Chelsea’s draw against Ajax was truly exceptional and extraordinary. Such exceptions so far out of the bounds of the ordinary should not be the basis of any global conclusions.
If the first football game somebody watched was Chelsea vs. Ajax, you wouldn’t want them to draw too many conclusions about the sport or either team. You wouldn’t want them to think Chelsea are the sort of team who goes around conceding two own goals or needing two penalty kicks just to get a draw. You’d be doing your naive companion a disservice by letting him think two double yellows are an ordinary occurrence, especially when they are brandished minutes apart for actions that occurred seconds apart. Nor would you want him to think Ajax is the sort of klutzy banter club that gives up two penalties and has two men sent off while squandering a three-goal lead. Such a dim view would minimize Chelsea’s achievement over a very capable team and last season’s Champions League semifinalists. And let’s not even start in on VAR, except to say better that someone learns about VAR from the Champions League than the Premier League.
Experienced Chelsea watchers should take the same tentative approach. Beyond these readily accessible outliers, the stream of historical comparisons and milestones that came out after the game should warn people off of passing any sweeping judgments.
For the most part, we’re talking about Marcos Alonso. Alonso had a very poor first half. He committed an absolutely needless foul that led to the second goal.
Whatever good he accomplished by moving into a forward or midfield position on the attack or press, respectively, was overwhelmed by him being out of position for the inevitable, almost immediate, counter-attack. Whereas he is normally proactive in moving to a defensively advantageous position to compensate for his relatively slow speed, against Ajax he did not read the play to get a jump on Ajax, whose speed and aggression left him even further behind the play. He compounded matters by sometimes barely responding at all. The two-way choppiness of the first half brought out all of his vulnerabilities.
But before those 45 minutes against Ajax, for at least the entirety of Chelsea’s seven-game win streak and going back before that, Alonso was one of the Blues’ most consistent and reliable players. For at least 600 minutes of football, Alonso showed why he should be ahead of Emerson in the depth chart and why concerns about his ability to play full-back, as opposed to wing-back, were little more than ChelsTwit bloviation.
Alonso’s showing against Ajax was a single-digit percent of the total minutes he has played since Emerson suffered his injury. But because of the recency effect and confirmation bias, many Chelsea fans and (sigh) #influencers are calling for him to be benched until he can be sold.
There’s a better case to be made that Willy Caballero should be given a run of Premier League starts.
Arrizabalaga will probably never again have a game where he allows two own goals in one half of football, with one of those own goals coming off his own face. He has only conceded four or more goals three times in his career: all last season, and with Chelsea failing to score in each. That Chelsea allowed four but also scored four makes this game an exception to his exceptions.
But none of that matters under the Alonso standard – we must limit our range of evidence to the Ajax game.
On the other hand, we, among others, have been questioning Kepa Arrizbalaga’s shot-stopping for the last few weeks. Chelsea’s defence have done their goalkeeper few favours, but they have tightened up significantly since the early days of the season. Yet clean sheets are still rarities. Aside from the own goals, he conceded two goals from open play. This game fits a pattern, even if it does come at the extreme end.
But no one is making the argument for Caballero to step between the posts because of Arrizabalaga’s meme-able performance against Ajax.
Using 45 minutes out of 600 to make a sweeping judgment about a player is about as valid as those YouTube compilations that show every touch or every error by a player. There’s not a player in the world who can’t be made to look world-class or a buffoon with some easy splicing, complimented by a non-offensive EDM track or the Benny Hill theme, respectively. In both cases, the judgment relies on cherry-picked, vacuum-packed evidence: the best kind to back preconceived notions and little else.
And when those 45 minutes are the least representative not only of that player but of his team and the game of football as a whole, better to just write them off entirely, or at the very least dilute them in their full context.
Otherwise we might as well just argue that Reece James should only come on when Chelsea are trailing two goals at the half; the Blues are only as a good as a team that plays with nine men for 20 minutes; and Kurt Zouma should be dribbling out from the back and over midfield at least as often as Mateo Kovacic.