PAT NEVIN: TO THE BRINK
As one target falls within range, columnist and former Chelsea star Pat Nevin looks at the possibility of hitting it before he writes again on this website…
Whatever way you look at it, the charge from Chelsea since the start of April has been as impressive as it has been intensive. The one real low point was the FA Cup semi-final loss against Man City, but even then we could argue that we at least deserved the draw by the end of the 90 minutes, and would have been the stronger going into extra-time had we done just that.
Otherwise the Europa League and the charge into third place in the Premier League have been just what everybody hoped for, but nothing has been secured yet and the tension as well as the fun continues. There wasn't a great deal of fun to be had for most of Sunday's 'football extravaganza' until the last 10 minutes of our game. Liverpool and Everton had managed to just about silence both sets of fans at Anfield with the paucity of their play. From someone who has played in his fair share of Merseyside derbies I can tell you this is not easy to do.
It was a bitterly disappointing appetiser but at least we had our main course to look forward to at Old Trafford, but let's be fair it wasn't much of a banquet for the first 80 minutes. Maybe we had all built the day up too much in our minds, but surely we were within our rights to expect just a little more quality. Having said all that, Chelsea were the only winners on the day and the only team that really deserved to walk away with three points.
This was mostly due to the quality and quantity of our possession and the fact that we have Juan Mata on our side and none of the rest do. Yet again he was top class when most of the rest seemed below par in general.
One or two of you might have noticed I was on the BBC's Match of The Day 2 on Sunday night and if it hadn't been for David Luiz livening things up a bit and Juan doing what he does, it would have been one hell of a difficult show to make interesting in any way. Fortunately those in charge allowed me to build a funny little piece on the poor passing and shooting, which made me giggle and hopefully it was taken in the right spirit by the players. Mostly they are great but it is sometimes nice to remember they are human as well.
David Luiz took a bit of flak but I found it hard to get too indignant about his little smile to the crowd down by the corner flag. He clearly was not smiling at the thought of Rafael being sent off, but at the fans who were directly in his eye line and the intensity of their, shall we say, protestations. It mattered little, Rafael had to go and Chelsea deserved the win to take us onto the brink of qualification for the Champions League.
On the brink we stand with only Arsenal and particularly Spurs blocking our way. I will be honest and say that I have been looking forward to this game for weeks now. There have been other really important league outings but this always had the feeling of one that could be decisive and so it should be.
A win for the Blues and the Champions League is assured for next season. A draw and we are still very strong favourites with the ties left. Even if we lose, I still think Chelsea are favourites to finish above AVB's side, that goal difference advantage is undoubtedly worth an extra point.
One thing that is almost certain is that it will be a much more exciting game than Sunday's at Old Trafford. For Spurs it is a cup final, nothing less than a win is acceptable if they are to be serious about getting to the Champions League Promised Land. They will come out all-guns-blazing and no doubt the Blues will ready to match them. If this game doesn't have at least a few goals and probably plenty of chances I will be amazed. In fact the atmosphere will almost certainly be as good as any derby anywhere in the UK this season. If you can be there then you are lucky but I suspect the TV coverage will carry it across perfectly well anyway.
Tactically it isn't really too complicated, Spurs have the speed and sharpness of Lennon, Defoe and of course Gareth Bale up front and they can't be given space to get a head of steam up at any point.
Sometimes they put Bale more central and allow the full-backs to overlap, but against Chelsea's system that isn't easy, the wide players have learned to track back very well as the season has evolved. They are unlikely to allow Assou-Ekotto and Walker the chance to break easily.
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I watched them closely against Wigan recently and Wigan were easily the better side on the day.Apart from a fantastic flurry against Man City when they scored three goals in seven minutes it has all faded a bit after a great start for the north Londoners. This however is a virtual cup final so they will be up for it. If they don't win they will be devastated, if we win I think we can actually relax and enjoy the rest of the season with very little tension, now wouldn't that be a nice change?
In last week's quiz I asked for the score and the first scorer in the Manchester United game. Well you are a confident, or maybe just very knowledgeable, bunch because nearly 90% predicted we would not lose this one. The most popular scoreline was 2-1, but fewer folk plumped for 1-0., Miika Kunnas, Karl Hoare and Anthony Dennehy guessed 1-0 and Mata for the first goal so the winner came out as, drum roll, Karl Hoare from Stafford. The prize will be on its way soon.
This week with Aston Villa on the horizon could you tell me a player to score for both Villa and Chelsea in the Premier league era?One randomly chosen winner with the right answer will receive a Champions League DVD signed by Ramires. Answers as ever to firstname.lastname@example.org and good luck with that.
Also I have finally been tempted on to Twitter, so I am @PatNevin if you want to have a look. Actually I am rubbish at it, just learning, but will hopefully get the hang of it soon. Don't expect regular tweets, but hopefully a few interesting ones in time.