Chelsea 0 – 0 Liverpool

Match reports

Daily Telegraph, John Ley: “On an afternoon of missed opportunities for both sides, Liverpool can at least take solace from their first point away from home against any other of the Big Four under Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard also reaffirmed his ability to frustrate Chelsea’s ambitions as this draw prevented Avram Grant’s team from moving to within three points of the Premier League lead.”

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “This reopens the debate about Avram Grant, who has overseen a commendable set of results since he took over from Jose Mourinho in late September. Doubters who sneered that he had not been put properly to the test can now pump up their level of disdain.”

The Times, Matt Hughes: “What better way to puncture the Barclays Premier League’s overweening self-regard and plans for global domination than another turgid encounter between Chelsea and Liverpool? Their eighteenth meeting in 3½ years took what was already an attritional rivalry to new depths, the most entertaining moment of an utterly forgettable afternoon coming when Mike Riley, the referee, was upended by a loose pass from Javier Mascherano in the second half. No one in their right mind would so much as cross the road to watch a rerun of this particular fixture.”

The Independent, Glen Moore: “‘Roll up, roll up, come and see the amazing English Premier League: the greatest illusion on earth.'”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “Not a perfect result following Manchester City’s win at Old Trafford earlier in the afternoon.”

The good

Boy this is going to be a struggle. The game was a dire dish of dull dross which effectively ruined my afternoon, along with 41,777 others and the Sky Super Sunday team.

  1. The weather. A seriously lovely bright sunny day promised perfect conditions for two of the Premier League’s leading lights to dazzle everyone with a display of dynamic football. Just shows you can’t trust the weather to help.
  2. The applause for John Terry in the Sky TV box, and the chorus of “Who’s the fat bloke in the pink?” sung to the… err… fat bloke with the pink shirt on in said Sky TV box. He even gave us a cheery pose in acknowledgement of our song. That’s how bad the game was.
  3. That’s it. Such was the paucity of ‘skills’ on show I really can’t add any more. My pre-match kebab was nice though.

The bad

  1. Mike Riley. Undoubtedly the worst referee this season. The man has such an officious and pompous personality and attitude he could do so many other jobs brilliantly, like traffic warden, museum curate, health and safety or custom officer. Hell, he seems to have made it his life’s work to operate as a hybrid between Blackadder’s Captain Darling and Dad’s Army’s ARP Warden Hodges. I groaned when I saw the blackened windows of the Ford Galaxy pull up outside the East Stand and half expected it to be a delivery of Andriy Shevchenko and his 3-wood (apparently he hits it very well… so why not tie it to his boot?) only to see the grinning bald pate of uber-bureaucrat Riley step out. He was so bad I was at the point of pleading for Graham Poll to come out of retirement. He booked Julliano Belletti, presumably for accidental handball after two minutes, thus setting the tone for the rest of the game. That tone would be officious, barking mad at times, incompetent, fearful, ignorant, thick and idiotic. Utterly ruined the game with his constant whistle blowing which was so persistent I thought I’d landed on the Clangers’ home planet.
  2. The football. Despite Riley’s disastrous failings, the fayre offered by both teams wasn’t even worthy of being likened to “pub football”. Liverpool were rubbish – but we were even worse. Put it this way, the only save Pepe Reina had to make was from John Arne Riise’s back header, and that is shameful. The game was so bad, even the Liverpool fans were bored into hushed silence. As were we.
  3. The team selection… or more specifically the well intentioned but misguided selection of Frank Lampard. Yes, we’ve done well thus far under Avram Grant (as Sean Locke pointed out on Fighting Talk, a man so villainous looking that he ought to be riding on the back of a gondola made of skulls) but he bought Lampard straight back into the team and shoved Shaun Wright-Phillips out on the wing. Ashley Cole was preferred at left-back despite his head patently being elsewhere. No Wayne Bridge on the bench, yet bizarrely Tal Ben Haim was? This is why I have serious misgivings about him. At best Lampard should have been on the bench, but he waltzes back into a team that has performed near miracles without him, the balance was lost and here’s the rub… Michael Ballack only started to really play once Lampard went off. We have a potential Gerrard/Lampard conundrum here with Ballack/Lampard and I can’t see an easy or palatable answer unless they sort things out between them.
  4. The lost chance. With Manchester United losing to City we had a chance to turn the screw, but instead turned the screw on ourselves. An Arsenal win tomorrow puts the title out of sight for us, and in all probability for United as well. Grant’s record against the big boys, and yes Liverpool are still in that group, is decidedly shaky thus far. Arsenal must have watched that and been laughing like the Smash Martians.

Player ratings

  • Petr Cech: Had barely anything to do bar a last ditch dive at the feet of Dirk “Kung Fu” Kuyt – 7/10.
  • Juliano Belletti: Was run ragged several times and wasn’t the surging fullback that we’ve seen so often this season – 6/10.
  • Alex: Possibly our best player – 7.5/10.
  • Ashley Cole: Went missing so many times leaving Kuyt and Steven Gerrard to run the right wing I assumed he was shagging some kiss and tell chancer in the crowd – 5/10.
  • Ricardo Carvalho: Strangely subdued and lacking authority. Peter Crouch gave him a torrid time (as he did every Chelsea player) – 6/10.
  • Claude Makelele: From where I sat everyone thought he had a stinker, but I thought he was okay. Couldn’t distinguish red from blue with his passing though – 7/10.
  • Frank Lampard: Shouldn’t have started and is not captain material – 5/10.
  • Joe Cole: Pants. Dirty skid marked flapping grey Y-fronts. The worst Chelsea player by a long way… until Malouda came on – 4/10.
  • Michael Ballack: From Rolls Royce to Trabant in one week. All down to Lampard’s presence maybe? After Lampard went off he ran, tackled, passed and headed like the Ballack we’ve seen recently – 6/10.
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips: Shoved back to the wing and had some shocking moments of poor ball control, but to his credit didn’t allow bully boy Riise to get the upper hand – 6/10.
  • Nicolas Anelka: No service and ended up drifting to the right wing after Pizarro came on – under team orders… again making me question the capability of Grant to make the right changes – 7.5/10.
  • Florent Malouda (sub): I want to swear… but I won’t… oh sod it. He’s a fucking bottling, lazy, rubbish waste of space, money and time. Sell him in the summer – 3/10.
  • Claudio Pizarro (sub): Actually looked bright and tried to make things happen with some blocked shots. He must have sat on the bench and realised this game was so poor even he might have a chance to shine – 6.5/10.
  • John Mikel Obi (sub): Made a difference and maybe should have started. Calm, composed and controlled for the brief time he was on – 7/10.
  • Overall team performance: Abysmal. Rubbish. Piss-poor. I’m sure you all know even more adjectives – 5/10.

Man of the Match

God knows. In all honesty no-one deserves any award from this game. Unfortunately overall Liverpool had several contenders, with Gerrard and Crouch having good games. But for us… Alex, for being consistent and at least looking like he cared.

Final thoughts

First, Grant has successfully removed us from the back pages and the usual sting of tension and mutual loathing from bickering ex-lovers of Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez was missing. It showed big time, with a lack of atmosphere combined with amoeba-brained refereeing and woeful football resulting in possibly the worst game Sky have shown this season. How they must have wished the free flowing, exciting end to end Manchester derby hadn’t been railroaded into a lunchtime kick-off by the police.

Second, the game itself was probably slightly edged by Liverpool, who seemed more adept at passing and keeping possession as we conspired to give the ball away cheaply just about every time we had it. Gerrard had a very good game and bossed midfield, as did his team in general. On balance Liverpool had three or four good chances to win the game, with Crouch missing the left hand post of Cech’s goal in the first half by no more than three inches. However they were still pretty crap which makes our dismal performance, and lack of any shots on target even harder to swallow.

Third, what is most alarming for me is how our recent momentum has come to a juddering halt and our home performances are full of fear and hesitation, much like the last days of Mourinho’s reign. I hate to say this, but maybe the “home” record is now a millstone around our necks and needs to end in order for us to play without fear. Having said that, our next home game is against Derby, but assuming we beat Huddersfield then this will be postponed, which means we should have games in hand, which might for once be an advantage as we seek a strategy to see out the season and try to nick second place.

Lastly, to think the Premier League wants to sell this type of game abroad. Can you hear the potential bidders running for the exits? The only market they’ll find for this type of game is if they sell DVD’s of it as a cure for insomnia.

Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!

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