THE STORY OF A SEASON - PART ELEVEN
Chelseafc.com continues a look back over another eventful year at the club with the words reported at the time. Time for a big change.
The first game in February was the middle of three away games that had long looked likely to determine the quality of Chelsea's championship challenge.
The trip to Old Trafford had been a big let down and now came Anfield ahead of a visit to Villa Park.
'With both sides on 48 points, a winner would take a clear advantage moving towards the final third of the campaign and the race to overcome leaders Manchester United,' said the Pre-Match Briefing for the Liverpool game.
Man U were two points clear of us with a game in hand. Liverpool, like Chelsea, had been enjoying their days at home less than away excursions, with a run of three draws at Anfield going into the game.
A fourth looked likely as the match entered its 88th minute - but then Fernando Torres netted twice to render futile what had been a rearguard action by the Blues after Lampard was dismissed in the 59th minute. The red card was a tackle on Xabi Alonso when the Chelsea vice-captain had won the ball.
The decision by Mike Riley altered what had previously been a balanced game of very few chances for either side.
The sense of injustice was all the greater because of a bad Steven Gerrard challenge moments before that had not elicited the same sanction.
However before the end of the game there was an unnecessary boot-up challenge by Bosingwa on Benayoun by the corner flag. That also went unpunished.
Liverpool 2-0Chelsea at Anfield on 01-02-2009
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Ballack, Mikel, Lampard; Kalou (Stoch 84), Anelka (Drogba 68), Malouda (Deco 68).
Sent-off Lampard 59.
Booked A Cole 21, Mikel 52, Terry 61.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio; Mascherano (Babel 82), Alonso; Kuyt, Gerrard (c), Riera (Benayoun 73); Torres (Ngog 94).
Scorer Torres 88, 90+4.
Booked Mascherano 19, Alonso 45, Gerrard 69, Arbeloa 90.
'Lampard's sending-off changed the game one million per cent because we lost the middle,' Scolari insisted.
'Before that the game was 50-50. We didn't have more chances than Liverpool, Liverpool had two or three chances more for sure. But the game was a normal game.
'I only ask that the referee and the men from the FA look at the video.'
They did and a claim for wrongful dismissal was upheld. As a result, Lampard's three-match suspension was withdrawn, the second time in 12 months for the player and the second time in the season for the club following John Terry at Man City.
What it couldn't repair was the fact we had again failed against a top of the table side and were now outsiders in the title race.
A rare snow covering in the London area was the backdrop to preparations for what eventually proved a highly significant next fixture.
Hull City had never beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 17 attempts in league and cup. Hilario was in goal for their next try, Cech having taken a knock at Anfield, and Quaresma, signed as the winter transfer window closed, made his debut.
On loan from Inter, the winger became the sixth Portuguese player in the first team squad and was reunited with Scolari having played for him at international level. Hopes were for a new source of penetration against packed defences.
Quaresma played on the right of attack with Anelka in the centre and Kalou on the left. Ballack made his 100th appearance but Drogba was again left on the bench.
Hull's early season flirtation with the top had subsided and they were 11th. They played like so many others at the Bridge during the season, with a five-man midfield and committed defence.
Chelsea's attacking promise in the first half gave way to a poor display after the interval.
Terry should have scored as early as the second minute; it took a good save to deny Quaresma early on and Ballack went close with a free-kick before the break. Chelsea could also point to a legitimate penalty shout in the second half but for every chance the Blues had after the break, Hull came close to landing a sucker punch.
Chelsea 0-0 Hull at Stamford Bridge on 07-02-2009
Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Ballack (Deco 72), Mikel (Belletti 56), Lampard; Quaresma (Drogba 62), Anelka, Kalou.
Booked Mikel 26.
Hull (4-2-3-1): Duke; Ricketts, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson; Ashbee (c), Marney; Garcia, Geovanni (France 80), Kilbane; Fagan.
Booked Ashbee 47
Chelsea had won just twice in nine league games. Ray Wilkins spoke of anxiety in the team whenever an early goal didn't come as he stood in for Scolari in the post-match press conference. The Brazilian had already spoken his last to the media as Chelsea manager.
The Hull game had been on a Saturday. He was dismissed on Monday afternoon. In came Guus Hiddink as temporary coach until the end of the season with the Russian Football Federation generously allowing him to combine the extra work with his 'day job' as their national coach.
'I have hoped that one day he [Hiddink] would be Chelsea manager,' wrote Pat Nevin whose love for football had been rekindled by covering South Korea's 2002 World Cup campaign for radio. He witnessed first hand the impact the coach had on that nation.
'If he can have half that effect again over the next few months we are in for an enjoyable and entertaining time,' the column continued.
The Dutch master coach allowed Wilkins to continue to prepare the team for an FA Cup fifth round tie at Watford before taking full control, and it was notable that in his team selection, Wilkins put Drogba back in.
He also gave 21-year-old Michael Mancienne his debut at right-back, against a League One side coached by Mancienne's former youth and reserve manager at Chelsea, Brendan Rodgers. Cech was fit again although Terry was suspended.
Drogba's recall certainly wasn't at the expense of Nicolas Anelka who hit a hat-trick after Watford had taken a 69th lead in the face of Blues domination throughout.
Wilkins brought Stoch on for Mikel but after five stressful minutes, it was an experienced operator in front of goal who took over.
Ivanovic nodded on Lampard's corner and as the ball fell at the far post, Anelka with back to goal hooked in from little more than a yard out. Then Cole crossed from the left and Anelka's header on the run was guided perfectly inside the post.
Still the Hornets' string had not been totally drawn. It took a good Cech save to keep out McAnuff on 90 minutes but it was the Blues turn to counter-attack with great effect. Stoch and Kalou combined down the left and when the ball was centred, Anelka's shot from 15 yards out was pin point.
Watford 1- 3 Chelsea at Vicarage Road on 14-02-2009
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Mancienne, Alex, Ivanovic, A Cole; Ballack (Belletti 82), Mikel (Stoch 72), Lampard (c); Anelka, Drogba, Kalou.
Scorer Anelka 74, 76, 90+1
Booked A Cole.
Watford (4-4-2): Loach; Hoyte, Mariappa, DeMerit (c), Doyley; Smith, L Williamson (Cowie 66), Jenkins, McAnuff; Rasiak (Priskin 66), Hoskins (O'Toole 75).
Scorer Priskin 69
To be continued…