Pat Nevin: Winning smiles

With the new man in charge for next season appointed, columnist and former Blue Pat Nevin considers the weekend victory and from it, some building blocks Antonio Conte may work with…


Sometimes you feel down and a bit grumpy when your team isn’t doing very well. The first reaction is to find someone to blame and lash out, even if it is a very ‘first-world problem’ like finishing runners up instead of winning the league. When you sit back and analyse it, then it all sounds a bit unfair, even if you consider Arsenal fans for example. If they just miss out on the title and Spurs finish above them, then the calls for Arsene’s head will rain down from the stands at the Emirates. Harsh it may be but there are of course other circumstances to take into consideration, such as it is their best chance in years, the manager has had a few goes at it now etc etc.

It is generally about expectations and at Chelsea this season they have been lowered for a variety of reasons as the season has progressed. The buzz word will once again be transition with the new boss Antonio Conte arriving, just like it has been at Man United for a few years and no doubt Man City will be the same as well. Sometimes however, you have to look at the big picture and hope that those in front of that canvas at your club are artists and not shoddy painter and decorators in disguise.

Which brings me to the point. Who on earth has been overseeing what is going on at Aston Villa? First of all consider poor Eric Black, the interim coach. He had to go out and front up to the media after their shambles of a performance against the Blues on Saturday. It had little to do with him I suspect but he had to talk about it from Villa’s point of view. Somehow he managed to remain dignified. In reality it was one of the most anaemic performances I have ever witnessed from a Premier League side and as such the point is a simple: ‘And we think we have got problems!’

"He wasn’t at full speed yet but his movement in the box and the tidiness of his play were frankly superb. "


Well we can’t worry about Villa and our lads can only beat what is put in front of them so it was a very impressive performance, particularly when the amount and quality of unavailable Chelsea players is taken into account. An attacking four of Diego Costa, Willian, Eden Hazard and Oscar quickly became Pato, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy and Pedro. To be fair it did not turn out bad at all against a home side that looked as at home as a Chelsea fan in the north stand at White Hart Lane.

Firstly, Ruben was comfortable as he brushed aside feeble opponents throughout to dominate the area he was playing in. There were impressive link-up moments between him and Kenedy on the left as well during that first half. When you watch them both together; considering their talents, physique, pace and youth, it really makes you wonder if this could be a duo that could help propel the Blues forward for the next decade. They have to continue to improve of course, but put simply, the raw material is quite clearly there.

Poor Loic Remy hasn’t had much luck this season and when his chance came, he was soon injured and hobbling to the bench wondering if it would be Falcao or Pato who would replace him. To many fans’ surprise it was Pato and hands up all you Blues who weren’t expecting much from the Brazilian as he jogged on? Come on be honest, I will. I expected a player who would be ring-rusty and frankly miles off Premier League pace. Well he wasn’t at full speed yet but his movement in the box and the tidiness of his play were frankly superb. I use the word ‘frankly’ because the last person to find that sort of space in the box for us was indeed Frank.

Yes I know it was only Villa and I am not necessarily saying Pato is going to be the 20-goal-a-season answer to a question we have been posing all season, but I have to say I was impressed with what I saw. That said, I am writing this from a completely and openly biased point of view after watching his interview on Chelsea TV after the match. If you haven’t watched it already, then you can do below if you have a Fan Club log-in. 

Pato post-match on Aston Villa

Post match from Pato

02/04/2016 Duration: 2m 52s

If ever there is a guy who you want to succeed it is Pato. With that smile, that gratitude, that honesty, that smile, that infectious enthusiasm and yes that smile, he has won over plenty of fans already. My wife even said it beats Jurgen Klopp’s winning toothsome grin. Now that is impressive!

I have no idea how it will go from here on in for Pato. Real pace in the Premier League is always an underlying problem for incoming for strikers. They must have it, but I suspect if we get balls into the right areas while he is on the pitch, he will get his fair share of goals.

He also seemed to interact well immediately with Oscar and others around him on the pitch; so he is clearly a popular lad too. Jason Cundy said to me at the end of the game, ‘There is definitely a very good player in there,’ which was abundantly clear at the start of his career. The problem is that we have had many great strikers arrive at the club who then didn’t shine as brightly in a blue shirt as they had before they arrived. I would dearly love Pato to buck that trend and I suspect many more will feel the same once they get to know him a little better.

Before going, it would be remiss not to mention the performance of Matt Miazga who kept Rudy Gestede fairly quiet throughout. Many have struggled with that job. Maybe also a line on Baba Rahman too, his display when we moved him to a wing-back position instead of full-back was exceptional. If we ever have a coach who plays three at the back, he could blossom fabulously. Oh, actually we will of course have a coach next season who regularly goes with a back three. We all wish Antonio Conte the best of luck with adding to the success he had in his time at Juventus and with the Italian national squad.

Last week in the quiz I asked which Dutch man has played the most games for Chelsea’s first team? Actually it is a close run thing with Mario Melchiot on 165, just behind Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on 177, but the correct name is Ed De Goey who played 179 times for us. Well done if you got that but there can only be one winner and this time randomly chosen it is David Ragg. 

To have a chance this week of winning a football signed by Eden Hazard, could you answer this quite difficult question. Chelsea have many full international players on the books at the moment in the first team, but which one got a full International cap at the youngest age? Here is a clue, it wasn’t Diego Costa who had to wait until he was 24 before he got his first call-up. Answers as ever in the box below