Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin watched Sunday’s win at Southampton from a far and among more standout performances from the young players, he saw a couple of older stagers shine as well…
Sometimes it takes a little distance to get a good perspective on things. I watched Sunday’s match against Southampton from the bowels of St James’ Park, Newcastle before the Toon v Manchester United match.
The positive air around Chelsea Football Club could not be more different than the general feelings at the two Uniteds. Newcastle fans were cheered after the three points were delivered from one of their youth graduates and as such, the clamour that followed came as no surprise. Manchester United fans thought they should do the same as Newcastle, and even more so Chelsea, and throw in all the kids to get them out of their rut.
This is fine in principle and to be fair, it is hard to see how they could be much more average than most of those playing in red on Sunday, but it also downplays something much more significant. Chelsea’s young players weren’t just thrown in by Frank Lampard. Yes, he was brave enough, and braver than I would have been to be absolutely honest, to give them a chance but they are also the product of the best youth system by far in this country over the past decade or more.
They are also the product of not being rushed when they weren’t ready. Tammy for example had to fill out physically and learn the game out on loan. He did that in a well-structured and orderly way. His technical ability improved, he learned about the pressures and how to cope with them and had a good look at how tough it is in other divisions and at the wrong end of the table. He has come back with the equivalent of an honours degree in men’s first-team football. So yes, he has been given a chance but do not ignore all the work and consideration put into the development at every stage.
For years we all had to put up with the sniping about the size of Chelsea’s on-loan troupe and how the club was getting it so wrong. We are not really hearing much of that now are we? It was probably difficult for the club to stay focused, stick with and believe in that method when the flak was flying but to their credit they did so.
When United fans or any others start shouting to ‘play the kids’ I just hope for their sakes they have been spending the last decade developing them in the right way and more importantly, been able to pick the best coming through. You can work as hard as you like on development, but if the young player hasn’t got the innate talent, the right work ethic and correct attitude then you can hope all you like, but it ain’t happening with him. It is also grossly unfair to throw youngsters in too early, it can destroy some that need a little time, if things do not go well.
From a drab game on a drab day in the North-East, Sunday on the sunny South Coast itself was another astounding display away from home for the Blues. St Mary’s is a tough place to go, in the last 22 months in the Premier League only one team has scored four goals in one game at that ground, it was of course Man City who can do that to anyone when they have one of those days.
Twelve goals in the past three away league games is fine reward for the travelling fans who had to take that early season 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford on the chin. It was the oddest of games and certainly the final scoreline was a travesty back in August. That is clear now to anyone who watches both those teams regularly, or even just on the highlights programmes. I can’t imagine any United fans at this point thinking their club is in a better place than ours.
In the midst of all the talk of the classy kids, Tammy being joint top scorer in the league and Mason Mount ready to waltz effortlessly into the England team, Chelsea fans have also noted that a couple of players who were derided in the past by some, have suddenly in their eyes improved.
To be honest I thought Jorginho was fabulous last season as well and didn’t buy into the no-forward-passing problem being his fault or even true. It was the style of the team and in the end it was successful and as we know, he played more through balls than anyone else in the league bar our own David. There were even a few occasions when he was booed at the Bridge last season and it really upset me. He is the bravest player you will ever meet because of where and how often he takes the ball.
He also controls games as well as just about anyone on the planet just now. Happily Frank agrees and has let him off the leash to be more positive and take a few chances going forward more quickly. I agree it is even better now than it was last season for our number five. Everyone else does seem to be seeing his attributes now though and it is a huge relief. I would have hated to lose him to Juventus or Manchester City, because that is the standard of clubs that would have grabbed him in a heartbeat.
The final joyous recovery is of course Willian who has been sparkling of late. He was getting the bird for a while too but I have my suspicions for the reasons why. His work load and schedule has been ridiculous for years with the travelling back to Brazil to play in their myriad games from World Cup qualifiers, Copa America and all the final tournaments themselves. He has had very little rest time for quite a few seasons now and I think you could see the wear and tear affecting him.
His game isn’t that of a winger only, he always works back as well and with both Brazil and Chelsea in the last few years he has suffered from playing on the ‘other’ wing to one of the best players in the world (Neymar and Hazard). Neither of those two players are noted for their covering back, so as the other winger you have to compensate and do more work. Trust me I know about this, although it wasn’t always better players on the other wing to me, sometimes it was just lazier! (Not in my time at Chelsea I hasten to add).
I am not surprised Willian is having a good time. A little less pressure from the national side, more time on the ball now that Eden has gone, a manager who encourages constant attacking play which suits him and now the fans giving him all the backing. This could well be a golden season for the 31-year-old in a Chelsea shirt, just as everyone else is talking about the kids.