Let’s not beat around the bush. In the space of just five days time, we have gone from the fringe of a title race to a very real and very losable fight for Top Four. I am frankly not sure what this team is or where their ambitions lie anymore after tonight—the effort was certainly present but the quality was substandard—on attack throughout and in the back for two crucial mistakes that gifted Chelsea all three points. What exactly are we playing for? The promise of a new stadium—still some mirage off in the distant desert? The chance to get one more step in the Champions League—but now with the knowledge that we are hardly guaranteed a spot there next season? To impress a manager who, while he has probably seen his chances reduced of going north to Manchester might simply decide “I can’t take them any further. This is it.”? And choose this moment to get the exit strategy set? To get a big Wembley crowd fired up to beat our north London rivals when just a week ago we thought we were past all that?
I don’t think this is a garden variety crisis. What I saw tonight was the failure of our entire strike force—all present save Dele—who, presented with countless chances to try to carve up an admittedly staunch Chelsea defence, failed over and over again. Son was at sea for the second game running, unable to maintain possession, bullied off the ball by an obvious aggressive tactic by Mauricio Sarri (which Mauricio is on the hot seat now??), unable to figure out with Kane or Eriksen any combinations. Eriksen has been miserable for weeks now and was again tonight—something is way wrong and one can’t help thinking he’s already moved on psychologically to Spain. Kane is, as was true last year post-injury, something short of 100% and too often forced or choosing to go 1 v 3 with predictable results. Lamela simply provides sh*thousery and not a whole lot else—at least he was responsible for a couple of good challenges that could have resulted in something. But overall I felt that Hazard-Pedro-Higuain were always the more likely trio to create something.
Chelsea had a vicious midfield press and smothering strategy—they knew without Aurier and particularly Rose Spurs could not get down the flanks—and they were daring us to try to go over the top where Luiz or Rudiger or occasionally Caballero would be there to swat the threat away. Spurs simply never figured out how to break them or lacked the skill to do it. I’m not sure Saturday v Arsenal will be a whole lot different, except that the back four are not as accomplished.
As for the defence I hold Davies (a little), Aldeweireld (a lot) and Lloris (in-between) responsible for Pedro’s winner—but let’s be honest, we were never going to get a clean sheet on this night vs this team. The Kepa stuff was either going to turn Chelsea good or bad—it was pretty apparent from the start that they had something to prove tonight. The second goal was a humiliation and, until I hear more from the two parties involved, I am hesitant to ascribe blame. Either Trippier made a stupid play or Lloris failed to communicate his position properly—it can’t really be both.
Anyway the bigger picture is rather depressing. Other than one glorious half v Dortmund, the truth is that since the Everton and Cardiff festive season victories, this team has really not played well— either at nearly full strength like tonight or with several absences. It is not hard to see it all go south—a poor finish and 5thplace in the league; survival v Dortmund (and even that is hardly a given) and then a quick exit to royalty of some sort in the quarterfinals—and the new stadium will seem like very hollow prize. This is a character test—and the first exam is Saturday v the Gooners.
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