Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trouble in paradise

Chelsea 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Would you Adam and Eve it? Chelsea's new import Eden Hazard was instrumental in defeating us on the site of one of last season's most remarkable victories. It wasn't that we hadn't heeded the Hazard warning spelled out in the Blues' first two games, but more that we weren't able to do anything to stop him - and I suspect we won't be the last club to fall prey to the Belgian's wiles.

The Silver Fox predictably bemoaned the decision to play the fixture on Saturday evening, less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the away Europa League qualifier in Greece, due to the Notting Hill Carnival - but in truth, though ten of those involved travelled to Atromitos, only two of the starters (Papiss Cisse and Vurnon Anita, again deputising for Mr T) kicked off in that game. Saturday's starting line-up threw up no surprises other than the welcome return of Sideshow Bob as the side's skipper.

We began looking quite neat and competitive, but Chelsea's front players - most notably Hazard, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres - carried considerable threat, and it all started to unravel once the latter had burst into the box and fallen theatrically over Anita's unwisely wafted leg. With Frank Lampard warming the bench, Hazard assumed spot-kick duties and found the back of Tim Krul's net without fuss.

Though disspirited, we didn't buckle, and Cisse had a couple of half-chances he could perhaps have done better with. Three games without scoring hardly constitutes a drought, but you do feel he's in desperate need of a goal. The uphill task of overhauling the Champions League winners became all the more difficult, though, when in stoppage time at the end of the first half Torres exchanged passes with Hazard and clipped a delicious outside-of-the-foot shot into Krul's top corner. Perhaps we could have applied more pressure on the ball, and perhaps Davide Santon could have tracked Torres more effectively, but my instinct was just to shrug my shoulders and doff my proverbial hat at a well-crafted goal.

If Hazard had illuminated the first half, then HBA seemed to take it upon himself to rescue a point early in the second period, bamboozling Blues defenders and skimming a shot narrowly wide of Petr Cech's far post. The Czech 'keeper was also ruffled by a trio of efforts from Demba Ba as he looked more dangerous than his compatriot Cisse up front.

Dreamboat, by contrast, had an afternoon to forget, outshone by former Lille colleague Hazard, and was replaced (somewhat curiously) by Perchinho, while Sylvain Marveaux came on for Davide Santon and Danny Simpson made way for Raylor. The latter was never afforded the opportunity to whip in a trademark free-kick on goal, and it was curious that French duo Romain Amalfitano and Obertan Kenobe remained rooted to the bench when we needed an injection of attacking impetus.

The game drifted towards a disappointing conclusion, though we should concede that the best team won and we only had the pretence of control in the second half, our hosts more than capable of adding to their tally. The result neatly underlined the disparity between the two clubs - we may have finished above Chelsea last term, when they suffered a poor winter and had their eye off the ball at the end of the Premier League season, but Roman Abramovich spent big and cannily over the summer (£20m Brazilian Oscar was an unused substitute) and we're now very much chasing their coat-tails. The two Manchester clubs won't have it all their own way this season.

No disgrace in defeat, then - let's draw a line under it and move on.

A Chelsea fan's perspective (with added graphics...): We Ain't Got No History

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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