We love doing it the hard way, don’t we? We needed two wins from three games. Led the first of the three games until the 80th min and then got a draw. Then we tried trailing the second game and also playing with ten men. It got to a stage where Chelsea fans already thinking about the possibility and the challenge of beating Everton at home. At worst, it even made some think of the possibility of missing out on Champions League due to some freak results. Freak results were what we thought were witnessing. From a game that I’d have wanted forget, it turned into a game I’ll remember forever.
Picture this: We concede a goal. We get a man sent off. Half time. They get a man sent off. We equalise. Genuine goal not given. We score a late late winner. In the process, Lampard equals Tambling’s record and beats that too. Crowd into the pitch. Total euphoria. I don’t think you could’ve scripted it. It’s simply fairytale stuff. This game should be filed under the ‘Come back from a goal down and a man down’ category. This game has got some illustrious company with the most recent one at Camp Nou.
Before the game, there was a debate if Benitez would rest some of the key players given a Europa cup final on Wednesday. He did and he didn’t. He selected such a first eleven that looked very strong and at the same time rested a few to make a strong bench that can make a difference when called upon. My only concerns were going to be Moses and Ba. The second half of this season has quite clearly shown why neither of these players are of Chelsea quality. Both these players have struggled to make an impact especially when the chips are down.
How often we see top teams being second best in a difficult away stadium but just come out on top thanks to that extra bit of quality in a key moment. Well, that extra bit of quality in a key moment is what Moses and Ba haven’t shown. They’re still good subs and decent squad players when things do go well. Still don’t have it in them to deserve a start in such a crucial game.
It took just about 10 minutes to realise that this was going to be an extremely difficult challenge. Villa have been the form team recently, just like Chelsea but the game was played at their backyard. Villa started very brightly and played like they’ve got nothing to lose. Every time they launched a counterattack, they caused us problems. They had an in-form front three that made Chelsea defence look very vulnerable. That first goal by Benteke was well taken but Cahill’s defending was disappointing. It was like he didn’t know what to expect from a player like Benteke. Cahill was unsure, confused and that momentary inaction was enough for Benteke to launch one in a tight angle. Petr Cech should have done better? Hell yes.
Ramires’ sending off was the most depressing moment of the match. Even when we conceded the lead, I knew we could gather ourselves and wrestle the match back, once the proceedings were calmed down. But when Ramires was sent off, my hopes started to sink. Villa were flying high, they got the goal, they got our man sent off and the crowd was going wild and crazy. To clarify, I don’t think that was a sending off. The second yellow was a wrong decision. But it was also silly of Ramires to constantly go with his foot up chest high when he’d just got a yellow.
Ramires was also under pressure whenever Chelsea were off the ball because he wasn’t getting too much support from Lampard. This is where I see a big problem. Lampard is not the type of player to play as one of two midfielders in the 4-2-3-1. The two midfielders in 4-2-3-1 will have to come alive when we are not in possession. Lampard doesn’t go chasing the ball possessor or run into space to cover and block. He does tackle very well when the opponent is in his zone but he doesn’t shift his zones keeping relevance with the opponent’s attack. Ramires had to compensate for Lampard and went overboard with his defensive duties. Still was a bit silly and got sent off.
At half time, we were trailing by a goal and by a man. I knew the best hope for us was if a Villa player also got sent off. Didn’t say that just to not jinx it. But I didn’t expect Benteke to be sent off. His was a clear second yellow card offence and he’s not Nigel de Jong to get away with those kind of things. That red card to Benteke was the turning point of the match. Not because it levelled the resources but because it infused a belief in the Chelsea team that they can do it. This turned the momentum in Chelsea’s favour and you could see it in them. On the other side, it put Villa in serious doubt on what the approach should be – to sit back and take a draw or to go for the win. And Chelsea benefitted well from that period of indecisiveness.
Chelsea equalised in a few minutes. It had to be Frank Lampard – equalling Bobby Tambling’s record of 202 goals for Chelsea. If you look at the goal again, while it was well worked from the right wing, when Lampard received the ball, he was just inside the box and there was no Villa player closing him down and they were all standing back between Lamps and Guzan. In fact, they made it a bit easy for a great finisher like Lampard. As soon as that goal went in, everyone knew there was going to be only one result – a Chelsea win. It was only a matter of time.
Once Chelsea equalised, and as the game moved into the last quarter of an hour, Villa were also playing for a win as that would have assured their stay in the premier league. I wanted Benitez to make timely substitutions – where he once again failed. Bringing on Luiz for Moses at half time was perfect. In fact, I’d have done a TSO and subbed Moses at the half way point in the first half itself. Anyway, half time sub was good. Torres should have come in much much earlier – by the 60th minute or something so you can capitalise on the Chelsea momentum and seal the game. I do get the feeling that he’s missing out on taking advantage on these little nuances. But hey, he’s won a champions league, not me!
Chelsea gave another chance for pundits and commentators to go ranting on the lack of goal line technology. The ghost goal at Anfield, Lampard’s world cup goal, Chelsea’s goal at Wembley against Spurs, yesterday’s goal and many more such instances with a Chelsea connection. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t really a costly miss. I’m sure it must have been near impossible for the linesmen to call this correctly. But Lee Mason was standing right on the D and didn’t think it went over the line, while it clearly did.
Then came the goal that mattered! I went so crazy and frenzy and I celebrated so much I couldn’t even recollect how the goal happened. Had to look at the replays to see how beautifully the goal was worked by Ashley Cole, Hazard and Lampard. It was all over in a flash! How magical was this – late winner and the Lampard record and we’re in the champions league!
Frank Lampard’s achievement is incredible. He’s one of the greatest players in Chelsea history, a premier league legend, one of the highest scoring midfielders in the game and holds numerous records already. But the one record he would have always wanted and would treasure all his life must be this one – all-time highest goal scoring record at Chelsea FC. Totally deserved it. True legend of the game.
The celebrations were checked by a couple of injury concerns – Terry and Hazard. John Terry seems to have twisted his ankle and would have another sad story around a european final. Hazard looked to have pulled his hamstring and could be a serious doubt for the final.
Media still says that our top four is all but confirmed. Mathematically, we can still miss out. Here are the permutations: Arsenal win both the games (FAIL) and Spurs win both the games (FAIL) and Spurs win the two games with a goal difference of 18 (FAIL) and Chelsea lose at home to Everton (FAIL). All these need to happen for Chelsea to drop out. I think none of these would happen. Both Arsenal and Spurs will draw or lose one or two of the remaining games. Even if they don’t, I somehow don’t see Spurs getting a couple of 9-0 wins.
While it’s great that we’ve managed to make it to the top four, I don’t want to be celebrating a top four finish like I did yesterday. That’s all very Arsenalish. We shouldn’t be having to celebrate a top four finish. Yes, this was a season of transition – change of managers, mid-season crisis, new players etc. That’s why it’s understandable this season. Next season, we should be fighting for the title. Fergie’s gone. Mancini will be gone. Hopefully, TSO will be in, we could sign new players, some players will play their second season in England/Chelsea and can be more effective. All these should mean only one thing – a strong league performance from Chelsea and with a realistic charge at winning back the premier league title.
Europa league final coming up. In a season where we missed chance after chance to win a trophy, we should win the Europa league, simply by law of averages. Only last night, Porto broke Benfica hearts by a stoppage time goal in a game that was like the final of the portuguese league. In contrast, we go with the momentum on our side.
Will we continue to be European Champions? Yes we will. Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!