A defensive lapse, a scrappy midfield performance and to cap it all, a missed penalty: you might not have thought it, but Chelsea are back on track. Now, obviously, you could look at the one-all draw with a predictably blinkered perspective and conclude that we’re still on shaky form, struggling to pose any credible threat to the title, but that’s exactly what a superficial review of the Spurs match would conclude. The cultured eye, the eye that picks out those tiny shifts which can turn a season, will have noticed three significant changes: the return of Lampard and Essien, the dominant leadership of John Terry at the back, and the open-play goalscoring of Didier Drogba. (Say what you like, but you can’t fault Didi on open-play goalscoring).
Sunday’s second half performance showed the sort of commanding display expected of the champions on away days. Every team has its mid-season blip (which usually owes as much to the vagaries of the draw as to unforeseen suspensions and injuries) but the best teams are those that can dust themselves down and get back into the fight. This season will not be won on an away draw or a couple of dropped points, this year the fight is in the minds of the players, and 45 minutes in at White Heart Lane we saw a Chelsea looking to get back in the driving seat.
At the same point in the game when they went on to dismantle Arsenal, Spurs found themselves hanging on by a thread, time-wasting over elaborate injury charades, trying desperately to cling on to a point. And let’s not forget this was at home. Finally, Chelsea looked sharp in their passing, quick to close down and dangerous in attack. In short it was Premiership-winning Chelsea. We may not have taken all three points, but we had the opportunity, and most importantly we showed the desire. We keep that up, and the wins will start rolling in.
Naturally some will infer that the return of Lampard was a significant influence, although in truth he was predictably anonymous during his 20 minutes on the pitch. Perhaps more significance should be placed on the impact his presence had on the team’s expectations. It served as a much needed reminder that Chelsea don’t settle for a point, not when the spine of Terry, Lampard and Drogba is on the pitch. Quickly this belief carried through to the less high-profile players, fifty-fifty balls were won and lost-causes were chased down to force panicked clearances that helped regain possession; faced with this pressure Spurs were reduced to hopeful breaks and desperate clearances. Redknapp brought on Crouch and Keane in the second half and I can’t remember a significant contribution from either. JT was once again the boss of his third of the pitch, and on occasion of the other two thirds too… there’s nothing else in the game of football quite like the sight of those old imperious strides up the turf and into the opposing area. Welcome back!
Now some may say, hang on, how can you be so naïve? Chelsea drew when they should have won. They’re misfiring, they’re past it, Drogba can’t even knock in a penalty these days. But I don’t know about that… Next up is Man U, and if I’m right and we are seeing a return to form in the nick of time, I’m willing to call a first league defeat for the Red Fairies. Besides, if Chelsea are past it, how would you describe a team that relies on Scholes and Giggs for its creative input? Mark my words, 2-0 and a red card for Darren Fletcher.
One thing is certain, this season is going to throw up a lot of unexpected results. Yes, we’re fourth in the table, and maybe Man U do have games in hand, but if we’ve learnt anything it’s that there are plenty more upsets waiting around the corner.