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GILES SMITH’S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Filing results, stretching runs and upping revs are topics for discussion in the latest column from Chelsea fan Giles Smith…

Still unbeaten, then. In mid-November. Which, however you want to look at it, is an impressively accomplished and encouragingly comfortable position for a team to be in as it goes into what feels like the seventh international break of the 2018/19 season, but is, in fact, merely the third.

And all hail Maurizio Sarri for already, despite all these unhelpful interruptions, making it into the record books by managing to go unbeaten for his first 12 Premier League games, eclipsing a run of 11 games, held by Frank Clark of Nottingham Forest since 1994/95.

And, for those who accept that football existed, at least in some more or less recognisable form, before 1992 and the creation of the Premier League: Sarri is the first new manager of an English club to go unbeaten for his first dozen games in charge since Tom Whittaker at Arsenal in 1947 – or, if you like, just shortly before Arsene Wenger came in.
 

Oh, yes: and let’s not forget that Chelsea are now also the only unbeaten club in all competitions this season, not just in the Premier League, but anywhere in Europe’s five major leagues, meaning you would have to be on a plane for quite a long time before you found a team doing any better. That’s a run of 18 games in total, including four Europa League victories and two wins in the Carabao Cup. Not wishing to tempt fate or anything, but some of us are starting to forget what defeats feel like. (Not particularly pleasant, as I recall; but I’ll continue going back through the history books and get back to you on this in due course.)

We do, however, recall what 0-0 draws feel like. They feel very much like the game against Everton last Sunday. Which is to say, pretty frustrating, all things considered. Also a little unexpected. A 0-0 score-line certainly sits bafflingly alongside many of the stats for the season, which reveal us to be, among other things, currently the second most irresistible side in the Premier League in terms of shots and goals.

Our players have so far taken a total of 217 shots at goal, putting us narrowly behind only Manchester City (246) and well ahead of Liverpool (178) and Wolves (174), who are third and fourth respectively. And we have used those shots to score the second highest number of Premier League goals after City (27, as opposed to their 36. Liverpool have scored 23). None of this really betokens a side having trouble in front of goal, much though Sunday’s final score could have implied as much.
 

But of course, Sunday’s score, when you analysed it, was less about having trouble in front of goal and more about having some almost eerily bad luck in front of goal. You’ll remember the attempts that struck the woodwork, the others that struck bits of Jordan Pickford, and so forth, plus, of course, the times the ball streaked clean across the Everton six-yard box, or found a marginally offside Alvaro Morata.

Oh, and let’s not forget the reasonable penalty shout, and also that volley that Marcos Alonso belted in the direction of the top corner from an eye-wateringly wide angle, which would have been a work of art fit to stand alongside the very best created by Marco van Basten if Pickford hadn’t somehow managed to pummel it away.

All in all, then, and taking a couple of breaks of fortune into account, we can probably fairly safely file last Sunday’s result in that well-known sub-category known as ‘mild hiccups on the weekends following away games in Europe’.
 

But wherever you file it, we now all have to sit back again while an international week runs its course – though at least this one seems to be an international week with a difference. Many complaints have been registered about the FA’s decision to make tonight’s England game a service of thanksgiving for the career of Wayne Rooney. But I’m certainly not among those grumbling.

On the contrary, I’m all in favour. What would otherwise be an almost entirely undistinguishable friendly against the USA now becomes something more akin to a birthday party that the whole class is invited to, with a big cake, a specially appointed children’s entertainer (Wazza) and with everyone getting a goody bag to take home at the end (metaphorically speaking).

As far as I’m concerned, this effort to rev some life into an otherwise dead engine ticks a vast number of boxes and is only to be applauded. Indeed, if at some point in the future the FA puts on one of these ‘England specials’ in honour of a player I genuinely care about (Lamps, JT, Ashley Cole, the late Peter Osgood), I may even watch.

In the meantime – perhaps like you – I’ll be drumming my fingers and waiting for the important action to resume in a little over a week’s time, when we play Tottenham at Wembley. By then, hopefully, the grass will have grown back and the potentially confusing NFL pitch markings will have disappeared from view. (Unofficial reports suggest that a Wembley soil sample, taken in the week after the visit of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles, and just before Spurs played PSV in the Champions League, revealed the pitch to be at least 28 percent dried Gatorade. Worrying, if true.)

At that point we can see whether this undefeated stretch has any more elastic in it. On the positive side, meeting Spurs and continuing long unbeaten runs stretching back through the ages is something our club has rather specialised in down the years. It’s almost become a habit, you could say. But let’s take nothing for granted. Football doesn’t always reward form, nor the manifestly better side, as that result against Everton demonstrated. And it’s why we love it, really.
 

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