I suppose history will say at least this much about the last few days: this was a very good week in which to bury the news that you had just sacked Jose Mourinho. (No, seriously. Go back through the news files and look closely at the small-print: it actually happened.)
Yet, by adopting a steady gaze, and even though it feels as though it took place in another lifetime, it’s still just about possible to peer back through the smoke all the way to last Saturday – that glad occasion when our team outsmarted the most formidable of opponents that 2020/21 has had to offer domestically and made it through to yet another FA Cup final.
There was plenty in our actions that day for the entire ‘football family’ to unite behind, one felt. Quite apart from anything else, it meant that Manchester City would not now be in a position to perform a clean sweep of all four of the trophies available to them in a single season. And this was, and is, undeniably a good thing, not just for this club alone, but, I would hazard, for the present and future of English football in general.
And that’s saying nothing against City, by the way, who go into this weekend’s Carabao Cup final at Wembley with, I’m sure, all of our very best wishes and who are at this stage, I would personally suggest, wholly welcome to win the league, too, if it means that Manchester United don’t.
No, that victory over City was, in the end, about nothing less than the soul of the game, and an act of selfless service on our part. And if you don’t believe me, just look what they were on the verge of doing.
Doubles we understand and acknowledge. As with our own in recent years (2004/05, 2006/07, 2009/10, 2011/12 and 2014/15), any double is a benchmark of consistency and excellence and a valuable currency in and around the trophy cabinet.
Trebles? Well, yes, acquiring three of the available four trophies in the space of a single season is certainly impressive, but, without wishing to quibble, it also starts to look a bit greedy. Nice, in other words, and even acceptable – but not strictly necessary.
Grabbing hold of all four, though? Quite simply, no. We certainly can’t have people starting to win quadruples. It’s never been done, and we have to hope that this continues to be the case. It would make a mockery of everyone else, and indeed of English football, causing it to look locked-up and uncompetitive to an extent which is virtually Scottish, or even American, and which, as we have learned, plenty don't really want.
So, congratulations of the broadest kind to Hakim Ziyech for the goal – a strike not just for us but for the football culture in general, and which, incidentally, also had strong shades of his one against Atletico Madrid in the quarter-final of the Champions League.
And on that subject, let’s note that Timo Werner, who is widely accused of having had a disappointing start with us, has now been directly involved in 19 of our goals this season – ten of his own and nine assists. Assisting rather than shooting when under extreme pressure to score seems to me the mark of a player with not just a steady nerve but an admirably firm view of the bigger picture. He doesn’t receive much credit for it elsewhere, but he always will here.
And so we now advance to our fourth FA Cup final in five years, the 15th in our history and the 12th since 1994 alone. At Tottenham they like to talk about the years that end in ‘1’. Basically you’re not too far wrong if you draw the conclusion that, in the modern era, Chelsea get to Wembley every time the year has 12 months in it.
From some perspectives, of course, the most important result affecting Chelsea last weekend was Newcastle’s defeat of West Ham. That left Tuesday night’s game against Brighton temptingly set up as an opportunity to go third and belatedly begin the process of closing down the still naggingly open contest for Champions League places.
A bit of a pity, then, that everything that was sharp and smart about Saturday’s performance was blunt and dull about Tuesday’s. Instead, we played like a team that had… well, a team that had just booked its place in an FA Cup final, I suppose, a matter of days after booking its other place in a Champions League semi-final. And I guess there was a logical reason for that, as frustrating as it was to witness.
Still, it puts an extra spin on this Saturday’s match away at West Ham which takes on something of the shape of a high-stakes play-off. Battling West Ham for a place at Europe’s top table is clearly a wholly new experience for everyone concerned, but we’ll all do our best, I’m sure, to adapt to this new reality. It’s been that kind of year, after all.