So 22 points out of 24 at the beginning of the week, our attack pulling plaudits in by the dozen, the future couldn't have seemed brighter. One week later and we're coming off the ropes after what was a truly devastating sucker punch, but what if instead of continuing the rancour and gloom, I told you our future now was looking even brighter than a week ago?
Contentious red cards, complaints against an allegedly outspoken referee, an offside goal, a mysteriously injured steward, tensions flaring on the touchline, and 3 probably deserved points stolen from under our noses. So.. well.. all that happened. And what did we take from all that? A severe sense of injustice, a bad taste in our mouths, and a rather lot of ire to burn.
The most anticipated fixture of the season, and the most pulsating one thus far was punctured by the most incompetent display of refereeing we've seen at Stamford Bridge since Tom Henning Ovrebo visited, and those of us still riled up about yesterday (I know I am... kind of) can only brood over what could have been. There's no shortage of things to be bitter about, not least of all the defiant sense of entitlement and deservedness reflecting in post match formalities emerging from the United camp, with Sir Alex unsurprisingly sycophantic in his support of the sendings off, and that leg-breaker Jonny Evans letting us know exactly why the referee was spot on with his booking, him the honour roll student of the infamous Paul Scholes Institute for Competent Tackling.
Depending on what channel you were following the game on, you might've seen shots of an anxious Robbie urging the 4th official into halting play on stoppage and letting him bring Sturridge on for Torres. Something that, by the looks of it, wasn't given sufficient attention by Clattenburg himself, as evidenced by his complete non-opposition to letting United take the quick free-kick in the extended build-up to the Evans foul and Torres' sending off.
Tempers flared on the sideline. Blood boiled in the stands and infront of television sets, and by the time that ridiculous offside goal arrived, cynically cancelling out our comeback, I think most of us were just too angry or hurt to care. Sure, it isn't a sight in contemporary football, but at that point, I wished the team would just refuse to continue, and leave the pitch in disgust and in protest. But wishful thinking doesn't translate very well to real life - Roberto Di Matteo was no Inzamam ul-Haq, and Chelsea no Team Pakistan, although Mark Clattenburg, if found guilty and suitably castigated, can still be football's Darrell Hair. For that some can hope.
What infuriated me even further, was what I saw as feeble attempts by Clattenburg to maybe pacify us, a quick string of cheap 50-50 fouls given our way after the Torres red, and that no-brainer booking to Valencia at the very end when the evening's nonsense was about to wrap up.
Yes we were wronged yesterday, and the burgeoning body of evidence cannot be ignored. All the same, there have to have been some positives we could take from this ordeal - right? Right. In circumstances like these, it's awfully important to maintain a reasonable sense of perspective, perspective of how far we've come, where exactly we're going, and most importantly, how we compare to earlier projections.
Let's be honest to ourselves. We knew we had the quality heading into the season, we were also implicitly aware of its potency once our midfield acclimatised to their new environment, teammates, system etc. But at the same time, we also knew the new Chelsea would have a sufficiently steep learning curve to negotiate up, and bad experiences like this would be just one of many setbacks we'd have to learn to develop resilience to.
Let's remember that at the beginning of the season, even thought we expected ourselves to mount something of a suitable title challenge, we also dimly acknowledged the possibility of Chelsea having to play third fiddle in the league to the two Manchester clubs. Going by that estimation, while it's alright to seethe at what happened at the Bridge, it's also important to not lose sight of the fact that we're still doing better than a number of us bargained for. We've a slender lead at the top of the table, and the onus is on us now to cling onto, and improve it when an opportunity arises.
As Graham stated, we're now heading into what is arguably the tensest, most important string of fixtures so far this season, and therefore, focus is one thing we can't have enough of. Because if there's one quality in the new Chelsea this season's introduced us to, it is an indefatigable will to never throw in the towel, and further the will to impose ourselves upon a game no matter how bad a start or spell we have to recover from. Yes, frailties in defence still persist, and have been brought to light in alarming fashion against big oppositions, but Robbie & co. can fix that as we move ahead. The challenge now, is to take our newfound will and mental drive to a new level. Why did I say our future was looking even brighter than before after yesterday? Because in defeating us like they did, United just handed us the single biggest catalyst a team heading into a trying run of fixtures could hope for. They've given us a sense of being wronged, and in effect, made us vindictive and only hungrier. We may not be able to do much about giving some back to them, but what we certainly can do, is make sure whoever faces us in coming weeks feels the heat.
Because let's not forget, we came within one turd-burger referee of inflicting a spine-busting comeback on the masters of comebacks themselves. If anything, we came as close as allowable, to showing the rest of the league we're complete enough a team, competent enough a team, to be right up there at the end of the season, however coherent/incoherent that may be to our pre-season projections. So if anything, yesterday's debacle endowed the new Chelsea with even more hope than before, and so the path ahead, is all bright.