Pat Nevin: Better than ever

Although a single moment from one player's performance stood out, it was the talent displayed by him throughout the big weekend game which shone out and deserves celebrating according to Pat Nevin, as he reasons in this week’s column…

No one expected the game against Manchester United to be a quiet affair and when it finally boiled over momentarily, of course the headline writers were going to make as much capital as possible from those final scenes by the dugouts. From the point of view of someone who has been in the game for a few years, the media making such a hoo-hah about a little bit of passion, that was sorted out almost immediately between the guys involved, is deeply tiresome.

Well done Jose for being so gracious after just a brief chat with Maurizio. He must have been totally devastated to lose those two precious points considering the pressure he has been under of late. From my point of view, in a sensible world we would have moved on right away and turned straight to talking about the game, and boy there was enough to talk about.

Our unbeaten run continues and that is a huge bonus considering how late we left it, and of course Ross Barkley by scoring at least got the odd headline that didn’t concern itself solely with what happened in the 10 seconds after his equaliser. The former Everton man is fast becoming a revelation and soon we could be talking about one of the great bargain buys of recent years.

After Saturday at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea TV, I was up at Goodison Park for the game v Crystal Palace. Of course I still have an emotional bond with Everton as well after my time there, so I couldn’t help thinking what a shame it was for the Toffees that they couldn’t regularly get the best from Ross in all the years he was there. Sometimes it is a case of being in the right place at the wrong time or at the right club at the wrong time, but for now it seems he is finally in the right place and he is improving quickly.

For all that Ross did well to score for the second game in a row and Antonio Rudiger was a beast in the opposition box throughout, I was more happy for David Luiz than anyone else in that 96th-minute attack. His back post header against the upright was colossal and nothing against Ross, but I so wish that David’s effort had hit the post and gone in instead of what happened. I think he really deserved it because he had been exceptional throughout the game, all but for one split second.

Had he not been at the centre of the action for the equaliser then David could have found himself in the headlines for losing that challenge with Juan Mata that led to Martial’s second goal, and that would have been incredibly harsh. First of all Juan is an extremely good and intelligent footballer, I think Chelsea fans know that more than most, so well done him for nicking it before David.

David himself was drawn well out of position purely because we are such a positive side. Marcos Alonso wasn’t there at left-back, but then he had been just about everywhere else including centre-forward a couple of times in the first half. We do not want to stop Marcos’s marauding, so now and again we will be stretched at the back, hence David being so isolated out wide.

The other thing to note was that David was close to flawless throughout the game in most counts. His statistics were fabulous as they have been for most of the season. Look at the clearance statistics on OPTA and he was top for us at the weekend. Recoveries, he was second behind Cesar Azpilicueta. He was joint top on touches of the ball and third in successful passes made, only one and two behind Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. Passing accuracy was 92 per cent, which is superb and he was even second after Eden Hazard with attempts on goal.

That doesn’t tell the entire story of a player who battled and won against the modern-day colossus that is Romelu Lukaku. He also headed a goal-bound United attempt off the line and is quite simply playing as well now as he has at any point in his career. I would argue he is defending better than at any point in his career which must be down to experience, his relationship with the manager and of course, freedom from injury. He now knows when to play and exactly when it is not worth taking a chance. Each match so far this season there has been at least one clearance into the second tier of the stands, something he could never bring himself to do before.

Without the equaliser and his part in it, there would have been the usual detractors claiming he is the weak link, trotting out the ancient clichés about his dependability. It would not only have been harsh but worse still, incorrect on any measurement this season.  

Those of us who watch Chelsea every week hopefully have a better, more-balanced viewpoint on David Luiz and how he is doing, although in all honesty I will own up to a little bias pro-David. I generally like watching defenders that are also very good footballers, so I admit to giving him more licence than some.

So in the end what was the moment of the match in one of the games of the season? Well most will focus on what happened after the final goal but I am obviously more impressed with what happened in the seconds before it. Just for a moment when David Luiz powered his head through a deep cross it reminded me of something at the time that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Weirdly, later that evening while DJing at a club in east London, with my old team-mate Paul Canoville in attendance, it came to me.

There was a header by a certain Ruud Gullit when he powered in a goal for the Netherlands against USSR in the Euro 1988 final. It was unlike any header I had ever witnessed before; I couldn’t kick a ball as hard as he headed that one!

Maybe David’s was not as powerful as Ruud’s, but with both having the long hair, the muscle effort involved and the importance of the goals, it has already had a lasting impression on me, no matter what was going on in the technical area.

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