Whichever way you cut it, 2016 has been a stink-ass year. Without wanting to delve too deeply into specifics, anyone who is able to make coherent thought will look at 2016 as the year of the douche. But, as we sip our Christmas baileys, musing on how karma can possibly account for the existence of Farage, Trump and Pepe, one tiny glimmer of entertainment is trying to break through. The Conte streak. Ever since the defeat against Arsenal when he decided he’d reached his RDA of Branislav, Conte has been on a winning streak that even impartials are curious to follow. The fact is everyone likes a nice streak: Vardy’s record breaker last year; that thing in Moneyball; Lords’s cartwheeling bush; lifting the lid in a pub loo. Our evolutionised brains can’t help but see beauty in the streak.
And yet, in spite of it all, the bad juju of 2016 is trying to get its greasy hands on our nice, year-bucking streak with the threat of an awkwardly-explained points deduction, apparently for ‘repeat offence’.
‘Repeat offence’. I take issue with both those terms. Firstly who’s guilty of repeating here? Chalobah? Conte? Chelsea FC? Obviously it’s Chelsea FC, but it seems quite clear to me that this Chelsea are a different team from last season. Their attitude is the inverse of the Chelsea under Mou. Fewer fouls, fewer cards, less cynicism. I know it’s difficult to be objective about these things, but this change is hard to ignore, even wilfully, and the evidence is in the points tally. So why is this team being punished for the sins of the last? Well, I think the tally tells the tale. It wasn’t a Chelsea issue at all: City got lary because they were losing. That’s all.
Which brings us to the ‘offence’ part of the justification. Is it really an offence if you react to provocation? Or is that more of a ‘defence’? This is (sort of) the point Conte was making. Quite clearly one team was antagonising and the other was placating. Again, this is unsurprising as the game was ostensibly over and Chelsea were winning, City were upset and Chelsea were forced to use their varied but established brawl diffusion techniques. Anyone who’s seen Airplane! knows that a clean face-slap is the only way to calm a hysterical woman. Fabregas was just being medically professional at a time when almost everyone else was losing their head. He shouldn’t be criticised, he should be awarded an Esther Rantzen Heart of Gold.
But apparently not. Apparently once you’re on the black list, reacting is the same as instigating and it all goes down on your repeat offender’s log, year after year. As far as I can see there’s only one way out of this: next time one of our guys is subject to a two-footed challenge, or an eye gouging, or a throttling, the whole team just engage in one giant mannequin challenge and freeze. And I don’t mean for five seconds, I mean properly, Disney blockbuster frozen. Frozen while the ref hands out the card and sends the player off, frozen while he deals with the arguments and negotiations of the offender’s teammates, frozen while the newspaper columns and radio pundits debate the tackle and plug their Christmas memoirs, frozen while the FA review the challenge and fine the club. Frozen while a suspension is imposed and another notch is added to the club’s history of repeat offences. Then, once all that’s done, the players on the pitch who haven’t succumbed to hypothermia, starvation, death by exposure or sexual molestation, can place the ball and take the free-kick. That’s the only way out of the history of repeat offending that will otherwise dog Chelsea for the next five years. Anything else, any reaction, even a raised eyebrow at an eyebrow-raising garrotte, and the cycle continues.
But of course it won’t matter if we are deducted points anyway, in fact it may be just what’s needed. Remember, this streak has as much to do with our title rivals knackering themselves in Warsaw every other Wednesday as it does with an inspirational manager and an adaptable squad. That advantage is about to wind down so we’ll need something to keep the momentum, and an external jolt to galvanise an already bullish team spirit might be just the tonic.