So much for last Saturday, then, on that absolute cow-pat of a pitch at Wembley. And, now I mention it, isn’t it a surprise, in the modern era, to see top-flight football being played on a frankly agricultural surface in November? But I guess that’s where we are – or, at least, that’s where Tottenham are until their new stadium opens.
No excuses, of course: the ploughed field was the same for both teams. The agricultural, route-one surface just seemed to suit Tottenham more than it suited us on the day, for whatever reason.
However, I’ve got to say, I did sense that something like this might happen, even before I saw the state of the pitch. Call it natural fear, connected to the unbeaten run. For one thing, in sport, when someone breaks an existing record (as Maurizio Sarri did with those first 12 undefeated games as a Premier League manager), you know by definition that they have gone right out to the limits of human endeavour in that particular area, and likelihood dictates that they may not get much further.
And on top of that we were playing Tottenham. It was Tottenham, of course, who ended that 13-match victory-surge in the 2016/17 season, rather spoiling the New Year holiday period, as I recall. And, similarly, it was Tottenham who eventually ended our astonishing 28-year undefeated run at home to, er… Tottenham in the league, just last season.
It was clear from recent history, then, that modern-era Tottenham teams dig just that little bit deeper when they come up against a Chelsea side on a wildly impressive run – which is something Tottenham seem to be obliged to do with uncommon frequency these days. And fair enough: I don’t think the psychology is all that hard to explain here. When it’s 10 years since your club last won a cup final, 34 years since it won a European one, and a stonking 57 years since it won the league, you cling all the more avidly to any little landmark triumphs you can secure along the way. Quite right too.
So no real surprises, maybe, about the run coming unstuck last Saturday. But one of two surprises about the manner of that unsticking, particularly the way the goals were conceded, which felt a bit careless – sloppy, even. I suppose I just about accept the description of Heung-Min Son’s solo effort as a ‘wonder goal’, though only in the sense that I wonder why he wasn’t stopped from scoring it on at least one of the three occasions when he probably ought to have been.
As for the opener, I’m not entirely sure what happened there. But I am entirely sure that whatever did happen shouldn’t have been allowed to. And the Kane goal was the softest concession since… actually, I can’t think of a softer concession that wasn’t an actual own-goal. And, in fact, own-goals tend to involve more in the way of active effort, in and around the penalty area. Kane’s was the kind of dribbly, straight-line goal you see quite a lot of in junior hockey, before the kids have really got a grip on things.
Yet, even late on – trailing by three goals and playing utterly miserably – it was impossible to lose faith entirely, and especially after Olivier Giroud pulled that one back in the 85th minute. Because whatever else you want to say about it, letting slip a three-goal lead almost entirely against the run of play and going home with only a point when everything had seemed comfortably within their grasp would have been a very Spursy thing to do.
Alas, though, it turns out that not even Spurs are that Spursy.
Ah, well. In the end you just have to let it go – overcome the surprise, try to understand some of the mysteries at the centre of it all, and eventually even fashion something positive from the experience to take forward. And, to that end, I found it useful to keep the following reflection in mind: what more accurately represented the Chelsea that we have known, loved and grown thrilled about this season? That one utterly limp performance on Wembley’s ploughed field? Or the 18 undefeated performances on far more acceptable surfaces that preceded it? You don’t need to be entirely blinded by prejudice to see what the maths is trying to tell us here. By all the evidence of science, the Spurs game was an exception, a freak, a statistical anomaly.
Moreover, time, as they say, is the great healer – and if time has lots of games in it, it works even better. And in this respect, the fixture list is our friend, what with tonight’s Europa League tie, Sunday’s meeting with Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham and next Wednesday night’s trip to Wolves.
Managers are always complaining bitterly about the obligation to play three games in a week – but normally, if you look at the schedule closely, they are only playing two, unless we’re claiming that a week has eight or more days in it, and I don’t think that we are.
This time, though, we can genuinely and without fear of contradiction claim to be involved in a three-game week: Thursday, Sunday and Wednesday. But complain about it? On the contrary. It’s Christmas come early as far as most of us are concerned – and, just like Christmas, it has the potential to spread the power of healing. Let’s hope so, anyway.