Updated Tuesday, 3 January: Added the Wolves match reports and goal videos.
Well don’t I just get all the good ones? I have espoused this theory before but it’s often better to write in the pain of angst and misery than in the afterglow of a happy-clappy period. And we have hand wringing angst by the bucketload at the moment and judging by the comments we often see post any defeat, let alone a lacklustre shocker like we saw yesterday, I expect at least one or two comments on this piece of prose.
The festive period has been rather barren for us thus far with a thrilling 1-1 versus the loathsome Spurs when we as Big Time Charlies raised our game but then against a piss-poor Fulham on Boxing Day we sought to engineer an anodyne 1-1 draw. So with Villa being the worst team on the basis of current form I guess we could have expected to turn Mcleish’s dour outfit over in a decent confidence boosting home win.
Yes, that’s what us fee paying fans might have expected, however our diminishing superstar players blended with youthful potential had other thoughts…
Well, the first surprise for me was the selection of Drogba over Torres after Torres had put in a decent shift against Fulham and in fact for me was one of the few to take any credit from that game. And yes, I can hear the Drogba fans getting ready to berate me with the usual ‘He’s done so much for us’… ‘On his day he’s unplayable’… ‘Been great in cup finals’… etc etc. I’m not decrying the part he’s played previously but since Valencia he’s been as useful as a fireguard made of Christmas marzipan. But as any fule kno’ I am not a football coach or even an expert. I am like each and everyone of you, a fan… a fan who has great gifts of hindsight and a typically blue tinted view of things. So AVB picks Drogba with relentless faith much like Sven did with Heskey. Any similarity is entirely intentional such is my feeling with Drogba at the moment. And not just Drogba, but Malouda as well, and to some albeit lesser degree Cole, Cech and Lampard. I’m even warming to the idea of Kalou being given more chances because no matter how many times he uses the blind alley gambit, at least the man puts some effort into it.
The first half was dull beyond belief punctuated by a nailed on penalty being awarded to us for once. We played pretty football for sure, and Villa for the most part were camped in their own half. But as with Wigan and Fulham we couldn’t capitalise on it with nothing but half chances being created. The bus was parked but as per usual we had no way of getting round it. Drogba scored from the spot but it was a close thing. Guzan was very close to stopping it, but close is nothing in the world of goalkeeping. 1-0, and we had reached what is rapidly becoming our Achilles heel score. A scoreline we just can’t keep intact. We either kick on or let the opposition back in. It was fairly obvious what was most likely in this case.
Within four minutes, Villa with just about their first meaningful foray scored an equaliser amoongst shambolic defending and goalkeeping. Fair play to Stephen Ireland, who had been pictured on Twitter topless with a drink in one hand and a shisha pipe in the other, he certainly didn’t do a ‘Chelsea’ and fluff his chance. 1-1 and for some it would usually mean game on. More and more for us it means game over. Am I alone in finding it odd that our best performances have come when we’ve been behind?
That was just about the only two things worthy of comment in the first half. It was so dull the half time whistle damn near woke me up.
And so, on to the second half. A few of the fans near my seat were chatting and the concensus was we deserved a hatful of goals at the Matthew Harding Upper end of the ground. And sure enough both teams had possibly had some Red Bull at half time because the second half started brighter and then after 10 minutes slid back to a training game. Fifteen minutes in and AVB brings Lampard on for Romeu followed quickly by Torres for Sturridge. And now with the great gift of hindsight everyone will no doubt start slating AVB for tactical naivety, and judging by the lack of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ chants both changes were met with approval. And I can see the logic. Villa were offering little and seemed to be settling for the draw, a holding midfielder substituted for the best midfielder in England for the last six years to increase the chance of a win. The hard working but unlucky Torres on for Sturridge who had been labouring and maybe limping slightly. Tactical naivety? My arse! These were bold moves that 99 times from a 100 would have tipped the game in our favour. Torres first real touch was a 25 yard screamer of a shot tipped onto the bar by stand-in Guzan. Oh to have someone like him providing real competition for Cech.
At last we started to really threaten and to be fair the whole team seemed lifted, but sadly it was temporary and by the time the much improved Bosingwa came on for faithful steed Ferreira we had fallen back into ponderous apathy. And every now and then there was a small spark from Villa suggesting they might have spotted a chink in our armour of arrogance. That chink transpired to be a dreadful bit of defending from the up till then impressive Luiz and Terry, who both managed to exercise their Gallifreyan perception filters by ignoring Petrov who picked a through ball from Clark to slot home ruthlessly. If it’s about efficiency then we really need to be worried because Villa apparently had nine shots on target (one splendidly saved by Cech which looked a banker). To our five. They had three off target to our 11. They scored three – we scored one. Even at 2-1 you might have expected an onslaught on the Villa goal. What we got was misplaced passes, poor crosses, unforced errors. Then the second chink appeared. Sadly it was a horror show to beat Malodua’s back pass to JT against Arsenal. The rapidly diminishing powers of Lampard are almost too painful to watch. Yes, he’s a great player, yes he’s the best penalty taker, and yes he had a corker versus Bolton. But since then it’s been anonymity bar the penalty versus City (who like United have also been at home to Captain Cock Up as I write this). Do we sell him? Yes if he refuses to accept his place is now firmly as a squad player. If he acknowledges this then no, don’t sell him. He’d be an inspiration to the likes of Josh and Romeu and any number of Academy fledglings. He could start the process of doing his badges and look to be part of the coaching set up. He’d still be massively useful to us, but unless his form turns around then I don’t see him getting an automatic start. The sidways pass was as Cunningplan stated in the comments, a very nice belated Xmas gift and Ireland gratefully accepted it and passed it on to Bent just back from injury. Yes, Darren Bent, a much maligned striker who guess what… scores goals. And scores them wherever he goes. Of course I’m sure a lot of you would immediately say he’s not good enough for us. I mean what do we want a striker who scores goals for when we have Unlucky Alf (Torres) in the squad or Drogba who didn’t win a single header versus Collins or Dunn yesterday, constantly failed to make a pass, tried tricks he’s not good enough to do and gave away possession constantly.
3-1 on 87 minutes. Game not just over, but dead and buried.
- The decline of Frank Lampard. His pass for Villa’s third was utter cuntery personified.
- The decline of Petr Cech.
- The decline of Didier Drogba.
- Drogba’s awful free kicks. Who lets him persevere?
- The constant misfortune of Fernando Torres.
- The return to piss-poor form of Ashley Cole.
- The first real poor showing of Meireles.
- The sheer boredom of our play.
- The over reliance on Mata to do everything.
- Romeu’s consistency.
- Ramires returning from suspension.
- The constant improvement of Bosingwa
- A small sign of confidence from Torres.
- The fact that Torres came on and went straight into the striker’s central position.
- David Luiz who had a splendid game bar the joint cock up for Villa’s second with JT.
Man of the Match
Overall it’s probably Stephen Ireland who was a constant pain. For us I’m probably thinking the tireless Juan Mata was our best.
Well, AVB is learning fast that certain players are in decline, but he’s just not managing it well enough for me. The talk of Josh going on loan is laughable because for me he’d fit perfectly into a team struggling to master the art of passing with meaning. But the word is he has the backing of the people that count, no doubt realising that sacking another coach and keeping the slow and lumbering old guard is not the answer. Managing decline as Thatcher found out with Liverpool (the city not the club, King Kenny will see that job out) is never easy. If we get one or two signings in January to tide us over and bolster the squad defensively and maybe a genuine creative midfielder to match Mata then third or fourth is still on. The only real winners this weekend are Arsenal and if Van Persie gets an injury then they’re buggered.
On the AVB front it may be plausible to blame him for yesterday but many would argue that yesterday’s team was strong one on paper and tactically we looked OK. If the players aren’t performing because they don’t like him then tough. I’m sure many don’t ‘like’ Ferguson, Wenger, Redknapp or Mancini but they don’t seem to suffer the same apathy and lack of passion we’re seeing. I’m rather tired of people saying the players need inspiring. Really? After seeing the United result? That wasn’t motivating and inspiring enough then? And what about playing for the club who pays their wages? Or for the thousands of fans who go week in and week out?
I want to see us succeed and of course sacking the coach would be one option. Leading us to who? Guus Hiddink, a man disinterested in club football with a heart condition aged in his mid sixties is hardly the recipe for the long term future. As grateful as I am for his Red Adair job after Scolari I just don’t see him being a viable option. So who does that leave? Not many I’m afraid. Mark Hughes? David Moyes?
I think it’s better the devil you know. After all Ferguson was given six years before becoming the greatest manager football has ever seen. How do we know AVB won’t be our Ferguson?
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The newspaper reports
The Sunday Telegraph, Jonathan Liew: “This time last year, Andre Villas-Boas could do no wrong. His Porto side were cruising to the Portuguese title and he was being feted as the finest young manager in Europe. Now he stands on the verge of ridicule. His Premier League title ambitions are gone, his team are the third best in London and were booed off the pitch by their own supporters. For the first time in his short career, this prodigious talent is meeting with the prospect of disaster.”
The Observer, Dominic Fifield : “Chelsea’s season continues to unravel around them. Andre Villas-Boas and his players limp into the new year with the scrutiny intensifying on a young manager and an imbalanced squad with every stumble. The boos that greeted the final whistle here were an indication the locals have yet to spy much evidence of progress under the new regime. Chelsea already loitered on the fringes of the title race, but now they have even been cast from the top four.”
The Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “The lead provided by Didier Drogba’s penalty midway through the first half lasted no more than six minutes and Aston Villa broke out to score twice more and collect their first victory in this ground since Claudio Ranieri’s day. Much water and several managers have flown under the Bridge since 2002, yet Chelsea are currently swimming against the tide. An afternoon that began with jeering celebrations at news of Manchester United’s defeat ended with one of their own and ejection from the top four places by Arsenal. However much patience may or may not be extended towards the latest manager, a failure to qualify for the Champions’ League will hardly be tolerated.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Having taken the lead through a Didier Drogba penalty, it is a bad end to 2011 as Aston Villa level only minutes later before scoring twice late in the game. Stephen Ireland made it 1-1 at the break but the Blues were looking the more threatening in the second half, particularly after the introduction of Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres, who hit the bar, but when Stiliyan Petrov gave the visitors the lead with eight minutes remaining it was always going to be an uphill task. Darren Bent scored the killer third goal three minutes later and the points were secure for Villa.”
Premier League: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-2 Chelsea
The newspaper reports
The Guardian, Stuart James : “The pain was short-lived for Andre Villas‑Boas. Moments after the Chelsea manager threatened to kick over the drink bottles in the technical area in a fit of pique, following Stephen Ward’s late equaliser for Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Portuguese was celebrating a restorative victory courtesy of a vintage Frank Lampard goal in the 89th minute that should help to relieve some of the pressure.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “It was a day that began with another story about the rift between Villas-Boas and senior players at Chelsea, one which prompted an indignant denial from the manager. It ended with the pressure being lifted from Villas-Boas by Lampard’s goal. And along the way there were a few subplots that made this another fascinating day in the development of Chelsea under Villas-Boas.”
The Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “When Wolves had scored, Villas-Boas’s frustration was obvious but he pulled back from kicking a row of water bottles. Another equalising goal and he would have attempted to launch those bottles over the stand instead of saying, “it was good to see the team react to a negative” following the “incompetent” defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday and, before that, the draws that had hit belief and rekindled stories of player unrest.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Frank Lampard was the Chelsea hero, scoring two minutes from time to put us back on winning ways. Following a first half more notable for its bookings than goal-mouth action, although Wolves did hit the post, Ramires had given the Blues the lead early in the second period with an instinctive finish but then we conceded a goal in the last 10 minutes for the 10th time in this league season, Stephen Ward scoring. Chelsea had been on top which made it all the more of a blow but Andre Villas-Boas’s team held their nerve to go back in front again with a crisp passing move, converted inside the six-yard box. It still needed Cech to come to the rescue at the end to put smiles back on Chelsea faces.”
Thanks to Mark for the photo.
Normal service will resume soon.