|photo by hoyasmeg||via PhotoRee|
December 28 / Stamford Bridge / London, England
Chelsea may have earned themselves three points at home today versus Bolton, but the win was far from convincing. Escaping with the points largely due to the referee's blind eye, the Blues pulled themselves back within hailing distance of the league leaders.
But have no doubt about it: without the clear assistance of referee Mike Jones and his linesmen -- the Three Blind Mice of this piece's title -- Chelsea's performance was not enough to satisfy the doubters, and Carlo Ancelloti must still be wondering where his steadfast defense and offensive firepower disappeared to when the weather turned cold in England.
Chelsea looked rusty and creaky this evening, especially in the less than inspiring first 45 minutes of the game. Playing in front of a home crowd, the Blues appeared confused and disorganized, despite having most of their "big name" players back on the pitch. They appeared fragile and old, most closely resembling a fine piece of heirloom china, only fit to be taken out of the cabinet when esteemed company is being entertained, and held firmly in two hands the whole time for fear of breaking.
Chelsea's key defensive players spent far more of the game arguing for fouls and attempting to cajole the referee into granting them than they did on actual defending. Baiting the referee has become a worrying trend in the game of late, and no two players better encapsulate the ugly side of the sport than -- who else? -- John Terry and and Ashley Cole today.
And that was on defense; on offense the Blues looked even less convincing. Unable to generate much in the way of creative and free flowing, attacking play, Chelsea appeared labored, off kilter and generally bankrupt of ideas. A first half free kick by Drogba encapsulated the u-turn in Chelsea's season: taken from a dangerous position, the Drogba of old would have smashed the ball toward the upper corner and severely tested Bolton's goalkeeper Jaskalainen. Instead, the kick sprayed awkardly in the opposite direction of goal, and ended its brief life as a visitor's throw in on the far sideline.
Chelsea's one legitimate threat in the second half ended in a goal post rebound, as Lampard picked out an wide open Drogba on the run. An in-form Ivorian would have stroked the ball home with the goal at his begging, but the 2010 malaria-version Drogba side-footed it and ended up with a clanging rebound rather than the soft swish of netting.
When the goal that gave the Blues a victory today finally appeared, it was as flawed as the overall team performance. Rather than grant the assist to Drogba, who passed the ball to Malouda for the tap-in goal (into a net so wide open even the ice-cold Frenchman couldn't miss), the EPL would do well to credit the actual assist to its own officials. As it was, the linesman clearly missed two Chelsea players, including Drogba, who were blatantly offside when the pass from Essien that set up the goal was played in.
Making matters worse, Jones and his band of merry incompetents had the opportunity to cancel out their blown call if only they had the ability to get the game's other major talking point correct. Depsite having a clear view of the situation, replays showed that Jones once again managed to make a complete hash of it yet again. A Bolton shot from just inside the 18 yard box clearly struck John Terry's outstretched arm in the box, and despite Stuart Holden's instinctual and immediate arm in the air, play was allowed to continue and Bolton's best chance of the game went by the wayside. Repeating an old and seemingly never-ending storyline, the Blues were once again aided in victory by an EPL referee unfit to judge the play.
At this point, I don't know which trend to worry about more: the constant carping and begging for fouls by players on virtually every team, or the horrific calls and non-calls by referees who appear to be watching different games than I'm seeing. In the end, I'll just bang my head gently against the table again, and chalk it up to the fact that football is highly unpredictable, and the one game that can be -- and often is -- habitually screwed up by a referee who exerts far too much control on the eventual outcome.
In the end today, Chelsea were favored just enough to pick up the win. It's hard not to feel sorry for Bolton, who deserved a better fate, and at least a point for their efforts.
This is farlieonfootie for December 31.