But not in that order. Not since the British Army landed a completely pointless force at Salonika in WW1 has a group of Englishmen been so reticent to make a trip to Greece. And for equally good reason, as people were being attacked as early as Thursday morning.
In the News: Not a thrilling week. Where’s an Andy Carroll drunken kebab brawl or Lord Joseph of Barton making a cock of himself to spice things up when you need it? There is the hilarious revelation that Wait Hart Lane is not finished because everyone building it was off their face on coke. Or drunk. Which is a slightly unexpected explanation for why everything keeps exploding or falling down and trying to electrocute people. Equally funny, Zaha has been complaining (again). This time it is the shock that living in Manchester was depressing. No sh*t, Sherlock.
The Others: Ask me after Christmas, when I care about this competition. Though what with Sp*rs tanking, Fabian Delph’s defending and Ronaldo crying, the Champions League was plenty entertaining this week.
Them: Only two of them were Greek. I couldn’t name them, or the nine that weren’t.
Us: Five changes – Willian in, Barkley, Christensen, Morata, Zappacosta. Cahill only on the bench – not a single second played for Sarri yet in a competitive game. A strong side, indicating that Sarri is taking this competition seriously. And lucky he is, because even they were about to make a meal out of this.
Through no fault of Chelsea Football Club (we hashed this out in fine detail at the Fan’s Forum meeting last week) this was a disaster waiting to happen on account of the general horror show that quite often occurs in trying to carry out a professional football fixture in Greece. I have been to that area, to bus around looking at Alexander the Great stuff. Good fun, but a begging letter taped to Ross Barkley’s bare a*se would not have got me out there for this game with UEFA turning basically a blind, bored eye to the reality of the problems of this fixture.
I came to France instead, because it has most of my favourite things. Namely, wine, Frenchmen, war stuff and road tripping opportunities. Added to the fact that when the sun sets and the restaurants open, no matter what town you are in, it assumes the irresistible whiff of garlic butter and what’s not to like? So here I was, watching a stream of this game in an Orléans hotel room, where I’m less likely to get shot, but sadly not at all likely to get a bag of crisps off of Bruce Buck, and I was starving. Instead I was listening to Glenn Hoddle waffling about Barkley having fallen out of favour. Which makes me want to shoot him. Or myself. What?? He needs to keep Fabregas out of the side? Yes that’s right, the same Fabregas who isn’t even in the side because he’s been injured and whose time has basically passed. This was going to be a f*cking long night.
The ground looked like downtown Beirut in the home end with the flares before kick off, but was actually tame by their “ring of fire” standards. We kicked off in bright yellow, which would make our players nice targets later on. I have a memory blank about anything that happened between 0 and 4 minutes, which probably means I was dozing off. Which was not a good start. Thanks to Willian, our captain for the night, within six minutes we were ahead. Awful, awful defending and pounced on with glee by Little Willy. And then I would have missed nothing if I had shut the laptop an gone out.
They decided to put two up front and try and attack a bit more, but as time would tell, still didn’t really have much to offer going forward. Morata could have made it two before the opening ten minutes were up, but his header was wide. In the opening twenty my app claimed that they had had 45% possession. B*llocks. This was exactly like the Salonika campaign. Everybody involved wishing they were somewhere else. Morata was desperately trying to run himself more into this game, but on 26 minutes, when he finally had a shot teed up he got over excited and smacked it over the bar. The dynamic commentary team of Nigel Spackman and some other bloke with the charisma of a wet poisson related to Michael Owen were banging on and on about our quality in depth, but all of our quality was plodding rather harmlessly about the pitch at this stage. Definitely not in top gear. Definitely like a cup tie against a lower league side where you drop to their level and all the intensity in your game keels over and lies there with its legs in the air. Like Dele Alli.
Willian floated another in for Morata on the half hour but he couldn’t get any power or direction on it. By this time I was just watching the beacon that is Barkley’s backside bobbing about the pitch and zoning out. On 35 minutes we won a corner. I almost cheered like a Gooner. Come on. Entertain me. Another flap from the keeper, another flap from Morata, who was never in the right place to get a shot off from the touchline anyway. Surely he had to score in this fixture? It isn’t going to press a case for him being picked against West Ham, not when a strong scrapper like The Beard might already be the favourite to start in a turgid fixture like that.
Save from them on a Pedro Pony run. (He’s so awesome that apparently, in the mind of a five year old little blues girl it’s the same as owning your very own pony) God this was tedious. We were running rings around them. But, and brace yourself for a classic nonsense football platitude: the only thing lacking from us was a goal. In fact, before half time we only fashioned one more shot on target. And it got worse after the break.
In the opening fifteen minutes of the second half, it was actually more difficult NOT to score another goal than it was to continue ambling forward against a weak side who were basically inviting us to double our lead. They did give it a go, bless ‘em. They might even have been a bit threatening if they had known the offside rule. Sarri was ready to shake things up. On came Cesc for his first ever Europa League game in place of Jorginho. And Dave to give Alonso a rest. Why? How? Are Chelsea only one up? Asked Spackman in the commentary box. I’ll tell you for why, Nigel. Because I had more than 2.5 goals in this game. That’s why. It was to spite me.
Pedro Pony, who had indeed been unicorn-like again tonight, had one palmed away on 71. They were actually looking more like having an impact now, because our energy levels had gone the way of Voldemort Shelvey’s hair and we were still plodding. Willian going over to take a corner was slower than watching Bosingwa time-waste while tripping over his own monobrow circa 2012. The Beard was getting ready to come on. Oh dear Alvaro. Not the night he would have wanted. His penultimate contribution was to be offside. His last act, to fall over.
Kepa was forced to make a save on 80, and he looked a little shaky tonight when under pressure. But then trying to concentrate suddenly after doing nothing for so long would be hard on anyone. I could barely keep my eyes open, so I’m not judging. The Beard had a tameish long range shot on 85 – but it was a shot within five minutes of his introduction which was more productive than both Morata and myself, for I spent the second half doing the most intensive floss job ever on my teeth. The game was dragged out even longer by a totally ridiculous non-fight instigated by an angry Egyptian who was still yapping away at the final whistle. Rudiger was torn between head-butting him and crying with laughter. And Pedro Pony got floored by a knee in his pretty face. Boo. But it actually looked more like his left arm was the problem and that’s bad if it interrupts the momentum he’s built up so far this season. All the Greeks appeared to be naked in the crowd by this point, which is one way to entertain yourself in certain defeat.
So: To all those who made the trip, I say take thee out and get thyself sh*tfaced. You’ve earned it. There will be another five of these episodes before the Europa League even threatens to get remotely interesting. Brace yourselves. On to West Ham, where if I haven’t sorted out a phone by Sunday, I will again look like Sarri scribbling away in my little notebook. But I don’t have the excuse of getting paid millions of pounds. I just look like a twat.