Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 4 April 2023.
While I was finishing off the closing sentences of my match report for the Aston Villa game on Sunday evening, PD sent me a brief message :
I suspect that I experienced the same initial thoughts as many Chelsea supporters.
“Blimey, they did it then? So much for a long-term project.”
“Didn’t even wait until Monday.”
“I never really warmed to the bloke at all.”
“What next, then, Chelsea?”
While we all pondered the next long-term – ha – appointment at Stamford Bridge, there was the matter of a home game with Liverpool seeking immediate attention for those within the club. However, to be blunt, I was hardly thrilled at the prospect of this one. In fact, as the three of us drove towards London – alas no Parky on this occasion – I remember thinking that I had never been less excited about a Chelsea versus Liverpool game at Stamford Bridge.
We were still seeking cohesiveness, and a goal, any goal. Liverpool, recently walloped at Manchester City after giving a bigger walloping to Manchester United a few weeks back, were as hot and cold as it is possible to be. Secretly, I feared the worst.
I was parked up at around 4.45pm. PD and I began the evening with an al fresco Italian meal outside a fully booked restaurant next to The Goose on the North End Road. The linguini and the gnocchi went down well and set us both up for the evening ahead. Towards the end of our meal, a chap plotted up at an adjacent table and immediately began telling us his bloody life story. Yes, one of those annoying buggers. Soon into his rabbit, he told us he was a Fulham supporter. My reaction was immediate :
It seemed that our decades of dominance over Fulham in this localalised battle had enforced an opinion in my consciousness of superiority over our less successful neighbours. I was going to call them “little neighbours” but even I am not that condescending. And yet, as we were to hit the last ten games of the league season, we are below Fulham, and have only taken one miserly point from the two games against them. I have said it for weeks that we are easily the third best team in West London at the moment. The league table does not lie and other clichés.
Forty years ago, we were embroiled in a couple of games that took place in West London. Let’s go back to 1983 again.
On Saturday 2 April, we played a Second Division game at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. Fulham, for once, were enjoying a far better season than us and were bona fide promotion contenders under manager Malcolm Macdonald, who was born in Fulham, and who was forging a fine team involving Ray Houghton, Gordon Davies and Dean Coney along with ex-Chelsea midfielder Ray Lewington. We drew 1-1 with both goals coming in the first-half. Paul Canoville scored for us in front of the Chelsea supporters in the Putney End with a fine volley at the far post from a corner. Kevin Lock, the ex-West Ham defender, sadly equalised.
It was the day of the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race and I watched it on BBC1, as I usually did – I was always Oxford – and it started just after our game at Craven Cottage had finished. Seeing the many football supporters who had stayed on to watch filled me with a dull ache. I so wanted to be part of the Chelsea match-day experience, but here I was, stranded in Somerset with only enough money to attend a handful of games each year. Even though we were having a nightmare of a season, I still wanted to be part of it. That feeling has never left me. For the record, I was hoping for a better crowd than the 15,249 who showed up.
The game was shown on “Match of the Day” on Easter Sunday and I commented in my diary that Canoville and Mike Fillery seemed our best players. The commentator John Motson, who has sadly recently passed away, was seemingly enthusiastic about our performance. Perhaps there was life in the old dog, yet?
Two days later, on Easter Monday, Chelsea played our other near neighbours Queens Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge. While I was assisting in a couple of events at our local village fair, Chelsea conceded a goal in each half as we lost 0-2 to a QPR team that was flying at the top of the division. One of Saturday’s heroes, Fillery, was sent-off with two minutes to go. I had expected a crowd of 17,000 so was pretty happy with 20,821. I miss the chance to play “guess the gate” with sell-out attendances the norm at modern top flight matches these days. It seems crazy now, but any crowd over 20,000 in those days was seen as decent, especially for the second tier. Many teams in the top flight would average less than 20,000 in 1982/83.
So 4 April 1983 to 4 April 2023…let’s continue.
On the short walk of four hundred yards from the North End Road to West Brompton tube, I ridiculously bumped into four lots of mates – Andy and Kim, Charlie, Dave, Mick – while I spotted Raymondo too. I have said before that I really feel at home at Chelsea. I could walk around Frome town centre for half-an-hour and not see anyone I knew. I guess I am part of the Chelsea match day scene these days. My 1983 wish has come to fruition.
I had a busy pre-match. The tube whisked me to Earl’s Court – “The Blackbird” – for a quick chat with Stan about Abu Dhabi while I waited for Ian, fresh back from his South America odyssey, to hand back two season tickets. Then another tube to take me over to South Kensington – “The Zetland Arms” – to pass on a spare ticket to Cal. We had the briefest of chats. We were both hoping for a positive atmosphere against Liverpool.
“After all, who can we rail against?”
With Potter now gone – his sacking didn’t really affect me too much, I have never been so ambivalent to such major news ever before – I was fully hoping that all supporters would be roused to fully get behind the team.
The tube trains were packed. I was regretting wearing my heavy Barbour. By the time I joined up with the usual suspects in “Simmons” at 7pm, I was gagging for a cold drink. My “Diet Coke” barely touched the sides.
I made my way inside for 7.30pm or so.
The skies were clear. Dead centre was an – almost – full moon. I knew I would be watching its gentle arc towards the West Stand throughout the game; I only hoped it would not be my major focus as the match developed.
Francis, a Liverpool mate, texted me from a Frome Town game to tell me that his team looked weak. I eventually found out our starting eleven, chosen by Bruno Salter, a man who might well only ever get one mention on this website.
OK, this was it.
Fofana – Koulibaly – Cucarella
James – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell
Felix – Havertz
Or at least, that is how it panned out during the evening. At the start of the game, trying to guess where N’Golo Kante would be playing would be like a blindfolded kid pinning the tail on a donkey at a birthday party. I think I got it right.
There were flashing lights and fireworks before the teams entered, then – I am reliably informed – a Foo Fighters dirge just before kick-off.
What’s “Chelsea” about that?
I never ever saw US stuff fitting the vibe of a UK match day to be honest. The thumbs-down from me.
We began attacking The Shed, housing the usual three-thousand away fans.
Our fine start surprised me but also, of course, pleased me. After just three minutes, Joao Felix was one-on-one, and he carried out a great shimmy but dithered a little too much with the goal gaping and allowed a block tackle from Joel Matip. Kai Havertz was loitering but unable to connect from the deflection.
Just after, a lightning break, and everyone on the edge of their seat, with Havertz setting up the bursting Mateo Kovacic. He rounded the ‘keeper Alisson, but his goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by Ibrahima Konate, whoever he is.
There were predictable groans from us all.
But this was a cracking start. And there was some fine noise emanating from the Stamford Bridge stands at last. The crowd were in this. The positivity warmed my soul.
Ben Chilwell played in Havertz, but Alisson blocked from close-in.
In the first fifteen minutes, we were easily on top and the obvious star was the returning Kante, who was playing like a man possessed. Forget the Kante twins; this was more like the Kante quadruplets. There was one moment when he had, mysteriously, lost possession on the halfway line but as Liverpool’s rare break moved forward, it was Kante back in our penalty area to intercept perfectly. It dawned on me; have we been this shite all season simply because N’Golo has not been available for virtually all of it?
On eighteen minutes, another Liverpool break, but Kepa was on hand to hack the ball away.
Oh that lovely ability for Kante to play the ball with the correct strength. He absolutely assesses the pace of a break and rarely lets that pace drop. It staggers me that his role as essentially cover in front of the defence has now evolved into an attacking threat. Everybody loves him. Fackinell.
We all had that weirdest of sensations mid-way through the first-half. A Chilwell corner was met by Felix at the near post but was scrambled clear. The ball broke to Reece James who banged a shot towards goal with great precision. Good God, I watched with disbelief as the ball flew into the net.
A Chelsea goal.
GET IN YOU BASTARD.
Alan and my “THTCAUN / COMLD” routine was rendered redundant when Enzo’s toenail was offside in the melee that had ensued from the corner.
However, this galvanised the crowd further and a loud “Carefree” sounded out. This was ten times better than the non-atmospheres against Everton and Villa.
There was then an exchange from supporters.
“FUCK THE TORIES.”
“FUCK THE SCOUSERS.”
Just before the half-hour mark, that man Kante advanced perfectly and set up Havertz but he scuffed an effort meekly wide. After this fast and furious start to the game, the first-third, the game died a little and, with it, the atmosphere quietened too.
At the end of the half, Liverpool enjoyed a few chances but Kepa saved well from Joe Gomez and Marc Cucarella hacked away with a shot likely. An effort rattled wide from a corner. It had been the visitors’ most dominant part of the game thus far.
At the break, I mouthed to a few folk nearby : “better”.
And it had been.
The cynics among us would probably counter with “it couldn’t be any worse” but I, at least, was enjoying it more than I had predicted. And the atmos was much better too, eh?
There were no changes at the break.
We attacked the Matthew Harding in the second-half.
Soon into it, we were again rueing our astonishing (dis)ability in front of goal. The offender was again Kovacic, set up by a fine run from fleet-footed Felix and aided by Kante, but he leaned back and sent a shot way over.
We uttered a thousand curses. There was more than one wagging tongue.
I watched as he turned away in absolute disgust, his hands coming up to his face, maybe contemplating hiding himself from the thousands of searing eyes.
Just a few minutes later, Havertz broke through but his shot – big surprise – was blocked by Alisson, a vision of sorts in lavender, including tights, but the ball luckily rebounded and hit the German. The ball returned towards goal.
I photographed the joy of the players but VAR intervened before Al and I could dust off our routine again.
Handball apparently. There is no TV-screen replay for us in the stadium of course. Viewers in Detroit, Doncaster, Dubai and Dunedin probably saw it though. Mad, eh?
Kepa saved well from a Fofana back header at the Shed End.
On fifty-seven minutes, there was a foul by a Liverpool player but the ball broke in our favour, if out wide. Rather than let the move develop, the hated Anthony Taylor called the play back. It was a close call this. Should he have let play continue? In reality, Felix was still chasing to control the ball before it would go off for a goal-kick. I think Taylor called it right. Regardless, James struck the resultant free-kick over.
A shot from Felix, rolled just wide.
Then a lovely slalom from the same player into the box but it came to nothing.
Mo Salah came on with twenty minutes of the second-half gone, but thankfully didn’t seem to integrate at all with his team mates.
On sixty-nine minutes, no surprises, Kante was substituted.
Anyone else turn their nose up at the new phrase “subbed-off” these days? Just me?
He was replaced by an eager Conor Gallagher.
Another exchange between the two sets of fans.
“Allez allez” versus “Chowlsea Chowlsea Chowlsea Chowlsea.”
As a sign of his laziness, Havertz had sleep-walked into an off-side position. Alan was fuming alongside me.
He’s an enigma, is Kai.
The game continued to drift.
Felix was set up by Chilwell but, off balance, his shot was never going to trouble Lavender Lad. The effort flew wildly over.
Mykhailo Mudryk replaced Chilwell.
There was a great cross into the six-yard box from Kovacic down below us but nobody had gambled to sneak into the danger area. Nobody was poaching.
“Couldn’t poach an egg.”
Maybe they were waiting for an official invitation.
Raheem Sterling, the forgotten man, replaced Felix.
A last high effort from Enzo.
So, another draw, another goal-less draw, against Liverpool. It is becoming a habit. Our last six games against them reveal a dull regularity.
28 August 2021 : Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1.
2 January 2022 : Chelsea 2 Liverpool 2.
27 February 2022 : Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0 – lost on penalties.
14 May 2022 : Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0 – lost on penalties.
21 January 2023 : Liverpool 0 Chelsea 0.
4 April 2023 : Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0.
Back in Somerset, even Frome Town drew 0-0 in their home game against Bideford.
It had been a better performance, the first-half especially, but against a very disappointing Liverpool team. Our lack of confidence in front of the goal is reaching maddening levels. We remain in eleventh place with a negative goal difference. Below us, a crazily tight battle to avoid relegation. Above us, an equally tight race for a European position next season. If I was a betting man, with our tough run-in, I would put money on us to just make the top half of the table.
In closing, I had to chuckle when I checked out the official match report of this game on the official club website and our formation is given as “3-4-1-1”.
It would seem that particular writer’s donkey tail has missed the target completely.
Next up, an away match in Wolverhampton.
See you at Molineux.