Columnist

Pat Nevin: Options and solutions

Columnist Pat Nevin was impressed by what he saw as we opened the new season with a win and, with a big London derby on the horizon, our former winger highlights the benefits of players being afforded the license to express themselves…

It all began to feel a bit last-minute as the squad finally took shape just before the transfer window closed. Would the extra midfielder arrive in time? Would we get the goalkeeping dilemma sorted? Is there really a need for another centre-back? In the midst of all this, one man seemed quite relaxed, laid back to the point of disinterested, and fortunately for us it was Maurizio Sarri.

The other midfielder duly arrived from Real Madrid in the shape of Mateo Kovacic, we got in a younger model for the sadly departed Thibaut Courtois in goal and anyone who watched our game against Lyon will be aware that Ethan Ampadu is very likely to push David Luiz, Toni Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill as much as just about any other centre-back we could have thrown £50million or £60million at.

Against Huddersfield, which was a much trickier match than most suggest, you could see the freedom of the style being promoted by the new manager slowly but surely coursing through the side. There were some superb moments to whet the appetite; Eden Hazard came on and ghosted by a couple of hulking defenders before slipping Pedro through with a nutmeg pass, and Pedro had the good grace to finish it with aplomb.

Even with the penalty by Jorginho, although it will be remembered for the impudence of the strike, we shouldn’t forget the classy back-heel by Ross Barkley in the build-up. The former Evertonian has learned a thing or two about back-heels obviously from the best in the business at that particular skill, most of whom train at Cobham every day.
 

Talking of Ross Barkley, it brings back the discussion of what will be the manager’s first-choice midfield three as the season develops? N’Golo Kante, obviously, is un-droppable in any shape or form and Jorginho is the gaffer’s man, so should get an initial run in the team.

That leaves Cesc Fabregas, Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Danny Drinkwater and now Mateo Kovacic all fighting for that one spot. There is even the possibility that if you play Hazard and Willian wide up front, Pedro might stick his oar in for that particular berth. I mentioned this last week and have been ruminating on it ever since.

The short answer is that the manager can adapt and change for different games and the different styles of teams we are up against. Whether it is home or away might also have an effect. Players can be rested and rotated in that midfield, the most wearing area of the field to play in, and of course injuries and suspensions have to be catered for. This is all to rather sit on the fence and there is a reason for that, I have no idea where the manager is going to go most of the time on this call.

One thing is for sure, he will have to try a midfield of Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic at some point, just to see what the balance looks like. As such, I am already looking forward to the Arsenal game at the weekend because they also seem like a side that is more dedicated to attacking football, and under Unai Emery they might just be a little more potent and direct than they were under Arsene Wenger in his later years.

The game against Man City at Wembley was too early for Chelsea, just as Arsenal’s match at the weekend against Pep’s men was too early for them, but this should give us a real glimpse of who could be the dominant London side this season, which of course is not to ignore Spurs who managed to scrape three points up at Newcastle, and I mean scrape!

One other thing that is quite notable about our new 4-3-3 system is that, well, it’s not very new at all. Jose Mourinho famously played that way but way back in the mists of time, my own time at Chelsea was often played in a type of adaptable 4-3-3. I well recall a midfield of John Bumstead, Nigel Spackman and Mickey Thomas with a forward line of myself, Kerry Dixon and David Speedie. The real joy of that side, and the story of our success, was that the manager, John Neal, urged us to work hard, be fitter than our opponents but above all to attack at every opportunity and be allowed to express ourselves creatively.
 

The extra burst of energy and belief I got when the manager said to me before every game: “Get on the ball at every opportunity and rip their defence apart,” made me feel unbeatable. Add to that the Chelsea fans who loved to see that creativity and roared us on consistently and suddenly, just through that positive environment, you felt twice the player.

I can just hear Sarri telling Hazard, Willian, Pedro and the rest before each game and during the week that they should use their creativity and be brave with it. It could have the same effect on them as it did on me. Now there is a thought, Eden, Pedro and Willian feeling twice the players they did before…now that would be a sight to behold.

 

- To read more about Nevin and some of our other former key players, click here

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