The Observer, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea’s title challenge flashed before their eyes in the closing stages. What should have been a breeze against opponents who had apparently wilted around the hour mark ended with the hosts desperately hacking loose balls from their own goal line as Bolton threatened the unlikeliest of comebacks. Chelsea’s pursuit of Manchester United has been maintained, though only just.”
Sunday Telegraph, Trevor Haylett: “To the astonishment of all, the home team conceded three goals in nine minutes – a repeat on Tuesday and Liverpool will discover a Champions League reprieve.”
Sunday Times, Brian Glanville: “Cruising, or so it seemed, to a facile 4-0 victory against an unadventurous Bolton Wanderers team, Chelsea suddenly and astonishingly collapsed in the last 20 minutes. Bolton got back three of the goals, suddenly dominated, even ridiculed a Chelsea defence whose keeper Petr Cech was hopelessly and helplessly at sea, and all but gained an equaliser.”
Independent on Sunday, Jim Foulerton: “Anything Liverpool can do, Chelsea can match – or better. At least that was how it looked when Guus Hiddink’s team led by four goals with a one-sided match seemingly about to draw to its natural conclusion. Bolton, though, didn’t see things that way and gave Chelsea the fright of their lives, scoring three times inside nine remarkable second-half minutes.”
Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “Chelsea clung on to three very valuable points at home to Bolton despite a spirited comeback from the visitors.”
It’s hard to know what to say about games like this. Correction. It’s very easy to know what to say about games like this. And most of it is unrepeatable in decent company. There was an air of expectation about Stamford Bridge yesterday after the midweek demolition of the so called ‘best team in Europe’. The expectation was of two flavours. Those who wanted Wednesday night’s team to show up and those (like me) with a more cynical perspective who thought it was more likely to be an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ type of game.
In the end we got both.
A perfect display of the sheer bipolarity of Chelsea FC.
Bolton Wanderers are renowned party poopers at Stamford Bridge. They almost seem to revel in coming to London to ruin our day and yesterday was no exception. Set up to try and stop us from playing they succeeded for the first 20 minutes or so, showing little evidence of the stereotypical long ball game they seem to have garnered a reputation for. They also seemed to have the better of the early chances as our midfield minus Essien and defence seem to think this game would be a walk in the park. Even the sight of the returning Carvalho didn’t seem to generate much in the way of confident and flowing football.
But then Michael Ballack woke up and everything started to flow rather nicely. Ashley Cole, now looking the ultimate left-back, was making good darting runs and linking up well with Kalou and Malouda. Thirty minutes into the game one sensed a goal might just be forthcoming. As the domination increased from Chelsea Bolton seemed to retreat into their shells and again despite their reputation as Northern Cloggers, they weren’t particularly fearsome in the tackle. It seemed to me that they had switched into a defensive mode with the sole intention of frustrating us and getting to the half time break intact.
When the breakthrough goal came it was engineered and finished by the mightily impressive Ballack. I know he appears languid and laid back on the pitch but this belies a fearsome distance running ethos, and these runs often drag other opposition players with him freeing up space for others like Frank to do some damage. Ballack’s pass found Kalou on the right and Kalou then found Ballack storming into the penalty area for a clinical drilled finish. Half time beckoned and once again it was beer ‘o’ clock.
The second half got off to a flyer with a goal within three minutes for the seemingly rejuvenated Didier Drogba. Kalou again on a marauding run down the right was tripped outside the box and from the resulting free kick the first one onto the ball was the gig Ivorian. Simple, but effective and we were on our way to Cloud 9.
Frank slotted home a rare home penalty, so rare in fact I am wondering if we’ve had one all season. I’m sure the good commenters of Blogsville will correct me if I’m wrong. Drogba followed up with his second and our fourth and the key was firmly in the door of the entrance to Cloud 9.
And then Guus made two changes on 65 minutes and the wheels, as they say, came off.
Welcome to the dark side…
Off came Drogba and Lampard to be replaced by Anelka and the single most useless thing to come from Portugal, the utterly lazy good for nothing Deco. Yes, the key to Cloud 9 was wrenched away and tossed in a bin. Within eight minutes from the 70th onwards a kind of collective malaise took a grip on the team. Three goals conceded suddenly made the one time formality into a nail biting, hair loss inducing, squeaky bum fest of the highest order. We went from cruise control to Keystone Cops and I doubt there was a single fan in the ground for those last 12 minutes who wasn’t thinking the previously unthinkable – that Bolton looked the most likely to score. Top class players like John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Riccy Carvalho and Ashley Cole became gripped by pub football fever. Hashed clearances, sloppy passing, unforced errors giving up possession and ineffective tackling all pitched their tents up for the men in blue. Frankly it was terrifying to watch – real x-rated stuff. The most worrying thing though must be why two substitutions could apparently disrupt the flow and balance of the team so dramatically. Anelka seemed to slow the game down when he came on but was unlucky not to score, however Deco was anonymous when he wasn’t surrendering possession. He has to go, the Premier League is just too much for the bloke. He’ll probably do okay somewhere like Italy where time and space on the ball are afforded with regularity. The Premier League never affords such luxuries no matter who you play.
The final whistle after a two corner Bolton salvo couldn’t come soon enough.
Was Guus to blame for the substitutions? I can’t blame him for taking precautions, but for me, 65 minutes was 10 minutes too early. At 75 and potentially four goals up then I think the miracle recovery might not have been so likely. Was it Deco’s fault then? Hmmm… he is ineffective, slow, lazy and blunder prone… useless is the term that springs to mind. Another Shevchenko getting a decent final pay day in a tailing off career. But he could hardly be entirely to blame for the house of cards collapse.
No, I hereby name the chief culprit as Petr Cech. For each of the three goals he could and should have done better. The first would have been prevented by holding onto the ball in his box. The second was because he didn’t come and take the ball… flapping around like Dale Winton after he’s spotted George Clooney in his swimming trunks. Bolton’s third was route one, but a better, more alert and commanding goalkeeper would have taken the ball from the initial punt. He had a stinker.
- Petr Cech – 3/10 – Had barely anything to do for long periods but was at fault for all three of Bolton’s goals.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 7.5/10 – He has his own song! Steady and reliable.
- John Terry – 7.5 – Steady overall but must be furious with the three goals conceded.
- Ricardo Carvalho – 7/10 – A little ring rusty but a good return.
- Ashley Cole – 8.5/10 – A contender for Man of the Match.
- John Obi Mikel – 6/10 – Not at his best.
- Michael Ballack – 8.5/10 – Commanding and assured. Great work for the opening goal.
- Frank Lampard – 8/10 – Another decent performance. Well, what did we expect from Mr Reliable.
- Florent Malouda – 7/10 – Another decent if unspectacular performance.
- Salomon Kalou – 8/10 – Clearly improving and we look better with him than without.
- Didier Drogba – 8/10 – Two goals… what more can we ask for?
- Deco (sub for Lampard) – 3/10 – Will be despatched in the summer. Crap.
- Nicolas Anelka (sub for Drogba) – 6.5/10 – Looked a bit ponderous but was unlucky not to score.
- Overall team performance – 8/10 – Until the 70th minute and then 4/10 from that point on.
Man of the Match
Ze magnificent German, Michael Ballack.
I have rarely felt so ill as I have done today so I’ll keep it short.
For the neutrals, great. For me it was more terrifying than when I watched The Evil Dead alone and had to leave every light on in the house throughout the night.
In the pub we were talking about the unlikely chance that Liverpool would score the three they need on Tuesday to progress. After all, we agreed, not many come to Stamford Bridge and score three.
And then came Bolton…
Let’s hope lessons have been learnt. Liverpool may have got some hopes up after seeing our capitulation, but I have faith that the manager and the team will not allow that sort of thing to happen again.
Three points in the bag, but it could have been so much worse.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!