PAT NEVIN: ANGLES OF ATTACK
On the day of the next league game and on the back of another win at the weekend, columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin has the pleasure of writing about a team in form…
Another game, another three points, another clean sheet against Newcastle at the weekend. We might as well accept it now that our little secret is out, Chelsea are quite good at the moment and if the form continues even the boss will not be able to straight bat the questions about being genuine title contenders.
I have chatted before about the fact that we have one advantage over and above the others at the top end of the Premier League, that there is no single player that we can't afford to lose for a period of time, but the same cannot be said about the likes of Man City and Arsenal. Without Toure or Aguero or Kompany, Man City suddenly look a lesser unit but we in contrast seem have strong back-up for everyone.
Some suggested that Oscar was that indispensable man for us, but he missed out v City and it all worked out. Eden Hazard however is in such stunning form that surely even we would miss his goals and creation. Well yes we would to an extent, but we have extremely high-quality players ready and willing to fill in if and when that happens. Schurrle, Salah and Willian of course could all clearly do an extremely good job on the left-hand side. I just hope that Eden keeps going at this rate for the rest of the season and into the World Cup.
I often used to wonder what it must be like to write a column every week for say Real Madrid or Barcelona's website. The problem would be trying not to write about Messi and Ronaldo every single time you sit down at the computer. Yes there are other great players at those clubs but if one of those two superstars scores or creates goals every single week, they are impossible to ignore in your musings and somehow you would have to find a new angle, get another set of superlatives or create some newer, catchier analogies.
It wouldn't be easy, so in short, I am trying not to talk about Eden Hazard every week, but it is tough at the moment. Before the Newcastle game I sat down and faithfully promised myself that I would major on someone or something else this week and what does he do? He scores a hat trick, turns on the style and basically says, 'try ignoring that!' Promising not to write about him was the second mistake I made; the first was making a monumental typing error in last week's column. I wrote, 'the scary thing is that Eden can't get better.' Of course I meant 'can get better' as he immediately proved in the Newcastle game. It was a mistake Eden, I wasn't meaning to get you angry, actually if that did get him angry and that was his reaction, maybe I could do it every week!
So as our thoroughbred winger jumps over every obstacle, we have now galloped up the league table and are leading by a nose. With the finishing line growing ever nearer (well everyone seems to be making horsey references at the moment) it has almost been missed that the defence is still playing brilliantly. So just to big them up a bit, two goals lost in 11 first team games, that is 990 minutes - 16 and ½ hours of top-flight football, phenomenal stuff.
West Brom will of course be another test and even though the Baggies are struggling in the league, that in itself is a reason to be wary. They will be, or at least should be, battling tooth and nail for their Premier League lives. Nothing clarifies players' thought processes more than actually dropping into the bottom three and that is just what happened to Pepe Mel's team at the weekend.
You only have to consider the points dropped by ourselves against the workmanlike West Ham United and the stoical Stoke City to know there is no way any team in this league can be taken for granted. Even the struggles against struggling Sunderland were a warning sign and of course Fulham battled to deny Davie Moyes' men at the weekend against all the odds and match statistics.
If there is one thing that does worry me slightly, it is players getting burnt out through over use, especially as the odd international game comes up and the Champions League demands recommence. It is worth accepting right now that there will be some occasions when Jose will feel he needs to rest some very big names. These breaks do not seem to have affected Frank Lampard in a negative way and even Oscar has looked hugely refreshed when he has had the odd game off here and there recently.
It may not be against West Brom, but even a judicial rest for Eden may be worthwhile at some point, even if that means keeping him on the bench just in case of course. This is related to the point I made before, there is and should be no player that is indispensable. Could you imagine Arsenal thinking that about the likes of Giroud? There is no way they are going to be able to leave him out of the team, unless of course he is injured or his form dives. Rest for rest's sake is not an option.
So concentration tonight, everyone giving it everything (when was the last time that didn't happen with a Jose team?) and there is every chance the great run can continue. There will be slips between now and the end of the season but this is the time historically when not only the best team comes to the fore, but the group with the strongest mentality. For years Sir Alex Ferguson's Man United were phenomenal in this respect. Even if they were a few points behind there was a belief in the group that they could go on a run from the start of the year to the end of the season that no one could live with.
Jose Mourinho knows this mentality has to be developed in the squad. Fortunately for him there are a few trusted lieutenants still here who can show the newer recruits the ropes in this respect. The manager may be talking about the relative inexperience of some of the boys and so it may well be that the most important players on and off the pitch from here on in are the likes of Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole and particularly JT. Some of the young boys really think they can win the Premier League whereas as these older guys know they can. There is a difference.
Last week's question asked who was the last Scotsman to score against Chelsea? As usual a tricky little one and there were lots of guesses ranging from Darren Fletcher all the way to some bloke called Nevin. It was in actual fact far more recent, but who was it? Well a large number thought it was Phil Bardsley the Sunderland player who is of course a Scottish international and who notched against us at the Stadium of Light back in December. He also managed to score for us as well. But is he actually 'Scottish', having been born and brought up in Salford? He played for Scotland due to his father being born in Glasgow. On this occasion I am going to allow it, but I will also allow Steven Naismith as well, who scored for Everton against us back in September, and he is definitely 100% Scots through and through.
So two answers but only one winner and this week, randomly chosen from the sack full of correct answers it is Matthew Turner from the Channel Islands. Well done.
This time to stand a chance of being the lucky winner of a prize signed by one of the players, with the Man City v Chelsea cup tie coming up, could you tell me the highest aggregate score in a game between these two sides in a competitive first team match? So if it was 2-1, the answer would be 3, you get the idea. Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to you and of course to the boys tonight and at the weekend.