Giles Smith's Thursday Thoughts

Columnist and Chelsea season ticket holder Giles Smith is back for the new season, and he discusses a couple of key issues ahead of Sunday's big game...

Two hopes for the Spurs game at Wembley this weekend: firstly, that we manage to play the entire match with the recommended full complement of 11 men. It would make a change. A freakish storm of red cards has recently blown up out of nowhere, among a bunch of players who haven’t been particularly vulnerable to that kind of thing. As a consequence, we have had four players sent off in our last three proper matches, if we include the Community Shield as a proper match, which I guess we sort of have to.

In each of those three cases, I think we can agree that having players sent off affected the course of the match and was, indeed, pivotal, as it so often tends to be. It was pivotal in the FA Cup final, it was pivotal in the Community Shield, and it was definitely pivotal in our less than ideal season-opener against Burnley, and even more so when, with the comeback strongly underway, Cesc Fabregas followed Gary Cahill down the tunnel in the second half.

Now, I hope I’m not in danger of losing anyone by getting too technical here, but this is something on which all the respected coaching manuals speak with one accord: a player is far better placed to influence the course of a match from a position on the pitch than from a seat in the dressing room.

You think of all the greats down the years – be it Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Sir Stanley Matthews, Gareth Hall (pictured below) or whoever figures in your personal pantheon – and what they all had in common was that they did their best work, and the work for which we now remember them, while not having been sent off. These players were capable of genuinely sensational things out there on the pitch – but remove them from that pitch and they were largely powerless. Even Gareth Hall. That’s just the way football is.

And if it’s two players… well, even more so. So, here’s to us having 11 players for the full 90 against Spurs, thereby granting the team, for the first time in a little while, a proper opportunity to show what it can do. Of course, as ever, we’ll be partly in the referee’s hands here. But fingers crossed.

Second hope: that Antonio Conte reverts to his suit. For the Burnley game, the manager replaced his usual dark jacket and tie with a club tracksuit. Which is a perfectly nice tracksuit, obviously, with some very honourable badging. Yet I was slightly disappointed to see it. One appreciates that we live in increasingly informal times, and that not even MPs in the House of Commons are obliged to wear ties any more. Nevertheless, politics is one thing and football another, and a little distinctive decorum in the technical area doesn’t, in my opinion, go amiss.

True, our manager is inclined to engage himself physically on the touchline in a manner that makes relaxed-fit sportswear appear to be, perhaps, the most sensible choice of outfit. Then again, last year’s menswear did not appear by any means to constrain him, as all the people in the East Lower on top of whom he threw himself in the wake of various goals during 2016/17 would no doubt attest. Plus, let’s face it, Antonio Conte wheeling away with jacket in full flap has become one of the most enlivening sights in English football.

Now, I’m not saying the tracksuit was to blame for the somewhat disappointing outcome on Saturday. But I am saying we didn’t do much losing at home to Burnley when the old dark suit was on. Indeed, I seem to remember us winning the league in it. So, re-adopt the suit, would be my immediate strategy. Obviously, at the same time, I’d be happy to be proved wrong, and if the tracksuit comes out at Wembley and ends up delivering the kind of encouraging result that all of us are looking for, then I’ll unhesitatingly hold up a hand and revise my thinking. But I’ll still claim the suit looks better.

So those are my two hopes. They’re fairly humble, I guess – not least when, having narrowly lost one game of football while playing with nine men, our club is allegedly deep in crisis and some quarters of the media are already saddling up all four horsemen of the Apocalypse and pointing them down the Fulham Road. Bit early for that, though, I would suggest. Hence my notion that simply keeping 11 men on the pitch, first and foremost, and maybe switching the manager’s outfit, could be enough to get things firing in what will be, after all, only the second game of the season.  And if I’m wrong – well, back to the drawing board. But let’s see.