PAT NEVIN: THE SHARP END
With mixed results for the team since his last column, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin is forward thinking this week…
Of course there is never going to be a dull moment where Chelsea are concerned. So over the past couple of weeks we have 'enjoyed' the rollercoaster of thumping West Ham away, losing to Basel but going through anyway and beating the impressive Southampton after going down seconds into the game. If that wasn't enough, there was the edge-of-the-seat, seven-goal nail-biter away at Sunderland that could have gone pear-shaped even in the last couple of minutes, but another great away three points nonetheless. Then it did come back to haunt us in the last minute at Stoke.
Maybe it is glossing over the odd crack, but had that game finished 2-2 in the Potteries, I would have grudgingly accepted that this hadn't been a bad run of games. That would have been seven points from nine on the road of late, perfectly acceptable numbers.
However, that final sucker punch from Stoke put a very different gloss on it. Instead, the mind wanders towards the number of goals shipped in the last 180 minutes - six! This is not like Chelsea at all. Just as frustratingly, in both these games it should have been done and dusted long before the teams emerged for the second half, we had been so dominant (in terms of chances created) on both occasions.
The mind - and the papers - also wandered towards the low return in terms of goals from our strikers, particularly away from home. Now to some extent there is an argument that lone strikers find it hard to get space up against two or three markers and the real space is made for the players coming from deeper. There is certainly something in that, even UEFA argue that the strikers aren't as important in terms of goals as they once were, but even so, a look across at our immediate opponents in the league and, as Jose commented the other day, Aguero, Negredo, Suarez, Rooney, Giroud etc. still seem to score a few.
Certainly the manager has let the strikers still on board know that the figures aren't good enough. I would, however, caution about one thing. The Romelu Lukaku story isn't quite as straightforward as it sounds. I have been to see the big man live three times over the last few weeks and watching him in the flesh tells a different story to the one you might imagine if you only watch Match of the Day or the highlights programmes. His explosive shots and power headers look great as they lash into the net, but there are still problems with his play at the moment.
First, let me stress, I think he has the potential to become one of the very best strikers in world football, even maybe the best, but it is far from a foregone conclusion. His work rate in the games I have been at this season hasn't come anywhere close to any of the three players up front for us at the moment. The style we play needs a worker up front and that is very much not the way Romelu is playing at the moment. Before I go any further, I can hear you scream maybe our lads are running too much, running the sharpness out of themselves. There may be something in that and doubtless Jose will have considered this possibility, and if it is the case to a degree, there will be a readjustment. Even so, Romelu was almost static for parts of some of the Everton games I was at. Maybe he has run slightly out of gas himself after putting too much in earlier this season and is now saving himself, but if Everton want to really consider themselves a side that can break into the top four (and they are beginning to believe just that), then he needs to add more to the team.
This may sound harsh as he is only 20, but it is a harsh game and as a fine manager once said to me: 'I never moan at poor players, they can't help it. I only have a go at good ones I know can do better.'
There is a compliment in there if you look close enough Romelu! There are improvements to be made in technique, hold-up play, link-up, timing of runs, getting back from offside positions, but these are all fixable and maybe Everton is the right place for him to do that for now.
Back to our lads currently trying to score, I suspect the comments from the gaffer will have the right effect over the next few weeks.
I mentioned Everton before, well I was at their game at the Emirates against Arsenal on Sunday and the Toffees were by far the better side. It was a wake-up call for Arsenal if they were thinking they could cruise to the end of the season and the title. However infuriating, exciting or entertaining our performances have been of late, it was still worth acknowledging that Manchester United are having a horror season so far, Manchester City are even more unpredictable than ourselves and Arsenal are showing the first real signs of weakness up there in north London.
Tomorrow's game against Steaua is something we haven't had for quite some time, a football game with little or no pressure on it. Yes we want to win, mostly because we would like to win the group for seeding purposes and of course we have a very proud home record (Basel apart). Maybe this is just what is needed, a game to go out and enjoy and play 'carefree wherever they may be' on the park.
I hope so and expect a few goals in this one, particularly from our strikers. If not then maybe Jose could threaten to play David Luiz up front (he used to be a striker!), now that would get a reaction.
Last week I asked which player had scored the most combined goals for Chelsea and Sunderland? This actually wasn't an easy one and there were a number of very good suggestions, including Tore Andre Flo, Gareth Hall, Boudewijn Zenden and Bryan 'Pop' Robson. However, the correct answer is our own Clive Walker, who tops them all. Only one winner as ever and this week it is Steve Van Doorn, these days living in Western Australia.
To win the prize next week, could you tell me who was our top scoring striker last season and how many did he score? Answers as ever to firstname.lastname@example.org