1 Lampard could be warming a few benches this season
As a message of where he figures in the André Villas-Boas project the placing of Chelsea’s once great ape among the replacements for a match that could define the club’s season and the coach’s tenure could not be clearer. At Newcastle United on Saturday Lampard started, then lasted just beyond the hour before being taken off, with the cameras zooming in on the 33-year-old’s thunderous face and a few hardly disguised shakes of the head.
Tonight Lampard was not trusted in the starting XI, Raul Meireles getting the nod. His Portuguese manager has clearly judged that the zip that made him Super Frank is no more. Lampard’s game sense and experience still remain, as they always do in any top professional. He now has to prove that Villas-Boas cannot afford to leave him out when it really matters: on this evidence it will be difficult. AndShould he fail, his place in the England squad may also be in doubt.
2 Stamford Bridge can rock if it needs to
Before this game Villas-Boas and John Terry exhorted the Stamford Bridge crowd to create an atmosphere as electric as Anfield famously is on a European night. Within three minutes the voltage jumped when Juan Mata laid off for Didier Drogba to smash home, and a few thousand hearts stopped when moments later Jordi Alba cruised down the left and smacked the ball back off Petr Cech’s right post.
Vibrancy flowed from the stands to the pitch and back again and when Ramires burst into the visitors’ area to double Chelsea’s advantage Stamford Bridge erupted. Two minutes before the break a cry of “Come on Chelsea!” urged the team to close down the opposition as there was a sense of intensity slipping, and that a goal now would presage the fraught second half no one in blue desired. Villas-Boas and Terry got their wish, but whether this was a one-off remains to be seen.
3 Oriol Romeu’s audition was unconvincing
The Barcelona old boy has the mean look and squat build of a midfield enforcer, but has yet to prove he can solve the problem created by Mikel John Obi’s sluggishness and lack of steel in the position. After 10 minutes Romeu, who has a senior Barcelona appearance to his name, harried David Albelda well but he did not continue and stopped to watch as Jonas unloaded a 30-yard rocket that Cech did well to tip behind. Another questionable moment occurred later in the half when Romeu dawdled before dangerously ceding possession near his goal, and with his side two goals up at the break there was a case for bringing on Lampard to ensure proceedings were closed down. Though he was nearly caught in possession (one of Mikel’s main crimes) early in the second half, when Villas-Boas, below, made his first change it was Ramires who was taken off, suggesting the manager has faith in the 20-year-old.
4 Swagger can be hard to find in a Chelsea shirt these days
In Villas-Boas’s redraw of Roman Abramovich’s team the strut of the José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti title-winning sides is no more. With Lampard benched, Michael Essien a long-term absentee, and John Terry hobbled by seasons of defensive attrition and a back-catalogue of off-field incident, only Didier Drogba looks like he still remembers how to own a football field.
His surge-then-pass to Ramires that created Chelsea’s second, after the Ivorian had scored the opener, was a reminder of his and this team’s golden years. On a crucial night, Drogba was Chelsea’s Mr Total Football, dropping off the front – as Wayne Rooney loves to do for Manchester United – to ensure his side would not be eliminated from the competition. In Juan Mata, Meireles, Romeu and Daniel Sturridge, Villas-Boas has identified his new breed. In time, if they work the blueprint successfully, they will find their own swagger.
5 David Luiz was not a wise choice as penalty taker
As a £50m striker, Fernando Torres should surely be the go-to man when a penalty is awarded in any game. But a spot-kick in a Champions League group match against a Belgian side that should yield a regulation three points?Especially when still on the horizon is a tricky trip to Germany (to play Bayer Leverkusen, a game Chelsea went on to lose 2-1), and a final match against a Spanish side who the Blues could only draw with earlier in the group phase.
At the Cristal Arena on 1 November Nicolas Anelka was due to take the kick, but he had missed a penalty at Everton a week earlier. So there was even further onus on Torres to do the right thing and convert to claim a win that would not have left Chelsea’s hopes in the competition as precarious as they were ahead of Valencia’s visit. Instead, David Luiz took responsibility and missed, which as a central defender (even a Brazilian one), is forgivable.