Sport

A Week in Review: 23rd-29th November

Chelsea may not be title-winners this season, but they are getting closer and closer.

Chelsea may not have beaten Tottenham last weekend but they were the team most likely to win that game. The major chances went their way and they were the only side to put the ball in the back of the net, only for a tight but correct offside call to cancel it out. I’ve written multiple times that I don’t think Chelsea will win the title this season. But they are getting closer to being in a position to mount a serious title challenge. Chelsea have had a month or so of keeping clean sheets and soundly beating teams from lower down the division. Yesterday they were able to manage a game against a very tough side who are in good form and, thanks to yesterday’s draw, currently sitting top of the table. Not only that, they nearly won it.

All of those are things Chelsea failed to do at various times last season. They failed to beat Bournemouth, West Ham and Sheffield United last season while running Liverpool close on three occasions and beating Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal. The defence has been hugely improved by the reinforcements in both defence and by the new goalkeeper. Clean sheets are not the same trial they became last season; meanwhile, the team is far better at taking the chances it creates. N’Golo Kante is much more comfortable in his more natural position as a holding midfielder, while Thiago Silva has brought some much-needed composure in the central defensive areas. With the likes of Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz to come back into the line-up and Olivier Giroud in reserve, Lampard has some many options to try and break teams down. January will be a time more for departures than arrivals, I think. The squad is slightly too large at the moment and just needs trimming down slightly. To me, the progress made this season is all the more remarkable given that many of the newer arrivals came well into September and they had no real pre-season. Lampard is still looking for his optimum squad and set-up, but when he does find it, Chelsea will have a very formidable team.

That was an eventful Bahrain Grand Prix.

All F1 fans let out a huge sigh of relief when Romain Grosjean was able to pull himself out of his ruined car after a truly horrifying crash at the first of two Bahrain Grand Prix. It was the very first lap when Grosjean left the track after jostling for position with Danil Kyvat. I’ve not seen an incident like that at a motor race for a long time. Probably not since the crash that claimed Dan Wheldon’s life has there been a crash like the one we saw last Sunday. Everything was terrible to see, how the car seemed to embed itself in the crash barrier rather than being reflected away, how the monocoque came away from the chassis, the fireball that erupted. It was truly shocking to see.

It speaks volumes of the amount of work that has gone into improving safety conditions for drivers in F1, because make no mistake; 15 years ago, that crash would have killed Romain Grosjean. Instead, he has some minor burns on his hands and ankles. But I bet you anything he Anyone who opposes the Halo, that’s the protective bar around the driver’s head, after this simply doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It had already been called into action before this incident, but it truly has proved its worth. As usual with these things, there will be an investigation into why the barrier caved like it did, why the car separated into two parts etc etc. And special mention must go to the medical car team and marshals who acted so quickly to get to the scene, help Grosjean away from the situation and then replace, as they ended up having to, the section of barrier that had given way.

The drama wasn’t over though as Lance Stroll ended the first lap of the restart upside down in his car. Again, thankfully he was able to walk away as well. After that everything calmed down. Hamilton won again to underline his superiority over the rest of the field. But ultimately, it was the safety technology that won. And it saved someone’s life.

Fans will finally return to grounds.

Yep, in accordance with the new tier system coming into effect this coming Wednesday, fans will finally be allowed to return to outdoor sporting events after an absence of around about nine months. Of course, the grounds won’t be full and won’t be for a good while yet, but it is step back towards what I’m going to call pre-COVID life. It will be good to see fans back in a football ground after so long even if the grounds will be far from full. The rules in place look like they will limit whatever atmosphere can be created by such a small number of fans in grounds designed to hold upwards of 20,000 more fans. But this, like all aspects of life has to change while we are still in the midst of a pandemic. The rules can be relaxed as long as we stick to them stringently so that they don’t need to be tightened again. That’s what the country has failed to do twice now. Adhere to the rules that are in place so that we don’t have to tighten them.

Football is not an empty spectacle in an empty stadium; I don’t think any professional sport is. But it does lack something when they aren’t there. It can be a real boost to players when your backs are against the wall if a crowd are there to pick them up and urge them on. It can be an exhilarating experience to be in the crowd at a football match. The blood pumps, your synapses fire, the adrenaline gets going. The players can feed on that until it becomes a feedback loop between the them and the crowd. So, I’m delighted to see that fans will return before season’s end, because I seriously doubted it at more than a few moments throughout this pandemic.

And hopefully, if it is shown that the clubs can host the small numbers of fans allowed in at the start, the numbers allowed can start to be increased, probably in line to when a mass vaccination program is in place. But one of many steps back to pre-COVID life is going to be achieved come 5th December. And I can’t wait.

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