First things first. Liverpool deserved their win. I can’t even say Chelsea deserved a draw, let alone a win. When Liverpool scored in under 10 minutes, I thought we have enough time to come back and win. What I saw was a Chelsea team that could not score to equalise at home for 85 minutes. For all the desperation and urgency, sadly, I don’t think we created more than one decent chance. This is only our first defeat of our season to the team that tops the league. Doesn’t sound very disastrous but I cannot ignore the fact that our weaknesses were glaringly exposed.
And yes, the home league record was broken. It had to happen some day. I’d have taken a hard fought defeat over then completely subdued performance. Credit to Liverpool. They had a plan and they executed it to perfection. Looks like they are serious about their title challenge and all that!
What were the frailties, you may ask? Before the match, when the ESPN experts were asked to find the chinks in the Chelsea armour, they said ‘none’. I was surprised, as a ‘non-expert’ and as a fan, I could see what our weaknesses are. Our principal problem is our quality of the attack. We have a world class keeper, a impenetrable back four, a mouth-watering midfield and a so-so attack. Am I right? When you play smaller teams, our midfield generally rules over theirs, thereby creating space for attacks. When you play teams where your midfield is cancelled out by equally good opposition midfield, the chances are going to be few. So the forwards will have to be on their toes, to convert those few chances into goals.
Yesterday, our forwards were simply impotent. Liverpool must have felt no threat at all from the Chelsea attacks. I would even go a bit further and say they were quite comfortable with out forwards. If the game had to played for another 30 minutes, we would still have not scored. I want Anelka out. It’s as simple as that. Yes, I’m putting a bulk of the blame on Anelka rather than Kalou and Malouda. Anelka is supposed to be a big player, a somewhat-expensive signing and he has been playing for almost a year now. Let’s ask this fair question: what have we got from him?
What do I expect from him? I don’t want any magic from him. I just want the basic stuff. Things you would expect from a good footballer. Has he scored any crucial goals for us? Has he scored the first Chelsea goal in any match? Has he score a goal that won the match for us? Has Anelka ever won a man of the match award? Have you ever thought that ‘we won this match because of Anelka’? Would any centre backs be losing sleep ahead of the match because Anelka would play? Would you feel disappointed if you don’t find him starting in a game? If you hear a news that he is not available for a month, how would you react? If you make a list of top 5 Chelsea players of this season, would he be there in that list? Do this in any team and you’d find one or more of their strikers in there. In our list would he be there? If you make a list of 3 most dispensable players in the current Chelsea starting line up, would he find a place there? Have you bought ‘Anelka 39’ jersey, would you buy one? Have you ever said ‘oh I love/adore Anelka’ or would you? Once you’re done answering these questions, you’d have concluded on this topic.
I felt we looked like creating something only after Di Santo came in. That’s when Anelka escaped from the responsibility of the lone striker and was roaming around in the name of helping his team. As a striker, you won’t be touching the ball too often. But when you do, it’s at a premium, you should make the most of it. Anelka’s touches were looking like one-touch passes. He did not get between the centre backs. His movement was faulty for a lone striker. I don’t think Liverpool defenders took him very seriously. And now, Malouda and Kalou were also to be blamed for their performances. I won’t blame Kalou who is still young and Malouda who is still new to premier league, while Anelka, who is old enough and has played many seasons in England, does not play as well as he should.
Anelka is our biggest weakness and I’ve been saying this for many months now. Last week I wrote that we would realise this weakness when we stop winning and that’s what happened here. Teams are surely going to exploit Anelka’s presence. All they’d do is to keep Anelka free so that he gets the ball passed to him, only to be stolen moments later. Also, they’d give their best to stop Chelsea attacking the flanks so that the attacks through the centre are our only or best option. I still wonder why Scolari is still persisting with Anelka? Every manager has this obsession with a player that fans don’t love. I want to see Anelka’s contract document. May be it says ‘thou shalt be played in every match as long as that art fit’ and it must have been written in stone and the Queen might have signed it too.
I had written this after the Roma win:
Are we developing some sort of form against those teams that defend deep? We didn’t score against Cluj, we struggled to beat Wigan, we just about drew against Man Utd (yes, they defended deep that day like a freaking relegation battler). When the opponents come out and play, we come up with a fantastic performance and there are 7/10 all around. When they hold the fort, we seem to struggle to break them down. Just think why.
That’s the second frailty which has a close connection to the first. Secondly, this match was supposed to be Scolari’s test. Did he fail, well, yes is the right answer. If he didn’t, we would not have lost. When it comes to playing the big teams, it takes more than football to beat them. Only last week I wrote about Chelsea’s inability to break down teams when they defend strongly. When we couldn’t break down Cluj, Wigan, Man Utd and then Roma, when they defended deep. Remember, the goals against Wigan and Man Utd came through set pieces. I’m not saying we should score two goals from open play in every game. I’m just looking at the way we played these teams and the genuine chances we created.
Another thing is, there was no variety in our playing style. Against a very organised midfield and an equally organised defence, we are not going to get too much space and time to do the fancy stuff. Trying to be cute may not always work. Sometimes, we should just do what we need to get the job done. That’s what Scolari believes too. Three points come above anything else. But the team yesterday did not play like that. Liverpool played like they exactly knew what move we were planning next. Like JM said, losing 0-1 and 0-2 are one and the same. That’ why he used to make those outrageous tactical switches that engineered many of the Chelsea comebacks.
Having conceded as early as the 9th minute, Scolari had more than 80 minutes to try and get back into the game. We did not get back into the game but we played in such a way that a goal for would have been against the run of play, at Stamford Bridge! Of course he brought on subs after one hour. I thought it was late, considering the game situation and the way in which some player were performing. Also, I thought Anelka must have been subbed and Kalou must have stayed on. Apart from the late and incorrect subs, I didn’t see any changes tactically in the way Chelsea approached the game. We were way too predictable. That’s what happens when you try to play too much on the ground. A very tactically sound team like Liverpool can out-think you and relish the defending game.
Let me be clear. Though Liverpool were defending well, they didn’t park the bus. They were very attacking, perhaps more attacking than Chelsea. In just 30 minutes into the game, we were beaten in the psychological battle by Liverpool. They were hungrier for the win than we were. In fact, they grew in confidence as we started faltering. I’m sure when Rafa came in to Bridge yesterday, he must have thought that a draw is a very good result. After scoring that goal so early, he must instrcuted his players to protect the lead at any cost. And then you see Liverpool slowly blossoming and playing with more courage and ambition.
It was sad to lose this way. There are defeats that would keep your chin high. Remember that 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield – the goal that never was? Chelsea were all over Liverpool that night. For a moment you could mistake Anfield for Stamford Bridge. If we are to lose, that’s how we should play. I’m not someone who wants 38 wins with a goal difference of 76. But I expect a good game from my team. The Chelsea that we know plays like their lives depended on that match – be it against Man Utd or Stoke or Liverpool or Hull City. That was the spirit which was missing.
Anyway, let’s not forget that what has ended is an unbelievable run. This unbeaten home league record may not be broken in our lifetimes. The whole run itself is very unreal in this modern football. I consider this a greater feat than the unbeaten league by Arsenal. The record by Arsenal required them to be in top top form for one season, which they were. Chelsea’s first league title under JM has to be the best league win in English league history. We just lost one match to a dubious penalty (Anelka scored, grrrr) other than that we amassed 95 points which Arsenal could not manage. We had a massive goal difference too.
You may not say that an unbeaten league is not possible again. It could be possible next season or the season after that, it’s kind of always possible. You cannot say that our home league record would be broken soon. Not just because it takes about 5 years to break that, it’s also very difficult to achieve that. You need to maintain your home form for 5 years. You might have to see different sets of players, multiple managers, varied pitches, ups and downs of rivals – you need to withstand so many circumstantial changes and still need to maintain your home form to achieve an unbeaten run like this. Leave alone breaking this, I don’t even see premier league teams coming close to this record. We must be very very proud of this record and call our set of players, managers, staff and team who achieved this feat as ‘unbeatables’.
Finally, one win or loss does not make the season. I was making a noise merely because I have started seeing a pattern, a syndrome. Anyway, to be second with just three points below the league topper is never bad at this stage. Let’s not worry about Liverpool, they’ll lose to Fulham at home (or can I not make these jokes anymore). We play Hull City next, at their home. Expect them to come out and attack us. And if they do that, we can play our game and put the match out of their reach. I want us to play another deep defending team (which Hull City is not) and beat them convincingly. As for Liverpool, the Chelsea I know would be a wounded animal and would be looking for revenge at the Anfield. Beware!