It has been a bit of a whirlwind of late and like many of us, I have staggered out in the aftermath not exactly sure how to feel and how to fully understand what has just happened. Are we elated or dejected after the last few weeks? I have no concrete certain idea to be honest.
Losing to Everton away, then Bournemouth and Southampton at home was painful and a bit abject at times. Winning away at Spurs and Arsenal however and then looking at the current league table, I still think you should have your hat set at a jaunty angle.
Chelsea have been known to have the winter wobbles over the years and there have been a few times when I have tried not only to understand but to explain the reasons why it has happened. Often you will find that when you look around the league, we are not the only ones suffering from the strains of too many games.
Before December started we were in fourth place with a six-point cushion and now we are in fourth place with a four-point cushion. So not exactly a crash when you consider that everyone around us has also faltered and we have managed to get through to the Champions League knockout stages in the meantime.
That is just December of course, and at this time of the year you are tempted to look back over not just the last month but the previous 12 months as well. Once again how do you get your head around what has happened in that relatively short time? We were Europa League winners and third in the league under Maurizio Sarri. We were a whisker away from winning the Carabao Cup and witnessed a style of play never seen before at the Bridge by a Chelsea side, whether you were a fan of it or not.
I personally found the hammering of Arsenal in Baku to be one of the most satisfying experiences in many years. Doing that against our old rivals, in a European final while playing brilliantly, never gets old. Yes, I understand the problems getting there for the fans and many missed out on the occasion who would always normally be there, but the night itself was another historic one for the club.
If you are looking back at the end of a year then I suppose you must look back on the end of a decade too. To be fair it has been astonishing when you consider this 10-year period in comparison with any other in the history of the club. From Carlo Ancelotti, AVB, Robbie Di Matteo, Rafa, Jose again, Guus Hiddink again, Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri to Frank, it has been an incredible time, mostly because we witnessed some great football, enjoyed many of the greatest players who have ever played for the club and of course, we won a whole bunch of trophies on the way and banked a lifetime’s worth of unforgettable memories.
Three Premier League titles during the decade was incredible but add to that three FA Cups and a League Cup to boot and it is clearly a sensational run. In this context, the two Europa League trophy wins looks like us being on the greedy side but there was still the main course to devour. That night in Munich where we gorged on glory, a night which can, and never will be forgotten must surely make this the greatest decade in our history.
Football fans the world over would be rightly jealous of any club that has had that sort of decade. From within it all however, there is the feeling that for true Chelsea fans, absolutely none of this success is taken for granted. That is the real joy. There is still no expectation or even demand, just a want and love of winning. We know just how lucky we have been. While some other ‘world-class’ clubs seem to be quick to moan when the slightest thing goes wrong, the Chelsea way is to enjoy the ride.
Which brings us straight back to the present day. Sunday was extra-special for several reasons. There was a large and vocal Chelsea support and after that sluggish start it was an incredible come back.
The tactical switch and the substitutions after the first 30 minutes were brave, none more than bringing on Tariq Lamptey, and showed our bench has a growing wealth of knowledge and a real willingness to be bold. Ditching the three at the back was necessary, but the vast majority of managers who change things in the first half do so with the personnel who are on the field at the time. A small number, and yes Jose Mourinho is one of them, take the tough decisions early when they need to, however painful it might seem for one individual.
Emerson must understand it was not aimed at him. Sometimes you have to sacrifice someone’s feelings for the wider good of the team on the day.
Football is and must be a hard school. I watched Duncan Ferguson bring on and then sub off young Moise Kean for Everton a few weeks back. Yes, I felt sorry for the youngster, but if it was the right thing for the team to save a point then harsh though it feels, it is 100 per cent the right thing to do every time.
Decisions have to be made quickly in football and right at this moment, the decisions come thicker and faster than at any time in the season. Who to play, who to rest, which system to go with, what to change and how quickly? These are all amplified by so many games so close together and more often than not the decisions that do not work quite as well are the ones that are highlighted most.
Plenty have asked whether we should have started with a back three in the last two games? Of course that question is raised, but as Frank rightly pointed out, ‘it worked so well at Spurs it seemed madness to ditch it in the circumstances’. When the circumstances changed however, he was not too proud to do the deed. Sometimes the hardest and bravest thing to do is to admit your original plan isn’t working.
I was at the Celtic v Rangers game at the weekend and watched Steven Gerrard come up with some brave and innovative tactical ideas, as his underdog side won at Celtic Park. It made me think of Frank and his boldness this season as a young coach who is not only innovative and fearless but also manages to instil those attitudes in his players. They are two of a new young breed of coaches who had no right to be successful just because they were fabulous footballers, but who both look very much like the future of the game.
I came away thinking that although this has been a decade of Pep, Jose and Jurgen, it may well be that the next decade could well be that of Frank, Stevie and in time some bloke called Terry as well. These guys have grown up in a progressive era when the ultra-positive Jurgen and Pep with their attacking philosophies were the leading lights. I very much like the look of the future for the game in that light.
Much will happen in the next year, never mind decade. I reckon Chelsea with the youth organisation, and the innovation at many levels, could have as big an influence as they did on the last one. Whatever the case, I hope you have a Happy New Year, indeed a Happy New Decade, and hopefully as much health, fun and fortune as we have had in last ones.