The Observer, Duncan Castles: “First, let us applaud Chelsea. Victory essential, their long, proud unbeaten home record on the line against a team almost every critic considers superior, and deprived of one of their driving forces by the death of his mother, this was a team that rose to the occasion.”
Sunday Times, Joe Lovejoy: “After those two Champions League stalemates, a match that lived up to its billing. Chelsea took punitive advantage of Sir Alex Ferguson’s gamble on fielding a half-strength team and kept their title hopes alive with a deserved tooth-and-nail victory, gained by two goals from the resurgent Michael Ballack.”
Sunday Telegraph, Roy Collins: “Manchester United remain hot – or at least lukewarm – favourites for the Premier League title, albeit that the most likely way they will hang on to their crown is by the hollow margin of goal difference, which is a bit like winning an election on a recount. But what Chelsea’s magnificent fightback has done is to remove any margin for error at a stage of the campaign when one slip, one momentary loss of concentration or one clumsy handball, like the one from Michael Carrick that delivered victory by penalty here, can destroy a season’s work.”
Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “Like the leader of a marathon developing cramp, Manchester United are limping towards the finishing line and suddenly looking over their shoulder.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Level on points with two to play. Who will blink first?”
As I grow older I get more silly. Not stupid silly, just the silly soppiness that comes through age. You know the sort of thing, crying at soppy films, shedding a tear at weddings, smiling at children playing, resorting to old wives tales and superstition and generally just getting dafter. Yesterday as I walked to the car to drive Chelsea Bob, Mrs Chelsea Bob and Big Dave, my youngest daughter revelling in her 13th birthday presents and her official entry to teenagehood shouted after me, “Dad, we’re gonna win today coz United will bottle it!”. Charming language huh? But putting questions aside about my parenting skills, I clasped my rabbit’s foot, ignored the black cat crossing my path and reassuringly wearing my lucky pants (lucky for other reasons… one day I may divulge) started the engine and the day started…
- The performance. Save for 10 minutes at the start of the second half, where it appeared Avram Grant had applied his usual ‘one goal lead’ soporific team talk, we were excellent. Not one single element of Chelsea Football Club will feature in ‘The bad’ section today and everything would feature in ‘The good’ if space allowed. By some distance our best display of the season, a perfect display of skill, passion and POWER football that killed Manchester United from the first minute. Play like this every week and we’d destroy anyone. Let’s hope we play similarly against Liverpool because we’ll win… and win convincingly.
- The atmosphere. Now I’ve been to all but two games at Stamford Bridge this season, missing them right at the start because of my hols, but yesterday was the best ever encountered. Right from stepping into the American Café (run by Cypriots of course) on Fulham Road until getting in my car to drive home the whole area felt like it had been sprinkled with tension dust. Fantastic. The Bridge is truly a living entity when the Mancs come to town.
- Michael Ballack. Anyone who says ‘Ze German’ isn’t world class needs to remove their voice box from their arse. An utterly supreme display of German effectiveness yesterday from someone I desperately hope will grace us with his presence until he retires. His tribute after the first goal to Pat Lampard showed just how classy he is. Magnificent.
- Ashley Cole. I questioned his ‘Chelseaness’ for increasingly this season he has been showing exactly why The Special One thought he was The Special Left-Back. When Cristiano Ronaldo came on he was almost made invisible by the only defender in this country who has a pocket big enough to put him in. I feel for Wayne Bridge, but the honest truth is Ashley is a long way in front. Above excellent.
- Michael ‘The Bison’ Essien. Back, well and truly back, back in the big time, back from wherever he went. Back in my heart and no doubt the hearts of everyone who loves Chelsea. This man is a king and Roman Abramovich should buy Ghana itself if that’s what it takes to keep him at Chelsea. When he plays like this he is truly one of the best players in the world. Superb.
- The Drogba-Ballack row at the free kick. A ruse to throw the Mancs out a bit. If it was genuine then John Terry would have intervened. You can bet the whole ruse was invented by Ze German. Drogba was unlucky not to score. If it was a real row then that’s also good because it shows that at least one of them genuinely cares.
- Sir Alex Ferguson. I like the silly old scrota because he encompasses the whole ‘bad loser’ mentality which makes him a winner. But to claim that they were unjustly dealt with by the ref is disingenuous at the very least. Apparently the penalty was the first given against them this season and it followed the most blatant handball from Wes Brown that Wiley E Coyote and the Acme company of officials ignored. Sir Rednose, just for once accept a defeat from a better team graciously.
- And that folks is seriously that for ‘The bad’. On a great day like yesterday why try and find a downside?
- Rio Ferdinand. He looks like a duck and his IQ seems similar. And if he honestly believes he’s hard enough to take on any of our team in a fight then he’ll end up even uglier.
Discussed at length with Chelsea Bob, Big Dave and Mrs Chelsea Bob who is the voice of reason. Marks out of 10 and from the default score of 6 with marks added or subtracted for being good or bad.
- Petr Cech: The usual assured display ruined by pointless hoofing – 7/10.
- Paulo Ferreira: On this display has surely staked a claim to be the first choice right-back until Philipp Lahm or Micah Richards turn up? – 8/10.
- Ashley Cole: I’m so glad him and Cheryl have… ahem… kissed (?) and made up because he was sensational yesterday. Ashley you had them all in your pocket mate. Great goal line clearance with the coolness of Clint Eastwood shows why he is rated so highly – 9/10.
- John Terry: Still the best captain, but if the Ballack-Drogba row was genuine then he won’t have done himself any favours in front of
Tommy CooperFabio Capello – 8/10.
- Ricardo Carvalho: The best centre back in the world. Made one horror pass but really all that does prove is he’s human – 8.5/10.
- Michael Ballack: Utterly butterly. Not a Mercedes… a Rolls Royce – 9.75/10.
- Michael Essien: Could have run through the wall leaving a Michael Essien shaped hole in Stamford Bridge, such was the power on display. Makes me want to growl like a lion – 9/10.
- John Mikel Obi: Cool, calm, collected, composed and just generally good (ran out of ‘c’ words!)- 8/10.
- Joe Cole: Getting better as the hair grows back but in the shadows a bit because of how brilliant everyone else was – 8/10.
- Salomon Kalou: Like an annoying wasp buzzing around United’s head. Starting to show some real value – 8/10.
- Didier Drogba: Moaned and groaned but also showed why he is such a pain in defenders’ arses – 8/10.
- Andriy Shevchenko (sub): Did you all think he came on for a bit part? Yep, me too but he showed surprising tenacity and drive, and made a crucial goal line clearance under pressure. Are we writing him off too soon? – 7/10.
- Claude Makelele (sub): His role for next season is surely decided. No one is better at coming on and helping protect a lead – 7/10.
- Nicolas Anelka (sub): Great ball control and an obvious threat that worried United. Had a great shot at the end to prove his hunger – 8/10.
- Frank Lampard: Didn’t play, but this is my way of saying how sorry I am for his loss – 10/10.
- Overall team performance: In a word, superb – 9.5/10.
Man of the Match
So many candidates deserve a crack at this. Ashley Cole for being at his best and for being the only defender who makes Ronaldo look like a pub player. Michael Essien for being back to his powerful best. But for me, the clear choice and apparently the choice of real pundits on Sky was Michael Ballack. Take that bow Herr Ballack.
The hangover has kicked in big time and I’m asking myself the L’Oreal question ‘Am I worth it?’. I’m not, but Chelsea are most definitely. I had seriously intended this weekend to be teetotal, but trust Chelsea to derail that intention in such style. On a day when the nerves around Stamford Bridge were collectively jangling to the point where it must have sounded like St Martin-in-the-Fields and Westminster Cathedral were in the crowd, the relief at kick off was more than palpable, it was visible to the naked eye. Anything flying over the ground would surely have been hit by the most severe turbulence ever experienced. That game alone was worth every last penny of the season ticket fee!
United didn’t field their strongest team with Old Rednose undoubtedly keeping an eye on Tuesday’s encounter with the slippery Catalans. Hence Ronaldo and Tevez were on the bench. Blimey is the Premiership really second fiddle to the Champions League? Having said that, we played with such power and passion that any team would have been rolled through yesterday, the only downside being we should have scored more goals and had to rely on a penalty to get a result that showed justice being done. When the penalty was about to be taken Wes Brown threw some grass in the air in front of Ballack, no doubt his idea of a bit of gamesmanship, but the German showed what it means to be made of steel, and to have nerves that are ice cold as he simply stared through Brown. Me, on the other hand, turned my back to the goal, crouched down, shut my eyes and put my fingers in my ears. That’s how brave I am. There is surely no better penalty taker than Ballack anyway, but even I’m questioning whether he is human and not simply the most perfect robot ever made. The man has no nerves! Would anyone want anyone other than Ballack at that point to be taking the penalty?
The joy in the Bridge was almost edible. Forget the Humble Pie lorry, someone delivered a great big cake covered in joy and hope yesterday. I reckon the delivery man was Ballack, and yes, maybe it was his own version of a Black Forest Gateaux. In truth this was less about the title and more about revenge for losing at Old Trafford due to Obi’s nonsensical sending off earlier this season. For me justice was done yesterday and we can be proud of pushing a very good United side all the way, and of being the only team to do so.
Now I’m off to take some pills and lie down in a darkened room to watch re-runs of one of the truly greatest days at the Bridge. It won’t speed the departure of the hangover, but it might just make it more bearable.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!