The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “Carlo Ancelotti gave a genteel royal wave when he was introduced at Stamford Bridge before kick-off and a wheeze of relief 91½ minutes later. Didier Drogba’s lofted chip came anxiously late, preventing the ignominy of points dropped on the opening day of the season at home to the team who escaped relegation by their heavily bitten fingernails last term.”
Sunday Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “Drogba dispelled all doubts about his suspect loyalties with a mesmeric display against Hull City, full of uncomplicated commitment as he first equalised for Chelsea through a bending free-kick, before scoring the winner in injury time from an improbable angle. Both strikes crystallised his qualities of touch, grace and poise, while his demeanour during the match suggested a refreshing and hitherto unseen lack of artifice.”
Sunday Times, David Walsh: “Chelsea won because of Drogba, who was the game’s towering presence and the only one who looked likely to beat Hull’s excellent defence. It might seem a cliche to say the centre-forward is worth his weight in gold but in this team, in this league, that might not be far from the truth. His first goal was a brilliant free kick and though he had the good grace to say the winner was lucky, it was still a delightfully skilful cross that might have made a goal for Salomon Kalou had it not sneaked in.”
Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “New boy that he is, Ancelotti could have copied the old Bill Shankly line, “same team as last season”. By the end of the game, however, he had been forced to give a run to substitutes Michael Ballack, Deco and Salomon Kalou, the first of them as early as the 46th minute. There is a tactical difference too in that he wants to use a diamond-shaped midfield and push Nicolas Anelka, last season’s Golden Boot winner, right up alongside Drogba. Having Frank Lampard just behind them ought to provide a potent attacking triangle, though the worry is that the influential Lampard will not find space to do his best work. That was the case yesterday.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea’s happy habit for opening day success continues but it needed a stoppage-time winner from Didier Drogba. And what a winner it was too, scored from what is traditionally termed an impossible angle – the second of what will be Goal of the Month contenders from the Ivorian.”
Last night I dreamed that I donated all my Chelsea paraphernalia to a local animal rescue centre, moved to the Midlands and started going to Molineux (the portly chap with the weathered complexion who hangs around the bench area at Chelsea games helped me move my belongings in a split-screen VW Camper which had a chicken painted on the front… analyse that). Twenty-eight minutes into this first competitive game of the season and I was thinking that supporting Wolves isn’t such a bad idea after all – at least they aren’t expected to win every game they play. I was also wondering why I voluntarily put myself through such emotional turmoil at weekends. For ten first half minutes after Hull had taken the lead nails were chewed, expletives uttered (mostly in the direction of a short Irishman) and doubts raised. Then Drogba eased the turmoil somewhat from a free kick that wasn’t a free kick and all was well for a bit. The anguish gradually built up again as the second half progressed only for Drogba to pop up for a second time in injury time and rescue me from an evening of doom and gloom. That’s why I put myself through the wringer every weekend, I thought as I made my way home.
- Three points. This was our eighth straight opening day win, a Premier League record. Once again the never-say-die attitude that has played such a big part in the current squad’s success was on show – like it or not the spirit of Mourinho lives on. We dominated play and had nearly 70% of the possession over the 90 minutes, but we failed to make it count. Hull keeper Myhill had a good game, although it was our poor finishing and lack of killer instinct in front of goal that cost us. I’ll leave what I’ve got to say about that for ‘the bad’ section.
- Didier Drogba. He wasn’t at his best – a Drogba in peak form would have taken several more of the many chances he created for himself – but that shouldn’t take away from what was a splendid all-round performance from a rejuvenated player. It didn’t look promising when he blasted a golden opportunity into the Matthew Harding stand after just 60 seconds – if that had gone in it would have been a rout, and I would still have some finger nails left. His free kick was Ronaldo-esque, and he was honest enough to admit that his second was meant as a cross. Not once did he feign injury, or fall to the ground as if shot – Bryan English didn’t know what to do with himself in the dugout. If only Drogba would behave as impeccably as he did today in every game. Let’s hope his knee holds out, because we’re going to need him to play at his best in every game if we’re going to win anything this season.
- Deco. This is probably a contentious choice seeing as he only played the last 20 minutes of the match. He impressed me though, he’s much more suited to playing at the point of the diamond behind the strikers. That’s not to say Lampard didn’t have a good game, because he did – he orchestrated a lot of our best stuff in the first half – but most of it came after he dropped deep, often to pick up the ball from the back four. The fact that Mikel had a shocking opening 20 minutes probably didn’t help. That said, I think Lampard is a much better player coming from deep. Deco on the other hand looks more adept in the hole. He looked really sharp today.
- Our profligacy in front of goal. We had something like 30 attempts of which a third were on target (we failed to make Myhill save a shot in the first half hour though), yet we only managed to score two somewhat fortunate goals from a questionable free kick and a miss-hit cross. Last season teams came to the Bridge and played five across midfield in the hope of nicking a draw and more often than not we struggled to break them down – it was the number of draws at home that probably cost us the title. It looks like history could repeat itself this season. Today we should have been several goals to the good before Hunt gave Hull a shock and undeserved lead. We got away with it again, but we won’t over the course of a whole season. We need to bring in a world class striker. I’ve been saying it all summer, we need an out-and-out goal scorer, a Torres type player, a player like Owen in his prime, a David Villa (can you imagine any of them missing some of the chances we created in this game?), an Aguero. As I see it, neither Drogba nor Anelka is this player. Drogba is awesome at what he does and he does score plenty of goals when fit and focussed, as does Anelka who let’s not forget finished last season as the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner. But Drogba’s the battering ram, the player who bullies defences and creates opportunities for others as well as himself. Anelka works hard but often finds himself out wide or dropping deep when playing against a packed midfield and defence, and he’s not always there to pick up the pieces and put the ball in the net. I read a couple of reports this morning that said that Ancelotti has hinted at more arrivals (make up your mind, Carlo), and the Sun leads with a story linking us with a big-money move for Aguero, so it does appear that we’re trying to address the problem.
- Jon Obi Mikel. A bit harsh perhaps, but he had a really poor opening 20 minutes or so. During this time every Hull attack came from one of his misplaced passes or after he had been caught in possession. He doesn’t seem to be up to the pace of the Premier League yet. It was a similar story in last weekend’s Community Shield. Ancelotti was chipping away at him from the sidelines after just a few minutes and then substituted him at half time. There’s no doubting we improved after he went off. Whoever it was who commented on a recent post that Ancelotti doesn’t trust Mikel, it looks like you were right, and this could be why Ancelotti’s still looking to sign another midfielder. Mikel could find himself frozen out if he doesn’t improve soon.
- Stephen Hunt. An obvious inclusion. His first contribution was a bollock-high, studs-up tackle on Lampard after just a few seconds of the match. A nasty moment from a nasty player which deserved at least a yellow card. It had to be him that scored though didn’t it? Sod’s Law and all that. He took his goal well though. The c***.
- Cech – 6.5/10 – Saved early on with an outstretched leg and looked confident whenever called upon. Tipped over a deflected cross late in the game but didn’t have a great deal else to do to be honest.
- A. Cole – 6.5/10 – Again provided the width down the left. Solid in defence as per usual. Certainly looks fit but probably like several players is still lacking the sharpness that a few Premier League games will give him.
- Carvalho – 7/10 – The old Carvalho is back. Made a couple of storming runs out of defence, as is his wont, but also defended like we know he can. Was a danger from set-pieces. He’s still one of my favourites.
- Terry – 7/10 – Threw himself about in his usual customary fashion. Came close to scoring with a header from a first half corner. Made a great last-ditch tackle on Hunt which got the crowd going.
- Bosingwa – 7/10 – Reinstated to the side after losing out to Ivanovic last weekend. Got forward and supported the attack, put in several decent crosses and forced a save out of Hull keeper Myhill with a low left-footed shot.
- Mikel – 5.5/10 – A poor opening 20 minutes saw him replaced by Ballack at half time. Needs to pull his socks up and finger out if he wants to keep his place in the starting eleven.
- Essien – 6.5/10 – Had a couple of strikes on target, one in each half. Played on the right of the diamond before the break, dropped into the holding midfield position after it. Solid in both.
- Malouda – 6/10 – Did okay. We improved a bit after he went off, but that was probably more to do with the system and players’ positions in the system than it was to do with Malouda.
- Lampard – 7/10 – He was supposed to be playing at the point of the diamond in the first half, but he seemed to be everywhere and kept dropping back looking for the ball (an effect of Mikel’s poor form?). I still think he’s better coming from a deeper position, although he has the intelligence to eventually adapt to any role he’s asked to play.
- Anelka – 6/10 – Floated in and out of the game. Kept disappearing for periods, to the point where you wouldn’t have known he was on the pitch. But when he did find himself involved he worked hard. Tends to drop deep looking for the ball, or drifts out wide and thus isn’t always in the right place at the right time to score. Last season he scored most of his goals against weaker opposition away from home.
- Drogba – 8/10 – Wasn’t at his best but still managed to score both goals. It didn’t look like it was going to be his day after he squandered a great chance after just 60 seconds, but he stuck at it and got his reward. Great free kick, and he admitted after the match that his second goal was meant as a cross. A big season ahead if he can stay fit. Man of the Match.
- Ballack (sub) – 6.5/10 – We improved considerably after he came on in place of Mikel at half time. Played on the right of the diamond in place of Essien who dropped into the holding role. Solid if unspectacular.
- Deco (sub) – 7/10 – Was more disciplined in the role behind the strikers than Lampard, who dropped deeper to the left when Deco came on in place of Malouda. Played some nice passes, looked sharp and could find himself starting more games if Ancelotti loses patience with Mikel.
- Kalou (sub) – 6.5/10 – Replaced Anelka with 10 minutes to go and came close to scoring twice, once with his head – his first touch – and once with a sweetly struck right-footed curling shot that just missed the right hand post. He’s the perfect player to bring on when opposition defences are tiring.
Man of the Match
There’s only one contender: Didier Drogba. He wasn’t at his marauding, world-beating best but that didn’t prevent him from scoring two goals. I predict a big season for the big man if his knee holds out.
This wasn’t the ideal start to the new Premier League campaign, it raised more questions than it answered: What’s up with Mikel? Is the point of a midfield diamond Lampard’s best position? Do we need another striker? Why is Stephen Hunt such a c***?
A trip to Sunderland, who beat Bolton at the Reebok this afternoon, is next, in three days’ time. Then it’s Fulham away, Burnley home and Stoke away before Spurs visit the Bridge next month. It doesn’t look quite as inviting as it did this morning, does it?
If you see any donkeys wearing Chelsea scarves in the next couple of weeks, you’ll know I’ve given it all up to go and support Wolves.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!