Premiership review: Chelsea 3 – 0 Sheffield United

Match reports

Independent on Sunday, Jason Burt: “Jose Mourinho was able to rest and rotate. Neither Didier Drogba nor Michael Ballack started; neither Frank Lampard nor Andrei Shevchenko completed the match. When the latter, who had scored a sublime opening goal, was withdrawn there was another half-hearted little handshake from Mourinho and, afterwards, a sprinkling of praise. “He is a happy boy,” he said of the 30-year-old former winner of the Ballon D’Or, “and still improving”.”

Sunday Times, Brian Glanville: “Tomorrow Chelsea must resume their FA cup battles at Tottenham. At least they can be relieved that this victory over an outclassed Sheffield United hardly exerted them to the full. Moreover, they seemed to come through the game, most significantly of all, with no reported injuries.”

Sunday Telegraph, Patrick Barclay: “Chants of “easy, easy” are always unpleasant on the ear, but this match deserved them; it was never a contest. Not that Chelsea were to blame. Jose Mourinho’s players took their stroll at a brisk tempo and accepted a reasonable proportion of the chances they made. But I think it would be legitimate to question Sheffield United’s apparent strategy of keeping defeat to acceptable proportions, which Neil Warnock was happy to hail afterwards. “I thought we did fantastic,” said the United manager, “to lose three-nil.””

The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “Chelsea can cruise through games like this without breaking sweat. They can afford to leave their peerless hitman Didier Drogba on the bench for much of the game. They can rest Frank Lampard for the entire second half. They can choose to ease off with other competitions in mind. But will that be enough to catch the spirited leaders from Old Trafford?”

Official Chelsea FC Website: “The Blues head to White Hart Lane in just over 48 hours time in good shape and in good heart.”

The good

  1. The performance. Comfortable, classy at times, controlled and refreshingly attacking. I just wish we could see more of this and show some teams less respect.
  2. Andriy Shevchenko. A superb performance for the 68 minutes he was on. To the doubters it was an exhibition of great and intelligent positional sense, a master class in ball control, superb first touch and a finish which shows where the reputation came from.
  3. The formation. It was difficult to say what the formation was with Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack on the bench. It looked a sort of 4-5-1, but may have been a 4-3-3 or even some bastardised hybrid of both. Whatever, it worked and the whole of our game seemed more fluid, more expansive and importantly more creative. The players seemed to enjoy it more as well, and surely that’s important?
  4. Michael Ballack. No, that’s not a misprint. As usual I am happy to dole out the brickbats and everyone thinks I am anti-Ballack. I’m not but I would like to see more of the Bayern and Germany player than we’ve seen until now. Came on as sub for Frank Lampard and for the first time he really showed where he gained his reputation.
  5. No injuries! I did fear that Neil Warnock might ask his players to kick us up in the air a bit. After all, he is the manager who revels in shouting “break their f**cking legs” from the touchline as a way of motivating his players. But they weren’t good enough to catch our players and we came through unscathed.
  6. Hope for Shaun Wright-Phillips! The best I’ve seen him play for us and he didn’t look at all uncomfortable in his roving midfield role.

The bad

  1. The horrible injury to Rob Hulse. No-one likes to see a serious injury on the pitch, even to the opposition and his audible yell as he fell was an indicator that this was no play acting scenario. Sportingly, the whole stadium applauded him as he was stretchered off and that’s what the words “football community” are supposed to mean. Wonder if the red tops will even mention that. I won’t hold my breath.
  2. The Sheffield United fans. In today’s Observer their fans’ representative criticised us for being quiet! I thought we sang quite a lot, as did the Shed (to the ironic applause of the Matthew Harding Lower) and my voice was certainly a bit huskier than usual last night, and yet I barely remember hearing a squeak from them. Physician, heal thyself!
  3. The result from Old Trafford – we genuinely thought that Fat Sam’s boys would go there and give them a battle. In the end Bolton rolled over like puppies having their bellies tickled. I fear that time has run out for us as we have the harder run in, not least of all facing an Arsenal side that will probably hope to hurt us for the Carling Cup defeat.
  4. My hangover. Foolishly I was drinking to nearly five in the morning. En route to the ground I thought I’d got away with it but after my meal in the café the full force of the revenge of the major bodily organs kicked in. For an hour whilst watching the game from Old Trafford I did start to wonder if the paramedics fancied giving me some oxygen out of sympathy. Still, the best cure I find is 90 minutes of sustained standing up and sitting down, yob-like shouting, unwarranted hand gestures, fist pumping – it worked a dream!

Player ratings

  • Petr Cech: Not much to do bar one save from Kazaam-Richards – still makes you feel better by virtue of him being there – 8/10
  • Khalid Boulahrouz: Steady performance, one howler of a back pass but other than that a pretty solid show – 7/10
  • Ricardo Carvalho: Little to worry about today, but a truly fantastic cross field ball for the first goal that made him look very part the marauding midfielder he… err… isn’t! – 8/10
  • Ashley Cole: Again little to do and barely needed to break sweat – 7/10
  • John Terry: Towering presence and although a quiet-ish day when he had to make the clearance he looked imperious – 8/10
  • Frank Lampard: It’s either up or down for Frank these days and this was a muted performance at best during his first half tenure – 6/10
  • Claude Makelele: Broke the game up well and this was a better performance than recently – 7/10
  • Arjen Robben: Always a threat and hence always had two players on him immediately – looks better on the left but still did enough to warrant an automatic place in my view – 7/10
  • Andriy Shevchenko: Man of the Match. Brilliant finish for the goal – 9/10
  • Salomon Kalou: He’s winning me over! Tricky, fast and if he could just control his occasional tendency for losing the ball in an unforced error. He is a very bright prospect indeed – 8/10
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips: A roving midfield role for SWP and one that seemed to bring out the best in him – the final ball is still likely to go awry but a slender hope for his future at Stamford Bridge? – 7/10
  • Didier Drogba (sub): Looks a bit knackered which is hardly surprising but was still a threat and holds the ball up fantastically – 7/10
  • Paulo Ferreira (sub): Barely noticeable and we’d already won when he came on – but maybe this is the game he needed to use to remember what his job is. I hope so – 6/10
  • Michael Ballack (sub): About bloody time too. This is the one I recognise from the World Cup. Great jump for his headed goal – 8/10

Man of the Match

Andriy Shevchenko. Fantastic performance and if this is a taste of improvements to come then we’re in for some real treats next season. Absolutely world class.

Final thoughts

No real surprises here. The game went pretty much as we’ve come to expect. If they’d played us at Christmas they’d have got a draw, but with Cech and Terry back to steady the ship we look an altogether different proposition. What was a pleasant bonus was that I felt entertained yesterday. Frankly I wish we’d put them to the sword because I reckon we could have had six to reflect the balance of play and made a small dent in the goal difference to Manchester United.

The destination of the Premiership is still out of our hands and we are running out of games in which to catch United, and to be fair to them they don’t look like slipping up. Old Rednose himself is the (second?) best at guiding his team down the home stretch. Ironically we could finish second on 93 points and that shows just how costly the Christmas blip was.

One more final thought – I have been thinking a lot about the Lampard/Ballack conundrum. It’s very similar to the Lampard/Gerrard debate for England but the facts seem to be clear. Lampard and Ballack don’t work together as they occupy the same space. Lampard without Ballack looks good, but Ballack without Lampard looks even better on the evidence of the second half yesterday. A tough call, but for the first time I’m wondering which holds the better future for us. Lampard or Ballack? Keep the Blue Flag flying high!

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