Three points? A clean sheet? At the Bridge? What the hell?
Rebounding (Latent NBA Reference)
Well, that was certainly nice to see now wasn't it? After almost a month and change of suspect performances, last-minute defensive lapses, and whimsical finishing that made us all shudder, we put in a comprehensive 90-minute shift that should quell a few of the naysayers. To be clear, I'm not entirely sold on anything other than we came up against a Wolves squad lacking severely in confidence. And as expected, we picked them apart with relative ease. Within minutes of the opening kick, we were ahead, courtesy of some slack defending on Wolves part. That script repeated itself a number of times throughout the afternoon, and when it was all finished we came away unscathed. I'm not going to be singing from the rooftops that all which previously ailed us has been eradicated, but, hallelujah! We finally, I mean FINALLY, came out and played like we had something to prove. Sure, there were moments that could have been better, and there are still defensive concerns- but damn, it's just nice to start a weekend with a win, wouldn't you agree? On to the specifics:
• We won. Let that sink in for a moment.
• The first half was a joy to watch (considering our form of late).
• Oriol Romeu is one hell of a player. Find a way to keep him. Bribe Barca. I don't care. Just don't let him slip from our grasp after two years. Please.
• As maligned as he might be at times, Didier proved he still has some skills that are of significant value.
• Wolves never really threatened, switching from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 in the first half, but to no avail.
• Juan Mata, take a bow son. My word, that was lovely to watch.
What follows, in a rambling sort of form, is another running diary of the match, as it happened here in Los Angeles at 7 AM. Without much ado:
It's 6:45 AM and I'm none too pleased about this early start. Having only slipped into some state of slumber a mere three hours ago, I'm all sorts of discombobulated at the moment. Admittedly, I had a hard time sleeping last night. Too many questions running through my head. Will AVB start Fernando? Will he diminish the use of the high line? Will somebody come out and score some fucking goals? All salient considerations that managed to keep me awake several hours longer than I intended. I'm neither nervous nor confident. I'm somewhere in the middle- there's the very realistic probability that we'll win, but then again, with our current form, you never know. I guess this is what it's like to be a Spurs fan (ZING). Oh look, it's about to start, and it's the lovable Mr. Taphouse once again- he of RohMaaaaan Ab-ra-MOH-vickhHHH lore. What a joy this will be.
0:00 - Our lineup for this one: Cech; Ivanovic, JT, Luiz, Ash; Ramires, Romeu, Meireles; Mata, Sturridge, Drogba. Wait, what??? Why the hell is Didier starting a third consecutive game? What happened to that rotation policy we heard so much about for months on end? This has be upset- clearly. On the upside Oriol gets his first PL start. If Nelks and Nando are getting iced out, at least I can take solace in Romeu's blossoming career. Too bad we're basically enhancing him for Barca's benefit. Fuck, let that last sentence sink in for a moment. Okay, on with the match then.
0:35 - Immediately, Wolves start with an attack, but it's stopped in it's tracks by John and company. The counter attack comes to nothing. This worries me- as much as we might be suspect to counter's ourselves, we should be better at creating on the go.
1:21 - Raul finds an inch of room on the right edge of the box and fires a low drive just wide of the far post. I'm saying this now- we need to start a petition to get him a haircut. Unless he derives magical powers from that Portuguese Poof, shit's gotta go. Sidenote: crowd seems tense. Not bright, not lively. Just flat out concerned. This worries me.
3:12 - First set piece of the match from the right side of the Wolves area and Ivanovic is flagged for offside. Clearly, Mick and company have a plan on these- namely, run like hell in the opposite direction and hope a Chelsea player gets caught. Not saying this is smart, but, hey, it's something right?
4:37 - Bane finds acres of space on the right, and marauds forward, skips one defender, cuts back behind a second, and lays a pass off for Didier in close quarters. he struggles to hold it before Danny has the same issue. Good to see us finding these spaces early on.
5:42 - Ramires robs a Wolves player at the half line, and motors towards the box before unleashing a low, rasping drive that Hennessey does phenomenally well to prevent from going in. Looked a certain goal. Credit where it's due- Wolves have a fantastic keeper. Always liked Wayne. Always wanted to say that I like someone named Wayne without feeling guilty that it would be misconstrued as a Rooney reference. If only he could get on a better squad he might well get the recognition he deserves.
6:06 - GOAL! The resulting corner finds the head of England's Brave, who calmly rises and turns it inside the post. Juan Mata with the brilliant delivery. He looks elated and oh, is he going to celebrate with AVB? I hope he does I hope he does I hope he does I hope he does ..... wait, never mind. He couldn't get there it seems. Still, a well taken goal that will do wonders to buoy the home support and the players, who have shown a collective spring in their step thus far. Here's hoping it continues and I can sneak away for a bite of breakfast. I mean, if I have to wake up this early I might as well get some quality eats in my system. Just sayin'...
7:00 - Just caught a glimpse of Nando on the bench, perfecting his bitchface routine. Didn't look remotely happy that John just scored. I feel for you Nino, I do. But quit the pouting we need this bro. That's three goals in John's last six PL outings. Massive. Never thought he'd be more prolific in the PL than Didier and Nando COMBINED. Lord, I can't believe I just typed that.
10:17 - Wolves have lined up in a 4-5-1 and well, it's not working. There's just nothing going forward for them and their midfielders are getting swiped with relative ease by the boys in blue. Mick might have to make a change here. Milijas seems to be the most likely to be removed- he's done nothing but foul players and lose possession. Currently he's perfecting his 'Tim Duncan Face'. Yes, another NBA reference. I had to do it.
14:21 - Make the case otherwise, but it's become clear to all that Bane is our best right back. More assured than Bosingwa, and though he might lack a bit of flair when going forward, he's solid enough to make the smart play. Right now, he's on his gallop getting into the fray. Also, Roger Johnson looks like the kid that got picked to play on the team against his best mates, and he's just doing everything in his power not to get involved. I know he's a lifelong Blues supporter, so this must be a bit of a difficult pill to swallow. It's alright Rog, this will all be over in some 75 minutes. Suck it up. You get paid to do this, remember?
16:00 - Quick counter attack is foiled by a cynical foul on the part of Dave Edwards, who scoops up the game's first yellow for bringing down Ramires- who was about to turn on the nitrous and break away. Gary Taphouse is telling everyone that Ramires lacks creativity but not pace. Can't argue with that. Gary, we may well become friends after this. Didier is pushing and pressing everyone up top, trying to cause chaos. It seems to be working in spurts. Still would have preferred a Nando or Nelks start but I'll live with this Didier incarnate.
19:40 - Second match in a row Bane has taken a long shot from outside the box. He feels comfortable launching those, but they seem to lack a bit of pace once they reach the keeper. I ain't mad atcha though. Someone needs to keep the defense honest from distance, especially without Frank in the mix.
22:20 - Wolves manufacture a chance with a few lucky bounces, Jarvis crosses into the box but Ward heads high. Make a note- twenty two minutes in and they get their first shot off, and it's not on target. So much for being vulnerable with that high defensive line eh? I kid I kid ...
25:00 - Really nice, patient build up results in a floated cross to the far post for Sturridge that he can't connect with. The tempo at the moment really favors the Blues- Wolves are letting us dictate everything. They're dropping back to protect the net so hey, might as well ping it about until someone makes a mistake. SIDENOTE: I'm starving. This does not bode well.
28:01 - Ramires now offers the 'close shave' package which features a full scalp massage using only his cleats. ACT NOW WHILE SUPPLIES LAST!
28:56 - GOAL! Mata pays homage to Ray Wilkins, stays on his feet, rounds the defender, picks out the run of Danny who gets in front of his marker and dispatches it with relative ease. Just like that we're up two and Danny has his sixth goal in the PL season (more than Drogs, Nelks, and Nando combined). Oh my. Replays show Mata was fouled prior to the cross by Zubar, but he kept his poise to create the chance. Love that diminutive fucker. Would have invited him over for Thanksgiving but I heard he had a thing he couldn't get out of. Plus, my table was full with Obi Mikel having accepted my prior offer for dinner. Didn't expect he'd pick Thanksgiving Day to show up but hey, better late than never.
33:52 - Wolves are making a change here, dumping the 4-5-1 for a 4-4-2. Leave it to Mick to wait until they're down two, on the road, to throw an attacking formation out there. My word. As much as I'd want to have a drink with Mick, I wouldn't dare have him coach me out of a paper bag. Remember when he tried three defenders at the Bridge two years ago? I do. Sidenote: Didier shanks the hell out of a 35 yard free kick. I always love when he misses, his reactions are priceless. The static hand rises with either a thumbs up or a flat palm, and his face scrunches into a 'bless me father for I have sinned' template.
37:44 - There's the substitution. Milijas is off, Ebanks-Blake is on. To the 4-4-2 we go! I still want something to eat but I'll wait now until halftime, I don't want to miss a minute of us winning a home PL game. Seems like months ago when this last happened in such a comfortable fashion. Wolves haven't really troubled at all, and their brief moments of pressure have been dealt with easily.
39:25 - Danny being Danny. Cuts inside on his left foot, stutters, and releases a high drive at the near post which Hennessey has to get up to deal with. Surprised defenses haven't keyed in on his desire to always use his left. Through the run of play, Didier uses his chest to control a pass from Cech, and fluffs the attack. Tried to get cute and pass instead of pillage. C'mon son, get it together.
41:36 - This needs to be said. It's been 42 minutes and I've made no mention of Bob. That's how good he's been- quite, effective, composed. I think the criticisms have finally gotten to him. If this is how he responds to adversity then we might want to fan the flames more often. Playing the 'interceptor' role to great effect in the first 45. Also, Romeu has been composed on the ball all afternoon. That I haven't had to call out any major mistakes for both of them is enough to convince me we're having a good day. Cue the Ice Cube, I'm going to need this at the half. SIDENOTE: My fiancé is getting all bemused that I'm not paying enough attention to her. She knows how this works though.
44:52 - GOAL! And it's a lovely cross from Ashley to Mata who turns it in comfortably. Wouldn't you know it that Juan would be involved in all three of our goals this afternoon. Quick how do I say I love you in Spanish? Don't judge me, I'm an Indian guy that grew up in southern California and for some reason my parents thought it wise to teach me French instead of Spanish. Replays of the goal show all around excellence. Ashely, you just redeemed yourself after the Liverpool meltdown. Mata, you're doing what I'd expect- picking on a minnow squad. Cheers.
Halftime - Time to eat and reflect. If it's this easy throughout the opening stanza, then surely we'll coast through to all three points, right? Shit, I hope so. I need this win, nay, WE need this win.
And now for an abridged recap of the second half
Because as much as I love you lot, I have places to go and people to see on this fine Saturday afternoon. Nuts and bolts? We didn't score any more goals in the second half, but we should have had at least three more. Credit Hennessey for getting his gigantic paws to these chances, including a brilliant double save on Mata and Danny that was beyond impressive. Subs happened on our end, Jose BAWSE came on, Frank got in there and hey, look, NANDO made a cameo. Now, before you expect that he went all Bitchface McNasty, let me just say that he looked lively. He was incisive, he held the ball up, he got into the attack, he created off the dribble. In short, he looked hungry. Which is exactly how I looked heading into the halftime intermission. For Wolves, look, it was never going to be easy for them, but I have to say I'm a touch disappointed that they didn't really attack until it was all but settled. I expected more from Mick and his Marauders. But, they live to fight another day, as do we. Three points, a clean sheet, and look, everyone else that matters drew today. I call that a win on multiple fronts.
In the vein of simplifying things due to time constraints I'm going to rush through this. A more comprehensive tactical writeup will follow sometime tomorrow afternoon
A quiet afternoon. 6
Untroubled in defense, and got forward with aplomb. Subbed after 70 mins for BAWSE. 7
Did his damn thing with relative quiet surrounding his performance. More, please. 7
Back to his best on this days evidence. The goals he's scoring this year are simply class. 7
T’was a calm day at the office for him as well- the cross for Mata was sublime. 7
Had trouble picking out good passes in the first half, but did his job and gave a different dimension to the midfield with three capable players to bomb forward. 6
Really solid stuff in his PL debut. Showed great composure and no nerves whatsoever. 6.5
The usual foraging runs coupled with boundless energy. 6.5
An improved showing from his midweek flop. Kept the engine running and sprayed passes across the park. Linked up well in the build-up to a number of our goals. Quite the player, ain’t he? 8 CO MOTM
Really flowing at the moment. He has to start in all competitions at this rate. Bagging goals with ease, trick.7.5
Three consecutive starts, three mixed bag performances. On this day, he was supplier, but his decision making was awful at times. 6
Came on as a second half sub- did little of note. 5
Replaced Meireles to try and continue moving the ball around the park. 5
Wished he nicked a goal at the death- looked very lively. 5