PAT NEVIN: BALANCE AND FLEXIBILITY
Closing the calendar year with his latest column, Chelsea legend and media pundit Pat Nevin has much to discuss following the win over Liverpool…
The year 2013 ended in something of a high against Liverpool down at the Bridge on Sunday. Whatever fuss was kicked up afterwards, and indeed during the game on TV, I think it is fair to say Chelsea were the better team over the 90 minutes and deserved the win. I am not sure how strongly this point was made afterwards on screen, but I was certainly making it loud and clear as co-commentator on BBC Radio 5 Live at the game.
It is actually quite amazing to consider the plaudits Liverpool have generally received this season in comparison to the considered wisdom regarding Chelsea, especially when you have a little look at the league table this morning. Yes Liverpool have been very good under Brendan Rodgers, the best they have been for a generation, but the hype misses the fact that there is a limit to the depth of their squad. Having not dealt with European football this season they have had an advantage and as such they have looked fresher than most, but after a tough month, the cracks are really beginning to show. Chelsea on the other hand looked ominous, particularly in that first half which was arguably the best half of football produced at home this season.
Jose was rather outspoken after the game in an area where I would claim at least a little expertise, football punditry on the TV. He gently chided the main TV stations for their pundits for being almost exclusively Manchester Utd, Liverpool or Arsenal -minded. It is hard to argue against this when you see how well represented these teams are, but that is not a problem as long as they are in no way biased in favour of their former teams or more pertinently against other teams such as Chelsea.
I personally do find it infuriating when I do not see or hear Chelsea getting fair judgement, even though nowadays I am by profession a pundit myself. The problem is that never having worked for Sky, never worked as a match pundit for BT and not having worked on Match of the Day or MOTD 2 yet this season, like everyone else I can't get the point across to those audiences. Points such as: David Luiz is a very, very good footballer; Oscar is doing some incredible things this season and even if he doesn't have 20 goals he is doing things no one else does; Eden Hazard has the capability to be one of the best players in the world and John Terry, closely followed by Gary Cahill, is in an outstanding, world-class run of form.
In short I do think Chelsea have had a raw deal by many, but certainly not all, of the pundits this season and there is a certain lack of balance. Whether it needs a Chelsea presence on the box or just a little less myopic attitude by some, it is hard to say, but on this one I am firmly on Jose's side. For the sake of fairness I should point out that MOTD2 did give me a late call to do one of their shows. It was the night of the Arsenal game but I was otherwise engaged. They did promise to try to get me on at some point later in the season. So maybe I can get just a little redress if and when that happens.
Anyway I digress, in December there were five wins in the league, one draw and one defeat away from home against Stoke. Sixteen points from a possible 21 are pretty good in this most difficult period, physically, of the season. Maybe the point at Arsenal was arguably among the most important of them all, as it kept the Gooners in our sights and clearly showed that Chelsea now have plenty of different tactical styles to turn to in the repertoire when the need arises.
This is usually a time of the year to look back and consider all that you have done and to be fair it has been another extraordinary year in the history of the club, but that is simply not how it works in football. There is a constant imperative to look forward, to prepare for the next game and the one after that. The next three games are away from home and each will be difficult in its own right. Southampton have real quality but a run which has yielded only five points from the last 24 has added a little desperation to their play. By the end of the month we are looking at games against Manchester United and Manchester City, so reviews will have to wait, as they do most seasons, until May at the very least.
I mentioned David Luiz earlier on and it should be underlined that he had a fine game in midfield against Liverpool. His pass helped set up a goal and he was a dominating presence throughout. He has had a period out injured, so to come in for 90 minutes of midfield graft at this level and intensity was asking a lot, but he certainly didn't let anyone down. There was a great pass to Samuel Eto'o in the second half in the 'inside-right channel' that nearly put him through and it is just great to see him in there with his quality when needed.
The manager's previous comments regarding not playing him in that area were taken with a pinch of salt by myself and probably most of you too. With every team having some limitations on squad size it is imperative to get the most out of what you have and flexibility is vital. Having David as a centre-back and a midfielder is like having an extra player on the books. More pertinently on Sunday having Cesar Azpilicueta as a left-back solved what could have been another problem.
When Branislav got injured, moving Cesar to his more usual right-back and bringing Ashley Cole on at left-back certainly wasn't about to give Liverpool a boost in confidence was it? Jose has made Cesar a two-position player and like David Luiz it increases the size of the squad, or certainly increases the options within it, without spending a single penny. Superb management.
Remember Andre Schurrle was utilised as a lone striker earlier in the season, to add to his more accustomed roles, so what will he think of next, Fernando as a right winger? Petr Cech as an auxiliary sweeper? I'm still going for David Luiz as an emergency striker late on in a match; you know it makes for great fun if not that much sense.
Last week's quiz asked who was the last Chelsea player to score on New Year's Day? The answer was Michael Ballack in 2008 v Fulham (not Salomon Kalou who scored the first goal!) and the lucky winner chosen from the correct answers sent in is Seb Jeffery from Purley, Surrey.
This week to have a chance of winning a Frank Lampard 203 Goals book signed by Frank, could you tell me which legendary Chelsea man was born in Setubal? Answers as ever to me at email@example.com
And of course most importantly, Happy New Year to you all, I wish you happiness and safety.