The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “It was as if Steve Bruce sent out 11 cones. The invitation for Chelsea to enjoy themselves, express themselves, and do wonders for their goal difference was accepted stylishly, as Carlo Ancelotti’s men treated their audience to an exhibition. The 4-0 scoreline after 34 minutes actually flattered Sunderland. Absurd but true. Nicolas Anelka was exceptional and has rarely looked so boyishly happy.”
Sunday Telegraph, Ben Findon: “How Steve Bruce’s side must dread the sight of Chelsea. They were crushed 5-0 in London last season and outclassed 3-1 at the Stadium of Light in August. They were lambs to the slaughter as Chelsea turned on the style once again.”
Sunday Times, Brian Glanville: “Many years ago, when asked why he did not recruit talent from below the Sahara, Ken Bates, then owner of Chelsea, said it was because African players were so frequently absent at international tournaments. So they were again, in a competition which takes place every two years rather than four — the habit of the World Cup and the European Championship. But yesterday you couldn’t see the difference.”
The Independent, Steve Tongue: “For Chelsea the absence of four players at the African Cup of Nations merely offered others the chance to emphasise their quality: notably Juliano Belletti as the defensive midfielder, and Joe Cole, back in his old Jose Mourinho position on the right of a three-man attack. What never happened under Mourinho was a scoreline like this; in those days Chelsea tended to declare once they were a couple of goals to the good. Roman Abramovich has demanded something more and Carlo Ancelotti seems capable of delivering. The tempo was maintained until the end even when victory was assured.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A scintillating 90 minutes of flowing attacking football equalled the most goals scored by Chelsea in a top-flight game.”
We’re walking in the air
We’re floating in the moonlit sky
The people far below are sleeping as we fly
I’m holding very tight
I’m riding in the midnight blue
I’m finding I can fly so high above with you
Children gaze open mouth
Taken by surprise
Nobody down below believes their eyes
We’re surfing in the air
We’re swimming in the frozen sky
We’re drifting over icy
Mountain floating by
Suddenly swooping low on an ocean deep
Arousing of a mighty monster from its sleep
We’re walking in the air
We’re floating in the midnight sky
And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly
Hands up everyone who loves the snow. Come on. Stop lying. You all do, you children. Snow, after all, is supposed to bring out the child in us. Now, you may not feel the urge to sneak out in the dead of night and stomp about, imagining you are some sort of giant who can’t be stopped as you trample all over the helpless Earthlings who are stranded in a weird winter world below you. Erm, enough of that now. Nor may you feel like a coke addict who has woken in a dream-like trance to find a white desert of marching powder as far as the eye can see.
No, the feeling many feel when confronted with a snowy downpour is anger. Brits just aren’t snow fans. It’s cold, white mould and nothing more. The worst thing about the snow though are the endless TV news reports filled with “Your Pictures” of stupid cretins building snowmen. One after the other, all of them rubbish. People seem to have forgotten that this is the NEWS, not ‘You’ve Been Framed’ and no-one wants to see someone falling on their arse in the snow or a cutesy, little kid building a snowman with only one eye. I want a review of current events and that means more than 24 hours worth of BREAKING NEWS describing yet more bad weather.
However, the snow can also enable us to reminisce. That little ditty above is one of my favourite memories of “Big Freezes” of the past and sort of sums up Chelsea of late. It’s been so long since we last played that most of us can barely remember what has happened at the club recently. I vaguely remember a Jose-like figure causing a stir and Daniel Sturridge impressing in some game against somebody but that’s about it. Instead, this impromptu winter break allowed us to look back at the start Carlo has made. And it seems to perfectly fit with the lyrics of that beautiful song. We really were flying high early on as the rest of the title contenders floundered and I’m sure there were some kids gazing open-mouthed at our awesomeness, or something like that. But then the blip set in and we all knew that United would hit back at some point. The fact we’re still top owes a lot to luck and the piss-poor quality of the title race this season, no matter what some of the hacks say. But despite the stutters, I think Carlo’s been great for us with his calmness, tactical nous and class and with a little bit more consistency this season really is ours to mess up.
Cech, Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Ballack, Belletti, Lampard, Joe Cole, Anelka, Malouda.
Subs: Hilario, Zhirkov, Ferreira, Sturridge, Matic, Alex, Borini.
So Carlo did decide to retain the 4-3-3 formation which performed to such great effect against mighty Watford. Not many surprises in the selection with Carlo treating Kakuta much like Moyes did with Rooney; one match in and two or three out. It may seem brutal but he’s right in keeping Kakuta’s feet on the ground by taking him away from the first team every few weeks.
The game’s opening could be described as typically Joe Cole. Virtually straight from kick-off we began attacking Sunderland’s goal and after a perfectly weighted, headed through ball from Malouda found Joe clean through, you expected him to put his bad, or should I say terrible form behind him by firing home. But instead he miscontrolled the pass and then stood on the ball! He nearly made up for it a minute later with some lovely wing play as he chipped the ball to the far post only for Ashley to narrowly head wide. Brilliant out wide yet useless on the wing. That trend kind of continued for the next 88 minutes. However, it was a hugely impressive start from us and a goal was all but inevitable thanks to our quick, incisive and beautiful football. It arrived within a couple of minutes after a pinpoint through ball from Ballack inside the hapless Loirik Cana allowed Anelka to round the keeper and slot the ball home. It was a simple yet elegant opening goal and a sign of things to come.
Things would only get better from then on thanks to the intensity and most importantly high tempo of our play. Yes Sunderland were bad and sticking Cana at centre-back was a fuck-up worthy of Avram Grant but we were simply unstoppable for 30 minutes. It reminded me of the opening to the greatest game I’ve ever seen at the Bridge – the 4-2 contest with Barca – and soon it would 2, 3 and then 4-0. Carlo appeared to have finally drilled into the players that 1-0 isn’t really enough to win in the Premier League any more and so after some more keep-ball at the back, Ballack found Malouda lurking around the halfway line and then in scenes reminiscent of his Wolves wonder strike he strode forward, performed a few step-overs and then rifled it home with his right foot. It was a lovely start to a game in which we displayed probably the best football we’ve seen at the Bridge since the Robben and Duff years. The 4-3-3 was working to perfection although unlike the ‘flying wingers’ incarnation of the Jose era, this one usually saw one or both of our wide-men drifting inside and turning it into a Christmas Tree. A boring observation for some, I know but it’s nice to point out I feel.
Then we decided to make it three with an absolute beauty of a goal. Sunderland allowed us yet more time at the back and JT, Lamps and Malouda all enjoyed time to play it around, albeit rather pointlessly. Then JT decided to stride forward and pitch an exquisite through-ball over the top of their defensive line, right onto the left foot of the raiding Ashley Cole. His perfect first-time control was stunning yet instead of simply slotting the ball home, he chose to perform a Cruyff turn inside Cana and then chipped the ball over the onrushing keeper with the outside of his left foot. It was a simply astonishing goal and for all those who missed it just picture Bergkamp at Leicester about 12 years ago and then you’ll get the picture. Just magnificent.
I’m sorry to keep going on about the tactics but Carlo’s change to a 4-3-3 had worked to perfection. Joe was mainly hugging the touchline whilst Malouda was coming inside, thus allowing Ashley to bomb down our left wing and Sunderland were simply overwhelmed with our movement and yes, intensity. Both Frank and Ballack were revelling in the space a lack of a number 10 gave them and along with Malouda, strangely enough, they were controlling the game. After quarterback Belletti had played in Anelka, only for the Frenchman to pathetically roll the ball into the keeper’s legs, Lamps decided to make it four after yet more brilliant work from the obviously injured Ashley Cole, who had been kicked as he chipped home the third. Anelka’s movement had given him space on the left wing and Ashley’s perfectly weighted cross was volleyed home by Frank from six yards. It was almost embarrassing the ease with which we were cutting through them and the sight of Frank sitting on the floor after scoring the fourth and laughing to himself, sort of summed it up really.
The rest of the half was played out with what Paul Merson described as “Harlem Globetrotters football.” Some of the football was breathtaking as Ashley Cole just decided to stay upfront and play as a left-striker (yep a new position). There were dummies, one-twos, step-overs, chips, turns, curls, swirls whatever you wanted to call it and it could have been any scoreline at the break. Lamps and Ballack at one point decided to play some head-tennis on the edge of the box before exploding out of their showboating. Ballack ran forward, Lamps fired the ball into Ash who jumped over the ball for Ballack who then cut the ball back to Ash but his outstretched boot just failed to make contact. The camera moved to Bruce on the touchline just before halftime who looked depressed and bewildered unlike Niall Quinn in the stands who was nearly in tears. It was funny in a strangely sadistic way to see footballers inflict pain like this and that was that for the first half.
4-0 at half-time so time for substitutions. Matic? Borini? Or perhaps Sturridge? Nope. Ash and JT rested for Zhirkov and Alex who would get a valuable run-out. “WE WANT 5. WE WANT 5” was the immediate thought as the half began but deep down I didn’t expect us to get beyond four due to our ridiculous habit of falling asleep as soon as feel comfortable. Luckily my fears were unfounded. Anelka fired against the bar after more glorious one-touch football before Ballack nodded home a beautiful, curling cross from Joe Cole who was admirably pulling off a great David Beckham impression on the right wing.
But then typical Chelsea as we fall asleep and concede. For once I wish we could just close a game out. Yes we were 5-0 up and susceptible to a bit of sloppiness but to allow Jones to head down to Zenden 18 yards out and then for Alex to stand there like a buffoon, not closing him down was unforgivable. It was a lovely volleyed finish but why didn’t we close him down? Belletti should also have tracked the runner as a defensive midfielder but he was just lazily walking back. Luckily that stung us into action. Zhirkov bent over another beautiful cross which Fulop flapped down to Anelka, who rolled the ball into the second open goal of the day for number six and then Malouda chipped over a ball for Anelka to surely claim his hat-trick but he weakly passed the ball into Fulop’s legs. Happily though, Frank was able to convert what felt like our 100th attempt on goal with a bullet header from 12 yards out. And that was about it, except for guess what, yet more shittily sloppy defending from us. A nothing corner from Sunderland, with seconds to go, bounced around for an eternity before Bent, who escaped the attention of Alex prodded the ball home. So 7-2. A great result? Of course but those two goals against kind of spoilt it in a way.
- The performance – Forget the fact we scored seven, it was the football that impressed me most. It was full of pace, trickery, flair, power and above all movement. Anelka typified this with a brilliantly intelligent and unstoppable display of centre-forward play as he roamed from side to side yet crucially for me, did not drop too deep. But Ashley Cole, Frank, Ballack and Malouda all put in stunning performances with even Joe Cole picking up. We don’t usually see a seven goal performance in the Premier League but that was the least our display of attacking football deserved.
- Formation/Carlo – A brave yet inspired decision to employ the 4-3-3. Both Frank and Ballack loved the extra freedom and space the formation gave them and the wing play from Malouda and Joe was also sublime at times. I’m not sure how it would work with Didier and Anelka both fit but at the moment, who cares? It’s 12 goals in two games for 4-3-3 so well done Carlo.
- Goals – Seven of them! Don’t know what else to say about it really but… SEVEN! SEVEN BLOODY GOALS!
- Ashley Cole – The perfect left-back display and that’s that.
- John Terry – No-one seems to praise him for his ball playing ability but that pass was Beckham-esque. Perfectly weighted and perfectly pitched it was just stunning. Pep Guardiola has talked about how crucial Pique is to their brilliance as his control and balance on the ball gives the team an extra midfielder when he steps out from the back and has called Pique the best “attacking defender” in the world. Well, we’ve got a better one.
- Cana – Just felt sorry for him in the end as he’s been great for them… in midfield that is.
- Finishing – I know, seven goals and I’m still not happy but it should have been 10 and I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get into double figures. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
- Sloppiness – We are just so fucking lazy at times. The Zenden and Bent goals can be easily explained away by the scoreline but we all know that we’ll do it again at more crucial stages in much more important games in the next few months.
Player ratings: Everyone starts with an 8 because of our awesome display so you can judge their importance from there
- Cech – 8.1/10 – Some brave saves at times but his distinct lack of control at the last minute corner was alarming.
- Ivanovic – 8.5/10 – A steady performance going forward and as always, rock solid at the back.
- Carvalho – 8.5/10 – No errors and some trademark interceptions.
- Terry – 9.2/10 – Unbeatable at the back and that pass was stunning. Can’t get full marks for one half though, right?
- A. Cole – 10/10 – Perfect.
- Belletti – 9.0/10 – A lovely quarterback display with some beautiful through balls. However, his laziness at tracking back for the Zenden goal will cost us in the future so -0.5 points.
- Ballack – 9.1/10 – The classy German is back. He loves playing in a 4-3-3 and the freedom the formation gave him was devastating in the end. A trademark Ballack header typified a performance of old from our very own Rolls Royce.
- Lampard – 9.6/10 – Brilliant. He looks a different player in a 4-3-3 and as I said earlier, the space in front of him, without a number 10 blocking his way gave him the licence to roam and attack at will. Eleven goals at the half way stage… not too shabby.
- J. Cole – 8.2/10 – Hmmm… strange one this. I think I summed him up earlier: brilliant out wide yet useless on the wing. He’s always wanted to play “in the hole” but as the past six weeks have shown us, he’s useless there. I’ve said it for ages now but his shooting technique rules him out of ever playing that role for us again. It’s picky I know but I just don’t think he can cut it there. Perhaps it’s a question of intelligence as when he’s tasked with only dribbling and crossing, he looks great. Maybe he should forget about shooting and passing and stick to old-fashioned wing play. The low score was for his useless shooting and ball retention.
- Malouda – 9.9/10 – Not quite a 10 but still awesome in my book. His Lamps outburst last month was stupid but displays like this can keep him in the team. I’m not sure it’ll last but for now, well done Flo.
- Anelka – 9.5 – A display of stunning movement and yes, he was great but not worthy of full marks for two reasons. Firstly, no hat-trick despite a glut of chances so -0.3 points and then one very minor criticism from me. I’m beginning to hate his penchant for rolling the ball into the net. He nearly missed the first that way and that useless pass-back-esque technique certainly cost him two more goals. I noticed it with Henry, despite his 250 goals or whatever it was, but I just don’t like it, ok?
- Zhirkov (sub) – 8.7/10 – Did his best to emulate Ash and he certainly has a great left foot, but he’s not a left-back for me.
- Alex (sub) – 8.0/10 – Looked rusty. Poor distribution and terrible defending for both Sunderland goals.
Man of the Match
I’d love Ashley to get it. After all, what’s better than perfection? But a 45 minute display rules him out and despite the brilliance of Nico, Lamps and Ballack, today belonged to Malouda.
So how about that then. Seven goals yet still room for improvement. We were rampant and unstoppable and our football was worthy of any game at the Nou Camp or The Emirates. It was simply stunning and looking around Europe, you just hope that we can sustain that kind of level for the next four months. Liverpool are an embarrassment. Arsenal are still pathetically weak when they confront us and United’s football is just plain awful at the moment. Madrid are being typical Madrid with a stunning win here and then a useless defeat there and both Milan sides are stupidly old. Even Barcelona fail to scare me this season, although I’m still in awe of some of the stuff Messi does. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that this season is ours for the taking. Anything less than the title and a Champions League final would be a failure in my book as we are head and shoulders above the rest, when we want to perform that is. The time for rebuilding will come in the summer but the next four months are the last chance this squad will have to lift the big trophies. It’s ridiculous to conclude on the back of this win that this XI could win the Champions League with our awesome foursome back from Africa, who can stop us?