At the final whistle, people around me shared a variety of emotions. The guy on my right was a neutral and could not give a damn, while the guy on my left was ready to kill. Not just anybody, he definitely had someone in mind – Claudio Ranieri.
How a team could paste Leeds United at Elland Road (their first home defeat since January) and then absolutely hammer United 3-0 at Old Trafford (their biggest home defeat in the Premiership for eight years) yet capitulate to Charlton is beyond me. We have played the south London journeymen three times under Ranieri’s stewardship and lost all three. An absolute shocking disgrace.
It is not as if Ranieri could not work out how Charlton would play. Ten men behind the ball was a given as the Charlton workhorses fought tooth and nail too stifle any free flowing soccer and make a battle of it. The sooner Charlton drop out of the Premiership the better — they are an offence, as was our display.
We kept the same team from Saturday except for Graeme Le Saux being replaced by Boudewijn Zenden. Our Dutch international winger looks brilliant in orange, was rated ‘world class’ by Patrick Kluivert yet cannot pass to another Blue shirt at the Bridge. He was simply shocking. We have seen him play out of his skin, eg Levski Sofia at home, but since then he has deteriorated at the same pace as Alex Ferguson’s grasp of team tactics. That we lost to Charlton was not a surprise. That Zenden was hauled off at half time was even less of a surprise. On that form, if he had poured a pint behind the bar at Dixon’s he would have missed the paper cup.
As for the game, it was a typical match against the Addicks. With ten men behind the ball, Charlton packed the midfield and gave Chelsea very little room to play. It has to be admitted that Charlton gave a stunning display of defending. At times their ability to shut down the play was outstanding. However, this was a detriment to both the game as a spectacle and to the Blues pass-and-move game.
The first half was horrific, with passes from both teams going seriously astray. In one comical moment, a series of five passes in succession missed their targets. While the Charlton fans kept silent howls of derision emanated from the rest of the ground. In his programme notes before the game Ranieri mentioned that the booing during the Blackburn game disappointed him. Readers of that match report will understand that I agree with his view except for his argument that even the United fans clap their players off after a defeat, citing Saturday’s game against Chelsea as an example. Ranieri’s got a point, but the five home fans who were left at Old Trafford at the final whistle were Japanese and fighting to the death — it is the done thing over there apparently.
Chances were few and far between, to put it mildly. In fact, I cannot remember any. In the second half, the Blues came out with renewed vigour. Zenden made way for Zola who was given a rapturous reception. Tucked behind Gudjohnsen and Hasselbaink, Zola injected a bit of class and creativity. However, with Charlton pressing and giving very little time on the ball, even Zola could not make much headway. The crowd tried to lift the team and a ten-minute spell early in the second half saw the Bridge reverberate to the sound of Chelsea singing.
Although the football was better than the first half, it was still shambolic. Jimmy had a few long range shots but as the game progressed and opened up, Charlton themselves had a few chances with one glaring miss à la Akinbiyi in the Leicester match.
Ranieri continued to baffle the faithful with his substitutions, hauling off Gudjohnsen and replacing him with Forsell. While our Finnish International showed some great touches, the question persists as to why Ranieri did not take off a defender and go all out for victory. Perhaps that is the Italian way – catennaccio at the Bridge.
The goal could not have been crueller. In the 89th minute a ten-out-of-ten dive saw a ridiculous free-kick awarded to Charlton outside the right of the penalty area. A swinging free-kick evaded the wall and an easy header by Lisbie condemned us to only our second league defeat of the season. Back to the drawing board Claudio.