PAT NEVIN: COUNTRY PURSUITS
As a run of midweek Chelsea matches stretching back months comes to an end, columnist and former Blues winger will be watching familiar players but in different shirts…
Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry with Chelsea. Four away games in a row and no wins, each of which could and arguably should have been triumphs are bitter pills to swallow.
The gap between ourselves and Man City could so easily have been closed to a very acceptable level had leads against Southampton, Reading and Newcastle been sustained. Maybe the two late goals at Reading and then Newcastle were the most tortuous of all. Those were three points blown with only moments to survive when the gap between us and the chasing pack could have been maintained or lengthened.
Ifs, buts and maybes however don't really help a great deal. St James' Park had two of the finest moments so far in the season with Juan scoring an absolute beauty and Super Frank edging ever closer to the top of our historical scoring charts with a cracker of his own, but the taste was still bitter at the end. Right now and for once I am happy there is an international break to think in a slightly different direction.
Many eyes will be turned to Wembley this week, to see if Brazil are back on course to be the favourites again for the upcoming World Cup next year in their own country. Of course we have a personal interest in that Oscar, Ramires and David Luiz are major components in that squad, with Phil Scolari also back on the scene as their coach. It is bordering on alarming to see their current world ranking just now; can they really be only the 18th-best team in international football behind Ecuador, Ivory Coast and Switzerland? It is hard to imagine but I guess the England game will give us a bit of a clue whether or not it is indeed the case.
It does once again throw up that always-odd situation where domestic team mates could be playing directly against each other. Ashley Cole looks likely to win his 100th cap and will deservedly be recognised in the pantheon of England greats but how will he react if there is a 50-50 ball between him and Oscar?
Then in the middle of the park what if there is a ball that must be won bouncing between Frank Lampard and Ramires? I loved playing for my country Scotland but I hated when I played against friends and team mates. You want to win of course and there is that ultimate pride if representing your people but at least this is only a friendly and if there is just less than 100% commitment to every single tackle, I for one will not be complaining too much.
I had the odd situation playing for Scotland against my roommate at club level in a game against England. Fortunately the likelihood of Tony Cottee and me (both at Everton at the time) ever landing a decent tackle was so remote that it didn't really matter, but it was odd. In another game against 'Auld enemy' both Kerry Dixon and I were subs for our respective countries, I got on but unfortunately he didn't. However he did give me grief the next day because England beat us 2-1. I am nearly over it now however…nearly.
One of the other downsides about playing against not only team mates but guys you play against week in and week out is that they know your style so well. I outwardly groaned when turning up to be faced by Stuart Pearce yet again, I'd seen enough of him every season although I secretly enjoyed it because I loved it when I got the better of him. The real joy for me in internationals was playing against a full back who had never seen my style (football from all over the world wasn't on TV constantly at the time) and I could have a ball. In fact I always found international football easier than domestic football for just that reason.
One memory sticks out playing against Andreas Brehme (pictured below) of Germany in the 1992 Euro Championship finals. Let's say politely that I didn't have great difficulty getting past him and he was allegedly one of the best in the world at the time, but crucially he didn't know my style, my tricks and my strengths. Give him his due however, he was brilliant going forward and that was probably his biggest strength in retrospect.
In the end these games on Wednesday are only friendlies and will serve mostly for us to get away from the week-to-week pressure of the domestic game. I think a few of us need that right now in the stands and on the park but come Saturday and the visit of Wigan no doubt we will all be up for it again and ready to hope for three points. After all it has been a little while. With Man United facing Everton, Man City travelling down to Southampton and Spurs hosting a resurgent Newcastle, ours is on paper the easiest game, let's hope it turns out that way.
Last week's quiz question was, Fernando has scored 15 so far, but what is the biggest goals haul he has had in a single domestic season during his career in the top flight? The answer is 2007/08 when he was at Liverpool. He scored 24 league goals, three League Cup goals (27) and six in Europe for the reds, 33 in total. If you answered 27 or 33, I deemed that to be correct. The lucky winner randomly chosen is Helen Payne of Aylesbury. Well done.
To stand a chance of being the lucky winner of a Munich Champions League final picture signed by one of the players, this week's question is, have two Chelsea players ever scored in the same England match, for opposing teams, if so name them and the match? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org That is a tough one I reckon, so good luck with it and to whichever national team you are supporting this week.