Them 4 Us 0
A wonderfully crap evenings worth of entertainment at Stamford Bridge. From the dullness of the first half that was encapsulated by Jose Mourinho's 'it's more exciting than Rafa Benitez' non-risk football and our lack of invention in the final third to the second half gloss with the calamity of Spurs thumping the self-destruct button with comical timing aided by seasoned diabolical officiating and cheating.
We can add the result alongside the Manchester City and Liverpool games. Tottenham personifying the political mess that has created the footballing one we've been left with. Ample chin scratching at yet another spanking to a 'top four' side.
I wasn't nervous before kick-off because twenty-three years of never winning away to Chelsea would encourage retaining a strong grip on reality. The home side are blessed with a wealth of talent but they don't even have to use them in an exciting way to churn out the results. We on the other hand started the match with not a single summer signing to be seen (aside from the ones that made the bench). Even if we performed admirably, history prefers to retain consistency. So I was neither fearful or upbeat during the build up to the game.
Yet another Tim Sherwood experiment with selection. Yet another change to our shape. Aaron Lennon in what appeared to be the number 10 role but hardly played out that way. Kyle Walker on the right wing in what won't be a Gareth Bale evolution. The returning Gylfi Sigurdsson starting on the left. Miserable Jan Vertonghen having to shift back into the limbo of left-back. Nabil Bentaleb and Sandro teaming up centrally with Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen (still) missing from injury. Personally would have preferred Paulinho, if only because of hindsight and the fact the game cried out for his box to boxness.
After a nervous start we settled and the longer the game progressed the more I thought '...we might be able to get something here'. I was of course referring to 'a good laugh' because we all know if Spurs appear to be getting something out of a game, then we're going to lose it brutally soon enough.
First half highlights?
Eto'o needing treatment after Hugo Lloris nearly killed him when going through on goal. Lloris bringing down the player in devastating style with the power of thought. Eden Hazard had a chance not long after, avoiding a collision with our telepathic keeper but failing to find balance on the turn. Our only response came by way of a limp shot-might-have-been-a-pass effort by Nabil Bentaleb who after some shaky moments was our most productive player (so maybe there was an equilibrium in playing him instead of our Brazilian international that cost near £20M). We also had a corner that flew straight into Cech's arms. Cutting edge football.
The thing was, having survived the early scares we had a lot more of the ball and grew in confidence. Chelsea willing and content to sit back and counter when the opportunity was presented. Michael Oliver gave us a future glimpse of his astute decision making when deciding not to book Matic (for a foul on Walker) having dished one out to Bentelab earlier in the half.
Probably worth repeating this, Chelsea are Chelsea. If Spurs were a full-pelt slick sexy footballing machine Jose's bore-merchants would probably up their game. Instead they treated us like potentially plucky opponents. All very patronising and tragic when considering how much of the momentum we've built up in recent seasons has been vanquished in the past six months.
Sandro had a decent first time volley from just over twenty yards out. There wasn't that much more going on. Chelsea's best chance came when Spurs displayed defensive frailties with a lapse in concentration from Bentaleb, Eto'o breaking into the box and being forced out wide rather than seeking to thread the ball to a better placed player.
It wasn't great. For all of the action we had there was no final third creativity. Just ball at feet in dead man's land. The onus was on us to have a go, except this was like turning up for a gunfight with no holster, gun awkwardly in back pocket with a handful of bullets that have yet to be loaded. Or rather, turning up with no invention in the midfield in a game where chances might be rare and if one is there to be taken it can't be missed.
Honestly, as decent as our performance appeared statistically, it was what it was because Chelsea were stalkers that just stood waiting for something out of their control to occur before going in for the kill. Waiting for a mistake. Not a bad strategy considering their opposition.
The formation sort of worked without flourishing. Lennon not effective as a shadow striker or anything else. Walker covering plenty of ground but not quite functioning with support in mind in front of Kyle Naughton. Emmanuel Adebayor worked hard defensively but there wasn't too much to shout about up front. Others that might have been able to ignite a spark were left looking like they were holding damp fireworks, unable to light them up. More hindsight, but we could have done with Roberto Soldado playing behind Adebayor. At least we know his link-up play is effective.
Second half is when that thing Chelsea were waiting to see happen...went ahead and happened.
It started off relatively positive. For a few seconds here and there.
Vertonghen gliding forward, beating two men and then looking to lob the ball over Cech but didn't quite find the right weight as the ball harmlessly dipped over the bar. We had a better set-piece, Kaboul getting his head onto it with Cech involved to his right to save. Then we had a couple of yellow cards. Naughton first (attempting to receive a poor Dawson pass), then Sandro (poor wrong footed tackle).
Then it happened.
Vertonghen slipping and then instinctively getting to the ball with recovery in mind (with an ill-fated attempt to find Dawson) and instead found Eto'o intercepting and finishing with comparative ease with Lloris ahead of him. The footballing Gods with a grand entrance, vanishing Jan's studs allowing a gift-wrapped present to the home side to which they didn't even need to unbox the brilliance of their creative players to carve out the first goal.
'Nah mate, we're alright, we'll just wait for you lot to **** it up. No need for clever disguised passes or flicks and tricks. One of you lot will fall on your arse at some point and we'll oblige to take advantage'.
Jan Vertgonethen (see what I did there) with one eye on the World Cup and the other on a Champions League club, with his legs at left-back and his balance all over the shop. To be honest, regardless of his lack of recent conviction and erratic form, he slipped. It happens. It's the usual apologetic weak minded cock-up that we seem to attract, but it happens. It's oh so typical and its returned to fester in the psyche of the Spurs mindset. This wasn't a problem when we had a plan, a project. Or at least wasn't a problem until that plan begun to degrade behind the scenes. That's something we don't need to attract. It lives with us.
Before I could contemplate the ironic self-harm of the incident Oliver (the ref) completely killed the game by awarding them a penalty and then sending off Kaboul. Eto'o again involved. Eto'o once more hardly touched. The ref, you would have to assume, had no doubt in his mind to give the decisions he made at this pivotal moment and yet he couldn't be 100% sure because had he been sure he'd have carded Eto'o for the dive. You'd have to be blind to miss the obvious, but he missed it so his certainty was either misplaced or he just defaulted to the standard most do.
Maybe the dive was so good it conned Oliver? Yet it's not like the ref stood miles away from it. Looked like he also took advice from his assistant referee (regarding 'the last man').
Weak and cheap no matter the rationalising.
I'm not suggesting we'd have got back in the game at 1-0. Still, at 2-0 and ten men it becomes a non-contest because of a decision that was clear in real-time as much as it was in the replay that followed.
That backline, post-red card, was patched up, devoid of continuity.
Cue the capitulation.
Lose of focus and concentration. Players half-arsed and clumsy with their decision making. What we got treated to was a disdain to the crest on the shirt by supposedly professional footballers representing my club that basically decided to just give up and not bother with the basics.
Yes, giving up and not bothering is probably the trait that consumed most of the squad subconsciously a few months back. A consequence of appointing a coach that isn't truly our manager because everyone suspects he'll be replaced in the summer. So there isn't really a foundation to repair or build on, even if the right words are preached in pre-match and in media soundbites. This is purely to do with leadership, the distinct lack of it. I'll come back to this.
In the 88th and then the 89th minute Ba scored himself a brace.
The first, Sandro running back failing to clear a Oscar cross by falling over (we love a bit of gravity), with Ba beating Lloris, stroking the ball into an empty net for 3-0. The second was a half clearance that Walker inexplicably headed back towards Lloris, with the ball instead finding its path to the spoilt Ba. 4-0.
When it isn't enough, we have to add a cherry on top.
Had to laugh at the second eruption of noise from the home support.
'Let's sit here browsing RightMove until we score a goal then get all muggy with the away support'.
Did it matter at that point? The 4-0?
You might argue it didn't but the fact the question needs to be asked and if that question is being considered by the players in the lead up to more goals conceded - then yes, it does matter because how can the players, the team pull together to compete (regardless of what has transpired) if we're just going to write off passages of play? Shrug and just admit it wasn't going to be our day, so what does it matter if we let another one in. The spirit of City away and Liverpool at home the benchmarks for the season.
We made a mistake for the 1-0 then we got d*cked by the ref. And? Have the players decided it's acceptable to take a punch to the head when we've already been floored?
We're playing at Stamford Bridge, what do you expect, right? Decisions won't ever go our way there. That isn't the problem though is it?
The two goals that followed the penalty came because we didn't take responsibility and display some heart. Remember heart? Remember pride and character? The type of substance that made up much of our spirit in recent seasons. Remember that spirit? That guile? Yeah, it wasn't an illusion. We've all witnessed it. Seems that nobody wasn't to take responsibility on the pitch these-days, nobody wants to commit because nobody knows what they're meant to be committing too. No leaders, no leadership. All a bit gutless.
In the end, we lost 4-0 with the home side hardly having to work for it. Three of the four goals were defensive errors. The penalty (and red card) was the turning point, but our inability to dig deep and hold it together mentally, proving that our fragility is a real issue. But only an issue if you harbour hopes for the remaining fixtures.
I've citied the turmoil of removing (AVB) the coach, the destabilising that the injection of seven new 'first team players' has had with its detrimental impact on the team/squad. The fact that the starting line-up had none of them in it, a further testament to our troubles (Lamela, Chiriches and Eriksen injured - Soldado dropped due to the single lone striker - Paulinho also shifted from the middle - Chadli hardly in the running).
Mistakes aside, we never looked like scoring. They never looked like conceding.
Are any of these reasons good enough to excuse our limp and sorry efforts?
Under Andre Villas-Boas, the common complaint was the coach was holding back the players. Containing them from expression. Under Tim Sherwood are these players jaded and confused because of the first part of the season? Or is it because there is no cohesiveness with our selection and style currently? No creative force to craft out chances? Lack of specialist training?
Probably, yes to all of that.
Still, there's no passion or fight in there either. There's so much a coach and his staff can do. If nobody expects Sherwood to be the long term answer and if nobody rates him or expects him to achieve a minor miracle in recovering this side from the self-inflicted mess we made for ourselves at the turn of the year then what is the Chelsea game and all other games till seasons end if not games that stand in the way for yet another new chapter for the club?
Goes back to the recurring theme that the season has been written off by more than just a hefty chunk of our fanbase. I'm still disenchanted with the obvious detachment some of our players have with the supporters, who prefer to believe even when its advisable to let go. I've written the season off and yet I want 100% from the team. The painful paradox, migraine inducing.
Sherwood, post-match, looked like he was going to cry. His quietly spoken words in the interview alluded to the fact that some players are not giving as much as they should be and that they are not that concerned with it all. A dig at that lack of responsibility that is oh so obvious.
Once again, how does one quantify professionalism? Are these players waiting for something more than an interim? Is that really the attitude we want within the team? Switch off until someone more apt comes in. Sherwood, not strong enough or experienced enough and only there because there isn't an option till the summer months.
Sherwood is being criticised by some for making his feelings public, but he's probably been quite restrained with what he's shared via that post-match interview. Perhaps keeping it private is the best way to go, don't air your dirty laundry and all that. Yet considering the humiliation on the pitch (from a supporters perspective), if some players aren't that bothered then how else will the coach get a reaction from them with vital games ahead if he doesn't let everyone know about it? It does look like there's no collective belief within the squad. No arms round shoulders. The pre-match huddle obviously a fallacy.
Top four, RIP?
Our record at Chelsea, the clue we'd get nothing from this game, but there is still a far fetched dream of a chance of CL football but only if...if the players react and leave no room for any more disappointments. One final opportunity for redemption.
Gave you some space there to laugh.
I just don't believe we have it in us. Sherwood doesn't either. The players probably forgot about the defeat when they stepped back onto the bus and drove out of Fulham. So we're led to believe.
The flip side to all this?
Sherwood has reacted in the only way he can. Pointing the finger of blame at the players to deflect away from his own shortcomings. Suggesting the board (and Levy) are accountable for this state of limbo we currently sit within.
The fact that it's a mixture of both his inexperience and the lack of board backing with the uncertainty of his appointment gives you enough to sink your teeth into and taste the bitter flavour of Tottenham Hotspur.
No contingency plan. No conviction with what happens next. What we've got is what we deserve. Sherwood, calculated with his opportunistic hunger to take the job as coach, with the chairman so far removed from transparency, nobody has a clue what we're meant to be doing next.
You want to poke Sherwood with your stick of disgruntlement? Hardly worth the effort. He's only a reflection in the stormy sea of the dark cloud above. It's scandalous that he's in the job in the first place and it's doubly ridiculous that he's calling out players in front of a tv camera.
There's no hope if there's no leadership. Off the pitch, on the pitch, in the dugout and in the team. It's hardly great having a coach citing the deafening silence concerning the rumours that he'll be replaced in the summer.
The biggest joke is having footballers talking up moves away if we don't achieve the much publicised ambitions we're meant to have as a club even though the very same players are for the most part at fault for us not reaching the hedonistic heights that would apparently help to retain their services.
Irony klaxon is making my ears bleed.