Let me sing you a Song of Woe. A ten-verse song of what might have been.
Arsenal (v1) 0-0
Crystal Palace 2-1
West Ham (v1) 1-0
Arsenal (v2) 2-2
Manchester City 1-0
West Ham (v2) 1-1
Ten Premier League matches. 24 dropped points. All for want of a goal. Just one goal. In nine of the ten, Chelsea could muster but a single score. Never mind the baffling consecutive losses to Watford and Bournemouth. This is where the season was lost. As Cesc Fabregas said, “We haven’t scored enough given the chances we have created.”
It’s fitting, then, that a must-win match against desperate, relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town would once again see Chelsea score one lonely goal. In his post-match press conference, Antonio Conte could only state the obvious.
“Yeah, maybe I have already said this. Maybe after the West Ham game. It’s very difficult to explain the draw today because when you have 82% possession, and create many chances, concede only counter-attack, and draw the game... it’s very difficult to explain. But we must accept the result.
“We must accept staying fifth in the table. But it’s a pity because, also today, I saw a fantastic commitment from my players. They tried to get three points. But they weren’t able to score one goal more than our opponent. Football is simple. If you want to win, you have to score one goal more than your opponent. We weren’t able to do this.”
Our Champions League fate is now in the hands of 14th-place Brighton, the Brighton who lost 3-1 at Manchester City on Wednesday, the Brighton with one win in their last five matches (to be fair, that win was a creditable 1-0 against Manchester United.)
Chelsea are now tasking one of the smallest teams in the division with marching into mighty Anfield on Sunday and conquering Liverpool. For only if Liverpool drop all three points do the maths favor Chelsea, who must simultaneously turn over Newcastle on Tyneside. It’s a tall order indeed.
“The situation wasn’t in our hands before this game and, for sure, the possibility is less now after this game. At the same time, we have to try. We have to try to do our best.
”Like today. We played an intense game, with a will to win great desire to get three points. But we weren’t able to win the game today. That’s football.”
Conte made six changes to the team that beat Liverpool four days ago. He said he would and he did, with just Thibaut Courtois being an unscheduled absence. But he denied that this was a weakened side.
“No, absolutely not. I did the rotation also against Burnley. To make rotation, it means playing with players like Morata, Willian and Christensen, players who usually are in the lineup from the start.
”It’s stupid if we think rotation was a problem. We are Chelsea. We have a big squad and players who can play the whole game, but they must win. At Burnley we won the rotation was good. We spent a lot of energy against Liverpool. People said that lineup was not good, but we won. This is football.”
Nor would he question Huddersfield’s tactics. David Wagner, he of the Jurgen Klopp schoool of gegenpress, midfield dominance and short, sharp attacks, came into Stamford Bridge needing one point to secure another season in the Premier League and hey ... what happened to this vaunted philosophy?
What happened is that he abandoned it in favor of pragmatism. Eleven men behind the ball, usually vary narrow and deep within their own defensive third. One break, one goal, one point. Result. It’s a familiar formula, and sometimes a necessary one.
“But we must respect Huddersfield. For sure, they started this game with only one target in their mind: to take one point. For this reason, they wanted to defend very deep.
”I think we must give a best compliment to Huddersfield for this result. We had the chances to score, but we didn’t take them. But congratulations to Huddersfield, the players and the manager and the club, for them.”
After winning five on the trot in all competitions and four straight in the league, this was a deflating experience for everyone who was starting to hope. But in the context of the season, in the context of the Song of Woe with which we began this story, Conte believes that we haven’t been hard done by. You deserve what you get, after all.
“I’m realistic. I think that, at the end of the season, you finish in the position you deserve. We dropped too many points this season. If we stay fifth in the table, it means we deserve to stay in this position.”
It’s not completely over. Maybe Brighton will pull off a miracle. Maybe Chelsea won’t stumble against bogey-team Newcastle at St. James’. And of course, there’s still a FA Cup to be won. But for many people, it’s time to look at what we have, what we need, and plan for next season. Not for Conte, though.
“Now that’s not important. We have to finish this season and be focused on that. We have another game to play, and the FA Cup final, and then there is the club – for sure – who will do the best to improve the situation.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Football.London
What Conte didn’t say, what doesn’t really need saying at this point, is that improving the situation might involve — probably does involve, if you think smoke means fire — moving forward without him. That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.
As he said on Wednesday, “that’s football”.