It was quite a weekend and rarely has the importance of fine margins been so obvious in football. At Wembley in the FA Cup final, it was millimetres that counted against us. Our equaliser chopped off by VAR’s eagle eye and the ‘handball’ that wasn’t given in the build up to Leicester’s stunning winner, these were the differences between winning the trophy and the major disappointment.
On top of that, with seconds to go at The Hawthorns, Liverpool were slipping up against West Bromwich Albion and our top-four league position was looking safer. I clearly remember thinking, ‘For goodness sake they are clutching at straws now, they are even sending Allison upfield for a corner...damn.’
Still, it is still in our own hands and that is as much as you can hope for at this point in time, but the stress levels are building. Monumentally.
'There will be chances tonight for Chelsea'
— Pat Nevin
One day they will be back
Over in Gothenburg the next evening hopes were high, but before the Women’s team could get settled into their Champions League final rhythm, it was over. Emma Hayes must have felt exactly the way Thomas Tuchel did when he had that terrible 25 minutes against West Brom back in early April, when we shipped four goals in quick succession. Emma’s team lost four in 36 minutes in their worst moment of the season. It felt like every time Barcelona shot, they scored. I guess that is because every time they did shoot, they did score, except when they hit the bar.
The words to both sets of players after those weekend games will be among the most important this season. Thomas and Emma have to lift their players, and that isn’t always easy after getting within touching distance of a major honour.
Emma started on her work before Barcelona had picked up the trophy, getting the squad in a circle and explaining that one difficult half of football shouldn’t be allowed to define you. Chelsea were the better side in the second half, a fact that will be lost in history, but the players must remember this because there is no doubt that one day they will be back and they will have to know that they can survive at that level.
Thomas Tuchel will have worked on the team every moment that he could since those painful last minutes at Wembley. I do not think many would disagree with the suggestion that if our marginally offside equaliser would have stood, then there was only one team that was going to win the trophy on Saturday, and it wasn’t the Foxes.
Ifs and buts, tiny margins, and that is just as likely to be the case tonight. There is a school of thought that suggests whoever wins this one will be in the top four and revelling in Champions League football next season, and whoever loses will be staring down the barrel of the Europa League. It could well be the case; it is that crucial.
There will be chances tonight for Chelsea, I am absolutely convinced of that, and having lost two games in a row now to a 1-0 scoreline, a scoreline we have specialised in winning by under Tuchel, we have to be ruthless when we get our opportunities this time.
What can be done about it
Thinking of those last two defeats and indeed the 1-0 defeat before that against Porto, they have been two wonder goals and a bizarre error. In reality, there is absolutely nothing a coach could do about any of them, that is just football. What he can do is make sure we are ultra-positive and create enough chances to score enough goals, so that the very rare, the extraordinary and the freakish lone goals are not enough to beat us.
Like many Chelsea fans I hope that Reece James will be given licence to play further forward to allow him to lash in those vicious deliveries from the right-hand side. Going back to the tie against Real Madrid, we created a barrel load of opportunities even if we ‘only’ scored three goals in the two games. That is the attitude, the pace and maybe even the tactics we have to adopt for the crucial decider.
Yet again, this is something close to a season-defining 90 minutes. No Jonny Evans in the opposition line-up is a bonus, but doubtless Leicester will be lifted by doing a number on us at Wembley. Let’s hope they celebrated well into the night and are still a bit jaded!
There is no doubt that it was a crushing weekend for the club, but for the Women we must remember this has been an incredible trophy-laden season already and being second best team in Europe is a jump forward from where Emma’s team had been before. There is much to be celebrated even if it doesn’t feel that way just now.
For the men’s team, the FA Cup will be a fading wistful memory rather than a long-term mental torture, if they can win the next three games. It can still be a season to remember for all the right reasons. Beginning with a win tonight.
Quiz competition time
So, the quiz last week to win a copy of my book, which is officially out on Thursday and available in all the usual place reputable retailers (plug alert!), had a huge response. The task was to name seven of Chelsea’s players past and present who had a ‘Z’ in their names. I didn’t know how many there actually were, but the answer was loads! There is a list of those sent in at the bottom of the page.
There can only be two winners this week, chosen at random from the many correct entrants and they are Michael Shackleton from Kent in England and Ashley Manton from Ontario in Canada. The books are already in the post and signed by yours truly.
Another copy of my book is available this week for a randomly picked correct answer. Could you name at least five players who played for both Chelsea and Leicester City?
Send your answers to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to have a chance of winning.
Here are the ‘Z’ players:
Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Bolo Zenden, Eden Hazard, Micky Hazard, Gianfranco Zola, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Kurt Zouma, Mateja Kezman, Yury Zhirkov, Eddie Niedzwiecki, Davide Zappacosta, Pedro (Eliezer Rodríguez Ledesma), Jorginho (Jorge Luiz Frello Filho),, Willy Caballero (Wilfredo Daniel Caballero Lazcano), Matt Miazga, Duncan McKenzie. Mark Schwarzer, Gonzalo Higuain, Lucas Piazon, Khalid Boulahrouz, Muzzy Izzet, Claudio Pizarro, Rati Aleksidze, Izzy Brown, Karlo Ziger, Thorgan Hazard, Helen Bleazard, Melanie Leupolz, Zecira Musovic
• To participate in the competition, email your answer to the quiz question to email@example.com
• Entrants must be 16 or over. Residents of Indonesia, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam are excluded.
• The competition opens at 4.00AM on 18/05/2021 (UK time) and closes at 12.01PM on 23/05/2021 (UK time)
• The prize is one copy of the book ‘The Accidental Footballer’ by Pat Nevin.
• Full T&Cs apply