The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Some things never change. Avram Grant left Chelsea tonight with nothing other than sympathy to cling to and another Chelsea penalty to curse. The league leaders had re-established their advantage at the top here somewhat fortuitously at his Portsmouth side’s expense. At least the last time the Israeli was dismissed from these parts there had been the promise of a pay-off to sweeten his exit.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “This was not the stuff of champions as they needlessly turned a would-be procession into a night of frayed nerves. In heavy weather they made heavy weather of it.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “Chelsea remembered how to win to establish a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League, but the swagger of potential champions is still eluding them.”
The Independent, Mark Fleming: “Grant still feels aggrieved that he was sacked as manager by Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, after losing the Champions League final in a penalty shoot-out. He was given a lukewarm welcome from the Chelsea supporters before the game, but he could leave with his head held high.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “With 12 minutes remaining, another hugely unfortunate goal conceded had Chelsea staring at five games without a win. But then Frank Lampard slammed in a penalty and all was right with the world again.”
Sometimes, it’s tough being a Chelsea fan. Now for those of a Pompey, Southampton or Watford persuasion, hearing the complaints of a fan of one of the best clubs in the world, who are owned by one of the richest men in the world and are being led by one of the world’s best managers, may appear to be a little galling at first. But being top of the league and heading into Friday’s Champions League draw as a seed just isn’t enough sometimes as when you are a club like Chelsea, you are expected to win everything, all the time. This ridiculous but strangely perfectly reasonable expectation (reasonable in the fact that why shouldn’t a team like Chelsea go out and expect to win every game?) appears to go against the belief systems of many other clubs, the ‘greatest’ of which is Liverpool. Liverpool think it is honourable and the trait of a great club to never sack a manager in the middle of the season and at first glance this belief appears to be fair, patient and rather admirable. Except, what is honourable in keeping a manager who is steering a club towards sporting and financial disaster? There is nothing to be respected in keeping a manager who will guide you to 5th, at best, this year and then sacking him as no-one will turn up to a “Yay, we got through a whole season without sacking Rafa party.” Winning 4 games out of 16 is totally unacceptable and whilst many believe Chelsea to be run by maniacs, as a fan, I would be deeply unhappy at seeing a Chairman and owner stick by a floundering and defeated manager because of tradition.
At this point I would like to just mention Brendan Rodgers’ sad departure from Reading tonight. I really did think that he was destined for the Premiership and potentially the top job at Chelsea in a couple of years as this ‘mini-Mourinho’ did look to have all the ingredients to be a future great manager.
But on to more pressing issues, such as the rather strange week we’ve experience in the football world. The press may have been dominated by the decision of Mick McCarthy (possibly the dumbest manager in the history of the Premiership) to raise the white flag and roll over like a dying hamster before the game at Old Trafford even kicked off, or the embarrassing hypocrisy of the English press around the diving of Wayne Rooney and Stevie “If I ever saw a Liverpool player doing that, I’d have a word with him” G, but for those wearing blue, of more concern has been our sickeningly shit defending of late. The depressing decline in Cech’s form has been well documented but of more concern, well to me at least, is the tole of Christophe Lollichon is this debacle. Basically, he’s bollocks as a goalkeeping coach. For those of us who subscribe to Chelsea TV (I know you’re out there although I completely understand if you don’t want to admit to paying for what is essentially the London branch of Pravda), we know that all he does each day is play games with our three keepers. Whether it’s volleyball, tennis or catching a Frisbee (yep, I’ve seen him do that), Christophe appears to be obsessed with doing anything apart from coaching. How I long for the disciplined days of Silvinio Louro who is working wonders in Milan with Julio Cesar. Cech’s decline has been dramatic but appears to have coincided with the arrival of Lollichon and the fact that Arvam chose to bring in this joke of a coach tells you all you need to know about his level of ability.
Oh and that reminds me, tonight was the return of Avram, that Gordon Brown waxwork who has been left out in the sun too long, but more on him later.
Personally, I thought we started the game brilliantly, which made a change from recent outings. We were playing with ‘intensity’ as Carlo loves to say but we were also displaying some lovely movement, pace and invention as we searched for that opening goal. By the end of the game we would have had 11 corners, one of the first of which should have resulted in the breakthrough we deserved. A whipped Deco corner was nodded on by Ballack at the near post for Kalou to easily turn in from two yards out, or so I thought. Our favourite lost-boy however, decided to head the ball over instead of into the net and so we had to continue probing for that opener. We were playing some brilliant football with Deco at the heart of it as he, John Terry, Frank and Ballack all combined brilliantly on the left flank to present Ballack with a shooting opportunity but his curling effort was frankly abysmal. And that was the story of much of the first half; lovely build up play with great movement but no end product. Anelka was flitting around and finding space easily but his use of the ball was poor, sloppy and rather wasteful at times and again we weren’t able to capitalise on all our early pressure. That was until Alex went on a plodding run down the right wing, which Pompey were only too happy to allow, so he carried on into the box before squaring the ball for Anelka to slot home.
It was the least we deserved and from then on it looked like we would be in for a comfortable evening. Ashley was raiding down the left wing regularly and after a clever Lampard back heel, his left-foot drive narrowly missed the far post. We were pressing for the two goal lead, which was another pleasant change from the weekend but a Lampard and then Ballack effort were well saved by Begovic and soon we reverted to our complacent ways by dropping deep and allowing Pompey back into it. A succession of stupid fouls being conceded by Mikel led to a good chance for Tal Ben-Haim but Pompey’s best effort came from some slack marking from Alex. A through-ball from the impressive O’Hara found Piquionne and his shot drew a smart save from Cech. And that was about it for the first half. We were dominating possession but without a recognised target man, our attractive build-up play became worryingly Arsenal-esque.
The second half was much of the same really. More Chelsea possession, more aimless final balls and more stupid free-kicks being conceded in our own half. In the end our stupidity was going to cost us and the inevitable arrived shortly after the restart. This time John Terry was adjudged to have pulled back Boateng, although it looked like a blatant dive to me and from the resulting free-kick, a weak O’Hara effort hit Kalou’s back, then Ashley’s face before Piquionne fired home from eight yards out. There was nothing we could do about it but despite the freakish nature of the goal it added to our worryingly high “goals conceded from set-pieces” count. However, we did respond well. Ballack went close from a Lampard corner, whose delivery was pretty good throughout and then an Ivanovic long shot was nearly deflected in by Ben-Haim. But we were looking desperate at times and despite Joe and Malouda coming on for Deco and Mikel respectively, not much else changed. The final ball from both our subs was woeful at times and for all Joe’s trickery and brilliant dribbling (he breezed past defenders), his shooting was abysmal. I don’t know if it’s his technique but he seems to scuff all his shots wide with his laces. Despite our incessant pressure on the Pompey goal, Avram’s side could have won it on the break. Some brilliant last ditch defending from Ashley saved us as we entered the final 15 minutes but in the end our pressure told. Ballack, who had since reverted to the holding role, fed Ivanovic in the right-hand channel and after a clever touch to knock the ball past the defender, the Serbian was embarrassingly scythed down. It was a blatant penalty and Frank coolly blasted the ball home after his miss against City. The rest of the game was played out rather easily with only the introduction of the nippy Fabio Borini preventing one from nodding off. He certainly looked sharp and talented but is still rather raw and weak and was regularly brushed aside by the burly Pompey central defenders. I would bet on him having a good if not great future at the club and despite having a bit of the Michael Owen about him, his late miss told me that Carlo is wrong to believe that he is the answer to our African Nations Cup conundrum.
- The Result – It’s just nice to win after a while. It may have been scrappy and it certainly wasn’t pretty but we got the three points and that was crucial to calm the nerves after United’s win yesterday.
- Full-backs – As explained above, they were both great tonight and both seem to have the perfect balance between attack and defence at the moment. Some last ditch defending in the second half from Ashley saved us from a shocking defeat and if we could find a second Ivanovic to partner John Terry, we would certainly have the best defence in the world.
- Set-pieces – Defensively, Petr pushed the defence out much further and attacking wise, Frank’s delivery was pretty accurate. So a great improvement all round really.
- Arsenal – You can always rely on them to lose it in the North. I don’t know why anyone, ever thinks they will win the title as they’re too weak and too small to compete against sides like Burnley. Oh well, at least they’ve got third place all wrapped up.
- Mikel – I know, it’s harsh to pick on him but his sloppiness annoys me. His obsession with conceding free-kicks has cost us in the past and will do in the future if he doesn’t improve but I have seen no change in the way he patrols the midfield in the three years he has been here. He’s clumsy and infuriatingly dumb at times and if we had De Rossi or someone like him, he’d be benched or sold immediately.
- No Didier – Tonight was a scary warning of things to come in January. We had all the possession and played some lovely stuff but with Anelka and Kalou always dropping deep to collect the ball, at times we had no-one in the box. I know they’re both been very useful for us this season but as a partnership, I don’t believe that Anelka and Kalou really works together.
- The return of Avram – I just hate the man. I was shocked when our fans started applauding him as I was wondering – what for? If he claims that he was responsible for almost winning us the Carling Cup, League and Champions League then he can fuck off back to the mental ward. The sight of him at Wembley looking confused on the touchline as Steve Clarke and John Terry were barking out the orders as we headed into extra-time typified the man. He’s a charlatan and a fraud who only became Chelsea manager because of his short-lived friendship with Roman. Calming things down and letting other people such as Steve Clarke, John Terry and Frank Lampard take charge does not take skill and the fact that he is claiming that he should have been kept on as manager is laughable. Everyone should look at the scenes in Moscow as he stood in the middle of the team huddle before the penalty shootout to know how useless he is. He simply stood there and failed to say anything as the players looked at him dumbfounded. But apart from his nonexistent coaching ability, he has today admitted that he didn’t sign Anelka and didn’t want him either so he can’t claim the credit for his or Ivanovic’s signing I presume. I just hate the spin he puts on his time at Chelsea and the fact that Roman blamed him for not winning the Champions League pleases me. He lost us the Carling Cup and the Champions League in my mind and his one year in charge was a nightmare I am struggling to forget.
- Cech – 6/10 – A steady if unspectacular outing from him. He certainly organised the defensive line to greater effect than on Saturday but he still looks nervous coming for crosses and is definitely falling behind Buffon, Casillas and Julio Cesar in the world’s best goalkeeping charts.
- Ivanovic – 8/10 – Everyone knows I’m a fan of the Serbian and after being laughed at for predicting that he would be our first-choice right-back after an impressive pre-season, I am glad that I am being proved right. He is a great all-round defender and now that his attacking play is beginning to catch up, I am certain that he has secured that right-back role for good. I would still prefer him to a fit Bosingwa but Carvalho’s decline may mean a shift to centre-back in coming years.
- Alex – 6/10 – A rather strange performance I thought. He was powerful and towering at the back at times and his marauding forward was impressive for the goal but at other points in the 90 minutes, he looked slow and rather cumbersome. He’s a great back-up but in my mind is just too similar to John Terry. A slightly worse version of Terry is the worst possible partner for our captain and no matter how much he improves, Alex will never be the right partner for John. Just imagine partnering Terry with Tony Adams. They are two legends of the Premiership but just not right as a defensive pair and that’s how I feel about Alex.
- Terry – 7/10 – Gave away some silly free-kicks but was commanding and strong at the back throughout.
- Ashley Cole – 8/10 – Another impressive showing from a Chelsea full-back. Has looked jaded after his leg break (it sounds dramatic but technically, I think it was) but tonight he was back to his best. With Didier in the side some of his great work going forward may have been rewarded but despite that he was still brilliant.
- Ballack – 7/10 – I’m giving him a 7 for his much improved showing in the holding role. Before that switch he was quiet but in the second half his experience and class helped us get the vital winning goal. His through ball to Ivanovic was also great.
- Mikel – 6/10 – Sloppy. That’s how I describe his performance and him as a player. Can look neat and tidy but when we suffer from set-pieces why go out and try to concede as many as possible? Maybe he’s just clumsy or perhaps he is just a bit dumb but either way he needs to improve.
- Lampard – 7/10 – A quiet first half but a more impressive second. Some nice long range efforts, much improved set-piece delivery and a great penalty gives him a 7.
- Deco – 6.5/10 – I’m giving him a +0.5 for his bright start to the game. He is the only player in the whole squad who understands how to play the number 10 position and despite his inconsistency I would still choose him over Joe for that role.
- Kalou – 4/10 – Anonymous and some awful finishing from two easy headers. That’s about it.
- Anelka – 6/10 – Flitted about with some brilliant movement but despite the goal I didn’t like his sloppy and casual use of the ball.
- Joe Cole (sub) – 6/10 – His introduction to the game summed him up perfectly. He collected the ball in his own half, dribbled past three men before trying to beat one too many defenders instead of crossing to two Chelsea players in good positions in the box. He is too erratic and too wasteful with the ball to warrant a guaranteed place in the team at the moment.
- Borini – 6.5/10 – I was impressed with his movement and pace, although his lack of muscle is a worry but despite his last minute miss being rather unlucky, I would hate to see Carlo rely on this kid to get us through January. He’s too raw and too weak at the moment and if we don’t get at least one new striker in, we’ll win nothing this year.
Man of the Match
Take your pick from Ivanovic or Ashley. They were both brilliant tonight but because of his role in winning the penalty, I’ll give it to the big Serbian.
Ok then, after my Avram rant, how does one sum up that game? Well, we got the win whilst not playing well and as we all know, that’s the sign of Champions! So let’s leave it at that.
Except we can’t. We have to remember that it was Chelsea versus Portsmouth, top versus bottom and a world-class side versus a shit one and we only scraped home thanks to a penalty. I know we’re in a blip and all Carlo’s claims that he won’t buy in January may simply be a tactic to keep the price of the likes of Ribery, Aguero and Pato reasonable but tonight showed us what happens when we have no Didier, no Essien and a below-par Lampard. Our possession was meaningless at times as we didn’t have the target man to finish it and with Anelka seemingly following Eidur’s lead in converting to a midfielder, I am desperate for Carlo to bring in a new striker, number 10, defensive midfielder and/or centre-back. It may seem drastic and for six months at least we will have a squad of 30 or so players but this squad needs a boost and without it, I fear that we’ll simply run out of ideas.
So with snow and the hectic Christmas fixture list approaching just be thankful for the win, no matter how it came. Nighty night and enjoy those lovely scarves our very own Santa has brought us.