Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 5 January 2022.
I have to say that I was a lot more confident going into the first of three games against Tottenham Hotspur in just eighteen days after the Liverpool match than I was before it. That tussle on the second day of the year really helped to settle my nerves; we were good weren’t we?
This would be our fourth League Cup semi-final against Tottenham.
I have no recollection of the one in 1971/72. I would have been six years old. We went through after a Chris Garland inspired second-leg at Chelsea.
I can easily remember the one in 2001/2. Shudder. We won the first-leg 2-1 at The Bridge but I was working a late shift on the day of the return leg. I remember bringing in a portable TV to watch the game while I was at work in our portacabin outside the main warehouse of a company in Trowbridge. We lost 1-5 and I have never been more miserable after watching a Chelsea game on TV. The thought of having to come face to face with my Tottenham-supporting manager the next day was the stuff of nightmares.
In 2018/19, there was a much a nicer memory as we went through on penalties, David Luiz scoring the winner, in the second leg at Chelsea.
Three previous ties. Two wins with the second leg at home. One loss with the second leg away. Well, you can imagine my thought process.
There was just the three of us in The Chuckle Bus for this game. PD collected me outside work and we were parked-up in SW6 bang on two hours later. While my co-passengers visited “The Goose” I popped to the Italian restaurant two doors down on the North End Road.
I had only been sat at my table for a minute when the door opened and my good friend Andy walked in. What a nice surprise. He had visited it recently and fancied a return. Andy often features in these march reports; most memorably mentioned during the Porto trip last May. We both ordered pizzas and had a cracking natter for an hour or so. Andy is going to Abu Dhabi, and of course I hope to join him. Andy mentioned the pre-season game at Bournemouth that we both attended in the summer. Andy brought up the team on his ‘phone. We could hardly believe that Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta played, to say nothing of Baba Rahman. We briefly spoke about Romelu Lukaku. I personally wanted a line to be drawn under the whole shebang. Time to move on.
It was a cold old night on the border of Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. PD had gone into the ground early and I joined him at around 7.15pm. Parky, ousted from the Shed Lower, would be watching in the West View.
I looked over at The Shed. There they were. Tottenham. There’s just something about them. And I am sure they feel the same way about us. Probably more so these days.
Our home record against “that lot” is still bloody magnificent, and of course I am not letting the moment pass without mentioning it once again.
Since December 1990, it goes something like this.
Won fucking loads, drew some others, lost just once.
The magic numbers were in fact 23-13-1.
I suppose that in the circumstances, I should not have been too worried. The weight of all that history, and misery – “misstory” – must be a heavy yoke for Tottenham to carry on their trips to Stamford Bridge.
The lights were dimmed at around 7.40pm just as I shot off for a last minute visit to turn my bike around. When I came back, and peered out through the exits, the lights were being slowly turned back on. I settled down next to PD, Clive and Alan and readied myself for the evening’s entertainment.
Lukaku was on the pitch. As his name was mentioned in a run-through of the team, there were no boos at all, just a hint of applause. I was happy with that.
As the game began, it took me a good few minutes to work out if my first thoughts on the shape changing to an old-fashioned 4-4-2 were correct, or was Hakim Ziyech really a very very very pushed-on wing back?
No, I was right the first time.
Kepa Arriabalaga in goal.
A back four of Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rudiger, Malang Saar and Cesar Azpilicueta.
The wide players in midfield were Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech, with Jorginho and Saul in the middle.
Up front were Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz.
For all of the advantages of other formations, there is something about a 4-4-2. It’s the system I grew up with – although 4-3-3 was the first system I ever played, way back in 1975 – but there is a nice solidity about it.
There was an unsurprisingly loud and unwelcoming noise aimed at the 4,500 away fans in The Shed.
“Champions Of Europe, You’ll Never Sing That.”
They were soon up and running with their couple of songs which hark at their Jewish identity but now seem to be a little out of place.
This is what we did alright.
In the first five minutes, too.
Signor Alonso has his detractors, but he magnificently nipped in to steal the ball before it reached a Tottenham defender on our left. He played a perfect pass in to Herr Havertz who slammed the ball goal wards. His effort took a deflection off a Tottenham defender – I cared not who – and the ball ended up inside the goal, to be followed not so long after after by the scorer and his team mates.
Get in you bastard.
Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now. Gertcha.”
Chris : “Come on my little diamonds. Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, yap, yap, bunny, bunny.”
It seemed perfect that the Chelsea celebrations involved the blue-clad players celebrating inside the goalmouth with the away fans looking closely on in misery.
Chelsea in front, and in front of their fans too.
On the balcony wall of The Shed, the simple words : “Pride Of London.”
Well, this was a cracking start to the game. In the myriad of Chelsea victories at Stamford Bridge against “that lot” I always have a little chuckle to myself about “how will we beat them this time?” and this match was off to a perfect start.
However, Havertz appeared to injure himself in the process of scoring and was off the pitch for a while.
We purred in that first-half and they hardly threatened at all.
I must admit it looked odd to see our former manager patrolling the opposition technical area, and looking pretty fed-up too, from the first few minutes.
A shot from Havertz was easily saved by the Tottenham ‘keeper.
Next up were blocked shots from Mount and Saul, who was enjoying a very fine half, and then Ziyech set himself up nicely but his left-footed curler was off target.
The opposition rarely got out of their half.
There was a lovely piece of recovery after a Tottenham attacker broke and avoided an offside trap. Ziyech was able to nibble and pinch the ball away. The threat was over.
On the half-hour, Alan and I couldn’t believe how Rudiger wasn’t able to pounce after a Ziyech corner was helped on its way by a Tottenham defender. From our perspective, it looked like a goal waiting to be struck. His eventual effort was blocked.
Soon after, a strong run from Lukaku – who indeed had been warmly encouraged thus far – resulted in a free-kick out on the right. Ziyech, right in the action again, punched a ball towards the six-yard box. Fortuitously I snapped just as one Tottenham defender headed the ball against another, and the ball flew into the net.
At that point in the proceedings we wondered if the first goal had been credited as an own goal too.
“Oh, let’s beat them like this.”
I turned to “the bloke behind me” (copyright “When Saturday Comes” 1986) :
“He never misses from there.”
Oh my aching sides.
The players, almost embarrassingly, ran over to congratulate Ziyech. Well, they had to run somewhere. They could hardly run to the Tottenham player, whoever he was.
Next came, the ultimate piss-take.
“Tottenham, give us a song. Tottenham, Tottenham, give us a song.”
Not sure I have heard that before, or at least not in the way it was intended, enticing them to join in our fun. Top marks.
We tried to stifle a little laughter when Lukaku had an awful first touch on the centre circle and resembled an out-of-control express train as he sprinted to retrieve the ball before it went out for a throw-in. He failed. The terrace wags were soon on his case.
“He can control it further than I can fucking kick it.”
“His second touch is a tackle.”
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
But then, a golden chance. A beautifully flighted ball from that man Ziyech dropped right on the head of Lukaku but his purposeful downward header guided the ball just past the far post.
Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.
A goal there, three at the break, would have killed the game, killed the tie, helped to evacuate The Shed and would have led to forty-five minutes of arsenic-laced mickey-taking and tom foolery, and maybe even Micky Fillery.
But it had been a most excellent first-half. We were neat and purposeful, and seemed to over-run them in all areas of the pitch. Did they have a shot on goal? Hardly. Did Kepa make a real save? I think not. Stars of the half were Ziyech, Saul, Havertz and maybe even Alonso too.
As the second-half began, I settled in my seat but had missed the substitution announcement. It took me a few seconds to realise that Timo Werner had replaced Havertz.
The opposition were all over us in the first minute, then the second, third and fourth. Their manager had obviously fired some fine words into their shell-likes in the break. But we never really looked too troubled in this period. If anything, I hoped it would create chances for us to counter-attack at will.
On fifty minutes, a shot from them at a free-kick, but Kepa was able.
It annoyed me – saddened me even – to see three Italian flags being waved among the away fans. That was us. That was Zola, Vialli, di Matteo, that was Ranieri, that was Ancelotti, that is Jorginho. Damn you.
This game was more of a contest now. But our chances still dominated. Ziyech should have done better after a very fine move linking Werner and then Lukaku. I have to say the thought of a Lukaku and Werner partnership started to thrill me a little.
Saul was enjoying this game and we were enjoying seeing him play so well. There was a cheeky back-heeled volley, but I turned to Al and said :
“He’s no Zola.”
On the hour, I watched Werner as he collected the ball, opened his body up and attacked his marker. His pace took him past and he let loose a powerful strike that oh-so narrowly missed the far post.
“Three-nil and it’s all over, mate.”
There was a very rare outing of the “William song”; because, well, that lot, eh?
Lukaku set up Ziyech and he zipped the pass of the night towards Werner on the edge of the box. He chose to lift the ball over the ‘keeper but an outstretched arm defeated him. It was a fine save. Not long after, Ziyech blasted over from an angle.
“He could’ve brought that down, Al.”
We begged our heroes for one more goal. Just one.
I must say that I thought it was a little premature to be singing “Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again” so let’s save that for White Hart Lane. Fingers crossed, eh?
Some late substitutions.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Saul.
Mateo Kovacic for Mount.
Christian Pulisic for Ziyech.
Down in the far corner, a Tottenham substitute tied Christian Pulisic up in knots and his shot was, thankfully, well-saved by Kepa at full stretch on the floor. The ball was unceremoniously hacked clear. This was followed immediately by a much-desired counter-attack, involving Ruben, but a pass to Lukaku only resulted in a corner.
A free-kick in prime Alonso territory. Alas not. His shot only troubled the wall.
One last change.
Harvey Vale for Dave.
It was Vale who helped to combine neatly with others to set up the last chance of the match for that man Lukaku, but his shot was tame and hit centrally.
It’s finely balanced at 2-0.
One more goal would have meant that our trip to White Hart Lane next week would be one of lick-lipping eagerness. As it stands, it will be a little more difficult.
But we are suddenly in a good place again. The doom mongers have quietened down. We’ve got Lukaku back in the fold. Players are returning. We are on the march.
Next up, Chesterfield in the FA Cup and my first-ever visit to “The West View.”
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