The Observer, Jamie Jackson: “Chelsea’s late-season surge continues and, despite Manchester United still heading them by six points, part of the message from Carlo Ancelotti’s side is that Fernando Torres has finally scored, and may continue to do so until the title is decided.”
Sunday Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “The thunderclaps that reverberated over West London last night did not go unnoticed at Stamford Bridge. Fernando Torres, with a superb first goal for Chelsea at the 14th time of asking, was making a dramatic enough noise of his own. It was the moment Chelsea’s fans feared might never happen. Torres – and yes, you have read this correctly – scored. In an instant, the record signing had restored manager Carlo Ancelotti’s faith. One pass from Nicolas Anelka and he was in, swivelling on the treacherous pitch and firing his finish beyond Robert Green on the turn. The stands erupted in almost palpable rapture.”
Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “Amid Wagnerian scenes of thunder and lightning over west London, West Ham’s best hope of salvaging something from the day turned out to be an abandonment. The unpredictable Easter weather was against them, however, like so much else, even assisting Fernando Torres to break his scoring duck at last after 732 minutes in a blue shirt. Despite a brave fight founded on a bold 4-3-3 formation, West Ham finished the game where they had begun it, at the bottom of the table.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Fernando Torres netted his first Chelsea goal as the Blues thumped West Ham 3-0 in difficult conditions at Stamford Bridge. The heavens opened just before kick-off but Frank Lampard scored under thunder and lightning to give Chelsea the lead just before half time. Florent Malouda added the third in stoppage time at the end of the game following substitute Torres’ late strike.”
The conundrum that is Avram Grant will be the topic of today’s discussion class. Thought it’d make a change from the rollercoaster ride of emotions that is following Chelsea since the turn of the year. I’ve been guiltier than most in spouting out some emotional, hyperbolic bullshit after we scramble together an impressive win or implode in shocking fashion. But hey, that’s what being a bipolar Chelsea fan is all about and I don’t think any of us would change one tiny bit of it. So I thought that instead of arguing about whether our season is over or how many wins/points/goals (delete as appropriate) it will take to nick the title, it may be a bit more fun to look back on nine of the most emotional months in our recent, Roman history.
So when looking at Avram’s beautiful, Salvador Dali style, nightmarish, Gordon Brownesque face what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Fraud? Moron? Buffoon? Unlucky scapegoat? I ask because when I saw him trudge out into the rain this evening, wearing his typically ill-fitting, funeral outfit, for a few seconds all those memories from a few years ago came flooding back.
His sudden appearance from thin air as we parachuted him in from nowhere. The strange insistence on having a place on the bench despite not being a coach in Jose’s team. Then the manoeuvring behind the scenes to make sure he’d miraculously be in place in case the top job became available. Something felt wrong from the start (yeah, I’ll admit it, his fucking hideous face gave me nightmares from the off) and this trepidation was only reinforced in one of the most depressing, amateurish, yet looking back now, hilarious hours of television I’ve ever seen.
Seeing Avram next to Peter and Bruce in some hastily arranged press conference, getting grilled by a pack of journalists, out for blood that they’d been denied a few more days with their media darling, was an embarrassing low point in Roman’s time at the club. He looked like such a pathetic nobody that some of the journalists and fans outside looked genially dumbfounded as to what had happened to Chelsea that week. The fact he didn’t say anything in that press conference hardly helped matters but if we knew that when he did open his trap all we’d get is err, mumble, err, inaudible noise, err… then well, we would have savoured that hour a little bit more.
But then something strange happened. After a few shaky early weeks, which included the arrival of Henk and some girl’s football team coach called Emenalo – whatever happened to that glorified PE teacher? Oh… we started to win some matches.
A lot has been said of Carlo’s laissez-faire attitude this season and how his penchant for massaging egos has cost us (and will probably get him the sack) but with Avram perfecting his deaf mute impression back then, the players were given free rein to express themselves. A Lamps inspired 6-0 demolition of Sven’s City and a Ballack led 4-0 romp at West Ham immediately spring to mind and it has to be said that we did play some beautiful football at times.
But how much of this was down to Avram? Chelsea are a club who need to have a dominant, inspiring manager leading them (just look at the disaster that unfolded when bumbling Phil arrived) and when we faced tricky opponents and looked to the touchline for help all we got was silence, or worse, incompetence of the highest order. Anyone remember the nightmarish Carling Cup final against Spurs? I know I’ll never forget the sight of Avram standing on his own in the dugout as the players and Steve Clarke all got together to ready themselves for extra time. Or how about his decision to go to five at the back at Spurs when we were controlling the game, resulting in chaos in defence and two more dropped points. Or even his baffling decision to being Sheva on when defending that narrow lead against Liverpool in the Champions League semi final. He got away with it but ending a match with a midfield of Sheva, Malouda and Nico should have told us that this was a fraud who had landed one of the best jobs in world football and was simply winging it.
We all know what happened next but just look at his record since then: getting Pompey and now West Ham relegated with dire, incoherent football. Perhaps what grates most is his attitude. Everyone’s always against him it seems and his constant whining just grates and makes me want to throttle him. Some may ask how this is different from a Fergie or a Jose but whereas these two use it at crucial times in order to gain an advantage for their players, Avram simply complains all the bloody time. Whether it’s the injuries, the referee, the penalties, the players, the rain, the grass or the fucking day of the week, you just wish he’d shut up.
Some have compared Carlo to Avram but when you look back on that season, it’s clear that no-one will ever get close to this guy in terms of footballing ineptitude. Carlo may be ultra cautious and his blind spot when it comes to substitutions is rather unfortunate but at least you’ll never catch him doing this:
I think that says it all really. This guy is still employed by a Premier League side remember.
Carlo hinted at rotation and a start for Fernando but why change a team that is in great form? So, more of the same it was then:
Cech, Ivanovic, David Luiz, Terry, Cole, Essien, Mikel, Lampard, Kalou, Drogba, Malouda.
Subs: Turnbull, Torres, Benayoun, Zhirkov, Ferreira, Bertrand, Anelka.
Well the evening started out rather badly really. Some of the players appeared to have a few glum faces on – Lamps later said that they were feeling a bit down after watching Utd’s inevitable late winner – and as they walked out of the tunnel, the heavens opened, resulting in a torrential downpour.
But all that depressing stuff was quickly forgotten due to “Handshake Showdown – Part 2!” Would he? Wouldn’t he? Would they? In the end the answer was no. Wayne continued his hilariously petty stance of refusing to shake John’s hand but the general consensus was that JT came out of this one the better. He didn’t budge an inch as Wayne approached and even though he was looking stony faced, I thought I spotted the slightest hint of a smug smirk at the end as if to say “well, fuck you Wayne. You enjoy the Championship as I continue as England captain.”
Then the footie began and well, it was immediately apparent that instead of the rain helping to create a nice, slick surface for us to zip around a few nice passes on, it had instead started to create a bit of a waterlogged bog. Despite this we had stared brilliantly. West Ham immediately parked the bus and it soon turned into an attack versus defence training session for the first twenty minutes. Mikel was controlling the game in his quarterback role but he soon started to maraud forward to great effect (probably to compensate for the again subdued Essien). He first fed Didier, whose reverse pass to Flo resulted in a glorious opportunity to make it 1-0 but his lazy finish was pathetic really and easily saved.
We were dominating possession and Didier was again in barnstorming early form as he brushed aside defenders with ease before firing a few tricky shots which Green did well to handle on the wet surface. Ash and Branners were both getting forward well but as the minutes ticked by our high tempo start soon faded into predictable Arsenal style possession football. Loads of sideways passes but no end product was the order of the day as the clock nudged past the 20 minute mark and despite me being his biggest fan, a lot of this seemed to stem from Branners’ inability to cross the ball. Lamps and Mikel would regularly find him with classy balls out to the right wing but his head down, hit and hope style crosses never really worked out.
Slowly but surely West Ham began to grow in confidence. A few Noble free kicks and corners were routinely cleared up by Pete but the fragility in our side was there for all to see. Despite a run of good results, as soon as West Ham started exerting pressure and chucking it into our box, things deteriorated to panic stations at times. Freddie Sears was terrorising us as he first crossed for Spector whose stopping header was brilliantly kept out by Pete, then a Sears back-heel was cleared off the line by Ash.
We were still offering the odd attack but they usually ended in some pitiful final ball or an embarrassing blazed shot from a ridiculous angle from Didier when Flo and Kalou were screaming for the cutback. The fans were getting frustrated and the rain was making free flowing, high tempo football virtually impossible as cross field passes skipped out of reach and through balls regularly got caught up in ever deepening puddles. The advertising boards soon cut out thanks to the rain and as half time approached, even a few of the floodlights were playing up. “Are the lights going out on Chelsea’s title hopes” was the inevitable and entirely original follow up line from those hilarious commentators. Oh my sides, I was laughing so hard when they said that, as were approximately none of the millions watching.
And when you first saw Cole and then Ba scamper away on dangerous counter attacks before Pete smashed Luiz’s head with a wonderfully placed right hook, one began to wonder whether it would be one of those days. But I needn’t have worried as we soon woke up from our slumber after Carlo raised that eyebrow and did some screaming from the touchline (something Avram never did. I’m not sure he even left his seat in the away dugout once in the 90 minutes!) Didier slid a perfectly weighted pass to Ash whose cutback was smashed home by Lamps. It was a beautifully simple goal and that was that for the first half.
So the second half started with no changes apart from the ever worsening state of the pitch. We were playing at a slightly higher tempo but chances weren’t exactly coming all that readily. We were looking neat and tidy with loads of pretty square passes but when we tried to force things a little more, we usually screwed things up with a wasteful final ball. Lamps and Malouda had a few speculative shots but not a lot was happening.
Then the game came to life after Yossi came on. His creativity and movement added a lot to what was a desperately pedestrian midfield and soon we were creating a few more chances. But West Ham decided to wake up and soon started playing a bit more directly into our waterlogged and hilariously slippery box. First Cole twisted then turned then fell flat on his arse before Ba had a header cleared off the line. Luiz curled a stunning 30 yarder onto the bar at the other end but for a 10 minute spell it was all West Ham. Robbie Keane had come on and was causing Branners all sorts of problems. He first tested Cech with a clever shot from a tight angle then when sent through from a lovely Sears pass, he wastefully curled wide from eight yards out. We were lucky to still be 1-0 up and despite a “strong first 70 minutes” as the commentators put it, Didier was fading and it was time for Torres.
He immediately brought more movement and pace to the side and set up Nico with a great pass with one of his first touches. Nico’s shot was brilliantly cleared off the line but Fernando’s introduction had livened things up. He looked fitter, faster and more dangerous and if you watched his movement and the number of times he made runs behind their back four, you’ll realise that next season, when we move on from Didier, we will see the best from him.
And then the big moment came. Nico controlled Pete’s long kick forward. He slid a perfectly weighted ball through to Fernando who was hanging on the shoulder of the last defender as he loves to. His first touch was perfect as he knocked it ahead of him into the space, onto his right foot. He sprinted forward, ready to bury it then realised he had run past the ball, which had hilariously got stuck in a puddle. No matter though. He spun then curled the ball into the far corner with his left foot. It was a stunning finish and after 903 minutes of waiting, that moment had come. The reaction from Fernando (beaming smile and trademark arms out, sliding celebration), the fans (one of the biggest cheers and prolonged spells of delirious jumping up and down I’ve seen at the Bridge) and players (mass pile up on top of Torres, much like the Makelele moment against Charlton) was incredible really. It was an amazing moment and I, like many others I hope, found myself smiling for hours it seemed after he scored.
Not much happened after that as everyone seemed to be revelling in Fernando’s moment. The luck had most certainly changed for him as even his misplaced passes were coming off, to brilliant effect in the last minute as it landed at Malouda’s feet, who rifled it home from 25 yards. That third goal may prove crucial as if we can end on 79 points, that extra goal may win it for us.
But today belonged to Fernando. He looked more dangerous than I’ve seen him for a while (not just in a Chelsea shirt) and seeing him begging for the return ball on our third goal was yet another pointer that he was slowly getting back to his best. His movement has always been there but today with more pace, more fitness and that bit of luck, perhaps the real Fernando had finally arrived. Seeing him stroll off the pitch at the final whistle with the biggest smile you’re ever likely to see may even have won over some of his biggest critics and well, the title isn’t quite gone yet.
- Torres’ goal – The relief, the happiness and the reaction from everyone in the stadium was one of the moments of the season for me. I’m still smiling now thinking about it.
- Performance – There were dodgy moments in the second half but when you’re looking for a 100% run-in, a 3-0 win in a London derby shouldn’t be sniffed at.
- Mikel – Controlled the game and even compensated for the worrying subdued and at times awful Essien. Passing was again exemplary but his runs forward were a slight yet pleasant surprise. Has veered from the sublime to the downright dire this season but he seems to be grabbing this second chance and with Essien and Ramires both out now, Mikel is suddenly the crucial member of our midfield three.
- Big Pete – Yet another immaculate performance between the sticks. Has had his best season for a while and looks to be in a straight fight with JT for our player of the year award.
- Sears – A constant threat on the break and his brilliant dribbling and sublime passing was let down by the dross around him.
- Goal difference – We’re edging closer and closer.
- Weather – Without the rain and waterlogged pitch, we looked in the mood for five or six early on.
- Essien – His latest knee injury isn’t thought to be that serious according to Carlo but he looks in need for some time off. Passing was wayward. Tackling was non-existent as he was usually so far off the pace that he was never near enough to close down a West Ham player. He’s still a crucial part of our squad but this is a massive summer and pre-season for him. Depending on who we buy, he may not be the untouchable pick he one was.
- Midfield – Desperately lacking in creativity before Yossi came on. Can’t wait for Josh to get his chance this pre-season really when you see the dross that this midfield can serve up when they run out of ideas. Slow, plodding and one dimensional, I’m not sure we’ll be seeing this trio again from next season.
- Crossing – Does anyone at the club know how to curl a ball past the first man?
- Avram – I just hate the man.
- Cech – 9/10 – Immaculate.
- Ivanovic – 6/10 – Nervy at the back and poor going forward. An off day.
- Luiz – 7/10 – Subdued but his stunning shot gets him and extra point. How strange is it that I’m describing a centre-back as subdued as if it’s a negative! We now expect fireworks from David every week but perhaps those early Beckenbaueresque days will be a little rarer from now on.
- JT – 8/10 – Rock solid.
- Ash – 7/10 – Some nice runs forward but seems to be saving himself for the Utd showdown.
- Mikel – 9/10 – If only he could shoot! He was close to his best today and just needs a bit of refining in front of goal to be close to a complete midfielder.
- Essien – 4/10 – Poor. And now injured.
- Lamps – 7/10 – Had a sloppy opening but after his classic Frank goal, he grew into the game. No matter what you say about him slowing down, the three months we had to do without him probably cost us this title.
- Kalou – 5/10 – Anonymous.
- Malouda – 6/10 – A beautiful goal but I thought his crossing was abysmal and his laziness and lack of effort at times was infuriating. He’s been in great form but for me, he looks nailed on to be sold this summer.
- Didier – 7/10 – Some brilliant moments but tired quickly and his finishing can still be selfish and woeful.
- Yossi (sub) – 7/10 – May not have directly affected any of the goals but his touch, creativity and movement were needed after an hour of toiling from the starting trio.
- Nico (sub) – 5/10 – One nice pass apart, what did he actually do? Whereas Didier has responded well to the Torres challenge, Nico appears to have shrunk and gone into his shell. The MLS awaits.
- Torres (sub) – 8/10 – Come on… give him this high rating after that goal. A beautiful finish, yet more great movement and we know that this was the first of many. The reaction of his teammates and the fans really was a wonderful moment.
Man of the Match
It has to be Fernan… only kidding! It’s Mikel for a sublime and dominant midfield performance.
So how about that then?
The title isn’t quite gone yet and after Arsenal’s hilarious annual implosion, it is again coming down to us and Utd. Their late, scrambled win against Everton shocked precisely no-one but their next four games look incredibly tricky and I’ll be cheering on Arsenal tomorrow just so that their showdown with Utd doesn’t turn into a dead rubber. A 100% run-in will probably still be too little too late but the way the players’ response to the pathetic Champions League exit has been impressive and a surprise to me.
This isn’t the moment to talk of ditching the old guard or speculating on Carlo’s successor but after Fernando’s goal and the impressive performance from Mikel and Luiz, the future is looking bright.
Nighty night. Don’t let Avram’s ugly mug bite.