The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “This was football, but not as Mourinho ever designed it here. The presence of one makeshift back four, and another that was neurotic and error-strewn, made for a contest that was far more open than it should have been. Once upon a time, the classy finishing of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka would have been more than enough to ensure a comfortable three points. But the astonishing vulnerability of Chelsea’s rearguard presented Everton with gift after gift. Parking a bus? This was more like a clapped out old Mini Metro in front of the goal.”
Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “Even the stadium announcer at Stamford Bridge managed to joke about Tiger Woods but, to borrow a golfing phrase, it is Chelsea who are currently suffering an attack of the yips. After defeats last week against Blackburn and Manchester City, as well as a midweek draw in the Champions League against Apoel Nicosia, Chelsea’s usually reliable defending was undermined by moments of panic, uncertainty and even some internal bickering as Everton scraped their way to an unlikely draw.”
Sunday Times, Nick Townsend: “The pre-match reaction had appeared a little extreme from Chelsea HQ. They still headed their Champions League group, were still Premier League leaders and until Tuesday’s draw against Apoel Nicosia, with a weakened side, they had mustered 12 straight home wins in all competitions. Yet, if Carlo Ancelotti’s rebuke to his men, “this is your last chance”, sounded more like a headmaster admonishing his boys for breaking into the tuck shop than a serious telling-off, there should have been a definite twitching of the metaphorical cane after this performance, which was farcical at times, with some of the country’s finest players incapable of clearing the ball. Chelsea have now failed to win their past four matches and conceded 10 goals.”
Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “Roman Abramovich wanted more entertainment, but this was surely not quite what he had in mind. The blue meanies who went 10 home games without conceding a goal have suddenly become blue Santas, surrendering five in two games at Stamford Bridge and 10 in four overall.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A result that does nothing to answer doubts about Chelsea’s set-piece defending this season gives Everton their fourth draw in a row at Stamford Bridge.”
Well, where do you begin with a game like this? Chelsea last conceded a Premier League goal at the Bridge on the opening day of the season, and now three come at once. This not only annoys me as a Chelsea fan but makes this review harder to write, as I can’t really ignore the elephant in the room (our shite defending) until the end of the post when I would normally add my interpretation as a biased and bi-polar fan. In fact this whole report today will probably be about as much of a shambles as Tiger’s marriage owing to a stinking hangover and a pretty stinking defensive performance. As bi-polarity kicks in though it should be mentioned I did meet a wise Scottish sage while out drinking last night who assured me Chelsea would win the league this season. A merry Scot down the pub may not be the best judge, but he assured me his judgement is always accurate (which was enough to convince me), and although we only drew Chelsea did have lots of positives in their play today.
Right now though I really have to insert my analysis of the shocking defending at set plays: it’s Riccy’s fault. Partly. Maybe I’m being sensationalist or reading a bit too much into a game that on its own cannot decided our season, but hear me out. Our back four were too deep whenever Everton lofted the ball into our box from a free kick, and the reason for this is that it suits Carvalho as he wants to start deep and attack the ball when it comes in to the opposition forwards. He picked Saha’s pocket to create the first goal owing to this trait, and we are all familiar with him intercepting passes and charging upfield with the ball. This is a great facet of his game, but when it comes to crosses JT, Branners and even Alex are all happy to be stood under a ball battling the striker to win the header but Riccy is more at home waiting a yard or two off the flight of the ball and then jumping into the header. It is harsh to pick out Carvalho on his own, so I won’t. Defending with a line that is too deep is something we have done before, and the only one of the back four, in fact of the entire starting eleven, who is blameless is Ivanovic due to his relative inexperience. I just think that perhaps it is down to Carvalho that the line starts edging backwards. Anyway, now that I have got that off my chest I’ll get back to the review.
In the first minute we came out of the blocks quickly and Lampard charged down a Hibbert clearance like he was playing at flanker. The ball dropped to Anelka who won a corner, which didn’t come to much, but a few minutes later Ballack released Drogba who shot wide. We had started brightly and I began to look forward to a stress free 2-0; this Chelsea team never underestimates Everton and so as long as the work rate was kept up I couldn’t see anything but a victory. Ten minutes in Lampard gave away an innocuous looking free kick after fouling Piennar, and the resulting goal made me revise my expectations. From the ball in Saha had scored with a good header into the corner via the post and the back of Cech’s head.
Just as I was wondering how we would react to going a goal down Riccy caught Saha in possession and picked out Lampard on the edge of the box. A cushioned instep to the Drog set up his lovely left foot strike into the top corner of Howard’s goal. After this equaliser we gained more confidence with Lampard and Ballack running the centre of the pitch. As the memory of the FA Cup final started to drift into my head Everton struggled to deal with one of our corners, and the ball dropped to Ivanovic in the area. Incredibly he had the presence of mind to knock it to Anelka who then placed the ball into the roof of the net. 2-1 Chelsea.
The rest of the half then began to fizzle out very gently in a way that Chelsea are experts at when ahead. A few half chances were created including a free kick that Lampard hit into the wall after Anelka had been taken down by Heitinga, who I thought had a good good ‘robust’ (i.e. he fouled a fair bit) performance. As the half entered the fifth minute of stoppage time Everton won a throw in and most of the Chelsea team already had their minds in the dressing room. Fellaini flicked the throw in on and after a couple of bounces the ball dropped to Yakubu who placed the ball neatly passed Cech with his first touch after coming on for Jo.
The second half started with a couple of corners and free kicks for Chelsea that we couldn’t really profit from. Everton had some good movement as well, with Riccy managing to get a last ditch block in to prevent Saha shooting, but Chelsea seemed to be the team playing for a win. Ivanovic once again found space on the right and his cross in went full to Drogba at the far post who side footed into the goal whilst under pressure from Hibbert. An hour was gone and we just had to hold on to the lead. I mentioned in the Arsenal report how we are good at breaking up teams after we take the lead and Ballack impressed me by knocking into Everton players at every opportunity in order to slow them down, whilst avoiding giving away any more dreaded free kicks that Everton could float in. At least I think he did, as I have forgotten who gave away the free kick that Heitinga dropped into our area minutes later. As Drogba rose to head the ball so did Saha in front of him, and in an incredible slice of bad luck Drogba’s clearance bounced off Saha and past Cech.
At this point I realised it just wasn’t going to be our day, but it is to the credit of the team that we kept going, committing men forward and taking some risks for the last twenty five minutes. Joe Cole volleyed wide before Ballack hurled himself at a cross from Ivanovic with Drogba waiting next to him. Ze German then got a rare chance to take a free kick and forced Howard into an unconventional tip over the bar, and after the resulting corner we fashioned another chance for Joe Cole who could only hit Drogba with his effort. It was his last contribution of the game before Malouda replaced him.
I thought after Cole went off we didn’t play quite as well, maybe because Malouda prefers to drift out wide rather than stay as central as Cole or maybe because the first switch was followed by Beletti coming on for Carvalho and Ivanovic moving to the centre. This was a strange decision from Ancelotti as Ivanovic had been causing Everton problems all game, but I guess he thought Beletti would have a better ball in to create something. Instead Beletti kept cutting inside rather than going past the left-back like Branners did, and coupled with Malouda’s introduction our play was shifted to the left by a few yards, which didn’t really do us any favours. Our last chance of the game was also one of the best as Ballack placed a volley agonisingly wide from the edge of the area.
- Cech – 6.5/10 – Could have claimed another cross or two but I feel the defence were more culpable for the goals today.
- A. Cole – 6.5/10 – A quiet game by his standards but I think Everton came with a plan to play against him today, aware of the threat owing to his great form so far this season. Didn’t make any mistakes against a physical side.
- Terry – 6/10 – With his experience he should have kept that defensive line higher. Played a few nice passes.
- Carvalho – 6/10 – I mentioned earlier that I feel he drags that line deeper due to his willingness to spring from it – this brought the first goal today so his score climbed to match JT’s.
- Ivanovic – 8/10 – Perhaps a surprise a defender gets eight out of ten when his side concedes three goals but he exploited Everton’s left well today, perhaps in part because they focused on our other full-back.
- Mikel – 7/10 – Doesn’t get a higher score partly because he didn’t have much to do, despite the three goals. Jo didn’t get a look in when up against Jon Obi.
- Lampard – 8/10 – Controlled the game well and set up Drogba’s first.
- Ballack – 7.5/10 – His best game for a while. If only he had got a couple of his half chances on target…
- J. Cole – 7/10 – Immediately gets marks for not being Deco. Didn’t do all that much but playing in this position is all about movement and getting in between the opposition midfield and defence, and I feel his work off the ball brought benefit for other players.
- Drogba – 9/10 – Magnificent again, my Man of the Match for scoring two goals. The Drog must be annoyed with the defence for costing us three points as he did his fair share.
- Anelka – 7/10 – Quieter than Drogba but scored himself and linked the play in his familiar style. He was helped by Ballack and Lamps constantly going past him.
Final analysis bit
I thought we were unlucky to draw today, even though you could understand an Everton fan who says he side deserved a
point. They worked hard, but I thought we worked harder, something we forgot to do at Citeh. Ballack had one of his best games for quite a while, and although Lampard isn’t scoring under Ancelotti he still influences most games more than any other midfielder on the pitch. Drogba was rampant yet again and on another day would have completed his hat-trick, while Ivanovic tormented the Everton left flank so much that he was within a whisker of getting my Man of the Match award. We also had twenty five shots to the Toffees’ ten.
On the negative side is, of course, that defending. I picked on Carvalho earlier so I won’t do it again now, but I will get on a different high horse and defend Cech instead from some criticism that may get levelled at him. OK, he has played better in his career but he wasn’t really at fault today for the goals, two of them in particular were flukes that no-one could do much about. He is only 27 and has a long time left in football, and if he continues to gradually improve he may well regain his place as the best ‘keeper around.
So overall I’m going to keep the faith and put this one down to a bad day at the office. Losing away at Citeh and then drawing at home to Everton does not constitute a crisis whatever the papers may say tomorrow. Ignore the Blackburn and Apoel results as they don’t count for a lot, it is the next few games that matter now. I’ve got the belief that we can now go on a winning run until the African Cup of Nations, and the players will be fired up to do just that.
I’m not trying to dismiss today’s result as insignificant, or ignore the flaws it highlighted in the team. It is just that they are flaws that can be ironed out on the training pitch, and the squad that will be at Cobham on Monday is the strongest in the league. I don’t know why that after a draw I am most confident, but something today told me this squad will pull together even more and try even harder after this result. I’ll even go so far as to say if we can create this siege mentality and keep it over the ACN we’ll go on to win the league.
Three points clear – Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!