You know what’s odd? Patrick Kielty, for one. I’ve got a nasty feeling he’s being groomed as the new Jonathan Ross, which terrifies me frankly. What else is odd is that Chelsea can let in four goals at home, lose to Newcastle and I’m not upset.
You’d have thought that seeing a run of 47 unanswered goals shattered would cheese me off, but it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I am cheesed off, but that’s mainly because I’ve been stuck in the dentist’s waiting room listening to Patrick Kielty twatting about on the radio for half an hour.
The Chelsea performance by contrast, is, if anything, uplifting. On the one hand it showed the right philosophy from the coach and on the other it showed a great mentality from the players. The result was unfortunate, and for the width of a post could have been very different, but when you consider the circumstances it is almost incidental. (Which is not meant to take anything away from Newcastle who played with determination and no shortage of skill and fully deserved their victory.)
Chelsea have cemented their long term aspirations by using the League Cup as a platform to blood their youngsters. In the past we’ve been more inclined to use the Cup to keep peripheral squad members happy, to let Shevchenko bully second division defences and claim it’s as important as the FA Cup or the League. Of course it is important, and in order to win it, you need to beat some impressive teams, but really, in the Chippy’s menu of fish-to-fry, the League Cup is somewhere near the bottom, down by the Mars bar or the Saveloy.
For youngsters though, it’s the perfect tournament. It’s high pressure, high expectation and invaluable experience against Premiership opposition. Frankly it is a testament to the recent performances of the senior side that the likes of Jeffrey Bruma, Gael Kakuta and Patrick Van Aanholt were playing in front of a full house.
In spite of the defeat there are plenty of positives to take from the game. For one thing, the leadership qualities and cool head shown by Nicolas Anelka were admirable and can only benefit the youngsters who are coming up under his tutelage. For so long known for his moodiness, Le Sulk is now the first person to step up when Chelsea need him. We saw it during last season’s Africa Cup of Nations, and we saw it again last night. If only he’d showed that five-a-side penalty-taking insouciance in Moscow…
I also thought Yuri Zhirkov put in an excellent performance. Quietly, Zhirkov is becoming an invaluable part of the Chelsea make-up, in much the same way as Essien did at the beginning of his Chelsea career. Naturally, he’s never going to catch the eye, but being able to slot in to any position under any conditions without any real weakness being revealed makes him a vital team asset who can too easily be taken for granted.
And the final promising note was obviously the youngsters themselves. Van Aanholt, Kakuta and particularly Josh McEachran all had good games. Yes there were mistakes, but with the new FIFA homegrown rule, these guys are going to make sure Chelsea are a force for years to come. It is them, and not million pound purchases, who are the future of the club, and it’s good to see Chelsea thinking long term.
If I had one gripe it was unfortunately with Ross Turnbull. The old Turnbullator didn’t have a great game, he seemed to lack command at the back and was clearly at fault for two of the goals. Unfortunately, we’ve already learnt keepers aren’t invincible: all it takes is a knee to the brain and they’re out. Should we lose Cech, even briefly, I fear Chelsea still haven’t got a good enough replacement.
In the end, the packed house at Stamford Bridge could be proud of what we saw: the future of the club showed ability and above all resilience. And let’s not forget, football, and sport in general, is about performances; it’s about spirit. Yes we lost, but it’s not always about winning. Sometimes putting on a show is more important.