The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “There was too much history between José Mourinho and his old club for the last 16 tie to be settled in the first leg. Chelsea, often on the attack, would have merited a draw on a night where they endured disadvantages such as the loss of their goalkeeper Petr Cech to a freak knee injury. To the pleasure of all onlookers, strategy did not check the flow of entertainment. The opening supplied the momentum for the whole evening.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “A famous figure from the past has thrown a shadow over Chelsea’s future. As San Siro screamed itself hoarse, Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan claimed a first-leg advantage over his old team, although Chelsea returned home with Salomon Kalou’s comforting away goal.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “Inter Milan hold a slender advantage after a policy of strict counterattack was vindicated by Esteban Cambiasso’s spectacular winner, but Chelsea remain very much in the tie as a result of Salomon Kalou’s away goal. The Special One’s return to Stamford Bridge next month should live up to his self-styled nickname.”
The Independent, Mark Fleming: “Europe is still proving to be Chelsea’s Achilles’ heel. They produced some great football at times against Internazionale last night, enjoying the bulk of the possession and creating by far the greater number of attempts on goal, but they were ultimately undone by the man out of whose shadow they still struggle to emerge.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “An away goal scored by Salomon Kalou leaves the tie on a knife edge after a night when Chelsea can feel aggrieved over another Champions League penalty decision and lost Petr Cech to injury.”
“Hmmm…” I hear you sigh, “…why do I keep putting myself through this shit?”
With tonight signifying ‘the return of the Special One’ as the simpletons of the press put it (it’s not the return of Jose as that’s happening in three weeks and the players and staff got all their hugs and kisses out of the way at the Rose Bowl in pre-season), I felt it would be pertinent to examine why we are still so devoted to the rollercoaster ride of pain that is supporting Chelsea Football Club.
I’m in that reminiscing sort of mood anyway. I mean, who wouldn’t be? We get to see Jose again. JOSE BLOODY MOURINHO! Did you hear me, you Jose-haters, kneeling at your Avram-shaped alters? I know you’re out there as in that nightmarish season when we just couldn’t escape his melting, Gordon Brown post-stroke look, there were many on here defending that fraud as a talented manager with potential who should just be given a chance. Well look where he is now. He’s a fucking useless clown with no managerial skill whatsoever. If you needed more proof that the Chelsea team of that season ran itself then try to find any discernible change that Avram has made on that Pompey team. Go on, keep looking you fool.
Anyway, time to return to the script.
Describing us all as masochists may be going a bit far but don’t you think it’s a bit weird that we all appear to get our jollies off by blindly supporting, defending and paying for this pain? Why don’t we just get off the ride? Why don’t we just take a step back and watch Bowls instead? We Chelsea fans actively seek out danger, controversy and a heady cocktail of pleasure and pain. We’re all mini-Jack Bauers wearing blue shirts or Presidents willing to overlook the last parachute in favour of staying on a battered plane full of Russian terrorists (Air Force One was on recently) and we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we? Just look at the events of the past week and ask yourself why even this isn’t enough to make us stop.
Top of the list is good old Ashley Cole. Now, I love Ash as he‘s just so damned brilliant as a footballer. Not only in terms of his skill but also in terms of his attitude. He fits the modern, rebellious Chelsea perfectly and our sticking up of two fingers to the rest of the football fraternity was best seen when Ashley turned his back on Mike Riley on that famous night at White Hart Lane (when Avram cost us the title by throwing away three leads). He’s a brat, a bastard and a little prick on the pitch but he’s our brat and our bastard and we’ll defend him no matter what the News of the World’s hackers find out. Having an affair, getting arrested on a night out, drink-driving, having an affair, getting caught in a secret meeting with Peter Kenyon, having an affair… they’re are all minor blips which should be overlooked and not used as sticks to beat this guy in my opinion.
In this case kicking people when they’re down just doesn’t activate my chuckle cells. For those of you who don’t read the newspapers anymore or perhaps just don’t read, I’M LOOKING AT YOU GOONERPRIDE, a little context to this week’s Ashley news may help. Ash had an affair, or five, used Chelsea’s press officer to advise one or two of these girls to shut up, got caught and is now being divorced by Queen Cheryl. So nothing new then? It’s JT-gate all over again. So why the righteous anger, £400,000 fines and potential suspension from Chelsea? What goes on in the privacy of his marriage is not anyone else’s business after all, not even his employer. Punishing people on the basis of their private lives is a tricky business because no outsider can ever be certain of the full details. Roman Abramovich and Carlo Ancelotti have both gone through separations, in the owner’s case the tally stands at two divorces, the second rather expensive. Peter Kenyon, the former chief executive, had a similar count. None of us would presume to judge them precisely because, as with Cole, we have no idea what went on.
So what is it about this case that makes it so different? If Cole’s crime is that he broke the rules at Chelsea then he is not the only one. What about the club’s swift exoneration of JT over allegations that he was paid £10,000 to show an undercover reporter around Chelsea’s training ground in the company of a well-known ticket tout? JT broke the rules so where was his fine and his suspension? It smacks of hypocrisy and the arbitrary threat from Ron Gourlay’s lecture that “past indiscretions which are subsequently exposed will not be accepted” had a whiff of a stitch-up about it. Why not tell Ashley there and then that he’s going to get battered in the next week for something which happened eight months ago? There was nothing Ashley could have done about the situation and as I said, the arbitrary and random setting of a deadline for past sex-scandals to be exposed meant Ashley was being pushed into a corner with no way out.
To an outsider this looks crazy. But for us it’s just another day in the life of being a Chelsea fan. Is it right that I’m preconditioned to defend Ashley despite him being the one who was found sneaking girls back to his hotel room? Probably not. But is it any more right that journalists and idiots alike endlessly examine the private lives of a bloke who earns obscene amounts of money for lumping a ball around a bit of turf? Look at any of the myriad of articles on Ashley and you’ll find thousands of comments underneath, usually cackling at Cashley as they put it. “HAAAAAA HAAAAAA, Cashley’s fucked,” wrote one warm-hearted and well-educated human because “Ha Ha” just wouldn’t suffice. Why leave it there, chuckles? Why not go down to Surrey, go through Ashley’s bins and find an incriminating McDonald’s bag? “HAAAAAAA HAAAAAA, Ashley eats burgers, the fat bastard! LOL!” These cretins are trying to assert an unearned, paper-thin air of superiority but in reality they’re just as bad if not worse than the celebrities they’re laughing at. The very fact that they’re willing to get so annoyed by a footballer that they’ll gleefully jettison any notion of common sense is surely a bright scarlet warning light indicating just how empty their spiritual gas tank has become. Just move on and get a life. It’s Ashley Cole for fuck’s sake not Hitler.
So there. I’ve constructed a barely believable narrative in defence of an adulterer. But that’s what a Chelsea fan has to do. And tonight there are much more important things to discuss. I’ve tried to keep the Jose references out of the piece so far and that’s because we all have our own special memories about Jose. But put it this way; I love Jose and I bet a lot of you do too. He was and still is a genius and I don’t know if we can ever move on from him.
Eight injuries, Ashley injured, Zhirkov injured, Paulo not registered… we do like to do things the hard way don’t we? But Carlo doesn’t like to back down and went all out attack:
Cech, Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Malouda, Ballack, Mikel, Lampard, Anelka, Drogba, Kalou.
Subs: Hilario, Joe Cole, Sturridge, Alex, Belletti, Bruma, Borini.
The atmosphere was electric, the ultras were setting off flares and fireworks and the scene was set. This was it, the ‘return of Jose’. Except it didn’t really feel like that. Maybe it was the awful stench poring through every pixel of my TV as ITV’s terrible coverage and adverts spilled over the screen or perhaps it was my nerves. Big games under the leadership of Carlo have never really made me nervous as we always do well in them. Our bunch of oldies understand the pressure and skill needed to navigate these “high-level games” as Jose put it in the pre-match build up but tonight was different. Was it Jose’s tactical genius? Our awful away form? Inter’s surprisingly talented squad? Or the fact that our injury crisis was going to cost us at some point?
Jose’s third season would have brought us a third title but for the horrendous injuries we suffered and this season sort of has that same feeling about it. Eight injuries in the build up to an away leg in the knockout rounds of the Champions League never gives you the best chance of progressing but when your task is to get past a Jose-shaped brick wall then an injury crisis virtually knocks you out before you’ve even started. As well as the injuries, there was this nagging sense of divided loyalty. Would it really be so bad if Jose knocked us out? He’s a Chelsea legend after all and when you see quotes like this: “One day I will return to Chelsea. They belong to my story and I belong to their story. Chelsea is my home,” you feel like you want to fly over to Milan and smuggle Jose onto Roman’s jet so that he can return home to the Bridge, where he belongs. Or is that just me?
Anyway, on to the match. Jose had predictably taken his seat nice and early so all the cameras would be on him as the two teams walked out. We nearly missed the kick-off due to ITV’s infuriating five minute ad-break but as soon as we got under way you could tell that this was certainly a “high-level game.” Both sides were packed with experienced, world-class players and the game began with Inter and Maicon predictably targeting Malouda and Didier predictably flinging himself to the ground. Everything was going to plan then. Except our latest sleepy start was then punished in a flash. Sneijder smartly fed Milito inside our box after two minutes and his clever turn inside JT gave him the space and time to fire past Cech. It was a clinical start and we were 1-0 down before we’d even touched the ball.
I hadn’t even had enough time to look at how both sides had set-up but a quick glance showed Eto’o shadowing Ivanovic and Jose leaving Maicon to rampage down the right-wing against Malouda. But strangely Jose’s decision not to counter Carlo’s attacking selection of Malouda and Kalou on our left-wing proved to be his biggest mistake of the night. The freedom, pace and skill of Kalouda (geddit?) gave us an attacking threat which has been absent from our recent away performances and it allowed us to dominate possession and play some really lovely football. Ballack, Mikel and Lamps may not have been doing much attacking but their movement and calmness on the ball enabled us to clear our heads, get hold of the ball and use both wing-backs to get us back into the game. Ivanovic and Malouda were bloody brilliant tonight but it was Kalou who was the dominant figure in the early stages. He regularly beat Maicon at right-back (Ivanovic is still the best right-back in the world in my opinion) with his incisive running but his final ball unfortunately let him down on many occasions.
But we were playing very well after the early set back and despite a few rough challenges – see Motta’s boot to Ballack’s eye or Samuel’s off the ball kick on a prone Didier – our football was more than deserving of an equaliser. A drop of the shoulder and fierce Kalou drive was followed by a Ballack effort and then a stunning Didier free-kick amongst other efforts. Despite being 30 yards out he absolutely leathered the ball but unfortunately for us it crashed against the bar with Cesar helpless. I don’t want to exaggerate but for about 20 minutes we were battering them with Ivanovic roaring down the right and Malouda overlapping to great effect on the left. Inter’s midfield looked surprisingly tired after such a short period of time but crucially they had the first goal and Jose simply instructed them to sit back and hit us on the break.
But as I said we were dominating and I was surprised that we only had 58% of possession. We were still creating chances but frustratingly our finishing did not match our brilliant build up play. Ivanovic’s long throw found Didier in the box but his smart chest, turn and volley narrowly flashed wide. Lampard then found Mikel and his chipped ball forward again gave Didier the chance to chest and volley in on Cesar’s goal but unfortunately it flew wide. Mikel and Frank also had nice long range efforts but we just couldn’t get the goal we deserved.
The only people who failed to notice our dominance and surprisingly attractive football were ITV’s horrendous commentators. Tyldesley was at his usual patronising worst, almost willing Inter to score, as seen when Eto’o completely missed his kick inside the box from Inter’s only other attack of the half. Yes it was a good chance but to say that “Chelsea have to calm down and get their heads together or they’re out of this game,” was ridiculous. Hmmm I thought to myself. From where I was sitting and I was desperately trying to avoid wearing my blue-tinted specs here, we were dominating the match and only some poor finishing had let us down. Yes Inter had scored a great goal and had a great chance to double their lead but apart from those two breakaways, this half had belonged to us.
But as the half drew to a close the game exploded into action after a little lull in proceedings (apart from an abysmal Milito dive). Ivanovic won our first corner of the game with one of his trademark drives down the right-wing and from Lamps’ corner it looked like the Serb was bundled over by a clear barge in the back from Samuel. PENALTY! I screamed (to myself) but did any of you expect the referee to give us a decision as important as that in the San Siro? The only way Chelsea would get a penalty in the San Siro is if an Inter defender blatantly tripped and then barged into the back of a Chelsea striker bearing down on goal. So, right on cue Kalou ran on to an immense Ivanovic long throw, entered the box and was about to convert from six yards for that crucial away goal when Samuel tripped him and then ran into his legs. Was it a penalty? Fuck me. If you couldn’t see that was a penalty then you need shooting, in the knee-caps preferably. How Mejuta blah blah, Spanish wanker, couldn’t see it, I don’t know. It was an abysmal decision and the fact that Samuel lay there, with his head in his hands after tripping Kalou said it all. He knew it was a penalty. Kalou knew it was. Ballack knew it. JT knew it. Even Tyldesley knew it. The ref immediately blew up for half-time and we surrounded him in a repeat of the Barcelona scenes of last season. No matter what happened in the second half, the lack of a penalty award and red card would undoubtedly cost us.
The second half started in much the same way as the first ended: Chelsea dominating the ball and Inter sitting back, waiting for an opportunity to spring forward. I was still pissed off that our impressive play hadn’t garnered a goal but I needn’t have worried. After all we had the irrepressible Ivanovic on our side. His rampaging run beat four Inter defenders and his perfect set for Kalou allowed the Ivorian to pass the ball into the back of the net from 25 yards. I couldn’t care less that it was a goalkeeping error as Ivanovic, Kalou and ultimately the whole team deserved that equaliser. All we needed to do now was close the half out and start planning for the next round.
But then, disaster. I don’t know how he does it but Jose always seems to create teams that play at their best when an opponent has the temerity to score against them. Eto’o and Sneijder immediately went up the other end for the first time in 40 minutes and the Dutch maestro’s cross fell to Cambiasso to volley in at the second attempt. It was a great finish but it only came about from a lucky rebound off Ivanovic and some sloppy tracking back from Kalou and Mikel. Suddenly we were behind and Jose decided to spring into action. He tried to kill off the tie with the introduction of the arrogant but supremely talented Balotelli and then the tricky Pandev. He knew that a third goal would all but send us out and with Malouda at left-back; pace was the way to beat this Chelsea side.
For the next few minutes we appeared shell-shocked, as if unable to comprehend how all our good play had only got us a 2-1 deficit. And then things got even worse. An innocuous Inter punt forward was easily caught by Cech but as he bowled the ball out his knee appeared to give way and the stretcher was immediately called for. Fears of a Joe Cole-style cruciate injury were quickly downplayed by Carlo after the match but having the treble in the hands of hapless-Hilario fills me with dread.
The rest of the half kind of petered out with Lucio dominating Didier and our midfield beginning to tire. A lovely bit of one-touch football and a mistimed Lampard volley apart, not much else happened. Jose closed the game out with some subtle tactical changes and Carlo appeared to settle for the single away goal. And that was about that. A 2-1 defeat but an away goal. Would you have taken that at the start of the night?
- Our football – We’ve been embarrassingly awful in our recent away games but tonight was different. Maybe our stroll at Wolves allowed us to play at this intensity but I thought we were brilliant tonight (for 87 minutes that is). We had pace, trickery, overlapping full-backs, an awesome Didier for 45 minutes and a calm and assured midfield and as I mentioned earlier, I truly believe that our football deserved more than one away goal. With a second goal, this would have almost been a complete performance but in the end it ended advantage Inter.
- Malouda and Kalou – He’s not a left-back right? I only ask because his performance tonight was exemplary. He didn’t put a foot wrong all night and with both Cole and Zhirkov out, our left-back crisis was hardly noticeable all night. It was a truly inspired selection from Carlo. And as for Kalou, well, he was great. A few blind-alley runs were still on show but his direct running at Maicon and pace were a crucial outlet for us. How he didn’t get a penalty, I don’t know but his goal was fully deserved.
- Jose – It’s just great to see him. And you can still see his little touches of genius as he put Lucio on Didier in the second half after our number 11 had dominated Samuel earlier, or his attacking substitutions to kill the game after going 2-1 up. He’s pure box-office gold for some, an arrogant bastard for others but a footballing genius for me.
- Ivanovic – I don’t know what else to say about our super-Serb. He’s fucking brilliant and the best right-back in the world. So there.
- Lucio – A cynical, cheating, diving twat at times but simply world class at others. Who said Brazilians can’t defend?
- Finishing – 18 attempts at goal, 57% of possession but only one away goal. I know I’m asking a lot but if we had squeezed in a second we were as good as through.
- Referee – Had a very good game for me. Let play go, didn’t fall for their diving, wasn’t intimidated by the home crowd but… he’s a useless, fucking, blind idiot who couldn’t spot the clearest penalty I’ve seen for bloody ages. My gut feeling is that that decision has cost us this tie. Jose will find a way to score at the Bridge and as he said tonight “I never lose at Stamford Bridge.” It wasn’t just the fact that we would have been at 1-1 at half-time but that the penalty and red card would have prevented Jose making so many attacking substitutions and as a result we would have controlled the game for the second period.
- Injuries – So that’s nine and counting. There’s only so much more our depleted and old legs can take. Florent may have put in a perfect left-back display but just look at our midfield – one more injury and we’re screwed. Lamps has been rushed back from illness and looked absolutely shattered tonight but who else do we have so that we can rest him? One more injury and our season is over basically. It really is that dire.
- Hilario – He’s shit. There. I said it. “Oh, but he never lets us down.” So? A shit keeper can still be a lucky keeper and apart from being an alright shot-stopper, his decision making, command of his box and kicking are truly abysmal. Just look at his three kicks tonight: all three barely made it to the half-way line and if Milito or Eto’o had been in the right position it would have been 3 or 4-1. I mean, what keeper can’t KICK A FUCKING FOOTBALL! He doesn’t even look like an outfield player masquerading as a keeper but instead a buffoon who has stolen some goalkeeper’s gloves. I don’t care what you lot say in the comments, HE WILL COST US THE TITLE IF CECH’S OUT FOR THE SEASON.
- Cech – 7/10 – Calm, assured and assertive but a serious injury ended his night and quite possibly our season. Here’s hoping it’s only a calf strain.
- Ivanovic – 9.5/10 – Stunning. Unstoppable when going forward and unbeatable at the back. His assist for the goal certainly shut Gareth Southgate up and his quick thinking on half-time should have won us a penalty.
- Ricky – 7/10 – Some crucial interceptions and nice distribution allowed us to dominate possession. However, a tricky and quick forward like Eto’o can expose his old legs.
- Terry – 5/10 – Lovely clearances, distribution and tackling but his dismal defending against Milito cost us a goal and his losing of Eto’o in the box 20 minutes later should have cost us another. He’s still brilliant at times but at the moment his errors are proving costly.
- Malouda – 9.5/10 – A perfect left-back display. Simple as that.
- Mikel – 7/10 – Calm on the ball but his slack concentration is infuriating and he really should have spotted the danger for Inter’s second goal much earlier than he did.
- Ballack – 7/10 – Again, calm and classy on the ball. His experience and quality certainly outshone the useless Stankovic and Motta and if he can get us a goal in the second leg, he’ll be back to his best.
- Lampard – 6/10 – Looked exhausted and is probably still ill. But his vision and quality are irreplaceable.
- Kalou – 8/10 – A revelation for me. Direct, quick running exposed Maicon’s poor defensive skills and a well taken goal was the least his impressive performance deserved. His quick thinking to link up with Ivanovic’s throw should have got us back into the game.
- Anelka – 5/10 – Useless. Neat and tidy on the ball at times but plain slow and lazy and other points in the game. With Zhirkov back for the second leg, Didier should be flanked by both Malouda and Kalou. At the moment he’s only getting in the team because of his early season form.
- Didier – 7.5/10 – A brilliant first-half with numerous shots, volleys and crosses but crucially no goal and Jose’s subtle change at half-time allowed Lucio to silence him in the second-half.
- Hilario (sub) – 4/10 – Awful.
- Sturridge (sub) – 6/10 – Not enough time to affect the game.
- Ancelotti – 8/10 – His tactics were perfect tonight and his team selection was also inspired. With a little more luck (Cambiasso rebound) and a few more options in the second leg, I’m confident he’ll guide us through. If not, then he’s out, right? I’d hate to see it but if he doesn’t win anything this year then what do you think will happen to him?
Man of the Match
Ivanovic was again awesome but I’ve given him enough MOTM’s so tonight I’ll give it to Malouda. His left-back display was simply perfect.
So we lost and seeing as Jose never loses at the Bridge, we’re basically out. Right? Well, not exactly.
We completely outplayed them tonight and if we can stamp out the sloppy starts and improve our finishing then we’ve got a great chance of going through. I accept that Eto’o and Milito looked dangerous whenever they got the ball but Carlo knew that the key to getting a good result was blocking the supply to these strikers and judging by the minimal effect Sneijder had on this game, he appeared to get that right too.
We did so much right today that I feel really pissed off that we didn’t get what we deserve. It’s not that I’m a bad loser and I know that football isn’t fair but it’s just that Carlo outsmarted Jose and Chelsea outplayed Inter tonight. But in the end we escaped with an away goal and we’ll need a win in the second leg to go through. Many have spotted the similarities with the Barcelona tie in Jose’s first season but this tie is a little different for me. Jose knows how to play us and it would be extraordinary if we scored three goals in the first 20 minutes and scraped through with a late JT header. I know it’s possible for us to go through and I really hope that we do but I have a sinking feeling that our defence, specifically Hilario, will concede and we just won’t have enough to go through. In the end the injuries have caught up with us and unless Essien and Cech make some miraculous recoveries, I’m sorry to say it, but we’re going out.