Chelsea 2-1 Stoke City | 88 mins of nonsense & 6 mins of Chelsea
He’s done it a thousand times before in his 400 matches with Chelsea:-) It had to be Frank Lampard. Chelsea and Scolari were three minutes away from an embarrassing defeat and an unavoidable sack respectively. Great result at the end of the day. Man Utd won. Aston Villa won. We had to win. We had our backs against the wall and we we were losing until the 88th minute. So this should sound like a great win if you had not seen the match. It is a great win but this was at Stamford Bridge and against a team which has the worst away record in the premier league.
I wonder why Chelsea cannot play all 90 minutes or at least 45 minutes like the way they played in the last six minutes. Just after the 80th minute, we could see that Chelsea fans started to leave the Stamford Bridge. That’s a bad thing for a fan to do. That’s also a sad thing for him to do. I won’t blame the one who were leaving. We were playing poor football and as a team we’ve lost our aggression and confidence for months now. Not many would have bet on Chelsea coming back with two goals in the last 5 minutes. Even if they did, even with hindsight, I’d say that was being stupidly and blindly optimistic. This Chelsea team this season has given us no proof or confidence that they can come back like they did today.
Now the season can progress in two ways. One is, Chelsea can take this win as the catalyst to rejuvenate the rest of the season. Or, when we play better oppositions, we can go back to our recent mediocre best. It has to be the former, to stand any chance of finishing first or thereabouts. If we are to return to our mediocrity, this win has no meaning. My fear is that this might have only papered the cracks for now. Many times this season I’ve thought that we’ve got the turning point of the season. Many times, I’ve thought ‘that’s it, we’re gonna be a different team from tomorrow’. And the fact is, all these have been false alarms. The goal that we let in sums up our season so far – mistakes everywhere from midfield to defence to goalkeeper. On the other hand, the goals that we scored do not reflect our season. The moments provided by Belletti and Lampard were against the run of play as far as the Chelsea season goes, if you know what I mean. Also, even Scolari admitted that the Stoke keeper would have saved the shot from Lampard, if not for the slight deflection. Anyway, a goal is a goal.
For 88 minutes, we were huffing and puffing, losing quality possession, passing for eternity with those occasional pops. We did not care enough to fight for the ball and win the ball and heck, we looked like we did not care much about conceding too. To be honest, we never looked like winning this match. Of course, we had 40+ shots in 90 minutes, which is about a shot in every two minutes. When your team has so many shots and still lose by the 88th minute, you should call your very unlucky not to be winning. I wouldn’t say that about Chelsea. We were absolutely not unlucky. We hardly created clear cut chances. We did create half chances and some chance were made to look a little better but we did not create clear cut chances. And as I said we never looked like winning the match. The urgency set in only after the 85th minute. Anyone who saw this match can correct me if I’m wrong here. For all 85 minutes, we had the possession, we had the shots but I doubt if we threatened Stoke City. Did we hit the bar? Did we trouble the Stoke keeper?
I found Scolari’s post match interview a bit strange:
I think the group today was more together than before. Against Man United we made many mistakes and we pay for these. After we discuss these mistakes and we try something in the training, in the group and on the bench and had a result, because we win two games. It was the same as the other games because we had many chances and then we conceded a goal. But after this my team have spirit, they have heart, they try to draw and they try to win. I don’t remember now but I think it is the first time we scored a goal in the last minute. We received many goals like this. I think we had 30 shots in front of goal. Stoke arrive with one ball and score. This situation we needed to change and I think today they start to change the mentality if they concede a goal. Also we did not concede one goal by throw-in, or set-piece.
You made many mistakes against Man Utd and you corrected it and won against Southend and Stoke? Sure you meant to say that Phil? I did not see those ‘many chances’ but I surely saw the goal conceded. Group together more than before? Not until we scored. We were heading for an all too familiar end and then the goal brought the group together. That’s how I saw it. He sounds almost proud that we did not concede from a set piece. How the mighty have fallen? While I’m saying we should not be conceding against likes of Stoke at Stamford Bridge, Scolari reminds us that we have not conceded from set pieces. Good time to remind you that Man Utd today got their 10th successive clean sheet thereby equalling the record set by . . Chelsea. Remember, cleansheets?
I’m very happy that we turned around this match with two goals in the last five minutes. But remember, if not for the now-scarce display of spirit and attitude in the last few minutes, the press would have had Scolari for dinner. The pressure on Scolari and the calls for his head might have been so loud that he could have even gone out himself. Make no mistake. A defeat against Stoke at Stamford Bridge today might have finished off Scolari’s career with Chelsea. And he was almost there. He must have started to think about what to say in the post match conference. He must have dreaded the possibility of getting an meeting invitation from Roman or Kenyon or both. But he stays, for now.
In terms of positives, stand-in captain Lampard scored. I’m delighted for him. I’m happy for Belletti too. When Bosingwa was signed, I wondered why because I rated Belletti very highly. He is a perfect fit at Chelsea. He has the experience, the attitude, the aggression, the skill and most importantly the versatility and adaptability. I wish we find a more permanent role for Belletti on the pitch and make him play more regularly. And, there was this kid, Franco di Santo. And Salomon Kalou. I think they fairly lived up to the hype I keep creating for them, especially Franco.
There’s certainly some sense in playing Franco. With the wingbacks we seem send down a cross every minute. And who do we have to receive those crosses? Do we have players that are strong in the air to receive those crosses? Do we have players with good headers in the team? Franco is 6’4″. He is the tallest striker in the squad and I’m not surprised that he won that ball and assisted Belletti. The kid is good. And that shot by Miroslav Stoch! Scolari should try starting any of these youngsters and retain some of his experience in the bench. The biggest positive was once again from Lampard. I was particularly impressed with the way he rallied everyone to Scolari to celebrate with the goal and win with him. That would help quash some of the rubbish being spread about the team unity and frictions. I hope those are indeed rubbish.
I’m not convinced yet. The performance today was almost drove us to the fifth place in the table. Many would like to believe that we will be spurred by this performance and this could very well be the turning point of our season. I’m sorry. If it was Man Utd or Liverpool or Arsenal that we had beaten today, I’d have said that. Chelsea should beat Ipswich (11th in championship) and Middlesbrough (17th in premier league) next. Scolari could finally get his four match winning streak. I would still not be convinced because this four-match winning streak would comprise wins against Southend, Stoke, Ipswich and Boro. I would take these for granted. Even an Everton fan (no disrespect here) would take these wins for granted. Our season would be shaped in February and March. Those two months would also mean a lot in terms of Scolari’s future with Chelsea. For now, we’re third in the league. Not sure if I need to be happy or sad about this fact!