LONDON — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.
[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ]
The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.
We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]
Here’s the scene from pitch side at Stamford Bridge in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Chelsea and Arsenal, as their crazy end-to-end clash ended in a 2-2 draw after late drama, red cards and superb solo goals.
Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other, as Arsenal’s players must have a secret exit…
10:30 p.m. (local time): Mixed Zone opens on the side of the pitch at Stamford Bridge, just in front of the dugouts as a flimsy advertizing board is put up. Chelsea’s players are warming down in the background. With Pedro, Batshuayi, Alonso and Mount running sprints up and down the pitch on a chilly west London night. To be fair, I may join them. Cannot feel my hands after two hours or so sat outside tapping away at a laptop…
10:35: Reece James is the first player to walk the mixed zone, walking a little gingerly and dodging behind the sponsorship boards as he is looking sheepish. The young defender, dressed in a tracksuit, missed the game through injury but Frank Lampard confirmed it was nothing serious.
10:38: One of just a few Arsenal players to walk through the mixed zone (seriously, have they borrowed Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak!?) Rob Holding has a big smile on his face as he says hello. A late sub, Holding spent a ridiculous amount of time warming up on the sidelines as it looked like he would come on in the first half but Granit Xhaka played very well at center back.
10:42: Next up is current Chelsea striker (for how much longer?) and former Arsenal star Olivier Giroud. Asked about a reported move to Inter Milan and if this was his last time on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, Giroud laughed when journalists said “Arrivederci” to him. Giroud won’t speak about a move to Inter Milan, which is understandable as he didn’t make it onto the pitch. But maybe with Tammy Abraham picking up a knock he won’t be allowed to head to Milan after all…
10:45: Talking of Milan, Andreas Christensen looked very moody and magnificent as he strode past the media like it was a catwalk in the famed fashion capital of Italy and the world. A tough night for the young Danish center back once again, as Chelsea’s fans were very nervous every time he got on the ball and the Blues were guilty of giving up possession cheaply at the back.
10:48: Robert Pires has been seen gliding around the press areas as he works for French TV. Imagine him on the wing for this Arsenal side! My word, that man could open a can of beans with his left foot…
10:51: With a lull in the players walking through, we popped into the press conference room to hear from Mikel Arteta. Sporting a lovely turtleneck sweater, Arteta was beaming when asked about the character of his young side as they played for over 60 minutes with 10 men and looked the more likely to win it late on. Arteta singled out Bakayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli for special praise but admitted his entire team showed the desire he is asking for as they look to turn things around.
“The togetherness and leadership they showed today, this is what I wanted to see. It’s very important for the development. We are in the a process and are going in the right direction but I think tonight is a special night for everybody,” Arteta told BBC’s Match of the Day. Right on, Mikel, right on.
Arsenal skipper Hector Bellerin, who was lauded by the away fans after his late left foot swinger grabbed them a point, talks about their progress under Arteta in touch circumstances with so many players injured and out of position: “The second half had been very tough for the team. You could see the spirit in the team. I am very proud and the manager I’m sure is very happy with how we responded with 10 men.”
BTW, Bellerin’s cockney/Spanish accent is absolutely amazing. That is all.
The Arsenal supporters at Stamford Bridge were in full voice for Hector Bellerin 👏🔴 pic.twitter.com/YyBK301VTB
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) January 21, 2020
10:54: Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic strolls through as he rolls a suitcase. One journalist is clearly a fan but is upset he doesn’t stop often: ‘Mateo is such a nice guy but he never stops to talk. The worst thing about it? He speaks five languages, so he could speak to every media member here!’ If I was Kovacic I’d be showing off my incredible linguistic skills. Shortly after him is little N’Golo Kante, who slipped to allow Arsenal to make it 1-1. Kante, shy as ever, had his head down as he rolled his miniature suitcase alongside the side of the pitch.
10:55: Oh, this is very interesting. Tammy Abraham limps out of the tunnel area and hobbles along the side of the pitch. He took a late whack and has been icing his right leg. “Tammy, you can’t get injured!” jokes one journalist as he intimates that Abraham is their only real option up top. “Mate, don’t, I know, I know” is his reply with half a laugh and half a grimace.
10:57: David Luiz, usually a shoe in to stop and talk, didn’t stop and that was understandable. His return to Chelsea saw him sent off but his team rallied to pick up a draw as TV cameras showed him in agony late in the game, watching the action on the smallest TV in history in the tunnel area. It was Luiz’s fault for giving away a penalty kick as he brought down Abraham as he tried to make up for Mustafi’s error. But there was mutual respect in the mixed zone because Luiz is one of the good guys who always stops. He will stop next time, for sure, we hope…
10:59: Okay, a quick pop back into the press conference room as the final few stragglers come out. Frank Lampard is up and looks like Christmas has just been canceled. He questions Chelsea’s game management after going 2-1 up late on and bemoans their lack of creativity in the final third. When then ask him for an injury update on USMNT star Christian Pulisic and if he thinks the Pennsylvanian Messi would have made a different to unlock this Arsenal defense.
“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said, as he nodded in realization.
When will Pulisic be back?
Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.
“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard added.
11:04: Back outside in the cold, Kurt ‘Happy’ Zouma and Michy Batshuayi walk through together and the former is living up to his name as he is beaming with a massive smile as he says hey. Can’t help but think that Zouma will be back in the Chelsea team for their FA Cup clash against Hull this weekend, and probably the trip to Leicester City next weekend.
11:09: Hear he is, the nicest man in football. Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave, to the Chelsea fans) is smiling and laughing as he emerges from the tunnel. “I’m not speaking to you guys, nothing for you!” he jokes as he looks over to the mixed zone. He does go and have a chat with Chelsea TV as he puts on a comically large set of headphones. Azpilicueta, who put Chelsea 2-1 up late on as it looked like being the winner, then shows off his amazing language skills as he talks to English radio, outlets from the Middle East, then speaks in French to RMC and Canal+ and chats in Spanish to one journalist. He then speak to us about Pulisic and how important it is that he returns to full fitness. In a nutshell, Azpilicueta is an impressive dude.
“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said. “After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies. In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”
Here he is speaking in French because he can.
👏 Cesar Azpilicueta really is one of the nicest guys in the game. Stopped in the mixed zone last night after speaking with Chelsea TV. Spoke with outlets from England, USA, France, Spain and Middle East in three different languages seamlessly. ‘Dave’ is a true leader for #CFC. pic.twitter.com/HLmFTZYbjl
— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) January 22, 2020
11:15: Senior Chelsea officials are then seen ushering guests out and there are plenty of handshakes. Journalists chatter about who it is, maybe a new owner!?
11:16: The flimsy advertizing board is gone. The stadium is pretty much empty. The Mixed Zone is closed as frost descends on freezing London.