“He’s not a racist, he’s a very naughty boy,” as Paolo Di Canio’s mum has probably never said.
I will explain the title later on.
In a season where the sanity of the powers that run football clubs has never been more openly questioned we welcome the arrival of Sunderland to Stamford Bridge. The sanity point is underlined by the fact that no matter how barking mad we might be as a club, there’s always one that seem to go a bit further. Blackburn are the clear winners of the Bark at the Moon Award for this season by virtue of going through more managers quicker than going Eric Pickles can devour a tin of Roses. We had our moments of lunacy at a single point fairly early in the season giving us time to sort of settle, however even the most cynical and grizzled old football fan might have raised an eyebrow at the sacking of Martin O’Neill so late in the season. The appointment of Paolo Di Canio does seem to have exorcised the media over his alleged fascist beliefs. I actually read some passages from his autobiography on his views about Muslims and… well… he only says what many people think. It’s hardly dynamite stuff. And let’s be fair, no one gave a shit about him taking a managerial role when he was at Swindon. I take a simple view on life, and that is that if you can’t discriminate on grounds of colour, race, creed or sexuality, then surely political views fall into that category.
Whatever, the fact is with Arsenal winning yesterday and Spurs expected to win versus Everton (they drew) the key thing was we needed three points versus the Black Shirts… sorry… I mean Black Cats… Cats… Black bloody Cats… not Black Shirts…. We needed to overcome the passion that Di Canio obviously has, the fear he obviously can generate in his players, and the whole ‘new manager’ syndrome whereby every player is suddenly busting sinews to show their worth.
Let’s Talk About the Match
Team news was good and our Fat Spanish Waiter managed to pull himself away from the pre-match hors d’oeuvres to pick what many, including me, would think is very close to our strongest side. This was also a good chance for Bertrand to take full advantage of Cole’s injury and show himself to be a worthy successor. My jury is still out on this. I fear he may just be a decent squad player, but hopefully he will prove me wrong and I can gloss over this view and pretend I had predicted all along he would be the natural successor. Team and formation as follows:
Cech; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Ivanovic, Bertarnad; Mikel, Ramires; Mata, Oscar, Hazard; Ba.
Yes, this should be a team easily strong enough to dispatch the Black Shirts… Cats… it’s Cats… Black CATS!
The first half was a tepid affair, the atmosphere rather stilted. The sixteenth minute ‘One Di Matteo’ chant did occur apparently but I didn’t hear it and neither did anyone else near me. I was told after the game that it did happen but on a vastly deflated scale. Good. He’s gone. Get over it. Anyway, the early exchanges were few and far between and it was obvious that the driven, passionate, confident Chelsea we’d seen versus Manchester United last Monday and to a lesser degree Rubin Kazan (surely a progressive rock group?) had stayed somewhere back in the changing room. Sunderland could in fact argue that they had the clearest chances as we seemed determined to tippy-tappy the ball into their possession with regular frequency. Just as the game was petering out to a rather ‘ho-hum’ completion to half time, Bertrand got to the byline and then utterly failed to find a single Chelsea player with a dismal half-hearted attempt of a cross which Sunderland quickly cleared. From the break they got a corner thanks to some smart defending from the again excellent David Luiz. And from that corner, against any run of play they managed to find Azpilicueta with a misguided slice into his own net. 1-0. Just before half time. Grim stuff in reality.
When the players came out for the second half Ba had been replaced by Torres, or as some are calling him with the mask Zorres in a pretty piss-poor pun around the imaginary masked hero Zorro. But to be fair, Torres has awoken from some sort of two-year slumber and from the off he was running at players getting involved and generally causing chaos. Within minutes of the restart Torres sprinted down the wing then cut in, ghosted past a Sunderland player and passed the ball to Oscar on a plate only for Oscar to show all the first touch ball control skill with his first touch of Diana Ross taking a penalty and for the ball to somehow bobble into the net. It’s an own goal put down to Kilgallon. All square as us golfers say. One own goal each. Yes, that was how good this game had been. A few minutes later and in truth after our best spell of the game… as in we passed, kept the ball and attacked with meaning the ball fell to Luiz who struck it sweetly albeit going wide, which then hit Ivanovic for a deflection into the goal. It was lucky. Very very lucky and in truth a bit harsh on a workmanlike Sunderland and flattered a very pedestrian Chelsea. From this point on the game just petered out, with Sunderland trying to get level, and Chelsea maddeningly sitting deep and letting Sunderland come at us. In truth the last 15-20 minutes were torturous as we gave the ball away. Benayoun replaced a very quiet Hazard. Lampard replaced a knackered Mata. Luiz played on despite being clattered. The atmosphere which had so briefly been joyous had fallen back to tense. Cech inexplicably kept hoofing the ball back to Sunderland giving possession up easily much to the annoyance of everyone in the locale of the Matthew Harding Upper where I reside. A better team than Sunderland would have took full advantage against us. Di Canio has his work cut out with this group of players, Sessegnon aside who I would gladly see in our squad. He’s far too good for Sunderland.
A quick caveat here. No Chelsea player was truly bad today and some were really quite impressive. Azpilicueta looks to have a very good and long future with us, Luiz was commanding again and for me defensively we look great with him there. He’s in front of JT for me now. But our man of the match for me was once again Obi Mikel. Our midfield looks far more secure with him playing a hybrid Makelele/Ballack role.
Hard fought win? Possibly. Lucky win? Definitely? Three points and third place? Absolutely. Do I care about the performance? Not really. The result is all important at the moment rather than champagne football. An ethos Manchester United have executed with aplomb all season.
And On That Bombshell…
So, the article title then. I play golf. I play it pretty poorly. If I was comparing my golf to a football team then I’d be Stoke. Functional. Occasionally good. Mid-table. Holding on with grim determination. I can play some great shots and they keep me coming back to play more, but within minutes of a superb drive, a stunning putt or a delightful chip I can look like Stevie Wonder trying to hit a fly with a shovel. When the weather causes enforced golf breaks for a few weeks as it has done this year, then by the 14th hole all your ‘golf fitness’ (a bit like match fitness) is exhausted. In football terms it’s like getting to the 75th minute and knowing you’re out of steam physically and with that comes the mental decline as you lose focus and start swinging the club like a demented threshing machine. Conversely this also happens when you go on a golf holiday and play 27 holes every day for a week. By the end of the week although golf fit, you are now in golf fatigue. In both examples from the 15th hole onwards you are in danger of exhibiting the ‘tired old swing’. The club no longer feels like the mixture of graphite, steel and rubber finely engineered and designed to connect with a ball the size of… well… a golf ball. Instead it feels like a lead reinforced pickaxe handle, with a cast iron saucepan tied to the end with cruise liner anchor mooring chain.
Tired old swing is the end of game excuse for playing shots that go awry. Especially if you’re losing.
Where’s this leading then? Well today’s Chelsea looked for all the world like they were in ‘tired old swing’ mode from the 60th minute onwards. They looked like they had leaden boots on. The ball seemed to have been transformed from football to a medicine ball. Shoulders drooped. Legs moved but only as if the players were running through three feet of slurry. Mental decline was obvious as we veered towards defensive panic into stuttering fear-ridden attack.
I’m no expert, but today, the day after the death of the inventor of the thesaurus I genuinely think that with so many games played this season our players, despite being rotated faster than the propeller on a Spitfire, are knackered, exhausted, fatigued, shattered, tired, bollocksed and… drum roll… enervated.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Trailing at the break to Cesar Azpilicueta’s own goal, Chelsea responded well and were assisted by a rejuvenated Fernando Torres, who replaced the injured Demba Ba at half-time. An own goal from Matt Kilgallon and then Branislav Ivanovic’s finish gave Chelsea victory and third place in the Premier League, overtaking Arsenal and Spurs and ending a highly satisfactory week at the Bridge for Rafa Benitez in three different competitions.”
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “It said much that Chelsea, wheezing amid their onerous schedule, felt the more relieved at the final whistle. This had been one of their less impressive displays, a messy victory squeezed from a lacklustre display as the fatigue, understandably, appears to grip. They were again thankful for the burst of quality provided by Fernando Torres, the substitute introduced at the interval to sear beyond Danny Rose in the opening exchange of the second period. His squared pass to Oscar prompted panic, Simon Mignolet charging from his line to block only for the loose ball to cannon on to Matt Kilgallon and spin into the net.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “If points could be earned for grimaces, shrugs and sheer volume of pointing, then Sunderland’s manager would be well on his way to leading his team to safety. As it is he got a decent first half performance out of them and then watched them fade away against a Chelsea side playing their third game at Stamford Bridge in the space of eight days.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea move up to third in the Barclays Premier League after coming from behind to beat Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. With a third game in six days, it was never likely to be a vintage performance from the Blues and so it proved, with few chances created by either side, Sunderland sitting deep and looking to counter.”