Premiership: Reading 0-1 Chelsea

Match reports

The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “It was not just Reading who lost it. On the occasion when their 14-month unbeaten home record was put to the sword, Chelsea’s composure was rattled as John Obi Mikel was dismissed, Frank Lampard accused of diving and John Terry trod on thin ice with persistent dissent before completing the game in goal. It is as if the mere thought of Barcelona raises Chelsea’s hackles sufficiently to put them in a foul mood.”

Sunday Telegraph, Colin Malam: “On a nice quiet night at the Madejski Stadium, Chelsea gained three more points, lost two goalkeepers, had a man sent off and got involved in a touchline punch-up. Then, in his typically confrontational manner, manager Jose Mourinho gave the pot another stir afterwards by accusing Reading’s Stephen Hunt of deliberately injuring Petr Cech.”

Independent on Sunday, Nick Townsend: “There had been a suspicion that Chelsea, with 20 players on international duty in midweek, and with Wednesday’s Champions League game against Barcelona on their minds, may have been mentally baring their necks for a potential kill against a team who had held Manchester United here three weeks ago, and were undefeated in four games. Jose Mourinho’s men were not at their most imperious, but just produced sufficient class and grit on a day when Manchester United had earlier advanced by three points.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Neil Barnett: “Chelsea held on with nine men including Drogba at centre-half. There was still time for fitness coach Rui Faria and one of Reading’s backroom staff to be sent off after the Reading management had gone into Chelsea’s technical area. It was a sixth clean sheet in 11 games this season, and playing for the first time in his favourite central defensive position, Khalid Boulahrouz was outstanding.”

The Guardian, Jeremy Alexander: “To lose one goalkeeper is unfortunate. To lose two before meeting their Spanish nemesis might be seen as calamitous. Jose Mourinho would have none of it. “I do not care about football. I do not care about Barcelona. I care about my friends.” Petr Cech and his replacement, Carlo Cudicini, were unconscious in hospital so this was a moment of proper perspective from the manager. Besides, Henrique Hilario, his third choice, has played in the Champions League for him with Porto.”

The Sunday Times, Rob Hughes: “Chelsea are the champions, and they will remain so, given this example of their appetite to fight for the right to show their superiority in a stadium where Manchester United were held last month.”

The good

  1. Three points. The appalling injuries to Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini have rightly taken precedence over the team’s performance, which was no better than okay. But, given the circumstances, the manner in which the win was achieved was more important than the actual football. The players’ reaction after the final whistle said it all. It bodes well: joint top of the Premiership without hitting anything like top form.
  2. Didier Drogba. The big Ivorian was simply outstanding in both attack and defence. The Barcelona back four are in for a torrid time on Wednesday. Give the man a lucrative new contract now.
  3. Khalid Boulahrouz. Played for the first time in his favoured central defensive position and was superb. His performances so far this season suggest he’s got a bright future at Stamford Bridge. He’s only 24 years old and under the guidance of Jose Mourinho will only get better. William who?
  4. John Terry. He put in his usual solid performance. But his behaviour and reaction after Cudicini was poleaxed by Ibrahima Sonko highlighted all that is great about him. Incomparable and irreplaceable.
  5. The spirit and desire. Chelsea supporters are in no doubt that the team spirit at the Bridge is second to none; anybody who questions it need only watch a replay of this game and the last 40 minutes of the victory over Liverpool.
  6. The return of Joe Cole. I think we can all agree that Chelsea missed Joe Cole more than they should have.

The bad

  1. Stephen Hunt. I agree entirely with Blingo: While Hunt may not have intended to injure Cech to the degree he did, he made absolutely no attempt to avoid a collision and even appeared to make a downward movement towards Cech’s head knowing he would hit him. The ball was never there to win. The FA will no doubt do nothing – other than reprimand Mourinho for the seriousness of his allegations – when in fact they should punish Hunt for the recklessness of his actions. The simple fact that those actions threatened a fellow professional’s life should be enough to warrant punishment of some kind.
  2. Mike Riley. Inept isn’t a strong enough word to describe this miserable excuse for a referee. I’m eager to hear from Cech whether Riley ordered him off the pitch; Riley claims he didn’t.
  3. John Obi Mikel. During last month’s defeat of Levski Sofia Mikel was booked early in the second half and Mourinho substituted him 9 minutes later, saying post match that “I was afraid that a bit naive boy could get a second yellow and we’d play with ten men, so I took him off.” On this occasion Mourinho chose to leave Mikel on the pitch after he was booked in the 44th minute (Cech’s early substitution may have played a part in this decision) even though Shaun Wright-Phillips was on the bench. It is very likely Mourinho told Mikel at half time to be careful. Mikel was sent off just 18 minutes later. The young Nigerian has a lot to learn, but is unlikely to make such a stupid mistake again.

Man of the Match

Didier Drogba.

Final thoughts

The Madjeski Stadium is known colloquially as “Mad Stad” which couldn’t be more apt. Put simply it was the most bizarre game I think I’ve ever watched, and it could define Chelsea’s season.

It’s great to hear that Cech’s condition is improving. He is now fully conscious following the operation and the effects of the anaesthetic. He is communicating and talking.

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