The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “Before kick-off, it was easy to poke fun at the eternally optimistic Tottenham supporter who laid a heavy sum on his team to beat Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United at odds of 40-1. Well, well, well. One thing is sure, Carlo Ancelotti will be desperate for Spurs to put in such a sparkling performance next weekend at Old Trafford.”
Daily Telegraph, John Ley: “This thoroughly deserved victory, earned by an early penalty from Jermain Defoe and a second goal in four days from Gareth Bale at the end of the first half, not only denied Chelsea the chance to re-open the gap to four points but, deliciously, opens the title race to a third party again. Arsenal, having thrown the towel in here on Wednesday, can move to within three points of leaders United with a win at Wigan on Sunday.”
The Independent, Steve Tongue: “Relishing their role as kingmakers, Tottenham Hotspur last night did unto Chelsea as they had done to equally unloved London rivals in Arsenal, thereby opening up a convoluted Premier League race which Chelsea would have hoped to close out until yesterday’s dramatic derbies in east Manchester and north London. More importantly for their own ambitions, Spurs were able to move above Manchester City, and go two points clear in fourth place before they visit Manchester United on Saturday.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A sorry performance at Spurs has left Chelsea just a point clear at the top of the table with three league games to go.”
So, did you watch it then?
“Err, watch what?”
Oh, you lot disappoint me. Let me give you a few pointers then to jog your whiskey sozzled memories: three blokes in typically clichéd clobber wandering around what looked like a rainbow coloured aircraft hanger with a strange, hobbit like character taking his adjudicator role just a little too seriously should be enough to give it away. And even though we were forced to watch it on the truly horrendous ITV, it turned out to be pretty exciting. Now is not the time to be outing ourselves as fans of Dave, Cleggy or even Gord (although if I see any praise being handed out to that idiot Brown then you lot will never be allowed back) but when I stopped flicking and started concentrating on this 90 minute, no adverts allowed, extravaganza, it was strange how these three politicians began to morph into, well, Premiership managers (stick with it, it’ll make sense soon).
Let’s start with Mr. Brown. The first name that comes to mind when you see those drooping jowls, small, podgy frame and hear that monotone noise tripping out of his gob is a certain Avram Grant. They really do appear to have been separated at birth and to many they both share that facade of experience which actually hides a body of incompetence. However, that comparison doesn’t really work for this introduction so instead; think of Gordon as the political version of Sir Alex. He’s been around for bloody ages and despite his “safe pair of hands” reputation, it is now becoming clear that he’s past it and as has been heard plenty of times recently: “it’s time for change.” The past few weeks have shown that Utd and Sir Alex have run out of ideas and their team simply looks too old and tired to continue running this race. The owners may be pocketing all the cash from recent sales but offering the likes of Paul Scholes another new contract is frankly baffling. So if Gord was Sir Alex who was Dave? Who else but Carlo? Calm, assured and a Blue, Cameron is the Ancelotti of politics – but with better hair. Carlo has had a surprisingly (surprising for some of you doubters) good first season as Chelsea boss and he appears to have timed his push for the line at the perfect moment. His experience, man-management skills and tactical nous has served us well and with a little luck and some cash from Roman, he may turn out to be our most successful manager ever. As a self-confessed Jose devotee, even I forgot that despite all the off-field headlines, terrible performances (Wigan, Inter…) and injuries, Carlo is on the verge of having the best first season of any Chelsea manager in history.
“So, who’s in the yellow corner then?” I hear you ask. Well, this is where my preamble falls down. Clegg may have won the debate but having a young pretender, wearing yellow, upstaging the two heavyweights presents me with a problem when trying to place a manager alongside him. His age rules out Wenger and his tie rules out Harry so going on nothing apart from his sort of modern, stylish image, I’ve decided that he’s Westminster’s Mancini. Now I know that Clegg is going to play a huge part in this election and Mancini has fuck all to do with the title race but the ‘up-and-comer’ link, no matter how tenuous, kind of exists, right? Mancini has been under the radar for his first few months in charge but with the finishing line on the horizon, he’s displayed surprising tactical nous and unleashed a free-flowing, goal-scoring machine. His 4-2-3-1 formation has proved to be an inspired tweak to Mark Hughes’ 4-3-3 and with a few more wins, he could secure Champions League football for City and the title for us.
Ok, ok, I can hear you complaining in the corner, muttering abuse under your breath. I agree that it’s a random and strange introduction to a potential title winning game but for two reasons I felt it correct to avoid talking about Chelsea. Firstly, I didn’t want to tempt fate or appear like an arrogant bastard in the coming weeks if I rattled off a page of praise for this all-conquering side and then watched us implode in pathetic fashion and secondly, I’m just too fucking nervous to actually picture JT walking up to that stage in the middle of the Stamford Bridge pitch on a warm Saturday afternoon and lifting the title we’ve all been craving for so bloody long, in case this bunch of lazy, overpaid morons actually find a way to piss away that dream.
And just as I write that, Paul Scholes has decided to go and ruin my fucking day by winning the Manchester derby in the last bloody minute. I was meant to be enjoying perusing the Chelsea website as I tried to decide which name to get on the back of our beautiful new home shirt instead of chuckling to myself in bemusement about how Fergie’s gang of old stagers can still muster a title winning performance like that. Ooh, and there goes Sir Alex, jumping around the pitch like a demented granddad. I just can’t fucking believe it. The lead is back down to a point and with “live” predictions being all the rage in the past couple of write-ups, here’s mine (it’s three o’clock at this point in the report): with two hours to think about how close the title would have been if Utd dropped two points instead of winning in the last second, our players will get twitchy and we’ll lose this game. Many press reports were talking of a title party next weekend with City “of course” going to batter Utd at lunchtime, Chelsea slipping past Spurs at dinner time and a seven point lead with three to play allowing us all to start planning for next weekend’s title celebrations. Well, all those predictions seem rather vulgar now. Personally I believed that 1/8 odds on us winning the league were ridiculous and stories of bookies actually paying out were also fucking silly. This was before Utd beat an abysmal City side (did you see them today? They were so dull I almost collapsed into my cereal as I only narrowly averted entering a coma), we negotiated tough trips to White Hart Lane AND Anfield as well as winning every other game we still have to play. The title race isn’t just back on now but I’m actually shitting myself that we’ll screw it up.
Keep reading to see how it all panned out.
Tottenham: Gomes, Kaboul, Dawson, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto, Bentley, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe.
Chelsea: Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Zhirkov, Deco, Mikel, Lampard, Joe Cole, Drogba, Malouda.
Subs: Hilario, Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, Ballack, Kalou, Sturridge, Anelka.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
A couple of interesting points at this stage (I’m now finishing the write-up post-match so for all those who missed tonight’s fun and games, pay attention). First up was the referee for the evening; the one and only Mr. Phil Dowd. Now, I’ll leave my true feelings about him for the match report section but for now let me tell you all that I hate this prick. It’s not his patronising, stupidly exaggerated facial expressions or ‘I’m in charge and don’t you forget it’ look that pisses me off but simply his staggering degree of officiating incompetence. I don’t really want to give too much away at this stage but remember this description about this twat for later on.
As for the teams, well, there’s plenty to talk about. Gareth Bale has been in awesome form of late and for all you football anoraks out there (nope, none of you willing to hold your hands up), you will all know how talented this left-back/winger is and how much I feared for poor old Paulo. And for us Carlo decided to go with the successful FA Cup semi-final line-up, which was fine with me. We play best with two ‘proper’ wide-men anyway and Joe has finally picked up his form to such an extent that he appears to be completely deserving of a new contract so everything appeared to be set for us to regain our four point lead.
Except for one thing because Carlo has said on many occasions that our old side “doesn’t like or enjoy playing three games per week.” Now, for a team who regularly has to juggle two or even three competitions in the final few weeks of the season, this doesn’t make for good reading. We are almost unbeatable with five or six days to prepare for each game but with ‘only’ three and half days to rest, train and prepare for this derby, I feared for a dismal, tired and lazy performance. Luckily for you lot, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oh, wait a minute…
The game started in the most predictable fashion; Spurs came flying out of the traps and we appeared to still be asleep. Either that or we were in shock that today would not be the day that we extended our lead to seven points after Scholes’ frustratingly brilliant header. Spurs’ tactics were clear as they pressed us high up the pitch in an almost Amstrad version of Barca’s unbeatable pressing game and constantly fired the ball out to Bale who had the beating of Paulo from the first whistle.
We only began to assert our quality on the game after seven or eight minutes as our midfield finally realised that three should be able to outplay two, especially if one of those Tottenham two was the decidedly obese Tom Huddlestone. But despite forcing a couple of corners we weren’t doing anything of note. Spurs were still harrying and pressing to great effect but I was shocked to see 15 minutes had flown by without our bunch of lazy fuckers appearing to have woken up. Our passing was sloppy and aimless and the tempo was disastrously slow, which all us Chelsea fans know is the first sign of an upcoming dismal performance. Carlo looked equally pissed off and his first Fergie-like tirade from the touchline came after 16 minutes.
But our players failed to respond to his prompting and instead decided to go 1-0 down. And guess how it came about. “Beautiful one-touch passing move?” I hear you ask. Nope. A Defoe snap-shot? No. Instead, it was a fucking penalty and we all knew that it was coming. Owen Coyle and Martin O’Neill’s moaning in the past few weeks led to the inevitable “big teams get all the decisions” articles and any potential penalty which could have been given against us was going to be given against us. Therefore, as a dangerous inswinging cross evaded Alex’s head and flicked off Pavlyuchenko’s boot, JT’s attempted stooping header missed the ball and instead his swinging arm diverted the ball away resulting in Dowd blowing his whistle and making that infuriating ‘piss-off, I’ve given a penalty, no-one come near me’ move. It was hardly a “stonewaller” (is that how you spell it?) as footballers love to say but “you’ve seen them given” (damn those footballer clichés) and I guess our luck couldn’t have held out much longer. Defoe easily slammed the ball past the world’s worst penalty saver and our lead was down to one point.
For a few seconds it looked like we had responded well from going a goal down as we created a chance after Joe collected a clever Lampard pass, cut the ball back to Didier and then watched on in disappointment as our number 11 pathetically passed the ball wide. Zhirkov was making plenty of intelligent forward runs and Frank and Deco were seeing plenty of the ball but we were offering no threat and every time we lost the ball Spurs would spring from their very well organised ‘parked-bus’ formation, fire the ball out to Bale and then keep the ball for the next few minutes. We appeared impotent thanks to our front three’s useless efforts and our attractive possession football ultimately proved meaningless.
Despite my screaming at the laptop screen we were beginning to grow into the game, mainly thanks to Lamps’ vision and passing. After twenty minutes he broke beyond Modric in the centre circle and swept the ball out to Joe on the right hand side. Four men were now waiting for any sort of cross into the box but Joe decided to hoof the ball into the stands. It was a laughably bad delivery and as he stood there, desperately searching for a bobble to blame his shit cross on, I think we all realised that this wasn’t going to be our day especially when Malouda’s clever finish to some nice Zhirkov and Deco passing was ruled out for offside. Didier then decided to lower the standard of our play further as he wasted a brilliant Lamps’ through-ball into the inside-left channel by attempting a ridiculous chip from the corner of the box instead of squaring the ball to Joe, who was unmarked and waiting for a tap-in.
A more considered and conclusive review of Didier’s abysmal showing can be seen later on in the report but the thing which struck me about his shockingly awful first half was his sheer laziness. His deep positioning and failure to get into the box ruined many of our more incisive moves as Zhirkov and Joe would regularly look up and only see Frank in the box, being surrounded by three defenders. At first, I thought that Didier had been told to put in his best Anelka-patented, second-striker impression but as soon as the camera flashed to Carlo screaming at him to play higher up the pitch, I soon realised that he was just being a lazy shit. He plays best as a rampaging centre-forward but today his slow and pathetic showing simply clogged up Frank and Deco’s midfield space and meant that we were effectively playing without a central striker. I’m not sure if his hernia injury is finally catching up with or him or perhaps that he’s just too bloody old to carry on battering defenders but today he was so anonymous yet useless at the same time, it was scary.
Luckily, Mikel was then forced to trudge off with an injury, which cheered me up as he had also been terrible. The only problem was that Ballack had to come on, who in the past few weeks had shown all the movement of a concrete filled tree.
And on the eve of half-time our title hopes were dealt a serious and perhaps terminal blow. Spurs hadn’t touched the ball for about ten minutes, yet as soon as they played in Bale for what appeared to be the hundredth time, we all knew that we would struggle to stop him. The Welshman bamboozled Paulo before cutting inside the stricken Portuguese right-back and firing past Cech at his near post. Our keeper’s positioning could be questioned if I was being harsh, and I’m pissed off so I shall, but the quality of Bale’s run and shot should not be overlooked. A Lampard volley almost direct from kick-off could have brought us back into the game but we wouldn’t have deserved it and if it wasn’t for the horrendous home fans and their club’s penchant for releasing a DVD every time they beat a big team, I would end this half by praising them for a brilliantly organised performance. However, every time the camera zoomed in on a cheering Tottenham fan, I just couldn’t stop myself shouting abuse at the screen. Hopefully, it wasn’t just me.
The second half began with me trying to work out how we had managed to fuck up this title race as things couldn’t possibly get much worse than blowing a four point lead for the second time this season. However, I had clearly underestimated Didier’s ability to infuriate his fans and the farcical scenes at the start of the second half nearly forced me to give up on this bunch of overpaid prima donnas. Carlo had made the brave and entirely correct decision to use up his remaining substitutions by bringing on Ivanovic and Anelka for Paulo and Joe respectively. The players were stony-faced having been on the end of Carlo’s Italian hairdryer and we were ready to turn this game around but Didier decided to ruin all that by suddenly hobbling around just as were about to kick-off. He was rubbing his leg and slowly limped towards the bench signalling for treatment. Carlo simply stood there, on the verge of exploding at these pathetic scenes and told Didier to get on the fucking pitch. We had made all of our substitutions and were in need of two goals so what he was doing hobbling around the touchline like a wounded dog? The fact that he was soon running around as normal within two minutes of the restart merely pissed me off more.
However, that ridiculous incident appeared to have wiped out all the instructions Carlo gave to the players as, even though it appeared impossible to do so, we were even worse than in the first half. Our passing was so slow and aimless it soon became hilarious how badly we were playing. At one point Frank had the ball in the centre circle and was looking for someone to pass to up front. Didier was hanging around, ten yards offside but making no effort to get back onside and in the end Frank was forced to pass back to Alex. It was pathetically lazy play from Didier and the camera immediately flashed to Carlo who was sat on the bench, mouthing off to Ray with a terrifyingly, angry look on his face.
The performance from some of the players was so hideous that I decided to turn to the touchline for my entertainment for the night. I was loving this new, angry Carlo and as Phil Dowd began to display yet more refereeing incompetence, Carlo was repeatedly seen jumping out of his seat to shout abuse at the officials. It rivalled some of Jose’s best insults (anyone remember his famously foul-mouthed, Portuguese tirade, directed at Graham Poll when we were playing Utd at the Bridge?) and from where I was sitting, Carlo was entirely justified. Dowd was being the patronising cunt I expected him to be and his failed actor style hand gestures did begin to grate but it was his useless decision making which really began to piss me off. It wasn’t just failing to spot a clear deflection on Anelka’s effort on goal, or booking Deco instead of Frank when a mini-brawl erupted after Frank’s perfectly clean challenge on Huddlestone or even giving numerous throw-ins to the wrong side (all of which garnered more Carlo outbursts) but it was his handling of the JT sending off which tipped me over. John was indeed silly to trip Pavlyuchenko and then slide in on Bale a minute later to earn a sending off but the way Dowd ran over to Terry, started making some strange facial gestures and then arrogantly waving him away, despite John simply standing there unmoved, was frankly horrendous. The match was turning into such a horror show that I didn’t care about the sending-off but Dowd’s performance was abysmal.
The rest of the half consisted of Spurs easily ripping through our three man defence and then missing numerous one-on-ones, although Petr did make a number of world class saves, and us wandering around with no idea how to get back into the game. Ivanovic had one of our only efforts on goal of the half with a stunning 25 yard effort which grazed the bar but apart from that absolutely nothing happened to suggest that we would get back into this game, let alone win the title. A 93rd minute consolation goal from Lamps may have stopped the Tottenham board from releasing a DVD of this game but when the final whistle was blown all I could feel was astonishment that a supposedly world-class team could find a way to fuck up a four point lead with only four games to play.
- Frank – Never stopped running and never gave up on the game (something which few others did). Was unfortunate to be surrounded by so many lazy twats but his goal was thoroughly deserved.
- Cech – Some nice saves kept the score down and ensured that our fragile confidence wasn’t completely extinguished with three games still to go.
- Bale – Ivanovic did well to keep him quiet but against Paulo and when we went down to ten men he was unstoppable. “If only he was English” Capello was probably overheard saying.
- The performance – We were so awful it wasn’t just scary but in a way surreal. It’s a long time since I’ve seen us play so little football and when we did decide to knock the ball around for a few seconds, our play was so terrible and devoid of ambition that all I could do was laugh. Individual performances will be scrutinised later but for now just consider how pathetic it is that a team cannot even lift themselves to win a game which would all but wrap up the title. These players are competing for nine months to win the trophy us fans cherish the most and are paid to win trophies by an owner who must be growing a little tired of having to constantly gather this lot into a meeting at the training ground and scream at them in order to remove the complacency which seems to engulf them after two or three victories. The laziness on show was almost beyond belief at times but it was the fact that some players didn’t even appear to try that pissed me off the most. As I mentioned earlier, Carlo knows that this side cannot lift themselves for three games a week and surely that sad indictment of this bunch of elderly slackers tells us all that this squad has reached the end. I may have laughed at Utd’s reliance on Scholes and Giggs but we’re just as bad and anyone who thinks that this squad doesn’t need to be torn apart with numerous arrivals and departures is either deluded or a fucking moron.
- Manchester City – £200m and they still can’t beat the worst Utd team I’ve ever seen. A half fit Rooney appeared to terrify them and if anyone has ever seen a more useless, money-grabbing mercenary than Adebayor then please, do tell.
The fucking awful
- Drogba – His deep lying, withdrawn striker showing was more Berbatov than Messi but the way he walked around, endlessly refusing to chase down through balls or press the Tottenham defence was inexcusable. This was the lazy, arrogant and idiotic Drogba of 2006 when he began to get booed by his own crowd at the Bridge. He offered fuck all to the side and I don’t care if he’s carrying an injury. We’ve got four games to win an historic double and if he can’t even be bothered to run around, then frankly I’d rather we cleared him out and brought in some young blood like Pato and Aguero. We seem blinded to the fact that Didier has been so great for us in the past, including this season, but that there will come a time when a Chelsea team has to learn how to play without Didier in a 4-3-3 system. Carlo must be tempted to completely overhaul this squad if Roman gives him the chance and if I was Carlo and was told that I had £100m to spend, then sadly, Didier would be out the door. We have to move on at some point and if you can’t replace Didier then perhaps this proves that this supposedly world-class team is too fucking dumb to learn how to play a different style of football.
- Phil Dowd – A patronising cunt who should never referee again.
- Cech – 9/10 – Half a point knocked off for the Bale goal but he was solely responsible for avoiding humiliation in the second half. Well done Sir.
- Paulo – 5/10 – I really like Paulo and he’s a very good back-up but Bale tore him apart today.
- Alex – 6/10 – Some towering headers were marred with yet more Titus Bramble-esque, brain dead decision making. His decision to charge upfield when we were down to 10 men resulted in a Carlo dressing-down and sometimes I wonder if this guy will ever learn.
- JT – 5/10 – One point off for the penalty but when he was on the pitch he was brilliant. He’s back to his best, well, sort of, but frustration got the better of him (I would have smashed Dowd’s face in if I was him) and his sending off was idiotic. Despite Stoke specialising in disgusting, long-ball football, Carlo will be so pissed off with the side that they’ll be motivated enough to win next weekend without him so he’s a lucky boy.
- Zhirkov – 7/10 – Brilliant overlapping meant we didn’t miss Ash too much. It’ll be sad to see him on the bench next weekend as he’s done a great job for us in the past two months but we all know that he’s just not in Ashley’s class as a left-back.
- Mikel – 5/10 – Only lasted twenty minutes but was still able to display his typical smorgasbord of abysmal ball watching and calm passing. I don’t think this kid will ever learn but he’s young so we’ll keep him. We really are that desperate for young blood.
- Deco – 6/10 – He’s got class, vision and creativity in abundance and I was impressed that he lasted the whole game but with our attack proving to be so anonymous, in the end he fizzled out of the game.
- Lamps – 9/10 – He never gave up on the game and whether it was central midfield, defensive midfield, left-back or even centre-back, this guy was brilliant. His goal capped off a great performance.
- Joe Cole – 6/10 – Personally, I didn’t think he was that bad. Ok, his crossing was abysmal but his movement and effort was on a different level to some others who stayed on the pitch. Not sure how getting hooked at half-time will affect his already fragile relationship with Carlo though.
- Malouda – 2/10 – Forget the fact that he’s been brilliant for us this season. Forget the fact that he’s almost been unstoppable in recent weeks. Instead think about what you actually saw him do today. This was the Malouda of old. He wasn’t just lazy and weak but anonymous and crucially this anonymity was down to him hiding for much of the game. He didn’t want the ball for large parts of the match and the fact that when taking minute by minute notes of the game, I only wrote down his name twice says it all.
- Drogba – 1/10 – Fucking abysmal. Slow, old, lazy, terrible first touch, diving to the ground, wasteful in possession… you name it, we saw it. And what the fuck happened at the restart? Did he just need a scratch or was he trying to get a little rest by deciding to substitute himself? Whatever happened today, we need the real Didier back or we will not win the title.
- Ballack (sub) – 7/10 – Alright wasn’t he? Still horrendously slow but even at right-back he showed some nice touches and that cross for Lamps’ goal was stunning.
- Ivanovic (sub) – 7/10 – I love this bloke. He’s a rock at the back and my pick for Chelsea player of the year. He looked exhausted by then end after his three week injury and despite some of you blaming Carlo for not starting him; he wasn’t bloody fit enough to start to shut the fuck up and look to someone else apart from Carlo to blame.
- Anelka (sub) – 5/10 – That withdrawn striker role has suited him brilliantly but today he offered close to nothing in terms of getting us back into this game although I can’t blame him too much as the support from Malouda and Didier was scarily shit.
- Carlo – 8/10 – No-one could argue with his team selection or substitutions and his touchline ranting was bloody brilliant. No matter what happens he deserves the opportunity to build his own side because holding him back with a squad full of old and tired prima donnas just isn’t fair.
Man of the Match
Lamps has got too many of these recently so it’s got to be Petr. Without him, this would have been horrific.
So how about that then? The title race isn’t just on but I feel we’ve blown it. Before you all start trying to calm me down, just ask yourself this simple question: do you believe we WILL win the title?
I’m not interested in if it’s possible for us to win the title, or if we can or whether it’s likely. All I want to know is if you believe we will win the league. Personally, I believe that we won’t and frankly I don’t think we deserve to. This is the third time that we’ve blown a lead of four points or more and that just isn’t worthy of any recent title winning side. Utd may have a terrible squad but what does that say about ours that we’re only one point ahead of them with a trip to Anfield still to come?
This side is finished and in a few weeks time we can finally say goodbye to it. It’s time to move on and let Jose’s team retire gracefully. There’s plenty of available, young talent out there (Di Maria, Pato, Rodwell, Bale…) and Roman appears willing to back Carlo so why not see this summer as an opportunity to rejuvenate this club? We looked tired, old and frankly past it today and the fact we couldn’t even put in the effort to compete with a talented but entirely beatable Spurs side says it all. Well done to Spurs and Harry and hopefully they’ll do us a favour next week but I believe that we’ll be heading to Anfield with only a one point lead and by the time our kit is launched on the final day against Wigan, we’ll be two points behind and the title would have gone. We don’t fucking deserve to win this league and if we do, then it’ll be by default as we’re only slightly less bad than Utd. Some of you may still look for the positives in that we’re still top of the league and our destiny is still in our hands and I agree that if you offered me the opportunity at the start of the season to win three consecutive games to win the title then I would have grabbed it in a second but the momentum has been lost and in my heart of hearts I really feel that we’ve thrown it away.