PAT NEVIN: TONING UP
From West Ham to north Switzerland, there is no shortage of games played or imminent for columnist Pat Nevin to sink his teeth into this week…
With a weekend of top teams facing off against each other, it was imperative we managed to secure the points in east London on Saturday night. Style, I thought, would surely have to come second considering all the travelling undertaken by our players during the international week. How wrong can you be? Games are sometimes difficult to compare but I certainly thought that this performance was one of the best, most entertaining, while still being ruthless that we have witnessed all season.
There were no failures in blue and white on the day and when that happens Chelsea can be a terrifying sight for any opposition. The biggest problem afterwards was trying to figure out who most deserved to be named man of the match.
The most obvious candidates where frank Lampard and Oscar. Frank with his all-action two-goal performance against his old team was incredible. I had a look at the Opta statistics after the game and when you look in isolation at the touches, tackles and passes he made, it is almost impossible to gauge which position he was playing, because he was absolutely everywhere! Holding midfield? Don't make me laugh. Having said all that, there was a control and intelligence about his positioning during the game, so it was very much close to the perfect old school midfield performance if you ask me.
Even so, the man of the match award wasn't a 'gimme' as far as I am concerned. Oscar was as near as you can get to perfect in his performance too. A goal, he won the penalty and basically terrorised the West Ham defence for the entire time he was on the field. His closing down high up the field set the tone of the entire team's performance, I even have suspicions he ran more than Ramires on the day and that is saying something.
So while those two were stratospheric, there were plenty of solid 8.5 and 9/10s throughout the team. Azpilicueta made two of the best interceptions I have witnessed all season in amongst another near-flawless outing at left-back. Indeed the entire backline was rock solid generally.
Maybe it is worth taking a moment to consider John Terry right here. He was once again imperious, even if he wasn't up against a recognised centre-forward. As a Scotsman maybe my views on the England team aren't always totally unbiased, but it certainly looks to me from the outside that if JT was on the plane to Brazil with England's World Cup squad, things would look a lot more secure for Roy Hodgson in that area.
Of course we all know there is plenty of history involved, but even so I was really taken aback by the vitriol handed out to ex-England full-back Danny Mills when he raised the possibility during the week of a call to our skipper just to check. If it doesn't happen then the positive side is it keeps John fitter for longer for us, which will be pretty handy as the season goes on. It just feels odd that both Gary Cahill and David Luiz look like stick-ons for the South American adventure, while JT could be having a few months off.
That's all for the future, in the meantime that little rocky period which included Newcastle and West Brom is hopefully behind us and nightmare November isn't as bad this season as it has been in the past.
The final proof of this will obviously come tonight when we play Basel. Clearly we owe them one, but I suspect they will face a very different Chelsea than they did back in September. The Mourinho system and style definitely hadn't taken hold by then, certainly not nearly as much as it has now. If we can qualify tonight with a game to spare, it will signal a huge turnaround in the group that few would have predicted after the loss at the Bridge.
If there is one difference even more noticeable than the style change, it is that now Chelsea have so many more players playing at, or near, the top of their games. There may be changes tonight but that shouldn't overly concern the fans, as the likes of Mata, Schurrle, Cole and Ba are all in good form and each looks motivated to give everything to get back into the side week in week out. This may seem obvious and even an easy thing to do at a club, but it isn't always the case these days. Petulance and huffiness stalk the upper echelons of the game even now and it takes good management to…well manage it.
Everyone will be needed and even though it has been an impossible-to-predict Premier League season so far, there is a run of four games in the league that are all very winnable for Chelsea playing even just close to their best.
So last week's quiz certainly led to a few interesting guesses. Who was the last player to score a headed winner for Chelsea away at West Ham? I will admit I was tempting a few older fans here, as you might find it hard to credit but I once scored a headed winner for the Blues down there, and not a bad one either from a Kerry Dixon cross. That goal virtually destroyed the Hammers chances of winning the league that season and I was tempted to put the YouTube link up for that game, but that would be just a little too indulgent! There has however been a headed winner since.
Some thought Michael Essien in the 3-1 win back in September 2010, but that wasn't the winning goal, so not the answer I was looking for. It was in fact Captain Fantastic John Terry way back in 2002 in February, during an FA Cup match. In the 93rd minute he took us through in his own inimitable style. So of those who were right there can only be one winner and that is Debbie Molloy this week. Well done.
To have a chance of winning a season review DVD signed by one of the players in a week when we face the ever-improving Southampton, could you tellme which player has played the most combined first team games for the Saints and the Blues? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck as ever to you all with that and to the team tonight.