Thursday, 10 January 2013

Chelsea 0 Swansea City 2

It didn’t take long for the seeds of dissent to be sown. Ahead of kick-off, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck strutted out onto the Stamford Bridge to present a small keepsake to Petr Cech on the occasion of his 400th club appearance.

As soon as Buck’s long, black winter coat came into view between the technical areas, the entire stadium chorused “Super Frankie Lampard,” while a considerable number waved homemade signs begging the hierarchy and the oligarchy to draw up a document and slip it in front of their revered number eight. 

But for Buck and company, it was just the beginning of an uncomfortable evening. A night of open revolt and mutiny. A night of simmering frustrations being vented by the many to the few. And to make them all sleep a little more uneasily, 90 minutes in which Chelsea’s expensively-assembled stars were mugged by a Swansea side superior in both technical ability and straightforward desire. 

The homages to Lampard were frequent and heart-felt, there was a standing ovation for deposed manager Roberto Di Matteo in the 16th minute - 16 being, of course, his shirt number at Chelsea - and plenty of hatred for Rafa Benitez whom, you sense, even if he led the team to six-goal victories for the rest of the season, would never be able to please everyone. 

By the closing stages, as Branislav Ivanovic gifted Swansea a second goal that puts them within touching distance of the League Cup final at Wembley, the place was a seething pit of anger. “F**k off Benitez, you’re not welcome here,” they sang and called for the reinstatement of either Di Matteo or Jose Mourinho.

Watching it all from the back of the Matthew Harding lower with Huw, a Swans fan trying really hard not to blow cover by celebrating, and Jesam, a Chelsea fan trying not to blow his top at the dreadful performance, gave a great perspective into just how unsettled everyone is at Stamford Bridge right now. 

There were as many songs of protest that songs of encouragement, and the former were certainly the louder. This was certainly no place to try and reason that Benitez should be given time to clear out the old guard and given funds to spend.

My visit to Stamford Bridge means I have just West Ham and Crystal Palace to go now to complete all the London league grounds, and it was certainly good value at £12.50 admission. But for that, we got a very peculiar back row seat with our view of the far goal obscured by the overhang of the roof.

It meant a lot of switching from a standing position, to a mid-way perch on the back of the seat to a forward lean when the action was up the other end. There was all manner of musical chairs anyway, with large sections of the stand on their feet for long periods and those behind left with little alternative but to follow suit. 

Stamford Bridge is often mocked for being akin to a library but, given the strength of feeling against everyone from Fernando Torres to Benitez to anyone in a suit, it was pretty loud on this occasion. The travelling fans were good too, often piping up over the top of those around us. 

And with good reason. Michael Laudrup had devised a strategy to contain Chelsea and take a useful scoreline back to south Wales for the second leg. It’s an understatement to say it went pretty well. 

Chelsea did little in the first-half, aside from making a couple of chances for Ramires and Juan Mata which were directed straight at Gerhard Tremmel. Throughout, Chelsea showed some nice build-up but almost seemed to overindulge with an unnecessary additional pass that enabled Swansea to step in. 

I hadn’t seen the best of Michu when I saw Swansea at Tottenham a couple of weeks ago, but he didn’t let me down here. Ivanovic helped, dallying on the ball and allowing Jonathan de Guzman to swipe it from him. He fed Michu, who curled a beautiful goal past Ross Turnbull for a 16th of the season, sparking fury all around us.

Ivanovic is typically so reliable on the ball and, indeed, I’d picked him in a composite top Premier League XI earlier that day. I should have chosen Michu too, who represents one of the best pieces of transfer business anywhere for a long time.

The second-half saw Benitez succumb to the will of the crowd and introduce first Lampard and then Demba Ba, both to great ovations. But neither could make the desired impact, except when Ba was brought down by Tremmel after over-hitting the ball and was booked for diving in a heart-in-mouth moment for the Swansea stopper. 

Moments later, Ivanovic misjudged a backpass and Danny Graham gambled and gamboled in, rounded Turnbull and scored the goal that will most likely settle the tie. Things got even uglier when Ba was denied a reply by a linesman’s flag in injury time.

Stamford Bridge was not a happy place. Benitez has never looked more “interim”. 

Next Match: Bit of action this Saturday, perhaps Luton Town v Skelmersdale in the FA Trophy.