The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The score, with a penalty for the visitors in the last minute, may have been tied up but this was a match in which logic unravelled to joyous effect. Only those with a vested interest can be immune to the delight of such a game. As the sides demolished one another’s defences there was debris everywhere and reconstruction work lies ahead for each manager now that two of Chelsea’s players and one of Aston Villa’s will be suspended after each being sent off with a straight red card.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Compelling entertainment from first whistle to last, this Premier League epic reminded everyone of how Martin O’Neill has galvanised Aston Villa and why Avram Grant lacks the charisma to inspire Chelsea to great heights in the post-Jose Mourinho era. “We’ve got the Special One,” chanted Villa fans.”
The Times, Alyson Rudd: “It was breathtaking from the start and the result was never certain. Would Chelsea surrender their long unbeaten run at home in the league or extend it to 72 matches? Would Aston Villa be involved in a match even more incredible than their 4-4 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur on October 1? That the match ended in a draw had to be the fair result. Villa deserve plaudits for their attack-minded approach at the fortress that is Stamford Bridge, while Chelsea should be praised for their flair and resilience.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Like an old regimental flag shot to bits and tattered round the edges, Chelsea carried their unbeaten home League run to 72 games yesterday, but the question they ask themselves today is how much longer? How much longer can they compete in a Premier League title race with almost half their team injured, suspended or running on empty?”
In a nutshell this is one of those games that can be summed up by the acronym WTF? Every element of the game had you thinking the same thing… WTF? I’ll save the best bits for “final thoughts” but in essence we threw the Premiership away, alternating at times between stumbling and shambolic to sublime.
- Andriy Shevchenko. Like most of the team in the first half he didn’t play his best stuff but was clearly the best one we had in a blue shirt. Scored a penalty which we barely deserved to throw the lifeline and then an absolute screamer in the second half to put us back on equal terms at a point in the game when we were starting to turn up the heat.
- Michael Ballack. Absolutely world class and just like the Ballack that Germany knows and loves. Sprayed the ball around calmly, accurately and did not make a single unforced error. Truly magnificent.
- Joe Cole. Like everyone else was fairly lethargic first half but covered more ground in 5 minutes than Kalou did all game. Should have scored or laid off to Shevchenko in the first half but deserves a mention here because of his tireless work rate. It’s a wonder he could walk by the end.
- Alex. The paradox here of course is us conceding 4 goals and me giving Alex some praise for being such a good player, but having not seen any re-run of the game as I write this, it seems to me he was clearly not at fault for any of the goals and he himself scored a wonderful team goal in a fabulous link up with Shevchenko.
- 72 home games without defeat. That is a staggering achievement in anyone’s book, but Avram Grant came perilously close to chucking another Mourinho achievement down the pan as it could so easily have been despatched by a well drilled Villa team. Which leads me to…
- Aston Villa. The fans sung themselves hoarse and their team put in a never say die performance which is a real credit to their own “Special One” Martin O’ Neill. We don’t normally praise anyone else but Chelsea here but Aston Villa could have come with a draw in mind but for the first half they outplayed, outfought and outclassed us everywhere. In the second half when down to 10 men did they sit back and play for the draw? No way, they soaked the pressure and even when they went 3-2 down they never lost their faith. Hats off to them for a very creditable display.
- Petr Cech. He might have a claim to being the world’s best ‘keeper, but not at the moment. A clanger against Arsenal was eclipsed by an absolute horror show of “How Not To Keep Goal” for Villa’s second. This was an absolutely inexcusable mistake for someone of his alleged class and a complete embarrassment.
- Claudio Pizzaro. Utter absolute rubbish who did not make one single worthwhile contribution to the game until he was substituted to howls of derision from some of the crowd and the Gareth Hunt “Nescafe” hand sign. Garbage player who needs to be offloaded asap. Christ, he makes Bouhlarouz and Del Horno look like Pele and Maradona. And before any of our esteemed readership starts bleating on about giving him time, he’s had enough and has plainly shown himself not good enough for us or any other Premiership team to be honest. No wonder no-one else was queuing up for him.
- Phil Dowd – the ref. Petty, slow, vindictive and unsure of the rules of advantage or what constitutes a penalty. His decision to red card Ricardo Carvalho looked like nothing more than an equaliser to level things up after dismissing Zat Knight, who in turn may be aggrieved to go off when surely a penalty and a yellow card was sufficient punishment. The abysmal level of refereeing in general is killing the game and really, the FA should seriously consider the rugby initiatives of video technology, only team captains being allowed to approach the ref and the refs being miked up to explain every decision.
- Salomon Kalou. “Kalou-less” as we now know him in my part of the Matthew Harding Lower. Absolute pants of the big flapping skid mark stained, grey with broken elastic y-front variety and shouldn’t have come out for the second half. His loss of possession in Villa’s penalty area led directly to them getting the last gasp penalty. He is honestly not good enough to be a first choice for us yet. He may have a big future but it’s a bloody long way off.
- The first half performance. Dire beyond belief. 26 minutes had gone by before our first shot on target and Villa could have been 3 ahead by then such was the pace they started with. It improved after the break but in reality it could hardly have been worse.
As discussed and mulled over at great length during the drive home with “Chelsea Bob”.
- Petr Cech: Gets a low score by virtue of the howler for the second Villa goal – 5/10.
- Paulo Ferreira: Seemed to be in cloud cuckoo land for most of the first half and improved a bit after the break but was left standing by Carew, Agbonlahor and Maloney on far too many occasions – 5/10.
- Alex: Yeah, we let 4 goals in but I don’t think the big Brazilian can be held to account for any of them. Scored a superb team goal – 7.5/10.
- Ashley Cole: Still looking a bit chippy but I like his combative nature. I haven’t seen the “save” that got him a red card as of writing but the ball was pinging round our goal and panic was ensuing so if he did make the save then he had no choice – 6/10.
- Ricardo Carvalho: Would have been 8/10 but he loses 2 for getting a red card and subsequently we are without him for 3 games – 6/10.
- Michael Essien: A good overall game but not the powerhouse of last year. Surely he can’t still be sulking over Mourinho? – 7/10.
- Frank Lampard: Went off injured and so wasn’t around long enough to make a mark – 6/10
- Joe Cole: Ran his legs off and tried very hard when all around seemed to be failing – 8/10.
- Andriy Shevchenko: A cool penalty at a time when disaster seemed the order of the day and an absolute screamer for his second from 25 yards that nearly ripped the net. His turn and pass for Alex to score was Zola-esque. His best game (second half anyway) since arriving. Seemed content to be a playmaker today as well and I must admit his lay offs and little touches were at times excellent – 8/10.
- Salomon Kalou: Gets a 1 for wearing the right name on his shirt. Abysmal and anonymous in turns and a cupful of haplessness added to this mix at the death cost us the game. One good thing about the African Nations Cup is that this clown will be away from us – 1/10.
- Claudio Pizarro: Only the second 0 I’ve given. Seriously poor, but to add insult he is bloody lazy as well. Gave the ball away constantly, failed to control it and pass it accurately. He had one half hearted attempt on goal but in all honesty my Aunt June with her new hip could have done better with the final shot. Top of the list to go. Surely? Please? – 0/10.
- Michael Ballack (sub): Absolutely and magnificently world class and a glimpse of the imperious man who captains Germany. I want more of this please and less of the garnish that is Pizarro and Kalou-less – 8.5/10.
- Shaun Wright-Phillips (sub): Looked lively and bubbly but didn’t get long enough to make his mark. Put in one or two good crosses though but nobody was there to receive them – 6/10.
- John Mikel Obi (sub): Did nothing wrong in his 10 minutes or so – 6/10.
- Overall team performance: Could have been so much better but for the pathetic first half display that seems to be a continuing feature of our game from the Mourinho days – 7/10.
Man of the Match
Michael Ballack just edges Andriy Shevchenko for this today, despite Sheva’s goals and assist. For me Ballack was a commanding performer from the minute he stepped onto the pitch and if he carries on like this then we are a very fortunate team.
Not many who came to this game could have forecast an 8 goal thriller and it really is a WTF moment to score 4 goals at home and still not win. With 5 mins to run down and a goal up I have to say I’m sure Mourinho would have had a substitution left and some fresh orders to kill the game and take the points. But instead we went into a meltdown caused by Kalou-less losing possession in the Villa penalty area. This could have been easily avoided by subbing him and Pizzaro during the break and drafting in Obi and Wright-Phillips to replace them. And the crux of this point is that despite both these players being an utter bunch of arse today, Grant refused to budge and stubbornly kept faith with two interlopers who did not deserve the honour of wearing the blue shirt. It also worries me that Grant could not bring himself to make the changes that everyone else could see were required. Even when Villa were down to 10 it’s arguable they still had a one man advantage as Kalou and Pizzaro were so bad. To my mind this indecisiveness and tactical naivety is why he will not prove to be the man to take us forward.
The Premiership dream pretty much died today as Manchester United showed how to be ruthless at home again and even if Arsenal slip up against Pompey the battle is between those two now with us potentially acting as catalysts in where it goes. We have to concentrate on third place or the unthinkable of not qualifying the the Champions League becomes a reality. This game had everything, goals, red cards, penalties, goalkeeping howlers and great strikes, but does Roman Abramovich really want more of this and less actual wins? I only ask because I want points and trophies, not Keystone Cop football and meaningless bland soundbites from the most uncharismatic and featureless manager in the Premiership today… and when you consider that includes Steve Coppell and Gary Megson that shows just how dull he is.
Still if we win the Carling Cup, no doubt that will keep the evangelists happy and convinced that this is what real success is like. Time for excessive amounts of Magners!
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!