The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The contest for the Premier League title may have acquired a little more life, but there was no drama in Chelsea’s advance to within four points of the leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand. Their opponents seemed to expect little of themselves. That attitude does, of course, contain its measure of realism. Manchester City have won just a single away game in the League this season.”
Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “A gap of four points and one game to Manchester United may still prove decisive but, unlike Liverpool, Chelsea have an abundance of players with the experience of winning a Premier League title. In Hiddink, they also have a manager with the stature to rival Ferguson and the Dutchman was canny enough yesterday to cast himself as the underdog while deflecting any pressure in the direction of Old Trafford. “It’s clear that after Saturday’s unexpected result that the tension has come back in the league,” said Hiddink. “It gives a blow. It depends on their calmness if it goes on. When you are in the driver’s seat and someone else is coming, you can get a little bit nervous. The door is a little bit open.””
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Guus Hiddink’s way of describing Chelsea’s pursuit of Manchester United in the title race was to declare yesterday that Sir Alex Ferguson was in the driver’s seat but that he must be “nervous” someone was behind him. To extend the metaphor a little further, let us imagine that in Ferguson’s rear-view mirror he can see a portly yet composed Dutchman, astride his beloved Harley-Davidson and accelerating gently.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “Manchester City’s owners are discovering the hard way that the most important ingredients in a team are those that money cannot buy. Commitment, teamwork and organisation were all displayed by Chelsea yesterday as they re-established their foothold in the title race, but for the visiting team such qualities were nowhere to be seen.”
Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “A sixth win in seven Guus Hiddink games moved Chelsea back into second place of the Barclays Premier League on Sunday.”
Guus Hiddink made two changes to the side which drew in Turin on Tuesday. Ricardo Carvalho replaced Alex at centre-back, while Deco came in for John Obi Mikel to make his first start under Hiddink.
Statistics pointed to a win. We were on a run of seven straight wins against Manchester City and had scored 18 goals without reply, including a 6-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge last season. The last time we’d lost to City at the Bridge was in the first Premier League game between the two sides in 1993. Mark Hughes’ team also hadn’t won a game away from Eastlands since defeating Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in August.
Bookmakers made City 10/1 to win the game.
The sun was shining. The beer was flowing.
- The performance. It was the perfect antidote to the roller-coaster madness of the midweek Champions League encounter against Juventus. Composed, slick and for the most part, very impressive. From the outset it was clear there was only going to be one winner. City looked aimless as we passed the ball around and through them with ease. Frank Lampard and the two Michaels, Essien and Ballack, lorded it over City’s midfield, which got increasingly frustrated (Brazilian players obviously don’t like to be made to look ordinary). Drogba harried and hassled City’s central defensive partnership of Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha, and Petr Cech stood and admired it all from afar. City had their moments of course, but in the main they were outfought and outplayed by a team on the up.
- Michael Essien. What a player. Phil Scolari said that a fit Essien would be like having “five new players”. He knew a bit, that Phil. In what was only his second full game since returning from six months out with a serious knee injury, and his first in the league, Essien put in a vintage performance of power, pace and no little skill. He scored his second goal in four days after some quick thinking from Lampard and some atrocious defending from City left him in acres of space on the 18 yard line to turn and sweep the ball off his shin past a helpless Shay Given. He went on to have several more attempts at goal. There are very few players like him. Thank goodness he’s ours.
- Frank Lampard. His vision, speed of thought and range of passing never ceases to amaze me. Time and again he made me shake my head in wonder. He wasn’t at his best either, a couple of simpler passes went astray and his shooting was poor by his own high standards – but all in all it was another impressive demonstration of attacking midfield play.
- There probably should be more in this section, but my alcohol-addled brain is having difficulties recalling the match (I stayed in the pub to watch England thrash France in the Six Nations. I’m paying for it).
- We weren’t ruthless enough in front of goal. We should’ve taken advantage of playing poor opposition. It’s unlikely that the destination of the title will be decided on goal difference, but if the the unthinkable does happen we’ll look back on this game as a missed opportunity to better Manchester United’s GD figure.
- Manchester City. What a load of rubbish. Mark Hughes spent £90m on players last summer and tens of millions more in the January transfer window (not forgetting the £100m or more they offered for Kaka. Can you imagine Kaka playing alongside the rabble Hughes fielded in this game?). A few of those players were missing today, but that doesn’t excuse what was a passionless and at times pathetic performance, occasionally no better than a Sunday morning pub league team (at least The Royal Oak first eleven care enough to give it a go, unlike Robinho). On the evidence of this season it’s clear that the world’s richest club are many, many years from being a force in the Premier League. They remain just six points clear of the relegation zone so could yet find themselves in trouble. The likes of David Villa et al would have to be mad or incredibly greedy to sign for them. I can’t see Hughes being in charge next season.
- Robinho. £90,000 net a week. What a waste of money. Okay, just kidding. Sort of. Seriously though, he made Drogba’s lacklustre performances under Scolari look world class. He was fortunate to remain on the field as long as he did. Hughes blamed the sunshine.
Rated out of one hundred using the hexadecimal number system. Click on the rating to see the decimal equivalent in a new browser window.
- Petr Cech – 0x4116 – Had next to nothing to do all match. Made a couple of routine saves.
- Jose Bosingwa – 0x4616 – Provided the width which was missing from the midfield diamond. Found his crossing boots after the break.
- John Terry – 0x4616 – One late tackle on Elano apart, he was untroubled throughout. Cleared practically every ball that came near him.
- Ricardo Carvalho – 0x4616 – Played 90 minutes for the first time since returning from long-term injury. Breezed through the match. Made a couple of timely interceptions. Still one of the best.
- Ashley Cole – 0x4616 – Another solid demonstration of full-back play.
- Deco – 0x3C16 – Lasted 40 minutes before succumbing to injury. Started brightly enough but was soon on the fringes of the game. Was replaced by Juliano Belletti. Hiddink hinted after the game that he could be out for the rest of the season after a recurrence of a hamstring injury.
- Michael Essien – 0x5A16 – An awesome performance. Scored his second goal in four days. Man of the Match. You have to feel for John Obi Mikel.
- Frank Lampard – 0x5016 – A couple of passes went astray and he didn’t have his shooting boots on, but he more than made up for it with his all round performance. I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again, he just seems to be getting better with age.
- Michael Ballack – 0x4616 – A controlling influence in midfield. Played in a more withdrawn role than in recent games. It’s a shame he lost his footing at the vital moment after Drogba’s excellent back-heeled pass.
- Nicolas Anelka – 0x4B16 – Played wide right in the first half. Did well. Tackled back when required. Works a lot harder than you think. Switched to play the lone striker when Drogba was forced off with an injury.
- Didier Drogba – 0x4B16 – Didn’t quite reach the heights of recent weeks but had a good game nonetheless. Still spends a little too much time on the deck for my liking. Let’s hope the injury he suffered is minor.
- Juliano Belletti (sub) – 0x4616 – Replaced the injured Deco before half time. Unlucky not to score with one of his long range specials which hit the inside of Given’s post. Shoooooot!
- Florent Malouda (sub) – 0x4116 – Pretty good during his brief cameo. Had two decent efforts on goal.
Man of the Match
Michael Essien. I feel I’ve already used enough superlatives to describe his performance. He was our best player by some distance. That’s it in a nutshell.
Oh, sod it. He was fucking magnificent.
That’s eight wins and one draw since Scolari was shown the door at the beginning of February. Hiddink has guided us to six of those victories and remains unbeaten in the league with four wins out of four. It’s a shame he won’t be our manager next season.
Liverpool’s humiliation of United at Old Trafford yesterday has at least made the title race that little bit more exciting. If United win their game in hand they would have a seven point lead with nine games to play, which isn’t insurmountable (pundits and Arsenal fans talk of the Gunners overhauling United’s 11 point lead in the 1997/98 season, but if memory serves me correctly Arsenal had at least two if not three games in hand on United that year). If we win all our remaining games (not out of the question; our run-in looks to be the easiest of the three clubs) United would have to lose at least two and draw another. It seems unlikely that a team of their calibre and experience would throw the title away at this late stage, but stranger things have happened in this great game.
I’m not getting my hopes up. To be honest I would be happy to finish in the top three to ensure entry into the Champions League without having to go through the pre-season qualifying round. It would give Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke* a great platform on which to start building for next season.
Keep the blue flag flying high.
*or whoever ends up being our next manager. My money’s still on Zola and Clarke.