Pat Nevin: A number of things

Chelsea legend Pat Nevin ponders some of the game’s questions, and counts up some goals scored as he writes this week’s column…


I like mysteries, but mostly I like them best when we can solve them in the end. Football has plenty of mysteries, some of which might be solved quite soon.

There is the mystery of why the football authorities have been so slow to react to the teething problems of VAR. I was at the Liverpool v West Brom game at the weekend where the VAR worked perfectly well, if a tad too slowly for my and most people’s comfort. The problem, on top of the snail’s pace of the techies getting the pictures sorted out, was that no one seems to think it necessary to keep the paying fans informed. I am in a state of total confusion as to why they thought there wouldn’t be confusion if they didn’t put the action on a big screen, or indeed just mic the referee up and let him explain as they do in American football.

The mystery of why they couldn’t see that problem coming may not be resolved openly but they will find the answers to the sluggishness soon. Here is a hint - engage good technology and a good production team when using it and let folk who have forked out a lot to be there know what you are doing while you do it.

There were a few mysterious moments in our FA Cup game at the weekend as well. Newcastle arrived at the Bridge and immediately chased, hassled, closed down and tackled high up the field like bunch of demons in the first half. It was almost diametrically opposite to how they played in a recent home game against Manchester City when they sat back meekly for most of the game and waited to be beaten. Why be more positive away from home than you are in front of your own fans? Maybe it was the old FA Cup nothing-to-lose scenario, but it did seem a bit odd. 

They actually caused us quite a few problems with that high press in the first half and they were very unlucky not to score against what was a very experienced Chelsea side, albeit with quite a few high-profile absentees. Oddly enough, the second half was a complete cruise even when the team contained two 17-year-olds in Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi, along with Ross Barkley who is continuing his rehabilitation after a very long injury absence.

By the way, both youngsters looked magnificent I thought, with Ampadu’s through ball to Pedro being one of the best moments of the match. Cesc must have been sitting on the bench thinking, ‘Hey wait a minute, I have the patent on that pass!’ 

By this point Newcastle had given up all hope after the free-kick stunner by Marcos Alonso and the two goals by Michy Batshuayi. Herein lies the real mystery of the weekend, looking at Michy’s goal scoring record alone it is hard to figure out why he hasn’t been generally lauded more.

Clubs who use stats and Moneyball to figure out who they should buy must look at Michy and think wow! Only two strikers in the Premier League have a better goals-to-minutes-played ratio than him this season in all competitions, Sergio Aguero, who has scored a goal every 95 minutes, and there is of course Harry Kane. Michy is currently on a goal every 100 minutes this season and these are the only three players at or under that number in the top flight of English football.

Even Mo Salah at Liverpool in the midst of his incredible season is not quite at that level, though he has scored a lot more goals and does add a few assists! It is not to dismiss the brilliance of players like Salah but the stats are weird here. Michy has scored more goals than Sadio Mane, Dele Alli, Riyad Mahrez and is level with Marcus Rashford. These players are highly regarded in the game. He has also scored more goals this season than any single player has for Arsenal. He hasn’t scored that many in the Premier League, but then it is quite hard to score when you aren’t actually on the field.

Coutinho, Lingard, Martial, Vardy and Sane are all a goal or two ahead of Michy but each has had at least 40 per cent more game time than he has. So a goal or two behind these luminaries is not bad in the circumstances. Judging purely by the statistics it looks mysterious, but those of us who watch the Blues most weeks know it is not quite that simple. Link-up play, holding the ball up and providing assists all have to be brought into consideration as well. Antonio is acutely aware of this and it is always worth considering who your goals are against.

Whatever happens with Michy in the short- or long-term, one thing is absolutely certain, he will score goals if he is given opportunities by his team-mates. Everyone at the club was delighted for him after the Newcastle game.