The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Memories of Moscow have haunted Chelsea’s recent history, though this will have served as an exorcism of sorts. A comfortable victory has maintained the London club’s serene progress through Group F. The pursuit of this trophy, denied them so cruelly here in 2008, will surely now be prolonged into the new year and the knockout phase, where sterner tests than this await.”
Daily Telegraph, John Ley: “Not until John Terry finally lifts the Champions League trophy will Chelsea totally banish the demons they still carry from the shoot out defeat to Manchester United here, in 2008, but much of that disappointment disappeared into the cold Moscow night as Carlo Ancelotti’s team dominated to record their third win out of three in Group F and move to within sight of the knockout stages.”
The Independent, Shaun Walker: “The day before the match, Chelsea wheeled out Russian Yuri Zhirkov instead of their captain, John Terry, to sit alongside manager Carlo Ancelotti at their press conference. The message was that the club wanted to focus on Zhirkov’s return to Moscow – he spent five years at Spartak’s bitter rivals CSKA – and not Terry’s return to the scene of his heartbreaking penalty miss.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Yury Zhirkov’s first Chelsea goal and Nicolas Anelka’s 50th put the Blues on the verge of qualifying for the knockout stage of this season’s Champions League.”
“Once a Blue, always a Blue” (Wayne Rooney, 2002).
Well that’s handy for us then.
With scandals at Chelsea being a little thin on the ground of late, I thought it would be nice to look into the SHOCKING and DRAMATIC events, as Sky Sports News put it, up North over the past few days. With everything running so smoothly at Chelsea HQ, it’s dangerous or perhaps suicidal to revel at the sight of our rivals drowning in mountains of American debt but when you’ve got two stories as big as Liverpool’s imminent relegation (trust me, it’s going to happen) and Rooney jumping from a sinking ship, it would be remiss of me not to mention them.
When Roy Hodgson was appointed in the summer, I was one of the few to question why so many were raving about this extremely nice yet extremely average manager. His record suggests that he can organise a small side pretty well but when you look for any clues as to why he would excel at a “top” club like Liverpool were, I’m afraid that we’d all come away disappointed.
He’s certainly not a fraud who has weaselled his way into a big job through luck and connections but watching his clueless display on the touchline at Goodison Park on the weekend, there is certainly a whiff of the Avram about this bloke. Yes, Rafa left a squad full of dross and yes, Liverpool are skint but after proclaiming that he is the man “with a track record demonstrating that I can take the existing players, get much better performances out of them and buy constructively to build for a better future,” he only has himself to blame for the plight he now finds himself in.
His inherited players have regressed and his signings, without exception, have flopped. Paul Konchesky’s only use is to highlight the folly of appointing a mid-table manager for one of English football’s biggest jobs and as for Joe Cole, well, his performances have been so abysmal that he’s starting to rival Winston Bogarde as the worst Bosman signing in Premiership history.
The lack of any spirit, shape or style is also due to Woy’s lack of tactical acumen. He appears too scared or stupid to make a substitution before the 70th minute and when he does, he has no idea how to change the side’s formation or game plan. It’s not his fault that he’s not good enough to manage a supposed title-challenging side but if he doesn’t win his next two matches, his time will surely be up. And just to make him feel a little bit better about things, the Times today said that Chelsea are interested in nicking Fernando Torres in January. He would be available for the knockout stages of the Champions League and after being told a pack of lies about how new owners and a new manager would return Liverpool to trophy winning ways, he would surely jump at the chance of pulling on the Chelsea shirt.
But Liverpool’s demise is nothing compared to the events at Old Trafford since the weekend. When the story first broke, Manchester United dismissed it as “tabloid gossip” but after one of the most extraordinary press conferences I’ve ever seen from Fergie, it’s clear that Wayne Rooney is the only thing the football world will be talking about for the next few days. It really is incredible that one of the world’s best and most famous players has told the most distinguished and successful manager of recent times that he doesn’t want to play for Manchester United anymore. And if any of you have seen today’s press conference or his interview on MUTV, the news looks to have nearly broken Fergie. For the first time in a long while, he looks frail, sad and dumbfounded as to what to do next.
The real bombshell delivered by Ferguson though wasn’t the confirmation that the striker wanted to leave, but that he announced his intention to leave in the summer on August 14. It rules out the possibility that his refusal to sign a new contract was a result of a rift with his manager and instead points to worries that a debt-saddled United will soon be unable to compete after another summer of inactivity in the transfer market despite the obvious shortcomings in their ageing squad. In short, Wayne now feels that Manchester City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid offer a better chance of winning trophies than United do and if that doesn’t make Fergie feel like retiring then the news that if he doesn’t accept £30-40m for him in January then Wayne will be free to buy out his contract for £5m next summer should. Despite him being out of form could Chelsea really reject the chance to sign one of the most talented players in the world?
This really could be the end of Fergie’s empire. It never rains but it pours right?
Anyway, the teams
Starting XI: Cech, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Essien, Mikel, Zhirkov, Kalou, Anelka, Malouda.
Subs: Turnbull, Van Aanholt, Bruma, Kakuta, McEachran, Clifford, Mellis.
After all the talk of a Chelsea injury crisis, the side Carlo put out looked rather strong. The bench however didn’t, apart from Josh that is, who deserves a starting place soon. Yuri got a much deserved start after his impressive showing against Villa but Ashley and Essien were deprived of a rest with a desperate lack of alternatives.
The match started pretty brightly as both sides settled well and zipped the ball around quickly on top of the impressively grassy plastic pitch, if you know what I mean. JT looked comfortable at the back despite his dodgy back and the daily nightmares about that penalty miss and Nico was moving around on his own up front in typically clever and classy fashion. Roman certainly looked pleased to be back in Moscow whilst covered in a ludicrously large, beige rug.
There were chances at both ends as Kombarov blazed over from the edge of the box after a strangely subdued Ashley Cole knocked the ball towards him, then Welliton brought a sharp save from Pete at his near post and then Kalou volleyed over after some clever combination play between Anelka and Zhirkov. It was an open start which luckily resulted in us getting the first goal despite some Spartak pressure. And what a goal it was too. A loose Spartak header dropped to Zhirkov on the edge of the area and after skipping past a desperate challenge, he slammed a sensational first-time shot into the top corner of the net. It was a stunning strike which resulted in every other Chelsea player running over to Yuri and congratulating him. He’s had a load of injuries and very few chances since his £18m move but when he’s fit and ready to play, he’s one of the best squad players in Europe. (Hmmm, looking back that’s hardly the best compliment I could give Yuri but he’s not quite ready for a regular starting role with Ashley, Frank and Flo monopolising the left wing.)
The game turned on that opening goal as the ground fell silent and we flooded forward looking for that second. A terrible back-pass gave Nico an easy chance to make it two but his abysmal second touch messed up that opportunity. And when you add up that one-on-one miss, the Arsenal miss when he rounded Fabianski and another wrong decision in the second half when Kalou gave him the perfect chance to fire home with only the keeper to beat, there are a few signs that Nicolas is losing his near untouchable ability to convert one-on-one opportunities.
Except, scrap that as only a minute later he latched onto a perfect Essien through-ball to cut inside a Spartak challenge and roll the ball into the far corner of the net. It was a brilliant finish and the least we deserved from what was the perfect first-half, away performance in the Champions League.
The second half though was even more impressive but in an entirely different way. It wasn’t the usual second-half regression we saw against Zilina, Blackpool and West Ham but instead a confident and rather arrogant display of strength as we sat back and asked Spartak to throw all they could at us, safe in the knowledge that they had no chance of breaching our blue wall.
First, Kombarov tested Cech then a deflected McGeady effort drew a great save from Pete before our keeper reacted well to keep out Welliton and then Makeev. We were hardly getting out of our half but the defending on show from Mikel, JT, Ivanovic and Petr was just as impressive as our attacking in the first-half.
Carlo’s 100th Champions League game was going rather smoothly and despite Essien missing a great chance after some sterling work from Kalou the match ended comfortably for us. Josh, Kakuta and Van Aanholt all got a run out with McEachran squeezing in yet another perfect Cruyff turn/pirouette before the final whistle. And that was about it.
- Zhirkov – He had a rather quiet second half but his first half was one of the most impressive I’ve seen from him in a while. The stunning goal aside, he looked like the perfect foil for Malouda and Ashley on that left side as he covered back when Ash sprang forward and provided width when Malouda drifted inside. He deserves more starts and with Ash hobbling about for the last twenty minutes, I think he’ll probably start at left-back against Wolves.
- Mikel, JT, Ivanovic – Our “back-three” were imperious tonight. Mikel is growing into the modern day Vieira as he continues to dominate games from the centre of the park, Ivanovic is still the best partner for JT in my mind and is quickly growing into one of Europe’s best defenders whilst JT looked unbeatable. If we can keep these three fit then a Champions League and Premiership double looks possible.
- Cech – One of his best performances since the Reading injury? He looked comfortable at every set-piece, his shot-stopping was again exemplary and his distribution was Reina-esque. Brilliant.
- Josh McEachran – Didn’t get enough of the ball but when he did his quality, vision and class shines through. I just hope Carlo is brave enough to start him soon.
- Transfer stories – So who would you go for? A Champions League eligible Torres who is desperate to leave Liverpool or Wayne Rooney? We’d have to rival City for Rooney but who could stop us with Didier and Rooney up front?
- Ashley – Looked tired and injured by the end. Has said that his ankle injuries make him feel like a forty year-old when he wakes up and after tonight, it’s clear that he needs a rest.
- Malouda – Not so much bad as a little too quiet for my liking. He hasn’t been at his sparkling best of late and the early season goals have started to dry up. A little worry for the future?
Yeah, I know some of you hate it and yes, it is entirely subjective and biased and unreasonable and blah blah blah but I don’t care.
(But it’s late so I’ll keep it short.)
- Cech – 9/10 – Unbeatable.
- Paulo – 7/10 – Solid.
- Ivanovic – 8/10 – Rock-solid.
- JT – 9/10 – Superb.
- Ashley – 6/10 – Subdued.
- Mikel – 9/10 – Classy.
- Essien – 6/10 – Exhausted.
- Zhirkov – 8/10 – Impressive.
- Kalou – 7/10 – Enthusiastic.
- Anelka – 9/10 – Elegant.
- Malouda – 6/10 – Quiet.
- Carlo – 8/10 – He sent out his strongest possible side to all but guarantee top spot in the group and despite the odd sign of injury (Ashley) and tiredness (Essien, Malouda) it was definitely the right call. We’ve got Wolves at the Bridge on the weekend so those with knocks should get a rest and in the end Carlo’s tactics led to a near perfect Champions League performance.
Man of the Match
Nico, Mikel and Pete were all great but JT was simply superb. Hopefully tonight will help rid him of the penalty nightmare.
So how about that then?
No, not our routine yet highly impressive away showing but Wayne Rooney’s bombshell? Unlike the Stam, Keane, Tevez and Ronaldo exits this one just feels a little bit different. It feels like the end of an era and as I said earlier, potentially, the end of Fergie’s empire. United’s squad is the worst since the Djemba Djemba years and the timing of Rooney’s exit could not be any worse for Fergie. He’s out of form and looks overweight which makes last season’s £70m valuation looks like a cruel joke for those Utd fans hoping that Rooney’s transfer fee can transform this ageing side. He’s now said he doesn’t want to play for the club anymore but dumping him in the reserves will only reduce his asking price to below the £40m mark. Being cup-tied lessens any January transfer fee yet further but rejecting any offer leaves you open to the Webster ruling next summer and a maximum compensation figure of £5m. It’s a nightmare scenario for any manager and with Carlo confirming our interest if he’s available, it looks like a straight fight between Chelsea and City for one of the most incredible transfers in Premiership history.
So, I ask again; Wayne or Fernando? Who would you take in January?