Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 26 Oct 2017
Columnist Giles Smith gives his fan’s-eye view of last night’s proceedings at the Bridge, while ducking out the way of the odd football or two…
Those of us privileged enough to be in the extreme easterly portions of the Matthew Harding Stand last night had a good vantage point from which to enjoy the degree of swerve on that Willian shot for the second goal. We had a perfect angle to see the ball leave his foot and cut a low, fast, curving path across the six-yard box, arcing wickedly beyond the goalkeeper and around a defender before landing up in that somehow very satisfying portion of the goal where the net meets the post. Attempting to describe the ball’s rate of bend, you inevitably find yourself reaching for the approved mathematical term: ‘banana-y’.
It was also one of those goals where you had no doubt about the player’s minutely calibrated intentions at the moment the ball left his boot, unlike certain Puskas Award-winning goals we could mention where an element of doubt will always remain.
However, it was particularly interesting to weigh Willian’s late and gratifyingly match-clinching shot in the light of the debate which seems to be going on around the physical properties of the ball being used for the Carabao Cup - the Mitre Delta (as opposed to the Nike Ordem V, which is the orb of choice for the Premier League). The Carabao’s chosen ball found itself accused of being, relatively speaking, a little light and unmanageable.
‘It’s impossible to score with a ball like that,’ Pep Guardiola had gone so far as to say, the previous night, after Manchester City’s game against Wolves had proceeded blankly to penalties. But then Willian came along, and it turns out that it’s perfectly possible to score with it, in fact, with some skill and a little bit of imagination – a point that Antonio Rudiger had already made, of course, with that perfectly placed, looping first-half header. But Rudiger admirably admitted afterwards that he couldn’t see the ball at the point of impact with his head because he was blinded by the floodlights. So I guess we needed Willian to come along later and make it absolutely clear that, despite what people are saying, this is ball that can be very deliberately scored with.
That said, Guardiola may have had a point more broadly. Was it just the nature of the game (lots of fast breaks that needed to be cut off at the pass, and a certain amount of defensive desperation at times) or was the ball flying around a little more spectacularly than normal? For whatever reason, last night’s match did seem to produce a possibly unusual number of ‘mind the windows’ moments.
In the first half, a sliced Rudiger shot climbed from distance to the snowier reaches of the west side of the Shed, where shots seldom set foot. And a punted Everton clearance in the second half made it, without oxygen, to the underside of the West Stand roof, which takes a bit of punting. Coincidence? Or something about the ball?
It made me reflect that I’d had a family too early. By which I mean that it used to be a considerable source of disappointment to my sons, when they were growing up, that we sat in an area of the ground (fairly high up, above a corner) where the ball never arrived, nor even looked like arriving, meaning that they never got a touch, from one end of the game to the next. They should have been young now, clearly. Oh to be five years old in the era of this ball.
Anyway, should we get to play at home again in this competition in the future, the way is open for some pre-match or half-time entertainment with a difference. The ball excitingly alters the parameters. Never mind elaborate and, in fact, nigh-on impossible feats of keepy-uppy by award-winning freestylers, as diverting as those are. And never mind the crossbar challenge. The big question is: can you get one over the Shed, through the window and onto the coffee table in Ken Bates’s Chelsea Village apartment? Score extra for breaking a vase on the way.