Monday, 22 September 2014

Man City 1 Chelsea 1

The well–known satellite operator that showed our match on Sunday also began broadcasting the premiere of a film that has been strangely eulogised by many. American Hustle contains an amazingly strong list of actors portraying how a group of con-artists were caught out and forced to work for the authorities in exchange for more lenient sentences. But in the end, they turned the tables on their pursuers and ended up getting away with it. The match was like the film in that one could easily have left to go to the bathroom and come back without missing anything special. It was certainly not a game for the neutral observer to watch and enjoy.

There was little surprise that Chelsea plaed with a defensive style. Manchester City have fantastic individual players with a strong spine. Who would not like to have Hart, Kompany, Toure and Aguero or Dzeko in their side? We absorbed pressure well from the home side and the tactic was a counter-attacking one. Having been to the Etihad stadium in the past it is easy to quieten the home fans should they not score in the opening twenty minutes. Although the game was not a particularly dirty one, it seemed ironic that City’s manager Pellegrini had issues with the our game plan when all his players wanted to do was foul us when we tried to break on the counter – and his players deservedly received yellow cards when doing so.

There were a few worries in the first half. We looked vulnerable on the left and Hazard was slow to track back to cover. Chelsea should have been awarded a penalty when Toure handled a ball that appeared to be going through on goal. City should have scored but for the excellent intervention of Courtois. In the second half, Ivanovic was lucky to get away with a clumsy challenge that also should have led to a penalty. It was only when the hosts were down to 10 men (a harsh second yellow) that we threatened. Schurrle and Hazard combined fantastically for our goal. Costa had his one clear chance to score during the game but unluckily hit the post.

Then came the many moments of ire. Yet again, Schurrle failed to carry out his duties and mark Milner (who was somehow awarded man of the match despite struggling to keep the ball in play during the first half). He passed to Lampard who scored a typical Lamps goal. There was a strange feeling inside too – although angry that we allowed City to score, once I saw it was Frank my anger was somewhat tempered. That natural but somewhat perverse reaction showed how much that player means to me. Truly a legend and a professional. You felt the goal was coming as we continued to play so uber-defensively after taking the lead. At least keep one man up front and hoof it Wimbledon style when you need to!

We did not seek to win the game which frustrated considering we had the one-man advantage. The fact we were just passing the ball from side to side during injury time seemed to reflect the instructions our players had been given. No complaints about the scoreline – it was a fair result – but seeing 5-0-0 as leaders of the league table would have been more beautiful. It appears our tactics for the season will be to take larger risks against the weaker sides and play it safe against the more dangerous opponents. Although after some of the results this weekend and last it is hard to see who outside Chelsea and Manchester City can claim to be real title challengers.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Chelsea 4 Swansea 2

The kamikaze way we began on Saturday was worrying. There was no reason why Swansea - who were excellent for the first half of the first half of the match - could not have scored three goals against us during that period. Ivanovic was nowhere to be seen when it came to defensive duties, instead playing on the right wing and at various stages seeming to be part of the strike force. The visitors had plenty of opportunities to exploit space at the back and had they finished better in promising situations we could have suffered a far rougher ride.

Schurrle had one of those games that he suffers from time to time where every pass seemed to go astray and his substitution at half-time was justified. Oscar again resembled a skilful but lightweight 12-year old schoolboy bullied easily aside whenever he had the ball. Then the tempo changed midway through the first half. This coincided with Hazard (who had been pretty anonymous up until that point) getting into the game and frightening the opposition. From that moment on it was one-way traffic. It seemed that the side required a decent amount of time to click and psychologically understand this new formation we were playing. We even equalised from a corner!

The second half was far more balanced and we changed from a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-2-3-1. Personally, I prefer the excellent Matic to be partnered with someone who can hold the ball and is not a huge risk taker. Ramires fits this role well and reminds me of Eddie Newton in many ways – finding space in key areas and threading important balls through.

Rarely have I seen a player slot into a difficult position better than Fabregas. The immature side of me finds it hard to accept any former Arsenal player (it took me quite a few months to embrace Ashley Cole as a blue) because of the repugnance I have towards that holier-than-thou team in red that secretly wishes it was a rugby football club. But he has so subtly integrated into the side that there is simply nothing negative to say about him. Do you see a silly pass go astray? Do you moan about him not working hard? Does he lack pace? The answer is, “no”. More importantly, he lays scoring opportunities on a plate to our strikers which is what we have been missing.

Now la piece de resistance. Diego Costa. Every club needs to have their striker. Before we had Drogba… then Vialli… and before that was my hero, Kerry Dixon. And before that the late Peter Osgood. This guy could be what this club has been missing for many a season. That talismanic symbol who scores at will, with ease and seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Someone who has aggression, passion and is an instant hit with the fans. Resembling a Mexican outlaw he shows so much fight and desire that not only would I cheer him on were he to give Rio Ferdinand a boot up the proverbial… but I would also run onto the pitch to join in and gladly accept my ensuing criminal record. He could be what completes this club. When he scored his hat-trick, tears built in my eyes. He even subconsciously already knew that Ramires cannot shoot and anticipated the ball not even reaching the goalmouth to remain onside and poach his third goal. This is a start written in footballing fairy tales. Well done Diego… you have even made me ponder buying an official, nylon replica shirt with a player’s name and number on the back for the first time in my life FROM THE OFFICIAL CLUB SHOP. And that is saying something.

This is going to be a season where opposition fans might enjoy coming to the Bridge. In the past, they would be lucky to get away with “0” as their contribution to the game. Now they will have a chance to cheer as Chelsea plays a more attacking, open game. This is where the crowd will finally get to play its part, encouraging the side should it go behind in the knowledge that we possess such quality in attack. 3-1, 2-0, 6-3 and 4-2 the scores in our opening four league games. We may have to endure conceding, but boy are we going to enjoy seeing the amount of goals we will score. Bring on Man City. Hey, “neutrals” – is this the Chelsea you have been looking for? Watch out…