The newspaper reports
The Independent on Sunday, Trevor Haylett: “The Chelsea faithful are not used to having to wait to anoint their new manager with a victory. Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti had all begun their tenures here with a win. Even Luiz Felipe Scolari launched his ill-fated stay on a successful note. For Andre Villas-Boas, the latest to sit on the hottest of hot seats, it looked as if a second game would pass without the satisfaction of that winning feeling. His defence, unnerved by the absence of goalkeeper Peter Cech, had come apart as early as the fourth minute to gift a spirited and dogged West Bromwich Albion the lead. There was good reason for the new man to patrol his technical area with a worried frown as Chelsea laboured to find a response. But it all came right in the end with a winning goal seven minutes from time.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “Crouching on the touchline seven minutes from time, staring down the barrel of a second straight draw, Villas-Boas was aware that two points from six probably signalled a sackable offence under the warped logic of Roman Abramovich. But persistence was rewarded as strikes by Nicolas Anelka and Malouda helped ease Chelsea out of the blocks.”
The Observer, Dominic Fifield: “André Villas-Boas’s emotions overcame him at the end, the Portuguese greeting the final whistle with a punch to the air and what may have been a cry of satisfaction. In reality, this was probably born more of relief. A narrow victory, even as it kickstarted the new manager’s tenure, has actually served to underline the familiar issues that still cramp this squad’s progress. Their transformation remains a work in progress.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea left it late to come from behind at home to West Brom on Saturday but a first win of the season arrived thanks to goals from Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda.”
I watched my first Chelsea match for five months last week. Luckily for me my frustration over our poorest season in nine years came to an end last February when I was offered a four-month training contract in Melbourne. I won’t say any more about that as the reasons for our failure last term have been well canvassed on this blog and elsewhere.
Coming to the Stoke match with a fresh eye, however, I can’t say I was too excited by what I saw. In many respects we seemed to be carrying on from where Carlo left off in May:
- We played for 45 minutes instead of 90, just like most of last season
- We dominated but didn’t score
- We were, mostly, too predictable and too narrow
- We don’t have a playmaker, a left winger, or a right winger, who can switch play quickly and play to Fernando’s strengths
- Kalou was poor (as he so often is when not a substitute) and missed his usual gilt-edged chance with a free header on goal
- Lamps was a shadow of his usual self and slowed the attack down with little semi-circles 20 yards from their penalty area
- We ended the match playing Torres, Drogs and Nic up front – a combination that has been shown over and over again to be unworkable
There were some pluses. Bosingwa was very good for the first time in over two years. Our back four were solid against the primitives from Stoke and Ramires and John Obi were excellent and Fernando was outstanding (even though he had to make his own chances for himself). Best of all we looked sleek, hungry and aggressive – as we haven’t for some time now.
Mention in despatches for John Obi here. To play on when his dad had been kidnapped by Nigerian gangsters – AND to play so well – should attract nothing but praise. A Chelsea legend in the making? Either way, heartfelt wishes for your dad’s safe return, mate.
To return to the start of our season and what has AVB been doing about the squad? Not much, so far as I can tell and, quite frankly, some of his decisions are giving me a headache.
Why have we signed Courtois and then put him out on loan? Where is the trusted cover for Cech?
Why have we signed Lukaku and NOT put him out on loan when we already have four central strikers in the squad? And why do we need five such strikers when only one of them can play in the 4-3-3?
Why are we still playing Torres, Drogba and Anelka interchangeably on the wings? And why have we waited until the last week of the transfer window to bid for a winger when AVB has been here since the start of July?
As I write I have heard that we are very close to signing Juan Mata from Valencia, who looks like a very classy left-sided winger/goal-scorer, for 24 million euros. If true I believe he will be ideal for us and would make more sense of the proposed bid for Modric, who has made a name for himself at Spurs as a feeder for their wingers – Lennon and Bale. Now all we need is a good right-sided winger and I can stop taking the Paracetamols.
Now I don’t expect AVB to come in and win anything in his first season (and I hope Roman carries the same view) and I will be OK with that but I do expect him to make the tough decisions and rebuild the side. I will be very happy indeed if we end up with a first team/squad like this one and challenging hard come April:
Cech; Ivan/Bosingwa; JT/Rajkovic; Luiz/Alex; Cole/Van Aanholt; Jon Obi/Romeu; Ramires/Kakuta; Modric/McEachran; Robben’s love-child/Sturridge; Torres/Lukaku; Mata/Malouda
But I haven’t seen any sign yet that Villas-Boas has done anything with the players he took over from Carlo. And nor have I seen much evidence that he has changed the tactics and found a way to get the best out of Torres.
I have always had a sneaking respect for Roy Hodgson and, although I think they should have stuck with Robbie di Matteo, he is a good choice for a team like West Brom, as he proved with Fulham. He might have done a lot better with Loserpool had he been given more time and patience, as well as the money that King Kenny has miraculously been provided with in order to improve the squad.
I watched West Brom’s match against Manchester United and they looked very good indeed, restricting the reigning champions to just one shot on target all match. Sir Alex’s vibrant new team of youngsters were only rescued in the end by one of their best players – Juan Own Goal.
West Brom play a 4-5-1 formation and I predict they will do what nearly every visiting team does against us at home (including Manchester United last season): park the bus and wait for us to unravel. Will Villas-Boas have a plan for that?
The betting odds with Paddy Power before the game looked like a good example of bookie’s paranoia to me. We are 1-4 to win, 9-2 the draw, and 11-1 for West Brom to win. Given our lack of progress on the team so far, our so-so performance against Stoke, and the fact that we will be spending 90 minutes breaking down the bus in front of the goal without wingers, I am betting on the draw. 1-1 is my prediction.
Slight worsening of my headache when I see the team sheet. I am OK with Hilario’s selection given that Courtois is currently in Madrid watching us on TV. Despite the complaints I regularly hear from my fellow supporters I have nearly always seen some good performances from him.
But what is Kalou doing there? I thought AVB had a laptop program that analyzed individual performances for him? Maybe he needs to switch over to FIFA 12 instead.
Malouda was poor last week but I can’t see much advantage in bringing Nic on for him; no extra width there.
No place for Josh on the bench but both Ferreira and Ivan are there so we have three right-backs. Ooh, I think it’s turning into a migraine now.
Team: Hilario, Bosingwa, JT, Alex, Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Ramires, Kalou, Torres, Anelka.
Subs: Turnbull, Ivanovic, Ferreira, Benayoun, Malouda, Drogba.
The first half
Just as I was thinking that I had been too pessimistic in my preview it turns out worse than I could have imagined.
West Brom stifle the midfield with tactics anyone, even Villas-Boas and Di Matteo, might have predicted and we look clueless. After some aimless passing around the back, Ramires slops a pass to Alex, who looks like he is working out his pay packet with Juventus in his head, as Shane Long intercepts, shoves him off the ball, and runs on with an easy shot past Hilario.
We spend the next 30 minutes competing to find out who can knock it back to West Brom quickest. The easy winners were Kalou, Lampard and Alex, followed by Anelka, Ramires and Bosingwa.
The result? It was just like watching Chelsea last season against Sunderland, Birmingham, Wolves and the rest; a complete and utter shambles.
There were three highlights: two blinding saves from Hilario that keep us in the match and a shot from Torres which Foster just palms out.
On 35 minutes AVB hauls off Kalou and brings on Malouda. Kalou has been poor but I don’t think he deserves the derision he gets from the stands because, overall, it is a very poor team performance so far. West Brom have been excellent; crowding the midfield and playing up fast on the break.
Last 10 minutes we finally start to play a bit after that somewhat ruthless substitution. Ashley makes a chance for himself that is saved by Foster, then Nic has a decent penalty shout turned down by the referee. Just before the whistle Fernando is upended as he tries to go past three players, Alex blasts the free kick through the wall (his one contribution to the match) and it is saved on the line by Foster. But, in truth, West Brom could easily have gone in two or 3-0 up.
Half-time: Chelsea 0 West Bromwich Albion 1.
The second half
West Brom continue to pack the midfield while retaining a fair bit of possession and we look as witless as we did in the first half.
But just like last season under Carlo we start playing for 35 minutes and, amazingly! – we start using the wings! Malouda is playing out wide left and Nic stays close to the right-hand touchline instead of drifting in. Lampard, in one of his few forays up forward, slips it out to Nic in the 53rd minute, who suddenly cuts in and shoots as West Brom are distracted by a penalty call for a trip on Lamps. The shot is deflected past the keeper into the far corner. Very fortunate indeed but it does spark us on to dominate the rest of the match. A few minutes later, Malouda almost scores with a shot that beats the keeper but is kept out by Steven Reid.
On 55 minutes AVB brings off Torres for Drogba, a decision that worsens my headache still more. If poor preparation, dim selections and crap tactics mean that our Man of the Match against Stoke can’t perform, then what chance has Drogba got? And, in truth, Drogs shows no improvement over Fernando this half.
Five minutes later our goalie keeps us in the match yet again. Odemwingie is clean through on goal with Alex trundling after him but Hilario keeps him out with his chest.
My headache is pretty bad by now but I get some relief when Villas-Boas finally hauls Alex off for Ivan; as soon as he comes on we step up another notch. He puts Anelka clean through on the right, Foster comes rushing out but, instead of going round him Nic curves the ball behind, just wide.
But by now the worst is over. Ivan puts Shane Long in his pocket, our midfielders start to retain possession and Cole and Bosingwa are giving us still more width, putting West Brom under more and more pressure as we drive forward. But clear-cut chances are few and too many crosses end up in Foster’s hands.
Seven minutes from the end we take the lead. Bosingwa is put through, again, by Ivan and with some clever wing play he crosses behind their defence for Malouda to score from a simple tap-in.
Now many bi-polar supporters will understand me when I tell you that my first thought when I saw West Brom kicking off again was ‘How long will it take them to equalize?’ Sure enough, three minutes later and Hilario was again our saviour with another good save from Odemwingie. West Brom have it nearly all their own way in the final five minutes but somehow we keep them out.
Full time: Chelsea 2 West Bromwich Albion 1.
The player and management ratings
Traditionally for this blog I will provide some totally subjective and frequently irrational ratings based on how they affected my headache.
- Bosingwa. One Paracetamol. Participated in the general defensive malaise and some of his crosses were poor. But he was our match-winner as it was his sublime skill in their penalty area that set up Malouda for the second.
- Terry. No change in symptoms. Not sure why he was ineffectual. Was he trying to cover for Alex? Or just too slow? Struggled to cope with Tchoyi.
- Alex. Headache rapidly translated into severe migraine throughout his time on the pitch, with associated ‘halo’ effect and consequent nausea. Ponderous, slow and distracted and Shane Long made a monkey out of him.
- Cole. Half a Paracetamol tablet. To be fair, he spent most of the first half holding off Scharmer. Got forward more in the second half but created little.
- Mikel. One Paracetamol. This is not really his kind of game, I think, as we don’t need a holding midfielder when we are trying to break teams down. Showed a lot of urgency going forward in the second half and needs to play with more attack in future if he is going to keep Romeu out.
- Ramires. One Paracetamol. His fourth minute back pass to the dozy Alex was sloppy and he gave away possession too easily in the first half but ran and tackled like a maniac in the second half.
- Lampard. Who?
- Kalou. Increased cranial pressure towards the frontal lobes. Did little in his time on the pitch and I assume he was taken off for disobeying AVB’s instructions to stay out wide. But it’s unfair to blame him for the team malaise.
- Anelka. One Paracetamol. He was one of only two players that showed much creativity. But, too often, his moves came to little. A clever goal from him as he took advantage while their defenders were watching the referee.
- Torres. One Paracetamol. You can’t expect Fernando to play well with the tactics AVB came up with. Grafted like a Trojan in the first half to try and create something, and nearly scored.
- Drogba (substitute). Worsening tension in the temporal lobe. Was he in a sulk? Did little after coming on.
- Malouda (substitute). Two Paracetamols. We began to dominate after he came on and we started using the flanks more. Some of his moves ended up by the corner flag but he worked hard and could easily have scored twice.
- Ivanovic (substitute). Morphine-like effect as he settled things down at the back and his passing out was sublime at times.
- Hilario. A complete cure. Were it not for him we could have lost 2-4. And if I hear any more moaning about him from my Chelsea mates I will send them the match video. Man of the Match.
- The Manager. If things carry on like this I will have to go and see my GP and ask him if there has been any research done on Andre-Villas-Boas Syndrome. Weak selections and poor tactics were his responsibility and he must shoulder some of the blame for our first half performance. But, to be fair, he galvanized the team after he brought first Malouda, and then Ivan on, and imposed more wing play.