Football, thanks in part to its low scoring-to-gameplay ratio can be an odd sport. Wins, draws, losses often hinge on random pieces of play, a slice of luck here, a bad bounce there, one poor decision, one poor touch, one amazing piece of skill from among a hundred others elsewhere. It's why even the worst games can be compelling viewing and why the sport remains alluringly accessible yet impossible to master.
Last weekend, Chelsea played quite well overall, yet thanks to two indecisive and controversial moments, ended up conceding twice and dropping two points. On Friday, Chelsea, in the first half especially, played quite poorly and yet only conceded two goals only via a ridiculous breakdown in defense that should not happen outside of peewee leagues and an absolute world class strike from decidedly not world class Jordan Henderson. Liverpool's play "deserved" goals, insofar as goals can be deserved for great movement, passing, interplay, and creativity (rather than, you know, shots on target), but the goals they actually got where basically gifts from Chelsea (and Gary Cahill, but let's not name names okay let's name him and here's a one-way ticket to the Moon but with a space suit because I'm no monster — WAGNH, now with 10% added kindness).
"In the first half, I must be honest, I think we gave away two goals. The first goal came after a free-kick which they took very quickly and the second after a throw-in. From long distance it was a great goal but when you give away two goals in that way it's very difficult."
"These are tough games and I think you must pay attention in every moment, every single minute of the game, because that makes the difference. In this case we paid because after the first half we were losing 2-0 and then it's very difficult."
"In the second half we scored the goal and then missed a chance to draw level through Costa. We had some chances to draw but it was too late."
Conte may be right in his assessment of the goals, but surely he also realizes that there were systemic issues on display in that first half. As commendable as it was that the same eleven players came back for the second half, pulled up their socks, and got down to the actual work of playing and trying to win, it might be time to change the usual starting eleven that has so far got Chelsea off to a decent start with 10 points from 15 (six better than at this stage last season).
"Every single game is very tough and we mustn't forget last season. That's important because it was a bad season and I don't want to repeat that. When you finish in 10th place it's something strange, it's not natural or simple. It means we have to work very hard to improve."
"I'm guilty because I'm the coach and it means I have to work more. We must feel the danger in every single moment of the game if we want to win and think like a great team. We must pay attention and be focused."
Speaking of guilt, Conte's decision to wait until the final ten minutes to make any substitution has come under close scrutiny, to say the least, especially since Chelsea visibly tired after the 65th minute or so, when our initial push and second-half dominance started waning. Three subs arrived, but only 20 minutes later, by which time it was too little too late. Conte explained his thought process behind the subs, but while that's all good and valid, he did not offer any reason for why they were so late (other than the assumption that well, this has worked before!).
"In the second half we started with the same players and you saw another game, with great intensity. We scored the goal and created chances so for this reason I waited to make the substitutions. In the last 10 minutes I changed three players to try to give freshness and change the result."
"In that moment I had to decide whether or not to put two wingers in. I wanted to change a midfielder to put Fabregas on but it could have been Batshuayi and not either Moses or Pedro. I needed to put Hazard closer to Diego."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
In the end, it's still only match no.5 in the league and the sixth in all competitions. We're all still learning, fans, players, coaches alike. David Luiz had himself a good second debut and Diego Costa got on the scoresheet once again. Even Courtois found it in himself to catch a cross and then make a world class save.
There's plenty of room for improvement, as Conte often talks about, and plenty of time to put in the hard work required to make this team into a force to be reckoned with once again.
Conte: It's not important if this defeat is my first. It's OUR defeat. There are the players, the manager, the staff.— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) September 16, 2016
One loss is not the end of the season, especially not in September. Time to regroup, refocus, relearn what needs to be learned. Tuesday's cup tie at Leicester will be a perfect opportunity for the non-starters to claim their stake and put pressure on the first-choice players. We have at least 35 more matches this season; the season's young and there's plenty of time left for good (and bad) things to happen.