Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts

As with so many things, timing is of the essence when a player fires in a goal worth remembering reckons Chelsea fan Giles Smith, as he pens this week’s column… 

It might seem kind of odd to be mentioning it, given what happened subsequently, but… what a goal that was by Eden Hazard. One for the photo album, you would ordinarily be saying. The run, the control, the creation of space, the perfect placement of the shot… It was the kind of goal that tends to leave a warm glow and have people talking about it for days afterwards – provided, that is, that your team doesn’t go and leak three goals at the other end immediately afterwards.

It was a funny weekend, though, for that kind of thing. Something very similar had happened to Victor Wanyama at Anfield on the Sunday. The Tottenham midfielder thundered in a proper goal-of-the-season contender and almost certainly the best goal that he will ever score - and virtually nobody even mentioned it afterwards because they were too busy discussing contentious penalty decisions, marginal offside calls and the game’s tumultuously chaotic conclusion.

Flash forward a day, and there’s Hazard producing a moment of possibly even purer magic in the 82nd minute at Vicarage Road. (There was a lot more to it, after all, than a big swing of the foot.) Yet within moments we were conceding the fifth, sixth and seventh goals that have somehow gone past us since Andreas Christensen limped off with a hamstring injury against Bournemouth. And, just like that, Hazard’s brilliant strike was destined to be more overlooked than the floor of the Sistine Chapel.

There’s a basic lesson to be drawn here, I guess: if you’re going to score a world-class goal, and you want people to spend a bit of time noticing that you have done so, try not to do it in a match in which Liverpool snatch the lead in the dying seconds, only to have it snatched away from them with a penalty flagged by the referee’s assistant. And try, also, not to do it in a match in which, down to 10 men, and having gone a goal behind, your team struggles back to equalise with eight minutes remaining, only to lose 4-1, thereby prompting an avalanche of ultimately baseless speculation about the imminent departure of the manager.

To put it simply: choose a blanker canvas. That’s our tip for Eden Hazard for next time. And for Victor Wanyama, too, not that we care that much in his case.

That result at Watford did rather discolour the beginning of the week. One might reasonably have found oneself reflecting back ruefully to that innocent period last Wednesday, just before Christensen got injured, when we were at home to Bournemouth, with less than half an hour gone and the score standing at 0-0. The world seemed a very much brighter place then, rich with all sorts of possibilities.

Frankly, it still seemed pretty rich on Sunday when Liverpool and Tottenham drew, which seemed like the best of all possible outcomes, relative to our league position. But then, the next thing you knew, it was 4-1 to Watford and the sky had substantially clouded over.

Yet maybe the best thing to do is to regard those last two games as our pioneering, go-ahead version of the winter break that everybody is talking about, after which the proper business can begin again with renewed batteries and a thoroughly refreshed attitude next Monday.

At that point, we get a home Premier League game against West Brom, followed by a home FA Cup fifth-round tie against Hull (which, being on a Friday night, should have novelty on its side, at the very least), followed by a home Champions League match against Barcelona. Then come back-to-back away ties in Manchester, which isn’t particularly convenient, unless you’re of a mind to stay over in between times. And after that there’s Palace at home before the Barcelona tie concludes in Spain.

Pundits have been making a lot of the Everest-like nature of that little run of fixtures but why dwell on the dark side? Remember January, when we only played Arsenal, again and again and again? February going into March looks like a veritable Rio carnival of diversity and entertainment by comparison. It would be ungrateful not to looking forward to it.

It would also be ungrateful not to acknowledge that it was Ruud Gullit, formerly of this parish, who was called upon to draw the home balls for the fifth round of the FA Cup. And, as he has done so often in the past for this club, the Dutch legend delivered.