What a week for Av Grant and his Chelsea stars. Following John Arne Riise’s spectacularly funny 95th minute own-goal last Tuesday – a goal that made Chelsea slight favourites to reach the Champions League final – they recorded a just-about deserved league win over Manchester United on Saturday.
It was a predictable sight for sore eyes last week with neither Liverpool nor Chelsea capable of stringing together much in the way of attractive football. Chelsea were not so much outplayed as just totally inept. Liverpool could been two or three goals up and that was with total non-performances from their star men, Torres and Gerrard.
On the Chelsea side it was embarrassing to watch Didier Drogba wind everyone up with his constant diving and feigning of injury and sad to see the likes of Joe Cole and Frank Lampard just not performing (although we were to find out afterwards that his mother was very ill – sadly she died on Thursday).
But, today, they were better. United were almost as anaemic against Chelsea as they had been against Barcelona on Wednesday night – luckily for United today they were up against Salomon Kalou and Paulo Ferreira rather than Deco, E’to and Messi. They deservedly went behind to Michael Ballack’s first half header but were level after, arguably, Chelsea’s player of the season, Ricardo Carvalho, sloppily gave the ball away to Wayne Rooney 25 yards from goal.
Chelsea grabbed a late penalty winner through Ballack after Michael Carrick handled although United were sore that substitute Cristiano Ronaldo was not awarded a penalty after Ballack manhandled him in the box. It was indeed shocking that referee Alan Wiley either did not see it or chose to ignore it.
But Chelsea are two wins and one United slip-up from winning the title. I think they will struggle to get a win at revitalised Newcastle next weekend while United are at home to inconsistent (but usually dire) West Ham. That will spell the end of the title race but at least Sky got an extra week out of it.
A few random observations from watching Chelsea and Man United over the last week
- John Terry does not seem to argue with officials like he used to. Even when he’s hard done by he still remains reasonably respectful and even keeps the reigns on his players when they go a bit ballistic. I guess he got a bit of a shock from the bile the media threw at him about six weeks back. However his pathetic kick at a prone Fernando Torres last Tuesday did him no favours.
- There is no love lost between Ballack (who has been quite solid this season) and Drogba who tussled in the second half for the right to take a free kick. Very unprofessional behaviour from both players although one would tend to lean towards trusting Ballack more than the Ivorian.
- Salomon Kalou should not be considered frustrating and inconsistent – he is just not very good.
- Fair play to Andriy Shevchenko who has arguably been an even bigger Premier League flop than Juan Véron. He looked energetic and confident in possession in the ten minutes he spent on the pitch and was on hand to clear brilliantly off the line in the dying minutes.
- Joe Cole is just not there at the moment. He looks jaded and lacking in confidence.
- Michael Essien is rather excellent – another contender for Chelsea’s best player in what has been a poor season for many of their individuals.
- Cristiano Ronaldo was lambasted in the Irish media for his antics on Wednesday night in Barcelona where he dived, complained at the referee and his own team-mates, and constantly lost possession. He was labelled “a disgrace” by quiet and unassuming Eamon Dunphy. It’s fair to say that once again Ronaldo didn’t cut it when it really mattered.
- Ferguson looks to be bottling it to me. His selection against Barcelona was baffling – two strikers playing withdrawn roles (Tevez and Rooney) with a winger played up front (Ronaldo)? Hargreaves deployed at right-back when his midfield presence would have been far more valuable? Ji-Sung Park?
- I’ve heard Man United fans praise Carrick and suggest that he’s been better than Hargreaves and a first choice on form. Now I don’t see all the games but, from what I have seen, Carrick is largely anonymous and just does not have the presence to influence games at the highest level. Hargreaves is not a top class player or creative in the way Carrick can be, but if I had to get results in tight games I would have thought Hargreaves was a better bet.
Avram Grant could do a Premier League and Champions League double and still get the sack. My twisted mind would love to see it.