PAT NEVIN: NO MATTER WHAT
Former Chelsea Player of the Year Pat Nevin put himself in the place of one of the current squad in this week's column, and looks at the games ahead…
I got more than a little ribbing from a few Chelsea fans last week by email for trying to be upbeat about the club, when the rest of the world seemed to be announcing imminent collapse.
So I will refrain from dwelling on the record in the last seven games of five wins, one draw and one defeat, and that was away to the current league Champions. Yes there has been so much more going on and the form is variable, but in the middle of it all is a football team that is trying to win games and with a bit of luck a trophy as well on top of the small detail of hopefully Champions League qualification.
To be honest I can't really be bothered diving into the whole Rafa situation here, most people know their arguments and have pretty well-rehearsed points of view, each of which I respect. I suppose I tend to put myself more into the perspective of a player, and wonder how it would be affecting me.
Negativity around the ground from (some of) your own fans isn't the perfect situation, even if it is only sporadic. The rights and wrongs are neither here nor there if you are say, Oscar or Hazard. All you really want to do is play, play well, win, entertain and enjoy doing that while lifting the crowd. That is a little bit easier to do when there is positivity on the air, which to be fair there often is when those guys are actually on the ball.
Players can put up with a great deal however and are perfectly capable of performing at a very high standard no matter what the circumstances. Away from home, particularly in Europe there will be a good deal of negativity, not to say hostility towards you when you play, but you still manage that.
Players live through all sorts of trials and tribulations, there best mate in the team might get sold, the manager may change or the conditions vary, but they just get on with it. The toughest thing I ever usually had to deal with was difficulty or tragedy in my home life - now that is going to affect you far more than any atmosphere in a ground, positive or negative.
Even so I, and all the players, still managed to get out there and hopefully perform to a fairly high standard most of the time, no matter what.
Hence I prefer right now to do as I did when playing and that is concentrate on the games. The last two wins have been close but well-deserved in truth. The next thee I suspect will be much tougher. Steaua Bucharest will be very tough opposition over in Romania, you do not get this far in Europe without being able to play. The defeat of Ajax (pictured below), even if it did take penalties, was pretty impressive and I must say something of a surprise to me. Ajax toyed with Man City earlier in the season and as such anyone who thinks Chelsea should cruise this one should think again.
The team selection is very tricky indeed, some have been rested over the past few weeks, but at some point decisions will have to be made about which is the most important competition. I suspect in that the Europa League tie is over two legs, the first leg is one where you attempt to get through it without ruining your chances, rather than going for it gung-ho in the first leg.
A draw, preferably a scoring one would be a fantastic result for me, I would take that right here, right now. If that can be done without using every single first-choice player then all the better. I suspect the one that the club would love to win is the tie against Manchester United. They are of course in midweek action as well against Real Madrid, but you would have to be very biased to argue that their squad hasn't got a just a bit more depth than our own. They also have the added bonuses of an extra two whole days' worth of recovery time, a home tie and no travelling this week in the Champions league while we traipse over to Romania and back, and of course home advantage come Sunday. They also do not have a great deal to worry about in the league having it just about sewn up already.
You see the point about maybe rotating it a bit in Romania for the first leg? I wouldn't even be surprised at a very defensive system in this one and for once I wouldn't complain either. If it means winning the tie well and with style back at the Bridge a week later, once again I would be delighted with that.
Now for the quiz. Last week I asked could you tell me what was the score the last time Chelsea played Middlesbrough in the FA Cup? Many dived straight in with the FA Cup final in 1997, but there was another FA Cup game after that! Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 1-0 on 4th of January 2003, at the third-round stage. As ever there can only be one winner and it is Karl H Hillers from Reykjavik in Iceland. Well done to him.
This week to have a chance of winning a copy of the DVD review of last season's Champions League campaign signed by John Terry, could you tell me what you think the score will be against Manchester United on Sunday? Do you go with your heart, head or indeed both? Answers to be in before kick-off at Old Trafford and send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck with that.