Chelsea vs. Leicester City : 19 May 2022.
The finishing line was in sight now. With Champions League qualification already achieved, the next target was to attain third spot in the Premiership, a position that I have been saying all season long would be our rightful place in May. If we couldn’t win the league, let’s at least finish as the pyramid’s top London team. And the pain of another FA Cup Final defeat was behind us now. But I did wonder how the exertions in the baking sun would impact on an already tired squad against Leicester City. I certainly wasn’t expecting a spectacle of scintillating football.
But this game, on this date, meant a little more than a run-of-the-mill match at the arse end of the season. On the tenth anniversary of our monumental Champions League victory in Munich, what no better way to celebrate than all of us being together for an evening game at Stamford Bridge.
I worked until 3pm. Dan, from Frome, joined us on the trip to London. Dan had taken my ticket for the Tottenham league game back in January when I was hit with a bug and this would be the first time that I would be sat with him at Stamford Bridge. He has played for my village team in the Mid-Somerset League for a few years now – I turned out in the reserves on a few occasions from 1978 to 1981 – and I was aware that the team had recently won three trophies.
PD drove to London and he made good time. Parky was with us too. It was a typical mid-week pre-match. First, a pizza for me on the North End Road at about 5.30pm. At the end of my meal, I spotted two tables of Chelsea supporters near the door and so approached them.
“Happy Munich Day!”
All four looked at me as if I had grown an extra head and I silently wished that I hadn’t fucking bothered.
I popped next door for a meet up with a few pals in the beer garden of “The Goose” and a nice and relaxing time ensued. A special mention to Kev from South Gloucestershire who was clocking up Chelsea game number 1,500 against Leicester City.
Great effort, mate.
This would be number 1,352 for me.
Finally, a quick chat with others in “Simmons”. Both boozers were as quiet as I have ever seen for a Chelsea home game. There were spares floating around all over the place. Daryl had recently enjoyed a wonderful trip up to the outer reaches of Scotland with his wife Pam, but it was typical that ninety-five percent of his recollections about the holiday detailed how he had bumped into Ally McCoist at a hotel on the Isle of Lewis, as far away from the mainland as it is possible to get. Daryl confirmed that the Rangers legend is a Chelsea supporter,
Outside “Simmons” a pop-up bar has opened over the past six months and, with hindsight, we really ought to have added that to the itinerary too. “Biergarten” is a little bar in the style of those German Christmas market huts that now appear all over Europe, resplendent with light blue and white Bavarian flags and steins of beer. I recognised a couple of mates quaffing some lager at a table.
We were inside with a good ten minutes or more to spare, but there were too many yawning gaps everywhere, sanctions notwithstanding. It was clear that Leicester hadn’t sold their allocation of 3,000; it was nearer 2,000.
What with the sanctions hitting hard – still – I was pretty sure that the club would not be able to fly any of the glorious 2012 squad over and, indeed, the celebrations of Munich just involved a paltry video show on the TV screens before the entry of the teams. In days gone by, the sadly-missed Neil Barnett would have been in his pomp, and it annoyed me that the club had been unable to celebrate Munich in a proper fashion. Before the game, a huge crowd-surfing “tifo” – a bit of a misnomer really – appeared over both tiers of The Shed honouring Thomas Tuchel. However, could that not have waited until next season? We only had one opportunity to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Munich and it turned out to be a damp squib.
This was our Munich Day and we messed it up.
The fading sun again turned the light brickwork of The Shed hotel into a warmer hue and the sky was a mix of blue and white. I spotted the saddest of all Chelsea flags draped from the Shed and overlooking the West Lower. Kyle Broadbent and his father Tony travelled together to Munich on that iconic day ten years ago. Not many years after, Kyle died in a horrific accident at work, while labouring with his father. Then, sadly, Tony passed away from cancer. I did not know Kyle. Tony was a friend on “Facebook” and I met him once or twice in “The Goose.”
The teams entered the pitch.
Thomas Tuchel chose this starting eleven :
Rudiger – Siva – Chalobah
James – Jorginho – Kante – Alonso
Pulisic – Lukaku – Ziyech
Not too many changes from the marathon on Saturday; only two players were dropped, Mount and Kovacic.
I accepted that this might be a struggle from the start. People can moan all they like about “players on £100,000 a week playing two games in six days” but the sixty-three games this season must surely have taken its toll.
Leicester appeared in a jade green kit that looked half-decent. Thank God I only had to endure our jaw-dropping monstrosity for two more games this season.
The English Football Gods : “Sorry, Chelsea. You’re not collecting any fucking silverware this season looking like that.”
We attacked the Matthew Harding as the game began. I always feel uneasy when that is the case. The match got off to a slow start but one which we were easily dominating. However, after just seven minutes, a long throw out from Kasper Schmeichel into space down their right was not dealt with properly. Marcos Alonso dawdled and Antonio Rudiger dallied. Neil Maddison was able to move the ball in to space and – damn it, I hate it when this happens – I was in line with the flight of the ball and able to see a firmly-struck shot curve in at the very last moment. It was a superb strike. I guess that why they are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds per week.
In “The Goose” before the game, Andy from Nuneaton and I were talking about the noisy Leeds support the previous Thursday. I liked how they immediately got behind their team when they conceded the first goal.
“Just like we used to do. We don’t do that anymore.”
Well on this night, we did.
A loud and defiant “Carefree” echoed around Stamford Bridge and I liked that a lot.
I liked our response too. There was a trademark shot from distance from Trevoh Chalobah – “shooooooooot” – that Schmeichel – a thorn in our side, a hero in theirs, for years now – did ever so well to tip over. Then Kante won the ball and slid in Lukaku but a defender recovered with a sliding block.
But then we reverted to type and were guilty of the two Chelsea cardinal sins of the latter part of this season; runners not running, passers not passing.
Alan : “Jorginho has more square balls than Sponge Bob Square Pants.”
Midway through the half, I was stifling a few yawns.
“If they get a second, it’s game over, Al.”
I spotted advertisements for the upcoming US Tour splashed over the electronic signs at pitch-level.
16 July : Chelsea vs. Club America, Las Vegas, Nevada.
No thanks. I’m not a fan of Vegas. I hate it in fact. I prefer real cities.
20 July : Charlotte FC vs. Chelsea, Charlotte, North Carolina.
No thanks. I saw Chelsea play PSG there in 2015 and see no point in returning.
23 July : Chelsea vs. Arsenal, Orlando, Florida.
No thanks. Florida in the height of summer? Are you taking the piss?
On thirty minutes, a shot from Ziyech was blocked. From the corner that followed, Silva headed over. Five minutes later, Kante prodded the ball on to Reece James and – I was in line with the ball, but more enjoyable now – lofted a ball out wide towards the on-rushing Alonso. It was absolutely perfect.
“Have a bash, Alonso.”
Wallop. It was a trademark Alonso finish, another volley, another goal. That boy owns that part of the opposition penalty box, eh? I just wish he owned more of the defensive left-flank too.
The game limped along until half-time. I was sure that their only shot on goal the entire game thus far was the one from Maddison for their goal.
At the end of half-time, Dan left us in The Sleepy Hollow and watched from the front row of the MHU, utilising one of the many vacant seats nearby. Throughout the stadium, gaps were everywhere. This was easily the worst-attended game in recent memory. Sadly, Dan’s new prime viewing position did not mirror prime viewing. It was to be a sluggish half.
On fifty-two minutes, the much-maligned Lukaku showed great perseverance to win the ball back and push on down into Parkyville, but his low cross into the six-yard box went begging with nobody set to pounce.
“Shouldn’t he be in there, Al?”
A few minutes later, there were two weak Ziyech efforts. The first from a free-kick, the second after cutting in but hitting centrally. Then just after, Lukaku fed Pulisic with a square pass but much to everyone’s consternation, the patchy American made a complete hash of a relatively easy finish.
The crowd howled.
We sought pleasure elsewhere.
“Jamie Vardy. Your wife is a grass.”
We had a few chances. We were absolutely dominating this half, even more so than the first. Leicester’s lack of desire was depressing.
A couple more efforts came our way. A glancer from Lukaku at the far post, wide, after a fine pass from Ziyech that really should have tested the ‘keeper. A shot from Rudi in the inside the box was then saved well by Schmeichel.
Dave for Christian.
Ruben for N’Golo.
Chalobah rose inside the box from a corner but his header was easy meat for the Leicester ‘keeper.
Kai for Romelu.
Time was running out now, and so were the chances. Havertz’ legs seemed to become entangled as he was fed by Ziyech inside the box, and couldn’t get his shot away.
However, with just four minutes remaining, Edouard Mendy needed to put down his crossword puzzle and come out to smother a rare, very rare, Leicester attack when it was case of one versus one.
In a show of solid defiance, despite the poor fare being offered on the pitch, the Chelsea choir were loud and constant during the closing minutes of the game.
“Chelsea. Champions. Chelsea. Champions. Chelsea. Champions. Chelsea. Champions. Chelsea. Champions. Chelsea. Champions. Chelsea. Champions. Chelsea. Champions.”
It ended 1-1.
On descending the steps to street level, a little gloom.
“We’ve not really pushed on this season.”
In the car back to Wiltshire and Somerset.
“More questions than answers at the moment.”