Pat Nevin: Finding ways through

With little time to take stock before the next outing for the team, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin has one last look at Saturday’s game in this week’s column…

 

It is the fans’ prerogative to get disappointed, sad and even angry after a defeat; no one is going to complain too much about that. It is a passionate game and the reason we care about it so much is because every game really means something to the true fan; maybe even more when it is a derby.

In my position I try, though often fail, to eventually sit back and look at it in a cold, logical light. So maybe it did take a day or so to do that, but what really did happen in east London on Saturday? What was the reason for the loss?

The team was not at its best by a long way and from the start, West Ham were playing as if their lives depended on this result. Well to some degree their Premier League lives are now in the balance, so every single one of them was certainly up to it. The early goal also helped their belief and the belief in their manager’s tactics. It clearly gave them an extra boost of energy knowing they had something to defend, even if it was going to be for another 92 minutes.

They probably hoped for and to some degree expected a sluggish start from the champions, the recent games against Atletico and Newcastle showing that was a distinct possibility as Chelsea went behind in those as well. Even so, there was still a good chance and more importantly plenty of time for our lads to get themselves back into it.

It took 20 to 25 minutes to get a foothold and gain some meaningful possession but it wasn’t flowing. After half-time, we had most of the play but in all honesty we created very few clear-cut chances, particularly when compared to the avalanche of opportunities against Atletico. That claret-and-blue wall was always going to be difficult to breach and we clearly needed the spark of genius, the moment of magic that we have come to rely on from the likes of Cesc Fabregas or Eden Hazard.

It never came and we have to consider why. I am absolutely convinced it was almost totally down to fatigue throughout the side. The sharpness and explosive power had been blunted by the recent run of games and maybe the 90 minutes v Atletico Madrid was just one game too many as West Ham had a bit of a rest in comparison.

Consider this - how can Eden Hazard be so unstoppably brilliant one week and not nearly so the next? Having ghosted effortlessly past so many Liverpool and Newcastle players so recently he was scarcely able to beat an opponent this time. Are West Ham defenders really that much better than others in the league? The statistics would suggest not, so I didn’t feel it was a lack of effort, just a jaded look to Eden and some others.

When Antonio changed the personnel in the second half, we basically controlled the possession but the spark just wouldn’t ignite the way it usually does. Give some credit here to the way David Moyes had drilled his defenders, they were flawless in their regimented style.

The next day I was at Anfield for the Liverpool v Everton game and Jurgen Klopp left Firmino and Coutinho on the bench. Was he being disrespectful to that great old fixture thinking Everton are a bit rubbish at the moment? I doubt it. It is far more likely he knew some of his very best players needed a little rest and took a chance. Maybe he even watched our performance and realised that the moment had arrived when his fab four just had to be split up.

Everton defended in almost the same way as West ham had done the previous day in terms of position, if not in quality. So Liverpool had over 80 per cent of possession and still didn’t win, but they were the home side. Chelsea had over 72 per cent of the second-half possession as the away team at West Ham and got nothing. In days gone by this would have been considered an utter travesty, but now with teams seeing the art in parking the bus, it is accepted as good tactics and you just have to live with it. As a creative player, it is torture to play against but there is no point moaning, it is a big part of the game and you just have to find a way through somehow or accept the consequences.

I have to say there were still a number of players who did impress and none more so than Alvaro Morata. He generally had three markers around him who tackled, barged and tugged at him all afternoon, but his work-rate never diminished. When the big opportunity fell his way, sadly he didn’t convert it. Had he done so he would have been an obvious shoo-in for man of the match for the Blues. It is easy to look at that miss and how he was marked and complain, but if he is that positive every week, with that attitude the goals and the chances will flood his way. 

N’Golo Kante as usual gave a fine 90 minutes and Andreas Christensen got better and better with every minute that passed, but it wasn’t enough.

In the widest sense however it did underline how tough the Premier League gets at this time of the season. Arsenal were fortunate to get a point from Southampton in the end, Spurs have had a dip, Liverpool threw away two points and Manchester United were in plenty of people’s opinion dominated by Manchester City. Even Man City, who have had a brilliant season so far, have won the last four games each by the odd, usually late goal.

In short, it is tough and if we can scrape any kind of win against Huddersfield tonight, who have another ultra-disciplined defence, it will be a great result because someone else near the top of the league is bound to slip up again very soon.