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Pat Nevin: Keep that pressure on

Ahead of what he describes as an intriguing fixture this coming weekend, Pat Nevin writes about returning to form and what might still be in reach…

Football is often about timing, particularly if you are timing when to hit the best run of form. Some players, and indeed some teams, seem instinctively to know when to step onto the gas and power away from the opposition. I was at the Bayern Munich v Real Madrid game last week and the Spanish side once again appeared to have timed their form perfectly in the Champions League after a mediocre domestic season by their standards. After being distinctly average when I went to see them against Spurs earlier in the season, they slowly but surely got better on my visits to catch them on their travels against PSG, Juventus and then Bayern. It can’t just be luck in their case because they seem to be quite adept at it, with a very good chance of progressing to a third Champions League final in three years.

For Chelsea, it looks like the league charge could end up sadly just being a little late. I wrote on this page a few weeks ago that I felt Liverpool were the team who still should be concerned about the Blues regarding the top-four places in the Premier League. As the Reds have stumbled in the league since then, partly due to concentrating on their Champions League run, it is now the case that we can draw level with them on points if we win our last three games. This is something that looked highly unlikely when I first mentioned it, but there is still a problem that most of us have now figured out. It would then come down to goal difference if they beat Brighton at home on the last day, and of course we are a long way behind on that score. There was even a moment in their last game against Stoke City when Ryan Shawcross had a chance to win it late on for the visitors and that would have left Chelsea’s destiny in our own hands.

It is all if and buts of course. Still we have managed to ‘keep them honest’ and of course we have put at least a little pressure on Spurs as well, even though they beat Watford on Monday. It may well be that the stumbles in January and then specifically the second half of the home game against Spurs could well look like the pivotal point in retrospect.

The timing of the recent run, in respect of wins as well as form, might leave us tantalisingly close but Eden Hazard’s form has blossomed again recently, in time with any luck for the FA Cup final. The pass for Cesc at the weekend was just the moment of genius we craved to enable us to prise the three points from Wales. With Eden firing, it all seems so different. On top of that at the weekend, the team defended not unlike we did for large parts of last season, especially when Swansea threw absolutely everything at us late on, which of course they needed to do considering their position.

It does however make this week’s game against Liverpool a hugely intriguing one which I cannot wait for. They have the second leg of their Champions League semi-final to deal with tomorrow evening, which will certainly drain a huge amount of their emotional and physical energy. Probably the very last thing they wanted this weekend was a trip to Chelsea who are fighting to cling on to the last hope of a Champions League spot, and are back on good form into the bargain.

Give Liverpool credit, they have done much better than just about anyone, including me, thought they would this season. At the start of the campaign they looked light in numbers and when they sold Philippe Coutinho I thought they had little or no chance of holding on in the top four, never mind the Champions League. They have managed it with style and passion and with also maybe a little bit of luck. Had Roberto Firmino, Saido Mane or Mohamed Salah had any time out for injury, I think it could have had a devastating effect. I sometimes look at their bench and applaud them even more for surviving with often only a very limited amount of experience sitting there. Chelsea’s bench on the other hand, well that is something to be very upbeat about.

Against Swansea there was WillianPedroAlvaro MorataAndreas Christensen and Davide Zappacosta who would walk into the first 11 of most Premier league teams and be among their best players. On top of that, a fully fit Ross Barkley is still one of the most promising Englishmen of his generation so there is definitely an extremely strong base to build on for next season. That is for the future. In the meantime there is an FA Cup final and an outside chance of a top-four spot which is probably more than we could have hoped for just a few short weeks ago.  

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