They say Christmas is all about giving. Yet no side here actually took the three points given to them. This London derby was not the Christmas cracker we expected; instead, it was a mere flicker of a firework. The energy normally possessed by Chelsea was gone before a ball was even kicked, with Ramires being suspended for this west London derby. The turkeys eaten the day before must have still been stuck in the player’s stomach, in a dull encounter, which in truth, failed to ever light up. The first half was full of passing, the second at least had a couple of goals. Firstly, the majestic Mata pounced on a Torres lay off, but the Cottagers pulled one back through some leaky defending, Dempsey nicking in in front of the normally reliable Petr Cech. It stayed like that, with the points shared. How kind.
Five things we learnt from the game
1. We need to move more quickly.
I was fortunate enough to be there to see the match and one thing that stood out was how slow we were. Once we were attacking and near their penalty box, we would all of a sudden pass it back to our defenders thirty yards behind, like you would have done in a 1995 version of FIFA. Terribly annoying simulating it, but really bizarre on the field. Why would we do that? Yes, we need to keep possession, but why not keep possession going forward? Flanked by Mata and Sturridge, we could be bombing down those flanks. Instead, when a midfielder had the ball, we just passed it horizontally, without much venom. This allowed Fulham to regroup defensively, which meant, when we did decide to attack meaningfully, we did not get very far.
2. No energy without Ramires.
Our play looked static. Maybe my second point links on from my first, but we did not have a drive. An engine. We had plenty of people who were willing to start an attack. But no-one dared take it further, and crucially, no-one wanted to finish them off. Ramires has been the only person who has been willing to push on. He will take the ball in midfield and drive and drive. His problem, as mentioned in my last post, is that he cannot do the end bit. But someone who can do the end bit (ie. finish), cannot do the first two bits. No-one is a born all-rounder. I’m not telling Ramires off for not knowing how to score, that’s not his job. Nor am I telling Torres off for not dropping deep to start an attack, that’s not his job either. Ramires starts and pushes a move on (as all good midfielders do), and Torres, or whoever starts up-front, has the duty to finish them. This works. Every good team does it. Don’t tell me that all Manchester City’s goals this season have come from magic from Aguero or Dzeko or Balotelli. No. Someone like Barry will break up their opponent’s play. He will pass it to Silva, who will pass it to Aguero, who will pass it wide to Milner, who will cross to Balotelli, who will chest it down non-chalantly to Dzeko, who will round the keeper and prod it in. That is the quality of a team. Passing with meaning. Not sideways getting nowhere. Not lunatic players who chase all over for the ball. Each player has roles. Stick to them, do your bit, pass it on. Without Ramires, we did not do that. Romeu did his bit as the defensive midfield, he broke up Fulham’s attacks. But Lampard and Meireles did not move it on. That is ultimately where we fell short.
3. Defending was shocking.
OK, maybe an exaggeration. John Terry held firm and David Luiz had a good game by his erratic standards. But we conceded at literally the first dangerous Fulham attack. No-one went close, no-one marked. Cech is becoming a liability. A rolling low ball should be his all day long. But, maybe with his head injury, he was hesitant, like at Wigan, like at Tottenham, and was not sure what to do. We need a more commanding keeper. Someone who can get down low and quick. JT and Luiz need some blaming, but the keeper has his feet, hands, entire body, and he should have gotten there. Lack of concentration? I hope it was only that. Because it was such a soft goal. But an experienced JT and once UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year should always have his eyes wide open.
4. End is nigh for Lampard.
I’d be really careful to write him off, which is why I haven’t. But you can sense the end is near. Journos have said this already earlier this season, and they were wrong, coming back and scoring for fun. But a rotten period on the bench and it is a case of deja vu. Started on Boxing Day but taken off near the hour mark. For a person who isn’t even a central midfielder. Even Malouda was preferred to him in his natural place. Deep down you feel for the guy. He was trying, he is Chelsea through and through. You could say he is being made the scapegoat for Chelsea’s short-comings, but really, the end is approaching. Gone are his most-feared days, gone are the days when he’d scored twenty-odd a season, gone is the person who was the world’s second greatest player back in 2005. Maybe now he needs to look to the future. He loves to play attacking. Maybe now, at 33, he needs to look at changing his style. Hold defensively more, maybe. But I think his days, and the gut-busting runs into the box, are numbered.
5. Drogba and Torres need more time together.
When I saw Drogba was coming on, I was thinking that Torres would be off. No. In-form Sturridge went off, and, believe it or not, Drogba and Torres were partnered together up front. And though they produced no goals, there was a real sense of urgency. I’ve said this fifty times, and I will say it fifty more times. Drogba and Torres need to play together. 4-3-3 isn’t suiting either, as it limits the team to use only the one man up front. If that is Torres, then all the pressure is on him to score. If he fails, that’s the media on him for another week, and more confidence gone. Put the two together. Have powerful Drogba and ballet-dancing Torres together. Torres, though not scoring, had a good game. He made some good turns and had a great chance well held. Drogba is not over yet. He still has the drive, the power, the aura which makes others fear him. So put both on. Then it would be some feared partnership.
Five points. Will Chelsea learn? We will see. The Boxing Day matches for us have never been great in terms of results over the years. Let’s see if New Year’s Eve is any better.