Gollini looked as surprised as the rest of us to be thrust into action from the off last night, and he seemed still to be goggling at the fact when that Chelsea corner swung its way towards him and over him.
It was a pretty awkward moment for the young bean, who presumably had ringing in his ears the instruction just to do the basic stuff and let the outfield players take care of everything else.
And to his credit, Gollini actually dealt pretty well with some of the sterner tests that life threw at him in the first half. He put a couple of legs in the way of one shot, and extended his frame to its full majestic length in pawing away another. Hardly a showing to indicate that here was Jennings reincarnated, but for those of us who like their goalkeepers to fling themselves around a bit when protecting the realm, this stuff ticked a few boxes.
Alas, diving full-length is but one of many items on the modern goalkeeper’s To-Do list, and if Gollini scored highly here, he haemorrhaged points in a couple of other areas. For a start there was the issue of playing the ball with his feet.
Now some traditionalists get rather sniffy about the notion of goalkeepers joining in with their feet. There’s a reason, goes the argument, that certain chaps earn the big bucks out on the pitch, and others are sent to mooch around between the posts. “Stick to your mittens”, seems to be about the gist of it. However, there’s no real escaping the fact that in these enlightened days the chap at the base of things is entitled as everyone else to join in with his feet, and in fact is actively encouraged to do so. Tactics are re-written specifically to bring the goalkeeper into the fray as part of the build-up play.
And so it transpired that early on in yesterday’s proceedings, as one of our lot was hounded down near his own area, Gollini was whistled for and the ball gently rolled towards his person. So far, so inclusive, and a diversity box was being ticked.
At this point, however, the thing started to unravel a tad. Gollini recognised the identity and purpose of the object coming towards him, which was a solid start, but thereafter seemed unsure of its function, or his own duties. With a Chelsea sort galloping towards him, Gollini then hit upon the idea of attempting some sort of half-hearted body-swerve, but this fooling absolutely nobody in N17 the problem began to exacerbate.
What ought really to have been little more than muscle-memory – the casual rolling of the ball from one lilywhite to another until the Chelsea forwards gave up and let us get on with things – turned into an unnecessarily tense game of cat-and-mouse, in which the cat was edging a bit too close into the no-fly zone. The mini-episode culminated with Gollini unceremoniously bunting the ball into touch, and up in flames went the suggestion that none of the watching masses would even notice the absence of Lloris.
And of course, this was not the worst of it. There was also That Corner. Gollini did at least appear to have read the manual on that one, and seemed sufficiently aware that the situation demanded he come bounding of his line with arms aloft and fists clenched – but as is often the way with these things, the neatly drawn illustrations that accompany the instructions bore little resemblance to what was happening in real life.
Gollini emerged into the night, and adopted the appropriate pose, but unfortunately appeared not to have given more than a cursory glance to the coordinates. As a result he leapt into the atmosphere and delivered a hearty swipe at thin air, which reflected well on his willing, but did little to contribute to the cause. Meanwhile, the ball was adopting a neat parabola above him, and with poor old Tanganga still stuck in last week’s pickle it was the work of an instant for Rudiger to nod the thing in and kill off the tie.
And once that goal trickled in, everyone in the vicinity seemed to recognise the futility of carrying on. Of course, people continued to run around in their little circles, as decorum dictated, but any casual onlooker would have realised that the game was up.
Given this rather unpleasant circumstance, I suppose one would have understood if one by one, our heroes had let their shoulders slump and surreptitiously edged into auto-pilot. Within this context, I was pleasantly surprised to see that rotter Harry Kane in particular take the opportunity to reawaken memories within himself of former feats.
To recap, Kane’s season to date has been notably underboiled. He spent a good few months trudging wearily from A to B like a man unsure of the best order in which to move his feet, and only ever burst into life when presented with amateur-level opponents.
In recent weeks things have started to look up, not least in the little matter of pinging the ball into the bottom corners; but last night, despite the gloomy and error-strewn way of things all around him, he seemed to edge back towards the all-round centre forward who can work opposing defenders into a deuce of a sweat.
If one were the bingo-playing sort one might well have licked a pencil and scrawled a giant X over such entries as “Hold-up play”, “Slalom through challenges”, “Pick a natty pass” and “Finish with aplomb” (even if that aplomb was then subject to the displeasure of the VAR gods).
Of course, there was also the usual abject free-kick, but it seems now to have reached the stage that nobody dares tell Kane he’s not actually any good at free-kicks. Better just to let him keep trying, convinced that the next one will signal a change in his fortunes.
But to return to the point: Kane seemed to have bucked up, and looked approximately a million miles better than anyone else in lilywhite. Chelsea seemed to have done their homework, and dropped whatever they were doing to swarm around him and block off his shots, whenever he picked up possession within striking distance, but despite this I was quite heartened by his shift. While this is admittedly of limited value when everyone else is peddling utter garbage, with crunch games queueing up as far as the eye can if nothing else it is timely to have the chap nearing the peak of his powers again.
3. Lo Celso
If there were positive stuff coming from the Kane corner, reviews were a little more mixed on Senor Lo Celso.
No doubt his family, friends and other admirers will point and wave enthusiastically at the various occasions on which he could be seen flying into block challenges inside his own area, treating the cause as if it were a matter of life and death, as well he should.
But while this was all topping stuff, those who know him best would presumably admit that the real value Lo Celso adds to any given social gathering is scattering his creative juices about the place. And unfortunately, last night that stuff was in decidedly short supply.
Watching Lo Celso blunder from one failed attempt at creativity to another reminded me of that gag about the fellow King Midas. Feel free to let your eyes glaze over if you’ve already heard it, but the punchline was that he stumbled upon the happy knack of literally turning into gold everything he touched. Good luck to him, I say, but I bring this up because last night it occurred to me that our man seemed to cursed to produce the exact opposite. A kind of reverse-Midas, if you will. Those sliding blocks aside, precious little that Lo Celso attempted seemed to work.
It should be pointed out that this wayward approach to accuracy and care was very much a team effort – if one were pressed to name a fellow who bounced off the pitch with reputation enhanced one would be scratching the bean for quite a few hours. But nevertheless, with Sonny absent, Ndombele banished to the naughty step and goals desperately needed, this seemed an occasion for Lo Celso to prove to the watching masses that he is the sort of bean around whom great things can be constructed. He didn’t however, and the case strengthens for a winter shopping spree.