The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
It’s never with a feeling of great moral comfort that you can get excited about a player’s injury, but at the same time, if Didier Drogba’s now-surgically-repaired knee broke away from Chelsea and founded its own three-ring circus, the only surprising thing about it would be the girth of the bearded lady. It’s got the club-v.-country subplot, the Drogba’s-imploding-relationship-with-Chelsea subplot, and best of all, the shot-at-redemption subplot for Andriy Shevchenko, who’s suddenly gone from being the most highly paid translator in England to being the thin bright thread connecting Chelsea to the faint hope of a championship.
Barring a major January signing (and not of Ronaldinho), Chelsea will need Shevchenko to play like the goalscorer he used to be in order to have any chance of keeping up with Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal. What’s tantalizing about this, of course, is that ever since Shevchenko arrived at Chelsea and began playing like the spirit of a lake that’s dying of pollution, there’s been a nagging sense that his decline might not really be final, that he’s been unfairly thrust aside, that if he could just get minutes he’d be the player he was in Milan… Well, now we have a chance to find out.
To that end, I decided to chronicle his performance in the Chelsea – Sunderland match today, a match in which, Drogba having gone off to swear that he loved and hated his club to a succession of alternating nurses, Shevchenko played every minute. Here’s what took place in the driving rain at Stamford Bridge today…
Chelsea 2 – 0 Sunderland: The Match as Shevchenko Played It
12′ — Sheva kicks the ball out of bounds while trying an easy pass to Solomon Kalou.
13′ — Sheva is flagged offside.
16′ — After a decent run, Sheva successfully passes the ball to Shaun Wright-Phillips. An odd definition of success, admittedly.
19′ — For the second time, he loses control of an easy pass to Kalou after dropping back three-quarters of the way down the pitch. Why is he playing at left back? Is this one of those tactics Abramovich draws up himself?
19′ — “It can get cold in Russia in the winter. Very cold,” the announcer muses, for no reason I can name.
22′ — SHEVCHENKO SCORES! It’s a routine header, but he makes no mistake as he times his jump well and nods the ball into the net. Kalou’s cross was very good—this is why Shevchenko should consider playing in front of him.
34′ — Once again, however, he drops back to the fullback position, where he has an ill-advised run snuffed out and loses the ball. It’s worth pointing out that Sunderland aren’t exactly fielding a scudetto-quality defense.
37′ — Misses a header, but wins a corner.
40′ — Looks wistfully at a Joe Cole cross as it sails a short way overhead.
41′ — Gets the ball near the box, makes a nice little wriggly move (like a fish, which suits the weather), then kicks it straight to the defense.
HALF-TIME — He has the only goal of the game, but has looked out of place and out of step for most of the half. From the rueful sigh he heaves as the camera follows him off the pitch, he would appear to be aware of it.
49′ — Slips and falls as he goes after a pass from Mikel. Sunderland take the ball.
50′ — Passes up a shooting opportunity to lay in a ball for Lampard; there’s a confused bobble and Sunderland come away with it.
51′ — Mistimes a run and winds up too far ahead of Joe Cole’s very plausible-looking cross.
56′ — …not really involved in play…
60′ — …
63′ — …
65′ — Briefly touches the ball at midfield and is fouled.
68′ — Called for a foul on Danny Higginbotham.
69′ — He gets the ball near the box, but his attempt to elude the defense resembles that of a C-list celebrity making an escape from the paparazzi. He moves very slowly, and his heart doesn’t seem to be in it.
74′ — …
79′ — …
83′ — Tries a cross for Pizarro which is taken away by Sunderland in the air.
FULL TIME — Well, it’s a mixed report. On the one hand, he scored a goal, his fourth of the season, and that’s what he’s there for, after all. And Chelsea did rather easily win the match. On the other hand, he contributed positively to about three minutes of play despite splashing around on the pitch for the entire game. Sunderland were easy opposition, but he looked lost, sighed a lot, seemed bothered by the rain, and generally wore the expression of a man in whom the thought of his warm, dry living room and its impossibly luxurious entertainment center has assumed the dimensions of a paradisiacal fixation.
I take no pleasure in writing this, as I would love a chance to watch the old Shevchenko again, but nothing that he did today made me think “he just needs more playing time” or “he just needs a return to Milan.” Since he scored the goal, the match reports will probably rate him at a 6, but this performance was really a 4 plus two-tenths of a second of sharpness.
by Brian Phillips · December 8, 2007