The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “These clubs are so well-matched that only controversy can separate them. An initially listless Chelsea equalised through David Luiz and then won the game with a dubious penalty in the 79th minute. Frank Lampard slipped the ball to a substitute, Yuri Zhirkov, and he appeared to run into Chris Smalling. The referee, Martin Atkinson, deemed it to be a foul and Lampard crashed the spot-kick straight into the middle of the goal.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “There were no major celebrations at the end of the game last night, and no one was foolish enough to say that this was the moment that Chelsea launched their push for the league title, but for all those who have wondered of late what happened to last season’s Double-winners – they turned up at last in the second half.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea are not going to let the title go without a fight. Frank Lampard and company finally remembered they were champions, playing with a tempo and hunger in the second half that turned this exceptional game on its head.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A spectacular first Chelsea goal from David Luiz and an equally well-struck penalty from Frank Lampard turned around the game in the second-half.”
So, I think the title is heading to United this season, and as much as I dislike them I’d rather it went there than to the winey kids of Arsenal or the overpaid mercenaries at City. Bar a poor couple of months, we all know it would have stayed put in Chelsea, but c’est la vie. Despite that I feel this game is far from meaningless, even though it may not do too much towards deciding the title. And I don’t think it is a make or break game for us finishing fourth; after all, you can always rely on the Spuds to fuck it up sooner or later. For me, I see the game as a chance to make a statement to the lazy hacks and naysayers who seem to have forgotten this is the same team who broke the 100 goals barrier in the last campaign, the team with the fewest goals conceded this season, and the team who on their day is the best in the country and second best in the world. I’m not really sure where this mini-rant is going, but I just want the team to send a big “Fuck You” to those tossers who decide that Ashley Cole firing an air gun is a sign of Carlo losing the dressing room, or invent stories about Drogba saying he will leave if he isn’t picked to start this game, or who write one of the million other pathetic excuses for a bit of journalism proclaiming the demise of Chelsea, whilst simultaneously sucking on the cock of the aged, tired and frankly lucky team that is United.
So now I’ve got that out of my system I’d like to share a few stats with you:
- We’re the only team to have taken more points off United than they have of us over the course of the Premiership;
- United haven’t won at the Bridge for almost nine years; and
- The last time United scored at Chelsea was three years ago.
Remarkably over the last few weeks Carlo has started changing things, and this time we start with the 4-4-2 that worked well in Denmark. He has also decided to leave Drogba on the bench, a good decision based on his recent performances.
Cech, Cole, Terry, Luiz, Ivanovic, Malouda, Lampard, Essien, Ramires, Torres, Anelka.
And for completeness I should mention the United line-up, which was missing Rio. Interestingly Fergie chose to play their best player (Nani) on the left, possibly to avoid Cole or possibly to attack Ivanovic who can be prone to giving away free kicks.
Van der Sar, Evra, Vidic, Smalling, O’Shea, Nani, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher, Rooney, Hernandez.
The first half
We started brightly, pressing United high up the pitch and playing with good energy and enthusiasm. After a minute or two we win a corner, which ends up dropping to Torres on the edge of the area. His shot smashes in off the underside of the crossbar, but the ref had already blown for a non-existent foul on Vidic. We create another good chance minutes later when Ramires charges down the right, carrying the ball through midfield before moving it onto Anelka. Nico drags it back to Flo on the edge of the area, but his shot goes straight to van der Sar. By now Anelka and Torres are looking lively, and we even get a glimpse of the old Essien when he receives the ball from Malouda and barges through a few United players before squeezing off a shot.
After about fifteen minutes it looks just a matter of time before we get the first goal, but then Rooney, Hernandez and Nani start linking up well and looking dangerous, especially with their speed and movement on the counter attack. One such counter sees Nani put in a cross behind all our defenders but thankfully it’s a couple of yards in front of Rooney. Shortly after this Terry gives the ball straight to Fletcher when trying to find Cole, providing a three-on-two chance for the Mancs, but Luiz cuts out the cross. At this point they are on top and we start to look a bit vulnerable to a well picked pass from Scholes or run from Nani. Their goal comes from a short pass in from the left flank to Rooney, who receives the ball twenty-five yards out, turns away from his man, creates a yard, and slams his shot straight into the bottom-left corner. God I hate those bastard Lowry-loving northern monkeys.
In response to conceding we do rally slightly, trying to get an early riposte and putting in a few crosses or winning free kicks. During one attack down the right Torres and Evra collide off the ball and the ref gives a free kick near the edge of the area. Lampard takes it, blasting a low shot across van der Sar who can only parry it into the path of Ivanovic two yards out. Unfortunately it is at the wrong height and all Branners can do is bounce it off his midriff back towards goal. At this point it is a bit of a scramble, with a deflection off Vidic before van der Sar paws it away to safety whilst still lying on the floor, having not had time to get up after saving the shot from Lamps.
Just as the half draws to a close we manage to juggle a few headers in the middle of the park before Essien bursts free and then gets cynically taken out by Vidic (who gets booked) on the edge of the ‘D’. Frank then lets Ashley take the free kick which is curled over. The half ends to the soundtrack of the infuriating Alan Smith on Sky Sports who has been told to turn the United arse-licking up to 11 now that Andy Gray isn’t around any more; I’d say United just shaded it but listening to him you’d think the Mancs had run riot.
The second half
Chelsea start brightly, in a similar fashion to the first half, pressing high up the pitch and with some good possession. Ten minutes in Torres wins a corner off Vidic after a good bit of play, which he then has to collect wide out left after it is over hit. He slips in Malouda, but again the cross comes straight out of the area, this time to Essien. By now most players have pushed out of United’s box following the corner, but Essien’s ball in does find Ivanovic, who flicks it on to Luiz to smash home the equaliser with a good half volley.
Unlike the first half, whenever the Manc danger trio of Nani, Rooney and Hernandez attack we usually deal with it, with one of Ivanovic, Luiz or Terry clattering into the tackle and winning the ball. There is one scary moment when Nani gets Rooney in down the left, but fortunately by the time he gets near goal it’s a very tight angle and his shot ends up going near the corner flag. At this point it’s been 50/50 possession-wise for the last five minutes, with United trying to reassert some dominance, but we look more likely to score.
After an hour Drogba had come on for Anelka, and one of his first bits of action is to nearly slip Torres through on goal but he is marginally offside. That is one of the few good bits of interplay between them, but their body language seems good, with neither complaining when the other loses it. Around seventy minutes both managers make a few changes, with the Purple Nose bringing on Berbatov and Giggs for Hernandez and Scholes, and Carlo bringing on Zhirkov for Malouda.
Fergie’s substitutions look designed to help United get on the ball a bit more, but by now the balance has tipped in our favour, and fate is definitely on our side when we get a bit of a soft penalty with 15 minutes left. Cech bowls it out to Lamps, he finds Drogba on the left and then continues his run, getting the ball back on the edge of the area. The layoff to Zhirkov means all Yuri has to do is take one touch before tripping over Smalling’s leg, and the ref blows for a penalty. Lamps despatches it straight down the middle into the roof of the net. I yell very loudly.
Three minutes later and Zhirkov meets a corner on the edge of the box, smashing a shot goal bound which Vidic just manages to deflect wide as it goes through his legs. We keep the pressure on as the next corner is only half cleared before we win another. Unfortunately it comes to nothing.
United have one more attacking move but Rooney’s ball to Fabio (on for Evra) gets smothered by Cech before he can get a shot off. And then we just have injury time to play out, which basically involves Drogba and Ramires playing one-twos by United’s corner flag, winning a succession of free kicks, throw-ins, and corners. Giggs gets booked for a frustrated kick at Drogba, and Vidic’s second foul in as many minutes leads to him getting a second yellow and a ban for the next game at Anfield.
- Cech – 7 – Not at fault for the goal and caught the crosses and corners very competently
- Cole – 8 – Looking closer to his best every game
- Terry – 8 – Solid
- Luiz – 8 – At times brilliant, he scored a great goal, but also scared me with a few reckless challenges
- Ivanovic – 7½ – He gave away a few fouls as usual but Nani is a really quality player and overall he didn’t do badly against him. A few times Nani and Ivan wrestled for the ball which predictably ended with our man wandering up the pitch in possession while the guy in red sat on the floor in a sulk
- Malouda – 7 – Recently had been poor as part of a front three but more involved today; looks like 4-4-2 suits him
- Lampard – 8 – Had a good game and scored the penalty under pressure
- Essien – 8 – At times he bullied United, on one occasion just letting Scholes bounce off him when he attempted to tackle. He also went on a few of his trademark runs from midfield, and would have got a higher score if he had kept possession a bit better
- Ramires – 7½ – He picked up an early yellow which may have prevented him getting more involved in some of the challenges. Normal all energy game with some good passing
- Torres – 7½ – Similar to last couple of games: good movement but just lacked a goal
- Anelka – 7 – Worked well with Torres and my only criticism is that a couple of times he lost the ball with too many of our players in the opponent’s third
- Drogba (sub) – 7 – Tries a bit too hard when he comes on as sub to do it all himself, but had a good few minutes at the end when he and Ramires kept the ball away from United for fun. And I know he has had some criticism lately, but give the guy a break, he had malaria a few months ago!
- Zhirkov (sub) – 8 – During the limited time he was on he won a penalty and nearly scored a second
We went into the break 1-0 down to the team top of the table, and yet ran out deserved winners. Not bad for an ageing team on a bad run of form, is it? In my opinion Cole, Lampard and Essien are all getting closer to their peak with every run out, and Ramires and Luiz look like really quality young players; if we can get Torres scoring goals as well then this team will be lethal. Let’s hope we can now build some momentum to finish (at least) second in the Premier League and win the Champions League.