Good performance. Bad result. We had to win this one. While Tottenham haven’t managed to put daylight between them and us, Man City and Man Utd have pulled away from the possibility of Chelsea challenging them for the title. Had we won this game, I’d have felt that we are still in the title race, given than we still have an opportunity of beating Man City at Etihad and beating Man Utd at Stamford Bridge. Everytime we drop points, our expectation is that we start a winning streak and hope the other results go our way. It’s possible that other results might go our way but I don’t see us putting in a winning streak that would take advantage of other results.
I must say I was quite pleased with our performance though. I had written in the pre-match post that I’d love to see us defend deeper and not go gung-ho on attacks. I think we did that. When Chelsea chooses to defend like that they are such a hard team to beat. AVB must have been repenting his idea of playing otherwise earlier and losing some matches which he could have draw or even have won. That’s a costly learning for the boss.
I think AVB has found an interesting balance here. If you take yesterday’s match, Chelsea allowed Spurs to play their football and didn’t pressure high up. Chelsea allowed Spurs to enjoy a lot of possession and build their attacks up. Despite this, Chelsea had more attacking moves, more opportunities and were more dangerous in this difficult away ground. So the balance here is, defending very strongly without compromising our attacking instincts. Normally, the more you attack, the less you defend and the more you defend the less you attack. It’s a matter of mindset. It’s a matter of what you consider as priorities for the game. Interestingly, Chelsea have found a way to defend strongly and also retain their attacking instincts – like the old days.
When the team line-up was announced, I couldn’t hide my disappointment. Why not Torres and why Mikel? I’d never understand these two decisions. Of course, you can come up with pros and cons for not playing Torres and playing Mikel. I must say both Drogba and Mikel did a good job but why are we investing so much time and effort on them? See, we are not even offering a contract extension to Drogba. I don’t see Torres being out of form. If anything, he’s out of sync and he can’t get in sync all by himself. He still doesn’t get good service at the right places. He doesn’t get enough time on the pitch. For Gawd’s sake, he should get a decent run of 90-min matches to get himself tuned to the team and he’s not managed to get that since he joined this club. You can say that Spurs had big burly defenders and we wanted someone like Drogba to deal with them. What’s our plan after Drogba joins Anzhi in the summer? Plus, we almost sound like Torres is new to the premier league and he’s never played or scored against Spurs. This is a guy who took the premier league by storm. There aren’t many players who have been as proficient as has been in the la liga and the premier league – I don’t even know who can compare to him in this measure.
Also, if AVB rated Mikel so well, he would not have bought Meireles AND Romeu, and not send Josh on loan. Mikel is not really the first choice defensive midfielder at Chelsea, leave alone first choice midfielder. Yeah, it’s a big game in an away stadium and all that but Romeu has proved to us that he’s no rabbit. He’s a proper midfielder with an intelligent football brain and lovely skills to complement it. In fact, he’s very unlike what we’ve got. Mikel has done a great job for us. I’m always a fan of Mikel for playing such a difficult role from such young age. It’s never easy. But now, we’ve got someone who can do a better job and can contribute more and better.
Still it’s quite clear that this is not AVB’s dream team. He’s gotta make a number of changes and I expect him to do those in this January or in the summer. You already see that Lampard is not first choice anymore – it’s such a big decision given Lampard’s stature in the club and how expensive he is. He hasn’t been too bothered about keeping a £50m Torres on the bench. He’s made Sturridge a regular starter and it’s paid off. He’s sidelineed Malouda and Kalou completely. Really, he’s made a number of changes without making too much hoo-haa about the same.
The game in itself was a typical end-to-end premier league game. With both teams wanting to win and at the same time not wanting to lose, it was a bit basketballish – if you know what I mean. Both teams had somewhat similar approach to the game. Both teams allowed the other team to have the ball and build up their play. When Spurs had the ball they weren’t trying to rush in whereas Chelsea were trying to build their attacks quicker. Spurs’ passing streaks were longer than Chelsea. Hence the difference in possession stats.
Both Spurs and Chelsea had a strong left side which meant goals coming from the left for both the teams. Bale was buzzing from the go. It was only a matter of time before he was going to score or create. But the goal we conceded was pretty lame. Three defenders and a goalkeeper in our box and we could not stop one Spurs striker from making contact with a not-so-quick low cross. I’ve been writing about Cech’s problem with his close range keeping and this was another example. Meanwhile his save from a deflected shot was just world class. We’ve seen both sides of Cech’s form in the same game.
Even before Adebayor could come into the picture, Bosingwa had Bale coming at zone from about 15 metres ahead and still could not position himself to make it difficult for Bale. Why did not get closer to him to at least induce a mistake from Bale? If it was David Luiz, wouldn’t he have gone for a tackle – clumsy or otherwise – and might have given a free kick instead of making it all too easy for Bale. And the Chelsea fans would be screaming at David Luiz for conceding a stupid free kick in a dangerous area and all that.
Our goal also had to come from the left. Drogba and Ashley Cole did some smart work to see Sturridge make a close range finish. We might think it’s an easy finish but you have to give to Danny for being at the right place at the right time, all the time. We also had some injuries to deal with and had to make a couple of subs in the first half. Ivanovic having to go in the middle of the first half was a real bummer. But Paulo Ferreira came in and did a job. The strange thing about Paulo is that he knows that he’s only a squad player and may even spend a season not playing at all. But whenever he’s called upon to play, he’s done a splendid job. He’s not your 9/10 rating defender. He’s certainly a 6.5/10 and being consistent at that. Of course, he’s been training with the team all the time but it’s quite odd to be suddenly thrown into a competitive match in a difficult away ground and still produce a very good performance against a particularly dangerous and productive winger and wing back. Good job there.
John Terry. The man’s resilience personified. He’s been through adversities like very few footballers have been. Be it the Moscow miss, the extra-marital affair, the England national team issues, his family issues, the racial abuse allegation, his hate-hate relationship with media and non-Chelsea supporters in general – he’s been through a bloody lot. And it takes someone with balls of steel to get through all these adversities and still produce quality performance. Of course, his form has not been great but resilience is not about not going down. It’s about going down and picking oneself up from the dumps and delivering the goods. John Terry has done that time and again. Yesterday’s game was classic John Terry. You almost feel like this man is ready to die on the pitch for Chelsea. That’s how much commitment he puts in. That’s how much you think is at stake. Man of the match for me.
Still two more matches to go to finish this eventful year. We should get 6 points from these two games at Stamford Bridge. And then we have the transfer window in January. Looks like we could be busy next month. We might need a centre back and a pacy winger who can use both feet. The situation that we are in means the minimum that’s expected of us is to win our games – especially the winnable ones. In order to do that, we need centre back cover and some flexibility and options upfront. Once we get a couple of players this January, we can restart our campaign and do our best. From this moment on, the mantra is “do your best, hope for the rest”.