Chelsea 1 – 0 Reading

Match reports

The Times, Matt Hughes: “Grant’s team continued their dogged pursuit of Manchester United and Arsenal with a ninth successive victory in all competitions that equals the club record. Michael Ballack’s first-half header was all that separated the teams on the scoresheet, although in terms of ability the gap was wider than the grandest of canyons.”

The Guardian, David Hytner: “The win was Chelsea’s sixth in seven league matches and it featured examples of the free-flowing football that is craved by Roman Abramovich. The three points were the bottom line but Shaun Wright-Phillips’ and Joe Cole’s artistry in particular provided cheer and the gloss. This was a scoreline that deceived. Chelsea ought to have won by a handful.”

Daily Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “Somebody sometime is going to have to give Avram Grant his due. The Chelsea manager is assuredly no headline-writer’s dream, but it has taken his curiously muted method to produce a winning streak of nine games, equalling the club record. A ragged Reading restricted his side to only one goal, but if ever a scoreline lied it was here, as Chelsea – inspired by a revitalised Michael Ballack – delivered the type of stylish exhibition that looks set to stop Manchester United and Arsenal from streaking off into the sunset.”

The Independent, Jason Burt: “A performance rich in creativity – through a midfield triumvirate brilliantly marshalled by the indefatigable Claude Makelele – and intent.”

Official Chelsea FC Website: “A resilient Reading side managed to deprive Chelsea of the goals that seemed likely at the end of the first-half, but, the Blues will be happy to keep the gap to the top to only four points.”

The goal

32′ Ballack 1-0

The good

  1. Three points. With Arsenal cruising to an easy victory over Newcastle last night and Ronaldo kicking Portsmouth back to Fratton Park this evening, a win was vital to keep ourselves in the race.
  2. The possession. In some quarters, it is deemed as being nine tenths of the law; I’ve not seen our stats for tonight’s game, but we probably weren’t far off that. The first half was probably embarrassing if you were a Reading fan. In the build up to the goal, there seemed to be a five minute plus spell where Steve Coppell’s men might as well have been in the Shed Bar sipping pina coladas for all the bearing they had on the game.
  3. The football. In the first half, especially. We always looked dangerous going forward with some quick, clever passing and movement; the likes of Claude Makelele, Alex and Ricardo Carvalho worked hard off the ball and denied Reading any room to breathe, allowing Michael Ballack to pull the strings and Nicolas Anelka to lead the Reading defence around like the Pied Piper – a joy to watch.
  4. Nicolas Anelka. With the prospect of him and Didier Drogba together up front, I’m not surprised Spurs have started buying defenders. They could probably do with a few sandbags and trench shovels too.
  5. Liverpool – title challengers? In about the same way that I’m challenging Barack Obama for the hotseat in the White House.

The bad

  1. Well, the possession. In the first half at least, we should have had more goals than an evening with Ashley Cole has diced carrots. The feeling that we might pay for our profligacy grew stronger as the second half wore on and the legs tired. Pretty football is all well and good, but moral victories and critical plaudits are no substitute for silverware which tends to have a nasty habit of slipping away if you don’t score enough goals.
  2. The legs. Makelele, Ballack and Shaun Wright-Phillips ran their socks off tonight, and in the last twenty minutes or so it showed as our control of the midfield started to slip. Michael Essien, John Mikel Obi and Frank Lampard can’t come back soon enough to give the others some respite.
  3. Set pieces. Do we have some sort of aversion to taking decent corners? Julliano Belletti (when on the pitch, obviously) should be the man, because most of the rest struggle to beat the first man. On the other side of the coin, we seemed to give away too many free kicks in the second half – possibly tiredness as previously mentioned, but as we started to defend deeper and deeper things often became a little confused at the back. Reading were far too shabby to exploit it, others may not be.
  4. Joe Cole. Some sublime play from him tonight which should save him from a mention here, but Christ, he can be frustrating. Having beaten your man once, there really is no need to turn your back, pull another stepover and do it again. Delivering a final ball, possibly?
  5. Although Alex gave it a good go, nobody maimed Stephen Hunt. Boo!

Man of the Match

Somewhere between Ballack and Anelka. Too late to decide so I’ll leave it to you.

Final thoughts

Whatever Chelsea’s resolutions were thirty days ago, they have worked wonders. Eight wins out of eight this month, a club record equalling nine wins in all competitions and all with any number of key players missing. Our African Nations contingent will be away for a little while yet, but we’ve cleared a fair few hurdles thus far without any problems. With the two main challengers still to visit the Bridge – no – we couldn’t, could we? Given the lack of players at times, necessity has ultimately been the mother of invention; Grant’s next test is how he deals with the return of six or seven players from Africa and the treatment room. Credit to the likes of Wright-Phillips, Alex and Ballack who have all shone during the last month or so.

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