The Guardian, David Hytner: "If only every home game could be as straight forward as this for Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Chelsea manager may find the concept of football on Boxing Day strange, but his players were never in danger of seeing their struggles at Stamford Bridge continue as they took a nonchalant step towards an upturn in form."
Daily Telegraph, John Ley: "New look, fresh hope. Didier Drogba started with Nicolas Anelka for the first time under Luiz Felipe Scolari and responded with his first league goal since March as Chelsea strolled to victory over doomed West Bromwich Albion."
The Times, Matt Hughes: "Luiz Felipe Scolari may not take kindly to the comparison, but this felt like a throwback to the days when José Mourinho was in charge. Chelsea dominated from start to finish against limited opponents to move briefly back to the top of the table, without quickening the pulse. A derby match against Fulham tomorrow should present the Brazilian with a greater insight into the English tradition of festive football."
The Independent, Conrad Leach: "If Chelsea had suffered a slight bout of pre-Christmas indigestion, drawing at Everton on Monday and having John Terry sent off for his much-discussed red card, then West Bromwich Albion turned out to be the perfect palliative. It only took Didier Drogba, starting his first game since mid-November, three minutes to score Chelsea’s first goal and thereafter they were in complete and utter control and on their way to their first home League win since 1 November and the 5-0 rout of Sunderland."
Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: "There was Christmas cheer for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, as goals from Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard earned a 2-0 win."
As I sit here slumped in front of the PC, suffering the ravages of way too much Gin and Bitter Lemon last night… damn that Bitter Lemon, it always gives me a real headache the next day… in the distance I see a glimmer of hope, a warm and welcoming light that will envelope me and lead me back to physical normality and remove the pain of over indulgence. This light will also shroud me in the lovely warm glow of a Boxing Day home victory which might just lead to some restoration of normality with our form at Stamford Bridge. Because that’s what we’ve been suffering at our beloved home, a long drawn out hangover since defeat by the loathsome Liverpool. And with the right treatment, love, care and attention even the worst hangovers eventually disappear. Yesterday was a good day to watch football.
Just what we always wanted
- Jose Bosingwa. Gets regular mentions here but until his replacement by an equally spritely and seemingly re-born Juliano Belletti he terrorised West Brom down the right hand side. I hope the change was tactical or precautionary and not a bad injury.
- Petr Cech. Had little to do in reality but dealt with every cross superbly, another big improvement from lazy year and is looking increasingly like a better version of Peter Schmeichel in bossing his area and getting the ball back out quickly.
- Joe Cole. His best game for a while and his cross for the first goal was sublime. He tormented the West Brom back line with his jinks and runs and although he was once again substituted (unnecessarily in my view) for the uninspiring Deco, he had been very good.
- Ashley Cole. Should have had a goal on his 100th appearance for us (does that make him a veteran?) and if Scott Carson hadn’t made a wonderful finger tip save to push the ball onto the post then he would have been celebrating a superb strike. Easily the best left-back in the country.
- Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. Both started and as picked out on Match of the Day the fact that both can skulk around the box gives teams a real headache on who to mark. Drogba scored a header that frankly only he is capable of and should have had at least three goals. Anelka held the ball up, drifted to the wings linking with Joe, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack and had some decent shots on goal. In one mazy run he set Drogba up with a gift of a chance that should have been smashed home but Carson had found his lucky pants at that moment.
- The midfield. Deco-less and all the smoother for it. Ballack, who had a subdued first half linked nicely with all around him, but especially with Frank who looked sharper today than recently, although was guilty of a couple of missed chances and one sitter that he should have smashed home. John Mikel Obi was the usual calmness personified. Deco looks all the more like a luxury player after the display yesterday.
- Branislav Ivanovic. Quite simply this guy is fan-bloody-tastic and if anyone disagrees then they are football knowledge free zones. Any other side would love this bloke in their back four. With Alex playing a good solid game Ivanovic was superb in the tackle and even managed to run to the by-line and get a cross in that should have been converted. Superb and will be knocking on the door of a regular start without question.
- Rob Styles. A man who can sometimes make Mike Riley look half competent seemed to enjoy the game. Just one booking for Ballack because his hair got messed up and with another ref might have got a red for raising his hand. Styles just seemed to smile, tell Ballack to grow up and let the game continue. I don’t often praise refs, but Styles deserves credit for allowing the game to flow.
- The Shed. For one of the most determined and decent outbursts of singing I’ve heard for some time at the Bridge. If you were there then pat yourself on the back. Matthew Harding Stand, hang your heads in shame.
The Christmas turkeys
- Deco. Came on once again for Joe Cole who had barely put a foot wrong. The applause was for Joe going off and not for Deco coming on. He has a long way to go to win the Stamford Bridge crowd over. I don’t remember a decent chance coming from anything he did.
- Florent Malouda. Came on for Drogba which is laughable. Salomon Kalou I can accept but you might as well bring me on for Drogba. Malouda then conspired to not touch the ball for the first five minutes and to add insult to that he didn’t run for anything either. When he did decide to grace the game with some effort, as per usual he managed to mis-pass the ball and was… well generally useless until the final whistle bar one shot at goal and one nice link up with Belletti.
- West Brom. A nice club with some decent fans and despite obvious limitations a nice approach to the game that doesn’t just involve lumping long balls up field. However if they are to stay in the Premier League then they need to forget ‘nice’ and be a bit nasty and direct. It served Bolton well for years and that is unfortunately going to be the only way they survive. Once more sadly… boing boing…. Relegated.
- No goals in front of the Matthew Harding Stand again! In the Premier League we haven’t see a goal since Sunderland which was so long ago I reckon I had a t-shirt and shorts on that day. Is it something we said?
- Frank Lampard’s misses. No not his actual Mrs! I’m sure she’s not a turkey (and no jokes about gobbling here please) but he had more chances today than for quite some time and we might have seen a hat-trick had Santa delivered some shooting boots. His second half miss when he conspired to lob the ball tamely at Carson with just him to beat was laughable.
- A small quibble… but I made a discovery about my seat. As we pass the winter solstice it seems my seat is in the perfect December sun trap. The sun over the West Stand is positioned nicely above the roof of that but below the Matthew Harding Lower roof. I got slightly sunburnt yesterday despite the low temperature, plus spent the first half shielding my eyes. A good day for no cap! The guy in front of me improvised beautifully by tearing a page from his programme and installing it under his fluorescent yellow beanie hat. I would have done the same but I’m too tight to buy the programmes.
The unwelcome relatives
- The doorbell rang, tentatively the door was answered and on came Deco and Malouda. Just like the mad aunt arriving who eats all your food, drinks all the booze, doesn’t flush the loo and takes her presents and doesn’t bring anything to the party. But she’s family isn’t she? So you have to put up with it.
Player ratings – from me alone with no assistance from any of my eagle eyed assistants!
- Petr Cech – 8/10 – Safe hands, great distribution and back to his best.
- Jose Bosingwa – 8/10 – Superb.
- Alex – 7.5/10 – If I didn’t know better he was doing more ‘captain’ stuff than Frank.
- Ashley Cole – 8.5/10 – Unlucky not to score… in the footballing sense of course.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 8.5/10 – Superb.
- Frank Lampard – 7.5/10 – Wasted at least three chances but scored a lovely little goal and without Deco seems more prepared to take control.
- John Mikel Obi – 8.5/10 – Our most consistent player this season.
- Michael Ballack – 7.5/10 – A subdued first half but much more impressive during the second half. Always makes out midfield look secure.
- Nicolas Anelka – 8/10 – I saw enough yesterday to see that with him and Drogs on the pitch, especially at home we can put some fear into defences. Fear means mistakes and mistakes mean goals. More please.
- Didier Drogba – 8/10 – Still prone to the odd drama queen moment but looked pretty damn good yesterday. Should have scored three but the one he did get was a master-class in heading.
- Joe Cole – 8/10 – Tricky and mazy and hard working. Everything Deco hasn’t been and yet still removed in favour of The Chosen Son. I’d pick Joe every time.
- Florent Malouda (sub for Drogba) – 3/10 – Come on you Malouda fans defend him! A fucking waste of space again and just seeing him makes me scream for Kalou to come on. That’s how bad he is.
- Deco (sub for Joe Cole) – 6/10 – Only got 15 minutes or so and frankly did nothing bad nor anything good. Distinctly average.
- Juliano Belletti (sub for Bosingwa) – 7.5/10 – Steady and seemingly renewed. When he comes on he always gets a song so he must be OK.
- Overall team performance – 8/10 – Yep, that’ll do nicely.
The Santa Claus
This is the Boxing Day man of the match award and there were several candidates ranging from Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic to Joe Cole and Jose Bosingwa. But for a great goal on his return, his ability to defend when needed and his all round contribution it goes to Didier Drogba.
The sigh of relief when everyone’s gone home
So Popeye Scolari seems to have worked out how Jose Mourinho did things. After adopting very Mourinho-esque rescue tactics against Everton and preserving a hard fought for point, he started with Drogba and Anelka, which gives him a headache in midfield. A game we could have won 6-0 became a very Mourinho-esque display of resting on the ball, keeping possession, and counter-attacking. Just like the good old days. Until Joe Cole and Drogba went off we could sniff more goals. Unfortunately when Deco and Malouda came on the game slowed to a crawl and it was obvious that we’d settled for the three points and two goals. Maybe that was Popeye’s whole strategy for this game. Whatever, I’ll gladly take it. Let’s see if we can put a dent in Fulham’s recent run.
Of course, Liverpool also won with some ease, but it was heartening to see Manchester United splutter past Stoke (although how Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo never got cautioned for respective elbow and kicking out incidents was scandalous) and with Arsenal and Aston Villa playing out a magnificent draw things are pretty much as they were. The Premier League will not be decided by the Christmas results, but by whoever puts a decent run together from January onwards. The experts at that of course are United. And Liverpool have yet to have a real blip. This one could the closest yet.
Hope you all had a good Christmas, made better by a long overdue win at home. I’m off to cuddle a hot drink and some Paracetomol and Gaviscon. Damn Bitter Lemon!
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!