Chelsea 2 – 1 Newcastle United

Match reports

The Observer, Stuart Barnes: “After the Boxing Day goalfest against Aston Villa, Avram Grant’s side had lived on the edge again. Another draw would have been damaging to their chances of making up ground in the title race. Instead, this result, coupled with Manchester United’s defeat at West Ham, means they retain a strong interest in proceedings at the top going into the New Year.”

Sunday Times, Joe Lovejoy: “It was supposed to be Sam Allardyce whose job was on the line, but instead the home crowd told Avram Grant: “You don’t know what you’re doing”, and chanted Jose Mourinho’s name on an afternoon when Chelsea were dominant, but lacked firepower, and scored their late winner from an offside position. Grant, with two defeats in his 22 games in charge, made light of the fans’ derision, but Allardyce could not afford to be so sanguine about the inexplicable decision by the referee’s assistant, Mike Cairns, to allow Salomon Kalou’s deciding goal to stand.”

Independent on Sunday, Ronald Atkin: “Michael Ballack, captain for the day, showed the occasional touch of brilliance, albeit at his own pace, Shaun Wright-Phillips was a top-speed threat on the right and Joe Cole had Newcastle in trouble at times. But not often enough to satisfy a querulous home crowd, who booed when Cole was replaced by Pizarro just past the hour and launched into an anti-Grant chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing” when he sent on Scott Sinclair for Ballack. “I have no complaints against the supporters,” Grant insisted. “They know we don’t have easy times with 10 injuries.””

Sunday Telegraph, Patrick Barclay: “Thus the losers came out with more credit, or at least sympathy, than the winners, whose manager, Avram Grant, was informed, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ when he replaced Joe Cole with Claudio Pizarro midway through the second half. Whatever Roman Abramovich may think, Grant has yet to convince the majority of Chelsea’s support that he can build a beautiful and successful team on the platform left by Jose Mourinho. It was just as well the announcer could lift the immediate post-match mood with the result from West Ham, which left Chelsea four points behind Manchester United despite the ravages of injury and suspension.”

Official Chelsea FC Website: “Soon after the final whistle, news of Man United’s defeat at West Ham filtered through. What minutes earlier had looked a dark December day, suddenly looked a whole lot brighter.”

The goals

29′ Essien 1-0
56′ Butt (or Bridge o/g) 1-1
87′ Kalou 2-1

The good

  1. Another three points. I’m not sure we deserved them though. That said, from about the tenth minute until Newcastle equalised we were by far the better team and only Shay Given and some profligate finishing prevented us from adding to Michael Essien’s goal. But for 20 minutes after Wayne Bridge had inadvertently back-heeled into Hilario’s net we were very poor. It wasn’t until the Magpies sat back that we really threatened again, and fortune certainly favoured us in the end.
  2. Michael Ballack. Another impressive performance from the German, this time as captain. He faded somewhat in the second half as a lack of match fitness took its toll, which probably influenced Avram Grant’s decision to substitute him.
  3. Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips were the other stand out players. Bridge and Cole had the measure of Newcastle down the left, particularly in the first half, and Wright-Phillips did equally as well down the right, even putting in a number of good crosses. Wright-Phllips let himself down a bit when he missed a far post header just before half time, which surely would have ended any hope Newcastle had of getting back into the game.
  4. Juliano Belletti. If only for his last gasp sliding tackle that prevented Damien Duff from scoring. There’s little doubt in my mind that a second Magpies goal would have killed us off.

The bad

  1. Claudio Pizarro. The playboy from Peru was useless. The booing that greeted Grant’s decision to introduce him in place of Joe Cole said it all. Pizarro’s only meaningful contribution was to get in the way of John Mikel Obi’s shot in the 87th minute which fortunately fell to Salomon Kalou who slotted home from an offside position. Perhaps Grant’s a lucky manager too. I suppose it made up for Kalou’s disallowed goal against Blackburn earlier in the season. The old cliché in football is that bad decisions level out over time, but try telling Sam Allardyce that right now.
  2. Grant’s substitutions. I’m not sure whether to include the Ballack substitution here or not, as I’m of the opinion that the German was flagging due to lack of fitness – and it was a positive change bringing on Scott Sinclair. However Grant’s decision to replace Cole with Pizarro was baffling – Cole was one of our better players and as we all know is capable of turning a game in an instant, whereas Pizarro is proving to be a dud. Is the tide turning against Grant? Chants of “Where’s Jose Mourinho?” during the Blackburn game last weekend and a chorus of boos and “You don’t know what you’re doing” during this game certainly suggest so. He’s got a long way to go before he convinces the majority of fans that he’s got what it takes to build on the success brought by Mourinho. Who’d be a football manager, eh?

Man of the Match

Michael Ballack.

Final thoughts

It has certainly been an interesting year in the history of Chelsea Football Club, one that won’t be forgotten for quite some time. Here’s hoping 2008 proves to be just as interesting, but for the right reasons.

Happy New Year and all that, and thanks for your comments and input these last 12 months – it’s very much appreciated.

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