The Times, Matt Hughes: “Avram Grant’s mission impossible is to make Chelsea the most attractive team in the world while continuing to win trophies, although he can be grateful that his players have not cast off the resilience instilled by his more pragmatic predecessor. The visiting team needed all their fortitude and considerable fortune to come away with a goalless draw that keeps them top of group B, needing only one win from their final two matches to qualify for the next round.”
Daily Telegraph, John Ley: “An uncharacteristically disjointed performance under the Arena AufSchalke roof cost Chelsea the chance to confirm qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League. With Rosenborg winning in Valencia, a Chelsea victory would have guaranteed their passage. Instead they left grateful for the point that keeps them at the head of Group B following a woeful performance.”
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “After the rip-roaring has come the mind-numbing. Chelsea have been determined to scintillate in recent weeks, but their seven-game winning streak spluttered to an end in the Rhineland last night with a shivering stalemate in Gelsenkirchen. They could count themselves lucky to emerge with a point, so stretched were they at times by Schalke, but that point has eased them to the verge of qualification.”
The Independent, Jason Burt: “An eighth successive win for Chelsea would have secured their passage. But it was an evening to forgot – especially for the Brazilian defenders Alex and Belletti, while Wayne Bridge walked away accused of elbowing an opponent in frustration. Chelsea may also have to contend with the loss of Petr Cech. The goalkeeper damaged his calf in a first-half scramble and had to be replaced by Cudicini.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “The final whistle was a huge relief. Chelsea can complete the job in Norway in three weeks’ time.”
This was a tough task on a night when truth be told we were in possession of a lucky rabbit’s foot the size of London or at least that’s the best explanation I can find for the wheelbarrow load of luck we rode during this game.
- The result. Any 0-0 draw away from home in the Champions League has to be seen as more of a plus than a negative and frankly to come away with a 0-0 when we were so comprehensively put under the cosh is nothing short of a huge bonus.
- Carlo Cudicini. He took some stick for a nervy performance against Leicester last week, but called into action in this game after an injury to
GodPetr Cech he made some good saves and didn’t seem to cause any undue worries in his defence.
- The other result in group B. The allegedly lowly Rosenborg went to the Mestalla and humbled the formerly mighty Valencia 2-0, which is a bonus for us as we owe them one when we play them in 3 weeks. This result means one more victory from the two remaining games will see us into the last 16, although we really want to finish top to avoid any unfortunate Milan or Barcelona clashes in the first knockout round. Valencia seem to be in free-fall and one can’t help wondering what price David Villa now?
- Ricardo Carvalho. In a bleak desert of good performances, he was one of the few Chelsea players to play to his normal level, which is just as well because had he been off beam like most of the others then we’d have been stuffed out of sight.
- Wayne Bridge. Not so much on his performance as he was patently not fully back to match fitness. What he did display was grit, courage and a snarling never-say-die spirit, which helped him overcome his limitations caused by his recent injury. When he’s fully fit he really is the equal of if not the better of Ashley Cole.
- Schalke 04. For a team in crisis, playing under a caretaker coach they really played us off the park. They were first to any loose ball, hungry in the tackle and sharper at passing and moving. We looked like a pub team at times in comparison. Credit where it’s due, they deserve to be in this section and had they played like this from the tournament start would deserve to be going into the next round.
And that my dear blog-watchers and fellow sufferers is all I can find for the “good” section – it was not a night for the good to show its recent regular warm and welcoming face.
- Juliano Belletti. Strange but true. He has been one of our most impressive players this season when he’s in the mood, but when he’s not right then he is a stinker and in this game it was embarrassing to watch him being skinned time after time. Shocking.
- Claude Makelele. The Chelsea evangelists will no doubt accuse me of blasphemy here but guys, take off the blue-tinted glasses and be objective. He’s a has-been who can’t do the job at this or the Premier League level consistently for 90 minutes. He played like a grinning inept fool, endlessly and unswervingly giving the ball away and conceding stupid free kicks in stupid places – a crime he was constantly guilty of last season. Keep him on the bench and use him to steady games we’re already winning but don’t… I repeat don’t let him play a full game any more at this or the Premier League level. Dreadful beyond words.
- Didier Drogba. Anonymous. Didn’t get any real service but after the first 20 minutes of the second half I had to check he hadn’t been substituted such was the effectiveness of his seemingly newly acquired Romulan cloaking device.
- Florent Malouda. Huffed, puffed and lost the ball time and again. Was reduced to remonstrating with the officials after the ball was constantly and fairly removed from his possession by sharper and better players in the Schalke defence.
- Alex. He has been impressive for us so far if a little clumsy from time to time, but in this game he looked all over the place. Our defence looked shaky because the two Brazilians seemed perplexed by the whole affair.
- The score at Anfield. Be prepared for an RSPCA investigation into the undoubted mass suicide of dogs apparently drowning themselves in the River Mersey from the incessant high pitched Scouse crowing about how their glorious history has been proved by beating a second rate Turkish team 8-0 and… blah… blah… blah… you know the rest.
- The performance. On a par with the recent game against Fulham. Hopefully it’s a blip, but the Jose Mourinho baiters might want to note that we rarely had get out of jail performances like this when he was at the tiller.
- Petr Cech: Picked up a calf injury and worryingly it seemed the bench didn’t know how to react – 6/10.
- Juliano Belletti: Terrible and I can only think maybe he didn’t travel well. Either way he can’t afford to put many performances in like this or he’ll be joining the Del Horno express to Bhoularouzville! – 4/10.
- Alex: A big chance to consolidate recent solid performances was spurned. Maybe he was merely coming out in sympathy for Belletti – 5/10.
- Wayne Bridge: Gritty, determined and seemed to know he was not quite at his best, but sheer effort saw him through. Makes you proud to be English – 7/10.
- Ricardo Carvalho: Calm and assured. I never thought he could replace Gallas but I was wrong, he is so much better than Gallas – 8/10.
- Frank Lampard: Couldn’t get forward but still turned in a reasonable show considering how much pressure the team was under. Not a captain though – 7/10.
- Claude Makelele: Believe me I have loved him in the past but the good memories are being sullied by rubbish like he served up in this game. He’s like the proverbial punch drunk boxer who can’t accept he’s gone one fight too many – 2/10.
- Joe Cole: Way below his best and another player who seems daunted by European away days – 6/10.
- Didier Drogba: Hmm… since the 6-0 drubbing of Manchester City he’s gone off the boil a bit and one can’t help wondering if the concerted press campaign to dig up any negative comments he’s made about anything are getting to him. If this is the case then this is where Grant has his work cut out because Mourinho had become an expert at giving Drogba the armoury to deal with negative criticism – 5/10.
- Michael Essien: I’m not used to seeing him lose the ball or make sloppy passes but his below par performances this season outweigh the good ones by a distance. Took a yellow for the team, but was left cold by Lovenkrands for a chance that should have been a Schalke goal – 6/10.
- Florent Malouda: No Arjen Robben. Not even close to Shaun Wright-Phillips. Pathetic. Sell him on – 4/10.
- Carlo Cudicini (sub): Did well considering his lack of big matches. Made one or two good saves and a few easy ones by dint of good positioning. But is he our future? – 7/10.
- Shaun Wright Phillips (sub): Did well enough in his 10 minutes or so and one can only wonder why Grant stuck with Florence from magic Roundabout… sorry Florent Malouda for so long – 7/10.
- John Obi Mikel (sub): Needs to learn the art of tackling but did more than Makelele did all game to add some stability – 7/10.
- Overall team performance: A poor performance flattered by a fortuitous result and the other result in our group going our way. Fingers crossed it’s just a blip and not a return to the immediate post Mourinho loss of confidence – 5/10.
Man of the Match
Ricardo Carvalho. Looks unflappable and does a great job with no fuss, no histrionics and no problem.
The analogies are piling high in front of me. Rabbits in headlights? Boys against men? Heavyweights versus lightweights. Daleks versus Cybermen? Mike Tyson against Frank Bruno? Romans fighting Saxons. America fighting Vietnam (us being America of course). The list is endless. There was a bad smell emanating from us during this game and frankly we stunk the stadium out from start to finish with a way below par showing, especially in light of our recent form. From the first whistle we looked out of sorts and it got worse as the game went on. At half time we were lucky to be at 0-0, but by the end of play we were lucky not to be two or three down. What chances we did have were spurned by poor decisions and even poorer finishing. In the end we seemed scared to attack and desperate in defence.
So much for the “new” Chelsea philosophy. If we’re trying to be Barcelona or Arsenal then we have some way to go to match the verve they can show driven by confidence in their ability, and faith no doubt in their coaching staff. Another big concern for me was the lack of movement from Avram Grant or the bench to change things about. Admittedly the enforced substitution of Cudicini for Cech limited our outfield “tinkering” options, but even with two subs left I would have liked to have seen Malouda and Makelele hauled off and Sheva given a chance along with Wright-Phillips, asking Essien to hold the midfield and taking a gamble that Belletti would wake up… a 4-4-2 I believe! Either way, it looked like our new maestro was either being stubborn by keeping the faith, or clueless. You choose.
Having said that it has to be noted that sometimes you get tough nights in Europe and occasionally you need the luck to grind out a result. But, there’s no escaping, we looked ragged and disjointed from the start and never at any point did we look like grabbing the game and showing what we can do. A worrying sign for future big games in the Premier League? I sincerely hope not.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!