PAT NEVIN: STILL A CHANCE
Former winger and Chelsea website regular Pat Nevin has been enjoying watching the Blues in action this past week, and believes there could still be cause for celebration come May...
It started as a frustrating week even if the result itself against Sparta Prague was perfectly adequate in the circumstances. A good opening against the Czech side petered out a bit before Oscar tip-toed through their defence to score a delightful winning goal. Another one would have made it a very relaxing second leg but yet again a stuffy side was able to frustrate our more creative players.
After 45 minutes against Brentford it looked like a very similar story indeed, some teams have been doing their homework obviously. I am tracing this specific problem back to the QPR game at the Bridge back in early January. Massed ranks of bodies sitting in front of their own goal isn't the most sophisticated game plan, but it can be a very effective ploy if everyone involved is organised, fit and committed.
So the intricate skillful play through the centre then isn't always the best idea and you clearly need a Plan B. Against Sparta the door was unlocked after waiting for a bit of tiredness both mentally and physically and eventually the breakthrough came. More often it might however need a concerted effort to stretch the opposition, use the width or indeed just go route one quickly, as long as you have the power of Demba Ba up front. That was the way through eventually against Brentford when a good old-fashioned hoof from Petr Cech was knocked down by Demba to be finished by Juan Mata with some aplomb.
In short it is an ability to mix it up, to stop being predictable and having a willingness to do the unexpected that can provide the key. Another aid is obviously having Victor Moses out wide to stretch the opposition. I think he looked lively against Brentford and I suspect he has benefited hugely from his exploits in the African Cup of Nations. Some players seem to grow in stature after big tournaments. They seem to suddenly realise, they are not just good players, but players that can hack it at a world level. It isn't exactly an extra swagger, more just an extra notch of self-belief and I suspect Moses is in this category now which will be great news for Chelsea between here and the end of the season.
With Oscar now clearly having left his own difficult little patch well behind him, there is surely some tentative hope in the cup competitions. This all seems a little upbeat when compared to some of the reaction I encountered after the Sparta tie. I must say I was taken aback at the time. Of course it wasn't a sparkling display and of course there is a long way to go to get to the heights of late last season. But a win away from home in Europe against a side who don't lose many on their own patch and who defended deep for long periods, is generally deemed acceptable in the game. I reckon there are two big problems, one is the Rafa effect and its ramifications and two is the incredibly high standards Chelsea Football Club has come to expect over the past decade or so.
With the likes of Arsenal crashing out of the domestic cups in pitiful style to lower league opposition and even Man City looking awful in Europe earlier on, it reminds me that winning football matches, whatever the situation, isn't always easy. I generally never take the successes for granted and try to enjoy the good times when they come. Most people didn't get over excited about beating Brentford, especially as it took 180 minutes in the end, but I have to say I loved Sunday afternoon's entertainment
Frank Lampard scored again, which we love more than anything else; surely he must get the record now, JT chipped in with a goal, Juan Mata got a beauty and laid on Frank's with a genius pass - I wouldn't call it a cross. With Oscar scoring with a Zola-like flick, then creating a goal as well while delighting us with a range of flicks and tricks, I have to say I thought it was all great fun. A quick look up at the expensive seats and it was clear the owner was having a ball as well.
Middlesbrough await in the next round and maybe there is still a reasonable chance that this season could end in some glory, though the draw makes that a little more difficult, Manchester United ain't bad after all if we get by Boro. Certainly Chelsea look like a cup team at the moment, lacking the dependability to trouble the league leaders over the entire season, but as I often say this is a transitional season and hopefully next year with a little more stability the league can be addressed.
As it is, Sparta Prague arrive on Thursday which should be a very winnable game if the attitude is right from the start. An early goal and it could be another opportunity for the likes of Oscar, Mata, and Hazard to enjoy themselves and entertain us or even for Marin, Benayoun and Moses to get an opportunity, each is capable of something special in the right circumstances.
Last week's question was: Who was the first and then most recent scorer of European tournament goals for Chelsea?' Oscar in the 6-1 thrashing of Nordsjaelland was a pretty easy answer to the second part of the question but the first European scorer for Chelsea proved trickier for some. Some considered only the Champions League, but there was plenty of European history before that. The Cup Winners' Cup back in the 1970s tempted a few as well, but plenty got it right remembering that Mike Harrison scored the opener against a Copenhagen XI (known as Staevnet) way back in 1958 as Chelsea were London representatives in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
The lucky winner chosen at random is Richard Duncan from Norwich. This week's question is: Which former footballer played for the most professional London clubs? As I write I am chatting to the man I think the answer is, right beside me in a green room outside a TV studio in west London. Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and the lucky winner will receive a signed Champions League winners book signed by a member of the squad. Don't forget to mention where you are from as well.