The Observer, Paul Wilson: “”Beast!” hissed the home crowd, respectfully, as the portly Jon Parkin was sent on to chase a two-goal deficit for the last half hour. “You fat bastard!” bellowed the Chelsea fans in the Bill Shankly end. Not particularly romantic, granted, but you cannot make a fairytale out of every FA Cup mismatch. At least Darren Ferguson’s second defeat in his short period in charge of Preston was nowhere near as grim as the DVD of Chelsea’s 7-2 thrashing of Sunderland with which he has been torturing himself all week, and after taking on a virtually full-strength Chelsea team in his first home game the new manager’s task can only get easier.”
Sunday Telegraph, Rory Smith: “Far from their imperious best, Carlo Ancelotti’s side simply did enough to swat Preston’s challenge aside, taking the lead in slightly fortuitous fashion through Nicolas Anelka before seeing Daniel Sturridge double it with the first attack of the second half. All hope extinguished and progression secure. The holders are on the march.”
Sunday Times, Jonathan Northcroft: “Chelsea … were hardly over-extended and assured their passage to the fifth round with 44 minutes still to play when Dean Sturridge scored to make it 2-0 after Nicolas Anelka had opened the scoring. “Professional” was how Ray Wilkins, Chelsea’s assistant manager, described his team’s performance.”
Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “A misty Lancashire lunchtime and an opposing manager called Ferguson held no terrors after all for the FA Cup holders, who sauntered into the last 16 of the competition despite leaving out half a dozen of the players who had demolished Sunderland the previous week. For much of the time it must have felt like a training game in leafy Surrey as Chelsea knocked the ball around among themselves while doughty locals bellowed “hit him!” or “get stuck in!””
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Nicolas Anelka’s 11th goal of the season and Daniel Sturridge’s third secured a comfortable passage into the fifth round of the FA Cup.”
37′ Anelka 0-1
47′ Sturridge 0-2
The FA Cup again. In my last report on the Watford match I said I had ambivalent feelings about this competition. I want us to win it, of course. But would much rather we saved our best efforts for the Premier League.
My intuition told me we would win this easily and I actually placed a 7-1 bet on a 0-3 scoreline. I was almost wrong about winning it easily and almost correct about the score.
Nick called on me to write this report at half-time while I was taking a well-earned rest from my mini panic-attack after Preston almost equalized just before the break. Sympathetic magic rituals once more from our Leader? If he is a magician, and chose me as a lucky mascot, then maybe I should write the rest of the reviews for this cup run?
A further point. After my last report on this competition several readers took me to task for hyping up our performances against what was ‘only’ Championship opposition. Full credit to Preston – they gave us a lot of problems to solve and were certainly no worse than Wigan, Burnley, Stoke, or Portsmouth have been against us this season. And full credit to the team that dispatched Preston in reasonably clinical fashion today. And – yes – I will comment on the performances I actually saw today, rather than those I might have seen against mightier opponents.
On the whole, Carlo pleased me with his team selection, with one exception. We had JT and Alex together at the back (I trust the Eyebrow monitored the Brazilian while he was forced to watch his defensive errors against Sunderland on the video over and over again this week), Ferreira giving Ivan a rest, and Zhirkov in for Ashley. Super Frank and Ballack were in front of the recently impressive Belletti. My only groan went up when I heard that Deco was in with Sturridge behind Anelka. As it happened though, Deco ended up taking Belletti’s place later on, with surprisingly good effect.
I should place on record that, like many other writers on this blog, I am dubious about the importance of tactical formations. That skepticism was something I first acquired when I played for my grammar school in the Surrey league in the late 1960s, when we regularly played the 1950s style 2-3-5 formation. We would get routinely slaughtered by the Comprehensives, even though they played the same tactics. The difference was that they had better, tougher, players; trained harder; wanted it more; and played for each other.
In this match, the on-paper 4-3-3 easily mutated throughout the match into a diamond, or an upside-down, inside out, Xmas tree, as the game – and the intelligence and talent of the players – dictated. Preston, too, I noticed, switched from their initial 5-5-0 into a 2-3-5 in the last ten minutes as they went in search of a goal.
Football is essentially a simple game and the manager’s job is to inspire players and give them clear guidelines on what to do and how to do it. Player instructions and positional sense count for far more than blackboard diagrams in my view.
Preston started off with a 4-5-1 (or a 5-4-1, depending on which bit of the game you were watching in the first half) and it was clear that the heir and escutcheon of Sir Purplenose had set out with only one piece of advice from his dad: ‘Stop Chelsea playing and try and nick it’.
For the first fifteen minutes or so these fatherly admonitions seemed to be working. We struggled to get through the bodies massed just behind the halfway line and frequently lost possession; Deco and Sturridge both frequent culprits early on. But Preston’s unenterprising play meant that the ball came back to our back four again and again as we probed relentlessly. Zhirkov, in particular, was a powerhouse in possession, moving in on their goal and would have scored early on had not the Preston keeper made a point-blank save.
Twenty minutes into the match Belletti came off injured. Deco took his place as the ‘steering wheel’ while Malouda came on behind Nic. To my surprise Deco played well in that position and even his tackling was effectively robust. Slowly, we took control of the match.
We would have been 0-1 up on 25 minutes but for another dumb decision by Mike Dean (remember him? – the man who made Frank take that penalty against West Ham twice because opposition players strayed in to the box each time he scored?). Only a minute before he had watched Hart assault Malouda and let him off with a yellow (I haven’t done a refereeing course but even I know that studs-up tackles now attract an automatic red card from FIFA).
According to Law 5 of the rules for Association Football, supposedly taught on some referees’ courses:
“…the referee should allow play to continue when the team against which an offence has been committed will benefit from such an advantage. The referee indicates this by calling “advantage” and extending both arms in front of his body.”
That didn’t happen when Lamps was bundled over on the edge of the penalty area after lifting the ball to Zhirkov, who crossed for Malouda to score. Instead, we were graciously awarded a free kick. Would Dean have ordered that to be taken again had Ballack scored from it? When is this idiot going to be demoted back to Hackney Marshes?
Still we piled on the pressure. Another free kick saw Alex (no relation to the player we saw against Sunderland) whack the ball at close to 80-miles-an hour through the wall and into their keeper (easily, their man-of-the match).
A slightly fortuitous goal from Anelka on 37 minutes made up for Dean’s earlier incompetence, although the movement was better than the goal. Zhirkov, playing his best match so far, won the ball in our half, then fed Ballack, who played it straight to Nic. Thinking, like me, that he would simply hold the ball up, the Preston defence gave him space, only to see him run on goal. He clipped the ball over the keeper but the ball was diverted into the net by the defender.
But it wouldn’t be the Chelsea team we all get masochistic satisfaction from watching if they didn’t immediately let the opposition back into the match. On a clip they will probably be showing on YouTube in the year 2525, Hilario flapped at a header and, from the rebound, Hart missed an open goal.
Unlike some writers on this blog, I have sometimes wondered whether Hilario isn’t a better keeper than the post-GBH-assault-from-Berkshire-Hunt Petr Cech. But his three first half flaps raised some serious objections to that view.
I am continually amazed by my animistic powers of foresight. Now, don’t laugh, but I find that if I squint intently at the score-box on the upper left of the screen for a few moments, I can usually predict the next score-line most of the time. Sure enough, I felt we would score early in the second half and we did, on 47. In a reprise of his first goal versus Watford, Sturridge scored from another pounce after JT’s power-header from a corner was parried on the line.
I sense Daniel could quickly become a Stamford Bridge favourite soon. I enjoyed his arms-folded stare towards the bench after his goal, and the way he pointed out the name on his shirt for the cameras on his way back to the half-way line. We need that kind of arrogance.
By this time I was looking forward to collecting my £35 winnings for predicting the 0-3 but the rest of the match fell flat for me. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that Lamps came off injured and Joe Cole came on. Don’t get me wrong: I really, really, want Joe to go back to being the player we saw two seasons ago. But it certainly won’t happen any time soon on this showing. Three great chances were squirreled away, although my new favourite, Dan Sturridge, could also have done better with two of his. Meanwhile Anelka foxed the Preston defence yet again with his approach play and set up Ballack for a shot that was tipped over the bar. Damn.
Even so, we resorted gradually to a strategy of containment as the match dwindled on. Thankfully, Preston seemed not to have the nous to take much advantage. Maybe also, we were mindful of the more important match we face against Birmingham on Wednesday night.
Sorry, but, as in my last report, I am going to dispense with player ratings as I really do think they carry a misleading façade of ‘objectivity’. Instead, I will focus on performances I viewed as creditable or influential during this match.
John Terry. One reason for my mistrust around Man of the Match ratings is they rarely cite defenders. For me. JT is having his best season in four. Despite the opposition’s threats to ‘give him a game’ he coped effortlessly with their predictably physical approach and got in the header for our second.
Zhirkov. Going up and up in my estimation. Great on the ball, fluid on the passing game, and physical with it. Like Ashley, an attacking wing-back in the best Italian/Brazilian tradition. Can play anywhere on the left: left-back, in front of Ashley, or behind Drogs/Anelka.
Anelka. A great, great player.
Paulo Ferreira. Not one of my favourites but thought he was absolutely solid, and could easily have scored from his Bosingwa-like effort.
Sturridge. See above.
Michael Ballack. I realize I may get shot down for contradicting my past comments on him on this blog, but I am starting to think he is a key player for us. We rarely seem to lose with him in the side and I suspect that he has a particular gift for screening opposition play when Super Frank goes forward.
Man of the Match
I suggest we have a readers’ vote as there are lots of options.
My nomination is Zhirkov.
- Our away support. 6000 fans got up at the crack of dawn for a 12:45 start in foggy Preston and they sang when we were winning, too. They should all get free tickets for our 5th round match.
- Carlo Ancelotti. I am happy to carry on grovelling when the manager picks teams/tactics/changes that defeat my jaundiced observations about him in December.
- Performance. This is the third match in a row when we revived my optimism from November. The passing/movement/shooting in the last twenty minutes of the first half was as spell-binding as the performance against Sunderland.
- Preston’s line-up. Sir Purplenose Jr. selected the wrong formation and it simply played into our hands.
- Tottenham drawing at home to Leeds. Oh my aching sides.
- Some upsets today mean that – at most – we will be one of only 8 Premier League teams left in the 5th round.
- Michael Essien’s injuries. Completely annoying when you consider we sent him over fit and then he is crocked playing for Ghana’s tribal chiefs in a meaningless – and corrupt – tournament.
- Frank Lampard. Came off injured while playing in a match much less important than the one we have on Wednesday. Let’s hope he is ok.
- Mike Dean. Reminds me of the 22 year-old student teachers we used to get at my grammar school. Completely clueless but carried on regardless of our contempt for them.
- Joe Cole. Is he still ‘recovering’ or is it now time for Kakuta to take his place?
- Uncle Fester. Does anyone know what Ray Wilkins does for this club apart from hand on substitutes’ names to the fourth official and give the occasional anodyne press conference?
- Parti-coloured boots. Yesterday, I counted at least six of our players with silly boots on. Now, call me old-school but I reckon that only certified world-class players should be allowed to wear fashion-statements of this kind. And only Nic, with his red ones, qualified for that status yesterday. Joe Cole, in particular, should go back to wearing black, like Lamps and JT, before being allowed to wear his white ones again.
Same as on my last report against Watford. The next EPL result against Birmingham on Wednesday is far more important than this one. Especially so since Bolton and Hull both failed to win last time out…