The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The title race was suspended. This result certainly had its ramifications, with Chelsea now enjoying a lead of eight over Manchester United in goal difference and also putting themselves in front once more by a point, but there was no sense of grand issues at stake. If anything, this was a therapeutic afternoon for Carlo Ancelotti’s squad and Salamon Kalou claimed a first hat-trick at the club. This, too, was Chelsea’s biggest victory in top-flight League football.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “In a nerveless, breathless display, Chelsea powered their way back to the top of the Premier League table, blowing Stoke City away with a hat-trick from Salomon Kalou, as they destroyed their opponents earning their biggest win of the season. The margin of victory also significantly boosted their goal difference and may be a factor in the final reckoning while it was a humiliation for Stoke.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “In his captain’s programme notes Frank Lampard revealed that the switch of this fixture to a Sunday meant that he was an absentee best man at his friend’s wedding yesterday. In the end it proved so easy for Chelsea that no-one would have blamed him for leaving at half-time to make it in time for the speeches.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “We’re back at the top of the table thanks to our biggest ever top-flight win, which included Salomon Kalou’s first Chelsea hat-trick.”
Hello Boys and Girls. Guess who’s back?
Who’s the Daddy?
Who da man?
Oh ye of little faith. Those who would see me banished from match day duties listen… yes, the Humble Pie lorry is pulling down your street now. You doubted me, you scorned me, rejected me like some cheap hooker but one person, one solitary person kept the faith. Our Great and Beloved Dear Leader, Nick. A man who knows that class is permanent and form is temporary. And lo, he doth reach out to me this week and invite me back into the fray. And verily I say ‘Yea Dear Leader, after all we’ve probably loused this up anyway so what difference would my hoodoo make?’
Yeah, yeah, I know… enough with the hackneyed cliché ridden intro but I felt it necessary to gently shake you all from your post match torpor, no doubt brought on through the ecstatic and orgasmic level of emotions endured during a game that our whole season was dependent on. Yep, plucky Stoke were in town, and for many of us who weren’t at our perfunctory FA Cup win over them then the scars of last year’s Scolarian near catastrophe salvaged only in the dying seconds by Super Frank Lampard still run deep. Stoke are an average side punching above their weight and managed by a shrewd man who picks his battles well. But like others who aspire to a Carling Cup or an FA Cup they can always be a banana skin cunningly laid in the direct path of the tightrope walker. The trick that stops a plunge from the tightrope is to step over the skin or boot it into touch with supreme confidence. That, my friends, is a torturous analogy as to what was witnessed today. Manchester United and Chelsea are tightrope walkers in a deadly high wire challenge, racing each other to the other side of the ravine and the comfort and solace of being on terra firma and the glory of winning the prize that’s so very near and yet seemingly so bloody far. Actually the race included Arsenal but they fell off last week in the wilds of Wigan. The drive to the game was peppered with nervous laughter and yawning gaps of silence as our minds filled with the heady mix of anticipation and the wild swings between confidence and despair.
On the plus side, I have ordered a new Apple iMac, finally deserting Windows after 20 years of loyalty and finally sealing my entry into the Institute of TechnoGeekdom… oddly enough another fine organisation headed up by our Dear Leader Nick. On the higher plus side, and for me the main factor in keeping any glowing embers of hope fanned, I played the game of my life at golf yesterday, proving that sometimes, just sometimes things can work out for the better. For any stats fans, I won 5&4, scored 46 Stapleford points and came in at a net 10 under par for the round. Being of typical Chelsea bi-polar stock at every stage of that round I was expecting a choke, for the wheels to come off, for my own encounter with the innocuous looking but potentially deadly banana skin. It never happened and even on the tough holes where wayward drives meant an immediate switch to recovery golf every tactical decision on club choice, swing speed and aiming setup worked a treat. Inside I hoped that the same mixture of faith, luck and skill would apply for the last three games of our tightrope season. Of course, could it be that these happy events would come in threes and would be sealed by glory against Stoke?
A few murmurs went round the clubroom as the team was announced with many people seemingly unappreciative at Kalou starting the game instead of Joe Cole, but also positive comment about the return of Ashley Cole and the use of Ballack in the holding midfield role. The team…
Cech, Ferreira, A. Cole, Ivanovic, Alex, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda, Kalou, Drogba and Anelka.
The sun shone down as we kicked off, Stoke fans strangely muted considering their reputation and their showing last season. In fact this year I reckon they had half the fans in attendance today from the brick shitting equivalent fixture of last year. From the start it looked bright by Chelsea. In the first 10 minutes we showed more guile, craft and skill than in the whole sorry affair against the loathsome Spurs. Chances were carved out, mostly squandered by Drogba’s rather wild finishing but the important fact was that he was getting the chances and creating them, and all with a smile on his face. Last week’s Stepford Clone had been recalled to the lab and the real Drogba had been allowed back into the fray. Ashley Cole buzzed and looked great, Anelka looked a class apart with the ball seemingly glued to his feet. All we needed was the breakthrough goal and as the half progressed we began to tighten our grip.
Stoke like a lot of teams huffed and puffed but could only create the odd half chance. 99.99% of us probably thought we had scored when Drogba latched onto a Ferreira cross only to be thwarted by a brilliant save from Sorenson. A screaming shot from Lampard was parried by Sorenson who followed up with another great stop from Ashley Cole’s attempt on the rebound. Sorenson has been one of those hero keepers at Stamford Bridge and today was starting to look eerily familiar. But when you’re in the ascendency sometimes it’s about patience and the goal finally arrived. A cross field pass to Drogba, showing a great touch to flick the ball down was instantly crossed into the danger area for, of all people, Salomon Kalou to stoop with a diving header and put us a goal up. After the delirium had settled we were then in the odd position of 50% of the fans thinking this would be a springboard to more, and the other 50% wondering if it meant an attritional game spent defending the lead as we saw at home to Bolton.
But we kept calm and carried on as before. A lovely piece of build up play saw Drogba lay a perfect ball to Lampard for another belter again parried by Sorenson, only this time Salomon Kalou was on the loose ball like a flash to slide in number two. Now we were in business. Sadly Thomas Sorenson was clipped by Kalou for the goal, not unfairly just unfortunately and went down in agony. The physio took one look and gave the substitution signal to the bench. Never let it be said that football fans are callous and the Dane got a standing ovation from the home crowd as he was stretchered off with a broken elbow and a shattered World Cup dream. Stoke are not a team to allow a little adversity to throw them and they duly continued to harry us. As the half drew to its summation Kalou came in from the left with a mazy run whilst Huth nibbled away. Kalou showed remarkable guile by staying on his feet at the nibbles until inside the box and Steve Bennet had to give the penalty. No-one from Stoke complained and up stepped Frank Lampard to slot it home and send the luscious Miss Bleakley into squeals of delight. You’re a lucky man, Frank. Christine my love, shag him senseless tonight and tomorrow but then leave him alone until after the Liverpool game.
Half time, 3-0 job done…
But there was more to come.
A rousing half time rendition of Blue is the Colour led by six of my childhood heroes from the very first FA Cup winning team. John Hollins, Peter Bonetti, Charlie Cooke, Tommy Baldwin, Alan Hudson and Ron Harris provided a faintly embarrassing but light hearted diversion and frankly such is my admiration for those old timers that they could have waltzed on wearing tutus singing My Old Man’s a Dustman and I’d think no worse of them.
As the second half started it looked like Stoke had had the hairdryer treatment and they were into us like terriers. Now we could have been shell-shocked by this or more likely the half time sleep and glass of hot milk administered by the Chelsea nurse had not quite worn off. For 20 minutes or so Stoke chased us and we gave the ball away a little too easily but such was the gulf in ability it really didn’t seem much of a worry. It looked like we were happy to snooze the game out and collect the three points. Then we unleashed hell. Frank Lampard picked the ball up and played Kalou in. The on fire Kalou swooped in on goal and saw his initial shot saved by Begovic but pounce on the rebound to collect his first hat-trick. And yes, it was fully deserved. He’s a frustrating player but today he showed exactly what he’s capable of. Like a high handicap golfer it’s the inconsistency that frustrates. Like a high handicap golfer who plays a blinder (see earlier) it just shows that Kalou has it in him to do the business and just needs to do it regularly. At 4-0 the relief settled in and we could all relax. But there was more to come. Malouda missed a sitter after Anelka cleverly passed across the goal. Let me just mention now that we were all on song but aside from the aforementioned Kalou, Drogba, Ashley Cole, Anelka and Lampard, two others stood out. One was the returning Branislav Ivanovic who slotted back in and was simply stunning. Is there another back four player with his drive and ability on the ball?
But above even him was Michael Ballack, revelling in the holding role and dictating the whole game – a master class from a much maligned player who deserves better from all of us, including me who had started to lose the faith. Yes, Carlo, this is the team that should start against Liverpool. Then came the stand out moment of the game. A fine cross from one of our kids, Sam Hutchinson, was met by Lampard who with a deft flick of breathtaking audacity and skill made it 5-0. Make no bones about this, the lack of praise from the press and TV for this finish is bloody disgraceful. If Rooney had done this the papers and TV would be talking for days about it. As it is it never even got mentioned on MOTD2. It was so good the collective Stamford Bridge smile would have engulfed most of West London.
But there was more. Drogba played a stunning through ball to Sturridge who despite a seemingly heavy first touch then scored his first Premier League goal for us with a stunning finish that showed real coolness. Slightly odd celebration dance mind. So, what else did the cake need… oh yes a big bright cherry on the top and that came from Florent Malouda with a relatively easy tap in after Joe Cole played in a super first time volleyed cross. An emphatic and joyous win which may well have sent a message out that we do actually want this title after all.
- The team performance. Marvellous response to a horror show last week.
- Cech, Ferreira, Alex, Ivanovic, A. Cole, Lampard, Ballack, Malouda, Anelka, Drogba, Kalou, Sturridge, Hutchinson and J. Cole.
- Ancelotti. That’s the stuff we want to see, Carlo.
- Thomas Sorenson – we would have won anyway but by seven? I hope the break isn’t too bad and that he gets to play for Denmark in the World Cup.
- Begonia’s save from Malouda. Anyone else care to explain how the hell he got to that?
- Robert Huth – yep I can see why we let him go now.
- Kitson’s reaction to being subbed. Bloody big baby.
- Nope, not a thing to go in here today. Which is nice.
Player ratings – subjective and very probably illogical and unreasonable
Now I know some of you hate this but… being an intransigent, grumpy, irascible and generally unreasonable sort who loves nothing more than irritating the hell out of people I’m going to persevere with this. And make it even frustratingly more pointless to boot… I’ll teach you all to reject me…
- Cech – Great out of 10. No problems to report here.
- Ferreira – Marvellous out of 10. Assured and accomplished. And leaving us.*
- Alex – Rock out of 10. John who? Made one error but really he looks a class act.
- Ivanovic – Heaven out of 10. Cult hero? A stonkingly brilliant return and a player who must be worth bucket loads for being accomplished anywhere across the back four.
- Ashley Cole – Wonderful out of 10 – welcome back young man. A super return.
- Michael Ballack – Supreme out of 10. God like and masterful. Even I might…
- Frank Lampard – Devastating out of 10. One of the best goals I’ve seen and a driving and dynamic display.
- Florent Malouda – C’est superb out of 10. Caused havoc and despite a glaring miss still got a deserved goal.
- Salomon Kalou – Delightful out of 10. Hat-trick hero and well deserved. More please.
- Nicolas Anelka – C’est fantastique out of 10. World class again and utterly selfless.
- Didier Drogba – Massive out of 10. Defended, attacked, shot wildly and at his rampaging best.
- Danny Sturridge (sub) – Quality out of 10. A wonderful take for the goal. Deserves credit for coming on and keeping the team shape.
- Joe Cole (sub) – Glorious out of 10. Kalou went off and Cole came on and we didn’t lose a thing. I thought he was great today.
- Sam Hutchinson (sub) – Assured out of 10. Cool, calm and eager. And looks very capable.
- ***NEW*** Manager rating – Astute out of 10 – Perfect team choice and sub choice.
- Overall team performance – Crushingly brilliant out of 10 – MegaSuperMarvellousSuperb.
Man of the Match
Salomon Kalou deserves this for a hat-trick and Frank Lampard for a wonder goal. Michael Ballack was head and shoulders above every player on the pitch today. Those three get to fight it out for the award, man against man. My money’s on Ze German.
Two games to go. Manchester United will win both theirs so we need to match them. Nothing else needs saying. We need to keep our belief and nerve. We need Liverpool to take their foot off the pedal. We need to get to the last game needing a win to assure us of the title. Then we need to destroy Wigan like we did Stoke today.
Yes, I am stating the bleeding obvious. But someone has to.
Anyone else feel as sick as I do? Sick with nerves and worry that is.
* An interesting chap joined us in the clubroom today. No names here but he works for a supplier to the club dealing with their car needs. He knows all the players seemingly quite well. According to him Hilario is off, with Turnbull being promoted to number 2 and Rhys Taylor to number 3. Ferreira is off, possibly to Porto but there have been approaches from two Spanish clubs. Deco and Belletti are old news, but Carvalho will be staying as Ancelotti doesn’t want to lose him. Abramovich has told the team that £70 million will be made available.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!