Columnist

Giles Smith: The challenge of the behind-closed-doors derby

Ahead of tonight’s trip to Tottenham, and following on from our backline players breaking down Burnley, Chelsea fan and columnist Giles Smith shares his thoughts on that and the latest challenge…


Congratulations to everyone who had ‘Marcos Alonso to bring it down, pivot and smash it into the roof of the net’ on their bingo card for last Sunday. That wasn’t me, I’m sad to say (I had ‘Timo Werner to cut loose and score a hat-trick’), but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the sight royally. Alonso really does seem set to go down in history as one of the great ‘false 9s’. Indeed, I would maintain that he was a ‘false 9’ before ‘false 9s’ had really been invented.

And congratulations, too, to anyone who had ‘Dave to open the scoring.’ Goals from all over the pitch in this current, revivified squad, clearly, as the Thomas Tuchel era dawns. For those of us at home on our sofas that lunchtime, watching approvingly and waiting slightly anxiously for the levee to break, it was enormously heartening to see.

And so to north London in but a few hours’ time. A little odd, of course, to find ourselves playing on a Thursday night – though less so, of course, for Tottenham, whose Europa League campaign has them as a ‘Thursday night’ kind of side.

Either way, no doubt a challenge awaits. Our opponents this evening have found themselves camped in the top quarter of the table this season, although in recent weeks their tent seems to have got a bit wet and has started to slide down towards the end of the field. Nevertheless, Tottenham, I would argue, were always well-placed to prosper in the behind-closed-doors scenario that descended on us all last March.

After all, this was a club who had banked valuable experience of playing in a ground with absolutely zero atmosphere by spending the whole of the 2017/18 season and the first 14 home games of 2018/19 performing at Wembley. For many players in their squad, the prospect of doing their thing in a ground from which all the spirit had been sucked out as if by an industrial water-pump held little that was new or to be afraid of.

Still, on the other side of the balance sheet, this is a side that has lost its last two Premier League games and (for tonight’s meeting at least) Harry Kane. And let’s further note that Tottenham’s shiny new ground, with its fabled world-beating but now, alas, forcibly unoccupied enormo-bar, is a venue where we have a 100 per cent Premier League record.

In fact, because defeats on penalties go down in the official history books, quite rightly, as draws, we can proudly declare that we have never lost at Tottenham’s new ground in any competition, ever. That’s the kind of record to give our already clearly re-energised and re-focused players an extra little shot of confidence as they get off the coach this evening and settle themselves for the task ahead.

Why, give it another decade or so, and it’s perfectly possible the place will have started to feel as comfortable and accommodating to us as White Hart Lane used to, back in the day. We can only hope so, anyway, while additionally looking forward longingly to the time when we can enjoy that comfort in person.

Meanwhile, in another week on the switchback ride which is the 2020/21 season, Liverpool have rediscovered their form only to mislay it again at home to Brighton, David Luiz has struck a rare blow for consistency at Arsenal by being sent off again (albeit this time mostly, it seemed, for breathing in the vicinity of an opponent, though I guess during a pandemic that particular offence will always carry an additional charge), and Southampton have managed to lose 9-0 for the second consecutive season.

On the positive side, though, last year they were at home when it happened, and only went down to 10 men after the first goal, unlike this year when they had the excuse of being away and losing a player in the second minute when the scoresheet was still blank. I guess it’s those little signs of improvement – the vital one-percenters - that you cling to.

What’s clear though is that, at this point, with so many outcomes up for grabs, a little consistency, allied to a run of results, will get you a long way. Here’s hoping for a further patch of that later in the atmosphere-free zone of Tottenham’s big empty stadium.
 

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