After the disaster against QPR at Stamford Bridge, this game against Southampton was going to end in only one way. This was meant to be the ‘reaction’ game. Even before kick off I was calling for a total rout and that’s what we got. Having got out of champions league and slipping away from premier league, these cup games have to be taken extremely seriously and that’s what we did.
Having learnt from the mid-week team selection, Rafa started what I think is the strongest team in his mind. I still maintain that even a depleted Chelsea team should be able to beat QPR at Stamford Bridge but Rafa did learn a thing or two about how crucial Mata and Hazard are to our game. He learnt that you could lose a game against QPR at home with Lampard, Moses, Marin, Luiz etc. So he started his best eleven.
And that meant Demba Ba getting a start for his Chelsea debut in the first possible opportunity. I don’t think there was even one Chelsea fan who thought Torres should have started ahead of Ba. He is the man in form and Torres needs rest. And we all know what ‘rest’ sometimes means. It’s the euphemism for ‘things are not working for you now, just take a break’. I don’t think Torres needs a rest. What he needs is a break.
It was almost inevitable that Ba would score on his debut. At least I was certain. This season, especially when Mata and Hazard are playing, we create a number of goal scoring opportunities and a striker that can hit the target will always be able to score loads. Torres didn’t take his shots and when he did, hardly hit the target. Ba is on form, high on confidence and considers this to be a massive step up in his career and hence has the hunger to succeed. The only doubt I had about Ba was whether he will be overwhelmed and be nervous on his debut. Boy, was he cool!
Southampton started brightly and were duly rewarded with the opening goal. I hate to see the replay of that goal. That was as poor as our defence can get. Just how we left such a big hole and let a striker wander freely into that space I would never know. After the half hour mark, Chelsea started to get into the game and were beginning to dominate the game.
And the first goal had to come from Ba. A clever backheel from Moses found Hazard who used his telepathic understanding by following Mata’s run and passing it to him at the right time. And Mata with the most delicate of touches skipped past defenders with ease and chipped the keeper. Would have been a great goal for Mata but that was not to be. It could still have been cleared off the goal line if not for the Ba intervention and finish so close to the line.
That was truly well deserved goal for Chelsea and from then on it started to look like a one way street. Chelsea got stronger and stronger in the Southampton half. The second goal came from Moses – a very fine shot driven to the corner. Many felt Moses was the man of the match. While I’d give to Ba, there’s no denying Moses had a great game. He was involved in every attack and was a busy player all along. He, alongwith Mikel, would now leave for the African Nations Cup and we will see them back in action by mid-February, depending on how far Nigeria progresses in the tournament. Shortly after half time, our goal machine Ivanovic headed in a third to seal the game and invariably had people asking ‘how many more will Chelsea score today’.
The fourth and fifth Chelsea goals were of greater importance. Ba’s second goal was a perfect striker’s goal. He understood the play and almost knew what Hazard was going to do and made the right movement and he got the ball at the perfect time, thanks to Hazard. Ba still had to show impressive touch, control and finish. And he took it like a boss! Those are the kind of goals we were missing. With Torres, you can almost be sure that he’d have (a) tried to hold the ball and pass it to a team mate (b) tried to win a corner kick (c) got knocked off the ball. What Demba Ba did was what only a confident, self-assured in-form striker can do. And I loved that celebration too. He wasn’t overwhelmed. He wasn’t too excited. He was just as calm as he could be. At that point, there was enough time and promise for Ba to get his debut hattrick.
With the game at 4-1 up at the 84th min, Lampard won a penalty for Chelsea. Knowing very well that Lampard needed a goal to equal Kerry Dixon’s record, some of us including me, thought he’d let Ba take the penalty for an incredible debut hattrick. It’s not about the personal record for Ba. I thought Chelsea have been struggling particularly with the strikers. In a way you could say we have a striker’s curse (barring one Didier Drogba). Over seasons, all strikers have struggled at Chelsea. Even Drogba made a very slow start at Chelsea and took a couple of seasons to gain prominence. We’ve had numerous strikers who failed or found it hard at Chelsea – Crespo, Kezman, Shevchenko, Torres, Pizarro, Mutu, Anelka. Daily Mail even called Chelsea ‘the graveyard of strikers’.
Everytime a new striker joins Chelsea, there’s this air of unavoidable skepticism. When Ba joined, many even joked that Ba retires from football as he joins as the new striker at Chelsea. Hence I was so hoping for Ba to make a great start to his Chelsea career. And the start will shape the confidence and that’s crucial for any striker. I still think it was a blunder to start Torres against Liverpool in his first game for Chelsea. He was booed, shouted and chanted against and he was poor and subbed off. I think it had an impact and it simply piled up and compounded over a period of time. So I was keen to see Ba get a hattrick and start his Chelsea career with a bang. He’s done that with a brace but hattrick gets a totally different type of confidence and media coverage. Cricket followers would know the difference between a 50 and a 100 is not fifty runs. It’s such a massive psychological boost.
Frank Lampard had other ideas. The captain and the first choice penalty taker, who’s also one of the all-time best penalty takers in the game took the ball and smashed it like only he could. Now he’s the joint-second with Kerry Dixon as the second best goal scorer in Chelsea’s 107-year old history. That’s a massive feat for a midfielder! What followed was a nasty debate on whether what Lampard did was right or not. As much as I love Lampard, I still think I’d have preferred a debut hattrick for Ba. By that, I don’t mean what Lampard did was incorrect. Actually, far from it. I’m quite pleased to see such a massive Chelsea record being broken in my life time. In my opinion, Ba’s hattrick would have done a world of good for him and hence Chelsea. But I have no problem with Lampard taking a penalty that he won and equalled a historic record.
In the end, yet another big win for Chelsea.I think Ba made a big difference. His understanding of the game was very good. His movements and runs were intelligent. He was superb aerially. He was always screaming for the ball and attacking the ball. His presence in the box will surely make the job of our attacking trio easy. Next weekend we travel to Stoke. There’s no way in hell I’m gonna start Torres for that game. Ba will be a perfect fit for that kind of game and also he’s in red hot hattrick form. Even for the mid-week Capital One Cup game against Swansea, I’d pick Ba but I have a hunch that Rafa would pick Torres for that game.
We seem to progress well in the domestic cups but the top four is not going to be easy. There are about 5-6 teams fighting for the third and fourth spots. The January signings in these clubs would have a massive say in where these teams end up in the league table. That way, I’m quite excited about the Demba Ba signing and I think we could still sign one or two more players in this winter transfer window and comfortably finish in the top four. Finally, the best part of this season for Chelsea could be ahead of us. Sit back and relax.