SHOCK OF SHOCKS!

By Mark Daniell
Mar 6th, 2008

News-flash! Lampard and Ballack click in Chelsea midfield. “I don’t understand it” says tabloid journalist, “I just turned on the telly and there it was.” Seriously now, if you replaced Ballack with Gerrard and Chelsea with England that would be front page news, and whoever the manager was would be knighted”.

But it’s not, it’s Avram Grant, and so he’ll get a ‘he’s not going to be fired just yet’ quip and a change of subject. But then that’s life for Granty, and once again he’s given himself a stay of public execution with a stonking display against Olympiakos. Frankly, you can’t help but feel sorry for those cheeky Greeks. I mean, it’s the European Cup, imagine saving up over January and February, scrimping together the Drachma to travel all the way to the Bridge from your video shop on the Tottenham Court Road only to see your team get spanked. And you know it’s a spanking when The Macarena has not one but two shots on goal from open play… They’re probably still crying into their Haloumi.

The secret, I think, was in the kick-off. From the word go Chelsea played as if it were the last ten minutes of the match. Frankly, I’ve always been surprised that we don’t do that more often instead of the usual form of smacking the ball up to the Drog and seeing what he can do. With the attacking variety we have, and the speed available, we should start every game by putting immediate and constant pressure on the opposition.

Last night we attacked quickly and in numbers, but most importantly we backed that up with unrelenting pressure on Olympiakos when they tried to clear. As a result, the ball was trapped in their third, the crowd were going wild, the Turks were running around trying to calm everything down and sure enough the first goal was the result of catching them confused and out of position. It wasn’t a moment of individual genius, it wasn’t a clever convoluted move, it was just that their Turkish legs simply weren’t expecting that kind of electric start.

I’ve seen Man U do it time and time again, (in fact Tevez plays like that all match.): hit them hard in the first ten minutes, catch them out of position, and from then on they’re playing catch-up and are vulnerable on the break.

Of course, it helps if you have Terry back alongside Carvalho, not to mention Makelele breathing down every Cypriot neck before it has a chance to turn, but frankly the pace with which Chelsea started last night’s game was a welcome surprise.

Another welcome surprise was the elbow-length rubber veterinarian gloves that the Olympiakos keeper had decided to wear in the first half, as if he knew he’d need them to surgically remove the ball from his own net time and again.

But surely the most welcome event of last night’s game was the realisation that Lampard and Ballack can play in harmony in midfield. For the first time both played to their full capability, easily finding each other on the edge of the box, one tracking back to cover when the other went for goal, and neither ever giving a ball up as lost. It was no surprise that the first goal was set up by Lamps and finished by Ballack and the roles were reversed for the second. It’s been a long time coming, and although I know that those plucky Phoenicians were a less than convincing set of opponents, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, as they say, and we won at a canter.

And yet poor old Granty will not get the praise. If he wants some from this set of fans he’ll have to win either the Premiership or the Champions League and he knows it. That’s a baptism of fire if ever I saw one: inexperienced and boring, he’s asked to follow in the footsteps of Chelsea’s most charismatic and successful manager. But he’s getting paid plenty, so I’m not going to cry myself to sleep on his behalf.

Perhaps this result will go some way to stopping the ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ chant by home fans whenever he makes a substitution. When times are tough we should lift the team, not undermine it. Right?

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