Pat Nevin: Some like it hot
column Tue 29 Aug 2017
Coherence provided by compatriots and a nice selection question to have are themes discussed by Chelsea legend Pat Nevin in this week’s column…
I was down on the pitch before the game on Sunday chatting to a few old friends; it was two of my former teams playing so there was plenty to catch up on. At one point I was standing just beside the tunnel chatting to Duncan Ferguson and suddenly felt pretty uncomfortable. It wasn’t because I expected my towering former Scottish international colleague to lead with his elbow as he walked back to the away dressing room, he is altogether monumentally more sensible these days, but it was the sudden thought, ‘Am I standing beside a heater?’ It was absolutely boiling down there!
At half-time I was invited onto the field by Neil Barnett to give a wave to both sets of fans, and thank you all for the emotion-inducing reaction, but even that very short walk had me thinking, ‘Should I join Neil under the water sprinklers that were switched on with the power of firehoses just to cool down a bit?’ It served to remind me that although it was a perfectly calm sunny day, it was far from perfect conditions for football but the searing heat seemed to have little or no effect on Chelsea players, for the first 70 minutes anyway.
While Everton wilted, having admittedly played in midweek, the fitness levels of Antonio’s men were hugely impressive. There seemed to be a number playing it very cool indeed. Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Alonso, Morata and Pedro were barely perspiring as they put Koeman’s men to the sword. It could have and should have been another handful of goals and then it dawned on me why that lot were looking so comfortable. They are all Spanish and this was very much normal conditions for them, maybe even a little cooler than they would get in Spain at this time of the year.
Some of us pallid Brits dive for the shade and reach for the sun cream and ice cream when the mercury rises above 25 degrees, whereas they clearly think this is the time to run 10 kilometres and more at top speed for fun, and 30 degrees is not much of a problem either.
Everton where asked a whole bunch of questions they had no answer for and it was more often than not a specifically Spanish Inquisition. Never mind the fact that Cesc and Alvaro scored the goals, they were setting up chances for each other and linking up continually all over the sun-baked pitch. There were times when they were not only speaking a different language to the opposition, they seemed to be playing a different game. The movement and understanding were superb and I am sure that it was no surprise to Antonio Conte; if you stick like-minded people together on a football field it can add another dimension to their play.
From the moment Morata arrived I have been waiting for the understanding between Alvaro and Cesc to grow. It was maybe a slight surprise however when the assist for the first goal came from the former and the finish from the latter, but it doesn’t matter either way. This is something I can confidently predict we will see much more of as the season progresses.
Antonio Conte will know the importance of these sorts of links as it has been a feature of Italian football for many decades. Anyone around when Serie A was in its heyday (and Antonio was) knows that AC Milan weren’t the only ones to use the same foreign players to great effect. The Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard triumvirate of Dutch masters dominated not only Italian football but European football as well, so other Italian clubs try to do the same if not always to quite as impressive effect. In those days you could only field three ‘foreign’ players, so it was important to make sure they could help each other on and off the field of play.
It will not always be the case that 50 per cent of Chelsea’s outfield players are compatriots but it clearly worked well at the weekend. This is of course to take nothing away from the other performances; I thought Willian was on a different planet on Saturday. The tricks and flicks were not just for show, the outrageous moments of skill had an end product as well. The ease with which he was passing defenders was the equal of Eden at his best; in fact we really didn’t seem to miss our Belgian star with the quality that Pedro and Willian were providing. That is not to say we are not desperate to get Eden back as soon as possible, we clearly are, but it is good to know that the team can still look quite that special even when he isn’t available for a short while.
There has been a lively debate in Chelsea circles over the past while about who should be the other forward to assist Morata and Hazard. Are you a Pedro fan or do you think Willian should always get the nod? It is an interesting question, but one that does not have a correct answer in my book. In simple terms you would always want both available because they add different things and when either one is rested, the other is always ready, willing and incredibly able to come on and make a huge difference to any game. No player likes to be sub at a club, especially if you are a top-class international from a top-class football country, but both have shown fabulous attitudes when they haven’t started games. So there is no either/or for me. I want both around for a very long time.
As I write there are still no brand new signings as the transfer window draws to a close. Like everyone else I will be glued to the media waiting for any news of any moves in the next couple of days. I will however be in the Chelsea TV studio reacting to all the movements in the last few hours of the window on Thursday, so if you want to know where to hear first about your club’s acquisitions, you know where to tune in.