TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend's top Premier League action

CHELSEA

TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend's top Premier League action

Why don’t we play like this all the time?

I have to confess to having a real crisis of faith when I saw the team. In fact I was raging. Eto’o? Against this lot? No Mikel? No Ashley Cole? And of course my mood only blackened when we conceded so early. I was praying, asking only for this not to be a hammering.

I should have taken my advice of recent weeks. Trust Mourinho.

Make no mistake: this was a huge win and the team stepped up to the plate. Mourinho’s delight was evident. He would probably deny wanting to beat Liverpool more than any other club but this rivalry with the Scousers was at its most vicious under his first tenure. It was something he helped create and I think the win delighted him as much as it did the fans.

It’s been a while since we saw the team press like that and I have to say we looked pretty damned amazing when we did. If this is what Jose is aiming for in terms of style then Abramovich may finally get the team he has always yearned for — successful and sexy.

Central to this style are Hazard and Oscar, who are devastatingly creative, fabulous to watch and incredible when surging forward. Although many single out Hazard for his dazzling trickery, there is never a game I don’t thank my lucky stars that by some amazing fortune Oscar is a Chelsea player. He tracks back, puts his foot in, skips past defenders as though they are not there. He is just phenomenal and he’s only 22. Watching a display like this leaves me scratching my head at some of the turgid displays we have seen this season.

If we can play like that why don’t we all the time? Especially against the lesser teams. I am already worrying that we will go back to the slow-paced, ineffective style against Southampton. I must stop thinking like this. I must trust Jose, I must trust Jose...

“What about the penalty shout,” I hear a few whiney voices pipe up. Well, what about it? If you want to talk injustice we can easily reopen last season’s debate when a certain flat-track bully snacked on a Serbian delicacy during the match, was not sent off and denied us a victory deep into injury-time. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the ghost goal either.

I was actually surprised by Suarez’s contribution, or should I say, lack of it. He is undeniably a fantastic player but seemed to get frustrated very early on in the game and looked to have made his mind up that if he couldn’t get a goal by fair means he would do it by foul. He was on the floor all the time and the more decisions he didn’t get, the more elaborate his dives became.

Jose has certainly been more of his old self in these last couple of weeks. The confidence is back. He looks happier, making jibes about the opposition and the bias of the press against us. I’m so pleased to see this as for a while I was beginning to wonder whether he was regretting his return to the Bridge. I imagine it was just frustration and now that we are seeing some tangible results he can relax and start his mind games in earnest. He had a dig yesterday on how scouser-centric the pundits are in the media these days. He’s absolutely right. They need reminding every now and then that they are not the arbiters of the game, and Jose is just the man to do it.

It’s all looking quite rosy going into the new year, certainly in terms of position and style — both things that can be further built upon. But it’s a more harmonious club than at this time last season.

So it only remains for me to wish all you readers a Happy New Year — no matter who you follow — but for you fellow blues at this “special” time of year, trust the main man to deliver everything you’ve always wanted.

LIVERPOOL

Cracks starting to appear

Surprised? No.

Disappointed? Well, yes to be honest.

That’s supporters for you; please sir, I want some more.

Defeat yesterday was exacerbated since it came at the hands of Panto Boy. Yes, the Spesh is back and trying way too hard again. Point taken about our reduced workload but Jose tried this on in his first spell, blithely ignoring the enormous wealth propping him up. Something Rafa was only too happy to highlight.

A friend said the same of City; “there they go, celebrating their hard-fought home record earned by their talent, their endeavour — oh, and half a billion quid”. Few of Chelsea’s lads “will play 60 games”. Most of ours will play forty or more, though. If they’re still standing…

Mourinho is loved and despised equally because he acts like a fan; petty, one-eyed, protective and eager to sidestep criticism by throwing anyone under a bus. Not that we can ride lofty equines after Brendan lashed out at Mason. It used to be a referee’s parentage we questioned, not his birthplace. I thought we got stiffed at the Etihad, but when you find yourself researching where a linesman was born you’ve crossed a line.

Mourinho suits Chelsea-Liverpool to a tee. Booooo Terry, with your racism. Booooo Suarez, with your teeth and your racism. Where’s your history (we’ll probably be asking in 2050), your mum’s a slag, you eat dead cats and so (excruciatingly) on.

And Darwin wept.

Our record there was briefly good, evoking memories of Houllier at Old Trafford and his oasis of wins in a desert of degradation. Swap Gerard for Kenny and United for Chelsea; we knew it wouldn’t last. Of course they’ve had superior teams but not always, hardly ever in the 90’s; we’d been experiencing something similar at Spurs. It hints at a character defect, this travel-sickness. A lack of will.

That said there were some nasty challenges out there and Webb, through loyalty to Mason or his own historical bias, flat out refused to do anything about it. He certainly wasn’t going to give Suarez a penalty. Eto’o was protected all day, then Mignolet hands him a gift to make the misery complete. Perhaps Oscar could have walked too?

Presumably Agger was chosen to counter their strength at set pieces but they still had too much for us in a one-sided first half. If Sakho wants to swap shirts permanently, and take Johnson with him, that’d be alright with me.

The second was better but we’re starting to fall apart now. The paper-thin squad Mourinho deliberately, provocatively ‘forgot’ is nearly transparent now. We’re dropping like flies.

When you look to the bench and see a 19-year old in a number 44 shirt waiting to come on, drastic action is required.

From optimistic to apprehensive; that happened fast.

ARSENAL

Smash and grab as old-fashioned 1-0 does trick

It was a massive boost before kick off at Newcastle to hear that Koscielny had been restored to the line-up and considering the game of attrition that resulted, it proved significant.

Unlike at Upton Park, our first-choice defence returned to performing at their composed and resilient best and just about the only dampener on what might prove to be a significant success at St James’s Park, was the sight of Kieran Gibbs limping off in the second half.

We’re doubtless to blame for having tempted fate as we’d only been reflecting in the car, on the 280-mile trip up to Tyneside, quite how impressive Gibbs has been this season, with the conclusion that it’s the first time in ages our fragile left-back has managed to remain injury-free for any length of time! Here’s hoping it’s only a brief interlude for Kieran, since a fit and settled back line is likely to prove crucial to the way this season pans out.

By contrast, it came as no surprise that Mezut Özil hadn’t travelled to Newcastle and that he’ll be missing for a couple of games through injury. I joked that the German probably has a winter break written into his contract. But it was reassuring to discover via Twitter that our nonchalant star man was sufficiently engaged in the Gunners’ cause to be at home watching his team-mates on the box. I wonder if Vermaelen was doing likewise, or whether our captain had more pressing matters at the Bond Street Christmas sales?

Meanwhile, credit to those who did travel, as although the Gunners might have avoided putting nearly so much strain on our nerves with a more dynamic display, it was marvellous to see them putting themselves about to cling to this smash-and-grab triumph. Especially in the face of the barcode brick wall that is Tiote. I’m all for refs allowing a game to flow, but from our perspective, high up in the gods at St James’s Park, it appeared as if Probert was letting the Toon’s midfield destroyer get away with blue murder.

Credit also to Wenger as, after his impressive efforts coming on as sub at Upton Park, we were all baying for him to bring on Podolski in the latter stages to freshen things up. Especially after Walcott failed to put the game to bed with a feeble attempt to score a second. But as ever “Arsène knows” and instead chose to shore up a good old-fashioned 1-0 to the Arsenal of the sort that would’ve made George Graham proud.

Personally, I was convinced the Toon were bound to nick an equaliser at the death as the Gunners settled for holding on to what we had and invited pressure. Mertesacker’s headed clearances kept falling invitingly just outside the box. I was certain one of these would eventually fall for Ben Arfa or Cabaye to find the sweet spot and smash it into the top corner.

Still, hang on resolutely we did, even in the face of our clown of a keeper’s harebrained attempt to take Remy out and blow the three very precious points which made all the effort of dragging ourselves out of bed even before the crack of dawn well worth it. Not to mention guaranteeing that the long trek home seems far shorter than it would’ve been if we’d been left bemoaning a Szczesny brainstorm.

Thus we head into the New Year still sitting atop our Premier League perch, which may, or may not be a good thing, as we Gooners spend the next month wondering if it’s worth holding our breath waiting for Wenger to offer us some much-needed reinforcements?

Knowing there’ll be a lot more desperate clubs across the continent than us and that Wenger won’t countenance involvement in a Dutch auction, I’m not exactly optimistic that he’ll add the firepower to enable us go the distance, especially so long as the Gunners continue to prove their detractors wrong.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Be careful what you wish for in New Year

If you ever want to see a Mancunian Red physically squirm in front of your eyes, there’s the pub question to pose: Manchester City or Liverpool?

Earlier this week it inspired similar emotions and a debate as to what would be the worst outcome for us come May: City winning the title, or Liverpool.

The brightest sparks answer: “False dichotomy: come on, Arsenal!”

The fact that we even discuss these hypotheticals amongst ourselves tells you something about how much belief, beneath the bravado, we really have in United’s ability to challenge for the title. It’s a very strange feeling, and one any Red under 30 won’t have experienced.

I’m all for new experiences, usually, but this is one most of us would file alongside morris dancing and tax returns night as ones we’d rather permanently avoid.

A few years ago, the great Argentinian World Cup winner Jorge Valdano memorably compared a Liverpool-Chelsea match to “shit on a stick”. A colleague described United’s first-half display at Carrow Road on Saturday as ‘shit on a stick, but without the stick”.

Yes, we certainly stunk the place out in that first 45 minutes. We were horrendously second best to a terrible team with barely a shot on goal. As the cliché goes, this is when a manager earns his money. Some half-time technical tweaking, and Welbeck’s dynamism injected onto the pitch transformed our afternoon. It was still fairly smelly, mind, but at least we were now giving Norwich a bit of stick.

You don’t have to reach far for excuses, though. No Rooney and no RVP at any away game would normally adjust your mindset to think of anything above a draw as a bonus. Carrick is still ring-rusty and Vidic has barely played; Giggs is 86.

After the thrills we’ve had over recent weeks, a Fergie United-style, grind-it-out, ‘champions’ three-pointer was well overdue. All the pub bores know the score: “It’s away wins like these when you don’t play well that are the mark of champions” and so forth. Or, in the current situation, the mark of a team that might yet just scrape into the Champions League.

Away-day Reds were in fine voice yet again and there’s no mistaking a general air of the mildly upbeat as the New Year approaches. Think back to how you felt at full-time against Newcastle, when the hordes were beginning to self-combust. If I’d said to you then that, by New Year’s Eve, you might have some cause for optimism you’d have called for the sectioners. Still, here’s a factoid to furrow the brow: the only teams we have beaten in the current top ten are Arsenal and Hull. Though we’ve got a chance to improve that tally on Wednesday when Spurs turn up at Old Trafford, potentially still exhibiting the signs of shellshock from AVB’s mid-air explosion.

Moyes himself looks a lot happier these days, which I suppose isn’t hard after the early autumn weeks during which he often resembled an albino rabbit caught in truck headlights. He even indulged in a bit of expectation-downplay over the prospects for the transfer window at the weekend, as if to suggest he still has enough confidence in this squad to do sufficient business this campaign rather than force him into a panic-stricken resort to the mid-season market. Mmm: we’ll see.

So, January the first is almost upon us. A time for optimism and change and thus here are some resolutions we’d like to impose to ensure a happier 2014. * Januzaj: stop diving.

* Young: you too, with jingle bells on.

* Evra: as they say in pantos at this time of year — “behind you!” Try defending as well as attacking, would you?

* Cleverley: Ray Wilkins is not someone to emulate.

* Moyes: Rafael is clearly our best right-back — so stop picking ‘anyone but’, will you?

And we’ll then all have a Happy New Year.”

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