Giles Smith's Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 19 Jan 2017
Leicester to Leicester, loss to win. What a difference a year makes points out our Chelsea fan Giles Smith in this week’s column…
So, it finished 6-0 on aggregate against Leicester City in the league this season, or 10-2 if you throw in the EFL Cup game from back in September. You’d settle for that, most years, against the reigning champions.
What makes that splendid outcome even more striking, though, is to recall the last time that we were away at Leicester in the Premier League, a year ago. That was the bleak night in mid-December 2015, when, with confusion abounding, we got rather badly outfought, looked a touch short of inspiration, lost Eden Hazard to injury and dumped the game 2-1. This result left us (reigning champions ourselves at that point, you won’t have forgotten) a somewhat disappointing 16th in the table, just one point above the dotted line of doom after 16 matches, with just 15 points and (very shortly afterwards) no manager.
Fifteen points from 16 matches! Well may you shake your head at this point, and squeeze your brains to think of the number of occasions in recent history when Chelsea fans have lived, for any length of time, with the indignity of seeing a larger number in the ‘games played’ column than in the ‘points accrued’ column. Obviously, like any other team, we are vulnerable to such a thing, briefly, at the start of a season. But given that we have won 15 of our last 18 opening-day matches, and given that we haven’t lost two games on the bounce at the start of a campaign pretty much since the Queen was a toddler, you will sense that this particular phenomenon occurs about as often as comets are visible from your bathroom window.
Anyway, to cast one’s mind directly forward from the pain and misery of Leicester away in 2015 to the happiness and joy of Leicester away in 2017 is a bit like watching one of those time-lapse films of a flower blooming, albeit against the backdrop of the King Power Stadium rather than somewhere natural. Whatever, it’s a quick way to see our transformation whole: from a 2-1 struggle to 0-3 in a match we almost completely and without stress controlled; from 15 points from 16 games to 52 points from 21; from 16th place and looking down to first place and looking up; from grim and downcast to chatty and rather excited.
And all this in the absence, last Saturday, of our key striker, which, in prospect, had a number of observers fearing the worst. Fair enough, too, although, interestingly, the last time we lacked Diego we also won 3-0 – at home to Bournemouth on Boxing Day, when he was suspended. Like you, probably, I’m always happier when he’s there. And I was especially happy when he was there against West Brom. At the same time, a person would be hard-pressed to mount a water-tight argument that it automatically doesn’t work when he is not there. There are alternative plans and other options, in other words, not least Marcos Alonso, of whom it can now officially be said: he scores when he wants.
The point is, though, what a difference the time between Leicester away games makes. Then again, you can get a similarly dizzying effect by looking back to this season’s home game against Claudio Ranieri’s team, in October. If anyone had told you, leaving the ground that day, having beaten our distinguished guests 3-0, that, by the next time we played Leicester, we would have won 11 of the intervening 12 league games, and would have scored 27 goals while only conceding five… well, you would possibly have given that person a sympathetic or even lightly patronising smile.
Yet, of course, all this came to pass. Leicester at home in October turned out to be merely step two in a 13-game victory-run, the like of which few of us had been privileged to witness in our lifetimes. And, as a result, Sunday’s victory has left us seven points clear at the top of the table, with the best goal difference in the league, 10 points inside the Champions League places, and 12 points ahead of still-misfiring Manchester United. And, of course, predictions are a mug’s game and to be avoided where possible. But I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out when I suggest that, whatever else happens this season, and however it all pans out in the end, we probably don’t need to pay too much attention to the dotted line of doom this time.
On the subject of which, it’s Hull at home next. And if anyone had told you, when we won 2-0 at Hull’s place on the first day of October, that by the next time we met them, towards the end of January, we would have won 14 out of the following 15 league matches and scored… [continue as above]