Daily Telegraph, John Ley: “If Chelsea win the Premier League title they should dismantle the goal at the Shed End of Stamford Bridge and resurrect it in their club museum, alongside Jose Mourinho’s raincoat and Peter Osgood’s shirt, as a standing memorial to the day it earned them three of their most valuable points.”
The Times: “With a five-point lead and only six matches left, the title is United’s to lose, with Chelsea showing little sign of prising the trophy from their grasp. Avram Grant’s team will have to raise their game to previously unattained levels if they are to be victorious in the must-win home match against United on April 26, while a repeat of this poor performance could lead to defeat in any of their other five games.”
The Independent, Jason Burt: “The blind panic which appeared to seize Chelsea in the final 20 minutes was astonishing. Set-pieces, for them, have suddenly provoked a Pavlovian response of imitating headless chickens. The introduction of Alves, until now a £12m misfit for Boro, seemed to trigger something in the visitors which unsettled the home side to such an extent that Grant was stood with his arms outstretched imploring the referee to blow the final whistle.”
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Had Afonso Alves brought the form that inflated his transfer fee as a potent scorer in the Dutch league to England, then the home side’s game of catch-up might have been rendered hopeless.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Ricardo Carvalho’s first goal of the season was enough for victory although Chelsea were almost made to pay for missed chances as Middlesbrough hit woodwork three times late on.”
- Three points. A win that keeps pressure on Manchester United, who remain five points clear at the top of the table with six games remaining. I doubt they’re quaking in their expensive boots after this pathetic display, though.
- Ricardo Carvalho. Scored his first Premier League goal in almost a year on his 150th appearance – his last goal was a 35 yarder against Spurs. He ended the match with yet another large bump on his forehead after a sickening clash of heads with Middlesbrough’s Sanli Tuncay. They must be made of stern stuff in Portugal. Unarguably our best and most consistent defender.
- Joe Cole. The only bright spark in an otherwise dull affair. I sometimes feel he’s wasted out on the wing.
- The performance. Ponderous, miserable and unexciting. The old cliché about players being hungover after an international break doesn’t wash. Just look what United did to Aston Villa with a day less to recover and prepare. It’s a feeble excuse and I hope no-one thinks to use it.
- Avram Grant’s substitutions. Michael Ballack wasn’t having the best of games, but replacing him with Shaun Wright-Phillips (admittedly it nearly paid off, if only Wright-Phillips could shoot) allowed Boro to control the midfield. Clearly Grant hasn’t learnt anything in recent weeks because he then proceeded to put Nicolas Anelka out on the wing in place of Salomon Kalou (who continues to frustrate). Baffling. There’s little doubt in my mind that last weekend’s successful tactical substitutions against Arsenal were an anomaly.
- Carlo Cudicini’s moment of David James-esque madness. Fortunately for us the resulting chance fell to a striker who made his name in Dutch football. Okay, that was unfair – Alfonso Alves does look a bit useful and on another day could have scored at least two. Thankfully luck was on our side and he hit the woodwork on both occasions. Lucky, lucky Chelsea. And Grant.
- Juliano Belletti. Defensively he was all over the place. Stewart Downing, who might just be the most over-rated player in the league, failed to take advantage. Fellow full-back Wayne Bridge also looked a bit rusty.
- Carlo Cudicini: Commanding in the air but let down by a moment of madness – 5.5/10.
- Juliano Belletti: Good dead ball delivery, bad defending – 4/10.
- John Terry: Looks awkward when running and jumping for the ball – 6/10
- Wayne Bridge: Not had enough playing time in recent weeks – 5/10.
- Ricardo Carvalho: Scored and was consistent – 7/10.
- John Mikel Obi: Good to see him back. Composed – 7/10.
- Michael Essien: One too many misplaced passes – 5.5/10.
- Michael Ballack: Wasn’t his usual commanding self – 5.5/10.
- Joe Cole: Better than the rest. Probably would have got Man of the Match but for Carvalho’s goal – 7/10.
- Salomon Kalou: Still frustrating – 5/10.
- Didier Drogba: His perfectly honed physique belies the fact that he’s a big girl’s blouse at times – 5.5/10.
- Shaun Wright-Phillips (sub): Almost made an immediate impact but lacks composure. His introduction in place of Ballack allowed Boro to seize the initiative – 6/10.
- Nicolas Anelka (sub): Wasted on the wing – 5/10.
- Alex (sub): Grant was getting desperate and went five at the back – 5/10.
Man of the Match
Ricardo Carvalho. He played well for the majority of the 90 minutes and scored a vital goal which keeps alive our slender hopes of winning the title.
From the Guardian: “What an odd team Chelsea are. There seems no reason why they shouldn’t be capable of passing through teams, and carving out chances at will, but they play this stilted, formulaic, prosaic stuff that is just miserable to watch. There’s no vim, no vigour, and a real lack of spark, which is crazy when you consider the players Grant has at his disposal. Do they just struggle to get ‘up’ for these relatively low-key fixtures? The thing is they’re certainly capable of beating United, and could even sneak the title. One thing is for sure, it won’t be pretty.”
I’ll leave you with this: if both teams win their next three games United would have the chance not only to break our four year undefeated home record but to win the Premier League at the Bridge. It doesn’t bare thinking about. Goodnight.