How do you set about trying to beat a team that spends more money on one player than is in our entire budget for the season? That was the challenge for Phil Brown and the City players as Chelsea rolled into town. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find the answer, try as we might, and we were dispatched ruthlessly by a terrific football team. There were some positive aspects though and we live to fight another day, still sitting pretty in the top 5 of the premier league.
City were unchanged again, with Windass for Folan on the bench being the only change to the first 18. We didn't have a chance to start well. From pretty much the first attack of the game, Marney failed to clear a poor Chelsea cross beyond the edge of the area, McShane could only nick the ball away from the follow-up run and the ball fell nicely for Frank Lampard to lift a beautiful left foot shot over Boaz Myhill and into the far corner of the net. On the replays, It looked like an attempted cross, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. The goal rattled City. Perhaps it was a feeling of "If Wigan scored five, how many will this lot score?" but for the next 15 minutes, we struggled badly. We failed to keep the ball. Even our dependables, Ash and Boateng were useless in possession, gifting the ball back to Chelsea time and again. To Chelsea' credit, their work rate was absolutely incredible off the ball and it meant City were making every pass under severe pressure, which we weren't capable of doing. Between some last ditch defending, wasteful finishing and one superb stop from Myhill, we somehow survived and then launched a comeback. Daniel Cousin, always the beacon of light up front, got on the ball more and more. He didn't hold it up, he turned on it and he ran and committed defenders. We were calming down in possession, keeping things simple and starting to play our way into things. Initially, we'd been ripped apart down the flanks by Bosingwa and Cole, surely the best two attacking full-backs you'll find anywhere. Now, Dawson was pushing on and pushing them back. Our left-back was excellent and he started to ask questions of them. With Geovanni seeing more of the ball and Cousin turning it on, we began to look a threat. King raced away onto a through ball but was flagged offside, incorrectly, for me, the defender ran out after the ball was played looking for the decision. Geo hit a free-kick from 40 yards that Cech scrambled around the post. Pathetic goalkeeping, really, but built some momentum. Unfortunately, our set piece delivery was poor all night. Then Cousin hit top gear, the raced from deep, committed a defender and then a second, he held onto the ball as we screamed for him to shoot, feigned past Terry, opened up a gap and then shot low past Cech and hit the outside of the post. It was a terrific effort. Geo hit another free-kick that Cech made a mess off and then shortly before half time, Dawson crossed form the left and Carvalho just did enough to stop King getting a clean head to the ball, his effort bouncing nicely into Cech's midriff. It wasn't all us though, Chelsea looked dangerous on every attack but finished wildly and allowed us to build some belief going into half time.
We came out after half time looking quietly confident. Cousin and Geovanni were up for it, we're hard to penetrate at the back and our midfield had picked up after a poor start. We'd worked hard to try and plug some of the gaps that exist out wide when you play narrowly and started the second period in fine shape. Then we conceded the worst goal in the history of football and that's only a slight exaggeration. A nothing ball forward dropped in behind Turner and Zayatte who both turned and followed it as Boaz came out of goal. The ball slowed up a three or four yards outside of the area but Turner and Zayatte stopped and left it for Bo, perhaps because he called for it. Bo came out, suddenly realised that the ball wasn't going to make it into the area and then tried to, well actually, I've no idea what he tried to do, but what he actually did was knock the ball sideways towards the area and allow Anelka to run past him and sweep the ball into the net. Horrific. There was time for Turner or Zayatte to swipe the ball anywhere they wanted or for Boaz to come out and boot it. The only thing that was never going to happen was the ball bouncing into the area for Boaz to pick up, which seemed to be the only thing he was prepared for. A terrible, terrible mistake.
That was game over, in all honesty. Chelsea had no need to chase the game. We weren't good enough to chase the game and it became a question of how many. They sat off, let us have the ball, waited 5 seconds until we gave them it back and then launched another break. A third eventually game. We'd gone 4-4-2 in an attempt to use the width of the pitch to our advantage, but it should've given us more protection going backwards too. Instead, McShane was all alone as they doubled up down our right, strolled past McShane and crossed for Malouda, who'd been truly abysmal, to get on the scoresheet from close range. We picked up for the last 15 minutes and Dean Windass' introduction gave everyone a lift, but we didn't threaten their goal.
Defensively, it was a difficult game and quite different to what we've faced this season. Chelsea had just the one up and then Joe Cole, Lampard and Malouda running from a deeper position, with Bosngwa and Ashley Cole bombing on to make a front line of 6 at times. Crosses were hit low and pulled back across the box, taking out Turner and Zayatte who were defending the 6 yard line. Turner and Zayatte did pretty well overall. When Chelsea broke through our midfield, which they did often with ease, they had to decide whether to go to the ball or cover the runners and I think they did a fine job, Zayatte and Dawson in particular. Turner struggled a bit against this 'ground attack' outside the box, but inside he did a good job of making blocks. Zayatte looked more comfortable and tracked Anelka well. He made good decisions apart from the second goal, but as the non-English speaker, he's probably most exempt. McShane had no chance against their pace, but worked hard on his positioning and made some decent challenges. Dawson continued to be utterly unbelievable. He was easily our best passer of the ball throughout; he was ambitious, hard working and made two superb tackles. I'm sure he'll be keeping the bit of footage of Deco and Anelka running through against him and it ending with a Dawson tackle. Myhill had a nightmare for the 2nd goal but was otherwise fine, two poor kicks (under pressure) aside.
As a team, our defensive clearances were poor. When we won headers, they went straight to Chelsea. Ash became a fifth defender at times and it left no-one to pick up the pieces, which is why Lampard had all the time in the world for goal number one and at various other times, Malouda, Lampard and Cole found themselves with time and space around the edge of our box. Everyone was sucked in and it desperately needed a Marney or Boateng to just hang back a little bit and become almost a 2nd phase of defence. Marney worked his socks off but had his least effective game of the season. Boateng had his poorest game too. He was wasteful in possession because he made poor decisions, his delivery was poor and he didn't get anywhere near them when they had possession. The same can be said for Ashbee, although he did recover after about 35 minutes and put in a much more Ash-like performance. He still gifted them possession a couple of times late on by trying to be too clever. He made some decent interceptions after the break but struggled against their quick and physical side. They made it look so easy, Mikel had all the time in the world every time he got the ball and Lampard and Deco strolled all over the place, playing easy passes and then moving for the return. Better teams than us will struggle to contain them. Halmosi and Garcia came off the bench in the second half but you wouldn't have known.
King had a poor game, his worst since the opening day. He didn't use the ball well enough and he didn't move intelligently enough to be an option up front. Cousin, on the other hand, did both of those things. He was mobile, he was elusive and he kept working hard to be in positions were he could be effective. He won the ball in the air, in fact, John Terry didn't beat him once, and when he had it at his feet; he was superb. One of the biggest disappointments of the second half was that we didn't get it into him nearly enough. Geovanni showed some good touches. He kept things simple and played more like Chelsea do. He also showed a great willingness to work off the ball again, another trait of the Chelsea team. Was he trying to impress someone? Geo seems to be growing in confidence. We're seeing some little tricks now that he wasn't doing early in the season.
Overall, it was a disappointing night. We haven't given anything away for 4 games and suddenly, we were gifting goals and chances. That will worry PB ahead of a similar threat on Saturday. Playing under pressure showed up our limitations on the ball and our midfield struggled to get to grips with them. You have to question whether it was a good idea to stick to the 4-3-1-2 against a team with 5 in midfield and 2 very attacking full-backs. With hindsight, I'd say definitely not. Still, this needs to be erased from the players memory as quickly as possible. We caused Chelsea problems at times, some of our defending was very good and we're still in a great position. It's time to look forward and think positively.
Ratings: Myhill 6, McShane 6, Dawson 8, Turner 6, Zayatte 7, Marney 5 (Garcia), Boateng 5 (Halmosi), Ashbee 6, Geovanni 7, Cousin 8, King 5 (Windass).