GILES SMITH: ONE FOR THE PARTISANS
Columnist and Chelsea fan Giles Smith finds numbers going through his head this week, and puts some of them, along with words inspired by the team's midweek win, down on the page here…
Sunderland 3 Chelsea 4? I don't suppose any of us were predicting that particular scoreline at the beginning of yesterday evening, or would have been ready to back it strongly had it been offered to us as an option just before 7.45pm. Studying the form and assessing the probabilities, you would probably have decided there was a greater chance of the game having to be abandoned at half-time on account of an influx of hornets.
Here's what I was imagining, just for the record: that it would probably be quite tight; that we would dominate possession, create a small but telling number of chances and win narrowly, possibly 0-1 or (having conceded a slightly flaky goal against the run of play, following a corner) 1-2. At no point would the game be interrupted by hornets. And then everyone would come home.
But when was football ever predictable? More particularly, when was football ever predictable this season?
So, instead, we got an all out, bell-ringing, hellzapoppin, seven-goal classic, whose outcome was uncertain until the very last seconds, and featuring, on our side of the entertainment, sustained passages of creative excellence coupled with some defending which would have had the manager tearing his hair out, if he hadn't already done that a few days ago using Fernando Torres's clippers.
It was panto season come early back there at times. 'Oh yes he did.' 'Oh no he didn't.' 'Oh dear he has.'
'Great for the neutrals,' people like to say, after occasions like that. And, of course, that's right - although, let's be clear, neutrals don't really count, in any important sense. Unlike partisan fans, they're very predictable in their tastes and will always favour a free-flowing, end-to-end game with seven goals in it than, say, a 0-1 away victory midweek, earned largely as a result of grubbily controlling the midfield and effectively bringing the shutters down after about the 17th minute.
Yet when did the neutrals ever travel all the way to the north east of England on a wintry Wednesday night, the way our supporters did yesterday? A club which set itself up to meet the needs of the neutrals, over and above all else, would be a mad club. Neutrals are all take and no give and, nice though I suppose it is to have them standing around in the background, looking on (as long as they don't get in the way, or offer too many opinions), football has no real duty to them, when push comes to shove.
Which, I suppose, is just another way of saying that a bit of tighter defending on our part probably wouldn't hurt. Then again, if we're scoring one more than we concede, then I guess everyone's happy - neutrals and partisans alike.
Apart from Sunderland fans, obviously. And, of course, our manager.
Was that Eden Hazard's best performance in a Chelsea shirt? He was stunning, steaming forward and across on those runs which seem to move through gear after gear, the ball apparently suctioned to his foot. Sunderland tried putting four players on him at one point, but it still didn't work.
Two goals, one beautifully crossed assist. And who stuck out a leg to block the cross and concede the corner which led to Sunderland's second goal? So all that destructive charging up at the top end, and decisive defensive interventions, too.
Shame the corner didn't get cleared, of course. But you can't have everything. Or rather, you can have everything and the game ends 3-4.
Some statistics tell us more than others. Did you know, for instance, that the seven minutes between Gary Cahill's headed equaliser against Southampton on Sunday and John Terry's header which put us 2-1 up represented the shortest gap between two goals scored by the members of a Premier League team's central defensive partnership for 14 months?
All true, as long as you can trust what you read in the newspapers. No other Premier League team's central defensive partners have scored goals closer together for more than a year and two months.
Isn't it amazing the stories that the game throws up? Fascinating occurrences. Outcomes that even Hollywood's best paid writers couldn't dream up.
Except maybe not. It's the 14 months that's a bit of a letdown, isn't it? If it had been 'since 1934', say, or, best of all, 'ever', your ears might have pricked up a little more than they did. Although, even then, your ears might not have pricked up that high
And what of the previous central defensive partnership, all those months ago, whose goals were separated by fewer than seven minutes? Were those both headers, too? I'll need to go back to the history books on this one and let you know. But I bet they weren't headers as good as the two on Sunday - Cahill's twist-and-fling number and Terry's towering climb. Those were the best headers scored with the shortest gap between them by a team's central defensive partnership ever. That's just a fact.
Anyway, here's another statistic: no Chelsea striker has scored an away goal in the Premier League in 2013. The last striker to do so in the Premier League was Fernando Torres, away at Sunderland in the 3-1 victory almost exactly a year ago.
Hmm. Worrying, eh? Or is it? Does it matter? If we hadn't qualified for the Champions League last season, and if we were currently lagging miles behind the leaders in the table, like Manchester United, you could argue that it did.
Given that we did qualify for the Champions League and are currently second in the league, a year without an away goal by a striker in the Premier League could hardly be said to be holding us back - or even to say very much about us and the way we play football at all.
Let's try another one: before last night, Chelsea had been caught offside more than any other Premier League team this season - 43 times. Does that mean that our players are suckers for an offside trap? Or does that mean that we push forward harder than any of our rivals and are, accordingly, the victim of a greater number of marginal decisions?
You can do almost anything you like with statistics. Any story you have in mind, they'll help you tell it. Which is why, in the end, it's always better to go back to the result - Sunderland 3 Chelsea 4, for example. The result is always the most solid statistic.