During these uncertain and scary times, football is rightly halted and levity is in short supply. The best case scenario for most of us is months of isolation that turns our own living spaces into miniature, decently furnished prisons; the worst case is, well, better left unsaid.
But while sports — football, in particular; Chelsea, specifically — are no longer happening, we can take time to remember that they indeed have happened. And that some of what happened was extremely funny.
Because the normal pace of match-result-analysis-interview-injury-buildup-match is so endlessly furious, we rarely take the time to adequately dissect just how funny some of these moments were. Now that we have the time, I will use this series to make up for these errors, because my god do we all need to laugh.
The first installment will be a look, and laugh, at Ross Barkley’s goal to put Chelsea 2-0 up over Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge.
There’s a hefty amount of amusement just on the surface of this goal. Merseyside-born Ross Barkley, the blue side’s prodigal son turned castaway exhuming an imprinted disdain; Liverpool, (still) holding a billion-point lead in the league, letting him score from a run that began in his own half — all of it thrilling to us and funny to anyone without a fondness for the red swatch of Merseyside.
But the hilarity extends even deeper.
First, there’s Virgil van Dijk, The Best Defender God Ever Sculpted, making multiple errors to aid the goal. He made the slow pass that Pedro intercepted; was beaten in the air by Giroud (actually, even funnier, he may not have been beaten, he may have headed the ball to Barkley himself); his initial leisurely jog to track Pedro, who was his responsibility, and had been in a full sprint since intercepting the pass; his eventual — and impressive — acceleration to bring himself level with his back line just as the ball flew beyond the keeper. All of this is hysterical to watch in succession, repeatedly.
In fact, as Barkley charged with his head down, as he is wont to do, the thing that triggered him to shoot might have been Van Dijk’s arrival signaling that the chance to play Pedro in for a 1v1 was gone.
This GIF shows how many steps Barkley took to set up a straightforward far corner hit. He either delayed his decision until only one option remained, or had enough space to think, overthink then re-think his aim and technique — we cannot overlook how hilarious it is that he had enough time to do both, and will likely never know which it was, or if it indeed was (the funniest option) both.
Also, Van Dijk’s bolting sprint ends with him craning his neck to stare at the sky as his limbs went loose like a child about to drop to the floor in the supermarket.
Virgil is definitely the star of this movie for Liverpool, but other supporting actors deserve acknowledgement as well. Fabinho didn’t lay a finger on Barkley despite the Chelsea man taking the long way around him, while 18-year-old right-back Neco Williams looked like a child waiting for an adult to make the decision that’s going to dissolve the panic of the current situation. He was lost and expecting a hand on the shoulder and a baritone voice telling him ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to help you find your Missing Parental Unit.’
Instead, Joe Gomez was busy having his own crisis. The figure of Ross Barkley through his eyes had either morphed into prime-Ronaldinho, or a very nimble Godzilla. In the end Gomez’s only attempted interference was to do a goofy back-kick leg thing in the opposite direction of Barkley’s shot, seemingly just to be able to say he tried something without it being a lie.
Now, reader, I know playing professional football is hard. I also know that Ross Barkley, while a funny sort of character himself (all the tools with rarely a clue how to use them), is at the very least a physical specimen that none of us would like to be responsible for stopping at a full sprint. But whenever a professional footballer has a moment that you and I can relate to, it is by definition hilarious. Gomez has been in that situation — in training and games — hundreds maybe thousands of times, he’s had years’ worth of professional training to handle this exact scenario.
And Barkley did nothing extraordinary — not a stepover, fake or even feint, he just dribbled forward — but it was like Gomez had just developed a sudden love for backpedaling and figured it felt too good to stop. Honestly, I respect the ability to adopt a new hobby while everyone’s staring at you, expecting you to do your job. In honor of Joe Gomez and these uncertain times where self-care is vital, I’ll be giving in to my urge to perfect æbleskivers during my next conference call.
Thank you Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Neco Williams and all of Liverpool for your foresight and thoughtfulness ahead of this trying time.