There is a real feel good factor reverberating around Stamford Bridge at the moment. A clearly delighted owner (who is STILL not bored – sorry!) is entertaining Chelsea alumni and American movie stars in his box, the current Chelsea team are playing with smiles on their faces and a swagger that only top spot and an average of two and a half points a game can give you and the manager who likes nothing better than to fling himself with unbridled joyous abandon into the welcoming arms of the adoring SW6 faithful.
After Alonso’s goal settled the nerves, the Chelsea fans serenaded Arsene Wenger who sat stoically in the East Middle – he was probably wishing his own fans were as keen as we were on his continued tenure at Arsenal. Meanwhile the various anti/pro Wenger factions traded blows in the away end – Arsenal is a club in disarray and potentially on the brink of a full civil war. As an outsider looking in I find it bewildering that not only is Wenger still in a job but has actually been offered yet another extension. I understand that given what he has achieved with the club, he wants to leave on his own terms and ideally on a high, but he has had ample opportunity to do that on numerous occasions and has stubbornly refused. Those in charge must realise that Wenger is no longer the man to move the club forward – no longer Captain of the ship – he is now the helmsman steering the ship towards the iceberg. It almost makes you feel sorry for the Arsenal fans.
But Arsenal fans are on the whole an unpalatable lot. On Saturday they mocked Fabregas as he warmed up – a player they really should regard as a legend a player they had the opportunity to re-sign but chose not to – a player still head and shoulders more talented, more competitive, more ambitious than many of their current players. He instead showed his class by not rising to the bait nor celebrating his goal. A goal which was as ridiculous as Hazard’s was sublime – a goal for gleeful gloating and mirth and for abject misery and humiliation depending on which side of the fence you sit.
But let’s focus on the sublime – Hazard’s extraordinary solo effort reminded me so much of another diminutive Chelsea genius – Gianfranco Zola – the day he gave Julian Dicks twisted blood – although the Belgian didn’t leave just one player in his wake but at least six chumps in red looking confused and thinking “what the hell just happened?”. Hazard hadn’t even had a particularly good first half – he looked as though he was carrying an injury – but then – Boom!! he does that. It was one of those goals where you watch almost in slow motion – he feigns past two players – you half stand, he rolls a third – you grab the arm of the person next to you, he shimmies past four and five – your eyes go wide and finally he bewilders the final two by deftly threading that ball through the eye of a needle and into the back of the net – cue absolute pandaemonium – where you end up on the floor three rows ahead of where you started from, with shins that are going to be black & blue in the morning; you’ve lost your phone and possible a tooth but you have a ridiculous smile on your face and you’ve kissed the miserable sod with halitosis that sits in front of you.
So nine point clear and some Chelsea fans are trying to work out where we’ll win it – Everton seemed to be the consensus of many – but I will not enter this very dangerous debate. Of course we are in an amazing position and it would have to be quite a fall but all football fans should know that you never tempt the footballing gods of fate – they can be a mischievous bunch – just ask Stevie Gerrard. One thing is for sure, you won’t be seeing Chelsea FC Premiership Champions 2016/17 scarves and T-shirts outside Stamford Bridge until the other teams need snookers.
Conte’s job is now even trickier – keep up the confidence and the work-rate but ensure we don’t fall foul of arrogance and a belief that the job is all but over. But he’s obviously a man with a sensible head on his shoulders, and a man of experience and I trust him to do what is necessary in the dressing room. The players for their part seem to be taking everything on board given some of the performances we’ve been witnessing. There are at least half a dozen players who could quite easily be in contention for Player of the Year – Luiz, Hazard, Azpilicueta, Kante, Costa are my current top five although in no particular order.
I wonder what Abramovich makes of it all – he is enjoying himself – that much is obvious, but does he wonders what kind of season we would be having had he landed his first choice in Guardiola? Given the option would he swap? One thing is for sure, the supporters certainly wouldn’t and I’d imagine the players wouldn’t be that keen either. Antonio Conte is winning many hearts and minds outside of Chelsea too – he seems a decent honest man, a talented yet humble man, but someone that looks to have an edge of steel. We seem to be in a good place at the moment. Let’s hope it continues for a little while yet – about 12 games should just about do it……
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