The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “If only life without Didier Drogba could always prove this comfortable. Chelsea’s first fixture since their African contingent departed for Angola was little more than a stroll through the third round, with Championship opponents hopelessly outclassed and the contest reduced early into a training exercise serving to pep the Londoners’ confidence.”
Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “Ancelotti began with a slight surprise by switching from the diamond formation that has generally served him so well this season, with Juliano Belletti playing the holding position in front of the defence while Florent Malouda and Joe Cole were the most advanced midfielders in support of Sturridge.”
The Times, Nick Szczepanik: “The gap between the Barclays Premier League leaders and Watford, of the Coca-Cola Championship, was 32 league places but it might as well have been 92 for all the chance of an upset after Chelsea had taken an early lead, which was stretched to 3-0 after 21 minutes.”
The Independent, Mark Fleming: “Chelsea’s transfer policy bore fruit yesterday, six months down the line. Speculation is rife about who they might sign during the January transfer window, but it was two players recruited last summer who were behind this thrashing of Watford.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea began the new year and FA Cup campaign in emphatic style today, smashing visitors Watford 5-0 with Daniel Sturridge netting twice.”
5′ Sturridge 1-0
15′ Eustace (og) 2-0
22′ Malouda 3-0
64′ Lampard 4-0
68′ Sturridge 5-0
All five goals (ITV highlights)
I only applied for the job as a contributor four days ago and Nick emails me back to say I am on the staff two days later – and can I review the FA Cup 3rd round match the next day?
Then – to my utter horror – I discover on the morning of the match that not a single TV station anywhere in the world is broadcasting it (more on that disgrace later). Having already been ordered onto butlering duties by Mrs Marco for the in-laws’ New Year Lunch treat, I couldn’t get to the match either. So this review is based on a) the radio commentary b) interviews with friends who went to the match and c) retrospective analysis of the highlights.
I had mixed feelings about this game. We are up against a mid-table Championship side and on a hiding to nothing. If we win by the odd goal that can be deflationary, while if we draw/lose… it didn’t bear thinking about.
On the other hand, we beat Watford 5-1 on the way to winning it in 1970, and 3-1 on the way to winning it last year with a sublime hat-trick from Nic. Maybe that is an omen?
Then, with a jolt, I recalled that we are actually the 2009 Cup Holders!
How Jose has spoilt us eh? Fifteen years ago winning the FA Cup was the most of us could hope for. Now we tend to see it as a consolation prize.
Then I got to thinking about our recent, dismal, performances against Apoel, Fulham, West Ham, Everton, etc. Would Carlo continue to lose the brownie points he accumulated up to, and during, our 0-3 result at the Emirates?
A glimmer of hope was provided by the Ealing Gazette and, I quote from last Wednesday’s edition:
“Ancelotti this week asserted that his diamond tactic is by no means rigid, and that a flat 4-4-2 could be utilized in the coming matches.
“I think that in some matches, we can change the system. We play with the diamond every match, but I think also we can use the wing.
“In some matches, where there is a lot of space in midfield, we can use the wing sometimes. We have Malouda who can do that, and also Sturridge who can play there.”
My heart fell when I saw Malouda’s name come up but quickened slightly at Sturridge’s, and the long-forgotten idea about using wingers. Would we actually see a 4-4-2 again with Sturridge, Kakuta and some of the other kids playing? Or would Carlo lose his nerve and play the usual faces, minus the Africans, but with the same blud diamond formation, that annoyed us all so in December?
The team announcement was both surprising and delightful. Hilario in goal, Alex and JT together at the back, Zhirkov alongside Super Frank, and Sturridge up front in a 4-3-3. The only worries (for me) were the presence of Belletti in midfield, and Malouda and Cole behind Sturridge. As it turned out, though, Belletti did ok and Malouda had his best game in months. Just as welcome was the news that Kakuta, Matic and Borini were all on the bench and all played.
Readers of this blog will recall that I have been giving Ancelotti a hard time recently but full marks to the manager for this enterprising and clever selection.
The game started off with a wave of attacks, with the passing a joy to watch. Lamps, Zhirkov and Malouda were pivotal to most of these moves. I wish I could say that Joe Cole showed any improvement on recent form but although he did ok in the first half, he tailed off badly in the second.
We spent most of the first 45 minutes camped in the Watford half and forced corner after corner. This enabled JT and Alex to play havoc in their penalty area and both had several attempts on goal. It was from one of these that we scored after just four minutes. The corner forced by Sturridge, doing a passable imitation of Drogs and knocking his marker off the ball.
Still another surprise was when I noticed Lamps actually kicking corners over the heads of the opposition and into their 6-yard box! And that shock was followed by Sturridge’s first goal for the club. Fortuitously, JT mis-hit a shot but Daniel – with excellent positioning – scored a classic predator’s goal.
Our next two goals reminded me of Everton’s three against us: pinball ricochets that ended up in the net with no-one sure how. Number two turned out to be an own goal with Watford under severe pressure from Malouda, Lamps and Joe Cole. While no. three came from a speculative shot by the effortlessly mobile Zhirkov, which went in off Malouda.
First half we had an eye-watering 73% possession, with 14 goal attempts and seven on target. I remember thinking “well, it’s only Watford” but I might have been thinking “well, it’s only Apoel/Everton/West Ham etc.” had we turned them over. Besides, Watford are only 16 places below the Spammers. We were playing like a team that is top of the Premiership and one of the most feared teams in Europe, with Watford just spectators.
With the deep-seated pessimism of all long-time Chelsea supporters doubts came flooding in during the half-time break. What if Watford score early? Would we collapse? Sure enough, Watford came out with a will and started winning possession and taking the game back to us. On the 52nd minute DeMerit’s marker (who he?) went missing and he was allowed a free header on goal. This whizzed straight towards the net but was caught by Hilario. Would Cech have got that, I wondered to myself?
While I was slowly building up to a panic attack Super Frank took control with a goal that was one of his trade-mark best: a 25-yard screamer diagonally across the keeper. Game over.
Difficult to know which was the Goal of the Match – Super Frank’s or Daniel’s second but I am going to give it to Sturridge because a) his goal was a fast-passing team effort with Ashley forcing the pass over from the left whereupon Daniel, with a sublime double-touch, made the hardest job in football look simple.
After that the kids came on with some loss of momentum on our part. My only quarrel with the substitutions was that Borini came on for Sturridge when I would have taken Joe Cole off, and played a 4-4-2 with Zhirkov, Super Frank, Matic and Kakuta in the middle. Kakuta, in particular, was great to watch: clever, composed and with a great first touch. We have a very special talent here.
I will dispense with Player Ratings in this review. Partly, because I think they carry a false objectivity, partly because I did not see enough of the game to rate fairly. Instead I will list players in order of their influence on the game, as I saw it.
Daniel Sturridge. A goal after four minutes meant we were cruising from the start and set the tone for the rest of the match. His second goal was just beautiful. Fantastic pace and not easy to muscle off the ball.
Frank Lampard. Back to his imperious best. If the 4-3-3 enables Frank to do that then that has to be a strong argument for ditching the blud diamond and keeping it.
John Terry. Without really being able to say why, I have a strong feeling that JT was the inspiration behind our rapacity. He seemed to be at both ends at the flick of a switch; one moment getting a header in on goal, the next blocking one of their (few) shots on goal. Looks like we’ve got our Captain back.
Ivanovic. Enough said.
Malouda. I wouldn’t say he was back to the standard of his displays last season, but this was a lot, lot better from him. Maybe his moans to the French press last week have drained the sulks out of him.
Man of the Match
Could be any of Lamps, JT and Ivanovic but I am giving it to Sturridge because it was wonderful to see him get started.
- Carlo’s selection/tactics and innovations. I am always ready to eat humble pie and Carlo proved me wrong. But let’s hope his good work carries over into the Hull match. And please don’t bring Deco, or Ballack, or the blud diamond back!
- The team. Yes, we are a skillful, hard-working side. But what impressed me most was the hunger and desire we showed against lower-league opposition.
- Manchester United earning a richly-deserved third-round knock-out despite Sir Purple Nose’s decision to award himself five minutes add-on time.
- Leeds won.
- ITV and the BBC. ITV ignore the FA Cup Holder’s match and choose to relay the West Ham and Leeds games instead. And BBC Radio 5 discontinue their radio coverage at Stamford Bridge at half-time on realizing that we were 3-0 up. Presumably on the hoped-for story-line that ‘gallant opposition succumb to the superior talents of the two teams below us’. Well it didn’t work out that way at all. Were these TV sports producers given replica Arsenal/Man United shirts on their 6th birthdays by doting relatives keen to keep them in the glory hunt? I think we should be told. But an utter disgrace nevertheless.
This was a time-warp back to our 1970 demolition of Watford in the semi-finals on the way to winning it against… Leeds United (could there be some sympathetic magic going on here?)
But – for me – next week’s result against Hull will be far more important than this game. And I sincerely hope Carlo will go on to turn our indifferent Premier League form around and this was merely the prelude.
- Reaction: Best foot forward
- Stop worrying about the future of the Cup – it gets the respect it deserves
- FA Cup losing its appeal despite Leeds rekindling some romance