PAT NEVIN: THE CHANGING GAME
Columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin took to the Stamford Bridge pitch once more on Saturday but it was what happened soon after he was back in his seat that is a major topic in this week's column…
It has been another hectic week and happily after a stuttering start to the season with the unlucky loss to Everton and the slip up against Basel, it has been generally positive all the way since. The goals are also beginning to flow in as well now with Saturday's four underlining that when teams open up against the Blues, they are taking a serious risk.
From a personal point of view it was a great day for me, walking around the pitch at half time and I have to say I was very moved by the reception. On top of that my Dad made the journey down for the first time since I last played at the Bridge. Having never missed a home game in my Chelsea career and only one away game, it was an emotional day for him to see me on the pitch again. Thank you to the club for arranging that, it made an old man very happy, and my Dad was pleased too!
On top of all that we enjoyed a pretty thrilling game with lots of goals, chances and a decent bit of tension up until we went ahead. Going ahead just as the tactics had been changed once again showed how tactically astute the manager is.
Malky Mackay subtly but bravely adapted his tactics at 1-1 in the second half. He pushed his two wide men right up the field after 60 minutes and suddenly Chelsea were under pressure from their pacy 4-3-3 formation. What to do? Most coaches would get one of their deep lying midfielders to drop back to help the defence, not Jose. What no other manager I know would have done was take off his left back, go from four to three at the back and overload them up front with another centre forward, i.e. Fernando Torres coming on in place of the full back.
Torres on in the 64th minute, Chelsea score to go ahead within two and a half minutes through Eto'o. By 68.30, Eto'o is off, Azpilicueta is on and we are back to a four-man defence. The game is won and lost in those four and a bit minutes.
My jaw was on the floor up in the Directors' Box (don't tell chairman Bruce Buck but I was sitting in his seat), the speed and the audacity of the changes were astonishing. Considering the innovative tactical adaptation that won us the game against Norwich, it has been like watching a master class in the art of tactics the past few weeks.
The overloading of the left-hand side with Schurrle and Hazard destroyed the Canaries after a great battling period at Carrow Road.
Of course you have to have the players to pull off these coups, but I honestly do not see any other manager currently plying his trade anywhere who makes such bold and audacious changes and does them so quickly and usually to such devastating effect.
On top of that it was clear that Eden Hazard is back and other little parts of the game are falling into place. I spoke a few weeks back about Chelsea pressing high up the field, trying to get the transition in the opponents' half so that there is less distance to go to the goal. Oscar has been fantastic at this, as has Schurrle, but against Cardiff the plan worked perfectly with the tackle by Ramires that led to the Oscar goal.
So right now I suspect the manager is really getting the players up to speed with the knowledge of how he wants the game played and where he wants it played. The adaptability is clearly growing too, even if there was a momentary mix up with Ivanovic and Azpilicuetta about who should play right-back and who should be left, other than that it was pretty much spot on against a very decent and motivated Cardiff side who had a goal start to lift their spirits.
What that means is that we now go into an incredibly testing three-game spell with more confidence than we would have a few weeks ago. Tonight Schalke is a definite must-not-lose game, it will shape much of the rest of the season if we fail to pick up anything, so there is no need to underline the importance to anyone at the club.
After that it is Man City at home and Arsenal away in the cup game. Both of the British sides are in great form, so this will be a real acid test of just where we are at the moment. For all the great players on show and all the tension involved, I will again be looking at the tactics and the tactical changes very closely.
At this level the very smallest things can make all the difference, from a lack of concentration, a moment of genius to a four-minute spell when the coach throws the manual out the window and wings it, to devastating effect.
Last week I asked which player of Chelsea royalty was born in Windsor. Well everyone got it right with the clue in the question giving it away just a little I suspect. Peter Osgood was of course the King and many hundreds were quick to answer, many sharing memories and underlining that he hasn't been and never will be forgotten down at the Bridge. Only one winner however can be chosen and this week the lucky chap is Ben O'Donnell, Bristol.
This week's question is pretty simple too on the face of it. Has there ever been a player who turned out for Chelsea, Arsenal and for Man City, if so who was it? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to you all and as ever to the squad in what will be a crucial eight days.
- Pat Nevin will join Gigi Salmon and Jody Morris live in the Chelsea TV studio as they bring you exclusive build-up to tonight's game including interviews from Jose Mourinho, Petr Cech and Andre Schurrle plus the team news.