The Observer, Duncan Castles: “You pay off your manager, you make your choice. Grant appears a less intelligent selection by the match. Comprehensively outplayed by Manchester United six days previously, Chelsea contrived to draw with Fulham – a team who had triumphed just once in the Premier League this season and had not won a capital derby in 10 attempts.”
Sunday Telegraph, Julian Bennetts: “[T]he fare on offer was dire. If Abramovich sacked Mourinho for not providing attractive football, then Grant has a long way to go before his employer can be satisfied.”
Sunday Times, Joe Lovejoy: “Abramovich spurned his customary seat in his private box for the Upper Shed where, surrounded by bodyguards, he was repeatedly told, in no uncertain terms, about the folly of his ways over Mourinho.”
Independent on Sunday, Paul Newman: “It was a sight that summed up Avram Grant’s plight. Chelsea’s manager stood on the touchline in the final minutes, desperately trying to shout instructions to his team, only to have his words drowned out by the loudest chant of the afternoon from a previously subdued Stamford Bridge crowd. The sound of “Jose Mourinho, Jose Mourinho” echoed around the ground.”
- Boy, this is hard because in truth there is a very limited pool of events from which to extract any real highlights for “the good”. I suppose the return of Didier Drogba was good. He struggled for the first half and looked a yard off the pace, but the second half he was back to his battling best – until the sending off. But there’s more of that in “the bad” section.
- Petr Cech. Without his save near the end we would have lost today. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it means the players getting some focus back.
- Steve Sidwell. One of the few to play reasonably well today. Whilst most of the others were stinking the house out today Sidwell was strong in the tackle and barely misplaced a pass. Still some developing to do but a very good prospect.
- Claude Makalele. A player I don’t think should still be at the club played with grace, elegance and intelligence today. Without him we’d have lost.
- And that is seriously just about that.
- Didier Drogba’s sending off. The tackle was a tad clumsy with no intent and in my view didn’t warrant anything more than a warning to be careful. However, getting a yellow card for dissent in the first half was downright stupid and in the end costly for the team. I haven’t anything bad to say about the big Ivorian and it’s good that he’s fit again. We all have silly moments and today was not the best time for him to get an unnecessary red card.
- Andriy Shevchenko and Salomon Kalou. Useless and hopeless in equal measures.
- The set pieces. You know you’re in trouble when Makelele starts taking free kicks and corners. Joe Cole was hopeless at the corners, barely ever getting past the first man. Shevchenko’s free kick in the first half was plain embarrassing. This is what we miss when Frank Lampard is out. Hurry back Frank, all is forgiven.
- Florent Malouda. Incredibly useless. He patently doesn’t want to be at the club and he didn’t seem to want to play on the pitch today. Contributed a big, fat, lonely, frowning zero.
- The performance. Dismal, shocking, passionless, disjointed, ineffective and ultimately very sad. As you’ll see, for the first time I have now added an overall performance rating under the individual player ratings. It’s a shame I couldn’t assign a decent value to the figure. We were poor, very poor today and it’s thanks to the fact that Fulham’s finishing was equally as bad as ours that we didn’t lose. The players didn’t seem to know where each other was. The spirit of the team has gone, no-one is fighting for the badge and confidence is non-existent. The first half was worse than watching two Sunday pub teams on New Year’s Day. It was shocking in just about every department, barring the goalkeeping. The second half was a bit brighter and yes, we did have some chances, but the harsh fact is our players couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo at the moment. The Pompey/Reading game averaged a goal every 8 minutes today. We have averaged a goal every 103 minutes so far this season – less than one per game. Today was dire and I make no apologies for such harsh criticism.
- The boo boys. I will never boo the team or any player in blue, no matter how treacherous or useless they are. I think the stewards should eject these idiots as they would someone chanting racial insults. To the boo boys this message – f*ck off, you are pathetic, low life, disloyal, amoeba-brained, pond life scum. The club and the real fans don’t want you. Leave our club and never return you arseholes.
- No Michael Essien or Shaun Wright-Phillips. I know I criticised Essien last week but boy did we miss his power and ball holding skills today, and Wright-Phillips would have had a field day down either side against an average defence at best.
- The atmosphere. I can compare this directly to Boxing Day against Fulham, which despite being 2-2 was electric, in a game that was a real rollercoaster. To be fair on the fans who did try to get the atmosphere a bit charged this was soon doused by both teams’ pathetic first half displays.
- The injury to John Terry. Aren’t flying elbows a red card offence, or are the refs saving them all for us? This could be bad, depending on the extent of the damage, but it could be 3 months I’m told if it’s really damaged, and then playing in a mask for a while similar to Gary Mabbutt when it happened to him. I know Terry hasn’t been as imperious of late due to his toe injury, but he still commands our defence and we’re always the poorer without him. If he’s out for a while though there may be one silver lining in that his toe will also heal and he won’t be stuffing cortisone into himself to play through the pain.
- Petr Cech: We’d be dead and buried without him – 8/10.
- Juliano Belletti: Poor compared to previous games, but still one of our better players. Which tells you a lot about today – 5/10.
- Tal Ben Haim: God help us if this piss-poor excuse for a defender is part of our future – 2/10.
- Ashley Cole: Not a patch on last week’s performance at Old Trafford, but again was one of the better ones – 5/10.
- Didier Drogba: He patently doesn’t like Shevchenko as you can plainly see when they team up as a strike force. Looked off the pace for the first half, got a silly yellow card for being gobby but played like a titan in the second half especially after Shevchenko departed. The red card was a real blow to any chance we had of scoring a goal – 6/10.
- John Terry: Played well even after the elbow incident, which proves to me what a hard bastard this man is. I mean he has a depressed cheekbone fracture for God’s sake! And that really hurts… a lot – 6/10.
- Steve Sidwell: A good game by everyone else’s standards, but to be fair I reckon I would have looked pretty good out there today – 7/10.
- Claude Makelele: I thought he should have been sold, but I’ll eat my words on this because today his experience was critical in keeping us in the game – 7/10.
- Joe Cole: A mercurial talent some might say. Today he was ineffective and maybe guilty of trying too hard. A blip (I hope!) – 4/10.
- Andriy Shevchenko: He gets 1 out of 10 for putting the right shirt on. He has had his chance, and apparently he has had his day. Andriy – retire and play golf. You are not good enough for my club – 1/10.
- Salomon Kalou: At times in the first half I thought I saw flashes of brilliance, spirit and intelligence. Sadly, the second half revealed the full extent of his ineptitude. Missed at least 4, maybe 5 sitters today and shuts his eyes when he heads the ball, which is rubbish. Only gets 2/10 by virtue of the fact that Malouda and Shevchenko were so bad they masked his many faults – 2/10.
- Florent Malouda (sub): Banish this pillock to the reserves until the window opens and then unceremoniously chuck him through it so that some other club can waste good money on his salary – 0/10.
- Claudio Pizarro (sub): The jury is well and truly out. Looks a bit bewildered by the pace of the Premier League but I saw enough to see a potentially good partnership with Drogba. His effort and work rate are what get him the comparatively high rating – 6/10.
- Alex (sub): A much better bet than Ben Haim. Looks confident and reassuring if a tad slow – 6/10.
- Overall team performance: 4/10 – Go on… disagree with me… I dare you.
Man of the Match
In any display as abject as today’s I would put the word “abstention” in here, but I’m feeling a little charitable so it goes to Steve Sidwell. It could have been Makelele, but for me Sidwell just edged it today. He was the only one who didn’t constantly make silly mistakes, kept a cool head, passed well, if a little too sideways like Ray Wilkins, but he’ll learn and adapt.
Me and my neighbour fans laughed and joked about how it felt like the old days again. But in the end it isn’t very funny and as we left the ground, no-one was laughing. The players look lost. At times today they looked like strangers to each other. The spirit is gone and any confidence boost from the Hull game was extinguished today like a cigarette butt in the men’s urinals. This is verging on a crisis and Avram Grant will have to perform near miracles to turn the ship around. Everything about his body language tells me he is no messiah and I couldn’t help wondering if The Special One would have found something to change in order for us to win the game. Let’s face it he did have a rather good record for turning things around.
The ship is not sinking, but it is listing badly. We now sit in 7th place 7 points behind Arsenal, having played a game more than them. We have a negative goal difference, the only team in the top 12 that has this unwanted statistic. Drogba is banned, Lampard is still injured, Carvalho only started training this week, Wright-Phillips is out, Essien is out, Obi Mikel is banned, Malouda doesn’t want to be at the club and Ballack is still nowhere near returning. Make no mistake this is as close to a crisis as we’ve seen for many years.
If this is taking the club forwards, then I must be living in a weird world where forwards actually means backwards. We are in reverse gear and even if all the big players come back in the next month the stark simple truth is we have already lost too much ground to make any impact on the Premier League title. At this rate we will struggle to qualify for the Champions League next year. Is that what the board wanted, UEFA Cup football at best? How will they spin this as an improvement I wonder? Is “bad” really the new “good”?