I don’t know about you, but I’ve always liked this patch of January. Yes it’s cold and grey and wet, but cold and grey and wet is good when you’re shaking off a month-long hangover. I suspect professional footballers must feel much the same way as we do about December. Sure for them it’s sport and for us it’s drinking, but the principle is the same: we’re both constantly on the move, never able to put our feet up, perpetually meeting the same old faces in different surroundings and having to put in a good performance. It’s demanding stuff, full of high drama and emotion. I remember one occasion when I single-handedly introduced a man to his wife. People often boast about having done that, but it’s no so well regarded when the couple in question has been married for ten years and has two children. High drama, just like footballers. Anyway, we may be emotionally bruised, but we got through it, and now here we are, in late January, resolving to make amends.
This year, my resolutions are fairly predictable: go to the gym a bit more, remember people’s names and throw in inappropriate proverbs so as to seem more erudite (after all, a golden key can open any door).
So far, so good. I’ve not met anyone new, so that’s 100% success on the name thing. On the flip side, since I’ve not met anyone new the proverbs thing is just pissing off old friends. But you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Anyway, the real boon has been my gym attendance, in the main because it has reacquainted me with MTV Dance. Is it just me or are there more girls in bikinis snogging other girls in bikinis these days? I watched back-to-back videos of Enrique Iglesias and Dizzee Rascal (you try requisitioning the remote from the local gym orang utan) and both featured women in bikinis snogging. Is that a 2011 thing? I hope so. After all, all is grist that comes to the mill.
Another benefit of being in the gym is that I’ve managed to catch highlights of the Australian Open, and with them remembered an important lesson. Players don’t win because they win points, players win because they get and retain momentum. Here’s a hypothetical situation: if a player has come from two sets to love down and it’s the beginning of the fifth, who do you think is going to win? Is it the player who’s won the last two? Or is it the player who’s just rested for two sets? In truth, it’s impossible to say, because momentum can shift not only between sets, but between points. This is something Chelsea would do well to remember.
Last month we lost our way badly. We picked up some injuries and suspensions and lost a couple of matches. Then instead of concentrating on regaining momentum we began to see the title slip away, panicked and decided that instead of playing sensibly and rebuilding from the defence, we had to win everything. In short we lost our cool.
Here’s a statistic: In tennis matches of four sets or more, only 55% of players who win the first set go on to win the match. Basically, it doesn’t matter who wins the first set, what matters is convincing yourself you’re good enough to win and making the opposition doubt themselves, and that can happen at any stage. What’s immaterial is that I made that statistic up; what’s important is what it proves: it’s all about momentum.
Sure Chelsea had a rough patch, but the season is not over. We should absolutely not write anything off. Let’s start by rebuilding slowly. A few wins against weaker opposition, if necessary an away draw or two to our main title rivals. Let’s play the percentages. You’ll see, with the cold weather delays Man U are going to have a heavily congested end of season. All it takes is an injury or a suspension and everything changes, and what with the way Darren Fletcher’s playing it won’t be long before the cards start totting up.
Our squad has too much experience to give up the title chase in January. Let’s use some of it to get the right results. Last night, Real Betis played Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey. Although they’d won the first leg 5-0, a full strength Barcelona were two nil down in the first seven minutes and Betis were swarming all over them. Another Betis attack was partially cleared but before it could continue Xavi was spotted lying injured on the ground and Betis booted the ball out of play. The attack was over and Xavi jumped up and waved play on. Xavi, arguably the best footballer in the world, used a dirty little trick like that to break up the opposition’s momentum. Barca are now safely through to the semis.
You know what’s coming: there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Let’s use our noggin, let’s get on with the job and let’s make the other teams feel some pressure. Mark my words, this season everyone has weaknesses and they’ll start to show soon. If nothing else, we should make absolutely sure that whoever takes the Premier League title this season, has to earn it.