If a week is a long time in politics, then three months in football is surely an eternity (including tea breaks). Back in September, Jose departed the Bridge after a lover’s tiff too many with Roman and a new sheriff that no-one really wanted arrived in town.
Avram Grant’s appointment was generally greeted with the same kind of shock and derision that Cleavon Little’s Bart suffered in ‘Blazing Saddles’; the stunned Blue faithful gathered themselves like the residents of Rock Ridge and sung “Now is a time of great decision / Are we to stay or up and quit? / There’s no avoiding this conclusion: / Our club is turning into shit. Amen.” Or at least that’s what it sounded like at the time.
Elsewhere, Liverpool fans chortled as big green piles of Yankee dollars were flung down the Mersey at Rafa as fast as he could spend them on fancy electric beard trimmers and exciting forwards to rotate ad infinitum.
Another title challenge was on, they bellowed like Spurs fans proclaiming their annual assault on fourth place; Chelsea would be hard-pressed to make said spot, end up on Channel 5 playing some Lithuanian pipe fitters in the UEFA Urn and the new Scouse Superdome would be up on bricks, confirming their return to the pinnacle of English football.
In short, had anyone mentioned a Carling Cup semi-final for Chelsea back in ‘Black September’, it might have been looked upon as “the best we could hope for this season”. Never mind which resurgent team from Merseyside we were likely to end up playing in a semi-final (again).
All of which has made the last few months all the more pleasant (and indeed surprising), both in terms of Chelsea’s progress and events elsewhere. Down in SW6, Bart – sorry – Avram has survived most of what has been thrown at him and come out smelling of anything but what was predicted, arriving in 2008 with his hands on all the chicken soup and kneidlach still available. A couple of astute signings made, key players due back from injury and Africa Cup of Nations duty before too long, Ballack patrolling the midfield like Rommel in his pomp and Pizarro finally looking like the net-bursting goal monster we paid nothing for.**
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s soccertainment business venture seems to be encountering a few teething problems. Rafa looks increasingly likely to be as unemployed as Avram’s tailor before you can say “another turgid draw at Anfield”, while his paymasters trot the globe looking for another stooge to teach Stevie G the value of retaining the ball (or to flog the club to the highest bidder, depending on who you believe). Schadenfreude? Oh well, if we must.
All of which brings us nicely on to another semi (it must be all that terribly attractive football we’re playing); unless the statisticians amongst us can confirm otherwise, our eighteenth in fourteen years. Thanks to Joleon Lescott’s inability to notice the shortest man on the pitch climbing onto his shoulders during injury time of the first leg, we head to Goodison Park with a lead only slightly less slender than the chances of Alan Shearer not sticking the proverbial knife into Kevin Keegan when things inevitably go pear shaped on Tyneside.
Aside of the absence of Mikel, Drogba, Kalou and Essien who are all on ACN duty, Chelsea will be without Wright-Phillips who picked up an ankle injury in the win against Birmingham on Saturday with Terry and Shevchenko the other notable long term absences. Lampard could feature at some point while Anelka is not cup-tied and available for selection. And according to my Evertonian boss, he seems to love scoring against them.
Predictions: Goodison Park will be very noisy. Avram will be wearing an item of black clothing that doesn’t fit properly.
** one of the above may not be entirely true.