all fairness there was but a fag paper in terms of both teams’ desire and capability… just as their current form stats predicted.
And then up stepped Oscar. This slight and boy child-looking young man had not made a huge impact until lashing a shot which deflected off Bonucci to give us a rather surprising lead. No matter, 31 minutes and we’re leading so frankly the ball could have bounced off his left buttock for all I cared. But then on 33 minutes this young man scored a goal that had it been Van Persie, or Rooney, or Ronaldo would have been headline news on the back pages tomorrow. We wait with bated breath. Picking up a pass he turned Pirlo inside out, never taking his eye off the ball and unleashed a right footed 25 yard curler that was a true thing of beauty. Da Vinci would have cried with joy.
At this point in, 33 minutes with a two goal lead, one might have hoped we’d push on and nail another… but this is not the Chelsea way these days. After this we saw the expected backlash from a tough and uncompromising Juventus. I may be out of order here but for me, John Terry has looked increasingly off the pace and accident prone. But whatever, or whoever you blame the inevitable goal from Juventus had the hackneyed old cliché of ‘game on’ rampaging through cyberspace. The fault was being apportioned to Luiz, Terry, Mikel, Ivan and Cobley. Well Cobley’s older uncle Thomas to be precise. This is a debate for another day, but it seems to me the average football fan has polarized cause and effect into the simple state of cause… the defender/midfielder/goalkeeper was at fault… into effect… they score a goal. Every conceded goal by your team is ‘sloppy’, ‘weak’ or ‘silly’ whereas goals your team scores are ‘genius’ ‘deserved’ or ‘because their defender/midfielder/goalkeeper is ‘shit’.
I find it tiresome. Sometimes the other team plays well and deserve it. There’s no shame in admitting that and Vidal’s strike was ruthless and precise. And quality.
Half time came and we’re 2-1 to the good. I was trying to be positive from my bolt hole on Planet Time Shift but I suspect like many the subconscious shadow of fear and doubt lingered at the back of my mind. 2-1 is the most fragile of score lines to hold.
I flicked past the pundit talk to leave myself trailing by a mere 10 minutes from the ‘live’ action. Now I realize I may be a minority voice here but it looked to me that we were now in a state of indecision as to whether we stick or twist. We seem particularly prone to this as we witnessed versus Manchester United at home last year. And Arsenal… and… oh you get the idea. The Mourinho discipline of defending a lead is a skill we only remember from time to time it seems. My poor old eyes noted our unforced errors and occasional descent into panic, but on the positive side we had pace and some good passages of play as well. It’s like a school choir that is still practicing for the shows that matter. Sometimes it sounds divine, but as they practice the moments when they sound like a collective of cats being hung by their tails becomes less frequent. We’re a work in progress folks and let’s be honest it’s long overdue.
But let’s not see a red door and want to paint it black just yet. Hazard is fast, Bertrand is fast, Mata is tricky and Torres needs service. He was man-marked throughout, and another striker for him to play off would be a boon. Someone like Anelka? Maybe a role for Moses there, or even Sturridge. Lone strikers are like single engine aircraft… OK for short bursts but you’re in trouble if they break down or don’t start. So positives are in place BUT of course we still have the big red button of PANIC to deal with. We’re fragile holding onto a single goal lead, and sometimes even a two goal lead. Other teams know this and we need a solution. Do I know what that is? Of course not. I work in IT and am not arrogant enough to think I know what’s needed. That’s what RDM is there to do, so why not let him work his way though it huh folks?
Let’s wrap the reed thin game précis up with the inevitable equalizer. Mikel played a poor pass out. He admits this. We all saw this. He didn’t try and hide from it in his post-match interview. But the sheer viciousness and frankly, stupidity behind the bile being spewed in his direction smacks of utter cuntery. Several Chelsea players were as much at fault. Ashley Cole who possessed by the spirit of Joe Cole charged down the left and lost the ball following it with a truly half-arsed track back. Juventus broke but the move broke down due to a combination of clumsy passing, tackling and luck for Hazard and Mikel. Mikel then played a poor pass to Hazard which ended up with Juventus. At this point in some parallel universe our entire midfield was replaced by The Red Lion Sunday team. Juventus played a series of passes back in. Ivan, Kuiz and Mikel hardly covered themselves in glory, but JT’s decision to move up on Quagliarella was not even worthy of a Sunday pub team. It was a shocking error from a man who has been so astute on positioning. One cutting pass to a man who was probably rather shocked to find himself free and a lovely finish to level the game. I think a lot of us in our heart of hearts expected it. We got out of jail when another fine passage of play resulted in the same player hitting the crossbar.
One last observation before the denouement of this piece. The referee had a stinker. Petty fouls were rewarded with bookings undeservedly for both sides. However, Hazard was denied yet another stonewall penalty and one has to fear that he’s been marked by the authorities as a diver. A most unfortunate thing when tonight, as on Saturday he was clearly fouled in the box. I will ask this, just to what standard are these refs trained and how soon can we get some technology in to ‘help’ (correct) them?
The good (yes it’s back)
- Young Oscar. Phew what a scorcher.
- Pace. Buckets of it in our squad now.
- David Luiz. Stood out for me tonight in terms of ability and composure.
- We didn’t lose.
- We can get some momentum going after the yawnathon of the international break.
- Pirlo and Buffon. Class and quality.
The bad (can’t have one without the other)
- Sloppy mistakes for the equalizing goal. Seems to be a habit lately but NOT singling out any one player.
- The ref. God help us if that’s the best UEFA have.
- Parading the trophy by the armed forces. PR stunt that sullies us, the trophy and the armed forces.
- (That’s enough bad… Ed.)
The ugly (look it’s all three or nothing right?)
- Ashley Cole’s ‘hairstyle’. Ash, you aren’t 18 anymore.
I’m still unsullied by a visit to the Bridge this season. I’m still strutting from our Champions League final game. I’m still positive and the Mojometer is now sat at 80%. A decent slap up in the Broadway Café on Saturday and meeting some faces in the club room followed by a no doubt bruising encounter against Stoke will see me fully mojo refueled to 100%. That’s why I’m still so positive. I think we can be satisfied with a point gained tonight and I’d fancy us to do similar in the return leg. I think we’ll turn Schalke and FC Lapland or whatever they’re called over and tonight we saw the two teams who’ll qualify from our group.
We still look a player or two short, perhaps a striking alternative or complement to Torres, and for me a backup solid midfielder for Lamps and Mikel. I heard we have a decent prospect in a lad called Essien… oh wait…
Finally, stop the Mikel baiting, criticize by all means but isolated unqualified abuse is just more of a reflection of you than the player. We’re moving into the season without any real damaging disasters. We’re a work in progress integrating new players and evolving a different style. Not losing is important and therefore a draw has to be seen as an OK result. I’d hate this blog to become a haven for people who believe anything less than a 3-0 defeat of allcomers is a sign of disaster.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The press reports
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “In the end, it all felt very different to those delirious scenes back in May when Didier Drogba rolled in the decisive penalty that confirmed Chelsea as champions of Europe. They had led 2-0 on a night when Oscar spectacularly announced his presence at Stamford Bridge, but their first match in defence of the trophy was to finish in disappointment, exacerbated by the clear sense they had contributed to their own downfall.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Juventus were good, attacking with endless brio, but such an ambitious side as Chelsea should not be allowing a two-goal lead to slip. Under Roberto Di Matteo in the second half of last season, Chelsea progressed to last May’s Champions League final in Munich because of their concentration and determination, their refusal to waste possession or grant opponents too many glimpses of goals. But here Chelsea players were too sluggish in responding to Juventus breaks, particularly the midfielder John Obi Mikel. Such dawdling costs points.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Our defence of the Champions League trophy began in disappointing style as we threw away a two-goal lead, drawing 2-2 with Juventus on what was only the third occasion in which we’d failed to win our opening group game.”