A Cole lot more to come after Joe’s class see’s Chelsea top table
By Joe Carroll.
A moment of individual inspiration from Joe Cole helped Chelsea topple Premier League champions Manchester United in what was a largely uninspiring game of football.
An exquisite touch from Cole and a second half strike from the benched Didier Drogba were enough to usurp Manchester United, whilst another substitute, Federico Macheda provided a mere consolation for the home side.
Audiences around the world were licking their lips and sharpening their knives in anticipation of Saturday’s lunchtime kick off which was supposed to showcase two of world football’s biggest and best clubs. The millions hoping to see the Premier League’s best flaunt their stuff at the Theatre of Dreams will no doubt be severely disappointed that the game went largely without incident.
Yet the game was not without controversy, and it was only a shame that the game’s talking points revolved more around refereeing decisions than the efforts of it’s players. Both sides had more than strong penalty appeals turned down in the first half, whilst both second half goals should not have stood at all on second viewing.
If we were not treated to a particularly exciting game of football, we were at least given a showing in tactical shrewdness from Chelsea’s Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian could well write a book today entitled: ‘How to Win a Title’ with his first chapter: ‘Leaving Your Leading Scorer on the Bench’. If there’s one thing we are not short of with Ancelotti, it’s twisting sub-plots, and the fires of suspense leading up to the game were poked and stirred with glee by the Italian’s mischievous hand as he left his main protagonist waiting in the wings, after strong hints that the Ivorian would start.
And the decision to let his minor characters have their share of the lime-light paid off superbly. From the beginning Chelsea attacked the Stretford End with the same vigour that eventually saw off Aston Villa last week. The men orchestrating and developing the narrative along were non other than Chelsea’s forgotten men of late; goalscorer Cole and ex Barcelona favourite Deco set about ensuring Manchester United fans went home without their desired happy ending.
Chelsea enjoyed the better chances with Deco and Nicolas Anelka both going close in the opening exchanges. The games predictability came in the form of lack of excitement and showmanship- the little of it on show coming from the men in Blue and inparticular from Cole, the man whose divine intervention set Chelsea on their way to an important if not dull victory. Cole will have done himself no ill favours in forcing himself into the mind of England manager Fabio Capello with his display yesterday, reminding a nation worried by a growing injury list of his ability to conjour up something magical.
If Drogba is Ancelotti’s heroic main character, then Cole today fulfilled the role of wise, old wizard- the unexpected saviour in a deperate situation. The outcast for many games since his return from injury, sceptics doubting Cole’s worth saw the England man burst forth like a phoenix from the flames, scorching Manchester United’s title hopes in the process.
Good work from Anelka gave him the opportunity to cross low and Cole arrived ahead of his man, beautifully steering the ball towards the far corner with a deft backheel. United responded through Ji-Sun Park, as he went down under the clumsy challenge of Yuri Zhirkov. Whilst contact was definitely made, Park’s theatrics did enough to convice referee Mike Dean that what he saw was a tumble more suited to Olympic swimming arenas than football stadiums.
Chelsea then had their own shout for a penalty. Gary Neville saw the oppornuity to stop Anelka’s advance into the United area and obliged in typical style. One would have been forgiven for thinking that they were watching Neville trying desperately to prevent Anelka scoring a 5 point try. If Mike Dean was also watching a game of rugby, then his decision not to award Chelsea a penalty would be correct. The rest of us however were watching football, and were expecting the resulting 12-yard free attempt on goal that never came.
The second half was similarly without much to entertain the 75,000 plus at Old Trafford, and similarly the most active players in this encounter were the officials. The linesman failed to give a blatant offside from which substitute and man of the moment Drogba ran through to double the visitors lead.
With 10 minutes to go the overseeing eye of Mike Dean and co made sure their was a somewhat more interesting end to a over anticipated game. Sub Macheda tried to counjour up the same rescuing act that helped the Red Devils clinch the title a year ago, and he was half way to repeating his heroics as he turned in a cross that was helped on its way by the clear use of his arm
The home team couldn’t even keep up the excitement provided by the Italian’s goal and rather ‘handed over’ their place at the Premier League’s summit to the visitors. Ancelotti will be delighted that his controversial decision to leave his main man in the wings for his team’s biggest show payed off; as will Chelsea fans. The Theatre of Dreams became the venue for the true return of an old face. Cole has showcased his undoubted skill and magic that will ensure that he takes centre stage in Ancelotti’s dramas more often.
Who will be Chelsea’s next surprise performer in Ancelotti’s curious plots?…Is the title now firmly in Chelsea’s grasp?…Please leave your commments below…
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