For a brief moment, it looked like we might just get three easy points. When Cole Palmer smoothly took the ball around the goalkeeper, then waited a beat for two Luton Town defenders to take themselves out of the play before rolling the ball calmly over the line to give Chelsea a 3-0 lead halfway through the second half, we surely thought the victory was in the bag. It hadn’t exactly been a scintillating game of football up to that point, but Chelsea’s individual quality shone through at critical times and we looked home and dry.
But no team had come to Kenilworth Road this season to walk away with three easy points. Their five previous defeats, including to the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal were all by one goal, three of them requiring winning goals past the 80th minute. They had taken points off Liverpool and beaten Newcastle United. And Chelsea’s third goal was their cue to start finding some quality — and some shots on target.
Obviously, some of that momentum swing was of our own making. We had dealt with every Luton cross and set piece for the first hour and change, but then suddenly lost focus. Ross Barkley was allowed to head in entirely unmarked on a corner and we were saved once by VAR, twice by the crossbar, and twice more by Đorđe Petrović turning into a big wall. But when an unfortunate rebound from a stellar Petrović save fell to Elijah Adebayo, with three minutes and what turned out to be six minutes of stoppage time to go, it suddenly looked like the 2023 would indeed end on a sour, yet quite fitting note.
But by the spirit of Thiago Silva and Alfie Gilchrist, we survived and were thus able to mark the end of a most terrible calendar year of pretty much relegation form, averaging barely over a point per game, with back-to-back victories in the league.
If we focus on the positives, there’s plenty to be pleased with.
“I am so pleased, because I think it is never easy. We needed to win. I think we controlled the game until the second half, 60-65 minutes. Overall we were the better side and fully deserved the result. [A lot of] positive performances.
“When you concede you build the belief of the opponent. The Premier League is like this, if you see games like Arsenal, Liverpool, City, Newcastle, you understand the difficulty of playing here in this atmosphere. They believe in the way they play, very good players, very good coach and it is tough to play here. We needed the three points and we got what we wanted. [...] In the end is about to perform and to manage well the players inside of the pitch in different situations.
“Football is about emotions, when you are winning like 3-0, always you are nervous because something can happen and put the game in a difficult situation. Then we concede one goal and it is normal, we build the belief of the opponent [and] that is why Premier League is tough.”
“[...] Really important to finish 2023 well, look forward to 2024 to start well also. Really good to finish with good feelings and good to go into the new year with momentum.”
-Mauricio Pochettino; source: Football.London
There’s still a long way to go from here to where we want to be, but there’s hope of better days ahead as the calendar turns over and we make our new year’s resolutions.