The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Chelsea reached the top of the Premier League on 3 April and had remained there throughout each set of matches until now. There is no longer a view from the pinnacle, just the sight of Manchester United above them. While it is not so long since the team was engaged in one long spree, goals are currently rare.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea remain trapped in a cold snap. Locked in winter’s icy embrace, the champions have struggled to four points out of 15 and cannot wait for the warming return of John Terry’s leadership, Frank Lampard’s goals, Michael Essien’s drive and for their attackers to take their chances.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea end the weekend off the top of the table for the first time this season after a dominant second-half performance could not be turned into a winning goal.”
So it’s been a relatively good week so far, hasn’t it?
We only conceded once against Birmingham which was nice, although the obligatory away defeat followed (remember, we’re Champions) and then we smashed Zilina by the mightily impressive scoreline of two goals to one. So take that doubters. We scored twice against Zilina, although the obligatory conceding of an early goal straight down the middle of the pitch was again on show (remember, we’re Champions). At least we got to see some promising performances from the youngsters like Josh, Van Aanholt, Bruma and Sturridge. Although the lack of confidence being shown in the majority of these youngsters is starting to annoy some, i.e. me. Throwing them in for a Carling Cup game against Newcastle was a good start but it’s clear that Carlo has lost trust in a few of them after seeing us concede four in that game. Since then the likes of Josh, Sturridge and Kakuta have been restricted to ten or fifteen minute substitute appearances and Bruma was overlooked for Paulo at central defence despite our small squad experiencing an injury crisis in midfield and defence. But in this strangely positive week, a few of the kids did get to play for 90 minutes, so my confidence began to grow ahead of today’s crunch match.
However, this optimism was smashed as I woke up this morning to a raft of headlines following that extremely complicated narrative of recent weeks since Ray left (you may need to get your maths degrees out for this):
Chelsea – Ray = Carlo Out.
“That seems a little simplistic, doesn’t it?” Well that’s a very good question from you in the corner and you’d be right. So let me pad out the equation:
(Chelsea – Ray) + Bad Results + Arnesen Leaving in 7 Months + Txiki Begiristain = Carlo Out + Pep In.
“Ah, it all makes sense now.” Thanks for that. But sadly for you, your stupidity means you have to return to the corner because none of this idiotic reporting in the press makes any sense whatsoever.
Let’s start with the bad results. Bad results automatically lead to negative headlines in the press but why should that result in Carlo being pushed out? Injuries to Lamps, JT, Alex (sort of), Didier (nearly) and Essien’s red card can partly explain our loss of form, (although our old legs should worry people more in my opinion) but unless Carlo leads us to 5th or 6th in a Scolari-esque mess, then there is absolutely no chance that Roman’s favourite manager will leave. And that is what the journalists seem to be missing from all of this. Roman had been chasing Carlo ever since Jose left so why would he sack him and hand over £13m in compensation because of a dodgy November which can easily be explained by Roman’s cost cutting and lack of quality signings?
So it can’t be the results then. How about Frank’s resignation? Before I move on, I’d like to say that I’ve been quite impressed by Arnesen in recent years. Yeah, his early years were an embarrassment as his £5m transfer from Spurs plus his splurge on dross like the Leeds boys made him look like an idiot. And Josh’s breakthrough has nothing to do with Frank either but he has been an integral part in developing a team which has won the Youth Cup, designing a brilliant academy centre and scouting infrastructure and finding the likes of Van Aanholt, Bruma and Kakuta. So he does deserve a bit of praise.
But back to his resignation. Well, I see nothing suspicious in a guy wanting to find a new challenge after completing his assignment of discovering a bunch of kids ready for the first team squad by 2010. Josh, Bruma, Kakuta, Sturridge and Van Aanholt are all part of the first team squad and I see no reason why his statement on the website should mean that again, Carlo is being pushed out:
“It is always difficult to take big decisions like this, but it is entirely my decision. I’m looking forward to continuing my work here until such time as the club decides which way they want to move forward. After six wonderful years I have decided to seek a new challenge when my contract expires at the end of this season. It has been a tremendous journey and I would like to thank everyone at Chelsea, especially Roman Abramovich, for giving me the incredible opportunity to help build on the club’s academy and youth system along with our greatly talented academy and scouting staff. We are now seeing the fruits of that labour as our stated aim was to get one player from the academy into the first team each year from 2010. We have a great crop of young players now coming through, and I feel it’s the right time for me to start looking towards a new challenge.”
So, anything out of the ordinary there? Thought not although the Daily Mail decided that this statement meant it was now a “CRISIS FOR ANCELOTTI AS ARNESEN QUITS!” I could add six more exclamation marks but you get the point. These are sports journalists remember, people who are paid to report sports news, yet for the past two weeks we’ve been subjected to this bullshit which reached a pitiful nadir this morning with talk of Txiki replacing Arnesen and because Txiki knows Pep, it automatically means that Carlo will be traded in at the end of the season. And just to justify these reports, the press say that because Roman enjoys the way Barcelona play (who doesn’t?), a combination of Txiki and Pep at Chelsea is inevitable.
So that optimism from earlier in the week began to fade. Not only because we were playing away from home again but also because of the continued speculation surrounding Carlo’s future. On paper, it doesn’t seem too bad to replace one of the world’s best managers with another member of that club but it does get tiring having to read this rubbish every single day. As does watching our embarrassing football of late. Talking of which…
Cech, Bosingwa, Alex, Ivanovic, Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Malouda, Anelka, Drogba, Kalou.
Subs: Turnbull, Ferreira, Sturridge, Van Aanholt, Bruma, Kakuta, McEachran.
So Bosingwa was back in for Paulo and Kalou was given a start ahead of Sturridge which was disappointing. As was Josh’s omission.
Chelsea playing away from home at the moment meant that we only started one way; poorly. Our tempo was so slow that you had to check some of our players for a pulse and yet again the basics seemed to be beyond us. Things like passing to a blue shirt or crossing from open play was done so badly that all I could feel was embarrassment. Embarrassment at watching a bunch of lazy twats, walking around from kick-off in a first-half display, which for long stretches was completely devoid of any passion or spirit. And before anyone throws at me the injury list argument, one shouldn’t forget the number of key players Newcastle were missing.
Oh and we’ve just drawn Ipswich at the Bridge in the Cup. Phew. Home win there although Spurs’ last minute win in the league means we are just four points away from dropping to 5th in our nightmarish December. Fuck me, we could be in trouble.
And before you could say “ooh, we haven’t conceded yet”, we conceded and in comical fashion. Yet more sloppy passing from us saw Newcastle pounce on a loose ball and surge towards our goal. A crucial Mikel tackle stopped them though and we looked to have escaped the danger. But Alex and his dodgy knee decided to ruin things as he hobbled back towards goal by hoofing the ball past Cech towards the open goal with Andy Carroll charging at him. It left Carroll with the simplest of finishes and summed up all that is wrong with us at the moment. A lack of communication led Alex to kicking it despite Cech clearly coming out to claim the ball and one of the basic rules of football, i.e. backpasses should always be angled away from the bit in between the two posts seemed to have left Alex’s brain. Add to that the lack of organisation at the back in recent weeks thanks to JT’s nerves/back/other injuries and our title losing form can easily be explained.
After that I expected a Birmingham-esque response. I wanted plenty of shots, pressure and some football at a high tempo. But strangely none of that arrived. Newcastle’s tactics may have been basic (lump it to the big man seems an accurate description of their “football”) but they were looking more likely to get the next goal for the next ten or fifteen minutes. A couple of headers and long shots were hardly dangerous but at least they were having a go which is more than could be said of our efforts.
Carlo had done the right thing in immediately switching to 4-4-2 but our passing, movement, attacking threat and effort were all well below par at this point. Didier was beyond ineffectual (more on him later) and despite Kalou, Anelka and Ash all displaying some good movement, a lack of tempo and pace from the rest of the side meant that each move generally fizzled out due to a lack of options or numbers in the box. But we did begin to increase the pressure on Newcastle and gradually improved. Malouda may have been anonymous and Bosingwa’s crossing was so poor it was embarrassing but Ramires and Mikel were impressively holding the fort as a pair in our midfield and Kalou was looking dangerous. Eventually we got the goal we deserved as a nice flick from Malouda sent Kalou into the box and despite his woeful finishing in front of goal returning, his tame shot straight at Krul was luckily deflected into the corner.
Phew. 45 minutes to get a winner. Easy.
And we started the second half at a blistering pace (well, blistering for us, which is probably normal for other sides). Ash, Nico and Kalou were running all over the place, Mikel was spraying passes around, my favourite midfielder Ramires was closing down impressively and even Malouda was brushing aside defenders as he stormed forward. But something still wasn’t quite right. Yes, we were pressurising their defence and monopolising possession (82% at some points) but in terms of clear cut chances, we looked a shadow of the side that was roaring along at the start of the season. Didier’s touch was completely gone as was his pace when Enrique strolled passed him to catch up to a through ball which Didier would have reached a few years ago and he seemed a pretty ineffectual presence, which is worrying for a captain. I know that he swivelled nicely for his disallowed goal but in terms of passing and precision with his first touch, Didier looks nothing like the talisman he was for us last year.
But we were pushing hard for the win which the quality of our football barely deserved but our second half effort and spirit did warrant the three points I felt. Newcastle were non-existent in terms of attacking but there seemed a strange inevitability about our inability to find a winner. At the moment our team is not only lacking in confidence but also in quality and to break down an eleven man defence you need something other than Kalou’s erratic dribbling, Malouda’s trickery and Didier’s rapidly declining pace and power. When Nico drifts out of the game, as he did today, our team does look very one-dimensional and we appear to rely on set-pieces or a bit of luck to get us a goal. And that tactic nearly worked for us. Branners had a great near post header shoved out by Krul but it was Kalou’s chance that could prove very costly indeed. This idiot’s inability to score into an open goal for the second time in a week is simply unacceptable for a player at Chelsea Football Club and the dark, slightly crazed but certainly pissed off look on Carlo’s face as Kalou kicked the ball wide instead of into the empty net from six yards out said it all really. I may go on about Utd’s side being the worst in 10 years (it is you know) but when you take Lamps, Essien and JT out of this team, we look slow, weak and too fucking old to win anything.
And that was about it really. Sturridge came on to show that he deserves a start soon, although his obsession with left-footed control, passing, shooting, crossing… does drastically hinder his effectiveness but the match petered out pathetically. We have dropped like a stone from being in a position to extend our lead to eight points to now finding ourselves two points behind despite our November fixtures being rather kind. Unless there is a drastic change in terms of mentality, we could be 5th by 2011. Now that does scare me.
- Ramires – I have to hand it to the kid because this was a very impressive showing from him. Despite his passing reducing me to tears at some points (he really doesn’t know how to pass it more than five yards), he grew nicely into this match. He may have been on a yellow, but Carlo trusted him for the whole match and his pace, passion and ability to steal the ball did impress me. It seems clear though that he should not play the Essien attacking role. His technique in terms of shooting and passing just isn’t good enough and if Carlo simply switched Mikel and Ramires then our midfield would have a better balance about it.
- Cech – His handling was exemplary and his distribution was also extremely impressive. The best in the world at the moment?
- Away form – That’s one point from nine and it’s not as if we’ve been playing the big boys. Throw in a Sunderland thrashing and it’s a miracle we’re still second. If Carlo doesn’t wake up soon then it won’t matter that he doesn’t want to walk away. He’ll be sacked if we drop out of the top four.
- Bosingwa – He’s a right-back who can’t defend and since his injury, he can’t attack either. His crossing today really was embarrassing.
- Attacking threat – We have loads of possession and loads of pressure. It’s not just luck or misfortune which explains our inability to score. We’ve been worked out and we don’t have the legs, pace, power or creativity to fix it anymore. Roman’s cost-cutting may have been inevitable but our squad looks thin in places and too old in others. Our first-choice front three for example have a combined age of 95 and with so few options on offer to Carlo, it looks like they’re in a comfort zone in terms of pressure and performances. They know they don’t have any competition so why bother trying your hardest every match? Malouda’s form has dipped drastically and Nico and Didier are looking more ineffective as each game passes. But what can we do about it? Kalou is too crap in front of goal to challenge them and Sturridge is still too raw to kick one of them out. We’re stuck with them but if Carlo and Roman don’t realise that our attack needs a complete overhaul this summer then they both must be dumber than they look. It’s not their fault that they’re too old but there comes a time when we have to move on and our Didier led battering-ram act has to stop now as it just won’t work next year.
- Didier – A legend at the club but if you need one reason why Roman will never replicate Barcelona-esque football in London then look to this guy. He’s scored plenty of goals thanks to his pace and power but in terms of touch and technique he’s the exact opposite of a Barcelona player. That’s no bad thing in itself but I sometimes wonder if he’d be anywhere near as good in a team apart from Chelsea. We’ve built our footballing identity and philosophy around him but as I said above, there comes a time when we have to move on. So why not 2011? Do we really want to build a team around a 34 year old? How about a 35 year old? We’ve been worked out and we need to learn how to win games without Didier or Nico. Maybe that’s why Roman wants Pep.
- Football – I know we’ve got injuries but our football at the moment really is dull. The dross of the Sunderland game may have been forgotten but the stuff we’re putting out is grey, one-dimensional and boring.
- League table – Second to Utd’s abysmal side and at present we’re only heading one way.
- Cech – 8/10 – I thought he was great today. Still conceded though.
- Bosingwa – 5/10 – I haven’t enjoyed his return from injury. He’s too casual and shit when defending and his attacking looks worse than rusty.
- Alex – 5/10 – Terrible defending for the goal but his lack of mobility can be explained by a broken knee.
- Ivanovic – 6/10 – More impressive than Alex and nearly got the winner but he seems to need JT to keep him in check.
- Ash – 6/10 – Looks a little lost without JT and Lamps providing him with the through balls he relies on.
- Mikel – 6/10 – One of his sloppiest performances for a while. Still a class act at times but he seems to miss Lamps and Essien. Who wouldn’t?
- Ramires – 8/10 – Very good (see above).
- Malouda – 6/10 – Appears to be going backwards in terms of affecting the game. His Guus/early Carlo form has gone and his lazy tracking back and lack of pace going forward is starting to annoy me.
- Kalou – 1/10 – Five points knocked off for his open goal miss. I don’t care that he got the equaliser (with an awful shot straight at Krul) as his finishing and inconsistency is infuriating. Back to the bench you go.
- Anelka – 5/10 – Anonymous.
- Didier – 4/10 – Malaria only partly explains his regression. The end is nearing for him and whilst it will be a great shame when he leaves, I think we all agree that it’s time to move on soon.
- Sturridge (substitute) – 5/10 – Nice running and showed some good pace but his one-footedness is frustrating.
- Carlo – 8/10 – Did all he could really. Made tactical changes, went to four up front and even ignored Emenalo’s advice which pleased me. He just needs a bit more investment in the squad. His achievements merit a world class signing or two and after missing out on Ozil, Neymar and Pato why doesn’t Roman reward him with Torres or Schweinsteiger?
Man of the Match
It’s got to be Ramires. That turnaround after all the abuse I’ve been giving him really does amaze me. Perhaps I should start mouthing off about the rest of them to provoke a response.
So we’re second then. How to react?
Well, we’re two points from the top and through to the next stage of the Champions League? Pretty much the same as last year then when we were chasing Utd at some stages. Except we’re eight points worse off in the league and playing some of the worst football I’ve seen from a Chelsea side in ages. The away form is dismal and if it continues the title will be gone. Perhaps we are prioritising the Champions League but that is one bloody risky strategy if we are.
But there are bigger problems behind our dip in form. It’s not the Ray Wilkins debacle or the Carlo out rumours by the way. It’s the fact that this team is coming to an end and anyone who denies that must be blind. Why is it such a bad thing to admit that a side built around Didier, Nico, Frank and others had to come to an end at some point and that point is the end of the 2010/11 season? We are too old to keep this same show going for much longer so why don’t we do something about it? Josh will be a star but he can’t rebuild this side on his own and after winning the Double, Carlo does deserve to build his own side. He may put up with demanding owners but as one of the world’s best managers, and Roman’s personal pick, why don’t we just fucking back the guy? Imagine what a guy who found Pato and Kaka could do at Chelsea? He’s a world class manager and if we supported him as we did with Jose, then we would be unstoppable. But we’ve gone for the frugal route and this is what we get for it. Today wasn’t that bad really, although drawing against the shit Newcastle put out is pretty terrible actually, but next summer will be a turning point for this club. Down one path is Arsenal where we refuse to spend and rely on kids to get us quite close but not close enough to winning trophies. Down the other road is Real Madrid (or Spurs if you want to look closer to home). Investment in talent like Ozil, Di Maria, Alonso, Khedira, Bale, Modric, Van Der Vaart… works and Roman has to decide what he wants to do with this club. A new stadium may be beyond us but a few new players aren’t.
At least I’ve got Jose and El Clasico to enjoy tomorrow.
Nighty night. Don’t let the league table bite.