Giles Smith: Going with the flow - but no Diego would be tough to take

As he continues to get used to a Christmas unlike any other, columnist Giles Smith reflects on a welcome derby win and ponders the possibility of not being able to welcome Diego Costa back to Stamford Bridge...

It’s fairly unusual in the modern era that our games against West Ham attract the label ‘must-win’ rather than ‘most likely to win’. But those consecutive irregularities against Everton and Wolves had introduced a certain urgency to Monday’s outcome, especially with the notorious randomness of Christmas coming up. So 3-0 in the tipping rain felt even better than normal.

Great goals, too. It turns out that West Ham hadn’t conceded from a set-piece this season before Thiago Silva so magnificently obliged them to do so after just 10 minutes of coming up against us. But frankly they could have stumbled on a way of using invisible force fields on a permanent basis and it wouldn’t have prevented that seemingly spring-powered and possibly laser-targeted header from coming off. We might have thought Kurt Zouma was sweeping all before him in the vertical self-propulsion business this season, but he self-evidently has some stiff competition.

Also, much gratitude and admiration to Tammy Abraham for finding the perfect remedy for football’s famous ‘nervy final 10 minutes’, which we all seemed to be reluctantly facing before Tammy intervened. For the record, the perfect remedy is two further smartly-taken goals, scored in the two minutes between the 78th and the 80th. Excellent over-the-counter cure. Guaranteed to banish all known outbreaks of ‘nervy final 10 minutes’ and leave the patient experiencing a warm and even possibly slightly smug glow for that period instead.

Even given the high standards of magical realism that one comes to expect from a defeated manager’s immediate reading of the game, one might have ended up looking a touch quizzically at David Moyes’s post-match remarks on Monday, which, despite 90 minutes almost entirely unclouded by controversy or contention, VAR-based or otherwise, seemed to contain some disgruntlement with the running of the game. ‘Any small decisions did not go for us,’ West Ham’s manager maintained. ‘The flow always went in Chelsea’s favour tonight.’ 

Really? What I saw, for quite long periods, was the very opposite of flow from our team and, indeed, on the contrary, a worrying quantity of flow in the direction of our goal, entirely unimpeded by doubtful officiating. Indeed, there were periods where I felt a pedantic and slightly monocular referee, impeding a bit of that flow, wouldn’t have gone amiss. Ah well. It’s always a different game from the technical area. And especially when you’re 3-0 down.

Frank Lampard was asked this week if it wasn’t, in some respects, a relief to be out of the Carabao Cup and therefore not trying to shoehorn an extra quarter-final into a schedule which is already practically crowded enough to warrant its own version of the traditional double issue of Radio Times. And, as the manager rightly responded, at our club there is no such thing as wishing to be out of competitions. That’s just not the way we think around these parts. Not even the Carabao in Christmas week, with Arsenal to be visited on Boxing Day and mince pies still to be made and some of the decorations yet to reach the tree.

At the same time, with the seasonal fixtures surrounding us in all their potentially slippery craziness, perhaps a very small part of oneself can now feel the wisdom of having gone easy in that penalty shoot-out against Tottenham a while ago and leaving the rest of them to their low-grade battlings at this most wonderful and yet so hectic time of the year. Indeed, observing those quarter-finals as they went by this week was a bit like having got your shopping done early, and then sitting back to watch all the last-minute types setting off frantically into the crowds, or even, this year, finding the shops entirely closed.

Elsewhere, there was some transfer news with an important knock-on effect for our interests. If Diego Costa, who is reported to have no interest in extending his present contract, leaves Atletico Madrid in the upcoming January window, he won’t be around for an emotional reunion with us all in our scheduled Champions League tie in February. Big pity, if so. (It looks like the same will be true, for very different reasons, for Kieran Trippier, too. But I would hazard we don’t care quite so much about that.)

Mind you, the way things are suddenly going, with new and more virulent strains of Covid-19 apparently arriving so thickly that they are being forced to form an orderly queue on the M20, none of us will be around for that tie, either – or certainly not in the ground. 

Now, I don’t know what you think but for me the idea of Diego Costa returning to Stamford Bridge and none of us being around to welcome him and offer him our continuing admiration seems entirely unacceptable – a bit like the idea of spending an entire Christmas season solely in the company of the people you already live with. Then again, I guess it’s amazing what you can get used to if you really have to. This, whatever else you want to say about it, is very much the era of that.

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