PAT NEVIN: STYLE TRIAL
There was plenty for former Blue Pat Nevin to compare and contrast as he kept a close eye on the two games since his column last week…
I am sure there is a list of greatest ever Chelsea goals out there somewhere, in fact I am sure there are quite a few of those lists.
Before you get too excited or upset I am not going to ask you to rip them all up and start again, but surely some consideration has to be given to Oscar's strike against Juventus last week. His second goal was so sublime that it crossed my mind that it was an honour just to be commentating on it for Chelsea TV.
There were lots of other reasons why it will linger in the memory as much if not more than many other great goals. First of all it was scored in the Champions League, so it had maximum coverage throughout Europe and indeed the world. Secondly it was against one of the great names of European football, Juve. It also helped that he scored it against Gianluigi Buffon, one of the greatest goalkeepers in modern history. Hot on the heels of those positives come the additional bonuses that it was his full home debut and he has only just turned 21 years of age.
I do not want to deconstruct the move or even argue whether or not he really meant to do what he did to Pirlo before slewing it magically (and definitely deliberately) into the postage stamp corner of the goal. Now and again it is just worth sitting back and enjoying a thing of great beauty. Strangely enough I was chatting to a friend about the best goal we had seen at Stamford Bridge in recent years and rather annoyingly the name Papiss Cisse was the one that seemed to leap out, and it was scored against us obviously. Well I really do think that Oscar's goal was better, more complex because of the skill in the drag back, before a similarly unstoppable strike to that of the Newcastle striker.
If only that goal had one extra positive, if only it would've turned out to be the winner. Maybe it would have been pushing it a bit to have expected to win that one in that Juventus actually played very well and are on an incredible run of form. They know their game; have honed it over a long period of time whereas Chelsea are right at the start of a radical overhaul of the team's tactics and style. In simple terms it could have been much, much worse. Half way through the game I suddenly remembered that had we not won the Champions League we wouldn't even have been in the competition this season, perish the thought.
From the sublime thought of the Champions League and Juventus it was the more mundane domestic fare of Stoke City at home three days later. If ever there was a totally different set of styles facing up to each other this was it. With the likes of Didier available in the past, Stoke's main weapon from set pieces had often been blunted, but this was a new test.
The two styles on show could be described as sophisticated, intricate, intellectual, interplay against the good old fashioned 'one touch move' tactic. In the first half particularly each time they had possession Stoke City basically lumped it forward in the general direction of Peter Crouch hoping his knock downs would drop in the path of Jonathan Walters. Not exactly pretty but frequently effective, well effective enough to make them comfortable members of the Premier League gang for a good few years now.
Chelsea on the other hand weaved intricate move after elaborate pass trying constantly to find half a yard of space between the massed ranks of Tony Pulis's well organised and committed defence. Time and again Oscar, Mata or Hazard tried to tiptoe through the centre of the visitors defence only to come up against a brick wall.
There were times when it became almost predictable, when the temptation must have been to just lump it into the middle of their box, but that isn't really the Chelsea way these days.
In the second half there was an adaptation, a little bit more width was utilised now and again in order to stretch the defence. Whether it was from one of our creative players or the full backs Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic there was clearly a plan B to get to the byline, stretching their defence further apart across the field. It might have taken 85 minutes but it finally paid dividends with a goal.
Playing this way takes a huge amount of belief and a willingness not to stray from the basic principles. Keep possession, pass and move and trust that eventually when the odd gap appears there will be players of sufficient quality and guile in the side to take advantage of it. The guile finally came from Juan Mata's back heel and the door was nudged open. It may take the players believing in the system, but it also takes a lot of patience and not just from the players.
The fans have to hope that all that trickery and know how pays off, while resisting the urge to plea for the ball to be lumped forward. That would probably be a pretty useless ploy most of the time in that sort of situation mainly because the weight of numbers and the height of the defenders make it unlikely that Fernando on his own could out muscle Shawcross, Huth and co. In any case that is exactly what Stoke would have wanted Chelsea to do, play to their strengths not ours.
Fortunately there is a blueprint out there already in the shape of Barcelona. They rarely if ever resort to the aimless thump into the box from deep, they trust that their way will eventually pay off. Usually it does and frequently it does so late in games, there is a reason for this. Defending and closing down space gets harder the longer the game goes, defenders get tired both physically and mentally. As I have said it only takes a momentary lapse, a yard of space to develop and great players are ready to exploit it, it isn't a fluke by any manner of means.
Personally I am already enjoying the team's new style and I am looking forward to them improving it week by week. It isn't easy to play that way, Barcelona didn't learn it overnight, they have been practising it since they were little kids coming through their world-renowned system.
I suspect in Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Marin and Moses we have the players to do this and do it well for years to come, but there will be tweaks needed. Take for example the two deepest lying midfield players, they are the base of the system and they need to know how to spring attacks quickly and defend intelligently. So it was very pleasing to see Ramires give a master class in the art against Stoke.
The Brazilian broke up the play time and again, read dangerous situations and nullified them while breaking at pace when the opportunities arose. Maybe his distribution was not of quite as high a standard, but other than that it was a top-class performance. There are many ways to play that position, from the Makelele method to that used by Xavi Alonso, maybe Ramires has a version that is all his own.
It was also great to see Mikel having one of his best games in a Chelsea shirt, after struggling against Juventus and then having to put up with the rantings of some mindless morons on Twitter. He was everywhere and even his venturing into the last third looked calm, composed and imaginative at times.
All in all a fantastic 1-0 win that will have pleased the manager greatly. It still isn't time to get carried away but it has been a truly magnificent start to a new era as far as I am concerned.
Last week I asked for the name of the 'non Englishman' who has played the most games for Chelsea? The answer of course was my old friend and team mate, Scotsman Steve Clarke with 421 appearances. (Yes I know the stories of Ron Harris being born abroad, but I think we can still call him English). Many got it right but the winner chosen at random was Bùi Khánh Ly Hanoi in Vietnam. Well done and the prize will be on its way.
This week to be in with a chance of winning a Champions League DVD, signing by one of the team, could you tell me how many competitive goals did the aforementioned Claude Makelele score in his entire career? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org