The Guardian, Kevin McCarra : “Results transform attitudes, and Arsenal had waited a while for this sort of alchemy. They presented themselves with a 3-0 lead here after opening the scoring on the verge of the interval. A first victory over Chelsea in 25 months was all but inevitable even then, since Carlo Ancelotti has a Chelsea team in decline. Their response with a goal was a last spark of pride in a squad that looked almost burnt out. Even so, their opponents still needed to think long and hard about a test they passed well enough to suggest that Chelsea may still compete hard for the title.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “This was an astonishing result that will imbue Arsenal with such confidence, taking them second in the Premier League, while intensifying the inquests bedevilling Chelsea. This was a game defined by an extraordinary 10 minutes either side of half-time when Arsenal scored through Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and the outstanding Theo Walcott. Branislav Ivanovic’s header briefly gave Chelsea hope but it proved only a consolation.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “At this time of year one imagines that Roman Abramovich’s yacht is moored somewhere warm, quiet and expensive, far away from the bone-chilling cold of a Premier League Christmas programme. But no matter how remote, Chelsea’s owner is never too far away to eject his managers from Stamford Bridge should he deem it necessary. Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari have all been jettisoned without warning or explanation from the Russian billionaire and this morning, the club waits with trepidation to see whether Ancelotti will go the same way.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Three goals conceded in a 10-minute spell either side of the half-time interval consigned Chelsea to our fifth league defeat of the season.”
So we’re back then.
I thought I heard a slight cheer from a couple of you at the back there but overall there seems to be a strange calm about the place as we prepare ourselves for the final run towards the line in May. Maybe that low-key mood can be explained by Christmas and all of its accoutrements or perhaps the snow and our cancelled clash with United have contributed to the tumbleweed atmosphere around the club lately but there does appear to be a strange air about the place.
This football vacuum has given me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and the incredible events of the past two months when the whole world appeared to forget that Carlo had steered a tired and old looking group of players, in a new country with virtually no money spent on the squad to a record, goal-scoring Double in his first season. The press’s reaction to a blip and the scandalous omission of Carlo and the lads at the BBC award show last week wasn’t that big of a surprise but what did shock me was the odd sense of longing I felt whilst watching Spurs last night. Watching Harry and his verging on suicidal tactics brush Villa aside at Villa Park, with only 10 men for large stretches of the game, I was reminded of those naïve days under Claudio when everything seemed a little more enjoyable. There was less pressure, less expectation and just more joy when watching Chelsea in those days (for this intro, I’m talking about that 2002-4 spell and am conveniently forgetting the looming spectre of bankruptcy and the constant talk of Sven when Roman arrived. But apart from those extremely minor caveats, it all makes sense) and watching Spurs, not just last night but for the past few months, I did feel a little sad that we’d never return to those carefree, untroubled days.
You may wonder why I’m complaining about not being a club chasing fourth place every year when at present, we’re always in contention for the biggest two prizes in club football and have an owner who has bought us some of the best players in the world and built the best training ground and academy complex in the country. The reason I’m a little depressed when it comes to Chelsea at the moment is that when you’ve experienced year after year of the crazy, Chelsea circus slightly tainting each trophy winning season, a wave of cynicism, pessimism and outlandishly high expectation begins to overwhelm you. That’s why when we draw three games or lose twice in a row, what would constitute an inevitable mid-season blip at other clubs is portrayed as a crisis at Chelsea. The press and fans (including myself as I know I’m as guilty as the others) expect to win every game and every trophy and anything other than complete footballing domination will draw scathing criticism from the masses.
And that’s why I felt a sense of longing last night. Seeing ‘Arry go all-out attack with a 4-1-5 formation at Villa Park with Bale, Modric, Lennon, Van der Vaart and Defoe all storming forward brought back memories of Claudio spraying Roman’s money around on endless numbers of attacking players as we innocently chased the title. There were numerous cock-ups in Claudio’s mad final season (Monaco away immediately springs to mind) and even though the majority of opposition fans mocked us for even trying to win trophies with that side – as many of us are now when Harry talks of winning the big one with Spurs – that joyous, underdog spirit seemed a lot more enjoyable than the cynical world we live in now. As we saw last season, Chelsea are expected to win the title and when they do, a weird anti-climactic feeling washes over the club because we only achieved what was expected of us. So we can’t really win can we?
These may appear to be vulgar and pointless complaints from a fan of one of the richest and best clubs in the world and certainly brings to mind a famous Chandler quote (hopefully this won’t need explaining later on):
“Oh, I know, this must be so hard. Oh no, two women love me. They’re both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet is too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight.”
But watching Chelsea lately just doesn’t seem as entertaining as it once was. I’m sure this is just a short-term malaise brought on by endless weekends of not being able to watch Match of the Day or read the sports pages thanks to our dismal performances and I’m entirely confident that a win against Arsenal will cure all of these problems but when you watch the attacking football of sides like Spurs and Barca (before you guys laugh, I do realise that Spurs aren’t as good as Barca), you wonder why we put on such uninspiring and turgid shit. Our football at the moment is dire and if you’re going to lose, you might as well go down fighting because at the moment we look pathetic. Today’s game would go a long way to telling me what type of side we are because in the past we’ve always fought back when faced with a challenge. Arsenal away is definitely a tough game but with two weeks to prepare for this game, the fitness, tactics, focus, passion and desire had to be right. There were no more excuses as we had all of the big players back and all of them were saying that tonight was a must win game. They all declared the Spurs game as “the end of their bad moment” and that tonight would see a return to the real Chelsea. That was certainly a dangerous statement but Arsenal away is one of our favourite games of the season, so what could possibly go wrong?
Cech, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Essien, Mikel, Lampard, Kalou, Drogba, Malouda.
Subs: Turnbull, Ramires, Bosingwa, Van Aanholt, Bruma, Kakuta, McEachran.
Injuries meant that Anelka and Sturridge were both unavailable so our bench not only looked thin but rather defensive. Not a problem in itself if we got the first goal but if we went 1-0 down, that would probably be game over.
Before I start, I’d like to say that I’m going to try to be as fair, calm and controlled as possible. The venting can come later but for now, let’s just look at the facts.
Personally, I thought the first 44 minutes were pretty impressive for us. Confidence still looked a little fragile and despite choosing the inevitably partisan Alan Smith on commentary, I thought the two commentators were spot on when they said that we looked “anxious and nervous on the ball after experiencing their worse run in a decade but that the first half was very even indeed.” And just for the record, I do like this pairing on Sky compared to the hyperbolic bullshit usually served up by Gray and Tyler.
And that was about right. Arsenal did boss possession by the mightily impressive margin of two whole percentage points but we were looking solid and compact. The first fifteen minutes did see us push a bit too high up the pitch, leaving Walcott and Van Persie plenty of room to scamper in behind but a nice tactical tweak from Carlo saw us sit a little deeper and easily repel all that Arsenal could throw at us. That makes it sound like a barrage but in truth Arsenal weren’t doing much apart from passing endlessly from side to side and then crossing it straight onto JT’s head.
So we were looking good defensively with JT and Ivanovic displaying plenty of class at the back and Cech putting in yet another immaculate performance between the sticks. But something wasn’t quite right ahead of them. At 0-0 the tactics were working because Carlo obviously wanted to keep it tight for 45 minutes and then try to nick a goal in the second half. But for that to work you need your midfield and attack to keep hold of the ball to try and relieve some of the pressure on the back four. But our attacking players seemed incapable of grasping that incredibly advanced tactic of passing to a fucking blue shirt. The pattern of play seemed to either consist of Cech lumping it to Didier, which resulted in the depressing side of fuck all in terms of chances, or JT and Branner playing four or five one-twos at the back before feeding Mikel who would smash the ball out of play with a ridiculous Hollywood pass (more on his dismal performance later).
But we were doing OK. Arsenal weren’t doing much although Nasri did pose a constant threat to Paulo at right-back and we gradually began to grow into the game. Lamps was getting more involved and we did have a few chances on the counter as Didier pulled a long range effort from Lamps’ through ball wide of the far post and then the witless Kalou wasted a dangerous breakaway with an incredible display of incompetency as he fired a ball behind four men waiting in the box and straight out of play on the other side of the pitch. Tonight really was a depressing nadir in terms of this kids’ shit performances but you’ll have to wait for the second half for more examples of his inability to complete even the simplest task on a football pitch.
The worst culprit though in this first half was Malouda. In recent weeks he’s been terrible but tonight his performance was verging on disgraceful. He was complaining and diving from the first minute, failed to show one iota of passion or commitment and insisted on taking three or four touches before he gave it away pathetically. More on this joker later.
However, the alarming lack of creativity could be excused at this point because it was still 0-0. As I said earlier, the first goal was always going to decide this game and considering the bench we had picked, 0-0 at half-time was pretty good going. Except we then decided to do something stupid. We had repelled every tippy-tappy attack they had put together up to the 44th minute but then yet another brain freeze from the worryingly poor Mikel allowed Wilshere to poke the ball through to Song who easily swept the ball home for 1-0 at the break.
So yet another deficit to make up. Personally, I immediately called it as a defeat but hopefully I would be proved wrong.
Carlo did the right thing by hooking Mikel for the second game in a row at half-time (no chance he’ll play against Bolton) for the energy and aggression of Ramires and we began this half brilliantly.
Except we didn’t. If you wanted to create a scene to encapsulate our abysmal recent performances, then the kick-off kind of summed it all up. After a rousing pep talk at the break, what we needed was a high tempo, confident start. To then see Kalou roll the ball to Didier at the restart, who then gave it straight to the onrushing Fabregas instead of any of the other nine Chelsea players in our half kind of summed it all up really.
And from there on in, everything went wrong. Firstly, lady luck deserted us yet again as some brilliant JT, Branners and Essien closing down was rewarded with the unluckiest of ricochets straight to Walcott who would have been offside had an Arsenal player played the pass. He squared the ball to Cesc who rolled the ball into the empty net for 2-0.
That was most definitely game over and now I just hoped we wouldn’t disgrace ourselves. Except, Malouda then proceeded to do just that. Branners and JT had been playing more keep ball at the back and decided to take the drastic step of passing forwards to the unmarked Malouda in the centre circle. Instead of laying it off to JT, Branners, Essien, Paulo, Cech or Ash he decided to take a touch, then another touch and then another as Cesc walked up to him, nicked the ball off him, slipped in Theo who then drilled the ball home for 3-0. The worst thing was Malouda’s reaction. Despite the goal being virtually unstoppable once Cesc got the ball, at least the back four tried their hardest to chase him down. “What did Malouda do?” you may ask. Well he stood motionless in the centre-circle. His laziness has been tolerated lately due to a lack of options but tonight even Carlo saw that enough was enough. He’s been in terrible form lately and immediately we went 3-0 down he hooked him for Kakuta.
Some may blame Carlo at this stage but even if I wasn’t a fan of Carlo, I would be able to objectively see that tonight he did all he could to get us a positive result. His first-half tactics were spot on because defending deep, staying compact and playing on the break has worked for the past five wins against Arsenal so why not try it again? And when we went 2-0 down he had already switched us to a 4-4-2 to get us back into the game. Bringing on Ramires, Kakuta and Bosingwa were all logical switches and as soon as Kakuta won the free-kick which led to Branners getting a goal back, Carlo immediately switched to a diamond to try and throw Arsenal. He made positive tactical changes and did as much as possible to overcome the injuries to Sturridge and Nico and the general shitness of Kalou, Malouda and Mikel to try and get us back into the game.
The only things which I have disagreed with Carlo are his loyalty to the old guard and his relaxed attitude. At the start of this blip he said that the players who won him the Double deserve another chance to show they can still do it – despite the evidence that a load of these OAP’s legs have gone – but two months and what feels like hundreds of dropped points later he refuses to drop those who have no right to be starting a game for us. Didier and Ramires have both responded well to getting benched so why does he continue to allow Mikel, Malouda and Kalou to feel irreplaceable when he has Kakuta, Sturridge and Josh waiting for a chance? Looking at the table now, the title looks to be gone so if we’re going to go down we might as well go down with a few of the kids fighting for their places. Any Chelsea fan could see that tonight Mikel, Malouda and Kalou offered nothing to deserve a regular starting place so why do they keep getting picked ahead of the kids? Loyalty can still play a part in team selection but in terms of form and effort, the kids do deserve a chance.
As for his relaxed attitude, well, all I can say is that I’d like to see a bit of anger and fight from him. We’re dropping points every week and his constant optimism and laissez-faire attitude to this crisis (and it is a fucking crisis, isn’t it?) is starting to piss me off now. Show some fucking balls and say what you really think Carlo. If you believe that this squad isn’t good enough then fucking say it. If you need some new players then say it. I don’t care if it upsets some in the squad because some of us fans think things down at Cobham are a little too comfortable at present. After watching yet another pathetic and uninspiring defeat, one does begin to wonder whether these players even care. All the laughing and joking with their mates in the tunnel doesn’t go down too well as the fans pay to watch this dross week after week and even if we aren’t good enough to win anything this year, the least we expect is some passion when they step onto the pitch.
The rest of the game petered out as Arsenal decided to shut up shop and sit back for the 3-1 win. The only other things of note to occur in the final half an hour were more examples of Kalou’s stupidity and some brilliant defending and storming runs forward by Branner. The good news is that Branners was fighting to get us back into the game right up to the final whistle with some stunning last ditch challenges but the bad news is that Kalou constantly fucked up our attempts to get another goal by failing to understand the offside rule. His inability to control the ball or cross to a blue shirt was expected tonight but the number of times he stood offside, like an idiot who thought he was playing for Arsenal instead of Chelsea really was baffling.
And that was about that. Yet another defeat and yet another awful performance. Oh well, there’s always the Champions League to win instead. I mean, it’s not as if there’s any great teams left in that, are there? Oh…
- Branners – Fucking world class. The highlight of the night was his barnstorming run forward past three Arsenal challenges, right up to the edge of their box. It could have got us another goal back had the arrogant, selfish and ineffective Drogba not insisted on stealing the ball off him and ruining the move. If we had 10 players showing the same commitment as Branners, then we’d be unstoppable.
- JT – A near perfect defensive display. Still conceded three times but without JT we’d have conceded six.
- Cech – I thought he was great. Claimed every single cross with ease and distributed quickly. His penchant for punting the ball up the park couldn’t be avoided due to the lack of movement ahead of him.
- Mikel – Sloppy passing, sloppy concentration and yet more sloppy marking. He’s regressed since his blistering early season form and deserves to be dropped.
- Bosingwa – He’s brought on to provide an attacking outlet down the right but he seems incapable of crossing a ball past the first man and his habit of mindlessly shooting from 40 yards out instead of passing to a teammate visibly pissed off a few of our players.
- Malouda – Fucking abysmal. Showed no fight, passion, skill, pace, touch, technique or any positive attitude you could think of. Sometimes you just have to accept that a player is too slow to be a winger but his biggest problem isn’t his lack of pace. It’s his attitude. He’s lazy and doesn’t care and that is simply unacceptable at this club.
- Kalou – I’ve finally worked out why he’s so inconsistent and so awful. Get ready for it… Salomon Kalou is just bloody stupid. He’s a stupid footballer who doesn’t have a footballing brain. That is the only explanation for his embarrassing decision making in the final third, his inability to understand the offside rule and his decision to let Arsenal have a goal kick instead of putting in some effort to give away a throw near their corner flag when we were chasing the game and they were looking for any opportunity to time waste. Small things like that just piss me off because if footballers were intelligent as well as fit and skilful then they would get so much further in the game. Kalou needs to spend some time studying the game (just watch the Chelsea TV special with Zola, Nevin and Lamps who all talk about how their obsession with learning more about the game whether through coaching manuals, DVDs/videos or simply watching as much football as possible, made them into much better players) because at present he just plays like an idiot.
- Our football – We created nothing from open play. It’s not just a lack of confidence that is costing us points but crucially a lack of pace and creativity. Our midfield is one-paced and reliant on power instead of craft to get a goal and when a side smothers our midfield we don’t have a Modric, Nasri or David Silva to get us out of trouble. We look old, slow and one-dimensional and the need for investment in midfield and attack should come before any purchase at the back. Malouda recently blamed our recent defeats on “a poor defence” but he should look at himself and his French speaking mates up front to see where our real problems lie.
- Cech – 8/10 – Calm and assured.
- Paulo – 6/10 – Too slow and too cautious to get us a goal when we really need one.
- Branners – 9/10 – Incredible performance. Give him a pay rise and new contract Roman. Future Captain perhaps?
- JT – 8.5/10 – World class defending but let down by those in front of him.
- Ash – 6/10 – Subdued.
- Mikel – 1/10 – Awful. He seems to have forgotten that his role as a deep lying playmaker is to set up our attacking moves. Long balls to the opposition don’t count Mr. Mikel.
- Essien – 7/10 – First half he was terrible but his second half fight back was great to see. Maybe it was the anger or embarrassment he felt at being 3-0 down but we saw glimpses of the unstoppable Essien we know and love.
- Lamps – 6/10 – Didn’t do much but when he got the ball his class shone through.
- Kalou – 0/10 – A moronic and clueless performance. The first class on Tuesday morning should involve some DVDs on how to stay onside.
- Malouda – 0/10 – A disgraceful performance full of complaining, diving and terrible passing. He needs to spend some time on the bench.
- Didier – 6/10 – Not too bad but he needs to improve his technique to compensate for his drastic lack of pace. I ask again whether it’s wise to base a whole club’s footballing philosophy around a 33 year old who is clearly on the wane?
- Ramires (sub) – 7/10 – Quite good. If only he knew how to shoot.
- Kakuta (sub) – 7.5/10 – Pretty impressive. His pace, touch and technique were way beyond the dross Kalou and Malouda served up.
- Bosingwa (sub) – 4/10 – Can’t defend. And since his return from injury he can’t attack either. He’s become a liability.
- Carlo – 7/10 – Did as much as he could but he needs to ask for some investment. At this rate he’s going to get sacked anyway so he might as well admit to the fans that despite asking for Neymar, Schweinsteiger, Pato and David Luiz, Roman’s cost-cutting and idiotic decision to promote that fraud Emenalo has ruined things. Go on Carlo, just speak the fucking truth.
Man of the Match
It has to be Branners. He was bloody brilliant tonight.
So how about that then? How do we sum up yet another horrific showing?
My view is clear and what I watch every week just reaffirms my view that this team is past it. Why don’t we just fucking admit what is clear to all of us? There’s nothing wrong with admitting that this team has reached its sell-by-date because every side has to come to an end at some point. Without investment, every side will run out of steam at some point so why don’t Carlo and the club do something about it?
What really annoys me though is the blindly, stupid responses of those at the club who refuse to acknowledge that there are serious problems with this team. The terrible attitude of some of the old guard has overtaken the lack of pace and creativity as our biggest problem because they feel untouchable when the kids are constantly being ignored. The pathetic reaction of some to each defeat also doesn’t help. Dropping points at Spurs was explained away by Spurs getting lucky with a last minute penalty save. Dropped points in Marseille were explained away by it being a dead rubber. The Birmingham defeat was explained away by Foster’s heroics. The Sunderland defeat was explained away by it being a random off day. Every shit performance is explained away by some as it being a blip and that one good result will bring back the confidence levels which they believe are the cause of our terrible form. But that is a pitiful response to our problems in my opinion. At present we’re displaying relegation form and some people need to realise that this isn’t just a blip. The table doesn’t lie; we are a distant fourth and will be nine points behind when United win their game in hand so Roman needs to realise that if he doesn’t buy some quality reinforcements, we’re fucked.
A few weeks ago I was laughed at for being too pessimistic when I predicted that we’d be 5th by 2011. But if we lose against Bolton this week we’ll be 6th and Carlo will be sacked. I really didn’t want to be right and I don’t want Carlo to go but if we’re honest Spurs look to be the 4th best side in the country, not us.
Nighty night. Don’t let these embarrassing performances bite.