PAT NEVIN: FINAL SAY
With a chance to win silverware by beating one of Europe's big names nearly upon the club, former Chelsea star and columnist Pat Nevin is enjoying an end to the season with plenty to write about…
Right now I am feeling pretty good about the fact that I have been fairly upbeat this season when many have had real and understandable concerns about the year. I just felt all along that the fundamentals were pretty good, we have a very good squad with some absolutely world-class players and plenty of quality youth improving all the time. After a decade of winning Premier League titles and being real contenders in the Champions League, it could still be seen as a dip, but I have always accepted that winning the very top trophies while rebuilding is bordering on impossible.
Having said all that, the win on Saturday just underlined that we have always deserved to be in the Champions League spots, even if there have been shaky moments. The biggest problem has been managing the incredible number of games, but somehow it has been managed. Having said that the squad is now very stretched as we look forward to the most glamorous game of the season so far. JT and Eden Hazard picking up what looked like pretty serious injuries at Villa Park was the last thing needed. Eden has been striking fear into defences all season long and I bet that Benfica fans would have been celebrating as if they had scored a winning goal against Porto when our Belgian star pulled up with that hamstring strain.
Still this is why you have a squad and whatever happens there is still enough quality to hope that we can overcome what is a very fine Benfica outfit. It is certainly a glamour game, not only because it is a major European final but because the Portuguese are historically one of the great sides in the game. The biggest downside is that the number of tickets allocated by UEFA is beyond disturbing.
Considering how seriously Chelsea have taken this tournament and the kudos it has gained from our involvement I find the paltry amount of tickets available hugely upsetting. There is obviously nothing the club can do but our fame and success I suspect has worked against us in that the suits fancy turning up to watch Chelsea in Amsterdam, when other clubs might not have had the same pull.
Anyway enough grumpiness, times are good and none were better than the moment that Frank Lampard scored his second and record-breaking goal against Aston Villa. Frank is as close as you get to Roy of The Rovers in modern football as far as I am concerned. When you compare his goal stats to the likes of Scholes and Gerrard, the other top-scoring midfielders of the generation, it is almost laughable that he is so far ahead. To actually break the record at such an important and dramatic moment was comic book stuff too, you couldn't write it without sounding faintly ridiculous. To add on top of that he is such a perfect professional and likeable character, it would almost make you dislike him…but you can't even dislike him if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs or Arsenal fan with even a modicum of intelligence and love of the game.
I suppose Frankie could've waited to the final in Amsterdam if he was going to be ultra-dramatic, but no one is complaining. It is one thing less to worry about for Chelsea lovers from here on in I suppose, along with Fernando already breaking the 20-goal barrier this season.
So all thoughts now turn to who will play against Benfica. Rotation is all very well but players want to play as often as possible and they certainly want to start if it is a European final. Rafa has certainly got his work cut out to settle on the first 11 in what is probably the last truly important game of his tenure.
For all the conversations that surround him, I have to say I was delighted to see him look so happy and so relaxed after the win against Villa. There is pressure left for Wednesday night but there really looks to be a great weight off his shoulders right now. If he chooses the right side and wins the trophy, I for one will be the first to congratulate him in what has been a much more productive season than I could reasonably have hoped for at the outset, considering the transitional nature of the times.
I mentioned John Terry before and I have to say a few words here about him. There can be fewer more unfortunate men in football when it comes to European finals. As someone who has led the club for a generation it is painful to consider that he suffered the misfortune of slipping when taking what could have been the winner in Moscow in the Champions League final. Then he gets himself suspended for Munich when we finally won it and now as Amsterdam looms he has got himself injured in the match before. All skippers dream of walking up those steps to lift trophies covered in their own sweat after a heroic display. The medals are in his pocket anyway but there will always be a slight ache that he has missed out on the final action (unless he makes a remarkable recovery this week of course). So maybe next season and the Champions League final will have to be the opportunity for him.
Twenty-four hours after the final in Amsterdam and there is the Player of the Year awards ceremony down at Stamford Bridge. It is always a glittering affair and there is as ever great interest in who will get the Player of the Year Award as well as who will get the Players' Player of the Year trophy. Chelsea TV always give it fine coverage and that is worth catching if you have a chance, but I have been racking my brains trying to figure out who will get the prizes.
I am certainly not going to sway any votes by giving my opinion but it is too good a quiz question to miss. So I want to know who you think will win the Players' Player of the Year award. Answers as ever to me and of course you have to send them in before Thursday night to email@example.com
The winner chosen randomly from the correct answers will get a Champions League DVD signed by Ramires.
Last week I asked you to name any player who had scored in the Premier League for both Villa and Chelsea. There were a few correct answers to choose from, Gary Cahill, Steve Sidwell, Andy Townsend, Carlton Cole and Chris Sutton being the favourites. Only one winner of course and this week it is Stephanie Post from Dundee, Scotland. Well done and hopefully there is only one winner on Wednesday too, concurrent European Champions and Europa League holders, now that would sound very nice indeed, go for it lads.