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A different perspective


PloKoon13

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On the official site, columnist Giles Smith posted this:

One of the arguments you will hear about Sunday's frustrating concession to that quaint little club up the road is that it wasn't very Mourinho-like.

To go 2-1 ahead like that, and then not hold on until the final whistle was not very José, apparently. 'The invincible swagger of the Mourinho era,' one read, in one of the printed accounts of this disaster, 'is a thing of the past.'

But join me, won't you, on a journey back through time - all the way back to… well, to 2006, in fact, just two years ago. Saturday December 30th 2006, to be exact. Chelsea, narrowly trailing Manchester United at the top of the table, face Fulham at Stamford Bridge.

Fulham go ahead, against the run of play, logic and almost everything we know about the natural world, after some catastrophic, stand-and-stare defending. Ring any bells?

Frank Lampard (naturally) then makes it 1-1. Soon after, Didier Drogba (and not Lampard, a small break with tradition here) puts Chelsea ahead. At this moment, three points appear to be safe.

But no. Minutes from the end, we fail to deal properly with a cross (again, any bells?) and Fulham equalise (pictured above). Final score: 2-2. Manchester United increase their lead to six points.

Can you guess who we didn't have at the back on this less than noble occasion? Correct: John Terry, who was injured at that point, rather than suspended, but it amounts to the same thing.

And the manager at the time? José Mourinho, who said of Fulham afterwards: 'They know we can't defend so they attacked, it's that simple.'

So, you see, there really is nothing new under the sun. The big difference here is that you wouldn't be as scathing, as Mourinho was then, about the current Chelsea team, which (Sunday's dumb lapses aside) clearly can defend - to the extent, in fact, that those were only the second and third goals conceded away from home all season, a remarkable stat.

Another crucial distinction: that 2006 Fulham result came only two days after we had managed to throw two more points away by drawing 2-2 at home to Reading, with an 85th minute own goal from Michael Essien adding not very much to the festive hilarity. At least this one followed a win on Boxing Day.

Oh, and one more difference. It's not United at the top of the table this time. It's Liverpool. And their lead isn't six points, it's three points. And if that doesn't give you some cause for hope, then I can't imagine what will.

Of course, none of this distracts from the fact that burning two hard-earned points by failing to mark someone in the penalty area during the last minute of a match was not a particularly smart way to spend Christmas.

But then, fortunately, among the supposed title contenders, this continues to be the season of the variable performance - the season in which no one seems to want to grab the initiative and set off on a run. We're getting slightly tired of trying to come up with a sound theory on why this may be the case. But maybe it's got something to do with the economy. Maybe nobody wants to be seen large-ing it during a recession, believing that that kind of behaviour would look a little tasteless and insensitive.

Whatever, the fact is that, over the last round of fixtures, Manchester United only narrowly beat Middlesbrough, who had a chance to equalise in the last seconds. Arsenal only narrowly beat Portsmouth. Aston Villa only beat Hull through a solitary own goal.

As for Liverpool, I caught some of their match at Newcastle on the television and 'paper-thin' doesn't begin to describe the mind-bogglingly bad state of the home side on that occasion. Indeed, I don't think I've seen a team play so ineptly that wasn't made up of a bunch of unfit work-mates, gathered in a muddy public park after a frantic last-minute phone-around.

Newcastle weren't recognisable as the side that came here and drew, because at least that team knew how to stand in front of the goal. This one seemed to have forgotten how to do that, while also mislaying a number of other key skill-sets, including how to pass and how to control the ball.

In the circumstances, Liverpool's celebrations afterwards must have been muted and their morale as low as the tiles on the dressing room floor. Indeed, they'll have been hanging their heads in shame that they only managed to score five.

Still, an extended period from us without Fulham-style slip-ups might now come in handy, especially while everyone else is still wobbling and looking uncertain of themselves. Some will even go so far as to argue that, in the current circumstances, winning at Old Trafford on Sunday week is crucial. But don't listen to the hype. When was winning at Old Trafford ever not crucial?

Meanwhile, we have Saturday's FA Cup Third Round tie at home to Southend to get through. As I understand it, the general idea is to win by around four or five goals, continue the work done on Boxing Day to steady our form at home, and then march up to Manchester rejuvenated.

Of course, there is no point pretending that backing Goliath against David is ever a particularly cool or dignified thing to be doing - let alone willing Goliath to shove David's sling where the sun doesn't shine. But what can we do? It's the predicament we find ourselves in - and that, too, we had probably better admit, is the magic of the FA Cup.

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