Two points lost? Perhaps. A point gained? Almost certainly.
A funny old game this one.
Shit for the opening 15 or so minutes. This start was highlighted by a truly disturbing sequence, one in which Jon Walters - yes, that Jon Walters - sauntered past our new mancrush (Bob) at midfield, roasted what used to be the most dynamic midfielder in world football (Michael Essien) then proceeded to bury a low shot past a helpless Petr Cech at the near post. Also seen during this was Jose Bosingwa, who was quite good on the day otherwise, frolicking back into position at a pace likened to what you would see at a nursing home. John Terry, meanwhile, was caught in a lose-lose. He chose to play the cross rather than come to the ball and we all suffered.
Anyway. We spent the next 50 minutes in a revival, carving out a deserved equalizer about 10 minutes before halftime. We continued to display quality at the start of the second half, and I figured we were going to find a way to grind out a critical result in a tough environment. Wrong.
Around 60 minutes we went back into the shit. Actually we were worse than shit. Cech, in a scintillating performance, spent the rest of the match turning away shot after shot with wonder save after wonder save. All this while the rest of the team seemed to enter a state of perpetual confusion - in how to respond and in how to succeed in doing so. Yes, we had our chances in the final stages of the match - Drogba, in particular, doing what he could to haul us out of the mire - but for the most part it was Stoke City who did the work. They were rampant, the best I've seen from them since returning to the top flight in 2008. Really, we were lucky not to lose here.
So, what changed between minutes 20-60 and 60-90? Well, as the opening visual suggests, I lay the blame squarely at the feet of our on-pitcher leader.
A double substitution on 61 minutes proved to be the root of all evil. Carlo first pulled Anelka for Torres. Not exactly great seeing as we had something good going at the moment and Anelka was critical in linking our midfield to the excellent Drogba, but a move I can somewhat forgive. However, the sub that accompanied it, I cannot. In a clear panic move, CA threw on Kalou for Ramires. So you pulled our best midfielder on the day - not saying a lot, really - who will run his ass off for as long as it takes for a decent attacking option that won't give us much of anything at the other end? Genius.
I know what you were thinking, CA. This was a must-win and Kalou would give us what everything else on the pitch at the moment wouldn't - an option that would run at defenders. What you did in the process of that was unbalance our midfield and kill our momentum. Leaving Malouda on the field when he was offering absolutely nothing? Expecting Kalou to give us something on the right side of midfield? Just shocking.
Take the hit, Carlo. Now, get yourself and the players over it and have us ready for Wednesday.
Other points of note:
• Torres' movement really is excellent. If only someone in this team would pick up on it.
• Bob got his wake-up call. I said in the match preview this would be an interesting test for him and it certainly was. He opened with a terrible mistake, then had a torrid time with Kenwyne Jones the rest of the afternoon. He's an unbelievable prospect, yes, but there's still some rough edges to smooth over. When he adapts, look the fuck out.
• Florent Malouda. Just go away.
• Michael Essien. I'm beginning to think we've seen the best of you. This thought sickens me to the core.
• Resting Bane tells me that Carlo is focused solely on the Champions League. The Serbian was an ideal choice against a physical, set-piece heavy side like Stoke, yet he opts for Bosingwa. A massive gamble.
• Speaking of good fits for Stoke, Mikel anyone?
Stats of note:
Passing vs Stoke
Malouda 57 of 72
Lampard 42 of 64
Essien 45 of 56
Ramires 28 of 35
Tackling v. Stoke
Malouda 5 of 8
Lampard 2 of 4
Essien 3 of 5
Ramires 0 of 2
Numbers may be skewed considering on how vindictive I feel at that given moment.
Immaculate. The sole reason we weren't embarrassed, much less dealt a loss. Looked a little jumpy at the go - and even still into the final third of the match, specifically on set pieces. Still, he was pulling off stunning save after stunning save. Talk amongst yourselves about the hand that pushed Huth's header onto underside of the crossbar. Best save I've seen in two years. 9 (Readers', CO MotM)
Get this, Jose Bosingwa put in a decent shift. I know, can't believe it, either. Regardless, I was pretty impressed with his contribution, particularly during the first half in which he spent pretty much the entire 45 minutes camped on the right wing. Still a woeful defender, though - check that ridiculous challenge on Etherington. Penalized a half-point for lackadaisically tracking back on the opening goal. Inexcusable. 6.5
Off the pace compared to recent imperious displays. Made Jones look a world beater at times. Looked ridiculously slow to react on more than one occasion. 5
His worst match for us, bar none. Never settled. Endured a very rough night against Jones, and was far too casual in the tackle that allowed Walters to waltz in for the game's opening goal. I don't want Carlo to shackle him because I love his zestful approach to the game, but he must start picking his spots when diving in. 5
Probably should have scored in the immediate aftermath of Walters' goal. Nevertheless, it was an indication of his impact on the offensive end. Sadly the same cannot be said about him defensively. Underwhelming. 6
Perhaps not as good as he has proven to be in recent weeks, but was still a handful. Probably our best midfielder on a day in which most of that unit floundered. His substitution proved the catalyst for our dive into the abyss. 7
Terrible for the opening goal. Why not show Walters to the byline? Other than that, pretty substandard stuff. We must have more from this man if we expect to have even a semblance of a chance against United in midweek. 6
Not sure. I felt he at least attempted to lead us forward when we began to crumble. The fact is, though, he failed to have much of an impact other than a decent volley. 6.5
I've tried to defend this cat. Time and again, I really have. No longer. Confidence issue, whatever, Frenchie has been subpar at best, mostly egregious, for going on three months. Slow and clueless on this day. How he remains in Carlo's immediate plans in beyond me. Grow the braids back then call me. 3
Pretty immense for 65 minutes. Looked fresh and played like he was. Worked incredibly hard, on both ends. Scored a great header - his first goal for something like nine games - and may well have added to that tally. Despite going missing once Torres was introduced, still managed to create a couple of good chances, one of which struck the crossbar. 8
Slowed play down from time to time, but was still fairly effective.
Bright, but only when he was actually able to get on the ball. May well have scored with his first contribution. Continues to provide incisive movement, only to be starved of service. Saw more of the ball in the final 10 minutes, but that was only because we began to throw it forward. He and Drogba still look lost together; a mighty conundrum for Carlo to dwell on. 6
May have had an impact within a different scenario, but this was the wrong sub at the worst time. Left little to no imprint on the match. Swallowed by Stoke's tenaciousness. 5.5
Saved for the CL. N/A