The Observer, Paul Wilson: “If Villa’s defending was the reason for their win, Chelsea’s defending was squarely to blame for their second defeat – a second successive away lapse. There were similarities with their unexpected collapse at Wigan and Carlo Ancelotti was not slow to point them out. “We played a good game on the pitch, but lost the match through set plays,” he said, reflecting on the fact Chelsea allowed both opposing centre-halves to score with headers from corners.”
Sunday Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Another mistake by Petr Cech led to Chelsea slipping to a second Premier League defeat of the season – and the second in a row away from Stamford Bridge – with Aston Villa coming from behind to claim victory through two headed goals.”
Sunday Times, David Walsh: “If it is the old-fashioned game you love, where passion counted for more than pace and heart was as important as technique, then you would have enjoyed Villa Park. The tackling was tough but honest, most of Aston Villa’s players ran themselves to a standstill, and then goaded themselves into another effort. All the while Chelsea tried to match their rivals’ fervour and came close, but Villa deserved their victory.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea succumbed to a second away league defeat in succession on a frustrating afternoon at Villa Park.”
Say what you like about this blog’s beloved Dear Leader Nick, but he knows where to find the captive contributor with no option but to be stuck in front of the TV for the tricky games like this. Asking a man recovering from an operation, who had to cancel his tickets to see Ricky Gervais lest he damage the wound and undo all of the surgeons’ good work through laughter, to then sit through a Chelsea match knowing he had no option but to remain calm was indeed a masterstroke. Is he Descartes’ Evil Genius?
Anyway, calm was the order of the day, and physically from the outside that’s how it appeared. Of course inside the dark recesses of my mind it was utter turmoil, voices shrieking and screaming at the TV, imaginary Tony shaped Numbskulls (© The Beezer) leapt from the sofa at each perceived injustice, virtual rotten tomatoes rained down on the smelly players’ heads, whilst hallucinogenically induced (via painkillers) dew tinted rose petals wafted gently down on the deserving heroes worthy of wearing the Lion Rampant logo.
Our record against Villa is notoriously iffy, especially at Villa Park, and despite doing the double over them last year this was always likely to our toughest test thus far. Yes, even tougher than Liverpool in my most humble opinion. Villa may not yet be ‘Big Four’ but are sure-fire candidates for the very likely ‘Big Six’. Even as a recently spoilt Chelsea fan you have to wonder why none of Agbonlahor, Young or the brilliant Milner are pulling on our shirt this season. I’d swap any of them for Kalou.
Back to the task. It was tough, it was dirty, but someone had to do it…
The first bit of bad news was the loss of Ballack. Another of our Marmite players arguably (I love Marmite) but whenever he’s missing our midfield looks weaker, and his passing and general air of control and calm adds a further steely veneer to our already tough skeleton. He is our Iron Man (© Marvel Comics). But we have strength in depth so his absence can be absorbed. So, no real surprises to our team then with Bosingwa back in at right-back despite Ivanovic’s sterling display against the loathsome Liverpool, and FlapCech (geddit?) back for Hilario. The game was delayed by six minutes through original referee Steve Bennett going down with a touch of man-flu 10 minutes before the start (did he not have an inkling when he woke up?) and a farcical few minutes ensued as Kenny Hibbert presumably decided to ring a few pub leagues trying to find someone to act as fourth official.
When it did get underway with the fourth official looking like he’d just finished a hearty pre-match meal and a few glasses of wine, it was Villa who seemed the more likely to score. Typically Chelsea looked like strangers to each other for the first five minutes or so but gradually settled into something resembling a team and getting to grips with the game. The battles looked set, with Carew likely to plague Terry and Carvalho, and Young set to task Bosingwa with the excellent Agbonlahor (who has patently been working out… not that I notice these things you understand!) battling with Ashley Cole. Carew never got the better of Terry but he brushed a seriously poor Carvalho aside like Desperate Dan (© The Dandy) swatting a fly off his Cow Pie.
An early penalty scare was a let off for us as Bosingwa showed all that is bad with his game with what must now be called The Portuguese Manoeuvre on Agbonlahor. Why call it this? It seems an integral part of Portuguese defending (by all their players) to play the odds in the box. Watch any of them carefully and they are the masters of the tugged shirt, the little pull on the shoulder, or the deliberately mis-timed spoiler tackle disguised to look like unintentional clumsiness. Now we have Bosingwa showing he’s equally capable in this area as Carvalho, Ronaldo or Nani. One day we will pay a dear price for this. Fifteen minutes in and a piece of magic 25 yards out from Drogba, allied to a howler from Brad ‘Billy the Fish’ Friedel and we were a goal up. From that point we looked pretty good but the warning signs were there defensively and eventually The Curse of Scolari returned and from a corner a deft flick on from Lampard found the head of Dunne who’d apparently morphed into Johnny X (© Viz) in order to get away from the near comatose Carvalho to give Villa a deserved equaliser. I couldn’t care less if we are using zonal or man to man marking, this was shocking defending, and even though he had a poor game Lampard couldn’t be blamed for this despite the piss poor attempt to head clear.
I’d have settled for the draw, Villa being a tough cookie and at home and all that. When half time came the game had returned to a tight chess match as both sides settled for getting to the break with no further damage. Second half started much the same, both sides probing, and Agbonlahor was up to the task of giving Ashley a hard time and Young was forcing Bosingwa into mistake after mistake. Carvalho looked like a defeated man by Carew. Then came another corner for Villa. They’d scored 12 goals this season, and nine of them came from set plays so you might have thought we’d have been aware of this and had a plan to counter it.
Well you’d be wrong. FlapCech did what he regularly does and wandered into no man’s land nowhere near the ball. Drogba who was supposed to mark James Collins was still finishing his orange segment and the rest of the defence gawped on in apparent astonishment as Collins flew in like the Human Torch, Johnny Storm (© Marvel Comics, The Fantastic Four), with his flaming orange… errr… grade 1 to help himself to the most free of free headers he’ll ever likely be gifted. It was terrible defending and the rage on John Terry’s face said far more than my words could ever do justice to.
The final 35 minutes was a torturous passage of time watching us batter on Villa’s door only to be undone by over elaborate or hoofed final passes, or finishing on a par with a drunk Alan Carr wearing stilettos. Just one message to all of our players bar Drogba, for fuck’s sake put some bloody leather behind it! Stop trying to craft the perfect finish… this is not the ballet it’s a bloody football match.
Time goes by so slowly (© Madonna) they say, and that is so true when you’re winning. Each minute ticked by using the reverse formula used by London Transport when telling us when the next train is arriving. Everyone knows the standard London Transport minute is actually 90-105 seconds long depending on the day of the week multiplied by your own urgency to get to your destination. Watching this turned every minute into 30 seconds. Every movement of the second hand was yet another drop of Chelsea blood dripping from the life of our game. The Eyebrow watched grimly on and eventually had to bring on Ivanovic for the injured (embarrassed?) Bosingwa and then finally when noticing Malouda had been less and less effective he decided to give Joe Cole eight minutes. Much too little, much too late. Villa missed one glorious chance to go 3-1 up and complete the misery but luckily Desperate Dan (© The Dandy) Carew was dreaming of his post match plate of Cow Pie. When the whistle finally blew the Villa fans cheered heartily as well they might, and every Chelsea fan present had to mull a miserable journey home contemplating a sense of déjà-vu from last season as we yet again loused up a chance to consolidate our lead at the top.
- The ref. A last minute substitution, Kevin Friend did a great job and allowed the play to flow. They don’t often appear here, but this guy had common sense in abundance. Top drawer sir.
- Deco. The Right Reverend Professor Sir Anthony Blueheart Jockstrap-Glover is standing in awe at the transformation in this most useless of pupils from last term. Wonderful defence carving passes, a cheeky near goal chip and a glorious chance with only Friedel to beat but finished like someone trying to hit a cricket ball with a lettuce leaf being the only let down.
- Essien. Great at the base of the diamond, but wasted there.
- Drogba. A great albeit speculative strike for the goal and always a threat. Let down by poor service that saw him drifting to the right wing.
- Liverpool losing again. Just a small ray of light into a bleak day.
- Carvalho. Seems to have taken the maxim ‘up and down’ to heart. Has been magnificent at times, but today was rotten to the core. Slow, poor judgement, lost his man time after time, dodgy passing. The list of crimes goes on so much he should be wearing a shirt with arrows on it.
- Lampard. Frank’s confidence level is at the same level as Austin Powers was when confronted with a certain result by Felicity Shagwell (© Mike Myers et al) after having his Mojo stolen by Fat Bastard. Perhaps he needs a good woman to remind him that he never really lost it. If he’s scoring in the bedroom then maybe he’ll get back to scoring on the pitch.
- Bosingwa. As today’s kids might say, he was ‘totally owned’ by Young and Agbonlahor today.
- Ancelotti. Scolari part deux? That’s a bit harsh but he shows a worrying reluctance to shake things up from the bench when the team are against it. At 2-1 down with 20 minutes to go, maybe that was the time to give Joe Cole, Ivanovic and maybe Kalou or Sturridge a go.
- Another week of avoiding Match of the Day.
- Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal all winning.
- Well not exactly ugly. But funny and a rare event to smile about on a pretty bad day for us. It was Anelka’s disgraceful challenge on Martin O’Neill which sent the Villa coach into the air and back to ground with an unceremonious bump. Ovrebo would have sent Anelka off for that! However O’Neill took it well, although it must have reminded him of his glory days as a player, and it must have hurt.
- Petr Cech – 5/10 – As much at fault for the second goal as anyone else. I can’t remember his last excellent game. Makes Hilario’s appearance against Liverpool look all the more fortuitous.
- Jose Bosingwa – 4.5/10 – Can you smell that? Yep, rotten isn’t it?
- John Terry – 7.5/10 – Solid, passionate and committed. Must be wondering what the hell is going on.
- Ashley Cole – 7/10 – Plagued by Agbonlahor and undoubtedly his hardest game of the season, so all in all a good score.
- Riccy Carvalho – 3/10 – Still smell that from Bosingwa? Hmm… get a noseful of this. Makes Bosingwa smell like freshly bloomed roses. Come back Alex and quick.
- Frank Lampard – 5.5/10 – Good God, what has gone wrong here? When he gets the ball it always seems to take him by surprise. It always looks like it’s under his feet. He needs Billy’s Boots (© Scorcher/Tiger comics).
- Deco – 8/10 – Ok, ok – send me the number of the Humble Pie factory. He carries on like this and I’ll order the biggest one they make.
- Florent Malouda – 6/10 – Average. Vanilla. Ok. Ho hum.
- Michael Essien – 7.5/10 – Wasted in this position against this sort of team.
- Nicolas Anelka – 7/10 – Had a couple of chances to score but seems insistent on the Arsene Wenger School method of goals only being worthy if slotted in. It’s not about craft, it’s about bulging the net.
- Didier Drogba – 7.5/10 – Superb goal, nice touches, less falling down and patently annoyed about losing Collins for the goal. Mind you… let’s not forget he’s very much a supplementary defender and his mistake doesn’t excuse the fuckwittery displayed by our proper defenders for the goals.
- Branislav Ivanovic (sub for Bosingwa) – 6/10 – Not on long enough to get anything other than a default rating.
- Joe Cole (sub for Malouda) – 6/10 – Good to see him back but not on long enough to make any impact.
- Overall team performance – 6/10 – Worrying away form must be weighing on minds. Seventeen attempts on goal with just one to show is frankly pathetic, but not a new story. I doubt any other side is as profligate as us in front of goal. Every player needs some shooting practice or decent boots, made from black leather with proper studs.
Man of the Match
For Villa it would be Milner, and possibly overall for the game. How did Arnesen miss the opportunity to sign him from Toonland?
For us, the freshly cut bouquet goes to young Master Deco for the second good performance I’ve seen from him in two games.
A bar of strong carbolic soap for Carvalho.
Arsenal and Manchester United showed their credentials today by NOT choking like we did. Arsenal look very impressive and those who wrote them off earlier may well want to reconsider. They now lie three points behind us with a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference. Arshavin and Walcott look exciting, Van Persie looks deadly. We look wasteful. United survived a late scare to see off Bolton and go back to the top, so yet again looking like archetypal champions. They may be scraping games but I bet not one of their fans could care less. Spurs won again and are on our tail, and Manchester City ominously sit five points behind us with two games in hand.
I don’t want to sound full of despair, but this could truly be our last decent shot at the title as others find spending power and cohesion. Citeh aside United continue to develop and introduce young exciting players. Arsenal are masters of doing the same. We currently look a little like plodders alongside them. We’re like the heavyweight boxer relying almost entirely on guile and power to see us through bouts, whereas the others look more and more like agile, fast cruiserweights who when ready can move up a division whilst retaining those attributes.
So two away defeats on the bounce, a reversal from last season which saw imperious away form and two costly home defeats and arguably even more costly home draws against teams we expected to roll through. It’s not time to hit the panic button, but for those who thought our undoubtedly ageing squad would last another two seasons I think you’re wrong. We are still in with a shout of winning this title, and like most I prize this above the Champions League, but who can doubt there are worrying signs of us slipping below the bar so famously raised by Mourinho. The assured swagger has gone, other teams know our vulnerabilities, but under Jose you always felt he had the knowledge, creativity and bravery to make changes during the game which more often than not had the desired effect. Hiddink had that same ability most of the time, but Carlo Ancelotti seems overly stubborn and intransigent in his desire to stick with the starting XI. I find that a worrying trait and although we were well on top after going behind we hadn’t scored and hence making subs with less than 10 minutes to go is a heavy gamble when you’re chasing the game.
It’s Blackburn next week, a team sitting fourth from bottom, three days after Atletico Madrid visit us. Frankly the Madrid game excites me as much as a re-run of last season’s home game against Liverpool. We should beat Blackburn, but it’s not going to tell us anything if we do. A draw or defeat would tell us much more, but frankly even a renowned pessimist like me won’t entertain that idea.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!