November from the Stands: Giles Smith on book-ends to big wins

Our Chelsea supporter columnist and season ticket holder Giles Smith continues to review each month of the season from a fan’s point of view, with the one just finished bringing an ‘extraordinary demonstration of energised coherence’ but also a chance that causes sleepless nights…

Oddly, and frustratingly, the month of November ended exactly as it began, Premier League-wise – with the arrival at the Bridge of a struggling side whom our players, to nobody’s particular surprise, duly ran all over, only for the game somehow to defy science, logic and all the known laws of probability and end in a 1-1 draw and the loss of two valuable points from our campaign for the title.

But what can you say? This is just the way it sometimes goes when you come up against the likes of your Burnleys and your Manchester Uniteds.

Those two games had a lot in common, all things considered. True, against Burnley the furrow-browed deliberation over goal-kicks started within seven minutes of the kick-off, which was possibly a new record for this kind of thing, and United waited for a few minutes more before introducing elements of game-delay into their approach to our nullification. But otherwise, it was pretty much like-for-like stuff, with Burnley perhaps slightly shading it over United in terms of ambition. (They managed five attempts on our goal to United’s three.)

It could have been four

Against United, we carved out 24 attempts at goal. 24! Two dozen times we put ourselves in a position where scoring was not entirely out of the question. Accordingly, the notion, proposed in a match report by one football correspondent, that United ‘restricted the Premier League leaders to a Jorginho penalty’ invites, among many other things, an investigation of the term ‘restricted’.

There is nothing particularly restrictive, surely, about allowing Toni Rudiger a crack at a gaping wide goal in the final seconds – nor for that matter about gifting Ruben Loftus-Cheek a free header or Timo Werner a moment to set himself just outside the six-yard box, or Callum Hudson-Odoi the opportunity to roar right into the middle of the penalty area practically unopposed, to name only those among the chances that United ‘restricted’ us to on their way to ‘restricting’ us to a solitary penalty strike.

Let’s not shy away from this: as against Burnley, the restriction of the score-line over those one-way 90 minutes was all of our own doing, in common with practically everything else about a match in which our players, as so frequently this season, tightly held the reins practically throughout. It could, and should, have been four, as against Juventus, and I would have settled for three, as against Leicester, but even seven, as against Norwich, would not have been an unreasonable reflection of the game as it unfolded.

Yet, as against Burnley, when we had 25 attempts, we didn’t score when we should have done. And many times we didn’t score when it actually seemed harder to miss. And the ultimate consequence of this is that now I have to lie awake at night replaying that Rudiger chance at the death and cursing the absurdity of football – pretty much the only sport in which utter and absolute domination of your opponent does not by definition result in victory.


Still, fair play: as the month ended, someone had at last worked out how to break down our monumentally solid defence and score a goal. And that’s been a riddle too complex for a large number of the teams we have faced in a season where we have already seen that defence combine to achieve 12 clean sheets.

And this, it turns out, is how you do it. You punt a clearance from a corner up into the sky and hope that, as it falls out of the floodlights on the half-way line, a dazzled Jorginho makes the only first-touch mistake he has made in about the last 36 months. At which point, with our entire side bar Edouard Mendy in your penalty area, two of your forwards can seize the chance to scamper unopposed into our half and pass the ball into the net. Simple. No doubt, around Europe, the great minds of football will have watched, learned and drawn fancy diagrams on their iPads.

In between those matching book-ends, the month brought us all more reliable pleasures, including the reduction to dust of Juventus in the Champions League and the obliteration of Leicester, both of which were the team’s immediate response to that Burnley frustration. Marred only by the injury to Ben Chilwell, the performance against Juventus was arguably the classiest of the season so far – an extraordinary demonstration of energised coherence that made you realise that there are practically no teams out there that this side could not, in the right mood and with the right breaks, bulldoze.

But the performance against Leicester was equally impressive in its own way, and given the context. 12.30 games are a slightly wobbly prospect at the best of times, something about that time of the day naturally introducing an extra random element. We’ve always said that if god meant football to be played at lunchtime, he wouldn’t have put lunch there, and we stand by that reading of the situation. (It’s why we greet the upcoming prospect of West Ham in Stratford at 12.30 this Saturday with more than the usual trepidation.)

But a 12.30 game after an international break seems to be loading instability on instability. Who could confidently state, really, how that was going to pan out? Yet the team came together and delivered a goal rout which, after Burnley, felt purgative. As well as the three goals which stood, remember, there were three goals disallowed in the second half for minor offside infringements. That was a fourth consecutive away win and it remains the case that we have reached that point in the year when people start getting their Christmas lights up, and we have still only conceded one goal away from home in the league all season. And even that was a penalty.

Can you hear the Tottenham sing?

In other respects, I suppose it was a month dominated by the launch of the new Adele album. The Times, in one of many news reports hailing this event, credited the singer with ‘putting Tottenham on the world map’. Now, that’s an impressive achievement no matter how you look at it. With just four albums to her name, and inside just 15 years in the business, Adele has done what Spurs have been failing to do since 1882: she has made Tottenham famous. Consider our hat well and truly off.

At the same time, it seems that in a competition to be acclaimed the biggest thing to come out of Tottenham, Spurs just ended up finishing second. Oh, my. Tottenham Hotspur: it’s happened again.

Spurs’ own frustrations this month included a defeat to NS Mura who, I’ve got to admit, I thought was a crime novelist until I read the match report. Ah well. No doubt, as ever, our north London neighbours will pick themselves up and dust themselves down. Even now, the appointment of Antonio Conte, who is well known to us, could help them to end that long silverware drought and land the Vanarama Europa Conference League Trophy South – if not this season, then perhaps next.

If November had a slightly leisurely pace to it – just the five games across those weeks, including the unfussy defeat of Malmo in Sweden with which the month opened – that was because it had a hole eaten in it by another of the autumn’s traditional plague of international breaks. All change from here, though. Christmas is coming, and in December we are scheduled to play nine times - snow, wind and new Covid variants permitting, of course. November might have felt a little quiet but it’s about to get properly noisy.

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