Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “On an emotional evening when Bolton Wanderers gathered to pay tribute to their greatest striker Nat Lofthouse, Chelsea celebrated their current crop of forwards. All three of Carlo Ancelotti’s attackers, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka, found the mark as the champions mocked suggestions of a crisis.”
The Guardian, Paul Wilson: “If Carlo Ancelotti really intends to win 13 of his last 16 Premier League games, to keep Chelsea in contention for the title, he is going to need Didier Drogba back to his best. He can only have been encouraged by the way his main striker set the tone for the first victory of the sequence here, putting his side in front with an unstoppable 30-yard shot that must rank as one of the best goals the Ivorian has ever scored.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “It has been a while since Didier Drogba has pulled off his shirt at the end of a game and handed it over to a member of his club’s travelling support but then it has been a while since Chelsea have been as good as they were last night.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Ramires scored his first goal for the Blues at the Reebok Stadium on a night when all three strikers also found the net.”
Do you know what’s weird?
Well, loads of things are weird. Stuff like the hilarious video on Sky News showing Andy “I’ve fathered five children, by four different women but with age comes maturity so I certainly don’t see myself with anyone else” Gray and Andy Burton discussing “that looker of a lino” as they prepare to film one of those inane interviews Sky seem to specialise in, is certainly weird. And a bit creepy.
The signing of David Luiz is also a bit strange if you ask me. Personally, I think it’s a great move from us to sign one of Europe’s best young defenders. He can also cover on both sides as a full-back and is young enough to replace JT if everything goes well. Who cares if he’s cup-tied or that his arrival automatically tells Bruma that at the moment he’s not even good enough to be our reserve’s reserve centre-back? He’s now fifth choice behind a hobbling Alex and that must be disheartening for him. But what’s weird about it is that Roman has spent £25m on a footballer. Yes, this is Roman Abramovich we’re talking about. The guy who is so obsessed with cost cutting that he demanded half of our scouting network be sacked and that Carlo would have to make do with Emenalo as his new assistant instead of an expensive external appointment like Leonardo or Maldini (there may be another motive behind Emenalo’s promotion but the general point still holds. It does I tell you!). So to see him sanction a move for an extremely talented but expensive player did throw me for a while.
Enough of that aside though because the main thing that is bothering me at the moment is the extremely strange atmosphere around the club. I said before the Arsenal game that this season, everything had become a little less fun as “a wave of cynicism, pessimism and outlandishly high expectation was starting to overwhelm us”. But that feeling has changed for me because at present, things just feel a bit, well, quiet. I don’t know if some down at Cobham have already given up on the title or the Champions League or perhaps they’ve just given up on their Chelsea careers (I’m looking at you Zhirkov. You do still play for us right?). But everything looks and smells stale and flat. It almost seems like we’ve thrown in the towel and have started to raise the white flag. It’s a terrible thing to say and I hope I’m wrong but what I perceived as an intelligent calmness at the start of our blip/crisis when the whole club took up Carlo’s patented laissez-faire attitude and refused to talk about any problems, instead now just looks like resignation. Even we fans have gone a bit quiet recently. Just look at the reaction to our scrambled win against Blackburn. There was a collective sigh as some barely acknowledged that we had just won a league match for the first time in bloody ages before they moved on to other more important things, like Dancing on Ice I’m sure. I’ve even started to get into NFL to amuse myself. A tip for all those looking for some excitement: watch the Steelers and the way they reached the Super Bowl if you want to see something great to distract you from our recent problems.
But a shrug of the shoulders and a scratch of the arse and then we all forgot about it. That kind of sums it up at the moment because looking at the table and seeing us languishing in fourth place, I repeat fourth position in the league, doesn’t even provoke the same emotive reaction it used to. There is no fight, energy or fucking desire coming from anyone within the club and that’s because our present predicament is starting to feel normal and justified. We deserve to be miles off for the top of the table because of our terrible recent performances and the most worrying thing is that there seems to be little appetite for a radical change to shake us back into life.
I’m not complaining about the fact that we haven’t walked past every opponent, scoring hundreds of goals along the way as no team has a divine right to win every game but what has started to grate is the sense of pathetic acceptance within the squad. Everyone seems so comfortable in their guaranteed first team positions that they just can’t be arsed to start fighting to turn things around.
I’m not sure if it’s just me but Chelsea as a club just look tired. Things have stayed the same for far too long and the big players have sunk so far into their comfort zones that it appears impossible at times to scare them to react. When the spine of your side has remained unchanged and crucially unchallenged for six years then I shouldn’t really have expected too much more but in a transitional season, which this patently is, it surely isn’t too much to ask that the club start planning for next season by showing some real faith in our talented youngsters. When you have young players like Josh and Sturridge impressing in the handful of games they’ve been given this season with goals, assists and classy performances, there is no defence for continuing to reward the old guard (I’m looking at Malouda, Didier and Essien especially) with guaranteed starts every week. The fact that we have based our footballing philosophy around a 33 year-old who is on the wane is mad enough as that has led to an over-reliance on the big guy but when that 33 year-old is a temperamental child at times who has the ability to get a manager he falls out with sacked, then that my friends is suicidal. The bland football in Jose’s 4-3-3 looks stale, the squad looks stale and the club as a whole looks stale. And just to make things worse, Carlo is so obsessed with keeping the big players’ egos in check that he refuses to drop anyone. Perhaps the biggest signing since Sheva will act as a catalyst for a new glorious Chelsea age but Roman has waited a bit too long to change this side. We’re by no means a bad side and I still think we’ll finish second but there has to come a time when we embrace change. We may have stupidly ignored Fergie’s policy of always updating a squad from a position of strength so you can maintain your success levels but we still have a chance to correct our mistakes. Come on Carlo, just do what you really want to; drop Didier. We’ve seen glimpses of your true feelings (Spurs away) so just bite the bullet and bloody do it. You will most definitely be proved right.
It’s not as if he’s going to power us back into the title race with a wonder strike is it?
Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Essien, Ramires, Mikel, Anelka, Drogba, Malouda.
Subs: Turnbull, Ferreira, Kalou, Sturridge, Bruma, Kakuta, McEachran.
“What’s that I see, no Didier? I can’t fucking believe it. Well done Carlo. You are so brave… Oh wait, there he is. Damn glasses letting me down.”
Yep the old guard were back. Yay! And Josh was again on the bench. Boo!
There has been a lot of hype around this kid but if you’ve seen him play you’ll realise that it’s all deserved. He’s the most creative midfielder in our squad and when creating chances and scoring goals appear to be far beyond our elderly attack’s capabilities, I do wonder what it will take to get Josh a start. Oh and Sturridge was again on the bench. Seven goals in a week aren’t enough for Carlo.
Well, tonight turned out to be highly entertaining. Tuning in to see Jamie Redknapp desperately trying to act like the responsible senior partner who knows all there is to know about the world of Sky Sports was hilarious. As was Sam Allardyce’s attempt at commentary. His content was pretty impressive but his timing certainly was not. Let’s just say that long awkward pauses are a talent I never knew Big Sam had.
Personally though, I thought that this was a highly professional performance from a side desperately lacking in confidence. If this had come after a run of four or five consecutive wins then the press would be hailing it as “the performance of Champions” but seeing as it came the day after Carlo told us that he hadn’t been pleased with a Chelsea performance since Arsenal at home (remember that sunny day last year?), it was instead seen as a cross between a dead cat bounce and a last hurrah from a side nearing the end (extremely harsh from the press there).
The match started exactly as you would have expected it to; badly. We were slow, off the pace and sloppy on the ball as Bolton harried and pressed us into making a load of silly errors. They had of course flown out of the traps, eager to test out us southern softies on a sojourn oop North and for the first 10 minutes it looked like we may be about to collapse against their white wave of pressure. Kevin Davies, Paul Robinson and strangely Fabrice Muamba were all excelling in getting under our skin but we stood firm and a clever tactical tweak from Carlo allowed us to gain a foothold in the match. He switched us to a 4-2-1-3 and paired up Ramires with Mikel to help us withstand the increasing Bolton pressure and guess what, his tactical switch worked to perfection. Didier unexpectedly found himself with the ball in space, 30 yards out and for some unknown reason decided to leather it. And the ball proceeded to fly like a rocket into the back of the net past a despairing Jussi Jaaskelainen. It was a ridiculously great goal (picture Everton away in 2006/7 if you missed it but just not a volley! Ok that was a crap comparison) and just what we needed to calm ourselves down and brighten the mood. Carlo’s beaming smile and usual arms out celebration certainly cheered me up.
It was crucial we went 1-0 up as with such a defensive midfield, chasing a game would always have been beyond us. With the lead we decided to sit back and soak up any remaining Bolton pressure and seemed content to play on the break for the rest of the half. This gave JT, Branners, Ash and Pete plenty of work to do but we were looking comfortable as we knocked away everything they could throw at us, including a number of dirty and cynical fouls as they targeted our Lampardless midfield. Muamba and Robinson’s ability to avoid a yellow card for three or four disgusting challenges really was baffling.
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. Being 1-0 up away from home meant that I really had no right to criticise Carlo but if we continued dropping deep whilst regularly giving the ball away then we would almost certainly see Bolton score their first goal against us in this fixture for seven years, so I was beginning to get a bit worried. All I wanted to see was a little more control and creativity from our front four. Chances for those of a blue persuasion were non-existent and when your most attacking midfielder is Michael Essien, you knew that chance creation and creativity wouldn’t be seen too often on the night.
But we were doing pretty well. Didier – yep, that Didier who I demanded be dropped and sold – was having his most impressive game in months as he held up the ball and fed others expertly and Nico was also displaying all of his typical style and class as he strolled around the pitch with the ball glued to his foot. However, Bolton were still posing a threat with their direct football and numerous crosses and only a wonderful fingertip save from Pete to keep out Taylor’s header stopped them drawing level.
I was getting extremely nervy (I have no idea why but there’s still a nagging belief that we’re going to be Champions. Me, deluded?) and began to worry about the state of my underwear as Bolton continued to give us a few scares especially when the camera made it look like Elmander had spun the ball into the net. But I needn’t have worried as we then wrapped up the three points with a wonder goal. A sliced Mikel cross was flicked on by Ivanovic to an unmarked Malouda who delayed, then delayed, then delayed some more before playing a one-two with Robinson’s shin and then sliding the ball home into an empty net. It was such a bad goal that no-one knew how to react. The fans and commentators went silent. Both sets of players stood motionless and the referee even looked confused as to what to do next. But it was a goal and Carlo’s usual celebration, smile and crazy eyebrow confirmed that we would be taking a 2-0 lead into the second half.
The second period started much like the first in that we were sitting deep, soaking up the pressure and Bolton were running around like lunatics. Except there was one crucial difference; we were starting to play some highly professional, controlled and dangerous football on the break. Mikel was putting in a classy display on his return from injury with some brilliant passing and Ramires continued his incredible turnaround with a performance full of pace, power and intelligent covering next to Mikel. Even his passing began to improve. But the one slight disappointment was Essien. He was completely dominating Holden and Muamba in this half but his use of the ball on the break was frankly dismal. He twice fucked up a four-on-four breakaway by releasing the ball hours too late and in general a very promising return to the unstoppable Bison we know and love was nearly ruined with some shocking attacking play. But he got it right in the end as our third counter attack in the space of five minutes saw Didier, Malouda and Essien all combine to find Anelka in the box who fired home for 3-0. Yep, Chelsea, the side who were past it were now 3-0 up.
And that third goal helped provoke an incredible return to the real Chelsea. Confidence was flowing back and chances were being created almost at will on the break. The lack of pace and piss-poor final ball did annoy me at times but the passing, movement and football on show was brilliant. It did bring back a sense of longing for those balmy days in August when these types of wins were routine but after a nightmare three months, I wasn’t about to let some pathetic reminiscing ruin my night. To top it all off, the boy wonder himself – Josh McEachran – was brought on and given twenty-five whole minutes. I will happily admit to loving watching this kid play but I sometimes wonder if all of these comparisons to Wilshere, Ozil and Xavi are putting too much pressure on him? Actually, fuck that. Having seen him star in the Youth Cup, Josh is the new Zidane and we’ve bloody got him!
The rest of the match was a cruise which everyone enjoyed, including Carlo. He brought on Kalou (“oh, how inspiring” I hear you ask. And yes, I’m also wondering what Sturridge has done wrong) and switched to a flat 4-4-2 as we turned the last fifteen minutes into a training exercise. Ramires immediately grabbed a lovely fourth as yet another quick counter attack down the left saw the ball drop to him on the edge of the box, which allowed him to fire home into the bottom corner. The reaction of his team mates and his beaming smile were a nice if slightly soppy highlight of the night and in the end the match kind of petered out. Nico was still looking dangerous on the break, especially when he won a certain penalty after skinning Robinson on the right wing but ultimately nothing much happened in the last few minutes.
But I didn’t care that we slowed down. Those last 15 minutes were great at times and to see our players jump into the away end and throw their shirts to the fans told me that the real Chelsea could be back. Just like Blackburn away in Jose’s first season, this was a crucial win which told everyone that these players can and will fucking fight for this club. On both of these cold winter nights we arrived searching for belief and left knowing that we are good enough to win the big trophies. The league isn’t gone yet but if we play with the same passion and commitment in the Champions League then who can stop us?
(Don’t say Barca you mean spirited bastards. This is a happy night full of hope remember.)
- Luiz signing – I can’t wait. He’s going to be a star and a back four of Branners, Luiz, JT and Ash will without doubt be the best in Europe.
- Belief – The fact that the players were screaming and celebrating for ages in the dressing room afterwards and that JT said that “Didier’s was probably the best goal of the season so far. Our passing was really sharp, even late on, and we’ve worked really hard in training all week on it. United should still be worrying about us, yes,” tell me that some of the players still believe that they can win it this year. The passion was most certainly back tonight.
- Didier – Three months of shit and then a performance like that. He’s still slow and old and his summer sale would benefit virtually every player in our squad but the old dog seems determined to go out on a high.
- Away fans – “Andy Gray, Channel Five…” chant was brilliant.
- Performance – The shaky first half an hour apart, this was quality stuff. It was a near perfect away performance built on a solid Mikel and Ramires foundation who both impressed in their defensive roles. The best part though was seeing the confidence flow back into the players in the last 15 minutes. Backheels and first time shots may appear to be silly things to bring up but if you’d seen us in the past three months you’d have been amazed when you saw the type of football we were playing when 4-0 up. Yes, Bolton were shit but we ruthlessly destroyed them and should have scored more. Nine days of training and a few of those classic “team meetings” look to have worked. This reminded me of that 5-0 win at Pompey last year after a mini-crisis involving Inter and Blackburn and perhaps I was wrong to talk of white flags earlier. The real Chelsea are back… well, sort of.
- Performance – Just a minor complaint but the lack of creativity and useless final ball on the break confirmed to me that our midfield is desperately lacking in imagination. Class, power and experience are there in abundance but when playing at home and trying to get around those parked buses, we don’t have a Samir Nasri or David Silva. Lamps helps but even he can’t do it on his own. And I know he’s young but Josh just impresses me more and more. He merits a start and if we just believed in him, he’d outshine Wilshere soon enough.
- Luiz signing – Forget the fact that it may dishearten Bruma as I think he’ll be trained into a right-back this summer when we sell Paulo and Bosingwa but of greater concern is the fact that if I gave any of you £25m to spend this January, none of you would have bought a centre-back. Sanchez looks like he may be coming this summer but I’d have bid for Torres or Neymar instead of Luiz. Both are Champions League eligible and will help with our goal scoring problems. We are in desperate need of pace and goals, not extra central defenders.
- Cech – 8/10 – Immaculate.
- Bosingwa – 6/10 – Weak.
- Branners – 7/10 – Solid.
- JT – 9/10 – Unbeatable.
- Ash – 7/10 – Annoyingly good (those six consecutive throw-ins to waste time were hilarious).
- Mikel – 7/10 – Classy.
- Essien – 6/10 – Rusty.
- Ramires – 8/10 – Powerful.
- Anelka – 8/10 – Elegant.
- Didier – 7/10 – Better.
- Malouda – 6/10 – Quiet.
- Josh (sub) – 10/10 – It’s because I love him. Actually he gets a 6 for a quiet yet impressive cameo. He’s a number 10 though. Move him from that defensive midfield role Carlo.
- Kalou (sub) – 5/10 – Two touches. That’s it.
- Carlo – 9/10 – Passionate, tactically astute and he still continues to ignore Emenalo. We still love you Carlo.
Man of the Match
Forget the arbitrary ratings as tonight I’m going to give the award to Ramires. JT was obviously the best player on the park but Ramires’ goal and all action performance swung it for me. His improvement since I battered him a few months ago has shocked me but bravo sir, you’ve been great.
So how about that then?
After nine days of training and a load of team meetings we pull out a performance like that in a must win game. There were nerves and some dodgy moments in the final third but overall this looked and felt like the turning point of our season. With confidence we still look like a great side but I fear we’ve left it too late. Carlo says the run to the title can only include six dropped points but I’d say that we need to win all but one of our games! Nearly impossible, I know but I don’t really care that we’re going to fall short of the line. It was just great to see some passion and fight from the old guard tonight. I feared that they’d thrown in the towel but a battling, spirited and classy win like that tells me otherwise. It looks like the old girl may not be dead just yet.
However, I still stand by my preamble. No matter what we win or lose this season we must embrace change this summer. A lack of pace and power are the first things to go when a load of players pass thirty but lately it seems like the old guys have run out of ideas and crucially motivation. Change is something to get excited about and the fact that Roman is willing to back Carlo with £25m to secure one of Europe’s best young players should delight all of us. This summer may see a revolution at Chelsea and personally, I can’t wait.
Nighty night. Don’t let Didier’s bare chest bite!