Regular columnist and Chelsea fan Giles Smith looks ahead to the freshness of a new competition at Stamford Bridge…
So, a new anthem, new logos and even a whole new night. And, moreover, a new charmingly quirky and eccentric kick-off time – 8.05. Got to love the way the Europa League does things.
Meanwhile, in stark contrast, for the English clubs who stayed in the Champions League, it’s the same-old same-old. Same old anthem, same old Tuesday/Wednesday rotation. Arsenal are still on the same old treadmill of coming through the same old paper-thin group with the same old Olympiakos in it, and then getting outclassed in the same old embarrassing way as soon as they run into anyone of any notable quality. Manchester United are still up to the same old Champions League trick of being totally outplayed and yet somehow, streakily, remaining in contention. And the same old Manchester City aren’t anywhere.
We, by contrast, ready ourselves with bright eyes for new colours and sensations, and, re-energised, get set to stride off towards new and fascinating adventures on new and fascinating horizons. The dismissive mockery and sneering that you hear in connection with the Europa? I think, deep down, we know what that is. It’s jealousy.
The theory we propounded in this space a week ago, inspired directly by the 4-1 home defeat of Wigan, seemed to hold up well again in the FA Cup tie against Brentford.
That theory being as follows: that pretty much all the problems of this current Chelsea side could be entirely solved by the simple expedient of scoring four goals whenever possible.
In particular (it seemed to us at the time) our recent habit of taking a two-goal lead but then somehow, and frequently in comically unbelievable circumstances, losing it again, would become entirely a thing of the past if we could just get round to adding two further goals to the two that we didn’t seem to be having any trouble finding.
Lo and behold, after four goals had stopped a rot of sorts and put Wigan out of sight, four further goals also comfortably removed Brentford from the Cup, with no unnecessary sweats or calamities.
What we now have to hope is that the four-goal theory can be applied successfully again against Sparta Prague tonight and then once more against a currently confused and clearly befuddled Manchester City on Sunday – a victory which, incidentally, would move us to within one point of second place in the league and potentially make the undignified scuffle for the fourth Champions League qualifying spot look like a distant battle in a far-off land.
The merits of scoring four goals can’t really be argued against. Indeed, here’s something to think about: if we had scored four goals in every game we have played this season (except for the Capital One Cup tie against Manchester United where we scored five, obviously), we would be entirely unbeaten and have dropped absolutely no points in the league.
We would also have taken the Super Cup to penalties and would currently be preparing for a trip to Wembley this coming Sunday, where we would be hoping to add the League Cup to the Club World Cup which we would have won back in November.
This is why scoring four goals, whenever you can, makes a lot of sense. Few are the teams who score four goals and walk away afterwards with regrets. Although Manchester United, in that Capital One Cup tie, were one of them.
For a team that’s supposedly the best to have walked among us since the beginning of football and that has risen to levels of technical excellence which few expect to see surpassed in our lifetimes, Barcelona don’t half wear some terrible clobber.
Watching them struggle against AC Milan last night, one could hardly believe what one was looking at. An aghast San Siro, and a pan-European television audience running to millions, saw the Spanish side come out to play in a two-tone orange and yellow fusion, making the players look like nothing so much as the contents of a family box of Sky Ray lollys that has been left on a radiator for a few minutes.
This was in Milan, too – the capital of fashion. Extraordinary amounts of nerve.
And because the orange bit gave way to the yellow bit about a quarter of the way down the shirt, all of them looked as though they were running around with their shorts pulled up under their armpits. Really, a 2-0 defeat jeopardising the team’s place in the competition was the very least that strip deserved.
Of course, last night’s melted-ice special merely joins the lengthening list of truly gasp-inducingly bad sportswear that Barca have modelled over these last few years, some of the worst of it brought to the Bridge on certain occasions for our close inspection and lasting astonishment.
There was, for instance, the terrible, almost completely unappealing puddle-brown sludge number that they were wearing when we did for them in 2005. Then there was the unbelievable, eye-searing hi-vis yellow with which they appeared to confuse the mind of the ref on the night of a thousand ungiven penalties in 2009. As if those weren’t enough, Barca have also been seen in nuclear orange, Barbie pink and an almost impossibly tasteless anaesthetist’s gown green. Awful kit after awful kit after awful kit.
You have to start asking questions about the state of the perspective at a club where such football strips are possible. And you have to wonder, in turn, whether the rarified, unworldly and perhaps slightly unhealthy atmosphere of the Champions League has anything to do with it. One thing is clear: you wouldn’t get three feet dressed like that in the Europa League. It’s far too real.