GILES SMITH: TOO THIN?

This week, Chelsea supporter and columnist Giles Smith considers two games in the last three days, one involving his team and one not...

 

Someone amusingly tweeted the BBC website during the goalless first half of our FA Cup tie last night to wonder whether we were holding out for 'a money-spinning replay'.

A good joke, that, though, of course, it lost quite a lot of its satirical edge early in the second half when Fernando Torres calmly allowed his shoulder to deflect in a Ramires shot - another legendary finish from the Spaniard to add to the one he coolly slotted home using his backside in the Champions League that time. The point being, of course, that they all count.

And then the joke lost even more of its edge when Victor Moses scored the second.

Still, it was good to find some humour on Twitter, where the mere announcement of the teams last night seemed to prompt a gigantic mushroom cloud of fretfulness. Eight changes? A full debut for Nathan Ake (who was great, incidentally)? A start for Yossi Benayoun? A place in the side for Paulo Ferreira? What was the manager up to?

Well, what he was up to was picking a team to beat Middlesbrough away from home in a Wednesday night cup tie. Credit where it's due.

Still a question remains: are we doing too much? It's a question all of us confront in our lives from time to time. Are we spreading ourselves a bit thin? Would we do better to narrow our priorities and focus more carefully on a less hectic agenda?

It's nearly March and Chelsea are still fighting at 100 percent capacity on three fronts - Europa League, FA Cup, top-four league position. An interim manager was appointed in late November, and has already overseen 28 games, which is quite a big interim. There has been just one week in that time which didn't have a match in the middle of it - and that was an international week, so even if the manager got a rest, most of the players didn't.

Prague

In such a context, it's tempting to think of adopting the Arsenal strategy - flunk out of everything else at the earliest decent opportunity and just concentrate on doing the bare minimum to ensure qualification for the Champions League next season. Which, in our case, would perhaps enable the reviving purchase of Radamel Falcao in the summer, and, in Arsenal's case, would enable the reviving purchase of someone we haven't heard of from the French second division, who turns out to be quite good if, frustratingly, not quite brilliant and perhaps just not, in the end, all that interested.

Give up the cups, in other words - and conserve all available energies for going undistractedly for the crucial league place, Arsenal-style.

Now, some would no doubt balk at such a conservative and manifestly money-driven approach. Others would call it pragmatic, and they might have a point. But I think what we can all agree on is that, while this manner of operating might be all right with the consciences at Arsenal, it's just not Chelsea.


Call it a mark of the unforeseeably strange turn this season has taken, but there I sat, on Monday night, in front of the television, egging West Ham to reverse the habit of a recent lifetime and pull off a decent home result against Spurs.

Caring about what happened in a game between West Ham and Tottenham… well, I can't exactly remember the last time that happened to me, but I have a feeling that it was somewhere around never. Or possibly even a bit longer ago than that. Ordinarily, that fixture is a distant battle in a far-off land as far as we're concerned, and one feels free to let them get on with it and read about it in the papers later, if then.

But such is the new reality (temporarily, I'm sure) following our recent run of slightly baffling and sometimes starkly unfortunate league form. So there I sat, quietly urging those plucky Hammers to pull it out of the bag, in honour of the late Bobby Moore if nothing else, and willing the planets for once to align in favour of Andy Carroll, such that he might find himself facing the right way at the right time, rather than giving every appearance of being someone who has wandered in from the car park by mistake and can't work out what all the noise is about.

Fat lot of good it did, of course. Having implausibly held a shaky 2-1 lead (oh, the embarrassment of one's almost girlish excitement at that point), West Ham, to nobody's special surprise, contrived to blow it, with Gareth Bale, as ever, pinging one in from about half a mile away in the second minute of time added on.

Bale, it seems, is now doing that one-man-team thing that Steven Gerrard used to do for Liverpool, in happier days for the Anfield club - i.e. running around with a faulty fusebox in his shorts while his largely confused team mates stand in a huddle, like sheep, and then, with the referee already looking at his watch, rescuing key games and even cup finals by hitting and hoping from a position just inside the half-way line.

In fact, didn't Gerrard once do that very thing against West Ham? In an FA Cup final? Taking it to extra time? Which Liverpool then won on pens? I believe he did. (It's beholden on all of us to know our history, so never let it be forgotten that Liverpool have won everything there is to win in football on pens.) West Ham must be fed-up with one-man teams, though also slightly disappointed, seven years on and five managers later, that they still haven't worked out a way to stop them.

Anyway, the point is, if it hadn't been for those peculiar and ultimately inexplicable turn-ups for our team at Reading and Newcastle, and at home to Southampton, QPR and Norwich, West Ham v. Tottenham on a Monday night would have been of no concern to people like us whatsoever. Frankly, we could have afforded to lose to Manchester City, too, last Sunday, and laughed warmly and heartily about it on the way home afterwards instead of turning our hollow eyes on the table's points column.

This is the dark underbelly of the recent patch of freakishness. Some of us are missing a perfectly decent night's telly and tuning into Upton Park instead. Lord knows what kind of miserable matches we'll be taking a forlorn interest in if things don't turn themselves around soon. And what kinds of things we'll be missing on the telly.