The Bournemouth match nearly broke me. The side needed to return to the pitch as soon as possible after the disgraceful home performance on Saturday. There is only so much goodwill one can have for a squad no matter how much you love your club. For the first time I was prepared to sit with my arms crossed and wait for the team to trigger my enthusiasm rather than oblige them with my blind allegiance.
Dropping Fabregas was long overdue. Leaving out Dave over the weekend seemed a harsh decision – but one would expect Baba Rahman to have filled the void. He did not. Dropping him was no shock. The squad needed respected leadership in the side that JT brought too. The team appeared more balanced.
Porto began well. It is an obviously skilful side. But being able to do keepy-uppies and clever flicks does not a team make. Hazard and Willian gave the best example of how possessing magical talent leads to concrete results and they were on fire yesterday. When Willian scored it brought tears to my eyes – these are the kind of goals that make our team special. Matic was imperious and easily man-of-the-match. He intercepted ball after ball which seemed to stick to his boots time after time - he was in the right place at the right time and was the conductor of most of our attacks. Having Ramires accepting his more defensive role helped Matic too and he did not shirk his duties. Oscar again annoyed as he was brushed off the ball and fell over as if he was not wearing studs far too often.
For his lack of subtlety, Zouma was imperious in defence alongside warhorse JT. Yes, it is obvious that our captain has lost some pace. But yesterday’s brave decision to have him on from the start gave the side a credible leader during a period of duress. Ivanovic finally had a good game.
Finally, we turn to Chelsea’s nemesis – Diego. The pattern is pretty clear. We can forgive him his trespasses when we are playing well, but not when we fail. He was his usual stupid self yesterday. Falling over when barely touched in promising positions; stupidly fouling Casillas which could have led to a red; straying needlessly offside on many occasions; and finally the gravest off sins for a striker – not scoring. But would you have confidence in any other striker in our squad up front? Unfortunately the answer is “no”.
Porto fans seemed to turn on their manager during the second half – pathetically waving their white hankies in ire at some substitutions made. Watching their behaviour reminded me how futile it is to publicly turn against your club. There is no upside.
The weight of some of our passing really impressed… in particular when attacking. We did not always go for the obvious through-ball and played our best football this season. The question is… why did this only happen now? Where has this been this calendar year? Were we playing deliberately badly to fool our opponents into a false sense of security?
Well done the lads for not only getting through to the next round but also finishing top of the group. That performance has restored my faith in the side just as my support had almost turned to apathy.