Sunday Telegraph, Gerry Cox: “Branislav Ivanovic came to Chelsea’s rescue as they beat Blackburn to record only their second win in ten Premier League games, and move back into the top four. Ivanovic opened the scoring just before the hour mark and set up an easy second goal for Nicolas Anelka to complete a double over Rovers. But it was hard work as Chelsea still looked far from their fluent best and failed to turn their territorial advantage into goals.”
The Observer, Paul Doyle: “This was not quite a return to form for Chelsea but it was an encouraging step in the right direction, albeit against a Blackburn side whose ability seemed as limited as their ambition.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “In October, goals from Nicolas Anelka and Branislav Ivanovic beat Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. In the return at the Bridge today it was the same scorers with only the order reversed.”
It’s taken me a few weeks to get there but I have finally got to a state of calm resignation during our most disappointing season since 1999. That was the season when the side containing Desailly, Leboeuf, Petrescu, di Matteo, Wise and Zola really should have won the Premeirship but cocked it up with three daft draws in April against Middlesbrough, Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday when we were neck-and-neck with Man Utd with games in hand.
But the debacle this season has been harder to live with because I never really expected Vialli to win it in 1999 while this year we have thrown it away when five points clear in October.
The reasons for our failure have been acutely analysed by many of the writers on here in previous games so I’m not going to go over that ground here. Like many other supporters I know, I have accepted that this will be a season of failure unless we do something in the Champions League and I am not too hopeful about that competition. But what I would like to see is that we use the remainder of the season to rebuild the side.
The old side fashioned by Jose on the JT-Lamps-Drogba spine is coming to the end of its natural life, if it has not already done so. Drogba has been a nightmare this season and I do not believe that we can rely on JT and Lamps – due to their recurring injuries – to be as influential as they have been over the past seven years. The same applies to Essien, who has never recovered from his time under the groping hands of the Ghana medics. What is more, we no longer have a goal-scoring machine (see below). Whether that is due to ailing or over-age players, or out-of-date tactics, we need to start bringing in new blood, starting now.
January reports suggesting that we are bidding for another centre-back with Benfica’s Luiz one name mentioned, are encouraging. But is Abramovich really going to part with serious money for someone good? Or are we going to see a cut-price replacement who will only add to the prevailing mediocrity? The fact that we seemed to be seriously bidding for the likes of Pienaar from Everton, or Godin from Atletico (who?) suggests the latter. In which case you can all expect a return to the really-close-we-almost-did-it-oh-if-only roller-coaster seasons we endured under Vialli and Ranieri ten years ago.
If Abramovich really has decided that no more serious money is going to be spent (and the new UEFA rules directed largely at English clubs may have enforced that decision) then we really are left with the youngsters. Logically, that means bringing on McEachran, Bruma, van Aanholt, Kakuta and some of the Youth Team players fast. So why the fuck are we allowing Mancienne to stay at Wolves on loan and Fabio Borini to be snapped up by the likes of Parma in mid-season, when neither of them have been given any kind of chance to prove themselves?
After yet another defeat to relegation candidates last time out I no longer expect home wins against the likes of Blackburn. We were very lucky to beat them in October at their place with that late winner from Ivan. They also have five of their recently missing first team returning, with Roque Santa Cruz back from Manchester City on the bench with a point or two to prove. A draw seems a very possible result to me and the bookies seem to agree: you can get 4-1 on that result today.
I am really hoping that the Daily Mail gossip is true and that Carlo is going to drop Essien and Drogba. Would be great to see Josh given another chance as a holding midfielder and Sturridge another game up front. Not because they played well against Ipswich (that result was meaningless) but because I want to see some evidence that we are going to MOVE ON and develop the team; not just keep floundering on with the same tired old players. But Carlo’s pre-match comments, in which he fantasizes about our winning 15 from our remaining 17 matches, don’t give me much room for hope.
So I immediately groaned when I saw the same-old same-old team selection: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivan, Cole, Ramires, Essien, Lamps, Anelka, Drogba, Malouda.
Subs: Turnbull, Bruma, Ferreira, Mikel, McEachran, Kalou, Sturridge.
Three of those players – Bosingwa, Essien and Drogba have been given the message: ‘No matter how crap you are you can still expect to be selected’ while another two – Sturridge and McEachran – have been given another message entirely. Something like: ‘Well done, lads, you have been playing really well, but I am going to persevere with the usual dross – but do keep on trying!”
The first half
We start off with the usual slick left-sided play with Ashley pushing up and Malouda, Lamps, Drogba and Anelka passing tippy-tappy style between them but no real end-product to show for it.
Ramires and Essien are the two holding midfielders (with Ramires roaming forward) and Lamps in front of them with Malouda and Anelka playing off him further up. For the first 15 minutes we dominate possession and territory, with Ramires hitting the bar 10 yards out but then, as so often this season, it all starts to unravel. Blackburn flood the midfield and we start giving the ball away, allowing them to counter-attack. In previous games that has usually been the prelude to our going 0-1 down. The fact that didn’t happen today was down to a) fierce tackling from Ramires (who forced Dunn off with an injury) and b) rock-solid performances from JT and Ivan. As for Essien, you wouldn’t have known he was on the pitch. Even so, first Hoilett and then Olsson nearly put them 0-1 up with two great shots that Cech just manages to keep out.
When we do force the ball up-field (Ramires doing most of the work) we keep breaking down in the final third with Drogba, Malouda, Anelka and Lamps unable to find each and so we keep giving the ball away. Ashley is being closed down but that leaves Bosingwa with a chance to go forward on the other wing but his crosses go nowhere, as do his two long-range shots. But, to be fair to him, when he does cross neither Drogba, nor Anelka, nor Malouda are to be seen in the penalty box. On 33 minutes Drogba is one-on-one with Robinson but takes ages to line up his shot before being dispossessed by Givet. He really is a pale shadow of the striker he once was.
But he does well to set Anelka up with another chance on 43′ and from his cross Nic diverts it across goal and onto the post. But the fact is we haven’t had a single shot on target in the first half. The 1-2-3-pass 1-2-3-strike goal machine that won us the Double last season just isn’t there any more.
Half time Chelsea 0 Blackburn 0.
The second half
The first thing I notice is that Malouda and Drogba are fighting a lot harder for the ball this half. So much so that Malouda could easily have got a red card for a two-footed tackle on Diouf. Did Carlo or JT give them each a bollocking in that dressing room, I wonder?
The second thing I notice is that JT is up playing like a support striker and driving everyone forward. He almost scores (twice) himself but his first is intercepted by their left-back, Salgado and his second goes just wide when he heads Lamps’ misplaced shot just wide. We still aren’t getting shots on target but we are playing with intensity, passion and fight.
Three minutes later and we are 1-0 up. Malouda finally manages to get a corner over on target, JT heads it across goal and Ivan, with four Blackburn players on him, somehow manages to knock it in.
Characteristically, having gone 1-0 up we start backing off and let Blackburn come on to us up-field. That tactic might have worked once, when Malouda, Anelka and Drogba were on top of their game and capable of scoring goals from swift counter-attacks but it isn’t working now. We have had about 11 attempts on goal now but only two of those have been on target. Lamps is also culpable: he is twice in on goal with only Robinson to beat but is dispossessed; and two more tame shots are easily saved.
On 75 minutes Drogba misses the easiest chance of the match. He anticipates Samba’s back pass, collects it, and, one-on-one with Robinson shoots straight at him. That was a chance he would have buried last season.
But straight from the corner we score again. Malouda again manages to put in a corner that is on target and, this time, Ivan powers a header in on goal which Nic diverts on with his calf. Thought that was going in anyway and Ivan should really have been credited with his second.
And here is another telling statistic: that is the first time we have gone 2-0 up in a league match since 23rd October.
On 79 minutes Carlo makes two substitutions. The first one: Josh for Essien, is at least 30 minutes overdue while the second one makes no sense at all: Kalou for Anelka. Why is Kalou on and not Sturridge? And why is Nic off and not Drogba?
Immediately, Josh starts up with his beautiful play: fierce tackling, wonderful turns, and silky passing and we look still more dangerous. He seems to be everywhere and anywhere in between our penalty area and theirs. In stark contrast to Essien, I will add.
Dan Sturridge is less successful. His forward runs end either in a hurried pass which loses possession, or in two shots that are well wide. But, then, if you only give the man 12 minutes to make a mark he is bound to be trying too hard. Which is why he needs more time on the pitch.
Even so, we end the match pouring forward at every opportunity with far more shots on target – mostly from Lamps and Malouda. It should have been 3-0 but Malouda’s fantastic drive from a set-up by Josh is just beaten out by Robinson.
Full time Chelsea 2 Blackburn 0.
- The second half showed an awful lot of desire and it is clear that Carlo has the team behind him and players who are willing to give everything they’ve got.
- Our first Premier League victory by more than a single goal in nearly three months.
- Another badly-needed three points as we struggle towards that top-four finish.
- We still looked disjointed, disorganized and mojo-less for a large part of the first half and for about 20 minutes half-way through the second. Our strikers are seriously off the pace when it comes to scoring and it is significant that our goals – and some of our best strikes – came from JT and Ivan.
- Still no Abramovich in the Directors’ Box. Has he given up on this club?
- Ramires was superb today and played exactly as Essien used to do a few seasons ago: tackling everything that moved, getting that ball back, and driving forward with it. A vital player in the new side we are (hopefully) rebuilding.
- Ivan. Scores one and sets up the other and still found time to smother Santa Cruz and Jason Roberts. What a player.
- McEachran. Only on for 15 minutes but excites me more and more.
- JT. An absolute colossus and if we do get anything out of this season then it will be due largely to him. Seems to me that he is the real Assistant Manager at this club. My Man of the Match.
- Cole, Lampard and Anelka. Thought they played OK without being outstanding. Lamps is some way off being 100% I think. But we do look a better side with him in the team.
- Drogba and Malouda. They didn’t do – on the pitch – what we want them to do, which is set up and score goals from open play. But both deserve a lot of credit for the fight they showed in the second half.
- Bosingwa. I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt. His crosses looked wayward at first glance but, then, if Drogba isn’t in position in the penalty box to receive then there there is little he can do about it. Another player who worked hard in the second half.
- Essien. Awful. Totally anonymous. If Carlo really thinks Josh McEachran isn’t ready for a full 90 minutes then he should at least give Essien’s place to John Obi Mikel.