Pat Nevin: Chance to think
column Tue 1 Sep 2015
Chelsea legend Pat Nevin considers a challenging Premier League, a new young player and the opportunity to analyse at the start of this international break…
Saturday was an incredibly frustrating day down at Stamford Bridge. In short, we are not used to losing league games at home and it comes as a bit of a shock when we do. Not that Chelsea has a god-given right to win every game played at home, that way lies arrogance and though some fans from other clubs have sounded arrogant, hopefully we don’t. I think there is too much history of too many tough times for anyone who has supported this club for any reasonable amount of time, to feel that we should be beyond defeats.
Having said that, I do not think we are on the brink of quickly falling to the old levels that meant relegation-watching rather than championship-chasing, but in fairness it isn’t exactly the best start to a season in recent memory.
For some time I have been advocating the idea that there will be far more surprises this season than there have been for some time. In fact I reckon that by May results like West Ham winning away from home at Liverpool and Arsenal will not be that amazing. Chelsea slipping up v Swansea and then Swansea beating Manchester United actually now doesn’t look that astounding because in the simplest terms, the Swans at full strength are a very good team indeed.
Painful though it is for those of us with a heavy blue tint to our spectacles to see right now, in the most general terms I like what I am seeing in the Premier League just now. There is a fearlessness that is more pronounced than arguably at any other time in the modern history of the competition, from just about every single club. There is also a raised average in the tactical knowledge; I was particularly impressed by West Ham alongside Swansea and of course Crystal Palace at the weekend.
Above all that, the increase in fitness and power appears to continue on its ever increasing upward curve. It has always been the case that better technical footballers can be nullified by fitter ones, which is why most of the great players have become paragons of fitness too. Ronaldo may have sublime skills but he also has the fitness, physique and work ethic that can match any other player at any other level. So work rate and brilliance is now necessary every single week.
I am sure Jose Mourinho is desperate to work with his players this week but of course a large percentage of them will not be at the club. Instead they will be traipsing around the planet with their national sides. What would he have worked on had they been around? Well fitness, team shape, confidence, the psychology and everything else he could think of, because you have to be that diligent at this level, you have to look at every single possibility for the reasons for the comparatively sluggish start to this season.
Interestingly three of the top-four teams in the league at this moment have played Chelsea at the start; Palace, Swansea and Man City. Again at the start of the season I felt this was a trickier lot of opening fixtures than we have had for a few years. This is not an excuse, just an observation, you have to beat the on-form teams as well if you are going to challenge for the title.
Another interesting point was that with the game slipping away Jose felt his best options were to bring on Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek along with Falcao. In fact all three can be secretly quite pleased with their contributions, I say secretly because if you lose you are not allowed any outwardly positive signs as a player! The youth however was interesting and in particular the pace, strength and energy shown by Kenedy (pictured top) really took the eye as he bombed forward at every opportunity.
It does ask a few questions about what the next team the manager puts out at Everton will look like. He has never been slow to adapt when he feels things have to be changed and often it happens in surprising and unexpected ways. Will Kenedy start at left back, does Azpilicueta stay there or does he move to right full-back? Maybe Baba will come into the reckoning. It is an intriguing time and even up front with Falcao coming on and scoring, maybe he will be at the front of the queue now.
There may even be some thoughts of adapting the system. For a long time the 4-2-3-1 has suited Chelsea very well and specifically it has suited the players and their form. Jose has however used a variety of systems over the years and he may even be thinking about tweaking that area too, he is not reticent about making bold decisions. The players know this and this is a very good thing. There is nothing like uncertainty to keep you on your mettle and with time to think for everyone involved, I expect quite a reaction by the time that next game comes round. The normal comments from football folk after a defeat is that you want the next game to come round as soon as possible, for once it might not be such a bad thing that there is a bit of a break.
Last week I asked who was the first player to sign for Chelsea directly from Barcelona? There were many suggestions. They included Belletti, Romeu, Bogarde, Ferrer, Zenden, Petit, Mark Hughes, Deco and Fabregas. Well Mark Hughes didn’t come directly from the Spanish giants and many did go for Deco or Juliano Belletti, but Albert Ferrer arrived long before them in 1998. So well done if you got that one right. There can only be one winner and this week the randomly drawn lucky chap is Morten Bro Daugaard from Denmark.
This week to have a chance of winning a season review DVD signed by one of the players, there is a question sent in by Iuri Mantachik from Minsk, Belarus; could you tell me the name of the furthest city that Chelsea have travelled to for an official European cup game? Answers to firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck with that and to your countries in the internationals. I’m off to Georgia for the Scotland game there and must say I am looking forward to it immensely.