The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
For American fans of the Premier League, seeing matches means waking up early, sometimes to make the cold walk to some local bar or self-styled Irish pub to share a euthanasia breakfast with a plasma screen and a handful of European exiles, sometimes to wage a sleepy war with Chinese streaming software in the hope of securing a tiny, pixelated window onto the Reading-Newcastle game. English fans might imagine a life in which the Korea/Japan World Cup happened every weekend, only it wasn’t on television and you were the only one who knew about it.
This can be an surprisingly pleasant, almost tranquil way to experience the game. You’re in a morning calm, with the day ahead of you; you haven’t been fighting traffic, drinking (hopefully), swallowing hours of pre-match buildup; you just roll out of bed, pour a cup of tea, and blow warm steam in your face while you watch the action unfold. It can be a little dreamlike; which is why I suffered from a creeping uncertainty yesterday while I watched Chelsea’s 6-0 atomization of Manchester City. I had tuned in hoping for, even expecting, a competitive match; what I saw was something like eleven men playing against ether. I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t somehow still sleeping.
Was this Chelsea—gray, methodical Chelsea—a team that, for all its new coach’s praise of style, had looked like Chopin’s funeral march in their midweek win against Schalke, now suddenly playing like the Revolutionary Etude? Could this possibly be Man City—Sven-Göran Eriksson and his team of FM All-Stars—looking like a multilingual doormat after starting the season, if not quite like title contenders, at least as though they belonged in very few sentences with Derby? Was that Frank Lampard staging a masterpiece in midfield? When Shevchenko scored I half expected to see Abraham Lincoln and a pink hippopotamus take yellow cards for dissent.
But it was real, and it was a pleasure to see Chelsea, a team I’ve grudgingly admired more often than enjoyed, play on so many forward arrows. Even if there’s something unappealing about the prospect of a manager taking tactical cues from an owner, yesterday was a lovely thing to see.
It was Lampard who, to my mind, did the most to define Chelsea’s game. Half their goals came through his passes, and if his first assist (to Essien) was impressive, the long, leisurely, gorgeously timed through ball that he played to Drogba for his second was superb. Lampard has been on the end of some really shabby treatment by fans and by the media over the past year, and has been unfit and out of form too regularly to answer his critics with his play. Seemingly healthy now and with an obviously invigorated team, he has an opportunity to repair a reputation which arguably never should have been damaged in the first place.
Man City deserve some praise and some blame for bringing an attacking game to Chelsea rather than behaving like sensible underdogs and stacking themselves at the back. They showed confidence and were rewarded with good chances for Petrov and others, but the openness of their play also gave Chelsea a lot of space to play in, with results that made Man City look powerless.
by Brian Phillips · October 28, 2007