An Everyday Story of Football Folk and Their Intellectual Property
The Scene is Set
Here was the deal going into last night’s action:
Arsenal with two games left have 67 and can hope for a maximum of 73.
Spurs had three games left, 65 points and their maximum attainable total is 74.
Therefore Chelsea on 68, again with three games, can get to 77 but in truth would need no more than a maximum of six points from a possible nine as their goal difference is so far ahead of Spurs.
So Chelsea could, in theory, afford to lose this one and still be in the mix. A relaxing thought, non? I knew you’d agree. The way the season has gone, with disappointment heaped on humiliation all making for an unstable load on the wheelbarrow of expectation, why not can that proud record of not losing to Tottenham at the Bridge since back when Liverpool were winning titles? Just get it all out there. Lance the boil of pent up frustration. Or, if like many of the regulars you are lying prone and disinterested, like a dilettante opium addict, floating in a haze of fatigue and ennui, well you’ll barely notice another bitter disappointment.
The Actors Arrive
A selection that many now see as the A team: Cech behind Cahill and Ivanovic flanked by Azpi and Cole with Luiz and Ramires in central midfield backing the three amigos who looked to the masked man on point duty.
The absence of Terry was no surprise these days and with Frank having handed Sir Alex perhaps his final home defeat on Sunday it was to be expected he’d sit.
The visitors sporting a tonsorial mixture ranging from the 50s binman look of Bale and Parker to the Hendrix-like big hair of Huddlestone and Assou-Ekotto were missing Dembele. Other names like Kaboul, Gallas, Defoe, Sandro and Livermore weren’t in the lineup either. Due to a lack of time and general ignorance I’m not sure of their status.
But anyone doubting whether AVB had absorbed the history and culture of Chelsea during his brief tenure need only to see the presence of a tall, rangy man from the African continent playing up front in a London derby to know that he was in our heads, playing with our nightmares like David Lynch in Twin Peaks or Fire Walk With Me. Perhaps he should have thrown him on as a sub to make the parallels almost too excruciating.
The Action Unfolds
Now these games against the Hotspurs have in recent years been quite exciting affairs, particularly down at the Lane, the Bridge editions perhaps less so, although not without their controversies. Despite it being AVB’s return and first chance to take a tilt at his ex-employers on their patch, the high stakes mean it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a cagey, nervy, tight affair.
What the first half delivered was a brand of “Firewagon” (to borrow a phrase from another sport) football from both sides at which Chelsea proved the more adept. Taking the old adage “score early, score often” to heart, Chelsea scored early when after 10 minutes Oscar nipped in to head home point blank from a Cahill knockdown at a corner. In the general excitement they then forgot the “often” bit. With the majority of quality possession and plenty of attacking intent, they then did what they have done so regularly throughout the season and wasted a couple of decent chances to really floor Spurs. Mata yet again one of the culprits. Just how many goals could this man have scored?
Then a quick Spurs break from a Chelsea corner just beyond 25 minutes, saw our defence do again what they have done so often during the season; hesitate to go and close down the ball carrier. And so it came to pass that with Cech out on his six yard line, for reasons I’m not too sure about, other than he was anticipating a ball in behind his retreating back four, a tall, rangy bloke of Sub-Saharan aspect elected to drift the ball in from 30 yards.
The game was quite even then, until sharp combination play down the right, where Oscar, who was enjoying so much freedom against Assou-Ekotto due to Bale queuing up down the Patent Office and generally going missing for large parts of the evening, linked with Torres, who then played a sweet through ball into the right-hand side of the box where Ramires sped in to hit a one timer into the left-hand bottom corner. The less time he has to think about it the more effective he seems to be.
The half ended with Chelsea on top and they started the second just as strongly. They were pressing Tottenham high up the pitch, rushing the the man in possession in groups of two and three and Spurs were getting hemmed in and giving the ball away with heartening regularity. They didn’t even have time to use the option of hitting it long as their back four were pressured to move the ball quickly.
The Script Seems Strangely Familiar
Reaching into the desk drawer of handy phrases, I find the term “gilt-edged” and this best describes the chances that Chelsea then spurned. Because spurning is what you do with gilt-edged chances. Unless you’re sensible enough to take them. Hazard wasn’t with his one in the six yard box. We were then treated to the first of a couple of bizarre instances of players losing their footing, when Ramires who only had to sidefoot in a ball from Mata as he gained the area at speed went over like he’d hit black ice. What was on the surface down towards the Matthew Harding that made it like glass? Oscar managed to fall over twice within 10 yards at one point.
As the hour ticked by AVB brought on Sigurdsson for a truly ineffectual Lennon, followed ten minutes later with Dempsey on for Holtby. This had the effect of encouraging Bale to leave the cares of intellectual property and start taking a few runs at the Chelsea back four. Adebayor also returned to the action from wherever he had been spectating since his goal. In between Hazard, who had been a threat all evening was subbed for Moses. Having been floored with a heavy challenge some minutes earlier, I have to think this was forced on Benitez. And a foul count of 16 to six with only two yellow cards to one, once again meant that direct strong running at the opposition was too often checked by a foul with no discernible deterrent until late in the game.
Football is best understood in cliche and the idea that you really should take your chances when on top started to take hold in the mind of more than one Chelsea fan, I’ll warrant. Spurs were heading into their best spell of the game; the changes meant they were now able to work the ball up through midfield and Chelsea’s response was one of politeness. After all it would have been churlish and ill-mannered of David Luiz to track Sigurdsson into the box as he received a ball from a briefly offside Adebayor. It was now two-all.
The arrival of Benayoun for the impressive Oscar shortly after the goal, was greeted with a chorus of boos. Were they aimed at Benitez or Benayoun or both? It can only help the opposition to know that they’ve unsettled the home crowd. Many would have wanted to see Lampard. And certainly his range of passing might have helped because Luiz seemed to drop right off his game in the last 20 minutes. Perhaps Ramires could have moved into Oscar’s role to accommodate Mr Lampard.
Well it’s done now. Yet again the team has not managed to win after scoring first while lacking that last layer of resilience. Yes Spurs hit a good spell for the last 20 but it would not have needed a miracle to see them off.
The Lights Go Up (and someone starts to vacuum up the spilled popcorn while you try and watch the credits)
We remain in UEFA limbo, a narrow curtained room with a heavy wooden door that leads we know not where. It is an ante-chamber to the heaven of Champions League or the purgatory of Thursday night Europa. But the wait is near its end and we can hear the heavy footfall of the doorman approaching on the other side. We try to call out, to know for where we are bound but our voices are distorted and deadened by the heavy curtains. There is no reply. The handle starts to turn…
Enough of that.
It is difficult to be heavily critical of the team as a whole. Oscar, Hazard, Ramires and Azpilicueta stood out for me. Torres did well for an hour but seemed to fade once Hazard and Oscar left the field. They just have got to start converting a higher proportion of their chances. They will always tend give the opposition a goal, I think. They have to outscore rather than get ahead and hold out. Oh for the days of 103 goals in 38 games. It seems like it was just a dream…
And who better than the recently deceased legend George Jones to offer us a valediction to the soon to depart Rafa Benitez. Singing along with Elvis Costello, who wrote it for him, I give you “Stranger in the House”.
No “this never was one of the great romances….”
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Tottenham Hotspur would normally celebrate a performance like this to the rafters, not least in praise of their team’s powers of recovery after they twice trailed in an arena that has tended to choke their resolve. Yet, in only drawing across the capital at Chelsea, André Villas-Boas’s side have surrendered the initiative to Arsenal in the race for the top four. This was spirited and, as their manager stressed, ultimately impressive. It might also prove damaging.”
The Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “It was a high-quality match played at a breathless pace but, in the final analysis, a 2-2 draw did not really suit either club. Chelsea need another win to ensure a top-four finish so cannot completely switch their focus to next Wednesday’s Europa League final against Benfica.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Two games from the end of the season and after the tumult of another mad nine months, Rafa Benitez is within reach of delivering them to the promised land of Champions League football. If it falls nicely for them this summer Jose Mourinho will breeze back in for another crack at the big time and he might even bring Wayne Rooney with him.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “A Brazilian brace was not enough to secure victory in a ferocious London derby that leaves us waiting to secure Champions League football.”