Following a week of similar successes, former Blue and columnist Pat Nevin looks at enforced change and forecasts an enthralling Boxing Day…
This is a problem I honestly have never come across before when writing, what do you chat about when exactly the same things happen every week?
Okay, it isn’t exactly the same but it is three 1-0 wins in a row and sometimes we score a few more than that, but you get the picture. Noodling about in the stats I noticed that of the four 1-0 wins in this 11-game run, Diego Costa has scored the goal in three of them (Cesc was the other up at Sunderland of course) so I do understand mild concern about the big man being missing on Monday against Bournemouth.
In an odd way however, I would argue that give me the choice of any game in this half of the season for Diego to miss, I would choose this one coming up. Why? Well Bournemouth have not been travelling well this season so far, although they are a very capable and often exciting team. The 4-3 win against Liverpool was particularly impressive and particularly sweet for us. They do however play an expansive style under their manager Eddie Howe and this means there might just be a little more space for the likes of Eden, Willian and Cesc to create chances in comparison to the bus-parking utilised by the likes of Sunderland and West Brom.
Also to take on board about this game is Nathan Ake will not be playing against his own team, so Bournemouth have to find another centre-back to play as well as he has been playing every week. We have noticed his habit of getting on the scoresheet of late, so he is a big miss to them but also possibly a big help to Chelsea as soon as his loan period is over. He has shown he can hack it at the top level.
Who will start up front for Chelsea against this new central partnership will be a topic of feverish discussion this week, with Michy Batshuayi the clear favourite to get the nod. He certainly needs a chance to play in our first team at match pace for 90 minutes, to show everyone why we spent the money on him and why we believe in his talent. Having watched him for a season or two before he arrived, I am an unashamed fan of the Belgian but it is so hard to break in ahead of Diego and it is difficult sometimes not to try too hard when you get a fleeting opportunity. Batshuayi can and will be a class act in the end, but the temptation is always to compare him with Diego and that is tough. Try comparing any striker with Diego Costa right now and few are going to shine particularly brightly.
The manager would have worked hard on the training ground long before the suspension knowing it was always likely to happen eventually, and he would also be covering for unexpected injuries to our topscorer. There will certainly be a plan B and maybe a C, D, E and F. There is of course young Dominic Solanke as a similar-styled player to put in there but remember the likes of Pedro and Eden Hazard are capable of playing through the middle and terrorising big defenders. Both have done it before and both would absolutely relish the opportunity. Most of us wide men spend most of our careers totally frustrated at being stuck out on the wing away from the centre of the action. That is why we/they all want to be number 10s.
Maybe Conte will have found out that Victor Moses has the ability to do that central role as well. It would not surprise me in the slightest and obviously Cesar Azpilicueta could play as a centre-forward because he clearly can play absolutely anywhere with no discernible impact on the quality of his output! I will leave Branislav Ivanovic out of this discussion as I have yet to find many who agree with me that he could be a perfectly good striker. His movement in the box from crosses is fantastic, his finishing is extremely good too and I suspect he might just be able to hold the ball up quite well also. When I say this to people they usually give me a funny look but although he is a 100/1 outsider, I would love to see it, though it might just crush Michy’s confidence if he was overlooked for Brana. I am not even to go down the road of Cesc playing the false number nine, something he has done before but suffice to say there are a few options available to Antonio.
For the last few weeks most teams have been adapting their systems to try to stop Chelsea. Although Howe will not ignore Chelsea’s strengths he generally tells his players to believe in themselves and their abilities and not to over worry about the opposition. Because of this, it could be a game that is wide open and as such it may well be one of the most enjoyable to watch of the season so far.
Right now I would take another 1-0 and move on with Diego back after Christmas but something about this one tells me that it will be different. We may well have lost only two goals in over 17 hours of Premier League football, winning 11 in a row, but this competition is rarely predictable for long. Many were quick to point out that Chelsea had a nine-point lead on Saturday, but that was only because we played in the early kick-off, so if the pack does close in again, a great big fat raspberry to any lazy journo who writes that Chelsea ‘blew a nine-point lead’!
Let’s hope a good gap does stay but I still think it is far too early to get carried away. Antonio Conte will not let that happen any time soon, we have played very well and got a little luck when we needed it. Thanks Kevin De Bruyne. But any manager who sends out his keeper at Sunderland for a half-time warm-up because he had so little to do in the first period, and then watches him produce a couple of wonder saves at either end of the half might well be lucky but he is far more likely to be good.