The Observer, Paul Wilson: “Victory kept Chelsea five points clear at the top of the Premier League, not bad going for October, and though one could not say they did not deserve it, they played well within their normal selves here and could have been caught out by better finishers than Blackburn. Allardyce’s side did most of the hard work, matched their opponents and kept Chelsea surprisingly quiet, yet not for the first time lacked the killer punch their efforts deserved.”
Sunday Telegraph, Graham Chase: “Having been the venue where they took a huge step towards Jose Mourinho’s first title, Ewood Park has become an increasingly frustrating venue for Chelsea but Branislav Ivanovic’s late winner ensured this game could not be added to that list.”
Independent on Sunday, Tim Rich: “Branislav Ivanovic’s winner may have been so much against the grain of the game that it left splinters but it was superbly executed. Throughout the afternoon, Blackburn’s crosses were of a significantly higher quality than the champions’ but, under pressure and in mid-turn, Yuri Zhirkov produced a wonderful delivery that found Chelsea’s right-back unmarked.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea maintained a five-point gap at the top of the league with a battling if unspectacular victory at Ewood Park. Goals in either half from Nicolas Anelka and Branislav Ivanovic were enough to overturn a deficit brought about by Benjani’s early header, providing a win that for long stages had looked in doubt.”
I always think of Blackburn as a bogey team for us, despite the fact that we have actually won six of our last eight matches against them. Last season we won the first match 5-0 at home but went out on penalties to them in the Carling Cup. The scrappy 1-1 draw we scrambled away to them last March left many people, me included, thinking that we had blown our chance of winning the Premier League.
Blackburn have also been in the news after Fulham’s Danny Murphy cited them, along with Wolves and Stoke, as dirty sides whom managers sent out to intimidate and injure players. A strange comment to make, given that Fulham are currently managed by Mark Hughes – who once sent out a Blackburn thug called Aaron Mokoena (nickname: ‘The Axe’) to break Arjen Robben’s ankle a few years ago. An injury that, to my mind, effectively ended Robben’s English playing career, as he was never the same player after that. Or maybe Murphy is too thick to understand Sparky’s pre-match instructions?
There again, Danny Murphy might have done us a favour. Carlo has been far too quiet about referees who let illegal aggressive play go unpunished against us this season. Recent matches have seen the opposition get away with several assaults on our players; Manchester City being a particularly bad example, as I complained in my last match report. Meanwhile Arsenal, who are themselves a dirty side (17th in the Fair Play League compared to our 1st place), have won three matches and secured a draw after their refs conveniently sent off an opposition player so that they can get on with their tippy-tappy dancing. Arsene Whinger’s moaning certainly seems to be working for them so far.
This afternoon’s ref doesn’t inspire me with much confidence either. Peter Walton has a history of eccentric decisions, including the one during our game against West Ham three years ago. After watching Boa Morte run around kicking everything in sight for an hour he then sent off Frank Lampard instead (a red card that was later overturned by the FA).
Difficult to predict this one. John Terry has said he expects a physical match so no doubt Blackburn will get into our faces, crowd the midfield and harry us all the way. There will be no room for the complacent, lackadaisical, attitude I noticed too often in the second half last Saturday against Wolves.
Blackburn have only lost once at home so far this season, while we have failed to win our last two away. Yet you can only get 1.44 on a Chelsea win today; miserly odds given our recent away form. No wonder all the bookies I know wear chunky 18-carat gold neck-chains.
The result will probably depend on which Chelsea turns up today. If it is the team that played the first half against Blackpool we will win comfortably. If it is the team that showed up for the first half at Aston Villa we will be lucky to get a draw.
Pre-match quote from Carlo:
“We have started the season well but I think we can play better because we played very well in some parts of some games but not continuously. We have to play 90 minutes how we want to play. We have to improve our play and our intensity. We can’t just play for 45 minutes like we did against Wolves. We want to play well for the whole of the match and we haven’t been able to do that so far this season.”
Alex is fit again and comes back into the team so Carlo has to choose between Bosingwa and Ivan at right-back for the first time. An interesting choice, as Bos looked very good indeed in the first half against Wolves. On the other hand, who can ever forget Ivan’s towering performances there last season, which might have won him the Player of the Season award? No doubt a debate will start up on that one, as will another debate about whether Alex should be first choice for the centre back role, ahead of Ivan.
Selection: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Cole, Mikel, Essien, Zhirkov, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka.
Substitutes: Turnbull, Bosingwa, Ferreira, McEachran, Kakuta, Kalou, Sturridge.
The first half
The first half display must be the poorest Chelsea performance I have seen since, oh, last week in the second half against Wolves. We were out-fought, out-thought and out-played all the way up until our equalizer in the 38th minute (yes, I realize that might sound contradictory, but see below).
After an enterprising first seven minutes in which Drogba might easily have scored from Ivan’s cross, Blackburn took the game to us. Both Dioufs were outstanding, while Benjani could, and should, have scored three goals instead of one.
On 10 minutes Cech makes an absolutely stunning save from Mame Diouf’s chip. First he slips in the rain then he recovers with an amazing back flip to palm it away behind the post. A truly world-class goalkeeper and, for me, he is our player of the season so far. A minute later he saves with his legs from Benjani. Over the next half-hour Blackburn pour forward, creating chance, after chance. They could easily have been two or three-nil up before the equalizer.
Their goal on 21 minutes was inevitable. After a period of sustained pressure, with their players massed in our penalty area, El-Hadji Diouf supplies a neat cross to Benjani, who beats JT and heads in.
I will confess that it is sometimes difficult for me to see where the fault-lines are when we play poorly (I find this easier to do when I watch the replays, a facility denied to me if I am to get this report out tonight). But here are some initial thoughts:
We keep losing possession. Zhirkov is the main culprit, but Alex, JT, Mikel, Essien and Malouda are all joining in the competition to see who can pass the ball back to the opposition fastest.
This might be the reason for the last-mentioned problem, but we look over-run in midfield. Is that because Blackburn are playing 4-5-1 against our 4-3-3 and Essien, Mikel and Zhirkov are getting out-numbered three to five?
The two Dioufs look like they have been told to play well up the pitch on Ashley and Ivan, forcing them back and preventing us from developing our characteristic wing-play.
Another answer is that Blackburn are playing out of their skins. A naïve observer watching the first half would have thought they were the champions and us the relegation candidates.
Carlo seems to be aware how serious it all is, as he spends the entire half in the technical area scowling and, from time to time, screaming at various players.
Then, on 38 minutes we get a goal from nothing with our first shot on target. Cech punts it forward to Flo, who, instead of dribbling it, loops it straight up to Drogs as he arrives in their penalty area, heading unselfishly on for Nic to sweep home. An exquisite, intuitive, goal that could only have been scored by what Sir Purple Nose likes to call ‘ageing’ players who have played with each other for years.
The goal demoralizes Blackburn and we, more or less, control the rest of the half but without doing much else to justify our status as champions.
One of the things I really appreciated about Jose was that, at half-time after a poor performance, he would usually issue a bollocking or two, tweak a few instructions, or change the tactics. Will Carlo be as efficient this time?
Half-time: Blackburn 1 Chelsea 1.
The second half
The first twenty minutes or so look scrappy and uncoordinated to me. Although we don’t look a lot better, at least we are holding Blackburn off. But, again, we keep losing possession.
The first chance of the half falls to Zhirkov on 60 minutes, who forces a great save from Robinson. But, immediately, Blackburn run up the other end and win a free kick. After a bit of pinball, with our defence looking all over the place, Diouf misses a simple chance for them to go 2-1 up.
On 70 minutes Carlo finally makes a substitution: Sturridge on for Malouda. Flo has been generally poor today but I can think of at least three other players, Drogba amongst them, who could have done with an early bath. Daniel comes on and makes an immediate impact, beating two players and then having me out of my seat thinking his shot had gone in, but it hits the side-netting. But, in reply, Blackburn waste three more chances to regain the lead, with Jason Roberts missing an absolute sitter, one-on-one with Petr.
But, slowly, we seem to be pushing them back and I notice that we are spending more and more time in their half. On 83 minutes, after some careful build up play, with our players gradually queuing up around their penalty area, we take the lead. Nic plays in Zhirkov, who, from what looks like an impossible angle, plays an perfect reverse chip to the far goal-post and Ivan appears out of nowhere to head it in.
And that’s game over. We only have 3 efforts on target and yet score two goals. It really was a smash and grab raid on poor old Blackburn.
Full-time: Blackburn 1 Chelsea 2.
The positive side
- About 15 years ago I used to get really irritated watching Manchester United on Sky TV when they were dominating the Premiership. They always seemed to scrape those 0-1, 2-1 wins even when they were crap. Now, we seem to have acquired that annoying knack. Must be really pissing our rivals off right now. We just never give up. Like true champions, we keep on grafting until a winning opportunity or two comes along. None of our players (with the exception of Cech, Ashley, Ivan and, possibly, Nic) played particularly well today, but two moments of individual brilliance decided it.
- Petr Cech. Looks like he is back to the way he was before Stephen *unt tried to kill him. The best goalkeeper in the world right now and definitely my Man of the Match.
- Sam Allardyce. A real gent who proved Danny Murphy entirely wrong (although that’s not too difficult to do). His side were better than ours for long periods of the game and that wasn’t down to thuggery but clever tactics, passion and skilful players. See, also, his generous post-match comments about us below.
- The Arse splutter on to beat the bottom club 1-0 at home while Citeh lose 2-1 to Wolves. That’s right, against those sides whom (we were told after our winning start) were ‘not real tests’.
- After 10 games we are still top, with a five-point lead. What’s more we are eight points up on the corresponding fixtures played last season.
- Peter Walton. After my recent rants on referees I am entirely happy to praise a good performance. Walton controlled this game well, with a series of objective decisions. The game, as predicted, was a physical battle but, this time, we were as culpable as Blackburn and, if anything, looked the dirtier side. The yellow cards issued – two to us and two to them – favoured Chelsea in my opinion, as Zhirkov was very lucky to escape a yellow for his scything tackle on Salgado early on.
The worrisome side
- Aside from those two brilliant goals we created very few chances and were on the back-foot for most of this match. Has our 4-3-3 formation now been found out, in the same way the ‘diamond formation’ was, about this time last year?
- Carlo said before the match that he wanted us to play for 90 minutes, rather than 45. From where I am standing we didn’t play that well for more than 25 minutes this time out. Back to the training ground, methinks. Otherwise, we are going to get a hammering fairly soon.
- If Cech gets injured then God help us.
Both positive and worrisome
- Malouda produced a moment of individual brilliance to create the first goal. Otherwise, he was poor beyond belief and that was one reason why Blackburn dominated the midfield. The same applies to Drogs; one great assist for Nic but, otherwise, you wouldn’t have known he was on the pitch aside from his play-acting.
Man of the Match
“Blackburn played a good game in the first half, they put strong pressure on and we were not able to play our football or find space in the middle of the pitch. We had difficulty first half, second half was better, we took a risk with counter-attack because Blackburn could score before our goal, we were a little bit lucky.”
“Look at (Zhirkov’s) ball for Ivanovic’s goal, it’s an outstanding ball to the far post in a tight area, he’s on the half turn and looks like he can’t get the cross in but he drops it to the far post on Ivanovic’s head, it’s a super, super ball.
“…It’s pleasing to create the chances against such a big team and give them such a good game, but you get the ultimate kick in the teeth when you don’t punch the opposition when you get the chance, and a team like Chelsea will take full advantage of that.
“…When they’re being outplayed they hang on in there and in the end, look at the first goal, quality. Two passes, third pass it’s a goal, that’s how good they are.”