I’m always interested in seeing new teams both in the Premier League and of course when they visit us at Stamford Bridge. There’s something endearing about them and their raised tail, doe-eyed bouncy enthusiasm. Sadly it rarely works out, the gulf between the Premier League and The Championship often being exposed as being the same gap between Earth and the recently discovered nearest planet orbiting 2 suns. It’s both endearing but also slightly sad because I genuinely wish these teams well. I loved Blackpool last season and their Dads Army-ish ‘up and at ‘em’ attitude. Previously notaries with the same endearingly naïve outlook include Hull City and Burnley. Of course it does work out for some but they are an exception to the rule. Stoke City spring immediately to mind, but they are part of a new breed of club, well run, well coached with sensible and proportionate ambitions. Well done to Stoke for applying the first dent in Manchester United’s apparent stroll to number 20.
In my match report for Chelseafcblog.com I described Swansea as mice. Cute, fluffy mice looking for cheese and chocolate and peanut butter in the promised land of plenty, but who’ve nested in the middle of a cattery. And it’s true without being insulting to them. For this article it’s just as apt to describe The Swans as sitting ducks. I like them, I like their style of football and of course their coach is a student of the Mourinho school and is still finding his way in the cut and thrust world of football management. I wish Brendan and Swansea well, but inside I fear they are out of their depth and this season will be a good but harsh lesson.
This was my first visit to Stamford Bridge this season after such a long break between the end of last season and this one, plus the extension of missed games caused by a family holiday. This has been fortuitous because it allowed the football tank to be refilled, the passion veneer re-polished, the desire engine to be re-tuned and serviced. The jaded broken machine of last seasons Chelsea seems to have undergone a similar makeover and it’s down to our very own Andre Villas-Boas. This young, intelligent, good looking, dapper, calm, thoughtful, philosophical man has cast a spell over the club not dissimilar to the harsh, ruthless but ultimately winning one of Jose Mourinho. Except this one smiles a lot. It cares. It has manners. It feels warm and safe. I think we have a new messiah.
So, to the match. It was heartwarming but frustrating to see the lack of coverage from my mobile provider was the same, despite me working for them. But I am an inveterate tweeter (@chelseatony) and in an odd way being unable to keep in touch and pontificate is like not wearing my watch. I feel sort of naked and exposed. Was it a shock that Frank Lampard was selected for bench warming duty today? Ian McGarry onetime Sun hack warned on 5 Live that this would happen and I, along with others used the Twitterverse to hurl scorn at this revelation (coverage is fine the café!). Turns out of course he was right and again kudos to AVB for being brave – the bench was a glittering array of talent, with Drogba, Lamps, Luiz, Malouda, McEachran and er … Kalou. It’s been a while since we could boast such a glittering array on the bench. Other than that no surprises as AVB keeps faith with the players who have served so well recently. Of course there was edge as well with Brendan Rogers getting a warm welcome back, and no doubt Scott Sinclair itching to prove a point as well.
Well, oddly enough after last weeks fine but losing effort against Manchester’s second richest team the first 25 minutes of this game were….well….a bit average really for us. Swansea tried to play a nice passing game without the requisite quality up the park to take advantage of it, and Chelsea were seemingly content to play the slightly bored cat playing the with freshly trapped mouse role. Let the mouse run, drag it back, give it a whack, let it run, drag it back and so on. Swansea had a few nibbles but as the half moved on more and more of the game was being played in their half. We had a few half chances and they frankly had none. Bosingwa showed that the art of crossing the ball was still evading him. Cech could have pulled his deck chair out, replaced the skull cap with a hankie, rolled a spliff and munched on a doner kebab such was the paucity of action he was involved in. And then in came the catnip in the form of Fernando Torres and the inevitable link up with the impressive Juan Mata. Torres looked sharp again but of course his life is all balance and boy is the plus balancing with the minus. The goal was Torres at his best, reading the pass, taking the ball and finishing with deadly ease. The other side of his coin was of course yet to follow because someone somewhere does not want a totally good Torres story. We were off the mark and Swansea looked like they were running out of steam. Within a few minutes Torres had dropped deep to collect the ball, spotted a gap for Cole to run into and split the defence with the resultant pass for the impressive Ramires to slot home number two. Game over. Probably.
If we do have guardian angels, then it’s just as feasible that we have guardian devils. Torres is burgeoning proof of that theory. He had the yin of the goal, and then in came the yang, the devil on the shoulder winning the argument with the angel on the other, no doubt hissing into his ear ‘its your ball, go for it, use BOTH feet’ . Nando promptly did and although not making contact with Mark Gower (who in fairness made little of it) it was one of those that could have been red or yellow. A players ref like Phil Dowd might have dished the yellow and a ‘no more’ stern warning. But Mike Dean isn’t a players ref. He’s the traffic warden of refs. He suffers from Mainwaring Syndrome, a condition whereby the privilege of rank instils a power complex into the mind and you become important in your own head but nowhere else. He’s a scouser. An officious, incompetent, unpleasant aloof fool. Inevitably he dished a straight red. OK, in fairness it could have been called either way, but beside from that decision all of the other qualities I’ve described were on display from the first whistle. Six yellows were dished in a game where there was hardly a poor tackle on display. A yellow card for a shirt tug from Mata at a non point of the game said it all. There will be serious amounts of yellows if that gets applied rigidly across the league. From the sending off until half time the promised entertainment died. Literally nothing happened as the well drilled and disciplined Chelsea contingency so prevalent during Mourinho’s reign came to the fore. High praise there for AVB.
The second half, as one might expect started with an unchanged Chelsea deciding to play the bored cat role again. Swansea reverted to their feisty mouse role, and as we purred and barely stirred we let them run a bit, At best even with the man advantage they only managed the odd half chance. And then the bored cat raised an eyebrow and stretched a paw and whacked the mouse back. We got the ball and with coolness a frozen cucumber could only pray for we passed and stroked the ball around. Ten men looked like twelve. Swansea huffed and puffed and blew themselves out. A master-class was in progress. Anelka now playing the lone gunman role showed what a class act he is. Superb ball control, superb passing, a shot that would have wrapped goal of the season up had it been an inch lower. This may be his last season and we will miss him badly. The ovation when he went off, which the Sky commentator said was for Drogba was awesome. Mikel Obi was a giant all game but again, second half he was Makalele / Ballack / Desailly-esque. I doubt there is any higher praise. Ramires ran and fought and tackled and scored again and could have had a hat trick. This boy has a very bright future with us. Ivanovic deserves a mention for an utterly faultless display and one tackle in the latter part of the game when the dying mouse was thrashing out its last breaths of life, had me out of my seat applauding loud and long. Not one player had a stinker today but for me those 4 were the stand out players. The calmness of the team was reflected on the bench by AVB. Of course despite Ramires coolly slotting home a third goal we will always conjure up a bit of Keystone Kop football to give the opposition some hope. A long clearance which JT could and should have headed into touch was met instead by a poor attempt to drop it into the path of Cole. It was a hospital ball. Straight to Routledge who Ash promptly pulled down, selflessly taking a yellow for the team. The resultant free kick saw a great very un-Bosingwa like cross straight to Ashley Williams who Bosingwa had lost for a lovely headed goal. An unnecessary free kick caused by a sloppy JT moment followed by set piece defending the likes of which has not been as bad since the darkest days of Big Phil Scolari.
But it was too little far too late for the mouse. The cat was still bored and with seconds to go the sharpened death claw of Didier Drogba struck the final fatal blow after a decent run from Malouda ended with a square pass to DD for a stop/turn/shoot/score combo that would have seen him into the next round of Strictly. Yes, he was very pleased, Like the cat that got the … mouse I suppose.
4-1, well deserved and well earned. Something tells me last season that would not have been the case in similar circumstances. For my other report I get to choose Man of the Match and it was a tough one today. Ivan was faultless today. Ramires got two goals. Anelka was a magnificent sleek beast oozing class of the World variety. Mikel Obi was magnificent. Frankly they all deserve it. But for me it was Nico Anelka. Tireless, selfless, calmness personified and the rock of the team today.
Some final thoughts
I got back and watched us again on Football First on Sky. What I then listened to was nothing short of stupidity of the highest order from Tony Gale. He spent the entire match sticking the knife into us with just the odd compliment spat through a stream of vitriol and derision. I thought Andy Townsend sat proudly atop the punditry moron mountain, but that king of football arse gravy is dead. Long live the king. Tony ‘shitforbrains’ Gale.
Third. 3rd. Number 3. Trois. Troisieme. Sitting on the rails, tucked in behind the leaders. Pacing ourselves. Waiting for the others to falter. Like Seb Coe in his prime we’re sat on the shoulder of the pack. When we need to kick on we will. It’s not being top now that counts, its being top in May. We are undeniably a work in progress. The change in style will need time for fans and critics to understand. We will leave gaps, but we will score goals. This is evolution in progress folks and we can sit back and watch the fine AVB guide us through it.
We may win nothing this year, but we’ll win nothing in style, exciting and thrilling and entertaining which has to be better than last year when winning nothing with shambolic, listless, slow football was our trademark.
The Doctor once said, when asked by Peri (the buxom assistant for the Dads) what was happening to him after regenerating from Peter Davidson to Colin Baker
“Change my dear. Change. And not a moment too soon”
Very apt for us I think. Very apt.