Chelsea fan and columnist Giles Smith was pleased to see the goals going in again at the weekend, and even if he has to wait a little longer than originally anticipated to view his team in action at Fulham, he is wondering what is the likelihood of things speeding up, the ball included…
Last Sunday, within a mere handful of hours, our team had completed a suitably fluid and properly uncompromising 4-0 removal of Morecambe, and Leeds had gone down 3-0 to Crawley. And people say the FA Cup has lost its magic.Most satisfying of those goals? Well, all seven of them had something about them to relish, but probably Timo Werner scoring from a Kai Havertz assist following a Hakim Ziyech cross, a combination which I suspect many of us have had on our bingo cards for a while now.Anyway, when you broke it down, it all meant our team was scoring freely and winning, something which hasn’t been happening since… well, 21 December in fact, or just three games ago when we casually dismantled West Ham. But better mention that only lightly or else the ‘deep-set, rampant crisis’ narrative becomes slightly harder to roll out.
Also, whisper it again, but was this the game when our luck finally changed, as well as our form? I only mention this because, at Arsenal on Boxing Day, when an opponent’s mis-hit cross defied science and probability to turn into a shot, it ended up in our net, whereas here, when the same thing happened, thanks to Kepa it didn’t. It’s the little signs that you cling onto.Incidentally, on the topic of defying science, Sunday’s game also raised a knotty puzzle – and courtesy, I’m delighted to say, of Mark Schwarzer, formerly of this parish, who was in the co-commentary role for the BBC.
It was our former goalkeeper’s impression, twice in the game, that we saw a particular kind of shot from long distance that SPED UP in the vicinity of the goal, thereby causing the goalkeeper extra confusion.The first of these was from the boot of Mason Mount in the first half, and the second was struck by Hakim Ziyech, mid-way through the second. Schwarzer, having examined the replays, felt moved to describe both of these efforts as shots that ‘did something late.’Now, I’m no scientist. Indeed, in the interests of full disclosure, let me declare here that I failed Physics O-Level. Even so, this notion of the shot that quickens, right at the end – that suddenly and deviously gets faster at the end of its trajectory - didn’t sound quite right to me somehow, nor to chime with my admittedly limited understanding of the laws of motion as they are written.A kicked football, surely, like a thrown stone, or even a fired bullet, is only ever going to be slowing down. That’s just the nature of it. There can be no late surge of acceleration without an additional source of propulsion kicking in somewhere along the way, like, for example, the booster rockets that fire in stages under spacecraft to propel them into orbit. Tell me if I’m wrong.And for all that it no doubt features the very latest developments in ball-making technology, and is, in fact, according to the manufacturers themselves, ‘crafted with a unique 14-panel configuration for consistent energy and power transfer from boot to ball’, I don’t think even the official match ball of the Emirates FA Cup has got booster rockets in it.
So, I hate to quibble, obviously, and all respect to an internationally capped footballer, not least one of our own, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think the devious late burst of speed, as applied to a shot from the outside the box, is actually a thing. Not even in the third round of the FA Cup, where normal rules very often don’t apply.I’m not denying that it sounded convincing, though – at least, certainly the first time he mentioned it. Indeed, one couldn’t help but idly wonder whether Schwarzer had ever sat in dressing rooms after games and effectively wielded this piece of science to defend himself from the criticism of his team-mates. ‘Sorry, boys, but it was one of those ones that get faster at the end. What are you going to do?’Anyway, the weighty considerations of physics aside, I guess many of us were happily observing last Sunday’s performance, imagining the possibility of Ben Chilwell and Reece James incorporated into that side and looking forward to a Friday night of similarly persuasive football at Fulham. But, of course, that fixture was then delayed until the following day, the knock-on effect of Covid-related cancellations by Aston Villa and, just a short while back, Fulham themselves.Disappointing, perhaps, to have to wait another 24 hours (or just under) for the revolution to continue, but we all need to maintain a flexible attitude at this point. And if one of the consequences of us playing our part and budging up a little is that we get to see Tottenham, in their inserted fixture, fail to defend a one-goal lead for the fourth time this season, then we can probably all agree that it was a sacrifice worth making.As the broader situation grows critical, players have been reminded of their responsibilities regarding goal celebrations. Close mixing at corners, however, necessarily involving players from two separate bubbles, doesn’t seem to be attracting anyone’s anxiety. Ah well. Personally, I can live without goal celebrations for a while. Indeed, like longer shorts, the crisp jog back to the centre circle, inter-war-style, has always seemed to me to have something to recommend it. And there could be far worse sacrifices, such as not having any football to play or watch at all. But it does seem a bafflingly contradictory thing to be concerned about in the circumstances.
It’s fair to say that those of us on the outside of football’s bubble have also been cautioned this week on our adherence to the guidelines at this acutely sensitive moment in the pandemic. Specifically, there is to be no further gathering on the streets in large and non-socially-distanced numbers to gawp at arriving Tottenham players – though why anybody would consider that an amusing use of an afternoon, either during a global health crisis or outside of one, I have only the sketchiest of ideas.Meanwhile, somewhere amid the re-jiggled fixtures, Manchester United have somehow risen by stealth to the top of the table, something which last happened so long ago that The Saturdays were still having hits. Almost wherever you look, these really are the least likely of times. But bring on Fulham, on Saturday or whenever it’s convenient.