“It was very painful… It is not a good feeling,” said Avram Grant after THAT defeat to THEM on a dismal Sunday afternoon. You know what Avram? The rest of us aren’t jumping for joy either. A frankly pathetic display with supposedly our strongest side available has simply served to point out several flaws, rather than promote the Blues as genuine contenders this season.I know, I know, this has the potential to become a deeply pessimistic rant. Well, in truth it is. A good moan is all we’ve got sometimes to stop us from kicking the cat, smashing crockery of some sort, or punching an innocent lamppost (one of my own there, walking back from a bar in France after seeing Joe Cole balloon a six-yard shot over the bar against Liverpool in the 2006 FA Cup semi-final. It didn’t make me feel any better, it didn’t put us into the final, and the lamppost didn’t really deserve it).
The Carling Cup Final 2008 was deservedly won by Tottenham Hotspur. As much as it pains me to say it, that is the truth. From inside the first minute you could tell we just weren’t up for it. A lax Juliano Belletti ball was pounced on by a hungry Robbie Keane, who produced the first shot of the game, and gave Spurs a very early advantage. The Blues bumbled and stumbled until some classic Didier Drogba deception won a free-kick which the Ivorian then duly dispatched for 1-0.
No-one needs reminding of the specifics which followed, however, there is plenty to highlight concerning the game overall.
First off, why on Earth have we spent big money on a striker in Nicolas Anelka, only to shift him out onto the left wing? He needs geeing up simply to play in his natural position sometimes, and even then, shoulders are shrugged and interest wavers, so why leave out Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou or Florent Malouda-all natural candidates for the left-wing berth-just to accommodate him? The big talking point before the game was the supposed plan to leave out John Terry and Frank Lampard from the starting XI. They both played, maybe Anelka should have been the ‘Galactico’ benched this time though.
With Joe Cole harshly excluded, why then did it take around 110 minutes of playing time for Grant to finally put him into the game? It was clear that neither Anelka nor Wright-Phillips were making much of an impact, yet tactics weren’t changed and both players played a lot more minutes than perhaps they should have. Kalou should also feel harshly done by. His introduction sparked life into a moribund Chelsea performance, and his pace and invention looked the most likely source of any comeback.
Why such a terrible performance from the starting eleven anyway? This was a chance for the strongest Chelsea side to make themselves heard. No major injuries, no suspensions; but no cohesion, no spirit, no drive, and no winners on the pitch.
Poor performances from John Mikel Obi, Michael Essien, Belletti and an absolute howler from Petr Cech didn’t help either, but there is something far more troubling than bad form. I’m afraid we come back to Avram Grant again. It has not gone un-noticed from fans and pundits alike that he has failed to win against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United (indeed the three meetings so far under the Israeli have seen the Blues score a grand total of zero goals), while the mid-week monotonous meeting with Olympiakos coupled with the unthinkable happenings at Wembley on Sunday have again raised concerns about performances in the ‘big’ games.
Aside from the Huddersfield Town win last weekend, we have been made to look second-best to Spurs, bored the Greek champions into submission, stumbled at home to Liverpool recording just one shot on target, and escaped Fratton Park with a 1-1 draw as we nearly lay down for Portsmouth. Not impressive, not attacking, not winning football.
If we’re all honest, we are as good as out of the title race. Arsenal and Manchester United are just too good, and barring suspensions, injuries and acts of God, I can’t see us shuffling past them in the Premier League table. The Champions League and FA Cup are now all to play for, otherwise Grant could find himself at the helm of an expensively assembled disaster-both in terms of money and reputations.
As a fan I obviously hope with all my heart that we can get something out of the season. It is easy to point at injuries and the African Cup of Nations as excuses, and while perhaps it is overly dramatic to pick apart a side comfortably in third place in the Premier League and still in two cup competitions, changes need to be made. If we to play attacking football and try to compete aesthetically with the top two, we need flair players, pacey players, and the right tactics to go with them.
The Carling Cup final defeat has left us in a state of flux, and unfortunately, at this present time, there are too many unanswered questions which will ultimately hurt us. Perhaps we aren’t as good as we think we are? Well then Avram, get us over the disappointment and that painful feeling currently residing in every man, woman and child wearing the Blue of Chelsea.
Because this rant hasn’t made me feel better, it hasn’t won us the Carling Cup, and we deserved to lose in the end. We still have a long way to go.