PAT NEVIN: EYE ON THE BALL
Columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin has spent much time analysing the win over Man United in the last few days, and from the back to the front of the team he is quietly impressed…
I have to say I was a little apprehensive before the game against Manchester United at the weekend. We were such hot favourites to win, United and their manager are under such media pressure, the underdogs tag was underlined by no Rooney or Van Persie and I was going to be on Match of the Day 2 that night. It could have all gone so wrong! Fortunately it didn't go all wrong and the game was another fairly relaxed, bordering on routine, three points at home.
Once again I thought the tactics were excellent and Davie Moyes could find no real answers to the blue block set up against his side. I do not blame Moyes of course, he needs time to produce his own side with his own players and that will take a season at the very least, but that is his problem not ours, even if I do have a degree of sympathy. In the bigger picture, that result effectively knocked one more possible contender out of the title race leaving Man City, Arsenal and at a stretch Liverpool chasing the dream.
Once more it was the Chelsea attacking midfield triumvirate that caught the eye with their incredible high tempo, selfless work rate allied to their dangerous attacking play. Oscar might not have been at his very best creatively, but the top pros know that this can sometimes happen and 100% effort is plenty to be going on with on these occasions. Eden Hazard similarly didn't shine that often in the final third, but the selfless defending was first class and Willian's energy seems to pump up by another 10% each time we see him.
I showed this on the BBC's flagship football programme, when I was able to get a word in, but the biggest negative reaction I got was not for suggesting that penalties are hard to come by for visiting teams at Anfield - it isn't impossible to get a penalty in front of the Kop - but that the defender does have to take you out with an AK47 for it to happen.
This comes from painful personal experience. For Chelsea once I was one on one with their keeper in the box and Stevie Nichol rugby tackled me, the referee waved play on. On another occasion when I was there with Everton the late (and lovely) Gary Ablett halved me and the referee was apparently checking his back pocket just at that precise moment, looking for a sweet he had left there the day before and he missed that one too.
I don't blame Liverpool FC or their fans, in fact I applaud them for providing the intimidating atmosphere, but it can be a touch galling. Anyway enough of my personal hell, penalties didn't come into it against Man United, there was no need as Samuel Eto'o wrote himself into the Chelsea history books by scoring a hat-trick against the champions. Looking at the majority of goals scored by Samuel this season he really is the consummate opportunist striker. From the pickpocketing goal against Cardiff to the screamer from six inches on Sunday, he really does boost up his numbers with some beautifully sneaky little strikes.
It was a shame that he didn't get quite as many headlines as he deserved because United losing again seems to be a bigger story than Chelsea winning, but the current run just gets more and more quietly impressive.
As a former pro it has been ingrained, indeed indoctrinated in me that you take every game as it comes, but it is almost impossible not to peer a little into the distance and consider the trip up to the Etihad on 3 February. It has the makings of a classic tactical encounter as well as a great pointer as to where the Premier League trophy may end up come May. It is certainly one game where defence and organisation will be crucial to Chelsea as City are without a doubt the most potent attacking force in the country. Of course the eye must be on the ball with Stoke in the FA Cup and West Ham to visit the Bridge before that, but it would be intriguing if both clubs kept wining before they met up.
As ever it would be unfair to ignore the defence (pictured top) this week, even though they will have been absolutely gutted that Manchester United scored a late consolation goal through Hernandez. With City in the offing they can be proud of and confident in the recent record of only two goals lost in 10 and a half hours play. It is mean bordering on miserly and also, once again, not unlike certain aspects of a certain man's previous reign. If this was not enough, Nemanja Matic re-joined and was already in the thick of it at the end of the United game.
His defensive capabilities have apparently grown exponentially in his time in Portugal, so here is possibly another rather sizeable obstruction to the likes of Man City. Chelsea managed to snuff out both Arsenal and Manchester United on their home turf with three disciplined deep midfielders in front of a back four. Matic is another specialist who can play that role, so clearly being hard to beat in certain games is a priority, one that has arguably already been dealt with by Jose.
Last week I asked which player had played most combined games for Chelsea and Manchester United. Lots of different answers came in, Mickey Thomas got a few votes but he was not the right answer. It came down to three really, Alex Stepney the goalkeeper, Ray 'Butch' Wilkins and of course Mark Hughes who arrives at the Bridge this weekend with his Stoke side. Ray had 392, Alex had 540 only one of which was for Chelsea, but Mark Hughes had a mighty 590 combined appearances. Lots got it right but the winner drawn at random this week was Bob Bown from Petts Wood in Orpington.
This week to have a chance of winning a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me the Chelsea player (including former Chelsea players) who most recently won a World Cup winners' medal? Answers as ever to me at email@example.com
Good luck and let's hope we keep this good run going.