FA Cup review: Blackburn Rovers 1 – 2 Chelsea

Match reports

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The season is coming to a close yet for Chelsea it must feel as if there is an infinity of football before them. That is no reason for distress when a game such as this FA Cup semi-final, which had to be settled in extra-time, can bring them so fierce a joy. They negotiated this odyssey of an afternoon and found a course to their destination, the meeting with Manchester United at the new Wembley on May 19.”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “It is not just that Chelsea are still in the hunt for the three major trophies to put alongside the Carling Cup that will have persuaded Roman Abramovich to push open the door of the Chelsea dressing room yesterday for the first time in three months. It is not simply that they are in an FA Cup final, a Champions League semi-final and three points off the top of the Premiership – it is the glorious style in which they are living life on the brink and surviving.”

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “The Football Association blazers got their dream final for the new Wembley, but they were made to sweat in the sun for it yesterday. Blackburn Rovers performed with such marvellous verve and conviction in the second half that Chelsea’s ticket to join Manchester United at the Aristocrats’ Ball on May 19 looked seriously imperilled. But then came Michael Ballack.”

The Times, Matt Dickinson: “Sir Alex Ferguson must have left Old Trafford yesterday wondering whether a 7-1 lead will make them safe from a Chelsea comeback in an FA Cup Final that will give the new Wembley Stadium a tumultuous opening afternoon.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Neil Barnett: “This will be Chelsea’s eighth FA Cup Final, but after a great start to the game it was much harder coming than it might have been.”

The goals

16”² Lampard 0-1.
64”² Roberts 1-1.
110”² Ballack 1-2.

The good

  1. The performance and result. Master of the bleeding obvious again, Tony? Well, the result means the quadruple is still a possibility, but let me caveat picking out the performance by stating this applies to the first half only and then extra time. Second half though, we were abysmal and relegated to a bit part player in a battering from a fluid, energised and motivated Blackburn side. We dominated the first half and frankly should have been at least two up going into the break. I knew what was going to happen next, and I bet a fair few others did as well. It’s happened far too often this season. However, extra time was remarkable, as we looked by far the fitter side. Considering our mid-week adventures this was frankly amazing.
  2. Joe Cole. Utterly magnificent. Tricky, fast, clever, intelligent and always dangerous. A close call for Man of the Match.
  3. Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard. Ballack’s best performance by a distance in a blue shirt and a close contender for Man of the Match. Frank scored very coolly and put in his best performance for some time. Was the presence of Joe Cole a factor there?
  4. Michael Essien. Played at right-back, which again isn’t his natural position. He dominated that area and when he has the ball he looks untouchable. A fine performance. Let’s hope we can get by without him in the first leg against Liverpool.
  5. Peter Cech. The world’s best. Enough said.
  6. Blackburn Rovers. Yep, credit where it’s due. They gave us a hard game, probably one of the hardest we’ve had this season. They played good football and they mixed it up when they needed to. I thought they got away with some harsh tackling, but on a second viewing so did we. Mark Hughes is building a very useful side and frankly had Morten Gamst Pedersen scored with his free header 8 minutes before time I don’t think many of us could have complained about the result.
  7. The referee. Alan Wiley officiated the game with a lot of common sense. Other pedants would have been flinging yellow cards around within the first 5 minutes, but seemingly realising the importance of the occasion and the fact that this was a game between two skilful but physical sides he dished out the cards only when he probably had no choice. Ballack’s booking was silly. If you’re going to wear a vest, why not just have another shirt underneath? I really want to see what a ref would do if a player had another identical shirt on underneath.

The bad

  1. Martin bloody Tyler. Andy Gray just redeemed himself yesterday by returning to the world of balanced and informed opinion. Tyler however can barely disguise his hatred of Chelsea. We scored and he could barely muster a small rise in his voice. Blackburn score and he raises the rafters. He’s a disgrace.
  2. Old Trafford. Surely Villa Park would have been a better more neutral venue than this? The place was nowhere near full and I can vouch for gaps between supporters not being good for the atmosphere. The pricing of the tickets certainly played a part, but really, I live near Portsmouth and the journey out of Manchester on Sundays is bad enough. Getting back around midnight will put a lot of people off, especially those with work the next day.
  3. Andriy Shevchencko’s comedy miss. Don’t get me wrong I am a fan of the Ukrainian but this was inexcusable. Honestly you could cut my arms and legs off, remove my knob, gouge my eyes out with rusty spoons and fill my ears with blancmange and I would have scored from there. And the pathetic limping away was truly laughable. I trust he will come good but really perhaps he should talk to Didier Drogba about how to overcome comedy misses and faux-injuries. One point about Sheva. I’m not convinced he ever had pace. He reminds me of Shearer and perhaps that would be a better role, a penalty box sniffer. Shearer managed 20 plus a season after retiring from England duty until he stopped playing and for me, that’s the role Sheva should be looking at rather than trying to be a playmaker as well.
  4. Extra time. Perhaps the last thing we needed with the week we have coming up is an extra 30 minutes on an energy sapping mega-pitch against a tough team in the blazing spring sunshine. I’m sure the physios know how to get the boys to recover, but let’s hope that wasn’t 30 minutes too much football in an already very long season.
  5. The second half performance. What is it with us? Can we not play for the full 90 minutes. Do we really need the opposition to score in order to lift our game. We were poor second half and although we defended stoutly we seemed to give the ball away too easily and frankly were lucky to still be 1-1 at full time. It’s a mystery. Anyone got any ideas?
  6. My bad planning. I travel to the South of France for a holiday on… May 19th! When we are playing the final I will be on board a TGV gliding through the Massif Centrale at 200 mph. When I get to my little place it will be about seven in the evening French time. Game over. Can you imagine the torture of following by text and the sporadically successful Mobile Phone Internet service? If we make the Champions League final then I’ll be watching in a bar in a typically French village called Vias. An Irish bar, as they’re the only ones who show football when a French team isn’t involved. Can you guess who the majority of fans will be supporting?

Player ratings

  • Petr Cech: Made a key save from our very own John Terry which seemed goal bound – 9.5/10
  • Michael Essien: Marvellous performance at right-back and unlucky not to score with a fiercely struck 30 yarder 5 minutes before the end – 8.5/10
  • Ricardo Carvalho: Quietly and efficiently marshalled the defence – 8.5/10
  • Ashley Cole: An okay game and he linked well with Joe Cole but was skinned by Brett Emerton of all people and seemed to be easily dragged out of position – 7/10
  • John Terry: Solid display but nearly got an own goal with a weird header – 8/10
  • Frank Lampard: Occasionally loose on the ball but scored with great aplomb and this is the closest to the old Frank I’ve seen in a while – 8.5/10
  • Didier Drogba: The big man was a bit quieter today and totalled just two attempts on goal. Made one or two odd choices when a shot at goal would have been better, but was a handful for Christopher Samba and caused problems for the Blackburn back four – 8/10
  • Claude Makelele: Out of his depth more and more each week. Tackling was okay, but distribution was dire at times. A player from the bench or for the smaller occasion next season I think – 6/10
  • Joe Cole: Brilliant. Didn’t take him long to recover his best form after a prolonged injury lay-off – 9.5/10
  • Michael Ballack: Masterful, fast, powerful and really looked like he was enjoying himself. Fabulous, but not before bloody time – 9.5/10
  • Andriy Shevchenko: Hmm… A poor game compared to recent performances and the comedy howler of a miss was both pathetic and inexcusable. I was glad to see him come off in the end – 6/10
  • Salomon Kalou (Sub): Busy entrance and did a lot of good stuff, but occasionally gives up the chase too easily and needs to learn not to over-elaborate – 7/10
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips (Sub): Had a good game again when he came on. Didn’t have a great deal of time to make an impact but did very well for the winning goal – 7.5/10
  • John Obi Mikel (Sub): Surely Makelele’s days are numbered? This boy took hold of the Maka role in this game and passed better, tackled better and why aren’t the press drooling over him? – 8/10

Man of the Match

Three players scored 9.5 out of 10 on my register. It’s a tough call but for me it goes marginally to Michael Ballack. If he plays like this all of the time then he’ll have his own song before very long.

Final thoughts

In my view this was our toughest game of the season to date. The old clogging Blackburn still exists, but now it’s behind a coat of flowing, passing football. They should be higher in the league. We were lucky by the end of normal time to still be in it, and some dogged defending and inspired goalkeeping saved us. It has got better, but sometimes the sum of the parts still fails to show muster. Having said that, the extra time performance was amazing and a testament to our desire as much as our longevity and stamina. I hope the extra 30 minutes doesn’t have an adverse affect and we should be looking to put our best out over the next two games against teams desperate to show their worth and in West Ham’s case, desperate to survive in the Premier League. The next few weeks will be the longest of this squad’s lives but surely now they truly believe they can finish the season in a blaze of glory.

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