Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “In the festive season of a thousand toasts, the poignant salute at Stamford Bridge yesterday was to absent friends. Chelsea would never have dropped two points had their commanding centre-half, John Terry, been present and the captain’s imminent operation to shave a disc in his back cannot come soon enough. The champions’ spine will be strengthened only when Terry’s is.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The rivalry with Manchester United may be no more than runner-up to the Premiership’s most gripping struggle of all. Chelsea’s battle with themselves could exercise a greater fascination still and yesterday they were unable to overcome the skittishness that has become so glaring. This time there was no winner at the very end, as there had been against Everton and Wigan, and the club are now four points adrift of United.”
The Times, Alyson Rudd: “Chelsea have become the team most likely to provide last-minute thrills in the Barclays Premiership, but against Reading the excitement was more of the pantomime variety as the champions threw away the chance to put extra pressure on Manchester United. A comical own goal from Michael Essien in the 85th minute meant that Reading left Stamford Bridge with a draw and the title race looking more demanding than José Mourinho might have expected. “It’s not a drama,” the Chelsea manager said of being four points behind Manchester United.”
The Independent, Glenn Moore: “There was certainly enough talent on the pitch for Chelsea to have won in some comfort, but both the collective deployment and individual performance were open to question. Andrei Shevchenko was again fielded out of position, on the left wing, where Graeme Murty easily shackled him until the Ukrainian was withdrawn before the hour. Salomon Kalou, on the other flank, glittered in patches, but too infrequently.”
- The first half. The sense of déà vu about these reports is becoming alarming. A goal up, good possession and Reading reduced to a policy of containment with not one shot on goal or even a corner to show for their endeavours.
- Didier Drogba. A magnificent performance at both ends of the pitch. In the absence of John Terry, one of the very few players who looks composed and positive when defending set pieces is our centre forward. And frankly, minus his goals and overall contribution we’d be mid-table UEFA Cup fodder this season.
- Dropping two points. Perverse though this may sound, but being four points adrift at the halfway stage is hardly a disaster. Two tricky games await before the twelfth night and you would hope that yesterday was enough of an alarm call to wake the players up.
- The reception for Stephen Hunt. Never before has a man hugged the touchline so diligently whilst warming up…
- Another abject second half performance. Football is all about opinions, but I’m at a loss to offer one on how Chelsea manage to go from sublime to ridiculous or vice-versa over the half time oranges.
- John Terry’s absence. Nine goals conceded in sixteen games with him in the side, six conceded in four without him and against teams that were nigh-on guaranteed as clean sheets in recent seasons. A player it is almost impossible to live without, but with surgery a possibility Mourinho and the team must start adapting and quickly.
- Errors. For the last two seasons, Chelsea’s strength has been how ruthless and clinical we have been at exploiting the mistakes and shortcomings of others. For a team that once looked so solid, recent games have been particularly alarming. Lampard and Wright-Phillips conceded possession cheaply yesterday – both of Reading’s equalisers were the result.
Man of the Match
For the last two seasons, Jose Mourinho has got everything he wanted at Christmas – maximum points. Yesterday’s result should be filed under disappointment rather than disaster, but the faults are there for all to see. Whether Reading’s second equaliser came simply as a result of pure pantomime and a dose of bad luck is debatable; the uncertainties that seem to haunt us in defence may have played their own part when the game should have been well beyond the reach of Coppell’s men. Mourinho must decide whether our current deficiencies are rectifiable by tactical shuffling or a trip to the January sales; the current situation is one of the more challenging he has faced during his short but glittering managerial career.
For now, Chelsea must forget about the team above. Ferguson’s men will drop points, without doubt but his current side has the perfect mix of experience, steel and flair to ensure that a draw or a loss will be followed by an emphatic win; United 2006-7 are no ‘Invincibles’ in that they are extremely unlikely to succumb to prolonged bouts of mental fragility and self-doubt. Closer to home, whilst Terry and Cech are big players to lose their absence should not be an excuse for allowing mid-table teams to dictate long periods of play, especially at Stamford Bridge.
Time for an old cliché about the wounded animal being the most dangerous? I think so. The attacking substitutions Mourinho has made in recent games when the going has been tougher than expected have worked wonders – the best method of defence? The talent is certainly there; it is time to forget reputations and ‘untouchables’ and remember that Chelsea at arguably the weakest we have seen them for over two seasons are still ten points better than the chasing pack.
The neighbours are over on Saturday; let’s make sure they leave with only a strategically inserted blue flag to remember their day by.