Premiership review: Chelsea 3 – 0 Middlesbrough

Match reports

The Observer, Jamie Jackson: “Chelsea won this, their third and final Premiership outing of the month, at a canter. The rest of February consists of a fifth-round FA Cup tie against Blackpool or Norwich, the resumption of their Champions League campaign at Porto, and the Carling Cup final with Arsenal. By the time the champions resume their quest to win a hat-trick of titles at Portsmouth on 3 March, they could well be 12 points behind Manchester United.”

Sunday Telegraph, Roy Collins: “There is still no sign of Roman, not that he has ever figured in the Chelsea scoring charts. But captain John Terry, the most important of the injury victims, has returned to the saddle to ride to Chelsea’s rescue and Arjen Robben, heavily criticised by Mourinho after he came off against Liverpool, appears to have settled his differences with his manager as the club attempt to put on a show of unity.”

Sunday Times, Joe Lovejoy: “Chelsea maintained the pressure on Manchester United, the Premiership leaders, with a routine victory that leaves them unbeaten at home in the Premiership these past three years. Improving Middlesbrough provided obdurate opposition before subsiding to their first defeat of 2007, but paid a heavy price for the loss of Jonathan Woodgate, who aggravated an old hamstring injury on England duty in midweek.”

Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “The strikers were up against a defence lacking not only Jonathan Woodgate who – it almost goes without saying – had failed to come through England’s game in midweek without suffering an injury, but also Robert Huth, who Mourinho must surely regret selling last summer. Yesterday John Terry was back but Ricardo Carvalho had developed flu so Michael Essien was forced to remain in the centre of defence. The potentially menacing partnership of Mark Viduka and Yakubu gave them little trouble, Viduka wasting Boro’s best chance of the game from a free header. So Chelsea completed a fifth successive clean sheet, during which time they have scored 14 times.”

Official Chelsea FC Website: “Mourinho may have played down the importance before the game but everyone raise a toast to his Chelsea side – three years unbeaten at the Bridge in league games.”

The goals

45′ Drogba 1-0.
66′ Abel Xavier (og) 2-0.
83′ Drogba 3-0.

The good

  1. The performance. Since the Liverpool game we have grown in confidence and today was no exception. We played as well as we did against Blackburn and the team just seem to be growing in self-belief. Long may it continue.
  2. The magic number 26. This game signalled the return of our very own Captain Marvel, the one and only John Terry. Just his presence alone lifted the crowd and the players immediately knew the boss was back on the pitch again. JT looked like he’d never been away, battling for the high balls, strolling the ball out of defence, strong in the tackle. Welcome back, JT, you’ve been sorely missed.
  3. Lassana Diarra. Yes, yet another mention for a player who looks to be a fantastic proposition. Cool on the ball, skilful and a real battler. He snapped at heels and relished his time on the ball. And the added bonus today was that he didn’t give many free kicks away.
  4. Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Arjen Robben. The other week I asked whether they could get any better. The answer’s yes. Essien especially is a credit to the team and himself, unselfishly filling the centre-back role again – William Gallas take note. Essien is a model of how to continually accept the challenge of being played out of position with grace and dignity. Middlesbrough had no answer to the brilliant Robben. The last two goals were entirely down to his blistering place and tricky footwork, one leading to an own goal and the other to the free kick from which Drogba racked up another.
  5. The crowd. Middlesbrough had a respectable number in today, but what’s going on? The Shed led the way with the singing and at one point the West Stand were goading the Matthew Harding Lower into singing. Cheeky but brilliant. I will really start to believe the world has a gone a little mad if the East Stand start the singing… nah, that’ll never happen.
  6. Middlesbrough. Again, like Blackburn I would give credit where it’s due, Boro did come and play football and Gareth Southgate was very gracious after the game in his comments about Chelsea. Their best player was Abel Xavier by a mile and his rehabilitation after his drug scandal is nothing short of extraordinary. The battle between him and Drogba was fascinating.
  7. The girl was back today. Lovely. I have mastered the art of the surreptitious and covert glance over my shoulder. When we scored I was momentarily in a fantasy slow motion world where she jumps over the seats and flies into my arms pleading for me to… then the bloke next to me bear hugged me in delight at the goal and the moment was lost.

The bad

  1. Chris Foy – the referee. Unbelievably poor decisions and how he only got 2 minutes added on at the end of the first half after a Boro player had been down for at least 3 minutes and then the subsequent 2 minutes whilst he trudged off the pitch is beyond me.
  2. Middlesbrough. Not a mistake, they were in the good bit as well by virtue of coming and trying to play good football, but what let them down were some pathetic histrionics from Mark Viduka and Yakubu Ayegbeni at some offside decisions and some blatant time-wasting at the end of the first half that should have resulted in a booking for someone.
  3. Mark Viduka’s missed header in the first half. Honestly everyone thought it was in, including the Chelsea players. How he came to head wide of an open goal from 4 yards is mystifying. He’ll remember that for some time.
  4. Paulo Ferreira. A torrid day for him, not because of Yakubu or Stuart Downing, but more for some shockingly poor passing and positioning. Essien was furious with him after a first half incident where he was forced to kick the ball out from our box because his right-back had gone missing. It’s a shame because he was so good last year and the one before, but his confidence was shot today and if we’re honest has been all season.
  5. The loss of Ricardo Carvalho to “man flu”. I only found out when in the ground as did all of us. We just seem cursed don’t we?
  6. My hangover. Didn’t they used to say Guinness was good for you? Well I might dispute that with them one day.

Man of the Match

This is my second time of being asked to do this review and like Nick and Jonathan I’m getting bored with selecting Didier Drogba or Michael Essien, but the truth is it was between them again today, despite good performances from all but Ferreira, and even his performance wasn’t disastrous. Drogba or Essien? Hmm… Eeny, meeny, miny, mo… Hellfire! It’s Didier Drogba again because he got two goals. Can someone else in the team please make an effort to outshine these two?

Final thoughts

It appears we are out of the mini-crisis with the Liverpool fiasco an increasingly dim and distant memory. It was a lovely moment to see the Newcastle and Sheffield Utd scores go on the board today informing us that Liverpool and Spurs had both lost. Today was confident, calm and controlled. The first half started brightly but after 20 minutes faded into a nothing game best summed up by the words “nothing much happened” until the last 5 minutes or so. The second half was a lesson in how to control and dominate the game as Boro became increasingly ineffective and disillusioned.

Drogba is playing like a man who believes every shot or header will hit the back of the net. I wonder if the naysayers who booed him off last year have got used to the noise the humble pie lorry makes when it pulls up outside their houses. These sort of performances will shut the press up, and the conspiracy theorists and critics (including me) for a while. We do look like a team hunting down Manchester United. It’s not in our hands, but it will be one hell of a chase.

The future’s bright. The future’s Blue.

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