Written by Ian Colgan (@Ian_Colgan):
One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow (meadow!)
One man and his dog (Spot!), went to mow a meadow
Two men went to mow, went to mow a meadow (meadow!)
Two men, one man and his dog (Spot!), went to mow a meadow
...And so on, all the way up to 10 men, getting increasingly more complex as you reach the higher numbers, until you’re forced to get Dylan-esque with the phrasing around about the six-men part when you have to fit in “six men, five men, four men, three men, two men, one man and his dog” without losing complete control of the rhythm and trailing off.
A very long and complex football chant, but not a very threatening or ominous one, under most circumstances, except maybe for this season when it’s being sung by Chelsea supporters at Stamford Bridge, or wherever else they’ve travelled. This has been one of the favoured chants among ‘The Pensioners’ since at least 1980, intended to goad the opposition supporters into a groaning, agitated frenzy, because as soon as they hear the opening line of Verse 1 they know they’re in for nine more repetitive verses of meaningless gibberish that will slowly beat them down into a dull surrender and wear out their resolve with dreary, maddening tedium.
This season it’s also been a song of annihilation, like all Chelsea chants have now become, with recent performances now lending any chant emanating from the Chelsea terraces a very menacing edge, even if the crowd were to suddenly burst into a mournful chorus of ‘Nearer, My God to Thee’. When you hear the ‘One Man Went to Mow’ chant now, as an opposition supporter, it probably means that your team is currently suffering or is about to endure a similar but more physical submission on the pitch.
Saturday’s 4-2 win over Stoke means that Chelsea have now won 13 straight games, a record-equalling run of Premier League victories. Suddenly clicking after the 3-0 loss to Arsenal (who share the record) in late September, which left them 8th, they’re now six points clear at the top...A relentless and terrifying march towards an end that a lot of people figured was beyond them this season. Even when it was 1-1 against Stoke, and then 2-2, the eventual victory never seemed to be in much doubt.
Once you get sucked into a heavy winning habit, or the habit of not losing, the momentum can be almost as hard to arrest as the grim thrust of a chronic losing streak. The same thing is happening in Spain this season to Real Madrid, who are unbeaten in 35 games. Trailing Deportivo 1-2 on December 10th with 25 minutes to go, it was apparent to everyone that Madrid would win, which they eventually did 3-2. When it was 2-2 in the 90th minute, a Madrid victory seemed even more plausible than a draw.
Only a plague of injuries can stop Chelsea now, it’s widely believed, and maybe not even that...Which is a bummer for the neutral, who after looking forward to a very close season-long title race between City and United, has had to swiftly alter their expectations as they’ve watched Chelsea essentially ruin the season by settling into such a hot winning streak over the last two months that the Guardiola/Mourinho duel now looks like it won’t amount to much beyond a scrap for fourth.
With Chelsea overpowering Stoke at The Bridge on Saturday, a lot of people are now putting their faith in Tottenham to open up the title race by beating or even drawing with Chelsea on Wednesday. Even Chelsea drawing with Spurs could be enough to alter the race to the point where it’s interesting again, and it could then get very interesting with Chelsea set to go to Anfield on January 31st before hosting Arsenal on February 4th.
January 4th...January 31st...February 4th...A stumble on any of these three key dates represents the best chance of the gap being narrowed. After that, looking at Chelsea’s fixture schedule, there is not much hope of them being halted again until April when they have to play City and United. A ‘shock upset’ is still possible in the meantime, but from February 5th all the way through to the City game on April 5th Chelsea will not have to face a club that’s currently in the top half of the table.
Very concerning for the chasers, especially with Chelsea’s absence of European football. Third favourites with 11/2 odds at the start of the season, it’s easy to understand why Chelsea are now favourites for the title with odds of 4/6. The Liverpool v City result that might have crippled City’s title bid, also cemented Liverpool’s status as the Main Threat. Liverpool could now very possibly gain significant ground on Chelsea on January 31st, but between now and then Liverpool could drop points of their own against Man United, which is what made the Spurs v. Chelsea game so critical.
Now 10 points behind Chelsea, another defeat for City would probably be enough to safely rule them out of contention for the title, which is a strange thing to have to write in early January, but it’s hard to make any other prognosis after watching a team slide from 1st to 5th in the space of two months. The collapse actually started earlier, in early October, but they were so far ahead at the time they were able to take two points from three games that month and still be on top.
Which is neither here nor there, for now. The point is that the title race is steadily evolving into a two-horse race between Chelsea and Liverpool, but the current six-point gap makes Liverpool reliant on Arsenal and Tottenham doing their part if they’re to have any realistic chance of overtaking Chelsea.
Conte understands perfectly the threat that Spurs represent, which is why he’s been preparing the team for this clash for some time, in the knowledge that they would only have three days to prepare for it when it eventually loomed up. Chelsea will draw on “work done in the past” to help them against Spurs, Conte has said. “For sure, [Tottenham] is the biggest challenge.”
Chelsea’s success has largely been put down to Conte’s switch to the 3-4-3 system, a formation that the players grasped instantly. The other clear difference, from last season, is that in Conte the players have a manager who they want to play for – an obvious and necessary component to any winning formula that was absent in the last days of the Mourinho Era when key players like Hazard and Costa shut down. This season, Hazard and Costa have racked up over 20 goals between them so far, over half of Chelsea’s total.
“The manager has come, he’s applied his ideas, and things are going well,” Costa recently explained. “The truth is the manager is good with the players, every time making more jokes with the players. That’s good for us to have a manager who is not just a boss but like a person we can talk with, someone whose support we can count on in difficult moments. He is calm with the players and you can see the people love him more all the time.”