Not everyone is given the chance to celebrate a significant milestone in the way Willian was on Wednesday night points out columnist and Chelsea fan Giles Smith, who has found much to relish in the midweek Champions League football…
What a day for special occasions Wednesday was. It was the day Willian celebrated his 300th Chelsea appearance. And (if I can be forgiven for making this personal for a moment) it was the day my mum celebrated her 90th birthday.That’s a sensational feat of longevity that we can all rise to applaud, isn’t it? And it’s pretty good going by my mum, too.Lob in the fact that this was also the week in which Manchester United confirmed their worst start to a league season in 30 years AND the week in which Bayern Munich pinged seven past a bewitched and bewildered Tottenham, and you can see why the cake and candles have been absolutely flying around in my neighbourhood these past few days.Rather like my mum, Willian spent his birthday in the company of people quite a bit younger than himself. (He’s now in the role of seen-it-all senior figure in this excitingly freshened side. Again, like my mum.) Unlike my mum, though, Willian marked the big occasion with a hard-to-pull-off volleyed winner in a vital Champions League group game away from home – one of those ones where you smack the ball downwards and use the ground to get your shot over the goalkeeper which, I have to say, my mum hasn’t been in a position to attempt for quite a while now.
That said, she would probably claim it’s because she hasn’t been getting the service. And fair enough, if you haven’t got a talent like Callum Hudson-Odoi out wide to supply the perfect cross at the critical moment, it doesn’t matter how often you make yourself available.Anyway, great goal, of course - a small work of genius, indeed, which should possibly even go forward for a medal at the Chelsea Flower Show next time around in the category ‘Most Creative Use of Grass’.In many respects, our first goal was an equally ingenious combination of visionary supply (Fikayo Tomori) and quick feet (Tammy Abraham). It was also apparently (and I owe this to the report on the BBC website) the first time since March 2012 that two English players had combined to create a goal for Chelsea in the Champions League. Which is the kind of detail I wouldn’t ordinarily care much about but which might be worth at least mentioning in this case since one of those two English players was Frank Lampard (and the other was John Terry). And also, as you quite probably recall, we won it that year. So omens. Or something.
A word, too, if I may, for the work of Kurt Zouma on Wednesday. The word ‘towering’ is over-used in the description of headers but there were at least three occasions on Wednesday night when Zouma did appear to have taken a lift to the landing 14 floors above the level on which the game was taking place. Football as defiance of gravity.
All in all, you would have to agree that what BT Sport somehow never tired of referring to as ‘Matchday Two’ delivered a brimming basket of joys, not least that massive European night up at Spurs’ new place – a ground built expressly for nights like these. A lot has been made of that stadium’s quick-filling beer system, but not enough, perhaps, of its quick-draining seats when a visiting side knocks in a fifth in the 83rd minute, so it was good to see the stadium design functioning smoothly there, too.Sadly, Bayern only added two more after that. Don’t you hate it, as a neutral, when sides ease off?Then there was Real Madrid’s plucky draw at home to 10-man Bruges, wherein poor old Thibaut Courtois found himself subbed off at half time, which seemed a little unsupportive on the part of Zinedine Zidane, but, hey, it’s none of our business; we’re just on the sofa with a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits. Even Liverpool’s second-half collapse into absurdity against Salzburg had a few things to recommend it. In short this was the Champions League delivering the kind of entertainment you would pay good money for – and, in fact, DO pay good money for.Plenty of energy to take forward to Southampton on Sunday, then. And that’s before we even factor in our excitement about the imminent arrival of the Premier League winter ball, announced with the usual fanfares this week, and as strong a signal of seasonal change for many of us as the clocks going back. These days one winces slightly in advance of these moments, anticipating bold experimentation, which doesn’t always end well. One recalls, for example, things getting a bit pinky and ‘beach ball’ in the 2017/18 season.But relax, everyone: this time it’s merely yellow and quite plain. And, more importantly, it’s still round. And it seems we’re quite good with those, so let’s go.