It is that time of the season when you really start to look at the other teams’ games almost as much as you look at Chelsea’s. With the league table so tight, every weekend seems incredibly important.
So we have a trip to struggling but fighting Cardiff City this weekend while Spurs have Liverpool, Arsenal have what on paper looks like the easiest game against Newcastle and Manchester United have a really tough one at Wolves. Considering how difficult United and indeed ourselves have found Wolves in the past few weeks, that is far from a certain three points for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side.
I did expect there would be a dip from Man United after their fabulous run under their new manager and they are in it, though not as deep in a trough of bad form as Spurs. Obviously the manager and the players can only concentrate on our games but they are acutely aware that there are very few opportunities for slip-ups if we are going to get into that top four.
Maybe the effect of this international week will play a big part in how the clubs do at the weekend. Lots of travelling, plenty of hard games and certainly no rest for the vast majority of the players in the battle at the top of the Premier League. Although I usually focus on injuries first, it is also important how well the players did for their countries. Happily, Eden with his 100th cap and yet another goal should be one we don’t have to worry too much about.
Callum Hudson-Odoi will arguably be buzzing even more by getting his first England cap and looking perfectly comfortable on that stage at such an incredibly young age. It is no longer a question of if but when with regards to his impact for Chelsea in the Premier League. The great thing for him is that he will not be jaded at this time of the season. Others have had a long, hard slog, many with precious little rest from last season because of the World Cup, but Callum is as fresh as you could hope for and clearly straining like a held-back mustang ready to fly off the reins.
Maurizio Sarri will have to consider how much stress each international has been under this week when he chooses his line up at Cardiff, maybe more than any time under his tenure at the club.
Travel is of course a massive part of this as I always underline. With the likes of Callum, it may be like getting a new top player into the team group when few other clubs have that luxury when it is needed most. Chelsea fans have been calling for a long time for our young flying winger, but coaches believe they know exactly when the time is right for the biggest impact. If the boss gets it right it will be seen as a master stroke.
The other player who will be desperate to bring his international form to Chelsea is of course Ross Barkley. Two goals for his country and involvement in much of the rest of what England did well will have given him a huge boost.
So the players will not be that rested, well most of them anyway, but the club has been a little quieter notwithstanding women’s football obviously. There is however another preparation going on at the Bridge. The European Football Development Network (EFDN) rolls up at Chelsea today for a two-day conference and it should be a very interesting 48 hours. As I have been long associated with the EFDN I am aware of its work.
The idea is that clubs around Europe meet to swap ideas and share best practice in those areas where the clubs reach out to the community. This is strictly non-profit stuff that helps the clubs integrate and helps anyone who is involved with any of the projects. They are hugely wide and varied.
So you could be a walking footballer in Scotland, a dementia sufferer in England, a former convict in Holland or someone who wants to get fitter in Belgium. The list is endless but most clubs have an expertise in a few areas, so why not share that expertise around? The clubs aren’t in competition. In this area and over the last few years I have been helping to host these conferences in everywhere from Glasgow to Paris to Bruges. This time it is at Stamford Bridge and I am delighted that the club has been so involved.
They will be showcasing the Say No To Antisemitism campaign but the Foundation will also show how it is involved in other works from STEM to the disability programme it runs. Each time I come to an EFDN conference and see the great work done by dedicated club workers and how they are generally helped by the clubs in the widest sense, I am impressed. In fact I would go so far as to say I haven’t come to one and failed to be deeply moved by the personal stories they bring to the table.
It definitely grounds you when you get above yourself to see the efforts of those less fortunate and of course it rarely ever gets covered in the national press. Have a look on the EFDN website, and if you haven’t already, on our Foundation area of this website here at Chelsea.
From PSG to PAOK, Schalke to Shakhtar and Hibs and Hearts to Hapoel Tel Aviv, there are well over a hundred clubs involved and each has their own special expertise.
You never know, you might just get some inspiration yourself.