Well, that was crap. Crap, crap, crap, crap. The couple of thousand who stayed away were smart — if they chose not to waste their time and watch it on TV.
Conserving energy for the Champions League is all well and good, but this game was played at a slower pace than a warm down. In retrospect, perhaps the worst thing we could have done was score so early. A straightforward header by Carvalho from a good free kick by Wayne Bridge.
Mikel impresses in a frenzied game with his cool play, but in a match that cried out for Chelsea to lift the tempo his nonchalance was annoying and, when allied with Ballack’s languid style, destructive to the game.
There’s almost nothing good to say about this performance. Drogba strolled through the 90 minutes seemingly oblivious to the team’s needs and insisting on being the general at set plays – not in the centre where he should be, but over the ball.
In one ludicrous, bone-headed moment he insisted on masterminding a free kick nearly the left by-line by the penalty area. It cried out for a clever chip into the box for Terry, Drogba and Carvalho to challenge. Instead the Ivorian improvised a play with a confused Ballack that went nowhere. It made you wonder whether the manager practises set plays and makes clear to his players the roles he expects them to play.
By the last 20 minutes, our stroll had become a nervy scramble and Boro could and should have equalised.
Every pass of ours seemed to go to an opponent. Cudicini raced from his line and slid by a ball played long and wide to Alves. Alves then shot towards an open net from 30 yards with only Terry covering. The ball hit the right-hand post dead on and bounced back nicely to the goalie. That big warning went unheeded and we had an even bigger let off 10 minutes from the end when Alves and Wheater hit the bar in successive plays from point blank range and Aliadiere blazed the last rebound over the open goal.
It’s true that the substitution of Ballack by SWP had briefly brought us to life, but SWP confirmed he couldn’t hit a barn door from a few feet by firing first wide and then high from two gilt-edged chances to wrap the game up.
With a quarter of an hour to go, Grant finally introduced Anelka but this wasn’t to create the dynamic duo with Drogba that had torn Arsenal apart. Anelka seemed to play deep at first and then wide and when he did go into the middle, Drogba seemed to drop back to try his hand again at being the midfield general with predictable results.
Let’s be charitable and say this is the type of game you have to win to be champions – a day where we were totally off-colour and yet eked out a win. Yes, let’s try very hard and pretend that’s the case. Nope. I can’t do it.
CUDICINI – 6. Actually played quite well and his handling on crosses was very good. His one rush of blood to the head came when he raced out wide to clear and slid under the ball allowing Alves a pot shot at the unguarded goal.
BELLETTI – 4. Not sure he made a tackle all game. Downing had the beating of him all day, but wasn’t good enough to make it count. Yes, he looks impressive going forward, but his defending is crap.
CARVALHO – 7. By the end he had caught the give-the-ball-away-when-under-no-pressure disease, but for most of the match was the only player to look like his normal self.
TERRY – 5. He’s supposed to be an inspirational captain, so why was he slowing the game down so much in the first half when we badly needed an injection of urgency into our play? When Boro were bombing us with high balls late, he was less than commanding.
BRIDGE – 6. For a long time, he and Joe Cole seemed the only two players who wanted to pick up the pace. Defensively sound and relatively ambitious going forward. Great free kick for our goal.
MIKEL – 5. So skilful and so languid. Anyone ever seen him sprint? Nope, nor have I.
BALLACK – 5. Had a decent 20 minutes and then became invisible. Never got into Lampard-type positions to trouble Boro.
ESSIEN – 6. Just the type of player you want to inject urgency, but never seemed very sure of what he was supposed to be doing. Mixed good passes with some bad, but at least got into some dangerous positions. On one occasion in the first half he drove to the by-line, crossed hard only for Kalou’s effort to be blocked. Where was Drogba? Lounging around beyond the back post.
J. COLE – 7. The only creative player on the park- put in enough balls for a determined Drogba to feast on, but our striker wasn’t interested today.
KALOU – 5. Back to his frustrating worst -had chances but took none of them.
DROGBA – 3. Only gets three points because of his past deeds. His attitude was crap and he played like the boy who had brought the ball and insists on being captain and playing every position. Hardly ever harried Boro defenders like he used to. Gave every indication that he thinks he’s above the club and can do what he wants. A sharp attitude change is required or we should give him what he has so often wanted – a transfer out of the country.
SWP (for Ballack, 65 mins) – 5.5. Brought on to reprise the central role he performed so well during our injury crisis and started out brightly. Dragged his first touch across Shwartzer and wide of the far post and ballooned his second touch over goal when faced with only the goalie. Then he disappeared into the dross we had become.
ANELKA (for Kalou, 78 mins) – 6. Not sure from TV what position he was meant to play, except that it wasn’t up front in a central role with Drogba.
ALEX ( for Drogba, 89 mins), n/a.