Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 15 Feb 2018
Columnist and season ticket holder Giles Smith is enjoying the current run of three home games in three different competitions, and especially the times of their staging…
Interesting how quickly a storm can blow over. Last week, following consecutive defeats to Bournemouth and Watford (the former an off-night, the latter while playing for more than an hour with 10 men), the forecast was for high winds and torrential downpours. We were also instructed to brace ourselves for the imminent arrival of a plague of locusts and the likely appearance of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in the manager’s office.
It was hard to concentrate for a while, with all the shouting going on out there, but the essential gist of the advice coming urgently from all quarters of the media, for supporters and everybody connected with the club, seemed to be: build an ark.
But then, on Monday, we beat West Brom 3-0 at the Bridge. At that point, quite magically, the water stopped rising, the sirens ceased sounding, the storm warnings were rapidly downgraded and plans to gather everyone together and start heading up the gangway two-by-two could be set aside again.
All of which perhaps only goes to illustrate the old truism that 90 minutes is a long time in football. It certainly was on Monday for Olivier Giroud, on his first home start, who may have been under the impression that he hadn’t merely changed clubs in the January window but had changed professions to cage fighting, such was the battering he got from our visitors combative (let’s say) central defence. His reward was, no doubt, an extensive collection of bruises and also a full head-plaster – albeit one which was applied with consummate style and managed somehow to leave his superb Fifties quiff intact. Impressive work.
True, when the judges eventually come to dish out the award for Best Mid-Match Bandaging of the Season, nobody, clearly, is getting ahead of Gary Cahill and the under-the-chin number he wore against Roma last October, which wrapped his head in a manner now seldom seen outside people with toothache in comics. That was mid-match bandaging of another order altogether. But come the final reckonings, we can surely rely on at least a special mention for the plastering of Giroud against West Brom.
Anyway, those three points that night, earned with the assistance of Giroud’s clever and very undamaged lay-off for Eden Hazard’s first, appear to have pushed us back into the top four where, even despite our recent lapses, the intervals remain tight. Indeed, I’m not wishing to get ahead of myself here, but if we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford (and this is the Manchester United who lost to Newcastle the other day), we would draw level with them, and quite possibly alongside them in second place.
All hypothetical, yes. But one mentions this simply by way of illustrating how slim the margins are between relative success and the end of the world. Just 90 minutes slim, in fact.
Before any of that, though, we will have the privilege of witnessing the second and third instalments of this run of three consecutive home games in three different competitions - the second time this season that football seems to have started taking after baseball in its fixture distribution (long series at home, followed by equally long periods on the road), but also another fairly strong indication that the season can’t be going all that badly.
First up is the FA Cup fifth round tie against Hull, at the new-fangled time of Friday evening. Traditionalists will balk but, in my opinion, any night game is a bonus and, as such, there is no such thing as a bad night on which to stage one. And better a night game by far, surely, than a game at lunchtime, which is another high likelihood on an FA Cup weekend, and which always feels plain wrong. Lunchtime isn’t a time for football. It’s a time for lunch.
And after that, there’s the home leg of our Champions League tie against Barcelona, which could have seemed a terrifying prospect in the light of defeats by Bournemouth and Watford but becomes a more appetising one, somehow, in the wake of a 3-0 victory over West Brom - the magic of those 90 minutes all over again. And anyone still veering more towards the terror end of the spectrum might benefit from reflecting on Barcelona’s most recent league result - a 0-0 draw against Getafe at the Nou Camp.
It was Barcelona’s second successive draw. Indeed, if a late Getafe free-kick hadn’t been tipped over the bar, it wouldn’t even have been that.
On the other hand there’s a video compilation doing the rounds of Messi in training this week and… well, you would have to conclude that he’s not looking too bad and that drawing 0-0 with Getafe doesn’t seem to have taken the spring out of his step to any noticeable degree. Still, as wise observers of the game will always tell you, it’s one thing doing it in training, quite another doing it in the white heat of competition against a team that has come through a storm and is now standing up proud and firm again.