Missing in Action: The Chelsea side from the first half of the season

If that sounds flippant then so be it. I’ve watched every game played before and since the imperious Christmas period and it seems that the train has been derailed. The wheels on the wagon have started to loosen. The aircraft is flying on one engine. This is my first season at Stamford Bridge as a full season ticket holder, despite my 35 years of loyal and unwavering support and in truth there have only been a handful of sensational performances (Liverpool, Bolton and Fulham spring to mind) in that time, but for the most part we have endured poor first halves with vastly improved second halves and to be fair we’ve mugged a couple of games as well.

But since Christmas we have been swimming in the Sea of Mediocrity for the most part. It’s as if the players themselves are believing the “dominance” hype of the press and broadcast media or are starting to allow the continual back-biting of the Fourth Estate to undermine their confidence. Our performance against Spuds was excellent first half but as soon as they raised their game we seemed unable to lift ours in order to restore the differential in class and ability. Similarly we have now put in underwhelming and frankly piss-poor performances, home and away against Charlton, West Brom, Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Sunderland and now Fulham. Oh yeah, and Colchester was hardly a thrilling display of skill and capability over enthusiasm and spirit was it?

So what’s the issue then? Is it down to the fact that our first half of the season was so imperious with just the single blip of Manure beating us 1-0? Or are we seeing something more sinister occurring. Are we about to witness the resurgence of the Chelsea of old, the one that could unswervingly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with alarming regularity?

For me personally yesterday’s game was another example of the players only gaining any sense of urgency once we had gone behind. The substitutions were a bit hasty but the fact was both Joe Cole and SWP each had 25 minutes to get into the swing of the game. During that period the amount of balls played into Crespo that got anywhere near him was a big fat suicidally lonely zero. It was desperate stuff which was following an almost exact pattern as the games against West Brom and Middlesbrough. Joe Cole seems frustrated at the lack of creativity he is allowed to display as Jose berates him to continuously exist in very part of the pitch at the same time, shouting at him to push forward, to track back, to stick to his man, to release the ball early, to hold onto the ball and so on. Mixed messages? Let’s look at how Joe has flourished recently for England when of all people Sven Gordon F*ckwit has allowed him free reign on the left aside of the field. SWP in his recent appearances has been a revelation on the right and yesterday seemed ready to dominate that side again. But when he did lose his man the final ball was frankly so bad that even Jesper Gronkjaer would have been a better option. That’s a big insult, but the truth is there is no point in having flying wingers who can’t cross.

Damien Duff has been poor recently but his introduction yesterday with an obvious remit to attack and take players on showed exactly what a good winger and crosser can produce. He needed a big game and for me he was the best Chelsea man on the pitch. The Drogba/Crespo experiment is still out with the jury, but to be fair neither player got much in the way of service yesterday. Crespo is at his best when running off defenders onto balls played into intelligent spaces and that never happened. Drogba can hold the ball and yesterday played some good balls into the area when they seemed like lost causes. His stupid and clumsy handling of the ball though once again showed that he is a very much the bi-polar syndrome player. Sublime skills that surface occasionally are often followed up by the level of control one might expect from the bloke in the pub who’s just had 10 pints of Stella and a couple of joints. JT, usually so commanding was out of sorts yesterday and the warning signs were there from his clumsy challenge on Volz, which even the most die-hard Chelsea fan would have to admit was a stone cold, nailed on penalty. Perhaps had that been given then the disastrous one we conceded might not have occurred and the players might have been stung into some more action.

In essence this was the sort of game that Airline suffer from, the type of game where the rest of the footballing community shouts loud and proud that “Arsenal don’t like it up ’em”. Just recently it seems that neither do we. If I was to apply the rather tenuous ratings system to each player yesterday then the scores, out of 10 would be: Cech – 7 (fantastic save from Collins John to stop it being 2-0); Ferreira – 6 (unlucky with the goal and worked hard); JT – 5 (not at the races yesterday); Huth – 6 (must have been gutted to be taken off, but got a silly if undeserved booking); Gallas – 4 ( great last week, wasteful this week, terrible tackle and rush of blood to the head – will be further punished for his thumbs down reaction to the crowd. A very silly boy); Lampard – 2 (what is going on Frank? Missed a sitter, lost the ball too many times to remember, poor passing, come on, what’s on your mind? I wouldn’t play you in the reserves on your current form); Makelele – 4 (poor distribution, resorted to hoofing it up the park and got in Essien’s way… a lot, flouting imaginary cards is also a bad and unwanted habit he has); Essien – 5 (started brightly but gave the ball away, got in the way, retreated into his shell late on); Cole – 5 (his worst display this season and he seems to be troubled when playing in the blue shirt – confidence seems eroded by JM expectations); SWP – 5 (started ok, but really the final ball needs some work – unlucky to be taken off and maybe with more time could have run Fulham ragged); Crespo – 5 (usually a real menace but needs service which was desperately missing yesterday, even when Duff came on – needs a big game with some goals and soon); Drogba – 6 (worked hard, had the goal disallowed correctly but as a result of guesswork, played some lovely balls in from awkward positions); Duff – 8 (needed a big game and worked tirelessly to win the ball and try and create stuff – deserved better response from his fellow players); Carvalho – 4 (no better than Huth and also got himself a yellow for being typically stupidly rash – one for the bin next year).

Harsh ratings? I challenge anyone to give me reasons why these are wrong, and especially the very harsh one for Frank Lampard. He is the biggest worry for me. When he’s off song the whole team seems to lose its rhythm. He’s the conductor of our orchestra. When he’s off song it’s like The Beatles without Lennon, U2 without Bono, The Who without Daltrey, Black Sabbath without Ozzie or Pink Floyd without Waters. It just doesn’t sound quite right. Let’s be brutal here, we haven’t played well since we beat Everton in the FA Cup and West Ham prior to that was our last top notch performance. Liverpool was good but hardly set the world on fire. To my mind the Everton game was the last half decent game Frank had. Since then he’s been at best anonymous, at worst a liability, his passing’s been poor, his possession has been dodgy and his tackling non-existent and all this begs the question as to how fit he is since the injury picked up whilst on international duty. Is he kidding the medical staff at Chelsea, or are we so desperate that we’ll play him whilst unfit. And if he is fully fit then what’s going on in his head? Has the talk of Barcelona destabilised him in the same way Ashley Cole went off the boil last year under the weight of speculation over his future? Has the talk of Ballack coming got under his skin?

If any of this is true, then he should be dropped to the bench. I have often criticised Sven for his faith in players through loyalty and not form, and maybe JM is going down the same route. If Frank isn’t playing well then perhaps a spell in the reserves a’ la Joe Cole might do the trick. He should not be picked through blind loyalty and being a manager is about making tough calls. I might be wrong but it seems JM will make those calls constantly against the likes of Cole, SWP and Robben but Frank and JT seem untouchable. Great as both players can be surely they cannot be considered any more special than any others. JT has been immense all season and can be forgiven one poor game, but Frank has been AWOL for too long to be allowed to continue like this.

Finally, this might seem negative and perhaps it’s a reaction from someone who’s allowed his expectation levels to rise above those that his logic normally dictates appropriate, but I can see Manure getting a second wind on this result. If we continue to perform like we have recently can anyone seriously see us getting good results at places like Birmingham, Blackburn and Bolton? We have to lose 3 games from 8 and Manure have to win all of theirs, and at the moment with our form and levels of performance this doesn’t seem as ridiculous as we may have all thought. And let’s not revert to “unfair refereeing” excuses. Jose himself has agreed the decision was right even if the route was wrong. We lost because we simply weren’t good enough and it pains me to say it but my patience has reached the point where even Henry and Rupert SW6 are starting to sound marginally sane! We dominated a game in terms of possession. We had 18 corners to their none and we had more attempts than them, but they dug in and deservedly took the scalp. We have no excuses and shouldn’t hide behind dominant possession and attempt stats as a means to masking the problems we are having. Think about this. When was the last time you saw a headline that praised us for being exciting and skilful?

We need to rethink our tactics and we need to look at a world class striker for next year. More importantly the squad should be taken away to Dubai or somewhere warm after the next Premier League game against Man Citeh and given the chance to refresh themselves and rejuvenate the season. Something has to be done to allow the players to regain their focus as it seems apparent that defeat is a bitter taste that they are getting used to.

Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!