Football has always been renowned for its ability to put supporters through a range of emotions. Highs follow lows, and vice versa, often in a short period of time, as has been the case at Chelsea over the past week.
Columnist and season ticket holder Giles Smith has witnessed it all, and here he gives his take on recent events.
I don’t suppose getting clobbered 4-0 by Bournemouth was on anybody’s wish-list this week, although I suppose it was a piece of what turned out to be an uncommonly unpredictable (indeed, faintly fantasy-inspired) midweek round of Premier League fixtures.
Manchester City got rolled over by a hapless Newcastle side, Manchester United spent all but the dying seconds of injury time losing at home to 17th-placed Burnley, and Liverpool, given an opportunity to gallop ahead with the faint smell of the title in their nostrils, automatically fell over the relatively small hurdle represented by mid-table Leicester. Somebody seemed to have put Terry Pratchett in charge of the narrative.
Yet even on this gilded roll-call of slightly startling under-achievements, our result on the south coast stood out like a sore head - a game of two halves in the worst possible sense, with the second half appearing to last for at least three days, like the worst rock festival ever staged. We could be a long time puzzling over the meekness of the performance during those 45 minutes, in which the players seemed to lose a lot more than just the game – including the plot. Conceding the fourth goal which enabled Arsenal to rise above us into fourth place on goal difference seemed particularly obliging.
I have nothing useful to contribute regarding this puzzle, really. Except the thought that maybe Bournemouth should replace Stoke as the standard location for the question about whether players fancy it on a cold Wednesday night. And except the other thought that we are at home to Huddersfield on Saturday, so the opportunity to consign last night’s result to history’s wastepaper basket and thereby heal some of the bruising does at least come blessedly quickly.
It all goes to prove the old saying that a week is a long time in football. And, in cases like that Bournemouth match, 45 minutes is even longer. Frankly, though, it’s a shame that two games (Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup, Bournemouth in the league) have already happened so quickly on top of that glorious Carabao Cup semi-final a week ago. And it would still be a shame, even if last night had gone swimmingly, which it didn’t. Because if ever a match deserved to sit a little longer on its own in the memory, where we could enjoy it unimpeded, and untampered with by slightly stodgy performances in the FA Cup (albeit leading eventually to 3-0 victories) and second-half Premier League humiliations, it was that one from last Thursday night.
I think we all knew, when the draw brought us up against Tottenham in the Diamond Anniversary year of their last top-flight title victory, that it was always going to be special in so many directions. And so it proved, in a performance as remarkable for energy and comprehensive commitment as last night’s wasn’t.
And that energy and commitment seemed to carry over into the tie-breaker. Penalty shoot-outs are, of course, a lottery and no way to conclude a football match – unless you win them, in which case they are a golden test of sporting nerve and the highest form of drama known to mankind. And this particular penalty shoot-out, I think we can agree, was a special one.
It featured the take-no-prisoners approach to penalty kicks of Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz, who arrived in the area practically steaming from the nostrils. Then, for contrast, and just to show that there is more than one way to skin a Tottenham goalkeeper, there was Jorginho’s soft-shoe number, coolly despatching Paulo Gazzaniga to one corner and rolling the ball into the other one with a strike that bore many of the characteristics of a snooker shot, bringing the white ball gently down to the cushion and leaving the pink very much in play.
Then there was Kepa’s exquisite save from Lucas Moura and the glorious sight of Eric Dier, who hadn’t gone out of his way to endear himself to us across the course of the evening, sticking it in row 17 of the Matthew Harding Upper with a kick which seemed to rewrite many of the known laws relating to the travel of objects through time and space. We look forward to the eventual publication of Dier’s paper, exploring his findings, in one of the major scientific journals.
So, a glorious outcome, then – and a perfectly suitable one in the light of what we had seen over the 90 minutes. After all, it would have been a pity to beat Tottenham on the night and yet… not beat Tottenham on the night. And whatever else happens this season, we’ll always have last Thursday. Which, let’s be serious, wasn’t all THAT long ago. Surely its spirit can be recovered – probably even by Saturday, if people are prepared to work on it.
Meanwhile note that, before this week, the last time Chelsea lost a league game by a four-goal difference was 23 years ago, when we were defeated 5-1 by (of all teams) Liverpool. So make a note in your diary: another one of those isn’t due to come along now until 2032. Something to be grateful for, along with the onward march of the fixture list.