In his weekly Chelsea fan-view column, Giles Smith reacts to the European challenge handed out this week and looks ahead to Tottenham with cushions coming to mind…
Did you call it? I’ve got to put a hand up: I didn’t. In the great, all-the-family-can-play, pre-Christmas game of Champions League Draw Bingo, I had Barcelona. I’m guessing an awful lot of us did.A certain fatalism tends to creep in around these times. It’s normally Barcelona, after all. As Mark Twain never tired of informing us, the only certainties we’ll ever know are death, taxes and a draw to meet Lionel Messi in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.But not this time. This time it’s Bayern Munich. And I don’t know about you, but personally I’m very happy with that. True, historically speaking, we normally like to wait until the final until we come up against Bayern. That normally works out well. But history can’t repeat itself all the time (unless we’re drawing Barcelona, of course), so we should probably settle comfortably for this as a last 16 tie.Of course, it depends what your feelings are about the Champions League knock-out rounds, and what you are hoping to get out of them, because there are opposing philosophies on this. Do you think the main point of qualifying for this competition is to meet the most distinguished and storied sides that Europe can offer and to be given the option to stage scintillating nights of all-singing, all-dancing top-table glory at the Bridge?
Or do you want to get drawn against the weakest team available to you at that moment, which makes for a duller prospect, in terms of a night out, but which thereby increases your chances of staying in the competition for a bit longer? That’s the teaser. We could call it ‘The Atalanta Quandary’ – if that didn’t sound like a bad Robert Ludlum novel.In this context, Bayern Munich (I would argue) represent pretty much the ideal compromise. Consider it this way: would you rather be facing Bayern or RB Leipzig, whom Tottenham have got? Leipzig are currently seven points and four places above Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga, having scored 45 goals in 16 matches. They look pretty terrifying, while at the same time seeming to present a fairly lukewarm attraction (no disrespect intended). Bayern, on the other hand, bring all that glamourous European heft with them, but are currently languishing in fifth place in their league, having ditched a manager already this season. They offer the perfect combination, then, of skin-tingling, big-match lustre and manifest beatability. I think we should be very grateful to the draw people.
There is plenty more vintage Champions League action to watch in the new box set on The 5th Stand app
Plus, of course, Munich’s a great city, where great things happen.Meanwhile, there’s no hiding from the fact that it’s been a touch depressing, what’s occurred recently in the domestic league – not least when it had all been shaping up so nicely. We were looking very comfortable in fourth place for a while there. A gap the scale of an Arizona canyon was opening up with the rest of the pack. Indeed, it already seemed to be making sense to speak of two entirely separate Premier League divisions in 2019/20: ours (in the top four) and the one with Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United in it. The battle appeared to be on for fifth place, with Wolves, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace clearly up for the scrap – and we could barely hear it through the walls.The disappointing truth is, we should be taking a cushion to Tottenham this weekend. Not even a cushion – a folded-up duvet on top of a cushion on top of a fully inflated air-bed. All it would have taken was simple victories over Bournemouth last Saturday, and struggling West Ham a fortnight before that, plus perhaps the bonus of at least a draw at shaky Everton in between, to ensure that Tottenham were so tiny in our rear-view mirror right now that they might as well have been a speck of mud on the back window.Actually, we would still be talking about a relatively comfy cushion – a scatter cushion, at the very least - if Jan Vertonghen hadn’t eclipsed a stodgy team performance by scoring that streaky dying-seconds winner against Wolves last weekend.
As it is, that impressive earlier form has slipped away temporarily, and we’re in the cushion-making business all over again. Against Tottenham this Sunday there’s stuffing on offer for our new cushion and I can’t think of a better place to begin making a really comfortable cushion to enjoy, and even to offer to relatives and guests, over the Christmas period.