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GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Qualification with a game to spare and in a new kit too. And less need to turn the clock back three years either. That is plenty for Chelsea fan Giles Smith to get his teeth into as he writes this week’s column…


So that worked out pretty well, then. I suppose a shout-out to Manchester United and Arsenal is due, or at least a gentle fist-bump for their contributions at Huddersfield and at home to Brighton respectively. But the main congratulations must go to our players and staff. Given the current state of things in the battle for the top four, three points was always going to make a disproportionate difference. And in this case the difference made by that 3-0 victory over Watford was a guaranteed place in the top four and a return to the Champions League in 2019/20.

And with a game to spare, as well, which has certainly saved us all a bit of a nail-chewing. Anybody who saw Leicester almost catastrophically derail Manchester City on Monday evening will be quietly pleased that we don’t now have to go there on Sunday in search of all three points – or, indeed, in search of any points.

That said, pride and the tide of history alike surely dictate that the team should do everything in its powers on Sunday to ensure that we finish in third place and above Tottenham, not to mention in a slightly better pot when it eventually comes to the draw for the Champions League group stage. It would reflect well at the end of what has often seemed a strangely clogged and troubled season.

Of course, had we gone to Leicester in need of something, we could perhaps have been in a position to invoke the spirit of 2016 and the memory of Eden Hazard thumping it into the Tottenham net in order to bestow the title on Leicester (pictured top), along with a handwritten card declaring the very best wishes of everyone connected with this football club. The fellow-feeling engendered on that immortal night would have left Leicester perhaps feeling that they still owed us a quiet favour here and there. Sadly, though, one can never be entirely sure that football works that way.
 

It’s an irrelevant consideration now, though, with the remaining two top-four places as good as filled. Then again, perhaps one shouldn’t speak too soon as far as Tottenham’s place in all this is concerned. Arsenal need an unanswered win and an eight-goal swing to bring them fourth place at the expense of Spurs, which would ordinarily seem laughably unlikely, but, given the clown-car nature of this year’s run-in phase, you wouldn’t perhaps want to rule it out entirely.

Something else about Sunday’s result: it was a real boost for the new shirt. I have to confess that I had my doubts about it when I saw the pictures after the launch. The inlaid Stamford Bridge graphic appeared, in my personal opinion, to be trying a little too hard and at first glance, I was reluctantly with the satirists claiming on social media that it looked like a bus seat.

But now I’ve seen it in action, and seen what the shirt can do – which is to say, trounce Watford and book us a highly coveted place at Europe’s top table, while keeping a clean sheet – I’m completely converted. That strip is categorically a winner, and even its harshest critics currently have no option but to agree.
 

Read: Pat Nevin - Finishing with a flourish

And so we reach tonight, and the last home game of the season, against Eintracht Frankfurt. Get it right and we will advance to our fourth European final in the past 11 years. Where, it goes without saying, we will be hoping to find Valencia rather than Arsenal. Nothing against Arsenal, but the thought of going all the way to Baku to play them when you can ordinarily just hop on the Victoria Line seems a touch beside the point, as well as unnecessarily expensive. Still, if needs must…

Meanwhile, in the secondary European competition, an all-English final has come to pass, which you would have got slim odds on at the beginning of the week. But that’s football: sometimes it will really let you down.

Lots of fuss has been generated, in particular, by Liverpool’s remarkable second-leg turn-around on Tuesday. And, of course, congratulations to them on an extraordinary and completely unpredictable outcome. To dig a hole as deep as Liverpool had dug at the Nou Camp last week, but still climb out of it, requires some serious spade-work. And no ‘ghost goals’ for once, either, which is always nice to see in a Champions League semi-final at Anfield.

That said, I don’t recall Barcelona standing around like lemons at corners and all obligingly looking in the other direction when we so memorably overcame them with 10 men in that properly great and truly memorable semi-final in 2012. On the contrary, I seem to recall us having to work exceptionally hard all over the pitch to ensure that we got what we needed.
 

But then, of course, Barca were an altogether different calibre of side in those days and I guess we had no choice but to do it the hard way. Our reward? The greater satisfaction, of course. Let’s hope satisfaction is on offer tonight as well.

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