PAT NEVIN: THE PRESS PACK
Columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin this week writes about energetic tactics that are bringing success throughout football…
First of all let's get the momentous stuff out of the way; scoring machine John Mikel Obi doing the business against Fulham was one of the most wildly celebrated goals for quite a while at Stamford Bridge. Certainly the team seemed to thoroughly enjoy celebrating when the big man wrapped up the points against our neighbours.
If this sounds like a back-handed compliment let me underline I thought he also had another one of the best games he has had in his Chelsea career. It just goes to show how quickly things can change in the game, there were plenty suggesting he was on his way out of the club, possibly on loan just before the transfer window shut, but since then he has got his head down, worked hard and done everything the manager has wanted him to do. I couldn't be happier for him and I am sure most Chelsea fans feel the same.
The Fulham game was a real eye-opener for me. When we played Bayern in the Super Cup I thought I could see precisely the style Jose Mourinho was demanding of his players, the Fulham game was more of the same in terms of style. Whereas the Basel performance was lacking in many areas, the team appeared to follow the manager's instructions to the letter against Martin Jol's side.
Listening to much of the coverage, many seemed desperate to suggest that the Blues were useless in the first half on Saturday, adding to the media-driven crisis stories throughout the week. I watched the game back again that evening and was re-convinced that Chelsea were by miles the better side in that first half, exactly the opposite of what was being reported on the TV and the radio.
The most important thing to note was the high-tempo, high-pressing game that worked a treat and delivered the ball back into our possession almost every time the visitors tried to get on it. This is one of the big changes in the style that the boss is attempting to bring in, though it isn't always clear what exactly is being done, or what the staff are trying to do, one group who will have all the information is the playing staff.
I urge any Chelsea fan to look at exactly what Andre Schürrle did in that game, especially when he didn't have the ball. It gives a real insight into what the boss is demanding from every one of his players. It was more often than not him who made that first dart to close down very high up the pitch, which in turn triggered everyone else behind him to do the same. (I will put an analysis piece on our website about this very soon!) This is part of a style that allowed Bayern Munich to destroy the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League last season and an adapted form of this looks likely to be what Jose is slowly but surely trying to introduce.
Watch the pace that Bayern break forward at immediately after they win the ball, wherever it is on the field, it is lightning. This is the template, but believe me it is hard work. Nobody will be able to do it at that pace for 90 minutes for every game this season, so those willing and able to buy in to the practice, will undoubtedly prosper.
Against Fulham it worked, I would argue it worked well against Bayern Munich as well, even if the pressing was not as high up the field. Against such talented players and a team who have been playing that way for quite some time, in a pretty successful manner, it isn't easy. Against Basel, it seemed sluggish and laboured, not helped by the Swiss side sitting back in their own third during the first half. That's when you need the type of player who can 'pick a lock'. Nobody was up to it on that occasion, but is a necessity of this style, he just has to be a lock picker who can work at high speed!
Tonight sees a visit to Swindon and no doubt a very different starting 11 from the weekend. What I do expect to see however is that the same style will be imposed on the team by the manager. He wants to know who can do this job.
At the weekend I was at the Etihad Stadium to cover the City v United game and I was taken by the way that City attacked the game and closed down at pace right from the start. With United looking to slowly and calmly play their way into the game they got harried and rushed into errors and confusion. For the first 30 minutes it really looked like one team simply wanted it more than the other. Oddly enough I thought that had been City's problem last season, they were sloppy and even lazy on occasion, not this time.
Football moves on and styles come and go. At the moment if you aren't playing high tempo you risked being bullied out of games. Swansea did almost the same thing to Liverpool at the weekend, there is a lot of it about.
So where have these high-pressing ideas come from? Well Bayern perfected it last season, but arguably Barcelona were doing a version of it before that to regain possession before slowing the play down again and enjoying that possession for lengthy spells. In reality it is much older than that, AC Milan famously did it in the 1980s in Serie A to devastating effect and I can tell you even Wimbledon were doing a very crude rushing version of it back in their heyday in the late 1980s and early 90s when other sides had the ball. Nothing is totally new in the game, but right at the moment if you are not willing or able to put in the high octane effort, you might just get run over by the opposition.
Last week I asked which team Samuel Eto'o had scored most goals for as a player. Not a difficult one and most figured out it was Barcelona. The winner randomly chosen from those correct entries is Charlie Boyd from Hammersmith.
This week to be in with a chance of winning a season review DVD signed by Branislav Ivanovic, could you name a player who has played for both Swindon and Chelsea? You really shouldn't need Google for that one! Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to you and as ever to the team this week.
- Pat Nevin and Jody Morris will be live in the Chelsea studio this evening with Matchnight Live. Tune in to hear the latest team news, live commentary and for all the post-match reaction.