Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts

You can be wrong about people and people can be rather wrong about us are conclusions drawn by columnist Giles Smith from the Anfield action and talk…

Typical. Moments after taking off your designated penalty kicker, you get a penalty. I think this is technically known as ‘the law of sod’. That said, it would never happen in American football. Indeed, on the contrary: in American football, the point at which you got a penalty would have been the precise moment that you brought your designated kicker on. Maybe we need a rule change.

Anyhow, we all know what happened next. No blame attaching, obviously. Filthy night, horrible pitch, penalties always a lottery, etc. Plus one assumes there was no real, galvanising pressure on the shoulders of Diego at that precise moment, given that a point against struggling Liverpool, in a game that our opponents had no option but to win, was always going to be perfectly fine as far as we were concerned. You could understand someone being relaxed to the point of casual, in the circumstances. In fact, anything else would have looked slightly greedy. 

However, it can’t be denied that three points would have been good fun. As, indeed, would the infliction upon Liverpool of a fourth consecutive home defeat at Fortress Anfield, that famously intimidating arena where, interestingly, we haven’t lost for five years. And I’ve got to confess, with those thoughts in mind, when the penalty was awarded, I was rather hoping David Luiz would take it.

Fond memories, obviously, of his white-hot shoot-out belter off a pace bowler’s 25-yard run-in on the most golden night of them all in Munich in 2012. But also, clearly, David Luiz’s eye for a dead ball was well and truly in on Tuesday night, certainly judging by that colossal 70mph ambush he launched in the first half, while Simon Mignolet, like a considerably less alarming Donald Trump, was still in discussions regarding the possible construction of a wall.

Actually, thinking about it, that could have been another factor as far as Diego was concerned. Mignolet might have lulled him into a false sense of security by his less than convincing activity in the first half. The extent of his unpreparedness on that occasion could easily have led a person to believe, standing over a spot-kick an hour or so later, that the goalkeeper in front of him might be susceptible, not merely to going the wrong way, but even to facing the wrong way. In which case, fair play to Mignolet for the save. You can be wrong about people.

Anyway, the draw means that 10 points continue to separate us from Liverpool, and with Arsenal somehow managing to lose at home to Watford and Spurs only managing to draw at then bottom-of-the-table Sunderland, a healthy nine points separates us from the nearest contenders. Some writers are already handing us the title – which, of course, is the privilege of writers, who by definition don’t share the instinctive pessimism known to supporters. But even supporters can probably afford to admit that it doesn’t look too bad right now.

I watched this week’s match in the company of BT Sport, who had Steven Gerrard looking on from the glass-backed studio. Gerrard seemed glum afterwards – which isn’t all that unusual, of course. But on this occasion he seemed more than commonly glum - as well he might, I suppose, after seeing his side’s title chances sink below the horizon for the 27th year and counting. And this in the same week in which they had gone out of two cup competitions.

However, in the midst of that glumness, Gerrard seemed particularly aggrieved that Chelsea had turned up and got a draw without playing all that much in the way of attacking football. Well, we’re all entitled to an opinion, of course, but there’s a significant oversight involved in this view, isn’t there? Coming to Anfield in January, 10 points ahead of your opponents and not needing to bust a gut to win, is a privilege you earn by virtue of playing a lot of attacking football and stringing 13 consecutive victories together between October and the end of the previous year. And oddly enough this was an oversight seemingly shared by the hubbub of voices in BT Sport’s absurdly crowded commentary box, all of whom spent a lot of the match marvelling at Liverpool’s ‘lion’s share of the possession’, apparently not considering the possibility that possession was being ceded by a visiting team who, for a lot of the time, had no real need for it.

Compounding this oversight, Gerrard went on to make the point, after the game, that Chelsea are ‘vulnerable to crosses.’ His evidence for this assertion was the two goals that Tottenham scored against us just after Christmas, both of which were headers from lofted cross-field passes to the far post, and last night’s Liverpool equaliser, which sort of arose from a cross, albeit it one which got headed back across the box, and which was eventually scored from a central position.

So, an interesting observation from the retired midfielder, regarding what those three goals almost, very approximately, have in common. However, before we credit Gerrard with an insight that cuts devastatingly to the nub of things, and before the team heads out onto the training ground to have a good, hard look at itself, we probably ought to note that Chelsea have played 23 league games this season and have dropped points in only five of them. During that period, as I recall, many teams have attempted numerous times to score using crosses, and have emphatically failed, on account of the more than averagely water-tight nature, aerially speaking, of our defence – a defence which, since the beginning of October, has kept 13 clean sheets. If only Manchester United, Southampton, Everton, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Brentford, Hull (twice) and Leicester (twice also) had thought of the crosses thing.

And we probably ought also to note that it doesn’t really make sense to talk of the team with the joint-tightest defence in the league as being ‘vulnerable’ to anything in particular – except to the occasional goal which, this being football, is likely to happen, even to the very best of teams and even in the middle of extended winning streaks and while charging into highly promising leads at the top of the table.

But only promising, of course. Nothing achieved yet.