Chelsea suffered its first defeat after an outstanding run of 23-unbeaten games in all competitions on Saturday after a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Newcastle United. Now the fact of the matter is that no team or individual in sport is invulnerable, except perhaps Rocky Marciano and Floyd Mayweather. Even Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of 2003/04 eventually lost a match after a superb run of results, and let us not forget the supposedly bulletproof Gunners of that season did lose in other competitions. As far as Marciano and Mayweather go, there are those in boxing who dismiss their undefeated records as not telling the whole story. By way of example, Mayweather has never fought Manny Pacquiao and Marciano also largely avoided many other top fighters during his era. Nevertheless, their achievements must be recognised.
But what really struck me about the Blues’ beating at St James’ Park was that Jose Mourinho remains incapable of beating the Magpies on their own turf. What is it about the northeastern Tyneside city that proves unconquerable for the Portuguese? After all this is a man who has won the Uefa Champions League with two different clubs and four top flight European leagues over the years. And, as much as I love the Toon, Newcastle really are nothing but a mid-table club these days, happy not to be involved in a relegation scrap. Some might even say that the Geordies have no business being on the same field as the Stamford Bridge boys.
On one level it shows what a great leveller sport is. On the other it implies a greater psychological barrier that simply cannot be overcome. After it happens three times the press, the fans and the opposition start to remind you of what happens when you come up against that particular opposition. Then the opponent scores first and in your mind you’re thinking, “It’s happening again”, and your counterpart starts believing that it’s going to happen again. It becomes a vicious cycle. There are several other similar examples.
Germany, current FIFA World Cup champions, have never beaten Italy in a competitive match. Yes, NEVER. As great as the Germans have been for the best part of the last decade and as average as the Azzurri have been at times, that trend has continued. Think 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012. Sure in the former encounter the boys in blue were perhaps better man-for-man but were they really a better side at the European Championships? Well on that particular day the Germans appeared to forget all their teachings.
In tennis Kevin Anderson just cannot beat Tomas Berdych. The pair have met on 12 occasions but the South African continuously fails against the Czech. Sure Berdych has a higher world ranking but Anderson has managed to beat Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray at times on the ATP Tour but asking for just one win over Berdych appears too much. David Ferrer (hardly the world’s worst player) has a similarly miserable record against Roger Federer. No matter how the Swiss’ powers have lessened, the Spaniard just cannot overcome Federer.
The psychology of sport is so fascinating and warrants a book rather than a short blog but I am quite sure there is an example that you are thinking of. That one team or individual that just cannot beat that other team or opponent on that one ground in that one tournament. This is just one reason why we love sport so much, I believe.