The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The shock must have been even greater than the shame. Chelsea are now suffering from an overload of disbelief. This, after all, was the first away victory of the season for opponents who were swamped 5-1 at Newcastle United a couple of weeks ago. Before anyone dwells on Chelsea’s defects and mistakes it should be emphasised that Sunderland performed to a high standard, with a sharpness of passing and movement that distressed the losers.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “This was the biggest defeat Chelsea have suffered since Roman Abramovich bought the club back in 2003 and changed the landscape of English football. It was as seismic as that. There was no John Terry, no Frank Lampard and no Michael Essien. But no excuses either. This was the day when the Rolls-Royce stalled.”
Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle, Dan Levene: “Stood alone on the touchline, robbed of his assistant and missing his injured captain, Carlo Ancelotti looked at times a desolate figure as his team crashed at home to lowly Sunderland.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “It was a Sunday shock at Stamford Bridge as the Blues fell to our worst home defeat since April 2002. The goals were the first conceded in 10 home league games and while the first two were good Sunderland play, the third was from that rarest of occurrences, an Ashley Cole mistake.”
Exclusives from the dead tree press have to be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt; anything that suggests ‘a source close to the deal’ has had quiet words with a friendly hack should be viewed with a degree of suspicion, even if the underlying story – our presumably inevitable change of address – carries a degree of truth. Earl’s Court would seem an ideal solution, but until such time as I see Roman in a hi-vis jacket and hard hat on the site sticking the first shovel in the ground, I’ll assume that we’re staying put.
Just when it was all running smoothly…
One has to wonder whether, somewhere in the depths of Stamford Bridge, there is a large red button labelled “DO NOT PRESS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES”. And just when everything seems to be going rather well, some fucker pushes it. It is the nature of Roman’s reign at Chelsea that every managerial departure or reshuffle gives rise to rumours of Machiavellian plots, subterfuge and stuff that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of ‘Spooks’.
That the latest departure was Chelsea stalwart and lovable smoothie Ray Wilkins has only added to the speculation; I suspect that very few people really know why he was removed so suddenly, and I’d wager that the compromise agreement he has probably signed means it will stay that way, but it seems a great shame (and a bigger puzzle) that such a decent guy with blue in his veins couldn’t be retained in some capacity.
I shall leave it to Leonard to summarise what Ray might be thinking right now (yes, I know he’s an ex-footballer and it’s more likely to be Lionel Richie, but a) this is a classy establishment and b) I have to pad things out somehow, OK?)…
I don’t really have the desire to relive that, either on TV or in writing, but suffice to say there probably isn’t enough bandwidth to cover what went wrong today; inability to retain the ball, poor passing when we had it, some suicidal defending and a bunch of players who looked like they’d met for the first time in the tunnel for long periods.
The problems, albeit that we should remember that many of them are hopefully temporary, go from backline to front. The forwards look leggy and uninspired; a defence without both JT and Alex is ripe for exploitation by any half-decent strike force and our midfield consists of players inexperienced, out of position and overall, a little out of their depth – Cattermole may be well on course to evolve into an angry looking giant phallus with a pair of tattooed fists protruding from the bell-end, but he had what we lacked today in spades.
That red button? It’s really time to leave it alone now, whoever you are.
- Petr Cech. Could have been an awful lot worse without the cat in the hat. Some inspired goalkeeping behind a defence with more holes than a teabag.
- Sunderland. One of the most assured, effective Premier League away team performances at the Bridge in ooh, probably the best part of a decade. The spanking they took at St. James’s Park a fortnight ago clearly gave rise to some plain speaking between the manager and the team; we could do with something similar happening at Cobham, and a bit sharpish.
- We’re still top. No, I’m not sure how either.
- Following a very agreeable lunch, I can heartily recommend a bottle of The Stump Jump Grenache / Shiraz / Mourvedre 2008 for your wine rack / cellar. Actually, given what came thereafter, I’d recommend a couple of bottles and don’t bother with the interim storage options.
- A performance that really stunk the place out. The makeshift defence / midfield didn’t particularly help, but if we’re really looking at expanding the capacity at the Bridge, you could probably have fit several thousand people in the space that Onuoha wandered through for the first goal.
- Another injury to JT. If it just keeps him out of another England friendly, no great loss. Any longer without him (and Alex) and we look like sitting ducks.
- Even longer without Frank and Essien – whose red against Fulham is now looking very costly indeed – the midfield is looking overwhelmed and undermanned in equal measure.
A random series of numbers from four through six and a lone seven. Rearrange yourselves as you see fit, as long as you give the top one to Big Pete. By way of guidance, there are probably more fours and fives than there are sixes, if you see what I mean.
Man of the Match
Petr Cech, and by some considerable distance. Ivan wasn’t too bad either.
The simple fact is we have too many key players injured and most of the ones that are making it onto the pitch look bereft of one or more of little things like fitness, confidence and form. Lampard, Terry and Essien form a large part of the team’s spine and the options from the bench, whilst promising, are inexperienced and clearly not yet trusted enough (although as has been noted, why not Bruma over Paulo? Very odd).
Coming next? Birmingham (a), Newcastle (a), Everton (h), Spurs (a) and United (h). Get through that little lot to find ourselves with any kind of lead at the top and we’ll be a) laughing and b) bloody fortunate on today’s evidence.
To bring matters to a conclusion on something resembling a positive note – God only knows we need one – if we can get our two midfield fulcrums back and playing together for a prolonged spell, the whole thing should work far better than it does now; talk of our system being found out is overreaction – we have new and bit-part players out of position in key roles and if we are to introduce young blood, it will never be a seamless, pain-free process and they will have to learn that sometimes you’ll be two down and chasing rather than two up and cruising. I have pairs of socks older than some of the players on the bench today, but if we believe that they have something then we need to give them a chance; we can’t keep filling the gaps with thirty-somethings on vast wages.
So, coincidence that the wheels fell off in the week when the apparent harmony down in SW6 went the way of the dodo? Maybe, maybe not. No-one in the top six places is really motoring at the moment and the fact that the team in third place is there having drawn more than half the games they have played speaks volumes.
Until we really hit the gas last season post Inter and Blackburn, the period from around December to March was littered with shaky performances, scraped draws, losses and the odd sparkling performance; Carlo presumably did something right to get us back on track and he did so in some style. That said, this is the first loss I can remember since United put three past us at home some eight years ago that feels like a worrying turn for the worse; natural pessimism, I hope, but ultimately it’s up to the man in the hot seat to do the same as he did last season and get the team fit, inspired and firing again.
The last word…