As the two Manchester clubs battled for top of the league supremacy earlier in the afternoon, third placed Chelsea didn’t mind the attention being focused elsewhere. Thanks to Manager Andre Villas-Boas, who has quietly but confidently shaped Chelsea into a formidable side, the team went into the Super Sunday match full of confidence after Man Utd were thrashed 6-1 by their noisy neighbours and biggest rivals Man City at Old Trafford, making it a theatre of nightmares for the Red Devils.
The Chelsea team arrived at a ground in Loftus Road where the home fans grew accustomed in seeing their side fail to win. Queens Park Rangers, popularly known as QPR, haven’t won in the last eight attempts at home, whilst Chelsea have won six in their last seven in the league. But QPR were up for Sunday’s game. While Chelsea’s bigger derbies were usually against the likes of Spurs and Arsenal, QPR often see Chelsea as their biggest rivals and their fans were full of voice on Sunday.
Villas-Boas had the luxury of resting a few players against Genk in the Champions League midweek and still came out with a decisive victory. The likes of Juan Mata, Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge didn’t play midweek but returned to the first team as the considerable front three that was ‘supposed’ to put the fear in QPR defence. John Terry was also recalled.
The match started slowly until in the 6th minute David Luiz failed to deal with a high ball only to nudge Helgusson in attempt to clear it on the second bounce. Referee Chris Foy immediately pointed to the spot for one of the softest penalties you will see this season. The penalty was converted by Helgusson himself making it a shocking 1-0 lead against the Blues. After my delight of seeing the Reds wail at Old Trafford, I never expected the same would happen here. I was still sure that Chelsea would get back into the game. But I hoped for too much, as on the 33rd minute Bosingwa challenged ex-Blue Shawn Wright-Phillips for possession outside the box and as Wright-Phillips fell to the ground, Foy immediately stopped play and issued a red card.
The ref’s decision seemed to be based on the assumption that Bosingwa was the last man standing and hence the red card. Now, whether he was or wasn’t the decision was completely unfounded as the incident wasn’t even an infringement at all, let alone a red card! In fact, after both players went down, Wright-Phillips got to his feet to play on.
10 men vs 11. Difficult? Naah! We can still get a point from this and if possible even victory was still on the cards.
Later in the half, Drogba, who at 33 still has much to offer, saw red for a Fernando Torres’s tackle against Stoke City and this time Foy had little choice. Drogba did win the ball, but with two feet raised and studs showing, the Ivorian should have known better, especially considering Drogba is only in the team as Torres was suspended for the exact same incident.
9 men vs 11… a mountain to climb even against a newly promoted team like QPR. The North London derby scheduled for next week against Arsenal without the first choice right back and the Gunners’ nightmare who scored 11 goals against them in their last 9 meetings. Wenger must be delighted.
But back to the match at hand, as it entered the second half, Chelsea should have been on the back foot. Down to nine men and with one goal down, they dominated the entire second half and should have equalised when Ivanovic, who was brilliant throughout, played a delightful cross with the outside of his boot for Anelka to head straight at Paddy Kenny. Lampard kicked the post in disgust.
With Chelsea playing with huge gaps in their formation, space was always open for QPR to exploit and Taarabt did just that when his defence-splitting pass found Luke Young. Had his right footed shot not flashed across the face of goal, the home side could have sealed the win right there. But Chelsea were reprieved and fought on with the nine men giving everything they had. The great irony was that, once reduced to nine men for 50 minutes of the match, Chelsea performed admirably with more possession, more passes, more threats and had at least one plausible second-half penalty appeal waved away. Yet, a final charge sheet of seven yellow and two red cards told an accurate story of self-defeating unruliness. The Blues were defeated but this was a loss to be proud of.
While the intricate skills of David Silva and Mario Balotelli will be the deserved focus for analysis in Manchester, this was an upset that owed most to indiscipline of quite breathtaking proportions. Following the match, Villas-Boas engaged in furious debate with Foy, claiming the match official was swayed by the intimidating home fans and refereed “unfairly”. Villas-Boas told the press, “It’s the third time that a referee has directly influenced the result for us and we’re not happy. In three games there have been blatant refereeing mistakes.”
Why blame Villas-Boas? I myself think it wasn’t 11 against 9, it was 12 against 9. It was a suitably chaotic ending to an afternoon, described by QPR boss Warnock is as “the greatest” of his career, that was compelling as much for what went wrong as what went right. His main response was simple: “When you are beaten like that and have two men sent off, it’s easy to blame the referee. When you’re young, you do that.”
Noisy neighbours? We’ve got them too.