PAT NEVIN: HOW TO GET AHEAD…
Having watched Chelsea warm the heart by going ahead and staying there at Stoke, columnist and Blues legend Pat Nevin looks at ways to take the initiative regularly…
Three days later and I had finally thawed out from the Stoke game on Saturday. Sitting there reporting for the BBC from 1pm until 6pm in the teeth of that freezing, biting wind could easily have led to frostbite, so thank goodness there was a fine performance to enjoy from the Blues.
The Chelsea fans remained in fine voice throughout, and to be fair so did the majority of the Stoke City fans, maybe that was the only way to stave off hypothermia. Other than those in the posh boxes, the players were probably the only group not feeling the cold. At least they shouldn't be feeling the cold if they were running about enough. I can't recall ever feeling cold while playing during my career, the amount of running you do just doesn't allow it to happen and I am originally from Scotland which has a climate that can make Saturday's icy chill feel like a mild spring zephyr.
The conditions were perfect for Stoke which just adds to the impressiveness of the result and the performance. Rafa didn't want to single any player out but Frank Lampard had yet another imperious outing while Eden Hazard drew most of the criticism form the home fans, a sure sign he was having a good game too.
As usual most of the media were waiting for another slip up, but it never really looked like happening especially after the first goal. Apart from the four goals, Demba Ba had a one on one; Frank was unlucky not to get a hat-trick mostly due to the keeper's fortunately positioned feet. Begovic's size 12s also got in the way of Ashley Cole's goal-bound effort and Ramires was also unlucky not to get on the score sheet.
Chelsea did get a little lucky with Jon Walters being so accommodating with the openers; he certainly put the first one away with some aplomb, but there was a huge gulf between the teams by the end. With Chelsea right now that opening goal is so incredibly vital. I recently had a little disagreement with a good friend who is a former Arsenal player; he argued that Chelsea are in crisis. I have to say I was aghast.
The current FA Cup holders and champions of Europe sit third in the league in the middle of what is undoubtedly a hugely transitional season. With a game in hand being played tomorrow, had it not been for an extraordinarily bizarre set of circumstances against QPR, three points against Southampton could have put us one point behind Man City. Six wins in the last eight along with six straight victories away from home. Sure there are irksome situations around which have annoyed many fans, but that is a far cry from a club in crisis. If this is a crisis, pray tell me what situation Arsenal will be in if we beat them at the weekend?
All the residents at the Emirates aren't absolutely delighted at the moment either, but that is just football, I don't think they are in crisis either even if they are in the doldrums when considering recent additions to the trophy cabinet.
Clearly there has been a recent problem at home, teams have realised that if they park the bus at the Bridge, it is difficult to break them down. QPR somehow, partially miraculously, did it and Swansea even had the cheek to sneak two goals after being passed off the pitch. To be fair we did exactly the same to Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the Champions League semi-final last season so we shouldn't complain too much, but we have to find a way of getting that first goal. Had we got the opener we deserved against QPR, they would have had to come out and we would have hammered them.
For all the anger after the inability to get three points from the bottom club it is worth looking at what Harry Redknapp has done in his last three and a half games. In the last five and a half hours of football against Liverpool (second half), Chelsea, West Brom and Spurs they have lost the grand total of one goal. That isn't a fluke, that is hard work and good organisation from a coach who has a plan. What you need to have is a good plan to overcome that system.
I am sure that is exactly what will be playing on Rafa's mind at the moment and I suspect he will find an answer. The temptation is to lump it into an already crowded box, but even with the strength of Demba Ba it is a pretty blunt instrument and more importantly that is what the opposition want you to do, play to their strengths.
There are a number of alternative ways of unpicking that sort of tightly interwoven defence. Barcelona always want to go through the D of the 18 yard line with intricate passing and dribbling. It can work especially if you have a Lionel Messi on your side, but it shouldn't be the only option. There has to be a plan B, C and D when it isn't happening in there. Shooting from distance, looking for deflections in that incredibly crowded area is another option, if a bit random, but my favoured method is one I often used myself, particularly at international level.
The wide player, be it Hazard or Mata must be isolated now and again in the final third and be allowed to drive into the penalty box at pace against the full back. It means the entire team working to develop this situation.
I would back those two lads to get to the byline for cut backs, into shooting positions or be pulled down for penalties on enough occasions to get the necessary goal. When this is happening it is important for our own full-backs (unusually) not to overlap and kill the space for our wingers. I often played this role for the Blues many years ago, but more frequently than that it was the favoured ploy in Scotland internationals when the manager needed me to break down the very similarly packed defences of the likes of San Marino, the Faroe Islands, Luxembourg and Estonia - okay Estonia have greatly improved over the past few years I grant you.
I hope to see quite a bit of that tomorrow against Southampton before bagging the three points or no doubt my former Gunner friend ( who actually also used to play for Southampton as well) will be giving me more grief again on Friday night.
Last week's quiz question was, could you give the name of the player with the shortest surname to play for the Blues other than Demba Ba? Well there were plenty to choose from with three-letter surnames, including current players Obi and Ake as well as former players George KEY (1905-09),Edward TYE (1914-15), John LEE (1920-23), Tommy LAW (1925-39), Tommy ORD (1972-74), David HAY (1974-80), Colin LEE (1980-87), David LEE (1988-98), Andy DOW (1993-96), Graham RIX (1994-95), Tore Andre FLO (1997-00).
Only one winner however from an extremely large number of correct entries and it is Mike Haywood from Bishopstoke Hampshire. I was quite tickled by the suggestion by David Steel from New Zealand that the Chelsea player with the smallest surname is Emmanuel Petit.
This week to have a chance of winning a DVD of last season's Champions League campaign, signed by Ashley Cole, could you tell me the name of my Arsenal friend mentioned in the piece above? There are a couple of clues in there if you look. Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck with that and to the team tomorrow and on Sunday!