With our fearless leader off on some grand Euro-Trip, you will have to make do with my first-watch efforts at handing out post-match grades. I may be stepping on his toes as he may have planned to do this anyway...but I'm feeling inspired. (Thank you, Roberto Di Matteo!) I realize this may feel akin to subbing off David Luiz and putting on Paulo Ferreira...but...you know, there's always that match at Spurs. But I digress.
The scale remains as usual: five (5) is an average PL player; six (6) is the minimum acceptable for a Chelsea player; seven (7) is an average Chelsea player; 'C' is for cookie. The scale tops out at 10, but it may go to 11 in truly special circumstances.
Onwards and upwards!
Petr Cech: Captain for the night, in absence of both Terry and Lampard. I don't think he put a step wrong although got lucky on Birmingham fluffing their one and only real chance. Solid 7.
Ryan Bertrand: In what surely comes as a relief to our hopes for the future, Bertrand was pretty great out there. Involved in the offense, making those prototypical lung-bursting runs up the left touchline (and every once in while, the rest of his teammates even looked his way!). Good effort defensively, nothing terrible sticks in mind. What he did tonight is what we've grown so accustomed to from Ashely Cole over the years, so he should probably be a 7. But because he's young and cool (and because our left back play has been wholly crap this season), he gets an 8.
David Luiz: Kept things super simple, almost to a fault. Wonder if those were instructions from RDM? In that sense, he did exactly what I'd expect from a top class Chelsea center back. Good fight early v. Nikola Zigic. 7.
Gary Cahill: Perhaps it's just my bias, but I'm still not convinced by Cahill. He drew the "short" straw in having to defend Zigic most of the match and he generally did well. Partially at fault for the one Birmingham chance. Made one absolutely glorious tackle in the penalty area. But If Terry is the Chelsea average, than Cahill, for me, is still just a 6.
Branislav Ivanovic: Pretty much a non-factor in the first half; much better in the second. So that's about average. Key involvement in the second goal. 6.
John Obi Mikel: Man of the Match for me. Playing the more defensive half of the double-pivot, Mikel was imperious, showing off his strength, first touch, and calm on the ball. Snuffed out most everything that Birmingham might have tried through the middle. The only time I noticed any distribution issues was when the rest of the team stood idly by and he did play a few nice through balls even. Combine all that with the fact that absence makes the hear grow fonder and he gets an 8.
Raul Meireles: Starting the man of one skill (long range shooting) pays off today with an absolute blockbuster of a goal that settled the tie. He's still way too lazy in the midfield defensively, although his distribution was good when he was not trying back heel flicks. Was much-much better after his goal. I still dislike him, on principle, and he was partially responsible for Birmingham's big chance...so he gets a 5.
Salomon Kalou: Speaking of absence makes the heart grow fonder...Kalou made his first start in like 65 years and was generally "ok." Usual stuff, mostly, from the Ivorian...dribble attempts galore, but also popping up in the box when needed, and generally providing a spark. Some nice interplays with Mata down the left wing. Certainly at least a six for all of that alone, but I love the kid, so let's bump it up to a 7.
Juan Mata: Poached a goal. Facepalmed a penalty kick, AGAIN! Better in the second half, although that applies to just about everybody on the team. Should've gifted Kalou a goal in the 2nd minute. This may seem harsh, but let's go with a 6.
Ramires: Another strong indication that he may just end up a key part of our right-wing solution? While not very influential in the first half, he pretty much forced the chance that led to the first goal out of thin air. Still, my kingdom for a consistent first touch for the Brazilian. 7.
Fernando Torres: Does the scale go negative? Torres was comically inept in the first half. His touches, his decisions, his shot made me want to cry tears of sadness, madness, and laughter, all at the same time. By half time, I really was just hoping someone would put him out of his misery and I guess props to Fernando for not just collapsing and curling up in the fetal position in the center circle. He was "ok" in the second half and really should have had an assist or two...but there's no way I can rate him as anything better than below average. 4.
Daniel Sturridge: Coming on as a sub for Kalou, young Daniel is starting to irritate me very much. I'd call him the new Torres, but we still have the old one around, too and my heart can only take so much. If Danny is our finisher and SHOOTAH, then he needs to stop wasting glorious chances. His miss on the Torres cross ranks up there with said crosser's infamous episode at Manchester United and Lampard's miss from 2 yards out against Valencia as candidates for miss of the season. I don't recall him doing much else. Possibly not quite justified, but this coming on the heels of his efforts at WBA, he gets a 3.