Columnist

Giles Smith: Chelsea showed how to concede with grace

There has been plenty for Chelsea season ticket holder Giles Smith to take in since his last column, not least the unexpected sight of his team conceding a goal...


What a week for the world. One for the history books, no question. One that tomorrow’s grandchildren are going to be hearing about at length.
No sooner had Chelsea beaten Sheffield United 4-1 in a performance reckoned by the manager to be the season’s best so far, than Joe Biden was getting declared President of the United States and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer was announcing a 90 percent efficiency rate for a vaccine which could be available in some measure by Christmas, sharply raising hopes for an eventual release from the deadly pandemic which has been gripping the globe.

On the other hand, the week has also brought an international break. So, swings and roundabouts, I guess.

Still, whatever Gareth Southgate and the like may be trying to do about it, this is most certainly a monumental time to be alive – and perhaps never more so than when Thiago Silva was glancingly getting his head on the end of that breathtakingly diamond-encrusted Hakim Ziyech free-kick from out wide at the Bridge last Saturday evening. That was goal three, of course, following Tammy Abraham’s cunningly placed slapshot and Ben Chilwell’s entirely intentional back-post thigh-in (or possibly hip-in, or possibly stomach-in – I wasn’t entirely sure at the time), and there was still a fourth to come. Spoiled, is the word for it.

Bear in mind, this was a game in which we had gone behind after nine minutes. And what a vanishingly rare thing that was to witness, sat at home with the telly on: a goal by an opponent. Furrow-browed on the sofa, one had to set one’s McVitie’s Digestive aside momentarily and go digging back in one’s memory, because one had almost forgotten what those felt like. Indeed, for Edouard Mendy, the sensation of having the ball get behind him and actually into the net was a first-time experience in the Premier League – a potentially bewildering moment in terms of reactions and protocols. Before that, did he even realise there was a net there?

For him, and the rest of our defence, until David McGoldrick pulled off that flick with his back to goal (essentially a deflection, for all that Mendy could know or do anything about it), it had been the best part of 10 hours of football since such a thing had happened. A bit like with Trump, it was starting to look like conceding wasn’t something this club really got involved in, whether gracefully or even at all.

Yet how proud it makes one to be able to say that, when the moment came, we showed how to do it, with style, class and integrity and in such a way as to uphold the norms on which civilised conduct in this area rests. No patently unsubstantiated cries of fraud from our players, note, and no pitiful whining, either. You quietly and respectfully acknowledge your opponent’s superiority in that moment and openly admit that you have been bettered within the rules of the game. 

And then you monopolise possession, release Ziyech down the right-hand side, trust Werner to steam at 90mph into the central spaces, and score four at the other end.

Incidentally, as you probably saw, Mendy was back at it again this week, keeping another clean sheet for Senegal against Guinea-Bissau in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. It’s already been more than 170 minutes since he last conceded a goal, and we haven’t even played again yet. Boom times for him.

Anyway, the win against Sheffield United moved us briefly up to the giddy heights of third, and even after the weekend’s full shakedown, our team sits fifth and merely three points off the top. A shame, all in all, that our next match, which is at Newcastle, is still over a week away rather than a couple of days round the corner, as it could have been. There was an energy within last Saturday’s performance which, in an ideal world, one would have liked to have seen exploited sooner.

All of the recent evidence has pointed to a gathering momentum within this side - and this in a peculiar, off-beat season in which everyone admits that consistency and reversion to the norm are largely not happening and where randomness is now practically the law. Given the circumstances, momentum has probably seldom been a more precious commodity and one is bound to resent, even more than usual, anything that unnecessarily gets in its way. Like England v Iceland, for instance.

Still, I have heard it suggested that there is consolation available in the fact that on this occasion an international break has, for the first time in history, coincided with the re-scheduled Masters at Augusta. So, some people are saying, in the absence of domestic football we will at least have some sport to occupy us. 

But that would involve acknowledging that golf was a sport, rather than a pastime, and though this has been a week for profound changes and breakthroughs with potentially vast ramifications touching us all, this columnist is not quite ready to go there yet.

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