In his column this week, Pat Nevin reviews Chelsea’s Christmas so far and the Premier League in general at this time of year…
We are now smack bang in the middle of one of the most important periods in the season. With nine points up for grabs in a week, it is clearly a time when you cannot necessarily win anything, but you can certainly lose the opportunity of winning the league. In that way it is bigger for the likes of Spurs and Manchester United than it is for Chelsea, the pressure is on there in every game.
Spurs have got the toughest run of all the top clubs, facing Southampton tomorrow and then Watford away before the big one on the 4th. We will know much more about the seriousness of their challenge by then.
It is however the case that you can only take care of your own business and the Bournemouth game yesterday was another imperious performance that rarely, if ever, looked in doubt of giving anything other than the right result. There is going to be some imagination from Antonio needed as the season goes on, but that doesn’t look like a problem right now. With no Diego Costa or Kante, Chelsea needed another way to win and in its execution this frontline of Willian, Hazard and Pedro was perfection on the day. Of course there was some expectation of going with Michy up front and keeping the style the same, but the manager must have looked at the opposition and spotted their weaknesses.
On this page last week I suspected there might be a different viewpoint from the manager when I wrote, ‘but remember the likes of Pedro and Eden Hazard are capable of playing through the middle and terrorising big defenders.’
So I wasn’t totally shocked by the team sheet before the game! Both did exactly what I imagined they would do against the massed ranks of the Bournemouth defence. What it gives us is another option when trying to break down defences and another fear to strike into the hearts of our competitors.
Up until now in this incredible run it was clear that we have enjoyed a level of consistency everyone is jealous of, not just in results but also in team selection too. This will again be tested when we face Stoke City and Spurs in the coming days, but there are clearly now options that others hadn’t considered. The point to remember is that both Stoke and Spurs will be tested at least as severely in the same ways with their squads and their tactical acumen.
Not only is it three games in an incredibly short time, it is also the injuries these games throw up. In addition this is possibly the worst moment in the season for suspensions as the ban for five yellows changes to 10 in the New Year, this will worry others more than us now. Many players at other clubs are walking that tightrope now which Diego and N’Golo slipped off as we approached the bells, with Pedro now suspended for one game against Stoke.
I have been getting around a bit recently and was at a recent Stoke game when I was amazed on the day; well it was the one against Leicester City when the Foxes came back from two goals down and a man down to get a fine draw. What did surprise me more than anything was the comparative lack of fight from Mark Hughes’s side in that second half, not something you often say about one of Sparky’s outfits. He did say his players might have been tired after a midweek game in the previous few days, so that is something Antonio should keep in mind when they turn up at the Bridge. A high tempo just like against Bournemouth might be the order of the day to see them off.
The battle however is still on, Watching Man City at Hull, they managed to find a way to see off the home team without playing especially well and of course Manchester United continued their renaissance as well. Arsenal left it late but scraped past West Brom, simply underlining that even though we have a little cushion, the unwillingness for anyone at the club to start crowing yet is a very sensible strategy.
It is a great time of year here in the UK as the excitement and tension at the top of the Premier League is fantastic. Most people try to enjoy the Christmas and New Year festivities, but to be honest if you are a player it is very different. If you have a few bad results over the week you suddenly have to become an actor of Oscar-winning proportions when you go home at night to meet your loved ones. However much you try to keep it in perspective, inside it is torture to be smiling singing and laughing when you are so disappointed. Oddly enough I can’t recall being that down in this period during my career, but I better check the records to see if my memory is playing tricks with me! Actually it was not too bad generally and though there was one very depressing season, we will not go into that here.
This is certainly a time to be positive for Chelsea fans. Every game involving any other side in the top six is of interest to us but as I say, they are all under more pressure than Chelsea at the moment. It does however make for exciting games and continual entertainment. I do fully understand the calls for a winter break that are aired annually, if they ever do manage to sort that one out there is just one plea from me. Do not change the Christmas and New Year schedule, do it in at some point in January. The current period is a joy, even if the players can’t enjoy the festive parties as much as the rest of us.