Chelsea have lost just once since the start of December, won five in a row in all competitions for the first time since early November, have been crowned Champions of the World, and yet, struggled to a last-gasp victory at Selhurst Park long on frustration and familiar fallibilities and short on enterprise and cutting edge.
So what gives? We’ve played just four times in the last four weeks, had a week off from everything, spent a week just training, and even spent week in the sunshine of Abu Dhabi on a FIFA-funded vacation. Two trophies are already in the bag, and we have a shot at three more.
But perhaps these last few weeks have been just a bit too far outside the norm — especially for what usually would be the middle of the winter grind. We’re dealing with unique challenges on top of all the usual competitive challenges, not to mention injuries and infections.
Whenever coaches elucidate the non-football-specific issues that affect a performance, it can come across as just making excuses, but as Thomas Tuchel was keen to stress, they cannot be ignored either way. They don’t care that they’re called; they’ll make an impact either way.
“I have to stay calm now. How a week like this works, we come from a 30-degree temperature difference, we have six players with a cold from the AC in the plane, we have jet lag from Abu Dhabi, we have no player who slept well in Abu Dhabi because of temperature and the time difference. So it’s the same here.
“If you think we have a normal week to prepare I can just tell you it’s not like this. We are trying to survive at the moment and you can see.
“There is a lot of pressure going on if you go to a world cup and want to win it for Chelsea. The players put a lot of pressure on themselves and then we haven’t played Premier League for four weeks. It’s a huge and strange mix of a lot of reasons why, personally, I did not over-expect today performance-wise.
“Then we had some issues in training with Azpi and Callum Hudson-Odoi went out from training. So this is where we are and it is like this. I know we can play better, that we want to play better.”
We often decry football as a purely results-oriented business (not to mention narrated by purely results-based analysis and coverage), but that also means that as long as you’re winning, you usually do get time to try to work out whatever underlying processes are not quite functioning as well as you’d want them to function.
It also means that we can take these three points, add them to the ledger, and never think about the game itself again — it’s not like we have a shortage of them! Instead, we can think about how to make things look easy again, and how not have to fight for every inch as if this were trench warfare.
“Every team in a season like this will have games like this, especially between December, January and February where the conditions can really cause huge adversity on top of the strength of the opponent. [But] if you win, you can move on and get a chance to forget it. You can take the positive energy for next time and the next game. You don’t have to wake up tomorrow thinking too much about what would could do better. This is important at the moment for us.
“It is important to reinstall more freedom and fluidity. We look drained and exhausted. We try hard and I can see we try hard. Everybody is looking for the flow where you try hard but you can’t see that you are trying hard when it looks easy. We are looking for it but at the moment it is a struggle. It is not a bad thing because everybody wants to be part of it, giving their best. At the moment we struggle, but we win and have a clean sheet so we can keep on going.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
With big games before and big games after, in four different competitions, a trip like this weekend’s can be the most classic of classic trap games. We’ve avoided falling into that midtable away game trap, and can now fully focus and prepare for the Champions League knockout rounds and the League Cup final, in that order. And just keep grinding.